Reaching the media, Sex Workers Against Rape

We’ve briefly touched on this as a topic in various forums but never really gone forward with it.   This is a hard topic but one I honestly believe we have to put forward.  The media couches our movement, our efforts at social justice behind the myth that we are a very small fringe of all sex workers that both have not suffered violence but also are rich, affluent, spoiled brats making way too much money or in denial about what we have and do deal with and suffer.

We advocate fighting oppression, fighting violence, fighting discrimination, fighting coercion, yet this is missed by the media and very well played by the prohibitionists as exclusively their domain.  We are repeatedly blown off with these ridiculous terms as “pro trafficking”.  No one is pro trafficking other than traffickers and I don’t know anyone who is pro trafficking.  Is there anyone in our movement that wants someone coerced into the sex industry?  Is there anyone in our movement that wants to see a sex worker raped, assaulted, or harmed?  No.  Those are the very issues we are fighting against.  While our reasons for fighting for social justice for sex workers are many, I have never been part of a more inclusive, more united, more willing to be respectful of diversity group of people in my life than the sex worker rights movement.

Thus my thoughts whether popular or unpopular within our movement here they are.

We have to speak out against violence that we suffer, that we have suffered.  Obviously no one should be expected, forced, anticipated or even remotely pushed into outing their past suffering.  But those that are able and willing to do so.  We need to.  It is easy for reporters to slot audiences against us when they are able to portray us in the light of the never victimized high priced escort.  And yes there are many of them and yes their voices are just as important as anyone’s.   I’m not denying the importance of the voices of sex workers that were never harmed.  We all have very important voices.  But some of us are victim/survivor, however one self defines of various forms of harm.  We need to present this part of our movement too.  When a victim/survivor of trauma from our movement comes forward and says yes, I suffered this in the sex industry, or as a child, or both, we become much more accessible to people who would otherwise miss us and flock to those put forward by the prohibitionists.  That some of us come forward and say yes, these things that were very wrong happened to me in the sex industry which is why I advocate for sex worker rights, these things that were very wrong happened to me in the sex industry, as a child, whatever, BUT prohibitionist/end demand ideologies only make things worse, people have a much harder time dismissing us.  Or putting us into the slots that the prohibitionists so want us to be in.

I am the one in six childhood abuse survivors, I suffered violence in the sex industry, BUT, I advocate sex worker rights.  I do it by choice, I am aware of the various other ideologies, I’m not brainwashed by some monolithic pro porn movement as critics charge,  I’m not rich, I live paycheck to paycheck, worry about bills, am happy when I come home from work and the dog hasn’t gone potty on the floor,  in other words I’m human.  Just like 20/20’s viewers.  I don’t want to be glamorized, pitied, studied, or rescued.  I left the sex industry in 1995 because I chose to.  Not because I was running from it, not to beat an addiction, but because I wanted to do something else.  The same reason I have left many other jobs.  The same reason others leave their jobs.

When I did need help, when I was facing violence and coercion in the sex industry, none of the current anti trafficking measures would have applied or helped, I couldn’t go the cops or the justice system because in the US being a prostitute is illegal,  the clients getting arrested,,, so what???  Great so the whole thing which was underground in the first place just moves farther underground.  Not to mention I went into the sex industry for a reason.  To make money to survive.  I didn’t need the clients arrested because they were clients, I was there to make money to eat, to live, there was a need for the clients.   I needed the ones arrested that beat the shit out of me, or raped me, or forced me to do things without my consent.  I needed them arrested for rape, for assault, not on some minor misdemeanor that they could wash away with a visit to “John School” in some lame ass plea bargain.  I needed labor and human rights so that an abusive, sadistic pimp, didn’t have criminalization to use against me to keep under control.  As long as the whole thing is illegal the cops were more his allies than they ever could have been mine as I was more afraid of being arrested, or worse, being blown off because I was a prostitute and sent back to him to face a very angry pimp.  I needed human rights.  Not more than the rest of the world should get, but not less either.  Perhaps what people don’t like about the sex worker rights movement is that we want to determine our own course.  We don’t want to be rescued, or be research guinea pigs, or stereotyped.  We are individuals and human beings.  We are hugely diverse.

But we are fighting for social justice, we are fighting against oppression, we are fighting for human, civil and labor rights for reasons and those are often being missed by the media or the messages are being hijacked by the prohibitionists and their misguided conflagrations and stereotypes.  Prohibitionist researchers who were never sex workers and know little about them other than their 2 hour interviews with loaded questions slanted for desired results.  I’ve been to the big prohibitionist conferences and the biggest topics tend to be the number of stars of the hotel rating, how disappointing the eggs were at the continental breakfast or that their hotel suites had bad color schemes.  I’ve been to their conferences and been given the list of prohibited words, phrases and ideologies that will be stricken from the record if used and/or lead to expulsion from the conference.  These are some of the reasons I left that movement in 2002.  I’ve never seen that kind of garbage at sex worker rights meetings conferences, events, even if those same events are nothing more than a meeting at an unheated, poorly lit space that some other org is letting us borrow, with no meal service other than what we bring for ourselves, but we are there because we are working on issues, social change and fighting oppression.  Not because we are being funded by the USDOJ to stay in Washington DC Hotels after having to suffer the “indignity” of flying in coach because the Government wouldn’t agree to pay first class as some of the suffering prohibitionists did in 2002.

