Child sex trafficking is a most serious issue, and for those who survive and make it out, which most don’t, the effects of trauma can last a lifetime. To make light of the raping of children, to satire this heinous crime, is something you might expect from a controversial comedian, the likes of the disgusting Frankie Boyle perhaps, who, during the Comic Relief fundraiser this year said he “thought the only way [he’d] ever get back on the BBC would have been if [he] started f**king kids.”
A few days ago, when I was alerted to a website advertising for children to be sexually abused, I never expected it to be satire. The SexWork4U.com website advertised for ‘child sex workers’ to ‘start a rewarding career today’. There was a sign up form for children to make contact and another form to ‘refer friends and family’. A screenshot of the website that has been sanitised, hiding the child’s face, can be viewed here.
SexWork4U had a Twitter account, which is how I was first made aware of them. After only 9 tweets, they had a following of 257 people. A lethal mix of 257 child sex abusers and vulnerable children. I shuddered at the thought. I shuddered seeing their sexualised image of a child.
I was sickened to the core. There is no such thing as a ‘child sex worker’ – a child cannot consent to sex. There is no reason to frame child sex abuse as anything other than child sex abuse unless you seek to diminish the severity of that evil crime and the resultant trauma, which for many survivors I know, like myself, is never-ending. I have also been in prostitution as an adult, and although that was traumatic for me, it cannot be compared to the times I was sexually assaulted as a child.
I reported the SexWork4U Twitter account directly to Twitter, but having only recently conducted a series of interviews about child sex abuse images and child sex trafficking on social media, I knew I had to take it to law enforcement as well. So, I reported the SexWork4U website and their Twitter account to the CyberTipline.
The following day, the SexWork4U Twitter account had been suspended. I was relieved Twitter had taken notice, but my anxiety for the vulnerable children who would have contacted SexWork4U wasn’t over. I have many friends who are survivors of sex trafficking. The film Eden is based on the life of one of my friends, Chong Kim. Earlier this year, when Chong was here in London from the USA, we went to the screening together in Leicester Square. It would have been hard for me to watch anyway, but knowing my friend sitting with me in the audience had been through all that I was seeing, and knowing the film was actually watered down, it was excruciatingly painful.
When I went to check whether the SexWork4U website had been taken down, this is what I saw.
The child sex abuse site trying to lure vulnerable children and attract child sex abusers was a stunt by Chrysalis Network, an anti-human trafficking non-profit in Canada. An anti-human trafficking organisation was referring to victims of child sex trafficking as ‘child sex workers’. An anti-human trafficking organisation had published sexualised images of children. An anti-human trafficking organisation had triggered me, a survivor of child sex abuse, and other survivors I know who had also seen their site. And still they have a sexualised image of a child on their website, and still visible the term ‘sex worker’. Why would an anti-human trafficking organisation do this?
I spoke with USA based Michelle Carmela, a survivor of child sex trafficking, and a long time activist against all human rights abuses. She told me that when she saw the SexWork4U website she felt triggered and angry. She said, “there are more people who are abused and pimped out than people who care to address it. And what is on that site is child sex abuse whether it’s done as ‘pay for rape’ or non pay for rape, when a child is involved it is child sex abuse and should never be categorized as sex work or even be seen in a consensual light by any means.”
The fact that Chrysalis Network has sexually exploited children in their stunt is abhorrent. Jacqueline Linder who founded Chrysalis Network in 2010 and is the Executive and Clinical Director said there is no line she won’t cross to protect children. So she will sexually exploit children to protect children? This is sick and insane – and from someone who is meant to be a clinical psychologist, holding a post as a professor at the Edmonton campus for Seattle City University. And what about the survivors she triggered – did this not cross her mind? Could she really be this ignorant or did she just not care? Whichever is the case is evidence she should be let nowhere near any victims or survivors of abuse.
