Trafficking Survivor Letters to Amnesty International USA
 

By Ne'cole Moore

Cancer InCytes Magazine - Volume 4, Issue 2, Winter 2015

Published December 11th, 2015. Last updated January 14th, 2016.

 

Managing Editors:

Juliana Zhu, Esq.

Arvin Gouw, Ph.D.

Sharon Chin, M.P.H.

David Nguyen, Ph.D.

 

 

Amnesty International USA's recent statement supporting the decriminalization of sex work is shortsighted and serves to protect pimps and johns more than they do sex workers. 

 

Led by Ne'cole Moore, Founding Director of Survivors on The Move, this page will publish letters that human trafficking survivors will write to Amnesty International (AI). The letters will testify to the coercion and manipulation that pimps use to enslave sex workers.

 

 

 

 

 

See the following articles to learn about how childhood trauma increases your risk for cancer and other diseases during adulthood.

 

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA LINKED TO CHRONIC DISEASES IN ADULTHOOD

By Vincent J. Felitti, M.D.

 

UNMASKING CANCER AS A CONSEQUENCE OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY CHALLENGE
By Barbara Moynihan, Ph.D., and Katherine Olive, M.H.S.A., B.S.N., R.N.

 

Dear Amnesty International

Letter 1

Alisa Bernard

Board Member for the Organization for Prostitution Survivors

CEASE Network King County Survivor Leader

Survivor of Prostitution

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

After spending last weekend in LA for the Western Regional Conference, it has been made clear to me that you have little interest in listening to survivors of prostitution regarding your policy recommending the decriminalization of prostitution. Likely, I think this is due to the fact that you are being misled by a very one-sided argument in which the “sex workers” have persuaded you that prostitution and trafficking are not intrinsically linked. I will tell you right now, they ARE linked. The logic is quite simple and I’m sure you will follow it: demand for commercial sex leads to prostituted individuals; there are not enough individuals who actually want to be prostituted (approximately 2-12% of all prostituted individuals would stay in it if other options were open to them, which is obviously the minority); and because of this, sex trafficking increases to feed the demand from the normalization of sex buying. Yes… it is that simple.

 

One of the most memorable arguments I heard in LA for the Amnesty policy on decriminalization was that buyers would actually discriminate between those individuals who were trafficked and those who engaged in so-called “free” prostitution. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard such a false statement in my life. In Seattle there is a john board, and these boards are not, as the pro decriminalization lobby would have you believe, for the women to screen bad buyers. They are there for the sole purpose of buyers reviewing the women they have paid for sex. Don’t believe me? Check out http://the-invisible-men.tumblr.com/ and tell me I’m wrong. Regardless of its purpose, if you scan through these boards you will find instance after instance of buyer buying, raping, and reviewing these women. Never once have I seen a review of a trafficked woman that the buyer did not “go to completion” (yes that does mean they raped her until they climaxed), reviewed her, and never blinked because the instance of rape was not reported. There was no report made to the police, no report to any anti-trafficking organization, no report made by buyers, no report made by the “sex workers”, and no report made by the brothel owners… Not one…, just a bad review stating that the woman was a dead fish and that other buyers shouldn’t waste their time. They do not care.

 

The argument that I felt most offensive was that prostitution will always exist so we might as well live with it. Frankly, what utter bullshit. You are selling out the lives of thousands upon thousands of women; for what? Because there’s nothing to be done?! I suppose we could have taken that view on slavery in the 1800’s, there’s nothing to be done and people will always be enslaved, so I suppose we should just decriminalize it and say no more about it. How on earth can you throw away an entire population of women’s lives and call yourself a human rights organization?

Yes, some do make a living on prostitution because there is no better alternative. That is not an argument for prostitution though, that is an argument for women’s equal wages and equal opportunities, that is an argument for equal rights for transgendered individuals, that is an argument for better health care systems, education systems, and social welfare systems, but not at all is that an argument for prostitution. If you are indeed a human rights organization you should be focusing on those issues and standing behind a model which protects prostituted women from the violence of buyers by criminalizing the purchasing of sex, decriminalizing prostituted individuals and providing them services to get out, and educating the community on the world’s oldest OPPRESSION. Don’t believe me that the buyers are the violent ones? Check out http://www.feministcurrent.com/2015/11/03/remembering-the-murdered-women-erased-by-the-pro-sex-work-agenda/; and how about you remember that prostituted women are up to 40 times more likely to be the victims of homicide. I’m sure those buyers that murder us are very particular in picking forced vs. “free” prostituted women. Actually, no, they don’t care either way.

 

The saddest part about this is that no one can claim this is their choice. They are coerced by society to be prostituted. Society thinks it’s a right for men to buy sex and society thinks that throwing away the economic power of an entire group of women is OK. Society has created an atmosphere in which women can’t get out, so of course they tell themselves; they choose it, since what other option do they have? A woman I know trying to stay out of the life is facing two choices… send her children back to their abusive father or prostitute herself to feed her family. Yes, she will likely choose prostitution but is that actually a choice? The justice system seems to think it’s a legitimate one, I do not. How exactly is choosing between your children’s safety and prostituting a choice? Women like this will swear up and down that they made a choice because they did; it was a choice to keep their children safe. It is a choice no woman should EVER have to make.

 

You also stated in LA that within decriminalized localities, prostituted women have more ability to mobilize and unify. Funny thing is we’ve pretty much implemented the Nordic Model here in Seattle and the women are mobilizing. They are working together, they are creating an atmosphere of solidarity and telling the truths they never thought they could before. So we do not need decriminalization to mobilize, we need the Nordic model. If you can’t see that, you are blind or corrupt; and I honestly don’t care which, because whichever it is you are doing great harm to women by adopting this policy.

 

The last thing I would like to bring up is that in LA I sat and voted for the resolution against the policy you have so blindly adopted. We failed… we lost that battle. The one thing that I have said over and over again since I have come back from LA is that I have never seen such a human rights travesty as I did in that voting plenary. We voted on the rights of a victimized population. We, the victimized, voted… and in that same vote the victimizers threw in their two cents to keep us victimized. In no other issue would you see the victimized voting on their rights in the same room as their victimizers: the pimps, the brothel owners, and the buyers. If you don’t think buyers and pimps were in that room you are gravely mistaken, because they were. Those men voting on their right to continue to buy sex or on their right to continuously sell our bodies turned Amnesty International into the biggest joke of a human rights organization out there. You would not ask batterers to vote on the rights of those who have been domestically abused. Why would you allow buyers and pimps to vote on the rights of the prostituted women they abuse, rape, violate, and murder?

I can go on and give you statistics, I can tell you my story, and I can tell you the stories of my sisters but I know there will be no changing your mind. I’ve come to terms with that. I will, however, stand my ground on this. I will encourage all survivors I know, and there are many (many) of them, to write against you, to condemn you publically, and to speak out and be heard. I will not stop speaking my mind on this and I will not tell my sisters to stand down. This is a travesty to the rights of women and human rights in general. This action that you have taken moves us backward in human rights by hundreds of years. How dare you do this to us. How dare you turn your back on us. How dare you not listen to us. We will be heard, and I will make sure of that.

 

Alisa Bernard

 

 

You would not ask batterers to vote on the rights of those who have been domestically abused. Why would you allow buyers and pimps to vote on the rights of the prostituted women they abuse, rape, violate, and murder?

~Alisa Bernard

Letter 2

Jeri Moomaw

Program Manager

Washington Engage

 

October 24, 2015

 


Dear Amnesty International,

I am a sex trafficking survivor. How could you support decriminalization? Support Nordic model. Please look at the rise in trafficking in countries that have decriminalized! Pimps, managers, and brothel owners should not be exempt from responsibility! Please reconsider your policy that favors the decriminalization of prostitution. Prostitution is a system of sexual exploitation that requires abolition, not social sanction. It is a system whereby individuals are supplied as public, sexual commodities, which preys upon vulnerable members of society and is rife with violence against those sold for sex. Decriminalization of prostitution in no way rectifies the conditions of inequality, abuse, violence, and dehumanization which animate all forms of prostitution; it tragically assents to them.

Evidence substantiates the fact that the sex trade does immense physical and emotional harm to those in it. A study by Farley et al. reports that 64% of adults in prostitution experienced threats with a weapon and 71% were physically assaulted. Another study found 50% of women prostituting outdoors and 26% of those indoors (saunas and flats) experienced violence within the past six months. It’s not surprising that in a survey of prostituted persons across nine countries 89% said they wanted to escape.

Instead of helping the most vulnerable in society, decriminalization authorizes profiteering from sexual violence, and accedes to a right of some individuals to purchase other human beings for sex. In sum, decriminalization grants impunity to pimps, magically morphing them into reputable, sexually-oriented business entrepreneurs, and mystically transforms sex buyers into respectable clients.

