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Nancy Deville

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When a Sex Slave Turns Up at Your Front Door

Posted: 04/18/2012 5:28 pm

When I was 18 years old in 1968, I hitchhiked from Europe across the Middle East to the subcontinent of India. Of course I stopped at The Pudding Shop in Istanbul, which was what the hippies called Lale Restaurant. It was across the street from the Byzantine Hippodrome, where politics met sport for 500 years of brutal and barbaric games. At The Pudding Shop, while eating my rice pudding, I met an American girl who was on her way back from Katmandu. "Be careful about white slavery on the road," she told me solemnly. I really didn't know what white slavery meant but it sounded like harems and incarceration and being raped by old, fat men wearing caftans. "I'll be careful," I promised.

Ha ha ha ha ha. Well, I made it to India and back, but not by being cautious.

Twenty years later, in 1990, I wanted to change careers from design to writing and thought I would write a novel. Casting around for a subject I remembered the girl at the pudding shop and her admonition to be watchful about white slavers. It would be a good story, I thought. My first stop was the Santa Barbara library. There were no books in the library on white slavery (big surprise), so I asked the librarian to help me. Pre-Google, in case you don't know, we went to the library, found a book we wanted in the "gold system," filled out a postcard and waited to get it back in the mail telling us that our book had arrived at the library. With that plan in mind, the librarian, Olivia Flisher, got out the humungous Library of Congress catalog and opened it rather ceremoniously. She ran her finger down the page and came to a stop, looking up at me. We both peered at the page. There, under "white slavery," was the word "prostitution. "But," I stammered, "How can that be?" It was a moment that I would never forget -- the realization that girls and women who were forced into sexual slavery were categorized as prostitutes. Labeled as the scum of the earth.

What I learned about sexual slavery will stay with me forever. The sheer depravity boggles the mind. Girls, women, and to a lesser extend boys and men are coerced, abducted, or sold by their parents into slavery. And once money is exchanged for sex (even if the person doesn't receive any of the money themselves) that person is forever tainted. Coercion provokes the least sympathy, although it is equally heinous. Pimps/criminals use emotional tactics on people with low economic means and very low self esteem to lure them into the sex trade. Coercion involves promising security and love combined with threats and actual physical and emotional abuse. It is safe to say that all victims of sexual exploitation, including those who are coerced, are subjected to physical and emotional torture too hideous to talk about in a blog that people may read over morning coffee.

I wrote my novel, but it was unilaterally rejected by publishers. Too dark, the protagonist was "stupid" to have gotten abducted, and the whole thing was just unbelievable. That was way back in 1992. Since then sex trafficking has become part of the fabric of our lives and most people are aware that this industry exists. The fact is within five years human trafficking will surpass drug trafficking as a global criminal industry. The reason is that there are zero bullets to dodge, the merchandise can be easily transported across borders, resold many times, disposed of when no longer of value (dumped or murdered), and very few perpetrators are arrested, much less prosecuted and imprisoned. Customers by and large are rarely targeted for arrest much less prosecution. Although most people accept that human trafficking and sex trafficking in particular exists, it's much harder for people to grasp that women and children are victims here, right in our own communities. That's just the way the monsters who prey on these poor people want to keep it.

Since writing my psychological thriller Karma about sex trafficking, I've written nine books on health, anti-aging and weight loss, but I never forgot my novel and what I'd learned about the sex trade. A couple of years ago, as a lark, I self-published my novel. One person who contacted me as the result of my efforts, was a woman named Shelley Lynn, a former sex slave. We've been emailing back and forth for about six months. Shelley Lynn was working with an attorney to sue her ex-husband, a McDonald's franchise owner, and McDonald's for their alleged combined role in turning her into a prostitute. Shelley Lynn, by her account, was coerced into prostitution by her husband after he fired her from her lowly position at McDonald's. It's a he said/she said. Only I believe Shelley Lynn. No one could be as emotionally shattered as she is, unless something really, really bad happened to her. Over and over.

Shelley Lynn emailed me recently: "Google Shelley Lynn sues McDonalds." Reading HuffPost about her case brought up all the sad emotions that I experienced more than twenty years ago when I realized the stigma on sexual slavery. It wasn't the blog, but the scorn, ridicule, and vitriol in the reader comments posted about her. "Now I understand the term "pink slime," one person commented. I felt so very sad, deep in my heart, not only for Shelley Lynn but for the millions of women and children who are forced to perform sex acts against their will every single day until they are dead or disposed of. Millions every year, globally, including in the United States.

A couple of days after I read HuffPost, I got an email from a friend of mine, Michael Levine, a well-known publicist, with a link to a New York Post article in which he was quoted about Charlie Sheen. The comments below the post about Sheen's notorious antics were relatively forgiving. "God speed, Charlie Sheen...," wrote one. It appears that the vast majority of people will accept Sheen back into a place of societal esteem -- where he'll go on to make more millions, be gushed over, forgiven, and even admired.

All I could think of was, really? It's been over twenty years since my big revelation that women and children who are forced into sexual servitude are labeled as prostitutes. Shelley Lynn is to be congratulated, regardless of how clumsy some may find her battle. Hopefully, if nothing else, she'll be the sacrificial lamb who sheds light on what is happening in our own communities every single day. It's one thing to sympathize with far away nameless, faceless people; it's another to embrace a woman who shows up at our front door with love, compassion, and understanding.

 
 
 

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