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: 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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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

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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