Sex Work Awareness & the Sex Blogger Calendar: Outreach, Fundraising, and Public Education

Producing a calendar, like a group of NYC bloggers has done with the 2009 Sex Bloggers Calendar, for a fundraising project is not a new idea – it’s tried and true, and it conveniently means that there’s an actual product so there’s a tangible answer to “what do I get?,” a question that people getting friendly with a new organization are justified in asking (also, the end of the year is prime giving time). Another justifiable question is, “what will my money be used for?”

The organization that benefits from calendar sales – and at this point in the game is receiving all of the money from each sale through my store, since our costs are covered – is Sex Work Awareness (SWA). Sex Work Awareness is an organization that I co-founded with Eliyanna Kaiser, Kevicha Echols, and Susan Rohwer, and was created around the core belief that all sex workers have a right to self-determination; to choose how they make a living and what they do with their bodies.

SWA plans to use funds from the calendar sales to do our media skills training workshops Speak Up! for sex workers in New York and another city on the east coast. We will use the money to pay the workshop presenters, rent space and provide snacks, as well as provide a small stipend for workshop participants who might not otherwise be able to afford to take time out to take the day long seminar.

SWA will also allocate some funds to the development of a new media project, an alternative audioguide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 19th and 20th century European paintings. The audioguide, Red Light Met, will be available as a podcast on iTunes and will be chock full of information about prostitution and the arts.

So far, the calendar sales and outreach efforts have not been focused on the community of activists who work on sex worker issues. This is not because we don’t think that groups like the Sex Work Outreach Project and their many chapters, or SWANK, or PONY or the Desiree Alliance (or… or…) are important. It’s because so far the work of Sex Work Awareness, as exemplified by our project Sex Work 101, has been very focused on public education on issues that affect sex workers. The vast majority of the people who posed for the calendar and are buying the calendar are not sex workers, but they are expressing solidarity with sex workers and putting their faces, names, and dollars on the lines to support the efforts of a sex worker advocacy organization. And this is a great thing.

One of the calendar’s two producers, Diva, is a lovely example of what Sex Work Awareness hopes to see more of in the world. Over the summer, she made a few comments on her blog about sex workers (though she used other words) that I found offensive and misguided. I could have left a nasty comment or lashed out at her in some other way, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed that she just had never grappled with the issues that sex workers face, nor had she ever been aware of meeting someone who works in the sex industry. So I emailed her about it and started a conversation and sex workers that she was open to (though possibly a bit bewildered by at first). Sometimes people are straight-up evil towards sex workers – other times they say hurtful things because they haven’t ever had the chance to meet (and humanize!) a sex worker. This fall, Diva has been hustling like nobody’s business, along with Tess Danesi (who is also not at all a sex worker), to raise money for Sex Work Awareness and sell these gorgeous calendars.

I know that a conversation or an email thread with one person seems like a tiny thing. And throwing in $20 towards a calendar seems tiny too – but the sex worker activist movement is small, and every little bit counts. There are also a lot of asks this time of year, especially as we ramp up to the December 17th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, among many other things. But $20 isn’t much, and you’ll have a shiny, well photographed blogger pin-up calendar for your wall – or to take out of a drawer and peek at when the mood strikes you.

Buying a calendar for $20 helps Sex Work Awareness work towards reducing the stigmas faced by sex workers, provide support, and build a culture where sex workers can speak up and be proud.

12 Responses

  1. [...] to talk over sex workers’ own voices but to support them by adding many more. Audacia Ray, in a post on Bound, Not Gagged, wrote about the Sex Work Awereness fundraising calendar project: The vast majority of the people [...]

  2. There is a panel in NYC at the Brooklyn Museum called “Sex Trafficking and the New Abolitionists”, moderated by Gloria Steinem.

    The event takes place on Saturday from 2-4pm, with an $8 suggested donation.

    I’m willing to bet that there are not going to be any sex worker activists on the actual panel, so go and lend your voice.

  3. sex workers ought to stage a protest

  4. Susan,

    Thanks for the info on the panel. Anyone here going and willing to write about it?

    XX

    PS: There isn’t much NEW about these abolitionists though.

  5. I passed the information on to Audacia Ray and Will Rockwell, but since I don’t have text messaging I don’t know if they got it in time.

    It looks like I’ll have to go and write about it myself, although I’m not qualified to give any rebuttals to the panelists due to lack of notes. The announcement was in the paper just this morning.

  6. Acclaimed activist and writer Gloria Steinem will moderate a panel discussion titled “Fight Against Sex Trafficking” on sex trafficking throughout the world. Joining her is Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of Equality Now; Rachel Lloyd, Executive Director of GEMS; and other guests dedicated to ending human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence against women and girls.

    BROOKLYN MUSEUM Saturday, December 13, 2–4 p.m.
    Free with Museum Admission. Web site: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org

  7. yeah take notes and report back about who was there and who said what and what kind of funding they’re getting. Just ask questions.

