The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women (CATW) is a global group who frequently joins hands with other women’s rights organizations in order to reach the goal of their mission: to save all women and end sex trafficking. Oftentimes when CATW speaks of sex trafficking it's referred to as modern day slavery.
One of the defining features of this Coalition is their picketing and protests. Most recently this has been taking place in New York, where it’s governor was given the START ACT which would give relief from prosecution to actions women participated in while they were being sex trafficked.
The main medium of art in The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women is signs; pickets, cardboard, pizza boxes or poster boards. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors but their messages are the same- they want freedom for women from the sex trafficking industry. One of the things that threatens their mission is the decriminalization of sex work, which has gone up to vote several times in different places, including New York City.
One of the critiques of this group is their goal to end all sex work- even that which is completely voluntary and in control of the person providing those services. This has caused quite the clash between CATW and certain corners of women’s rights activist groups. While CATW argues that as long as sex work still exists, sex trafficking will too. Those who support sex work argue that by making it legal the rate of sex trafficking should decrease, alongside the argument that women should be able to do what they want with their own bodies.
This puts CATW in a difficult position. While their mission is admirable, in order to accomplish it they have had to isolate from certain feminist groups, specifically those who support legal sex work. A large part of activist groups is working alongside other groups with similar missions to work towards a larger picture agenda.
In the CATW's case that would be ending sex trafficking. But by taking the stance that all sex work is bad they willingly are ostracising themselves from other large feminist organizations that could aide them in their mission. Ultimately, they are fighting for women’s rights while fighting against women’s rights groups.
Aside from the START ACT, some other campaigns they have ongoing in the states includes promoting the removal of strip club ads from certain types of advertisements like on the tops of taxi cars. Another one of their campaigns includes recognizing wartime sexual slavery; giving recognition to the often forgotten roles of ‘comfort women’ given to japanese women during world war 2. These were government sponsored brothels and it is estimated that over 200 thousand girls and women were trafficked specifically by the Japanese government at this time.
CATW, like many other organizations involved in political change, has a large hand in picketing. These often hand made signs are considered artwork as well as a piece of history. Because most of the artwork associated with CATW is not authored, it can be difficult to follow the usage of certain types of signage showing up at multiple protests. But many sayings are repeated in ongoing protests, which can be tracked from pictures of these events. Some of the most used included “End Human Trafficking”, and “We are not for sale” alongside many signs showing statistics of sex trafficking.
Most of CATW’s tactics are through protest and online social engagement, using petitions, strong imagery alongside statistics and word of mouth to spread their message and try to obtain their goals.
Another large critique about CATW has to do with with their founders and other large scale organization leaders. Many of CATW’s higher ups, including the founder are white americans. The way they chose to exemplify those in nations of color gives off disingenuous tones. Many have criticized that CATW suffers from a white savior complex, using white voices of outcry to ‘save’ those of color.
While people of color are at a more disadvantageous place to fall into sex trafficking is true, and just because you are white and care about an issue mostly affected by people of color doesn’t make you a white savior, the lack of people of color on any sort of board or visible leadership role shows a lack of foresight and true community of varied voices within CATW. So when they specifically put programs on their front page about saving women of color from third world countries, it seems to a lot of people that they are doing it less so for actual charity and more for the publicity or 'brownie points'.
The biggest downfall in this of course is that not everyone agrees with the way CATW goes about their mission. Not only does their denial of consentual sex work ostracize their organization from other groups of women’s activists, it frames these sex workers as perpetrators, as those continuing the horrific crimes that happen to women. Though they are trying to raise silenced women’s voices, they are selective in the voices they chose to uplift. This of course is furthered by not having any sort of board of varied voices, such as those of the minority groups they seek to help.
CATW has accomplished some great things in the past- including helping getting the STARS ACT passed in New York. But their work is far from over, and considereing the way they go about their mission leaves many questions as to weather they will ever attain their main objective- to end sex trafficking.