Singapore, the US, CraigsList, Sex Trafficking and WTF

(This was originally posted at SWOP-East’s blog here.)

Singapore is a tiny country in SE Asia one day ahead of the US. The US is a big country known the world over for many things. The two countries actually have an ongoing and amiable relationship. Their militaries, finance sectors and tourism are intertwined. Each country also has relationships with other countries, of course. It’s just one relationship among many for both countries.

The US is well-known for criminalizing prostitution nation-wide (the exceptions being the 30ish legal brothels in Nevada — not much of an exception). While prostitution itself is criminalized at the local and state levels, there are plenty of federal laws regarding prostitution: when the arrangements cross state lines, when a minor is involved, when money crosses state lines and a few variations on these themes.

Singapore has a more tolerant view of prostitution. It has a licensed red-light district (Geylang and a street in Chinatown) and local hotspots known for easy pickings if you’re looking for a sex worker. To be honest, the entire island is a prostitution hotspot. The predominant Chinese culture and other Asian cultures in Singapore all have a wide-open view of prostitution. Prostitution is ingrained in the male Asian culture. Singapore is not really a sex-tourism destination because it’s considered way too expensive. The vast majority of the business is supported by locals, not tourists. (Which is why the vast majority of the business occurs in non-tourist areas.) Recently it was discovered that online prostitution exists in Singapore too!

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An Outlaw’s Insurance Policy

2 months ago, I was robbed in my home/incall by a man who demanded his money back BEFORE the sexual activity, and also got away with $250 more of mine AFTER I pepper sprayed him in the face three times.  This was the SECOND time that I had been robbed as an escort, alone, naked and defenseless (except for the pepper spray this time).  The first time, the attacker said he had a gun and he did have sex with me first, making that THEFT OF SERVICES attack a RAPE in my eyes.  (theft of services = theft of consent based on payment= RAPE)

The recent time, according to the police report that I did manage to do this time, was classified as “petty theft.”  Going to the police for petty theft is just as empowering as filling out a police report after someone breaks your car window and steals your stereo.  You know that you have lost and that no one, not the police or you will be able to do anything about your loss.  All you can do is clean up the broken glass and tape up your window.   This is the feeling that sex workers too often have once they have been robbed and/or sexually assaulted.

When I was a stripper in a club, I was fortunate enough to not have experienced this type of violence.  I used to say on panels that I spoke at “I had never been sexually assaulted WHILE a sex worker (only before).” but now that I have lived and learned the life of an outlaw escort, things are different.  This is not to say that strippers and brothel workers are by any means safe because they operate in a house or a club.  Violence against sex workers happens everywhere.

There are many who operate under the premise that women are weaker than men and that a sex worker is someone that will be an easy target for violence or robbery because of her outlaw status.  This post mainly speaks to female sex workers, not to discount the violence that male sex workers might face (but it’s just different).

I had never taken a self defense course, and I had never gotten in a fight.  I was strong in my mind and my body was athletic.  I knew, however that I had not the power or experience to fight a grown man and win.  Fortunately, all of the times that I have been sexually assaulted in my life, none have included physical altercations.  The guy who said he had a gun never showed me a gun, but I decided to not challenge it and sit there while he took back the money I rightfully earned by being with him.

This recent attacker was clearly mad that I had sprayed him in the face, so he came back to my house and slashed my tire.  I bought a stun gun the very next day and went to the Krav Maga training center to inquire about self defense.  For 3 days I entered my apartment through the back door and I turned on lights in my house preparing for his return.  The training was expensive.  There was a membership fee and a first and last payment, and they wanted $160 a month!  I charged the whole thing on the one remaining credit card I had.  I felt like I could not afford to not defend myself.

Being in a fight is a cardiovascular workout!  Adrenalyn is pumping and your breath pattern is altered even though you’re muscles are charged.  For the $160/mo you can work out and take classes as many times as you want but the average person works out 3 times a week.  You can take mixed martial arts, yoga, ground fighting and the main curriculum of Krav Maga defense.   I can’t tell you how much this program has helped my mind, my body and my power expand exponentially!  I have NEVER felt so strong and powerful than when I get to practice kicking a guy in the balls repeatedly at full force or when I learn how to pluck his hands strangling my neck against a wall!  Krav Maga trains women side by side with men.  You partner up with someone in class that is supposed to be your size and weight, but sometimes that isn’t possible and you get to experience sparring with a man.  Taking hits even while holding a pad HURTS.  But, I feel like I am in THE FIGHT CLUB now because anyone who has done this knows the adrenalyn rush you get from taking the impact of hits is almost as great as hitting.  You form a bond with your partner that is unlike any other sport I have participated in.  All of us have come to this training for an unspoken reason and it is from that fulfillment of each of our individual goals that we are bonded.  It is NOTHING like the LACK of comraderie that you feel jogging alongside someone on a treadmill or taking a dance class at the gym.

I am writing here to encourage ANY SEX WORKER THAT MAKES AT LEAST $200/HR per date to INVEST at least that amount in your self defense.  If all you can afford is a short 3 day weekend course, great, but really my feeling is that you need to train constantly to stay prepared.  One 3 day course 3 years ago is not, like J Lo would say “Enough.”  I feel that the battle is constant and that another attack can happen as long as I continue to do this work.  You are not safer because you work indoors.  Craigslist is just the “internet streets”, where the same predators and hustlers are meeting you with the same intentions except they look like straight people who go to medical school and have Blackberrys.

I consider myself in the same risk and danger zones as a street worker.  I am an upper working class anonymous client worker.  Screening is minimal.  I am a graveyard shift agency girl.  I work independently too but my main scheduled work is agency work til 6am.  Agency work operates on a bait and switch and upsell hustle which automatically throws wrenches in a clients potential respect of you as a sex worker.  I deal with de-escalating angry customers as a regular part of my shift and have to also get tips out of those angry deceived customers to make a living.  Interestingly enough, the robberies did not occur on agency time, nor did the time I was arrested from Craigslist; so I am not convinced that the violence is due to being an agency girl although the set up of the hustle I do sets me up for antagonism and sexist violence in an already unequal playing field.  The second time I was robbed I failed to screen properly because i was feeling GOOD not bad.  I had just gotten my hair done, had just had a guitar lesson…this would be the 3rd person that was to come in and out of my house and I just did not expect that the outcome would be so bad AT ALL. Things can get sloppy when you are feeling bad, but ALSO when you are feeling good!

Everyday that I train, I am preparing for my next attack.  I refuse to just stand there and let them take from me again.  I go to class and practice boxing and fighting and then I shower and get ready for my agency shift.  I am more ready for an attack than ever before.  THIS IS THE ONLY INSURANCE POLICY I HAVE.  It is expensive but worth it.  I feel that I cannot afford to not train like this.

It’s very expensive for me and the training is totally inaccessible for most people.  The crazy thing is that Krav Maga is the SAME training that is taught to police officers and military forces, because it is the martial art of the Israeli army (FREE PALESTINE).  I have political views that I must put aside while I train, and aside from the origin of the martial art, there is nothing that indoctrinates the state of Israel anywhere in the training center.  ALSO, interestingly enough the Deputy District attorney of Los Angeles (head honcho cop/lawyer) OWNS and is the Lead Instructor for Krav maga in LA.  I am thinking of approaching him about giving victims of violence who have filled out a police report 2 months of training for free.  It seems like it would be something that a cop/lawyer could go for since it advocates going to the police in some way and doesn’t mention the word sex worker even though many many sex workers would qualify.   I wonder how many of those training beside me ARE cops? are sex workers? or are training to defend against a partner in a domestic violence situation?  I am simmering on trying to pitch the idea to the owner, or just stay silent and anonymous..please check out www.kravamaga.com to find a training center near you!

Polk County busts Craigslist prostitution ring

By JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA | The Tampa Tribune
and NATALIE SHEPHERD | News Channel 8
Published: September 14, 2009
Updated: 09/14/2009 10:21 pm

They came from Central and South Florida; authorities say they were trying to earn money in the world’s oldest profession.

One woman was dropped off by her 19-year-old daughter and her husband of 20 years. At least two were pregnant.

One prostitute came from a previous prostitution job, took a shower and was setting an appointment for her next job in Lake County, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

One “high-dollar” prostitute flew in from California and another from Wisconsin, investigators say. Read More…

Quick Summary of the Situation

Someone else who doesn’t seem to be a sex worker has a great, quick, sarcastic answer to the whole CraigsList thing.

I don’t have permission to post her text here, so I’m just linking to it.

“Erotic Services” Denied: Craigslist and Attorneys General Are Putting Sex Workers At Risk

This is a collaborative press release – please distribute and repost widely!

Contact:
Dylan Wolfe – Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK), swank@riseup.net
Will Rockwell – $pread Magazine, will@spreadmagazine.org
Audacia Ray – Sex Work Awareness (SWA), aray@sexworkawareness.org
Susan Blake – Prostitutes of New York (PONY), pony@panix.com
Michael Bottoms – Sex Workers Outreach Project – New York City (SWOP-NYC), info@swop-nyc.org

With Craigslist’s recent announcement that its Erotic Services category will be discontinued within the week, hundreds of thousands of erotic service providers will become more vulnerable to dangerous predators. Eliminating erotic listings as Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and others propose will only drive us further underground.

Policing the masseuses, phone workers, pro-dominants, and escorts using Craigslist fails to protect those of us who are coerced into the sex industry. Preventing the use of Craigslist advertisements also eliminates the advantage of screening clients online, which makes for a safer work experience by filtering out potentially dangerous individuals. Furthermore, keeping us offline hinders police investigations of violent crime. In the Boston murder of Julissa Brisman, it was online tracking that enabled the police to identify the suspect. One has to wonder: are the Attorneys General examining the evidence or simply enforcing their moral values?

“Removing the erotic services category from Craigslist does not help prevent violence against escorts and other sex workers. It only pushes me and people like me out of the places where advertising is available,” said Jessica Bloom, a sex worker from Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK). In the face of increasing criminalization, we insist upon respect. As mothers, daughters, brothers, and members of your community, we claim that sex work is real work, work that we are entitled to conduct in safety. As such, we must be accorded the human right of full protection under the law.

Breaking: Craigslist to end Erotic Services

This just came across the news; posting for the sake of us having a place to hash out how to respond, what comes next, and field the inevitable questions from the press.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal will be holding a press conference at 11am Eastern today. We’ll post more news as it develops.

AP wire story:

Ill. AG: Craigslist dropping ‘erotic services’ ads

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says that Craigslist is getting rid of its “erotic services” ads and will create a new adult category that Web site employees will review.

Madigan’s office said Wednesday that such existing ads on Craigslist will expire in seven days.

Madigan and the attorneys general for Connecticut and Missouri met with Craigslist officials last week seeking an end to ads they contend are advertisements for illegal sexual activities.

An e-mail sent to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster was not immediately returned Wednesday morning.

Craigslist came under renewed pressure to remove the ads after a medical student in Boston was charged with the April killing of a masseuse he met on the site.

More in the Hartford Courant, Chicago local news.

Chicagoans Offer Their Opinions On The Tom Dart Craigslist Lawsuit

Prostitution scandal? In Chicago? We’re on top of it. The RedLightDistrictChicago crew hit the streets to talk to Chicagoans about what they really think about Tom Dart’s lawsuit against Craigslist.