  8. Since this panel is about sex trafficking and is taking place in NYC, it’s distrubing that nobody from the Sex Workers’ Project is on this panel. This organization is located in NYC and has done a lot of work and advocacy on human trafficking without promoting prohibitionist laws that criminalize sex workers under the guise of fighting trafficking nor do they promote “End Demand” tactics. They actually seem focused on looking for effective solutions to human trafficking that don’t harm sex workers. Then again, maybe that’s why they aren’t included on the panel…

  9. My Observations From the “Sex Trafficking and the New Abolitionists” panel on December 13 at the Brooklyn Museum.

    The panel was sponsored by Equality Now, specifically their “Fund for Grassroots Activism to End Sex Trafficking”.

    The panelists were Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of Equality Now; Rachel Lloyd, Executive Director of GEMS (Girl’s Education and Mentoring Services); and Gloria Steinem as the moderator.

    My first impression going into the event is that most of the attendees were there to see Gloria Steinem rather than having any real interest in the subject matter. There were a few less-than-enthusiastic women going in, which could have been college students doing this as homework or extra credit.

    Elizabeth Sackler, who runs the Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, gushed ecstatically like a schoolgirl when introducing Steinem, setting the tone for the next two hours.

    Steinem quotes the usual erroneous stastistics from Melissa Farley about prostitution, and then pimps her book “Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery” by Gloria Steinem, Jesse Sage, and Liora Kasten. Which happens to be on sale in the museum bookshop.

    Steinem then plays a segment of the film “Very Young Girls”, which was produced by GEMS. I took this opportunity to go to the bathroom, since I don’t need a lecture on how underaged girls in low-income areas are pimped out by men who specifically look for these types of underprivileged girls. It should be pretty obvious to the panelists and the audience that poverty and the lack of social services in these areas contributes to this problem. Also, the pimps in the movie were young black males, yet there was no mention of the lack of good job opportunities for low-income black males. It’s much easier just to demonize them rather than the economic policies that put them into their admittedly odious position in life.

    After the film, Steinem says something along the lines of 85% of enslaved people are women and children. I always wonder how anyone is able to do a head-count of all the slaves in the world. Don’t you? The way I see it, if there is one slave in the world, then there is one slave too many. It wouldn’t matter if 85% of the slaves in the world were men. It’s still bad no matter what.

    The next topic that Steinem brings up is where I disagree with her the most. She says that it’s not true that prostitution is the “world’s oldest profession”. Prostitution is absolutely and positively the world’s oldest profession, even predating money. And Steinem is at her most ridiculous when she denies this. The example that she uses is a report given by early European colonists to America when describing the Native population and their practices of warfare. The colonists reported that there was no rape of prisoners, including females, when the “savages” conducted warfare. Steinem uses this as proof that these societies did not practice prostitution. Since in her mind, prostitution and rape are the same thing, this is enough to serve as proof. But the act prostitution is exchanging sex for money, goods, and services. It is not raping prisoners.

    The next panelist to speak is Taina Bien-Aime. She speaks about how she got into her anti-trafficking work. She describes a fellow classmate in college who lived in a feminist collective with her. Bien-Aime claims that this classmate needed the money and decided to work as an escort. The collective didn’t like this, but decided it was her choice. But then Bien-Aime claims that “her soul began to die” because the classmate stopped looking at them in the eye. Then eventually the classmate moved out of the collective, and they never saw her again. It would seem to me that, rather than the classmate’s “soul dying” as a reason for the downcast eyes and eventual disappearance, it’s more likely that she couldn’t face the disapproval of the collective because of her escorting. So she moved out.

    Next, the panelists talk about porn. Steinem differs with many radical feminists in that she distinguishes between “porn” and “erotica”. Porn is bad, but erotica is okay. She didn’t mention the difference much during the discussion, but I remember reading an article written about twenty years ago where she explains the difference, at least to her. Porn is any portrayal of sex acts in a context of power exchange; where one or more partners asserts dominance over another partner or partners. Erotica, on the other hand, has no power exchange. I would have loved to see Maggie Hays go up on the stage and duke it out with Steinem on that little difference of opinion. Anyway, it brings to mind the quote from Gloria Leonard–“The difference between porn and erotica is lighting”.

    Now, we get to the part where they praise the Almighty Swedish Model of criminalizing the customers of prostitutes while decriminalizing the prostitutes themselves. This is their solution to the problem of sex trafficking. As proof that this is the solution, they mention a supposed Interpol monitor of alleged sex traffickers telling each other to “stay away from Sweden” after the Swedish Model was put into effect. The fact that Sweden wasn’t really a mecca of sex tourism before the Model was put into place isn’t mentioned by the panelists. My opinion in regards to introducing the Swedish Model into the United States is that it would be a definite improvement to most of the existing laws on prostitution here, because arresting and prosecuting prostitutes couldn’t happen under this system. But at the same time, the Model would be redundant in most places because the soliciting of prostitutes is already illegal. It wouldn’t have the same deterrent effect as in places where soliciting is a legal activity.

    Steinem and Bien-Aime then bring up other methods they’ve used to combat sex trafficking, such as the TVPA, which even they admit didn’t do much to deter trafficking. But then they praise the Almighty Wilberforce Act, which would divert Department of Justice funds from investigating trafficking in all its forms to investigating prostitution in general.

    Steinem then moves to the subject of Nevada brothels, and it descends into the ridiculous again. She says they all have barbed wire surrounding them (all of them?), and she engages in emotional masturbation with the audience by recounting a story of a woman who threw ramen noodles over the (supposedly) barbed wire fence, probably because the owner of the brothel charged five dollars for a bowl of ramen. I agree that five dollars is too much for ramen, but the impression that Steinem was giving is that these women were starving to death eating only bowls of over-charged ramen. I doubt it. The truth of the matter is probably that the brothel owner is being a jerk, and the women don’t want to pay five dollars (and I don’t blame them), so they have someone smuggle in ramen of the same variety.

    But there is one part of the discussion where I agree with the panelists. In Germany, there is a law that a person under 55 must take an available job after one year or lose their unemployment benefits. In 2005, a woman after a year of unemployment was referred, without knowing at first, to a job in a legalized brothel. I agreed that this is wrong, but not in the same way as the panelists. Prostitution is NOT a job, it’s a profession, and you can’t move someone into it as if it were “just a job”. It is not a substitute for social services and benefits; no profession or job is, for that matter. And in any case, I doubt that a male would be forwarded into a brothel or lose his benefits, so there is sexism involved here.

    Last, but certainly not least, the panel moves on to the Eliot Spitzer/Ashley Dupre debacle. It should not have come to as any surprise or shock to the panelists that Eliot Spitzer would betray them, he who worked on anti-trafficking legislation with them for eight years. And it should be a brutally obvious lesson to them that passing laws do absolutely NOTHING to curb prostitution or it’s demand in any way. That is the lesson that Spitzer himself provided to these women, but god-forbid they should actually learn it. I don’t know if I heard this right, but I believe Steinem said that there is a “difference” between a man who fights anti-trafficking efforts and goes to prostitutes and a man (like Spitzer) who does the same and advocates this legislation. Now I’m not absolutely certain she said this, but that’s the way my mind processed it. I have to give credit to Silda Spitzer verses Gloria Steinem in that at least Silda didn’t make excuses for his behavior.

    When the panel moves on to talk about Ashley Dupre, they commit an outright lie. They claim that Dupre only received a tiny percentage of the money she earned escorting. But none other than their hero Melissa Farley stated that the Emperor’s Club received 50% of earnings (Farley said this in the New York Times). Since any google search reveals that Dupre earned $2000 dollars an hour gross, then she would net $1000 an hour. I don’t think that amount qualifies as tiny. Even if the Emperor’s Club received 75% of earnings, she’d still make $500 an hour.

    The panel concludes by “recruiting” others to become “New Abolitionists” like themselves. I don’t know if they motivated anyone in the audience to do that or not. But in my opinion, if the so-called “New Abolitionists” sincerely want to stop trafficking, there needs to be

    A) Total and complete world-wide social services, meaning access to food, clean water, health care, clothing, and housing.

    B) Access to education and meaningful activity in communities.

    On my way home from the event, I obtained a copy of the New York Times. On the front page of the Arts Section was a beautiful full-length picture of the Notorious Betty Paige. What a relief.

  10. S, you rock. Great job. If I had money, I’d pay you!
    I love the part where they haggle over how much escorts make.

  11. If these women wanted to make a REAL difference, they would change the name of their movie from “Pretty Young Girls” to “How to Avoid a Pimp” and show it to young Black and Latino girls in junior high schools. And they could have girls who have been pimped out themselves saying to the other girls, “If this could happen to me, it could happen to you.” They could teach the girls not to get into a car with a 30 year old man who says that he loves them.

    This would be a helluva lot more constructive than spending years passing useless laws that do absolutely NOTHING to solve the problem. And it would be a helluva lot more constructive than they trying to convince themselves that Ashley Dupre worked on the exact same level as these pimped-out young teenagers. (Dupre made reams of money, and for Steinem and Bien-Aime to say otherwise is an exercise in self-delusion.)

    And if they actually help to teach underprivileged young girls how to avoid pimps, they could save themselves the shock and embarrasment of having an Eliot Spitzer betray them.

  12. Susan,

    Thank you SO MUCH for your reporting of the event. So many incorrect assumptions and data — where to start?

    FYI, in Phoenix there is a movie that they show to high school students on the dangers of child sex trafficking and pimping. I’m not entirely sure the movie teaches youngsters how to avoid pimps. Since I haven’t seen the movie, I have no idea what it’s like or if it also offers resources. But yeah, prostitution is never the problem in low-income areas — poverty is.

    XX

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