May 20, 2022 | Category: Values Orientation
Announcement: NSN Statement on End Demand Released
Recording available for accessibility:
Over the past few months, a number of anti-trafficking leaders have been engaging in dialogue about whether or not we are a movement or a sector. When we first heard this conversation, we were confused. Is this a semantic issue? Does it really matter?
As we’ve talked more, though, we’ve come to understand the difference.
A movement is a group of people, led by those most impacted by the issue and with others showing up as allies, working to: 1) end the harm caused by the issue and 2) create opportunities for the impacted communities to thrive.
A sector is the industry that develops to address an issue, and includes government, non-governmental organization, and workers.
Some people are part of both.
But not all are.
With most social issues, the movement created the sector. Labor organizing was worker-driven, and the Department of Labor was created in 1913 as a result of their organizing. Domestic and sexual violence advocacy was survivor-driven, and government funding and agencies to address these kinds of violence were a result of their organizing. Civil rights organizing by African Americans led to the creation of laws and governmental departments charged with addressing racism.
This was not the case with human trafficking.
Since the days of the white slave panic, anti-human trafficking work has happened in a sector that emerged out of the organizing of “helpers,” law enforcement, and people who were concerned about the morality of the sex trades. Impacted people were engaged to the degree that they were considered “reformed,” but were not given the power to create or lead their own movement.
While these dynamics were specific to the sex trades, they set the norms that became part of the anti-trafficking sector as it was solidified in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
From the beginning of the anti-trafficking sector, the sex trades have been framed as uniquely exploitative, harmful, and uniquely related to trafficking. This perspective has even been solidified through the “anti-prostitution pledge.” This limits the kinds of work organizations are able to do to end trafficking and the kinds of stories survivors are able to tell about their own lives to be engaged in the sector. This is gatekeeping that reflects and increases the anti-trafficking sector’s focus on “perfect victims.” Not only are victims prioritized who are white, cisgender, Christian women, but they also must be appropriately-pitiable and appropriately-distanced from any engagement in the sex trades.
This impacts current victims of trafficking in the sex trades when they are forced to leave their relationships, homes, or trafficking situations before they are ready in order to access services that may not be designed for their realities. It impacts current victims in the sex trades when stings and undercover operations put them, their families, and their loved ones in closer contact with law enforcement and systems that cause them harm.
This impacts current victims of trafficking in other forms of labor when resources earmarked for trafficking prevention and response are funneled into efforts focused on sex work or pornography rather than on ending force, fraud, and coercion in all forms of labor. This impacts current victims of trafficking when children being exploited in other forms of labor do not have access to the same kinds of supports and services as children exploited in commercial sex.
This impacts children who are commercially sexually exploited when efforts to prevent child sex trafficking are focused on “stranger danger” instead of meaningfully addressing familial trafficking or drawing upon existing evidence-informed strategies in child sexual abuse prevention. It impacts youth who trade sex when we emphasize solutions that do little to transform the fundamental conditions that create vulnerability to trafficking.
And it also impacts people in the sex trades across the spectrum of consent by denying their agency and ability to organize to find solutions to end exploitation.
Specific to our work at the National Survivor Network, it impacts survivor leaders. It impacts:
- Survivors who must choose between telling their story authentically and telling it in the way that fits the sector’s narrative.
- Survivors who work in government-funded agencies who are afraid to share research showing that end demand causes harm or to propose strategies to reduce sex trafficking through sex worker safety.
- Survivors who are told to “know your worth” while being led to believe that their value as a human is defined by their ability to stay out of the sex trades, or that any return to the sex trades is a “relapse” or re-exploitation.
- Black, brown, and immigrant survivors who opposed end demand, who are erased through declarations that the only people who oppose end demand are “privileged, white sex workers.”
- Survivors of human trafficking who are told that they “aren’t real survivors,” or who are erased when end demand is framed as “what survivors want.”
- Survivors who offer complex, nuanced, meaningful feedback only to see their stories and expertise cherry-picked to advocate for policies and narratives that they’ve said are harmful.
