Emery Draven was born and raised in Iowa where she was the last of four children and only girl In her family. During her early, she suffered severe abuses resulting in mental disorders including Morbid Non-functional Depression, Chameleon disorder, and PTSD among others. She now lives in Colorado with her husband and three children. You can follow Emery at @EmeryDraven
TW. Emery's article contains reference to childhood sexual abuse.
I have long believed that the only way to protect the health and safety of sex workers is to decriminalise and regulate the industry. In this article I am not just discussing pornography, but prostitution as well. The idea that all sex workers are abused by virtue of their profession, is to say any act of sex is an act of abuse. If we were to regulate (as some other countries have) we could guarantee job related health care, and the confidence to report abuses without fear of repercussion. In addition, this is the only real way to prevent the type of abuse I suffered, from happening to other girls, boys, men, and women around our nation, if not our world.
We have been hearing a lot about human trafficking lately, but it is clear that most of us do not have an informed view of what that really is. When a person is selling sex, do not automatically assume the are a victim of trafficking. Now, I know that I just lost some readers, and others of you are cussing me out and calling me an idiot. However, I am actually a bit of an authority on the subject.
I am a survivor of abuse in the American Sex Market. Until recently, only those extremely close to me had any idea at all what I have lived through. To this day, only one living person knows the whole extent of what happened, and its effects.
In talking to others about trafficking and the American Sex Trade, I have found that most Americans don’t know, or don’t want to know the facts. Because of this, I have decided to give some of the facts that most people, to my knowledge, refuse to talk about. I don’t expect you to just take me at my word, however, so after these facts I will share with you my experience of being trafficked for sexual abuse.
1. Most of the traffickers in America are, in fact, Americans.
There are many ways that people are trafficked and become ‘sex slaves’. Most people assume that victims are ‘picked up’ off the street, and to be sure, this does happen. This is someone who does not know the victim at all, but it is rare. The ‘pick up’ can be a trafficker who would like to use the victim as a ‘product’. But, what we do not like to talk about is how often trafficking occurs through the victim's family / friends. This can happen in multiple ways.
Selling: This is when a family or friend 'sells' the victim to a trafficker, pimp, madame, or a customer. It can also be to individual events where a friend or family member receives money per hour for sex with the victim.
This can happen just once, but more often once it happens, it will happen more and more.
Guilt: Friends and family use almost any means to make the victim feel as if they are a burden unless they put themselves out there to make money for the ‘good of the family’.
Enticement: This type of trafficking works only if you can convince the victim that the benefits from the trade are far greater than they actually are. This form generally starts very young in childhood abuse and is part of the grooming process. It tends to begin in childhood by rewarding absolute obedience with toys and treats. It also tends to be coupled with guilt.
2. Victims of Sex Trafficking in America are not just young women.
The truth about who becomes a victim of trafficking by any of these means is simple. The only connecting factor is that someone thought it would be a good idea to sexually exploit this person for gain.
3.Not all sex workers are victims of the trafficking industry.
A lot of people don’t realise that many adults choose freely to work in the sex industry. They also don’t understand the Grand Canyon sized difference between sexual abuse and sex work - I suspect this is because of our nation's fear of sex. In fact, in most countries where sex work is legal, the trafficking trade is, for the most part, a non point. In these countries (New Zealand and New South Wales), sex workers have rights, health care, and worker’s benefits, unlike here in America. STD and STI screenings are considered part of the job. And, unlike here in America, they are not afraid to report crime or abuse because of their chosen job.
4. Victims of trafficking can come from all walks of life.
Anyone can become a victim of sex traffickers. There is one difference social economic class gives to the victims; victims who live in poverty, or present with challenging behaviours, are more vulnerable to abuse. Abusers target people who are already written off as trouble makers. It tends to be a slower process to help these victims. Authorities seem to assume that 'problem children' are more likely to return to that life. It also seems to be more assumed that they are more likely to become drug and alcohol addicts. These two assumptions are not at all true; but the belief persists that those who present with complex issues are in part responsible for their abuse.
5. Not all Human Trafficking is about sex.
Many people think of sex as the end goal of human trafficking. The truth is, that sex is one of many ways some people seek to make a product out of others. Trafficking is essentially a fancy name for slavery. But to help others understand, here is a short list of reasons people are trafficked.
This is Emery's Story
I was born the youngest child of a couple who married young. My father had a rocky relationship with his mother throughout his childhood. Early in his marriage, his mother had aggressively enabled his alcoholism by making him her 'drinking buddy'. At this point, my father was unaware that she had attempted to prostitute both of his sisters. One ran away, the other, well, we’ll just say her daughter is third generation in what became the family business.
