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?
Day One of serving the International Youth Coalition here at the United Nations, I was given the chance to watch a film, which was presented by the Holy See Mission. The movie, which is called, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls; shows an in-depth behind the scenes portrayal of the sex trafficking and legal prostitution industry. The dangers of sex trafficking is dangerous, but also an area which is not given much focus and attention during meetings at the United Nations. Nations are legalizing prostitution (even as you sit here and read this blog, one country around the world is legalizing prostitution), and the legalization of prostitution has shown to increase the sex trafficking industry. This increase has gone unnoticed by local authorities and state governments because of the secrecy and limited resources in protecting these women from pimps and the mafia.
When a regular, everyday John Doe or Jane Doe sees a prostitute on the street we (not all but some if not many people) become disgusted and call the prostitute names such as whore and slut. Little do these everyday people know that a prostitute can be caught up in a network of illegal sex trafficking and being forced into prostitution; it is hard for an everyday individual and local/state authorities to distinguish between a commercial prostitution and a prostitute engaged in sex trafficking. For many, prostitution has now become a way of life and not something they wanted to do. No woman on this earth believes it is their personal duty to engage in various sexual acts for the payment of money, shelter, clothes, food or anything of value really.
Sex trafficking occurs and has gained strength through legalization of prostitution and this form of legalization has put thousands to millions of young women at danger. The danger ranges from physical, spiritual and mental harm. Young women are being forced and coerced into the sex industry leaving them scarred and afraid while men are making profit. We cannot continue to keep risking the lives of women through the legalization of prostitution. We must keep fighting the battle of legalization of prostitution so these young women from the favela’s of Brazil to the streets of New York City to the slums of India can live a pure life and become educated and help usher in a new world of young women as sisters, parents, aunts and grandmothers.
As, Margareta Winberg, the Former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden said, “I believe that we will never succeed in combating trafficking in women if we do not simultaneously work to abolish prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women and children.” We (man and women alike) should take up the battle of protecting women and children from the harms of the sex industry. And as Mother Theresa once said, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” We as the International Youth Coalition must continue to help various missions and NGOs fight the battle against the legalization of prostitution and sex trafficking industry.