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
I am often looking for ways to visualize (that are not too offensive) and to explain the tactics used by traffickers so that they are easily understood. I came up with the analogy of cans of soda and their marketing.
We all know that soda is sugar, water, flavors and dyes- to make it simple- it’s nothing more than flavored sugar and water in a can combined with branding, marketing, design and a promise of a “dream come true” or to live an “exciting fantasy.”
Commercial Sex and Marketing Flavors
When trying to explain commercial sex it’s like explaining cans of soda, just different flavors marketed as a fantasy, or a dream to purchase. It is as false as believing that Red Bull actually gives you wings, or that polar bears are happy and playful after drinking Coca Cola – at Christmas- with seals. ( I do love that one)
Stripping, pornography, escorts, cantinas (pony bars), Asian massage parlors, swingers, outcalls from websites, and BDSM are all just like brands of soda marketed for various tastes. Advertising for commercial sex, these tastes are created, manipulated, and marketed, primarily to a male audience.
In the documentary Sex + Money a pornographer states, “…there are many sick people in the world- we are just here to make money off of them… there are only a few ways people have sex so we have to create other ways to encourage consumption of our product such as violence, younger, and more disturbed scenes in order to create an ongoing demand.”
So cans of soda are created- new flavors invented and markets expanded.
To feed the demand of commercial sex a supply must be created. Force, fraud and coercion are used and the marketing campaigns are overwhelmingly targeted to men.
If women don’t want to buy sex, why would they line up in droves to sell sex many times a day, up to 40 in some cases.
Maybe an energy drink, or purchased sex, can give you wings or make polar bears smile?
Or perhaps it’s all just a marketing scheme, or scam.
Cans of Soda: The Marketing of Commercial Sex
In the past 2 years, I have seen a sharp increase in the number of U.S. Citizen college students targeted
by human trafficking. I also hear from victims that sex traffickers are lurking around high school and
middle school campuses. After the many campus shootings and the other dangers parents warn their
children about before sending them away from home for the first time it is unlikely that most parents
are discussing the tactics of “romeo pimps” with the daughters who have achieved academic success.
I have worked with more and more families as the hopes and dreams for their daughters are crushed –
the parents have been blindsided by an evil they may never have known existed.
The tactics used are that the recruiter will find a target, he will then create some sort of friendship or
During this early grooming period he will learn all he can about the victim and she will tell him EVERYTHING. Her hopes, dreams, fears disappointments, every disagreement with her friends, parents teachers, etc.
While she believes he is listening to her out of affection, he is listening for ammunition to carry out his plan.
He will begin to introduce her to his shadowy life and it will appear alluring and a bit mystical- especially to a naïve academic who has spent most of her time preparing for college.
He will learn what she thinks about sex, religion, her parents, grandparents, her embarrassing moments and her highest achievements.
This he will then use to distance and isolate her from her life and into his.
To be continued-