I’ve never known a more passionate, tolerant, empathetic, and authentic group of people than I have met in the sex worker rights movement.  There is a great amount of humanity in our movement.  Let’s make sure media sees that.   Yes I suffered in the sex industry and as a child.  But I want to choose my own path, my own career choices, and determine the propriety of my own experiences not have them reframed as some prohibitionist based projects would do for me.  We don’t need to be rescued, we need fucking rights and the people who best know this are the sex workers themselves, not the politicians, not the researchers, not the media.  But we have to be heard and people have to see us as three dimensional human beings and sometimes that means risking exposing our vulnerabilities.  For those who can do so we should.  Let Diane Sawyer argue with the sex worker who says yes I was harmed in the sex industry BUT I don’t want SAGE to rescue me, I want the same rights as Diane has as my path to not being harmed by my industry just as she shouldn’t be harmed in hers.

 

16 Responses

  1. Great point, Jill, and your passion was so powerful. However, I have a suggestion for anybody who reads this. I ask that people not refer to the prohibitionists as abolitionists. By doing this, we’re unintentially talking about them like they’re the anti-slavery activists of the 1800’s, who were also called abolitionists. I definately don’t associate the prostitution prohibitionists with that movement. I think we’re the abolitionists because we’re the ones who are working to end the prohibitionist policies against prostitution. I don’t mean to be nitpicky about semantics, but the type of rhetoric we use is a very important component of our advocacy.
    Otherwise, great post and I loved the passion you exuded!

  2. You are completely right SWR and I have made changes in the verbiage! Thank you!

  3. That was really beautiful.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story here. It is the story that they don’t get: abuse survivor AND sex worker rights advocate.

    I also want to second that I have never found a more accepting movement than the sex workers rights movement. It’s a movement where I can feel secure about being myself and stating my true opinins.

  5. Jessica, just think how much easier life would be if you joined Farley/Hughes/Craft’s prohibitionist movement. You wouldn’t have to worry about being accepted, as long as you did exactly what they told you to do. You wouldn’t have to worry about being yourself, because you wouldn’t matter, you would only be a statistic, and you’d never have to worry about stating your true opinions. You would have one of the many Doctor’s PhD’s and in Craft’s case, a private investigator to express them for you. You would be safe in the knowledge that you didn’t have to be anything other than a statistic and they would take care of all the rest of the thinking and speaking for you.

    Now that is fucking liberation. Forget sex worker rights. Join the prohibitionists and you can be truly be free.

  6. We need a whole truth and reconciliation commission just like in South Africa. So that all the workers can come forward to tell what
    life has been line under the occupation of the religious feminist nazi police state. We need to tell about the how the 100 years of criminalization has lead to workers being sexually assaulted by the state. Today I spoke to some of the Asian massage parlor workers and they told how police help themselves to workers’ personal possessions including but not limited to, cash and damage of the workers’ property in arrests and raids. The ugly hurtful statements and actions agents of the state make to because they believe that they have the right to met out any and all forms of humiliations and punishment they can think of and get away with.
    Many of the workers are US citizens but have never voted. Do you think that in all the time those idiots are out there handing out condoms and driving poeple to spread their legs to get examined they could have registered the workers to vote?
    Our democracy doesn’t work half the time because the poverty pimps’ priorities aren’t worker centered.
    We want restorative justice, real restorative justice. Not the bill of word games listed on the SAGE website. Not the kind were arresting workers and calling us victims and arresting our customers and calling them perpetrators and then diverting monies slated for our services into the police, the DA’s and the poverty pimp SAGE’s salaries.
    We want real restorative justice were the police have to give back what they took, with interest.

  7. Right fucking on, Maxine.

  8. How on earth did I miss this post?

    Jill, this should be printed up and handed out to people on the street, in colleges, in Congress. Terrific. Amazing. Wonderful.

    Thank you for writing it.

    XX

  9. -applause-

  10. [...] first read this amazing, powerful, inspirational post by Jill Brenneman a few weeks ago, but I rediscovered it this morning while combing through my feed [...]

  11. I posted this to the comments section on the diane sawyer piece on 20/20. We’ll see if they let it stay.

  12. [...] Reaching the media, Sex Workers Against Rape « Bound, Not Gagged “We advocate fighting oppression, fighting violence, fighting discrimination, fighting coercion, yet this is missed by the media and very well played by the prohibitionists as exclusively their domain.” (tags: awesome important inspiration sexwork rights activism feminism) [...]

  13. [...] the sex industry safer. Sex workers’ rights activists hate pimps and want them GONE. See also Jill: When I did need help, when I was facing violence and coercion in the sex industry, none of the [...]

  14. [...] don’t know what else to say. I’ll leave you with words of wisdom from Jill Brenneman: When I did need help, when I was facing violence and coercion in the sex industry, none of the [...]

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