Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Yorker: The Countertraffickers

Stella Rotaru, at left, of the International Organization for Migration, with one of the group’s beneficiaries. Photograph by Bela Doka.

Stella Rotaru, at left, of the International Organization for Migration, with one of the group’s beneficiaries. Photograph by Bela Doka.

NEW YORKER MAGAZINE - Stella Rotaru’s cell-phone number is scribbled on the wall of a women’s jail in Dubai. That’s what a former inmate told her, and Rotaru does get a lot of calls from Dubai, including some from jail. But she gets calls from many odd places—as well as faxes, e-mails, and text messages—pretty much non-stop. “I never switch off my phone,” she said. “I cannot afford to, morally.” She looked at her battered cell phone, which has pale-gold paint peeling off it, and gave a small laugh.

Rotaru, who is twenty-six, works for the International Organization for Migration, a group connected to the United Nations, in Chisinau, Moldova. She is a repatriation specialist. Her main task is bringing lost Moldovans home. Nearly all her clients are victims of human trafficking, most of them women sold into prostitution abroad, and their stories pour across her desk in stark vignettes and muddled sagas of desperation, violence, betrayal, and sorrow.

Her allies and colleagues in this work are widely scattered. An ebullient Dubai prison officer named Omer, who calls Rotaru “sister,” has been a help. So have Russian policemen, an Israeli lawyer, a Ukrainian psychologist, an Irish social worker, a Turkish women’s shelter, Interpol, and various consulates and embassies, as well as travel agents, priests, and partner organizations, including an anti-trafficking group called La Strada, which has offices downstairs from Rotaru’s and a dedicated victims’ hot line.

Rotaru is often at the airport in Chisinau to meet those Moldovans who manage to get home with her help. In some cases, she goes to pick them up in Odessa, the Black Sea port in Ukraine—Moldova, an ex-Soviet republic, is half-encircled by Ukraine—where a twice-weekly ferry from Istanbul docks. If a victim’s family is also present, there may be little or nothing for Rotaru to do. Or there may be a lot..


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Essay: Trisha Baptie, Former Prostitute

'We need to realize that a human life is valuable, no matter what state it is in,' says Trisha Baptie, recipient of a 2008 Courage to Come Back Award in the social-adversity category. (Jason Payne, The Province)

"Sex Worker?" Never Met One!
By, Trisha Baptie

I was a prostitute for 15 years and I have never met a sex worker, The name stems from the movie "Pretty Woman"... and from the people who support and benefit from the commodification of women. I know prostituted women – I have even been one – and were there out of poverty, racism, classism, sexism and child abuse.

Then, I would have told you it was empowering and liberating – how could I look at myself in the mirror otherwise ? Yet it always tore my heart out to see each new girl enter into the “trade”. And none of us ever wants their daughter going into that soul sucking industry.

I am against sex as work for it affects not only the women caught in it but all women and our interaction with the world. Here and globally women – almost all of them poor and racialized – are forced, coerced, beaten and tricked into this industry. It’s because I want ALL women to be free - that I am against our sale as masturbation toys.

People sometimes say “She’s gotta pay the bills.” How about we provide them with education, opportunity, dignity, guaranteed liveable income… ! What if we went for child support and made sure kids in government care have resources when they move out of care... There are other ways of helping women than screwing them.

My friends who are still on the street know what I do and they all support me. For they want no one else to enter into this lifestyle. So they work to put themselves out of harm’s way, and I to make sure the men are arrested before they buy them.

“Harm reduction” ? You can’t make prostitution "safer" ; prostitution is violence in itself. It is rape, the money only appeases men’s guilt. Do we really think they are unable to do without orgasm on demand ? Also why are women the only ones required to get health checks to make sure we are “proper” for me to abuse ? Why not force men to get checked to keep the women safe ?

Why institutionalize the worst in humanity. Our culture imposes a patriarchal view of women ; demanding of us to have sex on demand, rip out our hair, submit to plastic surgery... What if women were allowed to be women with all of our beautiful differences ? I am sad to see just how much society brings women and girls to act like hookers.

As for the so-called “choice” to have sex many times a day with anonymous men, my experience paints a quite different picture. Wherever there is prostitution, there is, human trafficking, organized crime, drugs and a myriad of other criminal activity that no country has managed to disentangle. Why then would we allow a minute percent saddle us with their individualism when we know society as a whole will suffer and it will be the poor women and women of color whose human rights will be trampled to keep the supply of sex on demand to men going ?

© Trisha Baptie, 2009

Trisha Baptie is a former prostitute living in Vancouver. She extracted herself from drug addiction and the street eight years ago. A mother, abolitionist and freelance journalist, she recently covered the trial of mass murderer Robert Pickton for various media.