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?
The Aphrodite Project, named for the patron goddess of sex workers, has brought the strategies of sex workers’ past to solving the needs of sex workers today by inventing what can best be described as safety shoes.
Some of the earliest sex workers that would walk the streets, the pornai, wore sandals with tacks in the bottom that spelled out “follow me” to advertise themselves to clients. I wanted to make a contemporary version of these shoes, so I started thinking about sex work and other kinds of shoe hacks that would make sense in the 21st century.
There are now 6 versions of the shoes, each has different modifications and some you can make yourself.
These modifications evolved out of interviews and discussions with current and former sex workers. People didn’t want knives or guns or mace for example, because those things routinely get used against them; instead they just wanted something that would make a really loud noise. The secret compartments are because they get robbed, and can’t go to the police for help; this way they can at least get home and back into their house. Instructions for making your own Platforms can be found on our DIY site.
An audible alarm system, which makes an incredibly loud noise and can be set off by hitting one shoe against the other
A GPS system for tracking the wearer’s location
Secret compartments for holding keys, money, condoms
I deeply respect Gloria Steinem. But I am terribly disappointed by remarks she’s made regarding sex work during her recent tour of India.
This publicity tour promotes her latest book, The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader: As if Women Matter, which is said to contain a new essay by Steinem on sex trafficking. I’ve been wanting to read this new article, entitled The Third Way — An End of Trafficking and Prostitution: A Beginning of Mutual Sexuality, but apparently this book is currently only available in India. However, thanks to the wave of publicity Steinem is receiving for this tour, we can gain some insight into just what might be contained in that latest essay.
Those of us hoping for a more evolved way of thinking regarding the world’s oldest profession will join me in disappointment and dismay upon hearing / reading of this report which was published in many places:
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem today described prostitution as “commercial rape” and said it was wrong to term prostitutes as sex workers.
“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work. So how can you call it sex work? Prostitution is the only word you should use,” Steinem told reporters here. It is the circumstances and exploitation which force a woman to take up prostitution, and hence it should be decriminalised. The traffickers instead should be punished. “It is the equivalent of commercial rape and so instead of the prostitutes, the traffickers should be punished and the customers should be educated,” the feminist activist-author said while pointing out that in Sweden and France it has worked.
“When a girl is put into prostitution at the age of 12 or 14, does she have a choice after all” she said while remarking that prostitution was not a profession but oppression.
“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work.” By this definition, a sword swallower or food taster could be defined as a “prostitute” because that work involves an invasion of the human body; but phone sex operators and many BDSM dungeon workers would not.
There are other odd hairs to split in trying to apply Steinem’s definition of sex work prostitution. For example, are male escorts who penetrate their clients ~ but who are not penetrated themselves ~ free of either label? For that matter, what of a female escort paid to peg a client? What about handjobs, Gloria?
Ms. Steinem, are you sure you aren’t one of those feminists who is confused about the commodification and/or industrialization of sex, as if sex is somehow different than most other things? The commodification and/or industrialization of sex is not “commercial rape.” We already have names for “commercial rape”; they are “rape” and “human trafficking”.
Sex work is not the same as trafficking. Clearly the ages of the girls and boys Steinem lists are not able to consent. Not to sex work, not to many other things. Children and others who do not consent to sex work are not to be included in under the sex work umbrella ~ and they should not be called prostitutes either. These persons should be called slaves.
Yes, there are “circumstances and exploitation” which force women into this type of work ~ as well as force women into all sort of work and situations, hence the need for feminism itself. But when you only make this argument, you are forgetting about the feminist fight for autonomy; a fight which includes the right for women (and men) to make the choice to become sex workers.
Like adults who opt to enter any profession, those who decide to enter sex work know their strengths, their talents, what they like to do, and, factoring in the money they can earn, simply opt for a career in sex work. For some, it is a short-lived occupation; much like professional athletes. For others, being a sex worker is just one of many jobs they have in a lifetime. Others make it a lifetime career. However long we are in it, what we all want is for this work to be as safe as possible. But attitudes and bad definitions like yours get in the way of that.