Two Days in Sex:Tech Heaven

Cory Silverberg at About.com: Sexuality talks about our presentation at Sex:Tech!

Sex and Politics

There wasn’t a lot of open political debate at the conference, and the shared political agenda was about doing more help youth protect themselves from STDs/HIV Politics emerged more in the spaces between people working in different environments: The freedoms enjoyed by individuals running their own sites or blogs who didn’t have to worry about insurance, investors, or boards of directors getting in between them and their target audience; the privilege of the relatively well funded organizations or government agencies, the ones who get paid for their work, probably own homes, and weren’t paying for their own hotel rooms; the differences between organizations for youth and those by youth. None of these differences prevented attendees from connecting, but that may in part be because the differences were generally kept under wraps.

The most overtly political presentation at the conference was a fascinating talk given by two sex work activists who presented on a blog project called Bound Not Gagged. The project, which is a group blog by and for sex workers developed out of a frustration with the medias portrayal of sex work and sex work issues, and fear that coming out as a sex worker can make you a target for arrest or prosecution. The blog, which I’m now an avid reader of, collects the opinions and voices of sex workers on a variety of topics. They have also done some exciting things using online collaboration and actively dealing with the media through their blog.

While the Bound Not Gagged presentation used sex work as an example, it was just as relevant to questions people working with youth need to be asking about tech tools:

  • How can technology give disempowered and disenfranchised people a voice?
  • Can technology stretch the limits of anonymity to allow us to hear from those we serve who might not otherwise speak up?
  • What role can technology play in shifting the public discourse on youth and sexuality?

Thanks for the link Cory!

Speak for yourself: Letters from Working Girls and Letters from Johns

Amber Rhea discussing social media on Download Squad:

We often hear that social media is enabling us to see a more complete picture of who people are, and in some cases this may be true; but how often do we, instead, see a more truncated version of who a person is, because they feel like they have to self-censor? As anyone who’s been blogging for a while will tell you, the reality of it has a lot more sticky nuance than the idyllic concept. What about the places where one’s life intersects with the lives of others? How much is okay to share about another person without his or her consent? Even for those who blog pseudonymously, these are constant questions whose answers may vary from day to day — especially when sex is involved.

(This column both acknowledges the existence of sex, and explores the ways sex and sexuality relate to and are enhanced by the internet. If you’re offended by such content, don’t take the jump.)

Thanks for the link Amber!

Letters from Working Girls

Hi:

Susannah Breslin here; I’m a journalist, blogger. I’m wondering if any of your readers/members may be interested in contributing their anonymous stories to an online project I’ve created, Letters from Working Girls, featuring, well, letters from working girls about their experiences in the business. Feel free to spread the word, and thanks much.

http://lettersfromworkinggirls.blogspot.com

Best,

Susannah

Nothing But a Whore

January 6, 2008

by veronicamonet

monetnoseart.jpgMy dad use to veto my thoughts and feelings with these words: “I make the money around here and when you start supporting this family you can have a say in how things are run.  Until then, keep your mouth shut and do what you are told.”

 

As a teenager, I often dreamed about making money so I could have an opinion. 

 

I got married in my early 30’s and my income rose dramatically from a level which barely kept the lights on to a very healthy six figure income.  It wasn’t my job that changed.  I had been an escort for a couple years before I got married.  But once I said “I do,” I did do my best to be a financial knight in shining armor.  Whatever my husband and stepchildren wanted or needed, I went out of my way to make the money to purchase it.  It felt like a self-sacrificing role but of course it was more of a manipulative maneuver given my training around money and power.

 

Despite or maybe because of MY overbearing assertions about being the one in charge because of MY income, I eventually grew tired of being the primary breadwinner in my marriage.  The more money I made the lonelier I felt and the more tired I became.  My husband didn’t express much appreciation for my money and yet he became accustomed to all that it could buy.  Making twice the money he earned never meant being respected as a good provider or a hard worker.  And though he rarely said so, he didn’t like what I did to make my money. 

 

When you are a whore, your family takes your money as penance for your sins – not a gift of your labor.

Full post here 

Transferring Sex Work Skills

A virtual skill share
February 4, 2008—all day

It’s easy to come up with ways sex workers transfer their skills to everyday jobs. But what sex work skills transfer to activism? Does it depend on the type of sex work? The personality of the individual worker? Does all sex work teach specific skills anyone can use in activism?

For this blog party, we’re going to define “activist” as anyone who works on challenging the mainstream perception and treatment of sex workers, even if they don’t personally identify as activists or belong to an organization (we’re trying to keep this discussion broad and open).