Another concern is what Chrysalis Network has done with the details of the vulnerable children who undoubtedly contacted them during the period their Twitter account and SexWork4U website was actively ‘recruiting child sex workers’ or more accurately: children to be sexually abused. And what has Chrysalis Network done with the details of the child sex abusers who are likely to have contacted them during that time? It is highly unlikely they passed these details, which could be used for intelligence, on to law enforcement, because what Chrysalis Network did was illegal. Additionally, they have wasted untold law enforcement resources, resources which could have been used to locate perpetrators of child sex trafficking and rescue victims.
Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs in the UK, told me his thoughts: “This is a sick campaign and it isn’t really clear what its purpose is. If it is an attempt at satire then it is very poorly executed and wholly inappropriate. There also seems to be a conflation of sex work with trafficking which demonstrates a lack of understanding of the two concepts. However, by making light of serious issues to make a point, whoever has created this campaign has not made any serious attempts at engaging in meaningful debate or discussion.“
Although Chrysalis Anti-Human Trafficking Network, also known as Chrysalis Network, pulled this sick stunt, it was from another website they host called Stop Traffic. Chrysalis Network is also linked to Freedom Relay Canada, which appears to be a religious organisation, co-founded by Jacqueline Linder and Danielle Strickland, who founded Stop the Traffik Canada. Another organisation linked to Chrysalis Network is Spiral Phoenix Trauma Institute (which doesn’t appear to have a website) based in Edmonton, Canada. On Chrysalis Network’s website it’s stated that Spiral Phoenix Trauma Institute is their ‘primary financial sponsor’. There is little information to be found about Spiral Phoenix Trauma Institute with the exception of one limited license psychologist, Tania Johnson, who graduated last year from Seattle City University.
Chrysalis Network claims to run “Canada’s only national human trafficking hotline, which provides trauma counselling, referrals, and safety planning to workers in the commercial sex industry.” Trafficking victims are not workers; they are victims of crime and insinuating they are ‘working’ when they are being sold to be raped removes the blame from the perpetrators and places it on the victim.
This non-profit needs to be investigated by authorities. People who think it’s acceptable to sexually exploit children and trigger survivors of child sex abuse should not be counselling victims of sexual exploitation. Their letter to ‘explain’ the sick stunt can be read here, though I hope this will hold no weight with Canadian law enforcement.
Eithne, a sex worker rights activist, told me she thought the SexWork4U stunt by Chrysalis Network is “symptomatic of the growing panic and desperation of those who seek to impose their carceral feminism and religious moralism on sex workers (either directly or insidiously via peripheral criminalisation). In a world where sex workers have access to social media and the means to speak about their experiences – and in the context of growing international consensus on the need for full decriminalisation – sex work prohibitionists must go beyond conflating sex work and trafficking. They’ve also got the unenviable task of delegitimising and discrediting the sex workers who are publicly disagreeing with them to contend with. Appropriating ‘sex work’ as a term and imagining it as something that could only come from people interested in profiting from child rape is part of a litany of such attempts, albeit a notably offensive and unsophisticated one. That the people responsible thought it acceptable to make light of child abuse in order to make a defunct political point is indicative of their lack of concern for survivors of childhood abuse, trafficking, or indeed survivors of sexual abuse generally, and reveals much about their actual priorities.”
I do not believe Chrysalis Network has raised awareness of human trafficking as they claim was their intention. Instead, they have sparked a debate, I am sure they wished to eschew, about why movements holding moral positions on prostitution are conflating child sex abuse with adults who engage in sex work in an effort to end prostitution.
These two separate issues demand and deserve serious attention with regards to legislation and until they are extricated, a huge disservice is being done to both victims of child sex abuse and adults in the sex trade. Meanwhile, perpetrators of child sex abuse are not being viewed and treated as the child sex abusers they are when they ‘pay’ to sexually abuse children. And adults in the sex trade, most of whom are there due to poverty and many of whom have been victims of child sex abuse, are anticipating further laws that will put them in even greater danger of violence, rape and murder.
20 October 2013: In response to this article Chrysalis Network has stated: “We did not use a model. The image of the girl is 100% created in Photoshop.”
21 October 2013: What appears to be an earlier version of Chrysalis Network’s SexWork4U website, which I have sanitised hiding the child’s face, can be seen here. This child’s picture has been taken from a stock photo website.