Cult of Gracie

Valiant Gnostic Of Sexuality

July 26, 2013
by Gracie

Sex Work Research By Sex Workers

My friend Serpent Libertine, aka The Libertine, aka Libby, has a new project to uncover some truths about the erotic  industry, “as opposed to much of the biased research about the industry that comes from outsiders”.

Our first AIT research project, The Erotic Labor Market Survey, or “ELMS” focuses on human trafficking in the various erotic labor/sex industries and was launched last week. With this survey, we hope to gain more accurate stats on how often trafficking occurs in the industry and whether or not workers, clients, and staff of industry establishments are properly educated on how to respond to trafficking situations when they are confronted with them. This project was our own direct response to the trafficking PSA that we created in 2012. One of the conversations that came out the the writing process of that video was that we create a survey for not just sex workers, but for clients and other industry personnel (staff at strip clubs/escort services/porn companies, etc.) on whether or not the can identify a trafficking victim and how they would respond if they did come across one. As we stated in that video, WE are the ones most likely to come into contact with individuals in coercive situations, yet because of the wall between us and most anti-trafficking organizations and efforts, there is little knowledge and education being done about what to do about it. Additionally, as we know many trafficking statistics are likely to be overinflated, but the only way we can get good accurate data of our own is to do our own research from inside the industry. We are working with the Social Science Research Center at DePaul university on this project who helped us re-write some of the language to get us approved by the Institutional Review Board there. For those not in academia, IRB’s monitor research projects involving human subjects to protect them from physical or psychological harm.

July 24, 2013
by Gracie

Call For Papers: Special Issue on Sex Trafficking in Sociological Perspectives

The following is a call for papers (links added by yours truly).

Dear Colleagues,

We (Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Kari Lerum, University of Washington, Bothell) are guest editors for a special cluster (half issue) of Sociological Perspectives on “Sex Work and Human Trafficking. Sociological Perspectives is the journal of the Pacific Sociological Association (Editors: James Elliot and Robert O’Brien, University of Oregon).

The idea for a special issue with both a sociological and a regional focus came out of two recent sociology meetings: 1) the “Sex Work and Trafficking” workgroup at American Sociological Association Sexualities section pre-conference (Denver 2012) which produced a working paper describing the state of the field and the need for more empirical research (see attached PDF), and 2) the Pacific Sociological Association meetings in Reno, Nevada (2013), which featured several sex work and human trafficking scholars and generated interest from audience members for more sociologically driven analyses of sex work and human trafficking.

Because Sociological Perspectives is the official journal of the Pacific Sociological Association, we are particularly interested in empirical and theoretical articles focusing on questions, data and analysis of issues located and grounded within the Pacific Sociology Association region. [The PSA region includes: Arizona, Alaska, British Columbia, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Mexico (Pacific region), Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington]. High quality articles with a focus outside the PSA region will also be considered.

While the issues of both sex work and human trafficking have captured the attention of policy makers, film makers, journalists, activists, and increasingly also many researchers, until recently the prevalent public discourse on sex work and human trafficking has virtually ignored contributions and insights from sociologists, particularly those with expertise in issues related to sex work and labor studies.

We seek articles to help to reverse this trend. In particular, as stated in a recent Sex Work and Trafficking position paper (see attached PDF), we are most interested in articles that “do not simply query ‘why’ people engage in sexual commerce, but rather advances our understanding of how sexual commerce can be understood as a key part of larger historical, institutional, (and global economic trends) and social processes.”

This special cluster of articles in Sociological Perspectives will help to highlight sociological angles onto these important regional and global political concerns.

Interested? Email Kari Lerum ( and Barb Brents ( with your proposed titles and abstracts by October 1, 2013. If selected, your full manuscripts will be due on January 31, 2014 and will go through standard peer review processes prior to being accepted for publication.

