FG Staff Blog

Asian American Women’s Vulnerabilities to Exploitation Rooted in Stereotypes and Racism

Since the start of COVID-19, reports of violent attacks towards Asian Americans have skyrocketed. From elders being slashed with box cutters and pushed onto the street to the March 17, 2021 shootings at Atlanta massage businesses, Asian Americans remain fearful of leaving their homes or having “China Virus” spat at them. Further, Asian American women reported experiencing hate incidents 2.3 times more than men (Jeung). Unfortunately, this gendered hostility and outright brutality is not new. Rather, it is deeply embedded into American history.

Starting with the Page Act of 1875 targeting China, Japan, and “any Oriental country,” it declares that “the importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution is hereby forbidden” (“Barring Female Immigration”). The Act oversexualizes Asian women, assuming that they are inherently sexual and therefore conflating female Asian identity with illicit sexual services. Following, during the Philippine-American War “American soldiers referred to the Filipinas as ‘little brown f***ing machines powered by rice’” resulting in a sex industry emerging to cater to the U.S. military men “offering ‘a girl for the price of a burger” (Woan, 283). This continued through the Korean War and Vietnam War with regulated prostitution services known as “camp towns” similarly catering to U.S. military men (“United States Military”). It should be noted that many of the women servicing the military men were forced into doing so either by poverty, coercion, or other circumstances. Today, the trend continues with sex tourism in South East Asia booming, many of the buyers being Western men traveling explicitly for the sexual services from young women and girls (minors). These historical relations reinforced and solidified the hypersexualization and objectification of Asian women, namely East and Southeast Asian women, that is ever present today.

Social structures additionally contributed to the current racialization and stereotyping of Asian communities and individuals. The Model Minority Myth is a widespread yet harmful characterization. It positions Asian Americans—mostly East Asians and South Asians—to be a group of polite and law-abiding individuals who have reached great success via intrinsic ability and sheer hard work (“What Is the Model Minority Myth?”). The New York Times’ 1966 article “Success Story, Japanese American Style” and Time Magazine’s 1987 cover on “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids” both perpetuate this false idea that Asian Americans have “made it” despite centuries of discrimination and marginalization. Therefore, other marginalized groups should be able to do the same, specifically Black and Brown communities. The Model Minority Myth is used as a wedge in this way to pit Asian communities against others, drawing Asians closer to whiteness. This caricature of meritocracy has rendered the greater Asian American community to be equated with a small group of high-achieving individuals. As a result, Asian Americans are rendered monolithic East Asians who are smart, docile, and diligent. Tragically, these misconceptions gloss over the largest ethnic wealth gap in the U.S. with some Asians in the top 10% of income distribution earning 10.7 times as much as those Asians in the bottom 10% (Rakesh), failing to offer support to more marginalized ethnic groups like Laotians and Bhutanese. It also explicitly and erroneously suggests that Asian Americans do not face present-day racism.

Orientalism is another contributor to the brutality seen today. It is a Eurocentric way of viewing Asia as “exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous” in contrast to “civilized” and modest Europe (“What is Orientalism”), positioning Asia and diasporic Asians as “foreign” in their own countries. Consequently, Asian American women are at the heart of this. They are sexualized as “exotic” objects for the white gaze and white male consumption via two tropes: “Dragon Lady” and “China Doll”—also called the “Butterfly” or “Lotus Blossom.” The “Dragon Lady” is sensual, selfish, fierce (Lee, 3). She weaponizes her sexuality but is ultimately defeated to ensure white dominance (Lee, 3). Hu Li in Rush Hour is a prime example. On the other hand, the “China Doll” is docile, selfless, emotional, and submissive (Lee, 1). She often lacks agency, experiences little to no character development, and is depicted in an infantilizing way, like Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly. These two caricatures fortify understandings that Asian women are submissive commodities whose sole purpose is to be used and dominated by others.

Tragically, all of these harmful notions became deadly on March 17, 2021 when eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian, by a white man in Georgia. The shooter claimed to be motivated by a “sex addiction,” which was as a “temptation to eliminate,” rather than being motivated by race (McLaughlin). This hate crime cannot be viewed as just an erroneous act of misogyny, racism, or xenophobia though. The deep intersectionality of race, gender, class, and immigration status must be highlighted. The locations targeted were explicitly marketed as Asian-owned businesses offering legal massage and spa services, not illicit sexual ones. Yet due to the historical and social conflation of Asian female identity and the massage industry with illicit sexual activity, the shooter assumed the employees were offering sex and therefore must be “eliminated.” In this case along with many others, Asian women are hypersexualized and expected to willingly offer sex. This has been normalized through media like in the movie Full Metal Jacket and the song “Asian Girlz” by Day Above Ground. It also must be noted that many in the massage industry are working to pay back debt, have a great sense of responsibility in the immediate family or extended community, and/or have limited job opportunities due to immigration status, language ability, or job qualifications (Racism & Misogyny). They may be told the narrative that they are only able to work in the massage business due to their limited skills, rendering them vulnerable to exploitation from buyers who are often white men, law enforcement, and massage business owners to then reinforce fear or false claims that the massage business is the only place that they can work (Racism & Misogyny).

Unfortunately, all of these misconceptions and tropes bar Asian Americans from various leadership positions, exploit them for labor or sex, commodify them, and villanize them on a local and national scale. This legacy of brutality will continue unless proper education, deeper understanding, and community support is pursued. To start:

  1. Look into the historical and racialized roots of U.S. colonialism and imperialism in Asia.
  2. Ask yourself “what assumptions do you have about API communities?” (See e.g., Asian women are submissive, all Asians are smart).
  3. Offer Support (check in on your Asian friends, co-workers, and neighbors; donate to API organizations; encourage your school/workplace to incorporate API history & AAPI stories; volunteer at a local organization supporting API communities).


“Asian-American Whiz Kids – Aug. 31, 1987.” TIME.com, 2019, content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19870831,00.html. Accessed 23 May 2021.

“Barring Female Immigration” Digital History, 2021, www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=3&psid=21#:~:text=Digital%20History&text=Annotation%3A%20In%201875%2C%20the%20U.S.,coming%20to%20the%20United%20States. Accessed 18 May 2021.

Jeung, Russell, Aggie Yellow Horse, Tara Popovic, and Richard Lim. “Stop AAPI Hate National Report.” Stop AAPI Hate, 2021. https://secureservercdn.net/ Accessed 20 May 2021.

Lee, Joey. “East Asian ‘China Doll’ or ‘Dragon Lady’?” Bridges: An Undergraduate Journal of Contemporary Connections, vol. 3, 2018, scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=bridges_contemporary_connections.

McLaughlin, Eliott, Casey Tolan, and Amanda Watts. “Police: Atlanta Shooting Suspect May Have a Sex Addiction.” CNN, 17 Mar. 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/03/17/us/robert-aaron-long-suspected-shooter/index.html. Accessed 24 May 2021.

