My grandmother (and this was before I was ever born) had made an appointment with the doctor, very upset as she was that my manic-depressive father and his schizophrenic girlfriend had just announced their intention to marry.
‘She wanted to know what could be done. How could this marriage be stopped? How could these two very unwell people be allowed to go ahead and marry? The doctor told her that mental illness could not be used as a reason to curtail a persons civil liberties and that was his view of the matter. But what, my grandmother wanted to know, would happen to any children born into that union?
‘I wish I could go back in time and give my grandmother a hug for having the compassion and the foresight to think of where that situation would leave us. She was right to worry. It left us in state care, one after the other. And as a young teenager it left me homeless, hungry, and prostituted, in that order.
‘The constraints of my own choices began even before I did. And if we were to shift this situation into the deli-counter analogy, there is no young girl standing there deliberating on what choice to make.
‘There is only a young girl standing waiting for what’s already been selected and pre-wrapped for her, and she can take it or leave it. Those are her options. That is her ‘choice’.’
People will say (and rightly say) that the trafficked child or woman and the destitute child or woman constitute two different situations. Yes, they do – but what is so often ignored is that they also constitute two different situations that culminate in exactly the same place; with both sets of women lying with their legs open on a brothel’s bed. In both situations, choice has been severely constrained. In both situations, the fear of one outcome leads to another. In both situations ‘choices’ have been made that lead to women’s bodies being sexually accessed against their will, which is lived as sexual molestation, in both cases.
In the case of the trafficked woman, she can ‘choose’ to keep kicking and screaming and ignoring the threats against herself and her family. Nobody sees this as a choice that she might be maligned for not making. In the case of the woman who is either in destitution or in fear of destitution, she can keep kicking and screaming mentally, and ignoring the reality of the economic threat against herself and her family, but people do see this as a choice that she is maligned for not making. The bald-faced reality however is that both women are caught in two different versions of the same bind, and both women pay the same price for it. The difference is that the latter group of women pay an additional price – it is the price of a socially-assigned culpability.