Very best regards,

Kari Lerum, University of Washington, Bothell & Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

May 11, 2013
by Gracie

“Objectively So Rare” & Rare Objectivity

There’s been quite a lot of coverage surrounding the release of the young women, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus, abducted and held in Cleveland. Some of it has been excellent ~ most notably that on The Rachel Maddow Show on May 7, 2013.

Rachel Maddow began by discussing the Cleveland abduction cases in terms of the facts on missing persons. Of the more than 660,000 missing persons each year, roughly 75% are children ~ and of those missing children, only about 2% are non-family abductions. That makes the story of these abductions, as Maddow says, “objectively so rare” despite how prevalent with may think them to be. In fact, along with the horrors involved in the lives of these three young women (and a six year-old girl), it is this rarity of abduction by stranger which holds such power to transfix us. However justifiable our fascination, we shouldn’t overlook the facts that children and women are more likely to be abducted, assaulted, abused, raped, etc. by someone they know than they are to be by a stranger.

But Maddow didn’t stop there. No, she had more facts to discuss.

Maddow brought on guest Dr. Todd R. Clear, Dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, and together they discussed some of the as-of-yet undercurrents of fear about the abductions:

MADDOW: And I think part of the reason that their cases were publicized was
because of the implicit or in some cases explicitly positing that that they
had part of human trafficking, that they had been stolen to be forced into
some sort of forced prostitution environment.

How common is that sort of thing?

CLEAR: Well, so there`s a debate in criminology about this because
the number of people who turned up missing for whom we never find any
evidence of their whereabouts, every one of them theoretically could`ve
disappeared into some form of human trafficking. And so, people who are
alarmed by this point to those numbers, those large unknown numbers and
they say, wow, this problem is immense.

On the other hand, criminologist who specialize in this problem who
have gone to other countries to study human trafficking in Asian countries,
who go underground and look at prostitution by underage youth, they find
the numbers are not small, but they are really not the size that would
alarm us. And many criminologists think that the politicization of the
human trafficking around children has distracted attention from many of the
harms that happened to adult women and adults who get involved in the
prostitution trade, around which society imposes lots of penalties.

It`s not to say this is not a problem and it clearly is. But the
debate about how big it is, one would say that mostly evidence is on the
side of the people who claim that alarming about it being alarmed about it
overblows the numbers.

MADDOW: And it would seem — I mean, I think what we`ve seen in the
reaction to this case in Cleveland is the emotional extrapolation from this
extreme and horrible case. The more we learn about it, the more horrible
it is, to those numbers, hundreds of thousands of people going missing, and
we automatically imagine the worst that everybody missing has been put into
some sort of circumstances.

CLEAR: Well, anyone who has children, you don`t know where that child
is, you imagine the worst, and for family members.

But it`s also important to say in this case this wasn`t a human
trafficking case. These —

MADDOW: Right.

CLEAR: — these girls weren`t taken off the streets and forced into
sex trade. They were taken off the streets and kept bound. It was more
like a slavery kind of an event.

But — and so concern about a widespread human trafficking underground
network — this story is not a story about that.

MADDOW: Right. There are stories about that. That is not what this
story is. It`s worth being specific even as we are so horrified by these

It begins at about the 5 minute mark in this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(Full transcript can be found here.)

It’s important to note that the horrors of the Cleveland abductions had nothing to do with sex trafficking; Ariel Castro’s atrocities were his, the acts of single criminal male.

[This is also something folks would be equally wise to remember when it comes to the use of the word “sadist” in description of his acts; this has nothing to do with BDSM, neither in porn nor practice. Just as whatever religion Castro professes to prescribe to has nothing to do with that faith’s real practice, any other associations, assumed or claimed, should not be accepted. Castro’s inhumanity is his; to lay it at the feet of some other group, to misrepresent its origins or associations, to pretend it came from some “other” or otherwise purport false dangers, these things create panic and other actions which do not serve public safety or justice. Castro, and those like him, should be held accountable for their actions.]

