I’m Tara Burns, a writer, researcher, and former sex worker. I just finished a huge research project on the human rights impacts of Alaska’s prostitution and sex trafficking policy as part of my MA in Social Justice at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. …I want to do all the rest of the states
Hi! My name is Christina Parreira and I am a Sociology PhD student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I am also an out sex worker, an activist, an instructor, and researcher. I am currently working on a project that involves interviewing legal brothel workers in Nevada, and hope to eventually continue this research internationally (but, that’s still a ways off!)
What I need help with NOW is funding to get me to various conferences where I will be presenting my data, including an international prostitution conference in Vienna, Austria (Prospol conference) and the AAG meeting in Chicago (Association of American Geographers). In Vienna I will be presenting on the topic of bodily labor in sex work, and in Chicago I will be presenting on the geographies of the brothels, including a discussion of regulation of sexual spaces and segregation of sex workers.
In January, National Trafficking Awareness Month prompted me to hunt for one of the many books in my sex work history collection which would illustrate that it’s the same old story ~ and worse, the same old solution. As many of the items in my collection are packed away for their protection, and I had to reread the book for reviewing as well as document all the research, this took a lot longer than anticipated. But here we are.
[Oh, and before we begin, I am using the word “prostitution” here to refer to either A) sex trafficking victims (as opposed to voluntary sex workers) or B) the legal name of the acts, where applicable.]
Written by “preacher-cop” Al Palmquist, with help from John Stone, The Minnesota Connection was billed as “A Terrifying Story of Teenaged Prostitution and a Preacher-Cop Determined to Stop It.” The book is supposed to be the true account of Palmquist’s battle with sex trafficking victims, but it contains so many factual flaws that you must use air quotes while saying the words “true story.”
Unfortunately, it is also an example of how saying untrue things so often gets people to believe them ~ even when there is proof to the contrary.
We begin, for context, with a look at “our hero,” Al Palmquist. Palmquist, a Billy Graham follower, is at this time not only a preacher and a police officer, but the founder of Midwest Challenge, Inc./Safe House (which has expunged him from their historical record). He primarily is now working at turning folks “off of drugs and on to Jesus Christ.”
In The Winona Daily News (May 1, 1977), “expert” Al Palmquist is listed as presenting a talk on “How Drugs, The Occult, Rock Music And Advertising Link Together”. This lecture, and others like it, are all about how Satanists use subconscious, subliminal, “mystical calls” in advertising and rock music to attract folks to the occult and its leaders who ply them with drugs so they can get them to worship Satan. [I love that the next lecture listed is Harry Reems on “Censorship & Pornography”!]
Two days later, that same paper covered the lecture event in the paper. And I adore columnist Cathy Balogh’s introduction to the coverage:
Josehph McCarthy ferreted out “communist subversives,” street corner prophets predict the world’s end, and Monday evening Al Palmquist presented his case on the dangers of Satanism.
But, apparently, this Satanism stuff isn’t gaining any traction. So Palmquist leaves Satan and the occult behind (save for the story of “Clarence, the female impersonator” whose trip into forced gay prostitution began by being “raised by the high priest and priestess of a satanic cult”, p.126-127) and turns to fight the human demons in this word: Pimps. (Throw enough shit at the wall, and eventually something will stick, right Palmquist?)
Despite having worked with teens on the streets, it is now that Palmquist discovers, and justifiably becomes outraged by, forced prostitution and the physical and emotional abuse these women suffer. He is even seemingly frustrated by how the women and girls who came forward to prosecute pimps & captors for rape and abduction are just met with shoulder-shrugging. But he is particularly sickened to “learn” these women are trapped as young girls, known as “chilli-dog hookers” on the streets. He and Jesus are now on the case. Together they are out to save these victims.
But, wait… If these women are such victims, then why was this “praise” for his wife on page 51 of The Minnesota Connection necessary?
It’s a pretty foreign concept for the average wife to imagine her husband working so closely with other women, let alone prostitutes. My wife accepted it, understood and was trying to help me meet my commitments.
Ah, women… We’re so protective of our men and fearful of other women stealing them or leading them astray… Even the victimized are threats to our big strong, God-fearing men. *snort*
Again, on page 103, Palmquist forces the issue with his wife, playing on her fears. “Doesn’t it ever bother you that your husband spends most of time working with younger women whose lives have been devoted to sex?” Mrs. Palmquist responds with a pithy “The Bible has a lot to say about helping prostitutes, you know.” But no one ever mentions that it’s his ~ or any man’s ~ responsibility to keep his penis in his pants.
But factual responsibilities are not Mr. Palmquist’s forte.
Based on the comments of a few people, Palmquist becomes fixated on the notion of a “Minnesota Pipeline” that delivers women to pimps in New York. From pages 34-35 of The Minnesota Connection:
Now it seemed others, preferably blonds, were being hauled across the country to be sold in a market called ‘The Minnesota Strip,’ the long, sin-soaked blocks that ran off Times Square along 8th Avenue. I remembered the area from when I’d worked with Teen Challenge, but I’d never guessed that many of the girls were imported from my home state.
