Pretty Woman and Why You Judge "Prostitutes"

One of the most common questions I get about sex-trafficking is, "But don't some of the women in the sex industry choose that lifestyle?" I know at that point the questioner's knowledge of the sex-industry comes from Pretty Woman and other glamorized entertainment (including billboards & ads, no matter how air-brushed and smiling they are). There's a three year old girl who's been giving favors to her stepdad since she was old enough to talk. It might hurt, but it's as normal to her as eating Cheerios and playing with My Little Pony. When she's a teenager someone offers to pay her for doing something as normal to her as brushing her teeth, painting her nails. Her body has never belonged to her, why should it start now?

There's a 14 year old girl who's been bullied into giving her boyfriend's friend sex, or else.

There's a impoverished family in Asia with three young daughters to feed and so three daughters to give to the guy down the street who will sell them for an hour or two to the highest bidder. The family gets to eat one more day.

There's a 18 year girl in Moldova who's been in orphanages since she was six or seven, after her parents left the country to find better work for themselves. She's aging out. She's pretty and quiet and on the hunt for a honest job to provide for herself. She accepts a job as a dancer, a housekeeper, or a factory worker. She is tricked, drugged, and trafficked for use in pornographic material.

There's a 12 year old runaway from Grand Rapids. She's been abused at home since she was little and just wants to be safe. A guy finds her, promises to help her, feeds her, clothes her, and forces her to prostitute herself at night in order to keep herself fed and clothed.

There's a 13 year old girl in South America promised a job cleaning houses. She is beaten, raped repeatedly, her will broken, and then given addictive drugs so she will need her captor, even in her broken stupor. She is then transported across the border into the United States where she is brought to men in truck stops along the interstate that runs behind your house.

And yet:

There's a guy in front of his computer late at night watching images he thinks only affect him.

There's a group of men on a business trip taking their pick of a girl.

There's a man at a bar in Chicago leering at a young woman stripping.

There's a father touching his daughter late at night.

There's a traveler walking into a red light district out of a sick curiosity.

There's you, in your car, driving past a woman of the night. If you're judging her because you think she chose to be there, your moral compass has been calibrated to the Pretty Woman culture. No one chooses that lifestyle. No one asks to be raped, exploited, trafficked, paraded, blackmailed, or abused.

I never use the word prostitute because it doesn't matter to me how much money a girl, or her captor, pimp, father, brother, or trafficker, is getting for her body: she is not the one making a living there.