Purple roses in various shades of defiance flood social media on February 14, marking the 21st year of the Purple Rose Campaign, the bedrock of AF3IRM’s organizing history. The Purple Rose has symbolized our work in ensuring liberation– the kind that’s uncompromising, unanchored from patriarchal demands that lead to exploitation– for all womankind. The Purple Rose is artificially bred for profit, not unlike the women and children who are trafficked into the commercial sex trade. While cyclical debates around ‘choice’ and ‘sex being recategorized as work’ abound, women and children are sold and bought globally every single day. Yet the academic discussions and political fodder never seem to center their plight.
AF3IRM women know that our work and obligation is to fight for these lives. We are an organization of survivors whose stories tell of the damaging colonial legacy of fetishization and objectification. We are the descendants of generations of women who were trafficked as Comfort Women and as mail-order brides. It is in their honor that we continue to wage our decades-standing Purple Rose Campaign to end the trafficking of women, femmes, and children.
We have accomplished two victories under the banner of the Purple Rose Campaign. AF3IRM has been the lead organization directing the United States away from the criminalization of survival and toward the ultimate goal of a society that recognizes the full humanity of women and LGBTQs. Two bills aptly named Survivors Not Criminals have been passed, thanks to the hard work and tenacity of our chapters in Hawai’i and Los Angeles. The work of our chapters is proof that you can be pro-prostitute/”sex worker” without being pro-rapist.
- In 2019, AF3IRM Hawaiʻi led the passage of the first and only law in the United States to allow any person convicted of prostitution to vacate the conviction and expunge their criminal record, regardless of whether or not they were a victim of sex trafficking. The law does not extend to sex buyers or pimps.
- In Los Angeles, AF3IRM’s two-year-long organizing and advocacy campaign led to a landmark victory for survivors of sex trafficking in Los Angeles County massage establishments in 2020. AF3IRM intervened when the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors announced its intent to curb sex trafficking through health inspections of massage parlors. While health inspections present an overall public good for the most rapidly growing sector of business in the county, members of AF3IRM L.A. fought hard to ensure that survivors would not be criminalized or handed over to I.C.E. With a unanimous vote, LA County has committed to ending its failed practice of law enforcement raids, to effectively decriminalize survivors as it passed the most comprehensive overhaul of the County’s codes in decades. The county will also be implementing a hotline for community members to call in instances of suspected trafficking, instead of calling 9-1-1. This should serve as a model for preempting the criminalization of sex trafficking survivors or anyone who would otherwise be charged for prostitution.
We believe that we have set historical precedents for lawmakers to replicate. But we know that our fight does not wane at this point as the statistics remain staggering. Just early this month, the Hawaii Commission on the Status of Women and Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research released a study that reports: 1 in 5 victims had been sex trafficked as a child; 21.4 years is the average age of their first sex trafficking experience; a quarter of them were trafficked by a family member; and, 64% percent of victims identified as being all or some Native Hawaiian.
In New York City, more than 1 in 4 homeless LGBTQ youth are victims of child sexual exploitation. While in 2019, the city’s top industry was the massage and spa business, a sector that has been widely reported to be a hub for sex trafficking.
As a transnational feminist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and Native +immigrant-centered organization, AF3IRM is leading a new movement that is survivor-centered. We are fighting for the liberation of the predominantly women, femme, and children and their right to not be in the sex trade and their right to exit; as well as the decriminalization of those who currently are trading or previously traded sex for currency.
It is from our ancestral homes that predators see a steady supply of bodies to sustain this horrid industry– in the aftermath of natural disasters, wars, and in the midst of poverty brought on by imperialist conquests. Thus, what we are fighting for is not an abstract cause: We are fighting for our very lives.
When our sisters joined the gathering of women in Chiapas, Zapatista Territory in December 2019, they declared in front of around 4,000 women from 42 countries that “It is the obligation of women in the fight for liberation to always consider the global impact of the issues for which we advocate…We have a responsibility to our sisters in struggle to be extremely critical in our analysis of the global systems of exploitation and how they intersect to cement women’s oppression worldwide.”
And this is what we mean–and what we practice–when we say Liberation.
Check out our local chapters’ actions and social media blasts to raise awareness on the Purple Rose Campaign.
#PurpleRoseDay #EndSexploitation #LiberationNotSexploitation #StopSellingOutWomen