Myths of the Rescue Industrial Complex

“Sex trafficking” is a hot topic right now. Magazine and newspaper articles, celebrities, feminist blogs, conservative blogs: they all weave a similar story. Supposedly millions of women and children around the world are enslaved- kidnapped and forced to sell sex for the profit of pimps. But this story does not fit the reality of the vast majority of sex workers. In fact, this narrative has largely been largely constructed by a “rescue industrial complex” that benefits from a certain image of a helpless “sex slave” being perpetrated.

I personally do not believe that it is inherently wrong to sell sexual acts. I think it’s likely that there will always be demand for this type of labor, and there will always be people who are willing to provide this type of labor. However, that’s a topic for another post.

The real issue at hand is this: people are selling sex. It’s happening, and it’s not going to stop happening any time soon. After all, in our society, as we live under capitalism, you need to earn money to survive. And some people find that sex work is a better way to earn money than any other alternatives they might have. For many people it feels more demeaning working minimum wage in a demeaning and tedious job over 40 hours a week rather than spend a few hours a week selling sexual acts. So the question is, given that people are going to be doing this work, whether you personally morally agree with it or not, how can we make these workers safer, happier, and less at risk for abuse and exploitation?

Because we live in a patriarchal and puritanical society, sex work is generally looked down upon, and sex workers are therefore marginalized- their work criminalized. This leads to a huge number of safety concerns. It’s makes it harder for sex workers to screen their clients. It makes it difficult for sex workers to enforce rigorous safety protocols. And it makes it nearly impossible for sex workers to seek help or support if they are harmed by clients or other people they are working for.

Certain interests long ago saw an avenue of exploitation open to them as a result of this marginalization. This is how the “rescue industrial complex” was born. And as it has developed, the monetary interests of factories and sweat shops, law enforcement, government agencies, prisons, and for profit residential centers has become increasingly interconnected.

The reality is, some teens, and a very small number of children, are forced or coerced into sexually exploitative situations. Although this certainly occurs, research shows that these numbers are in reality much smaller than the general population believes. The number is small enough that the rescue industrial complex could not actually turn a large profit if it only rescued those truly in need of rescuing. However, the “sex trafficked child” makes for a great heart wrenching story, one that the bleeding heart liberal, the radical feminist, the white savior imperialist, and the puritanical conservative can get behind.

The department of justice and the FBI have continually changed the definitions of “trafficking”, “pimps”, “victims”, etc. in order to make larger and larger demographics the targets of their operations against “trafficking”. For example, under the “official” definition of trafficking, anyone who crosses a state or country line to do sex work is “trafficked”, regardless of the circumstance. Therefore a woman who travels to a nearby city to do sex work can be charged with “trafficking” herself. A “pimp” is anyone who provides any kind of material or financial resource that may be seen as contributing to the sex industry. A landlord who knowingly rents to a sex worker is considered a “pimp” under these definitions, as well as a friend who provides security, or a partner that helps keep up with client correspondence, regardless of the existence of any power dynamics in their relationship. Despite their efforts to expand these definitions to the point of being nonsensical, the data shows reality. In 2015, 34,240 people were arrested for prostitution, only 457 of which were minors. Where are these thousands of victims that law enforcement agencies describe? They simply do not exist.

Those 457 minors are still a concern. The picture that law enforcement paints is lurid, one that both disgusts and titillates civilians. But the “child sex slave” narrative so often believed by the average media consumer is quite different than what it generally looks like.

Your average “trafficked child” looks like this: they are 15-17 years old, they grew up in an unstable, abusive and/or neglectful household, and their family is in poverty. The youth generally isn’t getting their basic needs met at home and finds that they can trade sex to help pay their family’s bills and buy them things they need to survive or soothe themselves (food, drugs, accessories, treats, etc). In the worst case scenarios, the youth is being abused at home and runs away, and due to a lack of youth shelters and other resources, decides to trade sex for a place to sleep that feels safer than their family’s home. This is not the lurid, titillating scene most people picture when the think of “child sex trafficking”. But it is much closer to what most of these cases actually look like.

I think everyone would agree that youth, or anyone, should not be in these difficult situations where trading sex may be their only, or at least one of their only options. What happens to these teens when they are “rescued” by an anti trafficking campaign?

