Text by K. Cecchini @tonightatdawn
The sex industry is complicated but it can often be looked at through this one word.
It’s also an apropos title for the 3generations documentary on sex trafficking.
I was fortunate to meet Jane Wells, producer and co-director of Tricked, at the Montclair Film Festival screening this past April and spoke with her recently regarding her impressions on how to address the sex trade and her approach to the subjects in the film.
Traffic is Flowing
The sex trade is expanding; there is a greater demand for the product, and therefore, victims. The FBI identifies it as the most common form of human trafficking with victims in the millions domestically and internationally, “It is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world”.
“It (sex trafficking) is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world”. -FBI
Some experts blame the internet for the surge. It is much easier to access porn and sex for sale while circumventing law enforcement. And not for nothing, it certainly provides the comfort and anonymity of shopping from home.
Wells surmised, “It’s a lot easier to sit on your computer in your office or your home and go online and make contact with someone than it is to get in your car and drive to a certain side of town…and worry about who might be seeing you. I think the privacy that the internet affords is a big factor in allowing more people in accessing sexual services.”
The catch 22 is that the ease of access arouses more demand as even more folks get a taste for it.
Slowing Down the Traffic
Being that prostitution is, as they say, ‘the world’s oldest profession,’ it’s a difficult problem to solve. With their films, Wells says that 3generations is attempting to counter the broader culture’s impression of prostitution, “…that says ‘its a victimless crime, that most of the girls are doing it by choice…'” and it’s “‘…2 consenting adults doing something completely normal and natural'”.
The prostitute that is acting completely out of free will is truly a rarity and Wells stresses that “…if you are a john and you are purchasing sex you cannot know, you will not know whether the person you are purchasing it from is under pimp control or not because there is no way you really can know.”
It is highly unlikely that a sex worker will confide expose their circumstances because the pimps contain them by instilling great fear and brainwashing their workers so “…their goal is to get money from the john to look like they’re enjoying it because that’s going to be productive and get it over with as quickly as they can by looking happy and content.”
Policing the Traffic
Although many experts recognize that punishing the prostitute – the victim – is neither an effective or fair option, people cannot agree on what is a viable alternative.
Some European countries, such as Germany and Holland, have attempted to stem sex trafficking by legalizing prostitution. The legislative intentions are to allow men and women who are freely selling their sexuality to lead the market, but Wells questions this logic of making exceptions for the minority of sex workers that “…allows for the exploitation of the majority”.
Apparently, she’s right; legalization has exacerbated the vicious cycle of trade. According to Wells, there has been a significant increase in trafficking and author Lydia Cacho asserts that nearly 50,000 African and Latina women have been trafficked to Germany and Holland.
Alternately, nations like Sweden, have made the opposite move with greater success. They have kept prostitution illegal, and have criminalized the purchasing of sexual acts as opposed to the selling.
Exiting the Life
As you may imagine, finding your way safely out of ‘the life’ and reestablishing yourself in mainstream society is a feat that is complicated by numerous factors and necessitates great supports and strength.
In fact, it’s a wickedly complex feat.
One woman that Wells had spoken to for Tricked had insisted that she freely chose to be a prostitute. A few months ago, Wells learned that the woman had finally recognized that she, indeed, was brainwashed while in a transitional program.
Another story that Wells recounted was of a young man that she had interviewed who, for lack of services, was trying to process his experiences via social media. Through her Facebook feed, Wells assumes that he must spend hours everyday sharing information on prostitution and trafficking with an informal network of survivors.
At this point, though, there are less than 100 beds for female survivors and there are even less, if any, services for male victims within our 50 states.
Often, female victims will end up in places like battered women shelters as they try to move away from the life. Although it may seem a good enough roof for them to find reprieve under, former prostitutes do not receive the specific supports and understanding that would be available in a dedicated service.
To contend with possible years of brainwashing and trauma, these victims need to build up new methods of trust, self-esteem and functioning in the mainstream. According to Cacho, survivors of the sex trade, among other things, need full-time mental and physical health specialists, security, housing, nutrition, legal and immigration assistance. In the United States, she cites the Girls Educational & Mentoring Services in New York as a model organization.
Trafficking is Slavery
In the words of the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act organization website,
“Human trafficking deviates from our historic view of slavery, making it hard to conceptualize. But ultimately, slavery today and 200 years ago share the same notion: It’s the notion that one person’s life, liberty and fortune can be under the absolute control of another, and be sold, bought, or used at the will of the owner”.
So the ‘home of the free and land of the brave’ is still not rid of slavery, it just has a new look. On the FBI website, there is this headline, “It’s sad but true: here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves”.
Not in my backyard? Who can tell?
Visit Tonight at Dawn for a follow-up article on the making of Tricked.
3generations is a non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the story of survivors through film “…as an act of healing and a call to action”. Their most recent release is Native Silence, a “solemn account of the legacy of forced adoption on Native American children, torn from their tribal communities and placed in foster care and boarding schools”.
“3generations.” 3generations. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Cacho, Lydia, and Roberto Saviano. Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
FBI. FBI, 22 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
“Wells, Jane”. Telephone interview. 28 Aug. 2014.