The issue of sex trafficking, which is prevalent on college campuses, was addressed by two representatives from Ready. Inspire. Act. (RIA House) during a talk on Monday afternoon in the Center for Inclusive Excellence.
Heather Wightman, the founder and executive director of RIA House, said the organization is a “team of women that stand with and support other women that have experiences in the commercial sex market.”
The discussion was centered on sex trafficking and the lack of consent. Danielle, a clinical social worker who did not give her last name, spoke about what makes women vulnerable to sex trafficking, including addiction, isolation and violence.
Kim Dexter, director of Equal Opportunity, Title IX coordinator and ADA Compliance, said sex trafficking also occurs on college campuses. She added it isn’t necessarily that institutions ignore what is going on, but that they aren’t aware.
“We may not talk a lot about sexual exploitation, sexual trafficking, we may hear things like ‘this happens on college campuses.’ This happens on our college campus,” said Dexter. “This has happened on our college campus.”
She explained there is usually a promise of something better, such as not having to pay bills. According to Danielle, the person making the promises doesn’t necessarily need to be the pimp. It could be someone who Danielle labeled as “the bottom bitch,” who is someone already in the sex trafficking industry.
The “bottom bitch” is the youngest girl in a pimp’s group, according to Wightman. She is the one that takes care of the household needs.
As part of the grooming process, in which an offender draws their victim into a sexual relationship and maintains it in secrecy, the “bottom bitch” is the one who invites other girls into the world of sex trafficking.
“This is a very powerful promise – the promise of love,” said Danielle. “The reason people become stuck in situations of exploitation like this is because of the real belief that the person exploiting them loves them.”
There is a lot of silence about the issue, said Danielle, which leaves it to the community to speak up about it. She added the community tends to promote the kind of culture in which sex trafficking thrives.
Danielle said the media and Internet really play a part in it as well, and added that “the Internet kind of complexifies things. We all know how easy it is to put up the perfect Instagram photo.”
There is a failed system when it comes to helping women who have been in the sex trafficking industry, according to Danielle.
“People in power don’t want to see this issue. They want to pretend it’s not happening,” said Danielle. “There are a lot of problems with the justice system.”
Danielle said victim blaming makes it easier for the police to write it off as the victim’s fault if the victim is 18 or 19 years old. Just because the victim willingly entered the situation doesn’t mean she understood the consequences.
“She’s on that conceivable ‘edge of consent,’” said Wightman.
Wightman added no one ever wakes up one day saying they want to be prostituted or they want to find a sugar daddy. “That’s just not how it works.”
One student attributed the lack of knowledge about trafficking to victim blaming. “There’s always the question of, ‘How much were you drinking? What were you wearing?’ It’s always looking at her and never at whoever did it,” she said.