Ruth Jacobs is an author and a charity campaigner for sexually exploited and prostituted women, and After Nyne’s Guest Editor for Friday 18th January. In this candid editorial, Ruth talks about her recent project for Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and how this has informed her choice of articles for After Nyne
When I first studied prostitution in the late 1990s, I was under the impression that I had omitted sex trafficking from my research – that was by the definition of ‘trafficking’ as I understood it back then. I have since learnt differently as more recently, I have become aware of, and educated about, human trafficking.
Much of human trafficking is sex trafficking, primarily of women and girls, and there are more people trapped in slavery right now than at any other time in history. This needs to be exposed, not simply because people need to know what is happening in the world, but because people need to know it can happen to them. It can happen to anyone. And it is happening everywhere.
Part of the solution to ending human trafficking is raising awareness, which is what I hope to achieve with the series of interviews I am publishing for Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Anti-human trafficking activists and advocates share a wealth of information on what they do, and numerous ways for people to get involved themselves. Anti-human trafficking filmmakers, writers and feminists also share their experience and what inspires them to be part of this movement.
It is an honour to be sharing personal stories of human trafficking survivors, many of whom are also activists and advocates. Equally, I am honoured to be sharing the stories of exited prostituted women. Because there is no clear line between sex trafficking and prostitution, it is essential their voices are heard too.
When I look back at my first interview in 1998 with ‘Q’, a woman working as a London call girl, I never saw her at the time as being a ‘sex trafficking’ victim. But there is no difference in the force, the fear, the violence and the rapes she suffered as a child at the hands of her pimp and punters as that endured by a child forced into prostitution by traffickers.
Rebecca Mott, who is interviewed in this series, entered into prostitution at the age of fourteen. She shares how rape and torture were her norm. When men pay for sex, they cannot magically determine a young woman’s age. The fact that most women in prostitution started as children needs to be recognised as child sexual exploitation and child rape. The suffering of those women is no less than that of other women who have been sexually exploited and raped as children. There is no such thing as a ‘child prostitute’. When I see those words together, I want to scream. We do not have a class of children in this world for whom violence and rape is acceptable treatment.
We also do not have a class of women in this world who are unrapeable, as some would have us believe. This is what the use of terminology such as ‘sex work’ would try to convince us. But having sex for money is not a form of work; it is a form of abuse. If a woman has to endure abuse to eat, to clothe her children, to support her drug habit, to pay a debt, how can we see that as a choice? If we would not want it for our own daughters, why would we want it for someone else’s?
In addition to raising awareness, new legislation is also required to help eradicate human trafficking. It is imperative that victims are treated as victims and not as criminals as they often are. Harsher penalties for traffickers are essential, as are harsher penalties for those buying ‘sex’ or as some say, paying to rape. When men pay for sex, they cannot magically know if the woman is there against her will
Because much of human trafficking involves sex trafficking, it is impossible for prostitution laws not to have an impact on human trafficking. For those who argue they don’t, and claim they are interested in what they term ‘sex workers’’ rights, then it is essential to consider that in that group, nine out of ten women would like to exit prostitution if they could.
There is a law that if implemented would reduce the demand for sex trafficking victims as well as giving those nine out of ten women the chance of exercising their choice of leaving prostitution. That is the Nordic model, which does not criminalise the person selling sex, but instead criminalises the punters and profiteers and uses the fines to help fund exiting programmes for those wishing to leave prostitution.
For anyone who claims to be pro-choice, the Nordic model is the only potential law that is pro-choice. It is not pro-choice to consider only the 10% of women in prostitution who ‘choose’ to remain in it whilst disregarding the other 90% who cannot act on their choice and therefore, do not have a choice. And how are we to ignore the children this law would save from being victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation?
To view the full series of Human Trafficking Awareness Month interviews click here.
To take part in and read more on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade currently considering new UK prostitution laws, including the Nordic model, click here.
Ruth will be posting a series of articles to After Nyne throughout the day