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Why Did TED Ban This Talk on Prostitution By a Survivor?

Recently, our friend Harmony Grillo, the daughter of a trafficking survivor, herself a survivor of pimp-controlled exploitation, had her TED Talk banned by TED. The video, titled, “Prostitution: The Oldest Oppression in the Book,” originally got the full tick of approval by TED who later decided to ban it for having a “political agenda.”

In the video, Harmony, the Founder and Executive Director of a nonprofit that provides recovery services to other survivors, uses stats and personal accounts to reveal how prostitution is violent and oppressive to women, and calls for sex-buying and pimping to be made illegal.

After TED banned her video, here was their response:

“This talk contains a discussion of child sexual abuse and prostitution. We’ve flagged this talk because it falls outside the content guidelines TED gives TEDx organizers around political agendas.” – TED

The thing is, TED has already given a platform to the topic of prostitution laws. When Harmony pointed out that TED already had a talk on the EXACT same topic, sharing an opposing view and promoting full decriminalization of prostitution, they went silent. The description for this video with an opposing view reads (on TED’s website):

“Everyone has an opinion about how to legislate sex work (whether to legalize it, ban it or even tax it) … but what do workers themselves think would work best?”

To that we say, what about those who were exploited in the sex industry? What do they think would be best?

What we have witnessed over and over is that a small number of privileged individuals who identify as “sex workers,” (many are actually pimps or webcam models) speak out and defend the sex industry, while completely ignoring the fact that the vast number of those in prostitution don’t see it as empowering—they want to escape it. The “pro-sex work” narrative also strives to conceal the research proving that where prostitution is legalized or decriminalized, trafficking thrives.

It’s not so much that Harmony’s talk has a political agenda, it’s that her experience as a survivor apparently doesn’t align with TED’s own agenda. Their decision to silence an expert and survivor in the anti-exploitation space is an injustice to Harmony and to survivors of commercial sexual exploitation everywhere.

The Background Story

Harmony had been applying for six years to speak on a TED stage, before she was finally accepted as a speaker. As a part of this, she went through a full application and review process with the organization. Her talk was approved and ready to share live, however, unfortunately this occurred just as Covid hit and the event was canceled indefinitely.

After waiting it out for over a year, Harmony was then invited to do a virtual version of the talk instead—to which she agreed, feeling the urgency of the issue was more important than getting to share in person. Harmony shared, “Because we wanted it to be done with excellence, we brought in our own professional videographers and editors, spending a pretty penny in the process.”

After the whole rigmarole, as soon as the video was finally posted, it came under various cyberattacks that made YouTube’s algorithm treat it like spam. Harmony’s new website, My Banned TED Talk, explains, “Someone flooded YouTube with hundreds and hundreds of videos containing pornographic thumbnails using my name and talk title. YouTube’s algorithms treated my video like spam and the only people who could see it were those with a direct link to the correct video. I finally got an attorney to help stop the cyberattacks, but the damage had already been done.”

As a result, in October of 2021, TEDx UCLA kindly suggested they remove the original and then re-upload the video, with a new title, to give it a proper chance to gain traction. (Note: TEDx is an independent organizer and a separate entity from TED. Harmony experienced nothing but support from TEDx UCLA.)

But this time, TED refused to publish the video.

After months of reaching out, the organization finally responded to Harmony’s enquiries asking for her credentials and all of the works cited in the talk. She promptly provided three full pages of references and all of her credentials but heard nothing back for months.

Here are her quite notable credentials:

  • BA in Psychology and Master’s in Social Welfare at UCLA (Magna Cume Laude)
  • UCLA: 2019 Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Award National
  • Association of Social Workers Youth Social Worker of the Year
  • Congressional Recognition in 2018
  • Mayoral Recognition 22017

Then finally, a few weeks ago, TED gave their final notice: “Upon further review, we have determined that the talk will remain unlisted on our channel.”

So why is TED silencing a survivor?

The Video

As fierce fellow advocates of the abolition model (aka the “Equality Model” which Harmony advocates for in her talk) and firm believers that prostitution fuels greater demand for sex trafficking, we stand with Harmony and her team and call out TED for blatantly taking a side on the prostitution debate. There is a clear bias in terms of voices that TED allows on their platform and their reasoning lacks any consistency or proper research. And it’s not ok.

It is not ok to silence the voices of survivors and we will not stand by while this injustice takes place.

Harmony has now removed the TED branding from her video and re-uploaded it to YouTube so her important story can still be shared with the world.

This video is a powerful and eloquent talk exposing prostitution as the system of violence and oppression that it is.

Harmony shares:

“Especially during a time when there is a huge legislative push to fully decriminalize prostitution, including pimping and sex buying, I want people to understand that prostitution is a system of violence and oppression that exploits the most vulnerable in our society. That it essentially capitalizes off of people’s poverty, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, all while fueling sex trafficking.

In my talk, I share stories and research to support this perspective as well as tangible solutions to help reduce trafficking and provide prostituted people pathways to survive without having to sell themselves.”

This message is one that desperately needs to be heard. Millions of lives hang in the balance. Harmony’s voice and the voice of survivors of the sex industry must be elevated and their stories told.

So we want to get this video viewed by as many people as possible. Here’s how you can help:



Like it, comment on it, and share it far and wide!

Learn more about the Abolition/Equality Model HERE.

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