The Anti-trafficking Movement Needs Survivor Voices: Why Are We Ignored?

2 Apr

human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, sex work, survivors connect, stella marr, sex industry, feminism, ptsd, trauma

My sister survivor Holly Austin Smith has a great new post on her blog, titled The Importance of the Survivor Voice.  She discusses an issue that’s central to most  of us:  Why aren’t more survivors being uplifted to lead the anti-trafficking movement?  Sister  survivor Rachel Lloyd is a splendid exception to this rule, as are  Vednita Carter and Kristy Childs.  But so many of us our ignored and discarded after we’ve been used by anti-trafficking organizations once or twice to tell our story.  No one knows more about the sex industry and human trafficking than we do.  No one knows more about recovery from trafficking/prostitution than us.  The absence of  survivor leaders  in most  major anti-trafficking organizations creates a hole in the movement.   Much more would accomplished much faster if we were given the chance to lead.  Because so few of us are empowered to lead,  so much time is wasted — so much knowledge and insight lost.

What’s especially troubling is that even when survivors find ways to lead on our own we’re ignored or talked through.  Our Canadian 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 crime victims– while it empowers and legitimizes their predators, the male and female pimps and traffickers who own brothels and escort services.  While some of the major anti-trafficking organizations have commented on the ruling or written documents concerning its issues, there’s been precious little support and acknowledgement of the brave work of these Canadian survivors.

The 34 members of Survivors Connect recently voted to issue a statement of support for our Canadian sisters against the Bedford decision.  34 prostitution/trafficking survivors joining our voices  in political action is a big deal.  It was a historic moment, and marked a big change in how survivors participate in the movement.  But there was no response by the big anti-trafficking organizations.  A  few wonderful women within these large anti-trafficking organizations  have reached out to me — there are great people in these groups, of course.  But in general survivors are ignored, not uplifted.

What can survivors do about this situation?  What we’ve been through in the sex industry unites us.  We must remember our voices are powerful, form survivors groups where there are none, and join existing survivor groups.  Sometimes nonprofit organizations become competitive and don’t work together.  We can’t afford this.  It’s important that our different survivor groups work and flow together as one so that our voices aren’t fragmented.

Survivors Connect is an international online leaderless network.  We already have 34 survivor members, and we’ve only been around for two months.  We joyfully welcome new sister survivor members. Here’s how to join us.

In response to the need for survivors’ voices,  Holly Austin Smith has started a speaker’s bureau called Survivor Strong.  Here’s an excerpt from her brilliant post on the subject:

 I am in touch with survivors from around the world: new survivors, empowered survivors, educated survivors, struggling survivors, and scared survivors.  We unite under these umbrella organizations to offer each other support, guidance, and empathy and to work together on survivor-inspired projects.

There is a particular topic which has been surfacing lately on many of these forums and that is the lack of survivor invitations to participate in local and national conferences, symposiums, workshops, etc.  Often, survivors are requested to recount the details of their testimonies, and then they are excused from further participation.  This is baffling to me.  If there is to be a discussion regarding the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors, shouldn’t there be a survivor’s perspective present?

Please realize I recognize that many organizations involved in such events are survivor-informed; however, I still believe that empowered survivors whom are able to attend the event should be invited to participate.  What better way to convey to new survivors that their futures hold promise but by providing a place and by lifting the voices of survivors who are ready to come forward?

Read more.

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36 Responses to “The Anti-trafficking Movement Needs Survivor Voices: Why Are We Ignored?”

  1. M.K. Hajdin (Exiled Star) April 2, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    P.S. Prostitution will not end until the patriarchy is overthrown.

    • stellamarr April 2, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      I think it can end a lot sooner than that. In Sweden, Iceland and Norway there’s been tremendous progress since the passing of the nordic model laws, which make it always legal to be a prostitute, and always illegal to be a John or a pimp. For more info on this approach:–the-scars-of-prostitution

      • The World Is My Cuttlefish April 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

        This seems a sensible idea. I’m glad something is making a difference.

      • elroyjones April 30, 2012 at 5:00 am #

        What a terrific model, the prostitute as subcontractor, a near perfect solution! Empowering the business person and eliminating the middleman.

        It is perplexing that survivors have been largely ignored in anti-trafficking. I agree that non-profits are often competing for the same funding so don’t present unity. I wonder how many ancillary industries (cops, courts, jails, therapists) would be adversely affected if unified survivors were encouraged to lead anti-trafficking?

  2. Let's CUT the Crap! April 2, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    I am speechless. I need time to digest some of this.

  3. ryeder April 2, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Sounds like you are in the same boat as I am. No one will listen, and if they should, the issues will be swept under the rug. You do good things here. Keep it up…

  4. scorchingwords April 2, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    Reblogged this on Warrior of Light and commented:
    Anti-Trafficking movement – lifting up survivor’s voices.

  5. gigoid April 2, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    Reblogged this on gigoid and commented:
    The fight against human trafficking is indeed an uphill battle, and the voices of those who know the most intimate details of the atrocities being perpetrated are being ignored. I’d like to challenge all of my readers and followers to join in supporting these courageous women, if only by sharing this article with your own friends and family. The life of a little girl you may help save by speaking out and joining your voices to theirs, could be that of your own daughter, a sister, a niece, cousin, or even your son or nephew. The perpetrators of these acts of hatred and bigotry don’t really care about anything but the money, and their own power over others…. Please read and share….

