I was thinking some vague thoughts the other day about child abuse, and the stories, and people, who capture public and media attention, and who doesn’t, when I came across a blunt assessment of the problem in this article about male victims of sex trafficking.
First, go read the article, or listen to the news piece, it’s really well done, and researched, and shows just how little we actually know about male trafficking victims, because we don’t have systems in place to see them in order to then develop systems to help them. This is really important to educate yourself about if you want to understand how trafficking really works instead of just reading the conspiracy theories hatched on social media. (More on that in a minute though..)
It was this quote though, from someone who works with a service for exploited boys, that really brought it into plain language for me:
Brooks says part of the reason behind the disparity in funding is because boys are unlikely to disclose what happened to them. She says racism also is at play. Society simply doesn’t care as much about Black and brown youth, she says, seeing them more as troublemakers than victims.
“The first thing people really think of are little Caucasian girls, little white girls,” she said. “And so funding is usually given for that cause.”
In my own thoughts, I kept coming back to a certain, small, group of stories and advocates who have the public’s attention in ways that most victims never get. Some of them are famous for other reasons, and advocate for abuse victims, so it is understandable that people who already know them from elsewhere, would jump in to support the cause, but others became “famous” for being abused, or abducted, despite the fact that millions of other victims went completely unnoticed. And the thing I kept coming back to was Joan-Benet Ramsey. Think about it, children are murdered in this country every day, why did that one become such a media sensation?
Could it be because we were talking about a little white girl with her beauty pageant smile? If that story was about a black girl, a troubled teen, or a boy, do most of us even know it happened?
Evidence suggests the answer to that is an obvious no.
Before I go on, let me just say this very clearly though. Those advocates who were “little white girls” who’s abuse or abduction made national headlines and have turned that infamy into amazing advocacy efforts are amazing. I appreciate everything they do for the survivor community and wish them nothing but continued success in that. I do not, in any way, want to take away from what happened to them, or the work they do now. Seriously, nothing but love and admiration for them.
What I want to address, however, is how our society defines victim, and how it leaves far, far too many people behind. That article above is a great example. How many people, if asked about sex trafficking, picture little white girls or women abducted from Target? Probably a lot. For many, the only real information they’ve ever gotten about trafficking are warnings about Target or shopping mall parking lots from their Facebook friends. They don’t know how many teenage boys from broken homes, living in poverty, are pulled into being trafficked. How many gay youths, rejected by their families, fall victim to it. How many immigrant children here with no parental supervision, are sold off by the people who should be protecting them, into sexual slavery.
Those stories, even if they’re told, are not going to grab national headlines. They are not going to evoke world-wide outrage and sympathy. Those are things that happen to “other people”. We might even be tempted to start looking for reason why it’s their own fault, or at least the parents fault, right?
From a media perspective, we also have to keep this in mind. An abduction of a young white girl from her home, is a rare event. It’s actually newsworthy because it happens so rarely. When it happens, it’s shocking. A trans, minority, teen being coerced into selling themselves, with no one to turn to for protection, isn’t any of those things. A gay male teen being kicked out of their parents house and trying to make it through homelessness, is also not something that happens so rarely that there would be major news coverage of it. These things happen all of the time. So often, that they aren’t really news.
So, which group should we have support and services for? I’d like to vote for ALL OF THEM. But that will take educating people about the reality of who gets abused, who gets trafficked, and for us all to accept that it happens everywhere. Until we get there, and are willing to see all different types of people as victims, we will continue to fail one group or another. That’s not acceptable.