Saturday, August 15, 2020

Soft White Underbelly: Hidden Realms Of American Squalor

WaPo |  “I’m just one guy with a camera,” Laita said. He monetized his YouTube channels days ago.
Laita will give between $20 and $40 to people who are willing to tell their stories, he said. Those who are more at risk of being exposed, such as pimps, drug dealers or prostitutes, sometimes want more, costing him up to $100.

On any given day, up to eight people line up willing to share a personal history that Laita uses only his gut to check, he said.

“I am certain that not every dollar I’ve given to somebody on the street has been spent on a blanket or a tent or shoes. What I’m doing is not foolproof,” he said, considering his work to be a tool for awareness and education.

Compensating his subjects shows a sign of respect for their time and the intimate details they’re willing to share, said Amy Turk, chief executive for Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, the main service provider for women who live on Skid Row.

The line of exploitation can be a thin one to balance if not done well, and it can be “emotionally dangerous to have someone reveal so much deep complexity about their life and walk away,” she said.

Turk, a licensed clinical social worker, said the best way for someone to get involved is to find an organization that’s aligned with their desire to help and that matches their skills with a need.
“It’s about understanding that something has happened to them,” she said, adding that some people on her staff have heard of Laita’s channel and saw a video of a woman the organization has assisted in the past. “Sounds like [that’s] what Mark is tapping into.”

Stephany Powell, executive director for the Van Nuys, Calif.-based nonprofit Journey Out, which helps women who have survived sexual exploitation, watched Kelly’s story after the video popped up on her Facebook feed. She was instantly concerned for Kelly’s safety because of her identity being known and the amount of money raised for her.

“If she’s vulnerable enough to be trafficked, she might be vulnerable enough for a guy to befriend her,” she said.

People are growing more aware about human trafficking, and Kelly seemed like a likable person whom people perceived as undeserving of what had allegedly happened to her, Powell said, contemplating why Kelly’s story resonated with so many people compared with others on Laita’s channel.

The retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant said she’s heard stories like Kelly’s too often in her years of service and now as leader of Journey Out.

“A lot of times it is not unusual for victims to not depict themselves as victims or how some people think victims should present themselves,” she said.

Money isn’t curative for the type of trauma someone like Kelly experienced, Powell said. She needs assistance with finding housing, securing employment and attending counseling to help her cope with pain. People like Kelly need a community that consists of professionals and former sex-trafficking survivors to pull her forward, she said.

“You can give her that $30,000. If she blows through it, then what?” Powell asked.