Awareness

Sharing Stories of Survival Responsibly

With human trafficking the “hot word” of the day, countless news articles fill our papers, alerts and timelines with incredible stories of survival and extreme trauma.  While the goal of this media coverage is bringing awareness to the complexities, severity, and extent of occurrences here in America, even the best of intentions can bring unintended consequences.  When sharing stories of survival, it is important to do so responsibly.  There are numerous ways to do this, however some of the most effective and simple ways are to avoid focusing on:

  • Stereotyped assumption of what a victim looks like.  A focus on a physical description or presumed personal background can be misleading as individuals who end up being trafficked come in all shapes and sizes, and from all backgrounds.
  • Anything that can be interpreted as a “tip”.  A well-intentioned story can turn into a how-to for someone to follow.
  • Graphic images and gritty details.  Research strongly suggests that testimonials which dramatize dangerous activities can provoke a “race to the bottom” among those trapped in similar situations.
  • The numbers game.  While the media will forever be in search of a story with the biggest numbers, it  communicates to victims that if they do not have a numerically equal experience, their story doesn’t count.  One day, one experience against a person’s will is one too many.

Stories can be effectively and responsibly told by focusing on the mental and physical consequences of being trafficked, rather than the specific behaviors and actions.  Trafficking is glamorized in our pop culture today, without people even really being aware of what is going on.  This threatens to not only inaccurately portray trafficking, but it can also give the false impression that if the victim only had enough will-power, self-control, or common sense, they could overcome their situation on their own.  Understanding the seriousness of trafficking without portraying it as hopeless is absolutely possible when we share stories of survival responsibly.

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Awareness

#BeTheKey: You Can Start Unlocking Cages

Thank you for taking part in our August #BeTheKey campaign, aimed at bringing further awareness to the issue of domestic sex trafficking by sharing the findings of the Free Our Girls 2015 Observational Study of Social Media Accounts.  Again, this study included over 300 women currently involved in the sex industry, with a majority of them actively being exploited by a trafficker or pimp.  Our goal was to help shed further light on this population so that our advocates against sexual exploitation can take this information with them as they move forward in their lives to combat this issue within their communities and circles of impact.

Sex trafficking affects every community, and anyone with a void or vulnerability is at-risk for exploitation.  As long as we continue to think that sex trafficking happens “somewhere else” it will continue to happen in our schools and neighborhoods, and to Our Girls.

In a report recently published by the University of Southern California, recommended future actions for preventing and responding to human trafficking that occurs online and through social media include:

  • Allocating resources for further research related to sex trafficking in domestic contexts
  • Enabling local agencies to develop technological capabilities to monitor trafficking online and to share information among organizations
  • Creating more innovative solutions for detecting and disrupting human trafficking online and assuming a more proactive role in advancing research in this area
  • Using technology to connect with and empower victims and vulnerable populations, while also addressing their economic, social, psychological, and physical needs
  • Improving the collection of data on trafficking and the sharing of information resources

Free Our Girls plans to continue our personalized engagement with the women we are connected with through social media, in the hopes of (1) building relationships based on trust, love and acceptance, (2) planting seeds to challenge their often skewed concepts of reality, and (3) being available and ready to provide the resources, information and help these women need to decrease their vulnerability and increase their stability to the point that they are able to leave both their trafficker and the commercial sex industry for good.

If you are interested in partnering with Free Our Girls in a tangible way, please consider supporting our organization as we continue our work in online communities with women currently in the sex industry.  At this point in time, we currently provide (1) positive words of encouragement – no strings attached!, (2) thought-provoking conversational material designed to challenge current thought patterns, and (3) periodic newsletters on topics of interest including finances, legal issues, children, healthy relationships and many more.  Free Our Girls would like to not only improve our existing online engagement program, but expand it to include a website with additional information and resources.  You can visit our website here to begin supporting this vital and successful program today!

#BeTheKey

#BeTheKey

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Awareness

#BeTheKey: Of Additional Interest

This information was gathered from our survey of 300 prostituted women through our social network outreach program.  Every couple days over the month of August, we are adding a new stat from our findings to help you better understand the women we are working with.  Read the whole series right here on the Free Our Girls blog.

After identifying specific categories under which Free Our Girls planned to observe various information shared on social media by the women currently involved in the commercial sex industry, we also observed a number of interesting facts that did not fall into any pre-defined categories, but we found worth acknowledging.

