Even One Is Too Many: The Current Sex Trafficking Crisis Among Black Women

Just like it takes a village to raise our children, it takes a village to protect our own as well.

Human Interest

A couple of nights ago, I got triggered (more on that in just a bit). Let me give a little history as to why. Back when I was in high school (a "Christian" high school at that), two guys—a Black male junior and a white male senior—pulled me into the back of the white senior's car. They handcuffed me, ripped open my shirt and bra and proceeded to sexually assault me. The Black junior had every intention of raping me, he even joked about making me give him some, but when the white senior saw the dead look in my eyes and noticed how silent I was—which was totally out of character for me—he convinced his "friend" to not do it. Instead, they drove me to the back of an old strip mall and, with my shirt still open, they dumped me outside of it. Luckily, another student's grandmother owned a beauty salon in that same strip mall, so I sought refuge there. The administration somehow convinced my mother and stepfather to not press charges. Instead, the guys were suspended for two days. That was it. They committed a crime yet they were able to go home and watch television for a couple of days while I returned to school feeling completely mortified, vulnerable and unprotected. It happened on a Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. Every time this time of the year rolls around, I think about it.

That's why, as someone who is a survivor of sexual abuse, sexual assault and date rape (twice), I get triggered whenever I read headlines like "White South Carolina DJ Accused Of Sex-Trafficking Nearly 700 Black Girls" (how is this not international news, y'all?!) or I hear a quote from a Black male serial killer of Black female sex workers who rationalized his targeting based on the belief that no one would notice that that they were gone. Not notice? Or not care? Based on the lack of consistent coverage that the topic of sex trafficking among Black women is NOT receiving, I think there is a very fine line between the two. And that? That has me mad as hell.

It's not like this issue is some sort of conspiracy theory or an internet rumor that has gotten out of hand. Let's take Atlanta, for example. If you look on Wikipedia's page on sex trafficking in Georgia, it says this specifically about the city: "Atlanta is a major transportation hub for trafficking young girls from Mexico and is one of the fourteen U.S. cities with the highest levels of child sex trafficking. In 2007, the sex trade generated $290 million in Atlanta." That's not hard to believe when you are able to Google headlines like "Atlanta Hotel Employees Helped Sex Traffickers Avoid Police, Four Plaintiffs Allege in Federal Lawsuits", "Not For Sale: 100+ Minors Rescued In Child Sex Trafficking Op" and "Rampant Sex Trafficking Ignored at Atlanta-Area Hotels: Lawsuits". Have mercy.

Thankfully, I've never been a victim of sex trafficking. But as a survivor of sexual abuse and assault, there is absolutely no way that I can stand by and only read about what is going on. I have to give a voice to this ongoing evil. I have to do more than just "be triggered". Just like it takes a village to raise our children, it takes a village to protect our own as well. And so, I wanted to share just a few things that should make us all want to do whatever we can to shed light on what so many wish would remain in the dark.

Sex Trafficking Happens Daily. DAILY.

Even as I'm writing all of this this out, I caught the following headline—"Man Accused of Kidnapping, Sex Trafficking Girls". This monster was not in ATL; he is in Memphis. Sex trafficking is happening everywhere. Everywhere. It's been reported that between 20-40 million are victims of this form of modern-day slavery (which is exactly what sex trafficking is), that it's a $150 billion a year business, and that it flies under the radar because most victims go undetected; especially Black women. In fact, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime:

"Evidence suggests that Black youths ages 12 to 19 are victims of violent crime at significantly higher rates than their white peers. Black youths are three times more likely to be victims of reported child abuse or neglect, three times more likely to be victims of robbery and five times more likely to be victims of homicide."

Not only that but the article "Sex Trafficking's True Victims: Why Are Our Black Girls/Women So Vulnerable?" states this:

"Per the FBI, 59 percent of all juvenile prostitution arrests involve African-Americans. With law enforcement more likely to see a Black sex trafficking victim as a prostitute and not as someone needing help, trying to find solutions toward keeping our girls safe may require a radical examination of the core beliefs American society is currently based on."

