As perhaps many of you know, human trafficking is one of the issues I am most passionate about, and have had the chance to study it extensively over several years, both in the United States and India as part of my doctoral research. My research has largely been a phenomenology in human trafficking aftercare modalities, which will now be merged into my dissertation tentatively titled: Is Everything Okay? A Theology Of Shalom In Human Trafficking Aftercare.
Trafficking, of course, has become a front-page cause in the Evangelical Christian world (what Ruth Graham calls “Christian Cause Célèbre” in this informative piece). This has resulted in both net-positives as well as some negatives, something I hope my dissertation will speak to on both counts.
The largest deficiency of the Christian anti-trafficking movement is an all too basic one: the cause grew so quickly and became so popular, that many individuals and even Christian organizations are now trying to work within an issue they don’t fully understand, and are trying to help people they don’t understand. No mission can succeed if you don’t really listen to, and get to know the people you’re supposedly helping. And that’s what must change in the Christian anti-trafficking world. (Case in point: imagine becoming a missionary to India if you didn’t speak Hindi, never studied Indian culture, never met anyone from India, and the only information you had came from watching a couple PBS episodes on India or from listening to one, single, Indian guest speaker at a conference? That’s not how it works– but sadly is how ground-level missiology is often done by well-meaning but unprepared activists.) Not only is this unhelpful, in many cases I’ve seen it actively harming survivors.
This isn’t to broad-brush everyone. In the course of my research I found some Christian organizations who had a great philosophy and were doing an outstanding job. I also found Christian organizations that had near unlimited funding, yet had a 100% fail rate and couldn’t figure out why. Others were well intentioned, but working within a trafficking narrative derived from stereotypes about trafficking and the sex industry (they are not synonymous- voluntary work in the sex industry and work via force, fraud, or coercion are different), and hyped-up media programs, rather than listening to the real-life voices of workers from within the sex industry and trafficking victims. Too often, in my experience, many Christian anti-trafficking activists haven’t spoken or listened to a single survivor of trafficking beyond those survivors who travel speaking and selling books– and this, I believe, is the achilles heel of the movement.
In light of that, I have invited a survivor of human trafficking to dialogue here on the blog, so the larger Christian trafficking community can glean from her wisdom– and perhaps begin a new era of listening and learning. Meg Munoz is the founder of Abeni in Orange County, California. Abeni exists to “create a safe, confidential place for those working in the Orange County sex trades, as well as those being domestically sex trafficked.” Meg worked independently in the adult entertainment industry for several years before being trafficked, so her time in the industry encapsulates a wide variety of experiences. She is also a personal friend of mine, and I’m honored that she’d take the time to sit down for some public dialogue together.
Today’s post will be part of a series I will be doing with Meg. Next week I will release a full-length interview where you’ll get to hear more of her inspiring story, and I will do a 3rd post (if there’s reader interest/participation) where I ask her your questions. Just use the contact form in the menu bar, type your subject line “Questions For Meg” and I’ll select a handful of audience questions for the third part of our discussion.
The first question I’ve posed to Meg is below. She has been kind enough to include links for further reference; if you are a Christian trafficking activist, please bookmark this post and set aside the time to read the resources she has been kind enough to compile for you.
BLC: “There seem to be a growing number of Christians, and a growing amount of Christian nonprofit organizations, focused on the issue of human trafficking. In my experience, far too many of these activists have never even sat down and had a discussion with a trafficking victim (or someone voluntarily working in the sex industry), which I find very concerning. If you could gather all of them into a single room, what would you tell them?”
Meg: Here’s what I’d like to tell them:
- Please listen to and get to know sex workers.
(For further reading, visit here: http://titsandsass.com/category/activism)
- Please educate yourself on the spectrum of sex work and why people enter the industry.
(For further reading, visit here: http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Sex-Workers-Christian-Response/dp/0827216629)
- Please don’t continue to exclude us from conversations about our work, lives, and trafficking. You would never make public policy or other decisions about other groups of people without their input, so “Nothing about us without us” is incredibly reasonable.
(For further reading, visit here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/nadia-van-der-linde/nothing-about-us-without-us-reversing-power-dynamics-of-philanthr)
- Please stop arresting and criminalizing us. How you treat everyone on the spectrum of sex work directly and indirectly impacts those who are being trafficked.
