Ethics of hiring street working prostitutes in Chicago as research assistants?

Snip from a Conde Nast Portfolio bit on a new report on street sex work in Chicago:

Celebrity economist Steve Levitt of the University of Chicago and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh of Columbia University… hired former street prostitutes in the south side of Chicago to act as pollsters. The women stood on corners in three neighborhoods (Roseland, Pullman and Washington Park) and collected data from over 100 prostitutes on 2,000 transactions.

Among their findings? Police are more likely to be found having sex with sex workers than arresting them. Street workers are making on average $25-$35/hour, and less than five percent used condoms.

Aside from how different these preliminary findings are from most studies of sex workers, who report using condoms more often than the rest of the population, I’m stuck on the questions of hiring street-based workers as pollsters. What risk does this put a worker in? How much is she or he being compensated? In what conditions were survey questions asked? How were potential survey respondents selected? And how is this study of benefit to the community that it relies on for subject matter?

75 Responses

  1. I knew it was only a matter of time before Levitt realized he needed to address sex work. However, the questions he’s asking aren’t the questions he needs to ask. Sigh.

    No offense to sex workers, but since taking surveys is not in their training, I don’t know that any researcher is going to take the results of this very informal survey seriously. Nor was it really scientific in nature, more a way to gather data for Levitt to make one of his economic studies/conclusions. I do hope the workers were fairly compensated for their time in conducting the survey.

    [irony] As for the rest of your questions, well, sex workers are there to be exploited anyway, right? Besides, how could a famous researcher/economist exploit them? His motives were good, you know. It had nothing to do with degrading sex! [/irony]

    Though I have little doubt that the media and Farley will be all over the results of his survey after it’s published.

    And Levitt will be hailed as an authority on the subject after this. Sigh.

    XX

    PS: Thanks for posting this Melissa.

  2. Although it is disturbing that the survey showed less than 5% of these street based workers use condoms, the survey does not differentiate between oral and vaginal/anal sex. Maybe we have to wait for the book.

  3. Yes, that’s what I was wondering too. I’ve read about plenty of other surveys where street workers will forego condoms for oral sex but not vaginal sex — risky for them but not their clients.

    XX

  4. This just confims our difficulty with research being done from outsiders that know nothing of the industry as opposed to researchers that our our allies and know the industry. I wonder what Dr. Michael Goodyear’s analysis is of this study.

  5. Some indoor workers will also forego condoms for oral sex and in fact Eros Guide has a special promotional section highlighting the GFE. I myself was the queen of the “bareback blow job” and wish now that I had the mind to understand how this practice impacted not just my own personal health but the health and safety of all workers.

  6. Don’t get me started on the hobbyist’s “need” for physical GFEs! I think one can be a GFE without compromising their safety (and it sounds like you’ve figured that out).

    One aspect of activism that’s important to me is finding ways to educate/inform sex workers (at all levels) ways of successfully working without harming themselves.

    Although from what I understand of street workers is that many get haggled down into risky sex because they desperately need to make money or a drug addiction allows them to be easily exploited. Those are bigger problems than simply a lack of safer sex education and condoms.

    I have to wonder if external factors were worked into this study? Probably not.

    XX

  7. I did get a chance to read part of the study instead of the writers paraphrase or jist of the study posted above. I am still working on the rest. Because I worked “outdoors” in two major U.S. cities I feel qualified to state how absolutely baffled I am at their conclusions. For one thing, “pimps” protecting women from bad dates or bad clients is not correct. “Pimps” give valuable protection from other elements of the street excluding the clients. Women who work the streets solicit their own clients and the conclusion that women who work the streets see only on average 10 clients a week is laughable. Why leave the house. The 300 dollar a week and $27 dollar an hour on average is not even close to accurate. Humm, don’t get me started.

  8. Also, I might add the mystery of pricing is really no mystery at all. Ssters, any of you correct me if I am wrong but the pricing of the industry for both indoor (I worked indoor as well) and outdoor did not change for the over 20 years I was in the business.

  9. i’m already cranky. this study is going into freakonomics part 2, which was some shady research itself, and this study also focused exclusively on black sexworkers. and then we get the critiques from almost definitely non-black escorts who swear the numbers must be wrong since they got paid more.

    i do agree that the majority of sexworkers (as in prostitution specifically) in america anyhow aren’t street workers. i am no longer willing to say it’s 80 percent or higher, though.

    i wonder what a lady has to say to the grant-dispensing committees…

  10. Lisa, start writing things down. Take the points in the paper that they covered and write down your numbers and experiences. Write explanations of why things were the way they were. Explain why their research seems skewed.

    This is exactly the type of thing all of us need to work on — getting our voices heard. Maybe start by contacting them directly with your paper?

    XX

  11. Torduange,

    I didn’t work on the street so I have no idea about prices, only what I’ve read by street workers and their clients, or studies that seemed accurate. Plenty of discussion boards openly discuss street work.

    However, in the research on how ovulation affected strippers’ income, the numbers for hourly wages were also really low. I knew a lot of strippers who made $100-$200/hr, not $30-50/hr as the study reported.

    These discrepencies may depend on the researchers themselves, the sex workers or location/market. Who knows?

    As for the stat that street work makes up only 10-20% of all prostitution in America…I think that’s probably accurate. One has to take into account massage parlor workers, strippers who turn tricks, those online or with agencies, women (and men) who are having paid affairs, and anyone else who trades sex for money or material goods. There’s a lot of people who fall under that umbrella. I think they significantly out-number street workers. Street workers are simply visible.

    XX

  12. if the ovulation study reported 30-50/hr for stripping, that fits the entire range of dancers much more accurately than a 100-200/hr figure. there’s a strong amount of anecdotal evidence (other strippers) backing that particular statistic. that said, the ovulation study (if i remember correctly) was just a travesty of crappy sampling and poor method. it is purely coincidence that they got an hourly that is anecdotally reflective of the entire range of stripper-earnings.

    i am going through the 48pg rough draft of the prostitution study linked in this post and it says that condom use is 25 percent for vaginal and 21 percent for anal sex. also, all the participants (it isn’t clear whether this includes the pollers) were paid about half their usual earnings to participate (average earnings were 300ish a week, and they were paid 150 a week).

    i’m not comfortable with some of their collection methodology, but there is somewhat less freakonomics-shadiness than i was expecting. who knows what will make it into the final draft, though.

    in fact, i have to thank you for linking it, because it’s so rare to actually have statistically valid data to assess.

  13. Lisa and Amanda,

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, which echoes my own experiences–both in the industry and as a provider of harm reduction education to street-based workers!

  14. also, i should be slightly less cranky, since they actually haven’t chosen to provide racial stats on the prostitutes, only the clients.

  15. “this study also focused exclusively on black sexworkers. and then we get the critiques from almost definitely non-black escorts who swear the numbers must be wrong since they got paid more.”
    Okay, hold on. I hear you. First, the study is not framed as race or racism in street sex work, it is framed as street sex work. I believe the economics of street sex work in Chicago.
    When I worked New York workers were segregated by race. I have no idea if that has changed. What I also remember is that the Black Women and the Puerto Rican Women got arrested while I got told to move along. There you have it.
    The study has just come out. I only started to read it yesterday and because I am not an academic, it was hard going through the little of it I did. Sorry, if I misplaced my comments.

  16. like i posted above, they didn’t even give racial data for the women (i am going to assume there were only cisgendered women in the sample, but i could be wrong about that, as this is a rough draft), so i was also jumping the gun myself.

    but there is some data, even if a shady guy was the one gathering it. and that means there might be more money for others to do broader and less negatively prejudiced research (there’s some iffy economic conclusions drawn– levitt is a bit weak on theory sometimes, heh).

  17. I would like to acknoledge that we as sex workers and former sex workers are remarkably unrepresented or misrepresented. Regardless of our race or country of origin.
    I do know that my experience as a worker and as a woman is far easier because I am white. So again, I apoligize for coming off disrespectful.

