I watched a documentary yesterday. It’s really very good. You should watch it too.
It’s about Britain’s child beggars, many of whom are Romanian Roma, and many of whom were trafficked into Britain for the benefit of organized crime bosses with the complicity of the children’s parents.
A child beggar in the UK can earn up to 100 pounds a day. Quite a tidy sum when you think about it, and if you add in the ill-gotten gains of benefits fraud, it makes for a very nice living for those at the top of this system.
But it got me to thinking about the children brought up in this system, for whom dishonesty and trickery is a way of life, because that’s in part how I was raised. Different kinds of exploitation of children can look somewhat alike, even if the form of exploitation is different. I’m not even sure if the exploitation involved needs to be economic to function similarly: Meeting someone’s sick need for sadistic power within a family or ritual abuse ring (what Kenneth Lanning calls a multidimensional child sex ring) might work much the same.
At any rate, the view of the world it creates is one in which everyone is out for themselves in some way, and everyone is potentially exploitative–because exploitation is how this world works. People are there to be used for whatever benefit they can provide. It isn’t explicitly about harm, but simply a disregard for the rights or integrity of others, and a failure to engage deeply or if at all in mutual, caring relationships. People are often harmed because no one’s well-being is taken into account when decisions are made. If something hurts you in the process of all of this, well, I’m sorry. That’s just how life is. Or that is how life is within exploitative groups.
It is a selfish, competitive, and brutal world to grow up in. There are rarely clear-cut victims or perpetrators. What you have instead are a few people at the very top who are most certainly perpetrators, and many more people at the bottom who are most certainly victims, but the majority of individuals who occupy this world are both victims and perpetrators. They survive by submitting to the exploitation of someone with more power while also exploiting someone with less power.
There is no real relief from exploitation. Escape exploitation from one person, and someone else will be happy to step up and take his place. Your only hope is to align yourself with whoever is most powerful within this system, so that you can reap the greatest benefits and garner the most protection.
In the world of sex trafficking, a sex worker can become a bottom girl and gain status and protection in that way. Romanian Roma women can marry into the family of a crime boss. But that’s the best there is.
We see these groups as a unique underworld phenomenon, but when you grow up in that world, you assume that that’s how everyone works: All this talk about love and mutual respect, honesty, and integrity–that’s just to sound good. Kindness is one con among many.
Others outside the group are assumed to be in rival groups that function in much the same way as the one you are in. Leaving the group that is exploiting you doesn’t land you in freedom. Instead, it lands you in hostile territory, where groups that care about you even less–and where you have no status or power or allegiances–will eat you alive.
In the cult I grew up in, this point was hammered home repeatedly. Although most members had no knowledge or connection to the sex trafficking ring that exploited me, they set the stage for it perfectly. “Outsiders” as we called them, were judgmental, fickle, uncaring. They only looked for what might be in for them. As soon as you had a problem, stopped being entertaining, or had a different idea, they dropped you. Just like that. According to them, the rest of the world behaved exactly as they did–only worse.
In a practical sense, what this means is that escape from an exploitative group can seem both impossible and pointless. On the one hand, there is nothing better to flee to and, on the other, the world outside of this group is actively dangerous–more dangerous than the group that is exploiting you in the first place.
Of course, if you’re really smart, you may realize that that isn’t how the rest of the world works, but that brings its own problem: will anyone outside of your own group ever accept you? Will you ever be anything else but tainted, criminal, illegal, immoral, bad? It seems doubtful, especially if what you did in the group to survive was illegal or deeply immoral. And that’s not really a fun way of looking at things either.
But I wasn’t even that smart, and I didn’t figure it out. Not for a long time. And it was an even longer time before I understood that niceness was something more than a long con.