As soon as I saw the poster advertising for the “All Ize on Human Trafficking” event here at SRU, I knew I would be writing this. “Human trafficking” has become a buzzword in charity giving these days, one that donors blindly give their money to without second thought. “Human trafficking” has also become synonymous with “sex trafficking”, despite that according to the International Labor Organization, sex trafficking consists of less than 22 percent of all human trafficking occurrences. And yet still the rhetoric surrounding trafficking focuses almost solely on sex trafficking, at the expense of agricultural, manufacturing, construction, and domestic labor trafficking. It’s this focus on the sex that leads to a nightmare of moral panic and harms both sex workers and trafficking victims.
One of the biggest issues is the conflation of sex work and sex trafficking. Sex work is the exchange of sexual services or entertainment for money. Sex trafficking is when individuals are forced into doing these services and are exploited. One involves consent, the other doesn’t. I was surprisingly pleased at one of the events when speaker Mary Burke began to explain the difference between the two… but that was short-lived after she claimed that women only do sex work because of how they are socialized to be sexualized, therefore sex work isn’t truly a choice for them. I’m not going to disagree that women and men are socialized differently, but it is unfair to undermine sex worker’s agency and choices on this basis. Women are also socialized to wear make-up, but I don’t see feminists raising hell over a women’s choice to wear it.
All that being said, a lot of anti-prostitution’s rhetoric rests on repeating sensationalized myths. If this wasn’t a dry campus, I could have easily attended sober and left wasted, taking a shot for every myth stated. To highlight a few of the most glaring:
1.) Thousands of trafficked women are brought to the Super Bowl each year.
There is no foundation for this claim. In a 2011 report issued by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women found that “despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.”
2.) The average age of entry into sex work is 12-14.
A puppy is killed anytime someone repeats this absurdity. Oftentimes, such as in the McIntyre 1999 study, the average age of under-aged prostitutions is found to be 12-14. However, no sex workers aged 18 and above were interviewed, automatically excluding anyone who entered the sex industry as an adult. A more recent five-year study, Canada’s first national survey of sex workers, found that most escorts are in their 30s and 40s, with the average age of entry at 24. That is a whole decade higher than what the speakers at these events have suggested.
3. 85-95% want to escape prostitution but are unable to do so.
Canada’s survey found that 70% reported job satisfaction. Maggie McNeil, from The Honest Courtesan, noted that a study entitled “Beyond Gender: An Examination of Exploitation in Sex Work” found that a majority of sex workers planned to continue sex work for a year or more, with 35% indicating that they had no plans to stop at all. The same study found that 72% of women reported sex work having a positive effect on their self-confidence. A study in Australia found that over 70% of escorts ranked their work as a “major source of satisfaction” in their lives (Woodward et al., 2004.)
These are but a few of the myths repeated during this week’s “All Ize on Human Trafficking” event. I encourage everyone who wishes to end human trafficking to think critically about statistics presented, and to recognize the difference between sex work and sex trafficking. To quote Janet Mock when she reviewed Melissa Gira Grant’s book Playing the Whore, “A culture that polices, silences and marginalizes women who sell sex is a culture that cares nothing about women. Period.”
My twitter @izeonsexwork retweets and highlights the experiences of sex workers, gives much more insight on the industry and as it relates to human trafficking.
Name withheld by request.