Modern Day Slavery? The Intersection of Race and Sex Trafficking

Reflecting on last month’s highlighting of “Black History,” we once again became aware of the courage, all the accomplishments, and the struggles experienced by black men and women. Racial disparities and systemic injustices are glaring.

The connection between race and commercial sexual exploitation of people of color, particularly minority youth, push black women disproportionately (than white) into America’s commercial sex trade - and keep them trapped there.

Our nation’s history of slavery and segregation has led to the continuing abuse and exploitation of black women. Human sex trafficking is viewed as modern day slavery. Today, systemic issues of generational poverty (leading to) poor educational opportunities and high rates of incarceration still exist. The psychological sequelae of trafficked women - i.e., victimization, subjugation, childhood trauma, childhood sexual abuse, substance abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, witnessing violence in their homes, abandonment - shows a connection to the past.

Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law Institute To Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation addresses personal injustices to survivors, legislating, teaching/training, advocating. The lawyers of The Justice For Victims Clinical Fellowship have direct client contact, and advocate for women facing court and legal struggles, help them with needed personal resources, and possibly legally vacating their sentences in certain instances.

For the past four years I have attended The CSE Institute’s annual conference, “Engaging The Survivor Community In Advocacy, Healing, and Criminal Justice." Victims’ advocates, law enforcement, social service administrators, and survivors convene to attend two days of workshops listening to leaders in the field from all over the country speak in numerous workshops (pre-Covid). The majority of speakers are black or Latino men and women who ”left the trade” 25 years ago, some 10 years ago. They hold Masters and PhD degrees. They are leaders in their numerous communities, working with law enforcement, or government, or civic leaders, or mayors, or state legislators in key advocacy and policy-making positions for victims' rights.

The workshop presenters are book authors, university professors. They are kind and compassionate and tough. Their trafficking experiences as people of color have left indelible scars on their psyche and in their hearts. Some will tell you they still suffer PTSD, or after 25 years they still see a therapist, or they still have issues of trust, or they still have trouble forming intimate relationships.

These people of color who are survivors of sex trafficking have grit and have shown resilience. They have moved on - from victim to survivor; from marginalized with no voice to leadership and speaking out; from being owned by another to being liberated and fiercely independent.

They are changing the story.

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