Cyntoia Brown was only 16 when she was sold by her pimp to a 43-year old white man for sex. Fearing for her life, she shot the man and was convicted of murder in 2004. They got sentenced for life but after public pressure and a long hard fight, Cyntoia was released in late 2019. Her story is now a Netflix film and she is writing her memoir.
Cyntoia is only one of many African American girls who get trafficked. The U.S Department of Justice reported in 2012 that over 40 % of Human trafficking victims are African American. While 62 % of human trafficking suspects and 52 % of those who get arrested for prostitution are African American, too.
While minorities from poor environments are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, it is still puzzling to researchers why a) the demand for black men and women for sex trafficking is higher than that of any other ethnicity and b) why the penalties associated with trafficking African Americans are less severe.
In interviews conducted by the Urban Institute, traffickers testified that a) white women make them more money but b) trafficking black women lead to less jail time if caught.
It is unsurprising that the story of Cyntoai ended with a life sentence. Jurors regard white men as more credible and relatable than young, poor, and less educated victims.
I thought about the topic of black women and girls being trafficked because of the current Black Lives Matter protests across the States and began to wonder, how the ideas of “race” and “privilege” play into the hands of sex traffickers
After having stated the facts that I collected through statistics, let us have a deeper look and ask: Why is this the reality of sex trafficking?
Black vulnerable, poor, and less educated girls get captured, trafficked, and sold to white men from middle class or upper-class backgrounds who have decent education and money. The men who buy girls are those who have no unmet needs or wants. Their money and status have bought them most of the things they ever dreamed to possess. The girls that get bought have unmet needs, be it money or safety or love.
Sex trafficking victims are treated as property, similar to the African Americans who were enslaved. The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a “modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain”. We can trace sex trafficking back to the times of slavery and easily realize that the idea of being able to buy a person has taken hold in the American psyche. Even though, the legal state has changed the ideas in people´s heads have not.
Ideas such as white privilege, which is often discussed lately, racism, objectification and poverty are intertwined and have to be dealt with when trying to find a solution to end sex trafficking.
Often those solutions fall short. When a victim reaches out to public services to access help, those agencies are led by white people who don´t share the cultural background and the reality of daily life the victims have. Black history and identity are unique experiences those white social services can´t fully relate to. It makes it extraordinarily hard for victims to return to a stable life when – again – their needs aren´t met.