  • 1 survivor of the “Craigslist killer”
  • 1 transgendered
  • 4 openly talk about being recruited under the age of 18
  • 1 military veteran
  • 2 openly talk about having been married and divorced previous to their initial recruitment
  • 1 has just started running an escort service as her way out of performing services herself
  • 1 is a confirmed recovering drug addict, whose pimp was the one who “saved” her and helped her get clean
  • 16 have left the sex industry within the last 3 years, yet remain connected through social media to the life and people they once surrounded themselves with

What can this information tell us about the women vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation?  That vulnerabilities exist in a wide array of lifestyles and backgrounds.  That oftentimes the abuse and exploitation these women currently experience at the hands of their trafficker is STILL a better life than the one they came from.  And that the psychological conditioning and emotional bonds built with others while a part of this life are not easily broken, even years after walking away from taking an active part in it.

Grooming refers to the process of identifying the potential to exploit an individual, and making oneself a person of authority and trust within the potential victim's life. Once that step has been accomplished, it is easy for a trafficker to manipulate their victim into believing their lies, and learning to follow an order of expectations. Because the psychological manipulation is often incredibly severe, many women who experience this process find themselves brainwashed (Stockholm's syndrome), as they then accept this way of life as one that they chose for themselves.

Grooming refers to the process of identifying the potential to exploit an individual, and making oneself a person of authority and trust within the potential victim’s life. Once that step has been accomplished, it is easy for a trafficker to manipulate their victim into believing their lies, and learning to follow an order of expectations. Because the psychological manipulation is often incredibly severe, many women who experience this process find themselves brainwashed (Stockholm’s syndrome), as they then accept this way of life as one that they chose for themselves.

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Awareness

#BeTheKey: Organized Criminal Operations

This information was gathered from our survey of 300 prostituted women through our social network outreach program.  Every couple days over the month of August, we are adding a new stat from our findings to help you better understand the women we are working with.  Read the whole series right here on the Free Our Girls blog.

In the Free Our Girls’ social media observational study, three large-scale trafficking operations were became immediately evident.  These organized trafficking operations involved five or more women under the trafficker’s control at any given time, and were based out of Nevada, Miami and Houston.

What does this tell us about women experiencing commercial sexual exploitation?  That many of these women’s only sense of family and community comes from the other women under the control of the same man.  It also further illustrates the degree of manipulation many of these predators are capable of exerting, in addition to the fact that many of these women live lives drastically different from what would be considered “normal,” making their ability to transition out of it and back into mainstream society more difficult due to blurred and alternative relationship lines.

A measure of honor and prestige amongst traffickers is when they are able to manage a “stable” of four or more women, and due to the emotional, psychological, physical and financial dynamics required to exert control over this many women at any given time, it is often rare to observe.  The women living in these three identified households are often sent across the country, to sell their bodies.  The level of mental control these traffickers have over their women ensure that these women will work “on auto,” meaning that their trafficker’s physical presence is not required for these women to feel compelled to comply to his every demand.

Additionally worth noting, two of these three large-scale trafficking operations included a legitimate, professional business front, including a rap musician career and clothing line.  The women in these operations are expected to take part in helping further their trafficker’s legitimate brand through public appearances and modeling.  These activities also help attract and recruit new potential victims, as they see the promise at success, stability and a sense of family.

Because a lot of traffickers masquerade as boyfriends, it is most commonly seen for them to have only 1-2 women under their control at any given time. However, for more experienced and manipulative pimps, it is considered a measure of prestige to be able to control four or more women, typically using psychological and emotional abuse over physical.

Because a lot of traffickers masquerade as boyfriends, it is most commonly seen for them to have only 1-2 women under their control at any given time. However, for more experienced and manipulative pimps, it is considered a measure of prestige to be able to control four or more women, typically using psychological and emotional abuse over physical.

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Awareness

#BeTheKey: Tattoos and Branding

This information was gathered from our survey of 300 prostituted women through our social network outreach program.  Every couple days over the month of August, we are adding a new stat from our findings to help you better understand the women we are working with.  Read the whole series right here on the Free Our Girls blog.

Of the women whose social media pages were observed in this Free Our Girls study, 66% had visible tattoos in their photos.  Because many tattoos are hidden by hair styles, jewelry and clothing, it is believed that many more have tattoos than were observed purely off the photos that were posted.

What does this tell us about women in the commercial sex industry?  First of all, that similar to drug and alcohol use, tattoos are a widely accepted part of this culture.  The tattoos observed fell into a few main categories including: phrases and quotes, names, and symbols.  The phrases and quotes were often motivational in nature and sometimes included religious references such as “only God can judge me.”  The women who displayed tattoos with names were most often the name of their pimp, but also included a family member or child’s name.  The most common symbol featured in tattoos observed was a crown, often with their pimp’s name or initials.  A tattoo symbol that is increasing in popularity is the “hashtag” (#) symbol, followed by a word or acronym indicating their membership within this sub culture.  Tattoos were featured on almost every body part, including the face, with the most common being on the lower back/buttocks, the pelvic region, neck and throat, and wrist.

