Stop calling them “allies” and start calling them pain parasites: Taking out the garbage of the anti-trafficking movement
I was fired from my job as a human trafficking advocate after being outed as a sex worker. In the past few weeks, I have lost my job, my income, my health coverage and my car. The bill collectors call multiple times per day from the numerous medical bills I cannot pay and I cannot afford to pay out of pocket for my multiple expensive (but life saving) Bipolar medications. I was fired from my job as a human trafficking advocate at Cocoon House in Everett, WA after being outed as having been a sex worker. Cocoon House is a nonprofit agency (supposedly) dedicated to serving homeless, runaway and at-risk youth. My personal history with the sex industry is complex. As it is for most people outside the stereotypes and propaganda of the mainstream anti-trafficking movement. I have been in the sex industry both by choice and by force, at various intervals throughout my life. So when after only two months on the job a coworker who I was not friends with in real life or Facebook, decided to troll my personal social media and report to management that she had evidence I used to be a sex worker (like that somehow disqualifies me from working with trafficking victims) I was stunned. But what was even more shocking to me was the treatment to follow by the agency. After this coworker reported my past to management I was pulled into the office of the outreach director and advocate supervisor and interrogated about the Ashton Kutcher/human trafficking article I wrote that this woman had found in which I stated in the by-line that I was a sex worker. I was grilled as to how I would talk to a minor who is in a trafficking situation and asked how I thought I could talk to any of the youth who have been trafficked if I had done sex work in the past by choice? “It seems like you’re almost promoting prostitution in this article,” my advocate supervisor asked passive-aggressively. And I was made to defend my stance that trafficking and sex work are two very different issues; most markedly separated by the degree of agency, autonomy and choice that one is afforded. To me, especially as someone who has lived the difference between sex work and human trafficking, these separations are extremely self-evident. Maybe if you have never been locked in a room while guy after guy takes their turn raping you for the financial profit of someone else or held down while you’re forced to do what you have to do to make it out alive, then the difference between that and simply not enjoying the times you have to fuck someone unattractive cause you gotta pay the rent maybe aren’t as obvious. As someone who identifies as a sex worker and trafficking survivor I find it maddening that to work in the human trafficking movement I have to constantly educate these idiot “allies” who have never been there and frankly don’t understand at all. I have to be honest; I don’t know if I’m going to make it through this. I am terrified for myself. As someone living with severe treatment resistant Bipolar disorder, Borderline Personality disorder and complex PTSD not having the money or the health coverage to be able to access medication is a death sentence. I have been hospitalized numerous times in psychiatric units and have a history of repeated suicide attempts, including drinking anti-freeze most recently as only a few months ago. The reality is I may die from this. Not because being jobless or even homeless will directly kill me, but because the weight of these situations combined with having no access to stabilizing medication may very well lead to me killing myself. Why do I burden you, a stranger, with this knowledge? Because stigma and discrimination equal death. Literally, for certain populations, and no matter what happens to me this needs to be known by the world. I am living proof that prejudice and bigotry at the hands of allies who put them at the center of our movement can quite literally be a death sentence. Popular author Malcolm Gladwell is quoted as saying, “poverty is not deprivation, it is isolation.” As a direct result of discrimination, I have been shut out from all the ways in which human beings, especially human beings with severe mental illness have a fighting chance of survival. I am enraged at the potential consequences this has for me, as should be all of you out there who care or claim to care about trafficking survivors. Because I’m surely not the first or last person this will happen to. Before I was fired, I did my best to rail against the discriminatory treatment of me; I complained to human resources twice and also to the deputy director and executive director. They ultimately informed me that since “sex worker” is not a protected class under the law, that nothing could be done as far as preceding with any formal kind of discrimination complaint. After my supervisors found out about my past the discriminatory treatment began very quickly. I was in trouble constantly for rules that changed on a whim. I was even written up for filling out my timesheet incorrectly (because you know sex workers are inherently criminals so I was probably trying to steal money from the company). The actual “reason” I was given as to why I was fired? Because a community partner had returned my call an hour or two after I left her a voicemail and I didn’t answer it. And what happened to the girl who had spied on my social media then reported me to management for being a sex worker? Oh, she still works there. She still gets a paycheck and presumably still has a place to live, a car and health insurance. What happened to me was extremely retaliatory as well as discriminatory. I complained to HR and the executive director about both of my direct supervisors, and they were informed about my complaints. There is no precedent for discrimination against sex workers, and the several civil rights attorneys I spoke with claimed it would thusly be “too difficult to prove.” So this is my last desperate act of justice. American discrimination law, attorneys and nonprofit agency directors might dismiss what happened to me just because our discrimination laws are antiquated and stuck in a time warp but I know that injustice is injustice, no matter if the laws recognize that injustice or not. The precedent for changes to these laws has to come from somewhere, someone, at some time. And what better time than now. What we need to do as sex workers and trafficking survivors is rally together to hold these agencies and people accountable that claim they care about the issues related to our lives. Allies, you do not get to hitch a ride on my back while siphening off all of the experiential knowledge I have pulsing through my body; hard won from decades of rape, poverty, homelessness, addiction, desperation and pain. These human trafficking “allies” are just pain parasites equivalent to archaeological bone collectors attempting to hoard the last valuable bits of a dead civiliation. You, sweet parasites, did not walk through those fires. I did. You may use me then throw me away, you may take away everything I have — my literal life and every possibility that I can survive this- but you cannot take my stories and you cannot take my voice.