How do the social skills sex workers learn contribute to their activism? Are there learned behaviors and responses that get in the way of being an activist?

What about practical skills—comfort with phone work; Web design; book-keeping; physical-safety education? Does knowing how to walk in really tall platform shoes contribute to activism?

A lot of sex workers learn a lot about wide variety of topics to be able to sustain their business. Or they learn how to diplomatically meet the needs of different people at the same time. Do these skills translate to being a good activist? How?

The point is not to start an argument between specific types of sex work. Instead, take time to reflect how your special work has given you knowledge and strength you can take to the streets, the bedroom, the news room, the courtroom and Internet to change society. In fact, take these skills wherever you can!

We’re hoping to hear from a variety of workers, past and present, explain, for all the world to see, that sex work can do a lot more for the worker than pay their bills or victimize them.

To contribute, paste your post into an e-mail (no attachments) and send it to: boundnotgagged [AT] gmail [DOT] com with POST in the subject line.

Police to target call girls here for Super Bowl

“Super Bowl gatherings likely to draw prostitutes”

Karina Bland
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 18, 2008 12:00 AM

People come to the Super Bowl looking for a good time. High-class call girls are known to travel the glittering circuit of sporting events, hoping to be the ones to provide it.But Valley police plan to spoil those kinds of party plans.Anytime there is an event of the magnitude of Super Bowl XLII, with its glitzy parties and large events, prostitutes arrive in hopes of cashing in on the crowds, Sgt. Joel Tranter of the Phoenix Police Department said Thursday. He said that working with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law-enforcement agencies, Phoenix police will step up enforcement efforts aimed at prostitution, beginning Saturday.

That’s FBI as in Federal, US as in Federal and other law enforcement agencies as in Federal money. There’s big money going into this- a whole lot more than is going into economic relief for American families for instance.

“Do not come to Phoenix to set up shop to run prostitution,” Tranter warned.

Most Super Bowl cities report solicitation increases during game week.

Of course they report an increase in solicitation- they increase the efforts to find it!!!

Police will respond to print and Internet advertisements for sexual services as well as patrol for prostitution activity.

Pickpockets also are attracted to large events, Tranter said.

Officers will go undercover at hotels and parties, and Tranter cautioned that people answering ads for sexual services could find themselves in the company of a police officer.

I love how they throw the pickpocket comment in for good measure, to let us know that they actually do fight real crime when they’re not busy jerking off to escort advertisements on the internets on our dime.

Earlier this month, Phoenix police raided a Mesa hotel and broke up a child-prostitution ring involving two 15-year-olds, a 17-year-old and a girl who had just turned 18. One was from Oregon and the other three were from California.

Police were told they came to Phoenix because there was too much heat from authorities in Las Vegas.

But more than likely, Tranter said, the ring also moved to the Valley to work the upcoming Super Bowl. Pimps can sometimes get double the money for underage girls.

I’d like to know what happened to those girls. It’s really unbelievable that they’d start the story out with “high class call girls” and end it with “underage girls.” What is actually being done for the underage girls who get ‘busted?’

Of Brains and Breasts

This is a conversation between one whore and her mother…

Mother: “What have you been doing?”

Whore: “Finishing up a grant that is due this week.”

Mother: “You are so smart, why can’t you get paid more for doing that sort of stuff?”

Whore: “Mom, I make plenty of money.”

Mother: “But I thought the organization only pays for your travel expenses.”

(Yeah right, travel reimbursement, what’s that?)

Whore: “Mom, I work, I am self-employed, I’m making money.”

Mother: “Yeah, but I mean why can’t you get paid to use your brain?”

Whore: (With absolute resolve) “I do use my brain. You have no idea.”

Mother: “Oh whatever.”

This story only subtly outlines this theme that I’ve been running into lately- well, I’ve run into it throughout my entire life, but lately I’ve been thinking about it more…

Why is it commonly assumed that if one engages in physical labor involving the body, then obviously that person doesn’t use their brain or employ intelligence in their work? Yes, I use my body and sexuality to pay the bills, but do people actually believe that it doesn’t require a lot of thought and presence to do this work.

Do people actually believe that we just lie in bed all day waiting for a hard cock to come around and leave an envelope on the end table? Do you have any idea what it actually takes to be in this business? Even more so, do people have any concept of what it takes to have the conscience to dedicate your life to making changes in this business?

I’m guessing probably not.

It is far easier to default to the dumb bimbo assumptions- that doesn’t require too much thinking. The irony of it all is that this ignorance demonstrates how very little those who stand in judgment of us are using their brains!

