Wednesday, August 26, 2015
OPEN LETTER TO MEDIA & REPORTERS ON SUBJECT OF SEX TRAFFICKING
Everything is evolving today. Years ago for example people used to think alcoholism only affected “wino's” on skid row and those with weak moral fiber. Today we know people from all walks of life can suffer from a genetic, terminal, and chronic disease requiring life long management to be put into remission.
The same for sex. In the past, people were considered “nyphomaniacs” or even “studs” when in fact they were suffering from sexual addiction. It wasn't until the late 1980's, and the ground breaking work of Patrick Carnes, that people began to understand that addiction wasn't always related to a narcotic.
So when we started crafting the modern day sex trafficking movement to achieve recognition for the fact this was happening in the sex industry – as well as any industry for that matter – our work was really cut out for us. Back in 1987 when we opened the first hotline for adults to call for help (preceeded only by the Children of the Night hotline which was opened in 1979 for teens and children) – we didn't even have federal recognition let alone societal recognition. Meaning when our survivors stepped up to the first talk show stages and news reporters – we were greeted much the same then as one would today if talking about being abducted by aliens and our government needing to do something to protect them from this. Prior to the Trafficking Act of 2000 – we were viewed strictly and solely as “prostitutes” by society and “criminals” in the eyes of the law.
Because so few of us were escaping and surviving, and even fewer of those survivors were willing to come forward in the media to raise awareness with us – this created an open playing field for many of the “fakes” such as Samoly Mam, Chong Kim, and even Ben Hilliar who enjoyed major press exposure because they weren't “real”. These were not people who had truly experienced what they were saying they had but instead full-time con artists. The problem with this is they did not “raise awareness” but instead spread “dis-information” as well as unrealistic, and even dangerous, standards for the media which we're writing you about today. Not just about their experiences as a trafficking victim or a “rescuer” - but also with respect to the after-effects of coming forward in the public eye as well.
Please stop publishing photos of survivors, and those who work in the field of organizing rescues, unless it's absolutely essential to the story. I for example keep being pressured for a current photo of myself. However, I'm involved from time to time with having to do “under cover” operations to get victims out of captivity and/or supervision. Work I can't do if people can recognize me. Because I am effective at what we do – I have pimps trying to find our rescues through following me also. My reluctance to have photos of myself online does not therefore mean I'm “hiding” something but in fact quite the reverse. However, these fakes who were not in reality doing any rescue work have given the public the false idea that one can be publicly recognized – but the reality is the opposite.
There are other reasons why I don't choose to plaster my photo all over the media any longer like I did in the 1980's. Back then – we were trying to get the public to realize sex trafficking was real. The only way to do that was to come forward with our stories with our eyes showing so people could see our sincerity and truthfulness. While we did achieve federal recognition finally with the passing of the Trafficking Act of 2000 – we paid, and are still paying, a price for those public appearances.
Many survivors themselves who haven't done media before aren't aware themselves of the very real fall-out that happens when one's photo is published. After a photo airs, or is published, survivors have reported to us they've been fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and some have even been sexually assaulted. Others report “tricks” coming to harass them thinking it's okay because they are a “prostitute after all” - while still others have reported their old pimps have found them through these photos from years past.
This fall-out does not go away with time. We ourselves have members who did talk and news shows with us in the 1980's and 1990's who tell us that these photos, and stories, have come back to haunt them while job and house hunting. Some have said these stories have greatly damaged their dating and social lives. Not everyone understands that what these people did was in the past. I myself STILL have people lashing out at me calling me “pimp” for my arrest in 1984 who have no idea that I wasn't even charged nor convicted for such a crime. Therefore, to post a photo of a survivor, along with their name, and identifying what city they live in, places where they go to school, etc. is truly setting them up for problems.
Not light problems either. There's even been cases of suicide where college girls have had their past, their name, and their photos, released of them in conjunction with identifying what school they're attending. The result of this has been other students harassing them, cyber-bullying them, the loss of internships, and attacks upon them that have led to more than one young woman of promise turning to suicide to end the pain and harassment of how some people react today when learning one has been involved in the sex industry in any way – victim of trafficking or not.
Groups that are new to this work don't realize the long term effects of having sex trafficking survivors they work with to come forward with their photos full-face in the media, along with reporting on specifics of their success stories because they haven't been around long enough to see this fall-out. Which leads to the next issue I'd like to talk to you about.
Reporting on Specific Locations of Survivors
In the media lately, I've been seeing reporters write things like “this survivor is now going to college at such and such college”, or they are “in counseling at such and such center”, or they “attend such and such church”. What you don't realize is again the long term effects of such reporting. We've got stories of survivors who have had these things reported – only to then go to work, school, church or counseling to find one of their old pimps step up out of the parking lot at them having found them again.
This is not an issue to be taken lightly. When we execute a rescue – we learned the hard way to relocate the survivor into another state after what happened to Denise. Denise was rescued from a pimp in Hollywood. A year later, she's walking down the street to attend a movie premiere. Her ex-pimp driving down the streets sees her – and realizing she's “got away” he then has to “maintain his street respect” for her escape by running her over with his car killing her by crushing her into a wall.
