DCP: Survivor Panel Discussion
At the Demand Change Project, we got to hear from a panel of survivors, who are also leading in some capacity in the fight against the exploitation of women.
Panel Members included:
Kristy Childs, of Veronica’s Voice in Kansas City, MO
Natasha Falle, of SEXTRADE101 in Canada
Cherie Jimenez, of SPACE International in Boston, MA
Christine Stark, author in Minnesota
Autumn Burris, of Survivors 4 Solutions in California
Tina Frundt, founder of Courtney’s House in Washington DC
These are amazing women with a desire to help more women and girls out of the life. In fact, many of them talked about the importance of becoming empowered to speak out and help others.
Here are some snip-its of questions/answers from the panel:
What makes a victim a leader?
First, these women should not be called victims. They are survivors; women who have survived horrible things. As for leadership, it’s important to remember that if a girl or woman is not in a good mental place, it may inhibit her ability to lead, and that’s okay. Healing from trauma is a process and sometimes the survivor needs to take a few steps back to heal. Sometimes leadership for a season is part of that healing process.
Also, it is essential that any services or organizations who serve survivors be survivor lead or at least survivor informed. Women and girls who have been in the life and have survived it are the ones who are in the best position to know what is needed for girls coming out. Organizations who do not take this approach have unfortunately and unintentionally caused more harm or problems for the survivors than have helped them.
What is the responsibility of an activist?
Learn. Listen. Understand power and control. See the bigger picture. Christine talked about how important it is for her to keep the girls at the center of her stories while still protecting them and ensuring they are not further exploited. Tina also encouraged all of us to be true to ourselves. If we are being selfish or negative, take a step back.
What are your reactions to the shift in terminologies?
We want help, but we don’t want to be seen or treated as if we are pathetic or handicapped.
Unfortunately, this word has caused problems because funding and laws have been created that distinguish between “trafficking” and “prostitution,” causing the majority of girls and women not to be covered by the definition of “trafficked victims” because they were not actually “trafficked” to another area. Really, a girl sold domestically by a parent should still count as sexual exploitation. That girl deserves just as much support as one trafficked to a different state or country. Plus, trafficking often eliminates porn or stripping in its definition, when porn, stripping and any form of selling women as sex slaves is exploitation and should be eliminated.
Don’t separate or categorize. We shouldn’t care how girls get into the life; we should care what is happening to them and how to get them out. Plus, it often puts girls in a situation where they are trying to get the language right when they’re trying to request services. One of the speakers (Tina, I think) shared a story about these girls calling the help line and trying to figure out if they should say to make sure they could get help. Tina just said, “Girl, don’t worry about it, we will help you.”
Do you have any feedback or response to the Swedish model?
The Swedish model of fighting against sexual exploitation has decriminilized women and girls coming out of exploitation. They do not need to “prove” they were victimized in order to receive support or services. They also allow for a reflection period which allows the survivor to heal before she chooses to testify against her perpetrators.
What has been your experience and/or feedback on how current law enforcement is handling this situation?
In Ohio, the number one client (john) is a police officer. So it’s very hard for survivors to be interviewed by law enforcement in their cases.
Other cities and communities (including Minneapolis), there have been situations where law enforcement has made a deal with a prostitute that he won’t charge her with prostitution (or another related crime) if she finds him three drug dealers.
A few of the panel members mentioned how important it is to teach survivors that it is okay to have different trust levels for different people.
Share thoughts/reactions on how women get into prostitution?
No girl makes an informed decision to become a stripper or prostitute. There is no job description that lists out the risks or expectations. So you cannot call it “sex work” or treat it like it’s an informed job. Even the girls who respond to “employment” posts for dancers do not have all of the information or know the risk. It will seem safe or like there are boundaries, but then the girl ends up in a back room with a guy who expects more. It’s not like when they interview you they tell you what all you’ll be asked to do.
A survey of 105 prostitutes revealed that 92% wanted out immediately if there was a way for them to leave.
My top takeaways:
Services should be survivor lead/survivor informed.
Move away from using the term “trafficking” to using more inclusive terms such as “sexual exploitation” to eliminate the current categorization that happens, which causes barriers to helping the girls and women wanting out.
Activists need to continue to learn and listen to survivors to better advocate for change.
Remind everyone that people do not make informed decisions to become sex slaves. There is no job description (plus, so many of the girls were young when they first entered into the life, so they didn’t really understand the risks or potential consequences in the first place!).