In Memoriam: Robyn Few

Until prostitutes have equal protection under the law and equal rights as human beings, there is no justice.  –  Robyn Few

Last Thursday, sex workers all over the world were saddened to hear of the death (after a long battle with cancer) of the charismatic and tireless Robyn Few, founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA.  When the day finally arrives on which sex work is recognized in the majority of the world as work like any other, hers will be one of the names remembered as instrumental in achieving it.

Robyn L. Spears was born in Paducah, Kentucky, on October 7th, 1958, to Virginia Owen Spears; she had an older brother and a younger sister and lived in the small community of Lone Oak, Kentucky.  She attended Lone Oak Elementary and Lone Oak Middle School, but dropped out and ran away from home either during or after her 8th grade year, when she was 13 years old.  The causes of her leaving are not clear, but whatever they were she later reconciled with her mother and in fact died while visiting at her home.  Like so many runaways she soon turned to survival sex work, and though she later received vocational training to be a materials tester for concrete and tried a few “straight” jobs such as drafting, she was never satisfied with these and became a stripper soon after turning 18.  As she says in the video below (recorded in Chicago in July of 2008), “I loved it so much; it was so empowering to be able to get up on the stage…I came alive, and for me being paid to dance and to show my body [that] I was so proud of anyway…it was just an amazing experience.”

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AcarLQI?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]

After stripping for a while she started working in a massage parlor, then later escort services and a clandestine brothel; in her late 20s she married one of her clients and had a daughter, but after her divorce in 1993 (after which she retained her married name, Few) she moved to California and began to take college classes with the intent of earning a degree in theater.  She became interested in marijuana and AIDS activism, but the bills had to be paid so she returned to escorting in 1996 and soon became a madam.  Like so many of us, she never told anybody about her sex work; her activism was directed toward other causes until fate decreed otherwise.

The events of September 11th, 2001 engendered a heightened climate of paranoia, and the enactment of the PATRIOT Act soon made an unprecedented level of funding available to any government agency which could make even a remote claim to “fighting terrorism”.  And though then-Attorney General Ashcroft had been strongly rebuked by Congress for devoting more FBI agents to the “Canal Street Brothel” case in New Orleans than to counterterrorist operations, he had learned his lesson and justified later whore persecutions with flimsy “anti-terrorism” excuses.  Robyn’s agency was accused of having “terrorist suspects” as clients and she was arrested in June of 2002,  then convicted of “conspiracy to promote prostitution” and sentenced to six months house arrest (during which the trial judge allowed her to continue her activism).  After her arrest, she was angry to discover that both neighbors and supposedly “enlightened” activists treated her differently once they knew she had been a prostitute; she threw herself even harder into medical marijuana activism, but began to think about how people’s ignorant attitudes and the oppressive anti-sex work laws could be changed.

Her inspiration came a year after her arrest, in the form of the US Supreme Court decision Lawrence vs. Texas:  Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in his dissenting opinion that “state laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult  incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery,  fornication, bestiality, and obscenity  are likewise sustainable only in light of [the overturned Bowers vs. Hardwick decision’s] validation of laws based on moral choices,” and though the other justices tried to pretend otherwise Robyn knew that Scalia was correct, and that the court had opened a door for sex workers’ rights.  So after a Berkeley, California high-school teacher named Shannon Williams was arrested for prostitution in August, Robyn gathered a group of sex workers to protest outside the courthouse at Williams’ arraignment in September.  Unfortunately (but understandably), Williams wanted the whole mess to go away as soon as possible and so had no desire to become the “poster child” for prostitutes’ rights.  Robyn of course backed down, but the fire had been lit; with the help of her partner Michael Foley and sex worker Stacy Swimme (whom she had met earlier that year at a medical marijuana protest), she founded SWOP-USA the following month.

The organization was modeled on SWOP Australia, and Rachel Wotton (who now specializes in sex work with the disabled) was instrumental in securing permission for the American group to use the name and helping to set things up.  Within a few weeks the new organization was contacted by Dr. Annie Sprinkle for assistance in arranging the very first Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, and for the next year Robyn worked furiously to contact politicians and get the attention of the media so as to let them know that sex workers were not going to quietly accept persecution any more, and were mobilizing like those in many other parts of the world to demand our rights.  But after the failure of “Proposition Q”, a ballot measure she wrote which would have established de facto decriminalization in Berkeley, Robyn and SWOP settled in for the long haul and committed themselves to the slow, arduous task of reversing centuries of stigma and decades of oppressive legislation.

Shortly after the two shorter videos were recorded at the International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harms in Warsaw, Poland (May of 2007), Robyn was diagnosed with cancer; she continued to work tirelessly for the cause all through her chemotherapy, and though the disease appeared to have gone into remission in January of 2010 it returned by July of 2011, and this time proved terminal.  She died on September 13th, 2012 while visiting her mother, and there will be a memorial service on what would have been her 54th birthday (October 7th, 2012) at the Milner and Orr Funeral Home in Lone Oak .  I never had the pleasure of meeting Robyn, but as you can see from the personal accounts on her website and the many expressions of grief all over the internet, those who did speak without exception of her warmth, her strength, her good humor, her courage and her plain human decency.  And though it’s an oft-used phrase, there is no other which sums up the way everyone in the sex worker rights community feels about her passing:  she will be sorely missed.

 

(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan.  I am indebted to the Sin City Alternative Professionals’ Association (formerly SWOP-LV) for information and links, and also to a group of Robyn’s school friends from Lone Oak, who contacted me Sunday morning and filled in a number of vital details I could not find anywhere else.  If anyone reading this can correct an error or omission, please email me with the info.)

Prop 35 — California

Posted on behalf of Maxine Doogan:
Our group’s ballot argument was picked to represent the no on California
Proposition 35. It will be printed in the voter information guide.
If prop 35 passes in our state, you can bet this bait and switch ballot
measure brought to us by the same old extremist who’s real goal is to
exterminate the sex industry at any cost.

Prop 35 uses the same old junk science to target our intimate, domestic
and economic relationship to now be called traffickers and have to
register as sex offenders with 70% of the fines going to the anti
prostitution non profits who now call themselves trafficked victims. The
other 30% goes to the cops. These failed policies of ballot box budgeting
has bankrupted our state.

Apparently, the California State Attorney Generals office has a report on
human trafficking that is being compiled via working groups with 100
people from law enforcement, state social service providers and non
profits. http://oag.ca.gov/human-trafficking

So why didn’t the proponents wait for the report before they paid 1.6
million dollars to bring this overreaching salacious ballot measure
before the voters?

Lots of these kinds of questions have to asked and answered in the public
sphere.

Your help is needed now! Inform your selves and speak out about the many
way prop 35 will further criminalize our industry, target the innocent and
completely erode any opportunities to help victims because it relies on
their failed practice of alienating the community most effected by their
abusive practices.
Stop prop 35

Continue reading

Join Us in Washington DC-July 24th March to End AIDS (and support sex worker rights!); July 21st-27th International AIDS Conference

Sex Workers at IAC 2012

July
2012, Washington DC*

(Read below US border laws prohibiting entry
of sex workers and drug users!)

Read and sign the:

Call To Action, a joint declaration,

demanding the end to criminalization of commercial sex, and
demanding that the U.S. enable sex workers to access safe
and healthy working environments and non-judgmental services.

Join the March We Can End AIDS on July 24th, Tuesday at Noon in DC!

See calendar of week’s events here

IAC 2012 – Kolkata: Sex Worker
Freedom Festival


Below are some of the crucial issues
that confront us regarding sex workers
and others in the context of HIV.
Please read these and understand how imperialistic
U.S. policies are adversely impacting people
around the world.


*Denied visa by US, sex workers to hold parallel meet at Kolkata

*2012 AIDS Conference: Criminalized Groups Need Not Apply

PEPFAR’s Violations of the Right to Health of Sex Workers

Medication Costs-Survival Only for The Wealthy-Obama’s Global Health Policy
Undercuts Reform At Home

July 9, 2012-Groundbreaking report
released by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law specifically recommends
the decriminalization of sex work (download pdf).

Help me Get to DC! Final PUSH for community LOVE and support of Sex Worker Music and Art

So maybe it won’t be a marching band, perhaps it will just be a pianist. So far, it isn’t even enough to cover the trip for me to get to DC! I need you, supportive community member, ally, fellow sex worker to CONTRIBUTE TODAY!! There are big jars of lube cream, some of my art, a dildo, even a wide and slick BUTT PLUG that you could get as a premium! WOWO!

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE INDIE GOGO CAMPAIGN http://bit.ly/NncBFu

Johanna Elby saw my earlier post and contributed as a result of my efforts! Thank you UNIVERSE! thank you Bound not Gagged! And now it’s YOUR TURN TO MATCH Johanna’s $20 contrbution! I know there is someone else out there reading this today that can help…

Yesterday I did the WHORRIFIC lemonade stand for the first time. It was fun. It’s a lot of work to do a lemonade stand. I gave it the immigrant try! But I didn’t make as much as they do doing it…so DONATE using the link above!

Please Help With My Sex Worker Music DREAMS this summer!!

