Give Them More Than Minimum Wage

Samantha Inesta
Executive Director/Human Rights Fellow

Human rights has been painted as the “glamorous” & “hot” topic of the day with everyone from documentary film makers, multilateral corporations and Hollywood cashing in on it in some form or another. It’s a boost to their career and their ego and it does wonders for their celebrity status, but what about the people whose rights they’re supposedly fighting for? Human Trafficking. It’s everywhere-even in the cinema with plot twists, heroic rescues and girls living happily ever after. Do you see how this is a problem for those of us who are on the ground fighting this issue with no end in sight? Sex trafficking, the other side of labor and domestic servitude, however you will never have exploitation without sexual abuse. More women and girls all over the world experience this more than men who are forced into labor trafficking situations. The buying and selling of female bodies is an estimated $150 billion industry. The only people that see this money are the pimps/traffickers, the women get nothing but imprisonment, torture and abuse. They are basically living in a type of poverty that requires them to surrender complete control to their oppressor with no end in sight. They don’t know what it’s like to have control over their lives anymore, it’s been stolen from them along with their identity.

Many women who have been fortunate enough to escape these situations are now in the shelter system of the few non profits that actually have housing and programs that keep them dependent so that they can’t go far. This keeps them wondering from day to day what will happen if they no longer will be able to stay in the shelter, what if they run out of funding, what if they need the bed for someone else-where do I go? Unfortunately this happens quite more often than you think, especially in New York City. The available beds in no way out number the victims that need a place to go. Much needed front line organizations claim to offer everything a survivor needs to be totally independent and live on their own, then why have so many of them been in the shelter systems for years? Some of those factors can be found in the social work that is provided them which is supposed to be trauma informed and help survivors deal with issues like PTSD in order to live a better and more productive life while on the road to healing. Some women have been on this road for 10 years. Another factor is employment. Some survivors are ready for a job and are eager to have their own money, but the jobs organizations get for them are low minimum wage positions that will not afford them to save and get a place of their own. Some have to pay into their living space, like rent but the income is not sustaining therefore they may never leave until they’re pushed out. What kind of psychological state do you think they would be in if they had to leave their housing situation with a job that barely pays them and no prospect of getting their own place? I can tell you it will push them right back into the streets.

It’s time that we not play God with these women’s lives, it’s time organizations stop becoming the second oppressor. Survivors need a living wage, like we all do. If they are to be apart of society they need to be offered more than just service jobs. We need programs that have comprehensive training in many different areas. Not all the survivors I work with want to be in the kitchen of a restaurant or working as a server in a cafe where most of the income is in the tips from customers. These can be stepping stones but they shouldn’t be the place where they stay. There are women that come from backgrounds where they have worked in prestigious jobs, to force them to work for little money and rely on a shelter is not going to help them overcome. Even those that may not have higher education or worked good paying jobs can still be trained to gain employment that will help them break the cycle of inter-dependency. Why are they being keep living on the poverty line, on food stamps and government assistance? This is a crutch that they are being forced to get used to and not know how to cope once it gets taken away.

If we do not break the cycle of inter-dependency we will see more women and girls back out in the streets because they cannot survive. We shouldn’t be dangling freedom over them when they are not encouraged to be independent. It’s fair to say that no organization can be a one-stop shop and it’s understandable. Having women come to you who are broken and need a range of services is nothing to take lightly and it is very much needed. But if you take control over their lives in the name of freedom and empowerment while not really providing either, you will drive them right back to where they came from. If organizations are to work together, they must stop trying to be the best and in competition. Survivors are not fundraising tools or billboards for your organization to get donors or recognition. It’s the lives of women and girls that are at stake, they are the focus and should be treated as such. Remember, it’s not about you.

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Women And Revolution is a blog designed to raise the issues that are affecting women all over the world while giving it journalistic value. W.A.R is a division of BeaSister2aSister a 501(c)3 non profit that helps survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, exploitation and abuse break the cycle of inter-dependency and become self sustainable. if you would like to learn more you can visit our website at or you can email us at If you are interested in seeing women and girls everywhere break free from inter-dependency, please consider donating online as a one time or sustainable donor. We are committed to seeing every woman walk in total freedom.


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