The sun shined on aspiring young professionals, interns, and activists as they lined up outside the Brooklyn Historical Society on July 18th waiting to #ListentoSurvivors and get their insider perspective on prostitution and ending sexploitation. The Summit was hosted by World Without Exploitation (WorldWE), an organization that passionately encourages debate, dialogue, and finding common ground to combat the issues surrounding human exploitation. They bring together all types of people that make this world so good—artists, critical thinkers, survivors, and activists—to collaborate and create an even better world: a “world without exploitation.”
The Summit was the organization’s first annual event and was an absolute success. The day consisted of speakers, panels, break-out sessions, poetry, and even a short play—all of which flowed flawlessly.
All of the survivors who spoke adamantly testified that prostitution is inherently harmful. They debunked the myth that prostitution is a “choice” and rejected the increasingly popular term coined by the sex-industry itself: sex-work. (For a chart of preferred sex-trafficking and prostitution terminology, see here.)
“[Prostitution] is not a choice, but rather, the lack of choices” said Melanie Thompson, a survivor of prostitution who was sexually trafficked within the U.S. at age 12. Nikki Bell, prostitution survivor and founder of Living in Freedom Together, emphatically agreed by saying, “Choosing sex work is a very privileged ‘choice’ to have.” The fact is, the vast majority of women who are in prostitution are disadvantaged and then taken advantage of.
Nikki also spoke out against the myth that prostitution is empowering for women. “I was owned by whoever was paying for me for those 20 minutes.” There is nothing empowering about that.
Rachel Moran, survivor and author of Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution, candidly reminded all that “Prostitution is neither sex nor work. . . it is not sex, [because] the essence of sex is mutuality. If that is stripped away, then it becomes sexual abuse . . . the human suffering [involved in prostitution] is incalculable.”
Prostitution is an entrapping, damaging cycle. When asked how one should respond to the other women who have had similar pasts with prostitution yet hold opposing views, Rachel quipped back, “Almost no one who escapes prostitution holds a different view.” She explained why women within prostitution sometimes defend it by saying, “It’s unfair to expect women in prostitution to characterize their situation accurately the same way a woman in an abusive relationship cannot see her situation accurately.” She compared common justifications given by women in abusive relationships, such as, “He really does love me, he just gets upset when he’s drunk,” to those made by women in prostitution such as, “It’s my own body, I’ll do what I like with it.” She made it clear that almost all women who finally get out of prostitution agree that it was abusive. Moran called on everyone to stop viewing the effort to end prostitution as prohibition, and start recognizing it as abolition.
We congratulate World Without Exploitation on their successful summit and are excited to continue to work together in ending all forms of sexual exploitation.