Photo credit: 2009 Kat/flickr.
The following is a post written by guest contributor Meg Munoz:
I can guarantee you that I didn’t grow up thinking that I was going to sell my body for a living. Truth be told, I have yet to meet one person who does. And even though there are threads of similarity running through the stories of women caught up in the sex industry, every one is unique. The same is true of my own story.
First, a glimpse into my past
After an early adolescence of abuse and neglect, I had managed to graduate into young adulthood with a nice little resume that included serious depression, cutting, several suicide attempts, alcoholism, drug abuse, anorexia, bulimia, abortion, abusive relationships, and some other pretty risky behavior. By 18, I decided to go for the quick money by entering the sex industry, and started escorting to support my penchant for partying. I felt empowered, independent, and finally in control of my life. But in reality, all I got was a lousy meth addiction and a taste for dangerous men.
After a relapse, I returned to the industry for what would turn into more than five years of living a double life. Only one person outside of me knew anything about it. In that time, I not only experienced what it was like to live as an independent sex worker, but also as a young woman who was being forced, blackmailed, threatened, harassed, abused, and intimidated into sex work for the financial benefit of a trusted friend. By definition, I was domestically trafficked and exploited for commercial sex work during some of my time as an escort.
An unlikely response
I left the industry in 2001. 8 years later, I decided it was time to go back, but for entirely different reasons. Abeni was born, with a commitment to walk alongside those working in the local adult entertainment industry. Since that time, Abeni has taken on a life of its own.
When it launched in late 2009, we knew that trafficking would eventually make its way onto our radar. By 2010, we were being flooded with trafficking survivors. I was scrambling to figure out where to send these women, how to connect them with services, and how to best walk alongside them on their journey. My own industry experience just was not enough to carry me, but I got a crash course in trafficking, trauma, and what NOT to do. In conjunction with ongoing healing at a personal level, my experiences with these women taught me more than I ever hoped to learn about what healthy (and unhealthy) recovery looked like, and just how much was lacking within the anti-trafficking movement’s approach to after care.
In the past few years, I have noticed a growing abolitionist movement within the Christian Community. While our pursuit of justice is noble, necessary, and exciting to see, my experience has led me to unearth some concerns that I feel need to be addressed by those committed to (and serving within) this movement. If we are truly interested in seeing those we serve heal and find freedom, we are going to have to rethink a few things. As an industry veteran, survivor and service provider, I believe there are things that must be discussed.
It’s not them, it’s us
No really, it is. If more women are dropping out of programs than those who are staying through completion, I believe we must turn a critical eye not to the survivor but towards our philosophy and approach. We will never do things perfectly, of course. But we cannot continue to blame the girls for deficits, gaps in treatment, or emotional/psychological conditions so great that they’re unable to keep up or follow through. We are failing to see the reality of where they are, as opposed to the fantasy of where we want them to be. This sets these girls up for failure and creates an unsafe healing environment.
We need to be able to discern a healthy program from one that is exploitative, traumatizing, spiritually abusive, psychologically unsound, and emotionally damaging. I think it’s time we got honest about what’s broken, and start working on the restoration of those much-needed programs.
Here are some non-negotiables:
- We don’t have the right to force people into prayer, Bible studies, or other spiritual activities they don’t want to partake in.
- We don’t have the right to make them attend church services in order to stay in our programs.
- We don’t have the right to verbally, emotionally, or psychologically abuse those within our programs.
- We don’t have the right to revoke their basic freedoms.
- We don’t have the right to offer inferior resources/solutions that don’t meet their needs, then act as if we’ve done them a favor.
- We don’t have the right to exploit them as labor or publicity for our programs.
- We don’t have the right to use their stories, images, or trauma for our organizations until they have experienced a certain measure of healing and until such a time as they are ready and consent knowingly.
- We don’t have the right to strip search girls (yes, this actually happens).
- We don’t have the right to use our positions of power to intimidate, coerce, threaten into compliance or to gain sexual favors (yep, this happens too).
- And we don’t have the right to stay silent about it when we find out it’s happening.
In the second and final part of this article, I’ll elaborate on why things have to change and how we can do that…together.
Meg Munoz is convinced that Love still conquers all and that healing is a lifelong journey. She lives in Southern California, where she balances her two loves – family and Abeni.