It is always here for you

15 May
miss rosen, uplift, enchant, blog, rumi, love

It is always here for you

Love is
a mirror
you see nothing
but your reflection
you see nothing
but your real face.
—Rumi

The above is from http://missrosen.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/it-is-always-here-for-you/

Miss Rosen’s extraordinary blog never fails to uplift, inspire and enchant.  Just had to share Miss Rosen’s beauty with you.  Our ability to perceive  beauty helps us survive.  So much love to you, XO

Survivors Must Lead the Anti-Trafficking Movement

9 May

stella marr, survivors connect, human trafficking, feminism, prostitution, sex work, restitution, ptsd, trauma recovery, swanee hunt, demand abolition

Survivors Connect Network, an international online network of trafficking/prostitution survivors, now has 44 members from seven different countries. It’s been recognized that the absence of survivor leaders in most major anti-trafficking NGOs has created a void. Survivor knowledge and insight is essential. With survivor leadership the movement’s success would be inevitable.   Demand Abolition recently set an example by inviting seven survivors to participate in their Arresting Demand colloquium May 3rd and 4th in Boston. We are extraordinarily grateful.

An exciting example of collaboration among survivor groups involves the Bedford case. Sister survivors in the Aboriginal Women’s Action NetworkEducating VoicesLaCLES, 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 almost always crime victims- while it empowers and legitimizes their predators, the male and female pimps who own brothels and escort services.

So we survivors recently voted to issue a statement against the Bedford decision. Dozens of us joining our voices in political action is a big deal. Here’s the statement:

We the members of Survivors Connect Network stand with the women of the Aboriginal Women’s Action NetworkSexTrade101La Concertation des Luttes Contre L’Exploitation Sexuelle (CLES), and Educating Voices. We are sad and shocked by the Bedford ruling. It’s especially troubling that this decision upholds the criminalization of prostitutes selling sex on the street, as these women are almost always traumatized crime victims who need support not arrest. Meanwhile the ruling empowers the male and female pimps who terrorize and exploit women in prostitution by making it legal to own brothels or escort services.

Researchers have found the women in prostitution suffer from the same levels of trauma symptoms as the victims of state-sponsored torture. It forever changes how we face the world. After going through trafficking/prostitution everything you do is an act of will — you must summon and form a new self from your fragments. And yet as the survivors of torture or trafficking/prostitution rebuild our selves and find our voice, we can develop extraordinary abilities to connect with, inspire, and understand others.

Nelson Mandela exemplifies this type of rebirth. Most everyone understands that Mandela’s experiencesof being held 27 years in a prison infamous for torture make him unique. When he was finally released few denied the vast injustice done to him. No one expected him to act like everyone else. Instead South Africa and the world stepped back, and waited to see how this extraordinary man would transform the terrible wrongs he’d been through — they gave him a chance to bring something new into being.

As more trafficking/prostitution survivors speak out, the public will recognize we’re people society has wronged. They’ll understand we’ve been changed by the pain and harshness we’ve experienced. At present public denial of the sex industry’s violence and prostitute-blaming forces many of us into hiding. But as more survivors lead, we’ll be empowered to bring something new and beautiful into being.

Trafficking Survivor Writer & Artist Christine Stark

25 Apr

human trafficking, prostitution, christine stark, dissociation, dissociative identity disorder, sexual abuse, native american, ojibwe, minnesota

My sister trafficking/prostitution survivor Christine Stark is an extraordinary writer, poet and visual artist. Her new novel, Nickels A Tale of Dissociation, has been named a finalist for the Annual Lambda Literary Awards, 2011.

In a recent interview with the Bozeman Times Chris discusses what it means to be a survivor:

This is a book most immediately for and about abuse survivors, but it should not be limited to that audience in the same way that, say, James Baldwin should not be limited to gay, African American readers. Everyone can relate to the protagonist because although some of her experiences are specific, there are universal themes in the book, including love and joy and play. A lot of writing and activist work around sexual exploitation wants to focus on just the miserable, abusive aspects of the victims/survivors’ lives, but I feel that does a great disservice. It removes agency from those being hurt, and it can stereotype survivors, reducing them to one-dimensional victims such that “victim” becomes everything about them, thus stripping them of their full humanity.

Nickels is an honest portrayal of someone who must fight like hell just to live; but also, at the same time, takes risk to love and be responsible for a mess that was not her own doing but that she cannot escape. That is one of the most unjust things about abuse: the abused must live with, to one degree or another, the ramifications of the abuser’s actions. She cannot be absolved of responsibility, by spending X number of months in a prison, or visiting a religious leader, or doing penance in some other way. The aftereffects are always present, always causing tremendous pain and confusion and distancing, and often poverty, homelessness, depression, and more abuse. There is always hope, and many do get away and heal, but thanks to Post Traumatic Stress, the past becomes present, often at the most misopportune times. Characters and people do heal, so that the trauma lessens and becomes manageable, but it does not happen overnight. Healing occurs over years, and many of those years are very difficult and painful and confusing.

