Addressing Justice: What Prisoners Can Teach Us about Trafficking in the Sex Industry


Jill McCracken, PhD & Alex Andrews | September 19 | 10:15-11:15 AM

Topic: Direct Service, Law Enforcement | Knowledge Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced | Location: TBD

This presentation discusses the data Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars has collected for three years with over 1000 individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated for prostitution, trafficking, or prostitution-related crimes. SWOP Behind Bars is a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of people who face discrimination from the criminal justice system due to the stigma associated with the sex industry. While the United States’ incarceration rate is staggering compared to the rest of the world, this rate is the lowest the US has seen since 2008 (Kaeble & Cowhig, 2018; National Research Council, 2014). Despite this downward trend of incarceration rates, the proportion of women to men has steadily increased, making women a greater percentage of the adults filling US prisons and jails than in previous years (World Prison Brief, 2018). While the imprisonment rate for females is overall lower than men, at 84 per 100,000 adult females, the arrest rates of women increased from the previous year (Benedict, 2014; Lynch, Fritch & Heath, 2012). The female population in jail has increased 44% between 2000 and 2013 (Fact Sheet on Justice Involved Women, 2016). Many women in the prison system have prostitution-related experience and/or criminal charges in their past. Increasingly, women are also being arrested and convicted for trafficking of others, even though they have been victimized and trafficked themselves (SWOP Behind Bars, 2019). This presentation highlights the overlap between adult consensual sex work, trafficking, and traffickers, provides an overview of data they gathered, and explains their members’ greatest needs. This vulnerable population becomes even more at risk for falling victim to predatory management that will force them into compromising situations and push them further to the margins. The stigma and shame that is already present for most women who have been in jail or prison is exacerbated by the lack of opportunities for employment and education upon release.

Presentation Objectives:

·  Explain the differences between adult consensual sex work and trafficking/exploitation in the sex industry

·  Provide a clear understanding of how the criminalization of prostitution impacts victims of sex trafficking

·  Discuss how incarceration is related to prostitution, prostitution-related crimes, and trafficking

·  Provide attendees with a better understanding of individuals they may work with who have been incarcerated, and how to better address their needs as whole people

About the Presenters