Freedom should belong to the victim, not the abuser. But, unfortunately across the globe — and right here in America — that fact isn’t always the reality.
Prostitution is jokingly labeled the oldest profession. But, working in the sex industry has rarely made a prostitute wealthy or given her financial freedom. Instead, girls who are paid to perform sexual favors are enslaved.
The men who pay for sex, also known as “johns,” drive up the demand and keep these women in shackles. And, unfortunately, most don’t receive any punishment from our justice system. And the women receive almost no justice at all.
After the sting at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Florida, where New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, was implicated, only 40 of the 246 men involved were charged with solicitation — which is a misdemeanor.
In my mind, all 16 victims received a severe punishment while over 200 abusers walked away practically unscathed. How is this possible in the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Earlier this year, USA Today looked into three sting operations that took place in Florida — the Orchids of Asia raid and two others — in which 57 people were arrested. Fifty-four of those people were women. Only three were men.
While local authorities initially spoke about cracking the root of the prostitution rings behind these spas, it was the girls who took the fall, the article found. Meanwhile, the architects behind trafficking these girls often went on to open up new spas in different locations.
Most of the women arrested were immigrants from China, Cuba, Haiti, and Guatemala and were most likely brought to America via cities like Flushing, New York, lured by the promise of finding decent work. But when they arrived at their final destination, they found only abuse instead, being shuttled from massage parlor to massage parlor all over Florida.
It’s a heartbreaking story I’ve heard over and over as I’ve traveled to places like Bangkok and Pattaya, Thailand. Girls from poor, rural communities are lured to the cities with promises of work in the booming restaurants and bars. They assume that they’ll work as waitresses or hostesses, make a good income, and be able to pull their families out of poverty.
But they soon discover their real new job is catering to the fantasies of “sex tourists” and local businessmen who can sometimes become abusive or violent.
Police admit that proving girls and women are trafficked is harder than you would think. When victims are brought in for questioning, they often take the blame on themselves, most likely because they are scared of retribution if they reveal those pulling the strings or because their pimps have convinced the girls that they chose this way of life.
Rarely is this ever the truth.
Some people will try to convince you that sex work empowers women, that it allows them to capitalize on their sexuality and make something great of themselves.
But none of the sex workers I have met have ever told me they felt empowered. Instead they use words like “trapped,” “hopeless,” and “desperate.”
If we truly want to put an end to human trafficking, these are not the people we need to focus our attentions on prosecuting. Some states, such as New York, are trying to decriminalize prostitution to shield sex workers from unjust punishment, yet this approach doesn’t address the root of the problem. To effectively combat sex trafficking, we should be going after those increasing the demand. We need to be punishing the men who are buying sex and the abusers who are enslaving girls to this life.
I believe extending a helping hand is a much more effective way to get a woman off the streets for good than locking her hands in cuffs. That’s why our organization, World Help, partners with Freedom Homes in places such as Thailand and India that offer women in the sex industry a way out. They receive help like trauma counseling, education, and vocational training so they no longer feel like selling sex is their only option.
These women have been judged their entire lives — their abusers see them as vulnerable objects to be used, their captors see them as property to be sold, and too often people like us see them as criminals and degenerates. Isn’t it time we see them for what they truly are? Human beings in need of help.
Noel Yeatts is an active advocate for social justice and humanitarian needs around the world. With over 20 years of experience in humanitarian work, Noel is an author, speaker, and the President of World Help, an international, Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished communities around the world. Noel regularly takes the stage for speaking engagements and advocacy events around the country and has been widely recognized for her groundbreaking book, “Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time.” To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.