Sadly, other than the short post mentioning the upcoming guests, this segment was not discussed at the official TRMS blog. But dare we hope for more sane coverage of trafficking and sex work from Maddow, the arbitrator of sanity in culture and politics?

May 11, 2013
by Gracie

Chicago Gets New PROS Network

libbyThis past Wednesday, May 8, 2013, Chicago’s DePaul University celebrated the launch of the Professionals and Resources Offering Services to sex workers Network, commonly referred to as PROS Network.

As Medill reported, “The Network was created by the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Chicago, and was inspired by the first PROS Network in New York City. The coalition is made up of medical, mental health and legal professionals who have signed an agreement to offer client-centered care to those in the sex trade.”

There are 35 providers currently part of the network, with plans for more.

Serpent Libertine (aka Sex Kitten‘s own Libertine aka Libby) was interviewed in the Medill article:

“As a longtime sex worker in Chicago, I just saw that there were so many needs,” said Serpent Libertine, a board member of SWOP-Chicago.

“A lot of people need a lawyer, need a therapist that is sex worker-friendly, need to know where to get tested or a doctor that they can be open with about being a sex worker and not feeling that they are being judged or that they need to be rescued,” Libertine said.

April 29, 2013
by Gracie

The Real Client List

the client listLast month, at Sex Kitten, I asked both sex workers and johns what they thought of Lifetime’s series The Client List. Over at The Village Voice, they did the same.

Sort of.

In Watching The Client List With a Real Sex Worker, Kate Conger interviews an anonymous sex worker about the TV series. I’m inclined to believe it is a real interview with a female sex worker ~ and not just because I agree with the thoughts presented. But that does help. *wink* Here are the top four points I’d like to make:

#1: The reality of actual on-the-job physical issues ~ for which there’s no worker’s comp:

[T]here is a scene in the second season in which Hewitt’s character is getting tendinitis in her arm (pecker-itis, they call it) because she’s working too hard. These types of on-the-job injuries are totally real. Blowjob neck pain. Hip displacement. Back pain from too much doggy position.

#2 Regarding “being out” as a sex worker:

Some sex workers are completely open and honest about the work they do with family, friends, strangers, and partners. Others are not out about their job at all. Most sex workers that I know are somewhere in between, avoiding the shame and stigma where they can and cultivating acceptance and encouragement when possible.

…I wish I could be out to everyone, that the work I do could be accepted as just any other job, that more people in my family could be proud of the work I do and what I am able to do with my life because of it, but that is not the world we live in.

Personally, my experience has been that most sex workers lead double-lives; others in sex work know, but the majority, if not all, of a worker’s family and friends made prior to sex work do not know. This can make sex work a very isolated existence.

#3 These statements about making money in sex work are concise and insightful:

Sometimes it can be very well-paying, though race, education (or the ability to fake it), body size and tone, age, style, and so forth all factor into how much a person is able to make and the kind of sex work they are allowed to do. Generally, the whiter the skin, the thinner, and the higher education, the more willing bosses and clients are to hire you.

While there are plenty of niche areas too, racism and social status are a reality of the business at large ~ especially for someone new to the work.

#4 After mocking “the rules of The Client List”, the anonymous sex worker said:

I have made agreements for myself: Don’t let anyone push my personal boundaries (there are acts I explicitly don’t do); if someone makes me uncomfortable then do not see them again; wear fancy underwear on the regular, for myself and not just for work; always check references from and give references to other hos; and when doing out-calls with new clients, always leave info for a partner. If I need a break from work, I give myself one.

All sound rules ~ however, I cannot stress enough that no matter how often you’ve met with a client, in-call or out, you should always have a partner as back-up. If they cannot be with you, or tail you, someone must have information on your meeting and you should check in with someone at the start of the call and the end of the call.