Sincerely,

Jeri Moomaw

jerim [at] waengage.com

 

 

It’s not surprising that in a survey of prostituted persons across nine countries 89% said they wanted to escape.

~Jeri Moomaw

Letter 3

Courtney Edwards

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

The world looks to New Zealand as a successful example for the decriminalisation of the sex trade, but unfortunately they are only hearing one side of the story. The other side is the one I want to tell: one of violence and horror that can only come from the social sanctioning of the objectification of women for sexual services.

 

I believe that to combat the tragedy that is commercialised sexual abuse, the truth needs to be exposed and an alternative given to replace current ineffective legislative models.

 

My name is Courtney Edwards and I am a survivor of prostitution from New Zealand. In my country, prostitution is decriminalised. I was prostituted for 10 years, and eight years of that were during decriminalisation. I suffered over 2500 violent assaults. They were so bad that my vagina and cervix would haemorrhage blood. I would be asked to preform rape fantasies. When I refused, I would be raped. If I complained to the manager of the brothel, the client would defend his ‘right’ to sexual fantasies, claiming that it wasn’t rape because he was just pretending. Many Indian men found condoms offensive and would take them off. This happened over 30 times; that is 30 possible times that I have been exposed to HIV or other STI’s.

 

The Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) states that people in prostitution are subject to the same standard of occupational health and safety as any other occupation (Prostitution Reform Act, 2003, p.8). Therefore, the same standard of ‘hazard’ reduction (Health and Safety in Employment Act, 1992, section 10)  should apply, but it doesn’t. I know this first-hand from the physical and psychological trauma I have suffered. I never saw inspectors regulate what was going on in the brothels. The fact is that the majority of men who buy sex have no concern for the sexual health of the prostitute, themselves, and their wives and girlfriends. It’s like a careless drug addict using a dirty needle from a sharps bin because they need a hit. I see it as the exact same thing with the exact same consequences.

 

I have witnessed criminal organizations traffic Asian women through New Zealand’s legal brothels. I have seen and experienced first-hand the manipulation and coercion of women into prostitution. I’ve seen them traumatised on their first night and then pumped full of drugs – this happened to me. These are the tactics of human traffickers, but this is not happening in south east Asia, this is happening right now in an affluent society that has decriminalised prostution.

 

There’s no ‘how to’ guide when learning how to be a prostitute. I was at the mercy of the clients who would take advantage of my lack of personal boundaries. I would be left with bruises all over my body from the rough sex. Men always wanted to imitate hard core porn, acting out the sexual violence they were feeding on. The drunker they were the angrier they would get until they were just in hateful rages. I had no one to tell or to help me as we (the girls) were all experiencing the same thing. We fixed it by numbing out with drugs and alcohol. I once told my brothel manager I had been raped and they asked if I wanted a 20 minute break. I couldn’t ask to go home or they would fine me $200 for leaving shift early.

 

I see the global decriminlization of the sex trade giving licence to criminal organisations to profit from the tragedy that is the selling of a person for a sexual act that is void of the intrinsic intimacy that makes sex a human experience.

By decriminlising prostitution, the only people that win are the criminal organisation that sell human beings for profit with no regard to human life. If Amnesty International is successful with this ledgislation, all the work of human rights organisations in prosecuting human traffickers will be undone and many millions of women and children with suffer in the aftermath.

 

This is the future generations of whole societies on the line here. Please do not make this mistake. New Zealand’s system is deeply flawed and needs change. Also, many women are being killed at the hands of abusers here. How many more Mallory Manning’s will it take for our own government to wake up to this issue (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Mallory_Manning)?

 

With deep sincerity,

 

 

Courtney Edwards

courtneyedwards007 [at] gmail.com

I once told my brothel manager I had been raped and they asked if I wanted a 20 minute break. I couldn’t ask to go home or they would fine me $200 for leaving shift early.

~Courtney Edwards

Letter 4

Maria

Survivor from Italy

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

As a survivor of prostitution, I feel offended by your decision to support the decriminalisation of the sex trade worldwide. I am so upset that I spent several days in August, after my sisters told me about your decision, feeling numb; like I couldn’t speak. I am feeling betrayed by you that you are telling the world a huge lie: that you are protecting our human rights – the human rights of the prostituted. What you are protecting is very clear to me: the rights to punters who paid to rape me, and the rights of the pimps who exploited, beat, raped many of us with no consequences.

 

I almost died because of prostitution. I could barely explain this horrific experience to people close to me. Prostitution destroyed my body and my soul entirely. I am still fighting against nightmares and flash backs of the horror of strangers using me.  Their smell, their mechanical violent acts, and the image of my own body refusing to accept the rapes are unforgettable. The most heart breaking image that is so difficult for me to forget is that when I was in prostitution I often experienced a sort of dissociation. I looked at myself from the outside. I could feel my pain. I could hear my voice shouting stop to the punters who were using me. My body tried to fight back against them. I often had violent spasms. My smile was fake. All my acts were artificial. But they hardly noticed it. I had to suppress the natural reaction of my body – I pretended to ignore it just to keep doing what disgusted me so much. I was numb like a stone, like I wasn’t there at all. It was worse than dying. But when everything finished, I had to take pills to sleep, to forget, because I was persecuted by the images of what happened to me.

 

I was an escort for rich old men who wanted attractive young women to go out for dinner, travel, and share special “occasions” with them. I was desperately looking for a job. I had no money and I was used to male violence. At first it seemed easy for me, just to switch off my mind and do what they order to me to do. But immediately after the first time I realized I was ruined; I was killing myself. It was as if I was paralysed; I couldn’t move. Part of why I have never considered it as a job is because it was violence against my entire person. I had to act like a girlfriend/partner for them. I understood lately that they called this horrible thing the ‘girlfriend experience’. I found it to be the hardest thing to do. They wanted to control not only my body, but also my mind.  They tried many times to brainwash me and oftentimes they succeeded. I am still trying to recover from what I have lived through, but the journey is long and painful. Sometimes I have to fight hard not to give up.

 

I exited prostitution some years ago not because I didn’t need the money anymore, but because I was dying and I wanted to live. I realized I had the right to live in this world without risking my life and my mental health every single day to earn a living. Prostitution is not a job, Amnesty. There is no ‘sex work’. This is offensive for all of us! You should know that. Instead, you prefer to support the neo-liberal agenda and tell us it is right for second-class women like me and my sisters – the poor, neglected, and forgotten by society – to be sold and raped, so that we could pay for food for us and our children. You are not protecting our human rights by selling us this shameful lie! If you want to respect us, if you really care about our human rights, if you think prostituted women deserve a better life, you should work to stop the flesh trade and offer real alternatives to women. You should support and listen to the voices of thousands of survivors around the world who are asking you to criminalize the ones who are hurting women: pimps and punters! My punters were not kind gentlemen who were buying a sexual service.  They were narcissistic, sadistic men who used their money just to feel powerful. They think they have power when through prostitution they control the fate of another human being who is selling the only thing that she owns, her body, to survive.  Ironically with this purchased power, they feel like a God, immensely powerful. It’s the power of the rich over the poor, the power of the violent over the vulnerable. There is no agency in prostitution. There is no power in our hands. We are powerless in front of our punters who don’t respect our boundaries and rules. They disrespect us in many ways and they only want to control and annihilate our personhood, the very life force running within our veins. This is precisely what they hate and  try to destroy. If you protect them, and our so called ‘managers’ – who are actually pimps – then you are betraying us. And this is the worst mistake in your history. My sisters and I wrote plenty of letters to let you know our hearts are broken. You are responsible for our suffering and if you don’t do anything to stop it, you are not our ally. But rather, you are part of the world that wants us used and dead. Remember, the survivors’ movement is an international one. Survivors from different parts of the world are working together. It is thanks to my sisters that my heart is still beating today. You cannot stop us and you cannot stop this cry for a world of justice and equality for all women!

 

Maria

Survivor from Italy

 

I had to suppress the natural reaction of my body - I pretended to ignore it just to keep doing what disgusted me so much. I was numb like a stone, like I wasn’t there at all. It was worse than dying. But when everything finished, I had to take pills to sleep, to forget, because I was persecuted by the images of what happened to me.

~Maria

Letter 5

Jacqueline S. Homan

 

Dear Amnesty International,

I really don’t understand how you can take the position of legalizing prostitution, which violates the human and social rights of mostly poor people (especially poor women and girls), in the name of “making it safe” for the women. This is especially the case, since you didn’t consider the opinions of the survivors of forced prostitution and human trafficking. You’re doing this in the name of human rights?

