Though Norma Hotaling, a nationally recognized advocate for the sexually exploited, died at 57 in 2008, she left an amazing legacy. Specifically the founding of SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation).
Ms. Hotaling, tapped by Oprah Winfrey’s “Angel” award program, overcame her own childhood sexual abuse and drug addictions to become an innovative and passionate leader committed to ending the commercial sex trade, coming up with unique social programs that have since been replicated nationwide.
When she spoke, Norma Hotaling used experiences from her own prostitution that moved her audience to tears while educating them about the cruelty of prostitution. She made it clear that almost everyone in prostitution had a burning desire to get out. Yet when Hotaling herself was struggling to escape prostitution, the only available services were inside jails.
At a San Francisco Health Department hearing on harm reduction Ms. Hotaling described the time in her life when she was turning tricks, was addicted to heroin and was prostituting for a pimp who frequently beat her but to whom she was attached. She described having approached a San Francisco health department program to ask for help and they told her she should resolve her heroin addiction. In the meeting, Ms Hotaling said, “You don’t understand, I said I need help.”
Norma Hotaling dedicated her life to what is called harm elimination in today’s public health language: providing women, men, and the transgendered in prostitution not only condoms and emotional support but services informed by an understanding of the multitraumatic nature of prostitution. Rather than assuming that exit from prostitution was impossible, as some allege, Ms. Hotaling fought for the right of those in prostitution to the same quality of life that others in society have.
Ms. Hotaling’s legacy is that the help she herself sought is now far better understood by public health agencies, even if budgets are not yet offering those services to the thousands of people in prostitution who seek to escape it. Her pioneering work lives on in the expansion of services for trafficked and prostituted people, and in the requirement of accountability for those who buy and sell human beings. The loss of Ms. Hotaling is felt and mourned by the thousands of people she touched in her too brief life. Donations are requested to SAGE Project, 1275 Mission Street, San Francisco 94103, in honor of her life and work.