5 Myths About Women Working in the Sex Industry

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Historically there have been many stereotypes surrounding women working in the commercial sex industry. These presuppositions have fostered misunderstandings and judgment about why and how women enter the life, and have hindered the correction of injustices that keep women from leaving prostitution. Here are the top 5 myths about girls working in the sex industry, and our take on how to properly adjust our mentality as fellow human beings in order to walk alongside them as they pursue dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency.

  1.     All sex workers are in the sex industry because they are promiscuous.
    This may seem like a dated stereotype, but it is one that still impedes the thinking of many people on the issue of sex work. Many people look at sex workers who present themselves in an overtly sexual way in an attempt to attract clients as immoral women who were never brought up the right way or choose to be rebellious in order to fulfill their desires. In actuality, girls working in the industry have entered the life for a variety of reasons. Some are taken by force and made to work selling their bodies, others are coerced by men acting as their boyfriend and promising them love in exchange for their work, while still other women face push factors such as poverty or drug addictions that drive them into the life.
  1. Every sex worker has a pimp.
    Many people envision a Hollywood version of a pimp controlling girls working in the sex industry, setting up meetings with clients, beating them and taking all their money when they think of sex work. While unfortunately this is the case for some women and can lead to vast complications in helping a girl to leave the life, a survivor of the life cites as little as 30-50% of industry girls in Atlanta as working under a pimp. Many working girls operate independently, handling their own clients and finances.
  1. Every girl is trafficked into the sex industry at a young age.
    On the flipside of the stereotype that all girls choose to work in the industry to be sexually active, a popular belief following the rise in awareness of domestic sex minor trafficking (DMST) is that all girls in the sex industry are victims of trafficking. While the average age of entry into the sex industry is 14, not every sex worker entered the industry that young, and not every sex worker that entered that young would consider themselves a DMST survivor. Trafficking is defined as any use of threat, force, coercion, abduction fraud, abuse of power, or gifts to gain a victim’s consent to exploitation. This is why it gets confusing when trying to distinguish between sex trafficking survivors and sex workers, because sex work often includes some aspect of coercion, fraud, or gifts. The best way to know whether to use the term sex trafficking survivor or sex worker is to use the language that person identifies with.
  1. Every girl in the industry is from a poor minority neighborhood.
    A common conception about sex workers is that they are of a minority race and come from poverty. This is not true in every case. In Atlanta workers in the sex industry come from every race, socioeconomic status, family background and geographic location. Upper middle class white girls may be as susceptible as an African American girl living on food stamps. Poverty can be an influential push factor and it is a well-known fact in the United States that minorities are the most likely to suffer from impoverishment. However, not getting enough attention at home, struggling with self-worth and even seeking acceptance from friends or a boyfriend make upper class girls easy targets for those seeking to exploit them. The issue is not isolated; it is prevalent citywide.
  1. Every girl deserves what she gets after choosing to work in the sex industry.
    As we have already established, workers in the sex industry come from all walks of life and enter into the commercial sex industry for a vast array of reasons that are not always their fault. We must recognize the inherent dignity in every person, and affirm that no matter the industry someone works in, they deserve a safe work environment and justice for violence done against them. We must acknowledge the harsh realities of life that leave some girls feeling they have no better choice than to work in the industry. Above all, we must be compassionate to women who are suffering not only from the decisions others have made for them, but also for women who have made their own choices, and graciously extend support for them to start again.

How #WhyIStayed reconnects us with our humanity 

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By now most of you have probably heard about the Ray Rice scandal where a video was released showing the NFL player violently abusing his then fiancée, now wife, Janay Palmer.  Many of you have seen the video. 

I’m not going to rehash any of the views on the issue that have already been voiced by the media, NFL, celebrities or the church.   I think we can all agree that using violence against another person, man or woman, apart from self-defense, is an act of selfishness and uncontrolled anger that we believe is morally wrong.

Instead, I want to focus on the powerful and inspiring social media campaign that has risen out of the ashes of this tragic occurrence.  #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft have been trending on Twitter for the past several days sparking national coverage as survivors of domestic abuse share their personal stories.