  18. Right now the study has not yet passed peer review, which has been one of the complaints about Freakonomics — that the rush to get the report out into a mass market (New York Times bestselling, yeah) book was more important than having the methodology, data, and conclusions vetted by other economists and sociologists.

    I still want to know, how is this study at all beneficial to the people it relies upon for the sale of books? We begged of the academics, and to good reception, in Las Vegas at our 2006 conference, do research that makes sense for sex workers as a community. Include us for real. At St. James Infirmary, we have a clear set of guidelines for prospective research teams who want to work with us — we ask them to demonstrate why the work will be relevant to us as sex workers.

    As another point, we need to be producing our own research, and we are — but I’d love to have a place on the Desiree Alliance website where our papers and presentations were gathered for easy reference. What do you think?

  19. i’m a little excitable about this because while i loathe levitt, the fact that a white male leveraged his privilege to do this study just leaves room for all kinds of analysis and critique, from the data gathered to his assumptions to just how his gender and race played into the answers he got.

  20. One very important component would be research that is not research that is done out of context. Maxine accurately pointed this out to me some time ago that one of the many back handed tools of the haters is to take sex workers out of the context of all women in general. For example, child sexual abuse. To use a statistic that a certain percentage of sex workers were sexually abused as children and than not to use a comparison or at least include the child sexual abuse that occurs in the general population of women is bad methodology. Of course, this is just one of the many symptons of their bad science research that is used to further their agenda.
    I did want to say something about the article published in the last issue of Spread Magazine regarding mental illness in the sex industry. I know this of course was not research oriented but i found the article just as bit as damaging as the Farley research. Sex Workers are opressed as women and as workers. One of the tools of our opressors is the perpetuation of the stigma of the women who work in the industry. The most damaging of the lies is that we are all suffering from some form of mental illness. After all how could any woman chose to do this work unless she was mentally ill, sexualized as a child, drug addicted etc. That Spread Magazine would publish an article highlighting one of those stereotypes only harms us and benifits the anti-prostitution agenda. It was very upsetting that this piece came from the magazine that is supposed to represent our industry.
    So to comment on your post Melissa we need to get the research to be truthful and represent us. Not represent us, of course. But we also have to be dead certain of what we say and what we publish because what we say can and will be used against us. This is an unfortunate truth because we are not free.

  21. “So to comment on your post Melissa we need to get the research to be truthful and represent us. Not misrepresent us, of course. But we also have to be dead certain of what we say and what we publish because what we say can and will be used against us. This is an unfortunate truth because we are not free.”
    Sorry, I mistyped.

  22. Several things just pop out when reading through this study.
    One is that the prevailing union wage of sex industry workers is about $27 per hour.
    (The Lusty Lady workers). They have no longer have health and pension benefits through their union because the cost is prohibitive and they’re all young and immortal anyway.
    So, the idea that two groups of streetbased workers are earning in the range of the prevailing union wages but have different work conditions is what’s significant. The Lustys’ work behind Plexiglas with no direct contact with customers and the streetbased workers in the studies are exchanging body fluids. Not to mention no guaranteed access to health benefits, let alone pension funds like the rest of American workers.

    And it’s too bad that actual sex workers who collected the data don’t know about the prevailing wages, (usually set by the nearest trade union) were so they could have negotiated for that amount instead the $15 bucks with no mention of benefits. This researcher obviously used their insider knowledge of the business to gain him access and they ought to be compensated for that. It shows our lack of solidarity in exchanging information that benefits each other. Maybe those sex worker/data collectors ought to ask for some of the proceeds from the book. I’d be happy to write the demand letter and help with any litigation on behalf of those workers. Let this be this industry standard, that researchers and others who engage us for our expertise/access need to pay prevailing union wages as well as prove that the findings will benefit our community. How much does the Saint James Infirmary pay their outreach workers?

    And then of course there is the study’s most glaring defect; the language employed by the ruling class to describe erotic laborers and our support staff which continues to promote the negative stereotyping the likes of Gary Ridgeway used to justify his hate crimes against our class of workers. If the researcher had any brains, he’d change the language and give specific definitions limited to what was used in the context of the questions asked and not leave it up to anyone to assign their own meaning and agenda which is what always happens and how these kinds of results are used to justify oppressing us more. Researcher Laura Agustin painstakingly went through this groundwork to achieve this level of understanding in her recent book, Sex On The Margins so that nobody could misconstrue what she was talking about.

    I want to see the questions asked.

    Then there is the fact that the researcher chose non-condom use in relation to the price as the focus were clearly the acts of a non-condom using whoremonger. He uses his expertise on behalf of the customers’ agenda. This condition of workers will no doubt be used by the anti prostitution women to drink from the public trough to fund and further their anti prostitution customer policy changes for more criminalization (The Swedish Disaster) and programs (shame based sex negative traffic school) also know as state sponsored profiteering off the criminalization of prostitution.

    This is of course a clear example of how it is that our bosses, (our customers and the haters) gang up on us to force us to stay in the underground and provide non condom services, accelerating the race to the bottom.

    Of course the lack of comparative data is what’s really going to shoot down any conclusions they try to draw. Non-condom use was the normal practice in the circuit houses that operated through out the U.S.A. up through 2001 (and still is the normal practice in the few circuit houses that continue to operate after the national busts by the FBI). This group of workers and customers were/are regulars to each other. So it’s really no different from non-workers who use the same social circles comprised of the same men and women for access to sexual partners where non-barriered sex is practiced. If hysteria about the transmission of HIV were the concern for this group of workers, then it would have to be proven that non-barried sex resulted in a transmission and not sharing needles in IV drug use.

    And finally, as sex worker activist, we need to ask ourselves what our priorities are in terms of being sex worker activist? Is being in knee jerk reaction to the white and entitled’s agenda really what we want to be doing?
    The idea that sex worker activist want to deliver condoms to this population is somewhat short sighted. We don’t know all the factors in these workers lives, as it wasn’t in the best interest of ruling class whoremonger to collect it or disclose it. We need to create a multi leveled national agenda and become proactive instead of reactive. Researcher Gregor Gall, who recently visited and spoke here in the Bay Area last week, brought us copies of his book titled Sex Union Organizing. It’s worth a read by non unionist in that it talks about sex worker ‘ginger groups’ and sex workers organizations duplicating services and being in competition with each other, to whose benefit?
    Sex worker activist need to start making the jump into the next stage which is union organizing while you hand out condoms and conduct research for man. Sex Worker Union organizing is about bringing more control to ourselves and reduce exploitation.

  23. Wow. Where to start?

    Melissa,
    Would love to see papers by and for sex workers on the DA site. Very worthwhile.

    And yes, I have been wondering if there’s going to be any real scrutiny directed at this study.

    Torduange,
    Our stripping experiences differ wildly. (I remember a girl who would go home if she couldn’t make $100 in the first 30 minutes on the floor.) That only highlights the problem with any of these studies: researcher bias, location/market and the sex workers themselves.

    There are a range of sex workers who make more or less, or who take bigger risks or not. But there is a lack of this variety of experience in studies. That’s not honest representation.

    Maxine,
    Your discussion of union wages (for the area in question) is an interesting idea, one you should point out to the researchers. I like the idea of a union of sex worker researchers.

    XX

  24. Update: the Chicago Tribune has more on how Chicago organizations working with former sex workers are disputing the paper and are seeking a meeting with the author. SWOP-Chicago, I want you at that table! Is there a way?

  25. Thanks for the new article Melissa. I also hope SWOP-Chicago steps forward.

    Why is the police thing surprising to anyone?