Read more

Nevada’s Legal Brothels are Coercive Too

22 Apr

Survivors Connect Stella Marr Prostitution legalization human trafficking Swedish model rachel lloyd martha nussbaum chika unigwe max waltman norma ramos new york times room for debate

It was an honor to participate in a  New York Times “Room for Debate” on  Prostitution alongside Rachel Lloyd, Chika Unigwe, Max Waltman, Norma Ramos & Martha Nussbaum.

Here’s what I said:

Well-meaning people who’ve never been commercially sexually exploited often think that legal brothels will protect the women in prostitution from pimps and violent johns. They are mistaken.

In the 10 years I worked in New York City’s sex industry, where the pimps were part of organized crime and could follow through on any threat, I met many women who’d experienced Nevada‘s legal brothels. They all preferred the New York sex industry.

Women who worked in Nevada’s legal brothels said they were like prisons where you have to turn tricks. Rimmed with high-security fencing and an electronic gate, they can look like a detention camp. The women live in lockdown conditions and can’t leave the premises unless they’re accompanied by a male pimp. Living and working in cramped, dark rooms, they’re on call 24 hours a day. This is what happens when the law protects people who profit from commercial sexual exploitation. It’s the ideal business model. It’s the best way to get a woman to turn as many tricks as possible.

Most of the women I knew in the brothels and escort services, had a history of trauma and abuse. I was homeless at the time I entered the life and, had multiple sclerosis. That vulnerability makes them even more easily victimized by pimps. And pimps don’t stop being pimps when you legalize what they do. If we legalize brothels we’ll only be giving these predators more power, while we help them protect their cash.

As the prostitution survivor and activist Natasha Falle has said, “Where there’s high-track prostitutes, escorts, strippers and masseuses; there’s pimp violence.”

Read the full debate here.

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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Aside

Trafficking/Prostitution Survivors Inspire Each Other

20 Mar
 Trafficking/Prostitution Survivors Inspire Each Other
oscar romero, 9to20blog, survivors connect, human trafficking

"I am in the process of freedom"

 
I found these beautiful words on the blog of another trafficking survivor:
 
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
 In realizing that. This enables us to do something,
 And to do it very well.
 
– Oscar Romero
 
This survivor blogs at http://www.9to20.wordpress.com  I’m so moved by her bio:
 
I’m willing to take the risk if you are– to become uncomfortable. I’m willing …to share with you my story of being sexually trafficked right here in America, if you’re willing to listen. What I do not want however, if for this to be a story of despair– because it’s not. It’s a story of hope. There is a thrasher-filled road of healing ahead of me yes, but I am in the process of freedom. 
 
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Eden Movie, Based on the Life of Trafficking Survivor, Activist & Artist Chong Kim

16 Mar

chong kim, eden movie, jamie chung, south by southwest festival, mcweeny, human trafficking, sex work, prostitution, slavery, Korean, warehouses

I’m over the moon about the movie Eden, based on the life of sister survivor Chong Kim, who’s an activist, writer and artist.   Chong inspires trafficking/prostitution survivors whereever she goes. She received screen credit for her story.  I’m so teary, happy and proud.

Eden, starring Jamie Chung and Beau Bridges,  was a huge hit at the South by Southwest Arts Festival.  It won  the Women’s Director Award and the Narrative Feature Audience Award.  Jamie Chung won a special jury prize for her acting performance.

Here’s an excerpt of a rave review by Drew McWeeney:

I will definitely catch up with it, because I thought her new film, “Eden,” was a strong, simple presentation of a harrowing story, with a great performance from Jamie Chung to ground the whole thing.  Based on the real life of Chong Kim, who gets a co-story credit, “Eden” tells the story of a young Korean girl who works for her parents in their store and who is just starting to experiment with freedom, sneaking out with her friend, smoking cigarettes.  She’s very young, and despite her little white lies, she seems like a fairly innocent girl.

That ends one night when she uses a fake ID to go to a bar where she meets Jesse (Scott Mechlowicz).  She decides to go home with him, and instead ends up abducted, then driven to her new home, a prison-like bunker where she’s kept with other underage prostitutes.  The main face she sees each day belongs to Vaughan (Matt O’Leary), who works for Bob Gault (Beau Bridges), a law-enforcement officer who is running a fairly major network of flesh-peddling on many levels.