 

That is like saying, “Let’s regulate FGM (female genital mutilation) to make FGM safer for the little girls on whom it’s performed,” or “Let’s regulate the Islamic judicial process of executing female rape victims in countries like Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, etc., to make it safer for female rape victims at risk of being prosecuted under ‘modesty laws’ of the Sharia.” You refuse to listen to the testimonies from the women and girls who are directly impacted, or those who lost female family members to this business, and instead silence their voices even though they’re the ones with the biggest dog in this fight.  

 

As an impoverished older woman who’s an adult survivor of child sex trafficking in the United States, I have a very real-life first-hand experience of exactly how anti-human rights, discriminatory, and oppressive prostitution is.

A society that says it’s OK to support economic/job discrimination against women by supporting policies and practices that throw away POOR women and allow them no other option other than to have their bodies penetrated and abused by “paying customers” whose money gives them the “right” to treat another human being like a disposable commodity just because “they paid for it and are entitled as the customer to get what they want,” which is exactly what prostitution amounts to, is a society that accepts the premise that it’s perfectly OK to allow poor homeless 12-year-old children to be forced into prostitution against their will (like my formerly homeless and trafficked 12-year-old self).

I could share my story with you, but after seeing how so many of my sister survivors were silenced by the affluent leaders of your organization who stood on their privileges to further marginalize and hush survivor voices, I’d be wasting my words—and, infinitely more important, wasting my time. I will only say this: the answer to women’s poverty and the suppression of equal rights is to support the eradication of poverty by promoting policies that provide economic safety nets for the poor, especially in the absence of sufficient job opportunities; to promote equal access to good jobs for women and girls; and to invest in the education, vocational training, and social inclusion of women and girls. This group is half of the population that has been globally suffering from discrimination and oppression solely based on their gender, since time immemorial.

 

I can only conclude that your organization has long ago divorced itself from dedication to promoting human rights and instead has embraced the absolute worst of global neo-liberalism, which is the antithesis of human rights.

 

 

Jacqueline S. Homan

 

The answer to women’s poverty and the suppression of equal rights is to support the eradication of poverty by promoting policies that provide economic safety nets for the poor, especially in the absence of sufficient job opportunities; to promote equal access to good jobs for women and girls; and to invest in the education, vocational training, and social inclusion of women and girls.

~Jacqueline S. Homan

Letter 6

Amber Pauline Walker

Survivor

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

My name is Amber and I am a survivor leader.

 

I am deeply involved in the anti-trafficking, anti-prostitution efforts and I can honestly say that I have not met one person in favor of this decision. Although Amnesty is depicting their decision as a popular, informed, reasonable one, and depicting “sex workers” who are suspiciously eager to promote the agenda of their own commodification as some type of norm, my experience says otherwise. From people currently being exploited on the street to survivor leaders who are well respected founders, executives, and authors, to prolific feminists, philanthropic academics, right-wing Christians, mental and physical health professionals, and to liberal equal rights activists, artists and entrepreneurs, literally every person I know is firmly against the policy for decriminalization/legalization. I recently spoke to a Caucasion, Christian, homeschooling, stay-at-home mother who is an heiress to a feed company who said, and I quote, “I don’t know anything about prostitution, and I know decriminalizing it is a bad idea.” Those of us who know everything about it – from our experiences in prostitution and trafficking, and anti-trafficking and prostitution activism – know first-hand the reality of the negative impact of a policy presenting prostitution as a legitimate career. However, for selective reasons that continue to baffle the majority, we have had no opportunity to receive a fraction of the platform that the apparently masochistic, self-undoing, over-eager “sex workers” have solicited; I mean... elicited.

 

The baffling mistake makes sense considering what the climate of American media is at this current time. The superficial fascination with a clan of materialistic, vanity mongering Kardashians, to America’s gluttonous appetite for disposable gratification, to companies promoting everything from fast food to sex toys, has conditioned us to desire convenience more than meaningful human connection. What doesn’t make sense is that behind this “sex worker” three-ring-circus ridiculous policy promoting “human rights”  is  thelargest human rights organization in the world: Amesty International. That’s Amnesty International that’s selling your daughter. McAmnesty International House of Hookers. Amnesty Mart, where we call shameless capitalism, liberalism; and decrimanilization, justification for the black market bartering of humans in service of lust. “Hey, honey. Don’t worry, thats just Amnesty International dumping buckets of chemical waste into our rivers, and pornography and sexual consumerism into our consciousness. That’s Amnesty International, playing golf with the pimps and playing... well… who knows what, with the “sex workers.” “Sex workers” who don’t seem to know what exactly they stand for, aside from spouting off repeatedly that they, in fact, don’t stand for anything. They cater to archaic, misogynist fantasies of happy “hookerdom” in spite of prattling off at length about accounts of their extreme abuses. They even go so far as to advocate – to sully the word – the decriminalization/legalization argument. As if it will make them less afraid to report their rapes and abuses to the police. How about being afraid of being raped and abused? How about instead of attempting to create a play pen where rape is acceptable, and money changing hands supposedly doesn’t automatically create a power asymmetry, we continue outlawing sexual abuse as an inhumane practice and stop trying to rationalize inlets of oppressive deviance. Let’s stop the delusional hyperbole of being able to control an industry deeply rooted in inequality, lust, greed, objectification, capitalism, marginalization, and dehumanizing consumer production.

 

I was trafficked. I was a victim of prostitution. In my eyes, they are one and the same, one supporting the other, one another form of the other. Mashed potatoes and french fries are still potatoes. Before I confronted my PTSD and before my denial was shattered, I might have called myself a sex worker, too. Hell, I’d called myself anything you wanted me to call myself, and I would have told you I came up with it all on my own, too. That’s the thing about commercial sexual exploitation, whether you call it trafficking, prostitution, or call it doing the hokey pokey naked in a dark alley for a greasy, dirty, shifty dollar bill, it has its own laws; its own world and its own market. It’s called the underworld and the black market. It’s been around since the dawn of time, and it’s always been what it always will be: demented, corrupt, immoral, placing value on a quick buck over a human life. It’s a breeding ground for the indulgence of the banal carnalities of the powerful at the expense of the personal power of the underprivileged; the poor, the women and children, the minorities, the orphaned, the immigrants, and the gays. People who don’t know this are ignorant to a concerning degree. People who know this yet continue to push for decriminalization or legalization: well, they are either the powerfully corrupt or being controlled by someone who is. All I will say is that every “sex worker” is one short date away from becoming a survivor of sex trafficking; a survivor, if they are very, very lucky.

 

 

Amber Pauline Walker

 

How about instead of attempting to create a play pen where rape is acceptable, and money changing hands supposedly doesn’t automatically create a power asymmetry, we continue outlawing sexual abuse as an inhumane practice and stop trying to rationalize inlets of oppressive deviance.

~Amber Pauline Walker

Letter 7

Trafficking Survivor

 

Leadership of Amnesty International,

 

I have been a supporter of Amnesty International (AI) since 2003 when I founded a chapter at my university.  I am also a survivor of sexual exploitation.  I largely agree with your proposal to decriminalize sex work all except one of the last paragraphs.  I am referencing the following:

 

Other laws that criminalise the buying of sex or general organisational aspects of sex work, such as brothel-keeping or solicitation, often force sex workers to work in ways that compromise their safety. Bans on buying sex can lead to sex workers having to take risks to protect their clients from detection by law enforcement, such as visiting locations determined only by their clients. Arbitrarily broad laws prohibiting organisational aspects of sex work often ban sex workers from working together, renting secure premises, or hiring security or other support staff, meaning that they face prosecution themselves if they try to operate in safety. In prohibiting activities that help keep sex workers safe, criminalisation denies sex workers their right to security of person. 

 

Sex workers do have the right to security of person. However, too many pimps and controllers present themselves as 'providing safety'.  You may reference back to the importance of choice, safety and fair wages back in the previous text, but how do you ensure this?  You say that this policy does not protect pimps.  It DOES.  These traffickers present themselves as managers.  Some as described by Rachel Thomas and Ming Dang, write up contracts to further make the survivor feel like the abuse and/or quotas are authorized.  Why weren't the words “to unionize” used instead of 'management'?  I am comfortable with the legalization, decriminalization, and unionization of sex worker.  The idea of “management and security” is one that too many traffickers use for me to be comfortable with a human rights organization endorsing.  

 

In the past I have not seen AI take a strong stance on human trafficking.  I have not seen postings about the disproportion of women and children of color and poverty being lured into countries in which prostitution is 'legalized'.  I have never seen AI take a strong stand against the systems that benefit from sex trafficking.  I did not hear an outcry when survivors were charged, or celebration when human trafficking rings were taken down.  The fact that AI has been almost silent on human trafficking does not make me hopeful that the statements about exit planning, children being harmed, and honoring the self-agency of sex workers will take priority.  

