Madams, Management, Pimps, and Hypocracy

In the previous message I wrote in memory of Robyn Few, I mentioned how she has been subject to verbal assaults for her advocacy, yet kept persevering.  Among such people vilifying Robyn was Melissa Farley, on the grounds that Robyn was a madam and therefore lacks credibility to speak on sex workers’ issues and policies affecting sex workers. -even though Robyn also identified as a sex worker.  This was very hypocritical considering that Farley was aligned with a madam named Jody Williams–nicknamed “the high tech madam” who was convicted for running a prostitution service: http://sexworkersanonymous.webs.com/aboutthefounder.htm.

Thus, I’m not stupid and naive enough to believe for one second that Farley’s objections to Robyn or anybody in the sex workers’ rights movement have anything to do with whether they were in management when she herself was aligned with somebody in sex work management, and perhaps still is.  This seems like nothing more than a tactic to draw attention away from the actual arguments of this movement because she lacks any legitimate rebuttals.  If she’s really so against madams, then why would she align with at least one…

Also, if Farley is going to define everybody in sex work management as a pimp, then she was aligned with a pimp by her definition.  As part of this alliance, Jody Williams wrote a chapter in Farley’s book against the legal Nevada brothel system and participated in a panel promoting the book and her’s as well as Farley’s agenda against sex workers in the legal brothels:  http://archive.pahrumpvalleytimes.com/2007/Sep-07-Fri-2007/news/16519321.html .

Yes, you read that correctly.  I say their agenda against sex workers in the legal brothels because they were trying to take away one of only two ways we had to work legally in this country.  (At the time, indoor prostitution through agencies or independently was legal in Rhode Island, but has since been criminalized. Now, the legal Nevada brothels are the only way that sex workers in prostitution can work legally in the U.S., though this is restricted to just cis women and also perhaps trans women who can pass for cis.  One legal Nevada brothel hired men, but that didn’t last long.  )  I’ve worked in the legal Nevada brothel system and acknowledge that it leaves a lot to be desired and is far from ideal, but I do not know of any sex workers in the these legal brothels who want the brothels  to be criminalized and who want to be pushed onto the criminalized sector, regardless of whether we enjoy working in the brothels or not.

Though Melissa and her supporters may defend their support and alliance with Jody on the grounds that she is doing such wonderful stuff and has experienced atrocities in her life, the same can be said of Robyn.  Yet, that doesn’t stop them from vilifying her.  What’s Melissa saying–that madams are pimps unless they’re aligned with her and then they’re not so bad?

Here are my feelings about madams.  Though I’ve never been one, I have worked for madams in the legal Nevada brothel system and don’t agree with conflating all madams with abusive pimps.  I don’t support enslaving anybody into prostitution or any industry, so I certainly don’t support madams who do this.  I also oppose all forms of verbal and physical abuse against sex workers, whether committed by madams or somebody else.  However, I have worked for madams who treat sex workers with more kindness and dignity than some anti-sex work folks do and some sex workers may prefer to work in brothels or for agencies with ethical management since such management could take care of behind the scenes business work such as getting us clients and setting us up with appointments (thus helping us make a living which is more than many of these anti-sex work folks are doing ), providing us with website space, transportation, screening, and providing a person or place where we can call into when we arrive and leave a session as a safety precaution. In the case of brothels, management can provide us with a place to work when we may not have another location.

This vilification against all management totally ignores ways ethical management can be helpful to us as sex workers.  However, I also totally support the right of sex workers to work independently and realize some prefer to go that route…and I support the right not to be sex workers and to exit sex work without being discriminated against in other jobs because we have been sex workers.  This is one of many reasons why I advocate against the criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers.

Furthermore, some people who hold management positions are or have been sex workers themselves, so simply saying somebody holds a management position doesn’t necessarily deny their experience as a sex worker or their ability to speak on this experience.  If we’re going to discredit the voices of all sex workers who hold management positions, then that would discredit the voices of the dancers at the Lusty Lady peep show in San Francisco who successfully unionized to improve conditions and then bought out the club to form a worker-owned co-op.

