by Ramneek Singh
Being trafficked is a highly traumatizing experience. Victims of this heinous crime go through a war of their own, and fortunately many come out as survivors. However, despite fighting such a tough battle, sadly they are faced with another: re-integrating into a society which disregards and shames them. North American culture is deeply flawed in its treatment of human trafficking survivors. As a society, we tend to glorify the perpetrators and shame the victims. We create an environment where survivors are embarrassed to share their experiences and the guilty proudly boast their offences. The bitter truth is that we let down the people who need us the most.
To begin with, one of the most important institutions in our society, the media, contributes heavily to this problem. Stories about “illicit activities” at massage parlours are published by local news outlets, but often, many outlets forget to mention that the women working at these massage parlours are human trafficking victims (End Slavery Now). They are not protected like victims of other crimes, but rather are “exposed and publicly shamed”(End Slavery Now). Furthermore, pimps are glorified “almost everywhere – from music and movies to kiddies' Halloween costumes”(Grant). There are even instructional guides for pimps, such as The Pimp Game: Instructional Guide by Mickey Royal (Grant).
Many other institutions also contribute to the mistreatment of survivors. A study conducted by Rajaram and Tidaball found that there was “a lack of awareness among the general public and frontline professionals such as law enforcement and health care providers,” which exacerbated the survivors’ “feelings of distrust, hurt or alienation […]”(Evans 53).
This horrible aspect of North American culture impacts both male and female trafficking survivors who are faced with their own unique set of challenges while trying to get their life back on track. Heather R. Evans, who has a doctorate degree in social work, states in her study that a female may experience “stigma...for being involved in the commercial sex industry” and that “her...feelings of shame and isolation may be exacerbated when returning to friends and family who may be unaware or lack understanding of what occurred”(Evans 51). A female survivor may also “lack social support from family or friends,”which can increase symptoms of trauma (Evans 52). Additionally, a survivor's self-perception may be damaged by hostile attitudes from friends and family. A female trafficking survivor even details in the study “…when I would reach out for help, I got a lot of judgment. And that was a rude awakening going from this counterculture that completely embraced and supported what you were doing to the greater community, to like, you’re disgusting. You make really bad choices”(Evans 302). Furthermore, something that is more disturbing is the fact that men purchasing sexual services from women is rationalized and normalized amongst society. Rachel Loyd, a survivor-leader states that “while we may frown upon those who get caught, there is an underlying belief that men have needs and that sometimes those needs may be legitimately, if not legally fulfilled by someone” (Evans 26).
On the other end of the spectrum, male human trafficking survivors often fear having their masculinity or sexual orientation questioned. Linda Marino, the mother of deceased human trafficking victim, Samuel Marino, stated, “he couldn’t deal with the torture and the shame of being prostituted ....”(Collins). According to recent data, although both male and female survivors “suffer trauma and other psychological scars, [males] are less likely to come forward, and when they do, they are more likely to have difficulties finding counseling and other services”(Collins). Lung, a former human trafficking survivor and member of the advisory council states that “the perception of society is that boys and men are not victims,” and that he “can count on one hand the number of organizations that are specific to boys and men in the country. And that’s a pretty big problem”(Collins).
North American society needs to seriously reflect on and adjust its cultural values. We need to step away from a culture where commercial sex is normalized, but its victims are demeaned and degraded. We need to stop referring to exploiters of women and children as “ ‘Johns,’ a generic name used for the anonymous ‘common-man,’” as using such terms “minimizes the reality of their crimes”(Evans 26). Jada Pinkett Smith once even said, “people who are having sex with children are not Johns and tricks. They are child rapists and pedophiles, so we should call them what they are.”
Overall, what North Americans should be focusing on is realizing the depth of this crime and striving to create a safe space for all survivors, regardless of their gender. The day we defer from our present attitudes towards commercial sex, forced or consensual, will be the day that human trafficking survivors will not have to fight another battle.
Collins, Dave. “Case Reveals Shame, Trauma of Male Sex Trafficking Victims.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 15 Nov. 2018, apnews.com/a7d41311016c415390477750e369f8f9. Accessed 21 August 2020.
Evans, Heather R. “From the Voices of Domestic Sex Trafficking Survivors: Experiences of Complex Trauma & Posttraumatic Growth.” University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons, 20 May 2019, repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1131&context=edissertations_sp2. Accessed 21 August 2020.
Grant, Tavia. “The Trafficked: How Sex Trafficking Works in Canada.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb. 2016, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/the-trafficked-how-sex-trafficking-works-in-canada/article28700689/. Accessed 21 August 2020.
“Understand How Trafficking Victims Are Shamed.” End Slavery Now, www.endslaverynow.org/act/action-library/understand-how-trafficking-victims-are-shamed. Accessed 21 August 2020.