I often get asked if prostitution is the same thing as sex trafficking, and the answer is no. Not all prostitution is trafficking; however, all sex trafficking involves prostitution and the exploitation of our men, women and children. Some prostitution is legal, like in the brothels and strip clubs. And some is illegal including selling sex on the streets or on the internet. There are also a few gray areas including escort services, which depending on the person may believe it is or is not prostitution.
At Awaken, we operate under the umbrella of commercial sexual exploitation, CSE. This refers to any form of prostitution, legal or illegal, for the exchange of money. Money, however, is used lightly and can include actual money, drugs or a place to sleep. I have personally worked with children as young as fourteen and women as old as sixty. Despite the age, the needs only vary slightly. Each one is looking for love, acceptance and personal safety.
For the purposes of this blog, I will speak openly about both sex trafficking and prostitution, while continuing to inform you of the harsh realities that take place in both areas. My thoughts are consistent that the abuse in all forms of prostitution are the same. It is a game of power, control and the manipulation of the more vulnerable party. You will also be shocked by the amount of illegal actions that take place even in legal settings.
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When I first began working with victims of sex trafficking I had to develop a whole new vocabulary. I could no longer use the term “out of pocket” when I was going out of town and would not be able to be reached. And the name “John” was no longer the name of someone’s son or friend, but a buyer of sex, a trick or a client.
Even across state lines terminology differs. In Nevada, we call the entire subculture of prostitution and trafficking “the life”. In California, they call the life “the game”. But it is in no way, the life or a game. Terminology like this is intended to mask the real hurt and abuse that the women and girls endure everyday. In Reno, 4th Street is the known area where the heart of exploitation and trafficking occurs. We call this street “the track”, but you can also hear it be called “the blade” or “the stroll” depending what state or county you are in.
I can remember walking through the mall with one of our younger girls and I saw a man looking her up and down. He too, was an attractive young man. I immediately put her head down and told her not to make eye contact. I had a funny suspicion that he was tied to the game and making eye contact would mean she was his. This is the act of choosing up, whether accidentally or on purpose, by making eye contact, she is choosing him to be her pimp.
Despite a few differences in terminology, there is a set of rules and a distinct hierarchy of authority that is known and followed by everyone. It is passed down through family lines or shared amongst those involved. In this game, you play by the rules. Failure to do so can cost you your life.
To learn more about specific vocabulary, check out Shared Hope. Continue to educate yourself by researching trafficking facts and terminology.
I was sitting in a friend’s living room when I first heard the term “human trafficking”. I was stunned and immediately appalled that this was happening in my city. Hearing statistics such as there are 27 million slaves in the world today, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and girls as young as 13 are being bought and sold for sex, left me speechless and numb. Whether or not you believe these statistics are actually accurate, human trafficking is happening around you and I, everyday.
Before discussing the validity of these statistics, take a step back and try to put a face to the numbers. My heart breaks for the 13-year-old girl who is still a child; her brain has more than a decade before it is even fully developed. She should be at home or at the mall playing with friends, not being bought and sold each night, nor being raped over and over again.
We put a price tag on her delicate body and tell her what she’s worth. $40 for a blow job. $80 for sex. And $200 for an hour of her time. Even as these numbers are recounted, I can see the pain that still lingers in the eyes of a precious young woman who has now been out of the life for 6 months. I cannot fathom the abuse and the personal degradation that one endures on our hidden streets and alleys.
It is my hope that I can bring light and the sobering truth to what is actually going on within the sex industry. I desire to dive into the stories behind the faces of those deeply entangled by the chains of slavery. I want to debunk myths and establish a solid foundation for the reality behind the exploitation that is taking place within our city and around the world.
This battle cannot be won alone. Will you join me in this cause?
PC: Living on the Rock