The Sex Industry, the Abolitionist Movement, and Things That Need To Change PART 1: It’s Not Them, It’s Us

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

 

17 thoughts on “The Sex Industry, the Abolitionist Movement, and Things That Need To Change PART 1: It’s Not Them, It’s Us

  1. Thanks so much for this post. It speaks to what I am burdened about, but feel unable to do anything concrete for. As a professor in my late sixties, I can give to missions that fight human trafficking and pray for those involved – both those trafficked, those trafficking and those working to help those involved to move to a better place in their lives. Your comment, “It’s not them; it’s us” is hard to swallow, but is extremely important for us to comprehend. Until we understand the truth of that statement, are work will be impotent. Blessings on you and your ministry. I pray that God will give you wisdom, and strength.

    • Thanks, Kathy … I’ve come to see that we won’t be able to offer healing until we humble ourselves and start experiencing it. Unless that happens, we’ll continue to offer these amazing men and women the same sub-par help. I hope that Part 2 speaks to you, as well :)

  2. Thanks so much for telling it like it is, sister. One reason I won’t discuss my past with my church friends is because when I hear the unkind, self-righteous comments they make about others, I know that I will be judged. I’m grateful that Jesus loves me and is healing my scars, day by day. Thank you for this article.

  3. Wow, Meg. Just, wow. I knew this was something that you are involved in, but the way you distilled the facts not only of your experience and life, but of what can happen at the hands of those ‘helping’ is truly eye-popping. I don’t want to imagine what ‘some other pretty risky behavior’ means if its not already on that list you made. You are a courageous woman who is taking her own pain and knowledge and making something worthwhile for someone else; that IS Godly. You are living the real mission and I only wish NOTHING but answers to your questions and predicaments in the future. Thanks for this.

  4. My dear friend, Meg, I am grateful and honored to know you. Your transparency and love shine brightly, even in the darkest of places. Your honesty strikes me to my core, thank you for writing. Thank you for sharing. But, most of all thank you for being my friend. I am proud of you. Much love, Jes

  5. Meg,
    Thank you for sharing your story! I found this after our mutual friend Jes shared it. Thank you for your courage and for speaking out about this issue. I love how you approach it thoughtfully and how you share the wisdom you have learned from years of caring for survivors. All of us who hope to effect change should read this. We need to be safe people, people who are wise in how we treat others, especially the men and women, boys and girls that have suffered through abuse.

  6. So what about the right for these ‘non profits’ to not profit off the criminalizatized labor of our labor?
    What about the right not to be arrested in a prostitution sting operation as that’s the only means upon which trafficked victims are identified and then trafficked into your shame based sex negative programs under duress of being prosecuted for prostitution! That’s a form of extortion in an of itself.

    What about all the violence of being sexually assaulted by the police in the course of these anti prostitution sting operations as this type of entrapment is legal and standard in all anti prostitution sting operations including those carried out under the guise of ‘rescuing sex trafficked victims’?

    How do your ‘service’ propose healing from that type of betrayal and trauma by the very law enforcement that ‘saved’ them?
    Do you tell the victims that they deserved it, like they tell us prostitutes? I assure you that ‘victims’ see your organizations as accomplices in this violence against them.

    It would be helpful to have balanced analysis of the very and exact points of exploitation, coercion, force victims experienced as to inform more specifically what has to change in the sex industry instead of subjecting those of us who are the innocent participants in prostitution to the violence of being arrested! prostitution arrests?

    • Maxine! It’s so great to hear from you. I just now saw your comment and wanted to respond. I greatly appreciated your voice in the opposition to Prop 35 and would love to hear more from you about this. It’s clear that we’re coming from different places and have had different experiences, but I would really like to learn more about what you do and get some insight from you on a few things. If you’re interested, let me know how I can get a hold of you :)

  7. Almost all anti-trafficking [anti-prostitution] initiatives and legislation, including end demand and FBI Innocence Lost Initiatives have the same results as Prop 35 does – because it is primarily criminal-based and not human [child/civil] rights based legislation.

    The misguided and unintentional results of this legislation puts everyone in harms way, into court mandated programs, into juvenile detention and prison – and even deports trafficked persons.

    • Carol, I can’t believe I didn’t see your comment until now – I’m so sorry! I agree with you wholeheartedly and would like to talk with you more about several things if you’re open to it. How can I get a hold of you?

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