We’ve expressed our concern in the past about the inability of activists to see the difference between sex trafficking victims and those who engage in prostitution by choice and how failing to make that distinction hurts everyone involved. Yet the more we point that out, the more organizations spring from the woodwork, clamoring to stop the sale of human beings without regard for how their campaigns may conflate the two distinct situations, like in this video from Stop the Traffik:
Knee-jerk reactions to campaigns like these lead to the criminalization of prostitution, creating environments where exploitation, abuse, coercion and trafficking are made easier, not harder.
Politicians pat themselves on the back for taking down Craigslist, which does what? Trafficking doesn’t stop because a site is gone. This only serves to push the activity underground where it leaves no paper trail and where it becomes harder for law enforcement to identify and help victims.
The inability to tell the difference between a slave and a sex worker is how you end up with things like the Anti-Prostitution Pledge which denies funds to governments and non-governmental organizations who “support prostitution” (i.e., work with sex workers, even if that means only providing them with condoms and other health services). This is what happens when we throw the best intentions behind sensationalism: we end up with policy that helps no one and hurts everyone involved.
Trafficking won’t stop until we learn to tell the difference between those who are coerced into prostitution and those who aren’t. Painting the entire red light district in Amsterdam — one of the few places where sex work is legal and sex workers have rights — as a trafficking zone will only result in criminalizing prostitution, putting all sex workers at risk of exploitation.
How is this a better option that working with sex workers there to find trafficking victims? The sex workers who work there by choice know their rights and are much better able to educate those who come in about these rights and to sniff out those who are victims than any foreigner across an ocean who is up in arms over a sensationalist video about all the hopeful dancers who are turned into hookers.