I have spoken on human trafficking in churches and school, libraries and conference rooms, to groups of hundreds and groups of less than a dozen. I have researched and studied trafficking, and discovered things I have shared with many others. I have also discovered things so horrible I will never tell you.
Tonight, I came across Willow Smith's new music video about having a summer fling, and I'm so disturbed I can't not write about it. Not the video itself, or the music, but how it collides with something else--a statistic.
Willow Smith is twelve years old.
The average age for an American girl to get trafficked is 12-14.
Before you think I've gone off the deep end, let me share with you what was disturbing to me about the video, and then please take the time to let me say why.
What disturbed me about what I heard in the song:
1. She's taking walks at midnight and lying on the beach with a guy she barely knows.
2. She's calling him, he's calling her, hanging out, kissing.
3. She mentions many times, "It's just a couple months, but we do it anyway."
4. She talks about them saying, "I love you," when the whole song is about it being just a summer fling.
5. "You say that I'm the one. I say it's just for fun."
What disturbed me about what I saw in the video:
1. A twelve-year-old flirting, touching, being touched, by a guy she barely knows.
2. The guy being nowhere near twelve years old.
3. Lots of couples touching, including what I think was a lesbian couple (with colored hair and lots of tattoos--maybe to show her sense of diversity?)
4. Absolutely no adults anywhere.
Now, before you think I'm saying Willow Smith has anything to do with trafficking, I'll say now I seriously doubt she has any idea her music video and song present a recipe traffickers love.
And that's my point.
Back to the statistic that the average age for a girl to get trafficked is 12-14. Why do you think that is?
I don't think 12-14-year-olds are targeted because girls are most desirable at that age. Trafficking is exploiting vulnerability, and younger girls are more vulnerable to exploitation. They are ripe for targeting. They are easier to lie to, entice, and ultimately take into a world so destructive, the life expectancy is a mere five years.
Here's what I'm talking about. Willow Smith's video shows girls that having an older guy pay attention to them is cool and makes them cool. Having him call them, pursue them, and touch them, despite not knowing them for very long, and having no intention of building a genuine lasting relationship, is cool. As she sings over and over (and over--52 times that I counted), "...do it anyway."
Traffickers know this is a very effective seduction to young girls. A trafficker isn't necessarily an old, ugly guy who looks like the bad guy. Sometimes they are young, well-dressed, and very attractive. These traffickers know that a young girl feels special when an older guy notices her, pays attention to her, gives her things. So a trafficker targets a girl who is vulnerable (say, one who is looking for approval, shows off her body to get attention, has no adult keeping track of her schedule or activities, or is considering running away). He finds out what she longs for and provides it. He becomes what she needs, until she not only trusts him, but feels loved by him. As one very effective trafficker said with a smile, "I sell dreams."
Willow Smith's video scares me. Not just for her (Why would her parents let her be out at midnight with some guy they don't even know, much less make a song and video about it?), but for all the 12 and 10 and 8-year-old girls who are going to watch it, memorize the song, and wish they could be like her.
(FYI: If you think I'm going for shock factor here, trying to convince you of something, I'd like to let you know that what I'm saying is just surface information. This doesn't even touch the shock value aspects of this.)
So what should parents do? If you have a young girl, help her choose her influences wisely. Use things like this music video to start conversations about things that really matter. This short video could spark questions like:
1. Do you think a girl that young should have a boyfriend? Why or why not?
2. Do you think having a relationship with someone you don't really know is good? Can you think of how it could be bad or dangerous?
3. Why do you think I don't let you _______________?
4. What should you do if a guy you like starts to _____________________?
5. Do you know where the line is between touching that is okay and touching that is not?
6. If someone crosses that line, do you know that it's okay to do whatever you have to do to get away from him? What are some things you could do?
As much as I wish it were not true, 12-year-old girls need to know what is the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable touch. They need to be trained on how to get out of a dangerous situation. And they need to know that if something bad happens to them, that you are never going to blame them for it, but you will help them. They need to know to never keep something like that a secret, and they need to know if they came to you and told you something like that, that you would not brush it off or let it fall into silence.
They also need to know the lines exploiters use, such as:
1. If you love me, you'll ___________.
2. You owe me.
3. It's your fault because of what you wore/said/did.
4. You're bad. You shouldn't tell because everyone will know you did something bad.
5. If you tell, I'll _______________________.
6. I couldn't help it. I'll never do it again.
I hate the idea of even talking about this with my daughter when she gets older. Before I started studying trafficking, I thought age 16 would be a good age to bring it up. Maybe 15. I never imagined I'd have to be ready to discuss this at age 10or 11.
But unfortunately, that's one of the reasons 12-14 year olds are so exploitable. Their lack of knowledge and lack of training makes them vulnerable. Add to that a culture that says being pursued by an older guy when you're a pre-teen makes you special, and you have a truly dangerous situation.
Perhaps this music video will show parents that they should be more involved in what their children watch and listen to. Perhaps it will convince us to talk with our children and prepare them for this world. Perhaps it will even spark the desire to give them an understanding of their own value, so much so that they don't need to get their sense of worth from a summer fling, an older guy, or even a famous music career.
If that happens, then maybe watching the video wasn't a bad thing after all.
What do you think this video tells young girls? Do you think the controversy over this video is warranted?
Related Posts: Nancy Drew Isn't Real and the Traffickers aren't that Stupid
Pretty Woman and the Media's Galmourization of Prostitution
Beyonce's Halftime Show and Human Trafficking