Pettersen, William. “Success Story, Japanese-American Style; Success Story, Japanese-American Style (Published 1966).” The New York Times, 2021, www.nytimes.com/1966/01/09/archives/success-story-japaneseamerican-style-success-story-japaneseamerican.html. Accessed 23 May 2021.

Racism & Misogyny: The Exploitation of Asian Women in the Massage Industry. World Without Exploitation, 25 March 2021. https://vimeo.com/530833937/6abdae2efd Webinar.

Rakesh Kochhar, and Anthony Cilluffo. “Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly among Asians.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 12 July 2018, www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/07/12/income-inequality-in-the-u-s-is-rising-most-rapidly-among-asians/. Accessed 23 May 2021.

“United States Military and Prostitution in South Korea.” Wikipedia, 5 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_and_prostitution_in_South_Korea. Accessed 18 May 2021.

“What Is the Model Minority Myth?” Learning for Justice, 2019, www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/what-is-the-model-minority-myth. Accessed 17 May 2021.

“What is Orientalism?” Arabstereotypes.org, 2013, arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism. Accessed 23 May 2021.

Woan, Sunny. “White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence,” Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, vol. 14, 2008, p. 275-301, scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1243&context=crsj.


FAIR Girls AdminAsian American Women’s Vulnerabilities to Exploitation Rooted in Stereotypes and Racism

Capitalism & Human Trafficking

With global inequality worsening and disparities becoming more prevalent in capitalist systems, vulnerabilities are being exacerbated. Basic necessities are being commodified: workers endure horrendous conditions while being underpaid, and vulnerable populations are illicitly bought and sold for nonconsensual sexual services.

Human trafficking is a booming business, now estimated to be over a 150 billion dollar industry (“Profits and Poverty”). Under capitalism, trafficking and exploitation thrive. Capitalism enables human bodies, especially those in vulnerable or unstable situations, to be seen as highly expendable, reusable, and profitable objects by those looking to exploit. Traffickers often hone in on these vulnerabilities using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to fill an emotional, psychological, and or physical need that the targeted individual is in search of. This may be providing a safe place to stay, a loving relationship, or a sense of belonging. Through this grooming process, the targeted individual is reduced to a means to an end that will ultimately result in their exploitation and the trafficker’s profit. Moreover, many traffickers use legal industries, such as public transportation, hotels and motels, social media, and banks, to aid the recruitment and continuation of trafficking. And while industries that intersect with human trafficking, like hotels and motels, are beginning to implement trafficking awareness employee training, many still do not have the proper training for employees or intentionally turn a blind eye to the exploitation in fear of losing traffickers’ business.

With capitalism being an economic and political system where “a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state” (Oxford Languages), private ownership and profit maximization are key drivers in our community. In regards to trafficking, human bodies and “services” are commodified and sold through force, fraud, or coercion for profit.

Looking at trafficking through a simple supply and demand economic model, there is a supply of product or service (trafficked persons) fueled by a demand (buyers) and private intermediaries to facilitate the exchange (traffickers) (Wheaton et al. 2010, 115). Every trafficker operates as their own business owner to maximize profit with an individual demand curve that fluctuates depending upon how “unique” their “product” is in comparison to other competitors’ (Wheaton et al. 2010, 124). Dr. Justine Pierre’s research on trafficking in the Caribbean articulates this point through interviewing over 300 human traffickers. The interviews reveal that all of the traffickers view themselves as business people rather than human rights abusers (Williamson). In order to maximize profit, traffickers may choose to target higher income brackets and therefore demand higher prices from buyers in exchange for the (Kara 2010). Alternatively, traffickers may focus on lower-income brackets with lower prices but supply a larger quantity of “product,” thus driving up the demand for sexual services (Kara 2010). In either case, profit maximization is at the forefront.

The role that race plays in trafficking and capitalism is another aspect that cannot be ignored, starting with the Transatlantic slave trade that ran parallel to the rise of European capitalism. Africans were bought by Europeans to work on American plantations—and later the Caribbean and Eastern African plantations—harvesting various raw materials like sugar, coffee, and cotton that would be sent to Europe who would then ship guns, wine, and textiles to Africa in return (Transatlantic Slave Trade 2021). Black and Brown bodies were rendered expendable forms of labor that could produce capital for profit. While the Transatlantic slave trade no longer exists today, its long-term impact is haunting and ever-present. Black, Brown, and Native communities are disproportionately more likely to experience food deserts, poverty, disconnection from education systems, lack of appropriate and sufficient health care, and family instability than white communities. Coupled with the historical commodification and hypersexualization of Black women and girls, communities of color, especially Black communities, are left particularly vulnerable to trafficking. In a 2018 two-year FBI report on suspected country-wide human trafficking incidents, 40% of sex trafficking victims were Black (Louisiana Department 2018) despite only 13% of the US population identifying as Black (United States Census Bureau).

From an economic perspective, there are two ways that the human trafficking market can be disrupted: increasing the cost or risk to traffickers or reducing the demand for cheap labor and sexual services (Wheaton et al. 2010, 130-131). Ideally, “if real-world prices could be doubled and achieve a decrease in demand . . . the profitability of the sex trafficking industry would be severely compromised” (Kara 2010, 37). From a human rights and preventative education perspective, conversations surrounding trafficking and exploitation need to become more widespread. Because it is unlikely that demand for commercial sex or cheap labor will decrease by itself, support to vulnerable populations must be extended to provide resources and empowerment. FAIR Girls’ “Tell Your Friends” multimedia prevention education curriculum seeks to prevent youth from entering the world of sexual exploitation and prevent system penetration. By providing information to middle and high school-aged youth regarding risk factors, grooming techniques, and healthy relationships, in an age-appropriate and engaging manner, youth are empowered to stay safe from exploitation and victimization and help their friends stay safer. Additionally, there needs to be an increased focus on and emphasis on “people over profit” to continually instill human dignity and humanity into every educational, interpersonal, and business framework we support. If people are viewed as a product rather than an individual, exploitation of vulnerabilities will undoubtedly continue.


  • Kara, Siddharth. 2010. Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. 2018. Human Trafficking, Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Annual Report.
  • “Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour.” 2014. Ilo.org, May. doi.org/978-92-2-128781-0.
  • “Transatlantic Slave Trade” 2021. Encyclopædia Britannica. www.britannica.com/topic/transatlantic-slave-trade.
  • “QuickFacts: United States.” 2019. Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau. www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/RHI225219#RHI225219.
  • Wheaton, Elizabeth M., Edward J. Schauer, and Thomas V. Galli. 2010. “Economics of Human Trafficking.” International Migration 48 (4): 114–41. doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2435.2009.00592.x.
  • Williamson, Celia. 2021. “Episode 81: I’m not a Human Trafficker, I’m a Businessman: The Perspective of 342 Human Traffickers” Dr. Celia Williamson. February 2, 2021. celiawilliamson.com/


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FAIR Girls AdminCapitalism & Human Trafficking

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” For many of us, these words by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonate now more than ever. To celebrate Dr. King’s life at such a tumultuous and unsettling time in our nation’s history seems almost paradoxical. King’s measured leadership, drive for justice, and commitment to love feels glaringly vacant in recent weeks, most notably as we witnessed a violent white mob terrorize our legislators and wreak havoc on our capital. The same volatility of white supremacy and racist anger that King worked so tirelessly to address sadly still persists today, and these events highlight the urgency with which we must continue Dr. King’s extraordinary work.
Often much more radical than most of white America would care to admit, King, organized for more than equality and integration. His goal, for himself and his people, was always freedom. He recognized that true freedom is incompatible with poverty and exploitation. Today, FAIR Girls knows this remains true. According to Polaris, more than 4,000 victims and survivors contacted the national trafficking hotline in 2019 alone. In actuality, we know that rates of trafficking are much higher in our communities as human trafficking is a notoriously underreported crime impacting already marginalized populations. Freedom remains elusive for far too many girls and young women trafficking survivors.

For Black girls and women, the statistics are even more disturbing. Polaris reports Black girls in Louisiana comprise nearly half of all CSEC cases though they make up less than 20% of the state’s youth population. This confirms what FAIR Girls’ staff and many anti-trafficking advocates already know: Human trafficking is a racial justice issue. Many of the unjust systems King fought against sadly remain in place today and directly contribute to the disparate rates of trafficking for girls and women of color. Generational poverty, over-policing and criminalization, and the lack of economic opportunity all continue to impact communities of color disproportionately.

As we face the hatefulness, violence, and divisiveness plaguing our communities today, Dr. King provides us with a guide to navigate our world with both empathy and peaceful but powerful resistance. And as we can learn from Dr. King, we can also learn from the young women survivors of human trafficking we work with every day. At FAIR Girls, we see the brave resilience and inspiring perseverance that empowers survivors on their long and challenging healing journey. In the face of violence, adversity, and fear, they remind us by way of example, to stay the course, one dedicated to justice and freedom.

Though it’s easy to slip into feelings of hopelessness amid the chaos and hatred of our political landscape, we must recognize that inspiration for change comes in various forms. Sometimes it’s the outspoken charisma and moral direction of a figure like Dr. King. Other times it’s the quiet persistence of young women and girls rebuilding their lives. Though King noted, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” it seems the opposite ought to be true as well. Justice and freedom for survivors of trafficking brings all of us closer to a world of true freedom and peace.

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FAIR Girls AdminInjustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

Amplified Risk Factors to Human Trafficking Experienced by the LGBTQIA+ Community

One of the most terrifying aspects of Human Trafficking is that everyone is at some level of risk. There are, however, certain factors that can make individuals more vulnerable to falling prey to traffickers. The list of risk factors is extensive, but things like poverty, political conflict, and exposure to previous trauma are some of the most discussed. Poverty, for instance, increases an individual’s desperation, which is often manipulated by traffickers with promises of a better life. Political turmoil, and the environment of fear that comes with it, can also amplify an individual’s vulnerability to promises of safety and economic security from manipulative traffickers. Prior trauma may lead to low self-esteem, lack of a support system, and an increased need for acceptance – all vulnerabilities recognized and preyed upon by traffickers.

While these risk factors are capable of affecting any member of our society, certain disenfranchised groups face them at significantly higher rates. One such group is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, + (LGBTQIA+) community. Take previous trauma, for instance. Homophobia and intolerance mean that LGBTQIA+ individuals face stigmatization, ostracization, and abuse at disproportionately higher rates. According to a 2010 CDC NISVS (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey) on the rates of rape, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are at a far higher risk for victimization. Lesbian and Bisexual women faced victimization at rates of 44% and 61% respectively, compared to 35% for heterosexual women. Gay and Bisexual men were victimized at rates of 26% and 37% respectively, compared with 29% of heterosexual men. Further, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 47% of transgender Americans have faced violence at some point in their lives.

Poverty is also disproportionately prevalent in the LGBTQIA+ community. In 2019, the Williams Institute of Law at UCLA conducted a national study on rates of poverty in the LGBTQIA+ community. The results found that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals have a poverty rate of 21.6% compared to cisgender straight people, who have a rate of 15.7%. For context, this disparity in poverty rates could be due to a number of factors, including, employment discrimination and historical bans or restrictions on marriage (marriage often brings financial benefits with it).

All of these risk factors are even further amplified for LGBTQIA+ youth. This is largely due to rejection by their families and communities. While being socially and familially ostracised on account of one’s sexuality is harmful to anyone, it is especially dangerous for youth as they rely upon that support system for the essential things they need to live (eg. shelter, food, water, medication, etc.). As a result of this familial rejection and at-home abuse, 40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender according to the Williams Institute of Law at UCLA. This often leads to feelings of desperation in these youth and forces them into “survival mode’ to acquire basic necessities such as shelter, food, and toiletries. According to the Polaris Project, this desperation leads to LGBTQ youth being 3-7 times more likely to engage in commercial sex work to gain these necessities. This type of survival behavior is indeed child sexual exploitation. Per the U.S. federal law, any time a child engages in commercial sex it is considered the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of a Child (CSEC), as minors cannot legally consent to engage in commercial sex. This survival behavior and resulting sexual exploitation often further stigmatizes these already marginalized youth as they are labeled as “prostitutes” or “sex workers” by members of their community or law enforcement.

Importantly, LGBTQIA+ individuals who also identify as members of the Black, indigenous, or other communities of color (BIPOC) community and other non-white communities face even higher levels of vulnerability to risk factors due to their compounded oppression and marginalization for being both LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC/non-white.

While the data makes clear that members of the LGBTQIA+ community are at a far higher risk of being victimized by traffickers, it is also clear that they face significant barriers in accessing the services, support, and resources they need to exit their trafficking situations due to deeply ingrained societal biases and misconceptions against LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Let’s take the medical field as an example of how society often fails these LGBTQIA+ trafficking victims. According to an article published in the Annals of Health Law magazine in 2014, 88% of victims of trafficking or CSEC will visit a medical provider during their victimization. Interactions with medical or healthcare professionals could be for an array of reasons, ranging from injuries from sexual or physical abuse to drug overdoses to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), LGBTQIA+ people are disproportionately mistreated by healthcare professionals than their cisgender straight counterparts. According to a CAP survey, 8% of LGBQ respondents and 29% of transgender respondents indicated a doctor refused to see them based on their sexual orientation or gender identity respectively. Further, 6% of LGBQ people and 21% of transgender people said a doctor or other health care provider used harsh or abusive language while treating them. Further, 8% of LGBTQ respondents indicated they avoided or postponed getting necessary medical care due to previous experiences of disrespect/discrimination at the hands of a healthcare worker. This data makes clear that LGBTQIA+ victims of trafficking and CSEC often do not get the care they desperately need, but also the sad reality that they may not even seek medical care in the first place due to these negative experiences.