This story also illustrates the woman-against-woman mentality that fuels the whore stigma and perpetuates violence committed against us. Everything is about putting somebody else down in order to validate one’s own position in the world. The mother in this story- she’s a housewife. She doesn’t have to think about making money to pay bills, somebody else does that for her. With so much free time on her hands, you’d think she’d be out doing something with her brain. No, that’s not where her interests lie. Why should she have to use her brain for survival when she can just get married? I mean, it’s not like marriage could be considered sex work or anything.

OMG!!!

I just realized that the new image at the top of the blog is from our first conference in Las Vegas! That’s so great Melissa!

Sex 2.0 founder criticizes local alt’s coverage of Atlanta sex workers

Rhea sums up her problems with the article, in a letter to the editor not published at this time:

The first, and most obvious, is that Gower and Denby are dangerous vigilantes. […]

It should go without saying that posting videos of sex workers on YouTube is a horrible idea. What is the goal? Sex workers – especially street prostitutes – are disproportionately the targets of violent crime. Violent criminals target sex workers because they know they can get away with it. […]

[Author] Nouraee fails as an investigative reporter with this piece, especially as one for a paper that claims to be alternative. Terms like “transvestitute” and “real female” go unchallenged and uncorrected. Nouraee does not probe Gower about why Gower is so fixated on harassing prostitutes. He does not examine how the criminalization of prostitution perpetuates the violence that many people associate with street prostitution. He does not discuss the societal and economic conditions that lead to many transpeople working on the streets.

More here

Who were those hot bitches talking about BoundNotGagged.com at SF State?

stacey and melissa at sex tech small
photo by Audacia Ray

Attendees at Sex::Tech– The Inaugural STD/HIV Prevention Conference focusing on Youth and Technology- were all abuzz about the “sex work blog thing” before our panel even happened. Or so Melissa and I were told at the post-conference happy hour. (Yes, despite missing many of the workshops, I did manage to make it to both of the cocktail parties!) “What does this have to do with youth and HIV/AIDS prevention?” “Why are they presenting at this conference for prevention educators?” After our presentation, people were stopping us in the halls to tell us how great and informative our presentation was! I certainly observed a furrowed brow or two when I looked out into the audience, but in general I think that our message was clear.

Sex workers have everything to do with sexual health education and disease prevention. We are a huge part of the solution. Our presentation was the first time that many educators learned about the PEPFAR provisions that limit health and education funding to agencies that serve sex workers. It was the first time that many people learned of the hypocrisy with which such policies are implemented and of the exposure of Randall Tobias, former Deputy Secretary of State who said that “it was just like ordering pizza” when he’d “call up and have the gals come by for a massage.” This is the birth point of BnG.

So we told them how the blog started. We told them about long, teary, angry all-hours-of-the-night phone calls that Melissa and I shared while as sex workers we were sitting in our own isolated worlds watching the media tell our stories through the lens of the “DC Madam Scandal.” That we desperately needed a space to respond and share our own opinions, to tell of our own exploits and scandals and to confront the stigma and harassment that we experienced with every twisted, slanted and salacious ‘hookers-to-the-elite’ story emailed out over our various list-serves. We told them that we didn’t really expect anybody besides our friends to read it, so we set out. But then Melissa actually talked to the DC Madam and the story suddenly felt accessible to us. Web-based radio shows and other bloggers were actually interviewing Jeane Palfrey, ABC News interviewed us about our first Blog-Scandal-Viewing party where sex workers got together and watched ‘Taking the Pledge’ along with the 20/20 fluff piece about the ‘Madam’s phone list.’ People were actually listening to us! Bloggers were linking to us and lurkers were stopping by regularly to see what those crazy hookers were talking about this week.

But the more we talked out in the open, the less crazy and foreign we seemed to people!

The conversations bounced around, lots of people came by to hate on us, which only sparked a whole bunch of new people coming to stand in solidarity with us! Once we found our collective voice we began using it to confront enemies on all sides. We held a virtual rally to support the actions in Philadelphia to oppose the reinstatement of Judge Deni who tolerates sexual violence against sex workers. Just a few weeks earlier we had our biggest day ever (9/18/07 with over 2,100 hits!!!) when we held a virtual press conference to confront Melissa Farley and her not-peer-reviewed research that conflates prostitution with trafficking…

…leading us back to how the blog started… US policy… the conflation of forced labor with consensual sex… the trafficking smoke-screen used to distract Americans from their own responsibility for the demand for cheap labor and to hide the corporate-driven severe exploitation occurring in many labor markets… pledges that prevent us from giving away condoms… the divide-and-conquer tactics that keep feminists busy fighting against women so that the anti-choice forces can focus on attacking Roe v. Wade… the horrible things said about us in the media… in ‘journalism’… in blogs…in living rooms…

People die when sex workers are silenced and stigmatized.

