Sex Trafficking & The Sex Industry, Is There A Difference?
Is there a difference between sex trafficking and the sex industry, and does it matter? Yes. As Director of a non-profit organization that strongly advocates against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, I am often asked how I effectively balance a sex industry outreach while being known as a strong community advocate. The answer is simple but delicate to manage. I recognize and communicate the difference between the legal and illegal side of the sex industry and balance both with intentional vision. Sex trafficking is the illegal aspect of the sex trade, and the adult entertainment industry (porn, strip clubs, adult bookstores) is the legal franchise of the sex industry. By the very nature of its business, the adult industry attracts pimps and johns who actively prey on victims. However, as a ministry, we need to recognize what separates both to effectively minister to the women we meet and keep the integrity of both sides of our ministry intact.
Most of the women we meet in strip clubs and adult bookstores are there because they choose to be. There are a plethora of deep reasons that drove their choice, but it’s important to recognize that the majority does not face physical restraint. They would most likely be insulted if you insinuated such. Women in the industry are not looking to be rescued or saved by us. They are looking for authenticity. Will we unconditionally love and accept them? Will we treat them like a project, or will we remove the barriers and step into their world and invite them into ours? Through this authentic relationship building, we will have doors of opportunity to assist these girls in a much greater capacity, should they want it, than if we viewed them as helpless victims.
As a public speaker, I often meet well-meaning people who want to join our ministry and “rescue’ the ladies from the clubs. I admire their passion but immediately recognize they are not a fit for my team. Our goal as a ministry is entirely separate from my goal as an advocate for human trafficking victims. My eyes and ears are always open, and I accordingly respond when confronted with dangerous and illegal issues within the clubs. But that is not the norm of our outreach ministry.
I would like to share a few pointers to assist you in avoiding pitfalls that could hinder your ministry. As leaders of a cutting edge outreach, there will be times the media will request interviews. I suggest you determine the purpose of the interview before accepting. Wisdom is critical in making a determination. Media can serve as a fantastic tool to further your ministry, or it can be detrimental and cause great setbacks not only for you, but other teams.
If you move forward with a media interview, be intentional with your answers and don’t hesitate to set boundaries before proceeding. I have developed good relationships with local media, and they send me the story for review, before it is printed, to maintain the integrity of our organization. Make sure you don’t blur the lines of the legal and illegal side of the sex industry, or your answers could be misconstrued and used against you. Always remember that someone from the clubs may watch or read your interview. Your name will always appear on a Google search engine, and the interview accessed in the future. Some questions you should ask yourself before accepting an interview offer would be:
Will this harm the dancers or employees of the club in any way?
Will this create a dividing line between “us” and “them?”
Will this embarrass or harm other ministries that are part of the Strip Church Network?
Will this appear as church ladies trying to rescue the girls in the club?
Sometimes a mere pause in your momentum can save you from a tremendous amount of regret later.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Keep in mind, in a day of social media saturation, that people are watching and listening to you. Don’t post anything on social media that can jeopardize all ministries that are reaching out to girls in the sex industry.
Don’t post speculation about girls being trafficked in the clubs. If they think you have a hidden motive, they won’t trust you.
When you are in public, please remember that others hear you. For instance, I had a conversation in a Chinese restaurant with a friend about a large sex trafficking bust, and I found out later that a house-mom was sitting a couple of tables away listening to my conversation. Thankfully, my words did not harm me but served as a reminder to always choose my words wisely.
How we view someone will determine the extent of how much we can influence him or her. If we see these girls as helpless victims of human trafficking that need our rescue, we miss an opportunity to be a friend. These girls are fierce, strong, and smart and have endured much more than many of us would be able to handle. If we respect that and treat them with dignity, we are in a better position to genuinely offer them encouragement and support.
Furthermore, as members of Strip Church, we need to remember that we represent not only our ministry but also the ministry of Strip Church when we step into the sex industry.
Sex trafficking is a noble cause to be passionate about, but our ministry as a sex industry outreach needs to be one that supports, encourages and inspires ladies in the industry with the hope of Christ, not one with an ulterior motive.
Kelly Master | Strip Church Network Partner
Director, Emerge Ministries