 

Decriminalization of the buying of sex cannot happen, and should not happen, without regulation.  Part of this regulation should be providing sex workers with their rights and monitoring signs of abusive, exploitation, or trafficking situations.  The fact that your policy has no suggestions for prevention of trafficking suggests to me, and many survivors I have spoken to, that you and your leadership do not take trafficking seriously. Lastly, I would like to note that the people able to be in the room with you are people of privilege.  Many survivors who have been able to exit, but work for minimum wage, or are still in abusive situations, are unable to attend your many meetings.  I myself have to work today.  I hope you know I will no longer donate nor attend any Amnesty International events until this loophole is closed.  I will be sending letters through representatives or directly to your national office regularly.  This is what I learned to do from your organization while I was engaged with it.  Please know that your actions and inaction are harmful, emboldening traffickers, buyers, and pimps everywhere.  

 

In Solidarity, Not Giving Up,

 

Survivor of Sexual Exploitation 

Resident of California 

These traffickers present themselves as managers. Some as described by Rachel Thomas and Ming Dang, write up contracts to further make the survivor feel like the abuse and/or quotas are authorized.

~Anonynmous

Letter 8

David Wayne

Advocate, Consultant, & Survivor Leader

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."

 

This notable quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe comes to mind when I consider the topic of fully decriminalized prostitution. We are constantly led to believe that the buying and selling of sexual acts is an essential human right of free enterprise and free expression. While there are exceptions which demonstrate some truth to this belief, it is not the rule, and not the truth in its entirety. The totality of the complete truth reveals a line between what is generally accepted as a human right for all, and what is the self-centered sense of human entitlement. When a powerful champion of human rights such as Amnesty International begins to court the notion of calling for decriminalization of prostitution for business owners and clients, the line becomes terribly blurred.

 

Subjective morality arguments aside, we are all free to express our sexuality as we choose. Sex is essential for the survival and health of our species, and just as essential for intimacy and enjoyment. The history of commercialized sex, however, tells of two distinctly separate demographics; one group higher in the social hierarchy and that is a component of the power structure within developing civilizations, the other comprised of a lower class subjected to oppression, violence, and torture. This history is important to any discourse on the topic of commercial sex services, because the legacies of both groups continue in our present day culture. 

 

Amnesty International has its own legacy, one that provides a beacon of hope for those suffering extreme poverty, seeking asylum and services due to horrific conflicts, populations ravaged by disease, and marginalized people throughout the global community who have become virtually invisible to justice and the respect deserved by all human beings. Our world is rife with systemic threats to life and liberty, and Amnesty International is in position to set a precedent for how our world's citizens and governments respond. Two such threats are inextricably linked to commercial sex business; gender-based violence and sexual violence. 

 

I am a feminist, and a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking within the US. I am also a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, both as a teenager before the age of 18, and for a short time afterwards. You may be thinking to yourselves that you have heard all this before, but you would be mistaken. I am a heterosexual male, and I have had the experiences of being trafficked by men for men as a preschool age child, then exploited by girls and women for girls and women as a preteen and teenager. This provides me with a unique perspective of commercial sex that is rarely discussed, especially in debates that focus on the violence and trauma caused by men. I am, for all intents and purposes, an outsider among outsiders. Be that as it may, I am also an advocate for clinical responses to gender-based and sexual violence, and the atrocities committed against myself, my female, male and transgender friends and colleagues within the context of human trafficking and commercial sex are undeniable and inexcusable. 

 

You may be thinking to yourselves that the issues I raise can all be alleviated if we just decriminalize fully and work toward harm reduction and regulation. Again, you would be mistaken. Similar efforts have and continue to fail, due to the fact that violence is inherent in the commercializing of sex acts. Good intentions and policies that seem promising on paper eventually backfire. This is because, at the very heart of commercial sex, whether anyone wants to openly admit it or not, lays a driving, insatiable desire to normalize sexual abuse.

 

Regardless of proposed safeguards and regulations, clients of sexual acts want young victims. Supposedly consenting adults who engage in commercial sex are often requested to alter their appearances to seem younger. Clients are known to say things like, "You remind me of my daughter/step-daughter/niece/neighbor's child/child's best friend." Even among sex workers who insist they have chosen freely to sell sexual services, there is more often than not a history of sexual abuse, such as incest, child pornography or child sex trafficking. For many sex workers, their trauma continues untreated, meaning they are likely vulnerable to compulsions to repeat trauma (see the writings of trauma psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.).

 

In a 2007 publication on exploitation of children, the National Institute of Justice stated that based on data gathered from actual reported cases, children in the US are more at risk from being exploited by their own families, that around 75 percent of child pornography is filmed and distributed from the victims' homes by family, and that there is a continuum of escalating sexual abuse leading to acts of child sex trafficking. Exploitation does not magically end once an individual becomes 18. There is also no sudden shift from victimization to informed consent. 

 

We know that victims don't typically identify or present as victims. We know that many sex workers may be independent escorts, yet have been trafficked or exploited against their will or by manipulation prior to turning independent. We know that individuals who say their choice is as it is, deserve respect. We also know that, much like domestic violence relationships, those who choose are in need of compassion, services, and safe exit strategies. 

 

Plans for full decriminalization of prostitution come across as honoring the rights and freedoms of those engaging in sex acts and offering protection of their clients and establishment owners, thereby making business safer. The result is an environment that claims to favor the workers, yet actually caters to owners and buyers. This is not how empowerment is facilitated. It is simply repackaging the oldest form of oppression. If Amnesty International chooses to remain supportive of full decriminalization rather than considering the Nordic or Swedish Model, it cannot in all honesty claim to be a human rights organization. 

 

Kindest regards, 

 

David Wayne

...at the very heart of commercial sex, whether anyone wants to openly admit it or not, lays a driving, insatiable desire to normalize sexual abuse.

~David Wayne

Letter 9

Juanetta Stephens

Survivor

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

Don't say yes to decriminalizing pimping, pandering, and prostitution!

 

On behalf of all those who are repulsed by the thought of decriminalizing pimping, pandering and prostitution, I want to share my thoughts, too!

My name is Juanetta Stephens.  I lived most of my adult life as a prostitute for many years.  This was because of the coercion, dictates, and influence of pimps and other prostitutes!  For many years I walked the streets and stood on corners in various cities to trade sex for money to the men looking to pay for sexual encounters. Some of these men were literally walking on the same streets that I walked.  

Once, a very young man, about 18 years-old, walked up to me as I stood on a corner.  He asked me if I were working and told me he wanted to date me.  I could see he was not yet 21. However, he wanted to buy sex.  I thought to myself, "I have a son about the same age as this young man. I wonder if my own son has ever offered to buy sex from a woman?  And if yes, did she succumb to his request?" This thought repulsed me.  Yes, I was a prostitute. However, I'm a mother too. I wondered how many other young men were attempting to, or actually, buying sex. This also made me begin to think about the numerous men who spend money for sex – what age did they start?
 

Buying and selling sex is a form of degradation, allowed by low self-esteem, in our society.  However, some people want to decriminalize pimping, pandering, and prostitution.  These individuals and groups of people seem to have immunity against morals, values, and self-love!  These people seem to devalue human life by wanting to legally put a price tag on sex!  These people seem to have a twisted and distorted mental state of mind that leads them to believe that hiring persons to work in a sex industry and engage in sex acts for profit, is acceptable.

Why would a democratic society accept any form of pimping, pandering, and prostitution by decriminalizing these acts?  Why would a democratic society induct employment opportunities through the use of performing sex acts and/or sex favors for financial gain?

As far back as I can remember, Americans have been taught to use our minds to become self-sufficient and/or successful.   We were taught the value of education!  Now, some Americans are endeavoring to obtain self-sufficiency and/or success by capitalizing and profiting through the means of selling sex!  Some Americans want America to become a nation of pimping and pandering rather than a nation of democracy that upholds education, morals, and values!  

Don't say yes to decriminalizing pimping, pandering, and prostitution!  Instead, reduce the demand of the degrading act of selling sex!

Respectfully submitted,

Juanetta Stephens

As far back as I can remember, Americans have been taught to use our minds to become self-sufficient and/or successful.   We were taught the value of education! Now, some Americans are endeavoring to obtain self-sufficiency and/or success by capitalizing and profiting through the means of selling sex!

~Juanetta Stephens

Letter 10

Bridget Perrier

Co-Founder/First Nations Educator, Sextrade101

Canadian Coordinator, SPACE International

Toronto, Ontario (Canada)

 

 

Dear Amnesty International:

 

I am writing this letter to tell you how disappointed I am of you.  I live in constant fear because I’m an indigenous woman. I also live with the full memories of having survived human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

 

One of my relatives is a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman (MMIW). I’m now the adopted mother of her two orphaned daughters. I had used to have a lot of respect for Amnesty, since you were the only organization that would listen and support us through the tragedy of my relative, and those of many other families of MMIW. But you have lost my respect.