Please don’t mistake me.  I don’t write this message to vilify Jody for being a madam, as I have worked for madams before and don’t consider them all to be bad.  I write this to point out the hypocracy on the issue, how certain opponents are arguing that some people in the sex workers’ rights movement hold management positions and then using this to discredit our whole movement, even sex workers who do not even hold management positions when  Melissa Farley has herself aligned with somebody who was in management in the sex trade.  Stop the hypocracy.  It does nothing to promote the rights and well-being of sex workers nor does it stop pimps who actually are abusive.

In Loving Memory of Robyn Few

Sadly, Robyn Few, a founder of the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project-USA, passed away this morning (Sept. 13) from cancer. I remember Robyn as a strong, compassionate, caring, vivacious, and intelligent person. We first met in-person during the Measure Q campaign (an initiative to symbolically decriminalize prostitution) in Berkeley, CA in 2004. I have fond memories of sleeping on her floor for three weeks. We’ve seen each other various times since then, the most recent being at the opening of the Robyn Few Sex Workers’ Resource Center in Tucson, AZ this past June.  Robyn was a very resilient person, identifying as a survivor of incest who ran away from home at age 14. She really had the strength to put herself “on the line” as social justice advocate, being subject to verbal assaults by some openents of the sex workers’ justice movement.  Yet, nothing got in the way of her compassion and determination to support the human rights of sex workers. She devoted so much time and energy to advcating for the rights and well-being of sex workers, even amidst all the backlash and verbal attacks she was subject to for this advocacy-which still persisted while her condition was deteriorating due to cancer and she was no longer in a position to defend herself.  I’m proud to say sex worker advocacy lives on and we’re not letting anybody’s maliciousness stop us from promoting the human rights of sex workers. Though Robyn has passed on, her spirit remains with us. Here’s a beautiful website honoring Robyn, where we can learn about her and post stories: http://robynfew.com/ .  The last I checked, the website hasn’t been updated since Robyn passed away, so it still said she lives in the Bay Area.

Backlash against Sex Positive Feminism

There are so many types of feminisms that I have trouble keeping track of them all. One type is sex positive feminism. Broadly speaking, this feminist genre focuses on how sexuality can be liberating and empowering to women. Sex positive feminists challenge puritanical, narrow views of sex and address how there are many sides to sexuality. They also seek to shift the focus in feminism from mainly negative things with the word “sexual” to focus on the positive. This does not mean ignoring issues such as sexual assault or sexual violence, and sex positive feminists are addressing such issues from different angles than feminists traditionally have. An example would be the book titled “Yes Means Yes”, which I interpret as a sex positive feminist anthology with writings from multiple authors.
“No means no” has been a long-time slogan in feminist movements as a way to protest rape and additional forms of violence, arguing that if we say no, you need to listen, take us seriously, and respect that. “Yes means yes” doesn’t negate “no means no”. Both slogans can and must exist in harmony. To me, “yes means yes” addresses how allowing women freedom to our bodies must also mean allowing us the freedom to say “yes, oh yes!”

Though sex positive feminism is not just about sex work, the backlash against sex positive feminism has also permeated into the sex workers rights movement, on the ground that people (and not only people who are anti-sex work) have criticized this movement for being too sex positive and addressed how sex positive feminism is detrimental to the movement. Instead of arguing that the sex workers rights movement is too sex positive, I would argue that the sex workers rights movement recognizes multiple realities in the sex industry-trade, instead of looking at it as all one way or as a binary where it is all either this way or that way. Yes, there are people within the movement who have expressed positive experiences with and outlooks on sex work, but the movement still recognizes that this isn’t the only side.

Even considering how the conflation with sex positive feminism is used against the sex workers’ rights movement, I argue against silencing sex workers in the movement who express positive attitudes because that would go against what I see as one of the main tenets of sex workers’ rights advocacy–supporting the right of sex workers to define our experiences for ourselves. Though it’s important to acknowledge our privileges, attempting to shut up sex workers who speak positively about our work is a way of “otherizing” sex workers. I say this because I do not know of any other occupation where people’s perspectives are dismissed on the grounds that they’re too overly privileged or out of touch with reality when they speak positively about their work, and sex workers should not be treated this way either. Like, would we say this about a doctor who describes their work as important or meaningful. After all, there are privileges to being a doctor, such as often making really nice salaries and it takes some level of privilege to be able to spend all those years in medical school, which takes time away from being able to work for pay which some people need to do to survive. I’m not saying we should dismiss doctors who express positive perspectives about their work, but hopefully, people get the point…Furthermore, I’m not saying that sex work is just like any other occupation because no two occupations are identical, but sex workers still deserve the same human rights and the same freedom to define our experiences and perspectives for ourselves.

