Threats are being made against you and your family, you have been beaten in the past for trying to leave, your ID has been taken away, you have nowhere safe to live, and all your money is controlled by your trafficker. Still think the only barrier to escaping the life is the lock on the door?
One of the most common questions we hear from people is “Why doesn’t she just leave?” When it comes to choice, many people have a preconceived idea that people who are trafficked can’t leave because they are chained up or tied down somehow, but “prostitutes” (we hate that term and prefer people-first language such as “women in prostitution”) can walk out the door whenever they choose. However, when we look closely at the dynamics of both prostitution and sex trafficking, we find that both forms of commercial sexual exploitation depend on the same cycle of abuse and control by an exploiter. In addition, both prostitution and sex trafficking result in extreme sexual violence toward women. Most researchers and anti-trafficking experts maintain that pimp-controlled prostitution is indistinguishable from trafficking.
Movies and television paint a picture of trafficked people being tied up or locked in basements. Although this is sometimes the case, it is NOT the norm. More commonly, a trafficker will use the following tactics to keep someone in the life:
- Physical violence
- Emotional abuse
- Rape/sexual violence
- Threats (against the individual or those close to them)
- Control over finances
- Taking away their I.D. (without an I.D., you can’t get a job, a bus ticket home, etc.)
- Forced use of drugs and alcohol resulting in addiction
- A sense of loyalty or “love” can come with the power a trafficker holds over a trafficked person. This “love” can be due to a person having close family ties with their trafficker, or the relationship the trafficker built to create an added level of control over them.
Traffickers often force the person to do illegal activity for them in order to avoid the law, putting all the risk on the person being exploited. They may dub one woman out of the number of women they are exploiting, the “bottom bitch.” The “bottom bitch,” carries out activities on behalf of the trafficker. They may be the one collecting payment, enforcing punishment and violence, or selling drugs. While they are the “most trusted” and closest to the person exerting power and control over them, they are the ones being forced into risky situations that could result in their arrest. A felony makes it hard or impossible to find a good job or housing after leaving the life.
When a person is enslaved by their trafficker, it is nearly impossible for them to leave. If she could “just leave,” she would. If there was not another human being holding threats over them that could create serious harm to them or those they love, if they had assurance they would not end up in jail, and if they had a safe place to live, then they might be able to consider the possibility of leaving.
A trafficker holds tremendous power, making the choice to leave more complicated than the average person may realize. Before passing judgement, put yourself in another’s shoes, and consider how difficult breaking free really is.
If you want to learn more about the stages a trafficked person goes through and the tactics their trafficker uses to enslave them, read more in our recent blog post.