April 21, 2013
by Gracie

Litigation for Emancipation

Litigation for Emancipation is a GoFundMe project to raise enough funds to begin a federal court case proposed by Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLER). ESPLER’s legal battle aims to advance our sexual privacy rights by attacking the prostitution law of the state of California on the grounds that morality is not a basis for legislation. The ruling could then be used in other parts of the US.

In this video, Attorney H. Louis Sirkin, a founding member of Sirkin & Kinsley and one of the nation’s preeminent First Amendment and constitutional rights attorneys (who successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition challenging the constitutionality of the Child Pornography Prevention Act), discusses the legal challenge. A reminder before you watch: Because ESPLER is a Non-Profit 501-(C) 3, your donation is tax deductible. And by using GoFundMe, you can also be anonymous.

April 4, 2013
by Gracie

Of Sex Work & Sex Workers (Part One Thousand?)

In Working Girls: Or; What, Exactly, Is Dangerous About Sex Work?, Radical Faggot wonders if supporting his friend in her decision to become a sex worker is a good idea. I strongly encourage you to read the entire post, but know many of you will not. And yet I am loathe to quote too much… Here are some of the more salient parts:

worst fear greatest fantasy After having this conversation, however, I started to worry. Was I being irresponsible by supporting my friend’s decision? Was I not thinking enough about her range of options and power to choose? …This inability to speak is at the root of the stigmas which surround sex work, and is particularly oppressive for queer people. For as TLBG people, but especially as Brown, poor, trans, homeless, immigrant, incarcerated, undocumented, hood and working queer people, sex work is not only a piece of our realities, but a foundational component of our history. Understanding it is necessary for understanding where we come from, how we identify, the ways we organize, our strategies for survival, and how sex work’s ties to other oppressed communities and identities is part of what maintains its marginal status.

The struggles which my friend may face as she continues on her path have little to do with sex work, for sex work, I believe, is itself no more or less risky than being sexually active is. What makes sex work dangerous are the social stigmas with which it is imbued—the shame, self-hatred and desperation we project onto members of the sex industry. It is dangerous because of the precarious role women occupy in our society, the thin line they walk between reverence and worthlessness, the long list of simple ways they can slip up and lose all of their symbolic value. It is dangerous because once that value has been lost, assault, violation and murder are no longer seen as heinous crimes, are often not even deemed worth looking into. It is dangerous because we fear anyone who takes their gender, sexuality and relationship with their body into their own hands. It is dangerous because trans people are targets for violence at a higher rate than any other queer identity, and combining that reality with sex work can be lethal. It is dangerous because it challenges almost every state-sanctioned institution, from the cult of marriage to the regulation and taxation of (certain people’s) profit. It is dangerous because the legal system declares it to be, and targets it for extensive policing. It is dangerous because even as the most basic of workers’ rights and abilities to organize come under global attack, sex workers have long had to rely on one another for support in the face of corrupt law enforcement, greedy management and abusive patrons.

Given all this, is it wise for us to participate in sex work, or advise our friends to do so when they ask us for our advice? I don’t think this is the real question that conversations like the one between my friend and I raise. Sex work is dangerous because it continues to represent what many of our struggles have always represented—the dignity of oppressed people, and our ability to maintain ourselves in the face of seemingly insurmountable and purposefully-imposed barriers. Should we or shouldn’t we is not the point, for many members of the sex industry have rarely felt the need nor had the opportunity to ask such questions. What we should do is continue advocating for the rights of all working people, regardless of their legal status, criminal history, or the type of work they perform. We need to listen to the needs of women and trans people. We need to advocate justice for sexual violence which acknowledges the legal system as one of its major perpetrators. We need to talk about how to make our communities safer and more supportive places for all our members, carve out space for conversation, and collectively provide the resources that will help to get us there. We need to celebrate sex worker history as queer history, inexorably and unavoidably. Our inability to examine it openly not merely distorts an accurate view of our identities as they stand, but keeps us from grasping the true breadth and depth of the ways in which we and our ancestors have challenged power through the practice of sex.

