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In the Booth with Ruth – Jes Richardson, Sex Trafficking Survivor, Former Sex Worker and Anti-Sex Trafficking & Sex Workers’ Rights Activist

Discussing the Advantages of the Sex Workers’ Rights and Anti-Sex Trafficking Movements Working Together

Jes Richardson

How did you become involved in the movement against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation?

I first heard of sex trafficking four years ago. I was attending a District Meeting with a volunteer organization where the luncheon speaker was presenting on International and Domestic Sex Trafficking. As he presented, I realized for the first time that I had experienced trafficking and my abuse wasn’t my fault. Adding to the realization, I had been trafficked in the hotel where the District Meeting was being held, twelve years prior. At that moment, I knew I had to speak. I needed to share my journey. If I didn’t have awareness of what I had experienced, then how many other people shared those same experiences? This began my quest for a deeper understanding of the language surrounding my own journey and how we can be most effective in stopping trafficking.

You are also concerned in your activism with sex workers’ rights. Why do you feel it’s important for the anti-human trafficking movement and the sex worker rights movement to work together?

The sex industry is a huge global industry that is comprised of both sex workers and individuals being trafficked. As awareness of trafficking grows, additional negative stigma is placed on sex workers because most individuals don’t understand the difference between sex work and sex trafficking. Simply stated, trafficking is individuals who did not choose to be in the sex industry and/or cannot leave because of force, fraud, or coercion. For a wide variety of reasons, sex workers have chosen to be in the sex industry. As an abolitionist, I believe that all people are created equal and should be treated as such. It would make me a hypocrite if I believed in stopping trafficking at the expense of sex workers. I refuse to alienate an entire demographic of people (sex workers) in order to help another group of people (trafficking survivors).

What do you think needs to happen so the two movements are more aligned?

The first step is to build a bridge of understanding, compassion, love, and humility. How can we unite two groups without a deep understanding of each other’s experiences and opinions? Anti-trafficking organizations and individuals have been incredibly hurtful by stating that ALL prostitution is trafficking or slavery and sex workers counter with an opposing strong opinion. We all need to be given permission to grow and change our views, none of us are perfect and no two experiences are the same; we must learn from each other. Even my own language has evolved over time as my understanding has grown. I am an expert within my own experiences; understanding that other people may have the same label but their experiences might be vastly different than my own. Both sides need to come to the figurative table with an open mind, sincere apologies need to be given and accepted, and then we can move forward as a collective whole.

What legal improvements or changes would help abolish sex trafficking and sexual exploitation and ensure sex workers’ rights? Can these two groups be ensured their human rights and the protection of the law simultaneously?

I believe decriminalization of prostitution is the best path to ensuring the protection of sex workers and trafficking survivors. Our current laws within the United States reinforce the schemes of traffickers, by arresting and incarcerating trafficked individuals for crimes they were forced to commit. In addition, our laws criminalize both sex workers and their well-intentioned clients, further alienating them from protection against violent clients and rapists. When the laws reflect decriminalization of prostitution, sex workers can safely report workplace violence and trafficking survivors will be able to seek assistance from law enforcement. Until law enforcement officials can be viewed as “safe people” for sex workers and trafficked individuals, violent crimes and trafficking will go widely unreported. Law enforcement officials must be allowed to protect individuals within their community regardless of their chosen occupation.

Without the fear of being arrested for prostitution, sex workers can be an asset to the anti-trafficking movement. Current sex workers have an inside view of the sex industry and once trained to identify individuals who are trafficked, they can be our biggest allies in reporting trafficking and assisting individuals who want to escape their traffickers. When I was trafficked, it was a sex worker who helped me escape and she provided me with great support and encouragement in those early years of my healing. I knew law enforcement would not protect me because I had committed the crime of prostitution and only had false identification that was given to me by my pimp. If I would have sought the assistance of law enforcement to help me escape my trafficker, I would have gone to prison for crimes I was forced to commit.

For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?

Get educated then take action! The sex industry is a complex place where there are many systemic issues. As a collective whole, we need to address: poverty and sustainable wages, equality, workers rights, childhood abuse, stable family units, domestic violence, bullying, and our culture that has over-sexualized our young children. There is a place and purpose for each of us and we need every person to empower the next generations.

What are your plans for the future?

My first and most important responsibility is to nurture, protect, and provide for my family of eight. My life’s journey is to explore the world of sexuality, equality, and relationships. My heart and vision is to continue educating the public to move past the mask of judgement and find their purpose for one-ness.

Where can you be found online?


Related Content:

Kindly republished on Women News Network.

A German translation of this interview can be read on “Human Trafficking Today” here.

About Ruth Jacobs (296 Articles)
Author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a drug addicted call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from my own life. In addition to fiction writing, I am also involved in journalism and broadcasting, primarily for human rights campaigning in the areas of sex workers' rights, anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking.

7 Comments on In the Booth with Ruth – Jes Richardson, Sex Trafficking Survivor, Former Sex Worker and Anti-Sex Trafficking & Sex Workers’ Rights Activist

  1. Jueseppi B. // January 8, 2014 at 3:12 pm // Reply

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  2. Jes Richardson was a madam. While I admire what she has made of her life, I do not believe it is “hurtful” to state the truth that most in prostitution are sex trafficking victims. As a survivor, I don’t think it’s appropriate for those who have profited off the exploitation of others to speak for the sexually exploited.

    • Sara, I know you are passionate about speaking for the exploited and trafficked. I don’t believe that we can use statements such as “most in prostitution are sex trafficking victims” because there isn’t any research that differentiates between sex workers who choose sex work and individuals who were trafficked or exploited. I speak only for myself and allow others the freedom to share their own stories and experiences. As for me being a madam, I’m not sure that I would use that term to label myself. For clarification, when I was trafficked I did many bad things as a Bottom Bitch. I was forced because my life was in danger. When I ran from my trafficker, it was a sex worker who helped me escape. Her and I were both in a bind and we solved each others problems when we came together, building a large escort service. Because of my experiences being trafficked, we never hired anyone who was being trafficked or exploited, we only hired other sex workers. Running an escort service was a business for us. Our rates and fees were industry standard with the girls making the larger cut and tips in addition to the fees. All businesses operate in this manner. When a restaurant serves patrons, the servers make their wages plus tips and the restaurant makes a profit. If the restaurant didn’t take a cut of the profits it would cease to exist, because it takes money to make money. I can see the difference between my experiences being trafficked and my experiences as a sex worker. I only speak for myself, while listening to the voices of both trafficking survivors and sex workers; this is what I believe needs to be done in order for all people to be heard and have a voice. Sara, I care for you very much and I wish you the best of luck on your journey. xx

  3. Hi Jes,

    thank you for this interview. 1) In your comment I read your view on research not making a difference between sex work and trafficking. This is sometimes true for research on human trafficking, but mostly not when it comes to sex work. In fact, there is so much research out there on sex work that gives a very differentiated view of the sex industry and the experiences of the people involved in it. A lot of research is posted here. Feel free to contact me, because there is a lot of research that is not posted there yet.

10 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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  6. Building Bridges: The Sex Workers’ Rights and Anti-Sex Trafficking Movements | Sexwork Blogs
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