Choice is key

When it comes to how we use our own bodies as humans, I think it is important to keep in mind the element of choice. We have fought hard for the right to be able to choose to become mothers or not, but we find ourselves today fighting for the right to have sex on our own terms- even if those terms change every day.

When our voices are ignored or trivialized, as Ms. Farley seems wont to do in her book, “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada, Making the Connections,” we suffer the same degradation she claims to be fighting against. She writes, on pg. 22, “I knew that they would minimize how bad it was,” and that the women she interviewed would “ignore bad things or pretended that unpleasantness will go away, or they call the degrading abuse of prostitution by another name that sounds better.”

I know many of us here are wondering why she would silence us before we even speak.

Having attended her panel here in Las Vegas, it was very frustrating to listen to her panelists horrific stories- and they were tragic- and not be able to say a thing without seeming to invalidate their experiences. However, having been a sex worker for 19 years, and having traveled all over the world as a sex worker, I did not find those experiences to reflect my own, nor to reflect the experiences of those I worked with. To be fair, her panelists had all been out of the industry for at least 10 years or more (most about 20). So maybe back in the days before I became a sex worker, things were really that bad. But that just has never been my experience, nor that of those around me.

I know that I chose to be a sex worker. So did each of the people I worked with on a daily basis in all those years. We were all thankful for the choice we could make to do what we were doing- many times the best choice out of a number of choices.

I say this with the full understanding that some people are coerced into the industry. Some children are certainly stuck with only a few options for survival as runaways, one of them being survival sex. But I will also say this is hardly representative of sex workers as a whole.

Perhaps Ms. Farley is only speaking to certain people. Or, even more likely, given the quotes above taken from her text, she is only listening to certain people.

–EH

16 Responses

  1. Some children are certainly stuck with only a few options for survival as runaways, one of them being survival sex.

    And still an abolitionist perspective like Farley’s would criminalize these kids. Here in NY State we’ve been trying to get “Safe Harbor” legislation passed that would mandate that kids working the streets be given treatment instead of detention (the legislation is far from perfect but it’s a huge step forward from where we are now). Yet we can’t get it passed partly because of abolitionists who believe that only by punishing the kids can you get them to turn on their pimps and clients.

    Can you imagine? Were we to take a step back and not be so afraid of prostitution in the abstract we could do much more to help those who are coerced into the sex industry. As so many of you have so eloquently pointed out, abolitionist positions make it harder, not easier, to fight forced prostitution.

    Thanks for all your writing and your work here. Your voices are heard and they make a difference!

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth!

    I think it is reprehensible that the only solution coming forth to deal with these kids seems to be criminalizing them.

    What I don’t understand is how on earth anyone could possibly think that arresting someone will make their lives any better? When an adult is arrested for prostitution in NY, it is engraved on their record forever. A women who was arrested for prostitution at 18 and applies for a teaching position at 45 will be denied because of her arrest record.

    The plight of children arrested is even worse. I remember reading an article in a NY periodical about a young lady who’d been having survival sex since she was 12, and was arrested at 14 and tossed from institution to institution. How tragic!

    I wish you all the best of luck with your Safe Harbor legislation. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help!

  3. Of course the problem with the Safe Harbor legislation — and it’s a better problem than the problem it aims to fix — is that the treatment would be mandated, not voluntary, and any teen not wanting to participate would still be detained. In other words, it gives teens a chance to be treated and offers them important services (health care, housing) instead of detaining them, but it doesn’t give them the opportunity to stay “out of the system.” And given that some of these kids are on the streets because “the system” didn’t work for them, one can imagine that some will still find themselves in a tough bind.

    Thanks for your offer of help, AccidentalHedonist. What I’d like is even better legislation. Is it better to support an imperfect bill as a step in the right direction? I hope so.

  4. Oh, dear- I see the plight. That’s a tough call- but at least it is a step in the right direction. Would the services offered be given by the state, or merely funded by the state? What they need most is a pair of caring arms to hug them!

