The Anti- Sex Trafficking Movement and the Sex Workers Rights Movement Need to Work Together

First, I will address the anti- sex trafficking movement:

  • The fight against trafficking would be greatly aided by the decriminalization of prostitution.

Some trafficking victims have co-workers who do not identify as trafficking victims, who would be better able to help their co-workers escape exploitative situations if they were not at risk of arrest as a result of doing sex work.  Same with customers; if they did not fear arrest it would be easier for them to help those who disclose that they are in exploitative situations escape them.

  • The fight against trafficking would also be aided by the destigmatization of prostitution.  Furthermore, no sex worker or trafficking victim deserves the hate and shame that is dealt out to sex workers in this world.

Trafficking victims are often perceived as sex workers, or may even belong to both groups of people at different times in their lives, and neither group deserves that stigma.  The hate and shame keeps the industry underground as well, and makes it more difficult for sex workers to openly work to help people in exploitative situations.

  • Arresting sex workers and human trafficking victims is traumatic and a violation.

Trafficking victims are often arrested multiple times without ever being identified as trafficked.  Arrest is (or can be) traumatic for both sex workers and trafficking victims, and neither group does anything to deserve that.

  • The funding of raids causes more harm than good.

Raids are especially traumatic and are often accompanied by human rights abuses.  They lead to the arrest and deportation of both sex workers and trafficking victims who are not identified as trafficked.  Both sex workers and trafficking victims are treated as criminals.  Furthermore, many sex trafficking victims escape on their own or with the help of someone they know.  Even those who do not escape this way may have left if they knew they had somewhere to go.  Funding shelters, making the shelters safe (as shelter systems often aren’t) and funding good, voluntary social service outreach programs would be a more effective method of fighting trafficking and would have fewer unintended negative consequences than raids.

Next I will address the sex workers rights movement:

  • Trafficking is a horrendous crime.  Nobody should be subject to that kind of violation, and all decent people should work to end that suffering.

This one kind of goes without saying.

  • People in the anti-trafficking movement are capable of being great allies.

GAATW, many member organizations, and other organizations are already supportive of sex workers rights, for many of the reasons I have given above.  Other organizations may come around.

  • The anti-trafficking movement is relatively well-funded and is given quite a bit of public support.

Not only can those in the anti-trafficking movement be great allies, they are relatively powerful ones.

In short, we can better accomplish all our goals by working together.

31 responses to “The Anti- Sex Trafficking Movement and the Sex Workers Rights Movement Need to Work Together

  1. In general, the path of education coupled with a safe environment is the way to go. This nation loves the criminal path, it loves to just condemn and forget. Education and assistance is a harder road to walk, but far more effective.

  2. “This one kind of goes without saying.

    People in the anti-trafficking movement are capable of being great allies.”

    I don’t understand the logic in this when one is aware that the “movement” is a well-funded lie. If “capable” of being great allies involves sex worker activists disabusing them of myths and lies, forget it. Our communities need us more than their white privilege.

    • I apologize for the U.S.-centrism. The anti-trafficking movement abroad is a bit of a different story, and creates a lot more harm. That said, trafficking, defined as using “force, fraud, or coercion” is not a lie. It happens, and it’s horrible, and it needs to be fought.

      • It’s still a matter of hot debate what needs to be fought. For some people, fighting the definition of “trafficking” itself is their lifeswork. The muddied belief that it happens and is real and needs to be fought lacks foundation. Let’s not forget, this is an imperial war. And those people who sign up to become professional rescuers are soldiers for that war. Private contractors who get their “kill” by proliferating tragic narratives and falsifying data. Just follow the money.

      • You started off so well. I support everything up until the “reciprocal” arrangement, as though we are two organic movements who happen to exist at the same time. The anti-trafficking movement is an assault on sex workers and sex worker rights. How can our goals possibly be met together? This “movement” has the backing of government, courts, police, military in almost every country throughout the world. I know things are different in the US and efforts are being made to bring people around, but it is still fruit of the poison tree. Our relationship with them is essentially a colonial one. I honestly think a better tack, rather than trying to argue with ideologues, is to try to influence the external environment against their tidal wave of propaganda.

