Dr. Oz’s Segment on Child Sex Trafficking

I don’t watch much TV, but one of the shows I sometimes watch is the Dr. Oz show due to my interest in health, nutrition, and fitness. Today, a segment about sex trafficking aired. It was a preview of an investigative report by Lisa Ling that will air on Oprah Winfrey’s channel, called the O Network. Ling was among the guests, as were two sex trafficking survivors, the mother of a sex trafficking survivor, and the head of the FBI’s Innocence Lost project.

I appreciated Ling and Dr. Oz both distinguishing between prostitutes and sex slaves, thus challenging the conflation of all prostitution with slavery. Prositutes get paid for sexual services, but sex slaves don’t. Ling also distinguished between sex slavery and consensual prostitution, saying that being a sex slave is different from being a prostitute because sexual slavery isn’t a choice.

Something else that really stood out to me was how one of the trafficking survivors named Holly Austin Smith said that she didn’t think she’d be able to get away from her trafficker if she wasn’t arrested. Here’s a link to her website: www.HollyAustinSmith.com  .  Did anybody reach out to Holly without arresting her?  Was there anywhere she could go besides jail?   It disgusts me so much that we live in a society where any trafficking victim needs to be arrested to get away from the traffickers and indicates a lack of outreach, accessible safe houses, and other services for trafficked people. This tells me that resources need to be redirected, with the funds used to arrest sex workers and trafficking victims being reallocated to outreach and safe houses. Arresting trafficking victims is treating them like criminals, so victims need other alternatives besides arrests. Ling acknowledged that child sex trafficking victims are being treated like criminals.

This is one of the reasons why advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution is part of the efforts to stop sex trafficking. This way, resources being wasted on arresting sex workers, non-abusive clients, and trafficked people can be put towards providing outreach, safe houses, and efforts to make trafficking less likely to happen in the first place. An anti-trafficking activist mentioned how there was a real scarcity of safe houses and how it was difficult to find funding for these, so it disgusts me that while people who have a genuine interest in assisting trafficked people are having trouble getting funding, so much is being wasted on making arrests against sex workers, clients (just for being clients even if they aren’t abusive), and trafficked people.

The FBI’s Innocence Lost project runs Operation Cross County, in which the federal government funds local law enforcement agencies and the FBI to set up sting operations in the name of stopping child sex trafficking. Yet, if that’s what these sting operations are mainly about, then why are adult sex workers being incarcerated under these sting operations.

I read an article in the Boston Globe about two sex workers who were arrested by 17 FBI agents in a sting operation at the Mariott though Operation Cross County. I have no idea why it takes 17 FBI agents to arrest two sex workers nor do I get what this has to do with stopping child sex trafficking. I read about how the sex workers were kicking and screaming as they were being arrested, and a hotel guest who witnessed this complained to management. I was traumatized just reading about this, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for the sex workers who experienced it. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/02/21/5_arrested_in_us_sting_at_marriott/ .

Arresting sex workers for prostitution isn’t simply a necessary evil in efforts to stop sex trafficking. It’s a major human rights abuse that must end. It’s a horrible violation of our right to our bodies that anybody is being arrested for engaging in consensual sexual behaviors, and if they’re not consenting, then why are they being arrested and treated like criminals. I don’t agree with criminalizing children for prostitution on either. On the one hand, they’re widely perceived as victims, but on the other hand, they’re being arrested like criminals or suspected criminals under anti-prostitution laws. This must change. If prostitution were decriminalized, then these children would no longer be criminalized for prostitution. However, it would still be illegal for adults to have sex with children in prostitution under laws prohibiting sex with underage people.

Not surprisingly, the director of the Innocence Lost project mentioned nothing about how sex workers are being arrested under this program.

Did anybody see this segment of the Dr. Oz show about child sex trafficking?  If so, what did you think?

5 responses

  1. Thanks VV,
    I didn’t watch the vidoe but its good to hear LL has progressed in her need to showcase on the topics.

    Yes decrim will bring the much needed transparency to our industry and it will bring equal protection and that will open up space for those who are in either in the know or are directly involved to gain access to help without the treat of being arrested.

    Additionally, the diversion program in San Francisco, SAGE, had a half million dollar ‘safe house’ for teenaged prostitutes but had to close it because no teenage prostitutes were being served. I heard tell from a state child protective social worker last year that they had a hell of a time gaining access to it for reasons unknown. So while the city and county of San Francisco was ponying up the $500,000 for this ‘safe house’, other vital city and county services were being cut-services for shelters, healthcare, education…

    I remember challenging a public healthcare worker at one of the sex worker film festivals who was whining at the audience about how vital services like public health were being defunded. I specifically remember the public healthcare worker saying there was no way such funding would be allocated for something like that and sure enough SAGE did get that funding. And how did they manage to get it? One can only speculate.
    Now the flow of money is coming from the feds and they are using it arrest everyone and trafficking everyone into those shame based sex negative programs under the guise of providing ‘services for women and girls’.
    We need the existing shelters and public health providers and educators to be well funded! We need the police to be defunded. They must stop arresting us. We need equal protection under the law. We need to redefine the domestic violence and sexual harassment laws to include everyone who is abused to have access to those services because these services are structured to cover the stay away orders, the court support for being a witness/victim, provide clothing, food, counseling,…they’re comprehensive already but under funded.
    Too, a few years later, I remember the director of one of the domestic violence shelters giving testimony at the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women about how her shelter had provided services to someone who was a ‘sex trafficked victim’ while maintaining that person’s privacy and protection just like they do for all DV victims.
    Our movement needs to shift away from spending so much time opposing these moronic sex panic traffickers and towards coalition building with already existing services as its the better solution.

  2. Thank you for sharing about the Dr. Oz segment. I did not see it however I do have a quite ironic story to share….not only do i work as a sex worker i also work in a group home for teenage girls in foster care for whatever reason….currently we are harboring a girl who was placed with us who had been trafficked from mexico…she speaks no english and there’s no on in the home who speaks spanish so communication is sketchy at best….another lady who works in the home and i have been researching the trafficking situation where we live and have discovered our state is considered a top 5 state by the FBI for transporting and trafficking girls….and you’re so correct THERE ARE HARDLY ANY AGENCIES OUT THERE TO HELP RATHER THAN ARREST….it is disgusting. I have grant-writing experience, non-profit experience and hey, sex business experience so I’ve thought about opening a home or shelter for girls and women who have been trafficked….it’s still in the thinking stages and jotting stuff on legal pads but it’s a thought….

    • Thanks for response JL,
      Why not use your skills to get money to pay for a Spanish translator and network with Spanish speaking service providers as resource to your group home which is where you have an immediate need.

      Expanding resources for already existing service providers like at the place where you already work was my point. By taking this approach, you can contribute to making sure kids have access to long term housing, education, clothing, healthcare, (like dental care and reproductive care), bus fair, access to getting their drivers permits/licenses…you know tools everyone needs in our capitalistic society to gain access to be self supporting through our own contributions….

      Lets not spend so much time and energy reinventing the short term shelter wheel when the research shows that long term housing is key to keeping kids off the streets, out harms way and out of our industry.


      Too, networking with the your local labor council’s jobs for justice committee can get kids a hand up to training and placement in jobs that are sustainable and provide economic justice. I’m thinking about this because as females, we make 76 cents on the dollar so we have to be strategic in planning our for our economic futures and unionized jobs are the only ones who fight for equal pay regardless of our gender, ability to speak English…sexual orientation….

      I’ll sign my name here as I”m not sure why my last posting on this topic on this blog showed up as anonymous.
      Maxine Doogan
      Erotic Service Providers Union
      San Francisco, California

  3. Oh Maxine, so that was you who posted the first reply to this thread. I’ll add your name to it and delete anonymous. If there’s no name in the “name” blank, it shows up as anonymous, so if anybody wishes to reply and remain private, then you can just leave the “name” box blank. However, I realize that sometimes, this could be acccidental and people accidently skip over this part, or I may screw up somehow.

    Jenna, best wishes in your hopes to open a safe house for people who have been trafficked. As long as trafficking exists, that’s so important. I’m not against shelters in all situations, but they’ve come under criticism for just being temporary (as Maxine eluded to), when some people may need more long term housing. They’ve also been criticized for not allowing enough freedom. However, in that case, I don’t think shelters are necessarily the core problem, but how they’re run could be more of a problem. Some people have argued that a better alternative is independent long-term housing. Perhaps, there can be room for both.

  4. I am a victim of child sex slavery trade. I was held captive most of my life and they still stalk me. My horrible criminal relatives did this to me out of jealousy and to cover up their theft of my assets.
    They kept me isolated from everyone with slander.
    Jealousy and lies of others is what makes it easy for all of the people that participate in this. They also have the NYPD as well as other union workers to help because they use the services of the underage or barely legal girls.

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