    If the research is that incomplete after two years, then why bother making it public? (Answer: publicity)

    XX

  26. “Chicago groups working to help women escape the sex trade said they felt the draft paper overall failed to adequately address prostitutes’ suffering, seemed inaccurate in spots, and could be misread.”
    -Chicago Tribune
    “Escape” “Suffering” You know, the buzzwords for incarceration or we are going to see to it that you are just plain out of a job. This is anti-prostitution. Since prostitutes are workers this is anti-worker.
    Working with former sex workers? Look at the organizations that claim to do that here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Specifically, the SAGE Project, Inc. They claim and are presented as “working with” prostitutes. The “working with” is actually “working for” the San Francisco District Attorney, San Francisco Police Department and the United States Department of Justice and working against not with the actual sex workers. They do receive allot of funding for all those “exit” services that they do not provide but that is another subject. That is the subject of how corruption flourishes due to our criminalization.
    Exit services or job training should be available to all workers from every industry including sex industry workers. Forced exit because of threat of incarceration is coercion. Programs that currently offer exit programs only exist because of the State’s opressive laws criminalizing sex work and can only operate through their collaboration with law enforcement and DA. So a worker under this model must go to a program funded by the State that opresses her. In the labor model this is known as the “company union” and as with every other industry this is no recourse for workers. The benifit of the “company union” is the boss. Our boss is the State.

  27. I read above that this study found that less than 5 % of street based workers used condoms. I wonder if this is at least in part because of fears that condoms could be used against them in court if they are arrested for prostitution. In this sense, the criminalization of prostitution encourages unsafe sex.

  28. Yes, that would be one of the external factors I doubt the study took into consideration.

    XX

  29. melissa — were the freakonomics folks in Las Vegas? If they weren’t, and I don’t know for sure, it’s just a guess, but my experience with chicago school econ folks is they don’t generally give a crap if they’re helping the subjects of their research. That’s for the ooey gooey feminists and the activist-researchers (which is a dirty word in academia anyway). Giving a crap how your research helps or hurts the people you supposedly care about is rarely the point. It’s about publishing — and as you note above, they couldn’t wait for peer review.

    O. I’m ranting.🙂

  30. i skimmed through the study and what it looks like is they had trackers, people who did observation and interviews of sex workers on the job. the trackers were community members who were usually former prostutes. Tracker would ask series of questions created by researchers: money, time, condom use, etc. In addition, they also paid the actual sex workers who agreed to be questioned by the trackers.

    In general, people used to pretty uniformly think it was a bad idea and unethical to pay people to participate in research. They worried the sex worker would skew her answers to please the customer-cum-researcher.Increasingly, feminists and leftists who went into academic research started questioning if it was right to *not* pay people for their time and effort. They effectively said, “woah, where do we get off sucking information out of people for our own careerist reasons, and not even have the decency to give ’em a reach around. This was especially true as people started realizing just how much social scientists prey on the least of these since, unlike people with money, they can’t protect themselves from the surveillance — or what you once beautifully pointed out was the insistent demand to know the “truth” of sex.

  31. KInd of a Catch-22: show respect, pay your research subjects and possibly skew your research, or just pick their minds for free (which is disrespectful).

    I don’t have any answers, but I also think this research team could’ve handled the issues better.

    XX

  32. I don’t have any answers, but I also think this research team could’ve handled the issues better.

    oh. I agree Amanda. Plus, do they even *know* that paying people skews the research? They perform studies like that to check….

    the whole issue of whether or not anyone should research anyone else is an ethical issue. I just finished Whipping Girl and Julia Serano argues that transgendered folks should be in charge of telling their stories and academics, journalists, and artists who use transgendered lives should just back off for awhile.

    It’s absolutely why places like this blog, Melissa’s insistence that sex workers start publishing their own work, or agitate for social scientists to start doing a much better job are so important.

  33. Yes yes yes.

    I’m loving that we even have discussions like this here. I don’t know that this is happening elsewhere in the US (correct me if I’m wrong).

    The only dark side for me is realizing that most people aren’t listening. It’s becoming very important to me that we find ways of making them listen.

    XX

  34. my experience is that people only listen if they are either fascinated with the subject or they identify directly related issues with the subject.
    People might listen to some sexy story but when it comes to actual issues, well…only 50% of the population votes.

    I see great value in having discussions amongst ourselves on any topic. As we can see here, we all have different ideas about paying researchers who are former or current workers and paying research subjects.

    In my experience in circulating the petition the summer before last, the public was far more ready to take the step to free us than we were. Maybe they are not listening because they already know the answer. They’re just waiting for us, the workers, to lead our own battles.

  35. “In my experience in circulating the petition the summer before last, the public was far more ready to take the step to free us than we were. Maybe they are not listening because they already know the answer. They’re just waiting for us, the workers, to lead our own battles.”

    Do you mind elaborating? Are sex workers NOT leading their own battles? The referendum was voted down, so how do you feel the public is “more ready to take the step to free us than we were”?

    I’m not trying to start an argument. As someone who was not involved in the campaign, I’m simply looking for your take on things. It’s a thought-provoking angle, so give me more!

    XX

  36. Hello, my friend Amber referred me to this post.

    I haven’t read the study, and it may very well be “pop” sociology, but I am glad this has made the news because it gets the word out to the public that the criminalization of prostitution leads to these kinds of abuses of sex workers by the state (i.e. the police). I’m sure the anti-prostitution people may see this information differently, and use it to bolster *their* arguments, but whatever problems/abuses DO exist for these workers need to be addressed and not glossed over for PR purposes. I myself was an escort (strictly indoor) for about two years, and though never beaten or raped, I feared having no recourse if it DID happen, and was constantly worried about arrest, or the possibility of *getting* a bad client.

    Lisa, I would like to ask you some questions off-blog if you have the time about your time working “outside.” I recently attended the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in Atlanta and am wanting to expand my knowledge about street sex workers. No one in my circle of providers worked “outside” and hobbyists who inquired about “street action” on message boards were told more often than not that they were out of their minds for even thinking about it.

  37. Blanche, I am not sure what the procedure is on how to make personal contact information available. The only thing I can suggest is to go through the ESPU website and leave your contact information there.
    I would like to comment on the hobbiest aversion to street sex work. I entered the industry as a street based worker and retired as a highly paid indoor worker and the twenty years in between I did return to street based work at times but I won’t get into the details here regarding my personal work history. I will say this, working class men, are the majority of the clients of street based workers because they can not afford to pay indoor fees. So my position on the hobbiest lack of solidarity with the street based clients is truelly classist and priveleged, whether they realize or not.
    There are divisions among our own workers. Outdoor workers v Indoor workers and we have got to really bring workers solidarity to all Industry workers and one of the ways to do that is to hold firm on decriminalization for all workers street based and indoor. In other words be unwilling to support any legislation, including legislation proposed by our indoor clients unless it includes all our workers and not just indoor workers.
    I am fortunate to be an organizer and to have had street experience. One thing I would like to add is thet street based workers want our solidarity and are not interested in our “charity.” And by charity I mean outreach to street based workers handing our condoms and soaps should be avoided. I know it sounds like a nice outreach project that the indoor workers or former indoor workers are going to be sharing the love with their downtrdden Sisters but it don’t go that way from the street workers perspective. First, we don’t need to be given any shit to hold when we are trying to work. Second, we already know about condoms and we got our own. Third, we already know you are much better off than we are so don’t need to prove your priveledge by showing up at our place of work. Besides, we got to watch for our dates and most important, we have got to watch the cops and don’t need the distraction. We also know where to go if we need anything. We survive out here and we are pretty good at getting what we need.
    If however you are working for my right not to get arrested or my clients getting arrested than right on Sister. If you are spending your time working to make my job safer by working for my decrimalization (Not passing out condoms) because we are all sex workers and we all deserve and should share the same rights, than right on Sister! Street based workers are looking for our Solidarity and not our charity.
    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Like I have said and I am sure you will all agree that all the hard times I had in the industry outdoor and indoor are a direct result of criminalization. That we all have in common. What we don’t have in common is what we should keep in mind when doing the outreach to streetbased workers. I know that not many workers have been highly paid indoor workers who have also had the street experience. I hope the perspective is helpful.

  38. “And by charity I mean outreach to street based workers handing our condoms and soaps should be avoided. I know it sounds like a nice outreach project that the indoor workers or former indoor workers are going to be sharing the love with their downtrdden Sisters but it don’t go that way from the street workers perspective.”

    This is an opinion I’ve tried to express before, either here or on a listserv, as I have been exposed to this opinion from street-based workers. Of course, there are different feelings, wants, and/or needs from individual providers in varying cities or states; but I still think an awareness of this sentiment is critical to uniting a diverse group of providers for collective action.

  39. Wow, thanks Lisa and Jessica. This helps me out a lot. I came away from the IDTEVASW event thinking that handing out condoms and needles was *the* approach to take.

    I am new to political activism so am looking forward to learning what I need to learn, and doing what I need to do, to enact change.

  40. I’m also wary of the the impulse, in workers who are better off than others (for whatever that definition may be), who, in their efforts to assist workers, set an agenda for them that doesn’t include them — whether that’s wanting to go out & unionize workers without asking them if that’s what they want, or if it’s giving out condoms. Outreach work itself can be a form of community organizing when it’s peer-to-peer; it can’t come from a place of “lifting one another up” without context or understanding.

  41. Melissa: Exactly! Thanks!!

  42. “Needle exchange” is different than handing out condoms as outreach to street based workers. First, we all agree that everyone should have access to free needles and condoms. Needles are illegal for me to buy at the pharmacy and the price of buying new and clean needles on the street may be prohibitive if I only have ten bucks to spend on a bag but do not have the two dollars needed for a rig. The needle exchange program which I noticed has now expanded it’s outreach to neighborhood drop in centers and other medical based servcie centers is crucial. So maybe it is safe to say that providing free condoms in locations workers know where to go and get them is a good idea for the same reasons as providing free needles in locations addicts know where to go. However, I would never walk up to someone and offer them a clean rig because they looked like a junkie just as I would never approach a sex worker to hand her a condom because she looked hooker.

  43. Let me correct something I said. Accesss to condoms should be available at locations that serve all people regardless of their occupation. Oops.

  44. Yep. Everyone needs improved access to condoms, FREE condoms! The fact that condom access is still a “political” issue in America is unbelievable.

  45. I”’m also wary of the the impulse, in workers who are better off than others (for whatever that definition may be), who, in their efforts to assist workers, set an agenda for them that doesn’t include them — whether that’s wanting to go out & unionize workers without asking them if that’s what they want.”

    Melissa, I have to take issue with the notion that unions are some how forcing or coercing workers or setting an agenda that doesn’t include them. First organizing workers is based on the workers need and wanting of organization in the first place. No body is forced to organize and whether or not a group of workers wants to organize to gain union recognition or not is going to be taken up for a vote of the actual workers, in which 50% plus one must vote in favor of the union for that union to get recognition. Even after that vote takes place and 50% plus one vote for union recognition that still does not force the other workers to join that union, even though they enoy the benifits of collective bargaining power, grievance handling and filing, higher wages and pensions that Union jobs bring. And yes, I do acknoledge that they still must pay dues, whether they join the union or not but it is also true that the Union, bound by the duty of fair represenattion of the LMRA must represent all workers equally in regards to bargaining, grievance handling etc. even if they are not members of that Union.
    It is no coincidence that the so-called “right to work” states have the lowest wages and lowest benifits and pensions. Even with all the problems facing the Unions today, it is also no coincidence that Union workers continue to be the highest paid, with the best benifits and best pensions than our non union Brothers and Sisters.
    Our power lies in our collective strength, whether we are sex industry workers or workers from another industry and no one is forcing workers to organize but the State and real bosses are using any means nessesary to make certain that we don’t.

  46. Lisa, you’ve misunderstood my words. I never said unions were coercive. I’ve been a member of a sex worker union at the Lusty Lady and participated in negotiating contracts as a shop steward. I believe that organized labor is important.

  47. I can see that the idea of outreach to communities has sparked a lively discussion. I just want to chime in.

    In California it is now legal for anyone to purchase up to 10 new syringes without a prescription from participating pharmacies (this is part of a demonstration project that requires participating pharmacies to also collect used syringes at no cost and collaborate with their local health department on evaluation). I would add that
    not all pharmacies are open 24 hours a day.

    As well people can carry up to 10 unused syringes and as many used syringes stored in biohazard containers without being arrested. However this is still not enough and not everyone can get to a pharmacy or get to a NEX/health center. And the police, and this may be very shocking to some of you, are not always respectful of the law! People are frequently arrested, many of them as they are leaving a legal NEX program.

    As well, many places that offer free condoms are not able to keep enough hours to supply condoms “on demand” and some people do not want to or are not able for whatever reason to go someplace to get them. Moreover, many late night corner stores charge very high prices for a single condom ($1-$2).

    One of the fundamentals of Outreach is to go to where the people are, to respond to their self identified needs/interests, and (in tandem of Harm Reduction) meet them where they are at. Ultimately it is about respectful approaches. As someone who has done outreach for over 10 years now, there are some very critical considerations when doing outreach. How to approach someone, when to approach someone, when not to approach someone.

    The Outreach we do at the St. James Infirmary is to a broad range of people. We do not just approach people who look like “junkies” and “hookers.” We approach thousands of people a year, of all occupations. When I do outreach, I approach all types of people. the range has been everything from clubbers to drug dealers. I do not open an approach with, “hey you want some needles?” or “hey you want some condoms?” I have tried to train people and some people are just not good at it. For whatever reasons they don’ t have the ability to engage people or read peoples body language of the language of the street. Outreach is not for everyone. It is a blend of training, practice, art and instinct. It should never be taken lightly or as something “easy” that anyone can do.

    Say what you want about it, but my experience in my 10+ years of doing outreach is that 95% of the people I approach are either very grateful to have the personal contact, most people are very grateful to get some food, chocolate or other things, and/or express genuine interest, what to know more about what we are doing, ask questions or are just very excited to get free condoms. I have many times been surprised at how many people just want free condoms.

    For the 5% that are not into it, it is simply a matter of respecting that. There is no way to tell from how people look, what they might be wearing, what corner they stand on, or any such thing weather or not they are going to be into the approach or not.

    But the 95% who are into it, they are the ones who keep me going. Say what you will about outreach, some people might think it is insulting, and maybe some people are offended by it. Hey it’s true, it is not for everybody. But I have met thousands of people in the community who say otherwise.

    As for “collecting information” from people. That is typically not the role of the outreach worker at St. James. There are a few dozen other agencies who do outreach (I am not talking about church groups here, and have no idea their process as they are not engaged in community conversation and information sharing activities, at least not with us). and most if not all of us agree that it is unrealistic to do so and inappropriate. That is what research or surveys are for. After a contact we do record some basic demographics and what we handed out. This is not to say that some people we talk to on the street go into some long in-depth disclosure about what is going on for them. While they initiate that disclosure, it is important for us to be open and available for the interaction.

    In the event that we are doing a survey or research it would be an entirely different project, but you are right the pay would be the same. Non-profit wages are way too low, especially in our area with rent as high as it is.

    Having worked as a basic research associate (the person who does the interview) for 3 different large studies in San Francisco (not specifically with Sex Workers) I can tell you that it is not much, the range I got was between $15-$18 max, and the max end was after 2 years of experience. Now I am sure that there are many other studies who pay a lot more, I just didn’t work for any of them.

    Now maybe our services can not, nor should they parallel a labor movement, and I think a labor movement is so critical for us, but neither can a labor movement parallel a public health movement. They are both equally important and different people are attracted to them for different reasons. It would be irresponsible, not to mention conveniently self centered and egotistical, to suggest that one is more or better than the other.

    I will end with a story. Two outreach workers were walking down a dark and isolated street near a freeway on ramp. A car speeding toward the freeway drove by and a woman came bounding out of the passenger side and hit the pavement hard. The workers ran up to her and asked her if she was alright. She was badly shaken and pretty beat up. She had been assaulted and the guy was trying to go on the freeway to take her god knows were to do god knows what. The workers told her about the clinic that was open at that moment and she went to get medical and counseling services.

    For her, and many others we will continue to do outreach.

    Naomi

  48. […] Ethics of hiring street working prostitutes in Chicago as research assistants? « Bound, Not Gagged “I still want to know, how is this study at all beneficial to the people it relies upon for the sale of books? We begged of the academics, and to good reception, in Las Vegas at our 2006 conference, do research that makes sense for sex workers as a commun (tags: prostitution research interesting important reference sexwork labor work law ethics) […]

  49. My apologies, Melissa for the misunderstanding in regards to your Union comments. As it stands, you are one of the few who got to be part of the only organized dance club. So, again, my apologies on that.

  50. Naomi,

    Thanks for sharing your experience!!!

  51. Amanda: I’m talking about the petition we circulated in 2006 in San Francisco,
    We didn’t get enough signatures to qualify for a ballot initiative that time but we have filed the petition last week and will circulating it again here in SF. This is the old petition, as the new one hasn’t been posted yet.
    http://espu-ca.org/wp/?page_id=15

    This new effort will be another opportunity for activist to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

    In regards to sex workers not leading their own battles, yes I believe that it is problematic that ex workers and supporters want to continue to define issues and dominate what action is taken or not taken and who gets to take it. I mean look at whose bloggn on this site. Not too many folks have identified themselves as actual workers or as we say in labor, located themselves in relation to the issues we’re talking about, nor have they stated exactly how they are affected and/or involved Or have they stated what their position is on the issues to decrim and what measures they are prepared to make it happen, individually or collectively. I’m okay with the x’s and the supporters out numbering us actual workers, but we need to be seen as at the center of, not in spite of. This is why ESPU has an auxiliary membership.
    http://espu-ca.org/wp/?page_id=110

    I responded to the comment Melissa made about “peer to peer’ and it either never got posted or it was removed. But I will restate my point again because it addresses the idea of who is defining for us, for example, what ‘peer to peer’ means.

    I think its important because this ‘peer to peer’ language is used by the SAGE Project in it’s contracts with the city to justify ex workers position to be involved and profit off of arresting currently working workers and our customers for prostitution, acts of corrosion and extortion when we’re forced into paying them to attend the shame based sex negative program while waving our right to due process. The saint james infirmary uses this same language in it’s contracts with the city, ‘peer to peer’, to justify spending a predetermined amount of time in the intake interview and how that translates into actual services is that intake interview questions are asked about drug use, irregardless of if drug use is the clients identified issue in coming into the clinic.

    I suggested hosting a street based work session whereby non-street based workers can earn money on the street and then, ‘peer’ might have some actual meaning. I think it would be interesting to have different workers host different workers in each of our situations to see what its really like.

    In the story Naomi told, I’d like to see another chapter whereby the outreach workers and worker call the police and see criminal charges brought against the driver and triple penalties are imposed. If someone wants out of your car, you have to stop and let him or her out. No means no.
    It reminds me of the testimony I witnessed by the street based workers in Oakland last May who where assaulted on their job by a man named De La Fuentes Jr. The workers told him, ‘don’t get on the freeway’ when they got into the car with him and he disrespected them and got on the freeway and drove them to a remove place and assaulted them.
    No means No and yes means yes, but for us, we don’t have the right to negotiate either. Nor do we have redress when we’re violated.
    That’s why the petition.
    The title and summary of the petition was ‘Non Enforcement of the Prostitution Laws and Protection for Sex Workers.” We’ll see what they city gives us this time.

    So when the Department of Public Health and the Saint James Infirmary put up the Sex Workers’ Hotline Project, they positioned a public entity to be the receiver or grievances, traditionally a worker based activity, as in a collected bargained membership based representation with access to power to demand and receive reparations. And how has the hotline work out for the workers? The grievers? Who knows.

    Labor unions have long been at the forefront of healthcare movement. I can point to numerous actions taken by organized labor in regards to healthcare for workers and our families. Inclusion of healthcare coverage has been the major points of contracts negotiations for organized labor.
    http://www.sflaborcouncil.org/Page/1.5

    Union members get to pick which kind of healthcare their members want because they are forced to pay for benefits by giving up cost of living increases. This is one of the reasons why we all want universal healthcare. Everybody ought to have affordable and accessible healthcare they want and not have trade living wages for substandard benefits and organized labor is at the forefront of that fight. Healthcare for sex industry workers ought not be predetermined based on what public funding is available for HIV prevention or drug prevention monies or availability of the good will from healthcare providers. That stigmatizes us.

    So how to envision actual workers articulating what we want in terms of healthcare, redress for grievances, equal protection under the law and most importantly the right to negotiate for our wages and work conditions. It has to come from the workers.

  52. While getting more current workers active would be great, the stigma is large enough that most stay away or don’t wish to identify themselves as current workers.

    Understand that SF is NOT the rest of the US, it’s probably the most open city in the nation and regarded as highly unusual.

    If more current workers do not step up, then it’s up to ex-workers and informed supporters to do what they can–otherwise who will? And even that’s not enough, as those voices are drowned out by academics with agendas and backed by government.

    The real issues are not about the ratio of current and ex-workers, it’s about policies being made without ANY sex worker input. At least, that’s my take on it.

    XX

  53. Who ever actually fully retires anyway? And how many hours a week does one have to spend engaging in actual sex work to be defined as a sex worker?

    I just don’t see how a more-sex-worker-than-thou approach is going to inspire more action.

  54. Amanda, that’s exactly the kind of thing we’re running into here in Atlanta, in trying to organize. I think everything that’s been achieved in SF is awesome, but it’s definitely an anomaly in terms of activist organizing for sex workers rights.

  55. Stacyswimme, you miss my point!

    Listen folks, many labor organizers don’t work in the industry they
    get paid to organize, but they have the workers’ prospective for that given industry. And there are many retired and former workers who continue to work on behalf of the workers stated interest.

    And don’t let what’s going on in SF be an anomaly. Its really a necessity! If we can’t move the front line forward in our struggle here in SF then where’s it going happen?

    My point is that any advocacy or organizing of our industry has to come from a labor rights perspective and if I can do it, you can do it where ever you live. There is organized labor around you, go find it and have fellowship in it and get some help! Get some skills and join in the struggle.

  56. Max, where in organized labor’s principles does it say that patronizing folks you’re saying you work in solidarity with is part of the struggle? We ALL have skills, and we’re ALL working. We have different approaches, and everyone else who has participated in this project — not just those who come here to drain the energy of those really engaged in it — recognizes that and works together. There’s only so many hours in the day, and I appreciate all the varied skills and strengths anyone’s got to give.

    Re: commenting, our spam filter is such that unusually long comments sometimes get flagged as spam. Stacey and Amanda and I are currently the moderators moving comments out of spam, and as we were presenting at a conference yesterday, we didn’t get to the blog admin we usually do every day. Unpaid.

  57. you still miss my point

  58. “Who ever actually fully retires anyway? And how many hours a week does one have to spend engaging in actual sex work to be defined as a sex worker?’

