The Novo Foundation is teaming up with Sarah to create a unique performance piece that tackles the incredibly difficult issues of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Sarah spent the first month of 2014 in the UK, Ireland and Sweden, meeting with activists, academics, non profit organizations and writers to get the bigger picture on how these issues are viewed and handled throughout Europe.
First up on the trip was London, where we met with the amazing women from Eaves. We learned about their tireless work helping women who want to exit prostitution. We also met with Maddy Coy and Heather Cole, who helped us understand the wider-held beliefs in the UK about prostitution and the current schism occurring within feminism over this hotly debated issue. Finally we met up with old friends at the Equality Now office in London who were able to put non profit work, policy and general public opinion all into greater perspective.
Then we headed to Glasgow where we met with the Women's Support Project and TARA. We were shown exactly just how widespread prostitution is in Scotland, how women are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, and the different methods of support that are offered to the women they see.
We then headed to Dublin where we were fortunate enough to meet with the folks at Ruhama and later have tea with author and activist Rachel Moran. We learned more about how the 'pro-sex lobby' or pro-prostitution lobby has come to effect policy that can sometimes cause more harm than good, even if well intentioned. We were also blown away by the work and writing of Rachel Moran and encourage everyone to read her book 'Paid For'.
Finally, we made our way to Stockholm, to find out first hand how the Nordic model has managed to clamp down on johns and pimps, while not penalizing the women, instead offering the women support and opportunities to exit prostitution if they choose. This approach not only helps survivors, it also supports a change of the cultural climate of domination and purchase of women's bodies for sex.
We met with the people behind RealStars.Eu, who showed us how they create public campaigns to encourage young men to think before they 'buy women' and to help promote a healthy and holistic images of women in the media.
We also met with author and researcher Kajsa Ekis Ekman. Her book, 'Being and Being Bought', goes into detail about how the buying of women's bodies for prostitution and for surrogacy, is not in fact, empowering.
We then visited the office of the Swedish Women's Lobby and were inspired by how many women's groups and lobbies there are not only in Sweden, but all over Europe. They all work together to help make the lives of the women in the EU better and safe from trafficking. What is the US women's lobby equivalent? Sarah is hopeful that there can be a coalition of women's groups (and the men who support them) here with the kind of political power that will move us away from violence and objectification and closer to equality (like something better than 18% women in Congress. C'mon USA, 18% isn't a passing grade for...anything!) For Sarah's still optimistic, but she's is also planning to work on her Swedish and hang out over there a little more often. :-)
On our last work day, Sarah met with many bloggers, including the women from Feministiskt Perspektiv, the premiere Feminist blog in Sweden, and Kawa Zolfagary, a writer and activist, who promotes looking at race and gender issues in Sweden by using humor.
At long last, we headed home, with Sarah happily trying out all the new accents she found on our journeys and eager to continue writing a show that will aim to tackle these challenging issues with the dignity, respect, and yes, even a sense of humor. She is excited to have the chance to premiere this show in the beginning of 2015, so check back for updates!