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Thoughts on Trafficking

23 Jul 16
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As a new member of the coalition, I was shocked to learn the facts and figures of sex trafficking in the country and in particular Chicago. According to the Center for Impact Research, there are 16,000 to 25,000 Chicagoland women and girls that are “sex trafficked” each year. Amy Alvaro, a human trafficking specialist of the Cook County State Attorney’s office attributes the prevalence in Chicago to the fact that it is a large convention city with a huge international airport.

In May, I attended a seminar lead by Lori Cohen, chair of NCJW Exodus Campaign and the director of Anti Trafficking Initiative at the Center for Battered Woman’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families in New York City.
Sanctuary for Families provides many services to its victims, most of whom are immigrants or a part of the LGBTQ community. Among them is an Anti-Trafficking initiative that provides services to victims of sex trafficking so they can build a life without relying on funds from exploitation.

In many instances it is difficult for them to seek help. One way sanctuary reaches their target audience is by going to events in parks and public places where they hand out cards in the primary language of the neighborhood. The cards have the pertinent information for victims to contact the appropriate person at the Sanctuary to receive the professional help they need. There are a variety of services provided in many areas including counseling and crisis intervention, legal services, and economic empowerment.

Lori mentioned a New York Times Magazine article, “Should Prostitution be a Crime?” by Emily Bazelon (published May 5, 2016). Posted below are 3 perspectives of crucial statistics, survivors viewpoints and stories, which were missing from the article. There are more posts on The Sanctuary blog page (

To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?
If the small group of privileged “sex workers” highlighted in Bazelon’s article have their way, and prostitution is decriminalized around the world, every boy will grow up knowing it¹s acceptable to buy a body whenever he feels the urge. The result? The market for flesh will grow, delivering a windfall to traffickers and pimps and putting millions more women and girls in harm’s way. The standard PR line of the commercial sex industry is that we in the anti-trafficking community “conflate” consensual prostitution with trafficking. No, we don’t. Prostitution is the marketplace and trafficking is a primary way that product is delivered to buyers. It’s economics 101. Grow the market and trafficking increases.

Bazelon blithely disregards the harm inherent in prostitution. I’ve seen it up close, having been Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Mount Sinai. The stories from survivors of the sex trade are horrific. The violence in prostitution is staggering. The resulting physical and mental health problems are crushing. We need to adopt the Nordic model, which decriminalizes the prostituted person but criminalizes the traffickers, pimps and buyers. Creating an open market place for the use and abuse of women and girls (and men and boys) would be one of the most shocking human rights violations of our time.

Holly G. Atkinson, MD, FACP, FAMWA
Co-Director, Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans, American Medical Women’s Association, Past President, Physicians for Human Rights
Re: the New York Times Magazine cover story Should Prostitution Be a Crime.
As a former judge and prosecutor, and now as the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, I have seen thousands of victims who have been exploited in the sex trade. Many of them were lured in by pimps and traffickers, most as children. Others have ended up in prostitution when conditions of extreme poverty and prior sexual abuse leave them with few options.

Ms. Bazelon inexplicably omits the experience of these victims, almost exclusively women and girls of color and undocumented immigrants. Instead, her primary focus is on the comparatively privileged, adult, mostly white “sex worker” as reflected in the cover photo, which creates a falsely benign picture of the world’s most brutal industry.

Prostitution is almost invariably a condition of gender inequality and frequently a violent and lethally dangerous form of abuse inextricably connected to sex trafficking. People in prostitution should not be criminalized and must be provided with services. If we fail to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, the sex trafficking industry will continue to expand, destroying the lives of new generations of victims.

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger
Executive Director
Sanctuary for Families
To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?
Emily Bazelon‘s piece ““Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” makes a case for listening to the voices of those who have actually experienced the commercial sex industry. Unfortunately the voices left out of this piece are the women and girls who have not viewed this as ‘sex work’ but violent exploitation, the experiences of those under pimp control, (over 90 percent of the 400 plus girls and young women GEMS serves annually are or have been under the control of a pimp) and the hundreds of women who have now begun to step out of the shadows to publicly identify as ‘survivors’ of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

These voices are overwhelmingly the voices of girls and young women of color, (the slide show is clearly overwhelmingly white women), of runaway and homeless youth, of women trapped in addiction and poverty. While the anti-trafficking movement can often over simplify or sensationalize these stories, the truth is both more nuanced and more horrific than any well-intentioned awareness campaign that isn’t survivor led or survivor informed.

As a survivor myself and having founded and run GEMS for 18 years, I’m aware that there are no easy solutions to this issue but at least the NYT could have provided a more balanced view by actually including the voices of those young people who are already marginalized and who view the sex industry as inherently violent and harmful, preying upon the most vulnerable in our society.

Rachel Lloyd
Founder and CEO
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services

Written by Bonnie Ribet,  Member, NCJW South Cook Executive Board, Member, JCAST Chicago Steering Committee

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