On April 6, 2022, NCOSE hosted the CAP International event Last Girl First – a research-based educational campaign aimed at highlighting the disproportionate impact of the prostitution system on women and girls from the most marginalized communities.
What is CAP International?
The Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International) is a movement made of grassroot advocates and survivors-led organizations united around a common objective: the abolition of systems of prostitution and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation. As of today, the growing Coalition includes 35 organizations in 27 countries.
CAP international members advocate for policies based around five core principles:
- Decriminalization of prostituted persons;
- Protection, support and exit options for all prostituted persons;
- No impunity for traffickers, pimps, and sex buyers;
- Criminalization of the purchase of all sexual acts;
- Training for professionals, prevention measures, and education for young people.
One way CAP International focuses on these principles is through the Last Girl First campaign, explained here:
“The ‘Last Girls’ are all those forgotten women and girls, exploited by the prostitution system and victims of all the disparities it perpetuates. They are the ones who are at the intersection of all systems of domination and forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, class, capitalism and imperialism… By working closely with those concerned and with our members on the ground, the ‘Last Girl First’ campaign aims to identify, bring together and mobilise these women and girls from the most vulnerable groups over-represented in prostitution through research reports and public events in order to raise their voices in the fight against the prostitution system.”
In March 2022, the Last Girl First campaign culminated in a comprehensive, two-year long research report covering 49 countries, counting 15 testimonies of survivors of prostitution, and more than 400 references. The report provides a comprehensive analysis of the intersectional oppressions that foster systems of prostitution and trafficking – highlighting the realities of such forms of sexual exploitation and providing policy recommendations that best support victims while creating pathways to prevent further violence and oppression.
The Washington D.C. Leg of the “Last Girl First” Tour
CAP International toured eight different cities in the United States in order to share findings from the Last Girl First report. Their last stop was NCOSE Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where attendees from over 10 countries—including the United States, Germany, South Africa, UK, Canada, and Italy—joined in-person and online to hear the latest research and learn ways to advocate for the women and girls trapped in systems of prostitution and trafficking across the world.
Incredible speakers and global leaders presented to an audience of over 500 people who represent a worldwide movement to see a world free from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. The guest speakers included Héma Sibi and Jonathan Machler from CAP International, Ingrid Ask from the Embassy of Sweden, the Embassy of France, allies Vednita Carter from Breaking Free and Tina Frundt from Courtney’s House, and NCOSE’s own Dr. Stephany Powell and CEO Dawn Hawkins.
Highlights from the CAP International “Last Girl First” Report on Systems of Prostitution
Those profiting from prostitution present it as harmless and say it is much like any other commercial transaction, but the reality for people in prostitution is far darker. Coercion, force, fraud, and deeply rooted social injustices are necessary to make prostitution possible. In contrast to how it is presented by the media in many places, prostitution typically involves payment for unwanted and degrading sex acts.
The Last Girl First report, which can be found in full here, is divided into three parts:
1. Findings that support the overrepresentation of women and girls from the most marginalized communities in prostitution.
Throughout the world and throughout history, women and girls from systemically discriminated communities are overrepresented among persons in prostitution and victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Whether they are Indigenous women and girls, from oppressed castes, ethnic, racial, or religious minorities, migrants, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons or refugees, it is the marginalized who are the primary targets of the prostitution system.
For example, an assessment of all presumed cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation from 2008 to 2010 in the United States showed that 40% of the victims are Black even though that same demographic represents 13.4% of the total population of the country. The primary minor (a.k.a. child) victims of sexual exploitation in the United States, by a wide and alarming margin, are Black girls.
2. An analysis of the major trends at work within prostitution.
Prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation do not exist in a vacuum, but instead overlap and reinforce each other in a vicious cycle of abuse and oppression—mostly for women and girls—and marginalized and vulnerable women and girls are the most at risk by standing at the intersection of so many different patterns of domination – the links between patriarchy, racism, colonization, war, classism, and capitalism are all deeply connected.
Other forms of sexual abuse and exploitation also play a role in prostitution, such as pornography fueling demand and funneling men into buying sex and the routine objectification of women and girls in the media.
3. Recognition that vulnerabilities play a major factor in prostitution.
The prostitution system is one which exploits social, economic, and cultural inequalities. In doing so, it thrives on various factors which increase the vulnerability of women and girls to prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. Some of these vulnerabilities highlighted in the report are:
- Youth – Many men are seeking younger and younger girls. In France, 10% of the prostituted persons were victims of prostitution when they were still minors and 39% fell victim to the prostitution system between the ages of 18 and 24.
- Homelessness and foster care – In 2013, an FBI investigation of sexual exploitation in the United States revealed that 60% of the victims of trafficking in girls were children in foster care. A study by Melissa Farley analyzing prostitution in nine different countries found that a majority of the 854 people interviewed indicated housing as an immediate need.
- Poverty – Economic inequality is intrinsically linked to prostitution, with many victims using prostitution as a form of survival (sometimes called “survival sex”). In a study conducted on the streets of San Francisco, 88% of the 200 respondents and 92% of the minors considered themselves “very poor” or “barely surviving.” When asked why they “entered” prostitution, 89% said “needed money” and “hungry.”
- Childhood abuse – Many people in prostitution have experienced abuse and neglect when they were children. A study on a comparison group of 1142 individuals in custody at the Cook County Department of Corrections corroborates this finding and asserts that childhood abuse has a “lifelong effect on entry into prostitution, almost doubling the likelihood of entering it.”
- LGBTQ+ populations – People who identify as LGBTQ+ are at greater risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation and prostitution due to increased vulnerability such as societal and familial stigma and employment discrimination. In New Zealand, transgender individuals from the Maori community are overrepresented among the victims of prostitution. A 2004 study found that, in New Zealand, nearly 40% of victims of the prostitution system identify as transgender.
- Substance addiction – The links between addiction and prostitution are complex. Many of the people in prostitution have addictions to drugs and alcohol, and/or addictive substances are used to further control and manipulate victims.
Recommendations for Policy and Advocacy for Addressing the Exploitation of Systems of Prostitution
It’s abundantly clear from the research and lived experience of thousands of survivors that neither legalizing nor fully decriminalizing prostitution will help those exploited by it. Legalizing or fully decriminalizing the buying and selling of the most marginalized women and girls is legitimizing violence as a means of livelihood and survival for the most vulnerable. Such a world can never truly be free from sexual abuse and exploitation.
Instead, we must take a different approach and stand up for these women and girls around the world. We must turn away from the normalization of oppression and instead look for a better solution and a better world for everyone. This means going after the root cause of prostitution: the sex buyers and their demand for the bodies of others which fuels this system. It means implementing a holistic and survivor-centered approach that decriminalizes those within prostitution while holding accountable the individuals that seek to buy and sell the bodies of others. It means providing meaningful social services that address the overlapping factors of vulnerability and providing off-ramps and services for those trapped in prostitution.