  3. What about the critique of the anti-trafficking framework? How does the assertion “It happens, and it’s horrible, and it needs to be fought” fit with the critique of the anti-trafficking framework for you?

  4. Many feel that the framework that essentializes one type of victimization (this extreme case of ‘what they now call slavery’-usually represented by woman-as-sex-slave) and obscures the reality of suffering of so many, the various forms of labor abuse including abuses in the sex industry.

    Forced labor- abuse/exploitation of labor is an important focus and part of the deepest fabric of exploitation on the planet. We could all address more directly with an emphasis on abuse of labor..locally…everywhere, rather than expressing it in a 100 year old framework that has been responsible for criminalization of sex workers and xenophobic, classist immigration laws.

    To combine the concern with forced labor and immigration, and use the history and symbolism of the concern over trafficking (historically meaning prostitution) has resulted in tightening immigration laws and oppression of sex workers. The term slavery is also misused in the context of that anti-trafficking movement as many scholars are beginning to point out.

    ‘Slavery’ and forced labor (a continuum also) is bad…no question. It’s ridiculous that sex workers are put in some kind of corner where we have to insist we are opposed to slavery, etc. Of course we are opposed to forced prostitution! So, there is a big problem with this framework.

    Also, I think, it’s very important not to emphasize the junction of forced labor and migration, when most forced labor does not take place in the context of migration. If you link the two and use that as the symbol of great evil, then it is fodder for the state which has everything at stake in repressing migration. Which is just what happened 100 years ago in the last anti-trafficking movement.

    (In this country the trafficking discourse is about juvenile prostitution, survival whatever it’s called. That’s another huge area.)

    The solutions are workers rights-labor rights (and the state/corporate media hates that), some say open borders-others talk about ways to reform migration policies which are largely responsibly for exploitation of migrants (again the state and media hates that) As sex workers say, Nothing About Us Without Us is the key I think. We need sex workers to have leadership regarding policies that effect us.

    So if one is trying to deconstruct the framework, it’s hard to also go along with it, use the terminology etc.

    Our friends who came up with the current anti-trafficking framework are now working on human rights impact assessments of anti-trafficking policies like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKmfiyqalH4 It’s a long story…thanks for asking!

    • > Many feel that the framework that essentializes one type of victimization (this extreme case of ‘what they now call slavery’-usually represented by woman-as-sex-slave) and obscures the reality of suffering of so many, the various forms of labor abuse including abuses in the sex industry.

      I can see this perspective. I’m coming from the point of view of someone who has been coerced by a third party in prostitution and therefore sees that as a particular evil. But I can see my experience being overshadowed by stories that are more lurid than mine. The most affected should be the ones leading the movement (instead of rescuers), but instead rescuers just use those stories to fund their own agenda. And of course there is great suffering in other labor exploitation, in various industries. Still, I think the word “trafficking” is here to stay and to some degree we have to work within that to make things better.

      > Forced labor- abuse/exploitation of labor is an important focus and part of the deepest fabric of exploitation on the planet. We could all address more directly with an emphasis on abuse of labor..locally…everywhere, rather than expressing it in a 100 year old framework that has been responsible for criminalization of sex workers and xenophobic, classist immigration laws.

      I can see that, and I definitely don’t want the framework to be used for the criminalization of sex workers or to make immigration laws even worse than they are. That’s a serious misuse of public sympathy for a serious and real issue, of exploitation.

      > To combine the concern with forced labor and immigration, and use the history and symbolism of the concern over trafficking (historically meaning prostitution) has resulted in tightening immigration laws and oppression of sex workers. The term slavery is also misused in the context of that anti-trafficking movement as many scholars are beginning to point out.

