By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
RICHMOND, VA, April 13, 2013 – Building working relationships with other advocates and organizations is important in any field of advocacy, including anti-human trafficking. Listening to and learning from others increases personal growth and perspective.
Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share their ideas, efforts, and achievements. Readers are encouraged to reach out to interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.
How did you get involved with anti-human trafficking advocacy/speaking?
When I was 21-years-old I began speaking out to save my life and to help others who were being hurt in prostitution and pornography. The first time I spoke publicly was in the 90s at a ‘Take Back the Night’ rally in Madison, Wisconsin. I had just begun to deal with being used in prostitution and pornography as a girl and teenager.
I was very poor. I had no one to turn to, and I was afraid that some of the family members who had used me would do something to me. My experiences were that the audience, mostly women and mostly feminist, did not want to deal with the issue.
Given that I was not sure I would find a way to stay alive, the silencing around this issue angered me. It actually pushed me to speak out more. I then spent years organizing as a grassroots activist, including bringing in well-known abolitionist speakers, giving my own talks, and many other actions.
Over the decades I have spoken nationally and internationally, conducted research, and published my essays, poetry, and fiction, including two books.
Did any organization or advocate play a significant role in your healing / empowerment process?
Andrea Dworkin helped me tremendously. She was a feminist writer and activist against prostitution and pornography, and also a survivor of prostitution. Over the years, I brought her to speak three times. She encouraged my writing and implicitly understood my past and the difficulties [involved].
She was kind and generous to me; without her friendship and understanding at that particularly difficult time in my life, I’m not sure what would have become of me. I don’t think people understand how hard it is, often for many years, once you get out. I had virtually no emotional or political support in my 20s, no family, and I lived in poverty.
The torture committed against me as a child and teenager overwhelmed me as an adult. I barely survived those years.
Are you working on any current projects?
Currently, I am in an MSW program and gathering stories about Native American women in prostitution (aka “research”). I’m also finishing my second novel, Carnival Lights. Once I’m done with Carnival Lights, I will complete my half-written memoir.
Please share any recent speaking events, awards, accomplishments, or experiences.
In 2012 I was a Women’s Press “Changemaker” and I have been nominated for and/or won a variety of writing awards, including the Lambda Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Loft Mentor Series Award, and two McKnight Awards.
Please share any upcoming events or honors.
I’ll be showing my art and reading from my novel at Breaking Free’s Demand the Change Conference in May, along with other events. I’m particularly looking forward to co-presenting at Spirit Lake, ND, given the recent [verbal] attack on Melissa Merrick, a Native victim’s advocate from Spirit Lake, by Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Congressman.
What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment while advocating against human trafficking?
One achievement I am particularly pleased with is my work on Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota. For the Garden of Truth, five of us interviewed 105 Native prostituted women in Minnesota. 98% of the women had been or were currently homeless, 92% want[ed] to leave prostitution immediately, and many of the women experienced racism in prostitution. You can read the entire report atwww.miwsac.org.
What message about human trafficking do you most want to communicate to the public?
Getting the public to understand that prostitution is dehumanizing, dependent on child abuse (and often is the abuse of children), and also outright torture is extremely important. But it’s also important for the public to understand that those used in prostitution are sisters, mothers, grandmothers, brothers, and aunts.
We are valuable members of this society who have much to contribute, if given the opportunity. Also, it’s crucial to put the focus on the men who buy and sell women and children for sex. There would be no prostitution if the demand ended. That starts in each home.
Talk particularly with male family members and friends—tell them that using women and children in prostitution is never acceptable, and ask them to have the courage to talk with other men.
How can the public help you with your plight?
Get involved however you are able, whether it’s bringing in speakers, organizing events, talking with friends and family, or donating to organizations that help prostituted women and children. Each of us has our own skills and abilities, so please use yours to bring awareness and encourage action around the harm of prostitution and pornography.
What message would you like to pass to other survivor advocates and speakers?
Support each other and don’t give up!
Are there any other accomplishments you would like to mention?
My first novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a 2011 Lambda Literary Finalist. Nickels is a coming-of-age story about a young American Indian/white girl who is being sexually abused by her father. It is an inside look at dissociation, which is a psychological process that enables people to survive trauma. However, it’s also about many other things such as love, resiliency, sexuality, art, healing, and so on.
I’m also a co-editor (with Rebecca Whisnant) of Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, an international collection of writings about prostitution, trafficking, and pornography (published by Spinifex Press).
Both books are available through any bookstore and online, including as e-books.
How can people reach you or your organization for questions or more information?
Through my website: www.christinestark.com or my publisher (Modern History Press)