Local view: Sex trafficking: 'We care, because it could be us'High school students in the Girls Restorative Program engaged in Duluth’s Trafficking Awareness Month by reading books, screening films, participating in community events, and by meeting with survivors.
By: Girls Restorative Program, for the News Tribune
High school students in the Girls Restorative Program engaged in Duluth’s Trafficking Awareness Month by reading books, screening films, participating in community events, and by meeting with survivors.
This is their message to you.
Human trafficking is wrong. It’s scary. It should be stopped. And it’s happening in Duluth.
It makes us feel enraged, sad, unaware, sick to our stomachs and disappointed to know girls our age and younger (the average age someone enters the sex industry is 12 to 14) are being sold for sex in our community. It hurts to know that someone would do this to another person. Nobody deserves to go through it. Who wants to be taken control of? What if it were you? What if it were your children?
We care about trafficking because it is degrading to women and because we are female. We care about trafficking because it is girls’ and women’s bodies — and unwanted sex; it is rape. We care because it could be us. Thanks to the engagement of the Duluth community at January’s events, we know many others in our city care, too.
Because we care and because it is wrong, there are several things we want you to know.
Teenagers value education, our bodies, our futures and our individuality. We like our phones and the Internet, but more than that we cherish our friends, families and the love, stability and trust we share with them.
Even though we’re in high school, we struggle. We need support, encouragement, information, healthy relationships, stuff to do and room to make mistakes.
We want you to know that we still have a lot to learn about ourselves — and we don’t need to deal with someone else coming in to control us. We can be manipulated, and we may be vulnerable, but we aren’t stupid. Girls trapped in the sex industry are just like us.
We want you to know that when it comes to girls who have been trafficked, it is not their fault, and it’s not their choice. Girls are targeted, manipulated, tricked, bribed and threatened in the very moments when they most need support and while they are struggling for their own survival. No little girl dreams of growing up to be prostituted. Most of these girls aren’t old enough to get a job, make big decisions or buy cigarettes.
We want you to know that trafficking is happening right under your nose. It is happening in Duluth. It’s uncomfortable, so people don’t want to talk about it. It isn’t brought up, so people think they can ignore it. Education is power. We need to talk about it. We need to acknowledge ignorance.
If you’ve been silent, start talking. As long as this is hidden in silence, we won’t see action, and girls won’t see change. Be the start to the revolution and save girls.
Men of Duluth: We want you to know that even though we care because we are female, you should care because you are male. If you’ve been a consumer of pornography, strip clubs, prostitutes or things like that, know these are connected to trafficking. Be strong enough to stop. Ask yourself if your pleasure is really worth the harm that results. People who survive being trafficked carry it for the rest of their lives. They live with undeserved stigma and shame, with anger and nightmares, and in fear of pimps/boyfriends who know who they are and where they live. If you’ve been silent, be strong enough to speak. If you’ve been a bystander, be strong enough to do something.
And if you’re a father, raise the expectations by which you raise your sons.
We want you to know sexism plays an important role in creating an environment for trafficking. Girls are sexualized at younger and younger ages, and everyone — male and female — is vulnerable to the messages we hear about gender roles. We’ve heard male classmates say, “I’m going to take control of you,” and, “Women’s rights are a joke.” That’s parallel to what they have been told in society about power and control.
We want you to know that women need community, love, information and confidence. They need leaders who are mentors, someone to talk to. And when they are struggling, they need resources.
Duluth, don’t only embrace that this is happening. Educate. These women who are being torn down need help standing back up. Reach out. Build them up. Be their support. Respect their experiences and ability to lead.
We want you to know that women who have survived this are strong and brave and resilient. They are individuals, honest and inspiring. They are teachers who have important experiences and wisdom to share. We have a lot to learn from them, and we need to value them, whether they are 12, 19 or 62.
We want you to know that you are a necessary part of the solution.
Duluth, please, open your eyes. It’s your community. Make this your problem. Learn about it and talk about it. Be the change. Respect girls and women as the family members and neighbors we are.