'Why Doesn't She Just Leave?' : Understanding the Barriers Of Human Trafficking
The stories and subject in this blog post contain language surrounding physical and sexual abuse that may be triggering to some. If you're in a place of recovery, consider skipping this one.
There is a middle school girl who comes to class with bruises. She won’t look anyone in the eye and has a far-away gaze all the time. She’s failing her studies and won’t talk to anyone. She shies away from any and every form of touch.
There is a woman standing on the street. Dark and thick eyeliner hides her tired, glazed-over eyes. A low-cut sequin dress with stiletto heels highlights her unbalanced and shaky stance on the side of the road. She stands, weight back on one foot and waits.
There is a lady who puts on a smile every night and walks into a club. She wears bright red lipstick and a sexy outfit. Every night money is stuffed down her shirt as she dances and it is clear she is wanted by men. She looks in control on the outside but her body is touched often without her permission.
As someone first comes into contact with the stories of human trafficking, there often is asked a common question, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
For those of us who have been so connected to this crime of slavery and advocacy against it, this questions feels insensitive.
“How could you even think to ask such a thing?”
Is it insensitive to ask, "Why doesn’t she just leave?” Many times people ask this question because their only concept of human trafficking is one of physical shackles, one where the victim physically can’t get out because they are kidnapped and chained. A lot of people are unaware that human trafficking encompasses so much more, and that there are many people in trafficking whose chains are invisible, psychological or emotional. But until one is introduced to this side of trafficking, they might truly wonder, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
There are many people in trafficking whose chains are invisible, psychological or emotional.
Is this question a legitimate place to start? Yes. Whether it is asked out of ignorance or out of genuine concern and care, it is a good place to start. So, why doesn’t she just leave?
Maybe in our first example it seems clear. This girl is young, and it seems based off of context that she has come from an abusive home. Did it ever cross your mind that maybe this girl has tried to leave? She tried to run away last week, but her attempted escape failed. She won’t talk to the counselors at school because she is scared, and ashamed of what she has done. Her brothers and mom’s boyfriend tell her that this is all her fault, that she is wrecked and ruined from what she has done. She is defined as dirty, unlovable, and not worthy of respect by those who abuse her. And she believes them.
But what about our second lady standing on the street. Surely she could get out of prostitution if she really wanted to. No one knows that she was tricked into thinking she was getting a real job -- she thought things were looking up, that she was going to break that cycle of poverty in her family. But then all too late she found out that the man who had wooed her, taken care of her, and gotten her the job was in it to break her. He drugged her, loved her, told her nice things -- only to slowly become emotionally abusive and physically violent. And now she is hooked on those drugs he gave her. She feels attached to the man who was first sweet and kind, even though it was all a ruse. She is sent out on the streets, told to meet his financial quota before she comes back for another dose of drugs to keep her going.
Ok, so maybe the first two were victims -- victims of rape, violence, abuse, drugs and attachment. But the last lady? Clearly she could get out. She has her life made, people fawning after her, money literally being thrown at her feet, her choice of lovers. You might be right. She found this job as a 16-year-old girl trying to make ends meet and pay the bills for her 1 year old son.
But now, all she wants is out. Every single night she is afraid for her life, she is in so deep. Her boss at the club moved her into a call-girl position, and her close brushes with death have only become more regular. Men have tried to strangle her, they have gagged her, and she can’t get out. How will she keep her son, provide food for him, and a place to live? He is going to enter kindergarten next year -- she has worked so hard. If she leaves, what if there is no job? What if child-protective services come and take him away from her? What if she loses everything she has worked so hard to keep? The possibility is very real -- but it is better to continue with what she knows. Somehow it feels like the safest option.
Why doesn’t she just leave? Perhaps she feels as if she can’t leave because she has been taught that she has no help, no support, no voice. She can’t leave because the shame is too much, the drug-withdrawal could kill her, the unknown threatens her more than the current situation. She can’t leave because she is too young, she has no money, and she believes that she has no worth or value.
The answers are not easy, they aren’t always clear, and they won’t all be the same.
Why doesn’t she just leave? That is the place to start. Until we learn what is keeping her there, we can’t expect her to walk away. Until we know and understand her situation, we won’t know where to start. So we seek to answer that exact question, because it is then that our advocacy will be the strongest and most effective. This is key, and this is what we want to pursue as advocates -- to listen to victims and survivors of human trafficking because every situation is different, and the answers are not easy, they aren’t always clear, and they won’t all be the same. We listen so that we can find specific sustainable solutions for just that. So that we can be her voice and share with others why she doesn’t just leave.
This year, do something different. Take on the Dressember style challenge and pledge to wear a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, learn more about the issue of human trafficking and have a viable impact on those trapped in slavery around the world.
Registration opens October 1st, 2018
About the Author
Amanda Kinney is a recent graduate of The Master’s University and calls Southern California home. She enjoys long walks, rain, photography, and all things peppermint. On a daily basis she can be found eating vegan food and talking with her peers about ethical issues. She is enthusiastic about joining the Dressember team and plans on being a lifelong advocate against slavery.