Hiding In Plain Sight
Whitehorse’s Secret Industry
A person, starving and homeless, will do anything to survive. But what do you trade when you have nothing to give? For women and a few men, their sexuality is all they have left. The sex trade in Whitehorse is a clandestine industry with a definite dark side. Not only is it a largely unrecognized problem, but it is far more common than people expect. Only once I had been given information about the sex trade in town did I realized how much is hidden from the public. To clarify, the sex trade itself is not a bad thing. In fact, there are some sex trade workers who are in control of their own business and are pleased with having an easy way to make good money. The darker side of the sex trade appears when people are trafficked. The definition of trafficking can seem very vague and will be explored furthur. Then, when the sex workers attempt to seek help, they find themselves confronted with the unfortunate truth; the sex trade has always been an extremely stigmatized and undesirable conversation topic. Finding help becomes all the more difficult, despite the service workers efforts. Nonetheless, to solve a problem, you have to unearth the roots; in this case, poverty, homelessness and stigmatization. Since the Whitehorse sex trade is so unknown to many people, its hard to start fixing some areas when you have no idea where to start.
Bringing the sex trade and sex trafficking into awareness of the general population will definitely cause some shock. When I was put in charge of this topic, I had absolutely no idea of the extent and seriousness of the industry. It is certain that unless awareness is brought to this issue, circumstances for sex trade workers will never get better. After chatting with service workers, they agreed with me. Although anonymity must be kept for protection, it does not make their opinions less valuable.
The sex industry can have an intense effect on the health and well-being of some of the workers as well. Along with the negative effect sex trade can possibly have on mental health, comes the physical side. Some Johns can be violent and manipulative, and although women look out for each other and give warnings about bad customers, it doesn’t always work. Even if a customer has been good before, they might turn ugly at any time, possibly inflicting physical violence or even threats. Women who work in the sex trade face this hazard every time they do a job. This uncertainty is a big problem. I believe that the women can only take so much abuse before their spirits break.
One of the ways women get sucked into an abusive sex trade business is by emotional manipulation. The pimps, sometimes the woman’s boyfriend or drug dealer, create a false sense of love and belonging for the woman. Desperate for love and appreciation, the woman is slowly dragged into the trap out of love for her partner. Although people occasionally underestimate it the power of it, the need to be loved is something we all share. On the street, in a desperate survival situation, the urge to be loved would only be magnified.
In an effort to understand the difference between sex trade and sex trafficking, we can take into account emotional manipulation and the element of choice. Sex trade is merely the industry of giving sex in an exchange. The definition of human trafficking is the use of fraud, coercion and/or force to exploit a person for sexual services. Also, any minor who is induced to perform sexual services is automatically considered to have been trafficked. All four of these means can apply to pimps, which greatly expands the spectrum of human trafficking in Whitehorse. Women may not understand the boundaries between talking and coercion, or encouragement and force. This is when sexual trafficking becomes hard to stop. Women may feel trapped in a web of poverty, addiction, and a lack of housing that makes it tricky for law enforcement to help.
Similarly, because of addiction problems, and the previous criminalization of sexual services, many women will not want to talk to law enforcement. If they are seen to be “ratting out” other pimps or sex workers, their lives may be in danger. This is where some services come into play. Services like Blood Ties Four Directions, Victoria Falkner’s Women Center and Kaushee’s Place are there to help women at risk. Unfortunately, a few sex trade workers say that occasionally racial discrimination occurs when they seek help from service providers. They report that sometimes, if they are high or drunk, they may be turned away, even if this is when they are most at risk. They remind us that a victim of sex trafficking may not have much time. I was shocked by the harsh reality where even a minute could mean life or death for someone. However, service workers cannot be represented by a few individual, unpolished moments. They do work very hard to help people at risk in any way they can. Interestingly enough, there is not a place specifically built to shelter sex trade workers or sex trafficking victims, so service workers must try their best to accommodate their needs.
Even though the services available may not be the first choice for some sex workers, it cannot be denied that they are needed. Many sex workers have addictions, be it alcohol or drugs. This substance abuse has its own way of controlling the person. Not only are they addicted and would need assistance to quit, but the supplier also exerts control over them by controlling their access to drugs. A sex workers boyfriend or partner may also be their pimp and drug dealer. From my point of view, that situation seems practically impossible to escape. How do you escape your pimp and your addiction without endangering yourself? It is at that stage where detox and rehab programs become very useful. However, because of the negative way some women feel that they are treated at those programs, they may not take advantage of these services. Perhaps if the sex industry was easier to talk about and not such a taboo subject, there might be more communication between the sex workers and the service workers about what they really need.
Based on what I’ve learned, I firmly believe that the sex industry needs to have more awareness brought to it. One of the best ways to help people that are involved in sex trafficking is to make society aware of what is going on. Then people will be more involved and potentially more available to help out. Even still, an anonymous sex worker quoted to a health care worker when interviewed, “I think everybody’s helping, they just don’t know it.” If this is true, awareness of the sex trade will only help more to improve the lives of women in the sex trade and prevent trafficking. With more communication between sex workers and organizations, there may one day be a safe place for sex workers to rest, recover and get help. After all, how can we start to reduce the harm to women and solve the problem of sex trafficking if we hardly even acknowledge it?