An open letter to Melissa Farley

Dear Melissa Farley,

 

Hello Melissa. I hope this message finds you well and in good health. Although we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person, I think we may be working toward the same goals, however different our vision of the path to our goals may be.

That’s why I’m writing this message to you. I think we should be working together, not against each other. Now I know this may sound a little alarming, I am after all, a woman who provides sexual services for financial compensation. I know people like us kind of creep you out. Speaking to us, treating us like equals even, would force you to confront your own internalized attitudes toward women and sex. I know that can be a difficult and challenging process for all women, but it’s something that we all must go through at some point.

Many women find that confronting and owning our internalized biases against that which we do not understand can make us feel stronger, happier and more connected to our communities. Confronting these internalized biases can actually make us more effective at challenging true oppression in our society by eliminating the barriers that keep us from recognizing each other’s differences as strengths to be used toward our common cause.

To help you begin this process, I’m going to tell you a little bit about me and some of the people that I know. I will make information available, and it will be up to you to think critically and compassionately while looking inward for the answers. Ask yourself why you believe that women cannot function as equal members of society based upon their sexual choices? This is a difficult question to ask yourself, don’t be too hard on yourself if the answers don’t come immediately.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of your most recent report on prostitution in Nevada yet, but it was very well covered in the Las Vegas media, they give you tons of face time and let you say whatever you want! How exciting that must be for you! When we speak to the media, they cut up our statements and misquote us, focus on our personal lives and qualifications, present us as money-hungry criminals, etc. Dealing with the media is no picnic for those who wear the scarlet ‘P’ across their souls-but I digress.

Based on the work published at your site and your various public statements over the years, plus the coverage of your new book, you seem to be expressing signs of fear and hatred, perhaps a bit of xenophobia, a fear of those who are different that manifests in anger and anxiety.

You are a powerful woman, Melissa. The world is a difficult and challenging place for women, we have to be tough. We also have to be accepting and understanding of each other. This is my white flag, asking for a truce so that hopefully we can move forward together in our efforts to make the world a better place for women. None of us can do it alone, it is imperative that we find common ground, accept our differences and pursue our common goals of ending oppression together. To get us started, here are a few facts that you may have missed while doing your research:

Sex Work is Work

Sex workers are real people. Sex work is a real occupation with real people who are identifying with a real commonality. The manners in which we ply our trade may vary, but we all carry the Whore stigma (as all women do when they step out of line with social sexual mandates.) But we get paid for it. Yes, isn’t that the real crux of your argument? Sure, women engage in all sorts of promiscuous sex in all sorts of different ways, but those women who get compensated for it? They’ve got problems.

Sex work is work. It is engaging in a service and receiving money in exchange. Not unlike other forms of labor whether it be carpentry, athletics, food service industry and other forms of service labor. All forms of labor have a potential for abuse of workers, the problems for workers are exacerbated further when they are not treated as equal citizens under the law, or when their work is not protected under the same labor standards that other occupations provide. Some sex workers suffer abuse because both of these problems exist in their work environments, whether they are legal workers or not.

 

Sex Workers are Human Beings with Many Different Experiences

Sex workers have families, responsibilities, commitments, interests and passions. We are people just like you, Ms. Farley. We have a right to be heard when there are laws passed that affect our lives and the well-being of our families. It is a violation of our human rights to promote any policy that we have not participated in developing. We are best equipped to define what our needs are. Our needs will not be universal, some of use will have different needs than others. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for sex workers- or women. We have chosen to embrace the many different realities of people working in the sex industry and we believe that there are solutions for each of us that are not mutually exclusive. Some of us can work for agencies, brothels, massage parlors or independently without feeling abused while at the same time there needs to be action to assist those who do feel abused or whose rights are being violated because they have no recourse due to their criminalized or marginalized status.

 

Sex workers are allies in the struggle to prevent and resist sexual assault and forced prostitution.

Silencing us only creates more barriers to your stated goals. We are not in denial. We know that there are some instances of abuse and coercion for sex workers, as with any form of labor where the workers are denied basic rights. We know that women have long complicated sexual histories that can make some feel more vulnerable in sexualized situations than others feel. We acknowledge these issues and are uniting our efforts to challenge these problems in our society. Making us criminals, making our clients criminals, does not help. Using criminal laws to control how and why women have sex takes away our agency and keeps us isolated and divided, preventing us from creating community-based solutions to the very real, albeit overstated, situations of abuse.

 

So, you see Melissa, what we need are human rights, the ability to organize for improved labor conditions, and to not be harassed, discredited or infantilized because our sexual practices are different that yours. If we can keep our eye on the real goal, which is making the world a better place for women- that is what you want, correct?- then why can’t we put aside our differences and work toward lasting and effective change? Really, all we’re asking is that you stop supporting efforts of the government to subjugate and abuse us. Because that is the true result of any criminal strategy for prostitution– abuse of those deemed as the ‘criminals’ or the ‘victims.’

This isn’t only true of sex workers, any woman sexually assaulted can expect unfair treatment, doubt and sometimes further abuse at the hands of authorities if she chooses to report the assault. The men who rape are the ones who need to be held accountable- not the sex workers or their clients who are engaging in consensual sex. These solutions need to come from communities of women, from many different walks of life- not from the patriarchal, sexist, racist and class-ist criminal justice system.

 

Together we can right these wrongs, Melissa. Our energies would be far better spent challenging oppression than fighting each other.

 

Sincerely,

Karly Kirchner

14 Responses

  1. Brilliantly written, Karly. Thank you for stating that so eloquently!

  2. Yes, beautiful!

    XX

  3. excellent!

