by Hannah Blair
This is the second installment of “Why Do They Stay?”. You can read part one here.
It can be really confusing for many people as to why women stay in the adult entertainment industry if they really don’t want to.
Some woman in the sex industry are there because they have been forced. Many of the women you see dancing on stage at strip clubs have been coerced into doing so by their pimp or trafficker. Dancers who are forced into clubs by their traffickers might stay because they are fearful of what their traffickers might do to them; many are afraid they will lose their lives if they try to leave.
Trauma bonding can also incur between the woman being trafficked and her trafficker. Trauma bonding is a psychological reaction to abuse that is essentially a form of brainwashing. Traffickers often repeat a cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement, and this results in an emotional attachment. This bond keeps women in the industry because the trafficker ultimately becomes the most authoritative and dominant person in the victim’s life. Their belief systems, mindsets, and thought processes are molded by the actions and attitude of the trafficker. They believe their trafficker loves them and wants the very best for them, so they feel they have no reason to leave the industry.
Many women in the sex trade have a history of sexual abuse or began working in the life at a young age; it truly is the only life they know. It’s rare to find women in the industry that haven’t experienced previous physical and/or sexual abuse. It can be hard to leave what is familiar, in the same way it can be difficult to stop a bad habit, and the longer a girl stays in the industry, the more familiar it becomes. Not to mention, those who were abused as children may have cut ties with their family. The other dancers and regulars to the club become their stand-ins, and leaving the industry means leaving their support system.
There is also an intense stigma associated with women working in the sex trade, and this can make transitioning out of the life even more difficult. People shout that sex workers need to leave the industry and get a “real job” but then shun former sex workers when they finally make the decision to leave. The social ostracization women in the industry face can be the very thing that keeps them there.
Women in the commercial sex industry need exit strategies and resources to empower them to live a life free of exploitation. When they make the courageous decision to leave, there must be more than just financial support. Emotional and psychological support are just as important. They must be provided with a safe, nonjudgmental environment where they can talk through and make sense of their experiences. They need to be treated like human beings.
Life in the sex industry is hard, but so is life after. Before we view sex workers through the lens of indignant judgement, let us remember that they are human, too.