As we watch the Olivia Bensons, Horatio Canes, and even — believe it or not — Cleveland Browns of T.V. fame fight common misconceptions about prostitution, pimping, and human trafficking, we see that perhaps television doesn’t always rot our brains. Maybe these shows can even shed light on lesser known, but equally heinous, crimes, telling us there’s so much more that can be done to protect victims. Yet while the stars of Law & Order and CSI take a strong stance against trafficking, and in our minds, we believe their sincerity, is what we see on TV really what happens in reality? Not exactly.
Over the past few years, shows like CSI, Law & Order SVU, and Numb3rs have aired episodes addressing human trafficking, primarily sex trafficking, prostitution, and pimping. The overzealous and incredibly determined officers of the NYPD, Miami-Dade police, and FBI aggressively slam their fists into lockers and furrow their eyebrows, vowing to take down any and all pimps and exploiters that cross their paths. They exhibit other forms of overly dramatic — yet not misplaced — anger, conveying a true sense of frustration when trying to prosecute and punish pimps and abusers that have no understanding of, or care for, what they have done to their victims. Great job, TV heroes; now let’s hope our law enforcement follows suit.
In an episode that aired in 2007, CSI: Miami‘s Horatio Cane is appalled to discover a warehouse full of young women that were trafficked into the country and sold to the highest bidder. He is determined to catch their captors and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Watching this episode, I was excited, hopeful, and optimistic that he would. And catch those traffickers, he did!
But when I tuned back in to reality, I realized that law enforcement doesn’t always operate with such conviction. In many communities, resources are limited and police, detectives, and community members are not knowledgeable about what trafficking really is. Though many of us realize that these shows function outside the realm of true reality, they may provide misguided faith in the abilities of our current law enforcement system. We may forget that pimps and traffickers go free every day, and the women and children they exploit are often the ones that end up behind bars.
Just last week, The Cleveland Show, a new show by the creators of Family Guy (who are known for their offensive sarcasm and non-PC jokes), aired an episode on pimping and prostitution that *gasp* did have a moral! Cleveland stumbles into pimping out his coworker and when confronted by his wife, he denies any wrong-doing. “Crimes have victims,” he says in his defense. His wife retorts, “Prostitutes are the victims!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
While we have made significant strides in the last few years toward combating human trafficking, forced prostitution, and pimping, we still have a long way to go. Most importantly, we can take some advice from Cleveland’s wife and learn to recognize who the victims really are, and we can urge our police to treat trafficking as seriously as the crime fighters of CSI and Law & Order and fight it with as much determination.
So is it possible for these fictional shows to really teach us something about the severity of human trafficking? Perhaps sometimes — though not always — they can.
Photo credit: elward-photography