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Category: International, Violence against Women

Ending Demand: Sex Trafficking in New York

| March 9, 2011


“If men didn’t buy sex, there would be no sex trafficking." Last night, the WMC attended a panel discussion about sex trafficking in New York. Hosted by Sanctuary for Families (SFFNY), the event kicked off the End Demand NYC campaign and featured Rachel Lloyd from GEMS, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and many other prominent advocates.

An estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, but how many here in the US? Just in New York City, GEMS supported over 300 domestically trafficked girls in the last year. In fact, New York is a central artery of the multi-billion dollar global sex trafficking industry. This may come as a surprise to many, since human trafficking is typically portrayed as something that happens elsewhere, in less developed countries, but not here in our own backyard.

Whether in Times Square or Cambodia, Kristof spoke about how the hurdles are similar. Victims remain largely invisible and without the political capital to help themselves. And using the word “victim” might have greater repercussions. How do we distinguish between a “survivor” and a “victim” of trafficking? Rachel Lloyd talked about how there is, in fact, no difference, and in order to change the existing paradigm, we must stop talking about “real” victims or “good” victims, because there is no one face of trafficking. So how do we change the conversation, and shift the paradigm to create a society that doesn’t permit these abuses to continue?

We live in a culture that glamorizes prostitution and pimps, said Dorchen Leidholdt, of SFFNY. New York passed groundbreaking anti-trafficking legislation in 2007, but it hasn't had the large-scale effect that many hoped for. Indeed, the bill was signed into law under Gov. Eliot Spitzer, once a prominent advocate against sex trafficking and later felled for buying sex. He never served time. Such as in that case, there are often white, middle-class women who come forward to talk about how they did, in fact, have a choice going into the sex industry. These are the exceptions though, said Rachel Lloyd. She asserted that until there’s “a level playing field,” and women from all races, socio-economic backgrounds and legal status begin with the same opportunities, we really can’t talk about “choice” in sex trafficking.

What we can focus on is the demand. Without a demand for sex, after all, there would be no trafficking. How do we begin to shift that paradigm, end demand, and encourage a culture that places greater value on women and girls’ bodies? At the WMC we can start with the media. PWV Alumna and Director of Women's Rights Shelby Knox is taking on The New York Times with this petition campaign. Visit SFFNY's End Demand campaign to find out more about how you get involved.