The Anti-Trafficking Movement Needs Survivor Voices: Why Are We Ignored?

In Aboriginal Women's Action Network, Educating Voices, Holly Austin Smith,, SexTrade101 on 2012/04/01 at 9:26 pm

human trafficking, survivors connect, holly austin smith, prostitution, sex work, bedford case, canada, ontario, ptsd trauma, sextrade101, rachel lloyd

Sister survivor Holly Austin Smith has a great new post on her blog, titled The Importance of the Survivor Voice.  She discusses an issue that’s central to most  of us:  Why aren’t more survivors being uplifted to lead the anti-trafficking movement?  Sister  survivor Rachel Lloyd is a splendid exception to this rule, as are  Vednita Carter and Kristy Childs.  But so many of us our ignored and discarded after we’ve been used by anti-trafficking organizations once or twice to tell our story.  No one knows more about the sex industry and human trafficking than we do.  No one knows more about recovery from trafficking/prostitution than us.  The absence of  survivor leaders  in most  major anti-trafficking organizations creates a hole in the movement.   Much more would accomplished much faster if we were given the chance to lead.  Because so few of us are empowered to lead,  so much time is wasted — so much knowledge and insight lost.

What’s especially troubling is that even when survivors find ways to lead on our own we’re ignored or talked through.  Our Canadian sister survivors in the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, Educating Voices, LaCLES, and SexTrade101  have been valiantly educating the public about the harms of the Bedford ruling — which upholds the criminalization of prostitutes on the street — who are crime victims– while it empowers and legitimizes their predators, the male and female pimps and traffickers who own brothels and escort services.  While some of the major anti-trafficking organizations have commented on the ruling or written documents concerning its issues, there’s been precious little support and acknowledgement of the brave work of these Canadian survivors.

The 34 members of Survivors Connect recently voted to issue a statement of support for our Canadian sisters against the Bedford decision.  34 prostitution/trafficking survivors joining our voices  in political action is a big deal.  It was a historic moment, and marked a big change in how survivors participate in the movement.  But there was no response by the big anti-trafficking organizations.  A  few wonderful women within these large anti-trafficking organizations  have reached out to me — there are great people in these groups, of course.  But in general survivors are ignored, not uplifted.

What can survivors do about this situation?  What we’ve been through in the sex industry unites us.  We must remember our voices are powerful, form survivors groups where there are none, and join existing survivor groups.  Sometimes nonprofit organizations become competitive and don’t work together.  We can’t afford this.  It’s important that our different survivor groups work and flow together as one so that our voices aren’t fragmented.

Survivors Connect is an international online leaderless network.  We already have 34 survivor members, and we’ve only been around for two months.  We joyfully welcome new sister survivor members. Here’s how to join us.

In response to the need for survivors’ voices,  Holly Austin Smith has started a speaker’s bureau called Survivor Strong.  Here’s an excerpt from her brilliant post on the subject:

 I am in touch with survivors from around the world: new survivors, empowered survivors, educated survivors, struggling survivors, and scared survivors.  We unite under these umbrella organizations to offer each other support, guidance, and empathy and to work together on survivor-inspired projects.

There is a particular topic which has been surfacing lately on many of these forums and that is the lack of survivor invitations to participate in local and national conferences, symposiums, workshops, etc.  Often, survivors are requested to recount the details of their testimonies, and then they are excused from further participation.  This is baffling to me.  If there is to be a discussion regarding the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors, shouldn’t there be a survivor’s perspective present?

Please realize I recognize that many organizations involved in such events are survivor-informed; however, I still believe that empowered survivors whom are able to attend the event should be invited to participate.  What better way to convey to new survivors that their futures hold promise but by providing a place and by lifting the voices of survivors who are ready to come forward?

Read more.

  1. I pray that more speak out and bond together to fight this evil. Some reasons that I can see that might be obstacles are it is hard to speak out when one is healing from brokenness. When I first escaped my childhood home and the incest I suffered there, I put distance and kept it hidden – partly from shame, but also because the wounds were so deep that it hurt to talk about them. It took years to get to a position of strength where I could share from my heart. The other reason might be a safety factor. I am ignorant of this life, but everything I read or see implies that the ones who abused these women are not likely to let them go free, and I can see that maybe a treat to one’s life could keep a person from speaking out. As it is, I admire the courage of this sharing. It sure has opened my eyes, and my heart, to the pain endured and the strength shown by these beloved sisters.
    God bless you all.

  2. Hi Stella, I am an abolitionist in Canada and have followed this blog for awhile :) It brings such insight to me, and I thank you and all others who courageously write of your own journeys and speak out.

    Thank you for supporting the fight against the Bedford ruling, and I agree with you that anti-trafficking organizations led by survivors do not always get the support and recognition they deserve.

    However – I would like to say that, at least in Canada, organizations like Sex Trade 101 and Walk With Me has been widely interviewed and quoted and especially through the latest court ruling, they and other organizations have been given more profile in the general public.

    I just came back from a conference in London, Ontario where the voices of survivors were definitely represented and integral to the overall conference, as they provided insight and personal story/perspective otherwise not represented.

    I am thankful that you have highlighted this today and I hope that all of us fighting to end human trafficking/prostitution will continue to be united in collaboration and partnership.

  3. I hear you. I am a survivor of Child trafficking, have a NGO, am educated and the big NGOs in this field ignore me even when I offer to give my time and expertize for free.

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  7. Great Blog! Keep speaking out guys!

    Why are you ignored? I’m not an expert but here is a suggestion.

    Your stories are so powerful that you draw power, identity and finance to NGOs. Perhaps it is in human nature not to share that power and influence too easily, even if this is at a subconsious level.

    Perhaps subconsiously NGOs do not want lose power and influence to you?

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