Ernestine's Daughter

OP-ED: The end of acceptable exploitation

In the wake of recent allegations against Sean “Diddy” Combs and the subsequent raid during a sex trafficking investigation, the glaring spotlight has once again illuminated the exploitation faced by women of color at the hands of powerful individuals.

The shocking revelation surrounding Combs and other celebrities including Russell Simmons, Jeffrey Epstein, and R. Kelly serves as a harsh reminder of how easily society can overlook egregious acts of sexual exploitation, especially when perpetrated by those with wealth, celebrity, and power. It’s a sobering reflection of how deeply ingrained societal norms can obscure the harsh reality of exploitation, allowing it to fester unchecked.

It’s crucial to understand that this issue transcends the actions of one individual. It is about confronting systemic injustices that not only enable but perpetuate exploitation. We must vehemently challenge the dangerous notion that money and influence grant immunity from accountability. No one, regardless of their vast economic status or celebrity, should be above the law.

Having endured the horrors of sex trafficking amongst pimps across the Midwest for 25 years, I now dedicate my life to activism in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation. I have borne witness to the profound impact of exploitation on marginalized and underserved communities, especially while growing up in Chicago. These recent highly publicized events underscore the urgent need for systemic change. We cannot afford to continue to ignore the suffering of those ensnared in the sex trade. Let’s change the narrative to one that supports those exiting the sex trade by providing the resources needed to sustain a life beyond the one they are coerced into.

As a rape survivor, and an unwavering advocate for victims’ rights, I refuse to accept a society where powerful individuals can exploit and abuse with impunity. The allegations against Combs serve as a stark reminder of the systemic failures that allow such injustices to persist. I stand with survivors like Brenda: We must demand accountability of exploiters through criminal justice and provide quality services for survivors through workforce development, mental health care, and more.

Sexual violence is complex. It is difficult to understand the scope, size, and reach of it as it is normalized and even celebrated by businesses, governments, and cultures. Ending it requires a laser focus on three categories of sexual violence: human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. It is massively important to shed light on people in power taking advantage of their influence to contribute to the harms of the sex trade. Make your voice heard on this issue and stand up to support survivors.

92% of women in the sex trade report physical violence and almost half say they have attempted suicide. Mere condemnation is insufficient. We need concrete, actionable solutions to support survivors and prevent further harm. This includes establishing comprehensive exit strategies and robust resources for those trapped in exploitative situations. Furthermore, we must hold buyers accountable for their complicity in perpetuating the cycle of exploitation. It is time to dismantle the systems that profit from the suffering of vulnerable individuals.

Now, more than ever, is the time for collective action. We urge communities to rally behind survivors, advocate for legislative reforms, and educate individuals about the signs of exploitation. By fostering a culture of accountability and solidarity, we can ensure that perpetrators are held responsible for their actions, regardless of their status or wealth.

Together, we can create a society where exploitation is met with unwavering condemnation and swift action.

Exploitation must never be tolerated, irrespective of the perpetrator’s fame or influence. It is time to rewrite the narrative and prioritize justice for survivors. By standing together and demanding accountability, we can pave the way for a future where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, free from the looming threat of exploitation and abuse.

While the testimony coming out about Combs and others is beyond disturbing, the shining light is that these men of wealth, celebrity, and endless financial resources are being held accountable for their actions. It shows that no one is above the law and the victims will have their day in court. We could not say that 40 years ago or even 10 years ago, but today we have made progress.

We will not rest on our laurels and say, “good enough.” Progress is only made when we unite in protecting victims of sex trafficking, provide necessary resources, create legislation, and help those being victimized. The Jensen Project cannot do this alone; we need your help in ensuring that progress does not end today. 

Brenda Myers-Powell is a Member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and founder and CEO of Ernestine’s Daughter, a survivor-led program serving trafficked women and girls in Chicago.

Janet Jensen is the Founder and CEO of The Jensen Project, an organization dedicated to empowering survivors and reducing sexual exploitation and trafficking.