This is an interesting article from Holly Smith.
She expresses concerns about the use of extreme examples of the harms done to women and girls through child sex trafficking – the images of bound, gagged and tortured girls to raise awareness about sex trafficking.
“As I continued to speak, I began to notice posters displayed at many of these awareness events. They often portrayed girls who were beaten, drugged or tied to beds, or something similar to indicate circumstances of force and bondage.
None of these images represented my experience. I wasn’t abducted from my bedroom; I wasn’t held in shackles, and I was never in fear for my life. I began to question whether or not I was a victim of sex trafficking.
And, then, I stopped sharing my story.”
She describes her own story of being lured, not forced or coerced into prostitution.
Her experience when telling her story was that people began to question why she did not leave if she was not being physically forced to stay in prostitution – why she chose to continue as a “willing victim”. She argues that this can make girls and women feel that they were somehow to blame for their victimisation.
“I again felt like that 14-year-old girl who had been misunderstood, judged and blamed by law enforcement, family members and friends.”
This resonated for me in our advocacy work around other forms of male violence against women and children, such as domestic violence.
When we raise awareness of male violence against women we use images which we hope will shock and make people sit up and take notice.
Pictures of bruises and injuries; statistics about deaths and injuries are powerful ways of creating the attention that is needed.
These images fail to take into account those women who do not necessarily experience physical violence – or where physical violence is only the tip of the iceberg of abuse. They also do not reflect the complexity of male violence against women and children – the grooming, the establishment of dependency and forced isolation, the coercive control that men place on women.
Neither does it recognize other abusive behaviours such as financial abuse, emotional abuse and the many other forms of male abuse that men use to dominate and control women.
When we create in the minds of the public this image of battered women are we doing a disservice to other forms of abusive behaviour that women experience?
We hold women responsible for many things, including their own victimization. If there are no bruises, no injuries are we setting up women to be blamed for not leaving, for not escaping from abusive relationships, as Holly began to experience in telling her story?
“They can unintentionally cause the public to project blame onto those whose backgrounds and spirits are so broken that they fail to see a life in prostitution as something from which they need to be “rescued.””
“We must never interrogate a child victim about his or her actions, or lack of actions. We must, instead, question which factors would drive a child to become a “willing victim,” and we must hold the perpetrator(s) accountable, not the child.”
This holds equally for women trapped in abusive relationships.
Holly Smith is the author of “Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery.”
“Holly is a survivor of child sex trafficking and an advocate against all forms of human trafficking and child exploitation. She works with survivors of abuse, anti-trafficking organizations, and pro-empowerment programs across the globe.”