Trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation is a criminal industry that spans the globe despite the fact that international law and the laws of more than 140 countries criminalize it. Frequently, the end destination of sex trafficking is the commercial sex industry, which continues to expand, is linked to organized crime and perpetuates gender inequality.
"Listening to the voices of those who have survived any form of oppression is crucial for many reasons, one of them being that it is the truest way to get to the heart of that which has been survived. Survivor leadership exacts a heavy price, but your listening is our recompense."
-Rachel Moran, SPACE International
Equality Now’s Survivor Stories series was created in partnership with survivors and organizations from around the world to explore the experiences of women and girls in the commercial sex industry – individuals’ transitions from victim to survivor to, in many cases, activist – and how existing systems, including legal frameworks, helped or harmed the survivor. The series strove to be a safe forum for survivors to share their experiences, shape the conversation among the public and policymakers, and guide readers towards actions they could take to support efforts against sexual exploitation and trafficking.
With our partners and survivor activists, we mobilized and focused international attention on the critical need for policymakers, NGOs and the wider public to listen to and learn from the experiences of survivors, and called on lawmakers and top officials to ensure that victims are adequately supported, while those fueling trafficking and exploitation are held accountable.
We are so grateful to the many courageous, outspoken survivors who generously shared their time and expertise with us, and to our fantastic partners who work together with survivors to end sex trafficking and exploitation around the world.
Thank you for listening and taking action,
Equality Now & our partners
#ListenToSurvivors – Highlights
- Survivor Stories has helped draw international attention to the experiences, needs and demands of women who have experienced prostitution and trafficking, and has highlighted the work of grassroots organizations carrying out important work on the ground to assist women and girls involved in the commercial sex industry.
- In New York, with Ruth, Janelle, Lowyal and Veronica, we advocated for reforms to the state anti-trafficking law. On 22 June 2013 the legislature passed a bill ensuring that 16 and 17-year-old victims arrested for prostitution will be classified as trafficking victims, instead of as criminals, allowing them to access services rather than being sent to prison.
- In Canada, with survivor activist Trisha and other partners, we called on the Canadian government to introduce a strong law that addresses the demand for prostitution that fuels sex trafficking. On 4 June 2014, the Canadian government proposed a law that would address demand for the first time, and would provide C$20 million for services for people exploited in the commercial sex industry. Equality Now, Trisha and our partners continue work to ensure that the law fully decriminalizes women in prostitution.
- At the global level, with survivors around the world, we have called on United Nations agencies to listen to survivors, uphold international law, and ensure that HIV prevention efforts do not jeopardize anti-trafficking and gender equality efforts. Survivors and supporters sent thousands of letters, and in response, UNAIDS clarified that it does not support the decriminalization of pimping or brothel-keeping.
From Our Partners
“By connecting with other survivors I was no longer alone with the shame and darkness, which seemed like a cross I would have to bear. The effects of being bought and sold are of an insidious nature, which I did not know how to make sense of; it was only by connecting with other survivors that I began to understand what happened to me.”
-Jennifer Kay, Sex Trafficking Survivors United
“I am very happy that my story was launched and that many people can read it…Survivor leadership is very important; in advocacy and campaigning on issues of trafficking and prostitution. If the leader is a survivor, this has a big impact on the community and people, especially speaking about these issues. The survivor stories project has helped us advocate in our campaign to end the buying of women and children. Here in Buklod, survivors are educating male students about trafficking and prostitution; the students listen to these women share their stories.”
-Alma Bulawan, Buklod Center
“The world has started listening to sex trafficking/prostitution survivors. We are in the midst of a fast-growing survivor movement. It started with indigenous women speaking out about the terrible effects of sexual exploitation on their communities. A mighty wave is rising, the wave of survivor voices. Nothing can stop it…But precious few survivors are leading anti-trafficking NGOs at the national or international level. None that I am aware of have received government or UN appointments…If we are to progress, the movement must follow the lead of survivors and indigenous women, the ones who are most affected by the violence of commercial sexual exploitation.”
-Holly Sorensen, Sex Trafficking Survivors United
“As a counsellor working for many years with survivors of trafficking for sexual exploitation, I realize more and more how difficult it is for them to talk about their experience. They´d rather forget, leave the past behind and try to move on to a better future. The majority of them feel ashamed to talk about the work they were forced into. Many still feel humiliated. That´s why we hardly hear their voices, which tend to get lost in the cacophony of voices coming from the loud sex worker lobbies. And who speaks louder often has the best chance to get heard. Therefore, I welcome [Survivor Stories] as a courageous action of human justice, as a strong reminder to stop talking about victims of sex trafficking without wanting to take the time to listen to them.”
-Beatrice Mariotti, Solwodi Berlin office
“Survivors have insight to the operations of the sex trade and [know that] age of consent laws don't stop us from being used and abused by the sex trade.”
-Nick Al Khadra, Sex Trafficking Survivors United
Equality Now would like to thank all our partners for their time and participation in the Survivors Stories campaign, Suzanna Finley for the use of her photography, and Deena Guzder for her editorial assistance.
Funding for this campaign generously provided by:
The Book Club—based in Los Angeles, this club of seven women is dedicated to creating a kinder more equitable world.
Chime for Change founded by GUCCI