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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.