Dr. Marian Hatcher
ALIVE | Co-Founder
Alliance of Leadership & Innovation for Victims of Exploitation
Black History month focuses on the accomplishments and successes and richness of Black history, and rightly so. It also invokes underlying racial disparities in many areas of society. Poverty, education, and housing insecurity come to mind of course. Another area where this disparity is especially prevalent is in the prostitution and sex trafficking of black women and girls. According to the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, “40% of sex trafficking victims are black women, the highest percentage of any race.” Black girls are also disproportionately impacted by sex trafficking. One example of this is found in Louisiana where Black girls compromised only 19% of the state’s youth population in 2018 but they accounted for 49% of child sex trafficking survivors.
There are a host of reasons why Black women and girls are disproportionately impacted by trafficking, including socioeconomic factors, system involvement, and increased exposure to violence, sexual abuse and physical abuse. These vulnerabilities do not exist “because of racial identity but because of deeply entrenched systemic practices and structural responses to race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.” Thus, many of the factors that increase Black girls’ risk of being trafficked also make them more likely to be criminalized as a result of their trafficking victimization and directed into the justice system. The disproportionate arrests of both exploited Black girls and women, is glaring.
In 2013 the Black population in the U.S. was 13.2 percent, not surprisingly 41.4 % of people arrested for prostitution were Black…. The demographics are even more disproportionate for minors as 61.9 % of those arrested for prostitution under the age of eighteen were Black.”
Legal and personal challenges, prejudice and ultimately injustice arise when victims are also classified as offenders. As a member of Shared Hope International’s Just Response Policy Council, we worked for over 3 years to develop a field guidance report titled Sex Trafficking Victim Offender Intersectionality: A Guide for Criminal Justice Stakeholders. As defined in the report, victim-offender intersectionality is “the phenomenon of sex trafficking victims alleged to have engaged in conduct that violates the federal definition of sex trafficking…[which] could involve a broad range of conduct, including recruitment, transportation, advertising and harboring, and could involve trafficking of adults by means of force, fraud or coercion or children without regard to whether force, fraud or coercion was involved.” This Council-informed report was jointly released by Shared Hope International and the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation in January 2020 with the goal of supporting a shift in the criminal justice response to victim offender intersectionality by moving away from a narrow, retributive approach and towards a holistic approach.
Ultimately, Black women and girls could receive enormous benefits from a national implementation of this actionable, thorough, and well thought out trauma-responsive and trafficking-informed approach.
Addressing the exploitation of my demographic has been my passion and purpose since my personal victim-to-survivor journey more than twenty years ago. The catalyst was extreme trauma from domestic violence exacerbated by substance use disorder.
I was fortunate to receive trauma informed jail-based treatment at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office – Department of Women’s Justice Services, as a condition of Women’s Rehabilitative Alternative Probation, Drug Court, in lieu of a prison sentence. While I hope to see other survivors access these needed services outside the criminal justice process, to my surprise, God blessed me with a second chance through employment in the same program that saved my life, eventually leading to promotion(s) in other areas of the Sheriff’s Office addressing gender-based violence.
Those opportunities propelled me forward. It was 4 years ago this month that Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois (my home state), honored me in the Congressional record during Black History Month.
“As we near the end of this year’s Black History Month, I want to tell you about an amazing woman from the Chicago area who is making history today by helping to free women and children from modern-day slavery. Her name is Marian Hatcher, and she follows in the footsteps of two earlier “she-roes” of American history: Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.”
He shared the rich Chicago history and accomplishments of names we know as successful changemakers facing adversity, so it was truly humbling to be compared to Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth in this abolitionist work to eradicate all forms or sexual exploitation before Congress and for posterity.
With that said, we have much work still left to do as our opponents are many, yet I stand with survivors, known and unknown. So many Black women and girls from slavery of old to modern day, treated as commodities. Many I have known, died still enslaved and even more have died that I do not know.
Just this week, Sara Goodwin was allegedly murdered and dismembered after being abducted near a track in Houston. She was believed to be involved in the sex trade and that made her a target for this monstrous act.
It is cases like this and the historical chattel slavery thread that compelled me to co-found an organization for black women and girls. The Alliance of Leadership & Innovation for Victims of Exploitation (ALIVE). ALIVE’s Mission is “dedicated to ending sex trafficking in the Black Community, by leveraging awareness and prevention through innovative solution focused events.” Our Vision is to behold a Black Community free from sex trafficking and exploitation.
Our founder, Melinda Metz poignantly states
I had an epiphany. If I’m ever to be a good sex trafficking survivor ally and advocate I desire, I need to understand as best I can the survivor world. This began a journey of meeting and building relationships with survivors and survivor leaders across the nation.
My knowledge was advanced exponentially, and my life was enriched, yet I was left with a troubling reality. The disproportionate number of sex trafficking victims being Black. It was then I went before the Lord and began to build ALIVE. There were many versions and recipes, It was when I contacted and collaborated with Dr. Marian Hatcher the soup was finally ready. The final ingredient a well-known, Black Survivor Leader at the helm!
With Black History month ending, we must continue to attack the business model of sexual exploitation fueled by an economy built on lust and greed. This is not the world I want for my children and grandchildren.
Dignity, Respect, Equality and Equity are the tenets of the society I envision and believe we can manifest and must work toward. This work is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who are willing, like Sojourner and Harriet, to slay the dragon and end the nightmare for those they know and those who will come long after they have gone.