I looked at my three small children with desperation in my eyes. Sick to my stomach, I started to calculate the very small amount of money I had versus how much a place to live would cost us. At that point in time, we were all homeless after leaving my abusive marriage, and I was mostly a stay-at-home mom for numerous years. This meant that the moment that I left my marriage, funds were gone.
In my most desperate moment, I recall seeing an ad for a job at a strip club waitress. I am not knocking strip clubs or the women who work there, but I always thought that I would never allow myself to even think about working in one. But in my weakest moment, I can tell you I completely considered it. I not only considered it, but I also started to plan how it could work with my kids’ schedules. Thoughts about selling my body in multiple ways to feed my children crossed my mind, and I am not too proud now to say that. Ultimately, I decided to never apply to the club or sell my body in any type of way, but this is sadly the mindset that many who leave abuse must struggle with, and this was all by choice.
The even more devastating reality is that many are having to sell their bodies at no choice of their own, and sometimes, the one forcing it is the person who is supposed to love them.
There is a huge link between domestic violence and human/sex trafficking. It is not uncommon to see a husband selling a wife, a mother selling a child, a brother selling a sister, or other family members using their loved ones for money or drugs in trade for sexual acts or manual labor. We hear many horror stories about runaway children who are picked up and trafficked, but the sad truth is that many are abused right in their own homes. Using means of control and intimidation, just as with abuse, the victims are often left fearing for their lives unless they comply with what they are being forced to do.
Many victims of human trafficking have also been victims of domestic violence in their past. Childhood sexual abuse is very common in trafficking victims, and the emotional and mental damage from the abuse often leads to adulthood issues that could put a person at further risk of being trafficked later in life. The brainwashing of domestic violence victims is very common to that of trafficking ones. They are confused, demeaned, lacking self-esteem, and fearful of escape. Many who leave both situations will need shelters to help get them back on their feet, escape dangerous situations and people, and teach them how to cope with what they have been through. The psychological damage done to both sets of victims is life-altering, and it takes time to heal.
To combat human trafficking in our own neighborhoods, we must be diligent to look for signs just as we would domestic violence. We must be more aware of our surroundings. If something seems off, trust your gut. Call 911 if you believe someone is trying to talk someone into trafficking. Locate local task forces and organizations and see how help is needed. It may be volunteering, advocacy, or giving resources, but anything that you can do could help save a life.
Remember that victims are going to need a lot of love and support to get through the horrific journey that they have walked through. Never judge because you have no idea what that person has felt or experienced. I know how easily it could have been me in my desperation of leaving my abuse. I know exactly where my mind went, and I will never again judge a person for that. There are other ways to get out of abuse that is much safer, but what I am saying is that we are so quick to think about how we would handle something until we are faced with unthinkable circumstances. Victims need to feel empowered, equipped, and shown their worth, not told what they should have done differently.
If you are a victim of human trafficking or domestic violence and need someone to talk to, please contact our BTSADV Support line at 1-855-287-1777. You deserve healing.