Bias within Law Enforcement agencies can also disproportionately negatively impact LGBTQIA+ individuals, including LGBTQIA+ victims of trafficking. A 2014 study conducted by the UCLA Williams School of Law yielded important findings with regards to the relationship of the LGBTQIA+ (and HIV+) community and law enforcement. According to the survey, 73% of respondents had face-to-face contact with police in the past five years. Of that 73%, 21% indicated an law enforcement officer had treated them with a hostile attitude and 14% indicated a law enforcement officer had verbally assaulted them. Moreover, all of these numbers were consistently higher among People of Colour, transgender, and gender-nonconforming respondents specifically. Another report conducted in 2013 found that 48% of LGBT survivors of violence who interacted with police said they experienced ‘police misconduct’ (incl. excessive use of force and entrapment). A 2011 study found that 22% of transgender respondents had been harassed and 6% had actually been physically abused by a law enforcement officer.

The inherent and dangerous bias that this data demonstrates consequently negatively impacts how crimes involving LGBTQIA+ victims are handled by law enforcement agencies. In 2014, a report on a national survey of 2,379 LGBT and HIV+ people found that over a third of LGBT/HIV+ crime victims’ cases were not properly addressed.

This systematic mistreatment, understandably, leads LGBTQIA+ folks to be wary of seeking assistance from law enforcement. In the 2011 survey, for instance, 46% of transgender respondents indicated feeling uncomfortable seeking police assistance. The 2013 survey found that only 56% of LGBTQ and HIV+ survivors of hate-based violence reported those instances to the police. Similar to healthcare and medical agencies, the danger of LGBTQIA+ related bias in law enforcement agencies lies in LGBTQIA+ victims not reporting their victimization, not being properly identified, and not being treated humanely as they seek safety and protection.

To illustrate the complex issue of implicit bias, let us explore the following hypothetical scenario:

Marvin is an adult gay man who acts and dresses more femininely. Under the coercion and control of a pimp, he is working as a commercial sex worker in a city where prostitution is illegal. While on patrol, two police officers see Marvin engaging in commercial sex. Given their implicit biases against gay and transgender men (for instance, the misconception that they are all hypersexual), the officers automatically assume that Marvin chose to work as a prostitute and do not even consider that he may be a victim of sex trafficking. As a result of these implicit biases, Marvin’s victimization will likely go unrecognized and unaddressed, and perhaps even more concerning, will likely lead to Marvin’s criminalization. Further, as a result of not viewing Marvin as a potential victim, these law enforcement officers have missed the opportunity for positive intervention and referral of Marvin to essential victim services.

Human Trafficking is one of the most complex issues plaguing our society today. Part of that complexity has to do with varying vulnerabilities across different demographics. The LGBTQIA+ community, on account of higher rates of poverty and previous exposure to trauma, in particular, is one demographic that is at a significantly higher risk of falling prey to traffickers. Moreover, the ability of LGBTQIA+ identifying individuals to seek help and exit their trafficking victimization is impaired by inherent bias within many of the essential service systems and agencies that these individuals intersect with on a daily basis. Armed with this data and knowledge, the next step is for the anti-trafficking movement to be actively engaging policymakers and related stakeholders in addressing these biases, protecting LGBTQIA+ individuals from exploitation, and reducing barriers to identification and specialized services for these most vulnerable victims.

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FAIR Girls AdminAmplified Risk Factors to Human Trafficking Experienced by the LGBTQIA+ Community

The Psychology Behind the Grooming Process

While many may think of human trafficking as something that is more prevalent in other countries, the unfortunate reality is that human trafficking exists in the U.S. and among all of us, especially amid the pandemic. Vulnerable individuals are being preyed upon and exploited. Moreover, COVID-19 has exasperated vulnerabilities for already at risk populations such as individuals suffering from unemployment or housing instability. Therefore, it is essential for us to analyze and understand the issue. As we seem to raise awareness and prevent, we need to pay special attention to the grooming process. 

While anyone can fall prey to trafficking, pimps/traffickers often seek out and recruit victims with vulnerabilities such as those without strong community ties, a sense of identity, and/or a safe place to live. The grooming process is known as the process through which traffickers recruit and exploit victims, and convince them that they have the power to choose to be participants in their own exploitation. While a substantial amount of research has been conducted on the grooming process and how traffickers choose their next victim, studies that investigate the psychology of human trafficking, or more specifically, the psychology behind the grooming process, are few and far between. However, it is important that we have a comprehensive understanding of the grooming process, victims’ needs and vulnerabilities, and how traffickers take advantage of this knowledge, before we can begin to explore the psychological elements pertaining to human trafficking.

In order to better understand the psychology behind the grooming process, let’s begin by looking at the first step a trafficker takes when recruiting a victimassessing and identifying the victim’s needs and/or vulnerabilities. Some common risk factors of human trafficking include: substance abuse, truancy, chronic homelessness, and having a disability. More specifically, there is a greater risk for individuals to be trafficked if a family member or friend who is involved in commercial sex work lives with these individuals, which is found to be exacerbated due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory regarding an individual’s hierarchy of needs is an essential place to start when thinking about the needs that a trafficker is going to be trying to appear to meet for a groomed victim (Operation 250, n.d.). First, Maslow’s theory explains that our most pressing needs are classified as physiological needs. These include necessities such as water, food, sleep, and air. Second, humans require a certain level of security that can be fulfilled by avoiding danger and having freedom from fear. This need can be met through protection provided by law enforcement officers or simply by having a job to secure one’s financial needs. Additionally, our needs for love and belonging must be met through companionship, healthy relationships, and having a group identity. For instance, having a strong support system composed of friends and family can help fulfill this need. However, it is at this particular level of Maslow’s hierarchy that traffickers will take advantage of this need by creating the illusion of love to lure the victim(Operation 250, n.d.). In other words, this particular strategy of luring victims by having them develop romantic or even paternal feelings for the trafficker is a defining characteristic of a Romeo Pimp.

The last two needs that Maslow identifies in his hierarchy are not as pressing as the others to fulfill, however, traffickers often pay close attention to whether these needs are being satisfied for a potential victim because they can be manipulated. After the need for love and belonging is met, humans require a healthy level of self-esteem,therefore, individuals with a weaker sense of self-identity are at greater risk to be targeted. Finally, the last human need that is featured in Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization. Sadly, this realization of one’s highest potential is capitalized by traffickers who provide these women and girls with false dreams for the future. For example, a trafficker may promise a victim that the situation is only temporary and they will be able to accomplish their dreams together someday soon. 

