MoMA PS1: The Sex Trade is not a “Cultural Celebration” — it’s Exploitation
March 1, 2018
MoMA PS1 Board of Directors
22–25 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, New York 11101
Dear Mr. Biesenbach and MoMA PS1 Board of Directors:
We, the undersigned, are survivors of the sex trade from around the world. We are advocates and direct service providers. A number of us lead organizations that assist those surviving the sex trade or who wish to exit it. We represent the spectrum of diversity in age, race, nationalities, ethnicities and sexual orientation.
It has come to our attention that on March 4, 2018, MoMA PS1 will be hosting a “Sex Workers Festival of Resistance” event. While we respect the right to free expression and the ability of this group to secure a space for their event, we are dismayed that your prestigious institution is the venue hosting this event. Given your influential and cultural stature in New York and around the world, we believe that in this instance, your curation of this event is causing major harm by promoting the sex trade, including prostitution.
The organizers of this event are not solely showcasing artistic expressions of prostitution. A number of the organizers are advocates who promote the legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution, including sex buying, brothel owning and pimping.
As survivors, we can tell each of you first hand the true experiences within the sex trade, which are nothing to celebrate. We can describe to each of you the men who have purchased us, abused us, raped us, and perceived us as commodities, which is the experience of the vast majority of people bought and sold in the sex trade. We can tell each of you that prostitution is nothing to be glamorized, which is the intention of this festival. The sex industry itself invented and popularized the terms “sex worker” and “sex work” to legitimize prostitution as an acceptable form of work and to conceal the harms inherent to it. “Sex work” implies that prostitution is a choice. We can tell each of you that prostitution is an absence of choice. Like the overwhelming number of people in prostitution, many of us were sex trafficked as children and survived incest, sexual violence, homelessness, or the foster care system. Beyond the age of 18, we remained vulnerable to continuous exploitation and sexual violence.
In the sex trade, sex buyers rule. They drive the profits pimps, escort services, brothel owners, traffickers and other exploiters reap from the sale of our bodies. Sex buyers pay for the power to engage in sexual harassment, sexual invasion, degradation and dehumanization. The harms of the sex trade on prostituted people, who are mostly women and girls of color, are too numerous to list here, but they include pervasive psychological and physical damage, malnutrition, social isolation, sexual abuse, mental abuse, economic abuse, suicide and suicidal ideation, PTSD, and poverty.
The “Sex Workers Festival of Resistance” at MoMA PS1 plans to celebrate these atrocities under the guise of resistance. While we agree with the organizers that no person bought and sold in prostitution should be criminalized and brutalized by the police, we reject their call to decriminalize the exploiters (sex buyers and pimps) as a means to protect the exploited. We cannot “resist” and fight against systems of oppression by legitimizing a multi-billion dollar system of exploitation that continues to destroy lives. We call ourselves survivors because we left too many of our sisters behind in desperate circumstances or in death.
We remain truly disheartened that MoMA is celebrating the sex trade, including pimping and sex buying. In the era of a global #MeToo movement that condemns widespread sexual violence and harassment, celebrating so-called “sex work” does just the opposite. MoMA PS1 is perpetuating the misconception that prostitution is the exception to the #MeToo movement; that unspeakable abuse and violence is justified if there is a monetary exchange. We vehemently reject the assumption that abuse is nullified if it is compensated. Our communities deserve better than this, and so do we.
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women — International (USA)
Street Works (USA)
Living in Freedom Together (USA)
Build A Girl Project (USA)
Rebecca Bender Initiative (USA)
Survivors for Solutions (USA)
Lawig Bubai (Philippines)
Rebecca Bender Initiative (USA)
Karla de la Cuesta Soria
World Without Exploitation (USA)
Dora Nelly Delgado
Nancy Susana Diaz
Breaking Free (USA)
Organization for Prostitution Survivors (USA)
Freedom From Exploitation (USA)
EVA Center (USA)
Jasmine Grace Marino
Bags of Hope Ministries (USA)
SPACE International (Ireland)
My Life My Choice (USA)
Dreamcatcher Foundation (USA)
Othayonih Research (USA)
Dignity Programs (USA)
Mylene SanchezBagong Kamalayan
Prostitution Survivors’ Collective (Philippines)
Free Our Girls (USA)
Louisville Metro Human Trafficking Task Force (USA)
Rebecca Bender Institute (USA)