As a twelve-year-old young girl, I would beg for Teen Vogue magazines as I saw them in passing on the stands in the grocery stores until eventually, I got a monthly subscription from my family. I remember reading through page by page following up on the latest celebrities’ lives. After a while, the season of my life faded and I wasn’t receiving Teen Vogue in the mail anymore. With hindsight, I can see currently how this magazine has shaped my culture and view as a young teenage girl. Though I certainly had many other obstacles I faced throughout my teenage life, the media also showed me how to dress, what to say, and how I should overall look.
Recently, Teen Vogue, who advertises itself as being “the young person’s guide to conquering (or saving) the world” released an article stating why “sex work” is just another job. The article written by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng explains why she believes sex work should be fully decriminalized across the globe. Dr. Mofokeng claims those who are against the full decriminalization of sex work misunderstand what sex work actually is, and says “aren’t we all, in some ways, a sex worker?”
No, Dr. Mofokeng, you are generalizing the term sex work, also known as prostitution. Promoting prostitution to teenage girls is not the solution to decrease the harms of prostitution, the sex trafficking of minors or sexual abuse of children; these issues should be a greater concern for Teen Vogue given their targeted audience!
Prostitution Is Not Like Any Other Job
Does Teen Vogue and Dr. Mofokeng understand the harms of prostitution? Do they understand that a vast majority of “sex workers” are victims of sex trafficking? Both prostitution and trafficking violate human rights, monetizes violence against women, and they both prey on the vulnerable population. According to Dr. Melissa Farley, with Prostitution Research & Education, 80 to 90% of women in prostitution had pimps. 1 If we were to fully decriminalize sex work, it would mean no regulations on pimps and traffickers too. They would claim legal status as managers and business owners… Julie Bindel, an English writer and co-founder of Justice for Women once said, “I heard a legal pimp in Nevada refer to his “business” as similar to that of McDonald’s.” Is this what we want as a new normal?
Promoting prostitution to teenage girls is not the solution to decrease the sex trafficking of minors or sexual abuse of children.
Why are we teaching young girls that women are vessels for male sexual consumption? It is extremely harmful to generalize sex work and prostitution, especially within a pre-teen culture. As a society, we are teaching young girls that prostitution is empowering when in reality, it is a violation of human rights. This type of work is inherently violent and often fatal. Full decriminalization or legalization of the sex trade does nothing to protect those selling sex.
We Must Shift Culture
This is hiding the truth about the harm and abuse at the heart of the global sex trade; what we normalize in a society becomes our culture, and if this becomes our culture, we are accepting violence against women instead of empowerment. This is important! We must teach girls that “sex work” is not their job, and it is an act of war against women and our human rights. 68% of 827 people in different types of prostitution in 9 countries met criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the same range as combat veterans, battered women, rape survivors and refugees from state-sponsored torture.2
Not only does this topic influence teenage girls, but also boys. Being a mother of a young boy, I cannot fathom him having to live in a culture that believes degrading women and girls is okay. We are not a commodity, and selling our bodies for sex just to survive should not be an option. In our communities, society should be teaching men and boys that cherishing women and girls is beyond just being moral.
- Let Teen Vogue know that articles promoting prostitution to teens don’t align with their stated value of being “the young person’s guide to conquering the world!” We must raise awareness about this push to normalize prostitution and sex trafficking for minors. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Parents: be aware of what your children are reading, and educate them about the harms of prostitution. The Teen Vogue article does not talk about how “sex work” can lead to rape, violence, and trauma.