The Tower Center sat down with Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Sara Jendrusch to discuss her research exploring the security of the commercial sex trade. Jendrusch has conducted research in Amsterdam, London and around the United States. She is majoring in English and corporate communications and public affairs, with minors in public policy and international affairs and history.
Why did you decide to study security of the commercial sex trade?
Studying the sex trade is certainly not something to take lightly. When I first became interested in it, I wanted to understand the power given to the women by the law — how were their rights and freedoms restricted? As I looked more into the subject, however, what caught my interest was not the legality or morality of the sex trade itself. Rather, it was the concerns of the individuals involved. They did not focus on the larger debates on freedom and empowerment surrounding the industry, because it simply did not matter to them. Prostitution was their means of survival. They focused on surviving and protecting themselves. It was that survival instinct I wanted to study, so as I moved forward with my research I began to examine sex workers’ concerns regarding security and protecting themselves.
Your research has taken you around the world. What did you learn from your experiences in Amsterdam and London?
My time in Amsterdam was short compared to the time I have focused on other locations. However, what I did find was that regardless of its legality, the role of law enforcement remains a large issue of concern. Those in the industry still worry about whether the police had the ability (or, more accurately, the will) to protect the workers if they were put into danger by a client for any reason.
When I studied in London, I was exposed to a different side of the sex industry. Through the non-profit I interned with, I worked with women who had been trafficked into the sex industry. Some of the larger problems that the women seemed to face had to do with the government and police force, and the assistance the women received or did not receive. More than that, however, my time in London showed me the impact that sex trafficking can have on an individual. Regardless of country, race, ethnicity, or age, these women were all tremendously hurt by their experiences, and it was one of the ugliest sides of humanity I have seen. Hearing their stories was an experience I knew I needed to have over the course of this research. It’s easy to talk about the Red Light District, or women who choose to be in the industry, or any of the lighter ways of looking at it. But in order to understand the sex trade fully, you have to acknowledge the worst, most difficult parts of it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. That full understanding is the only way we can see where the true problems lie and how we can work best with the individuals in the industry.
Have you looked into the sex trade in Dallas? How does it compare to the rest of the world?
Dallas is an interesting city to look into, because it is one of the worst areas in the United States for trafficking. However, the Dallas Police Department and the individuals I’m working with recognize this, and they have a goal of countering that status. They have developed a police system that empowers the women in the industry, as well as the officers who work the cases. It has taken a while, but the system Dallas developed is making an impact. The difference between it and other systems is that a segment of government – the police force – is at the head of it. Because of that, they can work with non-profits and other government segments to unite them all in order to attack the problems they see.
What have you found most surprising about your research?
As a communications scholar, I notice quite a bit about how people talk about the subject, and what they say or don’t say. What has been most surprising to me is how all of the people involved in the industry identify the women. Most of them view the women as victims, but they do not focus on the male prostitutes as victims. The definition of victim changes from group to group, but the title remains the same. It is a small detail, but it defines so much in the industry. How the women are viewed or defined changes how they are treated, and I cannot help but wonder if that helps or hurts the efforts of the groups trying to offer assistance to the women.
How does your research for the Tower Scholars Program fit into your goals for the future?
People ask me all the time if this is a field I want to go into. Truthfully, I don’t know. If I am able to go into the field in a position I am passionate about, I certainly am not closed to it. But I always emphasize that my choice in doing this research is not about getting into an industry or building a resume. Small as it may be, this is something that could have an impact that lasts longer than I could. It’s something that can be used as is or built upon, depending on what the industry needs as time passes. That’s why I am passionate about this research – it gives me the chance to leave a small footprint behind, and if it can help even one woman, then I have succeeded in something.