At the National Colloquium on Demand Abolition last week in Boston, I was impressed by the solidarity of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and their resolve to frame themselves as both experts and leaders of the movement to end sex trafficking. It's good to see a survivor like Rachel Lloyd given equal place with national attorneys general, commissioners of police and key legislators. Bravo to all involved.
The need for all sectors to work towards cultural and legislative change is unequivocal. What fascinates me is how hard it is for all the actors to agree on next steps:
• Should prostitution be legalized? (In my opinion, absolutely not, if we look at the record of Spain, Germany and The Netherlands.)
• Should we implement tougher laws that target the buyers? (This is more or less the Swedish model that I admire because it recognizes the rights of those who sell their bodies to be seen as victims)
• Should we write tougher laws that deter traffickers from making money off the bodies of victims? (We would really have to change the culture within the police and prosecutorial systems but obviously this is a good idea, unless you are part of the cycle of poverty that sees this industry as the only way to survive.)
• Are the buyers/traffickers evil or merely lost souls in need of help? (Many are survivors of a range of childhood trauma, but are we ready to focus on their needs and rights when girls, women and boys who are trafficked are still treated as criminals and second-class citizens by our prevailing culture?)
• Do we give more resources to provide for the needs of the trafficked or should fund the top-down solutions?
• How do we deal with the role of the Internet in abetting both trafficking and porn? Let free market economies rule or regulate fiercely?
And there you have the current state of play, more or less, in the movement to end sex trafficking in the USA. There's a long way to go to make significant change.
In making a documentary, 10,000 Men, about this fascinating world, I face additional challenges: how to show the true picture without further exploiting victims, without alienating my target audience (those who could be persuaded to re-think their ideas about purchasing sex) and working with co-operative telegenic characters to engage an audience.
So among other things I have to find that perfect victim. She is not Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, a character who has done so much harm over the last 20 years that someone could write a dissertation about it. She is also not Liam Neeson's daughter in Taken, a most implausible story on many counts. She shouldn't be a drug addict or "throw away," either, because then audiences might not identify with her as "our daughter" or "our sister."
Here is my perfect victim: I met her in Las Vegas last month. She offered an undercover cop (who admittedly was looking for a transvestite at the time) $10 for a blowjob. He was unable to handcuff her because her left arm wouldn't go behind her back. After he succeeded in cuffing her hands in front, he took a fellow officer in the car for protection and they were escorted to the detention center by two other undercover cars, I watched as she stumbled into custody.
She was about 5' tall, 26 years old, had a pronounced limp, a partially shaved head and was 6 months pregnant. I learned she was also a drug addict, a stroke victim and has brain cancer. She could be dead by now. She was trafficked as a 12-year-old and lived under pimp control until she was not worth controlling. No one saved her. In our system she is still a criminal. To me, she's a perfect victim, but I question who wants to watch her story? It is so grim few could stomach it. She is the ravaged face and body of the commercial sex industry in this country. Since I started working on this issue people have argued with me that those who sell their bodies are not victims at all. Really?