    • stellamarr April 2, 2012 at 10:26 am #

      Gigoid,thank you so much for your wonderful support xo

      • gigoid April 2, 2012 at 10:54 am #

        You are most welcome; it is the least I can do… and about time, I’d say…. as I’ve said before, “if not now, when?”…. besides, it is your courage that inspires me, and compels me to do whatever I can do…. take care, & Blessed Be….

  6. thebackporchak April 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    There are so many things people turn a blind eye to, and I blame that on the apathy that has become a cornerstone of our society’s current philosophy regarding the treatment and care of others. When you have a bunch of people walking around with an “it’s not my problem” attitude, you have situations such as this where people who have been victimized are ignored.

  7. Stephanie Raffelock April 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    You ask a good question and make a valid point. I work with incarcerated women–mostly addicts that I don’t think get any beneficial change being locked up. Worse, when they are out they might as well have a sign hanging around their neck that alerts the world to a “dis-tasteful” past. The women I work with could easily become counselors, consultants and a voice to pull at the roots of addiction, but they are not given that chance. We still have a long way to go with a sense of who is a disposable person and who is not. You do good work. Your voice makes a difference. It’s an honor to read your posts.

    • zen and the art of borderline maintenance April 4, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      I agree with you. I don’t think being incarcerated does anything to help at all. My heart goes out to these women.

      I thoroughly relate to “distasteful past.” It is maddening to me. I am a rape survivor, abuse survivor and yet, people don’t want to hear my stories. They want to judge, instead of learn.

  8. Michelle B. Araneta April 2, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    I feel the same way you do. I don’t feel that there are enough survivors out there leading the way. There is a very huge gap between those that have just studied the ‘issue’ and those that have lived through it. No matter how much someone tries to understand and comprehend the details of what truly happens in abuse, they will still not come close to someone that has lived through it. As survivors, we need to take a more leading role in this action for change.

    “If there is to be a discussion regarding the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors, shouldn’t there be a survivor’s perspective present?” This question says it all, and I believe it isn’t just limited to human trafficking.

    Very good post! Thank you so much for sharing these important words.

  9. free penny press April 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    I did a post today which may answer why the survivors don’t lead the race as often as we like..they need our support..they need to know we hear and understand..
    lots to think about in your post..
    I hear..I understand..I support

  10. colorfulwordz April 4, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    To ignore something like this is a failure to society. We as free men and women should keep together in freeing individuals from this horrific situation. I wonder how many people go through this daily and we live our lives so care free. I wonder how many more have to face this before we realize enough is enough. Good job and good luck in fighting this epidemic.

  11. redwheelbarrow1957 April 4, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    Reblogged this on Redwheelbarrow1957's Blog and commented:
    Was a prostitute is now an activist and a writer.

  12. zen and the art of borderline maintenance April 4, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    I liked your response, about Iceland/Norway/Sweden’s model. This puts the power, the control, in the prostitute’s hands. That is far better. I have read some articles about this. The statistics are scary. I don’t really know what to say about why people turn a blind eye to the problem. Is it money? Is it power? Is it that they don’t want to “see” because they don’t like the problem? All of the above and more?

    I feel pretty silly right now. I think I should be able to come up with something enlightening and empowering to say. I can’t think of anything except what can someone to do help? I guess for now I will just keep reading your blog and educate myself further. That’s a start.

  13. Gilly Gee April 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    A brilliant post, good luck with your continuing fight.

  14. gemmarwilson April 6, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    I’m sorry you have been ignored and discarded. Thank you for still pressing on…your voice is SO valuable and SO needed. Thanks for ALL that you do.

  15. Sifu Michael A Evans April 8, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    I think it is a very valid point that for the healing to truly begin the injured must become the healers. I do a lot of work with veterans suffering from PTSD, and in my experience the awareness programs that show the most success are those which are led by survivors. Aside from the first hand knowledge of the ravages of the condition, whether PTSD from combat or the horrors of a demeaning and objectified life, the organization that is led by survivors of a particular horror story shows that it can be effective while providing an outstretched hand from one who has been there to one who is trying to get out. Without this level of shared experience, there will always be that line drawn between the helper and the one in need; an invisible line of those who know and those who can never fully and truly understand. Hopefully, your article will be read by someone in a leadership position who is wondering why their message just isn’t getting across the way the thought it would and stir their well-intentioned thoughts toward more effective actions.

  16. betterthanedward April 11, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Oh my gosh this is providence! May I please guide you to a spiritual mentor of mine, an amazing woman who was a victim of human trafficking. She speaks at colleges and works with police officers on how to treat these young women as victims, and is very much involved in other ways and has a growing platform. Her site is and her name is Katerina. God bless you!

  17. meanwhilein3 April 17, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    Powerful stuff, will be following closely. Thank you for your courage to post.

  18. Robert Avsec April 25, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Reblogged this on Bob Avsec's Blog and commented:
    Just in case anyone still thinks that prostitution is a “victim-less” crime, read this and the multitude of other blogs being authored by past and present “ladies of the evening”. President Obama called the Secret Service agents involved in the Colombian prostitute scandal, “knuckleheads”. That’s going easy on them; the odds were that the prostitutes they engaged were victims of human trafficking regardless of what they charged the agents. Especially in 3rd world countries, prostitution is not a career choice.

  19. ammiblog April 30, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    thank you.

  20. Nica May 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Hey! I am an anti-prostitution activist and I want more survivor’s voices in our work. This is something that we (as activists who care about the issue but have not been in prostitution) discuss a lot. Not enough, but a lot. It is a huge problem. I don’t want to traffic stories, but I want more voices from women who can/will/want to talk about the pain and trauma they experienced. Please don’t assume that no one is interested. Some of us are (very) so let me know how we can help. :)


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