I received this e-mail from www.change.org about the use of the term “Pimp” in our every day culture as being glorified, while in reality it is a profession (if you can call it that) which subjugates women. I found the story very interesting and have chosen to share the email with you below. Also, I applaud Demi Moore and the new Foundation she created with her husband Ashton Kutcher called “The Demi & Ashton Foundation” or “DNA” (not incredibly original, but its the cause that counts), which works toward the elimination of sex slavery worldwide.
Demi Moore vs. Kim Kardashian*
Who would have thought that a Twitter exchange between Demi Moore and reality TV star Kim Kardashian this past week would have provided a teachable moment on the subject of sex trafficking?
The exchange surrounded the word “pimp,” which Kardashian used when she linked to a photo of her and some girlfriends out on the town, and labeled it “Big Pimpin’.”
Moore, an advocate against sex slavery who recently donated $250,000 with her husband Ashton Kutcher to help the survivors of human trafficking, responded:
“No disrespect. I love a girls night out but a pimp and pimping [refers to] nothing more than a slave owner! If we want to end slavery we need to stop glorifying the ‘pimp’ culture.”
The result? A slew of celebrity tabloid headlines pitting Demi vs. Kim.
But as Changemaker Rachel Lloyd, founder of the anti-trafficking organization GEMS writes on Change.org this week, the glaring omission from all the articles and commentary that resulted from the exchange is any real analysis of Moore’s point — that we glamorize and glorify pimp culture, use terminology that seems to legitimize the practice, and in doing so ignore the fact that pimps are modern-day slave-owners.
Of course, Ms. Kardashian didn’t intend to glorify real pimps any more than most people do when using the word as slang. But this slang desensitizes us to the terrible reality of pimps and the sex trade, and has a very real impact on the psychology of young girls most vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The median age of entry into the sex industry in America is between 12 and 14 years old. And partially because of the use of the word “pimp” to glorify men in music videos and popular culture, many girls grow up thinking of a pimp as someone who is cool, rich, and sexy, rather than someone to be feared. Rather than as someone who might kidnap them. Or rape them. Or beat them for failing to bring home enough money one night.
This is the awful reality of pimps, who sell more than 100,000 children for sex in the United States each year.
It’s unfortunate that it took a celebrity squabble to bring pimp culture to the nation’s attention. But now that it’s arisen, let’s take this opportunity to have a real conversation about how to address a very real issue. For more information on the dark reality of pimping, click here.
*This entire text are the words of a www.change.org email.
Since arriving here in Bulgaria I have strayed away from talking about the issue of human trafficking for sexual exploitation on my blog mainly because I do research and speak to people who work with victims on a daily basis. I wanted my blog to be a place where I could share more about cultural differences and comical experiences I’ve had here. That being said, it bothers me that too many people through out the world do not understand the immensity of the problem, mainly because of a lack of awareness in our global community around the issue.
In my time here one of the concepts which has bothered me considerably is the fact that these crimes are defined legally and discussed in governmental and NGO circles only through the use of the term “trafficking.” While trafficking through the illegal transport of humans against their will should be considered a crime, it is what comes after that is the most egregious. Women and children are forced to become slaves and perform sexual acts against their will. Most are often raped repeatedly after being trafficked across international borders or within a country, in what is often considered by traffickers the “breaking in” period. Why is it that most laws define these crimes based on the movement of these women and children, and not on the fact that they are held against their will as slaves for unknown periods of time?
Since joining the European Union in 2007, both Bulgaria and Romania have been on probation for evidence of organized crime within their governments, which is very much a factor in the large number of women & girls trafficked into the sex trade from these countries. Now that both these countries are EU members their borders are more open to travel to other EU countries making it easier for traffickers to move women/girls across Europe. In addition, increased international tourism during the summer to resorts on the Black Sea Coast and in the winter to ski havens like Bansko gives traffickers a reason to bring girls to these areas within the country as well. This makes Bulgaria a triple threat – a country of origin, transit and destination.