Law enforcement agencies tend to make a big show about the fact that they don’t arrest “child prostitutes”, due to “progressive” anti trafficking legislation. However, most “rescued” youth will be held in youth detention centers for awhile, while authorities figure out what to do with them. After detention, they may be sent to a residential treatment center, they may be sent into a foster home, they may be dumped back out onto the street with no resources or help, or most likely they will likely be sent back into the abusive and/or poverty stricken homes they were trying to flee from in the first place. If placed in an institution or in foster care, they will often be slapped with a stigmatizing mental health label like borderline personality disorder or conduct disorder. They will likely be heavily medicated. And they will fairly often experience abuse by staff, police, guards, counselors, or members of their new foster families.

There are countless examples of police being the ones abusing and raping sex workers, including exploited youth, or trading sex in exchange for not arresting or detaining youth they find involved in drug rings or the sex trade. In fact, the case I’ve heard of that most closely fit the mainstream narrative of “child sex slave ring” was actually being run by police. Another rare story that fits the more mainstream was a sex trafficking ring run out of group foster homes for disabled adults. Disabled adults being abused in foster care is not nearly as titillating a story as innocent young girl lured into sex slavery, so most people don’t hear about it.

These are the real problems that our society faces: youth with no resources, no help, no options, no one to truly advocate for them. And the institutions currently set up to “help” are vastly inadequate at best- horribly traumatizing at worst.

We have to really be serious about what the issue really is, and what kind of problems our so called “solutions” may actually cause. There awful truth is that there are some things more traumatizing to teens than trading sex for a place to stay. Being held in isolation in detention because they are a “danger” to the other girls (due to panic about “grooming”), being returned to a home where their mother tortures them, or their brother rapes them, or there is never enough to eat, being sent to a foster home that overly medicates them and stigmatizes their behaviors as “borderline” or “anti social”… People don’t want to think about these realities. But they exist- and “rescued” teens face these terrible circumstances every day.

We have to think about other consequences of these anti trafficking operations as well. What about the children of the mostly adult, consenting sex workers who are arrested after being caught up in these “rescue” operations? The family loses a steady income, and often the children are taken out of their custody for no reason other than their parent is a sex worker and therefore seen to be inherently unfit to parent. If people are really worried about the well being of children, they would consider the fate of children of the 34,000+ adult sex workers who were arrested last year to supposedly combat child sex trafficking. Does their well being somehow matter less?

Especially in developing countries, there has been huge outrage by sex workers against these rescue industries coming in and taking root. Many of these women have intentionally chosen sex work over dangerous and exhausting factory work. However, when the brothels are raided by police, they are often “rescued” by being forced into sweat shop and factory work. Nicholas Kristof’s organization Half the Sky is notorious for these coercive practices. Who is really the trafficker here?

Of course it is important to help minors forced into the sex industry because of adverse life circumstances. But arresting mostly adult sex workers under the guise of “fighting trafficking” is not a helpful way to go about that. I’d love to see the huge amounts of money poured into these operations to go towards opening more youth shelters, which would actually help the root issue. I would love to see more free after school programs implemented for at risk youth. I would love to see more resources available so that all families are able to find relief from poverty, and able to seek out and receive culturally competent mental health services if they desire it.

So why aren’t these programs being implemented, if they would actually address the root issues at play here? Because the rescue industrial complex exists to profit police departments, sweatshops, and privately funded “treatment” centers. They do not actually exist to help people. That is why supporting these operations is never actually helpful. Let’s show our outrage by withdrawing our support of these unfounded hysterics and instead support funding youth shelters, after school programs, and other alternatives for vulnerable kids fleeing abusive homes. Don’t support these “rescue” missions- they are only aimed to increase profits of the”rescue industry”.

The even more disturbing part is that sexual exploitation is not the primary way that youths or even adults around the world are exploited. There are far more people exploited in other kinds of labor: garment industries, farming and agricultural industries, and other physical labor such as mining, tourism and hotel industries, house keeping, factory work, etc. People in these industries are often working in extremely dangerous and abusive conditions. So why are these children not being targeted by “anti-trafficking” campaigns?

This is an important question to ask. Why are these children so much more out of the media spotlight? Why are they less worthy of our rescuing? I would argue that it has to do with misogyny, it has to do with slut shaming, it has to do with our sexual fantasies in the context of a violent yet puritanical society. As much as we might deny it to ourselves and each other, the image of the “child sex slave” titillates us in way that the “child factory slave” simply does not. This holds true from the fierce feminists to the raging conservative. So let’s admit what’s really going on here. Can we step back, look at the real issues, find other outlets for our darker fantasies, and do what we need to do to actually help the kids now?

