A lot of sex workers and sex worker activists had trouble enjoying their July 4th weekend thanks to Ashton Kutcher, who has been waging war against The Village Voice for airing its concerns about his anti-trafficking efforts and misinformation campaign. On almost every non-sex worker helmed website that covered this story, comments consisted of the claims that 1) misinformation is unimportant, irrelevant, or even justified if it’s for a good cause and 2) anyone who criticizes misinformation in the name of a good cause is necessarily against the good cause. In this specific case, that means critics of Kutcher’s bad stats are in favor of child prostitution. (Fun sarcastic commenter’s summation of this position can be found here.) Some have made the similar assertion that Kutcher’s careless campaigning is a good thing because it’s “gotten people talking” about the issue, as if any incidental end justifies the means, or all discussion is automatically beneficial. Judging from what internet “talking” I saw, lots of self-righteous, under-educated people are feeling even more morally superior than they did before, and many experts and activists feel even more discouraged and devalued.
The first assumption is that sex trafficking is a unique problem […] distinct to trafficking for other forms of forced labour, and therefore needs to be addressed separately. […T]he uniqueness of sex trafficking is justified through arguments that the sex industry is not a normal or legitimate industry.
The second assumption inherent within ‘the claim’ is that men’s demand for commercial sex services must be addressed in order to combat trafficking. […T]he demand for products such as footwear and orange juice is not attacked as a cause of trafficking, despite the existence of trafficking victims within the garment and agricultural industries.
The assumption that demand must be addressed in order to prevent trafficking implies a specific policy solution, but only in the context of sex trafficking. It implies that it is necessary to abolish domestic prostitution in order to address sex trafficking.
Yes, it’s a long one, but Erin O’Brien’s thesis (via Scarlet Alliance) is engrossing—and another example of someone investigating trafficking stats well before The Village Voice. It includes references to Shared Hope International, which Feminist Whore touched on in her video.
I hope many people read this, including you know who and Michelle Goldberg, who will be reassured to know that evidence suggest US decision-makers act on ideology and are not particularly concerned with statistics. (“Research does not necessarily drive policy in the United States. [Carol Smolenski of ECPA] believes that due to a lack of research on the topic, legislators are more likely to act on the justification that ‘I’ve heard this thing happened, this is a bad thing so let’s do something about it.'”)
Content warning: This post contains discussion and accounts of trafficking, debt bondage, and exploitation, both in the context of sex trafficking and trafficking in another industry. There are also brief references to experiences of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, custody loss, structural violence from criminalization, and violence against sex workers.
In the last four months, I have been in the most unusual employment circumstances of my life. I am kept in a small box with no access to even basic human needs like hot meals and showers. I am forced to stay there until my employers are ready to use me again. I am only permitted to shower when my employers are not using me. Up to a week in between showers has passed.
I am not paid for all of the work that I have performed. I am forced to share my small box with strange men when my employers demand it. These men have become aggressive and verbally abusive toward me. I am not allowed to know if the men have been violent to others before I work with them. I have been harassed sexually by my employer and I’m viewed as a sexual object by an overwhelming number of the men that surround me.
I am paid less than minimum wage for the hours that I work. I am kept apart from my family and do not see my home for months at a time. In fact, since taking this job I have not seen my home once, though I was promised I’d be brought home every three to four weeks.
I do not have access to healthcare despite having been the victim of a violent physical assault by one of the people they had living with me in my box. I’ve asked repeatedly to go home to see a doctor, but my employers keep me in my box. They keep moving my box around the nation so that I am too far away to escape and return home. I suspect they keep my pay minimal so that I cannot afford to escape.
I first saw the signs from Truckers Against Trafficking at truck stops around the nation. They were your basic public awareness flyers with signs about how to recognize human trafficking. Then at the port of entry in Wyoming, I saw a different poster from Polaris asking, “Do you want out of the life?”. I thought for a moment and realized that I do feel as if I am being trafficked and I do want out of “the life”.
For the first time in my life, I feel like I should call Polaris for help, but I can’t. Because I am no longer a sex worker.
This all began after I left sex work.
As yet another terrifying resurrection of the zombie Republican health care cut bill looms over the nation, sex workers have their own nightmare legislative threat to deal with this month. That’s because, in the midst of this year’s iteration of commemorative 9/11 pomp, two anti-trafficking bills passed unanimously in the Senate which would vastly expand federal power to criminalize and harm sex workers.
The Trafficking Prevention Act (TVPA) of 2017, introduced by Republican Chuck Grassley but immediately garnering the bipartisan support anti-trafficking bills always accrue, is an expansion of a 2000 law. This 2017 version of already odious legislation makes the phrase “broad overreach” a piddling understatement. It begins with an amendment named for Frederick Douglass, referencing the historical Black suffering of slavery in legislation which would actively harm Black sex workers in an act of supremely tone-deaf appropriation, and goes downhill from there.
This year, Congress decided that the term “john sting” needed a rebrand. What, they wondered, would justify all the wasted resources and manpower under a veil of moral indignation? After they put their collective hive mind together, a new, shinier, more bureaucratic term emerged. John stings are now called federally funded anti-trafficking work.
The change came earlier this year when Congress further institutionalized End Demand-style tactics by expanding the definition of who can be charged with human trafficking to include those seeking services from sex workers. And the way that these practices are being implemented is moving anti-trafficking work even further from addressing victimization—moving away from victims all together, in fact.