TRIGGER WARNING: This post, and pages it links to, contains information about human trafficking and rape, which may be triggering to survivors.
For women’s history month, I wanted to feature the voices of other women who have impacted my life tremendously, speaking about topics that are close to our hearts. Some of the topics are really, really difficult, like this one: human trafficking. Minnesota operates with a Safe Harbor Law; in other words, youth who engage in prostitution are not considered criminals, but rather victims and survivors of sexual exploitation.
Let me be very clear: while the article you are about to read is not graphic, it is horrifying– but so terribly important to know.
“Sofie,” the author of this post, works as an advocate for women and girls who have been trafficked, and has been privileged to work with survivors, advocates, leaders, and law enforcement from around the country on prevention, demand operations, and recovery work with survivors.
I’ve known Sofie over five years now, and she inspires me daily. This is a woman who loves not only with words but with action. She makes my heart so proud it could burst.
written by Sofie
How much for half an hour?
Send me a picture of your tits.
I want to rip you wide open.
These are the first three texts I receive in response to a fake ad posted on a website infamous for its facilitation of prostitution ads. I cannot give you the details of our operation – in fact, I cannot even tell you my name – but stings to capture the tricks/johns are sometimes done via fake online advertisements on popular websites.
When I began, I had intended to write an article exposing some common myths; that human trafficking and prostitution are two sides of the same coin, that women don’t choose this life, that this isn’t the movie Taken and no one is getting kidnapped at gunpoint, that coercion and manipulation and exploited vulnerabilities are more useful to traffickers, that prostitution is not a damn choice.
I could tell you about all the women I know trying to leave this life; about the barriers they face. I could tell you about the kids I know; manipulated by someone who tells them they’ll be a model or a movie star or even just a girlfriend.
But in the middle of the demand stings in the weeks prior to the Super Bowl something changed. Demand for trafficked women and girls surges, and law enforcement agencies converge on the host city to conduct their sting operations. We posted this fake ad offering a girl, advertised merely as “young,” and within two minutes the phone began to buzz and did not stop for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes.
Hundreds of men.
Trying to rent a teenage girl.
Can I describe how it felt to hold that phone in my hand; to know that at the other end were hundreds of men imagining violence and power and pleasure at the expense of a kid?
I want to rip you wide open.
They haunt me; the men we don’t succeed in capturing. The men too smart to get caught. The men who have done this so many times; the men who have rented girl after girl after girl. The ones who bought a different girl that ugly Friday night in February.
And I want you to know: these men? They belong to you. They live in your suburbs. They work in your office. They go to your church.
According to statistics obtained by a local offenders program, about 70% of the men who try to rent trafficked women and girls are white, married men. Half of all the men who had been through this offenders program had their own daughters.
I’m a little young, we’d type.
Not how young? or oh my god no I’m not here to have sex with a kid.
Just that: how much?
I have worked in the anti-trafficking world for a number of years; been aware of the realities of that world for longer. I have heard the heart-wrenching stories of the women and girls we recover; seen face-to-face some of the buyers and the traffickers arrested for this horrendous crime. But I will be honest: the week that led up to the Super Bowl nearly destroyed me.
I could give you the Sex Trafficking 101 speech I’ve given to countless groups of volunteers, churches, etc. I could tell you the myths and the truths. I could talk about the girls and women: badass and vulnerable and hard and angry and tired and kind and resilient and alone.
But that week – those men who texted the phone I held in my outstretched hand – left me with this, and this is what I leave with you: this city is full of men who want to rent your daughters.
What are you going to do about it?
If you want to learn more about sex trafficking in the twin cities, check out Breaking Free’s website. If you’re looking to get involved and are a person of faith, Trafficking Justice can connect you to information, training, and volunteer opportunities. Beautiful & Loved also serves women leaving the industry, with a special focus on survivors who were once in the strip clubs. Agape International Mission is a wonderful organization fighting this problem on a more international level. Finally, Nefarious is a documentary that gives a broad and important overview of sex trafficking all over the world. If you are interested, here are some of the articles that have already tackled some common myths.