Human Trafficking: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Income

I’m honestly not sure how to start discussing this topic, nor do I know what exact message I’m trying to convey to you. I have to say, over the past few months I’ve researched various topics relating to marginalized groups in America – all upsetting, all frustrating – but this topic seems to have taken the cake. I’m starting to see people and the world around me from fresh set of lenses, one that seems to not allow me to be as laid-back and spirited as I once was. With over 7,572 human trafficking cases that were reported, 92% of the victims were African American girls and women.

RACE

Although I have difficulty writing about this significant threat to our black girls, I think the hardest part for me is the disproportionate rate of black girls, beginning from 11 years old, recruited in the commercial trafficking industry. In further research, I quickly realized how accessible these girls are, and how simple it is for traffickers to recruit and lead them into such a traumatic cycle.

Commercial trafficking is the exploitation of subjected victims – often using force, fraud, and/or coercion. No person deserves to be sexually exploited and victimized for economic advancement or trade, however more than half of victims are African American girls and women. In 2012 alone, the United States Department of Justice reported 62% of human trafficking victims were African American minors and adults – a rate that is continuously increasing.

Black girls and women are more in demand than any other race. Other than the fetishes, one of the reasons it’s because traffickers are less likely to face extended jail time, compared to trafficking white girls/women (who are deemed more valuable). Targeted minorities are often recruited from economically vulnerable backgrounds such as low-income neighborhoods with unstable familial relationships and homes. Girls that are low risk, result in long term, high investments.

BUSINESS MODEL

Commercial trafficking is equivalent to a strategic business plan:

The seller is often known as the “pimp/trafficker”, the buyer is the “customer/john”, and the “commodity” (something that can be bought or sold) is the victim. Traffickers engage in a recruiting process where they manipulate and exploit victims using their vulnerabilities. Although there are many methods of manipulation, the common form is through psychological coercion by engaging in “romantic relationships” with these victims through in person engagements, social networks, online ads or through current victims. A process I will break down in further posts.

GENDER & INCOME

One of the many issues I struggle with when writing about this topic is how unaware we are to this economically sustained industry. When we think of sex trafficking, we often refer our knowledge to what we’ve seen in television and movies. Prime example; Taken starring Liam Neeson – who has a white daughter who is kidnapped during Spring Break, along with her friends and is sold into the sex industry. Once her father becomes aware, he stops at nothing to bring her home and inevitably saves her. I can’t say the same for the overly represented black girls and women that are taken.

In 2016, traffickers made $100 billion in profits. That’s more than Intel, Microsoft, Nike. Google and Starbucks … combined.

Traffickers

Race, gender, and income are three significant factors that demonstrate the widening disparities of victims trafficked when comparing them to their white counterparts.

There are many white victims from mid-upper-income homes, with little toxic familial relationships/abuse that are sold into the industry as well. However, the reality is, majority of the victims targeted and victimized are African American girls, women, and transgenders; most with cases that go unreported or even worse, criminalized. Race, gender, and income are three significant factors that demonstrate the widening disparities of victims trafficked when comparing them to their white counterparts. They’re so closely intersected that I struggle with writing one without mentioning the other.

HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?

As mentioned, traffickers use manipulation and coercion to force African American girls and transgenders to engage in commercial sex activities. Methods vary from each trafficker/pimp, however majority of them target, recruit, and employ minorities from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds.

What makes these marginalized groups so vulnerable to human trafficking is directly related to bias and discrimination, reflected in structural inequality. African American girls who have a history of trauma, physical/sexual abuse, abandonment/neglect have taken on unhealthy patterns of relationship structures with self and others, and often become runaways, homeless, or inserted into the foster care system – subsequently becoming 90% more likely to become a victim of trafficking.

THE CYCLE

Sexually exploited young women in the United States … often come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, making them at higher risk for recruitment than more affluent youth.

GEMS GIRLS

When advocating for young girls and women outside of African Americans who were/are sexually exploited, the justice system acknowledges the environmental dynamics that contribute to their exploitation. But I find myself continuously asking, where is the support and where are all the advocates when it’s black girls and women from these deprived, neglected neighborhoods?

Visualize this.

