Veronica’s Voice founder shares story of pain & hope
November 10, 2012 by Sarah Jenkins
Kristy Childs remembers watching news reports of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the haunting images of people stranded in the top floors of the two World Trade Towers in New York.
“You saw people standing on the 100th floor, and they were standing there,” she says with a pause. “Then they just stepped off.
“You watch that and you can say, ‘He made a choice.’
“Well, yes — but what were his options?”
The analogy applies to the estimated 2 million American girls and women who are prostituted in the commercial sex industry every day, explained the founder of Veronica’s Voice in Kansas City, an organization geared toward creating other options for the victims and survivors of prostitution.
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Childs was speaking at the Nazareth Motherhouse Saturday, in a presentation titled “Connecting the Dots: Sex Trafficking/Prostitution/Commercial Sexual Exploitation in the United States.” The presentation came at the end of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Assembly, and the public was invited to attend. Together, about 120 people filled the Motherhouse auditorium to hear Child’s presentation.
Childs’ passion and determination as an advocate against commercial sex exploitation comes from her own experience: She ran away from an abusive home when she was 12, and then was trafficked as a prostitute for more than two decades. She eventually managed to escape the sex industry — in part, because of the support of a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth working in the Kansas City area — and in 2000 founded Veronica’s Voice.
Her organization is committed to ending commercial sexual exploitation by reducing demand, advocating for appropriate and effective criminal prosecution of people who buy sex and commit sex crimes, pushing for effective criminal and civil laws against sexual violence and exploitation, and changing the way exploitation is viewed by society.
On Saturday, she touched on all those topics but focused on demand — the “buyers” of commercial sex — and the way the prostituted women and girls are viewed by society and treated by law enforcement.
In the past few years, she noted, there has been a growing anti-trafficking movement in the United States. “But it is not victim centered,” she said. “It is prosecution centered — the thrust is, ‘We have to get the pimps.’ ”
Because of that, virtually all anti-trafficking federal funding goes to the Department of Justice, she said, with almost nothing directed toward helping women who are being prostituted or women who have survived sex trafficking. Nor is there any money being spent to limit the biggest part of the equation — the “johns” who create the demand.
“If we could somehow take all the pimps and put them on an island and they could never come back, would that solve the problem?” she asked her audience.
“No, there would be johns who would become pimps — it’s a lucrative business.”
One major piece of Childs’ solution, then, is to “focus on the women — empower the victims.”
She cited one national study that reported that 75 percent of all women used in prostitution were victims of physical or sexual abuse as children.
“Until we can eradicate child abuse, until we can eradicate poverty, this will be with us,” she said.
To change the system — and to help eradicate commercial sex exploitation — society has to understand that prostituted women remain victims, Childs said. Generally with no family support, little education, low self-esteem and other vulnerabilities, they simply have no other choice if they want to survive.
“We don’t take victims of domestic abuse or theft or assault and put them in jail for being victims,” Childs said. “But that’s how we treat these women and girls.”
To change what she described as an “ugly, horrific, inhumane system of exploitation,” Childs said, “There is no simple solution, but there are several avenues of small solutions.”
Veronica’s Voice is one of those.
She described the organization as a “bridge” to help victims and survivors of prostitution, while also advocating for a more victim-centered focus and educating the public about the realities of sex trafficking.
The organization started with “seed money” a dozen years ago from the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and Childs and her staff now operate on an annual budget of less than $200,000.
Another “avenue of small solutions” is for more people to get involved — through volunteering and donations — to organizations geared toward helping victims.
But she urged her listeners to seek out services and programs that already exist rather than creating new programs, so that limited resources aren’t wasted by duplication.
Childs also provided a list of other ways to help end demand, adapted from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. Some of those were:
- Resolve not to participate in sexual exploitation in any way. Don’t use pornography or patronize strip clubs.
- Stop using words that normalize aspects of the sex trade and hide the harm, such as “pimp” and “whore.”
- Understand the role that demand for commercial sex plays in exploitation. Be vigilant about refocusing conversations about prostitution away from blaming the women to holding the people purchasing sex accountable for their actions.
- Shift out of old beliefs about prostitution and recognize it as sex trafficking; it is a form of violence against women.
- Refuse to buy products that use advertisements that promote sexual images or that sexualize children. Write and email complaints and concerns to advertising agencies and media that produce images that are degrading to women.
- Write “letters to the editor” to media that use language that blames the victim, and hold them accountable for how they cover the issue.
- Encourage states to change their laws so that victims of prostitution are not treated as criminals. Put pressure on local law enforcement to arrest the adult perpetrators of sex crimes against women and children.
Childs’ presentation Saturday was coordinated by the Sisters of St. Joseph Trafficking Committee.