We know that anybody can become a victim of human trafficking, but research shows us that African-Americans and other people of color show a higher vulnerability.
According to a UCLA Law Review article, “The Racial Roots of Human Trafficking,” by Cheryl Nelson Butler, “Race intersects with other forms of subordination including gender, class, and age to push people of color disproportionately into prostitution and keep them trapped in the commercial sex industry. Its intersectional oppression is fueled by the persistence of myths about minority teen sexuality, which in turn encourages risky sexual behavior. Moreover, today’s anti-trafficking movement has failed to understand and address the racial contours of domestic sex trafficking in the United States and even perpetuates the racial myths that undermine the proper identification of minority youth as sex trafficking victims.”
“Race intersects with other forms of subordination including gender, class, and age to push people of color disproportionately into prostitution and keep them trapped in the commercial sex industry.”
According to Rights4Girls, an advocacy organization working to protect marginalized girls, “black children account for 57% of all juvenile prostitution arrests – more than any other racial group.” Trends show that people of color are more likely to experience a history of sexual and/or physical abuse, community or family instability and dislocation, child welfare involvement, especially out-of-home foster care placement, life as a runaway or homeless youth, disconnection from the education system and being off-track for achievement, and poverty. All of these things make them more vulnerable targets of trafficking.
The UCLA Law Review Article also states, “While Black children are more likely to experience some form of sex trafficking, other children of color are similarly at a higher risk than their white counterparts. Native Americans in particular argue that a strong connection exists between colonization and a persistent targeting of native people for prostitution.” Seen as an economical consequence of losing their land and culture as a way of survival, prostitution seems like the only career option to some Native American girls and women.
Why is this the case? And why do these discrepancies continue?
According to Butler: “Hyper-sexualized stereotypes about minority teens continues to drive their prostitution and sexual exploitation. Lawmakers presume that minors have consented to prostitution even when the minor is below the age of consent.” Because of societal beliefs about good girls vs bad girls, minors in prostitution are seen as bad girls who are choosing that lifestyle as an act of rebellion instead of victims who deserve resources and support.
The media today doesn’t help this either. Minority girls are objectified in pornographic images, mainstream music videos, and on television. Rap music glorifies “pimpin” while contemporary artists often embody pimp personae with hit songs like “Big Pimpin,” and “Pimpin All Over The World”.
Knowing all of this, we still struggle to identify many girls as victims. Minorities continue to be identified as criminals, and these biases cloud the ability to recognize when girls have not given consent to prostitution, thus making them victims of human trafficking. “Any vulnerable child can be a victim of sex trafficking, but we can no longer gloss over the fact that the majority of those who are victimized are girls of color. By illuminating the problem, and potential solutions, we are taking the first steps toward ending the abuse and exploitation of our most marginalized girls,” says activist and actress Gabrielle Union.
“Any vulnerable child can be a victim of sex trafficking, but we can no longer gloss over the fact that the majority of those who are victimized are girls of color. By illuminating the problem, and potential solutions, we are taking the first steps toward ending the abuse and exploitation of our most marginalized girls.” – Gabrielle Union
Honestly, although we know this is a major issue, all too often it doesn’t feel like there is much we can do to help. But we CAN.
We can be aware of the facts. Biases do exist and victim identification versus criminalization is a problem in our justice system.
As Gabrielle Union says, “The first step is to have compassion for the pain, the discrimination, and the unfathomable trauma these girls have experienced. Then, we must turn that compassion into action.” Some of her suggested actions include being vocal about the sufferings of human trafficking victims and working to take the term “child prostitute” out of the vocabulary in our conversations, media, legislations, and judicial system.
Read more here.