      I can see that people want to talk about this in terms of forced labor and not trafficking because of the connotations of trafficking/slavery and the way it has been used. In the process, I think it’s really important not to overshadow how horrible sexual and labor exploitation is, or to take away from legitimate efforts to try to stop it.

      > ‘Slavery’ and forced labor (a continuum also) is bad…no question. It’s ridiculous that sex workers are put in some kind of corner where we have to insist we are opposed to slavery, etc. Of course we are opposed to forced prostitution! So, there is a big problem with this framework.

      Forced labor is a continuum for sure. My own experience backs that up, and I’ve even written about that elsewhere on this site. I agree that it is ridiculous that people expect sex workers to be pro-forced prostitution, and agree that shouldn’t be part of the framework. We are just as much decent people as anyone else.

      > Also, I think, it’s very important not to emphasize the junction of forced labor and migration, when most forced labor does not take place in the context of migration. If you link the two and use that as the symbol of great evil, then it is fodder for the state which has everything at stake in repressing migration. Which is just what happened 100 years ago in the last anti-trafficking movement.

      I completely agree, and my own focus is on the exploitation that is happening domestically. I actually work with an organization that is doing this. The current immigration laws are terrible and do not need to be made worse. That said, forced labor does happen in the context of migration too of course, and is terrible, though perhaps not a particular evil when compared to other forced labor or trafficking.

      > (In this country the trafficking discourse is about juvenile prostitution, survival whatever it’s called. That’s another huge area.)

      Homeless youth are particularly vulnerable to exploitation but of course not *all* homeless youth in the sex trade are being exploited by a third party. The exploitation of adults happens too and needs to be part of the discourse, and the fight against domestic human trafficking.

      > The solutions are workers rights-labor rights (and the state/corporate media hates that), some say open borders-others talk about ways to reform migration policies which are largely responsibly for exploitation of migrants (again the state and media hates that) As sex workers say, Nothing About Us Without Us is the key I think. We need sex workers to have leadership regarding policies that effect us.

      Agreed, mostly. I think the solutions include workers and labor rights, but also, as I said, safe shelters and voluntary social service outreach programs with voluntary case management and harm reduction services.

      > So if one is trying to deconstruct the framework, it’s hard to also go along with it, use the terminology etc.

      This confuses me a little. I think the terminology is kind of here to stay and what we need to do is shift the way people think and act within that. That said, I’m not particularly attached to any particular terminology.

      > Our friends who came up with the current anti-trafficking framework are now working on human rights impact assessments of anti-trafficking policies like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKmfiyqalH4 It’s a long story…thanks for asking!

      That video is truly wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I want to clarify…our friends thought they could shift the framework when they expanded the definition of trafficking to include all forced labor…a (partial) success at the UN.

    But I don’t see that new framework as ‘the anti-trafficking framework’…the anti-trafficking framework is more of some kind of combination of the old view of trafficking and the new.

    They thought their changes would point us in the right direction and lead to a solution…but the repression is getting worse at the same time….but our movement is getting stronger and we have many successes…
    I guess I needed to vent ;-)

    • No worries at all, but I’m getting tired and won’t be able to give you the reply your comments deserve until later. But I’m definitely looking forward to continuing the discussion!

    • I think the repression getting stronger is a reason to act, but I guess we may (?) have some disagreements over the best way to do that. I think – and I think you might agree – the anti-trafficking movement wants to address a real problem, and needs to be educated about the unintended harms and consequences, as well as more effective measures that can be taken. I’m a believer in small changes leading to bigger ones.

      • formersexworker commented on The Anti- Sex Trafficking Movement and the Sex Workers Rights Movement Need to Work Together.

        I don’t think I disagree about ‘the best way to do that.’ The occupiers talk about ‘diversity of tactics.’ I like small changes also, since I tend to be a bit pessimistic. My basic issue is that people should be careful with the anti-trafficking framework, and to proceed in a way that doesn’t add credence to the framework…as much as possible. Thanks for all your responses!

