Lost voices for real change

I was at a colloquium this past week in Boston called Arresting Demand. The goal was to bring together movers and shakers from around the world to explore, strategize, and Provoke Change, (as the slogan goes for Hunt Alternatives) with regard to eliminating the Demand for paid sex. Over 250 leaders attended the closed event, including a healthy contingent of women survivors of prostitution. Our survivor voices were heard, felt, and it seems understood like never before. Hats off to Swanee Hunt and Hunt Alternatives for this breakthrough!

The last speaker proved to be a provocative and riveting testimony from a former ‘john,’ named Jeff. He emptied himself before us with a story of unimaginable child sexual abuse which was formation into many forms of sexual ‘acting out.’ Some of it with women in prostitution. He emphatically took full responsibility for his adult choices and actions, recognizing he is fully responsible to fix what he was not responsible for developing as a defenseless child – shattered and corrupted human sexuality. He seemed in a hopeless struggle for wellness that offered little for men who admitted to violent inclinations with women. But he kept at it: the losses were fewer and the victories with God’s assurance, became real. His story concluded with redemption of spirit, sexuality, and family love and acceptance. He received a standing ovation.

I too am a survivor of childhood sexual trauma. I was powerless to defend against it.  Entering prostitution as a teenager was a seamless movement – so easy that I hardly felt a discernible shift in lifestyle for it was more of the same. The co-optation of my body by patriarchy was complete. I used to see men as Jeff as my enemy and with good reason – they tried to kill me. But one day, seeking recovery I landed in an ‘S’ group which is a 12 step group for sexual recovery. Though I was in the minority as a woman I stayed – I was stubborn for recovery and actually desperate.

I too am responsible for my adult wellness (even if harm was at the hands of another) and must arrest unhealthy sexual self-perceptions or behavior formed out of this nightmare.

I heard the childhood stories of the Jeffs – if they were not coming from a male body, I’d swear it was a woman’s story. Yet, he had the advantage of his manhood, no doubt, and all the forces of patriarchy that came with it. But I began to see patriarchy as an added curse – the men’s boundless sexual escapades that included violence againt women (not all men but too many) was normalized – they spoke of that curse! These men in recovery had to go against the grain to find recovery! Wheras for the women – the trajectory into prostitution was not a normalized expression of healthy female sexuality at all. The men, if finally caught, were demonized almost beyond redemption and yet they were on a gendered trajectory that approved and facilitated this acting out. I had my eyes open to the paradoxes and to the debilitating shame we both were under. Mercy began to grow – for the men who wanted recovery. Obviously, for the men who don’t care and continue to harm women and destroy lives – throw the book at them until they wake up, if ever. I would have mercy in reserve for them. DUI’s are handed out for a reason – we must arrest life-destructive behavior.

It is no wonder then, that I believe for a fair hearing of recovery stories of the buyer and the survivor. Imagine Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for prostitution – it would be a wild ride at times, as was the TRC, but ultimately provide a way to vet the unimaginable suffering on people wanting a new day. So, I invited Jeff. I would introduce him as my brother in recovery. I would sit nearby on the stage, unashamed to be close by – in solidarity for hope for recovery for ALL of us. A new radical step of Hope. Jeff was brave – he wanted to spread a message of recovery – we would do so together, buyer and survivor on the same stage.

And we needed to hear a story of hope for many were being fed a diet of despair about the buyers of sex and many of had underlying questions – “can this ever be averted before the harms are unleashed…”

This was not easy – A majority of survivors left as Jeff’s story of child abuse and the subsequent linking of his sexuality with hatred of women hit the spot.  From this we learned to have protocols of self-care in place in the future. Not every survivor walked out but we must care for the ones who struggle with a buyer’s story. The struggle reveals something about our journey and recovery: we did not imagine our encounters with such hate!

Yet a struggle to hear a story does not mean you believe it should be refused or suppressed. Consider the holocaust – just because the stories are a challenge to hear, especially for survivors, do holocaust survivors refuse them? No, we take care in how to present them! And that is where we are now – how do we listen to the men in recovery who hurt us – who are sorry and reforming radically into the men they dreamed to be all along? How do we dare ourselves to learn from them? How do we call them brothers after we demonized them all these years in the movement? Baby steps here, open doors there – we commit, we try.

Can’t we see ourselves as men and women – and even more- brothers and sisters? We survivors got hold of a ladder of mercy – we found it in the dark night of our souls – and began to climb up and out. We are at different rungs on this ladder, and each exactly where they should be. I was able to examine this ladder of mercy once – it was reserved for ALL desperate to find it.

From my interaction with many survivors at the colloquium, we want ALL voices to be heard. I kept hearing the refrain “Dignity for ALL.” This plea was even said emphatically by survivors who could not hold presence while Jeff spoke. This is a journey – a process. Do not mistake a struggle or refusal to listen with a categorical refusal for the hope for change.  We will figure this process out and not refuse it. We will be tested sorely in this process, each in their own time and pace. How is a TRC process worse that what we have already survived? It is not a perfect journey. But we will rise with our tears of sorrow, and then joy, and our brothers who sincerely WANT and WORK recovery, as we do, will be joining us on the stage of forgiveness. One day.