    A similar situation exists where trafficking victims are thrust into the clutches of those who deem sex work degrading and disgusting, rather than those who would be neutral. Once the victim is aware that she is viewed as a degraded person, it is very difficult for her to find empowerment instead of seeking to be accepted and “forgiven for her sins”. It creates a very disempowering situation. If the purported victim actually did choose to work in sex work, she is faced with a dilemma: Does she admit that and become a “dirty whore” in the eyes of those who hold her fate in their hands, or does she claim to be trafficked, so that she can be treated with a little bit more dignity?

    When groups like ATLAS are formed, our voices- which are arguably very valuable- are completely left out of the policy decisions, and thus the above scenario will always be a spectre.

  5. “Having attended her panel here in Las Vegas, it was very frustrating to listen to her panelists horrific stories- and they were tragic- and not be able to say a thing without seeming to invalidate their experiences.”

    Please stop and take a close look at that statement. Because that is what is going on all the time in SWOP.

    You all have the priveledge of choice and computers and blogs and jobs as flight attendants. You keep thinking your experience is the norm. You are the top 1% of elite prostitutes in the world. Most prostitutes don’t have your options. They have to put up with the bad behavior you would walk away from. They are trapped in awful situations and terrible poverty and sometimes bad drug problems.

    But you don’t want to look at the realities of their lives, the lives led by most working prostitutes. You want to focus on some pie in the sky fantasy of legalization and unions and a regulatory systm that protects you at every minute but also gives you total privacy.

    REAL LIFE IS COMPLEX. The real lives of prostitutes don’t break down easily into blog posts and essays and manifestos.

    You are not going to help these women by making prostitution legal. You are just going to justify the johns and pimps that prey on them.

    The legal system you envision is not affordable. People will not pay the kind of taxes it would take to keep YOU safe, let alone the woman who is out there getting the crap beat out of her by a john right now as we type merrily away.

  6. I am coming to realize something I did not realize before today. Most of you don’t have an understanding of the scope of what is going on. When you think of prostitution you think of what you know and what your friends know.

    I think the scale of what is happening in Nevada might be a surprise to some of you. And the people involved in it might surprise you as well.

  7. Josie – maybe we would be surprised. But until we get more REAL research, we will not know anything but what we personally experience. This is why it is so important to for research to be conducted following rigorous scientific principles – not “advocacy research” whose conclusions are written before the data is collected.

  8. Well for crying out loud then DO SOME RESEARCH!

    You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to pull together some people and make an honest assessment of what the hell is going on in Nevada.

    Stop listening to the brothel owner propoganda and just FIND OUT!

    Nevada is open 7 days a week folks. It’s right there all the time.

  9. Well this has been fun folks, but I have to walk my dog or else.

    Y’all have a lovely evening.

  10. I am here, Josie. I have visited brothels. Barb Brents and Kate Hausbeck have done peer-reviewed research on the brothels.

    We’d love to do more. But if you read this story, you’ll see why funding is difficult to get for this…

    http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/sun/2007/sep/15/566624113.html

  11. Also Josie- just to let you know- I hear you about Vegas. I had an experience once that made me sick. It wasn’t a physical experience…let’s just call it an existential experience. It happened when I realized that there are many icky people involved with the industry here. Icky, awful, controlling people. I know. I know they are here, and I know that they control many women- most of whom entered the industry here either as adolescents or as out-of-towners- both groups having naivete in common. Some of these unfortunate women end up missing, and are either found dead or just never found. It is sinister. Believe me, I hear you. I work here too.

    But it is not only in Vegas. It is global, and it is controlled by some very powerful people. In many cases, it is being controlled by the very people who make the policy decisions that affect us.

    The beautiful realization that came with my ugly experience was that there is another sex industry on the planet: one controlled by the sex workers themselves. The one I am a part of. And believe me, that is also global. And in it I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the strongest, most amazing people. These people need to be empowered legitimately with the rights they currently tenuously claim for themselves whenever and however they can.

    We don’t think that making criminals of the women (and men) is in their best interest, no matter which part they are inolved in.

    We believe that decriminalization would open their options and allow for education on safer ways to practice their art, or if they chose to exit prostitution, decriminalization (as it exists in New Zealand) would mean that they could not be denied jobs based on their past history of prostitution- if that history would even be available.

    They wouldn’t be frightened of being arrested if they knew they couldn’t be (one of the main ways that bad pimps control them).

