‘Listen to survivors’ and the fetishisation of experience

I am a “survivor” who had traumatic experiences during my time as a survival sex worker who was also trafficked on more than one occasion by multiple pimps (aka “pimples”). Even so, it is crystal clear that the “Nordic Model” increase of criminalization (and the corresponding unwillingness to allow for the possibility that there might be a proportion of sex workers who are NOT trafficked, along with shutting out THEIR voices in legislation over their bodies and human rights from the debates on this topic) – well I can just walk a few blocks to my old track, talk to any of the women who ARE trafficked, and I can give you MANY clear examples of how the “End Demand” legislation has made their lives A LOT worse, a lot more DANGEROUS, a lot more HARMFUL to what little wellbeing they have left. Trafficking is a form of domestic violence, as trafficking is carried out among the adult women I have seen, which is the majority of sex work that takes place where it is visible. FORCING domestic violence victims to get “help” (as the diversion programs for prostitutes in my state is called) has NEVER helped any domestic violence victim! If legislators REALLY want to help adult trafficking victims and, at the same time, not INCREASE victimization and decimate the basic human rights of non-trafficked CONSENSUAL sex workers, they have to INCLUDE voices of ALL SEX WORKERS, not just cherry-picked survivor stories, but also survivor stories like mine (yes I was a sex trafficking victim, but I still support decriminalization and legalization of consensual sex work), and the stories of the larger percentage of sex workers, who are NOT TRAFFICKED.

genders, bodies, politics

The debate over Amnesty International’s draft policy supporting the decriminalisation of sex work has been heated. Although the organisation developed the policy following extensive research with sex workers and consultation with key stakeholders, it has been accused of wanting to protect the rights of ‘pimps’ and ‘Johns’ to buy or profit from the sale of sex. The position of those supporting Amnesty’s draft policy is clear – the vast majority of sex workers globally oppose criminalisation (including the ‘Nordic Model’ of criminalising clients), because it jeopardises their incomes, creates health vulnerabilities and puts them at risk of violence. As the community most directly affected by sex work law and policy, it is argued, their voices should matter most.

Although this may seem uncontroversial, it has been claimed that this injunction to listen to sex workers is an identity politics which fetishises personal experience and is an insufficient basis on which…

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