I called the Captain. “What do you know about a pipeline feeding hookers to New York?”
He estimated that over a thousand girls between the ages of twelve and twenty-one had been funneled from the Midwest to the streets of New York in recent years. Many were from Minnesota because eastern johns preferred Scandinavian blonds. Most were never heard from again.
The first point: Despite having worked as a police officer in New York, Palmquist had never heard of the “Minnesota Strip” before. …Isn’t that suspicious?
Anyway, once Palmquist and his sensational claims hit the media, especially as a guest on The Phil Donahue Show, it prompted a huge reaction from Minnesota residents ~ and therefore Minnesota public officials. One of the first things embarrassed and concerned state officials did, along with several private foundations, was to finance a study of the problem. The study was conducted by a social service agency called Enablers, Inc., and the report, Juvenile Prostitution in Minnesota, was published in August of 1978. According to Controlling Vice In Minnesota During The 1970s, a report by the Minnesota Crime Prevention Center, Inc. published in 1980, the conclusions of the report “disputed virtually all of the claims of the two Minneapolis police officers.” And, just to be clear, Al Palmquist is named as one of those two Minneapolis police officers.
Further maddening is the other notation in Minnesota Crime Prevention Center’s report:
The study results came out a year later, buried in the middle of the local news section of the paper.
In other words, the facts couldn’t get in the way of a good story.
I would say that Palmquist made the whole Minnesota Strip thing up, but there’s the pesky trouble of an article which ran in the November 19, 1972 edition of the Minnesota Tribune. I have not been able to secure the article, entitled Runaways Lured into Prostitution in City ‘Work’ the Streets of N.Y., but that 1980 Minnesota Crime Prevention Center report references it, saying:
According to a New York police sargeant who was interviewed, “Minneapolis supplies more hookers to us than any other city in the country, with the possible exception of Washington, D.C.”
The name of that New York police sergeant and whether or not he used the phrase “Minneapolis Strip” remains unknown for now… But I did begin to wonder if Palmquist himself coined the phrase. Most all references, from Time Magazine in 1977 to 2004’s New York: The Unknown City, mention either Palmquist by name or Minneapolis police when referencing the Minnesota Strip. …Everything seemed to circle back to Palmquist. Until, that is, I discovered Ted Morgan’s Little Ladies Of The Night in the November 16, 1975, edition of the New York Times. In that article, Sgt. Jim Greenlay and Officer Warren McGinniss of the NYPD’s Runaway Unit discuss the strip ~ and how it got its name:
In the muster room, they noticed a group of young women who had been picked up by a Prostitution Control Unit sweep on a section of Eighth Avenue that has become known to police as “the Minnesota Strip.” Ever since Minnesota passed a law making a second offense punishable by a mandatory 90-day sentence, substantial numbers of that state’s prostitutes have migrated to New York’s more hospitable climate.
Amazing Appalling how no one else so far had made mention of the fact that stronger laws had been enacted against the supposed victims and just how that might impact their lives.
But how is it that Palmquist, who had worked with troubled youth in New York as part of Teen Challenge, had not known of this Minnesota connection? Since it was the function of the Runaway Unit to “patrol the streets of New York looking for minors who have fled their homes,” you would think that Palmquist would have known of the theory, if not Greenlay and McGinniss themselves. (Both police officers are also referenced in Anna Kosof’s Runaways and stated as each having had more than 20 years of service; surely there should have been some connection or communication.)
Whether Palmquist was ignorant or not, the notion that it was laws against prostitution which drove the prostitutes themselves isn’t such a good story for the public. The public never wants to hear that their fear-based and/or moral-routed legislation isn’t solving a problem; much easier to sell the public on a black devil… An actual black devil. A better story, one sure to sell papers, is one in which there are black pimps trafficking young white girls through an underground pipeline.
That brings us to the second point: One of the reasons this was such a “good story,” was that the press and the public were concerned about the pretty white, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, girls. (And those at the mercy of scary black pimps, as evidenced on the cover as well.)
Despite all the talk of fair-haired girls of Scandinavian descent, of the nine photographs of prostitutes or former prostitutes in the book, only one of them is assuredly fair-haired.
While at least one of the photos seems to be of a Black woman, there is no mention of her story ~ or value. She is an illustrative point; perhaps for “inclusion”, a token. No stories contain descriptions of anyone other than white (and presumed to be heterosexual due to omission of any “other”) females. Because those are the precious girls. Those are the valuable women, equal in the eyes of the sex trafficking pimps and the media that writes with concern about them. Because that’s what the john-consumers of either service care about most.
Victimized valuable white girls make for a good story. A salacious story that sells.
And a “good story” it was. Even before Palmquist could take his show on the road to New York to rescue his victims, he was becoming a media star. Which is why when he arrived in New York to stop the “Minnesota Pipeline”, the press was there, ready to document his war against sin.
