Survivors of sex trafficking face the issue of not having people believe them and/or shifting the fault onto them for the trafficking. This concept is called victim blaming. People make assumptions which lead to the person being blamed for the harm that was done to them. Victim blaming can be indirect or direct.
Example: “Why couldn’t he get away? He’s a boy, he should’ve been able to run.”
Many young men survivors are seen as deviants with a desire for quick sex and money. They are likely to be perceived as gay, promiscuous, exploiters, pimps, hustlers, or buyers. This bypasses their need to self-identify as someone who can seek help from sex trafficking. Males are often ignored and/or deemed as to having considerably more agency and choice than females. People put into question why male victims were unable to escape trafficking since he is a boy and should be strong. Additionally, there is a stereotype of a girl being the victim but that boys would want sex. Men are perceived as needing to be strong and powerful. This can also translate into boys being seen as only perpetrators. Boys have a high possibility of being seen as a “sex addict” who was “just doing it for the money.” (Friedman, 2013).
Example: “Well, what were you wearing?” “Why were you out that late?”
Women, on the other hand, may be viewed as being promiscuous. Comments may suggest that they were “asking for it” because of where she was and/or what she may have worn, drank, or said. Additionally, people may suggest that “boys will be boys”, which is degrading to males and invalidating the experience of the female.
Generally speaking, this may look like questioning a survivor about what they could’ve done differently in order to “prevent” their trafficking. In any case, treating someone, implying, and/or questioning if someone is at fault for their own sexual assault or exploitation is damaging on many levels. It not only re-instills the manipulations of the traffickers that make survivors believe they have been making their own choice, but it also may prevent survivors from seeking help to leave their situation. Victim blaming and stigmas can be internalized, making survivors believe they did something wrong, and they might not see themselves as deserving of help.
How we respond in the midst of someone’s struggle has a profound effect on their outlook on their situation and themselves. Now knowing this, we can be an advocate for the people in our lives who open up to us and tell us about their experiences. Examining our thinking and challenging ourselves and our friends to speak differently about survivors of sex trafficking and sexual assault will have an impact on changing the stigma around these topics.
- Polaris Project