Read more here

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We can’t celebrate International Women’s Day until …

10 Mar

survivors connect, prostitution, rebecca mott, international women's day, feminism, women's rights, women's movement, human trafficking

Sister survivor Rebecca Mott has a powerful new post about International Women’s Day up on her blog.  She says she can’t celebrate International Women’s Day until trafficking/prostitution becomes a central issue in the women’s movement, not a sidebar.   She can’t celebrate until survivors are allowed to lead the anti-trafficking movement.   Many of us survivors feel the same.   Here’s an excerpt of her ice clear post:

I cannot celebrate as prostitution and violence inside porn becomes just an appendix to the feminist revolution – or our lives and truths are just viewed as a terrible example, but ignored for it’s too big to deal with.

I cannot celebrate when always voices of amazing exited women are side-lined in the campaign for abolition – our voices are made statistics, made part of some academic book, used as quotes – we are spoken over, spoken through, and spoken around.

I cannot celebrate until the abolitionist movement put the voices and writings of exited women in a leadership role – we are not your token prostitute, we will not be treated like pets.

I cannot celebrate as every day I feel in my gut what is happening in hotels, in flats, on the streets – that so many walk pass and say is normal.

…..

I cannot celebrate when all round images of the prostitutes are just the happy hooker or the dead victim – there is no reality to these images, and they drown out any truths spoken.

I will celebrate IWD – when all prostituted women and girls have complete freedom, are give a voice, and are made fully human.

I cannot celebrate until then.

Read more of this post at Rebecca’s blog.

A Sex Trafficking Survivor’s Letter to Her Younger Self

2 Mar

Stella Marr, my body the city, prostitution, sex work, younger self, trauma, new york, manhattan, columbia university, human trafficking, sex worker, prostitution, sexual exploitation

Dear twenty-year old Stella,

Work hard on learning to ask for help.  It’s the only way you’ll ever  break free.  No one ever does anything alone.  You don’t have to.

You’ll learn how to make the men happy.  The happier they are the nicer they treat you.  You’ll get very good at being a hooker.  But when the Johns say “baby you were born for this” that doesn’t mean its true.

Now when most men come near you  feel a stabbing at your eyes, your throat, and your gut that you know isn’t real.  You don’t want to admit it but you’re terrified.  You start, you tremble.  Your hands shake.  Think about it, you’re being stabbed a lot these days.  This is a quite reasonable reaction to being used by man after man, day after day, in this prison of a brothel.  It doesn’t mean you are so miserably flawed that you can’t do anything but prostitution.

Being sold for sex doesn’t make you subhuman.  It’s not OK for your (white) pimps to smack you and tell you they’ll kill you.

You have to work up the nerve to pay a cashier for a soda.  You’re too scared to ask that guy behind the deli counter to make you a sandwich.   This isn’t weakness, it’s biology.  Trauma changes your brain.    Your hippocampus, where you form narrative memory in the brain, shrinks.  This is a symptom of PTSD —  a neurophysiologic response to repetitive trauma –not evidence that you deserve to be in prostitution.

In the middle of the winter in the middle of the night when that guy in the Doubletree suite invites you to sit while he pours you a seltzer trust your gut and back out of there before the five guys you can’t see who are waiting in the bedroom have a chance to get between you and the door.

Being vulnerable means you’re alive.   There’s no shame in it.  It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person.  You don’t have to apologize for doing what you must to survive.

When Samantha tries to stop working for your pimp Johnny.  make her get out of the city.  Otherwise two weeks later Nicole, the madam who works with Johnny,  will show you Samantha’s diamond initial ring and tell you Johnny murdered her.  Though you’ll always hope she was lying, you doubt it.

You’ve lost all sense of the linear — time  disappeared and you felt it leave.  Now you’re living in the immediate and eternity.  It’s scary and bewildering, but you need this — you need each moment to stretch infinitely so that you can be acutely aware of each man’s tiny movements and shifts in expression,  which can reveal a threat before it happens.  This hyperawareness will save your life.  One day you’ll see this being untethered from time as a kind of grace.

When that shiny classical pianist you meet at Au Bon Pain says he wants to know everything about you don’t believe him.

A lot of what’s happening doesn’t make sense now but it will later.  That habit you have of writing poems in your mind to the beloved you haven’t met yet, as you’re riding in cabs to calls?  There’s something to it.

Your ability to perceive beauty is part of your resilience and survival.  When a man is on top of you watch the wind-swirled leaves out his window.  Seize the gusty joy you feel as you run three blocks to a bodega to buy condoms between calls at 3 AM.  When you think for a minute you see that friend,  who’s death you never got over,  standing in the brassy light under a weeping linden, be grateful.  All this has a purpose.

Being in prostitution can seem to mean you’ve lost everything you hoped to be, but that’s not true.  You’ve splintered into a million pieces, but you’re still you. You’re alive.    It’s in the spaces between those pieces where you learn to feel how other people are feeling.  It hurts so much you’re sure it’ll kill you, but it won’t.  Later when you’re out of the life it’ll be so easy to be happy.  The mundane will buoy you.

