‘No Humans Involved:’ Violence Against Queer and Transgender Sex Workers

Updated: Today the Gay City News, which is the most widely circulated gay weekly in the United States, published this editorial entitled “No Humans Involved’: End Violence Against Queer and Transgender Sex Workers.” I’m linking it here, because I didn’t just write it for the ‘gaystream.’ I also wrote it for the sex worker movement, which produced some very nontrans ‘woman’-centric statements for the Day to End Violence. The fact is that queer and transgender sex workers, especially people of color, low-income folks, and homeless persons, have long been targets of cops and serial killers. In response to some of the comments this post has already generated; acknowledging this fact does not in any way ‘fragment’ the movement and it doesn’t ‘blame’ or ‘scare off’ some ‘invisible majority’ of sex workers that would somehow tip the scales of public opinion in our favor.

In any case, if acknowledging that racism and homophobia and transphobia are all tied up in the policing of sex work is frightening your ‘majority’ off, that’s because of racism, homophobia, transphobia and internalized whorephobia itself. It’s absolutely criminal that you are accusing people organizing around their identities, and this editorial itself, of being ‘fragmenting’ for the movement. Read it yourself. Tell me again why I should shut up and let the ‘majority’ keep flapping their gums about this supposedly universal ‘good girl’ whore. Tell me again why you need this rotten ‘respectability’ in order to lure the straights and the Republican strippers and the property owning madames who would sooner take her 50 percent than give a damn.

What’s more, acknowledging our differences can strengthen our alliances with other movements. The fact that this editorial was published in a major ‘gay’ publication speaks to this possibility. This is a small step in the direction of remembering and reclaiming the names of those who have died but who have been ignored by us: like the young hustlers who faced death alone in the cold arms of heartless killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy, Jr., but also those of us who have been raped by the police, kicked out of our homes, incarcerated, and abandoned by our families.

‘No Humans Involved’: Ending Violence Against Queer and Transgender Sex Workers

To mourn the victims of murder, incarceration, and intimate partner violence in their midst, this past December 17, sex workers, clients, and allies filled New York City’s Metropolitan Community Church and marked the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The Day was honored by more than 27 cities this year, from Nairobi to Hong Kong. Here in New York, the high-ceiling room of the church reverberated with the names of the dead.

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Anthony Comstock Would Be Proud

I’m posting this on behalf of Lailah. She recently commented on my personal blog, telling me about her arrest. I encouraged her to write her story and submit it to be posted here. Since the general public looks at this blog, I would like them to see what an arrest feels like from the perspective of a consenting adult sex worker — the most common kind of sex worker, BTW. I’m very proud she took me up on my offer.

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Lailah (not my real name). I’m a single mama, a business owner (businesses NOT adult oriented), and a professional escort. I spend my spare time cleaning house, tending children, and being a soccer mom, just like every other mother across the country. I started escorting in early May, 2010. And I stopped in June, 2010. I loved it. I absolutely loved escorting. I couldn’t see a downside to it. I like sex and money. My clients liked sex and money. They were willing to give me money to spend time with me (admittedly, we spent that time having sex), so we both got what we wanted and went away happy.

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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!

Open Invitation to the Int’l Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

poster_small_jpgIn 2009, sex workers from around the globe met gruesome deaths and endured unspeakable violence. Some died at the hands of a solitary perpetrator; others were victims of serial “prostitute killers.” While some of these horrific stories received international media attention (Boston, Grand RapidsTijuana, Cape Town, Sussex, Moscow, New Zealand and Hong Kong, just to name a few), other cases received little more than a perfunctory investigation. Many cases remain unresolved, sometimes forever. In fact, most violent crimes against sex workers remain unreported. Stigma and criminalization facilitate this violence; when sex work is criminalized, prostitutes can’t turn to the police for protection without risking prosecution themselves.

Each year, December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Last year’s event in Washington, D.C. was a big success and this year, sex workers and their allies from across the U.S. will gather together in Arizona to remember and honor sex workers who, by virtue of their profession, have been victimized  – including rape, assault and murder.

You are invited to join us on December 17-18, 2009 in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona to honor their memory.  This year is especially poignant for us in Arizona because in May, 2009, Marcia Powell, an inmate at the Perryville women’s prison outside of Phoenix who was serving 27 months for prostitution, died when she was left outside in a holding cage in 107 degree heat without shade, food or water. Marcia Powell’s death is not only a travesty of justice and a failure of the prison system, but bring into sharp focus the unjust nature of current anti-prostitution laws which continue to oppress sex workers everywhere. We are outraged and saddened, and we ask for your participation in putting an end to the violence.

To learn more about the IDEVASW events in Arizona, please click here or visit SWOP-Tucson.  If silence is the voice of complicity, then your presence in Arizona this December will be a powerful message for justice to be heard across the world.

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IDEVASW Event Schedule – Arizona

December 17, 2009 – Tucson

5:00 – 6:00 p.m. “No Human Involved” Event

El Presidio Park, 160 West Alameda Street, Tucson, AZ.

Performance art/art installation with the theme, “No Human Involved.” The central image will be a physical representation of the Perryville Prison which will honor Marcia Powell and sex workers everywhere who have been victims of violence; a performance piece/die-in and live music.

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. “Remembrance Memorial”

El Tiradito Shrine, 354 South Main Avenue, Tucson, AZ.

Join us in remembering and honoring sex worker who have been victims of violence. Live music, performance poetry, ritual, candlelight vigil and refreshments. El Tiradito is a national historic shrine dedicated to the “castaway sinner” and holds a special place in the hearts of Tucson sex workers.

December 18, 2009 – Phoenix

Political Rally at the downtown Phoenix offices of the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections to protest current anti-prostitution laws and prison conditions. Did you know that in Arizona, a fourth conviction is a mandatory Class 5 felony with 180 days of prison for consensual sex between a client and a sex worker? Please visit http://swop-tucson.org for more details. Volunteers are needed to organize this day!

For more information or to volunteer, please email info@swop-tucson.org

Marriot Hotels Sexist?

It’s bad enough they cooperate with traumatic prostitution busts; but they also seemed to blame a kidnapped, raped woman (and her kidnapped children) for her rape/kidnapping. Marriot then blames their insurance company for the unfortunate wording in their defense.

Don’t stay at Marriots if you’re female.

Alleged serial rapist of prostitutes caught

While we have heard and experienced awful stories about police, I have to commend the Atlanta police on this one. They are asking sex workers to come forward to help convict a serial rapist who targets sex workers, and they believe he is responsible for raping at least 6 women. They are promising to not arrest them. I am hoping this will remain the case. But do we have anyone in Atlanta who can check in on this from time to time?

Here is the story.

Support sex worker rights in Providence, Rhode Island May 21, 2009 by phone!!:

Forwarded on behalf of Maxine Doogan
Support sex worker rights in Providence, Rhode Island TOMORROW by phone!!:

Tara Hurley from Providence Rhode Island made a documentary about the sex workers there and legislation that is being proposed to make sex work illegal. She interviewed many sex workers in the area and has honestly represented their views and situations in her film. Because this film contains the truth about the issue, Tara is being slammed in the press by academic Donna Hughes, Chair of Women’s Studies at University of Rhode Island. Hughes has ties to right wing anti-choice Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey (who promoted the anti-prostitution pledge, which denied HIV funding and treatment to sex workers worldwide). Hughes called George Bush the “first feminist president.” Hughes is reputed to be in the pocket of the US anti-abortion religious right. This is the stuff that will speak far more to listeners than her anti-prostitution stance. We need to discredit Hughes.

Donna Hughes will be on Dan Locke’s radio show tomorrow at 4pm. Please call in to the show to question Hughes’ credentials and affiliations:
1-800-321-9776

You can listen to the the show live online at:
http://www.630wpro.com/