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Posts Tagged ‘stereotypes’

This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 20th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

All week long I collect sex-work-related news stories for my Saturday “That Was the Week That Was” news columns, and when I prepare the columns each item is filed under a subtitle which refers back to a previous post.  But as I explained in “Case Study”, “every once in awhile a story comes along which is so interesting, funny, horrible, odd or whatever, that I like to analyze it at length.”  This is one of those stories, and my attention was attracted to it by two things: one, that it was difficult to fit into only one heading; and two, that there’s so much ignorance here one almost has to admire the journalist’s dedication to spreading misinformation.  After all, she could have obtained nearly all the information she needed from the two activists she interviewed; instead, she chose to shove their input to corners of the article and instead concentrate on the pronouncements of a clownish cop and a self-important academic (whom I’ve criticized on several occasions for his dopey assumptions).  Author Jessica Guynn wastes no time, starting off with monumentally dumb statements from the very beginning:

For years, sex workers have been the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley that no one talks about.  But…the sex industry has been closely linked to boom times in the Bay Area going back to the Gold Rush…

Scott CunninghamThat it’s the San Francisco Bay Area is neither here nor there; every place there are men with money to spend, there will be sex workers for them to spend it on.  Guynn seems to imagine herself an intrepid investigative reporter exposing some hidden scandal; I’m sure she thought it clever to intersperse sentences about the mundane doings of sex workers with those describing recent anti-sex worker pogroms and the overdose death of a Google executive, no doubt hoping the latter two would lend some lurid spice to the rather dry meat of the former.  And even when she’s dealing with basic, easily-checked facts, the “pimps and hos” mythology she learned from cops (or television, or other equally-ill-informed sources) seems to interfere with her ability to transcribe them; when the story first appeared she referred to the screening service Preferred 411 as “Preferred911”, and even in the corrected story she portrays it as an escort service directory (with obligatory scare quotes around the perfectly ordinary word “escort”) rather than what it is, a screening service and ad platform.  I’m sure activist Siouxsie Q (the first source quoted herein) could’ve thoroughly explained P411 to Guynn, but instead she quickly turns to Scott Cunningham, who might actually be able to turn out good research if he’d consult sex workers instead of proceeding from his own wholly-erroneous preconceptions:

Scott Cunningham, an associate professor at Baylor University who studies the economics of prostitution, said the Internet has made the sex trade “extraordinarily efficient,” taking it from the streets and red-light districts to home computers and smartphones.

This is the fundamental flaw in Cunningham’s work:  he believes (and has repeatedly stated) that prior to the internet, the majority of whores worked on the street; all of his studies are based on this fallacy.  Street workers have never been the majority at any point in history, and under criminalized 20th-century conditions they represented 15% or less of American prostitutes.  While it is true that some street workers moved indoors after the advent of the internet, the majority of internet-based escorts are those who used to work in hotels, take out ads in alternative papers or contract with escort services (which largely advertised in phone books).  But Cunningham insists on comparing apples to oranges, resulting in strikingly-wrong statements like, “Before the Internet, clients didn’t know where to find the prostitutes and prostitutes did not know where to find the clients.”  That’s news to me, and to every other sex worker who did quite well in pre-internet times; I can assure Professor Cunningham that my clients had no trouble whatsoever finding me, and the idea that hookers had trouble finding clients seems to proceed from another ridiculous and false assumption:  that clients are only a small subset of all men.

Kyle OkiThe belief in a lost era of woebegone streetwalkers crying plaintively in the night for rare and elusive clients (and its counterpart, the creed of the magical whore-multiplying powers of the internet) is also clearly evident in the statements of Sgt. Kyle Oki of the San Jose Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force (formerly known as the San Jose vice squad), who said “prostitutes are gravitating to the Internet because they can charge clients they find there more money for the same sex acts”.  This is a fine example of the principle of Garbage In, Garbage Out; Oki proceeds from a set of faulty assumptions, and authoritatively states a conclusion which is literally the exact opposite of the truth:  because the internet makes it easier for amateurs to place ads, cheapskates can more easily find cut-rate girls and established ones must either charge less or do more to compete, or else resign themselves to less business.  In other words, contrary to Oki’s blather, most prostitutes find that because of the internet they can charge clients less money for the same sex acts.  In 2000, the going rate in New Orleans was $300 per hour, above the national average; though it’s still possible for an established lady to get that, $300 buys a lot less than it did 14 years ago.  And in some areas (such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles) the bottom has almost dropped out of what was once a very lucrative market.

