7 Perspectives on Prostitution the New York Times Didn’t Publish

Last weekend, NYT Magazine asked: “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” but excluded the viewpoints of survivors who know firsthand the deep harm perpetuated by the commercial sex industry.

Last weekend, the New York Times Magazine’s cover feature asked the question: “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” 

The article courted controversy and failed to include the viewpoints of survivors, activists and service providers who know firsthand the deep harm and gender inequality perpetuated by the commercial sex industry. 

Today, the Times published letters in response to the article. Here are a few letters that didn’t make the LTE page, among them critically important perspectives from survivors that were left out:

To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?

If the small group of privileged “sex workers” highlighted in Bazelon’s article have their way, and prostitution is decriminalized around the world, every boy will grow up knowing it¹s acceptable to buy a body whenever he feels the urge. The result? The market for flesh will grow, delivering a windfall to traffickers and pimps and putting millions more women and girls in harm’s way. The standard PR line of the commercial sex industry is that we in the anti-trafficking community “conflate” consensual prostitution with trafficking. No, we don’t. Prostitution is the marketplace and trafficking is a primary way that product is delivered to buyers. It’s economics 101. Grow the market and trafficking increases.

Bazelon blithely disregards the harm inherent in prostitution. I’ve seen it up close, having been Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Mount Sinai. The stories from survivors of the sex trade are horrific. The violence in prostitution is staggering. The resulting physical and mental health problems are crushing. We need to adopt the Nordic model, which decriminalizes the prostituted person but criminalizes the traffickers, pimps and buyers. Creating an open market place for the use and abuse of women and girls (and men and boys) would be one of the most shocking human rights violations of our time.

Holly G. Atkinson, MD, FACP, FAMWA
Co-Director, Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans,
American Medical Women’s Association
Past President, Physicians for Human Rights

To The Editor:

We are writing in response Emily Bazelon’s Should Prostitution Be A Crime? We are young, feminist and proud of our sexuality yet horrified by society’s continued commodification of it. As a community of dedicated high school activists who work alongside teen survivors of the sex trade, we have seen first hand the damaging, lifelong impact of commercial sexual exploitation.

Our generation wants progress, yet Amnesty and others respond with laziness. We want to move forward toward gender equality, well, the decriminalizing of pimping and buying would only push us back. Legitimizing the “oldest profession”–a profession of the patriarchy–is not progress, it’s giving up. We’d like “human rights” organizations and journalists to stop trying to selling us on the selling of our bodies. Instead of “regulating” oppression and passing it off as a “profession,” be the leaders we deserve, and end it!


The members of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company

To the Editor,

Since 1990, I have worked with thousands of prostituted women and girls. Unlike the woman highlighted in the photo spread of “Should Prostitution Be Legal” (May 5, 2016), the vast majority of people I have worked with have been  African American women and girls and have stated that if they had any choice but prostitution, they would leave “the life” immediately.

In prostitution, purchasers don’t care about the pleasure or pain of the purchased. She exists as a hand, mouth, genitals, anus – not a human being. Sex buyers pay for the right to direct her to do whatever brings him to orgasm, no matter how humiliating the act. She is paid to play out the fantasy that she has power. In reality, she has none.

We can and should remove penalties imposed on people in prostitution, while implementing laws that hold pimps and buyers accountable. The women used in prostitution deserve our support, but we cannot continue to tolerate or promote this exploitive institution.

Vednita Carter
Founder and President, Breaking Free
Minneapolis, Minn

Re: the New York Times Magazine cover story Should Prostitution Be a Crime.

As a former judge and prosecutor, and now as the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, I have seen thousands of victims who have been exploited in the sex trade. Many of them were lured in by pimps and traffickers, most as children. Others have ended up in prostitution when conditions of extreme poverty and prior sexual abuse leave them with few options.

Ms. Bazelon inexplicably omits the experience of these victims, almost exclusively women and girls of color and undocumented immigrants. Instead, her primary focus is on the comparatively privileged, adult, mostly white “sex worker” as reflected in the cover photo, which creates a falsely benign picture of the world’s most brutal industry.

Prostitution is almost invariably a condition of gender inequality and frequently a violent and lethally dangerous form of abuse inextricably connected to sex trafficking. People in prostitution should not be criminalized and must be provided with services. If we fail to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, the sex trafficking industry will continue to expand, destroying the lives of new generations of victims.

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger
Executive Director
Sanctuary for Families

To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?

