Knowing the difference between sex-trafficking & sex-work – A survivor speaks

Ruth Jacobs – WNN Features

Girl child forced prostitute
This underage trafficked girl is one of the many statistics of sexual exploitation in the U.S. and must be helped in a way that will allow her future safety and dignity. Understanding the difference between sex-trafficking under ‘forced prostitution’ and adult-volunteer sex work is essential to advocates and abolitionists alike who want to stop human trafficking in the United States. Image: MCMD NOW

(WNN) London, UK, WESTERN EUROPE: When Ruth Jacobs had a chance to sit and interview Ms. Jes Richardson, a former sex worker, sex-trafficking survivor and sex worker rights activist, what Jacobs came away with was a unique unforgettable inside look at an industry where the definition of ‘exploitation’ needs to be carefully considered and defined, especially by those abolitionists working to stop human trafficking worldwide.

“Sex sells. There is no denying those two little words pack a mean right hook. Sex is used to sell everything from flame-broiled cheeseburgers to designer jeans. But god-forbid, actually selling sex,” outlines Richardson. “The sex industry includes two major demographics of people who are widely segregated. Sex workers are viewed by society as helpless souls who can’t possibly make healthy choices because they are victims and in desperate need of rescue. Trafficking survivors are viewed as pity cases who are incapable of doing much of anything besides art or sewing, and a pretty bedroom will solve the issues of complex trauma,” she continued.

“Both views are wrong but it’s hard to hear the voices of sex workers and trafficking survivors through the billowing echos of the ‘voice of the voiceless’,” she added.

Richardson shares her insights, wisdom and honest ‘insider’ experience during a fascinating interview with journalist Ruth Jacobs:


Ruth Jacobs: How did you become involved in the movement against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation?

Jes Richardson:I first heard of sex trafficking four years ago. I was attending a District Meeting with a volunteer organization where the luncheon speaker was presenting a presentation on International and Domestic Sex Trafficking.

As he presented, I realized for the first time that I had experienced trafficking and my abuse wasn’t my fault.

Adding to the realization, I had been trafficked in the hotel where the District Meeting was being held, twelve years prior.

At that moment, I knew I had to speak. I needed to share my journey. If I didn’t have awareness of what I had experienced, then how many other people shared those same experiences? This began my quest for a deeper understanding of the language surrounding my own journey and how we can be most effective in stopping trafficking.

RJ: You are also concerned in your activism with sex worker rights. Why do you feel it’s important for the anti-human trafficking movement and the sex worker rights movement to work together?

JR: The sex industry is a huge global industry that is comprised of both sex workers and individuals being trafficked.

As awareness of trafficking grows, additional negative stigma is placed on sex workers because most individuals don’t understand the difference between sex work and sex trafficking.

Simply stated, trafficking is individuals who did not choose to be in the sex industry and/or cannot leave because of force, fraud or coercion.

For a wide variety of reasons, sex workers have chosen to be in the sex industry. As an abolitionist, I believe that all people are created equal and should be treated as such. It would make me a hypocrite if I believed in stopping trafficking at the expense of sex workers. I refuse to alienate an entire demographic of people (sex workers) in order to help another group of people (trafficking survivors).

RJ: What do you think needs to happen so the two movements are more aligned?

JR: The first step is to build a bridge of understanding, compassion, love, and humility. How can we unite two groups without a deep understanding of each other’s experiences and opinions? Anti-trafficking organizations and individuals have been incredibly hurtful by stating that ALL prostitution is trafficking or slavery and sex workers counter with an opposing strong opinion.

We all need to be given permission to grow and change our views, none of us are perfect and no two experiences are the same; we must learn from each other. Even my own language has evolved over time as my understanding has grown.

I am an expert within my own experiences; understanding that other people may have the same label but their experiences might be vastly different than my own. Both sides need to come to the figurative table with an open mind, sincere apologies need to be given and accepted, and then we can move forward as a collective whole.

