Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Did You Think of "Saved on the Strip"?

I watched Hookers, Saved on the Strip on Discovery Channel last night. It’s a new reality TV show about Annie Lobert, a survivor of prostitution (above). I wanted to weigh in about my reaction to the show and hear what you all have to say about it.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that the show perpetuates a lot of stereotypes about women in prostitution. It’s set in Las Vegas, and the B-roll used to tell Annie’s story includes many shots of women wearing fishnet stockings and looking generally happy and glamorous. This made me cringe—the vast majority of women in prostitution in the U.S. are having sex to survive, and they certainly aren’t wearing six-inch heels. Real women in prostitution live in our own community—from Naperville to Elmhurst to Chicago—not just in “sin city.”

However, I think the show tackles a lot of issues that women right here in Chicago are facing as they try to exit prostitution. She touches on issues pertaining to violence, pimps, the legal system and more. I think it’s very brave of Annie and the other survivors on the show to tell their stories. They’re educating the public about the harms of prostitution and trying to help other women. Here are a couple things that stood out to me as being as being informative and pertinent to Chicago:

From what I could tell, Annie was a minor when she was recruited into prostitution. She was lured into it by someone she knew. This is really, really sad and also a very common experience for women in prostitution. Until recently in Illinois, girls could be charged with prostitution even though they were minors, and adults were paying to have sex with them. Our End Demand Illinois campaign advocated for a law that ends this practice: The Illinois Safe Children Act is changing the way law enforcement in our state treat survivors of domestic sex trafficking. Instead of being treated like criminals, youth survivors of prostitution are seen as being worthy of service and treatment.

Annie is also showing how the arrest and re-arrest of women in prostitution makes it incredibly difficult for women to leave the sex trade. This practice ignores the cause of this problem—the people who are buying sex and creating a demand for prostitution. Regina, a survivor on the show, was working to have her criminal record sealed so that she could apply for a job outside of the sex trade. She found this process incredibly difficult and wondered aloud if returning to stripping wouldn’t just be easier on her. This was a really sad moment in the show. Our culture’s stigmatization and legal treatment of women in prostitution is so harmful and cyclical. The End Demand Illinois campaign seeks to stop this cycle by shifting law enforcement’s attention to the cause of the problem—the men who are buying sex—and to stop the arrest and re-arrest of women.

To learn more about how to end the demand for prostitution, visit CAASE's resource page.