Re-evaluate your beliefs about the victims of prostitution, human trafficking

By Sara Pennebecker, Guest Columnist

Most people hear the words prostitution or prostitute, and thoughts like “the morality of the issue,” “world’s oldest profession,” or “What’s wrong with them?” might be a few of the things that cross their minds. Yet, how many people think about how it affects these individuals or wonder how they got there?

Most experts would agree that a young girl (or boy, but this article focuses on women and girls since they make up the majority of victims) wakes up and makes a conscious decision to become a prostitute and if they do, they do not realize what they are actually getting themselves into. Prostitution at its core is violence against women, and, in fact, is intrinsically linked to human trafficking. They are one in the same.

Think about this: As a society, we condemn rape. At the very least there are laws against it and education in most schools. However, if there is a transaction, typically monetary, all of a sudden it is no longer rape in the eyes of the law and public perception.

Yet, 60 – 75 percent of prostitutes report that they are regularly raped, and 70 – 95 percent of prostitutes are regularly physically abused. No amount of money changes what rape is or any other form of sexual or physical violence against an individual.

We must stop seeing prostitution as a victimless crime. It allows us to ignore statistics like the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 13 and most women in prostitution would like to get out but feel trapped. One study found that 89 percent of women and girls involved in prostitution want a way out.

What about that is voluntary? You are more likely to see a prostitute given a ticket or fined for their actions than the pimp or the trafficker who is behind the operation.

Why as a society do we condemn women who are prostitutes, assuming that they choose this lifestyle, but then the men who purchase sex simply get a slap on the wrist, or the comment “boys will be boys” is made?

We cannot allow the traffickers and johns to continue to hide in the shadows, while we continue to place blame on the victims.

Prostitution, like all other forms of human trafficking, is inherently harmful and dehumanizing. There is nothing humane or respectful about exploiting another human being for the purpose of making money or other gains.

What is it really? It is slavery. This issue represents a serious obstacle to social equality, gender equality and the enjoyment of the most basic human rights by all people. The time is here, and the time is now to begin to work on this issue.

I challenge you today to begin by re-evaluating your beliefs, stereotypes and assumptions about individuals involved in prostitution. Talk to others you know about this issue and help them come to understand that prostitution places tremendous harm and suffering on those who are part of it. Stop patronizing strip clubs and encourage others to do the same; this goes for pornography as well.

Talk to men and boys about accountability, and teach young boys that any form of oppression of women, prostitution included, is not acceptable. Set an example through your thoughts, words, and actions for those around you, and slowly we can make a difference.

No woman deserves to be treated or harmed the way victims of prostitution are. Every woman and girl deserves to grow up and live a lifestyle free of violence, harm, and fear. We must start today in order to create this environment for those tomorrow.

Sara Pennebecker is a Franciscan Community Volunteer at St. Francis Convent. She has been working on the issue of human trafficking since January when she began work for Hands Across the World, a St. Cloud non-profit that provides literacy skills for immigrants and refugees.