*Trigger Warning – This content contains talk related to sexual assault.
When you look at a person walking the streets, what do you think? Do you think that person could be making better choices? Do you think that person has chosen to be in that type of life? Do you think about what this person’s actual options are?
How We Define Human Trafficking
Sex trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain a sex act for profit. A trafficker will assess a person’s vulnerability and exploit that vulnerability with any one of those tactics. Homelessness, hunger, mental illness, drug, and alcohol addiction are all incredible vulnerabilities. Florida Statute 787.06, Schedule I or Schedule II 0S.893.03 states that the provision of drugs and alcohol to obtain an act falls under the element of coercion. The general idea that a person is kidnapped and sold into the sex trade is a misconception that has to be taken off the table. Only 5% of human trafficking cases are kidnappings, and the other 95% are a person’s vulnerabilities being exploited. This includes pimp trafficking and survival prostitution. Survival prostitution is when a trafficker/pimp is not involved, and the purchaser becomes the exploiter. This is where the world is no longer black and white, but the gray area begins to take over.
The Hazy Path to Self-Actualization
Self-actualization is a desire to become the most that one can be. This is the top tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and something I believe most humans strive for, but how do you get there? The path to self-actualization begins with a person’s physiological needs being met. Physiological needs are fundamental, air, water, food, shelter, sleep, and clothing. A person whose basic needs are met moves toward self-actualization, but what about those whose physiological needs are not met? This is where we see the power of choice taken away and survival techniques move in.
Take a second to sit back and erase every circumstance of your current life; imagine this; you’re homeless and hungry. You meet a person and confide in them your situation; they promptly agree to give you somewhere to stay and ensure that you are fed. What decisions would you make? For the sake of this exercise, let’s say you choose to go with them. This person has now housed you and fed you; then they make a request or demand that you exchange sex for money. What goes through your mind? Do you feel indebted to them for the things they have provided? Do you feel like you have no choice but to perform the sex act they request? Or are you so terrified of being hungry and homeless again that you perform the act out of survival? What do you do?
This example may seem extreme, but for many who have experienced exploitation, it is situations like this that leave them vulnerable. When we assume that a person is making a wrong decision, we also assume there is a better decision to make. So while we look at that person walking down the street and think they have made bad decisions, let us redirect our thoughts to the idea that they may be doing their best to survive.
How Do You Restore the Power of Choice?
At Rethreaded, our goal is to allow a survivor the space to achieve self-actualization. The first step is meeting those fundamental physiological needs, followed by meeting safety needs; security, employment, resources, health, and property. This is the second tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Love, and belonging, the third tier in Maslow’s pyramid, is represented by the community and culture we strive to create. When a survivor is given access to resources that meet their physiological needs and safety needs, when they feel the love and belonging of community and connection, this leads to esteem, which is the fourth tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Give a survivor respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, and freedom, and you allow them to achieve self-actualization.
Edification of one’s self is achievable, but edification through community empowers the individual being edified. How do you restore the power of choice and provide a person with the tools necessary to achieve self-actualization? Change perspective on choice, asking the right questions, and giving opportunities allow us to be a part of a community that edifies those who can’t do it themselves.