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The Reality of Choice

by | Feb 2, 2023

*Trigger Warning – This content contains talk related to sexual assault.

Choices are complicated. What may seem like a bad choice may, instead, be a decision made with few (if any) alternatives. For instance, if you’re riding a bike down a steep hill, and your brakes fail, you don’t have many great options.

You can crash into a bush, leap into the grass, or ride into traffic. Every one of those options will probably hurt; it’s a matter of choosing the least painful outcome with the greatest chance for survival.

Survivors of trafficking were in unimaginably scary situations, and their vulnerabilities were misused to force them to make the least painful choice among a sea of bad options.

The only choice they did make–or could make–was to survive.

How Trafficking Really Works

The clearest definition of sex trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain a sex act for profit.

This can look like a million different things, but what it typically does not look like is a kidnapping. Only 5% of human trafficking cases are kidnappings, and the other 95% are cases when a person’s vulnerabilities have been exploited.

A trafficker assesses a person’s weaknesses, like homelessness, hunger, mental illness, and addiction, and weaponizes them. Here’s how it often works.

Maybe a young girl has aged out of foster care, and there’s nowhere for her to go. She ends up on the streets, and she meets someone who earns her trust. She confides in them about her situation, and they offer her a warm bed and a hot meal.

Neither choice is great: sleep on the sidewalk and hopes to live through the night or go with a relative stranger who has just offered shelter. What would you choose? 

Psychology–and a lot of experience–tells us that most people choose the shelter. But here’s the catch; after many of our survivors have received shelter, food, or other necessities, they were then asked for “payment” in the form of a sex act. 

Not many vulnerable people in that position would feel they had any choice. And, honestly, they really don’t.

Offering More (Better) Choices

Abraham Maslow (pronounced like Maz-lov) was an American psychologist who talked about what humans actually need.

His discovery, which we now call Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, was that people aren’t really looking for self-actualization–or the realization of their dreams–when they’re starving.

Instead, people look to meet their most fundamental needs, like food and shelter, first. Then, they move onto needs like love and belonging. People only start thinking about their values, dreams, and beliefs when they have been delivered from the feeling of “fight or flight.”

In other words, only after the threat of death or serious pain is removed, do people’s decisions actually turn into choices. 

Restoring the Power of Choice

At Rethreaded, our goal is to empower survivors to push through the “fight or flight” seasons and into those when they are making true, free choices. 

That’s why we meet basic needs first, like offering food, shelter, health, and employment. Then, we move up Maslow’s hierarchy, offering friendship, love, and belonging.

When their senses of “self” have been restored, they start to dream again, think about their values, respect and love themselves, and learn to make decisions out of abundance, freedom, and joy.

But not everyone who has been trafficked has found us yet, and there are still vulnerable neighbors who won’t have a place to sleep or a safe, dignifying choice in how to get one.

That’s why we need you to help us restore the power of choice.

Take the First Lady Molly Curry Training Challenge

Vulnerable neighbors don’t escape scary situations themselves; they need advocates who know what to look for, who to call, and what to say to offer them a way out.

That’s why we invite you to take our challenge, completing a two-video training to learn how to effectively spot and report suspected human trafficking.

Your own choice to go from an empathetic bystander to an advocate for human dignity can make all the difference for someone who feels trapped by circumstances, fear, and isolation.

By becoming a partner in our mission, you’re giving real people the choice not only to survive the night but to thrive for life.

Take the challenge today.

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