I just watched Selma and of course some of the scenes brought tears to my eyes and hurt to my soul. What was acceptable back then was barbaric. I was born in 1964, so I have some early memories of the years after Selma and Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. I remember my favorite Uncle saying he would vote for George Wallace for president. Even at a young age, I was shocked that someone I admired so much could see Wallace as the possible leader of our country.
I noticed the treatment of people of color – any color – and even as a child of 5 or 6 years old I knew it was wrong. I often felt the humiliation for black men when watching movies or TV. I knew then that I would not stand quiet when I was an adult. I never went against my parent’s authority except when it came to discrimination.
When I was in third grade, I had a birthday party and all the kids in my class were invited except the one that was born of a Vietnamese mother and American father. I remembered crying and saying that I wanted her to come and I was told “NO”! So, in third grade I boycotted my own birthday party, I stayed in my room. I’m sure somehow my parents got me to make an appearance in my small child way. While I couldn’t make it right, I had at least disrupted the party and not accepted the racism quietly. I probably received a spanking as well – one which I took gladly. Today, it sounds terrible even to write it, but in the context of the late 60’s, it was the social norm.
Thoughts on Selma: Then and Now
After the movie Selma, I kept thinking about injustice and how it was innate in me to not accept it, how as humans we are wired for justice. We are harmed when we see injustice, especially when we feel overpowered and helpless watching it. These thoughts inspired by the movie moved me forward in time to present day.
I kept seeing in my mind the image of a sex trafficking victim (a minor) in leg irons and handcuffs being sentenced to jail, which I witness often. At many of my speeches, I make the comment that I spend most of my time getting victims out of jail. I wish I could say this is an exaggeration, but unfortunately, it is true.
When we see horrible injustice, crimes that are too horrible to picture, often a default that our brains use to categorize the unimaginable is to blame the victim. This is an easy thing to do and is probably a good survival skill for those sensitive to injustice. It allows the person to move forward and continue their life when faced with something that is too large to combat, repair, or correct. It may also allow them to feel safer because they can reason that they or their loved ones would not make such a silly mistake. If we didn’t make that leap in logic, we might be stuck, scared or our lives derailed at many times when we should proceed. While this is good for the majority of society to proceed with life it is not good for the victims or their loved ones, and it is a constant source of barriers for the advocates.
Then and Now: Case Points
When helping a minor victim of sex trafficking, I was asked by the judge to visit her in juvenile detention. There are words that make people feel better about locking up children like saying detention instead of jail, disposition rather than sentencing. However the truth is juvenile detention looks, feels and locks like jail. I’ve been there several times and jumped every time that giant lock opened and closed.
The child victim was brought to me in a room secured with locks, handcuffs and a jailer. Her parents could only see her through the glass window with the phone-no hugging touching or even free conversation. Each time, I wonder why anyone could think this is civilized, how anyone could buy sex, how these atrocities to justice and a civil society are so accepted?
It is crazy to me now to hear the arguments in the movie Selma, like barriers to voter registration, punishing humans of a different color, stating that human rights were radical, chasing people down in the streets, hitting people and jailing them for peaceful protests because they demanded the existing laws on equality and human rights be respected.
Ignoring the Law
Since 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act states that any minor in commercial sex is a victim of trafficking- no force fraud or coercion need be shown. It also states that victims are not to be punished for acts related to the trafficking.
In 2015, how barbaric it is to prosecute a child victim of sex trafficking as if he or she were the criminal? We often criticize other societies for prosecuting rape victims yet here we are prosecuting a child that has been raped many times, not once or twice. He/she may have been assaulted, witnessed brutal violence, been forced into sex acts that most adults would not be able to imagine much less endure, deprived of sleep, food, and family and now she must be prosecuted? Chained up, locked up, and if that is not enough, it is done under the pretense of “protecting her”!
I wonder when, as a society, we will be as repulsed by prosecuting sex trafficking victims as we are by racist hatred? Will it take as long? This is the 15th year of the TVPA and victims are still being hurt, jailed and killed – they cannot wait (MLK kept telling LBJ in the movie, “people are dying we can’t wait”). There is a fierce urgency – now as then.
In the recent past, in Bexar County, Texas, a buyer of sex was not convicted of killing a prostituted woman because he “paid” for sex with her and she refused. He shot her and remains free under the defense that he was keeping her from “stealing” his property. Click here to read story. She was being advertised on Craig’s list and her pimp, calling him her partner, makes it sound like she had an equal stake in the deal.
Under the TVPA:
- Anyone benefitting is held responsible the same as all parties.
- If someone dies due to the trafficking, it becomes a capital crime punishable by up to life in prison and possibly the death penalty – the important word here is “dies” not murdered.
