13 November 2012

How A Misguded Moral Crusade Victimizes Trans People

I am glad that attention has been paid to the discrimination and violence transgender people too often face.

There is a related issue that receives a lot of notice but is almost never discussed as a transgender issue: prostitution and human trafficking.

I am not a lawyer or policy-maker.  However, before continuing this post, I will do my best to distinguish prostitution from human trafficking, as the terms are often used interchangeably.

As I understand it, human trafficking involves the transportation of people--mainly young women and girls--from one place to another for the purpose of employing them as sex workers.  Prostitution is the sex work itself:  sexual acts performed for money, whether for one's self or (as is more common) a pimp or other boss.  It is the demand for the work of prostitution that fuels human trafficking.

However, both are transgender issues because trans people--particularly young male-to-females--are disproportionately involved in sex work. We disproportionately have the "risk factors" that can lead to becoming involved with such work--and vulnerable to human trafficking.

Though there are some who become sex workers voluntarily (We've all heard about young women who do it to pay for college.), the vast majority have left homes, schools communities or nations where they were sexually exploited or otherwise abused.  

Young trans people are more likely than others to experience such conditions. And when some young trans or gay kid runs away from home to escape bullying or other kinds of abuse, he or she finds him or herself as a stranger in some place or another with no educational or other credentials (Many don't finish high school.) and few or no marketable skills.  How many options for legal employment are available to such people?

So they turn to sex work.  I admit, I am glad I haven't had to make such a choice:  I'm not sure of how long I would have survived if I had. And I don't condone the demand for such services.  However, no one has ever been able to eradicate it. Attempts to do so are, as Noy Thrupkaew has written, misguided moral crusades.

Such crusades are not only misguided. they are destructive to the very people who are exploited by human trafficking and prostitution:  the sex workers themselves.  It seems that whenever some "get tough on crime" politician decides to go after the "Johns," it's the sex workers themselves who end up in the criminal justice system.  And, of course, we know which gender makes up most of each category!  

As Thrupkaew points out, there are a few who are sex workers by choice and would not want to go into any other line of work.  However, most want to get out of the trade; most can't.  The only ways out for most are arrest or death.  Either one precludes the possibility of a "normal" life after sex work.  Most of those who are arrested return to the work they were doing before the cops picked them up.  If it's so difficult for a high-school dropout with no marketable skills to get a job, imagine how much more difficult it is with such disadvantages combined with the burden of a criminal record.

The only way to improve the lives of people, especially transgenders, who become sex workers, is to make it possible for them to leave the trade.  If they can complete their educations in places where they don't face the daily threat of harassment or worse, and get safe places to live and  jobs that will allow them to pay for their housing and other experiences, they would be much less likely to turn to, or stay in, sex work.  

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