GEMS and Exclusive Responses to Commercial Sexual Exploitation

I am going to share with you, Reader (or Constant Reader, a la Stephen King) one of my weaknesses.

Advertising works on me, and so does the marketing of… my words are failing me. Virtue. Charity. Selflessness.

And so, sometimes, when I get offered ‘a $22 t-shirt!’ where ‘$7 goes to charity!’, and the t-shirt is cool, and the cause is just, I fall for it.

This type of behaviour is ridiculous, but rampant in our society. Why do we feel good about donating money when we are receiving something concrete in return, in addition to the good feelings that come from giving? Why are we so charitable and generous when we consume goods that donate an infintesimally small fraction of the cost to a good cause?

Sevenly.org is the home of the t-shirt I mentioned above. Each week they host a different cause and design a series of t-shirts and sweaters for that cause. Most shirts are $22 (some fancy ones are $27) and all donate $7 to the cause. I have caved once so far – I bought a shirt to support a shelter for battered women and their children – and received a neat, stylish looking shirt with ‘Enough Is Enough’ scrawled trendily (apparently that’s a real word) across the front. (I’ll post evidence soon!) Go me, I am so selfless and awesome. The package even included a note that said ‘Good for you, changing the world and stuff!’

The sale of that feeling, that charitable, generous, virtuous feeling, is often worth the money that it garners. And some would argue – and have, when I shared this with my Facebook crowd – that this is better than buying a shirt at the mall. At least the charity is getting something, when usually they wouldn’t. But did I refrain from shopping because I had this single shirt? Surely not. I feel that this type of logic works on the charity’s side, but on the individual side it is a fairly weak argument.

Oh, and I am so weak.

Now we get to the point of this post.

My anger.

My frustration.

Am I crazy?

This week, Sevenly.org is promoting a charity called GEMS, also known as Girls Educational and Mentoring Service. Based out of New York City, this grassroots organization is “designed to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.” Okay, so far so good, although I was already curious as to what ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ is. I am not sure if they mean prostitution in general, or specifically exploitive prostitution. Well, maybe they don’t separate the two.

“Girls Educational and Mentoring Services’ (GEMS) mission is to empower girls and young women, ages 12–24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and develop to their full potential.”

Sad face.

I have a pet peeve. For those of you who know me (and there shouldn’t be any yet, since this blog is 100% covert thus far), you may know that I am interested in the sex trade. I am also a cautious advocate of the sex trade, where those involved in it choose to be in it. According to some sources, that’s the majority of the sex trade in Canada. According to other sources it is not. Each type of organization can support themselves on data like this.

You may see the problem. I am not going to advocate for a place like GEMS to close. I am sure they do wonderful work, and do not begrudge them money that they may gain from Sevenly’s campaign. But what about women who do not want to exit the sex trade? I have read fairly extensively on the sex trade in Canada and the U.S. This is a problem that many sex trade workers face. A great deal of available services include the caveat “if you are exiting the trade”. If you want to deal with previous trauma, but think you have a good thing going on now, that doesn’t cut it. If you want outside help making your life better, through education, employment, etc. while staying in the sex trade, that is equally unacceptable.

There is a fairly strong argument in the world of criminology that social services are agents of social control. GEMS is not officially a ‘social service’, as it is not a branch of government or connected to social workers in an official capacity. And yet, it perpetuates this notion that sex for money is wrong. Selling your body is bad. You cannot possibly continue to do it if you have seen the light and are asking for help. If you refuse to leave the trade, we cannot help you, we cannot save you; you are in denial, you are the drug addict that cannot yet admit she has a problem.

This is wrong.

Absolutely wrong.

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2 comments on “GEMS and Exclusive Responses to Commercial Sexual Exploitation

  1. I agree with so much of this. I think that people have gotten a little carried away in their anti-trafficking campaigns. Don’t get me wrong, trafficking is a horrible reality, but it is not the ONLY reality. There are women who are in the commercial sex industry because they want to be there. They aren’t being forced and they enjoy their jobs. Anti-trafficking is kind of like the new “hip” thing. It’s the new great cause to support but in the process the stories and livelihoods of others are being trampled on, demeaned, and dismissed.

  2. I completely agree! Anti-trafficking is definitely the new “hip” thing. It’s good to know I’m not the only one so frustrated by this! Thank you.

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