  4. I’m an ex-sex worker and Melissa has shown me nothing but respect as an equal and as a human being. I know many current and ex-sex workers who also know Melissa Farley and also state she’s been truly respectful and warm and in fact treats us like she would a member of her own family – with consideration, admiration, courtesy, etc. You obviously have never met Melissa – yet you make all kinds of assumptions on how she would treat people. You haven’t read the book – yet you make all kinds of assumptions about it’s content. You haven’t talked to anyone that was part of the media surrounding the book – yet you make assumptions that we haven’t been just as misquoted as you have in the past. You might find yourself surprised once you actually take a look at what you’re attacking before you launch an attack that maybe – just maybe – your whole stance is completely off base. I wish people would at least consider reading the book before attacking it.

  5. I have no doubt that Farley is friendly toward those who agree with her. My point is more in demonstrating that we are a very diverse group of people with many diverse needs. We do not have to be seeking to have our needs met exclusively, we would be far more effective by working together. However, her assertions that no woman is capable of consenting to exchange sex for money demonstrates her utter lack of respect for the vast majority of us. She equates us to children, incapable of enjoying the full rights and responsibilities of other adults. I did not critique her book, I acknowledged that I haven’t been able to get it. This is not her first piece of work and her website provides excerpts and her own quotes in the media were available to us. Although, there is an academic review of the book here at this blog, please read it.

  6. “I wish people would at least consider reading the book before attacking it.”

    And I wish people who want their works read would at least make their work readily available. An OCLC search, plus a search of the catalogues of several San Francisco and Las Vegas academic and public libraries reveals that she hasn’t deposited this report in a single public library. Nor has she made PDFs of the book chapters and put those up on her website. If you want to see the thing, you apparently have to buy one from her!

    This is not how you go about circulating a report that’s supposed to affect public policy.

    I’d strongly encourage anybody here who’s in touch with Farley to get the report into some libraries.

  7. Encourage her to get the book into some libraries, I mean.

  8. Oh my god, you’re right. The only people who should be allowed to publish books are those who can afford to give away hundreds of copies.

    Please.

  9. Give me a break, Josie. Anybody who’s out to change public policy using research has the burden on them to disseminate that information.

    First I hear that you can’t criticize the report unless I’ve read it, then I’m told if I’m going to read it, I have to give Farley some money.

    Nice silencing tactics you have going there. I’m not falling for it, though.

  10. I love how Jody’s experienced is pushed to the side. It completely contradicts everything y’all are charging Farley with, so you don’t want to acknowledge it might be true. Farley might actually know and work closely with sex workers…gasp!

    It’s actually quite shocking how many errors there are in the documents on this site. For people who are charging someone else with faulty research, your own has not been stellar.

  11. Melissa Farley can be polite and compassionate towards every sex worker she meets, but that still wouldn’t change the fact that her activism harms us all considerably. President Bush speaks highly of Iraqi citizens and claims to desire nothing more than freedom and democracy for them. Yet no matter what he says, or how corncerned he claims to be about their well being and happiness, he’s made their lives a living hell- and done it all with a polite tone in his voice and a smile on his face. Even if he’s done it all with the best of intentions, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s responsible for irrepairable damage to their country.

    I believe that Melissa Farley is motivated by compassion towards sex workers, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s played a pivotal role in hurting many of us around the globe. I even wrote her a somewhat lengthy e-mail several years ago (before I realized that she was irrational and too blinded by anger to truly care about our well being). I started the letter by praising her for her efforts in helping women who want out, to escape their bad situations. I have always believed it was a noble cause to assist women needing help to improve their lives. It is unfortunate that she got so caught up in her anger towards all sex work that she lost sight of what she started out doing- helping women.

    I never heard back from her- not even a “thanks, have a nice day” despite the fact that I spent half the letter blowing sugar up her ass. I’m guessing that refusing to acknowledge any “happy hooker” who had a happy childhood and lives a normal life is pretty much her MO.

    Maybe someday she’ll realize that attacking the demand hurts us as much (if not more) than attacking us. Surely she must realize that starving us out of the business is not a pretty way to go. Before sex workers make the switch into whatever non-debasing job she’s envisioned for them, there will be a lot of compromised values and underpaid tricks turned. Gut-instincts will be ignored as desperation trumps “creepy feelings” given off by the one taker of day. Condoms become optional, prices become negotiable, and rude behavior will not stop a session short. And if she thinks that telling the world that johns hurt hookers will stop the anyone other than the nice guys from seeing us, she’s crazy. How many rapists would have a change of heart after listening to her bullshit rhetoric?

    The bigger the demand, the more power we have. We can set our boundaries firmly, and turn down men who are disrespectful and treat us poorly. Desperation for money is part of the reason why women working the streets are subjected to far worse treatment than the rest of us. Allowing us to pick and choose who we see, and not have to “jump in the truck” with any taker translates to better treatment. Apparently Ms. Farley wants us all to suffer that way.

  12. I am a professional escort in the Boston, MA area who has just published a 3-book set entitled A Woman Whose Calling is Men. In it, I take Melissa Farley to task in a way I think you’d all cheer for. I want very much to help out with the movement for prostitutes’ rights, I want very much to show abolitionists the light of day, and I also want to promote my books.
    Please visit my book website (www.priestesswoman.com) and tell me what you think. If you like what you see, I’ll be happy to attach to you the chapters that kick abolitionists’ butts. I KNOW you’ll like them!!
    A. Phoenix

  13. Stephanie,

    That was great. Worthy of its own post. Thank you.

    XX

  14. Jody, you have the right to express your perceptions of Farley, but not all sex workers who have met Farley have spoken so positively of her. Not all sex workers share your perceptions of Farley, just like not all sex workers share your perceptions of the sex industry. I’m not saying that you’re wrong to feel how you do, but I’m saying that not all sex workers who have met Farley expressed the same sentiments toward her as you are.

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