BnG exists because sex workers are the solution, and despite the gag orders that bind us, we will never be silent!!!

We made lots of new friends at the conference and got to meet up with some folks we already knew. Have to send a shout out to Guy and Nikol at the Midwest Teen Sex Show!! Thank you to all the people who attended and asked great questions about sex work at the end. We welcome all service providers and agencies to use this blog as a resource to get info, ask questions or just come hang out with hot, sexy, politically-minded people of all genders!

Thank you Melissa for putting together the power point and being our amazing messing-around-under-the-covers goddess!

In solidarity,

Stacey

SAVE THE DATE: The 2008 Sex Worker Convergence is hitting Chi-Town!

On July 16-20 of 2008, hundreds of sex workers and sex worker activists will converge on Chicago at the Desiree Alliance Conference:

“Pulling Back the Sheets: Sex, Work, and Social Justice”

The Desiree Alliance is a diverse, volunteer-based, sex worker-led network of organizations, communities and individuals across the US working in harm reduction, direct services, political advocacy and health services for sex workers. They provide leadership development and create space for sex workers and supporters to come together to advocate for human, labor and civil rights for all workers in the sex industry.

The time is NOW to get active in the movement, so go to the Desiree Alliance site and click on the link to join the yahoo group!

You will receive a monthly update or two as Desiree Alliance starts to collect “calls for presentations” (got something to say?), registration for the conference, and general updates about the national movement of sex workers and the 2008 Desiree Alliance Conference.

Thinking about sharing an abstract, workshop, or training at the 2008 conference? Got something to share with other sex workers? Wanna learn new skills in both sex work and sex work activism? Just want to hang out with hundreds of radical hookers? Join the Group!

Don’t call it slavery

The Sex Workers Project had a letter published in the San Francisco Chronicle. For your reading enjoyment…

Don’t call it slavery

Editor – Regarding Joel Brinkley’s “Enslaved, by definition,” Jan. 13:
Finally someone has noticed that the deliberate conflation of
prostitution and human trafficking hurts everyone involved.

The reality is even worse than Brinkley’s admirable column suggests.
Pending House reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act
wrongly calls all prostitution “sex trafficking” and makes “inducement
into prostitution” a federal crime. It would also force the Justice
Department to stretch its resources for fighting child sexual
exploitation to cover adult “victims,” meaning prostitutes, whether or
not they see themselves as victims. And many do not.

Our clients who want to leave the business are looking for job training,
housing and other services and choices, not for “rescue.” Trafficking is
a gross human rights abuse that must be stopped, but the administration
needs to understand that not all trafficking victims are prostitutes and
not all prostitutes are slaves.

SIENNA BASKIN Sex Workers Project Urban Justice Center New York”

Sienna Baskin
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Sex Workers Project
Urban Justice Center
p/646-602-5695
www.sexworkersproject.org

Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act Sign-on Letter to Senate 1/23/08

Dear Chairman Leahy, Chairman Biden, Ranking Member Specter, Ranking Member Lugar and Ranking Member Brownback,

The undersigned anti-trafficking service providers, advocates, scholars, civil and human rights lawyers and other individuals are writing in support of your leadership in the development of a strong bill reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). We are pleased with the majority of the House bill, H.R. 3887, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007. However, we are extremely concerned that several provisions will lead to harmful unintended consequences. We urge you to consider these concerns as you craft the Senate reauthorization bill.

The collective expertise and experience of the signatories to this letter is notable. Many of us have assisted trafficked persons with their legal, social, psychological and family issues; worked on issues of violence against women, participated in the development of the TVPA as well as the UN Trafficking Protocol; written extensively about trafficking and related issues; and opposed slavery and forced labor in all forms within the United States and abroad. As such, we share a profound concern about the desperate situation of immigrants and citizens who are trafficked into and within the U.S. We know that you also have the same concerns and so we would like to share the following thoughts about certain provisions in H.R. 3887.

Please view the attached PDF for the full text and list of signatories: tvpra-senate-letter-1-23-08.pdf

Which Sex Workers Deserve To Be On YouTube?

Thinking about Lisa’s comments on whether or not sex workers should use social media (like this blog):

If giving individual voice to a sex industry worker perpetuates the stigma and so futhers the agenda of those who truely are waging a campaign to silence us, than it hurts us all as a movement and an industry.