Once a trafficker has assessed which of the victim’s needs are not being met, they begin to satisfy those needs for them, luring them into a false sense of support and security. In this step of the grooming process, a trafficker makes an “effort to build rapport with the victim” (Operation 250, n.d.). For instance, a trafficker may provide financial incentivization such as gifts for this purpose. If a victim seems hesitant or resistant, a trafficker may employ additional coercive tactics such as blackmail or bribery. 

After the victim’s needs have been satisfied, the victim trusts the trafficker to take care of them. At this stage, the trafficker may also attempt to persuade the victim that engaging in sexual behavior with them is good for them, and even educational. Once the process of relationship-building has manipulated the victim into exploitation, the final step of the grooming process is reached. This is otherwise known as when the victim is “turned out” or exploited and sold to buyers or “Johns.”

Upon a closer investigation of the grooming process, we can identify the dysfunctional attachments that occur because of the presence of danger associated with sexual exploitation. In other words, victims of human trafficking can form unhealthy “trauma bonds,” which can be noted by having an attraction to people who have hurt them in the past, attachments to known untrustworthy individuals, and persistent attempts to maintain contact a trafficker who acknowledges no responsibility for hurting them. In addition to these barriers preventing victims from escaping the trafficking world, other obstacles that exist include a limited knowledge of resources to help, fear of failure, dependency on their trafficker, and lack of a safe home to return to. Overall, these connections between Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the grooming process contribute to our understanding of the underlying psychological intentions that human traffickers possess.

Now…What can we do now with this information?

We can raise awareness of the need for more research exploring the psychology underpining human trafficking and the grooming process. Additionally, we can share this information with our networks. With an increased community awareness about how traffickers capitalize on human needs, we can educate ourselves and others in order to better protect against victimization and exploitation. 

*This blog post featured elements from Dr. Ian Elliot’s work on understanding the psychology behind the grooming process*

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FAIR Girls AdminThe Psychology Behind the Grooming Process

Trauma Bonding

In regards to human trafficking, people often wonder: ​Why don’t victims just leave? ​Particularly in cases where pimps and traffickers don’t rely on overt violence and physical force, it can be difficult to understand what prevents women from leaving trafficking situations. The truth is that coercion and emotional manipulation can be the strongest factors preventing women and girls from recognizing their victimization and/or seeking a way out of their exploitation. While traffickers and pimps utilize an array of techniques, perhaps the most difficult for survivors to break free from is trauma bonding.

According to researchers Sanchez, Speck, and Patrician (2019) trauma bonding is “the invisible strong emotional tie that develops between two individuals, where one person frequently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses or intimidates the other person.” Intermittently, traffickers also incorporate acts of “kindness” which may include gift-giving, affection, or simply a brief reprieve from working. The cyclical nature of affection and abuse causes victims to internalize the positive interactions as meaningful and “the real” personality of the trafficker. Traffickers often identify women’s and girls’ unmet needs, whether for shelter, food, or love and self-esteem and fulfill them. They create both physical and emotional dependency. Trauma victims may also take on the worldview of their abuser and view their relationship as sacred, further strengthening their connection.

Trauma bonding is not a sign of weakness or naivety, rather it is a normal biological response to prolonged trauma and a psychological coping mechanism. Researchers have compared trauma bonding to Battered Women’s Syndrome in domestic violence or Stockholm Syndrome in kidnapping circumstances. Trauma bonds are a way our brains try to protect us during traumatic experiences but have harmful consequences both short and long term. First and foremost, trauma bonds prevent women from being able to exit trafficking. A key component of trauma bonds is the isolation from friends, family, and support systems and distrust in institutions such as law enforcement or social services. Without a concept of what it means to be safe, women may feel they have nowhere else to go. Trauma bonds can also be so strong that women may return to traffickers many times before they are finally able to escape, even if their needs are being met elsewhere. Trauma bonding may also lead to PTSD, depression, anxiety, and a number of other mental health issues.

While we must acknowledge the pain associated with trauma bonding and trafficking, we must also recognize the strength and resilience of survivors. By having an understanding of trauma bonding and its lasting impacts, anti-trafficking advocates and service providers can present more holistic, judgment-free care. Providing survivors with resources to address their immediate needs, as well as opportunities for decision making and autonomy, allows service providers to better support survivors’ restoration process.

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FAIR Girls AdminTrauma Bonding

Misogyny in the Media and Human Trafficking

Women in today’s society seem to be stuck in some sort of push-and-pull between two very different time periods. One moment, women are living in the progress that has been made toward gender parity, in the workplace and social norms. Another moment, it feels like the hurtful, outdated stereotypes and misogynistic behaviors are resurging. Despite the antiquated rhetoric spit out by politicians, my hopeful, feminist mind works to reassure me that our progress is indeed an accomplishment; yet, the media’s depiction of women remains lagging behind with little effort to catch up. Human ​trafficking​–the use of force, fraud, or coercion to recruit, harbor, and obtain any person to engage in involuntary labor or commercial sex– is not often covered by media outlets or if it is covered it is done so in an exploitative, sensationalistic manner that often perpetuates myths and misconceptions about human trafficking. In general we know that the media’s objectification of women perpetuates the discourse around and perceptions of how women can be and are treated.

More specifically, the media perpetuates misogyny and rape culture that normalizes women being treated as commodities. For example, the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke includes lyrics such as “I know you want it” and “the way you grab me, must wanna get nasty” that normalize the idea of going for it with a woman even if the intention is unclear (or ​the lines are blurred​). And we’ve all seen the movies where a man has done something wrong (cheating, lying) but follows it up with one kind gesture (flowers, saying ‘I love you’) and suddenly he is fully forgiven. This helps human trafficking both flourish and remain hidden in plain sight. Women and young girls are dehumanized in the process, stemming from societal reinforcements about women’s roles, emotionality, and ability (or lack thereof). Some common drivers of trafficking include poverty, promises of a better life, and discrimination against women and children–all circumstances for which the victim is often blamed.

All of these vulnerabilities disproportionately impact the Black community, and especially Black women and girls face the blame for these false assumptions of weakness from a young age. The adultification of Black girls portrays a false narrative, where Black children’s transgressions are viewed as malicious and intentional, as an adult’s actions

would be, rather than childlike (​Georgetown​, 2017). What’s more, Black girls are perceived to need less nurturing and comfort, be more independent, and be more knowledgable about sex compared to White girls of the same age. Even before a young Black girl turns five years old, society has determined what she needs and how she will act. Traffickers are then bred and trained to see them in this way, and thus feel entitled to treat them as such. Young men are socialized to see women as “less human” as this subordination of women becomes justified with media reinforcement. Women as a whole are sexualized and objectified in songs and television, but are then seen as egotistical or inappropriate when they try to talk about their own power and strength. When a young woman considers seeking help or resources, she may be deterred from expressing her needs from the fear of being accused of lying, or she may be denied the resources she requests after taking the huge leap to reach out for help. Overall, women are continuously told who they are and how they act, while simultaneously being criticized for not ascribing to society’s standards. When it comes to trafficking and the dehumanization of women, their fate is decided ​for them by cultural and societal norms.

