By Bailey Basham
A PBS documentary aired last week on sex trafficking which included a lengthy report on trafficking in Trevecca’s neighborhood.
As part of a three-part PBS documentary series, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof explored the issue of sex trafficking in the U.S. which brought him to Murfreesboro Road.
The series, A Path Appears: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, focuses on investigating the struggles women face in the United States and abroad in regards to sex trafficking and profiles the individuals working with the victims to create effective solutions.
“We wanted to take a closer look at the efforts being made for the victims to escape and rebuild their lives,” said Kristof in A Path Appears while reporting on Murfreesboro Road.
The first episode of the three-part series aired on Jan. 26 and uncovered one of the harshest forms of gender-based oppression and human rights violations currently being faced in the U.S.
Shana Goodwin, a survivor of the Nashville sex trafficking ring who tells her story on the documentary, remembers first being sold to a pimp by her mother when she was just 12 years old.
“My grandfather was my trafficker when I was a little bitty girl. You can look at trafficking in any sense that you want to, but really it’s a manipulator” said Goodwin in the documentary.
Like many others, Goodwin was a victim of sexual abuse when she was very young.
“The women who come into the program share a common story, and the story goes something like their first rape between the ages of 7-11, and on average, they hit the streets between 14 and 16 years old,” said Becca Stevens in the documentary, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms in Nashville. “All of these women carry the issues of sexual violence on their backs. The roots are in trafficking, and the roots of trafficking are in vulnerability and childhood trauma. It’s all connected.”
One woman Kristof interviewed shared that she didn’t realize what was being done to her was wrong.
“It happened so much that it seemed natural, like it was supposed to happen. When your mom is teaching you stuff, you just assume that it’s right,” said Sheila McClain in A Path Appears.
Actress, activist, and victim of sexual abuse Ashley Judd investigated alongside Kristof for much of his time with Goodwin on Murfreesboro Road.
“I think shedding the shame of child abuse is the fulcrum to speak openly and confidently, giving the toxic shame back to the perpetrator; getting it externalized and putting it back where it belongs,” said Judd in the doucmentary.
One major issue in the alleviation of the problem is that many people aren’t aware of how seriously it is plaguing their own communities.
“It’s interesting to me that trafficking is an issue that is predominantly under the covers. Much of the general public doesn’t know much about it at all. Out of sight, out of mind,” said Ron Maurer, professor of social work and organizer of last semester’s sex trafficking seminar, Current Issues in Human Traffickng: Policy and Treatment.
Goodwin drove Kristof and Judd around Murfreesboro Road, pointing out the hotels she frequented and stopping a couple of times to talk to pimps waiting for the women to return with their money or to check on the women that were working.
“When I was out here [Murfreesboro Road], I had every kind of client: pillars of the community, everyone from A-Z. I would stay down around the hotels because you can get the men who are coming in from out of town,” said Goodwin in the documentary. “And then there’s the famous Drake Motel. Home of the stars?” She laughs. “Home of the drug dealers and prostitutes.”
Raising awareness, educating the public on what sex trafficking is and how the women become involved, and helping make connections to local support and treatment organizations is crucial, said Maurer.
“One part of the issue is that there are a number of people that don’t see the women as innocent victims the way they see the children [that are being trafficked] as being innocent victims,” said Maurer. “People think ‘Well they’re adults, they can make their own choices and decisions, they could just get out of that lifestyle.’ They the victims are the ones responsible for being trafficked.”
As a part of the series, Kristof not only worked to uncover the injustices at play in regards to sex trafficking in Nashville, but also to shine a light on resources and organizations for women who find themselves to be victims of trafficking.
Founded in 1997 by Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest on the campus of Vanderbilt University, Magdalene is a two year residential community for women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. This local organization provides housing, food, health care, counseling, and educational and job opportunities free of charge for women who were victims to sex trafficking.
Thistle Farms is a bath and body product company that is fully operated by graduates of the Magdalene program. While working at Thistle Farms, graduates learn skills in manufacturing, marketing and sales, and administration that they can continue using in the workforce.
Goodwin and McClain are now graduates of the Magdalene program and are working for the Magdalene and Thistle Farms team.
“I’m just grateful. Every night when I lie down in my bed, I think of those nights of sleeping under a bridge. I never want to forget. My next thought is that there’s still a girl under there now. I feel it in my gut – the desire to help the woman who is still out there,” said Goodwin on the Thistle Farms blog.
This story first appeared in the Micah Mandate.