When Women are the Traffickers

Whenever we hear about perpetrators of human trafficking, we think of men. After all, the majority of human traffickers (aka pimps) are male. But what happens when a woman is a trafficker? Ghislaine Maxwell broke the stereotype that women are not (or cannot be) traffickers. She recruited and trafficked young girls for Jeffery Epstein. She is 100% guilty. Unfortunately, much of western society doesn't think women can traffic. "Just as there is no one type of trafficking victim, perpetrators of this crime also vary," shares the U.S. Department of Justice. To believe that women are incapable of being human traffickers is a dangerous lie.

Human trafficking is defined as "a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts." Traffickers target vulnerable individuals, and exploit their weakness for profit. Through grooming and manipulation, a trafficker places their victim under their control completely. So how can a woman be successful as a trafficker? Well, cultural biases make it easier for women to traffic. 

Women are perceived as trustworthy, gentle, caring, or loving. Motherly would be the word for this. If your child ran up to a woman, you wouldn't feel overly uneasy. The same cannot be said about a man. Additionally, Hollywood has created the image that human trafficking only involves men as the perpetrators, women can only be the victims, and that some form of kidnapping and/or physical harm is involved. These are all lies. Human trafficking depends on mental manipulation, not physical. Women can talk to a potential victim and be seen as a good listener or trusting, not having any ill intentions. That makes female recruiters even more effective. A young girl will trust a woman, because that woman can be seen as a motherly or sisterly figure. Many women who traffic for the same reason a man traffics: for money and power. 

A law-based article shared by The Albany Government Law Review stated the following about Hollywood's perception of human trafficking: "In contemporary Americanized western cultures, such as that in the United States, violence and aggression are habitually interpreted or characterized as masculine features. Observers claim that when violence is perpetrated by a woman, her behavior is frequently not interpreted as the action of an autonomous, psychologically sound adult, but rather as a product of mental or emotional illness, due to gender-based oppression or exploitation, attendant to a male culprit." Victims can be recruited more easily because a woman is perceived as trusting, and seen as less threatening than a man. 

There are many countries that don't have the same view of women like American western cultures. Countries like Nigeria, Israel, or Venezuela view women as much of a threat as men. In Nigeria and Thailand, it's actually common that women are the ones spearheading a trafficking operation. Women, just like men, can cause equal damage in human trafficking. Sadly, there isn't much research in the United States on female traffickers, and that shouldn't be the case.

Now, does this mean women who traffic weren't victims before? No. There are many cases where a woman was trafficked, and her trafficker led her into recruiting other girls. In an interview with Stop Modern Day Slavery, trafficking survivor Elizabeth Quiroz shared how her pimp, through exploitation, created a blurred view of right and wrong. Quiroz almost trafficked another young girl to her boyfriend, believing she was helping this girl, and that her boyfriend would be proud. This is just one example. While there are many women who traffic out of greed, we cannot ignore women who traffic after being trafficked themselves.

Assuming someone can be a victim of human trafficking or domestic violence based on gender alone is regressive. The same way we cannot assume perpetrators of human trafficking are one gender. Women can be traffickers, and we cannot continue to pretend this doesn't exist. Ghislaine Maxwell is proof of that.

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