Are you going to be in Washington DC for the International AIDS conference in July?? I am! Check out this video and help me make my big thinking no limit WHORE REVOLUTIONARY dreams this summer. I have 24 days to raise money for my goal. Every element is about spreading sex worker activism through MUSIC. I am getting ready for a big show in Santa Monica with Madison Young and Nina Hartley on July 20th. Even after I have done activism in LA for the last 6 years, I still feel like the city barely knows what sex worker rights culture (and it is a culture everywhere else but here) IS. Help me change that! If you believe that that is worth $7 PLEASE DONATE! Click on the link below to get to the indiegogo campaign. Every donation HELPS! Thank you so much!

Policy that Keeps Prostitutes From Carrying and Using Condoms. From First Person

I wanted to post a reply to the thread but for some reason I’m not getting an option to do that.  So.  I’m starting a new thread.

Geniuses that endorse this policy………  I’m putting it in first person so you can try to put a human face to a blanket policy.  I”m a sex worker.  That’s my job.   I need more than one condom with me because one condom doesn’t always work.  And while  a client stopped with multiple condoms will just be James Bond scoring with babes or considered an evolved man for using condoms.  I’m female.  If I do it than I’m a criminal.

So let’s do a bit of Sex Work for Dummies.  Pun intended.

Since I’m female and will risk arrest.  You leave me with two choices.  Take a legal risk or take a fatal risk.  Because………  If the first condom breaks as a sex worker I’m screwed.  And in a way that I don’t to become pregnant.  Because……  Without the back up condoms it becomes unprotected.  Unprotected sex risks pregnancy.  pregnancy isn’t the deal for either the client or the provider.  I don’t want to become pregnant by a client.  I can hear the geniuses.  “The don’t be a hooker”.  I’m an escort for a reason.  So save it.  I don’t want to become pregnant from a client.  I also don’t want to catch a disease from him.  Since I’m the sex worker it’s up to me to provide the condoms.  And beyond that I don’t want to trust my health or a pregnancy risk to a client.  Let’s face it.  Anyone who has been an escort for some time learns that many clients have no idea how to bathe.  They don’t know that the little towel, wash cloth, is for scrubbing to be clean.  They don’t know that standing in the shower and letting the water drain by their feet isn’t cleaning their feet.  Given this fact.  I don’t want to trust my safety or my pregnancy risk to them.  Thus I need condoms.  Otherwise, when I get pregnant, I will abort a child.  Because I’m not having a child with a client.  Nor does he want me to.  I prefer not to have an abortion if I don’t have to.

Since I am an escort.  Since it’s my body.  Since I’m doing it out of need.  Since I’m adult woman.  I”m grown up enough to make my own choices.  I choose to not be pregnant and not have a disease.  Geniuses who pass these laws.  Does this make sense?

You’ll say it fights trafficking to do this.  Umm.  How?  Trafficking victims don’t get pregnant or diseases?  Oh, well, if the escort can’t use a condom she’ll go become an accountant or manage a retail store……….  Umm,… No.  Not real world.

Actually geniuses who endorse this legislation.  Here’s the actual deal.  You’re clueless.  You don’t know what you are talking about.  Maybe you’re well intentioned.  Maybe you’re just a jerk.  Either way you are uniformed.   You are legislators.  As such you can pass laws.  You can keep prostitution illegal.  Nothing we can do about that.  But don’t put our safety on the line to make it easier for the police to make an arrest.  If you want police to arrest for prostitution than them earn it by proving prostitution rather than using a condom as cheap shot on the arrest goal.  Because that kills us.  And since most who write these puritanical laws tend to be pro life.  Here is reality.  If we get pregnant by a client.  We are going to very likely abort the child.  Even if you outlaw that.  If you are so pro life than don’t force scenarios that ensure an abortion.  If you don’t want unborn babies to be killed.  Then don’t create a dynamic in which they are created when they aren’t desired.  Maybe you don’t like this.  Maybe it’s distasteful.  Maybe you want to throw your cliché rhetoric.  But this real world.  It is how life really works.

You would know this if you asked us…………

Lazy law enforcement empowered by clueless puritanical legislators.  Gee.  That sounds like a great path for social change to me………  Pathetic.

The Policy That Keeps Prostitutes From Carrying and Using Condoms

Julie Turkewitz

Julie Turkewitz is a New York-based freelance journalist. She spent two years writing about AIDS and homelessness for Housing Works. Her work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and elsewhere.

 

New York isn’t the only place where cops can use condom possession to justify arrest, but sex worker advocates there are pushing a new bill.

 

…Condom possession in itself is not illegal in New York, nor in any other state. Rather, the fact that condoms can be used in court as evidence of prostitution means that police will sometimes confiscate condoms, interrogate those carrying several, and use them as part of the basis for arrest. A law like the one in New York would clarify that possession is permitted, quelling fears among those who want to use them. “If there is no way an item will ever be used as evidence, then there’s no excuse to ever take it or put it in an arrest sheet,” said Baskin….

 

READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE IN THE ATLANTIC HERE