 

How dare you think that decriminalizing and protecting sex buyers is protecting women. While I was exploited, not once was I asked if I was okay by the men who felt privileged to buy my vagina for their personal gratification. Many times, I had visible bruises and burns from my pimp and the men who paid to rape me.

 

I was a little girl trapped  in a world filled with monsters (Johns). My innocence was taken. My body was just for the fulfilment of men's sexual needs. I have long-term damage from those men. I still sleep with the lights on and I cannot give birth naturally. Still to this day, I have traumatic flashbacks. I felt like I had no choice that as an indigenous woman – my circumstances made me believe that this horrible business is what I was put on earth for. The buyers would make me believe that, too.

 

I am lucky that I survived. I refuse to stand by and let men abuse women as vessels for sexual purposes. I am the Canadian representative for SPACE International, and I will challenge Amnesty International in its campaign to enhance male privilege. Calling for the legalization of prostitution is a slap in the face to the MMIW families and survivors of prostitution. 

 

Amnesty, I hope that you get honest about your stance on prostitution and the dehumanizing way that trafficked women are treated. Think of the families that are struggling with the huge task of finding their missing sisters, mothers, and daughters.

 

Amnesty International should recant its decision to support the decriminalization of buying sex. Decriminalization is not the answer. Also, it should confess that it lied when claiming that survivors, free from coercion, were consulted before making its decision.

 

On behalf of the indigenous survivors and family members of MMIW, we do not support Amnesty International’s stance on prostitution.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Bridget Perrier

I felt like I had no choice that as an indigenous woman - my circumstances made me believe that this horrible business is what I was put on earth for. The buyers would make me believe that, too.

~Bridget Perrier

Letter 11

Marjorie Saylor

Survivor/Advocate

Survivor Leader Network of SD, Member

AJP, Survivor Support Group Leader

Freedom From Exploitation, Director of Communications

Runaway Girl Inc., S.M.E. in Training

Sowers Education Group, Team Member

 

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

I am a survivor of sexual exploitation and human trafficking through the adult industry. I was formerly pro “sex work,” and I thought that I was empowered by my choice to be an exotic dancer/escort. I only chose it out of a need to survive and a strong lack of emotional maturity.  I told myself that I was in control of my own body and my own life for once, but… in all actuality it was the sex buyers and the trafficker who had the control; and it all depended on how much money was on the table. In fact, if any other options had been presented to me at the time I would have never gotten into “the life.” I would, however, have continued to end up in other forms of degrading behavior and unfruitful relationships. I had many insecurities to work on, which stemmed from sexual and emotional abuses as a young girl.  I was molested from the age of 5-14 years old, which embedded such negative affirmation in me that I grew up thinking I had to please men sexually in order to get any kind of love and attention. Being robbed of my childhood in such a way is, in my opinion, what pushed me into this life of sexual exploitation. I had no idea at the time that a life in the adult industry would be so damaging to my mental and physical wellbeing. After only one year as a dancer, I wanted to die.

 

Every single woman I knew in the industry had had some kind of similar experience as a child. I never met a woman in the life that had no emotional issues. It didn’t matter what kind of upbringing she had had; there was always some previous sexual abuse. Previous sexual abuse, hatred towards men, and/or a simple lack of self-worth is at the heart of every decision a woman makes to sell her body, whether or not she thinks she is doing it for the money or pleasure.    

 

If you are not willing to support a proven method like the Nordic Model, I strongly encourage you to take a closer look at the language used in your proposal to decriminalize “sex work.”  The term “sex work,” first of all, is very vague. “Sex work” says all aspects of the industry will be included in the decriminalization. The trafficker could come forward and say that what he or she is doing is considered “sex work” and therefore the victim gets no justice. Our justice system would not be able to prosecute on behalf of the victims being manipulated, forced, and coerced into this life. Furthermore, the buyer is no longer punishable, because the “sex work” is now legal.  If you actually think making “sex work” legal will result in less harm to the victim, you are sadly mistaken. I could quote a ton of evidence and statistics, which are quite easily attainable, that state otherwise, but it is the survivor voice that you need to hear. In my experience, and the experience of all survivors, we have found that money given with the purpose of purchasing a human being for their body results in a lack of care for the individual being purchased. Along with this lack of regard for the person within the body, is a sense of entitlement, meaning that the purchaser thinks he or she is entitled to do whatever they want with that body. There is no regard for physical pain being caused to the person being bought. I remember one sex buyer in particular. He told me that he could do whatever he wanted to me because he paid for me for 2 hours. He proceeded to tell me that he could kill me and no one would even care. Unfortunately, this is all but too familiar in our survivor circles.

 

If you really want to stand for the human rights of victims of human trafficking, we need support services like mental health, education, and record expungement so we can get back on our feet again. We need your help in policies that prosecute the exploiter, because traffickers know all too well the vulnerabilities that their victims suffer from and willfully, and purposely, exploit them. We need your help in reducing the demand for “sex work” by creating policy that punishes the sex buyer. We must cut off the flow of money to the trafficker. If there were no buyers, there would be no need to sell another human being.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Marjorie Saylor

SurvivorsForVictims [at] gmail.com

He told me that he could do whatever he wanted to me because he paid for me for 2 hours. He proceeded to tell me that he could kill me and no one would even care. Unfortunately, this is all but too familiar in our survivor circles.

~Marjorie Saylor

Letter 12

Kristine

Survivor/Advocate

 

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

My name is Kristine. I write this letter in hopes to challenge the mindset of decriminalizing the parties involved in “sex work”. First of all, sex work/prostitution is not a job; it’s a lifestyle that involved oppression at some point. Most of those involved in prostitution never grew up having the dream of being sex kittens. The lure into prostitution is the money. Behind the money is: greed, violence, and slavery.

 

I’d like to briefly tell you how I ended up in that predicament. I was 12-years-old when I hung out with the kids in the neighborhood in a fairly small town. To generalize, these kids came from mostly fatherless homes and kids from the foster system. They figured they were never going to be anything in life so they were learning to make it on their own instead. We learned how to rob, steal, and sell whatever we could for money. It was like a gang in a sense as we all stuck together, encouraged each other, and proved our loyalty. Boyfriend/girlfriend relationships turned into pimps/prostitutes. We were all kids, too young to know better and home was too messed up to go back to.

Drugs and alcohol were the center of our childhoods. There was also a tendency to be lazy and do whatever we wanted to. It was our own sense of freedom, entertainment with each other, and the outside world becoming less important in the world we were creating. Each day was for survival and for a place to fit into amongst each other. That was small time, small town stuff.

 

We ended up going to California. The Hollywood dream appeared to have many opportunities for us to make money on the streets. The pimp/prostitute relationship tightened in the fact that you were kept “in pocket”. Drugs took the front seat and I was completely lost. I hated the drugs and the atmosphere. I wandered around Sunset Boulevard, lost. A Rolls Royce appeared with a driver that looked like he invested his money well. It didn’t take much to lure me in and then drop me off at his relative’s house to traffick me. I complied as I felt I couldn’t go back and my new reality was this is “what I was”. I never thought too much about what I did, I just dealt with it until I could think of something else. Fifteen-years-old now, how did I know?

 

I became scared. This family was like the mafia. You didn’t ask questions and you did what you were told. I found an opportunity to be alone and finally decided to escape but not without him following me to try to lure me back. I was afraid of him. He would have probably killed or kidnapped me if the FBI didn’t surround the car. He stilled tried to get to me when he was in jail.

 

Later on, he got out of jail and continued to traffick women for twenty-something years until he totally terrorized a girl. The police got involved to see the trafficking ring he had created along with his own businesses, cars, and guns. Now he is doing thirteen life sentences. I will never have to worry about his coming after me or hurting anybody else.

This was my past. I’ve worked hard to create a new sense of normal. Not one woman I’ve ever met with a similar past has not been broken, traumatized and scarred from this life. It takes a toll on a person and their soul. The life expectancy is about 7 years for prostitutes before they end up drugged out, in jail, or dead. Those that escape sometimes feel dead inside with the stigma that is created around prostitution, the PTSD and regret.

 

As far as the buyers go, there is a whole realm of “reasons” they buy, but I can say it may be “scary and exciting” for them. They never had healthy education on sex or women, maybe were porn-addicted, or it was an easy way to cheat on their wives. They are lonely, or whatever it may be. If one wants to do something proactive – men need education and intervention on how they view sex. Buying sex is not healthy nor what we are created for. We are created to love and be loved.

