The Scarlet Woman

*The following is posted in honor of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This post includes words that may be triggering for some trauma survivors.

What comes to your mind when you see a woman standing on a corner alone, under the glow of a street lamp?  Close your eyes for a moment. 

As a little girl, I stood under that glowing street light.  Born into an upper class, deeply respected religious family, I was hidden in broad daylight. You wouldn’t recognize me as a victim—then or now.  And though for safety I can’t tell the specifics of my story, in the facts that follow you hold a piece of my story and suffering.  

Our culture has strong associations about women, as Nathanial Hawthorne highlighted in 1850 in The Scarlet Letter.  There is a long history of misogyny in this country, defined by Merriam-Webster as a “hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women.”  This societal hatred of women is especially born by women who are trafficked. I believe they are among the most hated by our society (if not the most hated), and that trafficked BIPOC suffer a deeper social hatred still. As a society, we have villainized trafficked women and children, and attached to this are many myths that need to be broken. This piece is written with women at the center for Red Tent, but as you read, please know both that boys are also sold, and that madams exist.

The phrase “human trafficking” is a correction of an egregious cultural myth. The word “prostitute” indicates an occupation and as such signifies choice, not victimization. For this reason, it is a misnomer, highly offensive, and allows society to avoid dark realities.

Our culture says that trafficked victims are morally corrupt adults (or wayward teens) who chose this so-called lifestyle and have the power to walk away. In truth, the vast majority are (or were) children controlled by organized crime, enslaved in every town, and sold by their parents. It is slavery in it’s truest sense; women and children are frequently shackled and caged, and death can be their only way out.  The pimps are violent, cruel, and evil people who manipulate, harm, and threaten in any way deemed necessary to force children and women to comply with anything. This includes starving toddlers into submission for a scrap of food. Victims suffer such atrocities that writing their suffering in the dirt of reality would truly be unpublishable. 

One erroneous belief is that “John’s” are men of ill repute—society’s dregs. Instead, they are our fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, neighbors, religious leaders, teachers, doctors, police, judges, lawyers, lawmakers, news anchors, coaches, sports heroes, famous actors and musicians…respected members of society from every walk of life, occupation, and socioeconomic class.

Another myth is that men buy “ordinary” sex. In truth, men buy what they won’t do to their own women and children. They pick and choose from a menu: their victim’s age, race, body type, how heinous and egregious the act, and what level of physical harm they will inflict: each determines the price. The younger the age, the greater the sadism, the more extreme the humiliation, bondage, or degradation—the higher the price. It is about power, humiliation, and violent misogyny. Johns pay thousands and tens of thousands to rape and torture little girls.  Selling a single child for one night can make a hundred thousand dollars. Victims get nothing, as keeping them penniless is one of slavery’s many tools.  Pimps use a sophisticated interplay of manipulation, confusion, very real threats, and violence—and on the flip side—calculated kindness, tenderness, and attunement to the child’s or woman’s needs (absent in her family of origin) to create a psychological bind such that adults who have had little abuse would find it difficult to escape. Children don’t stand a chance. This—is the industry supported by pornography.

Every person is deeply broken and deeply beautiful, yet rarely are we able to hold either of those things about ourselves. 

When we are unable to bear our brokenness or beauty we project this onto others.

This is seen in our laws which punish victims instead of Johns, pimps, or parents, which is is a form of double shaming: a child is victimized, then shamed and condemned both for the “profession” she was sold into, and for how she survived and coped with the unbearable.  When we hate someone, or a people group, we need to look inward at ourselves, and where in our story this arises from. 

The Native American community is re-framing cultural views with symbolic mourning, and raising awareness for missing and murdered indiginous women (non-specific to trafficking). I encourage you to take a moment of your day to linger with their beautiful reclaiming.

The next time you see a victim of trafficking, I beg you: see her for who she truly is and the child she once was. She does not deserve your condemnation.

Marín has begun a long journey toward healing from complex trauma, and invites you to be a part of her archaeological pilgrimage through the truths she’s only beginning to know herself. Through tears she’s starting to find beauty again in life, writing, artistic expression, adventure, curiosity, community, spirituality, and bringing goodness to her body. More than anything, she treasures her time with her husband and their adored four-footed friend. Marín cherishes being part of the Red Tent community and to free her to share the rawness of her soul with you, she requests anonymity.