Additionally, when sex workers speak positively about our work, that does not mean all of our experiences have been positive. Rather, this could be a way to give us positive energy that we need, as it can be very distressing to just focus on the negative.

Sex positive feminism has also been criticized for focusing little to none on race and class issues. Though these are valid criticisms important to be mindful of and address, sex positive feminism still does make important contributions despite its shortcomings. I’ll draw an analogy to the gay rights movement (now called the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) rights movement). When this movement emerged on a large scale, the movement took on a positive word “gay”, which means happy. This was a positive way to challenge the negativity against and “pathologizing” of gays. Likewise, sex positive feminism has also taken on positive language such as the word “positive” to challenge the negativity toward women’s sexuality and sexual expression, and to challenge stigmas against sex workers who make a living through sexual services, entertainment, and/or companionship.

That being said, it’s important not to assume that everybody who doesn’t identify as a sex positive feminist is sex negative.  There’s not that simply of a binary or a dichotomy, and there are a complexity of reasons why people might or might not identify by the sex positive label.

 

Dr. Oz’s Segment on Child Sex Trafficking

I don’t watch much TV, but one of the shows I sometimes watch is the Dr. Oz show due to my interest in health, nutrition, and fitness. Today, a segment about sex trafficking aired. It was a preview of an investigative report by Lisa Ling that will air on Oprah Winfrey’s channel, called the O Network. Ling was among the guests, as were two sex trafficking survivors, the mother of a sex trafficking survivor, and the head of the FBI’s Innocence Lost project.

I appreciated Ling and Dr. Oz both distinguishing between prostitutes and sex slaves, thus challenging the conflation of all prostitution with slavery. Prositutes get paid for sexual services, but sex slaves don’t. Ling also distinguished between sex slavery and consensual prostitution, saying that being a sex slave is different from being a prostitute because sexual slavery isn’t a choice.

Something else that really stood out to me was how one of the trafficking survivors named Holly Austin Smith said that she didn’t think she’d be able to get away from her trafficker if she wasn’t arrested. Here’s a link to her website: www.HollyAustinSmith.com  .  Did anybody reach out to Holly without arresting her?  Was there anywhere she could go besides jail?   It disgusts me so much that we live in a society where any trafficking victim needs to be arrested to get away from the traffickers and indicates a lack of outreach, accessible safe houses, and other services for trafficked people. This tells me that resources need to be redirected, with the funds used to arrest sex workers and trafficking victims being reallocated to outreach and safe houses. Arresting trafficking victims is treating them like criminals, so victims need other alternatives besides arrests. Ling acknowledged that child sex trafficking victims are being treated like criminals.

This is one of the reasons why advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution is part of the efforts to stop sex trafficking. This way, resources being wasted on arresting sex workers, non-abusive clients, and trafficked people can be put towards providing outreach, safe houses, and efforts to make trafficking less likely to happen in the first place. An anti-trafficking activist mentioned how there was a real scarcity of safe houses and how it was difficult to find funding for these, so it disgusts me that while people who have a genuine interest in assisting trafficked people are having trouble getting funding, so much is being wasted on making arrests against sex workers, clients (just for being clients even if they aren’t abusive), and trafficked people.

The FBI’s Innocence Lost project runs Operation Cross County, in which the federal government funds local law enforcement agencies and the FBI to set up sting operations in the name of stopping child sex trafficking. Yet, if that’s what these sting operations are mainly about, then why are adult sex workers being incarcerated under these sting operations.

I read an article in the Boston Globe about two sex workers who were arrested by 17 FBI agents in a sting operation at the Mariott though Operation Cross County. I have no idea why it takes 17 FBI agents to arrest two sex workers nor do I get what this has to do with stopping child sex trafficking. I read about how the sex workers were kicking and screaming as they were being arrested, and a hotel guest who witnessed this complained to management. I was traumatized just reading about this, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for the sex workers who experienced it. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/02/21/5_arrested_in_us_sting_at_marriott/ .

