When you hear the word prostitute, what do you immediately think of? Women selling their bodies, “morally corrupt” women, social outcasts, morally polluted––generally, not a very positive picture is constructed. We tend to think that women who engage in commercial sex acts as being “lower” than the rest of us. The stigma surrounding prostitution is so embedded into our society that upon leaving the sex trade, the identity of a woman is forever tied to her history of sexual activities. The label of “prostitute” is something that comes to dictate the social perception of a woman in society.
Given the reality that the term “prostitute” carries in our society, there is another reality that doesn’t get included when we think about the term––the reality of a sex trafficking victim.
Before I go any further, I just want to make a clarification between the term prostitute and sex trafficking victim. Taken from the Polaris Project website, “Street prostitution becomes trafficking when a pimp uses force, fraud and/or coercion to maintain control over the person providing commercial sexual services and cause the person to engage in commercial sex acts. An individual engaged in street prostitution under the age of 18 is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.”
Now, put yourself in the position of a young girl who is being trafficked. Imagine being forced to sell your body to any John who is willing to pay for a sexual act. Imagine having to make a nightly quota for a pimp who threatens to physically abuse you if you fail to meet it. Imagine having the wellbeing of your family and friends threatened if you refuse to work for a pimp. Imagine a pimp using the fear of being exposed as a “prostitute” as a weapon against you.
The fact that a pimp has the option to use society as an oppressive instrument against a victim is rather disturbing. What does this say about us as a society? Are we as a community and as a people more willing to condemn the victims of sex trafficking as “prostitutes” rather than attempting to help those in need? Why does a victim have to fear being ostracized after she is exposed as a “prostitute”, when their circumstances are far worse?
The suffering that these young girls and women go through in their time as sex workers is enough. They shouldn’t continually be marginalized, and shunned when they emerge from the sex trade by society. We as a society should be more kind and accepting of victims who attempt to reintegrate back into society. We need to deconstruct the social stigma surrounding the label of “prostitute” so victims of sex trafficking will not be afraid to seek help.
The life of being a sex trafficking victim is hard enough as it is; we as a society don’t need to make it harder.