Over the Christmas break I, like many others, fell in love with the Hunger Games trilogy. Set in the future, it describes a society in which one region rules over and exploits the others, and every year two children from each district are chosen to fight each other to the death in a reality-show type manner as the entire nation watches.
To be honest, I was hesitant to write this post from fear if it coming across as cheesy or jump-on-the-bandwagon-trendy. But as I watched the movie on the weekend, one component in particular reminded me of the experience of sex trafficking victims. (I promise not to give anything important away for those of you who have not seen the film yet!)
As these children and teenagers are ripped from their families and forced to commit murder for the sake of entertainment, they must do so with smiles on their faces. Each is interviewed before cameras for all of Panem to see, and to increase their chances of survival they must make the crowds love them. Not unlike gladiator games during the Roman empire.
This was the hardest part of the story for me to stomach. Forcing someone to kill is one thing. Forcing them to look like they want to takes it to a whole new level. Forcing someone to have sex is one thing. Forcing them to appear as if they want to is beyond cruel.
Yet this is exactly what victims of sex trafficking experience, as most of them are “broken in” and trained to appear desirable for the men they are forced to service. Most johns want to believe that the woman or child they are paying to abuse is delighted to be there. When a victim is threatened with beatings, harm to their family, or electric shocks if they do not perform with a smile on their face, it becomes very risky for them to misbehave. They must change themselves to save themselves.
It explains why some victims who have been in the trade for a while can be manipulated into recruiting other girls with the promise that they will be freed as a result. It’s about survival, about making it out alive. Unfortunately, the shame that is attached to it prevents many victims from returning to their families even if they manage to escape.
It saddens me that there are people in this world who are willing to strip a person of their dignity, their values, their livelihood, their dreams, their personality. These things, which are the most intimate components of being human, can get buried so deep as a result that it becomes almost impossible to retrieve them. Betraying yourself to save yourself comes with a high cost, and those who recover forever live with scars.
We must stand in the gap and prevent people from ever being forced to experience this.