“Hurt people hurt people.” I heard this phrase at an event I attended in March, and it has helped frame my last few months. It’s a phrase I repeated recently to a group of young boys and a group of young girls to emphasize the necessity for empathy in addressing issues of sexual exploitation.
I had the opportunity to speak with two youth small groups, one group of high school junior girls and one of boys ages 13-16. As you may imagine, these were drastically different contexts. One filled with thoughtful reflections, another full of embarrassed laughter — however, both were immensely gratifying! In each group I shared about my work, sex trafficking definitions, as well as how these young people might address related issues in their own contexts.
With the rowdy boys, we discussed objectification of women, language they use to describe girls, and how to empower females instead of minimizing girls and women to value based on physical attributes. With the young women, we discussed gender inequalities, current trends in their high schools, as well as the narratives we are told about how to be men and how to be women. We spoke about how these narratives impact how we choose to live, how they shape our everyday interactions, how they influence both people who exploit and people who are exploited.
Again, hurt people hurt people. I encouraged the young ladies to choose empathy, but not to choose indifference. With both groups I mentioned another phrase, and that is to choose “ordinary acts of bravery.” This phrase is deeply significant to me, and it signifies the desire to walk tall, choose courage, and reject the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Be brave, everybody.