A NSW free from poverty and inequality

CSW62 Report Back | Day 4

CSW62 Report Back | Day 4

Un-Ai Jo

Did you know that sporting events are big magnets for sex trafficking?

The US Story - The Super Bowl

There is a dark side to the Super Bowl. Terry Foliti, Executive Director of ‘Breaking Free’, recounted her experience of the 2018 Super Bowl. With a million football fans flocking to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl, dozens of non-governmental organisations and the Police geared up to locate and arrest people who were buying sex online.

In 2018, the Minneapolis Police worked collaboratively with 56 law enforcement agencies in its sting operation. While the government and the media ramped up an awareness campaign around sex trafficking. With 90 people on the day arrested for buying sex in Minnesota alone, Terry highlighted the:

  1. Intersectional oppression that exists in the commercial sex market; and,
  2. Urgent need to change the legal framework to decriminalise selling sex and criminalise the act of buying sex.  

How about FIFA World Cup in Russia?

With the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia, where male dominance and violence against females is normalised, non-governmental organisations are gearing up for their next campaign.

Crisis Center for Women in Russia informed the audience that Russia is a country where there is:

  1. No domestic violence laws;
  2. Only a handful of NGOs that provide social services to women in sex trafficking;
  3. High level of corruption where local businesses act as pimps; and,
  4. Existence of a hotel culture that welcomes sex trafficking to bring more revenue to the business.

As we get closer to the FIFA World Cup, I look forward to witnessing the success of Crisis Center for Women and their dialogue with journalists to join their campaign.

Organisational Perspective vs. Individual Perspective – Sex Work

Organisational perspective on sex trafficking has been discussed at length at CSW. However, often the discussions miss the voices of the people that either have worked or currently work in the industry. 

Refreshingly, a discussion by eight culturally and sexually diverse sex workers revealed their –

  1. Reasons for choosing their career in the industry and how their job changed their life;
  2. Life outside of their career as a ‘sex worker’;
  3. Experiences of being subjected to societal judgements and stigma against their chosen profession;
  4. Ways to challenge and change the narratives of ‘sex work’ in their community;
  5. Strategies in utilising social media as an effective and powerful tool to advocate for themselves and their colleagues in the industry; and,
  6. Reasons why they are loud and proud about their profession.

All eight sex workers were strong activists, who wanted to share their story openly and honestly, to not only empower and advocate for other women working in the industry but also to challenge societal perception of their profession. They were fierce, resilient, logical, practical and successful.

Some enrolled into university to engage with tertiary education, some worked in NGOs, some were Board members of organisations, some started their own NGOs. Yet society perceives them only with a label of ‘sex worker’ and not as the multidimensional, talented and diverse humans that they are.   

After hearing about both sides, it is hard not to be conflicted about this.

Keira Jenkins

The importance of storytelling is something I’ve heard a lot about in the past few days.  It’s actually something I live and breathe every day as a journalist. I know personal stories have so much more impact than statistics and figures.

I was moved to tears today as I heard the story of a First Nations woman in Canada who has been failed by the system. All the systems. The child protection system, the education system, the welfare system, the justice system, they all failed her.

She’s now serving a life sentence in prison. The video that was played of her telling her story was powerful (because obviously she could not be at CSW in person). She talked about the abuse she faced, being stripped down and handcuffed, searched by male guards, beaten.  She talked about her fear that she would die in prison.

Not dissimilar to the stories you hear in Australia. I cried, and my heart broke because there’s so much further to go. Every country in the world, even the ones we think of as progressive.

After the video, Sheila North, who is a Grand Chief of the Manitoba Nation, said she was honoured that the story was shared with us. She said we should all feel honoured. “When you meet an Indigenous woman and they share their story with you, feel grateful,” she said

“Be grateful. They have survived despite the systems that are designed against their survival and feel honoured to hear their story…We are taught not to rely on the system, to not rely on anyone so if we share our story you should feel honoured.”

I think this touches on something very important, especially in a world where #metoo has gone so viral and has had such far-reaching impact.

It’s been talked a lot about at CSW. Sharing stories is a powerful way of making change. But no one owes you their story.

Millions of people across the world shared their stories under the #metoo movement. They were empowered and I felt honoured that so many people around me were sharing their stories with me, even in such public spaces as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

But millions more were not empowered. It was not safe for them to share their stories on those platforms and I was one of those people.

There were calls for me to speak up, but I hesitated. At that those, those platforms were not safe spaces for me to share my story. That’s for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is the fear of my story being minimized with a ‘oh but he has a mental illness’ or ‘oh but he didn’t touch you’ or, most ugly, ‘oh but you should take it as a compliment’.

Sadly, they’re all things I’ve been told when I share my story and social media is a frightening abyss for me where anyone can see, comment and minimize my experience. They don’t have the full context of me and my experience and will never have that.

Perhaps that’s cowardly of me, perhaps others should learn to keep their judgments to themselves.

My job is to educate. I tell stories every day, hoping to make just a small impact. It’s important to have resources and to ask when you’re not sure and when you want to learn.

But as an Aboriginal woman I am tired of having to educate every single day. I don’t just get to take off my activist hat when I don’t want to be asked questions or deal with ignorance. That’s a pervasive part of my life and I can’t escape that.

I have grown harder, louder, tougher and more tired each day I fight. By all means ask your questions but please ask them without expectation because I don’t owe you my story.

Regardless of all that, I want all the women who have shared their stories with me at CSW, and beyond that, to know that  I see you, I respect you, I am honoured to know you and that you felt safe with me to share your story.

Most importantly I want you to know that you are brave. We don’t tell each other that enough.


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