She lingered for 7 months paralyzed after being shot in the neck on Christmas Eve of 2009. Much like the atrocities of the juries mentioned in Selma, this jury ruled for the defendant on his right to protect his property, the $150 he used to buy her for commercial sex.
In 1964, there were laws in place, the laws just were not being respected, very much the same as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is ignored today.
How can we make communities safe for victims and hostile to traffickers?
This year we will blog and speak about real things that amazing individuals and organizations are doing that are truly making a difference. I hope you will follow, join, support and share this work so that we, together, can truly change the world and make many safe havens for trafficked victims.
Maybe one day a victim of human trafficking could even become President!
Dottie Laster is affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She created their Casita program and Save One Soul outreach.
As a weekly Co-Host on the nationally syndicated radio show, The Roth Show, Laster presents discussion and guests who speak out about a variety of controversial subjects surrounding the abolishment of human trafficking and corresponding crimes.
Dottie Laster is featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.
Dottie Laster is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting which has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.
To book trainings in your community and become involved in making your area safe for victims and their families, and hostile to traffickers, contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-0859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Selma (the movie): My Thoughts of Then and Now
Counselors, advocates, law enforcement, and other helpers connected with victims of sex crimes such as trafficking are working with a delicate population, one that requires swift yet careful attention. While we work to positively influence many, many sectors which impact the problem of sex trafficking such as public policy and law, for example, we need to be ever-mindful of the victims to whom we are committed. Most victims are truly lost in every sense of that word and are in desperate need of loving, trustworthy help for their mere survival as well as for their mental and emotional recovery and health. Not only do we need to be mindful of the victims of these unspeakable crimes, but we also must be mindful of the criminals as they seek to maintain control and secrecy within their inner circles.
In consideration of the extent of delicacy to which we must tread, take a look at what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says about the nature of the impact of abuse in children:
The brain’s development can literally be altered by this type of toxic stress, resulting in negative impacts on the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth. The specific effects of maltreatment may depend on such factors as the age of the baby or child at the time of the abuse or neglect, whether the maltreatment was a one-time incident or chronic, the identity of the abuser (e.g., parent or other adult), whether the child had a dependable nurturing individual in his or her life, the type and severity of the abuse, the intervention, and how long the maltreatment lasted.*
Are not many adult victims of sex trafficking first victims of abuse and neglect during early childhood? Commonly, victims of this type of crime have previously been subjected to abuse and neglect during childhood, therefore becoming mentally and emotionally unhealthy adults, and thus highly susceptible to further abuse during adulthood.
Children who have been abused or neglected may not be functioning at their chronological age in terms of their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive skills. They may also be displaying unusual and/or difficult coping behaviors. For example, abused or neglected children may: Be unable to control their emotions and have frequent outbursts; be quiet and submissive; have unusual eating or sleeping behaviors; attempt to provoke fights or solicit sexual experiences; be socially or emotionally inappropriate for their age; be unresponsive to affection.*
Since adult victims of sex trafficking commonly suffer first as children, we can expect similar, only louder, impairment. For example, just as a child of abuse and neglect might be quiet and submissive, an adult victim of sex trafficking might be abnormally introverted and overly submissive to her (or his) perpetrator. Such symptoms are widely understood as “codependent” (read more at http://lifespanintervention.com/codependency-defined/) and are commonly associated with, first, poor childhood upbringing including abuse and neglect, and then unsupportive and abusive relationships during adulthood. An additional common concern associated with mental, emotional, and sexual abuse is certainly anxiety (read more at http://lifespanintervention.com/phobias-and-social-anxieties/), and such mental health concerns can be safely addressed in psychotherapy and with short term medication therapy, if deemed necessary.
In general, children who have been abused or neglected need nurturance, stability, predictability, understanding, and support (Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care, 2000). They may need frequent, repeated experiences of these kinds to begin altering their view of the world from one that is uncaring or hostile to one that is caring and supportive. Until that view begins to take hold in a child’s mind, the child may not be able to truly engage in a positive relationship. And the longer a child lived in an abusive or neglectful environment, the harder it will be to convince the child’s brain that the world can change. Consistent nurturing from caregivers who receive training and support may offer the best hope for the children who need it most.*
Likewise, adults who have suffered from long-term abuse require similar care. So whatever sort of helper you are, whether a counselor, an advocate, law enforcement or other, be mindful of the delicacy of our work as these individuals truly need careful, trustworthy attention.
By Ashley R. Donaldson, MA, LPC-CR, a licensed therapist in the state of Ohio who works with children, adolescents, and adults to overcome varying mental health concerns. Ashley R. Donaldson, MA, LPC-CR is available for life coaching, too, via telephone and Skype. Visit Ashley R. Donaldson’s, MA, LPC-CR blog at http://lifespanintervention.com/