Nicholas D. Kristof, Columnist, The New York Times, USA is captured during the session 'Redesign Your Cause' of the Annual Meeting 2010 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 30, 2010. Copyright by World Economic Forum. swiss-image.ch/Photo by Monika Flueckiger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you think sex trafficking only happens in faraway places like Nepal or Thailand, then you read Nicholas Kristof‘s latest article in The New York Times.
The article recounts an interview he had recently with a sex trafficking expert.
Mr. Kristof calls her Brianna. She turned sixteen years old yesterday, and she grew up in New York City.
When she was twelve years old, she got into a fight with her mom and ran out to join friends. A friend’s older brother told her she could stay at his place.
When she tried to leave in the morning, he said, “You can’t go; you’re mine.” He told her that he was a pimp, and that she was now his property.
The pimp locked her in the room and alternately beat her and showed her affection. He advertised her on Backpage.com and on other Web sites.
Backpage accounts for about 70% of America’s prostitution ads, according to AIM Group, a trade organization. Backpage cooperates with police and tries to screen out ads for underage girls, but that didn’t help Brianna.
Village Voice Media owns Backpage. When Mr. Kristof wrote recently about the ownership of Backpage, invested firms erupted in excuses and self-pity and raced to liquidate their stakes.
Mr. Kristof met Brianna at Gateways, a treatment center for girls who have been sexually trafficked. It’s thirty-five miles north of New York City, on a sprawling estate overseen by the Jewish Child Care Association. Gateways has accepted girls as young as eleven. Virtually all the girls were sold on Backpage, according to the center’s director.
Gateways has only thirteen beds, and the need is so great that it turns away girls every day.
The public sometimes assumes that teenage girls in the sex trade are working without coercion. Most aren’t physically imprisoned by pimps, but threats and violence are routine. The girls explain that they didn’t try to escape because of a complex web of emotions, including fear of the pimp, affection, and a measure of Stockholm syndrome.
Once, Brianna says, she looked out her window, and there was her mother on the street, crying and posting “missing” posters with Brianna’s photo. She tried to shout to her through the window, but her pimp grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back, threatening to kill her if she called out.
Pimps warn girls to distrust the police, and often they’re right. Bridgette Carr, who runs a human-trafficking clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, tells of a girl who went missing. A family member found the girl on Backpage and alerted authorities. Police “rescued” the girl by handcuffing her and detaining her for three weeks.
That mind-set has to change. Police and prosecutors must target pimps and johns, not teenage victims. Trafficked girls deserve shelters, not jails, and online emporiums like Backpage should stop abetting pimps.
Via The New York Times.