Everyday Trafficking of Women and Girls: Incest, Prostitution, and Pornography
Remensnyder, Stacie N.
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I began writing this paper with the view that pornography, prostitution, and trafficking, although interrelated, could be analyzed separately. My approach now is similar to the approach of the recent Demand Dynamics conference entitled "Pornography: Driving the Demand for International Sex Trafficking," which was held in Chicago from March 13 to March 15,2005. The approach of radical feminists, as evidenced in this conference, is to show that drawing distinctions between trafficking, pornography, prostitution, and sexual abuse more generally is harmful. Sex trafficking includes pornography, which is a form of prostitution and often begins with sexual abuse in the homes of women and girls. It is harmful to attempt to divide the interrelated experiences of women into distinct categories. Another central theme in this conference was to focus on demand. I hope to maintain this focus throughout the paper, while also discussing the ways in which prostitution harms women.. It is important that women understand the connections between the lives of women who are in prostitution and the lives of women who, under conventional analysis, are not. As articulated by the women of WHISPER (Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt), a national organization of survivors founded in the 1980's, "we escaped the brutality of the patriarchal family only to find ourselves at the mercy of pimps, panderers, and procurers, who have built a multi-million dollar industry selling what our fathers and husbands stole from us originally" (in Leidholdt and Raymond 1990, 79). The primary research focus of this paper is women in street-level prostitution in Detroit, Michigan, where I was able to conduct research as an intern for Alternatives for Girls (AFG). I worked primarily with outreach staff, going on shifts in which AFG staff drive a marked van and visit women on the street. We began each late-night shift at a gas station/truck stop, where we consistently found several women. The women, we understood, turned tricks inside semi trucks at the gas station. Most of them looked for the AFG van, seemingly grateful to see us, and often willing to share with us their most recent experiences and pressing concerns. Besides interactions with women during outreach shifts, my primary source for the stories of women in Detroit is a panel on prostitution that was held at AFG on July 28, 2004. It is because of AFG that I was able to speak directly with women in prostitution and to see, from the safety of the outreach van, some aspects of street prostitution. It was also very helpful to speak with my coworkers and participants of AFG's programs. While I originally viewed street prostitution as particularly harmful and dangerous for the women involved, I have since learned that although women in street prostitution face many dangers, it is important to note that women in other forms of prostitution face similar, if not identical dangers. In other words, it is one of the many myths around prostitution to suggest that street prostitution is dangerous while other forms of prostitution are safe and even enjoyable for the women involved. Later in this paper, I will address AFG's approaches to prostitution as compared with Breaking Free, a feminist, Afro-centric social service agency located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in St. Paul and Rochester, Minnesota. I recently interviewed, Vednita Carter, the founder and executive director of Breaking Free. She shared with me her criticism of AFG's "harm reduction" approach. Vednita Carter argues rightly that women are worth more than a mere reduction of the harms posed by prostitution. AFG's method of telling women that they have chosen prostitution as "sex work," even if it is accompanied by suggesting alternatives and necessary resources, is indeed a disservice to women in prostitution. All efforts to work with women in prostitution must begin with the stance that prostitution not only includes violence, but is inherently violent, denying women their human right to bodily integrity. Incest, an incredibly common occurrence in families, often leads to or reinforces prostitution. In some cases, incest is prostitution. Prostitution is part and parcel of men's war on women. Prostitution and incest, as mutually reinforcing, systematic crimes against women and girls, depend on secrecy. The best way to eliminate prostitution and incest, then, is perhaps as simple as exposing their pervasiveness and the depths of the harm they pose for women's lives. As Louise Armstrong writes in Kiss Daddy Goodnight, "It's almost as though, if we do talk about it, someone's game is in jeopardy. Almost as though a commonsense, listening-based awareness might blow the whole thing" (1987, 8).