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Kelly Brevig: Prostitution is not a victimless crime

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BEMIDJI — We probably will never see Hollywood’s version of the prostituted woman in Bemidji, yet it exists here. We don’t see our downtown streets lined with girls on every corner, or pimps in long gaudy fur coats.

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Movies and TV shows make jokes about paying for sex, like it’s a “victimless crime” that happens “somewhere else.” Considering the cultural climate of our world, it is not a stretch to call these women names; we call them “prostitutes” or “hookers” and not so indirectly, we call them disposable.

Prostitution is defined as an adult who is doing sexual acts, erotic dance or having pornographic images taken in exchange for anything of value, including money, food, shelter, protection or drugs. Sex trafficking is the term we use when adults or children are compelled through force, fraud or coercion to do sexual acts, erotic dance, or have pornographic images taken in exchange for anything of value, (as above, including money, food, shelter, protection or drugs) for the benefit of a third party. The difference between the two definitions is that “prostitutes” look like entrepreneurs, making their own choices and livelihood while those that are trafficked are victims of coercion.

Let’s explore the life of the typical prostituted woman. First of all, the average age women enter into the sex industry in Minnesota is between 12 to 14-years-old. By law, they are not old enough to consent to a sexual act in the first place, thus taking away any choice the minor has in the matter. Some studies suggest that 75 percent of women and girls who are being exploited sexually are victims of childhood sexual abuse. It is also estimated that 75 percent of women and girls who are prostituted or exploited are being controlled by a trafficker known as a “pimp” or a “boyfriend.” Also, 89 percent of women and girls being prostituted want out but don’t know where to go for help. These findings alone should be enough to say that prostitution and sexual exploitation are not choices anyone willingly makes. These women and children are not disposable; they are well hidden people within our community. For more information, see www.breakingfree.net/facts_and_stats.aspx.

What can you do to stop sexual exploitation? You can join in a community conversation about the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking in the Bemidji area from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 20. Hosted by Moving Upstream, Bemidji’s committee dedicated to stepping up and stopping sexual violence before it occurs, we’ll discuss the impact of sex trafficking and, more importantly, what each of us can do to stop sex trafficking. From 2:15 to 3:45 p.m., join our town meeting to discuss the impact on the Native American community. (Space is limited so contact Support Within Reach at (218) 444-9524 to reserve your seat.)

As individuals, we can turn our backs on pornography and we can challenge practices like bachelor parties and birthday celebrations at strip clubs. We can talk with our children about how the word “pimp” is not funny. We can learn by reading studies like the “Garden of Truth” a study printed in 2011 by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research and Education. We can attend Evergreen Youth and Family’s Services annual conference in March and listen to Joy Friedman from “Breaking Free” talk about how to keep our youth out of sex trafficking.

There are lots of things we can do to combat sex trafficking and the exploitation of women and children. The biggest thing is to believe that it happens here and to begin looking beyond the disguise. Our women and children are not disposable. We must educate ourselves and take care of each other. If you or someone you know has been sexually exploited, contact “Support Within Reach” formerly known as the “Sexual Assault Program” for help at (218) 444-9524.

Kelly Brevig is the Prevention Education Coordinator for Support Within Reach, which has an office in Bemidji at 403 4th Street NW Suite 140. She can be reached at (218) 444-9524 or toll free at (800) 708-2727.

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