What are the first five words you think of when you hear the word “prostitution?”
If you’re anything like the subjects of St. Thomas senior Maxine Johnson’s research, negatively associated words such as “dirty” and “sex worker” might be ones that jump to mind. Johnson set out to find if – through the power of a person’s narrative – people’s attitudes could be changed about women involved with prostitution.
After asking her subjects a series of questions like the “first five words” one, Johnson showed them a two-and-a-half minute video of women sharing their life stories, their experiences, how they got into the sex trafficking market, how they got out of it and what they’re doing now. The video put a face and story to an often abstract issue. She then asked her subjects the same questions of people.
“The results were amazing. Some of the words they said before were scary, just mean and harsh. Afterward they were sympathetic,” Johnson said.
She found her subjects were more understanding: These women had not chosen prostitution, but were forced into it through abuse and circumstances well outside their control.
“It was cool to see the power of a story, what someone’s words could do to people’s mindsets,” Johnson said.
Plans for next year: Attend graduate school and pursue counseling and psychology. “I want to work with kids. I know that’s my calling,” Johnson said.