On July 6, Jeffrey Epstein was arrested and taken into federal custody on multiple sex trafficking charges. In some ways, the Epstein saga runs the risk of reinforcing dangerous stereotypes about human trafficking in the US: If we expect all trafficking victims to be blond haired, blue eyed girls under the age of 18, we will overlook the vast majority of survivors. Survivors of human trafficking (meaning both labor and sex trafficking) are migrant laborers, restaurant workers, and housekeepers. They are men, women, transgender, and gender non-conforming. They are all ages and all races. And their stories are complex.
Disclaimer: Possible sensitive material. The author discusses the nature of human trafficking situations and means of control.
During my undergraduate years, I embodied the enthusiastic student suddenly emboldened by the idea that I could do something to change the world. When at a campus event, I was shown a video that detailed the (fictional) story of a young woman from Eastern Europe who was kidnapped and brought to the United States for forced work in the sex industry. The woman was moved around the country and was locked in various homes, hidden away from everyone except for her captors and clients. She only managed a dramatic escape by breaking free of her chains and running towards good citizens for help. Like most Americans, this was my introduction to the issue of human trafficking.
In 2014, Tracey Jones celebrated ten years working at the same daycare center. There is no question that Tracey is meant to work with children. Walk down Courtlandt Avenue with her, and you will hear kids yelling, “Hi, Miss Tracey!” When she hears the greeting, she stops what she’s doing and opens her arms. She scoops them up, remembers their names, the last time she babysat them, and in a few cases, the last time she babysat their parents.