The LGBTQ Resource Center at the University of New Mexico hosted a round table discussion Friday as part of their Sex Work Education Week.
Sex workers and people who work to fight human sex trafficking facilitated the discussion surrounding a variety of topics related to the life and work of transgender women sex workers.
The talk featured three trans women sex workers and one member from a Native American anti-human sex trafficking group. All of them wished not to disclose their identity and will be referred to as Speaker 1, Speaker 2, Speaker 3 and Speaker 4 throughout this article per request.
Speaker 2, who identifies as a Native trans woman, started the discussion outlining the difference between sex work and sex trafficking.
Sex work is when a person chooses to do it — sometimes someone will do it for survival, but it is still a choice, she said. Sex trafficking is when a person is forced into sex work by someone else.
Speaker 3, who identifies as a half-Mexican and half-Middle Eastern trans woman, outlined the difference between sex work and human trafficking. She said when liberty, or any rights as a human being are compromised, sex work becomes human trafficking.
She also said someone usually goes into sex work because the social system never supports trans women. Therefore, she said trans women often have to go into sex work for survival, and trans-women of color are the greatest victims.
Speaker 1, who identifies as a caucasian trans woman, discussed the stigma surrounding sex work. She said people think that sex workers are selling their bodies and harming themselves.
“There are harms in other jobs, too,” Speaker 1 said, adding that she enjoys sex work.
“I am not harming my body,” she said. “I take precautions to protect my body through tests every three months but (people) believe that my body is in danger — how ridiculous.”
Speaker 3 said the darker someone’s skin color is, the stronger the negative stigma concerning sex work is.
Speaker 1 said that sex work starts with survivability.
She said she started her sex work career on the phone and then through web camera, but she had not been left with any other choice but to go into in-person sex work, because she said she did not have any other support to survive.
Speaker 2 discussed the discrimination sex workers face inside their circle. She said this discrimination does not stop even among co-workers, clients and others involved in the industry.
She said most of the clients assume they have bought a sex worker’s body, so they want them to work like slaves.
Speaker 2 said sex workers are often assaulted by clients, who tend to be “rich, white men.”
Addressing the discrimination among co-workers, Speaker 2 said, “Even in our own community the phrase, ‘You work in a street, and I work in a hotel,’ is quite common.”
She said one of the directors once told her people prefer Latinas over Native Americans.
Speaker 3 said working on the streets makes people treat sex workers differently.
“If you are indigenous or black, you will (hear) the harshest remarks (on the) streets,” — this discrimination prevails, from the streets to the industry at large, “It’s everywhere,” she said.
“Nobody chose to be on streets, but people put us (on) the street,” Speaker 2 said.
Speaker 3 said the people behind sex work are men in power and they do not let workers discuss the negative aspects of sex work.
Speaker 2 said that before the introduction of Christianity into Native American communities, trans women were accepted, but now Native Americans also have a phobia of trans people.
“We are murdered, commit suicide and face criticism at a higher rate,” she said, adding that being a sex worker is hard.
Speaker 1 said to combat the maltreatment she faces by her clients and the overall flawed system, she is trying to have sex on her own terms now, which is difficult because of the industry.
“(Sex workers) have the ability to bring the change, but we are stuck in the industry where we are being forced (into facing different adversities), unfortunately,” she said.
Speaker 3 said every system and institution is flawed.
She said society is living under a system that assumes four things — women are always going to be property, black people are always going to be slaves, foreigners are going to assimilate and indigenous people are going to be eradicated.
“We need to change the system, not the profession,” Speaker 3 said.
The speakers agreed that they never report incidents of assault, because their clients are usually powerful men, and society assumes that sex workers sell their bodies.
“Me reporting is absolutely nothing,” Speaker 1 said. “I’m already (considered) a bad person...I’m a sex worker and what good could come of my reporting?”
Speaker 2 said sex workers are told their occupation is a crime.
Speaker 4, representing a Native American anti-human sex trafficking group, said there are two agencies — The Life Link and 505 Get Free — sex workers can reach out to for help in Albuquerque without the fear of being reported to the police.
Tasawar Shah is the news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tashah_80.