Zola And The Reality Of Sex Trafficking

You don’t normally get to hear true stories about sex trafficking.

Tuesday night (or Wednesday morning, depending on your perspective) the twitter user @_zolarmoon tweeted an epic true-life stripper story that took the Internet by storm. It started with a picture and “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” The story was quickly familiar to me — Zola clicked with another stripper and next thing you know, they were off on a strip trip. I’ve done it a few dozen times, because, well, that’s what we do. Zola and Jessica’s strip trip involved two men, though — Jessica’s boyfriend and Jessica’s pimp — and quickly turned into a misadventure.

Zola’s tale was full of sex trafficking, and ended with the pimp going to jail for murder and for being “a major trafficker.” There have been well over 2,000 tweets about #TheStory in less than 24 hours. People have laughed. People have cried. People have made GIFs and said it should be turned into a movie. But people have not mentioned trafficking.

The public hears about trafficking most frequently in made-up, sensational movies and fundraising tall tales. While great for raising money and passing laws, this sensationalism is harmful to the very people it claims to serve. I think a story like Zola’s is a much better way to learn about trafficking and dispel some common myths, so here’s a little guide:

Sex trafficking of adults is the use of force, fraud, or coercion in the recruitment, harboring, transporting, etc., of a person for a commercial sex act.

Did you think sex trafficking was people being forced into prostitution? That hardly ever happens — if for no other reason than that the customers would freak out. Every state has their own definition of sex trafficking, ranging from all prostitution (Alaska) to child sexual abuse (North Dakota). Under federal law, sex trafficking of adults is the use of force, fraud, or coercion in the sex industry, and most victims are sex workers before being victimized.

For example, in #TheStory, which Zola has clarified is “based on a true story,” sex trafficking happened when Jessica lied and told her they were just going to dance and the guy was just her roommate (fraud in recruitment). Women like Zola have been charged with conspiracy to traffick just for posting ads on the Internet (here’s a story that will make you cry and hate the system).

Sex trafficking in real life and the courtroom is so different from sex trafficking on TV that no one even recognizes it.

You’re reading this story, and there’s humor and drama and suspense and the people are just regular people. Or maybe you’re just living your life, and there are funny parts and crazy parts and then the next thing you know, everyone’s in jail. 

People legally defined as sex traffickers or sex trafficking victims are funny, awesome, and smart — and prosecuted for it.

In the awareness posters, sex trafficking victims (little white girls) curl in the fetal position while evil pimps (big black men) hover over them menacingly. Not Zola! When Z, the pimp, had Jessica turning tricks for $100, Zola was like, “Jess, u sellin puss for $100???? Pussy is worth thousands. U trippin.”  

Zola says, “I was like bitch no. If u gone do this. Do it right…”

Then she helped Jess take some new pictures and put up a new ad that got her $500 for 15 minutes right away. Because sex workers are smart (you have to be to run a business in an underground economy) and we help each other out. In any other industry where you come across someone being trafficked and show them how to handle their own business, it’s called empowerment. In the sex industry it’s called trafficking, and it’s often sex workers with reputations for helping other workers who are charged with trafficking.

Sometimes when your boyfriend threatens to kill himself because you’re such a whore and then tells everyone on Facebook that you’re a prostitute, your pimp will come beat him up for you.

Seriously. If you haven’t read the whole thing by now, you probably should.

Sometimes sex workers don’t want to leave abusive pimps.

I wrote this story back in 2008 about the time I failed to talk a stripper into leaving a pimp. It’s like domestic violence — sometimes people don’t want to leave. Sometimes you’re Jarret and the person you love is like, “It’ll be OK, I’ll be home in three days,” but you know they won’t.

You can’t make them leave. They’ll leave, but then they’ll go back. Your heart will break a million times. All you can do is be there for them until they’re ready to leave and stay gone. You wouldn’t think of arresting a domestic violence victim, but police advocate arresting sex trafficking victims as the best way to “rescue” them.

You don’t normally get to hear true stories about sex trafficking.

Zola deleted all her tweets soon after posting them, probably because they could have led to her arrest. Sex trafficking victims (and really everyone around them) are so criminalized that they are rarely able to tell their own stories in their own words. #TheStory is a rare gift, and I hope it leads to a book or movie deal and not a prison sentence.

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