The best synopsis of the New York rescue plan is provided by an article published in The Daily Herald on December 28, 1977. (This would be coverage of the second attempt, but it’s rather the same reach-out rescue attempt, just with more participants.) The amazing title of the article is “Teenaged Harlots Get Help” (“Harlots” hardly sound like victims) and it described the sex trafficking rescue thus:
The officers and their recruits [reformed drug addicts and prostitutes] will hand out cards with a telephone number to call for help. Palmquist said the girls wishing help will be whisked away in the van to protect them from retaliation by their pimps.
Wouldn’t whisking young girls away in vans be how this all supposedly started? Maybe Palmquist is the problem. But no, Palmquist never fetched a single person from New York. Not in either of his two documented trips there.
The failure of the first trip to New York to end the mighty & imaginary pipeline was blamed on the interference of the camera crews and other publicity. The second trip to New York, equally fruitless, was blamed on the New York City Police Department for conducting a street raid earlier. Like Bigfoot hunters, rather than accept they are looking for something which does not exist Palmquist and his followers continue to hunt. But the fact remains that the total number of women rescued in both trips was zero.
This, however, would not deter Palmquist or the mission.
Palmquist, no stranger to making a buck for (or off?) his rehabilitation programs via speeches (shown in many of these archived newspaper clippings) and decorative name plaques (via ARK Products), was accused of perhaps mistaking his mission. One could also argue the fact that during his heydey, Palmquist’s was much like a pimp, exploiting “his girls” and milking the publicity of his programs for his own agenda. From From Cop To Star: Minnesota Prostitution Problem Has Led Him To Some Controversy (The Evening Independent, February 22, 1978):
Promotion of the book — and Palmquist — is being handles by Creative Resources, a literary promotion agency which discovers, develops and promotes “super-novels.”
“They don’t handle a book unless it’s a sure bestseller,” Palmquist said. “In a month or so, you’re not going to be able to go into a supermarket in the Twin Cities and not see it.”
(Actual writing of the book is done by a Madison, Wisc., author, John Stone. He and Palmquist met several months ago while waiting to go on the same Twin Cities talk show.)
Since the New York City trip in December, Palmquist has had feelers from Hollywood producers interested in making a movie and a television series about him. He now handles a full schedule of speaking engagements, has appeared on local and national television talk shows and was written up in People magazine.
And he has seriously considered running for public office, perhaps mayor of Minneapolis.
Palmquist’s rise to media stardom on the issue of juvenile prostitution has caused hard feeling among people who have been working in that area for years. Lt. Gary McGaughey, who has worked with prostitutes for eight years and was Palmquist’s partner in New York, now questions his motivation.
“This whole thing is kind of like a fantasy to him,’ McGaughey said. “I told him we should be working with these kids instead of making movies, writing books and putting money in our pockets.”
But to Palmquist, the publicity is a way to get support for a program he claims is the only successful attempt at helping prostitutes in the country.
Given all Palmquist’s other inaccurate claims, forgive me if I remain more than skeptical about the money.
[The term “super-novels” sounds like book publishing code for “pulp” and “exploitation” to me.]
The article in The Evening Independent continues:
The heavy emphasis on “born-again” Christianity makes some social workers and agencies uneasy about the program. McGaughey said it “substitutes one pimp for another,” referring to the encouragement of emotional dependence on God.
…The Christianity is such an integral part of the treatment that Palmquist said he would “resign tomorrow” if he were prohibited from using the approach.
…”I don’t think anyone will get out of prostitution on a flophouse deal,” said Palmquist. “The only way I know for a girl to get out is to have a mind to change, and that won’t happen unless God does that.”
So, are these girls victims of predatory and controlling pimps, or are they sinners who must have their souls managed by a deity ~ and one Palmquist believes in? I’m with McGaughey again.
Supposedly this book was made into a film by the same name. Palmquist says it was “a full feature award winning film.” In another article promoting yet another Palmquist appearance ~ nearly a decade later (Daily Sitcak Sentinal, June 21, 1985), the film is said to have “won the Best Picture award in 1983 as the nation’s best docu-drama based on a true story.” However, I found no mention of this film actually having been made other than as a bio note for Nancy Hays, who’s listed among her credits being “an actress and singer in a made-for-TV film The Minnesota Connection.” The IMDB has no record of this film; nor did I find any references at this film, let alone awards, at the official sites for the Emmys or The Golden Globes.
Off The Minnesota Strip did win an award: writer David Chase won an Emmy for ‘Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or Special’ for the film. (TCM has the female singer listed as Peggy Blue ~ could that be Nancy Hays?) In any case, that made for TV movie clearly capitalized on the sex-sational aspects of The Minnesota Connection. (Perhaps they didn’t want to pay Palmquist what he was asking?)