  6. Tracey – I am tired now but definitely look forward to continuing this discussion with you also! ‘Til tomorrow (or whenever)!

  7. One more thing before I go – this post is getting a lot of attention from sex workers rights advocates, and I would really like for it to reach anti-trafficking advocates. It was not my intention just to address the sex workers rights movement. Any idea how I could get more attention from anti-traffickers?

    • Sorry, you are wasting valuable energy and time on ideologues. These people mean to kill us. Not sure what your point is in writing this piece.

  8. (Good morning anti-trafficking obsessed friends! Oh no, that must be me!)

    I have a feeling many activists in the mainstream anti-trafficking movement are completely unaware of these issues. For example, I was at an anti-criminalization event and met a woman who was part of Not For Sale and who (I felt) definitely would have come around to our perspective if she was exposed to it. She had no idea and listened when I talked to her about it. People haven’t heard the critique enough, so I think there is work to be done with participants in that movement who just haven’t heard. But suggesting we work with the anti-traffickers who are in the mainstream anti-trafficking movement is like suggesting the reproductive rights movement work with anti-abortion folks…I don’t know much about those efforts, but I assume it’s not a central strategy of the reproductive rights movement.

    We are in a difficult corner now as I wrote above. Many feel that we have to make it very clear that that we are opposed to trafficking. Didn’t Mira Sorvino or someone (not sure) almost compare Laura A to a holocaust denier for even challenging anything about the anti-trafficking movement? So sex workers come forth to swear we are opposed to trafficking…but that weakens our critique of the framework, and it almost supports the assumption that it’s even fair to accuse us of supporting ‘trafficking’ or forced prostitution or slavery or whatever terminology.

    Meanwhile the general sex workers rights movement in some countries (like mine) could get more educated about resistance to the anti-trafficking movement. Sometimes I think that folks aren’t reading whole books about it.
    This is pretty good:

    Of course:

    I assume sex worker rights activists reads Laura’s blog regularly? Am I right? (Maybe that’s not enough, or maybe folks need books?)

    The Naked Anthropologist- Dr Laura Agustín on Migration, Trafficking and Sex

    http://www.lauraagustin.com/

    I haven’t seen a good reading list. Maybe we should find or compile one.

  9. The website only put the links- books here:
    Trafficking And Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives On Migration, Sex Work, And Human Rights

    Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
    Laura María Agustín

  10. > You started off so well. I support everything up until the “reciprocal” arrangement, as though we are two organic movements who happen to exist at the same time.

    It’s true, we are one organic movement and a movement that is imposed externally. That said, I think that forced prostitution and forced labor are hugely important issues that need to be fought. They are in the wrong about how they are doing it, which is why I want to set them straight.

    > The anti-trafficking movement is an assault on sex workers and sex worker rights. How can our goals possibly be met together? This “movement” has the backing of government, courts, police, military in almost every country throughout the world.

    And what it needs is good social services instead of all that criminal apparatus. I want to convince the anti-trafficking movement of that.

  11. Yup…the term trafficking is here for another go-round…about 50 years last time. Maybe next time it will be different.

    So anyway that’s why I understand my friends who decided to stay on the anti-trafficking bandwagon and change the definition of trafficking…but maybe someday in another hundred years, the activists concerned with prostitutes welfare, women’s welfare will start off with a critique of the adverse impact of that framework. If we have more of a workers’ rights-migrants rights-sex worker rights perspective in the beginning, maybe we can change the direction?

    So, anyway, I try to keep the critique of the framework out there and remind people of the slippery slope of buying into the framework by condemning ‘sex trafficking’ without mentioning that sex trafficking means commercial sex in US law, etc.

    Thanks SO MUCH for all your response and thoughts on this! Also your position as someone who has experienced forms of this…what a challenge… Thanks for all your work!

