I am speaking as an exited prostituted woman. I speak out as I was internally trafficked when I was 14.
To explain internal trafficking, I will speak to my personal history – but always with the deep knowledge of the myths and misinformation about what internal trafficking is. Many in the media, in politics, and in the entertainment industry have made a culture that denies that internal trafficking exists.
I was coerce into prostitution as a teenager by a close female friend. To explain how this was able to happen, I will speak to some of my personal history before I was prostituted. I speak of that time, because I was typical of many teenage girls who are recruited to the sex trade – but at the same time I was unique.
Before i speak to my past, I feel it is vital to speak to the stereotyping of the teenage girls and boys who are internally trafficked. If you have a mental picture of who is a prostituted teenager, try to imagine the opposite – and both will be true.
It is not just teenagers from poor background, it can be affluent teenagers. It is not just teenagers from care or abusive families, it can be teenagers from stable loving families. It is not just an urban issue, it can occur in the countryside as well. Do not discount a teenager because they do not it your stereotype.
If a teenager is brave enough to speak to sexual exploitation – believe first, help practically second. And only when the teenager is in a safe place, can you look deeper into the teenager’s experiences, and maybe question it. Personally, I think it is highly unlikely that any teenager would lie about being sexually exploited – and if they do, it is a serious cry for help.
Now back to why I was easy prey for the sex trade. I came from an affluent family living in an affluent town. Only I was being mentally abused by my mother. From aged 6, I was sexually and mentally abused by my stepdad. I was being trained that my only worth was to be sexual goods for men. I was taught that sex was always painful. I lost the will to stay alive by the age of 9. I was ideal material for the sex trade.
Exploiters of teenagers who want to mold them to be prostituted, do not care what class, ethnicity or background that the teenager comes from. All they need is to find some vulnerability to exploit.
This can be a teenager who comes from an abusive background – especially a teenager who has been deprived of real love or has already been sexually abused. Exploiters give out false love, making the teenager feel special. They will tell the teenager that the sex trade will be their new family. If the teenager has already been sexually abused – and have the normal reaction of numbing all pain and blocking out all memories of the violence – than that teenager is a sitting duck to be sexually exploited. For in all prostitution, it is vital to kill all pain, and to forget your reality of hate and violence.
Teenagers can be vulnerable when they decide to rebel. That can be any teenager, including teenagers who come from happy families. It is natural for teenagers to push boundaries in order to test that they are still loved. Teenagers want to be independent, to want to stay out late, or may do dangerous stuff in order to find out who they are. That is normal. It is normal for teenagers to argue and to have some fury with their families, and to refuse to communicate. That is all part of the confusion of being a teenager. Sadly sexual exploiters will take advantage of this desire to rebel. They will feed the teenager with lies – saying that their families no longer care about them, that it is fine to have sex with multiple strangers. Slowly feeding in the lie that it is only those in the sex trade that can be their real family.
These are a few examples of how sexual exploitation of teenagers is made easy. It is everywhere, and has been common practice in the sex trade for many centuries. It is the language that changes around sexual exploitation – the sex trade has always recruited them young and locally, as well as external trafficking. It is the oldest form of slavery.
To end, I will say if we truly want to end teenage sexual exploitation, we need to be more honest about how we speak about it. We need to stop separating sexual exploitation from prostitution – that is to betray the many teenagers who are disappearing into the sex trade. We must look at adult prostitutes, and ask how many had enter through teenage sexual exploitation. In other words, we must not separate sexual exploitation from prostitution as they are interchangeable. I was in prostitution until I was 27 – when I hit 16, I did not learn magically to be able to cope and become empowered. My damaged child and teenager was in me every time a punter brought me. Trauma is life-long. If we are to give real hope to sexually exploited teenagers, we must see this connection.