There are those who would have you believe that there is a clear and distinct separation between prostitution and sex trafficking. They are “pimping distinction.”
Prostitution, they say, is an autonomous and contractural agreement between two consenting adults that involves payment for sex.
Simple, a choice, right?
What does it mean?
If you know me at all, you know that I believe that words have meaning and that the meaning should matter. By the description above, you might get a sterile or at least, clean vision of a transaction in mind. You might even think of it in terms of being gentle, since it is said to be consensual. And it may seem that both parties are equal, in theory.
In reality, the buyer has the upper hand. If that buyer wants their purchase to be dirty, rough, or even violent rape, the prostituted person is subjected to whatever the buyer wants. Once the door is closed, the buyer is in control.
The buyer, most often, affluent white men, and the seller, usually young minority women are not equal. The disparity isn’t just in terms of socioeconomic status, but in physical presence and community status.
Boys and young men are exploited too. I don’t mean to minimize, but for the sake of ease, my pronouns applied to the majority. Keep in mind they may be interchanged.
Prostitution, sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are all on the same continuum.
A young woman might be convinced that she is fully in control of the situation and she might receive the money. She will dissociate form the adverse parts of the trade, the violence, threat of disease, and the stigma.
The buyer doesn’t know and usually doesn’t care if she is competent or compliant. Is she willing or is she compelled? Will she look back and be fully confident that she made a choice that served her? Did she even decide or was there force, fraud, or coercion? Will she be able to spend the money on her own needs or does it go to someone else?
Depending on the answers, it could be sex trafficking.
The line that separates prostitution and sex trafficking is a fragile veil. It’s neither solid nor fixed. It is a distinction of convenience for some people. They would have you believe that the line is both fixed and impermeable.
The seller may be completely confident and believe they are of a sound mind. Logically, then, they should be permitted to carry on as a business provider, they say.
When the seller is in desperate poverty, homeless and destitute, we have compassion. If she believes there are no other choice, we think, maybe she should be allowed to carry on, unimpeded by law enforcement. She needs to be able to sell her only worldly possession. It is all she has.
Is that actually compassion? I think not.
I’d read about a woman who’s disability made it difficult for her to get a job out side of the home. She sold her body for sex to keep her family in the home, fed and taken care of. To me, this sounds like a terrible burden and a denial of her innate human dignity. She is subjected to all of the dangers of violence and disease inherent to prostitution.
If one is compelled by poverty, it pierces the fragile veil of autonomy.
Most victims of abuse don’t know they are victims, especially if they are children or have been brought up in a culture that perpetuates abuse. It is often when kids enter school that they realize others don’t get beatings for spilling or making mess or whenever their parents have a bad day at work. It is experience with others that they learn that secret fondling, under the guise of love, is not ok.
Women who are groomed and manipulated into a relationship with a pimp who turns them out are in a similar situation. They become convinced that they are making their decisions for the good of the group. He may lead her to believe that it is temporary to get through a rough patch and that they will be a couple again soon. Before she knows it, she is so deep that he tells her she is the one who will go to jail. So, she is trapped.
I have the opportunity to talk with people who have exited prostitution. They are often able to objectively say that at times, they were indeed trafficked, even if it wasn’t all the time.
The veil of separation is so thin and so fragile that it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.