 

Decriminalizing this moral relationship destruction will further give power to the oppressors, continue to feed the lies that this lifestyle condones, and lets perpetrators jettison preying on others.

 

Kristine

First of all, sex work/prostitution is not a job; it’s a lifestyle that involved oppression at some point. Most of those involved in prostitution never grew up having the dream of being sex kittens. The lure into prostitution is the money. Behind the money is: greed, violence, and slavery.

~Kristine

Letter 13

Teresa Belsky

Survivor/Advocate

 

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

I am a survivor of sexual and physical abuse from a husband who was addicted to porn and child porn. Men who are addicted to pornography and extreme sex aren’t interested in just sexual pleasure. They want to abuse people.

 

I was married to a man who took me shopping for business outfits, dresses, and jewelry.  A man who would work for me, and create children with me and in that a family.  A man who took me on trips and family holiday events.  It seemed like a perfect life.

 

My first major nervous breakdown began after the FBI came to our door to question my then husband about child pornography. To make a long story short, I wasn’t his camera’s only victim.  So, I start having flashbacks of attacks mixed with memories of happiness.  A cycle.   I was married to Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde.  I found out that my ex-husband had recorded our sex life from the very start and on for 10 years.  At one point in the drama, my daughter told me that “Dad threw out 6 boxes of video tapes the day the FBI visited the house.”  The flashbacks increased.  Sometimes we seemed to make love, but other times, he seemed to attack me.  When I realized he had been hiding a camera a high percentage of the time over the 10 year period, it sickened me to wonder everyday which attack people were watching. I didn’t know the camera was there.  I’m sure there was no smile on my face.  I could go on and on with details.  Looking back, when I wouldn’t cooperate, he’d just knock me out and do “it” to my body anyways.  He was hiding cameras in bedroom vents, furniture with cable holes drilled out in the back, and running cable lines though the house to his big screen in the office where he slept every night and monitored me and his recordings.

 

One time in particular, my friends from Texas were in North Platte to visit.  He insisted that “they” were not allowed to stay in our $200,000, five-bedroom home.  They had to go get a hotel.  Then I went to show them my garden, leaving my wine cooler inside on the counter.  He glared at me through the Anderson Patio Door.  I came in the house and nervously killed half a bottle of my wine cooler.  My friends told me “Look Resa, I don’t know what is wrong with your husband, but we will be back tomorrow.”  They left.  Suddenly I felt the room spinning.  I stumbled to the dishwasher and my muscles started to give out.  I began to fall on the counter.  I stumbled to the sink and began to puke.  Using every muscle to push myself back up out of the sink, I staggered back to the dishwasher that was warm and running and collapsed on the ground.  The next thing I remember is being upstairs in my bed naked the next morning/day.  My ex-husband is standing over me, staring in my face, telling me “It’s ok.  Nothing happened.”  His voice and tone were creepy and he was breathing heavy.  Later, my kids tell me that “Mommy dropped to the floor.  We saw Daddy carry Mommy upstairs.  We asked Daddy ‘Is Mommy ok?’”  and he said ‘She’ll be just fine.’”  He knew that he had drugged me.  I’m sure he got his sex toys out and had his way with me and filmed it.  From 1996 to 1999, I was constantly going to the urologist with a baffling condition: interstital cystitis.  My urethra would have polyps (blisters) up and down the entire internal shaft, requiring silver nitrate and dilatation.  Due to the fact that my ex-husband abused my urethra, vagina and anus with sex toys while I was knocked out, I to this day suffer with damaged sphincters in my urethra and anus; not to mention a mental condition that in the past was very debilitating.  The mere sight of a “camera” used to freeze me after this event, and caused severe flashbacks. 

 

When I moved in with Billy, after living with Brent for 10 years, I used to wake up screaming at 3-4am on a frequent basis.  I believe this was due to the activities in the past when I was knocked out.  I had no control over those episodes of night terrors, yet they affected me profoundly.

 

The moral of my story is to be careful how the use of porn can affect your life.  I understand that my ex-husband started watching porn at age 5 from 3pm to 5pm every day after school.  Unfortunately, he was raped by a male neighbor at the age of 7 in a garage in his neighborhood.  No one ever told me this before.  It, too, was a secret.  It’s too bad he obviously never got the medical and mental help that he needed, because he grew up to be a very warped adult. 

 

I am a survivor.  And there are lots of beautiful things in life I deserve to enjoy for the rest of my time on this earth.  Praise God for forgiveness, healing, and teaching.  Thank you for allowing me to pass the lesson I learned on to you.  By doing so, I did not suffer in vain.

 

I am a survivor!

 

Pope John Paul II said before he died, “I will not change my morals just because the world is changing.”

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Teresa Belsky

I am a survivor of sexual and physical abuse from a husband who was addicted to porn and child porn. Men who are addicted to pornography and extreme sex aren’t interested in just sexual pleasure. They want to abuse people.

~Teresa Belsky

Letter 14

Christina Mennella

Survivor/Advocate

 

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

I am a child sex trafficking survivor, who just remembered most of my life. The grooming started when I was 11-years-old. A pimp and madam began brainwashing and grooming me when I was 11-years old. By the age of 12, I was being sold all over town for sex. By the age of 14, I was forced to groom my own pimp, and continue on with the madam’s orders to build a brothel in my town as a hub for sex and drugs.  I didn't remember my life until I was 34-years-old.

 

Flashbacks and panic attacks flooded into my life in my early 20's. It must be because I was a teenage mother, under a lot of stress, and I just transferred to George Mason University. The doctors prescribed me Seroquel and Zoloft, and I went back to living my life.

 

At the age of 28, I walked into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, struggling with my abuse of alcohol, and I got sober. As I was leading meetings, I realized I was having problems with my eye sight while reading the announcements. I closed my right eye, and I couldn't read with my left eye. The eye doctor said nothing was wrong with my eyes, and suggested I see a neurologist. I ignored his request, and told myself “Don't worry about it.” Two years later, I took the doctor's advice, and saw a neurologist. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). “Why me? What caused that?” I began treatment.

 

I worked as a contractor for the Army and the Marine Corps as a Media Specialist where I was sexually harassed and bullied. I was the one who lost my job in both cases. I tried to fight, but I lost. When my boss pulled me in to end my contract, he said "I didn't have a college degree, and that I lied on my application." I do have a college degree. A month after my position ended a coworker, and friend of my boss, came looking for me to start a romantic relationship. Then I realized why I lost my job. But, it was too late now.

 

I was 34-years-old and four months before the six-year anniversary of my sobriety, I relapsed on alcohol. I blamed it on the codependent relationship I was in, and now he was gone. They always say in the rooms, "You will go back to your drug of choice, if you don't do the work." That's why I drank again. I didn't do the 12-Steps of AA correctly with my sponsor. And I switched addictions from alcohol to a man. Here I am, unemployed college graduate, a single mom, and I'm drinking almost every day when I have a son who needs his mother the most.

 

Here is my son who is turning into a teenager, and I decided to go act like one, too; how selfish of me. Filled with remorse and frustration, I turned and looked at my 14-year-old who was growing a tiny mustache. I blinked and my life came flooding back to me like the page of a book. My anger grew. “What different choices would I have made? What would I have done differently; if only I had remembered my life?” Rumination began, the memories were exhausting.

I went to check on my childhood friends whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. Many of them dying of alcoholism, or stuck in the street life.  There I was, on the cliff ready to sign up voluntarily to sell my body on the streets, where I was my own pimp. Now here is something I am definitely qualified to do. How sad.

 

More memories and flashbacks began shooting through. Anguish, anger, and fear filled my heart. I made it out? I should be proud of myself; I am alive.  I took the high route. I ran back to the AA rooms with a new bottom to recover from. I'm clean again, attending meetings, and working to find a job that will accommodate my complex PTSD. My memories are back and my reality has shifted and changed.

 

I understand today why I have MS, and a brain lesion that blocks my vision. Studies conclude that patients with MS who have histories of physical and/or sexual abuse have significantly higher relapse rates than patients without early-life stress. My traffickers forced me into addiction, and beat and humiliated me regularly. My trauma-filled childhood caused my MS.  I can picture my body attacking itself while it pushed my memories down into a dark place, where I couldn't find them until 15 years later.

 

Today, I understand why I began having panic attacks and flashbacks in my early 20's.  Therapists trained to recognize sexual abuse are scarce; prescribing medication is easier. My memories are free and I am now 36-years-old. It's too late for me to press charges. The statute of limitations is up. If only I wasn't given medication and diagnosed with all sorts of pseudo problems when I went looking for answers back then.

