The Guardian magazine exposes the deadly sex trafficking in US prisons
July 15, 2018
A landmark Guardian investigation, produced over 18 months, examines how US sex traffickers recruit jailed women for prostitution. The work culminated in a documentary, The Trap, which exposes the systematic pattern of grooming and recruitment of women prisoners by pimps and sex buyers in the US.
The article features Nicole Bell, LIFT’s CEO, who worked closely with the reporters, Annie Kelly and Mei-Ling McNamara for more than a year in Worcester, MA. Throughout, the writers reported on the revolving door of prostitution and incarceration, and how prisons become recruiting sites for traffickers to lure women into prostitution.
In this article, the authors discuss their “jarring experiences” in being exposed to the horrific realities of trafficking. They went deep into the prison where women they met were all incarcerated for prostitution, some were pregnant, lost their children, and stuck in poverty, addiction, and violence on the streets. They revealed how the extensive history of trauma from abuse and violence sets the women up to be preyed upon and exploited by pimps and sex buyers.
The biggest shock was the daily violence that is a byproduct of their life on the streets. For the film we spent a year following Nikki Bell, herself a trafficking survivor who now runs her own NGO, Living in Freedom Together (LIFT), who is dedicating her life to helping other women both inside jail and on the streets of Worcester. She told us how, when she was in prostitution and addiction, she had been beaten, thrown out of cars and violently assaulted by sex buyers. Now she sees this violence perpetrated on a daily basis to the women she works with. Seven women she works with have already died this year of overdoses. One of the most sobering facts we learned on this project was that the average life expectancy of a street sex worker in the US is 34.
Reporting on this issue is never easy. LIFT commends the two reporters for their empathy and sensitivity in their reporting and giving the women a chance to tell their stories in their own voices.