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

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

altAr6OvJZnnj_HRmxMcx0QpG-Be9cIsF8XK79C-mUdJh5Y (2)_marked

Standard
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.

Standard
Awareness

When Secrets Take Lives

The sex industry is viewed as taboo by the general public, and an unfair amount of judgement, stigma, and stereotypes contribute to the negative reaction most people give when they learn a woman is involved in the sex industry.  As a result, a majority of women in the industry hide their chosen work from their friends and family, and unfortunately someone who recognizes their fear of exposure can hold this over their head.  The risk of being outed comes with substantial consequences for women – general fear of rejection and disgust, loss of their legitimate employment, or being terrified of losing custody of their children all rank high as legitimate concerns if exposed.  Many of these women move away from their family, keep their friends at a distance, and create an alternate reality to tell inquisitive people about what they do for work.  It is only with increased awareness and education about the sex industry as a whole – what forces motivate or drive a woman into it, that we will see these women as unique and beautiful individuals with every right for a happy and fulfilling life.

Model Plunges to Her Death After Her Ex Boyfriend Exposes Her Secret Life As a Prostitute

Standard
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

Standard