Slavery Next Door: The difference between prostitution and human trafficking

By Elaine McCammon

Editor’s note: The identity of the author of this series of articles, the third running in this edition, has been altered for her protection. Referred to as Elaine McCammon, she is a graduate of Forbush High School, and a member of Girl Scout Troop 40772. This piece is part of her Gold Award Project, and she is majoring in social work with intent to work with victims of trafficking. This article is the third of a four-part series.

The issue of human trafficking is mostly cut and dry: it is a human rights violation and a threat to the security of our society. But human sex trafficking is directly related to a more controversial issue: prostitution. In most of the United States, prostitution is illegal, and prostituted women are criminals. Because they “choose” their lifestyle, these women are scorned by society, and blamed for the crime and poverty that seeps into where they work, the “red light district.” Society always needs someone to blame, and prostituted women, in their stilettos and mini skirts, are the easiest targets to find.

But a closer investigation murkies the situation. A prostituted woman’s situation is similar to the situation of a woman in an abusive domestic relationship. An abusive relationship can make a woman feel worthless and hopeless; the abuser has almost complete power over the victim. The men, commonly called “pimps,” who sell prostituted women, are similar to an abusive family member. These men often beat, threaten, rape and sometimes even kill the women they sell; prostituted women are emotionally and physically under their domain.

Homeless children need to survive, and often prostitution is their only option. The statistics of the average age of entry into prostitution are inconclusive, but most organizations estimate 12 to 14 years old. Because they are legally children, underage prostituted girls are eligible for more support from government and private agencies, however, a birthday changes that. Adult prostitutes are legally responsible for their actions. However, prostitution does not get any better the day a woman turns 18.

In the report “A National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts,” submitted to the Department of Justice, 63 percent of prostituted women were sexually abused as children. A majority of prostituted women meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and are in the same category as military veterans. Prostituted women who work on the street have a mortality rate that is 40 times the average for a woman their age. Almost 90 percent of prostituted women want to leave prostitution. But when a woman wants to leave prostitution, where does she go? How does she survive? Who is going to hire an ex-prostitute with little education, few skills, and a slew of emotional and psychological problems? Prostituted women are trapped in the life they “chose.”

Society says that prostituted women are the guilty criminals. Society says that trafficked sex workers are the innocent victims. To a customer of the sex industry or a law enforcement officer, a prostitute and a trafficked sex worker appear to be exactly the same. The difference does not exist.

The negative connotations surrounding prostituted women perpetuate the stigmas surrounding the sex industry. In order to effectively diminish human trafficking and prostitution, society needs to change its view of the sex industry. A huge step in that direction is to change the conversation. Think about how you use the words “hooker” or “prostitute.” Is it with the same tone that you would say “sex trafficking victim?” These words describe the same people, but have entirely different implications. Our words will begin to change the world for victims of the sex industry.

All queries should be directed to Justice Ministries, or 980-236-9313.

By Elaine McCammon

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