Prohibitionists’ comparing sex work and straight work: they are dead wrong.

Authorization to repost granted, except if material is used to replace an actual interview with one sourced by this.

Prohibitionists’ comparing sex work and straight work: they are dead wrong.

There are people who believe ending sex work (abolishing prostitution, pornography, and other forms of erotic labor) will end harm being done to women in these fields. These sex work prohibitionists coolly assume that jobs in the “straight world” are safe, protected, equitable—all the things they believe sex work is not.

They are wrong. Many of these people are a certain breed of feminist academic elite, comfortably ensconced in their Ivory towers. They may be well intentioned. As I know some of them like Donna M. Hughes myself, I’d even say they are genuine in their desire to advance constructive social change.

But reality can shatter even the best of intentions.

My journey into and out of sex work is unique. My first experience in sex work lasted 3 years. I was (literally) a sex slave: no safe words were needed, and I didn’t even know safe words existed. I was coerced.

The coercion was the true injustice I endured, as millions of Americans suffer the injustice of coercive workplaces that have nothing to do with sex work. That’s the reality “end the sex industry and get a real job activists” routinely and tragically dismiss.

10 years after I was trafficked, I returned to sex work as a stripper. While I worked occasionally at clubs, I mostly did outcall bachelor’s parties. The agent got 40 percent, I got 60 percent. That’s 60 percent more than when I was a sex trafficking victim.

Later still, I gave up on stripping and went to work on my own as an independent escort. I was my own boss and there were no comparable problems. No one hurt me, I set my own boundaries, I got paid what I asked for—all 100 percent of it.

While it wasn’t the greatest job in the world, it was work; it was nothing like my coerced experience. Anti-trafficking activists like Donna M. Hughes, anti-pornography activists like Gail Dines and Shelly Lubben, anti-prostitution activists like Melissa Farley willfully ignore this fact: there is a world of difference between being a sex trafficking victim and being a sex worker.

Make no mistake: ending sexual slavery is a great thing. Ending sex work is not. The two are entirely distinct. Conflating them is deadly for trafficking victims and for sex workers.

Now, let’s talk about the reality of “straight jobs.” I’ve worked a bunch of them in many different industries, usually as an entry-level employee. A lot of my experience is in the air travel industry.

I’ve been assaulted by airline customers more times than I can count. I’ve been kicked in the face while trying to screen a passenger’s leg while working for the TSA. I’ve been spit on. The list goes on.

The result is always the same: the company sends the customer on their way without reprimand because they don’t want to lose business or risk the bad press. In other words, I get told: let it go, or get fired.

I’ve had 6 surgeries from injuries suffered at work. In my State of the Union (North Carolina), workers comp is highly regulated in favor of the employer. That means you can’t pick your doctor, and so you have to see the doctor the carrier chooses. Needless to say, you get biased doctors. You also get a “nurse case manager” (appointed by the carrier) who joins you at every appointment and diligently argues with your already-biased doctor to avoid any expensive diagnostics, medicines, and other treatments, and also reminds the doctor that you are to be returned to work immediately.

When I was working as a valet parking attendant, I was sent back to work for 10 days with a fractured knee, torn MCL, and two torn menisci (one in each knee). The job required running three-tenths of a mile. Three-tenths of a mile for each customer. Three-tenths of a mile for each customer in the 95 degree heat of North Carolina’s Summer.

Why did I take that job? Why did I run three-tenths of a mile on a fractured knee for 10 days at the behest of my “nurse case manager” in my mid 40’s? Because, thanks to the emphasis misguided activist academics like Donna M. Hughes have placed on “rescuing” trafficking victims, the police are so indiscriminately arresting sex workers in my area that running on fractured knees as a valet parking attendant was actually safer than working as an independent escort. Safer, perhaps—I don’t need a jail sentence—but not better.

By the way, it took 6 months for the workers comp carrier to approve surgery to repair the fracture. Oh, and given the recession, it took me 10 weeks just to find that valet job.

