When will we start de-glamourizing depictions of human trafficking?

Jes Richardson – WNN SOAPBOX

Human trafficking iconic image
Are images, like this amazing iconic image depicting human trafficking, especially the trafficking of women in the U.S., bring attention to the plight of human trafficking. But what is the real story behind the images? Trafficking survivor and former sex-worker Jes Richardson tell us. Image: Ira Gelb/Flickr

(WNN) Los Angeles, California, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: Today, thousands of people will “shine a light on slavery.” As a survivor of sex trafficking, I am deeply grateful but I am also deeply concerned. Who doesn’t want to stop slavery? Well, except for those who own slaves. There’s always them… But the majority of the world wants slavery to end.

The mission of the End It Movement is clear, raise awareness of slavery and direct funding to well known organizations who are providing services. It is a good plan. A much needed plan. Unfortunately, their awareness and the efforts of many other organizations are adding to the misconceptions surrounding trafficking.

Take a look at this video:

There is no denying the film was intended to raise awareness of US based sex trafficking. From the side of the truck reading, “St. Louis” to the disproportionate amount of white girls wearing heels; this film and the actual event, were designed to expose domestic sex trafficking. Except, what they are representing, very rarely happens in the United States and I’m not certain how often it happens in other countries.

Trafficking in the US rarely includes being filthy and thrown into the back of a truck; more often, we are the girls in the back of that Cadillac or Benz. The way the women in the film are dressed implies they have been ‘seeing’ buyers, except they are covered in bruises and dirt. Trafficking is a business, it’s about money. How much money would one of these girls make? Now, imagine a young woman who is dressed nice, with a smile on her face — She’s charming and sweet. How much money would she make?

Yes, the beatings happen. In fact, the real stories of trafficking are much more gruesome than anything I’ve see in the media. You don’t have to sensationalize trafficking, it really is much worse but it needs to be displayed accurately.

Trafficking is a business and the people are the product. If the person being sold doesn’t fulfill the fantasy, then they don’t make the money. So, what is the fantasy? The fantasy is what we see in the sex industry. Trafficking looks like the sexy woman in the ad online. Trafficking looks like the woman getting gang-banged in porn. Trafficking looks like the person standing on the corner. But trafficking is not every person selling sexual pleasure online, in porn, or on the streets. It is virtually impossible to tell the difference between an individual who is voluntary selling sex to meet their needs and the individual who is being trafficked due to force, fraud, or coercion, because they all look the same. Only through relationships and deeply listening to the words of each individual, can we understand each persons unique and individual situation.

Here is where the bigger challenge comes into play. If organizations like the End It Movement, represented trafficking accurately they wouldn’t raise the same amount of money. The same way pimps and traffickers, groom, dress and train the individuals who are being trafficked to make the most money. The organizations cannot accurately represent trafficking because seeing white women beaten and dirty, raises more money and evokes passion in the viewer.

I believe films like this one are designed to create hype about trafficking, while trying to avoid the deep heart transformation that needs to happen within the church. The End It Movement was born out of the American faith-based community, which is widely known for their judgement of individuals within the sex industry, while secretly consuming sexual services. Taking the look of selling sex, out of sex trafficking, allows individuals to be comfortable in their activism without having to look at their own behavior.

Awareness of domestic sex trafficking needs to happen, but it needs to be accurate. Over time, the bruises heal and the scars fade but the need for quality holistic resources, unconditional love and safe community still remains. I want to ask the same question posed in the film; if you could see it, would you end it?


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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