We must enlist brothers in recovery to fight Demand – with us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rewriting History as Herstory

That line is nothing new – its like 70’s – but the work still needs to be done. Especially for women whose lives got tangled up in prostitution. Its a myth-rich history. If it was rewritten as herstory the myths would get the boot.

I absolutely love ‘The Myth of the Happy Hooker” by FreeIrishWoman! http://survivorsconnect.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/where-were-all-the-happy-hookers-when-i-was-on-the-game/

But we need write our herstory as expatriates of whoredom – not the historians who do not know how to listen ‘below the texts’ OR spend any meaningful time with us, god-love-them. (Ever feel like an interview with a researcher was like a visit to the dentist?)

One example of research-on-steroids was done by French physician of the 19th century, Dr Andrea Jean Baptiste Parent-Duchatelet in which he ‘interviewed’ thousands of women in prostitution on Paris streets and brothels. He was forming ideas for legislative reform on the trade. He concluded the women were a contagion and the quarantine idea took hold for districts and exams (not the men).

He bragged he could get data he needed from the women who were arrested for prostitution in under 10 minutes: a gyn exam plus interview. His conclusions were taken up by countless policy makers, sociologists, historians, and theologians – we were now trapped in data that further shaped a stratification of woman for sexual servitude. Any study on the men – the demand – by the men? You know the answer.

Can we recognize that we are our own irrefutable data?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Are We Worth?

I am hoping to interrogate the ‘Demand’ side of prostitution and human trafficking from an activist-scholar’s perspective.

So, I am going to float ideas on what it means to consider solutions from an economic theory model for, well, flesh and blood human beings. How far can we ethically take this theory – and how does lived experience complicate theory?

There is the claim: to arrest demand is to simultaneously disrupt, for some women (especially in poor countries and/or lower classes) their primary means of economic survival.

Said another way – do not halt demand, encourage it. For demand represents many women’s primary means of economic survival – we accept extreme sexual objectification of women, for sexual services, as a category of labor.

Well then, do we consider ways of sanctifying the industry – even trying to change the language as a form of amnesia to what the trade’s heritage is – sexual servitude of women?

No. Instead, I am thinking this brings forward other ways to look at the industry from this economic model. We need to go deeper for the ethical considerations – what keeps the sex industry sustainable with ready supply of resources and buyers?

For this focus I want to look at the ‘ready supply of resources’ – women – (our name is ‘woman’, not ‘supply’ but I keep on this economic theory!)

What is our ‘job training’ for the industry?

Well, the almighty data that the economic and social theorists worship does give a glimpse of the supply development (women’s lived experience): the majority of us were victims of child abuse, sexual abuse, and overall neglect.

So – do we now reframe criminal acts upon girls and young women as job training and job qualification for the sex industry?

This linguistic economic reframing of criminal behavior as resource development for the sex industry presents moral considerations all the way up the supply chain and crossing over to demand. It begs the question as to why prostitution is even framed as an economic model and labor issue if the language and theory obscures the criminal acts and suffering of those involved.

I am thinking the economic theory of supply/demand cannot park itself solely on the transaction but consider supply development; no different than what sort of labor conditions built this beautiful Mac I own.  That said, the same argument follows for demand development – what was going on with these boys before they became men who thought it manly and harmless to buy women for sex? What is the real story behind the sale – on both sides?

But this social justice concern is framed in economic terms – why?

From my studies here at Harvard Divinity School, a vista from which to grasp world struggles in the valleys below, I am seeing that most ALL our lives have become understood in economic terms, whether we are involved in prostitution or not. They are not spiritually understood – we are to set the spiritual understanding aside, it seems.

So, to go back to the economic model that I detest, I look at supply again. My sisters lives – some dead. Are they ‘MOS’ – ‘marked out of stock’ – as we say in retail?

All right – back to the economic model that I detest. I consider the economic concept of ‘de-industrialization’, which is a study of industry disruption and collapse for whatever reason. The displaced workers received help from the government for relocation and/or job retraining.

Amazing. Well, if the government and NGO’s comprehend this battle against prostitution from economic theory – why not apply the job-retraining response to the women who are displaced? Why let them fall further down into poverty and become prey for further exploitation from unscrupulous job scams (more pimps)?

It would seem that to deliberately de-industrialize the sex industry would require a double-surgery approach (oops – I went to a medical model!). While demand is capped – the supply must be re-routed.

My next post may or may not cover ideas on our transferable skill sets as women who have exited prostitution. Or, I may wonder about ‘demand’ – can we call it what it is: lust addiction? Can we do both? (Rehabs are big business, after all)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Full Day of Wonder

I don’t know what happened – is someone praying for me or did the prayers I said worked – or both? I feel good. Its not a high but a self-assuredness that ALL will be well even though

I am pretty much broke as a grad student BUT I have indescribable wealth of wonder for life.

I have assignments and papers so extreme that one has to just laugh for the impossible -recognized – is a step in liberation, a step of mental health.

I took on another project on top of all that I am doing just for the hell of it.

I see this state of ‘impossiblness’ as a wonderful existential place of surrender and prayer.

This is day ONE of the Serenity Sister Blog – Why Not! We are women discovering and affirming healthy choices in their lives, we are breaking free from whatever is holding us back from our sacred self. We are Free – By God and with God, who grants us the serenity to accept the things that cannot change, the courage to change the things that can, and the wisdom to know the difference!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment