If you had told radical feminist and political activist Natasha Chart five years ago that she would be fired from her advocacy job for objecting to the prostitution of minors, she wouldn't have believed that anyone could be fired for that reason.
Yet Chart, 43, who hails from New York and is the board chair of the radical feminist group Women's Liberation Front, was terminated in August 2015 from her political advocacy job for doing exactly that.
She opted to speak with The Christian Post, she said, "because I have been hoping that someone could be bothered to care that there is a significant and influential portion of the left-aligned and mainstream human rights activist community that both believes that 'youth sex work' should be made legal, and that they have the clout to get people fired from political and media jobs for making concerns about that public."
"The progressive press won't touch it, the regular press doesn't seem to follow these issues, and self-publishing a story like this would likely have been pointless," Chart said. "And I know most of the audience of a publication like The Christian Post might not sympathize with my political views, but I would rather hope that everyone reading would look beyond me, and to the institutional rot of a political edifice that was so easily taken over by a sex industry advocacy that's alien to its founding principles."
Chart is a former Jehovah's Witness who doesn't presently identify with any religious tradition and whose politics are decidedly left of center. She is supportive of abortion rights, for example.
But no one is served when trusted civil society institutions utilize their clout, on what is most likely an unsuspecting membership, to quietly further a "pimping agenda," she went on to say, an agenda its promoters know better than to broadcast publicly.
"My friends and colleagues over several years know this happened. Hundreds of feminist journalists and academics in the United States know this happened. They didn't all agree, but none of them said one public word in my defense. None of the women associated with mainstream feminist media or scholarship spoke up."
"If they could be intimidated into overlooking this, what's next? How long will it be the case that an anti-trafficking bill can be supported in the Senate on a 97–2 vote, where the dissent came in from the tech industry, on technicalities?" she asked, referencing the recently signed Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.
If this goes unaddressed it is only a matter of time before the sex industry is considered "respectable" enough to emerge from the shadows and begin openly sponsoring a political caucus, as is the case in the Netherlands and Australia, she maintained, describing the gravity of the situation in hopes that such things never happen.
Allowing 'Youth Sex Workers' for 'Public Health' Reasons
As a staffer at what was once known as RH Reality Check, which is now called Rewire.News — a left-leaning news outlet that describes its mission as "providing news and investigative research on reproductive and sexual health, rights and justice" — Chart said she started noticing cult-like behavior among her fellow colleagues in 2013.
Such antics were all too familiar to her given her Jehovah's Witness background and their excommunication practice known as "disfellowshipping" people who left the church. People are not allowed to communicate and interact with excommunicants unless it's absolutely necessary, according to Jehovah's Witness teaching.
She began watching the various feminist Twitter networks closely and frequently observed individuals being singled out, chastised, and demonized for things as simple as a misplaced word, for holding an unpopular opinion, or dissenting from the prevailing views on the left. She had not seen this in her previous political work in the labor movement.
"There was this really intense policing about who you are allowed to talk to, who you are allowed to know," she said, "whose arguments you are allowed to respond to, who is allowed to quote whom. It was a disturbing sort of social environment."
Soon, the embrace of legalizing prostitution and general acceptance of the sex trade, something with which Chart strongly disagreed, became more apparent. She began reading radical feminist analyses of prostitution such as Swedish journalist Kajsa Ekis Ekman's book, Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy, and the Split Self, and Canadian writer Meghan Murphy, who is editor of the website Feminist Current. Despite being on the left, feminists like Murphy and Ekman were supposedly so reviled among Chart's circles that even retweeting them or saying their names was verboten.
But Chart found Ekman's, Murphy's and other similar radical feminists' writings in fierce opposition to the sex trade persuasive. It especially resonated with her given how a "wannabe boyfriend pimp" once attempted to steer her into prostitution when she was a teenager. She had a bad feeling about it and ultimately resisted his manipulations.
As the days went by it would become ever clearer that the promotion of the sex trade was a cause being backed by prominent people, and she could stay quiet no longer.
"I sort of assumed people did not know that was going on, but I wasn't sure what to say or do about it," Chart told CP.
"I wasn't sure what I was seeing. I kind of couldn't believe people were making these arguments."
When she dared to criticize a few things on political staffer mailing lists, particularly Amnesty International's embrace of legalizing the sex trade in 2015 and its outlining of a "sex workers bill of rights" — which employed human rights and labor rights language to frame "sex work" as a profession like any other job — she ran into opposition. The esteemed human rights organization has long been influenced by Douglas Fox, the owner of England's largest escort agency and an activist with the International Union of Sex Workers.
The U.K. branch of Amnesty International has in recent years denied Fox was involved with crafting its policy. Fox, however, has publicly taken credit for his long advocacy with the organization. During one of Amnesty International's internal debates in the months leading up to the change in stance toward embracing the sex trade under the banner of human rights, a policy document outlining the shift was leaked to journalist Julie Bindel, author of the book, The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth, who exposed the draft proposal-in-process. Amnesty International then distanced itself from Fox amid public outcry.
Chart's boss told her on Aug. 11, 2015 — in emails The Christian Post obtained — that her criticisms on mailing lists of Amnesty International's policy had "crossed a line" and she was forbidden from doing that, even though Chart never presented it as her employer's official position.
Her opinions on the issue were further bolstered upon reading even more articles in support of legalizing prostitution and more human rights advocates lending their voices in support of it, including articles speaking of "youth" in the trade.
When the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, tweeted an Aug. 6, 2015, article in The Nation by Melissa Gira Grant — author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work — in praise of Amnesty's policy decriminalizing prostitution, Chart voiced her disgust on Twitter, and replied with a link to Grant's essay on "Youth in sex work and the sex trade." Roth tweeted comments of his own along with Grant's article, asking: "All want to end poverty, but in meantime why deny poor women the option of voluntary sex work?"
Chart assumed that for the head of a human rights advocacy group to associate with people backing the prostitution of young people would horrify most people. She told CP she must have deleted that tweet but nevertheless took her complaints to a private mailing list and confronted Grant about the previous article directly, and "that's when the real pushback started."
"Nobody could really support this, right?" a flabbergasted Chart recalled thinking at the time. She then brought up the issue with her boss during a regular weekly phone call just days after seeing it.
"I told her about some of my experiences as a teenager that were sketchy, that I'd been one of those kids with a chip on her shoulder; a kid that every adult could come along and see and exploit," she explained, expressing that she couldn't understand why anyone thought minors being exploited in the sex trade was a good idea.
Her boss then reportedly drew in her breath and said: "Well, it's more of a public health approach."
Upon hearing her say that, Chart's jaw hit the floor and she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach, relieved that they were speaking by phone and not a video chat so her boss couldn't see her shock and revulsion. She started taking notes to remember what she was hearing.
"I could not believe that the words 'public health' were being used in this context," Chart recalled, aghast.
Her boss did say that she also used to be concerned about this when she first learned of it but had seen so much research that allayed her doubts. She told her that in India, when sex worker unions are empowered and organize together, they keep minors out of the sex trade on their own.
"But it's pretty easy to verify from public reporting that minors in the sex trade is a problem in India," Chart explained to CP. She soon realized her employer's claim could not possibly be true since "children grow up in brothels to mothers who have been prostituted, and they grow up in the trade being sold themselves with never a chance to escape that life."
Barely able to think and not knowing what to say next, she changed the subject and the two then discussed a lengthy essay she had written and intended to publish. Chart told her she wanted to take it elsewhere if the editorial team did not want it. She obtained permission from her editor to publish it on another radical feminist blog the following day.