This past weekend, I was blessed with extensive time to catch up more Girls like Us. Chapters 5 through 8 focus on each group of people involved in trafficking: pimps, johns, victims, and cops / law enforcement.
The trend in all of the chapters is a problem of cultural acceptance of the sex industry, regardless of the cost to those involved. Simply, our current culture default is to view the women and girls in sex work as dispencible…and dare I even say, not human.
First, “pimping” is glamorized. Rachel Lloyd specifically references media’s part in this. 50 Cent’s “PIMP” hit, TV shows on pimping, award ceremonies where pimps (and johns) are open about how they treat women but are applauded anyway for their celebrity status. Lloyd’s argument is that our culture needs to change. We need to not be okay with pimps and pimping…even down to the slang and jokes.
Lloyd talks a bit about how pimps are truly modern-day slave drivers, but unfortunately they (and the culture around them) don’t view themselves that way.
If you’re interested in learning more about pimps, check out findings from interviewing 25 pimps in Chicago at End Demand Illinois
If there was no demand, the sex industry wouldn’t exist. This is where the biggest culture change would have to happen.
America is an over sexualized culture. Even our children’s TV shows have sexual references. Porn is highly accessible via the internet. And since porn can be addictive [ see “The Slave and the Porn Star” article on the link between porn and prostitution] , like any drug addict, a porn addict keeps increasing the dosage. Soft porn, hard porn, violent porn, strip club, casual sex, buying sex to fulfill a fantasy that no one will willingly agree to because they know it is degrading. On top of this, most of the porn portrays ”teens” or ” schoolgirls.”
Yet, when confronted, johns act as if they’re shocked that so many of the girls they buy are actually under age. “Many of these men wouldn’t dream of sexually abusing the girl next door but when it comes to a “prostitute,” even a “teen prostitute, ” they figure it doesn’t really matter” (Lloyd 109 ).
One of the first studies on johns and their perceptions of prostitution revealed that 43% believed the woman has to do whatever he asks…even violent acts, and 21% didn’t believe it was possible for a prostitute to be raped. At least 80% admitted prefering younger women. ( Deconstructing The Demand for Prostitution: Preliminary Insights From Interviews With Chicago Men Who Purchase Sex)
One would think and hope that at least law enforcement would protect these women and girls who are being sold, bought and beaten. Unfortunately, there are too many cases and accounts of how police, judges, lawyers turn a blind eye to evidences of abuse, childhood and trauma. For the “prostitute” there are few to no rights. Often, they end up in jail for prostitution when the truth is they are 16, was just beaten, sold and raped… and the person who paid to rape her and the one who got paid walk free with minor charges.
Luckily, this is starting to change… very slowly. In MN, progress has been made. Ramsey County, Minneapolis and St. Paul Police and many other partners are standing with nonprofits, survivors and victims to change laws, change the culture in law enforcement and help girls get the legal support they need. But there is still a long, uphill battle ahead.
All this to say: The most practical and impactful way a person can make a difference in the fight against trafficking is to change cultural perceptions of the industry and of the girls. These are real people. They are daughters and moms and sisters. And they should be treated with dignity and respect and grace.