    Good harm-reduction organizations could get the funding they needed to reach out to them and help them when and where they needed, without fear of being labeled as panderers and traffickers if they take a neutral stance (as harm reduction is supposed to).

  12. Yes I quit the sex industry a long time ago – but I also clearly stated I’ve been running a support group for those exiting the sex industry for 20 years now – both trafficking victims and those who weren’t. I will agree that the sex industry has changed in the 20 years since I quit and from what I hear about is going on in it every day from the women who call me every day wanting help and support to quit – it’s getting WORSE out there not better. All the more reason why I’d never go back no matter how much money I was offered. And you know what – I’m still offered money to go back to it because there’s a fetish and a market for everything out there – even snuff films and child pornography. So the fact something will sell doesn’t mean I’m interested in selling it. I talk to men and women every day from all over the world – Nevada, London, Paris, Canada, California and on and on and on. So no one can tell me I don’t know what’s going on today in the sex trade. I know for example that escorts are disappearing out of Las Vegas and no one is doing anything about it – even though the police know exactly who is responsible. How could I possibly advocate anyone enter prostitution right now today when I know the man responsible for at least two escorts’ disappearance in Vegas sits around recruiting new girls right out of a casino off the strip and running them in from Canada and down through Los Angeles as we speak? And the police do nothing to him. So my not wanting to advocate a woman enter this trade knowing men like him are out there waiting like spiders to a fly has nothing to do with me being a feminist or a fundamentalist (I’m actually neither to be honest) but in fact realistic. You can have wishful thinking and fantasy thinking of saying how great of a world it would be if we had a Santa Claus and an Easter Bunny – but the sad reality is we don’t. With all the dangers and damages happening right now in both legal and illegal segments of the sex industry – if you care about these women at all you’d want to do as much as you could to focus on offering exit services. Even the Native Americans were offered some kinds of programs to try and be “socialized” after the white man figured that killing them off wouldn’t work. So let’s be real here for a minute – who is going to fund exit services? You think the johns, pimps and legal brothel owners will? And how is the woman who was just stabbed 51 times and is up in the ICU supposed to get on her feet? Telling her you’re not going to arrest her for being a prostitute isn’t going to solve all her problems nor would telling her she can go work in a legal brothel either when her stitches haven’t even healed yet and she certainly couldn’t stand in heels long enough for a viewing! Let’s start talking about what we can do today for the women who are hurt in the sex biz. They need help now – not a couple of years from now when politicians and the women on this site stop arguing with each other and researchers stop arguing over how stats are obtained.

  13. […] Choice is key"When our voices are ignored or trivialized, as Ms. Farley seems wont to do in her book, “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada, Making the Connections,” we suffer the same degradation she claims to be fighting against. She writes, on pg. 22, “I knew that they would minimize how bad it was,” and that the women she interviewed would “ignore bad things or pretended that unpleasantness will go away, or they call the degrading abuse of prostitution by another name that sounds better.” […]

  14. “They need help now – not a couple of years from now when politicians and the women on this site stop arguing with each other and researchers stop arguing over how stats are obtained.”

    I agree totally. But how stats are obtained ties directly into funding and resources for this help that everyone agrees is needed. For example, if funding and resources are given based on an assumed 5,000 people but upon better research it’s really 50,000 who need help, well…how do you allocate what you have? Then there’s another problem, what 45,000 folks don’t get help?

    And so on and so on in that vein.

  15. Jody is so right. We are here bitching at each other about who is the better feminist and who is sex-positive and whose grant came from where.

    Meanwhile, the victims of actual johns and pimps are in hospitals and sleeping on the couches of strangers and trying to figure out if they are going to be able to pay their medical bills and get custody of their kids again.

    Reality is right here, my friends, staring you in the face. Are you willing to help actual women in prostitution, or are you just interested in blathering on in the blogs and selling the illusion?

    Woman sleeping on the couch vs. fancy words, quickly typed on a blog on the Internet?

    YOUR CHOICE.

    Where do we send money, Jody?

  16. You know what? Brents and Hausbeck have been researching exactly this for the past 10 years. Do they not have a number YET?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: