Are heroes who want to rescue those sex-trafficked really the heroes?

Jess Richardson – WNN SOAPBOX

Moldovan teenager who experienced sex-trafficking
Katia was trafficked from Moldova to Russia. At the age of 19 she returned home where she sits on her bed with a new kitten. Image: Mimi Chakarova/CIR

(WNN) Los Angeles, California, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: Former sex worker and sex-trafficking survivor Jes Richardson outlines the dynamics of rescue in the plight of those who continue to be trapped in the multi-national crime industry of human-trafficking today. How can a rescuer’s actions and language not belittle those who have been exploited as they also become an authority figure for those they hope to help? Explaining this Richardson give us an inside look from her experience ‘in the life’ as a trafficking survivor. Jes works to teach heroes to become, instead of self-serving attention-getters, real and true sustainable advocates for those trapped under sexual exploitation inside modern slavery.

In the life ‘Captain Save a Ho’ is considered a person who is not in the life, and a glorified ‘Square’, who grabs their cape and runs into the darkness of night to save little girls.

It sounds heroic, but Captain Save a Ho is a very derogatory term.

Every good story has a hero, a villain and the beautiful helpless ‘maiden’ in need of rescue. But this is not a fairy tale. It’s real life and real people who don’t need or want a hero. They need support, empowerment and hope of a better life, should they desire one.

Captains Save a Ho’s have a wide variety of tactics. Some desire to build relationships with strippers or ‘girls’ on the street. But they don’t have enough resources available to really assist the survivors of trafficking, thus giving the individual a false sense hope. Others are men who want to give survivors a ‘break’ by paying for their time and initiating a conversation, which can also be standard behavior for a [sex] buyer. And then the furthest extreme of Captains feel called to ‘rescue the voiceless’ from the grip of traffickers.

Imagine someone flying across the country to pick up an individual they only recently met. They are removed from everything they have ever known. Then they’re placed in a home where they can’t have contact with anyone in the outside world. Sounds much like trafficking? It also sounds like a rescue.

Every situation is different, but a rescue can also appear like kidnapping or trafficking to law enforcement. The only difference is the intention of the rescuer. Many bad situations are built on good intentions gone awry.

More often than not the story of Captain Save a Ho and the ‘fair maiden’ ends with the girl running out as friends console the rescuer saying, “You did the best you could.”; “She was too difficult.”; “She had too many problems.”; or “Maybe she was wounded beyond repair.”

No matter the volition of the rescuers the outcome is usually devastating. It’s better to never give an individual hope than to give her hope and fail her. This type of unintentional abuse is completely unacceptable and easily preventable. The term ‘rescue’ naturally implies that a person is incapable of helping themselves, and sometimes this is true. It may literally take a SWAT team to extract a survivor. But the effects of being rescued can leave a lasting emotional mark on the survivor, which is difficult to overcome in the new life.

A simple change in our terminology and understanding can make a world of difference.

When someone is rescued the power, strength, courage, and control is placed in the hands of the rescuers, rather than empowering the person being rescued. Trafficking survivors have been stripped of all control and decisions. If, on the very first day of their new life the rescuer has the power over the trafficking survivor’s life, then all we have done is shifted the power from the trafficker to the rescuer rather than to the survivor.

We cannot expect the survivor to become empowered if we have not had these life-giving paradigm shifts ourselves.

Rather than using the term rescue, a preferable term is ‘relocation’ or ’emergency relocation’. Relocation places the power and choice in the hands of the person being relocated. Using the word relocation does not seem nearly as heroic though, nor does it afford the same fundraising capabilities. The purpose of a relocation is not to create hype, raise funds, make the support team feel better about themselves, or to publicly glorify God for a life being saved.

The purpose of a relocation is to transfer a survivor from one location to another without being detected. The survivor needs privacy and dignity to adjust to a new life in an environment of safety (this is assuming there is quality and holistic resources available). A relocation is not about us, it is about the survivor who is seeking a life of freedom.

Life on the other side of relocation for survivors is mundane and haunted by flashbacks and night terrors.

The lack of drama makes them miss the exciting night life where something is always ‘going down’. Their new life is also filled with uncertainty where ‘trusting God’ or ‘having faith’ is not appealing. At least they knew what to expect when they were in the life because it was their normal.

A relationship must be established with a support person before relocation or even choosing to exit can happen for a survivor. Everything we do must be honoring, respectful and empowering to the individual for who they are rather than who we think they should become.


Jes Richardson is a survivor of sex trafficking and a former sex worker, as well as an educator, speaker, and blogger. She resides in Los Angeles, California with her husband and six children. To know more about her educational campaigns link HERE.


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