While we take steps now to make sure this doesn't happen again – there are many new groups out there now, as well as reporters new to this subject, who don't realize when you identify where these victims can be found you're painting a target on them. Many of them will agree to have you take their photos, and identify where they're working, going to school, or attending church because they're in court ordered programs, or programs that are paying their rent. Therefore, to you they are appearing to be willing and consent to these photos and stories detailing their current lives. The reality is they're afraid if they don't that they might lose their place to live or even have their probation violated. So it's up to you as the reporter to make sure that this identifying information is not released to the public.
Differences between “Prostitution” and “Sex Trafficking”
In many of the stories I'm seeing come out of the media today – I can see a lot of confusion. For example, I read one story about a bunch of “johns” who were rounded up and arrested which was labeled a “trafficking sting”. I'm also seeing a lot of so called “identifying signs” of “human trafficking” be honestly more about prostitution than it is about sex trafficking.
For example, a woman appearing to be a prostitute walking into a hotel or in an airport is not automatically a “trafficking victim”. She may be just a prostitute. The only way to identify if she's in fact being trafficked is to either see if (1) if someone is controlling her ability to leave, or (2) if someone is blackmailing or controlling her through non-visible methods into prostitution. However, the only way to make that identification is to talk to the woman, learn about her situation, etc.
Not everyone in a relationship, or married to, or who has children by, a prostitute is automatically a pimp and/or trafficker. There are any people who might even be married to a prostitute who has no idea what's going on – let alone be their pimp and/or trafficker.
Sex trafficking comprises a part of the sex industry – just as human trafficking is a part of the farming industry, mining, hospitality, manufacturing, even household maids in private homes. Trafficking occurs when the person engaging in the labor is either being forced to do this work through threats, coercion, fear, force, etc. or even if they'd sold like a human slave to perform what's desired of them.
Not all in the sex industry are pimped or “trafficked” any more than every maid you see in hotels and private homes are all trafficking victims. Therefore, one needs to establish more of the circumstances of this person before stamping them as a “trafficking victim” or even the victim of a “pimp”. They may in fact just be married, or involved with, an African American male. To automatically label one's husband, lover, or even the father of their children as a “pimp” or “trafficker” without fully understanding the relationship is a form of racial profiling and even racism. Especially when the most heinous traffickers we see are not African American. They can be white, Asian, Hispanic, or even female. Traffickers can be a social worker, a teacher, a daycare worker, etc.
What We're Calling For
When we started this movement – police existed. Courts existed. Social workers existed. Pimping and pandering was a felony already. Kidnapping, rape, violence were also already crimes. Domestic violence and homeless shelters, as well as drug treatment centers existed. Churches existed.
When Alcoholics Anonymous was formed – churches, hospitals, doctors, etc. all existed already. However, they were not able to help those suffering from that disease because they didn't understand it – let alone how to treat it to put it into submission. They were founded because “something different” was needed.
The same applies to sex trafficking. We had two specific needs that needed to be addressed that was not being addressed under our current legal and social system. The first is the idea we were all criminals and all doing what we were doing by choice. Therefore, when we'd try and go to the police for help – we'd be the ones arrested and thrown into jail. Witnesses couldn't come forward in fear of being arrested as “accomplices”. So we needed the police, the courts, and the whole legal system to understand that putting the victim into jail was twice violating them and also preventing them from being able to escape their captors in fear of jail.
The second was the recognition that those trafficking us sometimes were people within our legal system. Everyone knows that the wave of cocaine that hit our country in the 1980's could not have been accomplished without massive corruption. The same is true of sex trafficking.
Just look at the case of Chris Butler as one example. I ask you – if you were a victim of that operation where do you run when your pimp has the largest and most well respected private investigative team, and relationships with well-respected cops? Where do you run for help when you're an illegal alien dancing in a strip club owned by DEA agents who are partying with the Columbian Cartel? How can you go to the police for help when the trafficker behind your operation was Liang Yaohui who was a member of the Chinese government who could have you executed once deported back to China?
The assumption that victims can find help by calling the police, or a task force run by local cops is absolutely insane. If we could run to the police – we wouldn't need a task force. Think about it.
We're hoping to get your help with these issues above because those who are either “frauds” such as the Samoly Mam's, as well as people who are only thinking about fund raising, and not therefore above the safety, well-being, and the long term consequences to the real survivors, have been contributing to stories that not only are harming real survivors, but harming the movement itself in many respects.
If I can be of any help to you on future stories – don't hesitate to contact us. Sex Workers Anonymous is the world's oldest, and largest, program for those who have left the sex industry, for any reason, in existence today. Our hotline has been operating since 1987 – and has answered over 500,000 calls to date. Our Recovery Guide is the only book on the market written for survivors, by survivors, on how to recover from their experiences in the sex industry and/or as trafficking victims. We have chapters all over the USA, and in five other countries currently. We also have a sister program, SWAN, for those who love someone in the sex industry and/or a trafficking victim. Prostitutes Anonymous has branched off to work with those under the age of 18 years of age – and in recognition that anyone under age can't engage in commercial sex of any form because any sex is considered statutory rape. Current projects include production of a reality show called “Leaving the Life” about the realities of leaving the sex industry, as well as our “Black Book” reports we're researching now in various cities about how they're responding to sex trafficking victims.