When I worked for the TSA, my job entailed lifting 100 pound bags all day because it was more cost effective to have employees do it than to have a conveyor put in. Unsurprisingly, I was struck with repetitive injuries. Surgery was ultimately needed for these injuries, too. The TSA paid nothing as they didn’t feel it was “work-related.” I could appeal that decision, of course, in which case my motion would be decided by the TSA’s appeal board. The TSA’s appeal board, in case it isn’t clear, works for the TSA and, naturally, sides with their employer.

So after working the straight jobs, many times I’ve ended up just like the worst experiences in sex work: no rights, no food, and in a lot of pain.

Go beyond the economic coercion embedded in this capitalist system, however, and you’ll find that straight jobs are not, in and of themselves, safer for women sexually, either.

Back at the TSA, I was sexually assaulted on a federal checkpoint by a male co worker. The assault was filmed by a security camera tape and there were 6 witnesses (5 male and 1 female). They all went to court with me to support my restraining order efforts against my workplace harasser. Now, it isn’t often that men will side with a woman in situations like this, but these 5 men did. The harasser plead no contest—all but an admission of guilt.

However, the TSA management were buddies with the Greensboro Police Department and Guilford County Sheriffs Department, the agencies that would enforce the restraining order. The same day the restraining order was issued, a Greensboro PD officer told me he didn’t believe my claims, and that filing a false police report was a crime. He threatened me with arrest if he or the department could find any proof I was lying. (They never found any.)

Neither the Greensboro PD or Guilford County Sheriffs department enforced the restraining order, the TSA management assigned me to the same work station with my harasser and when I attempted to transfer, that motion was blocked. The manager that supported me was terminated. Same with the supervisor that supported me in court. My other supporters were moved to other stations or had their careers stalled—passed up for promotion time and again.

I went to DC and filed a formal complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, the TSA has its own EEOC. Needless to say, they sided with the TSA. I pressed on, eventually speaking to Internal Affairs, but I quickly learned their role is risk management (damage control), not justice. My harasser, who I learned had confessed to Human Resources was terminated a month later for sexually assaulting a third woman; I was the second. And his confession? The audio tape failed because the HR investigator “failed to push the record button,” and the video tapes of the assaults “could not be located” by the airport police.

Now I work at a job in which I have no breaks regardless of the length of my shift (no lunches either), and an expectation that I will never be sick, injured or need personal days or I may be terminated. Yes, this is all legal in North Carolina. I could go on, but I think this makes my point.

To anyone who believes that ending the sex industry and forcing sex workers to take on straight jobs is some great achievement, please look at the reality. The devil is in the details. Ask those of us who have gone from sex work to straight jobs what really transpired.

Please, do continue to rescue trafficking victims but stop conflating sex trafficking with sex work. Start focusing on realities rather than just mass-rescues that do us real harm, that hurts and kills sex workers, and often has no real basis in the reality of the lives of those involved.

I have been far more harmed by “straight jobs” than I ever was as either a stripper or an independent escort.

Who feeds me when injuries knock me out for weeks and I have no more income? Does Melissa Farley’s Prostitution Research Education provide these services? Does Donna M. Hughes’ Citizens Against Trafficking? Does Gail Dines’ Stop Porn Culture? Does Shelly Lubben’s Pink Cross?

Melissa Farley, Donna M. Hughes: where is the justice you promise to bring us trafficking victims? Do you even care about us?

Desiree Conference 2010!!

Desiree Alliance

In conjunction with BAYSWAN, Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP), Center for Sex and Culture (CSC), International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education (ISWFACE), St. James Infirmary, SWOP USA, SWOP Tucson, SWOP LV, SWOP Chicago, SWOP NorCal, SWOP Santa Cruz, Harm Reduction Coalition, Sex Work Awareness, and $pread Magazine

Presents

Working Sex: Power, Practice, and Politics

July 25 thru 30, 2010 in Sunny Las Vegas, NV!!

Join us for the Academic and Policy track. Network with established and developing scholars who are engaged with research, theory, and methods that impact the formation of policy and applied practices concerning sex work and sex workers. Academics have the opportunity to give back to the communities they study and create careers upon by participating in this dynamic space of diverse sex work scholar colleagues and diverse sex workers. Sex workers will have opportunities to interact with scholars who concern themselves with our issues while also sharing your own—and needed—perspective regarding where sex work scholarship has been and where it should be going.

We understand that within the Activism and Advocacy of Sex Work, there is such a huge range, from organizing national marches, decriminalization propositions, to organizing you and one other Sex Worker to come together and talk about your rights and safety. All are forms of activism. Coming out to a friend, meeting a fellow Sex Worker and being able to talk about your work can be a HUGE form of activism for some that have been hiding in the closet so long! Join other activists in a safe space to discuss and learn about activism and activist leadership in the sex work community!

Arts, Entertainment, and Media: From beautiful burlesque, to majestic music, to powerful poetry, various art forms have been important parts of sex worker justice advocacy, and art is also a great way to highlight the diversity of talents so many sex workers have. Sex worker artists have in fact had a vibrant face on this movement and have been a unifying element in resistance campaigns across the globe. Join us at the Desiree Alliance 2010 Conference to explore, learn about, experience, and create sex worker art, media, and entertainment!

Business Development: Increase your confidence and your bottom line by attending workshops taught by people who excel in their fields! Learn new techniques for increasing your earnings, using the tools of your trade, and improving your business model. You will find valuable tips to improve your business regardless of the area you work! From workshops on web design, advertising, and networking to health and safety, and tax-saving tips especially relevant to cash-based earners just like you, this conference will be an opportunity for you to improve your business and your cash flow!

Harm Reduction and Outreach: Whether your expertise is the street corner, the classroom, or the clinic we are looking for you to show us what’s wrong, what’s right, and what can come to be the future of Harm Reduction and Outreach Services for Sex Workers. Come share your innovative ideas or learn how to provide outreach services. Be a part of an event that will inspire and pioneer a fresh perspective on how harm reduction and outreach services can be fine tuned to the ones that need it the most. Enjoy workshops and presentations from the best and brightest giving their unique take on harm reduction and outreach services to sex workers.

Registration is open!
We are accepting Proposals for Presentations! Hurry- deadline for submissions is March 1st.

To get involved, go to http://www.DesireeAlliance.org/conference.htm or email: Desiree2010@desireealliance.org

We’ll See You in Sin City!!

A ‘course’ on trafficking with only one hurdle

Following up on the issue of misuse of academic status and questionable credentials, last year she included a piece of my writing in the syllabus of a course at the University of Rhode Island called Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery. Mine appears to be the only reading not taking an avidly ‘anti-trafficking’ stance. The goals for learning about the week’s topic, Analyses of Sex Trafficking & Prostitution, were:  ‘Read different analyses and perspectives on sex trafficking and prostitution from different philosophical and analytical perspectives: Christian, feminist, psychological, and economic migrant workers rights.’ This sounds good, but here is the list of readings:

Enslaved in America, Tina Frundt
A Christian Perspective on Sexual Trafficking, Lisa Thompson
Prostitution and Male Supremacy: A Feminist Analysis, Andrea Dworkin
Working in the European Sex Industry: Migrant Possibilities, Laura Agustín
The Swedish Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services, Gunilla Ekberg
Survivors of Trafficking and Prostitution Manifesto
Not Sex Work

I believe all the other pieces are fundamentally against prostitution per se and against the idea of sex work as work ever. In that case, students are not getting a rounded view of the varying ways to think about the issues. My piece is anthropological, an exposition of what I’d learned through spending years hanging out/doing research with migrants who sell sex. I wrote it at the request of the editor of a Madrid migration journal who asked for an article about migrants who sell sex that would be free of moralising. I agreed without for a moment imagining the enormous conflict that would arise when I turned in what to me seemed to be a harmless, purely descriptive piece. You can read more about that drama in this piece today on Harlot’s Parlour.

The following section is, I’m told, what totally winds up certain people – theory and background information apart. It’s from ‘Working in the European Sex Industry: Migrant Possibilities,’ Laura Agustín, translated from the original ‘Trabajar en la industria del sexo’, OFRIM/Suplementos, June 2000. This piece wins me endless emails from kids in Latin America looking for employment, by the way.

‘If we look at the description of what constitutes the industry, we find possible jobs as a telephone worker, in which the client is not even seen. Or as a striptease artist, which in many places involves dancing nude and nothing more. Even if we talk about ‘full sex’, it isn’t the same doing it for a pornographic film as in a brothel (or, for example, with clients of sexologists. Obviously, they are different jobs, some carried out in bars, others in houses, offices or examination rooms. In some the worker controls the situation and the hours more; in others he lacks control. Some are well paid, others not. Some services seem easy to perform to some people, while to others they seem difficult. The boss or owner of the place may be the most important element in some jobs. In short, everything depends on the specific situation. It’s the same if we look at the many forms of physical/sexual contact, of serving the client. [5] Obviously, performing oral sex on a client in a car or in an alley in the rain is not the same as spending a shift inside a club with heating, where you talk and have drinks as well as sex with clients. We can however point out some necessary abilities for carrying out these jobs well, that is, in the most efficient and less problematic manner. In general terms:

• The essence of the work is giving pleasure to others. The worker who doesn’t want to or can’t do this, no matter how good-looking, will fail. The client wants to feel some kind of pleasure.

• As in other service work, the ability to relate to others is very important. To know how to listen ‘actively’, negotiate, encourage, read the body language of the other, sense what is not said and the psychology of the other. To judge when the other is not all right (and not to confuse this with physical appearance). Capacity to smooth situations and calm violent people, confronting or manipulating them. Also necessary for those who work over the telephone.

• Ability to relate to and come to appreciate people from other cultures or ethnic groups or with values different from one’s own. Diplomacy. Clients may be rejected, but income is lost. Being able to imagine the situation of the other, as much through what he wants to hide as through what he reveals. Understanding more than one language.

• Knowing oneself well is extremely important in sex work. Knowing how to use the body sexually and how to take care of oneself, minimising infections, strains and exhaustion, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. It’s necessary to know when one is tired or with little desire to work, because states of neglect often lead to danger. Self-esteem is essential.

• The worker needs a lack of shame about bodies. To be able to talk about sex and show sexual things. A good sense of humour helps.

• As with the jobs of nurses and stewardesses, it is essential to give the client the sensation that he really is desired, that giving him pleasure or taking care of him matters. This is also necessary for cultivating a loyal clientele, one that comes back.

• Often the client wants to talk about his life: problems in his marriage, with his children or at his job. He may have lost his wife or need counseling. The ability to satisfy this type of desire or to want to help to resolve the problems of others is part of sex work. Sometimes this kind of attention matters even more than sex to the client.

• Knowing how to put limits, control what happens and protect oneself from excessive demands. Being able to maintain boundaries with client, who may have many emotional needs.

• Knowing how to sell is key, including over the telephone and in written messages (electronic mail, chat, mobile phones). Seduction is an art that few command, which helps explain the high status of courtesans and geishas in the past. Nowadays transsexuals are often most famous for knowing how to seduce.

• For people who work on their own or have a business it is fundamental to know how to manage funds: accounting, taxes and investments. Knowing how to negotiate, decide on prices.

• The ability to manage, organise and oversee a business is necessary in whatever level the worker works. Working freelance can be done successfully only by someone with the self-discipline to evaluate his efforts and manage his time.

• When employed in someone else’s business, workers need the talent of being able to please the boss or owner as well as the client, who often demand contrary things (for example, to the boss it matters that the work is done rapidly, while the client wants more personal attention).

• If one dances or performs, it’s essential to stay in good shape and act with confidence. Knowing how to take advantage of one’s own good points. Knowing how to dress and make up according to the situation.

• Much of sex work is performance: it’s necessary to know how to present oneself, project oneself and play roles. An example: the stereotype exists of ‘passive’ Asian women, so, for an Asian woman, knowing how to play the passive role may be a key talent. If one works in domination or submission, one needs to know how to create scenes, act, involve and convince the client. Knowing how to flirt.

• The client is not necessarily of the same gender or ‘sexual orientation’ that the worker wants for his or her own partner. Thought of another way, the worker’s personal taste does not have to match what he does at work: a lesbian can work with men, a heterosexual with gays, a transsexual with heterosexuals, a homosexual man with women and so on. In the world of the sex industry, flexibility and ambiguity in tastes and desires are the norm; binary visions (like masculinity/feminity or passivity/activity cease to be very useful.

• Since it’s a market, one needs the ability to compete, create new services and change with the times. Inventing new ways to make money, using new technologies and trying to match services to desires.

• Sexual knowledge is fundamental to carrying out the work. Knowing how to stimulate bodies to produce pleasure, delay or precipitate orgasms and judge the sexual capacity of the other. Moreover there are many tricks that make the job easier for the person who knows them: putting condoms on without clients’ knowing, feigning penetration and many others. Often it’s necessary to teach principles of sexual health to improve the client’s experience: masturbatory techniques, self-control or permitting oneself ‘forbidden’ acts. It’s important to point out that not every client is the confident man of the machista stereotype; many feel shy, ashamed or incapable. There are prostitutes who specialise in therapeutic srvices with disabled people. As for education to avoid sexual illnesses, being able to convince clients that they can enjoy sex with condoms is an important talent.

• One can choose the services one wants to offer, whether oral or manual sex or vaginal or anal penetration. Moreover, in times of ‘safer sex’, less ‘classical’ forms are being accepted, such as mutual masturbation.

• Being able to offer massage, reflexology and other therapies offer more possibilities to make money.

• Working in the production of pornography, it’s possible to learn techniques of photography, video, etc.

• If one works via the Internet, one needs knowledge of computers, email, chat, databases and the construction of webpages.

• If one becomes a supervisor or even owner of a sex club or escort agency, one learns to deal with the necessities of the personnel, encouraging them to work well.’

The whole piece can be read here.

Donna Hughes: Have tattooes? You don’t deserve respect.

I was pretty taken aback at the condescension dripping from Donna Hughes’s opinion piece below that appeared in the Providence journal. How on earth someone who is clearly repulsed by “certain” women can be involved in any Women’s Studies program in any university is way beyond me.

01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Providence Journal
DONNA M. HUGHES

AFTER MY EXPERIENCE at the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, I believe Rhode Island is headed for a human rights disaster and nationwide political embarrassment. It is becoming apparent that the Senate is not going to pass a much-needed prostitution bill. Rhode Island will continue to have an expanding number of spa-brothels, prostitution of minors in clubs, and no law that will enable the police to stop it.

The hearing (on Senate bill 0596, to close the loophole allowing indoor prostitution) was a sordid circus, with pimps and prostitutes coming forward to oppose the legislation. Continue reading

Donna Hughes and Criminalizing Prostitution

Posted on behalf of B.

In her May 2, 2009 email, Professor Donna Hughes claims that criminalizing prostitution in Rhode Island will some how help victims of sex trafficking in the state. Despite what she says, Professor Hughes’ position amounts to a claim that the best way to help the victims of the crime of slavery is to spend large amounts of public money to arrest the very small number of victims of this serious crime and the much larger number of women who are not victims of any crime. This proposition makes no sense, violates any sense of justice and fairness and won’t work.

Arresting the victims of a serious crime so we can, in theory, get at the real criminals is just not an answer to anything. By making the victims criminals themselves, we would only strengthen the hold that the slavers have on them by increasing the victims’ fear of identifying themselves as victims to the police or anyone else. It will make the victims less talkative, not more talkative, since they will fear criminal punishment and deportation.

If Professor Hughes’ theory were correct, Rhode Island would be the sex trafficking capital of the US, and there would be no sex trafficking anywhere else in the country, except the two counties in Nevada where prostitution is legal. Obviously, this is not the case. Continue reading

Mariko Passion sings “Decriminalize Me” in PSA for Sex Worker Fest

It plays when you come to the site, http://www.sexworkerfest.com/

You can download it here! http://www.sexworkerfest.com/PSASexWorkerFest2009.mp3

Good Review for Sex Work Books in Qualitative Sociology

Just wanted to make sure people know about a review essay of four books of interest to sex-industry students and activists. Academics AnneMarie Cesario and Lynn Chancer published it in Qualitative Sociology 32:213–220 (March 2009) – which is a mainstream academic journal in the USA. The essay begins:

When Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign as Governor of the State of New York after revelations that he regularly patronized the elite “Elite” agency, conversations among friends, family and colleagues turned for a while to the topic of prostitution. Suddenly sex work—as many women working in the business of selling sex from the ‘80s onward have preferred their occupation, more respectfully, to be deemed-was central to day-to-day discourse on contentious events in the news. Why, people wondered with understandable incredulity, would a man of Spitzer’s prominence risk his career and reputation by seeing prostitutes, high-paid or not? Even more peculiar, why would a prosecutor-turned-governor, well-known for fighting corruption and advocating stricter penalties for johns, indulge so
hypocritically in the very private activities he sought publicly to decry?

Starting with this incident is useful in several respects for a review essay centered on four works recently published about sex work. For one thing, the fact that prostitution can “bring down” high-level politicians—not only here but in other countries (think, for example, of the 1963 high profile case involving British cabinet minister John Profumo’s connection with a high-class prostitute that led to his resignation)—immediately reveals the complexity of this topic in and outside of sociology. Within our discipline the theorist’s antennae may well be stimulated, and a qualitative researcher’s sociological imagination aroused, by situations that blatantly challenge any easy notion that rational choice and utilitarian self-interest are adequate explanations of human behavior. Rather incidents like Spitzer’s, and the interesting issue of whether sociologists can explain them, encourage researchers to focus on several theoretically and empirically intriguing questions. What keeps men (still, it seems, far more than women) patronizing the sex industry—from prostitution to pornography, nationally as well as internationally, in the fearful age of AIDS and often when sex “for free” with girlfriends and wives may be readily available—to the tune of maintaining and sustaining a multi-billion dollar industry? What does their doing so suggest about unconscious and emotional, as much as about conscious and logical, social/ psychic processes? Then, from the “supply” rather than “demand” side of the two-sided calculus prostitution necessarily entails, why do women and men (for here, though less frequently, both genders are often involved) go to work in this industry? While money is a necessary explanation, feminist writers of the ‘80s and ‘90s have hastened to point out that it may not be a sufficient one. Instead, motivations run a complicated gamut from the stark realities of economics to oscillating dynamics of power and powerlessness,  sometimes sadomasochistically tinged. Take a hypothetical example: a girl whom gender has rendered vulnerable as a child may feel thrilled when, as a grown young woman perhaps working as a dominatrix, she can now hold the reins of power over a man whom desire has rendered dependent at least for a while. Last but hardly least, how can the Governor’s fall from grace be understood without considering how sex and government, legality and illegality, are themselves interrelated? Would Spitzer’s apparently schizoid position, at once prosecutor and now prosecuted, police and policed, have been the same in the Netherlands—if prime minister of Holland, might he also, quite possibly, have had to resign? For how it comes to pass, historically and culturally, that some societies criminalize (the U.S., except in Nevada) while others (Belgium, the Netherlands) legalize prostitution likewise begs investigation—not only but also by Foucault-influenced scholars—into sex, society, marriage, economic, family, politics, and their interrelationships.

The books are:

Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. Laura María Agustín. London: Zed Books, 2007. ISBN 1842778609, $31.95 (paper), 224 pp.

Temporarily Yours. Elizabeth Bernstein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. ISBN 0226044580, $24.00 (paper), 288 pp.

Male Sex Work: A Business Doing Pleasure. Todd G. Morrison and Bruce W. Whitehead (Eds.). Binghamton: Haworth Press, 2007. ISBN 1560237279, $32.00 (paper), 354 pp.

Sex Work: A Risky Business. Teela Sanders. Portland: Willan Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1843920824, $26.95 (paper), 256 pp.

Sorry but copyright law prohibits quoting the whole thing, which anyway occupies seven pages. You must have access to an academic library to get the essay, which I don’t, which is one reason why I didn’t know about this review until now. If you don’t have a friend who can help, contact me via the form in the right-hand column at Border Thinking, where you’ll also find the concluding words from the essay.