This Saturday I had the honor of performing “Girls Like Her” at the Daybreak Human Trafficking Forum at Bloomington Covenant Church. It is always awesome to share a mic with people who are up to their elbows trying to end this travesty in our cities, state, and even the world.
Often, when I speak about human trafficking, especially when I cite the frightening statistic that the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12-14 years old, people will say, “I bet a lot of those girls have been abused.” This response has always bothered me, but it’s been recently that I’ve come up with a good reply. Now, when someone says that to me, I reply by saying “Rape is a fairly common experience for an American woman, and not all of them end up in prostitution.” I say this not to be dismal or to shock people. I say this because people who blame human trafficking on child or sexual abuse aren’t aware of what their thought process has just done.
We don’t assume that prostitutes were abused as children because we want to have compassion for them. We don’t need to add child abuse to feel compassion for a 13-year-old in the sex trade. We blame the sex trade on former abuse because we’ve already given up on people who have been sexually abused. Sexual abuse is such a hideous and incredible trauma, we get too overwhelmed at the total tonnage of the damage inflicted on that person. It is tempting to mentally throw them away, because we feel powerless to help them. If greater tragedies befall them, we can deal with that without cognitive dissonance; they’ve already fallen off our personal grid for people with potential and hope.
Furthermore, any bad decisions a person makes after they are sexually abused can be excused, explained, and rationalized by the abuse. A lot of bad decisions can follow abuse, but when we blame those bad decisions on the abuse, we rob the survivors of their personhood. We are essentially saying that they have no personal responsibility and therefore no power to make meaningful choices. This is why the 12-steps are so powerful for people who have suffered abuse, because going through that process allows them to reclaim responsibility for their own choices, and therefore, power over their own lives.
When I hear someone say, “I bet those girls have been abused,” I know they are trying to make sense of the situation. They are trying to explain why such an unbelievable truth has crossed their path. I understand that, I really do. But if you are talking to me, blaming former abuse simply will not do. I stand as one of the luckier women who has been abused, and has found health and healing in the hands of brave and compassionate people who were willing to keep me on their grid. I want to be that person for other survivors, and I want to help other people gain the strength and perspective so they can be that person too.