    I am retired. I must confess that I am now a former sex worker and will always be from now on a former sex worker. Sometimes I struggle with my retirement because sex work was so much part of who I was that it is sometimes difficult but to my inner most self I accept that it was time to go and that ALL the work that I had to do, you all know what I am talking about, I no longer have to do any longer. I also don’t have to diet and get more sleep.
    The other part of the work, which was the most difficult and most unfortunate part of being a sex worker, is that I no longer have to worry about getting ARRESTED.
    I think we have got to not only listen to the current workers in our industry that work under the gun, we have got to do a better job at understanding where they are coming from. Myself included. It maybe that we take what they say the wrong way or we don’t like what they are saying but maybe we should step back and ask our retired selves, what it was like for us trying to make a living with law enforcement at our door, with cases pending, under surveliiance etc. And especially with the anticipation of the more opressive TVPRA. The current workers have got to be feeling extreme worry, anxiety and anger because they still have to go to work and pay the bills, only now they will be doing it under the threat of even more severe prison time.
    For us retired or former workers and also the current workers in our industry that do not work under criminalization, we should do better on a personal level to understand the pressure working prostitutes are facing now. Especially the ones who are couragous enough to do the organizing work that they do inspite of the fact that it puts them in even more jeapardy.
    I also want to restate that I am sorry that I may have been reactionary and wrong in some of the comments I made yesterday regarding street based outreach. I acknoledge that my personal experience does not always allow me to be objective and I am sorry. I will work on that.
    If i believed in God I would say let us pray.
    In Solidarity,
    Lisa Roellig

  59. I think it is important to mention that the public health community is also at the forefront of universal healthcare. Unions have been able to negotiate better healthcare benefits for employees and family members through a number of actions, collaborating with the the medical and public health community and relying on data gathered as a result of these collaborations (I don’t think I can say “collaborate” enough times) not to mention decades of research and discourse between the two groups are just some of the ways. Are these efforts more important than the efforts of the workers themsleves? No, of course not. the two work a synergy, they are not mutually exclusive. But discoursing multidisciplinary approaches are a leverage in any organizing.

    Maxine, in the past and now, you have made numerous public statements, many untrue and twisted truths, that have been very, well, how shall I say it, “unsupportive” of the Infirmary. It almost seems like your are putting us and the work we do down to inflate your own work.

    In your recent post you cited our contract with the City (not so much word for word, mind you, and your conclusion is inaccurate). As a 501c3 publicly funded organization all of our funding, contracts, expenses, losses, tax returns, policies and procedure, hiring practices, etc. are a matter of public record. This is why you were able to approach the City Attorneys Office and demand that we be audited by the IRS a few years ago.

    Of course, as a 501c3, we hire an independent auditor every year so we were not worried. A bit confused as to what possible motives you might have, but none the less, we passed with flying colors. Which reminds me, the ESPU would that be a 501c4 or a 501c5? Just curious as to what your organizations transperancy is?

    As for what people come into the Infirmary for and our intake. Firstly the intake is not mandatory to get services (as you stated as an “IN FACT” that it was, but it is not). Second, it is not uncommon when a person goes to see a provider that that person is asked to complete what is called a medical history, and drug use questions and many many others can be part of that. This is our intake.

    Two primary differences: when medical records are released to third parties, in most healthcare agencies, the intake is included. At St. James we received special protection and our intake is not included, default, with the medical records, thus a person would have to give extra consent to release that information.

    The other is that when we designed the intake we were mindful of all the hundreds of research articles out there that claim Sex Workers had higher rates of substance use then the general population. We wanted to test that theory. Moreover, we ask numerous questions about community and working conditions because we believe, as do many others including many unions, that working structures have an impact on health outcomes.

    And whataya know, we found evidence that it does for Sex Workers. too. Of course we published this data, and are continuing to look at social capital and health outcomes more in depth.

    Now, to date we have interviewed over 2,000 sex workers. What I don’t get is how someone like you could say, “You don’t need to ask (SJI) what Sex Workers need and want, just ask us.” So 2,000 workers are just full of shit?

    Maxine, do you have some data you or ESPU has conducted that we don’t know about? I mean it would be really great for you to enlighten the rest of us with that information. Keep in mind that when sharing your data it would be best practice for us to also get your primary questions, recruitment methods, limitations, results as well as discussion and conclusions.

    As for your second version of my story. I wasn’t sure how to take that…do you actually think we wouldn’t ask if the worker wanted to go to the police, or that we wouldn’t be there for her every step of the way? Or, which is more disturbing, did you think that we should do it without her consent because it was important to “the cause”?

    As for questions about SJI, if anyone on the site or anywhere else has, with respect, some questions about the Infirmary, let me know if I can answer them I will. But if it’s just about screaming how shitty we are, well then I am done talking.

    Naomi

  60. I don’t know if this is the proper place to post this but I thought it was important enough to chance the mistake. This is from a personal email sent to me by one of our “allies” reporting from a meeting attended by family, community members and social justice groups demanding justice for the police murder of Gary King, Jr. last Thursday night. What I thought was significant to post here was the scapegoating of street prostitution at a forum that was meant to address the murder of another young black man by the Oakland Police Department. The meeting I am told was packed. I was also told in a later conversation with our “ally” that the Police once again framed themselves as community “outreach” workers at this meeting. Sound familiar? The Oakland community of course was not buying it and neither do we.

    “The “community” briefing held by OPD last night had high educational value right from the start because as you walked in the small school auditorium had cops lined around it trying their best to act casual. Jane Bruner the liberal North Oakland councilwoman presided and tried to act as the translator for the cops. Her concern of course was property thefts in the Rockridge area of her district. The cops tried to act like “the killing” as they referred to it was just another agenda point even though 90% of the packed room was there for the police murder of Gary King Jr. One captain tried to put people to sleep with a long explanation about how they are having to re organize themselves. And what they were doing about prostitiution on San Pablo. He explained to us that prostitution was a nexus point to other criminal activity. It turned into a pretty raucous affair once Gloria interuppted this guy to ask what the cops were doing to protect the safety of young black youth who were at risk of being murdered. That sorted of opened the flood gates. The cops spent more time trying to figure out who we were than taking notes about the communities concerns. At one point Jane Bruner tried to explain the shortage of cops was due to not having enough qualified applicants and were hoping to fill the position with Iraq war veterans. That idea got a unison of gasps in the room. I guess because these guys are so trained at kicking in doors that they would make perfect cops. I just read that 30% of all new army recruits don’t have a high school diploma, perfect canon fodder. “

  61. I have logged in writing and in person and in meetings my grievances with the Infirmary over the years.
    One of my concerns was addressed by one of your board members; it could have been before you were hired as the ED.
    As far as the other grievances, I have not received to my satisfaction the resolution to those grievances. Including the one I voiced to you at the infirmary last summer about the lack of communication regarding events planning where the SJI and desire alliance people, swop and the sex workers film festival planned their event at the same time of the labor school.
    When my concerns aren’t addressed,
    I reserve the right to take it to street.
    That’s what we’re taught in labor school.

    Others have logged grievances with the infirmary and have their concerns ignored.

    Does the infirmary have a grievance process to handle complaints internally as well as with those whom they serve without threat of retaliation, hostility or aggression?

  62. First I want to apologize for using foul language on this blog. I was angry and I spoke out of turn. Moreover, I was wrong to imply that if someone were to have negative things to say about us that I “am done talking.” That was wrong of me to say. I want to make it clear that as the Executive Director of the St. James Infirmary I am open to any grievance that any person might file.

    Our grievance policies are too long to post here, but they are handed out to every person who walks in our door for services and they are available for viewing here:
    http://web.mac.com/towtruckpanties/iWeb/Site/Blog/F5996305-3285-45B9-A369-39242C079956.html

    Maxine, I am glad that you were able to file a grievance and that we were available to execute that grievance: you met with a Board member and a mediator and it was handled to completion.

    Last year you approached me about the timing of labor school and our skills sharing day having conflicting times. Even though you did not file an official grievance per say, I agreed to meet with you to discuss your concerns. The last email I wrote to you was that I was available and willing to meet with you at a formal mediation either with the Human Rights Commission or Community Boards. At that point you ceased email communication with me and I let it go. I did not think it appropriate to force the issue.