However, the sexploitative sensation of white slavery begins to die down a bit. At least book sales of The Minnesota Connection must have slowed, for Palmquist works with another writer, Mandy Taylor, to put ink to paper to produce The Love Factor (1982).
Kimberly’s story is fictional, but the circumstances of her introduction to prostitution and the pimps and Johns who people this vicious underworld are real — as is the freedom Kimberly found in her life-changing encounter with The Love Factor.
At least this book was a bit clearer and used the word “fictional.” But clearly, Palmquist continues to strive for profit off the salacious lives of women ~ so long as they contain the stories of his attempts at their salvation. For whatever they suffer, even if they die, he seems fine to profit off “his girls” (as he refers to them on page 108) like any pimp. (So old Hollywood film code!)
As you can see, the requisite pimp in purple on the cover of The Minnesota Connection is no accident; pulp cover art is how one sells exploitative fiction.
Somewhere along the line, the idea of a ‘pipeline’ of traffic in girls (usually portrayed as blondes) from states like Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota to become hooker for Times Square pimps (usually portrayed as black) in New New York caught the public imagination. A crusade by Al Palmquist, a Minneapolis detective and self-styled preacher, seemed to resurrect the idea of white slavery and debauchery and put a ‘seventies’ face on it.
Flash forward several decades to the current face of white slave hysteria.
North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch is pumping a million barrels a day ~ but that’s not the only pumping folks are concerned about. As noted before (here too), the oil boom riches are creating worries about b- sex for hire.
Even my beloved NPR fell for the story ~ including tossing in a quote containing the oft used bullshit about the average age of entry into prostitution is 13. It is a lie, people! But just like the legend of the Minnesota pipeline of prostitutes to New York, if you say it enough… *sigh*
This past January, WDAY’s Kevin Wallevand produced a documentary on the subject called Trafficked: The Exploitation Of Women & Girls In The Bakken & Beyond. (Note: This mentions research and reporting on trafficking done by Fargo’s Forum newspaper; WDAY is part of the Forum Communications family.) The mini-doc focuses on the growing pains of the Williston area, how it’s no longer “small towns” but “big city problems”, and how, now that there are all these guys making a lot of money, sex is for sale “everywhere” including WalMart. The film is just under 29 minutes, and so worth watching.
This short documentary has much in common with The Minnesota Connection. It employs nearly all same tactics. There are the personal stories of horror, including how the victims have been brainwashed, threatened, and branded by their sex traffickers. It even has a Minnesota connection. Ann Leuthard of Fraser’s Stepping Stones Program says, “There’s a lot of recruiting, I think, that occurs in this area. …It’s a direct line from Minneapolis & they get here and then they can be centrally located in Fargo and then off-shoot out west…” Another pipeline, equally proven, but this time coming from Minnesota. (The Twin Cities would, after all, be big city New York to those in the Bakken or Fargo-Moorhead.)
And like Palmquist’s book, Trafficked too messes with the facts.
The statistic on crime, the 120% increase, reported is troubling. Primarily it is upsetting to me as it is not attributed to any source; nor is it put into any context. The closest I came to substantiating the claim was a 2014 article in The Washington Post:
Violent crime in North Dakota’s Williston Basin region, which includes the reservation, increased 121 percent from 2005 to 2011.
Couple that rapid population growth with other factors, such as how long it takes for governments to implement the response in appropriate levels of law enforcement, and that 121% increase in crime doesn’t seem quite so alarming. (However, the FBI is now setting up shop in the region.) But where does sex trafficking come in?
While sex trafficking became classified as a violent crime in 2011, things are not very clear in terms of this 121% increase… What percent of the violent crimes are from sex trafficking? What percent is drunk guys attacking one another in bars, domestic violence charges, murders? No one seems to want to split that data. Even data released from the North Dakota Attorney General’s office on the crime of prostitution doesn’t separate the victims of sex trafficking from those who elected to enter sex work.
In any case, it hardly looks like a sex trafficking or even a prostitution epidemic, does it?
The Billings Gazette warns us that the “initial arrest and conviction numbers may not seem terribly shocking”, noting:
In the past year, federal and state courts in North Dakota have charged seven people with offenses related to sex trafficking or felony facilitating or promoting prostitution. The cases involve allegations in Bismarck, Minot, Williston and Dickinson, including the case of one man who pleaded guilty to enticing women to travel to the “fracking areas” to work as prostitutes and two accused of operating brothels in Oil Patch cities.
More than a dozen men were convicted in the state in 2014 in federal and state courts for seeking to buy sex with underage girls.
…Paula Bosh, who has worked as a victim specialist with the FBI in Minot for 11 years, never encountered a human trafficking case until recently. She now estimates she has worked with 12 adult victims of sex trafficking in northwest North Dakota in the past 1½ years.
But Bosh also attributes the increase in the number of sex trafficking victims to more than the situation in the Bakken; she thinks it is also due to a education about sex trafficking. “I think with greater awareness comes greater reporting,” Bosh said.
