Listen to Survivors
We are survivors of prostitution leading this campaign for the Equality Model here in Massachusetts and we are founders and leaders of exit programs in our communities. We know first-hand the devasting effects of commodifying our bodies in the sex trade and bring the stories from the hundreds of prostituted people that have come through our programs. We all share similar experiences and we also know the overwhelming obstacles in exiting out of prostitution. If we put all our stories together, it would add up to thousands of stories of rapes, beatings, exploitative and often torturous relationships, near death experiences, abuse and isolation from what is normal in life. This doesn’t even include the struggle of poverty and often the abuse and disfunction that often-precluded life before prostitution, along with the oppression and racism that is pervasive in the sex trade. For some of us, dissociation, that mind body split that is required in prostitution wasn’t enough and we ended with an addiction of heroin and other substances, to mask feelings of rage, and suicidality. This is certainly not a job like any other nor should it ever be.
Maybe this is not every survivor’s story, but we have the evidence to say it is the majority. Some of us could say we entered “by choice” not realizing where it was going to take us, that it would leave us poorer than when we went in, that it would leave us with a million obstacles in getting out. Our truth and our knowledge are what brought us to create a way out for others, we understood the need for safe homes, specialized programs, and access to viable alternatives as we are one of just a few states that have programs led and staffed by survivors. We understand how prostitution and trafficking is intertwined and that there are rarely clear lines between them. We wanted legislation that will create real change, instead of accepting and normalizing a sex trade that has historically targeted the most vulnerable such as LGBTQ and other vulnerable groups. We witness on a daily basis how young, mostly young women of color, homeless youth and young adults have had to negotiate their fate on their own and then resort to what becomes the only option they have left, the sex trade.
Some of us stopped imagining that we could end domestic violence, that we could end homelessness, and shelters and programs became the norm. We can work to end sexual exploitation, we can replace a culture of violence, poverty and cruelty with a culture of compassion, but it will require changing cultural norms. This can happen by shifting the burden of prostitution to the buyers that are often white men of privilege and entitlement, which we know fuels the demand. The end of criminalizing prostituted people is now part of a nationwide shift. But we cannot decriminalize the entire sex trade or we will witness a huge surge in sex trafficking and we will continue to have the most vulnerable join our stories of rape, sexual exploitation, victimization and continued poverty, because for most of us, when we left, we left with nothing.