(For further reading, visit here: http://redumbrellaproject.org/advocate/nyhtic/ and here: http://www.vice.com/read/sex-workers-and-the-city-0000550-v22n1)
- Please stop telling survivors things like “We’re so glad you’re better now” or “You can do better than that’ or ‘You were created for so much more.” It implies judgment about our time in the industry and if we want/need to return, we’ll already know exactly how you feel about us and our work. You’re reinforcing stigma and shame, and confirming to us you aren’t safe.
- Please stop protesting strip clubs and porn companies. You can’t say ‘I love you, but hate what you do’, then expect people to have all the feels and trust you when things get rough.
- Please stop telling us we don’t understand our own experiences.
- Please stop thinking rescue is the answer.
(READ EVERY WORD OF THIS: http://www.canadianwomen.org/blog/%E2%80%9Crescue%E2%80%9D-harmful-anti-trafficking-efforts)
- Please stop blaming survivors for their inability to adapt to and thrive in unhealthy or unbalanced programs or services that don’t meet their holistic needs or support their long term development and success.
- Please stop focusing on the ‘Is sex work right or wrong?’ narrative and start focusing on people. We are all entitled to rights, respect, dignity and protections. Please stop limiting human rights to those you simply agree with.
- Please recognize that your legislative reforms, though well-intended, can actually hurt those you’re trying to help.
- Please stop using shock value campaigns and images. Please stop putting girls dressed as dolls in life-size boxes with bar codes. Please stop showing white females with dark hands over their mouths. Please stop showing girls handcuffed and crying. Please stop sharing the faces and locations of those you’ve ‘rescued.’ You’re capitalizing off of our exploitation, potentially re-traumatizing people, and reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions.
(For further reading, visit here: https://love146.org/anti-trafficking-fail/ )
- Please stop conflating sex work with trafficking, as there is more than one sex work/trafficking narrative. Not everyone is a victim, not everyone is a pimp.
- Please stop pushing Jesus at every turn. Some of our greatest hurts or abuses may have come from people in the church or those in spiritual authority. For some, it’s like salt on a wound.
- Please stop treating mental health issues like spiritual ones. Please stop making Bible Studies, prayer, church attendance, and spiritual exercises a mandatory component of your programs/services. Bible verse may be soothing, but for trauma survivors grappling with many issues, they can be a band aid on a bullet wound.
- Please stop using the images, stories, and labor of those you’re helping. It often creates a sense of obligation, is exploitive, potentially re-traumatizing, and recreates unbalanced and unhealthy power dynamics similar to that of the pimps they may have just left.
- Please stop watching exploitive, inaccurate, and misleading reality shows like ‘Slave Hunter”, “Sex Slaves’, and “8 Minutes” – Be a critical-thinking consumer and refuse to consume exploitation framed as education or awareness.
(For further reading, visit here: http://jezebel.com/sex-workers-project-asks-msnbc-to-pull-show-on-sex-slav-1717782506 )
- Please start questioning numbers, narratives, and policies – There’s always more than one perspective and numbers can not only mislead, but tell many different stories.
(For further reading, visit here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/is-one-of-the-most-cited-statistics-about-sex-work-wrong/379662/ )
- Please care and do more about gender inequality, racism, LGBTQ rights, socio-economic reforms, the prison system, immigrant rights, mental health, and other social justice related realities because that’s where real anti-trafficking work is rooted and starts.
- Please stop demonizing us and treating us like we’re to blame for trafficking.
(For further reading, visit here: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/12/alaskas-prostitution-law-isnt-working/383818/)
- Please stop cheering for Rahab, but chastising those who are currently working in the industry in ANY capacity. Rahab was unapologetic about her work, did amazing things, didn’t leave the industry, AND was part of a pretty kick-ass family tree.
- Please stop railing against the porn industry while shopping at *fill in the blank*, buying imported seafood, eating $1 lettuce, getting cheap manicures and massages, eating at McDonald’s, refusing to support a higher minimum wage, voting in mandatory minimums for anything, remaining silent on tuition increases, and fighting reproductive rights. If you’re going to have moral biases, please address systemic issues before attacking those trying to survive within a system they didn’t choose, but have to live and try to survive under.
(For further reading, visit here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/anne-elizabeth-moore/from-brothel-to-sweatshop-questions-on-labour-trafficking-in-camb)
(This is part 1 of a multi-part interview. You can find part 2 (Meg’s Story) here.)