Not only are tattoos in general accepted within this subculture, but they are often expected, respected and demanded.  Branding a woman’s body with his name marks a trafficker’s property.  Many woman have been branded over time by multiple traffickers as they are re-exploited again and again.  A common theme among these women is, after getting away from their abuser, is to get the tattooed name covered up.  Cover-up work was a common theme observed on many of these women’s pages, and is a need from our community for women leaving commercial sexual exploitation to help them move on from the constant reminder of the abuse and exploitation that they endured at the hands of this person.

The most common tattoos observed were crowns and initials. A new popular tattoo includes the

The most common tattoos observed were crowns and initials. A new popular tattoo includes the “hashtag” (#) symbol followed by an acronym relating to prostitution and the pimp culture.

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Awareness

#BeTheKey: Drug and Alcohol Usage

This information was gathered from our survey of 300 prostituted women through our social network outreach program.  Every couple days over the month of August, we are adding a new stat from our findings to help you better understand the women we are working with.  Read the whole series right here on the Free Our Girls blog.

In this observational study of social media accounts, Free Our Girls found that half of all pages observed contained photos of alcohol usage, half contained photos of marijuana and marijuana-related products.  Additionally, 13% of the social media profiles showed drug usage, most often “lean” (codeine cough syrup mixed with soda) and pills (prescriptions such as Xanas, and “party” drugs such as MDMA and “molly”).

What can this tell us about women involved in the adult industry?  Simply that alcohol and marijuana usage are both widely accepted within this culture, and are used both in the home and in social and work environments.  With only a few minutes of research, one can find references to any of the above drugs int he lyrics common within the pimp and rap culture of our society. Substance use did not appear to affect any particular group (age, race, location, or currently having a pimp) within our observational study, they were used equally among these segments.

While much substance use tends to occur due to the fact that it is so widely accepted within the culture, many times women find themselves completely dependent upon one of these substances over time.  Alcohol can serve to embolden a nervous or fearful woman who is sent out onto the streets every night to engage in conversation and intimate acts with strange men.  Pills and marijuana are used to lessen anxiety and help with sleep, both commonly reported health issues amongst women in commercial sex work.  Harder drugs, while not featured typically on social media profiles, are absolutely used, whether it is to experiment, to be able to stay up for longer hours, or even to lose weight.  No matter the substance, many women find a sense of momentary escape from the emotional, physical and psychological pain they experience at the hands of their exploiter and the men who purchase their bodies.

Many of the drugs observed being used are the same substances that are found in the lyrics of popular music.

Many of the drugs observed being used are the same substances that are found in the lyrics of popular music.

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Awareness

#BeTheKey: Pimps and Traffickers

This information was gathered from our survey of 300 prostituted women through our social network outreach program.  Every couple days over the month of August, we are adding a new stat from our findings to help you better understand the women we are working with.  Read the whole series right here on the Free Our Girls blog.

We found that 62% of women publicly and openly confirmed, through photos and specific language, that they were currently working under the control of a pimp.  Of the women that did not confirm to currently being under the control of a pimp, a majority referenced at some point through their social media posts that they had had a pimp at one time or another during their time in the commercial sex industry.

What can this tell us about women involved in commercial sex work?  One national study claims that approximately 90% of prostituted women have a pimp.  Our small observational study on social media indicates that this is more than likely a fairly accurate estimate.  The women who confirmed having pimps have been completely indoctrinated into this subculture, and much of their posts and conversations comply with the “Rules of the Game” which include not interacting with pimps besides their own, and only socializing with the intention of recruiting more women to work for their pimp.  Those who shared photos of their pimps often include captions claiming their loyalty and devotion to this person.

Also interesting to note was the fact that four women are under the control of pimps who are currently in jail, two of them serving sentences longer than 2 years.  This further illustrates the emotional and psychological chains, trauma bonding, and brain washing that occurs during the grooming process.  And while 99% of the pimps pictured on these women’s pages were black males, there was 1 white male, and 1 Hispanic female that fill the role as pimp to some of these young women.

Lastly, it is important to remember that once again, this was a purely observational study, meaning that many more women in our sample group could possibly be currently under the control of a pimp but chose not to share this information publicly.  Two possible reasons why women chose not to picture their exploiter include the fact that they understand the legal repercussions of implicating them in this way, and for those women who use their social media accounts to advertise their services, indicating to potential clients that they work for a pimp can drive business away.

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Once a young woman has been recruited and groomed, she will eventually become completed indoctrinated into the subculture of violence and exploitation. Oftentimes, the attention and care they receive from their traffickers is the safest and most stable situation they have ever known, making it hard for them to see a better world beyond their current reality.

Once a young woman has been recruited and groomed, she will eventually become completed indoctrinated into the subculture of violence and exploitation. Oftentimes, the attention and care they receive from their traffickers is the safest and most stable situation they have ever known, making it hard for them to see a better world beyond their current reality.

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