 

I can see why being a mom is so tough for me today, and I know why. As a victim of child sex trafficking, there wasn't much room to be a kid. I was brainwashed to believe my family didn't want me, so I brainwashed myself to believe my son didn’t want me either. I was told I would be killed, if I didn't do what I was told. I was trafficked on the weekends before I was forced to run away from home and join "street gangs" to survive.  I'm too scared to be a mom, because I have no idea what it is like to have a childhood.

 

Today, I know why I am not in a stable, healthy relationship with a partner. This is because codependency exists where true intimacy does not. I know nothing about intimacy; fight or flight works just fine for me. I know just how to form a traumatic bond with another man who has endured physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. I see no future in that.

I also understand why I didn't pursue the legal actions after being sexually harassed in the workplace. I can function just fine blaming myself. I've done it all along. I know a lot about humiliation, being fired for something that is totally untrue doesn't beat the humiliation I endured while being trafficked as a child for sex. I know a lot about shame. No matter how many times I'm told it isn't my fault, there is a little voice in my head that tells me it is. I must have enticed these abusers with my behavior or my dress.

 

I have many questions for Amnesty International, but I will keep it to a minimum.  What do you know about being a victim of child sex trafficking? I am very cautious about decriminalizing sex work, and I think you should be, too. Your proposal states, "Sex work means that sex workers who are engaging in commercial sex have consented to do so." I don't believe that. 

 

I do, however, believe there is a huge underground economy full of well-trained criminals ready to infiltrate little boys and girls just like me into child sex trafficking. This way, the brainwashing and humiliation sticks to its victims like glue. There is no way out. Children lost in shame, struggling to understand what normal is. Once they accept this life as normal, there will be no escape; now, these victims become willing participants. It is going to be extremely difficult to distinguish who is a willing participant and who is a victim of human trafficking.  Have you participated in the research needed to distinguish this difference?

 

Amnesty International, you are one of the most respected human rights organizations in the world, and I beg of you to think this through. I see the segregation of women on the horizon. As long as women are for sale, I see no hope for me – an educated female, and survivor of child sex trafficking – to ever be seen as an equal in the workplace or the home. Think carefully about the decision to leave a world for our children where women are now legally condemned to a life of prostitution.

 

Respectfully,

 

 

Christina Mennella

 

P.S. My traffickers are still free to hurt others. The street gangs did grab my brother and infiltrate him into drug trafficking; he just finished a 10-year-sentence for selling marijuana, while these evil people never did any federal time for what they did to me.

A pimp and madam began brainwashing and grooming me when I was 11-years old. By the age of 12, I was being sold all over town for sex. 

~Christina Mennella

Letter 15

Autumn Burris

Survivor/Advocate

 

 

Dear Amnesty International,

 

On Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2016, I reflect on the exploited individual and how your egregious policy will affect their lives.  I write as a member of Amnesty International USA (AI-USA) in response to the human rights policy concerning the decriminalization of sexual exploitation, particularly sex buyers and traffickers and the lack of inclusiveness of the exited survivor Leader voices. We do agree on one matter, exploited individuals should not be arrested; however, we differ profoundly with regard to the decriminalization of sex buyers and traffickers.

 

On November 20-22, 2015, Amnesty International USA failed to listen to exited survivor voices at its 2015 Regional Conference, From Moment to Movement, in a number of critical ways:

 

(1) An EXITED survivor panel was denied prior to the conference resulting in attendees formally hearing only one side of the story (Program Session Block 1: …Sex Worker Rights are Human Rights);

 

(2) At that session, participants were promised a Q&A at the end of the session, which did not happen;

 

(3) In order to get our voices heard, we distributed materials to members and placed documents presenting our side of the argument, which were removed by an AI-USA staff member;

 

(4)  During the Voting Plenary, it was stated that a number of organizations, including the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and S.P.A.C.E International were consulted.  This statement is untrue as these organizations were never contacted for consultation on the policy.

 

The result of denying our voices, directly in a variety of ways, was a vote in favor of this heinous policy at the Los Angeles conference. 

 

 

International Human Rights Instruments Ignored

 

The process at the conference, and historically on this issue, has been one-sided against exited survivors and biased towards promoting systems of oppression and violations of human rights, including International Human Rights Instruments.  We urge you to have a more inclusive voice from among the membership. The attempt to delink prostitution and sex frafficking is a myth that contradicts established international law. For example, in the Palermo Protocol, Article 3(a): “abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation…” [i] 

 

Additionally, the Palermo Protocol calls to implement strategies to reduce the demand that leads to sex trafficking. The AI proposed policy supports sex purchasing as well as traffickers, including brothel owners. In general, the human family has the inherent right NOT to be bought and sold! How do International Human Rights Instruments co-exist with the proposed AI policy that decriminalizes sex buyers & traffickers?

 

 

Survivor Perspective 

 

I am writing as an EXITED survivor of prostitution, the stripping industry and on behalf of the survivors I have had the opportunity to work alongside for the past 18 years.  If the extensive harms, and frequent physical and psychological violence, of prostitution are kept right before our faces, this policy and your use of sanitizing terminology would be absent from Amnesty International’s policy consideration. If you ever lived prostitution as I did, and millions like me have, you would be ashamed to entertain this proposed policy, which directly contradicts the human rights mission of Amnesty International. 

 

In my lived and professional experience, I vehemently reject the “decriminalization” policy proposal because prostitution is a violation of human rights. I am perplexed and deeply concerned about the proposed policy concerning the decriminalization of “sex work” due to the inherent harms in prostitution from both sex buyers and profiteers. The use of terminology describing survivors of prostitution as “sex workers” and the institution of prostitution as “sex work” is troubling due to the fact that the majority of survivors do not utilize this term, because it misrepresents the real harms and human rights violations of the institution of prostitution. I request that you listen to survivors who have exited sexual exploitation in order to formulate the policy that represents the majority of us.

 

 

Harms of Prostitution 

 

As a survivor of prostitution, I am personally and painfully aware of the inherent harms in sexual exploitation. The level of danger and murder rate far exceeds any type of work as evidenced by a study illustrating that prostituted women are 200 times more likely to be murdered than other women their age and race.[ii]  Whether indoor or outdoor, prostitution is routinely violent on several levels, psychologically and physically. On the most basic level of what the transaction entails, repeatedly, having someone you are repulsed by touch you and/or penetrate your body causes psychological damage. Disassociation is necessary in prostitution to survive it. One can simply not stay present while an intruder violates your body.  It is common for sex buyers to act out violently on prostituted women and it is immediately clear that there is no such thing as respect for your human rights or physical boundaries as soon as a client buys his power over you.

 

Prostitution is repeated paid rape by buyers of sex. I can honestly say the act of having my body purchased for a price was always about vulnerabilities and the need for survival. The buyers of sex utilized my vulnerabilities for their personal gratification. The sex buyers’ demeanor, attitude, or amount of money did not make the act any less painful or damaging than the next purchaser who may have had expectations of acting out violence against me.   

 

 

Human Rights Denied 

 

From negotiation to completion of the purchased sex act, dignity and equality guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated. Equality is violated by the unequal power dynamic between the oppressor and the exploited.  Dignity is denied to the exploited, from negotiation to the completion of the act. For example, the feelings of degradation that arise when verbalizing the sex acts and placing a price on what is intended to be priceless, to knowledge of the personal violations that would soon take place, and then, while enduring all this harm, realizing it might happen again, you’ll be bought and sold again, within an hour or so. There is no equality, dignity, autonomy, or physical security: This is no life for a human being.

 

Security is denied as the exploited person essentially has no control over the actions of the buyer.  For example, one evening, I got into a late model truck with a male sex purchaser.  A few miles down the road, it became clear I needed to exit the situation in order to survive. Jumping from the moving vehicle was the safest option for escape. I reached for the door handle only to realize I was locked in. The panic I felt, knowing what was sure to come, was unbearable. Prior to being discarded like a piece of garbage onto the road, I was raped and beaten beyond recognition.  This incident was not an isolated one, rather a common occurrence in my life while involved in prostitution. It is an incident I’ve heard repeated, with slight variations, hundreds if not thousands of times during my work over the past 17 years with other survivors.

 

 

Language Usage

 

In terms of linguistics and language use, the terms “sex work” and “sex worker” should be eliminated because the majority of individuals in prostitution and those who have exited from prostitution do not refer to themselves using these terms. Sex is not work as the above example from my former life illustrates; it is exploitation and denial of human rights based on vulnerabilities and power imbalances between the oppressor and the oppressed. These erroneous terms imply choice, and attempt to sanitize the brutality at the heart of the prostitution experience, while de-linking prostitution from sex trafficking. Choice is absent in prostitution as evidenced by Dr. Melissa Farley’s study of nine countries which found 89% of women in prostitution wanted to escape immediately but had no other means for survival. [iii](Farley, 2003)

 

I strongly urge you to listen to the vast majority of survivors of prostitution worldwide who reject the decriminalization of sex buyers and profiteers. Instead, we favor increased accountability for the harm these men are causing by criminalizing the demand for commercial sex. As an AI member and survivor, my expectation is that a human rights organization should protect the human rights of vulnerable and marginalized people including those exploited in systems of prostitution.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Autumn Burris

 

 

 

 

References

 

[i] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, 2000.