    Although I did express in this blog an inquisition as to the structure of the ESPU in concerns to transparency, I am less concerned with the actual details, I am not a dues paying member and have no cause to questions were dues go, but my brining it up was more out of frustration that I have heard so much negative feedback from you about us and yet have seen little self disclosure on your part. I realize that while it is idealistic for me to expect that from you or your organization, it is unrealistic that all orgs, for whatever reason, would be able to meet that standard or for me to be attached to the outcome of that request.
    I operate in the world, or at least I strive to operate in the world, with a willingness and openness to have honest examinations of where I have done things less than perfect and how can I be better. This self-examination process is a core principle at St. James and with our staff. We are not perfect and have a lot of room to grow. However I believe that we are doing amazing work. Having been a community member since we opened in 1999, I am deeply committed to our agency and our community. The Infirmary, the medical providers, the peer counselors, literally saved my life. While I was working on Capp Street and suffering tremendous loss at the death of a partner, the clinic community was there for me in a way that no other people, my family, or any other agency could be. For that I think I have taken some criticisms too personal. I apologize to anyone on this site who may have been offended by my posts.

    Thank you for your time

    Naomi

  63. I’m noticing the tensions between people and I think that in a sense, it’s healthy to get these out in the open because that is the best way that we can develop solutions. That being said, I would like to thank the sex worker advocates who have devoted time and energy to advocating for the rights of workers in the sex industry, whether we are current or former sex workers, or allies and supporters outside of the sex industry. I think we share the same core goals, such as the decriminalization of prostitution and the safety and well-being of workers in the sex industry, but I think that the conflicts arise in terms of different strategies and different areas of focus. Please keep in mind that we are all human beings with feelings, and we’re not just machines to get things done. When people emotionally hurt other people, regardless of whether that is their intent or not, that harms our whole movement and our functioning. Thus, when we express our views and or disagreements with others in the movement, it is important to keep people’s feelings in mind instead of just focusing on our agendas.
    Also, I realize that being a former sex worker is not the same thing as being a current sex worker, but being a former sex workers is also not the same thing as being a non-sex worker. A former sex worker at least has experience working in the sex industry, whereas a non-sex worker does not. Please also keep in mind that many of us are volunteers who devote our time because we care about sex workers and we have the desire to work toward public policies that reflect our concerns for the rights and well-being of sex workers, even if we don’t all have the exact same strategies for going about our goals. We need to allow room for different strategies. Maxine’s main strategy involves uniting with organized labor and implementing organized labor advocacy techniques, and I totally support her in doing that. Other people may have different strategies and focus on different areas, such as supportive feminism or harm reduction, and I totally support those strategies as well and I think our different strategies can compliment each other. If we keep arguing over who has the best strategy, then I don’t see how we’re going to make any progress. However, if we’re flexible enough to allow room for different strategies and for people to use their talents and interests in whatever ways work best for them and the movement, then that is when I believe we’ll make progress. That’s the best way for us to work together and form a unified movement

  64. Naomi,
    Go back and check the emails you sent me.

    You set out pre conditions of terms communication I was supposed to meet prior to getting to the part where we would dialog with about meeting over the lack of communication issues that facilitated scheduling simultaneous events last summer.

    Since I have no intentions of meeting your pre conditions because they were inappropriate and negotiated in bad faith, I was quite clear that you wouldn’t consider further communication with me.

    When someone erects such barriers in the middle of a conversation, then good intensions can no longer be considered as a basis of conversation. That’s something the bosses do when they want to look like they’re playing fair, but they aren’t.
    Just a little something we learn in labor school. How to negotiate. Some hookers do it well and other don’t which is understandable since our right to negotiate for basics like using a condoms is criminalized in the first place and our right to associate and discuss such things are criminalized in the second place.
    I’m looking forward to communing with the Canadian hooker gentry and labor folks at this year’s labor school being held in Vancouver B.C.; they’re so less oppressive than the Americans. At least labor school doesn’t require writing up and submitting a paper in order to participate.
    You worker status is enough, but getting passports to get over the boarder will take pre planning and time.
    We’re looking to raise $5000 to get everyone there who wants to go.

    At any rate, I felt quite clear from your communications that you were not really interested in continuing discussion about how to communicate to not overlap events otherwise you won’t have been so hostile.
    That’s why I haven’t addressed you personally.
    I’m respecting what you asked for in terms of communication.

    But despite this, I have continued to keep sji included by coming by and pinning notices of events on the bulletin board at the clinic and will continue to do so.
    Mx

  65. sexworkeradvocate,

    The issue is one of counter organizing. When ex and non sex workers decide what issues and how those issues are going to be addressed on behalf of actual workers is what I have the problem with. It’s what the anti do.
    I understand that it may not be anyone’s intension, but to act in a way that has that affect or could even be construed as such is counter productive.

  66. Thank you Maxine for your comments. Again as I stated to you last year, I had no intention of meeting with you to be a passive victim in your oral dumping of how everyone, SJI et al., has engaged in “counter organizing” without you owning your part in the miscommunications between all parties-both in terms of the event itself as well as prior to it.

    If the “conditions” that I required to meet with you–mutual responsibility in communication issues, reciprocal accountability about behavior, addressing my objections with your past slanderous statements about myself and SJI–are not something that you can be held accountable for or allege as “hostile”, well then mediation with you is not appropriate at this time.

    I stand by my previous convictions—a grievance and mediation is not a one-way bitch fest. Particularly in your case.

    Naomi

  67. What are the dates of the labor school in Vancouver?

  68. Maxine, what do you think are the main differences between issues addressed by former workers and those addressed by current workers within our movement? Like, what are the differences in priorities that you’re noticing, etc.? Do you see a clash of interests between current and former workers in our movement?
    What I think you’re mainly saying is that current workers should take on the main leadership roles and that former workers and allies should take on more supportive roles. Is that a correct interpretation of your stance?

  69. I’m not going to take sides, but I think it is important to look at our own behaviors and also consider feedback from others about our behaviors. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with what everybody says about us, but at least think about it and consider it rather than just blowing it off. That’s how we better ourselves and become stronger activists.
    It’s a lot easier to criticize other’s behaviors than our own, but we need to be able to critique our own behaviors also and be conscious of how these may make other people feel and affect our ability to build solidarity with others. Like, ask ourselves, “What can I do to make the situation better?” I think this would be so much more effective than just always pointing fingers at others without thinking about our own behaviors and how we may play a part in the problems. Again, I realize this is hard to do, but it’s important. I’m not saying that we should never call other people out on anything, but when doing this, we also need to ask if there’s anything we should call ourselves out on.
    I think it’s so important to allow in the positive energy rather than being consumed by negative energy because when negative energy controls us, negative consequences result and we won’t make any progress. However, positive energy gives us the power to counter the negative and make things better. I think the only way to understand this is to allow in the positive energy. Then, you’ll feel it. The only way to know it is to feel it. Until then, what I’m saying probably won’t make much sense.

  70. Setting the record straight,
    I didn’t call out the money police on sji. I’ve responded to this ex worker on worker form of violence before and will be making it now again.
    I do however; remember writing a letter to the health commission calling into question
    Sji’s decision to be in cahoots with the dance club owners as means to raise money they needed as the general sex worker community hasn’t supported sji. I believe my complaint was that the sex worker occupational health and safety clinic should not be receiving monies from dance club owners who have been held accountable and forced through class action lawsuits, to return tens of millions of dollars illegally taken from thousands of dancers over the past two decades. SJI, a occupational health and safety clinic by and for sex workers can’t be involved in a transaction that violating one set of workers occupational health and safety and giving it to other set of workers in the name of health and safety!
    Daisy Anarchy, originally logged this complaint publicly against sji and demanded that sji wash it’s hands and give back the money to the dance club workers.

    I did however ask the IRS to investigate the SAGE project Inc. for violating the terms of it’s 501 © 3 because I believed that they over stepped their 20% allotment of resources on lobbing legislation at the local, state and federal level that resulted in further criminalization of our occupation. I’m talking about the local massage legislation passed 2002 that was supposed to stop the criminalization of permitting for massage parlor owners and owners by putting Department of Public Health at the center of issuing those permits to operate but workers still have to go pay for background checks by putting their finger prints down for the right to work! And now, 5 years later, DPH is passing out $5000 fines to massage parlor managers for workers not wearing clothing that covers their necks! So now we have DPH, an sji funder, profiting off the regulations of massage parlor workers.

    Norma Hotaling, like other ex- prostitutes, uses their ex prostitute status to qualify themselves as experts and take the licsence of not being the direct line of fire to make general statements about currently working workers’ work conditions, acts of lilly white plantation slave owners to be sure. They lobby to further punitive laws against current workers and our customers. Under the guise of her organization, she has been at the center and scene of the crime in creating laws that further institutionalized violence against our occupation in legislation like the TVPRA and the gag order.
    The IRS wrote me a one-line letter saying that their investigation didn’t find any wrong doing by SAGE.
    How come SAGE gets to walk away Scott free for bring more bad laws onto us while sji received money from the dance club owners? Has sji spent any resources fighting these bad laws as per their 20% allotment under their non-profit status?

    SAGE like sji also received monies from a bogus lawsuit filed on behalf of dancers by the dance club owners’ best girls to get a court decision classifying dancers as independent contractors, not employees as is always the basis of returns of illegally taken wages in the state wage and hour commission decisions in the other dozen plus class action lawsuit over the past two decades. The anti labor court appointee disbursed the monies to sji who intern disbursed the monies in the form of scholarships to dancers. If that money was illegally taken then it ought to be have been returned directly to the dancers to spend as they please, not presubscribed school money. Likewise, SAGE got $40, or 50 thousand too and probably spent that money on flying Norma to Washington D.C. so she could testify before congress to enact more punitive laws against US!
    My point is that money was blood money and sji ought not have associated itself with it.

    I see that sji has since changed its mission statement.

    This state of affairs speaks loud and clear the lack of political muscle the sex worker ‘movement’ doesn’t have but could have. This is why I believe it’s really important to go outside of our little sex worker community and build common ground with other workers, locally and internationally, whose center principle is to put actual workers at the center of any conversation about us. But that’s not what happens; ex prostitutes who work for non profits like sage and sji only lobby to drink from the public trough to get their salaries paid for by their narrow mission statements to bring secondary relief to sex workers but never involves itself directly to support actual workers efforts to stop the primary point of harm, the enforcement of bad laws.
    And if sji or anyone else has done any lobbing on behalf of our community, other and I workers are not aware of it and we should be. We ought to be afforded the opportunity to act in solidarity at every turn not just haphazardly emailed about fundraisers and shows. ESPU posts our general meeting on our site so everyone has an opportunity to participate. As I said recently to others, building political muscle is not an art project, it’s not glamorous. I don’t do it as a form of entertainment.

    I mean look at the sex worker art show tour that came through SF last week. It played to a packed house of workers and supporters, and missed an opportunity to put together a call for action. I mean here is an effort that reaching thousands of workers across the country as we write and where is the collective call for collective action to not only stop the onslaught of criminality that TVPRA brings us but also become proactive and repeal the anti prostitution and immigration laws!

    All erotic laborers and our supporters must come together and assess our individual and collective actions and their effects on each other and become willing to go beyond bandaides and condoms.

    Put the horse before the cart.

  71. Max,

    You’ll notice that BNG is an open forum and that we do not censor or delete comments. Additionally, in the 9 months that the blog has been running, we have never needed to: no one has ever crossed the line into defaming, bullying, or breaking the privacy of anyone on the blog to the extent that we had to remove a member of our own community from the blog.

    I will not remove the comment you left this morning, and will leave it for others to respond to, as they have. This is what blog democracy looks like. Your continued and unfounded attacks do far greater harm to your own ability to organize sex workers than removing them could benefit our community. Something to consider when commenting at BNG in the future?

    Melissa

  72. So here’s what I’m reading in your statement, Max:

    Art isn’t politics.
    Health care isn’t politics.
    Making a living isn’t politics.
    Caring for your community isn’t politics.

    But if you listen to the hundreds of sex workers in the US and the thousands around the world, all of these *are* part of sex worker rights organizing. All of these issues matter. Labor organizing is one prong here, a major prong, and one that needs to be pursued. If it’s your expertise, then pursue it. I have, as well, as a proud former sex worker labor union member, but that doesn’t exclude the work I do as an artist, an educator, a writer, a support person for health care provision, or as an exasperated old whore who sometimes, like you, wants to yell, Hey kids, get off my lawn and let’s get down to business.

    Your complaints against SJI are something that Naomi and others have responded to you and others who have raised them for over two years now, at least. SJI has an open policy about who we take funding from and why and how we work with them. Does ESPU? You have a Paypal donation link on your website, but no list of donors, no mention of your non-profit status, no mention of what ESPU membership (at $25) gains a potential member. My work, in part, is supporting the provision of free health care to any sex worker or intimate partner of a sex worker who needs it, and when we ask community members to support our work with a donation, we are clear as to where that money goes. In your complaints, you are demanding that SJI be far more accountable than your own organization is willing to be. How does that assist “all erotic laborers” in “coming together together to assess our individual and collective actions” when your own work and your own organization is impossible to assess, to trust, and thus, to work with?

  73. Melissa, ESPU is not a non profit. It is a union and money comes from membership dues paid by workers. That does not exclude recieving support from other unions but it most certainly excludes recieving money from the dance club owners and from The State. In fact their are laws that govern union activity, including funding. Recieving money from the dance club owners would not only be a conflict of interest but also opens the door to a trip to the NLRB.
    This may or may not have been the place to raise up the debate but here we are in conflict. I think one of the problems is that every time these issues come up, two things happen. One is that we take the conflict too personally. We all do. The other problem is that we keep talking about different things in regards to the same issue.
    Promoting the sex industry is not the same as worker organizing. For instance, a sex industry boss waving the banner of sex industry freedom can possibly be protecting his or her abilty to profit and could care less about the wages, hours or working conditions of the workers he or she employs. There could be no better example of this than the dance club owners.
    I understand the struggle for desperately needed funding to keep programs running. I have used the SJI services and so I want to very careful not to come off too harsh. We are all working so hard and care so much.
    All workers have the right to organize for better hours, wages and working conditions and no worker should be met with harrasssment, physical threats, verbal abuse or lose their job. The assault on the dancers both on their personal and professional life is not only unacceptable it should be met with fierce resistance from other industry workers.
    Accepting money to provide health care services from the bosses who not only refuse to provide health care to the workers but further threatened the life and economy of workers who tried to organize for those services should be faught by every industry worker and not met at cocktail parties or fundraisers. My blood pressure just went up because I don’t get how this could have happened. This collusion. I am totally open to have some one explain. I would love to feel better about this.
    Again , I want to restate that sexual freedom and sexual expression or sex industry freedom should not come at the expense of sex industry workers.
    I am also depressed to have heard that after a very succesful Sex Worker Art Festival that no mention was made of the bomb that is about to go off in the industry, should it pass the senate.
    Thank you for letting me share my concerns. I know that many of you have different political ideas than I do. I am trying to respect everyone’s point of view, while still trying to debate or discuss important issues. I hope I have not screwed up too badly. I confess that I am a Socialist and any Boss or State talk gets me up in arms.
    Lisa

  74. I also want to acknoledge that unfortunately we still have to work within the system, even as we are working against it. The SJI issue could be an example of that.
    I know the issue of who the “bosses” are in the sex industry are different than other industries and also differ from within the industry itself.
    Melissa, I appreciate all the work you do and the contribution you make every day. Ideas are important to us all and I hope we can keep the debate on issues going to all our benifit.

  75. Melissa, Its not were the money goes, it were it comes from,
    Membership based is different from charity based,
    Once again, I see that my comments are taken out of context,
    I don’t get you and you don’t get me,
    What’s the trust?
    I mean it sounds like you already have it all.
    And I don’t have a yard and if I did, kids would always be welcome in it, just ask my children.

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