Letter: When we confuse exploitation with choice

During the past few months, I have been gratified to see so many community members reaching out, talking about and learning about drug abuse and addiction. We are listening to the experiences of friends and family, and valuing their voices as we figure out how to help.

Some things we hear, however, are harder to understand than others. I have heard about women “prostituting themselves” for money or drugs to feed their addiction. Families are deeply saddened by this idea, and it is particularly painful to imagine one’s daughter or sister trading sex for drugs, even if you understand the power of biological and psychological addiction.

I would challenge you to think about the idea of sex-for-drugs not as “choosing prostitution,” but rather, further victimization and abuse of women. There are many studies that speak to the vulnerability of women on the streets, and the likelihood of physical and sexual assault that correlates with drug addiction.

There is little “choice” involved in exploitation, and we are learning more and more about the ways women and girls are tricked and coerced into the sex trade. Addiction can be a powerful tool to exploit women’s bodies for personal gain. When we confuse exploitation with choice, we add insult to injury, further narrowing women’s options for safety in our community.

What can we do? When you hear about the “choices” made by women addicted to drugs in our community, please consider what choice really means. Be open to thinking about something you think you understand in a different way. Our community will be safer for it.

If you want more information about safety planning and sexual exploitation, please call AWARE at 586-6623 or 1-800-478-1090.

Mandy Cole,

Deputy Director, AWARE