Sex work is not simply about sex, nor is it an inevitable exchange of bodies for money. Its branding as “the oldest profession” is not about the desires of it patrons, but the obvious outlet for survival it presents to those who have few others. More than anything, sex work is about self-determination—of gender, of sexuality, of the navigating of class and legal status, of access to resources. And if we are serious about loving, protecting and standing up for our friends, our partners and ourselves, then we should be committed to being dangerous, and to critically honoring all of our methods for survival when so few systems prioritize it.

Equally important to Rad Fag’s post itself are the comments about sex work. While basically a conversation between the author and one other person, one Suevanhattum, it should not be discounted ~ quality of comments (and indeed the quality of the person leaving the comments) is desired over quantity. So please go read them too.

However, I do take issue with one thing…

Suevanhattum writes:

I see how self-determination is one issue in all this. But what I know (from watching a former friend), is that sex work is psychically oppressive, even when the legal system isn’t involved, even when there is no physical violence against the sex worker. Part of that oppressiveness comes from the disrespect you describe. If you could require respect from the customers, it might not be worse than other work. A sex therapist has a lot more control in that regard, for example.

My friend claimed that she was fine with the work. But she drank more and more over the time she was involved in it. I think it was very hard on her.

This notion of sex work being psychically oppressive, damaging, soul crushing, and the like is really common ~ but it is not inherently a part of (consensual) sex work itself.

What Suevanhattum and so many others describe is based upon their own attitudes regarding sex and sex work. This idea that sex for pay is somehow supposed to take it’s toll on a sex worker is based not on fact, but rather individual perceptions and belief systems which create an attitude about sex work and sex workers. And this very attitude is, in fact, what lies behind the image of sex workers being disrespected by their clients. Why else would someone presume that a john or hobbyist is less respectful of his sex worker than he is his therapist? (Heck, quite often, he pays the sex worker more!) It’s based on an attitude that one service is more professional than the other.

While there are johns who are jerks (and name a job which doesn’t have disrespectful consumers), the biggest, most pervasive problem with sex work is the disrespect of the general population. Legalities aside (for even when sex work is legal the attitudes about sex work and sex workers is generally negative), it is the disrespect of the general population which creates secrecy and isolation ~ things far more oppressive than sex and/or companionship for hire. In fact, the inability to share your life, to be accepted for who you are, these things are far more soul crushing, and far more likely to lead to self-medication and the like, than the job or the work itself.

I don’t want to pick on Suevanhattum; I don’t know her. But I know many who sound as she does. And they are blissfully unaware that their own attitudes and myth-information is what keeps the sex workers around them silent. In other words, it is their disrespect which creates or at least adds to the woes of sex workers.

March 15, 2013
by Gracie

Catching Up With The Fokkens

Remember the Fokkens? Well, dear old Louise and Martine Fokkens, the 70 year-old twin sisters known as “Amsterdam’s oldest prostitutes”, have retired.

fokkens sisters

After more than 50 years (each) in the sex trade and having had sex with 355,000 men, we can only wish them well. News stories mention the sisters have written a book, The Ladies of Amsterdam; but I could only find it available in French (Les demoiselles d’Amsterdam). The documentary about them, Meet the Fokkens (2011), however, will be released on DVD on April 2, 2013. The DVD is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.

fokkens vintage

March 13, 2013
by Gracie

No Real Wedding Rings, Just Burning Rings Of Fire: The Jerry Enriquez & Wilfried Knight Suicides

By now you’ve likely heard that gay porn star, and 2010 GayVN Performer of the Year, Wilfried Knight has killed himself, just a matter of days after his husband, Jerry Enriquez, had committed suicide. While suicide ought never to be simplified, the major strain on this couple was the fact that they were not accepted as a couple. Ashley Davis succinctly sums up the unacceptable situation:

The couple were married in Canada in 2011, but upon moving to America, the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act prohibited them from being married in the states. This meant Knight was also forbidden from getting a green card sponsored by his husband.

