FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 26, 2013 An Open Letter to the Anti-Trafficking Movement
Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU) is a survivor-led and survivor-founded international nonprofit organization. Our 130 members include sex trafficked women and men who have escaped their traffickers, often with no assistance, and who have banded together to raise awareness and assist sex trafficking victims. Though other survivor organizations exist, STSU is the first International organization that was conceived by and is made up of sex trafficking survivor leaders.
We have been disturbed and disappointed to see that large organizations having no survivors in their upper ranks are leading the anti-trafficking movement. It is astonishing to us that these groups receive the vast majority of anti-trafficking funding, while long-term survivor-led organizations working directly with victims struggle to stay afloat. Our experience with many of these organizations has been exploitative. We have found that though they often seek us out, their interest is in our personal stories, which they present as examples of the horrors of sex trafficking. We are also often invited to speak at conferences and events, but offered fees far lower than those of non-survivor speakers. Sometimes, we are offered no compensation at all, even though our professional credentials are equal or superior to other speakers. We have been asked to share our program curricula, methods and other educational materials, only to find that those requesting such assistance quickly adopt and promote these as their own, competing with us rather than partnering with us.
Most importantly, we do not receive invitations to lead or partner with other organizations in large anti-trafficking education and policy initiatives despite our extensive knowledge and experience in regard to sex trafficking operations and victims’ needs. We are not saying that only survivors of sex trafficking should be doing this work, but using us to promote agendas which we had no role in developing sends a destructive message to us. This situation is amplified by the many unqualified “experts” in the field. If one is not a survivor, or has not been classified an expert in a court of law, or has not had any experience in front-line or management positions working with vulnerable people in the sex trade, or has no formal education in organized crime, trauma victims or counseling, they are not an expert over ‘our’ life experiences. We are deeply concerned that anti-trafficking initiatives promoted by non-survivor organizations often fail to recognize or acknowledge important truths about domestic sex trafficking operations, or the full range of victims affected. This contributes to further harm for those still trapped.
Despite popular stereotypes depicting sex trafficking survivors as too damaged to be competent and effective partners, STSU’s members include executive directors of survivor-led organizations providing direct services to minor and adult victims, medical doctors and other health professionals, social workers and family therapists, crime victim advocates, and college professors. Not only have we experienced and escaped the complex world of sex trafficking and healed, many of us have earned college degrees, founded small businesses, established nonprofit victim services organizations, and earned other professional credentials.
As survivors of sex trafficking, we drew on our own pain and suffering to raise awareness of victims’ experiences. Being exploited by individuals and organizations claiming to be our allies and protectors is something with which we are very familiar, and it is emphatically wrong. Supposedly we are fighting for the same cause. We challenge the individuals and organizations leading the anti-trafficking movement to recognize and correct their own privileged actions, and to work with us rather than against us.