Survivors Connect Network, an international online network of trafficking/prostitution survivors, now has 44 members from seven different countries. It’s been recognized that the absence of survivor leaders in most major anti-trafficking NGOs has created a void. Survivor knowledge and insight is essential. But it’s become increasingly clear to the NGOs that survivor leadership will make the movement’s success inevitable. Demand Abolition is setting an example by inviting seven survivors to participate in their Arresting Demand colloquium May 3rd and 4th in Boston. We are extraordinarily grateful.
An exciting example of collaboration among survivor groups involves the Bedford case. Sister survivors in the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, Educating Voices, LaCLES, and SexTrade101 have been valiantly educating the public about the harms of the Bedford ruling — which upholds the criminalization of prostitutes on the street — who are almost always crime victims- while it empowers and legitimizes their predators, the male and female pimps who own brothels and escort services.
So we survivors recently voted to issue a statement against the Bedford decision. Dozens of us joining our voices in political action is a big deal. Here’s the statement:
We the members of Survivors Connect Network stand with the women of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, SexTrade101, La Concertation des Luttes Contre L’Exploitation Sexuelle (CLES), and Educating Voices. We are sad and shocked by the Bedford ruling. It’s especially troubling that this decision upholds the criminalization of prostitutes selling sex on the street, as these women are almost always traumatized crime victims who need support not arrest. Meanwhile the ruling empowers the male and female pimps who terrorize and exploit women in prostitution by making it legal to own brothels or escort services.
Researchers have found the women in prostitution suffer from the same levels of trauma symptoms as the victims of state-sponsored torture. It forever changes how we face the world. After going through trafficking/prostitution everything you do is an act of will — you must summon and form a new self from your fragments. And yet as the survivors of torture or trafficking/prostitution rebuild our selves and find our voice, we can develop extraordinary abilities to connect with, inspire, and understand others.
Nelson Mandela exemplifies this type of rebirth. Most everyone understands that Mandela’s experiences of being held 27 years in a prison infamous for torture make him unique. When he was finally released few denied the vast injustice done to him. No one expected him to act like everyone else. Instead South Africa and the world stepped back, and waited to see how this extraordinary man would transform the terrible wrongs he’d been through — they gave him a chance to bring something new into being.
As more trafficking/prostitution survivors speak out, the public will recognize we’re people society has wronged. They’ll understand we’ve been changed by the pain and harshness we’ve experienced. At present public denial of the sex industry’s violence and prostitute-blaming forces many of us into hiding. But as more survivors lead, we’ll be empowered to bring something new and beautiful into being.