In the blog posts, written before his suicide, Knight explained the ordeal in detail:

“Never mind our commitment, our years together, i was to be thrown out. My partner knew it and decided to look for a job in the only country that would allow us to be together and marry: Canada.


Knight explained Enriquez obtained a job in Canada at sportwear company Lululemon. They left America to start a life there. But shortly after, Enriquez was fired by the company after a series of events, leaving the couple financially strapped and without employment, a visa, or health insurance.

Five months later, Knight came home to find his husband dead after he did not answer his texts.

…Following Enriquez’s suicide, Knight also found that the same laws preventing their marriage in America also prevented him from being recognized as a surviving spouse after his death, meaning all of his belongings were passed down to Enriquez’s family and not Knight.

“BUT, if you like me have met your partner and lived in USA before, purchased goods, a condo together, well, if you are not from the same nationality, even if state gay marriage exist, in the absence of a will, the living partner left gets….NOTHING.”

Knight said Enriquez’s siblings were packing up his old possessions in America and not allowing Knight access to the proceeds, though they were on good terms prior to his death.

Immigration Equality estimates that there are 35,820 same sex couples in the U.S. facing similar circumstances, meaning they are forced to comply with the U.S. immigration law and separate, live out of compliance with U.S. law or move abroad.

Communications Director Steve Ralls said in a statement:

“Suicide under any circumstance is a tragedy and in this case that tragedy is compounded. Immigration Equality was not aware of Knight’s case and it’s difficult to know all the details surrounding his and his partner’s suicide. What we do know, however, is that no couple should have to deal with the difficult circumstances our immigration laws force so many into. That’s why we’re committed to changing the law as soon as possible. The separation and discrimination couples face is very real and very painful.”

In the final post before Knight killed himself, he emphasized the point of explaining his experience.


As noted, Knight had blogged (and tweeted) quite a bit about all he and his partner had to endure; and it’s a lot.

Along with the struggle for gay rights and immigration status there was another issue in this that’s been largely ignored in the coverage: that of Knight’s status as a sex worker. He wrote the following ~ a long preamble to the entire story of his struggle and loss, which shows just how much the stigma of sex work affects the acceptance and understanding of grief. That addition status of “porn star” was like another circle in Dante’s hell for Knight:

First i expect to be judged or put in the trash bag because i used to be a porn “star”, because generalization is now commonplace in this world, because no one ever reflects anymore, because reality shows have now taken over anything that once challenged our minds. But it is ok, i am not going to apologize for what i have been up to. Sex is only shameful if you want it to be. And my identity does not disgrace my partner’s. He was his own man and in no way should be judged for who he was dating. In any relationship we still stay who we are, individually. And he was as respectable as one can be. And as for myself, i am not druggy, no drunk. Those ready to stereotype me can consult those who know me personally: i am happier hiking or climbing than in any party, and FYI, i have never attended any circuit party. If all men travelling for circuit parties would travel down to every capital city in the world together, gay marriage would already be widespread, just sayin..

Yes i was a porn star, but it always had been a hobby. In the meantime, i also graduated in law, in chinese medicine, in personal training. I have always achieved academically, and always assumed my choices. I will not apologize. I do not see how having sex on screen is less socially acceptable than being a corporate banker regularly backstabbing anyone on his way in order to get richer. To be honest, if what i did bothers anyone, well, no one ever forces anyone to watch, right?

And yes, a porn “star” (still laughing at the term itself) can fall in love, can be in a relationship, and no one but the two people involved, has the right to judge. What people do together in bed or not stay their business.

And i was in love, and so was my partner. He let me be who i wanted to be. He did not agree with everything i was but he let me be. He gave me the best 8, almost 9 years of my life.

And this amazing guy committed suicide by hanging last week, after fighting for so long for us to stay together.

