Sex Work, Sex Trafficking And The Difference

Calla Kainaroi is a graduate of Point Park University and now works for a nonprofit called Bridge to the Mountains where she works closely with the less fortunate of Pittsburgh.  Because of her proximity to those who reside under the bridges of Pittsburgh she frequently works sex trafficking victims and rape. However, she also meets sex workers which is a completely different industry than trafficking, even though people categorize them together.

Kainaroi doesn’t see sex work as a problem. She feels that sex work is real work. The sex work industry is big and there are different parts of the industry, one that’s just subsistence, which is swopping sex for a place to stay or food, and another version that is very empowering for people. It gives them a way to make money on their own terms and a sense of autonomy.  

In recent years, several sex work websites have been shut down, putting the workers on the streets where they are in danger of trafficking, rape and murder. Kainaroi believes this is a big problem.  

In April 2018, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) were passed. This sparked the sex work website Backpage and Craigslist personals being shut down. Kainaroi believes this is problematic because, “it [the acts that were passed] was said to fight trafficking but really it conflated the idea of sex work and sex trafficking when they’re two very different things.”

With the elimination of these websites, people performing sex work were pushed even further underground. This makes their job even harder and more dangerous with less access to health care. Kainaroi believes this is all because of a morality issue of the people who passed those acts. She doesn’t believe they’re focused on the right thing; they are focused on stopping sex work rather than finding traffickers.  

The passing of these acts also eliminated a great source of finding traffickers and finding survivors of trafficking. Kainaroi believes to solve this problem we must decriminalize sex work which would mean the removal of criminal and administrative penalties. Currently, sex workers don’t want to carry condoms on them because it’s just another thing that they’ll be prosecuted for.

“Decriminalizing is different than legalization,” Kainaroi said.  

With legalization, more of the attention is put towards the client's health, not the workers and then taxation becomes a thing and authorities can use that to abuse their power. 

“In the Netherlands, sex work was legalized, and so authorities just do these massive raids. They say they’re looking for traffickers but it’s doing more harm than good,” said Kainaroi.

The rise of sex work could be a result of our pressuring economy’s demand for cheap labor.  Subsistence sex work speaks more to problems in our economy, class-system, wealth, etc. A lot of the people engaging in this, see sex work as their only option.

“You don’t have to pass a background check or worry about being home to get your kids on the bus,” Kainaroi said.

Kainaroi has friends from college who are sex workers now that are really involved in advocacies and are telling stories, therefore she doesn’t believe sex work is a bad thing. 

Kainaroi decided she needed to do more research on the subject when she was in the courtroom with someone who was there on a panhandling charge.  She was sitting in front of the courtroom when she heard “Calla!” A woman she had been working with who is “wonderful” yelled, “I’m here on prostitution can you believe it?”  

“What a ridiculous thing to arrest somebody for that has no home and has many other things to worry about,” Kainaroi thought. 

This woman was simply trying to get enough money to eat and a place to stay for the night.

“Sex is tied up with judgments and morality,” Kainaroi said. “For a lot of folks, I think it’s an expression of their sexuality and it’s great for them and enjoyable and you can make a whole lot of money doing it.”

Sex trafficking and sex work are two completely different things, even though some people combine them into one category.  It’s time to stop conflating the two and open our eyes to the realities of the industry. Over 100,000 people make their living through sex work in the U.S. alone.  Because of how widespread the industry is, it’s time to be accepted.