By Kathy Bryan
This pandemic that has turned our world upside down is having particular impact on vulnerable and at-risk populations. As the Director of Elevate Academy, I work with a client base of over 600 trafficking survivors. We are receiving daily, desperate communications with the most prevalent issue being significant financial problems due to loss of work without pay either because of child care/school closings and/or their employer closing. Several clients have the virus and there are those who have lost a family member to Covid-19. Additionally, the emotional toll is quite high as confinement is very triggering for survivors of sex trafficking.
Even survivors of human trafficking who have been out for several years are seriously impacted. Many are single moms already struggling to get by on incredibly tight budgets while negotiating the intense healing still needed after years of abuse and trauma. Those challenges are more magnified by the unfortunate fact that they are often saddled with criminal records which prevent them from receiving government financial assistance. Those crimes, in so many cases, are acts they were forced to engage in by their traffickers. Add this pandemic to the mix, and their current circumstances are beyond grim.
The financial strain results in a high risk of recidivism due to incredible pressure to meet even the most basic needs. Survivors already have beaten the odds by enduring the most horrific experiences; to think that circumstances might force them to sell sex to survive is heartbreaking. The health risks to trafficking victims and those who might in desperation consider selling sex for survival are exponentially high right now. “Shelter in place” is not adhered to by sex buyers, nor do traffickers/pimps choose to give time off…trust me when I say, as a survivor myself, there are NO days off. In fact, in times of crisis, it is the norm for exploiters to tighten their grip on those they abuse, and to bring more people into their folds.
Human trafficking is a deplorable crime, but it is also a business and thrives during times of crisis by adapting quickly to opportunities the crisis presents. For example, with schools and daycares closed, parents are forced to work from home while keeping their kids home OR entrusting them to themselves during work hours. Ultimately this tends to mean an increase in screen time with less supervision as parents attempt to juggle employment requirements while being full-time caregivers. This is a BONUS for traffickers as they have increasingly been recruiting their victims online. Factor in the isolation that comes from being out of school, yet sequestered from society, and children are hungrier than usual for companionship and guidance that exploiters are all too happy to provide.
Another nefarious business, Pornhub, has quickly jumped at the opportunity to bolster business. Guising themselves as benefactors, they are ‘graciously’ giving 50,000 masks to emergency workers, and ‘benevolently’ providing free access to their online porn services. Disguising it as charity, they are luring captive audiences pining for entertainment with free content, knowing the “gift” will increase their subscriber base. There is a direct correlation between the purchase of sex and viewing of pornography. While not everyone who consumes pornography buys sex, those being bought for sex will tell you the buyers all watch porn.
As businesses are shuttered due to Covid-19, traffickers are taking advantage of new ways to increase the flow of cash. So, in addition to meeting the demand of sex buyers, some victims are forced to take on-demand jobs like Uber or Instacart. Strip clubs are morphing their services too, requiring their workers to begin delivering food with an accompanying striptease, doing drive-thru no-touch lap dances, etc., and demand for cam services is also on the rise.
Why am I sharing all this?
It is absolutely crucial that we provide both financial and emotional support to victims and survivors, now. Helping them cover basic needs like groceries and rent will go a long way to helping them weather this storm safely while continuing the important work of healing and maintaining their freedom. Healthy and healed survivors are the leaders who are vital to the work of helping others find a way out!
In the midst of this crisis, I am incredibly grateful to Shared Hope International. They have pledged to provide financial relief to the extent possible to the desperate women and youth through partners in their scope of care. If you are a survivor in need of assistance, please reach out to Shared Hope via firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you are able to help…if keeping survivors of sex trafficking free and standing on their own feet is important to you, please make a donation to Shared Hope, designating the survivor benevolence fund! Let’s help protect their hard-won freedom. Let’s prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from taking extraneous victims along with it.