 

For sources that back up the claims I make here, please visit and explore the following websites:

Further Reading

http://www.strollpdx.org/mandatory-reading-list-for-accomplices/

Worshiping You

There are days that I worship you,

that I kneel for you like you are my god-

but I forsake you- I turn away.

I don’t know how to let you accept me when I am not perfect.

I don’t know what to say to you when

every part of me cries out for something different.

Each hurt on my body whimpers with its own special pain.

You see me crumble when I cannot be calm;

you watch me prickle over when I forget how to be soft.

There is a part of me that wants to destroy you: that despises your tenderness.

But what would the rest of me do without you?

You have me reined in tightly. You tell me that you have tamed me.

But there is something in me that can never be roped down.

There is a place so far inside me that your fingers will never reach.

A Day in the Life of my Anxiety

I’m usually not very open to talking about the details of my anxiety symptoms. I’m afraid of what people might think of me if they knew the reality of my compulsive thoughts. But it’s also not helpful to anyone if I try to interact with a community that has no understanding of what I really struggle with day to day. Life is navigated a little differently when you are battling daily panic. So here is a peak into my head for a day:

I’ve been sitting in this chair for so long- but I need to finish this project before I get up and stretch. My neck hurts- it feels like my muscles are seizing up. What if all my muscles are slowly disintegrating and this is the first sign. My shoulders feel so tight.

Am I breathing okay? Is my bra too tight? What if I develop asthma today? What if I have an asthma attack? I’ve never had asthma before. But what if it starts today?

What if I become allergic to bees today? What if I become allergic to soy today? What if I don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late?

What do I have to do today? What if I forget something important? I’ll check my schedule every few minutes, again and again and again, just to make sure. And then I will still forget something, because I’m so worried and distracted about forgetting something.

Did I text all of my friends today? Will someone think I forgot about them? Will they think badly of me if I forget to check in? I’ll probably forget to do something I said I was going to do.

I need to look at my schedule again. And again. And again. And again. I’m sure I forgot something.

What should I do tonight? What if I’m too tired to exercise and I get lazy? What if I have a heart attack because I exercise too hard?

Am I having an allergic reaction? My chest feels tight. My face feels itchy. Is my lip swelling up or have I been touching it too much and now it’s irritated? Maybe I’m becoming allergic to mangoes. Or quinoa. Or apples. Or peppers. I met someone once who was allergic to mangoes. What if I am too?

Does my throat feel constricted? Is my breathing normal? Is my heartbeat steady? Is my body functioning the way it’s supposed to? What if I ignore something important and I die? What if I overreact to nothing and people think I’m being crazy again?

What if I have a panic attack and I do something embarrassing? What if I don’t have a panic attack and something bad happens?

I’m so far away from any hospitals. Maybe I should go home from work, or this outing, or this activity, just in case I need to be near a hospital. What if I go to the hospital and they think I’m crazy? What if I don’t go to the hospital and I die?

I can’t touch doorknobs with my hands- I use my sleeves. I wash my hands more than I really know that I need to. I prepare my food in particular ways. I see germs everywhere.

I convince myself that I’m dying, almost every day. Panic sets in. What if I have toxic mold in my bloodstream? What if I have an autoimmune disease and all of the symptoms have been overlooked? What if I’ve been ignoring all of the signs, what if I’ve been missing all of the clues? I should look for more patterns. I should research more possibilities.

What if I’m crazy? What if I’m right but no one will believe me?

What if he doesn’t love me anymore? What if I’m too annoying? What if I’m too needy? What if I’m not thin enough? What if I’m not enough? What if I’m too much?

He didn’t laugh at my joke. He definitely doesn’t love me anymore. I’m so annoying.

Maybe all of my connective tissue is breaking down. Maybe all of my cells are turning against me and attacking my own body.

I think I’m allergic to lentils. I think I’m allergic to gluten. I think I’m allergic to whatever food my brain has gotten fixated on today.

I’m so annoying. I’m so pathetic. I won’t ever do enough with my life to mean anything.

I’m so busy. I’m so overwhelmed. I can’t do all of the things I need to do. I just need to slow down.

I can’t go to work. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll never feel fulfilled. I’ll never be good at anything I do.

I need to work on all of my projects. I need to get more done. I need to text my friends. I need people to think I’m happy and fun and interesting. What can I do to make people think I’m fun and interesting and pretty?

I need to stop and be calm. I think that I’m dying again. What if I have a stroke because I’m too stressed? Maybe I’m having an allergic reaction. Is my face swelling up? My heart is beating too fast. I haven’t worked on my art enough. I haven’t done enough to be good. I haven’t done enough to be liked.