When your madam sends you to the Parker Meridien at 3 AM and you meet a British professor who says he wants to help you, believe him.  He will set you up in a beautiful condominium across from Lincoln Center that he deeds in your name.  Of course you’ll have everything to do with this — you are so “good” at being a “hooker,: so “good” at fucking that you can make a guy want to buy you a condo.  Shame is a hollow stone in the throat.

During the two years that this voracious man ‘keeps’ you as his private prostitute the condo will come to feel like a platinum trap.  But it’s still your chance to get out and heal. Take it.

After you’ve sold the condominium and are living in a graduate dorm at Columbia University, a man with eyes like blue shattered glass will sit beside you in the cafeteria.  When he begins to speak you know he’s the unmet beloved you’ve been writing poems to all these years.  You’ll try to run away, but he won’t let you.  Fourteen years later the two of you will be hiking through pink granite outcroppings with your Labrador retriever.  You’ll  feel like the freest woman in the world.

One afternoon when you’re twenty-one you’ll be at the Museum of Metropolitan of Art with your best friend Gabriel, who’s a hustler, a male prostitute.  When he says you ‘remind him of his death’, don’t lash back.  Even though he told you the doctor said he didn’t have that rare new virus named AIDS, it would behoove you to realize he’s still coughing.

Stop thinking about your own hurt.  Don’t lash back with that phrase your mother’s said to you so many times  –” I hope you die a slow death.”  Don’t tell Gabriel  you never want to see him again and storm out of the  sculpture gallery.   Or it will be the last time you see him.  Gabriel will die of AIDS five months later.  When he said you reminded him of ‘his own death’ he was trying to tell you he was dying.   You’ll regret what you said for the rest of your life.  But even more you’ll regret running away from his friendship.

Say forgive me.

Say I love you.

Stay connected.

Love,

Stella

P.S.  I’m sure my mom learned to say “I hope you die a slow death” from her dad.

This is a tribute to Cheryl Strayed‘s transcendent letter to her younger self.  Her letter’s form gave me a pitcher that I filled with my life.  A big shout out to Dublin Call Girl who’s thank you letter to punters is already a classic.

Terrible Beauty: Prostitution & the Inadequacy of Language

23 Feb
nelson mandela, hero, angel k, prostitution, human trafficking, sex work, sex industry, sex worker, trauma, torture, ptsd

My Hero

Survivor Angel K’s writing is searing and fearless.  In a recent post up at her blog Surviving Prostitution and Addiction she describes the after-effects of prostitution — the flashbacks, the startle response, the sleepless due to the terrible dreams.  Researchers have found the women in prostitution suffer from the same levels of trauma symptoms as the victims of state-sponsored torture.  It  forever changes how we face the world.  After going through something like state-sponsored torture or trafficking/prostitution everything you do is an act of will — you must continually summon a new being  from your fragments. Yet as the survivors of torture or trafficking/prostitution rebuild their lives, their selves, their voices  — they can develop extraordinary abilities to connect with, inspire, and understand others.  Nelson Mandela exemplifies this type of rebirth.

Most everyone understands that Mandela’s experiences of being held 27 years in a prison infamous for torture make him unique.  When he was finally released few denied the vast injustice done to him.  No one expected him to act like everyone else.  Instead South Africa and the world stepped back, and waited to see how this extraordinary man would transform the terrible wrongs he’d been through — they gave him a chance to bring something new into being.

It’s my hope that the public will start seeing us trafficking and prostitution survivors as people society has wronged in a similar manner.  I hope they’ll understand we’ve been changed by the pain and harshness we’ve experienced.  Public denial of the violence we experience and whore-blaming forces many of us into hiding.  If this stopped, we survivors would be empowered to bring something new and beautiful into being.

With exquisite precision, Angel K writes of  how it feels to live inside this trauma and form a new self and voice from the fragments.  Here’s an excerpt:

 The images remain, technicolour, replaying when I sleep or sometimes anyway. Something triggers me and I’m gone, magically transported back there, no tardis required.
I sleep with the light on, and barely even then. Scared of dreaming, but scared of my thoughts lying awake hour after hour. The night looms, interminable, the fragile grip on sanity of the day stretched to a mere thread, at breaking point. The body, that is to say my body – the splitting I did to survive what they did to me continues – doesn’t help. Muscles tense and tire, old injuries ache, and now the exhaustion from night after night of broken sleep has taken it to the point of fainting, of collapse. Both body and mind work against me, telling me I am in danger now, making me re-experience what happened then now.
Many thanks to Rebecca Mott  for our conversations on Mandela which inspired this post.