(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
The past five weeks in New Orleans have really gone by so quickly. I think that the craziest part about this has experience has been slowly beginning to feel like I too am a part of the New Orleans community. While I have spent much time exploring the beautiful French Quarter, Uptown, the Garden District, Metairie, and Tulane, I also have been exposed to aspects of the city that desperately need improvement.
I think my community partner, is largely responsible for my feeling of belonging in the city. My community partner is a wonderful organization that helps homeless youth become independent members of society. My time at has been split between working with finance and policy.
My organization has a strong interest in human trafficking, as many of the youth who end up at their organization have been victims of trafficking. As a result, it has been active in pursuing policies that decrease human trafficking in New Orleans. Interestingly, New Orleans is a hub for human trafficking. A contributor to this is the nightlife that New Orleans is so famous for, namely Bourbon Street. My organization was active in pursuing a city law that mandated that strip club dancers be at least 21. Now, it is pushing to increase regulation enforcement and limit the number of strip clubs citing studies linking strip clubs to increased crime and human trafficking.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the city hall meeting where citizens had the opportunity to discuss their opinions on the recommendations of the city council staff. I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was walking into. I had heard that city council meetings were generally dry and monotonous. I walked into this meeting to see the room packed. There must have been 300 people at the meeting. Every seat was taken and many people were standing along the walls. Young girls walked by wearing “Let Us Dance” stickers and holding “I Love Strippers” signs.
For three hours I heard many young girls, many who were my age, discuss how dancing at strip clubs was a job for them and a source of income. They expressed their worries regarding the type of work they would have to enter if their strip club was closed or if more regulations were put in place or enforced. I also heard the director of my community partner speak about how it was necessary to protect those who were vulnerable.
Throughout this meeting, I kept thinking back to my public policy ethics class where we studied sex work. We studied a variety of views from those who believed that no one can honestly choose sex work for a living as it by nature dwells on the vulnerabilities of women to beliefs that women should be able to engage in sex work like any other business.
I am so thankful for the efforts of my community partner to stop human trafficking. Sitting in that meeting made me realize how greatly complex the issue is. Taking steps to end human trafficking, a problem everyone sees as a moral wrong can affect the lives of others who are working in an industry that they see as a means to a job. Even then, however, there are conflicting views on whether allowing an industry to exist that capitalizes on women’s sexuality is morally acceptable. This was the most striking experience that I have had on this trip so far where I considered my coursework at Duke, my internship, and greater issues that exist in my host community.