Women who have been manipulated, beaten, threatened, strangled and have faced countless other abuses at the hands of an intimate partner are telling their stories which has created a domino effect of women gaining the courage to speak up and share their experiences. 

Here at Serenity’s Steps, we serve women who have not only been exploited and abused at a young age, but who often continue to experience violence or emotional abuse at the hands of pimps and boyfriends, leading to PTSD symptoms similar to those of domestic abuse victims.

For a woman who has undergone such trauma as being abused and manipulated by someone who is supposed to represent safety, protection and trust, opening up is no small feat.  Most victims of abuse and exploitation take years to share what they’ve faced with a close friend, family member or counselor, let alone voice their story publicly.   

Rather than spend time focusing on the current social obsession with why Janay Palmer stayed with Ray Rice, rather than victim-blaming or questioning motives, let’s celebrate the fact that good is coming from evil in the form of empowerment for women who have suffered in silence for a long time. 

Because of #WhyIStayed, those of us who haven’t experienced domestic abuse have the unique opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, teaching us how to better support victims.  Because of #WhyIStayed, women and men who have experienced domestic violence are validated as victims, not questioned as to why they “didn’t just leave.”  Because of #WhyILeft, victims receive hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is help, and above all, there is community willing to be there for the healing process. 

In a culture saturated with messages that teach us it’s ok to objectify other human beings as sexual objects, pursue relationships simply for our own fulfillment and gratification and that violence against one another is excusable if we have enough social esteem and wealth, we have to fight to see one another as human beings.

But, if we allow it, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft will reconnect us with our humanity. Let’s look past our cultural standards, the media portrayals and even our own tendencies to speculate about others.  Let’s listen to the stories that these women are brave enough to share, empower one another with them, and be emboldened to stand up for those who are abused and exploited. 

Read a few of the powerful #WhyIStayed posts here!  

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

To make a donation to Serenity’s Steps, and support women who have been sexually exploited, click here.  

Contributed by Kate McGaughey, PR & Marketing Manager, Serenity’s Steps. 



See the Impact: an interview with Atlanta comedian Kelly Spillman

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Kelly Spillman recently performed as one of our acts for the College Park Comedy Show!  I had the chance to follow up with her to learn a little more about her personal love of comedy and how she believes local comedians can use their trade to make a difference in the anti-sex trafficking movement.  We love working with people who are using their talent to make a difference in the community! 

Q. How long have you been doing comedy?  What got you started?

I started doing improv comedy about 5 years ago. I had taken a few classes about ten years ago and missed it. I became hooked. I added stand-up comedy about two and a half years ago. I am embarrassed to admit that I went back to improv five years ago after the end of an eight year relationship. I loved performing improv but was terrible at impressions and dialects. I started to do stand-up just so I could practice impressions and fell in love with performing stand-up without ever doing one impression. I still perform improv at Basement Theatre and the Brink a few times a month but I devote most of my time to stand-up.

Q. What made you connect with Serenity’s Steps’ cause and decide to donate your time and talent for our fundraiser comedy show?
My friend Brian Salman asked me if I would consider doing the fundraiser.  He is affiliated with the group. I was happy to do it. I love to be able to reach new audiences and I love when money from comedy events can help others.

Q. As a native to Atlanta, how much were you aware of the presence of the sex industry (prostitution and sex trafficking) and the services available to women trapped in that life before this event?
I have lived in Atlanta for 17 years and I was unaware of how big of a problem sex trafficking is here. I know recently there was a campaign around the city where big rigs were driving around to show how women related to trafficking could be in these trucks. I never saw the big rigs but I heard people talking about it. I had no idea how rampant trafficking and child prostitution was in Atlanta.

Q. Did you learn anything new about the sex industry in Atlanta, the women working in prostitution or the services available to them by partnering with Serenity’s Steps for this comedy show?
Yes, I learned that most of these girls are in their early teens [when they start in the life] which is horrifying. However, I am glad that Serenity’s Steps is there to help these young girls and provide shelter and escape from the men that use and abuse them.

