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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Law: Change the culture to end human trafficking

The head of the Texas Attorney General’s division on human trafficking says that the pervasive and accepted use of sex to sell products in society is a direct link to human sex trafficking in both adults and children.

“I can’t fix trafficking. The attorney general’s office can’t fix trafficking. Fort Worth PD can’t fix trafficking, Unbound can’t fix trafficking. It will require every person to engage on this issue in each community,” Krista Melton, Deputy Criminal Chief Criminal Prosecutions Division, Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section.

She was speaking at a lecture offered by Unbound, a local nonprofit that works with sex trafficking survivors one on one and trains school counselors, emergency responders, health care workers and others in how to recognize and help prospective victims avoid sex trafficking.

Numbers vary according to the source and how they are calculated, but the most recent report by the International Labour Organization last year said that that the number of people trapped in human trafficking – both labor and sex – is about 40.3 million worldwide.

The Texas Attorney General’s website said that at any given time in Texas, about 234,000 people are victims of labor trafficking and about 79,000 people are victims of youth and minor sex trafficking in the state.

There is no specific type of trafficker and the movie and television image of pimps are so exaggerated that they become almost comedic.

But there is nothing funny about what she calls the “pimp culture” rapidly becoming acceptable in advertising and on television and movie screens.

“Traffickers are people of every race. They’re people of all ages. They are people of both genders,” Melton said. “We see as many women engaging in trafficking as the traffickers as we do men. We see teenagers preying upon other teenagers. We have traffickers who are actually sending juveniles in to commit crimes, so they can go into juvenile detention or go into placement and recruit other juveniles on their way out.”

People would like to think that it doesn’t happen in their city or neighborhood. But it happens all across Texas in small towns and big cities, Melton said.

She is currently dealing with a case in Moore, Texas, a town of 475 people. There’s a case in Greenville where 10,000 people live. And there’s a case of both labor and sex trafficking in Granbury.

“Where you have buyers, you’ve got sellers. It’s supply and demand,” Melton said.

Time was that the word pimp had a specific meaning – someone who employs prostitutes for a cut of the money the prostitutes make.

But it has also come to mean cool or great, and a quick search of the internet will turn up phrases like Pimp my Ride, Pimp my Mom, Pimp my Portfolio and Pimp my Church.

But Pimp Culture, in Melton’s world, isn’t about bling or cool.

“It’s about power and control. … Pimp culture is about power and reward. If I have the power, I get the reward. I’m entitled to it. If I can have it, if I can exercise that dominion over others, if I can, then I should,” she said.

She cites an actual book – Pimpology by someone writing under the name of Pimpin’ Ken.

Melton described it as a kind of five-minute manager book for pimps. It’s a business book with very short chapters with a little lesson at the end of each chapter.

“But one quote from pimp culture I think is really apropos. … You either give orders or you take them. So, who are you? Are you the person giving orders or are you the person taking them?” she said.

Coupled with increasing acceptance of pimp cultures is an increasing acceptance of pornography, pervasive on the internet with just a couple of clicks and creeping more and more into television programming and movies available general viewing.

It is so pervasive, she said, that most people aren’t even aware of the symbolism and the implications, citing and advertisement for Invictus, a men’s fragrance from Paco Rabanne.

Melton saw it one day watching Ellen on television in the late afternoon while chopping vegetables for dinner.

(You can see the advertisement here: http://bit.ly/2Ug14nr)

Officially, she says, the commercial is selling cologne but it’s really selling sex and male entitlement.

“We have a guy walking in. He’s Mr. Stud Dude, right. He’s going to fight the battle,” Melton said. And he’s surrounded by barely dressed goddesses.

“He won the battle and so he gets naked ladies for winning the battle,” she said. “That is pimp culture. That is the idea that if I win the battle, whatever the battle is, I am entitled to sex as a reward.”

Viewers might be doing something else during the commercial – looking at their phones, or in her case, chopping vegetables – and the commercial would make little impact on them because the images are so pervasive in a culture that has become comfortable with exploiting others for sex or for labor, Melton said.

She draws a direct line from Pimp Culture to pornography to the battle against sex trafficking.

“Pimp Culture is pervasive, so it leads us to a place where this oversexualization, this normalization of abuse and violence, this normalization of objectification, this money over everything mentality is expressed in our national obsession with pornography,” Melton said.

“Think about the difference in the regular television that you watch from 20 years ago, from even 10 years ago,” she said. “Much of, what we watch today would be considered pornographic 15, 20 years ago. On television. And I’m not talking about cable. I’m not talking about pay per view. I’m talking about straight up network TV.”

Melton says her role as an assistant attorney general is not to rant against pornography because it’s bad or immoral.

“My role is to come to talk to you about what pornography does. What do we know about pornography? First of all, pornography affects the brain like a drug, like an illegal drug, and essentially creates an overdose of dopamine in your brain,” she said.

But exposure dulls the sensation and, like drugs, it takes increasing frequency or more graphic scenes to achieve the same effect.

Melton cites one porn website – you’re on your own to figure out which one – which saw more people cast votes on the site’s videos than voted in the 2016 presidential election.

“We’re watching it day and night. We’re watching it during workouts. We’re watching it even during the Super Bowl,” she said. “There’s some dip when the Super Bowl comes on, but it doesn’t go completely away.”

Pornography, she said, raises unrealistic expectations among its viewers and encourages the concept that violence against women is not only accepted but in some cases welcome and enjoyable.

“One of the leading causes of erectile dysfunction in men under the age of 40 is pornography, because you ended up getting yourself addicted to arousal via the computer, and all of a sudden that gal doesn’t do it for you,” Melton said. “Not only that, it’s a critical factor in many divorces.”

Where this ties into sex trafficking is that if men – and it is primarily men – cannot find willing sex partners in the circle of acquaintances to act out the scenes they have watched, they turn to sex for hire.

Melton cites a 2011 study by Melissa Farley, Ph.D., “Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex.”

She quoted from the study: “Hey, I watch porn. I like what I saw. The people that I was with, or the person I was with didn’t want to engage in that conduct with me. So, I went out and found somebody who would do it. Who would do it for money.”

Buyers cross all socioeconomic, job, education and religious lines, according to a Demand Abolition study from 2018. Melton says estimates are that only about 6 percent of men buy sex in the United States.

She challenged her audience members to become active to change what she sees as the current pervasive culture to one that will not tolerate exploitation of people in any form, labor or sex.

Force the discussion, she said.

“What are you buying? What are you watching? What are you doing that is somehow contributing to human trafficking? Whether that’s sex or labor, it’s time to take a personal accountability check,” Melton said.

“And that’s where I like to end this. Are you willing to do a cultural audit of yourself? Whether that’s on the sex side, on the labor side, or on both. Is there in your mind – and you got to be brutally honest with yourself – a group of people that you believe it is OK to exploit?

“We would all say, “No, no, I would never think that.’ But what do our actions say? What does our spending say? What does the way we treat people say? Are we engaging with people outside of our own family group, outside our friends? Outside people that look like us? Outside people that live in our space?

“We’ve got to step outside ourselves and start viewing people as people. Regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they’ve done and what’s been done to them. And when we have that as our fundamental understanding, we will begin to live our lives a little bit differently. And that’s what it’s going to take.”



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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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