Arresting sex workers for prostitution isn’t simply a necessary evil in efforts to stop sex trafficking. It’s a major human rights abuse that must end. It’s a horrible violation of our right to our bodies that anybody is being arrested for engaging in consensual sexual behaviors, and if they’re not consenting, then why are they being arrested and treated like criminals. I don’t agree with criminalizing children for prostitution on either. On the one hand, they’re widely perceived as victims, but on the other hand, they’re being arrested like criminals or suspected criminals under anti-prostitution laws. This must change. If prostitution were decriminalized, then these children would no longer be criminalized for prostitution. However, it would still be illegal for adults to have sex with children in prostitution under laws prohibiting sex with underage people.

Not surprisingly, the director of the Innocence Lost project mentioned nothing about how sex workers are being arrested under this program.

Did anybody see this segment of the Dr. Oz show about child sex trafficking?  If so, what did you think?

What Are You Doing to Get People Out of Prostitution

A staunch anti-sex work activist asked sex worker advocates about what we’re doing to get people out of prostitution. Well, this would actually be a fair question if we weren’t so busy having to peacefully fight for our own rights. Before asking us this, perhaps she should ask herself what she’s doing to stop the incarceration and major human rights abuses against sex workers under the anti-prostitution laws that are “supposed” to be about stopping human trafficking:  http://blip.tv/sexworkerspresent/anti-trafficking-cambodia-the-reality-full-version-977233.   Since when does persecuting and abusing sex workers stop human trafficking.   She also needs to ask herself about what she’s doing to stop violence against sex workers beyond promoting anti-prositution laws that encourage this; and what she’s doing to promote the well-being and agency of sex workers while we’re sex workers.

Nonetheless, I’ll respond to the question anyway. Criminalizing and stigmatizing prostitution creates obstacles to people looking to exit the industry and people who are looking for jobs in addition to prostitution, as various employers do criminal background checks, and applicants almost always need to list past employment (such as the past 3 jobs, etc.) on job applications. Similiar things could be said about resumes. If prostitution weren’t criminalized or stigmatized,  this would be no problem, as sex workers would be able to include this information without fear of being discriminated against for being sex workers or incriminating oneself. Thus, one thing we’re doing to help people exit prostitution is advocating for the decriminalization and destigmatization of prostituiton.

In cases where people have trouble exiting prostitution due to lack of other viable job opportunities, prostitution isn’t the core issue, but lack of viable job opportunities is.  Criminalizing prostitution or pressuring sex workers to leave the trade doesn’t just magically give these workers other job opportunities. 

The St. James Infirmary, a sex worker led health clinic in San Francisco, also employs current and former sex workers, and provides these workers with opportunities to develop different types of job skills, in terms of providing health care, health education, outreach, planning events, public relations, etc. Sex worker advocates in India provided a way for sex workers looking to exit or in need of extra income can make hand-made sanitary napkins for. Also, a sex worker advocate of Cambodian descent from San Francisco, created a socially concious design company that employed Cambodian sex workers, where they can make clothing and handbags for livable wages.

Also, another way we’re helping people exit prostitution who wish to is by promoting policies that increase the likelihood of people actually living long enough to exit the industry. Each year on Dec. 17 is International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. As part of this event, we read and remember names of sex workers killed over the past year and where they were killed if this information is known. Year after year, the vast majority of people on the lists were killed under criminalized systems of prostitution. It was in this context that the largest known serial killing spree in U.S. history occured, the Green River killings. Gary Ridgeway acknowledged killing 48 people in a two year killing spree in Seattle that lasted from 1982-1984, targeting street-based sex workers. He was likely connected with more murders, as there are unsolved murders of sex workers in that area. However, he wasn’t charged with those murders until about two decades later in 2003. It’s hard to imagine how many sex workers were arrested for prostitution over that same time period.

In a study of street prostitution in neighboring British Columbia, John Lowman found that murder rates against these sex workers went up after British Columbia make it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution. He attributed this to anti-prostitution laws and hatred against sex workers: http://veganvixen1.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/how-the-swedish-anti-prostitution-legislation-harms-sex-workers/ .

