04/03/2013 11:45 GMT

Prostitution And Sex Trafficking Survivor Stories Campaign Launched By Equality Now

The personal stories of women who have escaped trafficking and sexual exploitation are the focus of a new campaign to coincide with start of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Stories from women all over the world, including the UK, will be released online by Equality Now on a monthly basis, in an effort to combat pro-prostitution arguments, and highlight sex trafficking.

Lauren Hersh, director of Equality Now’s sex trafficking program, said: “By sharing their experiences and perspectives these brave women are exposing the realities of sexual exploitation, helping shape more effective anti-trafficking policy and influencing passage of legislation that will better protect women and girls around the world."

Andrea Matolcsi, Programme Officer for Trafficking for Equality Now, told HuffPost UK that the stories were a way of combatting myths about 'happy hookers'.

She said: "We often hear the refrain 'what do the women what, what do they think of the current laws?' This is a way to bring their voices out, what do the women actually think?

"Often we hear from groups that the system is fine, we just need better working conditions for prostitutes, safer conditions. And they say it is not prostitution which is harmful but the conditions and regulations.

"We want to bring voices to the forefront, women who have experienced prostitution, who can say 'we have been there' and violence and degradation are inherent to prostitution."

The focus of this month's launch campaign, launched on Monday, is the story of Alma, from the Philippines. Campaigners hope her story will put pressure on the US military and the exploitation of women in countries which have large US army bases.

Speaking under a false name, Alma describes being forced into prostitution in Olongapo City, home to a thriving US military base in the 1980s.

"One day, a [US] serviceman offered the manager a “bar-fine” for me. I refused, saying that I was just a waitress. The manager told me that if I didn’t go, I would lose my job.

"He threatened to withhold my transfer documents, papers releasing me from his employment and allowing me to work elsewhere. I was scared that my children and I would end up homeless and hungry, so I reluctantly agreed.

"Once I asked a customer, 'Why do you like Filipina women so much?” He replied, “Because the women are cheap, way cheaper than Japanese women. And besides, you can do what you like. Here the women are always smiling. They pretend that they like it.'"

One of the objectives Alma has in telling her story is to lobby for the criminalisation of those who pay for prostitutes, the so-called 'Nordic' model, where prostitutes themselves are not criminalised. Critics say the law continues to enforce a stereotypes and stigma against prostitutes and make working conditions more dangerous.

Alma says in her story: "In my country, people believe that prostitutes are criminals and buyers are the victims. This is wrong.

"When women are not given equal opportunities for employment or education, their options are limited and they grow desperate. Because women are often viewed as powerless sex objects they are constantly driven into the sex industry. "

Matolcsi told HuffPost UK that was something they too were lobbying on. "We are supporting efforts to push that here in the UK. There's an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group into the Global Sex Trade, who recently called for submissions on this topic.

"Scotland and Northern Ireland are considering it, and we are helping with submissions on that in all the UK countries."

One of the women featured in the campaign is Rebecca, from Manchester.

"I was abused by my step-father from the age of six. I told my mother but she didn’t care. She was just concerned about me not getting pregnant.

"There was a club in our town where if you were a girl and under 16, the bouncers would let you in for free at the end of the night.

"My friend, who, like me, was completely fucked up and hated the world, took me there. It was strange because we were told to sit at the bar, not talk to each other and were given lots of cocktails.

"It all felt very sophisticated. I was 14. On that first night some men took me to a flat and gang raped me for 6 hours.

"There was a queue of men outside the door; one would finish and another would come in.

"Now, when I look back, it feels like it was a test to see if I would be a good prostitute. I don’t know how I made it out alive."