But how much of the sex trafficking is real? We all know one sex trafficked victim is one too many, but is it really a problem worthy of so much news coverage? Again from the Billings Gazette:
Polaris CEO Bradley Myles said people who track online ads for commercial sex noticed a spike in the Bakken region, and anecdotal reports from victim advocates and nonprofit groups also raised red flags.
I’d be more comfortable with data, not anecdotal reports, thank you.
Meanwhile, Judge David Nelson says there’s been a dramatic change in crime in terms of the degree of violence. “It’s not just two guys duking it out and shaking hands,” he says. “The knives come out. People drive cars over other people. The guns come out.” But he makes no mention of any sex trafficking or sex trafficking related violence.
But then those stories of drunk guys and, especially, domestic violence aren’t issues the public wants to deal with. We know those people… It makes us uncomfortable. Plus, it’s all too complicated. Like those sex workers who supposedly left Minnesota for New York in the 1970s, folks would rather have someone else to blame… A less complex target for anguish and anger. It’s much simpler to designate black devils.
Again, following The Minnesota Connection format, this documentary shows the faces of black male sex traffickers. Sure, they scroll by some of the white male traffickers; but they really focus on the faces of the black ones. And the white slavery picture is complete with all white female victims. Other than the one Native American woman who speaks ~ and formally featured because of the drilling done on reservations ~ all white women were presented. Not just as victims and survivors, but as experts, reporters, and commentators too. Yeah, it’s 90% white out in North Dakota. But it’s not like they screen at the borders. And with the population boom, number of experts available, well, come on now.
If you watched Trafficked, you likely noticed that Wallevand sure loves the romance of the Wild West; in several places, especially his closing, his is so poetic it’s alarming. All that Wild West talk & imagery… I smelled a thinly veiled old soiled doves trope. Even without it, Trafficked was full of many sexploitation shotguns aimed at wedding the viewing public to the notion and fear of white slavery. You know, so that the citizenry would take action.
The citizens of North Dakota are currently taking legislative action. Senate Bill 2107 is supposedly aimed at “compassion, not persecution” of the victims of the sex trade. However, despite all the concern for the victims, their horrors, sorrows, and voiceless status, that legislation comes with its own gag order. Language in the bill specifies that no state money for human trafficking victim services is to be used to “refer for or counsel” victims “in favor of abortion.” Thanks for your morality, North Dakota. But of course, rape is beautiful if there’s a baby at the end. So glad we can’t shut that whole thing down. Sane people may sign the petition regarding the stupidity of the gag order in North Dakota’s Senate Bill 2107 here.
Lastly, the mini-documentary Trafficked also features religion. While certainly not as preachy as Palmquist, the film featured groups seeking to help victims of sex trafficking, such as 4Her North Dakota Ministry and Voice For The Captives ~ the latter of which states its mission is “to abolish sex-trafficking through the love and power of Jesus Christ.” Sounds much like Palmquist’s pray-away method of recovery, if not as terrible as Project Rose.
Lest you think the ham-handedness religious mission of Palmquist and the thrill of sexploitation entertainment is truly the stuff of yore, I point your direction to 8 Minutes, the pending A&E reality show in which a former cop-turned-pastor by the name of Kevin Brown endeavors to “save” women who are selling sex by preaching at them for eight minutes in a hotel room. Sound familiar? Only this is worse, because it’s filmed.
If you are sane and find the very idea of this TV show exploitative, sexist, and dangerous, you can sign a petition against it. That page also has info on A&E sponsors, so you can contact them and/or boycott as you wish.
So, what have we learned…
In the nearly 40 years since Palmquist’s book, the same old white slavery keys continue to be employed to the locks on the shackles of sex slavery. It’s no wonder nothing’s been unlocked.
The oldest profession… even bots need good lovin’! And this golgen robot chic with a pair of great lookin’ gears is ready. She’s bored! Leaning on her local corner, Robot City plasma lamp post with red, clear dome light above. Work it baby, work it, own it…
Another story about “the boom in prostitution” associated with energy production ~ this time in Australia, where sex work is legal, but activities associated with it, such as brothels and pimping, aren’t. I am not in a position at the moment to fact check to see if the Slate article is as full of inaccuracies as those about Williston et al; for example, is the “boom” in sex work the same percentage of growth seen in other sectors. But perhaps all you need to read is this one line anyway: But there’s a darker side to the upswing.
Just a brief observation that “transactional” sex appears in a study about what types of partners folks had in their most recent sexual encounters. As the “transactional” sex is not mentioned even once in the article mentioning the study (nor is the study available for free online), it is my leap that “transactional sex” refers to paid sex & therefore sex workers, but I’m pretty confident about that leap. What I am particularly impressed by is the number of women who mention transactional sex. A small number to be sure; but they exist among the 1,931 adults aged 18 to 59. …I wonder if they are sex workers or clients?