Sex Workers protest U.S.
With a goal in 2008 of showing the public that the ‘chosen’ career for sex workers versus those who suffer under forced sex-trafficking exploitation are two very distinctly different things, sex workers rally in protest for “rights to work legally” as they make a loud statement on the steps of the City Hall Building in downtown San Francisco, California (U.S.). In 2014 sex workers in the U.S. continue to feel that strong laws and legal rights are needed to protect their personal safety. Image Eliya/Flickr

RJ: What legal improvements or changes would help abolish sex trafficking and sexual exploitation and ensure sex worker rights? Can these two groups be ensured their human rights and the protection of the law simultaneously?

JR:I believe decriminalization of prostitution is the best path to ensuring the protection of sex workers and trafficking survivors. Our current laws within the United States reinforce the schemes of traffickers, by arresting and incarcerating trafficked individuals for crimes they were forced to commit.

In addition, our laws criminalize both sex workers and their well-intentioned clients, further alienating them from protection against violent clients and rapists. When the laws reflect decriminalization of prostitution, sex workers can safely report workplace violence and trafficking survivors will be able to seek assistance from law enforcement.

Until law enforcement officials can be viewed as ‘safe people’ for sex workers and trafficked individuals, violent crimes and trafficking will go widely unreported.

Law enforcement officials must be allowed to protect individuals within their community regardless of their chosen occupation.

Without the fear of being arrested for prostitution, sex workers can be an asset to the anti-trafficking movement. Current sex workers have an inside view of the sex industry and once trained to identify individuals who are trafficked, they can be our biggest allies in reporting trafficking and assisting individuals who want to escape their traffickers.

When I was trafficked, it was a sex worker who helped me escape and she provided me with great support and encouragement in those early years of my healing. I knew law enforcement would not protect me because I had committed the crime of prostitution and only had a false identification that was given to me by my pimp.

If I would have sought the assistance of law enforcement to help me escape my trafficker, I would have gone to prison for crimes I was forced to commit.

RJ: For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?

JR: Get educated then take action! The sex industry is a complex place where there are many systemic issues.

As a collective whole, we need to address: poverty and sustainable wages, equality, workers rights, childhood abuse, stable family units, domestic violence, bullying, and our culture that has over-sexualized our young children.

There is a place and purpose for each of us and we need every person to empower the next generations.

RJ: What are your plans for the future?

JR: My first and most important responsibility is to nurture, protect, and provide for my family of eight. My life’s journey is to explore the world of sexuality, equality, and relationships. My heart and vision is to continue educating the public to move past the mask of judgement and find their purpose for one-ness.


Two staff members from the Urban Justice Center Sex Workers Project,  Co-Directors Sienna Baskin and Crystal DeBoise outline the wide diversity of cases they work with. These cases span between those trapped and those not-trapped inside the industry of sex, those who are voluntarily working in the sex-industry to those who have been coerced and forced under human trafficking, a wide distinction that is important for all modern slavery abolitionists and women advocates, especially those working with legal justice, global development and women’s advocacy.


Talking about justice for the safety of those who have been trafficked and exploited, Jes Richardson is a strong advocate with a message that comes to the public as someone who knows ‘first-hand’ the personal experience of being trapped under exploitation as they juggle existence on the other end of injustice. What our society needs to do to stop injustice, she outlines. “I am SO frustrated about the justice system and the lack of support for trafficking survivors,” she outlines. This video was created and posted on Youtube by Jes Richardson on August 1, 2012.


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(Additional text for this interview has been provided by the editors at WNN – Women News Network.)


Ruth Jacobs is the author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from her own life. Ruth studied prostitution in the late 1990s and has firsthand experience of many of the topics she writes about such as post-traumatic stress disorder, rape, and drug and alcohol addiction. In addition to fiction writing, Ruth is also involved in non-fiction, journalism and broadcasting for charity and human rights campaigning in the areas of anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking. Learn more about Ruth at and

To know more about Jes Richardson and her special educational campaigns link HERE


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