In the Know: A Survivor's Perspective January 2018

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This month's ITK blog comes from Alisa Bernard, and this powerful blog speaks to unity amongst all those who have been sexually assaulted and exploited. 

#MeToo…

but you don’t see us like you see you. For some reason, my #MeToo counts less than other women’s, because my rapes were paid for. But I want to challenge you in your thinking on this, because money didn’t inoculate me against the violence. So, what is it about the transactional nature of prostitution that makes my #MeToo have less validity than anyone else’s? As one survivor at The Organization for Prostitution Survivors where I facilitate an online mentoring program for survivors said, “We are always left out of the conversation.” And she’s not wrong.

Any woman who has experienced prostitution has experienced rape, they’ve more than likely experienced child sexual abuse too, not to mention domestic violence and harassment. So why, exactly, is our voice missing from this conversation? Most survivors would agree that the reason behind it is actually quite simple, society has deemed us the legitimate target group for men’s violence. It’s no surprise that the ranks of survivors are made up of some of the most marginalized populations, who are already at higher risk of men’s violence against women. We as a group are predominantly women, predominantly of color, indigenous, differently abled, and many of us entered when we were children.

If you cut me my blood runs red too. Just like the high-powered attorney, the congresswoman, the actress, the chef. Yes, women in these positions are still vulnerable to men’s violence, as all women are, but for some reason it is less acceptable for men to do violence to them than it is for men to inflict violence on prostituted women.

Prostitution is the societal scapegoat for men’s violence. Most people don’t bat an eyelash at reports of approximately half of all prostituted women having experienced rape or that almost all (95%) of us experienced sexual harassment or that after we leave we will suffer rates of PTSD twice that of veterans returning from active duty combat. We survivors (and I use that word survivor very intentionally, because many of us don’t survive the sex trade) know that people see our experiences as somehow less egregious than that of the actress or the attorney or the congresswoman’s. To put it bluntly, in condoning prostitution, society has condemned a certain class of women to violence by men. We are the state-sponsored target group for men’s violence against women, because when we are raped, it is more often than not us who go to jail rather than our buyer rapists.

Society completely ignores the fact that almost all of those who buy us are men, and, therefore, this is overwhelmingly men’s violence against women. We are the practice fields for batterers, sex offenders and serial killers. It’s not just batterers and sex offenders and serial killers who hurt us. Buyers are the men we walk next to every day who see nothing wrong with what they are doing. Why should they? Our bodies are the right of passage for frat boys, boyfriends and husbands. Society has deemed our victimization legitimate, so why should the men in your life and mine see us any differently?

In the end, we, too, are the victims of men’s violence against women. We are the battered, the assaulted, the abused, the harassed, the marginalized and the unheard. A researcher once said, “Prostitution is multi-traumatic.” Prostitution isn’t just one trauma, it’s thousands of rapes, thousands of assaults, thousands of beatings, harassments, intimidations and coercions. We call ourselves survivors of prostitution or commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking, but when you refocus your lens, you’ll see we fit into a much larger group. We are all victims of violence against women. We are survivors, and all survivors of sexual violence are our sisters.

This month is human trafficking awareness month, but I identify with a larger group than that. I am a survivor of violence against women, and that means every whispered #MeToo out there is a sister of mine. Perhaps what I am trying to say is that it’s time we push past pigeon holing ourselves into one group of survivors or another; perhaps it’s time we identify as our common denominator -- we are women who have survived.

#YesAllWomen have experienced violence in some form. We are all sisters. So, you may not see us like you see you, but we see you like we see ourselves, and we want you to know that we are here. From one survivor sister to another, please do not forget our voice… because #UsToo.

Alisa Bernard is the Survivor Advocacy Coordinator for the Organization for Prostitution Survivors where she developed and delivers an online mentoring series for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Since exiting prostitution, she has advised to organizations and agencies across the US including Demand Abolition and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. She sits on King County’s Ending Exploitation Collaborative team and is a member of King County’s CSEC Taskforce. She uses her lived experiences of CSE, teen homelessness, domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse as a lens to advise public and private agencies working against CSE. She is an MPA candidate at The University of Washington. Her writing has been featured in the Seattle Times and other online and print media.

Alisa Bernard is the Survivor Advocacy Coordinator for the Organization for Prostitution Survivors where she developed and delivers an online mentoring series for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Since exiting prostitution, she has advised to organizations and agencies across the US including Demand Abolition and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. She sits on King County’s Ending Exploitation Collaborative team and is a member of King County’s CSEC Taskforce. She uses her lived experiences of CSE, teen homelessness, domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse as a lens to advise public and private agencies working against CSE. She is an MPA candidate at The University of Washington. Her writing has been featured in the Seattle Times and other online and print media.