There’s a difference between human trafficking and willing prostitution

FAIRMONT — For one professor at WVU, human sex trafficking is not always what it’s made out to be — and it’s often confused with a consensual sexual transaction.
Alison Bass, journalism professor at WVU and author of Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law said she began researching sex workers in the U.S. after a former journalism student at Mount Holyoke College told her an interviewee was a sex worker.
“One of my students was writing a profile about a community activist in Northhampton, Mass., and she was having trouble bringing this activist to life on the page,” she said. “The writing needed help. She suddenly blurted out, ‘She’s a sex worker you know.’ Here was a woman from a middle-class background, from an Orthodox [Jewish] background, and it made me go ‘wow.’ That really defied stereotypes, my own stereotypes about sex work.
Bass became interested in the subject, and she arranged an interview with the woman.
“She kind of opened my eyes and put me in touch with other sex workers in the United States,” she said. “I just kept finding out there were so many myths about sex work and about trafficking. I’m the kind of journalist that likes to do stories that aren’t told and don’t get a lot of exposure. That’s how I started doing this book. I talked to a lot of policy makers, a lot of researchers, and from that grew this book.”
Bass said she found that most women she spoke to were engaged in sex work for economic reasons — not because they were trafficked.
“Most sex workers in the United States are selling sex by choice, largely for economic reasons,” she said. “While trafficking is a major problem in many other countries, particularly developing countries where underage prostitutes are being trafficked and illegal immigrants are being trafficked from Eastern Europe to Central Europe — in the United States, there’s very little adult trafficking.
“In other words, most women are coming from like Mexico, and they are coming, they know they are going to be doing prostitution. In fact, I went on a brothel raid, and you can read about it in my book, in Rhode Island. The police chief took me on this brothel raid because I was there that day and it turned out that there were two prostitutes in the brothel and they arrested the pimp.”
Bass said she spoke to both of the women involved, and they both said they were not being forced — they were there to make money.
“The Mexican woman said, ‘I used to do housekeeping, but I wasn’t making enough to send back to my family in Mexico, so I decided to do prostitution because I could get paid a lot more,’” she said. “So, she was not being trafficked.
“What was sad is even though they said they weren’t going to arrest the women, only the pimp, they ended up arresting the Mexican woman because she was illegal and deporting her. She’s been deported before. She will probably come back at some point because she can make more money here for whatever reason.”
Bass said part of the problem for women going into prostitution is they aren’t able to get good jobs, even when graduating from a university. She said some women turn to sex work as a way to pay their way through school.
“It’s hard for them to earn a decent living because many of them are not in the higher paying professions like geology or computer science or the STEM professions,” she said. “At this brothel in New York, I met a number of students who were trying to get either undergraduate or graduate degrees, and they could make so much more money doing sex work. And these were middle class women, obviously over the age of 18, who were doing it for economic reasons.

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