One woman interviewed in the article said something that Cyntoia Brown-Long has stated based on her own sex trafficking survival story; she said that it wasn't until she read what happened to another woman that she even realized what sex trafficking was.

Sex Trafficking Is Way More Common than You Might Think

If you find that data hard to believe, take a moment to check out this sex trafficking survivor's recount. I'll give you the heads up that is absolutely heartbreaking to hear, although her courage and strength are absolutely mind-blowing. Black women amaze me; their resilience is like no other.

As Black Women, We Are Extremely Vulnerable When It Comes to Sex Trafficking

So, here comes my trigger point. Y'all, I wish that I could find it in my inbox, but a couple of weeks ago, a woman tweeted a story about hailing a Lyft or Uber (I can't remember) and the driver initially attempted to drop her off at an abandoned building instead of the airport. It wasn't until she persisted that he do otherwise that he took her to where she was actually supposed to be. Who knows what that man's motive was, but I thought about him when I watched a now viral video about a woman who has a similar story.

She took a Lyft but, rather than the driver taking her to her place of employment, he drove up behind a truck who had a man in it who opened up the gates to a warehouse. How did she escape? She got out of the car and ran. Watch the video. She is clearly shaken. Me? Triggered. And you know what? Anyone who is even remotely tempted to be skeptical or cynical about stories like these, they should read articles like "Las Vegas Police Trying to Combat Sex Trafficking in Ride Shares" and "Uber Trains Drivers On How To Spot Victims Of Human Trafficking". Again, just because this isn't getting the kind of coverage that it should, that doesn't mean it isn't happening. Lyft and Uber are not oblivious either. Not even a little bit.

So, What Should We Do About this...Whispered Epidemic?

Yeah. This a lot. A LOT. And please believe that I'm not sharing all of this to paralyze you with fear; it's more about simply heightening the awareness of this…whispered epidemic. Why do I call it that? It's because while sex trafficking among Black women and Black girls (Black boys too) isn't exactly something that is being silenced, it is most definitely something that we should be getting louder and louder about. Consistently and unapologetically so.

We can start by being proactive about some of the ways to protect ourselves while supporting the women around us—whether we know them personally or not.

1. Tweet and Retweet Missing People's Info

Another tweet that I recently saw simply asked, "Where are all of the Amber Alerts for all of these missing Black women?" I mean, and I'm saying. We all know that mainstream media is, let's say passively aggressively ignorant to a lot of what happens in our community. At the same time, what we also know is Black Twitter is a powerhouse that is close-to-impossible to rival. So, when you're on your social media, if someone comes up in your feed who is asking you to use your voice to spread the word about a missing person, please retweet it.

Even though there are murmurings of hoaxes going on that are purely for the sake of getting attention (which is absolutely deplorable), I would rather RT and be wrong than not do it and always wonder if I should have. All of the stories that go viral happen because we share the information. According to Statista, as of last year, there were 200,000 files of missing Black people. There are several other outlets that state between 64,000-75,000 Black women and girls are missing. These numbers are way too high to be wondering if someone is telling the truth or not when a picture of a loved one scrolls up on our timeline.

2. Share Insightful Survival Tips with Others

Even without all of the trafficking that is going on, I am not someone who parks next to vans or trucks. I don't care if I'm at the grocery store, a post office or the movies. I need to park where folks can see me get in and out of my car and large vehicles make that pretty difficult. If you think that leans on the side of being paranoid, I am totally fine with that. Besides, this video right here co-signs on why it really is a super smart thing to do.

Even though I don't have social media accounts, when I saw this video, I shared it. Every little bit of proactive insight helps. Whenever you get some, please make sure to pass it along as well.

