What it means to me to be a trafficking victim may not be what you think. I do not consider myself a victim. Was I victimized??? Yes. Most absolutely. But I do not choose to wear that as my identity.
In 2004 I was 18 and just moved to the upper west side of New York City. All through high school I participated in the running start program which meant I got to take college classes instead of high school. This meant I got to get a job- an under the table probably not very legal job- as a secretary working 40-50 hours per week. I saved up enough to be able to move to New York sight unseen- no family, friends, nothing- right after high school.
Not even a month after I was there in New York, I met a guy. He told me he was going to be my boyfriend and we would live together but he just needed to get more money first. Then he would show up with a group of drug dealers in a black escalade -like a movie- and we would ride up to industrial nowheres land up in the Bronx (back then there wasn’t much gentrification in the BX or the Heights .) I would be locked in a room and drug dealers- big fat drug dealers, old drug dealers- who obviously got whatever the fuck they wanted. No one told me what would happen whenever I got in that black SUV and every time my so called “boyfriend” would promise “that’s the last time I swear.” Even after I saw the men slipping money in his hand, even after my “boyfriend” offered me up to a homeless wino in the park for $5, I never thought I was being abused or victimized. Even after the multiple rapes and gang rapes, many under weapons other in public, completely humiliating me, the only way I knew to cope was to return to drugs and alcohol and to distance myself from my body.
It doesn’t help when the Sex Workers’ rights community and the anti-trafficking community (very often at odds with each other,) has discussions about “what” a “trafficking victim” is without including us in that discussion. Let me tell you- I AM A SEX WORKER. I have had sex by force and I have participated in the industry by choice. Even those who would say they have never been trafficked may have experienced some degree of force, abuse or coercion – even if it’s just the force and coercion of having no money that puts that person into the sexual economy. So don’t fucking tell me who I am please- sex workers’ rights activists or any “activist” for that matter. We need to have a way more complex, inclusive and dynamic conversation about what sex work really looks like because it isn’t just one thing OR the other. Sex work is like sexuality- a complex trajectory of being. And I know I am not the only sex worker who has both chosen the industry and then been abused by that same industry. Because I am a Sex Worker. By force at times and by choice others. Period.