Queer Identities within Sex Trafficking: A Complicated Interplay of Homophobia, Transphobia, and Unnamed Trauma

Christina Melander | September 23 | 1:30 - 2:30 PM | Room 2584

Much research has highlighted the overrepresentation of LGBTQ, especially youth, in sex trading/trafficking. However, very little research explores the interplay of what sex buyers are seeking, victims/sellers’ sexual orientation and gender identities, and trauma. Furthermore, those within the LGBTQ community participate in sex trading along a continuum of experiences, some of which are considered sex trafficking. This presentation will explore qualitative data about the experiences of LGBTQ sex trafficking victims/individuals who trade or sell sex, and how homophobia and transphobia interact to create unnamed traumas for these victim/sellers. Data for this presentation come from a subset of interviews (N=156) conducted with social service providers and law enforcement personnel who work closely with victims of sex trafficking, sex buyers, and traffickers from across Minnesota (2015-2016). Participants described specific traumas related to LGBTQ identities: buyer preferences for transgender individuals as “fetish”; buyer preference for experiences with lesbian/bisexual women; LGBTQ victims/sellers who perform commercial sex acts outside of their own sexual orientation; and buyers who act violently to LGBTQ victim/sellers based on homophobia and transphobia. Understanding these specific unnamed traumas creates a more nuanced understanding of sex trading/trafficking that is more inclusive of LGBTQ experiences. Traditionally, sex trafficking has been viewed from a heteronormative and cis-gendered perspective and this can have unintended consequences for law enforcement investigations and social service provision. This presentation seeks to explore the ways that LGBTQ individuals face challenges specific to their identities within situations of sex trading/trafficking.

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