I wish I had something wise or even gentle to say now… But all I find myself able to articulate in my anger is that these laws and the societal notions that form them, these hideous unfounded judgements about sexual orientation and identity, about sex work and sex workers, isn’t “just ignorance”. Oh no it’s not.

It’s a special kind of horrifying hell that too many people have to suffer through. Now it’s up to the rest of us to fight ~ to fight so that Jerry and Wilfried may rest in peace. And so that no more people have to suffer like this.

Wilfried Knight lucas

June 7, 2012
by Gracie

Definitions & Distinctions In Sex Work, Trafficking, And Sex Worker Activism

There’s a public blog which is a companion to the Survivors Connect Network, “a private online meeting place for survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking”; the bog is where I found an interesting post by Stella Marr, a former prostitute and call girl who, after a decade of sex work, “escaped prostitution” by being “kept” by one of her Johns for two years.

Before I get into the specifics of that post, I want to say that I am not against any such network, nor any person, trafficked or otherwise, who feels they have endured enough in the sex industry to apply the word “survivor” to their status. Anyone who feels so victimized has a right to their stories, to a sense of community, to their pain ~ as well as joys. While my own experiences were, obviously, quite different, no one has the right to silence me and so I fully support the rights of others to voice their own stories and opinions and form/find communities. Those of you who feel compelled to send me hate letters, flaming comments, etc., please get that fact straight before you start foaming at the mouth and incorrectly accuse me of being against this ~ or any similar ~ group. Capiche?

Now onto the real conversation; Marr’s post Pimps Posing as “Sex Worker Activists” & Other Conflicts of Interest:

Well meaning people think most “sex workers activist” organizations/unions speak for women in prostitution. They are mistaken. A shocking number of these “sex worker” organizations were started by women and men who are admitted pimps and madams, or have been convicted of pimping, pandering, or conspiracy to promote prostitution. These people call themselves ‘sex workers’ but it’s a ruse. This is a huge conflict of interest. These organizations and their ‘partners’ and affiliates cannot be allowed to speak for women in prostitution or collect funds on their behalf. Any NGO, university, college [or] nonprofit organization that engages with these pimp-affiliated organizations or their partners is tainted by association. These organizations benefit the predators who profit off of sexual exploitation; they don’t help women in prostitution.

From there Marr provides what appears to be a great bit of research on just which sex worker organizations have been started by pimps and madams. Commendable; but I’m more interested in the salient issues raised here.

Firstly, that of a rose by any other name… Are a pimp and a madam the same thing?

I don’t want to take a lot of time to play with semantics, but words have power and it’s an important issue. To some of us anyway. I realize that to those who feel they have survived sex work, it’s all the same; but for me, the terms are vastly different. And not just for any implied (yet often true) gender differences either.

A pimp is a street thug, running a street game, and much more likely to exploit if not out-right traffic girls and boys. And, as with real estate, location matters; street prostitution ~ as with virtually anything “street” ~ remains the least safest environment. Even if the game isn’t literally run on the streets, his business is run as if it were; along with the sexual, emotional and physical abuse, there are often drugs involved. These distinctions connote the absence of choice on the part of a real victim; he or she is then not a sex worker, but a sex slave. Rarely, if ever, have pimps been sex workers, i.e. actually serviced clients.

A madam, on the other hand, has typically worked with clients ~ and not on the streets either. She’s made the choice to enter sex work, and, in true entrepreneurial fashion, opened or expanded her own business to include other sex workers ~ people who truly choose to enter sex work. The madam takes all she’s learned as an escort, prostitute, dungeon mistress, etc., and profits not only off those who work for her, but off of her knowledge. Those who work for her, more safely benefit and profit from her experience, contacts, clients, etc.  I’m not saying each female madam is the “hooker with a heart of gold” character seen running brothels in old Westerns; but it’s a completely different world from that of working for a pimp.

