The 11th Annual Human Trafficking, Prostitution, and Sex Work Conference, held Sept 18-19 in Toledo, Ohio, presented perspectives on sex work that were new to many campaigners working to end trafficking.
Billed as a venue “to bring together researchers, practitioners, and individuals with lived experience in an effort to lay the groundwork for future collaborative research, advocacy, and program development,” the conference lived up to its mission statement by hosting “Duke University Porn Star” Belle Knox, and University of Nevada, Las Vegas Ph.D. student Christina Parreira (yes, Mrs. Whiteacre), as well as a contingent from SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project).
And with the moral panic over trafficking in full force, inviting presenters who discussed their decision to have sex for money but who clearly do not want or need “saving” made for a lively conference experience.
Instead of their usual diet of horror stories that portray all sex workers as coerced trauma victims in need of “rescue”, this year’s attendees, which included a number of “rescue industry” profiteers, were treated to first-hand accounts from a host of sex workers who sought to debunk the most pervasive myths about sex work.
Belle Knox tells TRPWL, “Christina and I presented on the impacts of stigma and hierarchal relationships within sex work. I spoke about my personal experiences in the industry and how my treatment from the outside world informs my life as a student and as a woman.”
“I am happy that I was able to change my audience members’ negative perceptions about the industry and instead shift the focus onto how society treats sex worker communities.” says Knox.
During the Q&A section of their presentation, an audience member declared, ”I was raised in the church and thought we needed to rescue people from evils. There’s a whole lot of mind-fuckery going on!” — underscoring the fact that seeing sex workers as anything other than victims was a new experience for many well-intentioned anti-trafficking advocates.
Parreira presented twice at this year’s conference: “once with Belle on stigma and bullying of sex workers, as well as bullying at the hands of the rescue industry, and once on the findings of my ethnographic research conducted in a Nevada brothel.”
“I had reservations about attending the conference, which was sure to be full of abolitionists and ‘End Demanders,’ but was pleasantly surprised at the general reception that I received,” says Parreira.
“Audience members seemed genuinely interested to hear what we had to say, and many approached me with questions afterwards. I think it was good for people to see sex workers as ‘regular people,’ capable of intermingling with the rest of society.”
Still, the conference also illustrated the truism that one cannot reason with a closed mind, or as Knox has put it, “you can’t argue with stupid” — as post-conference commentary such as this demonstrates. (For data that rebuts the ridiculous contentions made in that op/ed, and elsewhere by antis, see this informative post and others on our friend Maggie McNeill’s excellent website.)
Follow Belle Knox and Christina Parreira on Twitter