The harsh reality of Seattle prostitution
There are those who argue that prostitution is not a crime and that sex workers aren’t victims. Alisa Bernard is not one of them.
“Prostitution is not something that you do, it is something that is done to you,” Bernard told Seattle’s Morning News. “Whether you are being bought or sold, it is happening to you.”
Bernard was prostituted, as opposed to “being a prostitute.” She stresses that prostitution is a form of sex slavery that is done to people. She recently told her story in an article titled, “Surviving prostitution: Violence was my experience.” Her message is an attempt to break through the noise of other activists who say that sex work, for some, is a victimless profession that should be decriminalized.
“Legitimating sex as work, you are taking out this concept of consent, because there is no act in prostitution that can be truly done with consent,” Bernard said. “Money can be seen as a coercive force. It can turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’ So can you ever actually get consent during sex as work?”
“The choice of going into prostitution is not really a choice at all when we are looking at things like poverty, like income inequality, things like that,” she said.
Bernard is part of the Ending Exploitation Collaborative, which includes local law enforcement officials, businesses, and other survivors. Seattle is at the forefront of fighting sex slavery, she said. In June, for example, Seattle police held a sting operation on Aurora Avenue and arrested 138 men. The plan for such stings is to target customers and pimps while offering exit services to women.
“One of the things we do is when we arrest buyers, we make it a condition of sentencing that they go through a buyer education program called ‘Stopping sexual exploitation,'” Bernard said. “That’s a ten-week program, rather than the usual John school which is only about fifteen minutes to four hours.”
In “John school,” they cover everything from the damage prostitution does to women and men. It also addresses why the men chose to buy sex in the first place — from their personal mental state, to how our society sets up a dynamic in which women can become products.
“I think most men are in a certain level of dissonance on this and are convincing themselves that is is OK,” Bernard said. “It’s one of those things; when we teach our boys that women are objects to be sexualized, I think there is a bit of a disconnect there … we can offer exit services and we can take down pimps all we want, but if we do not focus on demand and start teaching our boys to become good men, this problem is never going away.”