Berkeley residents speak out on prostitution

By Melissa McRobbie
Monday October 07, 2002


Testimony from former teenage prostitute Jill Leighton drove home the message about the abuses of prostitution at the “Speak-Out on Prostitution” Friday at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. 

There was barely a dry eye among nearly 50 listeners as Leighton recounted her experiences as a 14-year-old runaway who said she was forced into prostitution to earn a living. Sexually abused from the age of five, Leighton was kicked out by her parents nine years later and found herself living in a cemetery until being lured into prostitution by a man who offered to help her, she explained. 

Stories like Leighton’s are far too common and need to be heard, said speakers at Friday’s event, most of whom were former prostitutes like Leighton. Organizer Angie Bortel explained that the point of the event was “to provide a forum for women in prostitution to speak out, not to denigrate women working in the sex industry.” 

The speak-out preceded observance of the International Day of No Prostitution Oct. 5. Events were planned in locations throughout the world including Australia, Russia, Nigeria, the Philippines and several cities in the United States  

Speaker Tracey Helton argued that poverty and prostitution go hand in hand, and that other issues are also invariably linked to the decision to sell sex. “You can’t talk about the sex industry without talking about racism and sexism,” she said. 

The speak-out was followed Saturday evening by a walking tour and protest of a prostitution-plagued area of San Francisco. 

Participants in Friday’s event included Shelter Against Violent Environments, Escape: The Prostitution Prevention Project, Standing Against Global Exploitation and the Gabriela Project, an organization fighting the international trafficking of Filipina women. 

The Boalt Hall Women’s Association and the Center for Race and Gender sponsored the speak-out. 


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