Dear Cyntoia: An Open Letter to Cyntoia Brown From Sex Workers and Trafficking Survivors
First let me start by saying congratulations on your release. Your case has been so inspiring to all of us who live at the intersections of sex work and sex trafficking. I won’t presume to know how you identify — whether as a sex trafficking survivor, sex worker, both or neither- I believe how each person in the sex industry identifies themselves is a highly personal thing, and I will not presume to know what the nature of that relationship is. I can only speak from my own experience as a sex trafficking survivor and sex worker, that your case gives me hope that I can be looked at outside the dichotomy of sex trafficking victim versus criminal.
Though I don’t want to speak for all sex trafficking victims and sex workers, on this one occasion I must say that we (survivors and sex workers) are here united in solidarity with and for you. Your case is one that highlights the particular injustices that sit at the intersections of the juvenile justice system, mass incarceration, sex trafficking and racism — particularly that experienced by BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color).
Sex Workers Outreach Project Behind Bars, a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting currently and formerly incarcerated people in the sex industry, has created the term “a Viminal Space” (victim + criminal) to refer to the push and pull teeter-totter of victimization and criminalization for people in the sex industry. If someone in the sex industry isn’t seen as a victim then they’re seen as a criminal. If they’re seen as a criminal, then they can’t possibly be a victim.
I see you as being the mother of a new era, where people in the sex industry — whether there by force or choice-can be fully three-dimensional, complex beings. Where women aren’t forced to live an either/or existence. You have paved the way for us, and for that we are endlessly grateful to you.
Your survivor siblings, like myself and so many others who are homeless on the streets, locked behind bars, fighting for a bare bones existence everyday- we see you and we are here for you. Your sex worker siblings, like myself and so many others, are here for you. we are so happy to see one of us who beat the constricted confines of the viminal space. You made it.