He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: The Lover Boy Scenario
He’s charming, handsome, and socially elevated. He smiles at her and says she’s beautiful, and she feels jittery in the best way. He picks her up in his fancy car and suit jacket, and takes her to dinner and the movies. He takes her shopping and to the nail salon. He tells her he wants a family and that he loves her. And she falls in love with him in return.
He is everything she has ever wanted. Until he’s not. He tells her that she owes him for all of the nice dinners, clothing, jewelry, and their apartment’s rent. He tells her that she has to go inside, give herself up to paying men, and bring him the cash. He threatens to hurt her parents and her little sister if she doesn’t. She is confused and trapped, but she shuffles her feet through the front door, and then the bedroom door, and then her dress is slid up and there’s another man on top of her. It happens so fast. Just a moment later, she’s back in the car with $350 rolled up in her hand. And she and the love of her life drive away.
Millions of women have this very story.
We often think that traffickers are dirty men who kidnap children from countries of poverty, chaining them up in locked rooms, and forcing them to perform sexual acts or to be the subject of child pornography. And this is sometimes the case, but not always.
The painful reality is that most victims of sex trafficking are trafficked by the people closest to them: classmates, friends, boyfriends, neighbors, even family (parents, older siblings, uncles, etc.) who sell their kids for money or drugs. They are the very people victims have grown up around and who they have learned to love. However, the way they have reciprocated that love is through exploitation.
Because the commonly perceived idea of sex trafficking is the kidnapping scenario, victims oftentimes don’t even realize they are being trafficked until well beyond the first sexual encounter, if ever at all. Their trafficker may not restrain them to a room, tie them up, or make it obvious in any way that they are being prostituted against their own will, and thus victims tend not to realize or accept the extent of the trauma they are experiencing. If and when they finally do recognize that they are not safe, they may be too afraid to try and escape…and to where?
One survivor said that, after being kicked out of her foster home and moving in with four girls and a boyfriend, she was invited to appointments to watch her roommates have sex with buyers. At first she could not bear to watch what was being done to her friends, but eventually her eyes glazed over and she was no longer phased. It wasn’t until a buyer pointed a gun at her and forced her to have sex with him that she realized she was in danger. She ran away that night, realizing that her boyfriend was a trafficker. She was a lucky one, but not everyone is.
Yes, trafficking and relationships can seem one and the same…until they don’t. Until a person finds that they are forced into sex, forced to “perform” for multiple people, forced or persuaded or given no way out of their situation. Money may be on the other side of it, or the victim may never see a money exchange, but it is the act of force, fraud, or coercion that makes a relationship not a relationship at all.
It is our responsibility to educate people on what loving relationships should look like versus deceitful and dangerous ones. It is our responsibility to recognize a potentially bad situation before it gets worse. It is our responsibility to report what seems skeptical, what goes against our intuition, because victims may not have the chance. It is our responsibility to stand up and be friends––real friends––to each other.
About the Author
Emily James is currently a junior at Azusa Pacific University, pursuing an English degree with a concentration in Writing. She has big plans to travel and see the vibrant colors of the world, and to write of the marginalized and unheard people she meets along her nomad journey (Dressember is fitting!). When she is not in class or working as an elementary reading and writing tutor, she loves to rock climb, hike, read, and watch romance movies with the girls.