How the Swedish Anti-Prostitution Legislation Harms Sex Workers

Sweden’s government has often led the way in progressive social justice legislation, but not with anti-prostitution laws. On the surface these policies may seem progressive. After all, they break through the double-standard in which sex workers (who are largely women) are more likely to be arrested than clients (who are largely men). The legislation criminalizes the clients, but not the sex workers. So what’s wrong with this legislation?

If gender double-standards were the only problem with anti-prostitution laws, then there would be nothing wrong. However, there’s a lot more wrong with anti-prostitution laws and it’s important to look beyond the surface.

Sweden’s anti-prostitution policies have received praise from various anti-sex work feminists, politicians, and others. Yet, various Swedish sex workers have  expressed very different feelings about this legislation. Rather than just jumping on the bandwagon in support of the Swedish model, Petra Ostergren spoke with Swedish sex workers about this and listened to their concerns. Despite the fact that this legislation was “supposed” to protect them, Swedish sex workers reported the opposite. They reported that their work became more dangerous after this legislation passed and that they have less agency and control over their working conditions. For example, they reported a higher percentage of clients demanding unsafe sex acts and less agency to turn down such clients. Sex workers also reported that criminalizing the clients hindered their ability to screen them, thus further jeopardizing the sex workers’ safety.  Here’s a link to Ostergren’s report: http://petraostergren.com/pages.aspx?r_id=40716

Additionally and relatedly, this legislation is very pateralistic, so it’s interesting that some people who identify as feminists would support it. It totally infantalizes women in prostitution, treating us like we’re all incapable of making decisions for what we do with our own bodies. This is very disappointing, especially from a country’s that’s often so progressive. I would expect better from the Swedish government.

This is exemplifies how paternalistic legislation under the guise of protecting women further endangers us. (I’m not Swedish, but use the term “us” because I’m a woman and a sex worker). I realize that not all sex workers are women, but I use the term “women” because the language in the legislation targets women in prostitution as victims, without recognizing the multiple realities that exist in prostitution and how legislation such as this increases the likelihood of victimization. Though I don’t like to impose the victim label onto sex workers, various Swedish sex workers seem to feel that the legislation victimizes them more than sex work does.

The anti-criminalization of consensual sex acts whether for free or for payment is the way to go.  The abuses and violence that sometimes occur inside and outside of prostitution would still be illegal.  To criminalize somebody just for paying for sex makes as little sense as criminalizing somebody just for having sex for free.  Though this may seem overly simplistic, it is this simple when we look at anti-prostitution laws.  Just like I find it problematic to overly simplify complex concepts, I also find it problematic to make concepts more complicated than they need to be.  Though there are a lot of complexities in prostitution, legally speaking, the only thing that differentiates prostitution from non prostitution is the exchange of payment for sex.

Here’s additional info. about the Swedish model:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11437499

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11437499

So, if you think the Swedish model is progressive, think again…

Sex Worker Advocates as Abolitionists

As somebody who supports the abolition of slavery, I should have as much right to identify as an abolitionist as anti-sex work people. Yet, I don’t feel like I have as much freedom to self-identify because the term abolition in contemporary times has become so heavily associated with being anti-sex work. It wasn’t this way in the 1700 and 1800′s, when the abolitionists were working to abolish legal slavery against Black people (not eradicate all sex work), but the anti-sex work folks have taken this term and re-conceptualized it, so it’s hard to identify as an abolitionist unless we oppose all sex work.  I would be very hesitant to go to a sex work event and identify as an abolitionist, out of fear that people would assume that I’m anti-sex work.

Thus, I encourage sex worker advocates to identify as abolitionists,  redefining the term and expressing how being anti-slavery doesn’t have to mean being anti-sex work. That would be so powerful. We really need to redefine how the rhetoric is being used, rather than just letting the anti-sex work people have control over it to promote very oppressive policies and attitudes against sex workers. I see this is necessary in order to make progress.

Also, some vegans  identify as abolitionists since we support the abolition of animal cruelty and the human killings of animals for meat, dairy, eggs, etc. We  also typically seek to abolish the cruelty killing animals for fur or leather.   I say “typically” because I knew a vegan who said she doesn’t eat or drink animal products, but she  wears leather, which I don’t get. Nonetheless, this is another way we don’t have to be anti-sex work to be abolitionists.

