I am a homeless sex trafficking survivor and a sex worker. I’m a throwaway. Many people wonder how I could be both a survivor of sex trafficking and also presently a sex worker, but it’s easy. I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.
Trump recently signed into law ― legislation aimed at preventing sex trafficking by holding websites accountable for third-party content. But this also makes it almost impossible for independent sex workers to continue working.
The panic surrounding FOSTA/SESTA has resulted in the complete seizure of Backpage, an online forum much like Craigslist, as well as the shutdown of The Erotic Review in the United States and the closing of the Craigslist casual encounters classifieds board, where many sex workers found clients. I and all my fellow survivor friends were already homeless or barely surviving before the passage of FOSTA/SESTA. Now, this legislation further limits our options for income and puts us on the fast track to even harsher marginalization.
If you want to help me as a trafficking survivor, then government-backed paternalism is not the way to go about it. The ramifications of these policies are quite serious. I’m already seeing an increase in street-based sex work because people have nowhere to go but to the streets to find clients.
I started in the sex industry by force, working for a boyfriend-turned pimp in upper Manhattan and the Bronx. I was locked in rooms and left to be gang raped on a regular basis. Street-based sex work is no joke. It can be extremely dangerous but also extremely necessary for many people’s survival.
I went on from forced prostitution to choosing to do sex work. That’s what people don’t understand: Choice is a trajectory. Choice is always constrained; it’s just a matter of how constrained. Doing sex work by ― and for myself ― was a righteous and liberating experience.
I advertised on Backpage, where I could screen clients over the phone or via email without ever having to be around them. I didn’t have to worry about getting beat up for turning down a date. Instead, I could say “NO” with confidence that I would not be hurt. You can’t tell me that isn’t empowerment. I got to do sex work on my own terms. I got to rewrite a very traumatic experience and turn it into a story where I am a strong, empowered person with full agency over my body.
I advertised on Backpage, where I could screen clients over the phone or via email without ever having to be around them. I didn’t have to worry about getting beat up for turning down a date.