I saw something in Wal-Mart years ago which has haunted me since. No, it wasn’t the disastrous nutrition options, the fashion choices or the fact there are 27 check-out lines and only 5 of them are ever open. No, it was much more real and much more heartbreaking than that.
As I searched for a line which wasn’t ridiculously long to wait in for the small amount of items I had to purchase, I turned my cart into a row and quietly came to a stop. In front of me were two women with slightly matted hair pulled into messy buns, twitchy arms, well washed and misshapen faded tank-tops and cotton shorts, matching tattoos on their lower right shoulder and one of them –and this has stayed with me- had her feet were in flip flops and the bottoms of her feet were thick with cracked, dry, dirty and grey skin. They looked like they had seen a long hard road. I haven’t been able to shake that image. These women exuded a nervous yet determinedly cocky energy and, while obviously ‘with’ them, they didn’t interact directly with the two men standing next to them the entire time I watched this exchange.
The two men.
One was on a phone talking in a loud jocular tone of voice about the party he was hosting and how he wanted his friends to come. The other man was skinny, younger than the other man and appeared slightly anxious as he pushed a large party pack of condoms down the counter towards the cashier.
Everything about that made me sad; including the fact I didn’t say anything or do anything to intervene or to encourage these women that they are worth more.
I don’t know if these women were being pimped or if they were there by ‘choice’ (although I have to quote a mantra of survivors of sex exploitation “if prostitution is a choice, then we have failed to offer other choices”) or , if despite appearances and my assumptions, they were friends with or dating those men. I don’t know what circumstances lead them there, if they are close friends who have matching tattoos or were branded by their pimp and I don’t know what exactly happened at the party his friend was raving about having.
What it did drive home for me is how easy it could be to see something not quite right and dismiss or judge it as something else. It drove it home for me how easy it is for exploitation to take place in front of someone’s eyes and no one is the wiser.
So what can you do to stop a culture of exploitation and make a change?
Get educated on the signs of human trafficking and if you see something, say something. Report tips or concerns to the national anti-HT hotline.
Support organizations, like Jasper House, which work to provide women with opportunities and skills to keep them out of vulnerable situations
If you're a man around a man demeaning a woman, condescending to women or making jokes at their expense, don't give them your approval by laughing
Don't Shame a woman for her clothes. It's not her responsibility to keep a man moral
. If someone says they were harassed or assaulted then believe them
Teach kids & continually talk about what consent is
Your voice and your advocacy can help set someone free.
Written by: Deirdre Fentem - Jasper House Haiti Board Member, founder/CEO of Little Red Promotions, and active advocate, writer and speaker for anti sex-trafficking efforts. Hear more from her on her website, Little Red Promotions.