Stopping to Help: Our Good Samaritan Duty to the Victims of Sex Trafficking

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Deirdre M. Cooper. 

The age-old ideal of the Good Samaritan animates our common moral sense and our laws.  The idea is that people ought to be charitable or helpful to those in need.  What is not always remembered is the original context of the story.  It was first told in response to a specific question: “Who is my neighbor?”

Kayla* was 13 years old when she ran away from an abusive home.  With nowhere else to go, she headed toward the city center.  An older man found her on a corner and befriended her, offering her a place to stay.  Several drinks of gin later, Kayla passed out and woke up to find that the man had had his sexual way with her.  Soon thereafter, she became the man’s “protĂ©gĂ©,” and under his tutelage began prostituting on street corners.  Over the next several years Kayla would have hundreds of sexual encounters, generating thousands in income for her pimp.  She was forced to have unprotected sex multiple times, got pregnant three times, and had two abortions so that she could go back to work on the corners.  Hooking has left its physical and psychological scars on her, as Kayla has been punched, kicked, beaten, slashed with razors, infected with Hepatitis C, and her depression has led her to attempt suicide several times.

Kayla is your neighbor.  Every year tens of thousands of women with stories very much like hers are trafficked for sex across the United States, in a city near you.  Some are as young as 10 and 11 years old, as Jane Hansen documented in heart-rending detail in her 2001 special report “Selling Atlanta’s Children.”  In an area of crime that is vastly underreported, we know that in Texas—whose vast borders, intricate roadways, and booming economy are considered by law enforcement officials to be factors that have attracted increased sex trafficking in the state—there have been hundreds of trafficking-related incidents over the past several years.  Last year, the FBI rescued three children from Austin and three children from San Antonio from sex trafficking.  More recently, a Travis County jury considered one such incident in the case of Byron Williams, aka “Daddy Magic,” who pleaded guilty to compelling prostitution and trafficking a minor.  Yet this successful prosecution is the exception rather than the norm.  Given the psychological stranglehold that traffickers have over their captives, it is a big challenge even to identify victims of trafficking, much less get them to testify against their abusers.

One of the most important opportunities to help trafficking victims is in the context of visits to health care providers and abortion facilities.  Left-wing standard-bearers claim that abortion has “nothing” to do with trafficking.  This is simply false as a matter of fact.  One recent study of trafficking victims found that at least a third of the victims studied obtained an abortion during their sex trafficking careers.  Charlotte Lozier Institute data suggests that the number of trafficking victims who have been pressured or forced to obtain abortions during their careers is even higher.    As one pimp candidly put it in the trafficking documentary Tricked, “you have to make sure the commodity is sellable.”

Alisha*, a native Texan, tells a story that illustrates the connection between  abortion and sex trafficking.  Alisha was molested at eight years of age by a family member and, like so many other girls, lured into selling her body at 14 years of age by a guy who was acting as her boyfriend.  When he began controlling her with violence, she felt trapped because she had no one to turn to.  At age 16, she became pregnant.  Alisha secretly began searching online for help because she wanted to keep her baby, and she had seen many women who had been pressured by their pimps into having abortions or beaten into miscarriage. 

Alisha is your neighbor.

Documentaries like Tricked and the investigative reporting of journalists like Nicholas Kristof have alerted the public to the plight of trafficking victims.  Public officials are taking notice.  Texas Senator John Cornyn is seeking passage of a federal bill that would create a fund for sex trafficking victims paid for by financial penalties assessed against convicted traffickers.  Meanwhile, Texas State Representative Debbie Riddle has introduced HB 416, which would require training for abortion facility workers to equip them to be able to identify trafficking victims. 

The basic idea behind these pieces of legislation is simple:  health care providers, particularly those who receive public funds, must be trained to identify trafficking victims and equipped with the resources necessary to refer them to help and rescue services. 

The testimony of survivors indicates a clear pattern. Trafficking victims are dominated by their pimps physically, emotionally, and psychologically in an insidious master-slave relationship.  All too often, victims have a false consciousness about their situation.  They tend to believe that their pimp truly loves and cares for them.  In reality, victims are regarded as commodities, to be sold and resold by their proprietors for material gain.  These women need help in order to see that they are being “loved” as property not as persons.

Health care workers and abortion providers are in a unique position to intervene, since they have opportunities to interact with victims without the presence of their overseers.  Hence, the pressing need for legislation to require training that will equip such workers.

When it was discovered that Cornyn’s bill included standard and customary language barring use of monies from the fund to pay for abortions, groups such as EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL put the heat on Democrats to oppose it.  So far, Texas pro-abortion groups have expressed neutrality on HB 416.

Opposition and neutrality?  Like the priest and the Levite who indifferently and hurriedly passed by on the other side of the road, these groups are so committed to an ideology that they will not let anything halt their dogged pursuit of apublicly funded abortion license.  But even if, per impossibile, it were a moral imperative to provide taxpayer-funded abortions for the indigent, then surely this imperative would not include a public duty to provide corporate welfare for pimps.

Does anyone doubt that it is because of their ideological myopia that these groups and their allies won’t stop and help the victims being trafficked on the side of our roads?

President Obama has recognized sex trafficking is a modern form of slavery, and he has acknowledged our Good Samaritan duties to our trafficked neighbors.  Will he then stand up to the indifferent priests and Levites in his own party coalition?

Meanwhile, those who are moved by the spirit of the Good Samaritan should tell their public officials to enact practical legislation that empowers health care providers to aid battered victims of sex trafficking who need prompt rescue from these harrowing situations..

*Names of victims have been changed to protect their privacy.

About the Author: Deirdre M. Cooper is a public policy analyst at Texas Alliance for Life, where she has lobbied for pro-life legislation since 2008. She has successfully lobbied for Texas’s sonogram law, Choose Life license plate, defunding Planned Parenthood, and HB 2, a women’s health and safety law.

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