By Yvette Young, Bree’Ana Johnson, Christopher Bidorini, and Erin Williamson
Human trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for sex or labor.”
Throughout the past decade, human trafficking has been identified as a major criminal, social, and public health issue in the United States. For many years, the dominant narrative portrayed international trafficking as a critical issue and directed efforts to eradicating it completely. The reality is that child trafficking in the United States is extremely prevalent, and even more prevailing is the correlation between human trafficking and race: “The racialized sexual exploitation of people of color that developed during slavery and colonization impacts cultural expectations and beliefs about the availability and use of children of color for commercial sex today.” (The Racial Roots of Human Trafficking, UCLA Law Review, 2015).
Racism and oppression are deeply embedded and perpetuated in human trafficking, given the immense racial subordination with respect to people of color. This is especially true when it comes to the sexual exploitation of minors. Many of us are well aware of the vulnerable populations in which trafficked persons derive – varying from undocumented migrants, runaways, at-risk youth, oppressed or marginalized groups, and those impacted by poverty. Our data indicate that there is a disproportionate number of children of color being trafficked in Connecticut. Of the 210 referrals that DCF received in 2018 for high-risk or confirmed victims of human trafficking, 153 of those referrals were children of color. That number equates to 73% of all referrals. The following graph highlights this issue further, comparing the number of trafficking victims referred to DCF and the race of Connecticut’s youth population:
Due to the disproportionate number of children of color who are trafficked each year, human trafficking is a racial justice issue. It is time that we begin to have a comprehensive conversation about this matter in order to identify the root causes and be proactive about dismantling systems that perpetuate this crime. In efforts to combat this issue, our conversations and practices must be racially inclusive. We must consistently discuss the connections between trafficking, migration, poverty, racism, and gender in an effort to destroy the roots of racial oppression and human trafficking. The notion that anyone can be a victim of trafficking is true. However, the fact that the majority of victims are people of color should not be undermined or understated. It is imperative that we address this issue so we can prevent our children from experiencing this form of victimization.
The following is a survivor’s account of how race played a role in their human trafficking victimization:
“At the time of my victimization, I didn’t know what human trafficking was, but I knew that being a person of color didn’t make it any easier. Many of my buyers, both male and female, were white. To be ‘purchased’ is the ultimate feeling of objectification. The buyer was in charge and the victim was inferior – that was pretty clear. During that hour or so, they owned your body, but it often felt like they owned you. These power dynamics, combined with racial differences, heightened the perceived feeling of inferiority. The concept of racism is based on a belief that one’s race is superior, so the purchasing of a person of color by a white molester could easily be experienced as a (possibly unintended) act of racism.
America is a melting pot, and we often refer to Americans in reference to their heritage: African-American, Asian-American, Native-American… but we rarely say European-American. Caucasian is considered the norm and everyone else is a sub-category of sorts. The sex industry is no different. Pull up the categories on any pornographic website: Ebony, Latina, Asian, Interracial. White is standard and everything else is a specialty, a Fetish, and a subcategory. The life of trafficking is also no different. If someone bought you, it was because they wanted to experience an [insert ethnicity here]. Aside from your physical body, your identity boiled down to nothing more than “the [ethnicity].” As a male victim of color, I noted that my peers and I were often bought to play a dominating aggressive sexual role, which played into stereotypes and fantasies about people of color as “savage,” “beasts,” or “thugs.” Your identified ethnicity was now a selling point used to advertise you. It’s important to remember that trafficking is a business, just like any other, and race is a factor in the product.
We were sold for a certain amount of money for 30 minutes or an hour. Allow me to repeat myself: we were SOLD. In my case, being a person of color sold by a white person to other white people was painful on multiple levels. It wasn’t until my adult years that I was able to process how closely this aligned with racial oppression. I can’t compare one victim’s experience to another’s, but I will say that race can add an additional layer of oppression. This is especially true when noting that white peers were sometimes sold for more money simply because of their race. My dark-skinned friends and I were sold for less. These aren’t just ideas about relative worth in society or perceived racial disparities – these are cold, hard numbers that taught us that white children were literally worth more than children of color. Trafficking exemplifies the continued racism and oppression that exists in modern-day America.”
Republished with permission from the Spring 2019 edition of the Connecticut Department of Children & Families’ HART Helps newsletter.
Header image from The Gender Spectrum Collection