CEASE is proud to present our new ‘Spotlight’ series, a series of interviews highlighting the fantastic work organisations and individuals around the world are doing to combat sexual exploitation of all kinds. As a non-partisan, non-religious human rights advocacy charity, we are proud to platform the work of different groups and organisations from across the spectrum who have a shared purpose: to end all forms of sexual exploitation.
This week, we had the opportunity to sit down with UK-based, but globally-focused, You My Sister, an organisation “set up with women who have exited the sex industry alongside their advocates and mental health professionals. Survivors of the porn and sex industries fully inform our work and take the lead in carrying it out.“
CEASE: Tell us about You My Sister.
You My Sister: You My Sister is a new charity set up to support survivors of the sex and porn industry. Our focus so far has been on trying to fill the gaps in support networks So our first project has been to create something utterly unique – a mental health recovery course for women who have exited any branch of the porn or wider commercial sex industries. What’s more, this is all run online so it could support women anywhere in the world.
The course has been created with, and is co-delivered by, women with lived experience of the sex industry which is one of the reasons it is so incredibly powerful. The six sessions take women through their journey, starting with looking at the reasons you might have entered the sex industry, the power and control at play when there, and then moves on to how you left with the last two sessions looking to the future and moving on. The focus is very much on understanding our choices, moving away from guilt, shame, and self-blame, and towards self-respect, liking yourself, reclaiming your life, and taking back control. It includes meditation and grounding exercises in every session, so giving you a ‘toolbox’ of well-being techniques that can be used any time.
The course is based on the ‘mental health recovery model’ – which is highly regarded across the globe as a profoundly successful form of guided, peer-based support and learning to help people to deal with mental health issues. Our peers (survivors) worked closed with a mindfulness coach who has already created a similar course for survivors of Domestic Violence using this approach – with incredible results. But, to our knowledge, this is the first course of its kind that has ever been created specifically for survivors of the sex industry.
There is very little, if any, peer support for anyone who has exited the sex industry. In fact, there is very little support even in exiting, despite this being incredibly difficult, most of the women we know had little or no help at all!
CEASE: Part of CEASE’s mission is to highlight the links between different forms of sexual exploitation, to show that it is an interconnected system (such as trafficking individuals into prostitution/pornography etc). Can you tell me about some of the links between different areas that you might have come across in your work
YMS: We are connected to a lot of women who have been in various forms of the sex trade and it is utterly clear that all branches are basically one and the same thing – they’re all linked, they all have the same kind of impact, and carry similar risks. They all use the same rule book whilst those in it all use the same emotional strategies to survive.
CEASE: What are some of the challenges you have faced/are facing in recent months (Covid-19 related or otherwise).
YMS: Covid has brought the fact that all branches of the sex trade are fundamentally linked into sharp focus, with much of the industry moving online. The webcam market is now flooded, women are making even less and expected to do increasingly extreme acts. This includes the physical and emotional harm of dangerous and humiliating sex acts – a woman has even died from auto-asphyxiation. It includes men demanding the ‘girlfriend experience’ – which means you can’t dissociate and so makes it one of the hardest aspects of the industry, as anyone who has exited will tell you.
Obviously Covid means the physical sex trade should be untenable – but despite the fact that this clearly cannot operate safely, it still continues. Women in the industry aren’t just highly likely to catch the disease due to close physical contact, they are also highly likely to be very badly affected by it, due to poor physical and mental health. It seems bizare that those who claim to care about those in the sex industry are pushing hard for the sex industry to re-open even now in the midst of this pandemic. Shouldn’t they be calling for safe, alternative work or other means of financial support?
When the pandemic is over, the clamour will clearly be overwhelming to open brothels everywhere in every high street across the globe as a way to ‘get women out of poverty’. Yet, rather than getting women out of poverty, the sex industry actually has a long term detrimental effect on women’s earnings. And there will be even more women, more desperate than ever before – due to both Covid-induced poverty and reduced work options. So the sex industry will be even more abusive and ensnaring than it already is.
We often hear how Covid means we need to rethink how we do everything – from ‘going green’ to working at home. This applies equally and just as importantly to the sex industry.
CEASE: What do you hope to achieve in the future, and what is your “call to action” for the coming months?
YMS: Anyone who wants to get involved please do! Anyone who has exited the porn/sex industries, drop us a line. Funders, fund us! Philanthropists, philanthropise! Interest in our recovery course has been overwhelming. We need funds to run more. We want to start practical and mental well-being courses for exited women to help facilitate moving into, and remaining within, the workplace. We want to work with businesses to provide work placements.
Most importantly, we want to set up a properly resourced survivors’ forum – partly to offer practical and emotional support to exited women but, just as importantly, to act as advisors to the organisation and take on (hopefully paid) work with us in future!
Please support You My Sister’s work, and support their course via the details below!
You My Sister
Fri 9th Oct – Fri (half term break midway)
1 – 3.30 pm (UK Time: women are welcome from anywhere in the world)
To enrol: firstname.lastname@example.org