3. If You’re a Guy, Check on Your Sistahs

I'm a single Black woman and the men in my life never let me forget it. One of my closest male friends is a retired Marine and he is perfectly fine letting me know that he knows how to keep tabs on me, whether I like it or not. My male friends request that I let them know if I'm heading out at night and, if so, to reach out when I return home so that they know that I'm safe. They're good dudes. They really are.

A man by the name of Minister Tony Bradford once said, "The most revolutionary thing that a Black man can do, living in a racist society, is to love, protect and respect his Black woman." Amen. The only thing that I would add to that is, Black men, we need you to love, protect and respect us whether we're in a personal relationship with you or not.

If you see a Black woman walking alone in a parking lot, watch to make sure that she gets there safely. If it seems like someone is harassing her in any way, don't be hesitant to ask, "Are you OK, sis?" Little gestures like this help to make us feel like we're not alone; like someone is truly looking out. (Which means ladies, when guys do stuff like this, don't automatically assume it's game. Give the benefit of the doubt that they are simply being gentlemen.)

4. If You’re a Non-Black Person, Please Do Your Part

Essence. Atlanta Black Star. The Root. If you go to your favorite search engine and put "Black human trafficking" in the search field, these are the publications that will have links on the topic. And what does they have in common? They are Black sites. My point?

If you're a non-Black person reading this and you're like, "Wow. That's horrible" but that response is not followed up with "What can I do?" then your sympathy is not enough. We need compassion and compassion is defined as being "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering".

Also share the missing reports that you see. And please, make the time to contact non-Black media outlets to alert them to what they seem to be overlooking far more than they should—missing Black women and girls. While they might claim to not know, they will end up looking real crazy out here if ALL OF US are writing them so much that we're like, "Oh, you know. We've been hounding you for weeks now." Not just Black people (which should be enough…SMDH). Everyone.

5. As Far as Ridesharing Goes…

I can count the amount of times that I've been in an Uber or Lyft. None of the times have I been uneasy but that doesn't mean that I wasn't aware of my surroundings either. In the effort to protect yourself—wait indoors until your ride comes. If you need to, take a picture of the license plate before getting into the vehicle (it's not illegal to do that) and then send it to a loved one or co-worker. Before shutting the door, make sure that there are no child safety locks on it (if there are…step out of the vehicle). Confirm that they know your first name and where you are going before leaving with the driver (if they are legitimate, they will know both). Remember, you are not catching a ride with a friend; you are paying for a service. So, if you feel uneasy for any reason, make sure to report the driver, even if you get to your destination safely. Do not offer up any personal details with the driver. Download a tracking app like Tego so that someone you trust can track where you are walking or riding to. Make sure that someone knows when you got into the car and when you got out (if you feel more comfortable remaining on the phone the entire time, that's cool too). Tips like these should help to put you more at ease if ridesharing is what you choose to do.

6. Protect Yourself. AT ALL TIMES.

A lot of people are talking more and more about arming themselves; especially Black women. If that is not something that you desire or are yet prepared to do, there are other ways to protect yourself. Pepper spray. Tactical pens. Stun guns. These are just some of the other things that you can carry while you're out 'n about. Several years ago, I took a self-defense class and it was one of the most self-empowering things that I've ever done. If money is tight and you need to take a free set of courses, click here for info on where to find what you need. If you must go out late at night, try and avoid being alone. Oh, and always carry a flashlight in your purse or get a key chain one. Two things that hate the light are rodents and criminals (which is pretty much interchangeable, if you ask me).

Y'all, we all know that so much more can be said. But it is my hope and prayer that this at least reminded you that none of us are alone in this and that there are things that can be done to fight back. Black sex trafficking is criminal, evil and an ongoing epidemic. But Black love, power and support is unstoppable. Let's not lose sight of our light…in the midst of what so many are trying to keep in the dark.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or visit HumanTraffickingHotline.org.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

The Empowering Way This Rape Survivor Took Back Her Life

We Can't Only Demand & Refute Justice When It Serves To Help Our Men

Being Sexually Assaulted Led Me To Myself

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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