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: Being a Mother

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.

At least 40% of the women that Free Our Girls networks with have children.  With 64% of those having just one child, 20% having two children, and 9 women are currently pregnant, these women are not only responsible for themselves, but a family as well.

What can this tell us about women involved in commercial sex work?  That motherhood makes women incredibly vulnerable, both emotionally and financially, to being exploited due to their need to provide for their children, and the hope of giving them a better life than they would otherwise have been able to offer.  Some of these women had children prior to entering the sex industry, and some have since had children with their trafficker, as this is often one method a trafficker uses to keep his victim under his control.  For this population of women, leaving sex work can be even more difficult as they do not just have themselves to support.  If a woman has had a child with her trafficker, her emotional connection with the father of her child only increases the number of obstacles she must overcome to truly be freed.

Additionally, it is important to note that not all women chose to share the fact that they have children on their social media profiles.  They may do this for a number of reasons, but two of the most common reasons are (1) not wanting to share this personal and intimate part of their world with unknown viewers, and (2) not having custody of their children and therefore limited interactions with them.  For these reasons, it is believed that the actual percentage of women in the sex industry with children is even larger than what was observed in our study.

Having children increases the emotional and financial vulnerability of thousands of young women currently engaged in sex work. This lifestyle affects not only the women, but their children as well.

Having children increases the emotional and financial vulnerability of thousands of young women currently engaged in sex work. This lifestyle affects not only the women, but their children as well.

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Awareness

#BeTheKey: The Age of Exploitation

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 observed in Free Our Girls’ social media study, 71% were between the ages of 18 and 29.  Approximately 28% were in their 30’s.  And only 1 woman was in her 40’s.

What does this tell us about the women currently facing exploitation?  First of all, Free Our Girls does NOT include any person who appear to be under the age of 18 in their social media outreach.  Any person who appears to be, or confirms through their posts, to be under the age of 18 and involved in commercial sex work is immediately reported to law enforcement.  For this reason, any social media accounts that appear to be/are under the age of 18 were not included in our study.  To date, over the last three years, two such accounts have been identified and reported.

Understanding the age demographics of this group of women is important because we see when our women are most commonly involved in commercial sex work, and therefore most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by traffickers.  Not only are young women in higher demand from paying clientele, but they are also more often to be naive, emotionally vulnerable and financially unstable as they strike out into the world on their own.

As women involved in the adult industry enter their 30’s, and even 40’s, they start looking to get away from this lifestyle, however they often find their legitimate work options severely lacking for reasons including: lack of work history and formal education (and the low wages that come with jobs they then quality for), addiction, housing instability, need for childcare, and reliable transportation.  In addition to these physical needs in order to be able to leave the sex industry, many women also face reintegration difficulties due to years of unpredictable environments, complex trauma and emotional damage, and having to cope in a world they have been socialized to stay detached from.

Many women desperately want to leave commercial sex work, however their desire to leave does not always necessarily line up with the ability to maintain the stability in their life to make a successful exit.

Most social media and adult entertainment sites have age warnings and restrictions, aimed at preventing minors from accessing adult content. However, posts like this one tell a much different story.

Most social media and adult entertainment sites have age warnings and restrictions, aimed at preventing minors from accessing adult content. However, posts like this one tell a much different story.

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Awareness

Traffickers Might Be Anywhere

The general image most people have of a sex trafficker is a dark, sinister underworld shadow of a criminal who has little contact with the general public, and lurks in dark alleys late at night.  While these do exist, there are many more that exist amongst us, who interact with us daily, and who have even taken an oath to protect us and our nation.  Almost equally horrifying is the fact that while civilians have been currently receiving 10-50 years in prison sentences depending on the case, this Navy sailor received only 5 years for trafficking a minor who was HIV positive.

Ex-Sailor Gets 5 Years for Sex Trafficking a Child

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Awareness

Understanding the Role of the “Bottom”

A pimp’s bottom is the girl he has put in charge of many responsibilities in the management of the other women under his control, from recruiting to training, to playing friend and counselor.  She has “earned” this title and role by being under his control the longest, by having the best behavior, and being his top earner.  This status is respected within the pimp culture, and it is often fought for amongst the women, with the belief that it will earn them additional love and respect from their abuser.  What it often means is that she will take the fall for the pimp should he be arrested, and she is expected to defend him in court, put money on his books and pay his lawyer, and report back to him on what is going on while he is detained.  She must raise any children they may have together on her own.  And while from the outside, the bottom often appears to be just as nasty and vicious as the pimp she works for, she is a victim nonetheless.  She has experienced the most abuse and degradation, been exploited the longest, and often has proven to be grateful for the least.  She is under her pimp’s complete control, and her loyalty is not swayed, even in the face of life sentences – her belief that her pimp is in the right remains firm.

Pimp Accused of Sex Trafficking Gets 37 Years

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After-Care

Giving Victims a New Foundation

Safe houses and transitional homes are popping up all over the US, some for minors, others for adults, and even one for men and boys exploited through sex trafficking.  This is one of a wide variety of resources needed for helping victims leave their situation and find the help and support they need to heal and start building their new life.  While many initially wondered if these houses would actually find victims to fill their beds, that has not been an issue in any of the houses across the US.  Unfortunately, in the last six months, two of these houses have shut down due to a lack of funding.  The number of beds available across the US specifically for victims of sex trafficking is depressingly few – less than a couple hundred total (consider 100,000+ children are at risk each year of falling victim, and there are currently 1 million adult female prostitutes in the US that studies suggest up to 90% of them have pimps).

General safe homes, transitional houses, homeless shelters and other such residential facilities have opened their doors to include survivors of sex trafficking, which is better than nothing.  However, women coming out of a sex trafficking situation experience PTSD at the same rates as soldiers coming home from war zones, and it takes the average woman a minimum of two years to completely extricate herself and find enough therapy and resources to permanently escape her situation.  Most residential facilities are not designed to shelter women and children for this length of time, which is why homes specifically for sex trafficking survivors are a crucial part of the resource network for them.  And while the costs involved in long-term housing and care for a survivor can be anywhere from $25,000 and up, that fresh start for that individual is priceless.

Boston Safe House for Sex Traffic Victims to Shut Down

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Awareness

Sex Trafficking & the Church: The Correlation

A recent study revealed that 50% of the “johns” surveyed reported a religious affiliation.  Men in our local congregations may be the all-American family dad on Sunday, but what are they doing on their lunch hour at work?  What about when the wife and kids go to visit her parents and he has the house to himself?  Is a man who is simply in attendance for church service Sunday mornings any less tempted to take part in adult entertainment than any other man?

Many churches have groups for men who struggle with pornography and other sexual addictions, and pastors routinely cover the topic of sex outside of marriage.  But how many sermons and session topics include purchasing sexual acts?  And does shame and fear ultimately cure – or just curb longings?

Sex trafficking is not just a moral issue, and it most certainly transcends being simply a sin for the devout, or just an issue of sexual perversion.  Our women and children are objectified, neglected and used for temporary pleasure and monetary gains.  Membership of a particular community group or religious affiliation does not guarantee innocence from partaking in the sex industry.  And it does not prevent the women and children that are members as well from falling victim either.

There’s a Reason Churches Need to Talk About Sex Trafficking

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