The Cupcake Girls is an organization combating sex trafficking. Based in Las Vegas and Portland, their mission is to provide confidential support to anyone involved in the sex industry and to survivors of sex trafficking. They provide assistance to consensual sex workers, offer a safe space, promote trauma-informed outreach and make resources and referral services available to anyone who has been impacted by sex trafficking.
On Sept. 30, The Cupcake Girls hosted a booth at the Coop art market on the Lewis & Clark campus as part of their outreach mission.
The organization is volunteer run, with a very small staff team. When Amy Marie Merrell became the executive director in 2021, the organization underwent several important changes after receiving criticism for pushing consensual sex workers to leave the industry and failing to include sex workers or sex trafficking survivors on the board. The Cupcake Girls responded to the critiques accordingly, addressing everything they could to improve the organization.
Though there are many different organizations that aim to help survivors of sex trafficking, the majority of those organizations do not include consensual sex workers. “Rights Not Rescue” is one of The Cupcake Girls’ mottos.
“The vital thing about our organization is that we are an anti sex trafficking organization. We want to see sex trafficking and human trafficking eradicated. But there are not a lot of anti sex trafficking organizations that support consensual sex workers and want to empower them, and actually see them as vital to eradicating sex trafficking as well,” said Grace Aasen, the community engagement manager for the Cupcake Girls.
Though the overall number of people experiencing human trafficking and sex trafficking has slightly decreased in the past few years, the problem persists. It does not look like it does in Hollywood movies, and for that reason, it is much harder to recognize. What Hollywood rarely addresses is the aftermath and support needed for survivors, like the kind that the Cupcake Girls offer.
“We have in-house services, like one-on-one advocacy. We have weekly support groups. We just started a free store last December that offers harm reduction supplies, menstrual products, clothing, makeup, personal health care items, plan B and Narcan, all for free. And it’s open to the community,” Aasen said.
The Cupcake Girls also offer financial assistance in the form of grants. These can be used to help cover the cost of resources, such as food or monthly rent, but can also be used for things like visiting a lawyer. The organization offers in-house assistance, in addition to referring people out into the community.
“We work with an empowerment model, not a rescue model, not a savior model. We’re non-religious and nonpolitical in our operations and how we do our work. We’re not here to ‘save’ anyone from a situation. We’re here to ensure that participants have autonomy and consent to work with us, and we’re working with them agenda-free,” said Aasen. “We’re providing connections to resources, and we’re not going to try and negate anyone from doing consensual sex work.”
One of The Cupcake Girls’ goals is to decriminalize sex work. Currently, under Oregon law, it is illegal to facilitate prostitution, meaning that it is illegal to purchase or sell sexual acts.
“We’re hoping that more education on what decriminalization looks like will allow more conversations that need to be had, about both consensual sex workers and survivors of sex trafficking,” Aasen said. “We’re talking about decriminalization, sex education, access to getting tested for STIs and all of the things that people might need. These conversations need to be had.”
There are also things individuals can do to help decrease sex trafficking and human trafficking. They can look into local organizations where they can donate their time or money, or do more research into laws passed by different presidential administrations that impact sex workers. There are many easily available online articles regarding the decriminalization of sex work.
“We are volunteer-run, and we’re always looking for folks that want to volunteer their time, intern with us, or be a community partner,” Aasen said. “There are definitely lots of ways for folks to be involved. They can donate their time, or make donations to the free store.”
There are always ways to support organizations such as the Cupcake Girls. Find them on Instagram @cupcakegirlsorg or online at www.cupcakegirls.org. The more traction these organizations get, the more support they are able to offer.