Objectification Isn’t Subjective

Breaking Away From Hazardous Social Norms

The stories people tell about their experience is based on their perception and recall of the events, whether they are true or not. We are all experiencing the event in our own personal way and rely on our own recollection to shift the way we feel about the event, the people involved, and the overall outcome. This form of storytelling and event recall is called a narrative. This is not to be confused with social norms. 

Social norms are the values and beliefs we place on what we deem as “normal” behavior. They are typically found in groups of people that share the commonality of the value or belief in question. This can range from a group of people at a conservative church to a group of guys in a locker room, or a group of executives at a business meeting. People generally use a narrative to reinforce a social norm as an example of what to do or not to do. Similar to narratives, social norms can be either positive—such as an expectation most people will find a lifelong partner—or negative—assuming that boys need to sow their wild oats, which leaves young girls the castaways of their pleasure. Both of these can be used as a vulnerability under the umbrella of objectification of people in human trafficking. 

      Here is the perfect example of how hazardous social norms and objectification of people can often be used by a trafficker to further their ill intent. 

Traffickers often spin stories to manipulate their future victims. Whether it’s a fabrication that starts out as a positive social narrative—“I love you and I always want to be with you”,1 which then turns into “You need to help me make money so we can be together”, or whether he begins with a negative social narrative—coercive intercourse and blackmail,2 both criminals are weaving lies about reality to blindfold women and girls.

     Common lies range from both extremes: “I love you more than anything; do you love me that much?” to “No one else would want you, so you might as well come with me.” Lies create a far more effective prison than chains. Theresa Flores demonstrates this clearly in her book titled The Slave Across the Street. She was trafficked through high school while still living at home, kept in terror by a gang who threatened her and her younger siblings. 

Being aware of objectification of people, or someone who is being objectified, is a skill that has to be learned. Here are our top 10 ways a person can be objectified and may be vulnerable to the manipulation that is human trafficking:

  1. Being personally treated as an object instead of a human being
  2. The use of your body in a sexual manner to sell a product or service
  3. The over usage of pet or unusual nicknames in place of actual names
  4. The sexualization of parts of your body
  5. Being forced into rigid gender roles in school or at home
  6. The encouragement of you being property or owned
  7. Playing the rating game for looks and appearance
  8. Locker room conversation that is oversexualized
  9. Receiving gifts of sexual nature all the time
  10.  Being bragged about as a trophy or prize on a consistent basis

Think of objectification of a person as a manipulation tool used to encourage further insecurity in your beliefs that things can turn around. A trafficker may manipulate your negative homelife, or your financial insecurity, to merely suggest working for them. It may also appear in the form of compliments to the way you look, using gifts that may appear sexier than your normal attire, to convince you that everyone looks at you as an object.  

Objectification of a person can be further displayed by the use of other vulnerabilities, in any combination to make the “choice” of human trafficking appear as the only way out from your other adversities. Whenever something appears to be the only choice, it is a sign you are being controlled. Control does not have to include force. We are trying to demonstrate how manipulation of a narrative can exert control as well. 

Common usage of these narratives include the exploitation of those who experience: extreme poverty, mass displacement, and gender inequality. By understanding the vulnerabilities to human trafficking from our previous blogs, you are becoming more knowledgeable of the indicators of the persona of human traffickers that may save your life and the life of others. 

To close out Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we wanted to share a brief definition of the vulnerabilities we discussed each week of this month.

  1. Mass displacement is the vulnerability associated with a large group of people who are relocated, generally due to unforeseen circumstances. These people are often targets for traffickers because they are in need of the basic necessities.
  2. The extreme poverty vulnerability can be defined as a financial insecurity lower than the poverty line. Traffickers often seek out people who are in need of money, who also seek a level of financial freedom that appears to be unattainable. The allure of fast funds is often used to manipulate their victim, even if they do not see or use any of the profits.
  3. By targeting more women and girls for sex labor trafficking, and men and boys for labor trafficking, the use of gender inequality is often used to exhibit the power dynamic a trafficker may have over their victims. 
  4. Negative social norms and objectification of people are often used to deceive and manipulate many human trafficking victims into the life of forced labor. There are many ways one may be objectified by a trafficker, the use of this vulnerability is normally one of the first tactics of a trafficker when controlling their victim and forcing them into a life of human trafficking.

Our main objective during Human Trafficking Prevention Month was informing the public of the vulnerabilities a victim may have to the eye of a trafficker. With your help, we hope to cut the roots of the vulnerability and save lives!

For more information on how you can help, get involved, or donate, check out the links below. 

How to Get Involved:

  1. Renting Lacy by Linda Smith and Cindy Coloma
  2. The Slave Across the Street by Theresa Flores
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Ashley Ingram