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Put yourself in a prostituted person’s shoes this International Women's Day

Today, my mind is on the women and girls around the world right now who are being bought and sold, as many as two dozen times a day, for sex.

I can't even imagine a hair stylist cutting 24 people's hair in a day.

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of talking to a former prostituted woman, Robin. She is a survivor. And for a hot second, I want you to imagine living the life she lived in the 1990s.

As a teenager, Robin looked to alcohol to numb her pain, and as a 21-year-old student, found herself stripping to get by and feed her liquor habit for free. Many women who work in strip clubs have very little self worth and are susceptible to trafficking. One night at the club when Robin was black-out drunk, the man who would become her pimp lured her with simple tactics that work on those who are desperate for affirmation: He asked her if he could kiss her on the neck for $30. As he continued to groom her, his game and swagger were all it took for her to wake up the next morning at a hotel in Tacoma, Washington, only to be moved the very next day to San Francisco for the beginning of what became her six-year sentence to a life in prostitution.

She might as well have been in hell.

"One buyer raped me, strangled me, and beat my face (until it was) unrecognizable," she said. "I jumped out of cars and I got driven over. Two buyers put guns in my face. I know people who have been murdered by tricks. I’ve been robbed. A pimp broke my bones, broke a bottle of wine over the back of my head, and threw me down stairs. All this happened in the life. And these things happen to kids experiencing homelessness who are in it today."

I asked Robin why she didn't run the very moment she found herself in San Francisco. "I arrived at that motel to a gang of about eight pimps ... How could I call my parents?" Her shame overwhelmed her, and in her words, she knew she was "%*&@!$." Her understanding of what a pimp did was get the money, talk to the John, and send you off to a room. "I didn’t understand just how much you have to give of yourself and who you really are; you have to be what they want you to be in order to survive."

Survive is about all Robin did. The experience for the vast majority of those exploited in the sex industry is similar to hers. Every job brings with it a level of fear; any John could be a violent one. After six years of living motel-to-motel, sometimes on the street, and with a crack cocaine addiction, Robin finally saw an out one night. She escaped out a window, chased by her pimp, and ran to a convenience store. She took refuge behind the counter and asked the clerk to call the police. "I remember feeling so much evil and hate in my heart," she said. "My heart felt black, like I could choke on it. I looked up at the sky and prayed and asked God to help."

And He did.

Today, Robin works in direct service to women and girls who are stuck in the life, as she calls it, serving them and doing what she can to raise her voice about the incredibly misguided pro-decriminalization movement. For those unfamiliar with the lobby to decriminalize the entire sex industry, it is a movement that is well-funded by super wealthy sex buyers who don't want to risk getting caught, humiliated, fined, and potentially sent to jail. Pimps, brothel owners, and strip club owners also stand to benefit from decriminalizing the industry. As our country faces districts and states with ballot referendums to do just that, the group that is crying out the loudest is composed of survivors like Robin.

"Decriminalizing is like putting a gun in the buyer’s hand," she said.

"Nowhere have our voices been asked to the table to talk about this issue. I think this is a very serious issue that is protected by people with power. I work with victims of the industry every day. (Decriminalization) stops services and collaboration for the (workers), but not the people who are harming them. If you don't feel like law enforcement will help you now, it's going to make it worse. The opportunities that men will have over our bodies, the increase in demand that will require an influx of younger girls, the increase in marginalized people being even more abused and exploited ... (Sex buying and selling) is not a human right, it’s a human want."

And it's one that affects the poor, marginalized, and minorities disproportionately. In the sex industry, workers who are making the decision to sell sex autonomously are few and far between. For the remaining majority, Robin says decriminalization advocates are promoting a life of significant trauma and generational cycles that they simply can't understand.

The thing is, I'm a white female who has been given every opportunity in life to succeed and know I'm loved. So many girls don't have that.

And they are vulnerable.

Robin is an advocate of what is known as the Equality Model, which prioritizes the rights of those who have been exploited while holding buyers and exploiters accountable for the harms they cause. If you want to do something to help poor and marginalized women and girls around the world to honor International Women's Day, here are some suggestions (and please add your own to the comments!):

  1. Check out World Without Exploitation (on Instagram @worldweus) and International Justice Mission (@IJM on Instagram), both non-profits working to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

  2. Read this World Vision article with seven concrete ideas on how to make a difference:

  3. Use your purchasing power to buy clothing and accessories for yourself and others made by survivors of trafficking or the poor and marginalized around the world. Some of my favorite companies are ABLE, JOYN, Purse & Clutch, and Sseko.


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