'Sold in America' Broke Me

Last night, I spent the better part of the evening listening to podcasts as I was cruising through the English countryside in my virtual playground. As my supply ran dry, I decided to flip through some new additions on Pocket Casts’ trending tab and see what fresh commodity was up for grabs. I saw “Sold in America”, ranked 13th. But I didn’t know what that meant, nor was it implying.

The thumbnail was unmistakably distinct though. It was the unadulterated, unapologetic, unrelenting face of an angry Muslim woman. That which happens to wear a headscarf. I was intrigued to say the very least, and as I opened the description to see what the program comprises of, I was left with a feeling of shock.

Noor Tagouri, the host of the podcast, took it upon herself to lift the veil off the vilest there is in sex trafficking. It was the face of bravery like no other had donned, and it prompted me, despite my deepest triggers relating to sexual violence, to hit ‘Play’ — what follows, is nothing short of frighteningly visceral, and absolutely marvelous.

You’re gripped by a sensation of genuine concern Noor carries across effortlessly through the beats of her bleak tone. It is then with difficulty, that she took to address what set her on this path in the first place.

Noor starts to talk about her very first experience with sexual assault. Back when she was 12 — embarking on the holiest of journeys with her parents, only to be met with disgust beyond description. Her testimony as is aptly detailed in the first episode is nothing short of horrifying, and it moved me. It made me realize that after all this time has passed, Noor was still battling against the very same things that are still happening in our modern society. Transgressions of a past time were still running rampant — despite our best attempts to educate and inform, aggressors still saw no fit in them to change a behavior they’ve been so rarely challenged on.

I feel for Noor, and that is beyond the scope of the podcast, and even her most frank of discussions with the women she talked to on the documentary series released prior. She was just an innocent child, whose aspirations and dreams became tainted for years and years to come after an incident that changed her perception and altered her perspective on women’s struggle in modern society. That fear, was, as she described, further exacerbated by the readily available literature she was able to ingest from a very young age, on the plight of human sex trafficking.

I was always somewhat familiar with the concept of sex trafficking. I think we all are to a certain extent. But none ever took it upon themselves to humanize the issue such as Noor did.

It isn’t until you start to hear the words pour out like rusted water that you start to grasp at a deeper truth of what sex trafficking actually means for those who have been through that ordeal themselves. As Noor adequately puts it: Sex trafficking isn’t always the stereotypical image of an enchained woman locked in a basement. It is much more than that. It is the very fault our society seems to have stumbled upon where women’s sexual livelihoods are sold at the highest rates of mental upset, and physical misery. Far it from me trying to describe what I could never even remotely picture having happened to me, let alone consider the cursory possibility of it occurring — it’s no wonder why women really don’t want men to invade these spaces. It’s simply something very few in the manosphere are able to properly assess.

Those stories are important for us to hear. They’re important for us to highlight. And it’s important for both sides of the political aisle, progressive and conservative, to recognize. It runs us no benefit to gaslight women into accepting the toxic roles they’ve been forcibly thrust into without their consent. What’s a collateral of our mistreatment of women in contemporary context shouldn’t be held as contempt against them as guise for self-inflicted seclusion. Women don’t actively partake in activities they’d stand the most to suffer from. They should know. It’s why most of them are even afraid to reveal their identity in these prestations. The traffickers are still at large, and their business is unlikely to dwindle anytime soon. So it’s in our best interest to amplify these voices, and keep listening.

As I was listening I realized that I wasn’t the tough man I always thought myself to be. And the only time I recall myself crying in the last four years, aside from when one of those closest to me averted death by a hair, was watching a clip of sex-trafficked women weep and howl about how they’ve been robbed of their humanity, and how it pained them that nobody saw in them anything other than flesh. It is Noor’s vulnerability, and the distinct humanity with which she paints those stories that made me truly empathize, in a tornado of emotions I never thought was possible to have after years of disinterest from having to reckon face to face with the horrifying consequences of human sex trafficking. Shaken, but not stirred.

Let’s make it clear from the jump that the series isn’t making it a point to frown upon sex work. Hell, Noor was the first hijabi woman to ever shoot for Playboy. Women are free to earn their living by whichever means they see fit. However, many are thrust into a lifestyle, often from a very young age, that they’re almost guaranteed to never be able to bare the consequences of. And that’s what this series is seeking to examine with a microscopic lens. It isn’t selling the suffrage of women for clicks, it’s rather clicking away the suffrage of selling women — if that makes any sense. It’s through Noor’s collective call to action that she can hopefully provide an alternate perspective to a phenomena that has often been shrouded in mystery — in true accomplished journalistic fashion.

I’m glad that this series is exist, and is well on a path to dominate the podcasting charts for weeks, months, and who knows, maybe even years to come. Muslim women’s voices are ever so rarely heard in the activism space. The more stubborn subsets of liberal and conservative ideology think that a veil, is all that takes to rob a woman of her agency — that her opinion, as someone who seeks to demonstrate the very best in her faith, is to be discounted and fraught upon. Well let me tell them, this very woman, and many like her they’ve been so critical of, are about to do much more for the global cause of female liberation than their islamophobic asses ever will — we’re just getting started.

My hope is that people will listen. And that if you, reader of this article, finds it interesting, that you’ll share too. There’s no shortage of goodwill in this world, and we’re to do ourselves utmost injustice if we let the work of disciplined activists like Noor Tagouri slip by unnoticed.

“Solid in America”, a co-production of Stitcher and the E.W. Scripps Company is available on Apple Podcasts, and every major podcast delivery service. Click this link, to subscribe, rate, and spread awareness about the issue of sex trafficking, heard from the very voices it hurt most.

Follow Noor Tagouri on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.