Victim or Perpetrator?

Go to google right now. Search for “prostitution arrest” and select “images.” Or even better yet, don’t do that. Take my word for it. That google search will give you page after page of mug shots of women and men who have been arrested on solicitation charges.

If sex workers are victims, as the anti-trafficking movement would tell you, then wouldn’t putting their picture on the Internet be much like posting the pictures of sexual assault survivors? Or naming rape survivors in newspapers?

You can’t have it both ways. And the anti-trafficking movement conflates sex work with slavery.

Either people who trade sex for something they need are perpetrators or they are victims. Which is it? Make up your mind.

And while you’re at it, make sure that the way you treat them is aligned with whether you consider them perpetrators or victims.

If they are victims, then don’t:

  • Put their picture in the newspaper
  • Make them walk a “Perp” walk
  • Make their work less safe
  • Arrest them

If they are perpetrators, then don’t:

  • Call them victims
  • Accuse them of something they’re not doing
  • Ignore rehabilitation efforts

And then, one other thing. Let’s stop using “titillating” images of sex workers and arrests. Every news alert regarding sex work does not need to be a sexy photo.




About Lia Scholl
  • Dave Buerstetta

    Lia, I’m a pastor who has worked with the anti-trafficking movement for a few years now. I’m very interested to learn more about your contempt for/critiques of that movement.
    But in response to this post, I honestly don’t understand. None of the anti-trafficking groups I’ve worked with or know of have anything to do with posting mug shots or making anyone do a “perp walk.” The only ones consistently posting mug shots are news outlets like Patch and some local papers. The groups I’ve worked with are trying to *stop* arrests of prostituted people (though mostly women), not glorify those arrests. These groups are trying to get law enforcement to focus arrests on “pimps” and “johns”.
    Help me out here, what am I missing?

    • Lia Scholl

      Dave, thank you for your question. You’ve given me a lot to think about in this question, and I’m working on it.

    • from two to one

      Thanks, Dave. I’ve also worked in the anti-trafficking sector for several years now and they have always been the ones to press for harm reduction/decriminalization instead of more punitive measures such as arrests, perp walks, or mug shots (which some do advocate for for the customers/tricks). I’m curious to hear your thoughts, Lia.

  • Dave Buerstetta

    Fair enough, I look forward to reading more.

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