Dear Ms Peoples Wagner,
Your TEEN Vogue op-ed by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, “Sex Work is Real Work,” is deeply disturbing and dangerous to your readers.
As a magazine that holds itself out as a trusted source for women’s empowerment, it seems incredibly irresponsible to be selling teens on the false notion that prostitution is a viable option and empowering.
Facts matter. The vast majority in prostitution are not privileged women paying off students loans, but some of our most disenfranchised women and girls, mostly of color and poor. They are being bought by men with money and power. The inherent inequality alone should disturb anyone with a conscience.
The fact is, ‘sex work’ is not what a medical doctor does when she offers treatment for sexually transmitted infection, as the author claims when she says “Isn’t this basically sex work?” No. It’s not even close to prostitution.
But there is more. Most in prostitution experience devastating harm — physically, mentally and sexually. The rate of physical and sexual abuse among people in prostitution is staggering. The majority of those exploited in the sex trade experience post traumatic stress disorder that is destructive and often long term.
Let’s be clear. Everyone agrees that those in prostitution should be decriminalized. Why? Because the vast majority in prostitution are there not because of choice, but because of lack of choices and coercion. But pimps and buyers should not get a free pass. They should be held accountable for the deep harm that they cause.
As the mother of a daughter, I feel sick that your magazine is selling our daughters the regressive belief that their bodies should be commodified and that commodification, exploitation, and trauma should be empowering for them. But as the mother of a son, I feel raging mad that in the middle of this #MeToo moment, your magazine is sending my son the misogynistic message that purchasing women and girls is legitimate and harmless.
Lauren Hersh is National Director of World Without Exploitation. She is a former NYC special victims prosecutor and a feminist who knows that equality for women begins with no longer treating female bodies as commodities for sale.