In the past few years their have been many awareness campaigns and educational trainings that have targeted at risk groups so that girls no longer fall victim to the “job opportunity abroad ads,”etc. Though now more aware of the threat of traffickers, poor women & girls still see prostitution as the only real option if they want a better life for themselves. So despite having knowledge of the possible scenarios that await them many girls think that this won’t happen to them, or that they will go work as a prostitute for a year or a few months and then come back with lots of money. Girls from Bulgaria are the third highest when it comes to sex workers in the EU according to a BBC report. So, some of these girls go willingly, they are not trafficked — but they are often met with the same outcome as those who are forcibly moved across borders. Girls passports are taken away, they are told that they have a debt to repay to the pimp and that they cannot leave until they have earned a certain amount of money as a prostitute. Of course room and board are also added daily to this climbing debt that must be repaid. This is called “debt bondage” and is most definitely “Sex Slavery” since girls cannot leave and most never earn a dime with all of their money going to the pimp. For these girls, if they escape their situation, they often don’t consider themselves victims and blame themselves for what happened. Even girls who were trafficked against their will convince themselves that they chose this fate and that this was the life they wanted. This is a coping mechanism many victims use to allow them to mentally survive this kind of trauma.
But, the question is: In international court systems can these victims bring their perpetrators to justice? The answer to this question is a complicated one, because the burden of proof is on the victim and many times it is difficult to prove in court who the victims are. If a victim explains that she went willingly to be a prostitute in some countries it might be argued that no trafficking crime occurred. Also, many victims are not provided with the support services they need to be confident enough to face their pimps and/or traffickers in court. In Bulgaria, witnesses are only sometimes able to gain refuge in crisis centers/shelters for a limited time. The Animus Association has the only crisis centre for victims of violence (including domestic violence) in Sofia and they can only accommodate 6-8 people at a time for 1 month. This is hardly enough time to provide the necessary mental and social counseling needed. Some victims fear going home because the trafficker knows where she lives and she is concerned harm will come to her or them — or she is simply ashamed and doesn’t want to face her family. There is just not enough funding to provide the help these women need. Also, if a woman does find the courage to file criminal charges she must testify on multiple occasions in front of the accused. There is no option to testify via video in a separate room, etc. The Bulgarian Government would argue that a majority of victims do in fact file criminal charges against their traffickers/pimps.
But, like familiar statistics associated with sexual crimes like date rape – the majority of victims of sex slavery or trafficking do not report that the crime was committed. So there are many nameless victims out there who went through unimaginable trauma or are currently living it who will never be helped or counted.
I could keep going because I’ve barely grazed the surface of this issue, but I’ll save it for another time.
Several friends, acquaintances and family members have asked me why the NGO I work for is called the “Animus Association.” In fact, one of my new friends thought I worked for an NGO that helped stray cats & dogs, because she interpreted “animus” to mean working with animals. So I’ve decided to dig up the definition of the word and explain why it is applied to an organization that helps victims/survivors of trafficking for sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
Merriam Webster defines “animus” to mean:
Main Entry: an·i·mus
Etymology: Latin, spirit, mind, courage, anger
1 : basic attitude or governing spirit : disposition, intention
2 : a usually prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will
3 : an inner masculine part of the female personality in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung — compare anima
*synonyms see enmity
In the case of this NGO’s usage of the word all 3 definitions apply.
(1) The organization is driven by a strong governing spirit that is compelled to help women who have been wronged through forced sexual exploitation & domestic violence. It is Animus’ intention to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, while also helping its victims.
(2) The logo of Animus is a witch on a broom. Witches are viewed as spiteful mythical/magical people. In this case many of these women who were victims of unimaginable crimes hold very ill will towards those who hurt them. Witches are also seen as women who simply challenged the status quo. As a result Animus turns this spite and ill will into action, and works to challenge the crime networks that promote and implement human trafficking by lobbying for government policy and educating the public.
(3) These women hold an inner strength, which some psychologists view as a more masculine trait. In reality, women are the stronger ones – they are the survivors.
Today, Sunday, October 18th is International Combating Human Trafficking Day. Until the last 10 years of so very few people in the Western World realized the extent and widespread impact of trafficking on women & children throughout Eastern Europe and Asia who are tricked, coerced, kidnapped and sold everyday into forced prostitution. I haven’t spoken much about this issue on my blog thus far, which I regret. I think this is mainly because I don’t even know where to start. What to say or how to say it.
I guess I’ll start with the fact that human trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation earns more money for organized crime than global drug trafficking networks. Human Trafficking is Modern Slavery. It is extremely sad to realize that as a society we have not progressed enough to eliminate the concept of slavery from our everyday lives. Slavery should exist in history books. No child or woman should consider this their reality.