Q. How important do you think it is for fellow Atlantans to get involved in supporting women who want to get out of the sex industry and raising awareness about women’s exploitation that is happening in our own community?
I think many Atlantans are unaware of this problem. I do believe that people will help when they know there is a problem and they know specifically how they can help. Both of the comedy shows had a good number of people that came out and bought tickets. Educational and awareness programs are key to getting people involved. 

Q. How do you think other comedians can get involved in raising awareness and support for local issues and organizations that benefit populations like women who have been sexually exploited?  
Most comedians love to perform and love to be in front of new crowds. That is the way to make new fans and to possibly get other bookings. Comedians are regular people by day and they want to contribute and make the world a better place. I would recommend that nonprofits consider using comedians at fundraisers. Most comedians would love to be involved so just ask them if they would consider performing at your event!

To view Kelly’s clips and consider booking her for an event visit: http://www.rooftopcomedy.com/comics/KellySpillman

Be sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter



3 things to consider when you’re burned out

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We’ve all been there.  Those days where nothing seems to go right?  You know, like when the power on your entire college campus goes out for days because it got hit by a tornado so they send you home early, you blindly pack what you think are your clothes in the dark and when you get to your aunt and uncle’s house which is the halfway point to home on your 14-hour drive,  there’s a fire truck in their driveway because yes, their house is on fire. (Small true story which happily had a much better ending than beginning.)

Sometimes there are seasons where it feels like these bad days are every day.  If you or anyone you know has ever worked for a non-profit, you understand that everyone is doing several jobs outside of their title, there is never enough funding to cover everything that needs to be done and burn-out is real.  Now, that’s not to say that I don’t love working for a non-profit.  The work I do and the relationships I have a chance to build with my co-workers and the women we serve at Serenity’s Steps is both rewarding and life-changing.  But how do you keep the positives at the forefront of your mind when there are days, weeks and months that all you see is more women, less beds, more needs, less money, more tasks, less energy? 

I recently read the J.R.R. Tolkein quote that says “Little by little one travels far.” It reminded me of a few things to tell myself and anyone else struggling with burn-out or discouragement:

1. Don’t forget to look at the little accomplishments – they matter.
Oftentimes it is easy to forget about a meeting with a potential donor that went well, a new volunteer who is enthusiastic to donate their time, or an event that was successful when you still have women who need a place to sleep at night and nowhere to put them.  But the little things add up, and it is important to look back on them because in truth, we’ve made vast strides from where we were a year ago.

2. Perseverance forges true friendships and better teamwork.
Through the little things, we are traveling far in what we are accomplishing as an organization.  But we are also traveling far in the little steps we take to become better co-workers, better teammates and better friends.  When something isn’t working, we are forced to come together as a more proactive team and rethink our strategy.  We also have the opportunity to encourage one another and build each other up, which is in its very essence living out our mission – to cultivate authentic relationships.

3. Be still and be grateful.
These are two of the things I’ve struggled most to hear in my life.  I enjoy being fast-paced and value visible achievement.  Slowing down seems like a waste of time and being grateful means I would actually have to let go of it and instead look for the hidden good when something didn’t go as planned (?!?!) While these two have been challenging for me, I have found them to be freeing when I am able to put them into practice because they require me to tap in spiritually.  Being still before God takes intentionality and allowing gratefulness to move beyond a moment and permeate your life is an act of the Spirit.  I value these things and am in constant need of a reminder of their importance when I am discouraged at work or dealing with burn-out because through those small moments of stillness and even the tiniest of things I’m able to identify as a blessing, I am traveling far, little by little in my journey of dependence on God.  And if there is one thing I hope to learn, to share or to experience together with our team and our women, it is an increase in the knowledge and understanding of the deep love He has lavished on us.  

What are your little by littles?  Are you able to look back and see how far you’ve traveled?  We’d love to hear your story. Please feel free to comment below, and I invite you to pray with us as we walk forward as a community seeking to live in authentic relationship.  

Contributed by Kate McGaughey, PR & Marketing Manager, Serenity’s Steps