[When Marr says she would “never feel safe around a madam” and that most women in prostitution wouldn’t either, I have to say I’ve only had the opposite experiences. Not just the fact that when I began my career in sex work I began working for a woman who had left an agency to start her own escort service, but the fact that I’ve heard from a number of women over the years who either A) began the same way and were thankful for it, or B) wished they had been so lucky.]

Are there exceptions to these definitions; sure there are. Are those who feel they have survived the sex trade (trafficking) and sex work entitled to see them all as the same thing? I’m not so sure…

Neither am I sure that being a madam or manager, even without having performed the duties of a prostitute, excludes one from being a sex worker or sex worker advocate.

[Since we’re on the subject of labels and labeling, I’d also like to say that legal charges and convictions regarding pimping, running a house of prostitution, conspiracy to promote interstate prostitution, and the like are about as fair as charges brought against workers in oldest profession; charges and convictions aren’t meaningless (they sure do have their affects!), but they are most often sought and brought unfairly against those the industry (especially women), while those using the services (clients, Johns; usually men) are somehow exempt.]

The second big issue raised by Marr is that of conflict of interest.

Marr’s main argument is that “in the ‘sex worker activist’ movement, pimps pretend to be workers when in fact they are management — the ones in control.” If we are speaking about issues between workers and management, then, yes, this is a fundamental conflict of interest. But when it comes to sex for sale, we first have to make the distinctions between workers (and even management) who are there by choice and those who are not. Sex workers are not the same as trafficked sex slaves because sex workers made the choice to be there. Treating or even addressing trafficked persons the same as those who opted for the work as “the same” means no success in helping anyone.

Making the choice to be a sex worker means the act of selling sex a victimless crime. That is vastly different from sexual or any other form of slavery.

But that doesn’t mean that those who chose to become sex workers cannot be victimized. Simply working in an illegal, criminalized profession offers many means of being victimized. You can be abused, penalized, and exploited by a consumer of your product; you can be abused, penalized, and exploited by the very people who are supposed to be there to protect and serve, to treat and heal; you can be abused, penalized, and exploited by anyone in society at large who discovers that you are a sex worker. Once you’re a sex worker, all your other rights and protections are fuzzy things… Not facts. These are the issues that sex work activists are trying to address.

And that means it’s not necessarily a conflict of interest for a madam or manager to begin or run an organization for sex workers.

Pimps or sex slave traders shouldn’t run anything. Period. That’s a conflict of interest for any of us with a soul.

The context of Marr’s argument misses the fact that the main issues in sex work are not between workers and management, escorts and madams, or even prostitutes and pimps ~ because ultimately “the ones in control” are society, its institutions, and the individuals which make them up. And these folks do not see the distinction between sex work as a choice and sexual slavery. These are two incredibly different segments of “sex for sale.”  And I must repeat, treating them as if they are the same serves no one. Save for perhaps the most vile: the sex traffickers and those who would/do exploit sex workers.  To this end, I argue that working against legitimate sex work, i.e. an industry made up of people who have opted to be there, is a conflict of interest in addressing the sex slave trade.

Thirdly, I’d like to address what Marr calls the fruit of the poisonous tree, that any organization which partners or collaborates with the “pimp-affiliated” organizations or their partners/affiliates is “tainted by association” and “cannot be allowed to speak for women in prostitution or collect funds on their behalf.”

What I have to say here will likely be no surprise after all of the above, but it does deserve to be stated directly: Just as those who call themselves survivors of prostitution and trafficking have the right to have their voices heard, respected, so do sex workers who walk on the other side of the street. And organizations, groups, universities, etc. not only have the same right, but also the rights to amplify the voices they wish to, including by collecting funds and financially supporting the groups and causes they wish to.

Instead of trying to invalidate one another’s experiences, trying to out-shout or silence each other, or otherwise marginalize individuals and “sides,” we should be listening , building working definitions from which to identify and discuss problems, and respectfully collaborating to reach solutions that will address the issues of safety and rights for all.