Friday, November 16, 2012

Call Girl; No Phone - Sex Trafficking On Rise in Pop Culture

ED SHEERAN RECENTLY RELEASED THE SONG "A TEAM". The lyrics go like this: And they scream, “The worst things in life come free to us”, 'Cause we're just under the upper hand and go mad for a couple grams. And she don't want to go outside, tonight. And in a pipe she flies to the motherland or sells love to another man…Loose change, bank notes, weary-eyed, dry throat, call girl, no phone.


The video is a little intense but ultimately tells the sad story of a young homeless woman with no means who sells sex for drug money to escape the pain of her existence.

The music is ironically sweet for such a chilling portrait of a life on the streets. But it tells an incomplete and unrealistic tale. This woman has no pimp threatening to beat her if she doesn’t bring in enough cash for the night. She is free to come and go as she pleases instead of being locked in a hotel room being sold online by a third party. The song says she is 18 but most these women are not women at all-they are girls. The average age is 11-13 years old.

I met with an anti-sex trafficking advocate his week who said “trafficking is the new black.” I didn’t get permission to quote that line so I can’t tell you who said it to me but I promise this person is super cool and meant it to be as snarky as it sounds. Oh, and I am pretty sure they meant ANTI-sex trafficking is the new black. Given that 7200 men have sex with trafficked minors each month in Georgia alone, I would say the act itself is, well…so last season.


The trend has been rising to the fore for a while. MTV has a (slightly ironic) do not objectify women campaign, Jada Pickett Smith spoke out to Congress, Olivia Wilde, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, America Ferrera, Dipti Mehta and Gabrielle Union all appeared in Nick Kristof’s PBS documentary, Half The Sky (where are all the men?). The Demi and Ashton Foundation (still going strong even though they are not), and the super cool “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” video with John Legend, Heath Evans, Simon Baker, Ludacris, Bradley Cooper, Jason Mraz, Justin Timberlake, Thomas Jane, Sean Penn, Jamie Foxx…well the list goes on (and I guess we found the men) all have been out there for some time.

We now even see it on tv shows. Law and Order SVU, Human Trafficking; a Lifetime TV movie with Mira Sorvino and Donald Southerland, Criminal Minds, NCIS Los Angeles and many other popular shows have episodes taking on the topic.

But not until the ultimate trend setter stepped in-no, not Isaac Mizrahi, not Elle magazine, not-oh heck, who am I kidding-I don’t know enough about fashion to list names…but it was President Barack Obama in his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time …The change we seek will not come easy, but we can draw strength from the movements of the past. For we know that every life saved -- in the words of that great [Emancipation] Proclamation -- is "an act of justice," worthy of "the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God." That’s what we believe. That’s what we're fighting for.

Well if words like that don’t make a trend take off, I don’t know what will.

Subsequent responses by Nick Kristof, Melissa Harris-Perry and the ABC OpEd aired last month have solidified the issue as the hottest fashion in injustice this season.

Soon we will have rubber bracelets and hipster t-shirts-all the accoutrement for a good fall trend.

Forgive the term, but without action, all of this is social action masturbation. We feel good that we are battling an injustice-but what have we done other than join the outrage? It is a critical first step, but cannot be the last one.

As Jews, we are called to act. Deuteronomy 16:20-Justice justice though shalt pursue. It is not a passive command but a rigorously active one. So what do we do? There are four ways of engaging in justice work:

1. Educate yourself and others about the issue and HOW TO GET INVOLVED because this is happening to 250-500 new GIRLS each month in every city 15-20 times per night just to meet the demand.

2. Donate funds to organizations you trust who are will be worth ambassadors for you in fighting this fight (check out trafficking.openjewishproject.com for a list of organizations)

3. Volunteer with a group and in a way that feels comfortable for you in your community

4. Advocate for laws which will help make a change such as Trafficking Victims Protection Reallocations Act (TVPRA) which is poised to lose funding any second now. To pass this critical bill out of the Senate, your sign on is needed. Click here to encourage your Senators to push this through especially if you live in Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Alabama, South Carolina, or Arizona where there has been the most resistance.

Nationwide there is a three-pronged attacked: Educate law enforcement so they know the girls are the victims not the villains. Increase services for victims of trafficking. Reduce the demand for paid for sex. So join the trend. “Like” the fan page, learn more about it, get involved!


Rabbi Rachael Bregman is an alum of Clal's Rabbis Without Borders fellowship. She's the founder of the Open Jewish Project and a rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta.