An 11-year-old Texas girl was gang raped by 18 men ranging from middle school boys to 27-year-old men.
Her case prompted nationwide controversy, even inspiring Florida state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo to fight for new legislation requiring stricter dress codes in Florida public schools. Passidomo rationalized the legislation as protecting young Floridian girls, since the 11-year-old in Texas was reportedly raped “because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute.” This story reveals that victim blaming is still prevalent in today’s society, making efforts to combat it even more urgent.
Victim blaming is a critical issue when trying to protect the rights of domestic minor sex trafficking victims. Victims are often labeled with derogatory names, arrested, and jailed rather than provided with services they need and deserve. Shared Hope supports progressive changes in social attitudes, like referring to DMST victims as “prostituted children” rather than “child prostitutes,” to shift the blame away from the victim. In fact, simply changing the language towards victims has proven to be a powerful tool in changing society’s perception of the crime.
However, how can attitudes truly be converted when services created to protect DMST victims carry names that are inherently accusatory? For example, in South Florida, the FBI task force, which responds to DMST victims, is called “Minor Vice Task Force.” Vice is an umbrella term for crimes involving actions considered by their very nature immoral. Thus, this title implies that the focus of this task force is minors engaging in “immoral” crimes, crimes they are forced to commit as trafficking victims. Other examples include the National Innocence Lost Task Force, which although represents a step in the right direction of viewing the trafficked minor as a victim, may be interpreted by those who are served by that force as having lost all their innocence, and still fails to maintain neutrality despite well meaning efforts. Although prostitution is legally a crime, the San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution and Vallejo Prostitution Task Force titles reinforce the idea that prostitutes are the real criminals, which perpetuates victim blaming, rather than revealing that purchasing young girls for sex as the true crime. It seems odd that the names of some human trafficking task forces would focus on the victim of the crime, considering that many other task forces, such as drug task forces, maintain a sense of neutrality about the purpose of the task force.
The purpose of a task force is to target a specific type of crime and those affected by it. Task forces like the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force have accomplished neutrality while allowing room for minors to still be seen as victims. These simple changes in language can help shift our nation’s victim blaming tendencies towards to the real perpetrators.