…makes me concede that, yes, there is a war on sex workers going on. But is withdrawing any of our voices from the precious few outlets we have available to us doing any of us or our common cause a service?

As long as people like this guy, who gets $100,000 a year from members of his community in order to harass alleged and actual sex workers off the streets is out there uploading his paid-for jolly-getting off the backs of our sisters and brothers to YouTube…

…then like hell I’m going to use YouTube, too.

Sex Work Debate Bingo!

Our fabulous Ren made this, and I just spotted it via Audacia Ray:

bingo

My favorite, of course, is “You’ve Privileged! You have a blog!”

Messing Around Under the Covers

If things start to look a bit strange, that’s just me (Melissa) doing some cosmetic magic under the blog covers. Should be done in a few hours. Posting and commenting won’t be affected, so come on in as usual.

Or just watch this video blog about sex work by Devinity, talking about escorting, burnout, transition, and getting into porn. She made this around the same time Bound, Not Gagged began:

Palfrey Gets No Breaks

Now Palfrey cannot use the information from the phone records she gave to ABC to research. And after firing her third lawyer, the judge said she can just represent herself. A couple months ago, Vitter was excluded from his subpeona (sorry I’m too lazy to dig up a link for that right now).

They’re determined to send her to prison and punish her for something. Yet there are much worse crimes in Washington at a much higher level of government. Reading this today just saddened me.

Sex Work 2.0: On “Bound, Not Gagged” & Sex Work Tech Advocacy

Juhu Thukral, of the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, wrote this piece, Sex Work 2.0, for American Sexuality Magazine:

Like other groups who come together because of shared work and interests or out of shared political concerns, sex workers have created thriving online communities beyond those that relate directly to their work. Due to the ever decreasing cost of laptops and wireless access, along with cell phones that come equipped with fancy cameras and texting options, technology has empowered many sex workers to organize online. Sex workers are rallying around technology to create collective political voices, using a broad array of tools: the ubiquitous listservs that crowd everyone’s in-boxes, blogs, podcasts, texting, video, and MySpace pages…

These tools have helped breakdown some of the basic barriers to organizing that sex workers normally face. Not only is a great deal of sex work criminalized in most parts of the United States, sex work also carries a social stigma that makes it difficult for activists to simply meet and discuss common fears and concerns. The underground nature of the work lends itself to underground organizing. For example, the fear that a new member of an activist group is an undercover police officer is a real threat—it is almost impossible to engage in political organizing without outing yourself as a sex worker and admitting to have engaged in unlawful activity. Online organizing allows people to share information and “meet” without sharing their faces, their real names, or other identifying information.

Given this larger context in which sex worker advocacy is changing, what do you think about the potential for this blog (whose origins are highlighted in the piece) for social change for sex workers? To advance our human and labor rights? My hope in creating this space (which really, all I did was open a wordpress account after a phone call to Stacey, and then we invited some people to blog who invited more people to blog and comment) is that a sex workers’ group blog like this can accomplish political work on multiple levels: that we can be both supportive (for our community) and transformative (when it comes to our place in society).

Next week, Stacey and I will both be presenting on Bound, Not Gagged at Sex::Tech, and we’re looking for examples of how this blog and the community around it have been a success. From the Day to End Violence, to challenging Judge Deni, to our online press conference countering trafficking charges against Nevada brothels, to supporting the DC Madam, and calling out our good old friend Randall Tobias, I can think of a lot that we’ve accomplished since last spring. What else can we discuss? What lessons learned? What more can we all be doing?

Not an Invitation to Rape

A friend sent me the link to these posters from an LA anti-rape campaign. While it has nothing to do with sex work, it has everything to do with a woman’s sexuality being under her control. I really liked these posters and thought I would share.

Who Is The War on Sex Trafficking Serving?

Reason has just published a fantastic interview with Laura Agustin, jumping off from her new book Sex at the Margins:

reason: So there is an attempt to conflate the terms prostitution and trafficking?

Agustín: There is a definite effort to conflate the terms in a stream of feminism I call “fundamentalist feminism.” These feminists believe there is a single definition of Woman, and that sexual experience is key to a woman’s life, soul, self-definition. This particular group has tried to say that prostitution is not only by definition exploitation but is trafficking. It’s bizarre but they are maintaining that.

reason video on trafficking

A follow-up video is now up at the New York Times, asking, is the “war on trafficking” a war on women? Reason Senior Editor Kerry Howley points out what sex worker rights advocates have been saying about prostitution for decades: that we are not “selling our bodies,” that poverty drives prostitution, and that for many people, prostitution is one of very few options for escaping oppressive families, nations, governments.