A few years ago, I heard about a man who had been stuck in an elevator in Manhattan for five days because he refused to call for help. He was an undocumented worker who chose to stay in a dark, dangling and dangerous elevator rather than use the emergency call button. It he very well could have died in that elevator, and it appeared that he was willing to die before being sent back. That story has stayed with me over the years.
It was on my mind recently when I spent a much longer time than I wanted to discussing cases of human trafficking that have been in the local media in the past year with a dear cousin who is chronically concerned about my feminist ways.
She rolled her eyes as I shared the stories of young women and girls lured with promises, flattery, gifts and glamorous lifestyles. I explained that these women are fed fantasies of the extreme and non-stop partying that they can be a part of if they come to Antigua to dance at a bar or restaurant.
“What do they expect?”
“I would never leave my country under those circumstances.”
“They are already whores where they come from.”
When they get here, these women are in instant debt. The plane ticket that was once free, now costs $3,000. Rent must be paid for meagre shared accommodations at $500/week. Food must be bought from the club at $80/day. Clothing and shoes too, at $350/outfit. All owed to the club that brought them here.
The parties are indeed non-stop but you are the entertainment, you need to make money to pay your debts and of course you want to have some money for yourself. The going rate of $50 for a dance and $300-$500 for sex can only go so far. Additionally, your passport is confiscated by your no-longer-gracious host, so even if one of these women wanted to leave, where can you go in this strange new country?
”Well, I would never give anyone my passport.”
”I told you they are whores; they are accustomed to that.”
”How could anyone be that stupid?”
My mind goes back to the man in the elevator. Like him, these women often live in horrendous situations that lead them to make desperate and risky choices. Add someone who is able and willing to exploit that desperation and you have the perfect scenario for human trafficking- modern day slavery.
”Are you still trying to convince me that they don’t know what they really come here for?”
Quite honestly, I don’t care.Whether or not she anticipates that she will be a sex worker when she gets here is of little consequence to the greater issue: that she is being deprived of choice, denied of freedom of movement, and criminally exploited in general. Like I said,modern day slavery. To over look this because we’re uneasy about sex work is pretty ridiculous to me.
I left that conversation feeling misunderstood and judged. I shudder to think about what is must be like to be a woman trying to escape a trafficking situation, who can she speak to that will understand? How long will she remain dangling dangerously in her own proverbial elevator?