As in feminism, there have been a number of waves in the sex worker movement. This is due in no small part to the turnover in activists themselves, for it is they who help shape conversations as well as the agenda. In recent weeks, many sex worker activists may have read, or heard about, the traumatic story involving two sex workers, Amanda Brooks and Jill Brenneman. But what many, especially those new to the sex worker movement, may not know is just who Jill Brenneman & Amanda Brooks are. It’s a shame that such evil events, including issues of violence that many sex workers don’t wish to talk about, precipitate and necessitate a brief introduction to these two women who should be met for the wonderful work they have done, but here we are.
[This has been exceedingly hard to do. I’ve been proud to work with these women I admire and respect so much, and feel it a profound privilege to call them my friends. The dire circumstances, their lives on the line, overwhelm me with emotions… How to type & read as tears are in my eyes? Typos abound on a good day, but this..? Honestly, I can’t help but feel I am writing eulogies. And I don’t want to think about that, let alone do it. But as I love these women, care about women’s rights and sex workers rights, it seems absolutely the right thing to do ~ especially as today is the International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers (#IDEVASW on Twitter).]
Jill Brenneman’s story is an amazing one, both for its place in the sex worker movement and as a personal one ~ for what can be more personal than survival?
Jill’s introduction to sex as a transaction came when she was a young teenager. At the age of 14, Jill was kicked out of the house for not having sex with her mother’s boyfriend, wound up homeless, and then became entrapped by a man who held her captive and profited off her misery, pimping her as a sex slave. He kept Jill imprisoned for years before she was able to escape. Eventually, Jill started an organization which, based on her personal experiences of violence and sex trafficking, had an anti-sex work position. But to Jill’s credit, her personal experiences didn’t limit her thinking. Due to her remarkable open-mindedness, powerful sense of reason, and a profound sense of right-and-wrong, Jill was able to see past what she’d endured and really hear the stories of other sex workers. Their realities and needs were different than she’d known. Where others might have shut down or shot those workers down, Jill used this information to reconsider her anti sex work stance and came to the realization that prohibition was not the answer to the issues sex workers faced. Jill shifted her thinking ~ as well as the focus of her organization. While victims of the sex slave trade weren’t ignored, Jill expanded the mission to include, and later focus on, harm reduction services and the promotion of sex worker rights. This shift did not go unnoticed; she would receive death threats from the anti-crowd. In spite of this, Jill went on to use her original organization’s nonprofit status to form SWOP East (and therefore properly provide nonprofit status to SWOP itself). It was there, on the SWOP East board, that I first met Jill ~ and Amanda.
The story of Amanda Brooks and her work in the movement may seem less remarkable, at least on the surface. Among other things, Amanda authored the sex worker bible series, The Internet Escort’s Handbook, and she did what many of us cannot or would not do: she went public ~ highly visibly public ~ with her activism.
Amanda made many courageous national media appearances promoting the rights of sex workers, including on the antagonistic FOX channel. In 2008, she appeared with Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t appear on O’Reilly. Not even to discuss something as non-controversial as how to put a leash on a dog. The fear of how I would be verbally abused would be bad enough, but knowing how my words could be twisted and edited to make me sound like an idiot and thereby damage the movement itself, well, that sort of thing keeps me up at night. But Amanda did it. And she did it well. Via her grace, she kept calm and cool in the line of fire, while her keen intelligence and excellent articulation kept her on point and firing right back. Indeed, her gifts were well-suited to such public media work and I’ve always sort of pictured Amanda as our version of Gloria Steinem ~ the fierce and intelligent voice of the movement, wrapped in an attractive packaging, which, combined, might just get us heard. In such a role, Amanda became the tallest nail ~ which results in taking the hardest pounding. But unflappable Amanda just kept on trucking. Even when she faced more than a bit of backlash from others in the movement. Amanda’s commitment was to the cause, not the drama.
In 2010, Jill and Amanda would dissolve SWOP East and form a new organization, Sex Workers Without Borders. Two years later, the pair would begin a saga that can only be described as a harrowing nightmare.
Two-and-a-half years later, the two continue their work for the movement by sharing their story of terror with the public. The very act of going public is not without additional risks. Yet the two present their story not only as a documented record of the events should anything (else) happen to them & they both disappear, but as a cautionary tale illustrating the issues of what can and does happen to women and sex workers in our current system.
You can participate in many events in honor of International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers ~ but I urge you to make donating to Amanda & Jill one of them. You can do so safely & anonymously via GiftRocket. All you need to do that is this email address: abrooks2014 AT hush.com.
Also, please retweet or otherwise share their story so that others may help. As Jill said in a recent interview at Tits & Sass, “Stop being an ‘activist’ and start helping us. It’s great to address issues on a macro level but the problems exist on the micro level. That is where you can really create change. Micro level activism is real help with little reward; macro level activism is just for kudos.”
