MoMA PS1: The Sex Trade is not a “Cultural Celebration” — it’s Exploitation

Melanie Thompson — Coalition Against Trafficking in Women

March 1, 2018

Klaus Biesenbach
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.


Melanie Thompson
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women — International (USA)

Trudee Able-Peterson
Street Works (USA)

Barbara Amaya
Survivor (USA)

Jewell Baraka
Survivor (USA)

Nicole Bell
Living in Freedom Together (USA)

Fiona Broadfoot
Build A Girl Project (USA)

Kathy Bryan
Rebecca Bender Initiative (USA)

Alma Bulawan
Buklod (Philippines)

Autumn Burris
Survivors for Solutions (USA)

Analou Calix
Lawig Bubai (Philippines)

Rebekah Charleston
Survivor (USA)

Angie Conn
Rebecca Bender Initiative (USA)

Mixi Cruz
Survivor (Mexico)

Karla de la Cuesta Soria
Survivor (Mexico)

Ne’cole Daniels
World Without Exploitation (USA)

Dora Nelly Delgado
Survivor (Mexico)

Nancy Susana Diaz
Survivor (Mexico)

Kristell Fernández
Survivor (Mexico)

Terry Forliti
Breaking Free (USA)

Noel Gomez
Organization for Prostitution Survivors (USA)

Patricia Gonzalez
Survivor (Mexico)

Athena Hadden
Survivor (USA)

Kathi Hardy
Freedom From Exploitation (USA)

Karla Jacinto
Survivor (Mexico)

Cherie Jimenez
EVA Center (USA)

Alicia Ley
Survivor (USA)

Jasmine Grace Marino
Bags of Hope Ministries (USA)

Madaí Morales
Survivor (Mexico)

Rachel Moran
SPACE International (Ireland)

Audrey Morrissey
My Life My Choice (USA)

Pamela Muñoz
Survivor (Mexico)

Brenda Myers-Powell
Dreamcatcher Foundation (USA)

Darlene Pawlik (USA)

Alexandra Pierce
Othayonih Research (USA)

Kathleen Mitchell
Dignity Programs (USA)

Mylene SanchezBagong Kamalayan 
Prostitution Survivors’ Collective (Philippines)

Chris Stark
Survivor (USA)

Tori Thompson
Free Our Girls (USA)

Jeanette Westbrook 
Louisville Metro Human Trafficking Task Force (USA)

Elizabeth Williamson
Rebecca Bender Institute (USA)

Amy Wing
Survivor (USA)