From the Outskirts to the Mainstream: How Grassroots Activist Organizations Utilize the Field of Social Service Provision to Address Sex Work and Trafficking
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
First, conflating sex work with sex trafficking trivializes human rights abuses endemic to trafficking victims. Second, this eliminates the agency inherent to individuals whom, for varying reasons, have chosen to work in the sex trade. Those that have chosen to work in the sex trade often find their experiences discounted in favor of the ability to tell a salacious trafficking story to the media. Third, this conflation ignores the reality that is involved with trafficking into other forms of labor, such as migrant work. Due to sensationalistic media stories surrounding sex trafficking, individuals that are trafficked into other labor forms are often denied similar supports offered to sex trafficked victims.
Through this presentation, I present qualitative research I have done with organizations in the city of Chicago that advocate on behalf of sex workers, and their efforts to collaborate with social service organizations in order to present their concerns to politicians and the general public. One major concern woven throughout the research is that those who are involved in the sex industry consensually are often afraid of accessing necessary social and health services due to the assumption that they are trafficked: these individuals do not necessarily want to leave the sex industry, nor do they seek to be rehabilitated through the criminal justice system. These individuals have indicated that when they bring their concerns to the policy table, their views are denied in favor of carceral policies that seek to embed sex trade workers in the criminal justice system, preferring solutions proposed by law enforcement. This brings up a dangerous precedent for women of color, trans women, and undocumented women, all of whom have tenuous relationships with the criminal justice system. They hope that through relationships with social service organizations, they can work with legislators to provide productive solutions for non-judgmental service provision for sex workers.
My ultimate goal is to foster a productive and challenging conversation that will lead to an increased understanding of the needs of this population, of the challenges of researching sex work and sex trafficking within a public policy context and how to produce appropriate policies that delineate between the services needed by varying individuals in the sex trade.