On the way home from teaching while attempting to evade the headache that comes from interaction with the average southern California driver, I thought a little music would help me to relax from a day filled with attempts to connect theory to brain, I hit the power button. Instead of the musicality of calm, the deep chest bumping beats of some rapper I had no idea existed was in the midst of some diatribe falsely immersed in wealth, power, and masculinity. Listening and simultaneously keeping my eyes on the road while blindly reaching to change the channel, I could not help but pick up on the overdone theme.
The lyrical artist was drawing a colorful linguistic picture which depicted him as a “pimp” engulfed in “hos,” and luxury. As the new satellite radio station took over the airway in my car, the serenity that ensued “got me a thinkin.’” How have terms such as pimp and ho become so cavalier within our vernacular? How have popular depictions of these terms become so common on our flat screens and within the digital tracks of our CDs? I ask because one cannot escape the glamorization lapidated lyrics of celebrated musical artists transferred through radio waves. The jokes told, amongst those you feel free to divulge your hidden social irresponsibility—“What do you tell a Hooker with 2 black eyes? Nothing you have already told her twice.” Or how about the television dramas and comedies that find a way to make it OK to laugh, while concurrently publicly scorning and blaming the women for their misfortune. The deep thinking caused my stomach to turn and my black brow to curl.
It is evident to me that behind the romanticized representation of pimps, men (loosely applied term of identification…ok, correction…scum) who control women through fear, violence, manipulation, and intimidation; and the proceeding life of the women they prey upon, deserve no glorification. Within a dark world few are willing to broach through legislative action or socially responsible research within the academy, there exists not only human injustice, but also racial injustice.
Though secrecy, unwillingness of victims to come forward, and the all-around nature of sex trafficking, the U.S. State Department notes that we must be cautious when referring to the exact numbers of incidences. But for the sake of conceptuality, it is important to understand the depth of the issue. For example, those trafficked into the U.S., the U.S. State Department stated that roughly 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually cross international borders worldwide. A majority are girls and women, and about half of these victims are younger than 18 years-of age.
Within the U.S., Polaris, a human trafficking advocacy group, noted that for those reported to their organization, 1 in 6 were endangered runaways that were more likely to have been victims of sex traffickers. The economy surrounding the topic is astounding. In 2014, it was reported that cities such as Denver and Atlanta gained 39.9 and 290 million respectively from sex trafficking. In terms of U.S. victims, the Department of Justice reported in 2011 that known cases of sex trafficking victims whose race was known, 40.4, 25.6, 23.9, 5.8, and 4.3 percent were Black, White, Latino, Other, and Asian respectively. For those victims arrested for sex offenses, 55 percent of were Black children. Some have argued the economic angle to describe this occurrence. The Urban Institute reported that when traffickers were interviewed, they overwhelmingly understood that this business is consumer driven. In fact, the demand regulates heavily toward White women. They again understood the economic gain of utilizing all women, especially White women who could yield the highest economic gain. But if caught by law enforcement, they also agreed that by trafficking only in Black women their sentences would be shorter.
The fact that millions of international and national adult women and children (males and females) are exploited, sold, kidnapped, raped, manipulated, at times brained like cattle, beaten, and emotionally scarred should be enough for us to be pursue vigilant activities toward eradicating the trade. But the silence related to the topic is deafening. The lack of real effort regarding sex trafficking occurring within the U.S. does not baffle me one little bit. First, we have a history of ignoring the plight of children and women. Historically, women treated as property and the rate of physical abuse children is not uncommon to the pages of US history. Neither are the ramifications of systemic racism. In relation, the lack of overwhelming public concern toward Black females is not abnormal.
From the rape and medical experimentation performed on enslaved Black women by white “doctors” such as the father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, who without anesthesia performed ghastly experiments to the recent discovery of forceful eugenic sterilization of Black girls and women in North Carolina are all illustrations that lend explanation to the current lack of light shined upon said the current injustice.
Looking back now, I even wonder why I wrote this piece. I am conscious enough to know I made no major blow to foil this dastardly deed of exploitation. What did I do? Maybe I simply informed those who have no information. All I can really hope for is that maybe, just maybe the next time you hear someone call themselves a “pimp” and someone a “ho” in a passing exaltation, you will awaken from reverie to a state of revulsion and outrage.
~ Terence Fitzgerald, PhD, Ed.M, MSW, is Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California (San Diego Academic Center).