My experience in the sex trade had nothing to do with choice

Posted by on May 5, 2016 in News

audrey-1By Audrey Morrissey, Associate Director of My Life My Choice, trafficking survivor

I was first sold for sex when I was 16. My boyfriend told me that if I loved him and our daughter, I’d work the corner so we could have a better life. He made me think there were no other options. He convinced me I wasn’t doing it for him, but for us.

I know there are some women who say they do this willingly—they call themselves “sex workers.” Maybe that’s their truth, but that’s not mine.

Nor is it the truth for the hundreds of girls I’ve counseled over the past 12 years at My Life My Choice.

At the time, I thought it was empowering: I was making money, I was supporting my family. But looking back, I now realize I wasn’t in control—I was being exploited. Ninety-nine percent of people I know who have lived through the sex trade will tell you that choice has nothing to do with it. They’ll tell you about trauma, about feeling trapped, and about getting strung out on drugs just to get through another night. That’s how it was for me and for so many others—and we still bear the scars. I hear people say that prostitution is a victimless crime, and that consenting adults should be allowed to do whatever they want behind closed doors. That sounds well and good, but the sex trade is far from completely consensual. It’s full of young girls—kids—who are preyed upon by exploiters looking to turn their vulnerability in for cash. Why? Because that’s what sex buyers pay for.

The number one fantasy of sex buyers is youth. When I was in the life, I had a “john” tell me he’d give me extra if I found him a 14-year-old girl, and the girls I counsel today tell scarily similar stories. You cannot have an adult commercial sex industry and not have children get caught up in it—there’s just too much demand from sex buyers and therefore a lot of money to be made for the pimps.

When people talk about fully decriminalizing the sex trade, what they’re really saying is that it’s okay to buy people and treat them like objects. Because that’s what the majority of the sex trade is—people with money or power using a less fortunate person however they want. I can’t accept that.

A few people’s “right” to sell sex doesn’t negate the rights of all those who are hurt in this system to not be bought. We can’t turn a blind eye to the kids and vulnerable adults who are chewed up and spit out by this industry. I didn’t have a choice. The girls I work with now didn’t have a choice. We didn’t make a decision; a decision was made for us. That’s who we need to protect. That’s who I fight for.


Watch Audrey discuss the notions of choice and agency in the illegal sex trade on WGBH News: