This Valentine’s Day, the Human Trafficking Center chose to forego candies and chocolate, instead hosting a panel discussion entitled “Flipping the Discourse: Empowerment and Effective Anti-Sex Trafficking Efforts.” Three speakers shared a viewpoint often ignored in the anti-human trafficking movement – sex worker’s rights. In addition to addressing the need for sex worker protection, the panelists described how the decriminalization of sex work (no longer charging sex workers as criminals) can positively contribute to the fight against sexual exploitation in the United States.
The panel included Billie McIntire, Executive Director of Social Wellness Advocacy Network (SWAN), Susan Dewey, Assistant Director of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wyoming, and Domina Elle, a therapist and self-professed dominatrix in the Denver area. Ryan Beck Turner, Associate Director of Advocacy of the Human Trafficking Center, moderated the discussion.
The panelists addressed the agency of individuals in the sex industry as well as the debate about decriminalizing prostitution. Questions included “how can anti-trafficking organizations ‘do no harm’ when promoting policies to protect the rights of both sex workers and victims of commercial sex trafficking” and “would the sex industry still exist in a world without patriarchy?”
While addressing the appeal of decriminalization, the panelists distinguished their approach from that of the popular Swedish model that also promotes decriminalization. The panelists explained that while the Swedish model may decriminalize sex work, in the case of prostitution, it “demonizes” the clients and perpetuates the dominant discourse that dehumanizes all individuals seeking the services of sex workers.
All three panelists consider themselves sex workers’ advocates, promoting the protection of willing participants in the sex industry. Elle, who characterizes her work as therapy rather than sex work, spoke to the demonization of her clients by society and the need to break down the stereotype that they are all “immoral people.”
McIntire noted the benefits from creating a network of sex workers that could aid in anti-sex trafficking efforts and appealed for more research originating from within the sex industry. “We need to show that there are different kinds of sex workers and that there is a difference between sex work and human trafficking,” explained McIntire. This important distinction runs contrary to the dominant discourse often promoted by the government, nonprofits and the media.
At the Human Trafficking Center, we are dedicated to research and discourse where a plurality of voices can be heard. We hope to host similar panel discussions in the future, allowing under-represented groups to provide input on problems and potential solutions to human trafficking in a safe, non-judgmental setting.
A recording of the event will be available in the near future.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC