Blood Running Down My Legs

As International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers approaches on Dec. 17, I’ve been thinking about my experiences with violence in sex work, and one really stands out. I was working as a private exotic dancer and the woman who ran an agency I worked for called me and asked if I would dance for a group of young guys. She said another dancer had entertained them before and described than as playful, harmless guys. Of course, I had no way of knowing whether that was accurate, but I still decided to accept the gig.

When I arrived I saw that she was right about them being young. I was 22 at the time, and they were close to my age.  However, that was the only way her description was accurate. They were anything but harmless. They were agressive, forceful, and doing things to me that I didn’t consent to or give them permission to do. Though I was initially under the impression I would be dancing, it was clear once I turned on the music and started dancing that this wasn’t what they were looking for.

Without getting into all the graphic details of what they did to me, I noticed blood streaming down my legs, and I wasn’t having my period. I was bleeding so heavily that it got onto the clothing of a couple of the guys, but they showed no concern for me, acting like the problem was with me, with somebody mentioning that because of me, these guys would have dry cleaning bills. Nevermind that their agressiveness and forcefulness which I didn’t consent to is what caused me to bleed.

I could discuss other negative experiences in sex work, but I don’t want to. Instead, I want to and need to focus on the positive, which doesn’t mean ignoring the negative. I just so often feel like in this society, that’s all I’m allowed to address. When I express positive attitudes about my work, I’ve experienced being treated like I have a false consciousness, like I’m too stupid and naive to know how bad sex work is, or like I’m promoting a romatacized image of sex work.  Being treated in these ways is every bit, if not more, traumatizing and distressing than the physical experience I described above. The bleeding has gone away, yet the distress of people imposing their negative energy onto me and treating me badly for expressing perspectives about my work that are different from their notions of sex work elicit distress that hasn’t gone away. When people act so sympathatic when we experience violence in sex work or other bad circumstances, and then act apathetic or treat us badly when we express positive attitudes toward our work, that’s not the kind of sympathy I need or want.

What keeps me alive and going is my positive energy, and that’s what gives me the strength to challenge the violence, abuses, and hatred against sex workers. Despite the negatives, I feel privileged to have many positive experiences in my work, but no more so than people in other occupations who find their work important and meaningful. Thus, before you blow off my positive attitudes as coming from an overly privileged perspective, think about whether you assume the same about workers in more “socially accepted” occupations who express positive attitudes about their work.  I’m not telling you to assume this, but just some “food for thought”.    I hope that somebody, safety in the sex industry and treating sex workers with dignity as human beings making a living will be recognized as a rights, not just privileges.

11 responses

  1. Thank you VV. Your incredible the fact is around you I feel so much more relaxed. I doubt I would have made it that day without your help. You may not realize it, but you did help me.

  2. I know what you’re referring to, and I was also disturbed by the presentation. You did such a good job of staying calm that I didn’t know how angry you were until you wrote about it afterwards.

  3. I have a long way to go. A lot of hurts, a lot of memories a lot of conflicts. But I think I am so with the right group of folks right now. People who KNOW what I am talking about and dont offer me a moral education instead of an understanding ear.

  4. In case anybody is wondering what presentation we’re referring to, a few of us sex workers attended a presentation by a cop and psychologist about prostitution. The promoted the same cliche, overgeneralized, and at best questionable information that I’ve heard and read so many times before. It was difficult to sit through, but I’m glad we were there and spoke up.

    • Whenever I read about something like this — a presentation by a cop and a psychologist — I am sad that the presentation didn’t involve formerly prostituted and/or traffficked women or survivors.

      I think this very polarized — choose a side– d ebate is not what women who’ve actually been there want. I think if we join our voices perhaps we’ll be able to take a leadership position in the movement, and work toward positive change for prostituted women.

      We need to put our energy into lifting each other up and working towards the decriminalization of the selling of sex by prostituted women. Because that’s something we all agree on.

      We can do this. We just need to keep our focus on the women in prostitution. Not on those making money off of them. Surely we can all agree that we never want another women in prostitution to die the terrible death that poor Marcia Powell did — jailed as she was for prostitution, may she rest in beautiful peace

  5. I will be posting about the experience shortly as well. I found it terribly sad that, for me, the presentation was more traumatic than anything I’ve experienced in sex work. Obviously, that is coming from a privileged… or lucky… position in the sex industry. It breaks my heart and enrages me to read of your experience, Vegan Vix. Adding insult to injury, the common discourse seems to be either, “Well, you’re a sex worker because you were sexually abused,” or, “You’re sexually abused because you’re a sex worker.” These arguments are logical fallacies, to say the least, and monstrous, apathetic, and abusive, to not even say the most. I recently read a fantastic article about violence and apathy towards sex workers, which I hope you will check out:

    Thank you for a thoughtful and beyond personal post.

    • Thank you for the link to the blog above. It really reflects how I feel, and based on the comments, how many people feel. This issue of abuse is used against sex workers so much. Even though I’ve experienced violence as a sex worker, the abuse doesn’t totally define my whole life and who I am, nor does it prevent me from being able make informed decisions or think clearly. When people assume otherwise just because I’m a sex worker, that’s more traumatic than the physical violence I described (which I feel fortunate to have recovered from)and has a longer lasting effect emotionally. Why do some people have so much trouble getting this, especially as it relates to sex work.

      I recognize what you’re saying about the presentation we attended being more traumatic than anything you experienced in sex work. Even though there wasn’t physical violence at the presentation, it can still take an emotional toll. I think people often underestimate the power of widely accepted overgeneralizations, questionable (at best) information, and attitudes against sex workers, and how traumatic it is to be subject to these. Yet, many people seem to accept them without question, which adds to the trauma. I’m confident that by speaking out, we encouraged people (including the presenters and the audience) to critique the information presented -even if they didn’t do so publically-and we provided them with alternative information.

  6. Vegan Vixen,

    I’m really proud of you for getting through this terrible event and keeping your strength and humanity. And for having the courage to talk about it and how your views apply to it. Not an easy thing to be out about experiences like these and use them in a constructive way to advance positive social change.

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