By Lisa Goldblatt Grace, Co-Founder and Executive Director of My Life My Choice and Audrey Morrissey, Associate Director and National Director of Survivor Leadership.
The heart-wrenching details emerging about the lives of exploited women forced to work at the Asian Orchid Massage parlor may have shocked members of Patriots Nation, but, sadly, were not shocking to us at My Life My Choice who deal with the realities of commercial sexual exploitation every day.
The potential silver lining in the explosive media coverage of the Jupiter, Florida, case is a long overdue national conversation about an industry that exploits thousands of vulnerable women and children across the United States — and why it has been able to flourish for so long. This industry hides in plain sight — in strip malls and hotel rooms across the country, in well-to-do suburbs as well as under-resourced communities. It keeps growing because of cultural norms that have allowed us to turn a blind eye. But times are changing, thanks in part to leaders like Chief Daniel Kerr from the Jupiter Police Department and extending to the media who are finally setting the record straight about the harms this industry causes and deflating the myth that this is a “victimless crime.”
For My Life My Choice, this is personal. We are a survivor-led organization that serves minors who have been victims of the commercial sex trade and, as a Boston-based organization, we have been proud members of Patriots Nation with strong ties to the team.
In the face of our disappointment, we are searching for answers and we are searching for hope. We know that when the cameras fade and the interest of the public wanes, a multi-billion dollar industry of exploitation will still be there. But our community can take a number of steps to turn this brief media frenzy into lasting change.
So, we are issuing a challenge to Patriots Nation who, we hope, will join us in righting this wrong:
First, get educated. Learn about the issue. This is an epidemic and it is happening in our community and every community across this country. As service providers, we are acutely aware of the trauma, degradation and dehumanization that is part and parcel of the commercial sex industry. Among the young people we serve, the average age that they are lured, forced and coerced into the commercial sex industry is 14 years old. Most adults in the industry began when they were children. Whether the victim involved is an adult or a child, from the United States or from another country, forced by a gun to her head, forced by allegiance to an exploiter, or forced because of a lack of options—it simply does not matter. It is always wrong to buy a human being.
Second, educate others. Whether it's your children or your fellow Patriots fan, we need honest conversation, frank education, and a call for change regarding human trafficking. Most notably, as pointed out by former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, “It’s some tough conversations that parents will have to have because the New England Patriots are in the fabric of all families in this region.” We need to educate young men that it is never okay to purchase another human being and we need to educate vulnerable girls, boys and transgender youth how to protect themselves from exploiters.
Third, commit to being an active disruptor. For adults, we need to shift the narrative and explain that what is being discussed is not a punchline, a joke or fodder for a meme on social media. From bachelor parties to business trips, we need to commit to speaking up when friends or colleagues opt to participate in exploitative acts. Employers need to follow the lead of the Attorney General’s Employers Against Sex Trafficking initiative and implement zero tolerance policies for employees participating in exploitation.
Finally, help us heal. From the women surviving the Asian Orchid salon to the young people served by My Life My Choice, service providers lack the resources they need to support the many survivors recovering from their exploitation. Do what you can to support organizations in your community.
While Patriots Nation is reeling, we can come back from this more educated, more compassionate, and more committed to social justice in our communities. We need to say “enough!”— and end this once and for all.