With Dignity: Combating Sex Slavery

Marika Straw

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”

Like discrimination, slavery is viewed as something of the past, yet is still widely prevalent today. Sex slavery exists worldwide and takes different forms in different places. What form does it take here in the United States? Prostitution.

“But prostitutes earn money,” you say. “They choose to enter prostitution. They could leave anytime they want if they didn’t like it.”

Oh, really?

Do you call it earning money when everything you earn is taken away from you? Do you call it choice when you are told to sell your body by someone you love, who says they love you? Can you really leave a situation in which you are threatened with bodily harm if you leave?

What many people do not realize is that prostitution, in practice, is nothing short of slavery. Here is one vastly oversimplified example of how prostitution works in the U.S.

You are a young girl when a close family member begins to sexually abuse you. Over time, you come to feel that your body is not worth anything, so you are not worth anything. One day, a charming young man falls in love with you.

You move in with him because finally someone loves you. But one day, he asks you to sell your body so he can pay the rent. You love him too, so you agree. It quickly turns into a nightmare. He takes the money you’ve earned prostituting yourself and beats you for not earning enough.

You are scared to leave because he might hurt you, but you also stay because you love him. You are trapped.

If this seems twisted, it is. But it is also sadly realistic. Most women who become prostitutes were physically or sexually abused as a child. Many women are drawn into prostitution by men who pretend to fall in love with them, and then ask them to sell their body.

Pimps rely on physical abuse and psychological coercion to control their prostitutes. If you don’t believe me, look at the U.S.’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2011.

Problems like this are extremely difficult to face. Because of this, and because we often truly believe it, we are quick to say that they have nothing to do with us. Because they have nothing to do with us, there is nothing we can do about them.

As a complex problem fed by many factors such as childhood abuse, poverty and culture, there are more things we can do to address sex slavery than we realize.

How might one address sex slavery? The most obvious way is to not participate in the system perpetuating it. Sweden has done a fantastic job of minimizing sex slavery by arresting people who buy sex. The idea is simple: if fewer people buy sex, people will stop selling it.

Amazingly, it works! Sweden has seen a dramatic decline in sex slavery since outlawing the purchase of sex in 1999. Another way to address sex slavery is to become informed and inform others about the problem.

If more people understood how prostitution works, perhaps it would be easier to find support for programs that aid victims of sex slavery. Volunteering at organizations supporting victims of sex trafficking, or even victims of physical and sexual abuse such as Harbor House is another way to combat sex slavery.

By addressing sex slavery, even indirectly, we are able to make a positive difference, no matter how small, because if we are able to help even one person, our efforts will have been completely worth it.

If you’d like to help fight sex traficking, sign up to volunteer at Harbor House on November 19 by emailing Susannah Maiken.