Yesterday I was watching Brooklyn Nine Nine (my latest go to binge watching show) and Jake had just gotten injured and was limping into the station and someone asked if that was his “pimp walk.” Normally, I might’ve chuckled as was the intent of the writers, or at the very least accepted the comment as the joke it was meant to be, but since reading Girls Like Us last month, I noticed the joke for what it was – a perpetuation of the sex industry and a normalization of human trafficking.
In Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale, Rachel Lloyd tells her own story as a survivor of the commercial sex industry and sheds some light on the reality of the industry in the United States, specifically New York City, today. While the stories and statistics were shocking and heart breaking, it was the section in which Lloyd called us all out on our complicit participation in, or at least tolerance of, the commercial sex industry, that hit me the hardest and stuck with me long after the last chapter.
Every time I laugh at someone playing a pimp on TV, I am turning a blind eye to the reality of what a pimp is, what a pimp does. Pimps don’t wear funny hats and walk with a limp. Pimps manipulate vulnerable girls. Pimps beat up and burn and break bones and lock up and deprive. Pimps rape preteens, teenagers, and women. Pimps have as their goal to break a girl or a woman’s spirit. To break them down until they feel as if they are unworthy of any good thing. To break them down until they feel, they know, that they have nowhere left to turn. To break them down until even the beatings look good, because at least after being raped they have a bed to sleep in.
While we would never dream of popularizing a song about a murderer, an arsonist, or a terrorist, we sing along to 50 Cent’s PIMP and Jay Z’s Big Pimpin.
The same way that a girl in a miniskirt wasn’t asking to be raped, girls running away from home aren’t asking to be trafficked. The same way that a girl of fifteen isn’t expected to be able to drive a car or own a home or provide for herself financially, a girl of fifteen shouldn’t be expected to make the responsible and possibly life threatening decision to seek help and turn on her pimp. The same way that nobody holds a child responsible for their own neglect, nobody should hold a victim of commercial sexual exploitation responsible for their own abuse.
You guys, I had no idea. Sure, I knew that human trafficking happened in the United States, but I had no idea of the magnitude and quite honestly, of the shockingly young ages of many of the victims. I may not be in the position to offer the support and guidance that Rachel Lloyd offers through her organization GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), but I can take steps to become more aware of the normalization of the abuse and to share the truth that I have heard.
The first step in enacting any sort of change is awareness. If you are at all interested, please get your hands on Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd or check out the GEMS website. We have to listen to each other’s stories.