When Women are Charged with Sex Trafficking, How Can We Trust Each Other?

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I remember as a little girl, my mom used to tell me that if I were to ever get separated from her that I should find a woman to help me. She always stressed that I should never approach men I didn’t know and that if ever I was in danger, needed help, etc. that a woman was my best choice for safety. This is the memory that popped in my head as I read about “Smallville” actress, Allison Mack this weekend.

Mack, 35, has been charged with sex trafficking for an organization based in New York disguising itself as a self-help group. According to a statement released by the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard P. Donoghue, Mack, “helped gain recruits for what was purported to be a mentorship group but instead exploited its followers, who were branded with a symbol containing the initials of the organization’s leader.” The victims were also forced to have sex with the leader of the group known as Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um).

While sexual assault/harassment, rape, sex trafficking and any other form of sex crimes are never okay, what is truly baffling to me is how a woman could do this to another woman. It’s the harsh reality of our world that women have had to be raised to be cautious around men. From a young age, we are taught to not approach men we don’t know. As we get older, we have to learn how to politely decline men’s advances in a way that doesn’t anger them. We are taught to always go out with girlfriends who can watch our drink while we’re in the bathroom. In a world where women are taught to be wary of men, what do we do now when women are giving a helping hand in sex trafficking other women?

While I know that Mack is (hopefully) the exception to the rule and that this was an extreme and unusual case, this isn’t the first time women have been involved or perpetuated a rape culture for other women. Recently, there have been a large number of models coming forth with their #MeToo stories in the fashion industry, and the truly upsetting thing in their stories wasn’t just that the male photographers, agents, etc. were sexually harassing them; it was that on several occasions there were other women in the room who didn’t speak up for the model at all.

Even though women aren’t often the ones committing the sexual crimes against other women, our crime is staying silent and not advocating for each other. It’s easy to place all of the blame on men, but what we as women need to learn is that it is almost just as bad to sit there silently and let it happen to another woman right in front of us. There have been countless stories, in the Harvey Weinstein case alone, where women have been silenced by other women about sexual harrasment due to the fear of losing their job or simply accepting that “boys will be boys.”

While it is crucial for women to continue to include men in the gender equality and sexual harrasment conversation as well as call out the men who have behaved atrociously, it is equally important for women to stand up to and for each other. While I understand that this is still a world where we have to teach our daughters to be careful around men, if we can’t even trust each other in this fight to equality, we’ll never get there.

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