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: 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: 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

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

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

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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

Surviving the Life

Every woman who has been in the Dignity House jail program stated she has been raped, robbed, kicked and beaten with fists, knives, guns, coat hangers, baseball bats, and boards – either by a trick or her pimp. Each girl knew someone who had been murdered while working in prostitution.  The average lifespan of a woman in the sex industry is 7 years.  And the mortality rate of female prostitutes is 40 times higher than the average American women.

The sex industry is not glamorous.  It does not bring fame and fortune to those who enter.

Sex Trafficking in Portland: A Violent World

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