My mother was born with some abnormalities that made child birth a serious health issue. I was the youngest of four, but the seventh pregnancy in a time when women had to have their husband’s permission to get their tubes tied (and my grandmother made sure my father did not allow my mother to have tubal ligation). I was also the only girl. My 36 hour birth was far from an easy one and both of us were close to dying several times. My mother was in the hospital for a week longer then me to recover from her hysterectomy.
During my father’s working hours, we were cared for either by my aunt (mother’s sister), or his mother. Much of my father’s income went towards an ever growing bar tab. This of course, meant my mother worked even harder to ensure her children had food and clothing, which meant I spent more and more time with my grandmother.
For my first two years, I was physically and mentally groomed to become the product my paternal grandmother wanted to exploit. I heard things like ‘yeah it hurts, but you can’t cry unless you’re asked to’ and ‘I know you want to stop, but what you want isn’t important.’ During grooming I was taken to meet some men, but only to show future wears as it were. By the age of three she had started selling me for sex.
My mother had been a victim of severe domestic abuse for seventeen years and had children to provide for, but the state really did not do much to help my mother leave my father at all. It took many years for her to leave the abuse, taking us with her. When she finally did leave, my two Aunts, and the church our family belonged to helped her move, and start the process of buying, and mixing a house. An organisation call YOUR Inc. 'helped', but really the help they gave was fixing about half the things they said they would. My mother used to say they were well moneyed people who helped while looking down their nose. The enjoyed the idea of helping far more than actually helping.
I was no longer living with my father, but I had visits at his house every other week. I remember on one visit at the age of four, my grandmother was there, I ended up peeing myself while playing outside with my brothers, because they refused to take me to the toilet and did not want to be alone with her. I became afraid to use the restroom in my father’s house during the bi-weekly visits. Worried that she would grab me.
This became an issue in my first year of school, however it wasn’t noticed until the second year. That was when the teacher took note of my tendency to hide in small spaces. Once the teacher had become worried about these behaviours, finally approached my mother, who had to spend most of her time working to keep us fed. When my mother was told about my bathroom trouble after these visits, and my tendency to hide in class, she took me to the doctor, and with proof of severe mental, and physical trauma, she took me to the Department of Human Services. There, I talked to a counsellor to determine what had happened. After that there was a court case filed. A hearing where a no contact order placed, and the court ordered trauma counselling. After that, my father told my grandmother she was never to go over to his home when she knew we would be there. But other then that, the state really did nothing to help.
There was even a time when the state threatened to take my brothers and I away from my mother. I remember my mother saying that the social worker didn't like us because we lived in poverty, and as my mother had four poorly paid jobs I tend to believe her.
My grandmother was not allowed contact with me, but it wasn’t until the state knew the extent of the mental and physical damage she had caused, that they started to help me. Even then, the courts stated how important it was for me to have professional help for my mental state until I was at least 18, but didn't provide any way for a woman who work four jobs to feed her children, to pay for this treatment.
My entire life I have struggled to view myself as human, slightly important, or even worth the trouble. I have never fully been able to act ‘normal’. When I was a teenager, I honestly believed that if I told anyone, boys my age would be all over me, and everyone else would think I was a freak. So, I kept it all to myself. The first person I ever felt comfortable enough to tell, was the father of my first child. He became a workaholic while I was pregnant. I was trying to explain why I was considered a dangerous to myself at 5, the cliff notes of my story, and still needed someone to 'be there' for me. He didn't listen, I knew my child needed me alive, but us being 'together' was not the important part. After leaving, I then started to confided in one of my friends some of the lesser detail of the then current situation. He eventually clued me in then he had had a crush on me for the last 6 years.
I am now an adult and I have love in my life. My husband has shown me more love, support, and patience then anyone has ever shown (save my mother). He was the first one I told the whole story to. We married in 2003, a year after my mother passed from cancer. We now have two children of our own, and though my ex is still very active in my first born's live, and a good friend, my husband still treats my boy like a father would. He has never ever batted an eye on the days I need a more watchful eye.
I am telling my story because I know what it means to be abused and trafficked, and I am here to tell you there is a difference between rape and sex work; I was never a sex worker, I was a victim of sexual abuse. Just as there is no such thing as a 'child prostitute', or 'child pornography', there are only children being abused, I was not a sex worker. Conflating the two minimises my trauma and ignores the experience of consenting adults in sex work; it helps no one. Its also true that abuse like I endured thrives because the sex industry is stigmatised and forced underground. Shame and fear of rejection are significant factors in keeping victims quiet. Having a fully decriminalised, regulated sex industry, and open and honest discussion around sex, takes away the abuser's best friend; silence.
(Emery generously shared her story with Kate Lister. Kate has worked with Emery in editing her original draft to include interview extracts and information shared through email.)