Misogynoir​, a term coined by the queer Black feminist and academic Moya Bailey, is the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward and attributed to Black women. Racism and misogyny have become socially embedded in more than just media. In the medical field, Black patients’ symptoms are taken less seriously, and particularly Black women’s pain is invalidated. According to the ​CDC​, Black women are less likely than White women to develop breast cancer, but are 40% more likely to die from it. It was only recently that Black patients were included in medical research studies; for so long, medical professionals were ascribing white outcomes and trajectories to Black patients, or wrongly attributing health concerns to differences in biology (which have ​been​ ​disproven​) rather than to the result of racism and poverty, poor healthcare and living conditions. For human trafficking victims, who are already more likely to come from poverty, seeking medical help or rehabilitation is met with this extra line of barriers. It is hard enough for victims to leave their trafficker and seek the help they need –there should not be this additional complexity to reach help and safety to heal.

This is all a lot to process. We cannot control all traffickers, and we cannot control the media, ​but we can control our consumption and evaluation of media and news stories​. By using a critical eye when watching the news, reading an article, or even starting a new TV show, we can retrain our brains and our biases away from misogyny. Here are a few ways we can all help combat misogyny:

  1. Encourage women to share their opinions​ and to feel confident when sharing what they know. The more women who are comfortable speaking their minds and using their expertise, the more normalized it will become. It’s not bragging, it’s knowing your stuff.
  2. Question everyday misogyny​ in the workplace when it happens. It doesn’t have to be aggressive, but rather ask yourself or a colleague ​why​ they think a certain way or made the decision they did.
  3. Push back against mainstream media​ trends and assumptions! The only person who can accurately represent you is YOU, so mindfully engage with your and others’ social media content to build each other up.

Women deserve to be described as compassionate, empathetic, and intellectual, not “emotional.” Black women have earned the right to be described as strong, communicative, and gleeful, not “aggressive.” Though we have moved backwards in the way we speak about and perceive women, and in an especially public and shameful way, it is never too late to change, evolve, progress. Women must stand together and support one another, and it is on ​all of us​ to acknowledge the role that we all play in perpetuating this harmful language.

To learn more, feel free to read:

Black Women face racism in the ​medical field​:
Why you need to know what ​‘misogynoir’​ means right now

To report a case or receive help, please visit:

FAIR Girls:​ ​https://fairgirls.org/

National Human Trafficking Hotline:​ ​https://humantraffickinghotline.org/

Or call:

FAIR Girls 24/7 Crisis Number: 1-855-900-3247
U.S. National Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888, or send a text to “BeFree” (233733)

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FAIR Girls AdminMisogyny in the Media and Human Trafficking

Honoring the Legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and A Call to Action to Continue the Fight For Equality, Justice and Women’s Rights

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will undoubtedly be remembered as a trailblazer for gender equality and a fierce advocate for social justice. Guiding all of her work was her core belief that “women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Her long life of service and leadership proved her commitment to that belief. 

Across the country, many of us are mourning her passing, and the passionate, principled stances she brought to the Supreme Court. Throughout her time on the bench, she defended women’s equality in the workplace, upheld LGBTQ rights, and wrote stinging dissenting opinions in defense of racial justice. We are left with the uncertainty her vacancy brings on the Supreme Court and in the movement to advance social justice. However, Justice Ginsburg’s commitment to women’s rights offers us guidance and calls on all of us to uphold her legacy as we continue to fight! 

Justice Ginsburg attended Harvard Law School, and was one of only nine women in her class of over 500 men. Upon graduating from law school, she faced barriers seeking a job in a male-dominated field, but this only fueled her commitment to fighting for women’s rights. In 1971, she founded the Women’s Rights Project with the American Civil Liberties Union. As a lawyer, she argued several cases before the Supreme Court, which advanced gender equality, and in 1993, she became the second woman ever to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. She accomplished all this, as many of us do, wearing the multiple hats of mother, wife, grandmother, colleague and friend. And she did it all with a level of grace, professionalism and civility that feels so sorely missed in our current culture. 

In honoring Justice Ginsburg’s legacy and life-long commitment to gender equality, we must also acknowledge the work that remains. Female-identifying populations continue to face inequality through violence and exploitation. Women still endure attacks against their autonomy to make important decisions regarding their bodies, health and futures. FAIR Girls, as an organization that serves female-identifying clients, can and will continue Justice Ginsburg’s work and uplift her legacy by providing vulnerable girls and women with the resources and services they need not only to survive, but to thrive. 

Justice Ginsburg understood that true equality and liberation for girls and women depends on freeing the most vulnerable among us. When discussing the #metoo movement, she stated that her hope “is not just that it is here to stay, but that it is as effective for the woman who works as a maid in a hotel as it is for Hollywood stars.” Meaningful progress must include those girls and

women who are too often left behind, forgotten, and hidden. FAIR Girls knows this includes the more than 15,000 female-identifying victims, identified through the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline last year and the many more who are still being victimized and unreported. 

FAIR Girls supports survivors of trafficking by offering direct services including crisis intervention, safe emergency and transitional housing, case management and economic empowerment. FAIR Girls also facilitates awareness through prevention education in our communities and local schools, empowering youth with tools to stay safe from exploitation and trafficking and becoming advocates themselves. And, in the echoes of Justice Ginsburg’s advocacy, FAIR Girls is committed to amplifying the voices of the female-identifying survivors we serve everyday in our continued fight for systemic change and justice. We do so through policy advocacy rooted in their lived experiences and needs, including reducing their criminalization, providing meaningful pathways to justice for their restoration, and barrier-free access to specialized housing, resources and services. 

Justice Ginsburg had a gift for forcing others to recognize the inherent humanity of women in a society that continuously sought to dehumanize them. She once stated that she would like to be remembered as “someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” She will undoubtedly be remembered that way. However, while she helped pave the way for many young women who will follow in her footsteps, Justice Ginsburg knew the fight was far from over. She left each of us with a mandate to use our own abilities, skills, networks, and passion to continue the hard work. And as we continue in this fight for true gender equality, protection of rights, and justice for all girls and women, we too must rise to her challenge to fight to the very best of our ability.

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FAIR Girls AdminHonoring the Legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and A Call to Action to Continue the Fight For Equality, Justice and Women’s Rights

The Changing Role of Technology in Trafficking

According to the World Bank, 75% of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone. Additionally, 4.3 billion people use social media of some kind. A Pew Research study found that in the United States, 95% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have access to a smartphone and 45% reported that they are online on an almost constant basis. The interconnectedness made possible by the internet certainly has its benefits; it is easier to keep in touch with friends and family, shop online, and remain up to date on current events and news from around the world. We are able to connect with those we do know, but we are also a click away from those we don’t—a new reality that is inherently dangerous, especially for vulnerable youth. Kids and teens often recognize to be alarmed when a stranger approaches them in person, yet this instinct does not always translate to online interactions due to the “anonymous” culture of the internet. In fact, a study by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found that 25% of school-age youth admitted they had live-streamed with a stranger on social media.

