What’s in a name?
Some people call them hookers…prostitutes…whores… or sex trade workers. I cringe every time I hear any of these terms to describe women in prostitution because no matter what term is used, it never brings justice or dignity to the individual being sold.
Studies around the world consistently show that the overwhelming majority of women in prostitution desperately want out right now but see no possible exit opportunities. The correlation between sex trafficking and prostitution is so strong that it is virtually impossible to separate the two. Not only is prostitution controlled by pimps and organized crime, the average entry age into prostitution around the world is between 12-14 years old. This is not a lifestyle choice for these young girls; they have been trafficked into the global sex trade for the purpose of making huge lucrative profits for their pimps, trafficker and “owners”.
“The girl is the new drug,” declares Sergeant Detective Kelley O’Connell of the Boston Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit, vocalizing the global crisis that makes young women the most popular commodity to buy and sell internationally. With this kind of knowledge, there is no possible way that I can label prostituted and trafficked women as common hookers, whores and prostitutes…I doubt that those terms even exist in reality.
While in Korea, I heard a beautiful description of the precious lives trapped in the sex trade. Yesterday some of the workers at a aftercare shelter for victims of human trafficking, described their work with the “sisters” in Korea’s illegal red light districts. I asked one of my new Korean friends to elaborate more on her heart for the Korean sisters who have been caught in the vicious cycle of sex trafficking:
“Growing up as the eldest child, I did not have an older sister. So every opportunity I got when I met an older female Korean friend or acquaintance I would call them “older sister” in Korean. There was a sense of security and familiarity when I used that term. An older sister was someone who would stand up for you if you were in trouble. Someone you could rely on and trust. Someone you could share secrets with, laugh and cry with, and just be yourself with. You can’t replace the power or bond or security of sisterhood.
There is a deep history of survival in Korea. Koreans use their pride and unity to help one another, encourage each other, and stand back up on their feet. Even Koreans who have immigrated to other countries, they immediately connect with other Koreans who have immigrated, because there is safety and support with “their” people. I see the older generation in Korea, in workplaces or marketplaces. Their cheerful and familiar banter. Especially the women, the sisterhood. They watch either others’ backs, they help the person next to them, and make sacrifices for one another.
It’s ironic that even with this beautiful idea of unity, strength, and support, there is a selective process about it. With so many people in denial of what is happening right in their own backyards, it is not a surprise that many of the women who are victims of trafficking are excluded from this unifying term, “sister”. The vulnerable and weak are now estranged from calling on a “sister” for help from the rest of society and not by their own choice. They are helpless and in need, but they do not have any one to call their “sister”, to back them up and stand up for them. They are being ignored and blamed for things not completely in their control.
Where did that love, pride, and unity go? Where did the outstretched hand go? Where did the sisterhood go for these victims? Why are they excluded? This is the time when they need us the most. They need us to stand up for them… to fight back against the school bully, the mean girl, the bad boss, the pimp, the johns and fight against the idea that they are okay with the multiple and daily violations of their bodies, minds, and souls. Where are the brothers and sisters who will stand up to restore our lost sisters?” –Estella J. Kang in Seoul, South Korea.
Powerful and beautiful words. I am praying that we will all view one another as brothers and sisters of the world. May we never shun, ignore or abandon our sisters who have been sold and exploited in the sex industry.
It’s time to love our sisters.