They Own Their Bodies, But Not Their Souls

Recently, Nicholas D. Kristof, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, wrote a very interesting piece about how pimps brand their prostitutes, or should I say property. I found this very coincidental because I recently wrote a piece about child trafficking. Every day, pimps are making their prostitutes bear a symbol of their ownership. The practice isn’t universal, but it isn’t uncommon either. This lets other pimps know that these girls are spoken for and it lets "johns," or customers, know that these girls are for sale. Sadly, these brandings also remind the girls that their pimp owns them forever.

In this article, Kristof talked about how he spoke with Taz, a 16-year-old girl from New York who was a trafficking victim. She described how her pimp had branded three other girls with tattoos bearing his name. When she refused to do the same, he held her down and carved it in her neck with a safety pin. Branding has been used for centuries to mark property and as a torture technique. 

When it comes to pimps and prostitutes, the girls are tattooed and, in some cases, branded with homemade branding irons or actual cattle prods. Not only is it immoral to force someone to give themselves away, it’s inhumane for you to actually mark them as your territory as if they’re nothing. In Manhattan, there was an alleged pimp who tattooed his street name and a bar code on one girl’s neck. He tattooed another with a symbol of his name and a dollar sign on her pubic area. 

In 2010, website Craigslist got tired of the controversy and shut down its erotic ads section. Up until that point, Craigslist was considered to be the online hotspot to buy prostitutes. Once they shut down, it didn’t take long for Backpage.com to pick up the slack. In one year they made almost $27 million. Just this March, they made $3 million; that’s 30% more than last year. 

Backpage.com’s lawyer and chief defender Liz McDougall defends the site by saying the website scans for 25,000 terms and code words linked to prostitution, sex trafficking and child exploitation. I wonder what words and terms are they scanning for because when Deborah Feyerick of CNN took a look at Backpage.com’s adult section they found several girls who looked nowhere near their suggested ages posed in provocative positions next to captions such as “Make me beg. Smack me. Spit on me. Degrade me.” 

She also said that Backpage.com wouldn’t shut down the adult section. In the same interview, McDougall freely admits that Backpage.com filed the Craigslist void saying, “When Craigslist shut down, people had said that was the silver bullet and that made no difference.” How could you know the type of company you work for yet you continually defend them? I guess money does talk. Many brands like H&M, IKEA, and Barnes and Noble have already pulled ads from Backpage.com’s parent company Village Voice Media. A host of celebrities, religious leaders, attorney generals, lawmakers, and citizens have signed petitions to stop the sex ads. I’m proud to say that I’m one of those citizens.

Kristof asked Taz what she would like to be when she grows up and she said while smiling, “I’d like to be a pediatrician.” Just that answer right there lets you know without a doubt how young there girls are and how bright their futures can truly be with as much help as possible. These girls are afraid and in desperate need of rescue. Either we help them live or they're going to die one way or another. Many have died trying to escape. How can you overcome when you have nowhere to turn and no one to help? That’s where we come in to play. If it were you or someone you cared about, wouldn’t you want people to help?