Sex Sells: Escorting Effects on Human Trafficking

Escorting in the Modern Era discussed the rate at which men in America purchase sex, the lacking research in the escorting industry, and Jay and Emily’s personal experiences escorting. They reported that while they feel financially and personally empowered in their work, they can’t help but to be weighted down by society’s views of sex workers and the personal struggle between the individual empowerment and societal repercussions. Similar divided thoughts and feelings are evident in the American public over the question whether or not selling sex should be legalized. A recent 2016 study by YouGov shows 40 percent of Americans are for legalization, while 43 percent are against.

Interestingly enough, this division is also divided by gender: while 51 percent of men are for legalization, only 30 percent of women are.

In part two, I discuss these thoughts with Megan Zurasky, MS, a professional in the field of crisis services for sexual assault and human trafficking victims.

What do you think about escorting on an individual level? On a societal level?

“That is such a huge question. I think a lot of things about it. I come from a weird perspective, in that I work with victims of trafficking that aren’t willing to be escorts. There’s a huge difference between being willing and someone who is either forced, cohered, or feels they have to for survival. As far as people who do it willingly, I think its great and fine, but more often than not that’s not what we see. Sex work is not people who are making a ton of money, buying fancy clothes, or paying a mortgage. It’s more often than not a forced situation.

“I’ve worked with women who were super empowered, made great money, and were safe while doing different types of sex work. But I’ve also worked with people who did sex work due to drug addictions or are then assaulted. I’m so torn by these instances.”

What can you tell me about human trafficking? How large of a problem is it in America?

“Its a huge problem. A billions of dollars industry. I know that in the US it’s mostly domestic. It’s not the idea of stealing people from third world counties. It’s people that are born here and stay here. The average age of entry is twelve to fourteen years old, so people are buying girls that are a lot younger than they think they are or they just don’t care about their age. It happens everywhere. Even in smaller cities like Pittsburgh, we have a huge problem.

“People under the age of eighteen can’t be consentingly involved in the sex industry because people shouldn’t be buying kids. Period. The bigger problem is that adults want to buy children. There’s no such thing as juvenile prostitution; that’s a federal law. It’s not empowering for kids; that’s not a thing.”

The US federal definition of a trafficking victim is an “individual who is induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion.” This comes from the 2000 US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). This is the federal law that Megan refers to, that states minors who engaged in commercial sex acts are defined as victims of human trafficking– without elements of force, fraud, or coercion because they are under eighteen, can not give consent to these acts, nor should an adult–often called Johns– be able to receive these acts from a child.”

In 2011, Global Financial Integrity report was able to mark the drug market at number one and counterfeiting as number two, they say its a tough crime to estimate any real dollar amount. In 2016, PolitiFact ranked Human Trafficking as the third-biggest criminal enterprise in the world. The California Attorney General’s office reports that human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime, at an estimated $32 billion a year.

How would you explain the difference between escorting and human trafficking?

“Escorting is voluntary and consensual, and often empowering, while in human trafficking there are elements of force, fraud, or cohesion and that it’s often not consensual, and definitely involuntary. Again, unless they are under eighteen, then itit just human trafficking.

“My clients [that are escorts] are able to be selective, being able to pick and choose, who they want to be there clients. Where when someone is doing it for survival or being forced, they don’t get to pick. They are doing it as a choice. They could make money other ways, they have other means of money, and that makes it more empowering versus someone who has no other way of making money. They’re able to lay ground rules, if they [the escort’s clients] violate those rules, my clients say we’re done. With others, the Johns can do whatever they want.”

Some people believe that sex work is always exploitative and degrading, undermining attempts to help women’s places in society. How would you react to the statement that escorts contribute to patriarchy and objectification of women?

“Women are sexual beings and we’re allowed to be sexual beings. We get to call the shots with our own bodies and if someone is doing this work with their own choice, it does not make them a sex object, but a sex worker. They’re still humans and its important as long as they’re still choosing this. If we want women to stop appearing as sex objects, let’s stop looking at them as sex objects. It’s not on us.”

Megan makes a strong point here against a statement that even I have encountered in my day-to-day discussions regarding escorting and sexual objectification. By saying “it’s not on us” we are implying that it is society’s job to stop viewing women as sexual objects but instead as sexual beings, free to choose and do with their bodies. It is not on women to perform or act in changing a cultural issue. Megan again taps into this concept in the following question.”

Society often expects women to provide men with pleasure but downgrades them when they do. This can be seen though any avenue of sex work: escorting, prostitution, even stripping. How can women be expected to balance this?

“It’s not their fault that society is that way. It’s the same culture that blames women for sexual assault but labels them as sex objects. The most important thing is it to keep having conversations like this, and the effects of degrading talk on sex workers like this. Again, it’s not their fault and it’s not on us. It’s really a cultural shift that’s needed, not an individual responsibility.”

As discussed in previous articles, feminism is about choice and consent. Sex workers are often systematically criminalized and publically shamed for practicing sexual behaviors in a way that doesn’t conform to the “socially acceptable” practices of sex.

Sex work victims are not treated with the same amount of empathy as other female victims of assault. Why do you think this is?

“Again, this is because of the culture around sex work. Sex workers are viewed as less human than other women, which speaks to the view of women in general. Their assault is often viewed as their fault because they put themselves into a situation where it could happen. Which we know is not true–it’s the fault of the person perpetrating the crime, but we’re just not there. Often times my clients are never the ones that are empowered [by the sex work] or that like it, or that they make good money. They were the ones trading sex for drugs, and now they’re getting yelled at for doing so although it’s still not their fault.”

Overall, what do you think about the legalization of sex work and the potential effects on society?

“Overall, I see the upsides for the people who are empowered by it, but unfortunately the these people empowered by it are the minority. Overall, I’m not for the legalization of sex work until we find a new way to take on human trafficking. Until then, the amount of children and victims that need protection rise above the legalized right of those who are not victims.”

As stated in the beginning, one of the only ways human trafficking is prosecuted is when the John selling or purchasing victims is caught. If sex work is legalized, there could possibly be no way to identify who is willing and unwilling, but at the same time, conditions for consenting sex workers could improve (i.e. STD/STI testing, registration, regulation). As reported by the Harvard Law and International Development Society, this problem is seen in countries where sex work is legalized, along with the notion that decriminalization increases demand, which creates a need to increase supply, which could increase trafficking. It seems that Megan’s main professional concern is the repercussions of the legalization of sex work for those experience human trafficking.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing sexual violence or human trafficking, please follow the links provided.

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