Originally posted yesterday at 5:15 p.m. The Men's March to End Demand is today, and SWOP-Seattle's much-more-useful, might-actually-help-someone Goodie Bag drive is this afternoon.
A local organization is planning to do something tomorrow that in a small way will improve the lives of the most vulnerable sex workers here in Seattle. But it isn't Seattle Against Slavery, which is bringing "survivors and prosectors" together for what's being billed as Seattle's first Men's March to End Demand.
From Seattle Against Slavery's press release:
Seattle will host Washington’s first Men’s March to End Demand. Organized by Seattle Against Slavery and Michael Hemker, an Assistant Attorney General with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, this march seeks to encourage men to end the demand for sex trafficking.... Seattle Against Slavery is inviting all men (women and families welcome) to join together in this first of its kind event to demonstrate that we will no longer tolerate the demand. The March will begin at 10:00 a.m. in the heart of the Seattle Center at the Next 50 Plaza adjacent to the EMP museum. The March will proceed along Fourth Ave. to the Westlake Center. At the March, organizations currently working to put an end to sex trafficking will have tables and speakers will provide more information on how men can help put an end to the demand for sex trafficking.
The Men's March organizers said in an e-mail that they hoped to get 75 men (and women and families) at the Men's March to End Demand. But even if 75,000 men (and women and families) marched tomorrow—even if 750,000 men, women, and families marched—men (and some women) will continue to buy for sex from women (and some men). There have always been sex workers and there always will be sex workers. Sex workers have always had clients and they always will. Marching to "end the demand" for sex work is like marching to end the demand for illegal drugs. Marchers may burn a few calories, and they may leave feeling as if they've done something, but people will go right on paying for sex and using drugs.
Seattle Against Slavery would have us believe that anyone who patronizes a sex worker is guilty of exploiting a victim of human trafficking. But only a tiny percentage of sex workers are trafficked and not all victims of human trafficking victims are forced into sex work. After Somaly Mam, the world's most celebrated victim of sex trafficking, was exposed as a fraud earlier this year, Melissa Gira Grant took on anti-sex-work crusaders in an op-ed in the NYT:
The International Labor Organization estimates that more than three times as many people are trafficked into work like domestic, garment and agricultural labor than those trafficked for sex. I’ve interviewed human-rights advocates in Phnom Penh since 2007, and they raised concerns about Ms. Mam’s distortion of this reality. Her portrayal of all sex workers as victims in need of saving encouraged raids and rescue operations that only hurt the sex workers themselves.... Ms. Mam’s stories were told in interviews with journalists including Nicholas Kristof, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. She attracted high-profile supporters: There were benefits thrown by Susan Sarandon; Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer, is on the advisory board of her foundation. Ms. Mam’s target audience of well-off Westerners, eager to do good, often knows little about the sex trade. It doesn’t require much for them to imagine all women who sell sex as victims in need of rescue.
"Much of the cited data on trafficking is based on shaky estimates," Grant continued, "and many conflate all sex work with trafficking."
Conflating all sex work with sex trafficking—and suggesting that all sex workers are victims (slaves!)—is exactly what Seattle Against Slavery is doing. And they're partnering with "members of the law enforcement community" to do it—despite the fact that "criminalization [of sex work] and aggressive policing have been shown to increase sex workers' vulnerability to violence, extortion, and health risks."
Savannah Sly is a a volunteer with Sex Workers Outreach Project-Seattle, an organization dedicated to sex worker's rights advocacy. Sly thinks Seattle Against Slavery's efforts are misguided.
"Some well-intentioned people want to end violence against those who have been coerced [into sex work] and that's admirable," said Sly, "But these movements are victim-focused and not everyone in this industry is a victim."
SWOP-Seattle is also having an event tomorrow: between 2-3 p.m. SWOP-Seattle will be accepting donations of "travel sized toiletries, clean socks, gum, hair bands, instant soup packs, safer sex supplies." The group will fill "goodie bags" with the donated items and these goodie bags will be distributed to the most vulnerable sex workers in Seattle: those who are working outdoors. The bags will be delivered by SWOP-Seattle volunteers doing outreach. SWOP-Seattle will be accepting donations at the Bedlam Cafe in Belltown (2231 Second Ave, Seattle, WA 98121).
Sly acknowledges that some people doing sex work are being coerced. But the best way to help them is to educate people who pay for sex instead of stigmatizing them.
"We need to come up with ethical consumer strategies for the sex industry," Sly said. "Education can help us avoid buying garments made in sweatshops and education can help us to avoid patronizing non-consenting sex workers."
How can clients avoid victims of coercion?
"It's a good idea to go with independent providers," advised Sly. "People who [are] working for themselves are less likely to be doing sex work against their will. Look for somebody you can contact directly on the phone and actually have a conversation with so you can weigh how interested they are in their occupation. When you visit someone look for signs for overall contentedness with their occupation. It's a bad sign if someone is physically damaged or not able to speak freely about their work."
Another reason to decriminalize sex work: enlisting clients in the fight against coercion and abuse.
"Clients could be a powerful tool for identifying abuse," said Sly. "Clients are the ones who interact with sex workers face-to-face and very few actually want to hire someone who is being coerced. If they didn't fear being arrested they could report abuse."
UPDATE: What she said:
Key to getting people out of sexwork who don't want to be there is A) stop arresting and shaming them B) Fight poverty. That simple.
— mistressmatisse (@mistressmatisse) August 9, 2014