Prostitution: a verb, not a noun

Prostitute:noun, a person who engages in sexual intercourse for money; –verb, to sell or offer (oneself) as a prostitute.

Such simple definitions of prostitute is extremely dangerous, as it lends itself to fit the mold of many women and their varying stories.  One thing is clear: those who fall victim to human trafficking are absolutely NOT prostitutes, regardless if they solicit sexual acts for money.  Human trafficking and sexual exploitation victims are often stigmatized as being prostitutes, even if they are coerced or forced into selling themselves for profit.

It is crucial for people and law enforcement in the U.S. to shift the focus from the “prostitute” to the Johns or traffickers in order to create less draw into the sex trafficking industry.  We must take the attention off of these victims so as not to fuel the spotlight of prostitution that often comes to rest on them in the media.  It is easy to call a woman who sells herself “prostitute” without knowing her story or how she got there; she could very well be a victim of human trafficking.  Help to create a safe environment for women who have been taken advantage of and trafficked by not stigmatizing them as “prostitutes” but allowing them to freely speak out as victims of a heinous crime.

Below is a story from a few months back that holds a relevancy that is as strong today as the day it was published.

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Responds to the Lawrence Taylor Sex Trafficking Case

NEW YORK, May 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today’s arrest of Lawrence Taylor for the alleged rape of a 16-year-old runaway sold to him in Montebello, New York by a pimp/trafficker is yet another example of the most powerful, respected and privileged among us demonstrating the normalization of the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Mr. Taylor is part of what we in the anti-trafficking movement call the demand that fuels sex trafficking. Without the demand for commercial sexual exploitation there would be no 16-year-olds — or 26-year-olds for that matter — being offered for sale to Johns by traffickers.

Earlier today Police Chief Brower repeatedly stated at the press conference that Mr. Taylor was ‘… very concerned about being accused of injuring the victim.’ He was referring only to the visible injury on her face, suggesting that the commercial sexual exploitation of this 16-year-old was inconsequential. This statement belies a profound lack of understanding regarding the nature of prostitution. It is now well documented that prostitution, the world’s oldest oppression, is inherently traumatic both on a physical and psychological level to the exploited.

It was also disturbing to hear high level members of the police force continually refer to the trafficking victim as a “prostitute.” Prostitution is the only crime where a person is called that which is done to them. Many victims of sex trafficking do not come forward because of the stigmatization associated with having been prostituted. Understanding that prostitution is a verb, not a noun, could go a long way in removing this stigma.

Shifting the focus of legal enforcement to the Johns and traffickers is how we end the demand for the commercial sexual exploitation of others. Sweden, Norway and now Iceland have passed legislation that does just that, and has created an environment that is unfavorable to human trafficking.

The New York State Anti-trafficking law, the strongest anti-trafficking law in the nation, increased penalties against the demand for commercial sex. This law is being under-enforced in New York state. We can begin to create the social, political and legal conditions that are inhospitable to human trafficking by vigorously enforcing New York’s law and prosecute the Johns and traffickers.

SOURCE The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)


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