Tough Research

Doing the legwork for a new book opened my eyes to human trafficking


I’ve never written a book that requires as much research as the one I’m currently writing, and that research has taken me into a study of human trafficking. This is an odd thing to write, but the world of human trafficking is much worse than I thought.

Until recently, I’d considered prostitution a fairly victimless crime. I equated it to marijuana use and the popular assumption that, with legalization, the darkest elements of the practice would be eradicated. I've since learned that countries with legalized prostitution open themselves to an increase of human trafficking, often involving minors. And then there's the somewhat obvious fact that prostitution is rarely (if ever) performed by women who sought that occupation. Most are forced into it and have found no happiness in the work.

Much of this, sadly, was news to me. I didn’t necessarily subscribe to the “Pretty Woman” view of prostitution, but I didn’t realize the profession was as damaging as it is. Now when I think about “Pretty Woman,” I see it in the same fashion that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is now viewed — with the exception that Harriet Beecher Stowe arguably had good intentions. “Pretty Woman” was simply willfully (and dangerously) naïve.

I’ve been working on an interview with Jenny Yacovissi, a contributor to this site and author of Up the Hill to Home, a fantastic work of historical fiction that I’m immersed in. One of the questions Jenny asked is why I’m attracted to dark things in my writing.

I don’t know why.

In the past, maybe it was curiosity. Or voyeurism. Or I was testing myself, finding my limits. But now it’s none of those things. Now it’s necessity.

I recently wrote: I’ve never written for a cause; to clarify that, I’ve never written anything that wasn’t for myself.

I reread that sentence now and realize it’s not exactly fair. I’ve written a lot about violence, primarily to show how stupid violence is (something I’ve addressed in this space before). But my compulsion to write those books and stories was internal. Reading about human trafficking has done more than dispel the myth of the “happy hooker” for me; it’s introduced me to a side of human nature of which I wasn’t truly aware, a combination of lust and hate in men that has no defense. Take this snippet from an interview with a former prostitute, describing her life at age 14:

"Whenever I would get into a car some part of me hoped that this guy would see me as the child I was and I wouldn’t have to do it. But in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t going to happen and all I could do was hope that it was done really fast so I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain but after a while your mind just gets numb to that feeling…" 

That quote was one of the first I came across, stayed with me throughout, and echoed most of the tragic experiences I’ve since heard or read. There are so many more stories, so many bruised and battered and raped women who, if they manage to leave that brutal world behind, must then fight poverty, homelessness, abuse, and drug addiction, all without hope of society ever accepting them.

I've had the opportunity to talk to a few women who managed to beat those odds, and I'm in awe of their strength — these women, these survivors of prostitution who refuse to hide their scars; who fight the PTSD and the loneliness and the shame and the stigma; who have been mocked and ridiculed and refused that most basic of validations, to be treated as human beings; who continue, despite all this, to walk back into those dark alleys and pull others out.

I still don’t know why we look at ugliness.

But I do know we should never look away.

(I’m grateful for everyone who’s talked with me and helped in my work, particularly Cherie Jimenez, Melissa Farley, Holly Atkinson, and Taina Bien Aime. All of these women work with wonderful charities to combat human trafficking, and they need donations. Click on their names to link to their work.)

E.A. Aymar's most recent novel is You're As Good As Dead.

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