Euphoria is a show that debuted in 2019 on HBO. With Zendaya in the lead role of 17-year-old Rue, the plot follows a group of high school students as they maneuver how to handle identity, trauma, drug addiction, love, and friendship. And in season 2, a child trafficking plotline seems to be developing.
Did you say child trafficking may be showing up in Euphoria? How so?
Laurie, a local drug dealer, fronts Rue a suitcase of drugs to sell. But she warns Rue that if she “screws her,” she’ll have Rue kidnapped and “sold to some real sick people.” (Spoiler: That’s child trafficking). It becomes increasingly clear what Laurie is thinking when, in the most recent episode on February 6th, Laurie comforts Rue going through withdrawal with, “If I was going through withdrawal, I would do anything. It’s one of the good parts of being a woman. Even if you don’t have money, you’ve still got something people want.” Rue then falls asleep at Laurie’s apartment and wakes up, sees a random man sleeping on the couch with a gun next to him, and has to navigate through padlocked doors to escape. We can only assume what was about to happen to Rue, and we don’t know what will happen next. But Laurie’s intentions seem clear.
Has Rue been groomed for exploitation?
“Grooming” is the process of preparing someone to be exploited. Often it involves gaining someone’s trust and using hot and cold tactics – like building up and tearing down self-esteem. Sometimes grooming for trafficking may involve blackmail or meeting a potential victim’s needs or desires – such as drugs which Laurie provided Rue when Rue wanted it most. Laurie took care of Rue and let her in her home when others were kicking her out.
Laurie is exploiting Rue’s vulnerabilities, and it’s pretty clear she’s preparing her to be trafficked. Laurie gives Rue a suitcase of drugs to sell and sets Rue up with a debt seemingly for the purposes of making it easier to prey on her in the future.
As with many children in our care, exploitation isn’t usually the first thing to go wrong in a child’s life.
If you’ve been following the show, it’s clear that Rue has many struggles predating this current situation of being targeted for trafficking. She is grieving the loss of her father. She has anxiety and mental health struggles. With a history of addiction, she is now increasingly isolated from her girlfriend, friends, and family because she’s hiding her drug relapse. And Rue needs a huge sum of money, not only for this debt Laurie has placed on her, but also to buy other opiates to fuel her addiction. As a result of all of this, in the most recent episode, Rue runs away from her family and begins an unstable journey of robbing people’s homes, destroying property, and engaging in risky behaviors.
Hold on. If Rue gets pulled into commercial sex from here, is she really a victim? Didn’t she put herself in a dangerous situation?
Let’s get this straight: According to federal definitions, anyone under 18 who is involved in commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking. PERIOD. It doesn’t matter what circumstances or choices led you to that place of victimization, a child cannot consent to commercial sex. And anyone involved in facilitating, selling, or purchasing a child for the purposes of sex is perpetrating the crime of child trafficking.
Traffickers exploit vulnerabilities. Some of the vulnerabilities Laurie is exploiting are the fact that Rue …
- Is a child
- Has a debt to Laurie that she cannot pay off
- Has runaway and is isolated from friends and family
- Is addicted to drugs
- Is hiding a secret from her girlfriend, family, and friends and may not feel she has someone she’s prepared to turn to for help.
Rue is a character in a show, but Love146 has worked with hundreds of children recovering from trafficking; many whose stories are a lot like Rue’s. Some ways to support victims of trafficking are…
- Knowing the vulnerabilities and red flags and sharing this information with children
- Engaging in safety planning with youth, using resources like our piece on how to find a safe person.
- Helping young people know their boundaries; refer to our recent post on the topic.
- Familiarizing yourself with immediate resources like the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-3737-888) and laws in your state that protects minors involved in commercial sex.
- Sharing resources for parents and caregivers to prevent child trafficking.
- Learning about our Prevention Education Curriculum, Not a Number, and introducing local schools and organizations to this resource.
- Becoming a monthly donor to support a child who is receiving holistic care after being victimized in trafficking.
Rue isn’t a “model victim” – she’s a complex character. But if you can empathize with Rue, you can empathize with victims in real life.
Although this show is at times depressing and disheartening, it is also one of the more typical depictions of how children are exploited (unlike the movie Taken). It is powerful that HBO decided to share this story with large audiences, especially those who are at risk for trafficking. The fact that we’re rooting for Rue, through all the complex choices she’s navigating, is how we should feel for all children – especially those being exploited. Zendya herself shared on her Instagram exactly how we feel about children like Rue who come to us at Love146: “It’s my hope for people watching that they still see her as a person worthy of love. And worthy of their time, and that she has a redemptive quality still, and that we still see the good in her even if she can’t see it in herself…. If you can love her, then you can love someone that is struggling with the same thing, and maybe have a greater understanding of the pain they’re facing that is often out of their control…. I think it’s important that we have characters that are flawed. And remember that we are not the worst mistake we’ve ever made. And that redemption is possible.”
Photograph by Marcell Rev/HBO