To Share or Not to Share Personal Information with Clients

Some people who are anti-sex work may complain that clients are just interested in visiting us for our bodies and sexual services, and are not interested in getting to know us personally.  My perspective is that it’s really about clients compensating us for our time and services, basically paying us for our work.  As an introverted and private person, I don’t really want clients asking me all about my personal life.  Yet, I do voluntarily share with various clients that I enjoy hiking and this has led to great conversations with some clients who also have this hobby.

I don’t know how to develop a blueprint or step-by-step instructions for how much personal information to share with clients, but it’s just a matter of establishing balance where you may wish to consider ahead of time how much you wish to tell clients about yourself (such as hobbies, etc.) and then where to draw the line.  Yet, I realize sometimes questions may come up that we aren’t expecting-which can feel awkward at times.  We don’t always have to respond right away and we can take some time to just pause, or perhaps respond with another question to the customer.

Cloth Sanitary Napkins Rock!

The first time I attended the “Vagina Monologues”, I noticed a flier advertising “Luna Pads”. Being curious, I picked it up and read about them, and this was how I first learned about cloth sanitary napkins. I’ve heard of cloth diapers before, but not cloth maxi pads.
So, I went to Luna Pad’s website plus Googled in “Cloth Sanitary Napkins” or “Cloth Maxi Pads” for more information and to learn about what’s out there. I ordered some from a woman who makes them in a pack of five.
I’ve had them for about two years and these cloth sanitary napkins could be among the best inventions ever! They’re very soft and comfy, and have really cool designs. They’re also very eco-conscious, as I just wash them when I would do my laundry anyway and don’t have to throw them away after each use like with disposable maxi pads. There are flaps that I snap together and they stay in place except with thongs, but I don’t recommend thongs with any maxi pad.
Another really good device to use for menstruation are sponges, such as sea sponges, cosmetic sponges, or household sponges. However, if they’re shoved too deep up there, it could take a while to get them out, so I recommend making them big enough so you can reach them and pull them out.  I learned about this from another sex worker at a legal Nevada brothel. (Sex work is such an education in various ways.) They absorb really well and I can also wash and resuse these when I do my regular laundry. They come out of the laundry like new, without any stain at all.

Newsweek Article Bashing Sex Work Clients

Here’s a link to a Newsweek article titled “The John Next Door”: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/07/17/the-growing-demand-for-prostitution.html.  Below the article is a “Comments” section where readers can post comments.  There were multiple pages of comments posted, but now only the most recent page of comments is showing, which is very disturbing considering that there were so many excellent, insightful comments that now aren’t visible.  Yet, some on the most recent page are still really good.

I’m providing a forum here where people can continue the discussion  and the comments will stay up provided that they are constructive.  People with different points of view may post here as I don’t like to censor, but I don’t allow any forms of slander, hate speech, or trolling. 

Here’s my input on the article.  First, it’s very overgeneralized and I get so sick of people bashing all of our clients.  The claim in this article that men who don’t pay for sex are more respectful toward women than men who do is inconsistent with my experiences. When men continue to hit on me for free when I make it clear that I just want to be alone and am not interested in being hit on, that’s degrading. I don’t find it degarading when my clients compensate me for my time, skills, and talents; respect my boundaries; and don’t try to make our relationship into more than what it is.

Though I can’t speak for every sex worker, the vast majority of my clients in the legal brothels have been very respectful, sometimes more respectful toward me than people I meet outside of sex work. I realize that there are abusive and disrespectful clients. Yet, I also realize there are abusive and disrespectful spouses and intimate partners outside of sex work.  Of course, not all are abusive and some are very kind and caring. Thus, villifying all clients of sex workers makes as little sense as villifying all spouses and intimate partners outside of sex work.

 I also found the language in the article implying that our clients “buy” us to be extremely offensive.  My clients don’t “buy” me. Rather, they pay me for work. My body still belongs to me and when I leave my sessions with clients, I still have it attached to me. Thus, I’m not “selling my body”.
It’s interesting how some of the same people who complain about how prostitution is so degrading are promoting degrading attitudes against us themselves.