My first two days at the Animus Association, I participated in an European Commission sponsored working group between Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian NGOs (See my original blog post here). Italy is considered a country of destination for girls being trafficked, while in this case both Bulgaria and Romania are seen as countries origin. Besides being a country of origin, more victims are actually trafficked through Bulgaria from Ukraine and Moldova, making it more of a country of transit. Also, many Bulgarian trafficking victims are trafficked within the country as well.
In our globalized society women are being illegally trafficked and exploited around the world. Communication needs to be widened between countries of origin, transit & destination in order to combat this sickeningly major violation of human rights. But more so, countries with the resources need to help those who don’t have the money, government structures, training and/or networks in place to prevent trafficking and help victims.
At the working group 2-day meeting I mentioned above we went over case studies from all 3 countries of victims and reviewed the reintegration process. Of the case studies presented in Bulgaria the girls who escaped from their pimps/traffickers were ONLY allowed to at the Animus Crisis Center for 30 days, where they were provided much needed daily trauma counseling. There was simply not enough money to allow victims to stay longer. This is not enough time to provide thorough counseling to help the victims who survived the unimaginable. And often times, even while Animus is able to coordinate with other state sponsored shelters (there are few) for victims to go after the Crisis Center very few victims it appears choose this option. Instead, many choose to go back to the place where they were trafficked from. In one victim case study, the victim had been trafficked from her small poor village by a man she thought to be her “boyfriend” – when she escaped a first time after being trafficked to Italy, he came to her parents house beat her and brought her back to Italy. Despite this, after her time at the Crisis Center ended she returned home to her poor village that offered her little opportunity or safety. And to make matters worse she did this while knowing that her trafficker had been released on bail. I was continually surprised and saddened by the lack of resources/money available to help victims who managed to escape.
This is one of many stories . . . thousands of women & children are trafficked and exploited against there will. Slavery still exists today and more needs to be done.
**The banner up top is one I made in both Bulgarian & English for Animus with my poor graphic design skills
So today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement; during which we fast and ask forgiveness for our transgressions over the past year. It was also my first day working at the Animus Association. I will humbly admit that I failed at my attempt to fast the entire day. When you find out that an poorly funded NGO already paid for your lunch it is kind of hard to refuse, plus I had a delicious shopska salad staring me in the face (to be explained later).
It wasn’t a normal day at the office, since today was the beginning of a two day conference/working group made up of anti-trafficking NGOs from Italy (Caritas), Romania (ProWomen Foundation) and Bulgaria (Animus Association, Caritas BG, Center for Woman’s Studies & Policy, BG Family Planning & Sexual Health Association, et al.). This working group/project is funded by the European Commission and exists to improve upon the re-integration of trafficking victims to society. I was fortunate enough to be able to not only participate in these meetings as an observer, but also as a participant. Even more exciting was that the meeting was conducted in English and translated into Bulgarian – so it was very easy for me to understand and participate in the ongoing round table discussions that occurred.
Our lunch break was at a really nice restaurant off of Alexander Don Dukov Street. We sat by organization only to simplify payment methods, since each group would be paying separately. Therefore, I sat with 3 of my new colleagues at Animus. Two are the Animus lobbyists who advocate for trafficking & domestic violence prevention respectively and the third is a psychologist/program manager. At times they spoke in Bulgarian, but they did their best to speak primarily in English during the whole meal for my benefit, which I appreciated greatly. We talked a bit about Animus and suddenly I found myself volunteering to help with their volunteer recruitment, website, program writing/editing for grants and overall organizational strategy (I know many of you aren’t that surprised ;p). As I soon found out, Animus has no real sustainable fundraising, formal volunteer coordination or a 5 year strategic plan. What surprised me the most though, was when I mentioned the concept of membership to build a donor and volunteer base – they looked at me like I was a genius. It appears that the idea of a membership based NGO support is not the standard organizational structure in Bulgaria as it is in the United States. I’ve been seriously thirsting for something to keep me busy and by making my work at Animus a real job and not just my Fulbright research project I’ll be able to help a worthy organization and not let myself get bored.
I gained so much new information in one day and left the office with even more questions than when I arrived. To post everything I found fascinating today might interest you all, but it would be one hell of a post since I took pretty detailed notes of the discussion. After the close of the working group session tomorrow I intend to post some of my thoughts about the information I learned regarding the current state of trafficked victims from Bulgaria. So stay tuned!