As a student who wants to advocate for victims of sex trafficking, I try to access as many informational resources as I can. And if I take the resources I have read as a whole, the one thing that I see consistently as a crucial factor in the rescue and recovery of women in the sex industry is the restoration of their dignity and worth as women and as human beings. This is a necessary step in the recovery process because the world of prostitution that these women are caught up in is incredibly degrading. They are viewed as commodities instead of as women, and many of them live in the system thinking that all they will ever be good at is being a whore.
One of the sessions I attended today was geared toward using economic opportunities to provide solutions for trafficking victims. The first panelist introduced the organization (Urban Justice Center) and the topic, and said that, “Human trafficking is basically severe labor exploitation”. This surprised me, because trafficking for sex, not labor, is the largest problem in the United States. The panelist then qualified her statement to clarify that they saw “sex work” as a form of legitimate labor. This was moderately disturbing to me, but I held myself in my chair and continued to listen.
The panelist continued to speak about all the different needs that people rescued from trafficking needed: Social workers, counseling, ESL programs for foreign survivors, the erasure of prostitution convictions, the reduction of stigma against prostitutes, and help translating their skills into socially acceptable work skills. From all these things, the audience might infer that somewhere along the line a restoration of the person’s dignity took place.
The troubling thing for me was that in this entire discussion of what these survivors needed, the notion of their inherent right to dignity as a human person and as a woman was not mentioned once. Given the situation, I felt compelled to make a comment during the question and answer session afterward, but the panelists didn’t seem to know how to respond. As the question session moved on, it became clear to me that the organization did not see prostitution as an inherent violation of women’s dignity, but that it was only another line of work that could be good if engaged in properly and bad if abused. In an industry where the mortality rate is 40 times greater than average and where only 9% of prostitutes are reported as associating positive words with their work, I have a hard time seeing how such an abusive situation could be seen as good for women.
The panelist closed the session by saying to the Johns (men who purchase sex) that “I don’t want to criminalize you, I don’t want to prosecute you. You are an invaluable part of making sure underage girls aren’t being used as sex workers” In response to this, I’ll end with some statements from men who admit to purchasing prostitutes:
“Where there is prostitution, men will generalize from a small selective group, if I can buy sex from these women, then I can buy sex from all women. If they don’t accept money, then I will have sex with them anyway. It will allow a sense of entitlement from a guy”
“The relationship has to stay superficial because they are a person and you’re capable of getting to know them. But once you know them, it’s a problem, because you can’t objectify them anymore”
“She is just a biological object that charges for services.”
“Being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee, when you‘re done, you throw it out.”
“Most women won’t sell their body for money. They think it’s a demeaning thing to do. So just being willing to do that makes a woman different.”
“You get to treat a ho like a ho…you can find a ho for any type of need – slapping, choking, aggressive sex beyond what your girlfriend will do – you won’t do stuff to your girlfriend that will make her lose her self esteem.”
Are these men the champions of our sisters’ and daughters’ dignity?