Kanye, we need condoms.
Rescuing sex workers from themselves is the hot new trend amongst celebrities. From Mira Sorvino to Julia Ormand and a growing number of child actors, celebrities are flocking to the “rescue industry” as if a red carpet has been thrown on the global stage.
There are even top ten lists dedicated to “Top Ten Celebrity Human Trafficking Activists.” (See Change.org here for an example http://news.change.org/stories/top-ten-human-trafficking-celebrity-activists)
This is how I picture it all going down:
Celebrity walks into their agents’ office looking for a booking. Agent tells them “You have money, you have time now between films. We need to get you out there. Take up a cause. Throw your money at it. Support it! The public will see you as one of them and embrace you!”
Celebrity says “Of course! And I can do some good. We can do a huge campaign and I will go on The View. I’ll start an organization. I can write a song and make a music video! We will free the slaves!”
The presence of celebrity in anti-trafficking movements is extremely problematic. Many, if not all of these “activists” lack an analysis based on research which is, in turn, silencing the very people they want to support. More and more, the red carpet set is embracing activism in the absence of analysis which is fueling myths and moral panics.
Combine this activism with a well funded publicity machine and us advocates for sex workers are trying to dispel more myths than Adam Sandler has Razzies, all while sex workers themselves are pushed further behind the curtain.
It is as if celebrities who lack analysis are following some pocket guide – a star map to anti-trafficking activism.
Celebrities love to quote flawed statistics that are not based on research and that no one can prove to be accurate.
“100,000 to 300,000” seems to be the magic number of folks who are trafficked according to sitcom star Ashton Kutcher, and his A-List buddies who have stated “if you do not care, I have no opinion of you.” They also seem to know the average age of entry into prostitution, despite the fact that advocates and academics who have worked in this area for decades agree that this number cannot be proven. The result? A sympathetic public with a love for In Touch magazine and MTV are being misinformed about the issue’s true scope, while money pours into organizations that do little than flash 1-800 trafficking hotlines on their website.
Celebrities love to take field trips to promote their efforts.
Celebrities love their field trips! Take for example Meg Ryan who recently joined Nicholas Kristof on a trip to Cambodia where he participated in a brothel raid. Does Meg know that raiding brothels can be more detrimental to the health and safety of young girls? Does Meg know that sex workers would rather have rights over rescue? Does she know how Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the detention centers that many of these “rescued girls” end up in? Well, most likely not. That would take balanced research.
Celebrities love to take up space that should be reserved for sex workers to influence harmful laws and policies.
Just recently, Jada Pinkett Smith with husband Will and daughter Willow in tow (all in matching Free the Slaves T-Shirts) testified before the Foreign Senate Relations committee to urge them to wage war on human trafficking.
Jada has been active on this issue for less than a year, and shared with the committee that she became concerned on this issue based on her 11-year-old daughter’s research. Yes. Her 11 year old daughter’s research.
Therefore, while we have a Senate Committee hearing for a celebrity whose eyes have been opened by the research of her 11-year-old, countless organizations by and for sex workers can only dream of an opportunity to provide real solutions and strategies.
It is a slap in the face, really, to know that there are strategies out there that can help tackle the problem of human trafficking, by those who are most impacted by policy. Yet, sex workers and their organizations are totally shut out by celebrities who are provided access to forums when they have absolutely no experience.
Moreover, the Smith family has recently joined a human trafficking organization that is fighting for the removal of ads from Backpage.Com. A protest by these organizations occurred in the US recently. Even though sex workers were in attendance, the machine that is now the “rescue industry” overshadowed them. If only celebrities and the organizations they are promoting would listen to sex workers, they would come to understand that the removal of such sites will only exacerbate the situation by driving the trade underground, by limiting the ability of sex workers to screen clients and by putting them in more danger.
Celebrities love to start ridiculous campaigns that embrace their own narcissism as opposed to providing real facts.
I am still trying to figure out what Justin Timberlake was doing with shaving cream and that chainsaw in the “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” ads. Also, why is Selma Hayek directing music videos with a naked Jada Pinkett Smith rolling around on the floor? (I’m especially disappointed in Selma. I had such high hopes for her after her Candy Girl routine in Dogma).
Celebrities are a money machine.
They will bring big bucks to the table, which will leave sex workers and those who have been trafficked with various useless resources and centers. Thus leaving the door open for organizational corruption and a complete lack of accountability. Research clearly shows that the best services are those that are tailored by the folks that need the services.
Celebrities are using their influence to tell the masses that the issue of human trafficking is conflated with sex work.
Does trafficking exist? Yes it certainly does. Is it a cause for concern and action? Most definitely. Are there sex workers, even those on the street who choose to be there? Yes. Are there sex workers who do not need to be rescued, but who demand better health and safety protection? Overwhelmingly so.
The fact of the matter is the issue of trafficking vs. sex work is complicated, and celebrity machines are complicating it more, while society continues to view sex workers as either 1. People who need saving or 2. people who need to be persecuted.
Yet, while persecuting sex workers is a fan favorite of many residents and businesses in communities where sex workers are located, “rescuing” sex workers appeals to those who are sympathetic and who are fed moral panics without an analysis.
The power of celebrity can be good for social causes; if only they would develop an analysis and make space rather than taking it up. If only sex workers did not have struggle to have their voice heard in the presence of the all mighty celebrity. Hopefully there are still some celebrities out there who will use their publicity machines to listen to those who are most impacted by policy.
Who will listen to sex workers? Who will learn that the key to being an advocate is listening to those who are most impacted and worrying about the MTV appearances later?
I don’t think Kanye West has been roped into the hype lately. Maybe he can help.
Kanye, if you’re reading this – we need condoms and juice boxes for the stroll.