We are told that survivor voices must lead the movement… but only when they are saying the “right things.”
The reality is: Much of this is the result of a sector that created a movement. Much of this is the result of a sector led and controlled by non-survivors. And experiencing it as a survivor leader causes emotional and economic harm.
When survivors are excluded from sector leadership based on the kinds of solutions they envision, our movement loses out on the opportunity to unlearn, to learn new practices, and to develop meaningful, effective solutions.
We are told to implement evidence-based practices while not being allowed to acknowledge the ample evidence that end demand approaches cause harm (or being attacked when we do).
This is systems-level gaslighting.
And none of this will change until we learn how to create inclusive spaces for survivor leaders who have typically been marginalized from the movement.
It will not be easy. We will make mistakes and commit ourselves to learning from them.
A lot of the language that is normalized in anti-trafficking spaces has been named by sex workers (who may also be trafficking survivors) as harmful – “prostituted people,” referring to all sex trades as “commercial sexual exploitation,” “no little girl wants to grow up to be a prostitute,” and repetition of sensationalized myths and discredited statistics, for example. Those of us who may have perpetuated stereotypes or caused harm in the past may have to acknowledge it in order to make repair as we learn and grow. The anti-trafficking movement will have to do a lot of listening in order learn what has caused harm, so that we can unlearn bad practices and develop new strategies.
The new strategies we create will be brilliant and innovative, because they will have been developed based on feedback from all survivors, rather than just those who have been chosen as poster children. These strategies will also be effective, because we will be able to gain insights from consensual workers about how to improve safety and reduce vulnerability (just like we do with all other forms of trafficking).
The sector as it exists today has been built by non-survivors. When survivors were brought to the table, it was the sector who determined which survivors were invited and what they were allowed to say. We, as survivors – as movement leaders – have an opportunity to model the change we hope to see.
The National Survivor Network acknowledges the research evidence that end demand causes harm, and we do not advocate for causing harm to end harm. Moving forward, we will no longer advocate for policies that promote end demand laws or messaging, in our policy work, speaker’s bureau, or collaborations.
We are committed to providing inclusive spaces where all survivors can be heard, with an emphasis on collaborations with survivors who have historically been excluded from the movement. Moving forward, we will be learning new language and frameworks for discussing human trafficking and potential solutions.
We are committed to ensuring that our siblings who are labor trafficking survivors are not marginalized, de-emphasized, or overlooked in movement narratives, funding, and services. Unifying all survivors in shared discussions of labor and immigration protections will create a more inclusive movement.
We are committed to working together to find solutions to ending commercial sexual exploitation of children using a public health, human rights, evidence-informed approach.
By summer, the NSN will be shifting to a values-based network, and one of those values (grounded in this intention to create an inclusive movement) is opposition to end demand. We recognize that for some of you, this may signal that the NSN is no longer the appropriate space for your survivor leadership activities and support. Some of you may find this an exciting development, and be curious about how this shift could open up our dialogues. Some of you may be confused, or feel like you need more information.
For those who are confused or want more information, we are here for you. The NSN has been conducting interviews with survivors who have experienced harm by the movement, and will be releasing a report later this year summarizing the findings and making key recommendations. Between now and then, we will be sharing information and evidence about end demand approaches and quotes from the survivors interviewed on our social media. As these roll out, feel free to reach out with questions you may have about the content.
Survivors’ beliefs and access needs can live in contradiction to each other, but that does not mean we leave people behind. We are committing to not leaving survivor leaders behind because their views on the sex trades are not welcomed in our sector. And we remain committed to working with our existing membership to answer questions they may have and provide mentorship (as desired) through this transition. We are asking you to commit to finding ways to address trafficking that do not cause harm, that do not use “end demand” approaches, that no longer leave behind those survivors whose voices have been invalidated and talked over. Together, we believe we can create inspired, realistic, and practical solutions.
Survivor Leader Program Manager
NSN Values Statement on End Demand: link