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Sex work isn’t a topic talked about at the dinner table. This secrecy and tip toeing around the topic hides the issues that need attention. Various forms of sex work exist, such as escorts, pornography stars and prostitution.

Prostitution is performing sexual acts in exchange for money. Prostitutes are often controlled by a pimp and are managed by their agents. An escort, or call girl, may participate in sexual activities but they may also accompany someone to an event as their significant other.

“For some this is what they want to do and they are very liberated in their sexuality,” said Alissa Stoehr, sociology and women’s and gender studies lecturer. “If they are in control and having consensual sex with another adult for money then go for it.”

Stoehr studies the areas of social justice, feminism and intersectionality and teaches a whole course on human trafficking. Stoehr gives presentations to other classes on the subject to teach them and raise awareness for the issue.

Consent brings up concerns about those in the sex work industry. Sex workers may not be consenting by choice because they work in the industry for survival.

Some women do sex work to support their family because the appeal of bringing in a lot of money is hard to say no to. Some women enter the sex work industry because of other factors such as drug addiction or homelessness.

The sex trafficking business is another concern of sex work. Pimps, traffickers and buyers target vulnerable groups of people, such as those who are sex workers for survival. Sex workers can be groomed by individuals who lead them to the sex trafficking business, where they are no longer in control of what they do.

Grooming is the process of sex traffickers or pimps befriending people and gaining their trust to gain control of them.

There are warning signs that someone is being sex trafficked or groomed for sex trafficking and that pimps are attempting to pimp out sex workers for their own benefit.

“If you get weird texts, emails, Facebook friend requests from people you don’t know, don’t click on them,” Stoehr said. “By the time you realize it’s not someone you know they’re already tracking you through your phone.”

Safety

Consenting sex workers may experience stigma and negative treatment. The negativity they experience stems from a lack of education as well as authorities not receiving proper training on how to help them.

Women who work on the streets or in brothels, a house where people can pay for their services, are often ignored by police because what they are doing is illegal.

David Wahl, sociology lecturer, focuses his academic career and research on human sexuality. Wahl did a study where sex workers in Minnesota and Switzerland were interviewed.

Wahl found that Minnesota women had a higher fear of being robbed, raped and abused than the women in Switzerland.

The police in Minnesota didn’t see the women as victims even when they were involved in violent crimes. They said they wouldn’t help the women because they shouldn’t be there doing what they were doing.

The women in Switzerland had more positive encounters. Their police would keep track of which women were going off with who and made sure they returned safely.

The problem with police not protecting these women is that their job is to protect people. It becomes an even bigger problem when the women are in fact being trafficked or pimped.

Women who aren’t doing sex work by choice are arrested for crimes instead of receiving care.

“Sex trafficking is hard to prove and get through the system so prosecutors will find a different crime to charge that’s much easier to get a guilty verdict,” Wahl said.

Awareness and knowledge of sex work, sex trafficking and similar issues can improve the protection of consenting sex workers. Those who no longer want to be a sex worker and those being trafficked can also be helped.

Wahl is part of an effort to help women wanting out of the adult film industry. This effort is a project called The Platinum House, which is located in California.

“We get women out of the adult film industry, away from their agents,” Wahl said. “We bring six to eight women to the house at a time. The house has full security to make sure the agents don’t come after them, the women are completely taken care of.”

The women receive free medical and psychological treatment and can receive a free education.

The Platinum House provides these women with a team to assure their safety if they decide to return to the sex work industry. A legitimate manager, The Platinum House mom and security attends each shoot with the women.

“Our point [of The Platinum House] is that no one is ever going to make these women do something they don’t want to do ever again,” Wahl said.

Losing protection

A new bill recently signed by President Donald Trump in April gives federal and state prosecutors the power to pursue websites that host sex-trafficking ads. It also allows victims and state attorney generals to file lawsuits.

The bill, titled “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA),” is also negatively affecting sex workers who use the website.

One of these websites was backpage.com. Backpage was used to facilitate prostitution. Seven electives from the website had been arrested after the government seized Backpage.

The 93-count indictment accuses Backpage of facilitating prostitution with advertisements and laundering the prostitution-related profit.

Students

There are Iowa State students in the sex work industry. They will remain confidential but they do exist. Many people have the idea that things like this don’t happen in Iowa when the truth is that it does and is more common than realized.

Educating people on the subject can protect students and prevent them from having negative experiences. Iowa State offers several courses about human sexuality and its different areas.

There are also resources available on campus. These resources can be found at www.sexualmisconduct.dso.iastate.edu. If someone is being trafficked or knows someone who is they can also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Self care

Stoehr said it’s important to practice self care when teaching and learning about this issue and issues related to it.

“It’s a very overwhelming topic, it’s important to take care of yourself,” Stoehr said. “If I’m not okay then I can’t be okay for my students who are coming to me.”

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