Last week I sent SCS intern De’Liza Galimidi to the Sex Worker Rights Conference, held here in Las Vegas in a covert location. It was an ambitious assignment for even an experienced journalist. I’m proud to say that De’Liza handled it with maturity (and some help from her mom). Here are her thoughts after getting a glimpse of the life and times of sex workers:
At 8:30 at night I received a call from Emmily, telling me about this sex worker’s conference the next day. I was a bit timid about the idea of going into a conference that was specifically about sex, but my passion against human trafficking led me to go — at 17 years old, with the accompaniment of my mom (because who wouldn’t want to go to a sex conference with their mom).
When I entered the doors to the Sex Worker’s Rights Conference. I was soon greeted by a woman with such a cheerful presence and smile, that it put me off guard. In fact, this was the common air of everyone there: happiness. Everywhere I looked I found people wearing bright colors, hugging, laughing, and enjoying themselves. I initially thought that at a Sex Worker’s Conference that it was going to be the exact opposite. I was expecting victims — people just out of the Taken film, tears that warned of a gruesome past, and consoling. There was none of that in sight.
The media and society has always presented the sex industry as this taboo area, a place where only people who were in this profession were forced to be there. They were trafficked. At this conference, this word “trafficked” was used in a not-so-violent, harmful way. Trafficked, by definition, means the selling and trading of people. In this world — the world of empowered sex workers — those that choose this path do it for multiple reasons. But through the media we mostly hear of sex workers doing this in trade for food, rent, or drugs. That kind of trade is specified as “survival sex,” which is what it is: survival. This is an industry — made up of women, men, as well as transgender people (indeed, any human being) — who can use sex as a way of making a profit.
Don’t let this confuse you. I am aware that there are people who are trafficked and put in these catastrophic, horrifying situations that make us think twice about walking outside our front door. But what about the individuals that choose this lifestyle? Those adults that want to be working in the aptly titled: Adult Industry? Where do they fall in the category? Unfortunately, in the eyes of “moral” people, the law enforcement, and so many of society, sex workers fall into the place of criminals. If you choose this profession you are considered two things: a victim, (because somehow you have to have had someone force you into this type of field) or you are, indeed, a criminal.
This leads me to the question: if we are so afraid of human trafficking, why are we arresting prostitutes? Shouldn’t there be a point where we sit back and think, “This prostitute is a human, they may have a different life choice or situation than I do, maybe I can outreach to them and show them an alternative way.” Better yet, why not give them the opportunity to have an education, bus cards, housing, and funding. Let’s give them something they can benefit from instead of throwing them in a prison cell, or giving them a cookie, a coat, and a trip to the local church! I think people are forgetting that these are people doing a job. In order to move past this dilemma of who to save and who not to save we must remember that not everyone in the sex industry is a victim, sent across the Pacific Ocean from a distant far away country and now must perform servitude in the means of sex against their own will. Do situations like these happen? Yes. Unfortunately they do. But not that is not always the case.
I want people to know that the sex industry and that human trafficking are being tied in together, but shouldn’t be. They are being taken advantage of from the justice system. For stripping their clothes, they are being stripped of their rights. There is this idea that if you work in the sex industry that there is no retribution for rape. The idea of “they asked for it, what do they expect” is extremely wrong. People, no matter what profession or who they are — from Mother Teresa to a sex worker — no one deserves any less respect or justice. It’s sad to think that sex workers are afraid of the police. At the conference I heard horror stories of police officers hiring prostitutes for sting operations, sleeping with the prostitute only then to put them in handcuffs. How can we trust them and expect to move forward if the law enforcers are backwards?
Do I think that abusing women, and using sex as a weapon is corrupt? Of course! Do I believe that people who willingly choose this lifestyle are criminals and deserve marginalization? Of course not!
This experience was an eye opener, the other side to the two-sided coin. It’s a coin that is in desperate need of two things: acceptance and outreach, not prison cells with a side of condemnation. We need humanity. And frankly, sex (not rape, not forced sex) is human nature.
— De’Liza Galimidi