Sex trafficking still alive in San Francisco, must be tackled piece by piece

By Mario Silva

Slavery was abolished in the U.S. nearly 150 years ago, but there are still more slaves in the world today than at the height of the slave trade. This issue is not relegated to the developing world; it is happening in the city of San Francisco.

With the severity and prevalence of sexual slavery, its eradication may seem untenable, but even one woman’s success story is a true victory. The related physical harm, HIV/AIDS and psychological issues are occurring in our neighborhoods.

I live in the Tenderloin where some “massage” parlors and gated storefronts that never seem to be open are commonplace. Previously, I had given no thought as to how these women arrived there. Now their struggle is all too real; abduction, abuse, dependency and fear are the chains and whips of this modern slavery.

Within the community trying to combat sex trafficking, there is a schism as to how to deal with the situation. Some advocate for legalization and regulation, while others prefer criminalization and punishment. 

Within these binary opinions there is a middle ground, an area where there is room to account for cultural, religious and political realities. What may work in the Netherlands will not work in Thailand, but any form of acknowledgment and discourse is crucial in advancing the issue.

A shackled women remains imprisoned, regardless of her location. Therefore, it is imperative that the issue be solved globally and understood personally.

This sad journey begins with impoverished young women either abducted or tricked into job opportunities abroad. Once they are removed from familiar surroundings, much like a wild horse, they must be broken. They are attacked physically and mentally: drugging, severe beatings and rape are used to dehumanize them.

Often, women are exported to a country where language barriers, hopelessness and corrupted officials create an environment where, ironically, they’re dependent on their tormentors for survival. In instances where women escape, thugs go after them and threaten their lives and their family’s lives. Sadly, most women who escape are forced to return to sexual bondage.

Given that horrifying narrative this issue may seem impossible or even pointless to address. Global issues have proven difficult for Americans. We want to win and anything else is a loss. Our politics are polarized and unyielding. Our construct of race and sexuality is rigid and lacks fluidity. Ties are a rarity in our sports. Our history and culture dictates a framework that lacks nuance.

With that in mind, the long road to addressing sexual slavery may seem hard to fathom.

But to a single woman who has escaped, she has already won.