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INTERVIEW: Women of Colour Against the Sex Trade

SPACE International proudly presents 'Women of Colour Against the Sex Trade', the very first event of its kind in Britain. Hear Black, Indigenous and Asian sex trade survivors and frontline service providers discuss their global fight against prostitution.

March 03, 2019 6:00 p.m.

Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL, UK

Chaired by Taina Bien-Aimé, the event featured eight panelists: Rosemarie Cameron (Britain), Vednita Carter (U.S.), Bridget Perrier (Canada), Ne’cole Daniels (U.S.), Mickey Meji (South Africa), Suzanne Jay (Canada), Roella Lieveld (Netherlands), and Ally-Marie Diamond (Australia/New Zealand) — all leaders in the prostitution abolition fight.

Raquel Rosario Sánchez (RRS): How did you become involved in the issue of prostitution?

Suzanne Jay (SJ): I personally got involved because I was a member of a feminist collective that operated a shelter for battered women, a rape crisis line, and a feminist organizing centre. We responded to many women dealing with prostitution, pimps, and sex buyers. These were women who had exited or who wanted to exit prostitution and who were members of the collective (and to this day, they continue to be members). I co-founded Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution after seeing how dismissive elected officials were to Aboriginal women seeking alternatives to legalizing prostitution. At the time, politicians who considered themselves “progressive” were trying to outlaw the sale of Aboriginal women through street prostitution. But I knew from crisis work and plain observation of entertainment culture in Vancouver that Asian women were (and are) being sold from indoor prostitution venues as well, licensed by City Council, and that there was no increase in safety for Asian women in this approach. It was a cruel trick that would only move men’s degradation and violence towards women out of public sight and allow men to demand more degrading acts and enact more violence on women out of public scrutiny.

RRS: Do you find support within the feminist movement or do you think the pimp lobby has permeated most modern feminism?

SJ: I think it is neoliberalism that has permeated the feminist movement. My Coalition thinks it is key for oppressed groups to be able to gather and share information and experiences in order to develop theory, to care for one another, and to carry out actions to make social change. The pimps are taking advantage of the culture of hyper-individualism to convince us that women don’t need each other, that we each make decisions in a vacuum and from a wide range of lovely options, when, in fact, women make decisions constrained by our sex (patriarchy), the colour of our skin (racism), and whether/what food our mothers had access to when pregnant with us (class oppression). I would say that pimp culture bribes the women with the most privilege to abandon and sell out those of us who start out with the least.

RRS: What is your view of support services for women trying to exit the sex trade? If you could speak directly to shelter advocates and women who work in direct services for women, what would you want them to understand about the sex trade?

SJ: I think most women who find themselves working in direct service provision have some understanding about the sexism, racism, and violence meted out to their callers. The problem is that service providers are also constrained. The managers, executive director, and funders won’t permit workers to advocate or even imagine social change. They may be allowed to fight for a small change in policy, language, or practice, but the professionalization of the paid work positions undermines the translation of knowledge and connections between women from being used to overturn the system that facilitates prostitution. For example, shelter workers are probably encouraged to have good relations with police and to “coordinate,” rather than demand and complain in public for better (life-saving) responses to battered, raped, or trafficked women.

I would encourage others to form their own voluntary groups to make change and stop looking to the paid workers to make change. Something I learned early as an organizer is that you cannot hire someone to be a revolutionary.

Read the full interview here.

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