Trigger/content warning: discussion of sexual exploitation, violence, trauma
“All of these oppressions — racism, sexism, transphobia, classism, colonialism, etc. — intersect to form and sustain the sex trade,” said Dahlia Locke PO ’25, president of WorldWe Youth 5C.
WorldWe Youth 5C is the 5C chapter of the broader national anti-sex trafficking and sex trade abolition organization World Without Exploitation. Established last year, the club confronts the realities of the sex trade through education and discussions about the intricacies of the commercial sex industry, particularly in terms of who is involved and why.
Aligned with its core mission, WorldWe Youth 5C hosted their second Sex Trade 101 semi-interactive presentation and conversation on Oct. 3 at the Motley Coffeehouse.
Locke underlined the significance of the venue choice in creating an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for the event.
“The nature of holding an event versus a meeting allowed us to bring more people into the space who haven’t heard a lot about the issue, or are just interested in learning more,” Locke said. “The inviting history of the Motley facilitates a homey environment.”
Attendee Sofia Buntz SC ’25 also felt the setting of the coffeehouse allowed for a productive conversation.
“I felt like the Motley and the presenters helped facilitate a space where people could comfortably engage with the material, which was so important given its extreme gravity and sensitivity,” Buntz said.
World Without Exploitation’s Youth Coalition, which Locke co-chairs, carefully crafted the curriculum for this event in collaboration with experts.
First, the presentation delved into a deconstruction of terms involving the sex trade using intentional sentiment.
“Using survivor-centered language from the start is integral to setting the tone for the discussion and being inclusive of the majority of survivors’ experiences in the prostitution system,” Locke said.
Attendee Evelyn Lillemoe PZ ’25 was able to deepen her understanding of the lexicon associated with this complex dialogue.
“People make decisions to survive. What’s really important is that we take a look at the broader structural inequalities at play,” said Dahlia Locke, President of World We Youth 5C.
“The discussion left me with a better understanding of the terminology surrounding sex trafficking,” Lillemoe said.
One of the central topics of discussion was disrupting the assumption that “sex work” is empowering.
“We use terms like the sex trade and prostituted people instead of ‘sex work’ and ‘sex workers’ to reflect the majority of experiences in the industry,” Lena Farley PO ’25, the club’s communications coordinator, said.
Locke talked about the importance of expanding the conversation to broader systemic issues rather than individuals.
“It’s really missing the point,” Locke said. “People make decisions to survive. What’s really important is that we take a look at the broader structural inequalities at play.”
Locke made an intentional and careful point to reinforce that they are not trying to shame anyone involved in the industry.
“We are critiquing a system of exploitation here, not the exploited,” Locke said.
As an example, Farley cited a 2003 study that found 89 percent of individuals in nine countries wanted to escape prostitution, but did not have other options for survival.
Locke and Farley wanted to utilize this event to raise consciousness on the intersecting oppressive systems responsible for constructing and perpetuating sexual exploitation and violence. The presenters elevated a quote from Alisa Bernard, survivor of prostitution and policy expert: “Poverty is the best pimp.”
“By understanding how these oppressions shape the realities of the sex trade, we gain a better understanding of how to dismantle it,” Eloísa Tirres PO ’25, Outreach Coordinator at WorldWe Youth 5C, said.
The presentation then moved towards examining various policy initiatives and their potential myriad of harmful consequences. Notably, club leaders pointed out flaws in the legalization and full decriminalization of the commercial sex industry.
“Legalization and full decriminalization policies predominantly serve exploiters,” Nayla Dayal SC ’25 said, the Intercollegiate Coordinator of WorldWe Youth 5C. “Within these policies, the sex trade expands as the demand for paid sex skyrockets and more women are coerced into prostitution to fill this heightened demand.”
Leaders shared with the audience the policy model they are advocating for — partial decriminalization, also known as the Equality Model. This model proposes a more nuanced approach. It would hold sex buyers, brothel owners and pimps accountable, decriminalizing the act of selling sex and offering essential exit and support services to survivors.
“The policy we push for and the way we educate others is shaped by the voices and lived experience of survivors,” Tirres said.
According to Tirres, the club fosters a more compassionate and informed college community that actively works towards reducing harm and improving the well-being of those affected by the sex trade.
“Our hope is to be an organization rooted in care and empowerment, which are both necessary when tackling something as complex as the sex trade,” Tirres said.
Both Tirres and Locke believe addressing misconceptions concerning the commercial sex trade is of the utmost importance. They said they want to recenter the narrative around the material reality of what prostituted people are experiencing and away from privileged postulations in insulated classrooms.
“In the context of the 5Cs, this issue is commonly perceived as one that revolves around ideas of choice and agency,” said Locke, “this is a privileged perspective to have.”
However, Locke described how privilege affects the information people consume.
“More privilege means a bigger platform,” Locke said. “The vast majority of prostituted people are experiencing incredible marginalization. It’s doubtful they’ll pop up on your TikTok feed. Don’t let the experiences of a privileged minority speak on behalf of survivors.”
For WorldWe Youth 5C, providing education is crucial to their mission. Nevertheless, Locke explained it is up to students to take the initiative to learn and make positive change.
“After I had spoken with survivors and become more educated on this issue, I became conscious of how many different issues intersect with commercial sexual exploitation,” Locke said. “It’s perceived as niche but it’s really not. It affects all of our lives.”
More information about WorldWe Youth 5C can be found through their Instagram: @WorldWeYouth5C