How the human trafficking crisis and everyday sexual assault are connected
The stories shared about women being trafficked felt a lot like my own rape—in that wheel of power men use to exploit innocent people.
This essay contains detailed discussion of r/pe, sexual assault, and human trafficking
by Jamila Dawn Mitchell
Today, I learned that my rape looks like 11,000 cases of human trafficking. Five minutes into listening to a panel on the phenomenon, I found myself scribbling musings of my trauma to help me cope. The ways men use power and control to traffick people through sex trade felt so closely related to the dangerous trans-misogyny cis-men use to control and groom vulnerable transwomen for their pleasure.
The stories shared about women being trafficked felt a lot like my own rape—in that wheel of power men use to exploit innocent people. During the first moments after my assault, I regained full awareness, I felt cold and didn’t know where my coat was. My genitals were cold and wet inside of my soiled panties. My anus was burning, but the heat wasn’t working right in my Buick. I drove silent, almost robotically home.
The first thing I thought to do was to undress in my bathroom and shower. Curious to see why I felt wet in my seat, I looked into my panties. I was bleeding. There was so much blood, but much of the hurt I began to feel was emotional. The blood was drying fast, and I began to repress the reality of the violation of my trust and my body just as quickly.
By the morning, I had created a story about how I had allowed someone to fuck me, even when I didn’t want them to. I added it to my many stories of sexual intrigue. It was rape, but I wasn’t yet able to name it as such. So, I said nothing about it for months, maybe years—I can hardly recall. People don’t really care about rape, and men especially don’t care if they have not been the victim of such a crime. They often laugh, apathetically stare, or ignore the testimony of rape victims. I was living far away from family at the time—the men who knew what happened would not care to help me, not the family the scared girl inside me wanted around.
I remember the bland presence of my backseat against my face, my stomach, my exposed pelvis. The couch might as well have been a stone slate where my hips cracked under the weight of my auser. This backseat was not the bed I originally fell asleep on. Not what I wanted. But, the drug pacifying my will made the car into my room for the moment. I stopped asking what happened or how it happened, because days ran out for me to find answers. All I knew is that someone owned me that moment; they owned my body.
Following my HIV diagnosis, they nearly owned my fate, too. I was captive then. Listening to the human trafficking cases at the panel, I began experiencing vicarious trauma where my body was telling my brain about all the memorable moments of sexual abuse. All of the times men deceived me with words of love, made me feel irrational, or coerced me with promises of “It’ll be quick, it won’t hurt” started replaying. I remember one specific man parking outside my dormitory and calling me a “whore” when I refused to be driven by to his home for sex, again.
Then, it hit me. Every conversation I have with cis-men seeking trans-women has been their attempt at grooming me. Telling me what they wanted me to wear, how they preferred for me to perform regardless of how I described myself. Some have even go insofar as to offer money, bidding higher until convinced I would never say yes. Their attitude always escalate to irritation and anger when I don’t want to comply with their design of trans-womanhood. By their words, I go from gorgeous to worthless and unlovable.
The words on the “Wheel of Power & Control” of both sexual abuse and human trafficking include “gaslighting”, “forcing guilt”, as well as “minimizing” victims. I began a quarter of this article in reflection to a myriad of traumatic flashbacks. This reflection led to a lesson for myself that mirrored the lessons of the expert panel discussing the trafficking crisis.
Human trafficking is not some foreign, small incident that only affects some people. It is another mechanism of oppressive power systems, typically patriarchal. I, as a Black queer woman have faced many if not all the components of patriarchal weapons to exploit unsuspecting people regardless of gender. The world, today, cruel separates us into classes of the powerful and their prey. We have to make space for each other to understand the subtle ways of exploitation.
The night I was raped, thousands of others were being sold to be raped that same night using the same methods of power. The rape I’m conscious of was by someone that posed as a romantic lover, while many others gave themselves away acting overtly coercive. My story is just one in thousands. I am 1 in 6 women who will be raped by someone using methods of power and control. We 1 in 6 share similar experiences to the nearly 11,000 reported cases of human trafficking in the U.S.
My future, our future regardless of gender, depends on confronting power regimes. Sexual exploitation is a universal language that’s uniform in how people are controlled. People will use their privileges over others, such as public title or employment. They will also isolate their victims. In my own case, my rapist waited until I was alone, in the dark, late at night while the neighborhood was sleep. I can still remember being parked beneath a large, old tree, just short of the one orange street light.
I urge everyone to learn the Power of Control Wheel if you ever feel like someone is hurting you. Even if you are not being trafficked by strangers (or even familiars), you may be a victim of sexual violence because the power-victim situations are aligned.
If this is you, or you feel like you’re witnessing someone being abused, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). However, if you are being trafficed in the US, or may have witnessed human trafficking there are trained staff available at the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Jamila Mitchell is a writer that comes from across the disciplines of business management, non-profit development, and community organizing. Educated in economics and business management at the Milwaukee School of Engineering Rader School of Business, Jamila has used her knowledge assets on neoclassical economics as an advocate and grant writer for various causes such as mental health treatment. She has worked on numerous political campaigns including the Fight For $15 pro-union national campaign, voter rights, and various President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign