The Life

The meaning of love is fascinating in its infinite flexibility and ability to be modified and re-defined. At Love146, “Love is the foundation of our motivation.” I think that the same sentence could be used to describe a lot of things—all people are motivated by love, just different versions of it.

When I read the words of commercially exploited girls, I’m struck by the overt and powerful presence of love in the situation. In most cases, the girls come from situations in which love was seldom present, and when it was, was present in the form of fleeting visitations with foster parents, physical and emotional abuse, or in the concerned yet judgmental eyes of a neighbor. I think that we all have a deep craving for love—family, friends, romance. When a pimp approaches them with smooth and flattering words, luxurious gifts, and most importantly, unprecedented attention, the girls are understandably drawn towards him. This single man or woman, their trafficker, becomes the person that fills all the holes in the girls’ hearts—they become the single source of a love that should come from multiple people and relationships. They are simultaneously their boyfriend and their “daddy.”

There is a temptation to be appalled and frustrated when survivors say that they loved, or even still love, their trafficker. Upon a more careful observation however, it makes sense. Of course they love them— that relationship is what defined ‘love’ for them. In perspective, it was the most perhaps the most beautiful and tangible version or love that they had come across in their lives.

Both the survivors and the traffickers often refer to the commercial sex trade as “The Life.” The more I learn about this issue, the more appropriate this name seems to be. The girls and the pimps share “The Life,” or in other words, a functional and unique society nearly independent of the society it’s embedded in. Those involved in The Life have their own versions of the things that are unique to every other culture: economic systems, family structure, language, view of outsiders (those outside of The Life are often referred to as “squares”), and definitions of concepts like power, protection, and love.

Like all other groups of people, those in The Life, both the girls and the pimps, share an understanding of what ‘love’ is. This became apparent to me when I read the research done by Jody Raphael and Brenda Myers-Powell titled “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago” (September 2010). While I was reading the report, I found myself constantly forgetting that the interviews were with ex-pimps, not ex-prostituted girls. At first, I was mildly horrified—how could I confuse two completely different kinds of people? As I began to process the information, however, I realized that that wasn’t true: they weren’t two completely different kinds of people. Statistically, both the girls and pimps involved in The Life share similar household characteristics: domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, family members and neighbors involved in prostitution, and childhood physical and sexual abuse (Family Law Center Report, 2010). Even beyond the statistics, the ex-pimps are strikingly similar to the girls in their craving for respect, sense of importance, family, and love.

“First, it gave me power. Then it gave me respect, because everyone couldn’t do it and it gave you a sense of love.”

“I was attracted to the girls. I liked them and they liked me. We all had one main thing in common. We were hustling hard and wanted nice things. We came from sh—y places. It’s like we needed each other.”

“I created my own family, not the bas—ds I came from.”

This isn’t to excuse the actions of the traffickers— their actions are incredibly hurtful, inexcusable and leave a long lasting and painful scar in the lives of the girls. The realizations of their similarities helps open my eyes to the truth of what is needed in order to move towards the abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation.

Love146 defines love as something that defends, protects, restores and empowers. Its mission is not to achieve abolition through punishment, but to serve justice through a stunning version of Love. I think that the most effective way to achieve abolition is to plug in this version of Love into the lives of those who do not receive it from another source. To give everyone the kind of Love that they deserve because a love that defends, protects, restores and empowers is powerfully transformative.

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