Traffickers have taken advantage of this new opportunity to privately and strategically access such a young, vulnerable population. Social media and the internet have facilitated marketplace expansion in nearly every realm of commerce. Unfortunately, this includes harmful and illegal activity such as selling humans for sex and child sexual abuse material online. With social media being such a significant part of youths’ lives around the world, they are vulnerable to traffickers who undoubtedly seek to exploit them on these platforms. eMarketer.com estimates that 5.7 million children worldwide under the age of 11 have Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat accounts despite their age restrictions that are supposed to keep this young demographic from using them.

Online Sexual Exploitation

In recent years, traffickers have shifted their focus online to recruit sex trafficking survivors and advertise them to sex buyers. This may not always be an in-person sexual act; the internet has created an entire market for “webcam” or “cam shows” in which individuals perform live, interactive sexual acts on camera for buyers, who don’t even have to leave their couch to consume this product. However,coercing a survivor to engage in in-person sex work is still the most common form of sex trafficking through social media. Survivors do not have to be physically close to their trafficker in order to be exploited—they can be exploited through force, fraud and coercion without ever meeting their trafficker in person. A survey of domestic youth trafficking survivors by the non-profit Thorn in collaboration with Dr. Vanessa Bouché of Texas Christian University found that 42% of those who initially met their traffickers online never met them in person. These survivors are often manipulated through sextortion, which the FBI defines as “a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.”

The rate of online trafficking and pimps advertising survivors online is accelerating rapidly. Online advertising maximizes profits for traffickers, thus improving their business model. For example, 1 in 7 respondents in Thorn’s survey who were required to engage in sex work on the street reported more than 10 buyers per day. Comparatively, 1 in 4 respondents who were advertised online reported more than 10 buyers per day. Therefore, online advertising of sex is becoming more common as street sex work decreases. Before 2004, the main advertising method was on the street and just 38% of sex workers were advertised online. However, for those who entered the Life in 2004 or later, online advertising had increased to 75%. The most popular online platforms for advertising (according to those surveyed by Thorn) were Backpage, Craigslist, RedBook, SugarDaddy, and Facebook. Advertisements are certainly not limited to these sites.

Thorn’s study was completed before Backpage was shut down. While we know that some sex worker advocates indicate that street sex work is on the rise since the government shut down Backpage.com, we also know from working with survivors every day that new online platforms facilitating human trafficking pop up frequently to keep the billion dollar business going. Many traffickers simply switched to using other websites with servers outside of the United States instead of Backpage, according to NPR. This online shift reduces opportunities for street outreach intervention programs (such as the one FAIR Girls’ began this past year) and reduces opportunities to better identify potential survivors through open lines of communication and resources.

How do traffickers manipulate children online?

Thorn’s study found that 55% of minor sex trafficking survivors in the US who were trafficked in 2015 or later reported meeting their traffickers for the first time using text, a website, or an app. Traffickers seek out youth they perceive to be more vulnerable, such as those who post about troubles at home or indicators of low self-esteem. Scrutinizing an individual’s social media accounts gives a trafficker an opportunity to learn about their targets’ lives and vulnerabilities, and therefore manipulate them most effectively. Social media provides traffickers with anonymity—they can easily hide behind a screen and a fake profile to avoid revealing signs that they are dangerous to a victim. They can communicate freely with victims, as many parents do not closely monitor their child’s social media interactions or accounts.

Traffickers send potential victims flattering messages that make them feel heard and valued, such as “you are beautiful” or “I know how you feel.” They build rapport with youth and begin to gain their trust—they may even pose as potential dating partners (sometimes on dating sites such as Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, or SeekingArrangement). They often promise to support the victim, give them gifts, and help them “escape” their troubles. Additionally, traffickers occasionally pose as someone recruiting nannies, models, dancers, or for another kind of job to lure potential victims to travel to meet with them.

If a youth has few people in their life who support them, this online persona who makes them feel special becomes their replacement support system. Eventually, a trafficker will escalate the relationship, lure a victim to meet in person, manipulate them into “supporting” the trafficker in return for the trafficker’s attention, gifts, or love—from here it’s a quick entry into the Life. However, in some cases traffickers may never meet with their victims in person and instead use forms of sextortion to ensnare and manipulate them. Threats and coercion do not need to be conveyed in person to have a powerful hold on a survivor.

What can be done?

Promoting online safety is more important than ever! Teachers and parents can promote safe usage of technology in a non-judgemental way to youth. While acknowledging that social media can be a positive thing, we all can relay age appropriate information to youth about the dangers of the internet such as body image issues, cyber bullying, sextortion and human trafficking. Framing these conversations so that they are not fear based and emphasizing that these negative scenarios may never happen to them specifically make them more effective. The conversation can always be framed to say that this critical information is not only to help them stay safe but also to empower them to help a friend that they might see in trouble. Encouraging youth to keep their profile settings on private, turn off their location services, not post on social media until they leave a location, and not accept requests from people they do not know can protect them. Parents and guardians should discuss with and fully utilize parental controls available on the online platforms that the youth they live with access. We should be reminding youth that anything they share on the internet or via text or social media is no longer theirs and it lives out there forever—it can be screenshotted and spread without their consent or knowledge.

Efforts to prevent child sexual exploitation online extends beyond direct conversations with young people. Some social media platforms such as Facebook claim to actively monitor their sites to prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse material, although their protocol is not always clear. However, some others like Tik Tok turn a blind eye and do not have adequate privacy measures or community guidelines. Now that 1.5 billion young people have been affected by school closures worldwide due to COVID-19, there is a heightened risk of online sexual exploitation on account of more children being online for distance learning. Some ways that we can counter the potential dangers of this increased online presence are creating parental controls for all youth social media accounts, for social media platforms to better and regularly train content moderators or using PhotoDNA by Microsoft. PhotoDNA works to identify child victims by examining photos uploaded to the platform and cross checking them against known child sexual abuse material from child pornography websites and online sex marketplaces.

However, there are no comprehensive and cohesive laws that require social media platforms and chat room sites—in which we have seen increased exploitation, grooming, and recruitment even before COVID—to comply with these important preventative measures. FAIR Girls supports increased accountability and transparency from providers of social media sites and online platforms. Currently, there is proposed legislation titled the “EARN IT (Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies) Act of 2020” that addresses this issue. If enacted, it would establish a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention led by the Attorney General that would be tasked with recommending best practices to providers of social media sites to prevent the online sexual exploitation of children. If companies certify that they have implemented the best practices prevention practices approved by the National Commission, they may be protected from civil and criminal liability for conduct on their sites that violates certain provisions of federal criminal law. Currently, how safe a social media or online platform is from detecting and preventing online child sexual abuse and exploitation is largely in the hands of private companies looking to profit by turning a blind eye, but the EARN IT Act could change that. Creating incentives for these social media and online companies to do their part to make their sites safer, is one step in the right direction. However, while it is incumbent upon all social media platforms to put adequate controls to prevent, identify, and report child sexual exploitation into place, it is also the responsibility of parents, guardians, schools, faith-based youth groups, and the community in general to utilize those preventive measures and to continue to raise awareness around this issue, through demanding that local schools and youth programs implement prevention education curriculums, such as FAIR Girls’ “Tell Your Friends,” for all middle school aged youth and above to ensure that we are providing our communities’ youth with the tools they need to stay safe from manipulation, recruitment and exploitation online.

FAIR Girls AdminThe Changing Role of Technology in Trafficking

How Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich Reimagines True Crime

True crime media has exploded in recent years—whether it be podcasts, television series, documentaries, or movies, this genre has a unique ability to grip listeners and viewers. We are all familiar with the latest binge-watches and media executives are hard pressed to create the next one. Series like Making a Murderer, The Jinx, Evil Genius, Don’t F*** with Cats, Leaving Neverland, Tiger King, and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes follow the stories of criminals, fleetingly making them the subjects of everyone’s fascination. More recently, re-enactments such as Waco, The People v OJ Simpson, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile have transformed infamous crimes into full scale cinematic productions with big names like Zac Efron and John Travolta. Recently, Netflix released the latest of its string of true crime shows. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich details the crimes of financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

After decades of sexually abusing countless girls and young women with little consequence, Epstein finally faced sex trafficking charges in 2019. In the four-part series, Director Lisa Bryant highlights how Epstein curiously evaded punishment for so long. She exposes Epstein’s manipulation of the law as well as the suspicious complacency of the individuals who were charged with bringing him to justice. Filthy Rich plainly shows how the system failed his victims, many of whom were from low-income neighborhoods and disadvantaged backgrounds. 

The true crime genre is problematic and complicit in supporting the systems that failed Epstein’s victims. There is something inherently voyeuristic and insensitive about turning a crime that likely damaged many lives forever into a means of entertainment and profit. True crime shows and movies often feel cold and exploitative in their focus on the perpetrator; empathy is too often abandoned in favor of mindless entertainment. Whodunnit shows like Dateline and Investigation Discovery broadcast an apathetic approach to murders, disappearances, and sexual violence and exploitation – often reducing the victim’s pain and suffering to little more than a few hours of leisure for viewers. These shortcomings culminate in an entertainment genre – and hence a media culture – that values grisly details of exploitation and violence over details about the victim impact or survivorship.

Filthy Rich’s emphasis on practices ingrained in our justice system that benefit white, wealthy individuals is especially poignant right now, as we mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and unacceptable racial injustice and violence against our Black community members.  The institutionalized racism prevalent in our criminal justice system is highlighted by how long it took to hold Epstein accountable.  Consider how a wealthy white man can freely abuse and traffic dozens of girls for years despite multiple police and FBI reports of his conduct, yet George Floyd was murdered by a police officer just for suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. 

While Filthy Rich may fall under the genre of true crime, it sets itself apart from other well known shows in its category. Unlike hit series Don’t F*** with Cats and The Ted Bundy Tapes, Bryant takes a victim-centered approach to Filthy Rich. She includes little information about Epstein himself save for what is necessary for viewers to understand his wealth, connections, and sociopathic tendencies. Conversely, every survivor interviewed shares details about their childhood, profession, hobbies, relationships, and life after their horrific abuse. The survivors interviewed are given a platform to tell their lived experiences beyond just an “entertaining” description of Epstein’s abuse and exploitation of them.  Instead of passively watching the show, viewers are challenged to focus on the survivors’ humanity and empathize with their pain and struggle to process and heal from the atrocious abuse Epstein subjected them to. 

Human trafficking is a crime that is difficult to grasp for many.  It is often misunderstood in a way that leads to victim blame. For example, if victims are not physically prevented from leaving their trafficker, they are often written off as consensual sex workers. This common mistake makes the show’s survivor testimony all the more critical to educating our community, addressing myths and misconceptions and raising awareness. Bryant expertly documents Epstein’s and accomplice Ghislane Maxwell’s calculated economic and psychological manipulation of his victims, including his threats and stalking of those who tried to seek help. In doing so, Bryant makes clear that these women—some just children at the time—were trapped. The dire importance of intervention by those who see the signs of trafficking is revealed through a man interviewed in the series who worked for Epstein and saw signs of the abuse firsthand. At the time, it made him uncomfortable and suspicious—looking back, he wished he had acted on those suspicions. This highlights just how important it is to educate the public on what human trafficking looks like and what it doesn’t and what to do if you do suspect it is happening hidden in plain sight.  

Survivors of human trafficking (and televised crime victims in general) are often sensationalized like murder victims in the average Dateline episode. True crime series are often performative; even the docuseries Don’t F*** with Cats that attempts to offer social commentary by critiquing our obsession with true crime seems ingenuine in light of its showing the killers’ own recordings of his crimes with barely a mention of his victim. Sadly, white, wealthy women who are low-risk victims tend to be the subject of popular shows as their victimization is more shocking and thus entertaining in our country.  Filthy Rich amplifies the voices of those who are more often the victims of crime—young, low-income women, many of which suffered sexual abuse as a child. 

Survivors of sex crimes—whether the subject of a show or a newspaper article—are usually nameless and faceless to us. Sometimes that is for good reasons such as safety and confidentiality.  Sometimes it is because our media culture does not value their pain or abuse enough to accurately portray it.  When Epstein’s crimes finally came to light in 2019, his life and persona dominated the national narrative rather than a larger conversation about sexual abuse or commercial sexual exploitation of children. Filthy Rich addresses that head on by focusing on the dehumanization of Epstein’s crimes, allowing victims to share their lived experiences with the world despite not being able to share it while facing their trafficker in a court of law. With Epstein’s alleged accomplice Ghislane Maxwell now in custody, perhaps survivors will finally see one of their abusers brought to justice. Furthermore, Maxwell may be capable of exposing other traffickers and pedophiles unknown to law enforcement who engaged in sex crimes with Epstein. As current events and the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates, exposing the ingrained racism and shameful double standard of our criminal justice system is critical to ensuring that future Epsteins (and Maxwells) do not escape justice. Until wealthy White criminals can no longer strike absurdly lenient deals with law enforcement behind closed doors, true “justice” will remain elusive – an empty promise. 

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FAIR Girls AdminHow Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich Reimagines True Crime