Young black girls from age 11, coming from impoverished neighborhoods, enrolled in under resourced zone schools, and experiencing a repetitive cycle of neglect and abuse involving drugs – ends up being removed by child welfare system and placed in foster homes … OR escapes, and becomes runaways or homeless. Regardless of how differently these experiences play out, over 50% of these black girls experience continuous abuse whether from partners or the various foster homes they are placed in. It becomes a psychological succession of abuse that leaves these girls feeling as if there are no options. 

These girls are at a higher risk of being trafficked because of their naivety, distorted versions of love, and the desire of being wanted – not realizing that predators are skilled at understanding the mind of adolescents, using it to manipulate and coerce them into performing sexual acts. Often times, these traffickers use money, attention, and the false concept of love as a way to groom them into becoming their commodity. By then, these girls are so invested in the illusion that they overlook and adapt.

95% of sex trafficked youth report a history of child mistreatment.

Rights 4 girls

THE F**KED UP SYSTEM

Girls and women of color are disproportionately impacted by human trafficking and are also the majority of individuals criminalized for their exploitation.

You know what makes black youth from low income neighborhoods more vulnerable than their white counterparts? The “justice” system and society. Victims involved in forced prostitution and trafficking are looked and treated as criminals. Maybe it’s because there isn’t enough education on this industry and the awareness of  black youth that is primarily targeted – nonetheless, that’s the problem.

In 2017, African American children compromised of 52% of all juvenile prostitution arrests – more than any other group.

Many of them start off as children – from running away, being homeless, or the foster system. Many of them are recruited by their own families – being sold for drugs and money. Many of them feel trapped, especially those girls who age out of the foster care system and have nowhere to go. I remember watching Cyntonia Brown – a 16-year-old girl at the time, with a parent with multiple psychiatric disorders, who was sexually exploited as a prostitute and was sentenced to life in prison after killing a man who had raped her. A minor, sentenced to life for killing a man old enough to be her father – fearing for her safety. You know what the prosecutor asked her? “Why did you stay with him if you feared for your life?” 

Choices.

Defined as “an act or instance of choosing; … the right, power, or opportunity to choose from a set of alternatives”. But what choice do you really have when all the “alternatives” lead to the same results. By the time a child has experienced years and years of abuse and exploitation and managed to reach adulthood, they are so trapped and broken with an undeveloped mind that they don’t even believe in choices themselves; and the system is partially to blame. Having a choice is a privilege, one that these girls rarely get to make.

The problem with this system is that it repeatedly fails black people, especially victims from these industries. When it comes to Cyntonia Brown and other victims of exploitation, the system should have taken the same steps they would have taken for a white girl and sent them to be rehabilitated. At least then, they may have had a chance.

In what world is it okay for a minor to be sentenced to life in prison and charged with felonies because they were  victimized by a predator? Why are majority of these youth African Americans? Many of these victims start off as minors – get arrested, do their time, only to be released, exploited and to do it all over again.

Society talks about choices. What choices are there when there’s nowhere to go, no one TO go to, can’t find a job because you have a rap sheet full of felony charges, can’t make money or rent an apartment BECAUSE of those charges. Even worse, there’s this idea that all human trafficked victims are drug addicts, so many of these programs have a requirement that you must have a drug problem to be serviced; resulting in many of these victims not getting the support they so desperately need. Many of these victims engage in substance abuse after their exploitation – as a way of getting numb – getting through being dehumanized.

To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time

JAMES BALDWIN

REFLECTION

As a child, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what this world was capable of. How do you decipher the quality of a person when they see victims as property and a means for monetary gain? My view of this world has changed for the worst. I can’t see the good, without the system acknowledging the bad – the bad that goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, unrepresented. As much change as I would love to bring through my writing, through advocating, through supporting these groups, I sometimes fear that it may not be enough.

James Baldwin so eloquently said “To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time”. I’ve never read anything truer and more heartbreaking, because unfortunately, being anything other than white is having to come to terms that we will always be systemically oppressed and marginalized.

That’s what this system does to black LGBT, (black men), and women in this world. Turn a blind eye and tell them their lives don’t matter.

HTGWM

I’m not here writing from an experience of being trafficked. I’m learning and challenging myself to see the harsh realities of a world, for so many victims that have been ignored. I’m here writing because regardless of how f**ked up the system is, and how you’re viewed in society, you are seen. You are not alone – you are supported, and you are deserving of peace, of happiness, and of safety.