My thoughts are flying away from me. I’m out of control. What if I can’t bring myself back this time? What if this time I really break down and I can’t come back from it?

The intrusive thoughts of destroying myself come swooping in: Shove your face against that nail. Slam your cheek against the hot stove burner. I have vivid death premonitions: it’ll be from suffocation. It’ll be when I slam my car into the freeway divider.

Did I send that text to the right person? Did I accidentally post something on my facebook I didn’t mean to? I should check it again. And again. And again.

If I’m alone my thoughts might spiral. If I’m with friends I might get overwhelmed.

What do I need? What do I want? What will make me fulfilled? What will make me calm?

It takes so much of my energy to learn how to just “be”.

Sick

Cw: age play

 

 

He knows that I have a sickness. I call him “daddy” and he likes it.

I find reasons to cry in front of him. I beg for his attention. I wait for him to pet my hair.

Tonight he will let me sleep in the same bed with him. He decides when it’s time to hurt me. He decides when it’s time to be soft with me.

It’s like I’ve never had a daddy before now. He touches me and I want him to. He makes sure I’m taking care of myself. He knows that I try to be good and he never gets mad.

He promises that he will always protect me and I believe him. He squeezes me so close that it scares me. It has never been like this before. I have never had it this way.

I want to neatly untangle the meaning of my sickness- trace things back along a straight line through my life. But the sickness is not so simple. And all I can do is throw it up into his lap.

Now I’ve never been so happy. Now I’ve never been so sick. I fuse it with his love. I fuse it with his safeness. Embraced with the depth of my sickness.

Sex Has a Patriarchy Problem

Heterosexual sex has a patriarchy problem. I’m not talking about sexual violence or rape culture here, although those are inherently related issues. I’m talking about how heterosexual sex by default occurs along a basically patriarchal narrative- even when consensual- even when negotiated- even when it is “good” for everyone involved.

When we begin to question what we have previously known to be true, we can either expand on the existing framework, or we can dismantle and rebuild a new framework entirely. If we truly want to shift the status quo, we must realize that adding more pieces to an already existing puzzle is not actually creating a new picture. It might be more complicated, but it still perpetuates the same overall pattern.

Taking the same narrative of patriarchal norms in sex and adding to it, or switching it around, does not make it revolutionary. Performing a lot of cunnilingus before having penis-in-vagina intercourse does not make is feminist. Men who make their female partner orgasm once or twice before they stick their dick in does not automatically make them sexual revolutionaries. Adding more plot twists onto the same old story is not a meaningful method of deconstruction.

Many men trying to unlearn patriarchal socialization have recognized that sex has been to taught to them as an act of conquest and domination. It was not presented to them as a mutual act in which all parties engage enthusiastically, rather they were taught that it is a tool for asserting power over another. This is deeply ingrained for many men, and often a long, difficult process to unlearn. And the reality is, it’s easier to expand on a schema that has been programmed into our brains as “normal”, then to totally dismantle it and rebuild a new schema.

So we have gotten a lot of “feminist” men having “feminist sex”- which often looks like men being engaged in consent culture, men being attentive to women’s pleasure, men letting women orgasm first, and increased amounts of time for foreplay before penises get inserted into vaginas, etc. These are all great starting points- but it does not actually change the status quo. It does not pull the problem out from the roots- it is simply trimming the most problematic parts around the top.

So what would it look like to actually get rid of the path we have all been conditioned into accepting, and re write a totally new one?

Imagine sex with no set script. Imagine sex with no end goal. Imagine sex which was based purely on profound pleasure, which had no preoccupation with performance, which had no need for feelings of “achievement”. Imagine sex that was fluid, that was endlessly experimental, that was based purely on in-the-moment desires and negotiations.

Because the reality is, not only would this revolutionize cisgender, heterosexual sex, but it would shift the nature of all types of queer sex as well. We are so conditioned to see sex as perfomance, as conquest, as a standardized list we can check off from lest we be seen as “weird”, lest we do anything “unexpected”. Although this conditioning affects cisgender men the most severely, we all suffer from the same programming. And all sex could be radically shifted if we let go of these norms.

Sex doesn’t have to be “A, B, then C”. It doesn’t have to be “step 1, step 2, step 3”. What might happen if we throw out the standard? It’s hard to do- it’s a continuous journey towards unlearning and relearning. It can be so easy to find ourselves falling back into the patterns we have been habituated to. But how fulfilling it could be to step back from the things we assume and write our own sexual stories- whatever they might look like.