Ignorance Is Bliss: How Our Words Could Bring An End To Sex Trafficking, Or Perpetuate It

strip clubs

One of the simplest ways we can prevent child sex trafficking is held in the power of our tongue. Every day, we can be listening deeper to the words we use and the misconceptions we perpetuate that we’ve brought with us from our own homes and backgrounds. We have the ability to shift our words to align with where we want our culture to go instead of remaining stuck in a cycle of inadvertently valuing boys over girls. We have all played a part in this.

Before you start throwing your lettuce at me, let me clarify. I am not saying you are a woman-hater. I am saying our world has subtly normalized the idea of “men over women” for centuries, and I am merely suggesting that each of us has the responsibility to do a check-in. Sometimes, even small words cause a rudder to get off course.

Recently, Jim Gaffigan posted a tweet for National Hot Dog Day. He’s often a pretty funny guy, but once I began taking stock of the words my husband and I allowed in our house, I realized funny is subjective. Now that I know better, I am uncomfortable with so much (or any) of Gaffigan’s humor being at the expense of women in the sex industry. The meme he tweeted read, “Hot dogs are like strippers. No one wants to know the backstory.” His caption was, “Ignorance is bliss.”

Alan Dershowitz, accused of having sex with minors, is currently using this “ignorance is bliss” strategy to distance himself from any illegalities that may or may not have happened on Jeffrey Epstein’s island. An island that has been named repeatedly as a place where Epstein was trafficking girls 14-16 of age for him and his business friends. It seems this “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy is common.

In fact, many people (men and women) who have been caught trafficking children plead the same case. “I didn’t know she was a minor.” And maybe that’s true. Maybe none of them knew. And maybe these children were threatened not to tell their age.

Why threaten them? The johns know enough to know these aren’t women they are sleeping with. The girls certainly know their own age. But the laws are written so the charge for raping a child is one thing. If you didn’t know she was a child, it’s a much lesser charge altogether. In Nevada, a man can sexually assault a child, and if he claims he doesn’t know she’s a child, he gets a year probation. That’s because Nevada has this crime categorized as a class E felony. That’s a year probation for your first offense, and 1-4 years  for subsequent charges. I guess ignorance is bliss.

But, how about them hotdogs? I do love a good hotdog over a baseball game. And, I fully agree with the sentiment that whatever these hotdogs are made of is something I probably don’t want to fully know about. I’d likely never eat them again.  But, if I am reading this right, Gaffigan is comparing a woman to a hot dog. A mishmash of meat we don’t want to know closely because it’s secretly disgusting if we know more.

What’s worse is this statement almost pleads my case more than his. According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, “Victims of sex trafficking are frequently recruited to work in strip clubs across the United States. Women, men, and minors may be recruited to work in strip clubs as hostesses, servers, or dancers, but then are required to provide commercial sex to customers.”

An article at With Two Wings’ blog further clarifies that, “Although many may think that women working in adult entertainment do it because they want to, researchers have noted that 70% of females who are trafficked are trafficked into the commercial industry, which included porn, strip clubs, and massage parlors in the United States.”

So, maybe some people don’t want to know all that. People want to be able to frequent strip clubs guilt-free not knowing that the “entertainment” they are watching is actually a sexual assault crime of a minor or a woman who was trafficked by her own mother while in her teens. They don’t want to know that out of the ten females on the stage, seven of them have not chosen to be there, and some only wish they could go back to being the little girls they ought to be.

I don’t think bliss is what comes from ignorance. Ignorance comes from ignorance. Stagnancy comes from ignorance. Complacency comes from ignorance. Perpetuated abuse comes from ignorance.

And now that you are no longer ignorant of this information, what will you do with it? Will you take stock in your own vocabulary and jokes? Maybe you could schedule a family meeting and use this new information to reestablish expectations and be part of the cultural shift we need with our words. Talk to your teachers, your pastors, your boss and create grassroots initiatives to create this small but mighty cultural change. Or maybe you could find a place to volunteer to help the women and children who want out of this life? It’s all your choice. But please do something.

Let’s choose together that we don’t want ignorance to prevail because it feels easier to us. Author Belinda Bauman once said, “You can’t solve the world’s problems with sympathy.” Sympathy keeps all of this at arm’s length and requires no change on our part. Instead, choose something even as small as changing up your words and see what a difference you can make.

For more opportunities to help, find us at AwakenReno.org

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Shontell Brewer
Shontell Brewer is a wife and mother to her five children, ages 20 to 12. She holds a master’s in divinity with an emphasis in urban ministry. Her most recent project is an arts-integrated prevention curriculum for minors trafficked across the nation. She speaks as a prevention specialist to communities affected by sex trafficking. Find her at ShontellBrewer.com, and on Instagram and Facebook at Shontell Brewer. Her book, Missionary Mom is due fall of 2018.