Emily Bazelon ‘s piece ““Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” makes a case for listening to the voices of those who have actually experienced the commercial sex industry. Unfortunately the voices left out of this piece are the women and girls who have not viewed this as ‘sex work’ but violent exploitation, the experiences of those under pimp control, (over 90 percent of the 400 plus girls and young women GEMS serves annually are or have been under the control of a pimp) and the hundreds of women who have now begun to step out of the shadows to publicly identify as ‘survivors’ of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

These voices are overwhelmingly the voices of girls and young women of color, (the slide show is clearly overwhelmingly white women), of runaway and homeless youth, of women trapped in addiction and poverty. While the anti-trafficking movement can often over simplify or sensationalize these stories, the truth is both more nuanced and more horrific than any well-intentioned awareness campaign that isn’t survivor led or survivor informed.

As a survivor myself and having founded and run GEMS for 18 years, I’m aware that there are no easy solutions to this issue but at least the NYT could have provided a more balanced view by actually including the voices of those young people who are already marginalized and who view the sex industry as inherently violent and harmful, preying upon the most vulnerable in our society.

Rachel Lloyd
Founder and CEO
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services

To the Editors of The NY Times;

I am writing in response to Emily Blazelon piece “Should prostitution be a crime?” As a survivor of exploitation and a front line worker, I was disheartened at this one-sided piece.

I have worked with hundreds of women and girls caught up in the vicious cycle of indignity, pain and hurt. 82% of prostituted women have experienced childhood traumas, sexual abuse, neglect, physical abuse,poverty. Many survivors sell sex and out of desperation label it “choice.” But to have “choice”, you must have options. Most of these women and girls do not.

In Canada, 51% of trafficked women and girls in Canada are Indigenous, like me. Many are lured into the sex trade as young children. The age is even younger if the parent is in prostitution.

If Ms. Bazelon thinks that prostitution is legitimate “work” then she should put down her pen and give prostitution a try. I bet after she learned the real truths about the disgusting men who feel privileged to buy sex, the next article she wrote would directly contradict this one.

Bridget Perrier
Co-Founder/First Nations Educator

To the Editor:

Contrary to Emily Bazelon’s claim in NYT Magazine (5/8), there was ample “recorded data on street prostitution” before Sweden’s criminalization of buyers and decriminalizing of prostituted persons. The decline is actually by more that 50% since 1999 — not just “as much as 50%” — and it is well documented by several independent sources.

Moreover, she omits that while online prostitution ads increased in Sweden, they increased much more in neighboring countries alongside increasing street prostitution, leading researchers around 2007 to estimate numbers of prostituted women as about 15 times higher per capita in Denmark and 9 times higher per capita in Norway compared to Sweden.

Compared to the rest of Europe, sex trafficking almost never happens in Sweden anymore. Bazelon focuses only on the law’s critics, ignoring prostituted women who have explained how the law empowered them to report buyers treating them badly, and who reject her claim that prostitution became more dangerous. She also omits research showing how legal brothels tacitly permit unsafe and dangerous sex since buyers have the upper hand and often want sex that others refuse them, while prostituted persons overwhelmingly have no other options.

Max Waltman
Assistant Professor, Political Science, Stockholm University, Sweden

Prostitution is a root cause of gender violence. Let’s end it now.

Why put an end to prostitution? Far from being a job, prostitution is exploitative, harmful, and perpetuates gender inequality.

This week the New York Times Magazine featured the cover story “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?”

The article suggests that people in prostitution are helped by the wholesale decriminalization of the sex trade, including pimping and sex buying.

This position flies in the face of our work assisting thousands of survivors of sex trafficking. Far from being a job like any other, prostitution is almost invariably a condition of gender exploitation and frequently a violent and lethally dangerous form of abuse inextricably connected to sex trafficking.

Each day we work with survivors who share their histories of abuse and exploitation in the sex trade. Many of them were lured into it by pimps and traffickers, most as children. Others have ended up in prostitution when conditions of extreme poverty and prior sexual abuse leave them traumatized and with few options.

Ms. Bazelon’s omission of the experience of these victims, almost exclusively women and girls of color and undocumented immigrants, and her focus instead on the comparatively privileged, adult, mostly white “sex worker,” creates a falsely benign picture of the world’s most brutal industry.

Also omitted is the fact that prostituted and trafficked girls and women rarely reap the economic benefits of their exploitation–and by the time their economic value in the sex trade has expired are with rare exceptions physically, psychologically, and economically devastated.

Our clients’ experiences are the basis of our conviction that commercial sexual exploitation is one of the root causes of gender inequality and that we need to eliminate it, not simply try to mitigate the harm suffered by its victims.

People in prostitution should not be criminalized and must be provided with services to get out of poverty and escape exploitation. That’s why Sanctuary is growing our Economic Empowerment Program so that even more survivors can find a path to living wage, career-track work.