  12. I’ve been researching and writing on these topics since before they were unhelpfully lumped together as trafficking and continue to clarify differences and subtleties on my blog and in my published writings. I suggest for people in the US to read a recent piece I did for Counterpunch called The Soft Side of Imperialism: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/25/the-soft-side-of-imperialism/
    Or a book review of S. Kara’s Sex Trafficking: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=35320

    And yes, Mira Sorvino accused me of being like a ‘holocaust denier’ at the BBC World Debate on Human Trafficking in Luxor and said I shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

    Laura Agustín

    http://www.lauraagustin.com

  13. Yes, thank you both for keeping this rather difficult & emotive discussion alive. My response to the anti-trafficking is a reaction to the accumulated violence of the movement, directed specifically at sex workers. I recognise corners of the movement that see sex workers as an entirely disposable population, hence the remark about them trying to kill us. The cumulative effect of intersecting oppressions, having to inhabit so many levels of oppression can sometimes feel like a great weight to bear. To have to take on “feminism” (or rather, abolitionism speaking “for” feminism) is really adding insult to injury. This is somewhat separate from human rights advocates who fight trafficking from a human-rights based approach. Interestingly, this helps me understand why sex worker advocates might see the value to forming strategic alliances with good people in the anti-trafficking movement.

    I am sorry for jumping the gun and making early judgements about your article formersexworker. I apologise for being terse. There is obviously a learning curve ahead for me in terms of how the situation differs in the US from say, SE Asia where I am based. Or anywhere really. I am aware that the US is the only country in the world where “being a prostitute” is a criminal offence. It ties into the tricky definition of trafficking too, because it’s an action in motion.

    Thanks for the dialogue colleagues & sisters. It was instructive & enlightening. <3

  14. Reblogged this on News on Modern Day Slavery and commented:
    Love it – I totally agree that these two need to work TOGETHER. It’s the only way that both parties can get what they want.

  15. I was active in the anti-trafficking movement in Rhode Island. One woman went into the ‘spas’ and interviewed the people involved. Tara Hurley made a documentary called, Happy Endings. I review it here…

    http://kmareka.com/2008/12/11/happy-endings/

    Tara is one of the very few who asked the women why they were there and let them speak for themselves.

  16. Thanks FSW for this proposal. I wanna tell you about how, as the proponent of Prop K in San Francisco in the 2008 campaign, the anti prostitution groups which are also the ‘anti trafficking’ groups teamed up with the politicians and produced a pamphlet opposing Prop K. The pamphlet had a black and white picture of a little girl in an alley way that looked really terrible. The copy was all false and misleading information, a scare tactic. Some of the lies they told where about how pimps take over the world.
    So in order get the two movements on any same page, this opposition would have to stop lying about us. They’d have to embrace complete decrim across the board which would include customers and management. I know your experience in the business was bad like many others experiences in the biz, but for those of us who’ve used management to make a living, we’d like to continue to have that option. And criminalizing our clients is not okay either.

    • I agree that non-abusive management should be legal and that customers should not be criminalized (in fact I gave one reason why in the post above; customers should not have to fear repercussions in trying to help those who have disclosed they are in exploitative situations escape – I also think that mess with the demand and you mess with sex worker livlihoods, which particularly effects survival sex workers who are doing this because they NEED that money to survive). I’m sorry the anti-trafficking folks fought you so hard on Prop K. As I argue above, it was actually in their best interests to support you on it. I would like to convince the anti-trafficking people as a whole of this, which was part of the purpose of the post. I have also known and worked with anti-trafficking folks who were not anti-sex worker, and I’d like to see that become more common.

  17. And thanks for supporting the idea that if the anti’s are really concerned with stopping exploitation in our industry they’d be on board already with decrim.
    This just came in the email today and you might find it educational and interesting as I did.

    and the report

    http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/3614229/hit-and-run-ratsw-eng-online-pdf-february-29-2012-1-52-am-2-8-meg?da=y

    thanks
    mx

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