KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Angela Poe Russell: Diddy’s sex trafficking allegations bring up complex issue

Mar 27, 2024, 1:21 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2024, 8:17 am

Photo: In this Aug. 9, 2018, photo, traffic passes along a north Seattle area known for prostitutio...

In this Aug. 9, 2018 photo, traffic passes along a Seattle area in the northern part of the city known for prostitution and alleged sex trafficking. (Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP)

(Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP)

When I first heard the term “sex trafficking” many years ago, it conjured up images of other countries and people being smuggled in the dark, disappearing, never to be heard from again. And while that does happen, I’ve since learned the problem is more complex and more in the open than you might think.

The raid on Sean “Diddy” Combs’ home happened just four months after his once longtime girlfriend, R&B singer Cassie Ventura, filed a lawsuit against him, accusing the artist of physical abuse, sex slavery and assault — allegations that are by law considered sex trafficking and human trafficking.

By definition, sex trafficking is all the activities around when someone is forced, coerced or tricked into performing acts or when the person involved is under 18.

I spoke with the co-founder of Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST) Audrey Baedke. REST helps survivors of sex trafficking escape and heal.

Online coercion: 11- and 15-year-old girls trafficked in Seattle

‘Trust and love go hand in hand with the threats and the violence’

“We typically think they are willing participants, not understanding the amount of force, fraud and coercion that is used to keep someone continuing to engage,” Baedke said.

Baedke also talked about how her organization has worked with survivors who were compensated by celebrities.

“At REST, we have worked with a number of survivors who were paid by celebrities to provide sexual services and in each of the cases we’ve worked with, there was always a pimp involved. And that pimp was the one who received the money. The pimp was the one who controlled the person … The victim did not have the option to walk away or leave. They had no option to say yes or no to what was being asked. But instead, if they said no, there would be consequences, typically violence that would come because of that choice,” Baedke added.

And, often, traffickers use manipulation to keep victims engaged. Trust and love go hand in hand with the threats and the violence.

“The combination of this love and fear keeps someone loyal,” Baedke continued. “So, typically, this looks like either becoming a boyfriend or sometimes traffickers are parents. Sometimes it’s a friend. But it’s someone who builds a lot of trust to be able to say ‘I’m going to take care of you. I see you’re worth something.'”

‘Survival mode will force us to love things that harm us’

Baedke said even if someone appears to be consenting to sex work, the reality for many is much more layered and complex.

“So, what happens is most survivors will portray this picture of ‘I love what I’m doing’ and particularly to their buyers. But it’s my matter of survival to ‘love what I’m doing’ in order to keep myself safe,” Baedke explained. “And survival mode will force us to love things that harm us because they keep us alive. If someone doing sex work and know their children eating is dependent on it, them not receiving a beating is dependent on it, will love doing sex work because that’s the thing that allows them to live.”

While the Diddy investigation is definitely shining a light on this issue, my hope is that we don’t look at this as just a celebrity problem.

REST alone helps more than 600 survivors each year in the Seattle Metropolitan area.

More from Angela Poe Russell: The bold policy every school should adopt now

What’s also important is realizing it’s not an issue we can take at face value. Just because someone looks like a willing participant, doesn’t mean they are. And understanding the truth about the problem is a meaningful first to doing something about it.

Angela Poe Russell is a longtime Seattle media personality and a fill-in host for KIRO Newsradio.

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Angela Poe Russell: Diddy’s sex trafficking allegations bring up complex issue