By now you’ve probably heard about the brutal attack on sex worker Christy Mack alleged to be the work of her ex-boyfriend, Jon Paul Koppenhaver aka War Machine. The model and adult porn star released a statement and graphic photos on Twitter:
At about 2 a.m. Friday morning, Jon Koppenhaver arrived announced to my home in Las Vegas, NV. After he broke up with me in May, he moved out of my house and back to San Diego. When he arrived, he found myself and one other fully clothed and unarmed in the house. Without a single word spoken, he began beating my friend; once he was finished, he sent my friend away and turned his attention to me. He made me undress and shower in front of him then dragged me out and beat my face. I have no recollection of how many times I was hit. I just know the injuries that resulted from my beating. My injuries include 18 broken bones around my eyes, my nose is broken in 2 places. I am missing teeth and several more are broken. I am unable to chew, or see out of my left eye. My speech is slurred from my swelling and lack of teeth. I have a fractured rib and severely ruptured liver from a kick to my side. My leg is so badly injured, I have not been able to walk on my own. I also attained several lesions from a knife he got from my kitchen. He pushed the knife into me in some areas including my hand, ear and head. He also sawed much of my hair off with his dull knife.
After some time, the knife broke off of the handle and continued to threaten me with the blade. I believed I was going to die. He has beaten me many times before, but never this badly. He took my phone and cancelled all of my plans for the following week to make sure no one would worry about my whereabouts. He told me he was going to rape me, but was disappointed in himself when he couldn’t get hard. After another hit or two, he left me on the floor bleeding and shaking, holding my side from the pain of my rib. He left the room and went to the kitchen where I could hear him ruffling through my drawers. Assuming he was finding a sharper, more stable knife to end my life, I ran out the back door, shutting it behind me so the dogs did not run inside to tip him off. I hopped the fence to the golf course behind my house and ran into a neighboring house. Naked and afraid he would catch me, I kept running through the neighborhood knocking on doors. Finally, one answered and I was brought to the hospital and treated for my injuries.
I would like to thank everyone for their support through this rough time. I am healing fast and well, and I appreciate a lot of the prayers and visits I have received over the past few days. After many months of fear and pressure to keep this man happy, although I fear for my life, I feel that I can no longer put myself in this situation. The cheating by him nearly everyday, and almost weekly abuse, is now more than I can stand. There is a $10k reward for the capture of Jonathan Koppenhaver at this time. Please report any information to your local police.
– Christy Mack
(Mack’s message refers to “Friday morning,” which would be August 8, 2014 ~ which adds some level of complexity to this madness on the 10th.)
While “War Machine” is currently on the run, the police, it seems, are taking this seriously. There is $10,000 reward being offered for any information that leads to his arrest. Anyone with any information regarding his location should call Crime Stoppers at 720-385-5555.
Meanwhile, Christy Mack continues to assaulted in various ways.
Along with social media support for “War Machine”, there are various tweets condoning violence towards Mack, saying that as an adult film star she deserved it. Other men are saying that they “don’t condone hitting females”, but… And then promptly threaten the women in their lives with “looking like Christy Mack” if they dare to behave as badly as they believe Mack has behaved. I can’t document all the insanity; it’s just too damn upsetting. But here’s one example, a tweet that went to over 7,000 followers and was, at the time of this posting, favorited by 32 Twitter users (I can’t call them human beings). Not to mention the stomach turning retweets and replies.
There’s more too. Nearly everywhere. If you can tolerate more of this sort of hate (mixed in with wise and wonderful words though it may be, I just cannot), check this out at Reddit.
The victim-blaming backlash against Christy Mack has been horrific. She’s being blamed for her horrific assault because she’s a sex worker, because she dated a professional fighter, because she “cheated” (even though she and Koppenhaver were no longer dating) by people on Twitter and other websites. According to many internet misogynists, the fact that she is a sex worker is why she deserved this abuse, why she doesn’t deserve justice, and why Koppenhaver’s actions are justified. This is misogyny. This is why we need feminism. Koppenhaver is on the run from law enforcement (like any smart, innocent person would be??) and there is a reward for whoever turns him in.
As Misandry Mermaid also pointed out, there is a medical donation fund set up for Christy Mack. So you can help out that way. But if you are short on funds, you can also help support her, other sex workers, other victims of violence, by speaking out, getting involved in organizations, and by voting.
There are things, personal things, many sex workers don’t want to talk about; including me. And that’s a pity. Because it holds the sex worker movement back.
Most cultural shifts regarding unequal persons, such as the civil rights movement and the current positive momentum changing attitudes regarding LGBTQ issues, are arrived by showing the oppressed for what they are: human beings. The sex worker movement has been trying to make a push sex worker rights in terms of human rights and labor rights, by showing the personal plights of sex workers as it pertains to the criminal status of sex work, i.e. the legal system. But there are other issues. Issues which prove the humanity of sex workers by aligning them with “regular folk”, especially women.
Fundamentally, there are two primary reasons why sex workers cannot expose the other human indignities of the people involved: One, sex workers are primarily women and women are not yet equal (which also impacts why sexual commerce is the domain of men); two, sex work involves sex, something our culture is really screwed up about. When you combine them, you get one thing that’s definitely not allowed: the sexual autonomy of women.
This is why it is so disappointing to see so many feminists abandoning sex work as a legitimate feminist issue. The very issues sex workers have in common with women everywhere, such as rape, abortion and even parenting, are such hot buttons that they are difficult enough to discuss by themselves. When you add sex work realities and sex work myths to the mix it becomes even more difficult. Multiply that times 10 when you have to fight your feminist sisters. And it grows even more exponentially when you aren’t a white, privileged, cis female sex worker.
I’ve avoided confessing the following truths for many reasons… Primarily, it’s the difficulty of discussing things which are at once so mythological and so personal. It’s difficult enough to discuss personal, and sometimes painful, things ~ but when you have to defend yourself against being a false data set, an untrue statistic, it becomes such a circular conversation that, well, it’s infuriating. And it’s not only a matter of having had the experiences, but the matter of “when” you had them which carries unfair, unfounded, judgements of its own ~ so much so, that you find yourself defending things and situations which are not even your own.
If my rape, assault, or other abuse happened during the period of time during which I was actively an escort, the assumption is that I have asked for it simply by being a sex worker. First of all, that’s victim blaming; second, that’s bunk simply because rape is about power, not sex. In fact, that same study mentioned earlier also pointed out that such violence was most likely at the hand of the victim’s partner or other person they know well; i.e., it’s not the strangers, it’s the people we know who are the largest threat. And if it’s not someone in the sex worker’s personal, the violence was most likely at the hands of police or others in positions of power surrounding illegal sex work.
If my rape, assault, or other abuse happened after my escorting career, it was the result of my “damaged” self ~ my poor self-esteem from my previous work had me not properly caring for myself. Again with the victim blaming; again with the inaccurate determination that a sex worker, past or present, is damaged at all.
I’m a survivor of rape, a victim of violence; as a sex worker, was there a “right time” or circumstance?
If I had my abortion before becoming a sex worker, it again leads to the “damaged” theory or otherwise is a sign of my “whorish” moral decay and low self-esteem. For those of you who have had an abortion but are not sex workers, you can multiply the slander you received by 10.
If I had any abortions while on the job as an escort, then “obviously” it was the result of my work ~ and I likely didn’t know who fathered the child. Another sign of victim blaming, in whorephobic style. And one that often lumps unwanted pregnancies in with STDs. Sex workers do use condoms, even if they are used against you by the police; and there other birth control options. No, abortion is not birth control.
If I had any abortions since my escorting days, it’s rather like the “before” option. So see above.
In all cases, like the rape & abuse issue, the percentage of sex workers having an unintended pregnancy and/or abortion are likely more reflective of their gender than anything else. (Interestingly enough, there’s also a 1 in 3 stat about abortion.)
I’ve made the choice to have abortions, as a sex worker, was there a “right time” or circumstance?
Children & Parenting:
If I had any children prior to being a sex worker, that might be an excuse for being a sex worker. You know, I was desperate to take care of my kid/kids. As nice as the “honorable mom hooker” title may seem to those who bestow it, such ideas shutout the idea of choice involved in becoming a sex worker. While better pay & other job issues for women need to be addressed, “desperation” need not be any more a part of becoming a sex worker than it is to become any other kind of worker.
If I had any children while being a sex worker, that is often viewed like the subject of abortion; shades of STDs, victim blaming, and general whorephobia. Having any children while involved in sex work ~ including blogging about sex ~ always inspires controversy. Somehow, it’s a matter that involves child protective services. As if every day is Take Your Kids To Work Day for sex workers. As if other careers not-suitable-for-kids (or even adults), like a bartender or police officer, involve such scrutiny. As if clients want kids around ~ they don’t. Fact: “Studies who virtually no difference between the children of homosexual parents or legal sex worker parents compared to normative heterosexual parents, so the arguments used to limit parental involvement in custody cases often lack merit. The current legislation and custody process does not solely focus on the best interests of the children involved, but instead impose moral biases and stereotypes on parents’ lifestyles.”
Whenever I had my children, the questions are always the same.
First it’s, “Will you tell your children you were a sex worker?” Personally, yes. (If you want more help with that, see Thoughts on deciding whether or not to tell your kids you’re a sex worker.) That answer quickly brings up the second question of, “Would you want your daughter or son involved in sex work?” The truth is, I have no career goals for my children. Like everything else, their lives and choices are their own; I simply want them happy and healthy. But that does bring me to the slow head-shaking “Not really” answer; for until sex workers and sex work itself is respected, those who engage in sex work are not only less safe but live double lives of secrecy that makes life complicated if not isolating. Frankly, this is why I work for sex workers’ rights. Sometimes there is a third question, “Would I be disappointed or angry if they opted, as adults, to enter sex work?” The answer there is, “No; I’m no hypocrite.”
I have wonderful children; as a sex worker, am I allowed?