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The Global Sex Trade is a Harmful Cultural Practice

Taina Bien-Aimé has been a women’s and girls’ rights activist for three decades. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), an international organization committed to ending the practices of trafficking in women and girls, as well as commercial sexual exploitation. Bien-Aimé previously worked for 20 years with Equality Now, a global organization that advocates for the human rights of women and girls. At Culture Reframed’s virtual event in December, “Pornography & Prostitution: Connecting the Dots,” Bien-Aimé spoke about cultural influences on the global sex trade and prostitution. Her presentation focused on three major topics:

  • how language shapes our views on violence against women and girls;
  • the importance of human rights principles and international law;
  • and the journey to eradicate the sex trade and end commercial sexual exploitation.

Bien-Aimé shed light on the deep roots of the sex trade, dating it back some 5,000 years. “The story of prostitution and pornography is the story of patriarchy,’ she says. She explains that through colonization, new systems of prostitution were introduced around the world. “There are thousands of years of sociocultural and economic patterns of sexual exploitation,” she says.

Today, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that 65% of all human trafficking victims and more than 90% of sex trafficking victims globally are women and girls. Additionally, prostitution statistics continue to show that marginalized groups, such as Black and Indigenous women, are disproportionately represented in the sex trade.

Bien-Aimé believes the critical first step to raising awareness and educating others about the harmful effects of prostitution and the sex trade is to change the language we use to talk about it. She argues that the term “sex work” sanitizes the brutalities of prostitution and is a euphemism for the sex trade to make “sexual exploitation seem like a sport or entertainment.” In her presentation, Bien-Aimé points out that the terms “sex work” and “sex positivity” are used to “camouflage sexual practices that are harmful to body, mind, and community.”

In her presentation, she points to well-known public figures such as Jeffrey Epstein and Dominique Strauss Kahn, noting that cultural acceptance of the sex trade makes it viable for powerful men like them to abuse, exploit, and buy women for their personal entertainment. “We cannot legislate or incarcerate ourselves out of this mess,” Bien-Aimé says. “What needs to change is the culture.”

Watch Bien-Aimé’s full presentation below.


woman sitting on bed in room with light from window (abuse concept)

Where are your kids getting their sex education? Their smartphones? In this digital age, it’s critical for young people to have trusted adults to help them build resilience and resistance to hypersexualized media and porn. Check out Culture Reframed’s free online Programs for Parents of Tweens and Program for Parents of Teens.