 

[ii] John J. Potterat, Devon D. Brewer, Stephen Q. Muth1, Richard B. Rothenberg3, Donald E. Woodhouse, John B. Muth, Heather K. Stite1, and Stuart Brody, “Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women,” Am J Epidemiol 159:778–785, 2004.

 

[iii] Farley, et al, Prostitution, Trafficking & Traumatic Stress, Haworth Press, Inc., Binghamton, NY, 2003

On November 20-22, 2015, Amnesty International USA failed to listen to exited survivor voices at its 2015 Regional Conference.

 

During the Voting Plenary, it was stated that a number of organizations, including the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and S.P.A.C.E International were consulted.  This statement is untrue as these organizations were never contacted for consultation on the policy.

~Autumn Burris

Ne'cole Moore

Letter Writers

1. Alisa Bernard

2. Jeri Moomaw

3. Courtney Edwards

4. Maria (From Italy)

5. Jacqueline S. Homan

6. Amber Pauline Walker

7. Survivor in California

8. David Wayne

9. Juanetta Stephens

10. Bridget Perrier

11. Marjorie Saylor

12. Kristine

13. Teresa Belsky

14. Christina Mennella

15. Autumn Burris

 

 

 

 

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How about you remember that prostituted women are up to 40 times more likely to be the victims of homicide. I’m sure those buyers that murder us are very particular in picking forced vs. "free” prostituted women. Actually, no, they don’t care either way.

~Alisa Bernard

The saddest part about this is that no one can claim this is their choice. They are coerced by society to be prostituted. Society thinks it’s a right for men to buy sex and society thinks that throwing away the economic power of an entire group of women is OK.

~Alisa Bernard

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Evidence substantiates the fact that the sex trade does immense physical and emotional harm to those in it. A study by Farley et al. reports that 64% of adults in prostitution experienced threats with a weapon and 71% were physically assaulted. Another study found 50% of women prostituting outdoors and 26% of those indoors (saunas and flats) experienced violence within the past six months. 

~Jeri Moomaw

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I suffered over 2500 violent assaults. They were so bad that my vagina and cervix would haemorrhage blood. I would be asked to preform rape fantasies. When I refused, I would be raped. If I complained to the manager of the brothel, the client would defend his ‘right’ to sexual fantasies, claiming that it wasn’t rape because he was just pretending.

~Courtney Edwards

I have seen and experienced first-hand the manipulation and coercion of women into prostitution. I’ve seen them traumatised on their first night and then pumped full of drugs - this happened to me.

~Courtney Edwards

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I could feel my pain. I could hear my voice shouting stop to the punters who were using me. My body tried to fight back against them. I often had violent spasms.

~Maria

My punters were not kind gentlemen who were buying a sexual service. They were narcissistic, sadistic men who used their money just to feel powerful. They think they have power when through prostitution they control the fate of another human being who is selling the only thing that she owns, her body, to survive.

~Maria

Purchase survivor-made clothing and apparel.

Your policy on this matter is like saying, “Let’s regulate FGM (female genital mutilation) to make FGM safer for the little girls on whom it’s performed.

~Jacqueline S. Homan

A society that says it’s OK to support economic/job discrimination against women by supporting policies and practices that throw away POOR women and allow them no other option...is a society that accepts the premise that it’s perfectly OK to allow poor homeless 12-year-old children to be forced into prostitution against their will (like my formerly homeless and trafficked 12-year-old self).

~Jacqueline S. Homan

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However, for selective reasons that continue to baffle the majority, we have had no opportunity to receive a fraction of the platform that the apparently masochistic, self-undoing, over-eager “sex workers” have solicited; I mean... elicited.

~Amber Pauline Walkter

That’s the thing about commercial sexual exploitation, whether you call it trafficking, prostitution, or call it doing the hokey pokey naked in a dark alley for a greasy, dirty, shifty dollar bill, it has its own laws; its own world and its own market.

~Amber Pauline Walker

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I have never seen AI take a strong stand against the systems that benefit from sex trafficking.  I did not hear an outcry when survivors were charged, or celebration when human trafficking rings were taken down.  The fact that AI has been almost silent on human trafficking does not make me hopeful that the statements about exit planning, children being harmed, and honoring the self-agency of sex workers will take priority.

~Anonymous

The fact that your policy has no suggestions for prevention of trafficking suggests to me, and many survivors I have spoken to, that you and your leadership do not take trafficking seriously.

~Anonymous

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Similar efforts have and continue to fail, due to the fact that violence is inherent in the commercializing of sex acts. Good intentions and policies that seem promising on paper eventually backfire.

~David Wayne

Regardless of proposed safeguards and regulations, clients of sexual acts want young victims. Supposedly consenting adults who engage in commercial sex are often requested to alter their appearances to seem younger. Clients are known to say things like, "You remind me of my daughter/step-daughter/niece/neighbor's child/child's best friend.

~David Wayne

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I lived most of my adult life as a prostitute for many years.  This was because of the coercion, dictates, and influence of pimps and other prostitutes!

~Juanetta Stephens

Why would a democratic society accept any form of pimping, pandering, and prostitution by decriminalizing these acts?  Why would a democratic society induct employment opportunities through the use of performing sex acts and/or sex favors for financial gain?

~Juanetta Stephens

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While I was exploited, not once was I asked if I was okay by the men who felt privileged to buy my vagina for their personal gratification. Many times, I had visible bruises and burns from my pimp and the men who paid to rape me.

~Bridget Perrier

I have long-term damage from those men. I still sleep with the lights on and I cannot give birth naturally. Still to this day, I have traumatic flashbacks.

~Bridget Perrier

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I had no idea at the time that a life in the adult industry would be so damaging to my mental and physical wellbeing. After only one year as a dancer, I wanted to die.

~Marjorie Saylor

I told myself that I was in control of my own body and my own life for once, but… in all actuality it was the sex buyers and the trafficker who had the control; and it all depended on how much money was on the table.

~Marjorie Saylor

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The life expectancy is about 7 years for prostitutes before they end up drugged out, in jail, or dead. Those that escape sometimes feel dead inside with the stigma that is created around prostitution, the PTSD and regret.

~Kristine

Not one woman I’ve ever met with a similar past has not been broken, traumatized and scarred from this life. It takes a toll on a person and their soul.

~Kristine

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Looking back, when I wouldn’t cooperate, he’d just knock me out and do “it” to my body anyways.  He was hiding cameras in bedroom vents, furniture with cable holes drilled out in the back, and running cable lines though the house to his big screen in the office where he slept every night and monitored me and his recordings.

~Teresa Belsky

From 1996 to 1999, I was constantly going to the urologist with a baffling condition: interstital cystitis.  My urethra would have polyps (blisters) up and down the entire internal shaft, requiring silver nitrate and dilatation.  Due to the fact that my ex-husband abused my urethra, vagina and anus with sex toys while I was knocked out, I to this day suffer with damaged sphincters in my urethra and anus.

~Teresa Belsky

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My traffickers forced me into addiction, and beat and humiliated me regularly. My trauma-filled childhood caused my [Multiple Sclerosis].  I can picture my body attacking itself while it pushed my memories down into a dark place, where I couldn't find them until 15 years later.

~Christina Mennella

I was brainwashed to believe my family didn't want me, so I brainwashed myself to believe my son didn’t want me either. I was told I would be killed, if I didn't do what I was told. I was trafficked on the weekends before I was forced to run away from home and join "street gangs" to survive.  

~Christina Mennella

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Prior to being discarded like a piece of garbage onto the road, I was raped and beaten beyond recognition.  This incident was not an isolated one, rather a common occurrence in my life while involved in prostitution. It is an incident I’ve heard repeated, with slight variations, hundreds if not thousands of times during my work over the past 17 years with other survivors.

~Autumn Burris

For example, one evening, I got into a late model truck with a male sex purchaser.  A few miles down the road, it became clear I needed to exit the situation in order to survive. Jumping from the moving vehicle was the safest option for escape.

~Autumn Burris

Disassociation is necessary in prostitution to survive it. One can simply not stay present while an intruder violates your body.  It is common for sex buyers to act out violently on prostituted women and it is immediately clear that there is no such thing as respect for your human rights or physical boundaries as soon as a client buys his power over you.

~Autumn Burris

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