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Sex Work and Everything After

Last month, I had been reading about the rescue of 33 missing children in a human trafficking bust in California when I learned about a network of organizations helping women transition out of trafficking and prostitution by choice. It got me thinking about the disproportionate attention on trafficking - the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel commercial sex acts against someone’s will - compared with prostitution by choice. I asked myself, while victims of trafficking indeed need help to escape the person or people exploiting them, do those who choose sex work also really want and need help? Beyond the moral stigma cast by judgers believing it’s wrong to sell your skills and body for the sexual enjoyment of others, are women sex workers compelled to “break free” from an industry that allows them to provide for themselves and their families if alternative job options are scarce?

While every woman’s story is different, current research studies suggest that some key elements dictate whether sex work is oppressive or liberating for the worker. Is the work (sex act) consensual? Are drugs needed to “get through” performing the work or is drug acquisition a reason for performing the work in the first place? Does sex work prevent them from participating in healthy social circles and non-toxic relationships? Does it provide a feeling of being loved, wanted, or belonging that the worker didn’t have before? Is the worker compelled to do this work in spite of feeling in danger or having experienced trauma while on a “date’?

For this week’s HERsay Podcast episode, the first installment of our Open Mic series, I talked with two women currently transitioning out of the sex work industry with the help of Rochester, NY-based agency Brightstar Community. “Lisa” and “Lexi” share their first-hand accounts of why and how they began this chosen work, how it made them feel, how their families responded to it, and their path toward a new way of life.

Our Open Mic series invites women to share their personal experiences with some of the most difficult issues facing women today, without judgment. By sharing first-hand accounts, the HERsay Podcast aims to feature women from all walks of life, demonstrating that we are all more alike than we are different. Because it’s only when we truly listen to each other that we can learn about the world around us and our place in it, become enlightened to our collectiveness, and help transform the world into a more understanding and caring place for all women.


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