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 V.23 No.36 | September 4 - 10, 2014 

Feature

Life After Trafficking

Hope for a future where people are not for sale

Roslynn Gallegos
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Roslynn Gallegos

Roslynn Gallegos is a Licensed Master of Social Work whose day job is providing services for adjudicated male youth in Cuba, N.M., but she spends her free time involved with a number of advocacy organizations that focus on helping victims of human trafficking and the sex industry, including Shared Hope International and the 505 Get Free project. Her TEDxABQ talk will focus on the realities of the sex industry in New Mexico and the difficulties human trafficking victims have in both leaving that world and adapting to life outside of it.

How did you get involved in human trafficking victim advocacy?

I started doing advocacy during my bachelors education at New Mexico Highlands. I guess I got involved because I didn't always make good decisions when I was younger, and I have a lot of friends who work or have worked in the sex industry. And they found it so hard to get out. It's very close to my heart.

Another challenge is just in the language we use. How many times have you heard “She's just a 'ho’” or “She's just a prostitute”? Like they're lesser-than. And that's how society labels these women, like they're not really people.

What is your talk going to be about?

Some parts are going to be a surprise. I'm going to be talking about the lack of understanding of people who are exiting the sex industry. How these people can still be exploited after they exit and the difficulty these women have finding jobs and getting back on their feet and how long it actually takes to recover from the trauma of being trafficked and exploited.

Right now, I'm an Ambassador of Hope with Shared Hope International. And as part of my TED talk, I'm going to be asking men in the Albuquerque area to sign up at sharedhope.org to become a Defender of Hope, which means that they'll take a stand to protect women and children. That they'll commit to not purchasing or viewing pornography because there's really no way to tell whether or not a woman is underage. And that they'll commit to not purchasing or soliciting sex through Backpage, Craigslist or other ads.

What sorts of challenges do women face when they exit the sex industry?

I think the number one challenge is just the fact that they are labeled. A lot of the time, minors, young women under the age of 18, get a prostitution charge. The labeling is just so rough. Sometimes you have these women who are 25 or 26, and they have a mile-long rap sheet for prostitution or possession of drugs or any of these things, and they're labeled as perpetrators of the crimes when they're really victims. And it can make it hard to get a job or get needed services.

We've had 13 and 14-year-old girls in New Mexico who have prostitution charges, and they're children. They're not responsible for that. And it's very difficult to get them out of the life. A lot of them don't have homes that they can go back to. Many are runaways.

It sounds like you're working a lot with trying to change people's perceptions. Do you find that there are certain myths or misunderstandings of the human trafficking world that you often encounter?

I think it's a lot like the myths associated with domestic violence. Like, “Why doesn't she just get out? Why does she keep going back?” What people don't understand is that this is a vicious cycle. And the pimps are often very intelligent about what they do. The cycle of traumatic bonding begins with a romance stage, with the pimps giving gifts and becoming a “boyfriend.” And they make promises, “We're going to run away together; we're going to get married.”

They choose girls who are insecure. They make them feel beautiful, wanted, and they give gifts. And then suddenly he hits her. Or he beats her. And it becomes something that's no longer a choice. But in between those times you still have these moments of love, and it becomes a vicious, ugly cycle. It's emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse, all in a cluster.

Another challenge is just in the language we use. How many times have you heard “She's just a 'ho’” or “She's just a prostitute”? Like they're lesser-than. And that's how society labels these women, like they're not really people.

What can people do to help this situation?

You can make a lot of difference. Go to Shared Hope, and look up the facts about trafficking. Educate yourself. Call Lynn Sanchez at [homelessness advocacy organization] The Life Link, and ask what they need.

And you can change your language. Stop referring to people as lesser-than. Stop saying “She's just a 'ho.’” She's not just a prostitute or a stripper. She's a young woman with potential, and there's hope for her.

TEDxABQ

Popejoy Hall
203 Cornell NE
10am to 4:30pm
Tickets: $65 general or $25 for students

Check tedxabq.com for tickets and other information.
 

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SLOW JEREMIAH/PORT ALICE11.29.2014