We contend, however, that when we fail to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, the sex trafficking industry continues to expand, destroying the lives of new generations of victims.

We are saddened that the voices of our clients were not included in this article. The author rejected our offer to share their experience with her. We were not alone. Many of our partner organizations, who have vast experience serving prostituted and trafficked people, were not consulted by Ms. Bazelon.

At Sanctuary, we believe that failing to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, is not progressive but harmful and dangerous to the women, men, and children we serve.

We believe that they deserve safe harbor and a world without exploitation.

Anne-Cecile Raphael: a multilingual, multi-talented volunteer

Anne-Cecile volunteers her legal and language skills.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week, and every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer being honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition event on May 5th. Learn more and register for Pillars of Change.

Anne-Cecile Raphael is an attorney, an advocate, a transplant to the United States from France, and speaks four languages (French, Chinese, German and English).

Who better to serve as a volunteer attorney with Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project and Anti-Trafficking Initiative?

Anne-Cecile first became interested in bringing together her legal expertise and her interest in gender issues when volunteering with trafficking survivors in France. After moving to the United States almost two years ago, she found Sanctuary and began volunteering in our Legal Center. Her previous experience as an attorney in France and in China made her a valuable asset to our team from the start.

While at Sanctuary, Anne-Cecile has assisted numerous West African clients in navigating their immigration cases, and recently got involved with the Anti-Trafficking Initiative (ATI). A fluent Mandarin speaker, Anne-Cecile represents the growing number of Chinese clients seeking services with ATI.‎

Having previously worked with Chinese sex trafficking survivors in Europe, Anne-Cecile brings with her the cultural sensitivity and knowledge necessary to win client trust and to effectively address clients’ experiences of sexual violence, exploitation and trauma.

“Anne-Cecile has demonstrated great compassion and patience during her many sessions with clients, who have difficulty speaking about their horrific past,” shares Carolien Hardenbol, Co-Director of the Immigration Intervention Project.

“She has shown great dedication to serving some of Sanctuary’s most high-needs clients and is highly motivated to addressing the multiple challenges our clients face.”

Anne-Cecile recently received some exciting news: she was accepted to the Masters Program in Anthropology at Columbia University.

“I know this may affect my ability to volunteer regularly with Sanctuary,” she says. “But I hope to find new ways to stay involved and connect my interests!”

She’s already found one very dedicated way to stay involved – next November, Anne-Cecile plans to run the New York City Marathon on behalf of Sanctuary, raising funds and spreading the word about our work to end gender violence.

We are so grateful to Anne-Cecile for her incredible service, and look forward to honoring her at Pillars of Change on May 5, 2016.

You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now. We hope to see you there!

New report reveals formula for success behind Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program

494 women have graduated from the program.

View the full report.

For five years, our ground-breaking Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) has offered career readiness and office technology training to help survivors of gender violence disrupt the cycle of poverty, homelessness, and abuse by securing a living wage, career-track job.

Through an intensive four month training program, EEP participants focus on professional development, literacy upgrading, and advanced office technology skills that position them for living wage jobs across growing industries seeking skilled employees, including health care, financial services, technology, human services, and construction administration.

“The Economic Empowerment Program: Five Years of Transforming Lives, 2011-2016” reveals big numbers and impactful results:

  • 564 survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking enrolled – growing from 68 participants in 2011 to 146 participants in 2015
  • 494 graduates – an 88% graduation rate
  • 270 placed in career-track, living wage jobs – a higher rate than average for workforce development programs
  • $13.71 – the average current hourly wage of our graduates, more than $5 higher than New York State’s private sector minimum wage
  • 148,000 – the number of hours of advanced office technology training and literacy instruction our graduates received over the past five years – and this doesn’t even include additional time spent at internships, with individual mentoring and tutoring, and enrollment in outside courses and trainings

What makes our approach unique? Seven “Career Keys” unlock each client’s potential to move from low to living wage work: professional development, literacy, English proficiency, secondary education, IT skills, occupational skill and work experience.

After determining the Career Keys that a client needs, EEP also offers a full set of supportive services to address other barriers, such as childcare and transportation needs.

Meena, a survivor of extreme domestic violence, graduated from EEP in 2012. She says “My EEP counselor Saloni gave me the skills I needed to feel confident and move forward, while the other women enrolled in EEP were a constant source of positive energy when I was feeling uncertain about the future.

With EEP’s help, Meena obtained a full time job as a campus recruiter. She advanced quickly at her company, and today earns $75,000 a year. She is remarried, and her daughter Shari is thriving.

Read the full report and view more success stories.

Read Executive Director Judy Kluger’s op-ed about the critical need to connect survivors of gender violence with economic empowerment resources.

Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program.