The rest of the article suffers from the same syndrome that permeates all of prostitution law and much of the public’s conception of sex work:  the fallacious belief that sex is different from all other human activity, and sex work different from all other work.  Would a reporter find the idea that any other entrepreneur had grossed almost $1 million over several years of brisk business remarkable?  Of course not, but somehow it becomes so when the entrepreneur is a sex worker (I also doubt Guynn would use the demeaning word “servicing” to describe the work of a landscaper, chef, masseuse or therapist, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day).  And then there’s this line: “One sex worker [said] she uses credit-card payment processor Square to charge clients…” to which any normal person’s response should be, “So what?”  How many businesses have you run into lately that don’t take credit cards?  Accepting credit cards is not remotely notable, for sex workers or anyone else, and it hasn’t been for at least two decades; the fact that a businesswoman uses a popular payment processor doesn’t make it any more interesting.  But that’s par for the course with mainstream articles on sex work; rather than discuss important issues like sex worker rights, police brutality and how “authorities” use the moral panic around “sex trafficking” to justify massive violations of human rights, reporters prefer to present dry-as-dust details that they portray as somehow shocking because the transaction involves sex, then liberally moisten the mixture with lies, myths and sexual fantasies from self-appointed “experts” who know less about sex work than they do about quantum physics.

Professor Scott Cunningham says these indoor sex workers will have to wait at least another century for their clients to find them.

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[We] invent without scruple a new principle to every new phenomenon…we only desire, by a number of falsehoods, to cover our ignorance of the truth.  –  David Hume

The states of Arizona and Washington appear to be competing for the dubious distinction of most prolific font of “sex trafficking” rhetoric.  While Arizona tends to lead in terms of pure vileness of the filth it spews, Washington is the clear leader in the areas of deep absurdity and unintentional hilarity.  Here are some choice excerpts from Washington’s latest bizarre anti-whore screed:

Bellevue has been in the spotlight…regarding a perceived uptick in sex trafficking and prostitution, but the police here say current events only highlight an issue that has long been prevalent in the…region…a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation of a Bellevue anesthesiologist for alleged sex trafficking and money laundering just [scratches] the surface of the regional problem with prostitution, said Bellevue Police Lt. Lisa Patricelli…”We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” she said.  [But] former Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo created the Vice Unit three years ago, to address complaints…regarding the influx of illegal Asian massage parlors…

asian massageThe contradictions and nonsense are apparent right from the beginning.  Prostitution is defined as a “problem”, and since it exits everywhere in the world and always has, the statement that it has “long been prevalent in the region” is a bit like saying “air has long been prevalent in the region”.  Anywhere there are humans there will be sex work, and it only becomes a “problem” when officials define it as such.  I love the way the cop’s truthful declaration that prostitution can’t be stopped by arresting people is immediately followed by the statement that the vice department in this supposedly whore-infested region is only three years old.

…the greater problem the Bellevue Police Department now faces are the multiple listings for sexual services on popular online ad sites, the most prominent being Backpage.com.  Without a known strip in Bellevue where prostitutes are seen visually enticing customers, most transactions are happening online and behind closed doors…

As usual, we have the dogged refusal to comprehend that street work is not and never has been the majority of sex work, but it’s especially ridiculous here when we’re told that the lack of the issues which incense most middle-class people against street work (noise, litter, loitering, etc) constitutes a “problem”.  Perhaps Bellevue is jealous of larger cities that have streetwalkers to persecute?

…the Bellevue anesthesiologist…is alleged to have aided his Thai girlfriend’s sex trafficking enterprise, renting out apartments and condos for prostitution and using backpage.com to advertise the women being used…Bellevue…offers a number of high-end hotels, upscale high-rise apartments and condominiums that are being used for…prostitutes, who charged up to $200 an hour for their services…a…vice detective said…”These are the ones where we would most likely see the foreign trafficked gals.”  Prostitution is also a transient problem, he said, as many sex workers travel in circuits, staying a few days in one city before heading to another…

There’s so much to unpack here:  the mention of the girlfriend’s national origin so as to evoke racist stereotypes and “sex trafficking” tropes;  the clumsy dysphemisms like “circuits” and “women being used”; the apparent belief that $200/hour is a high fee; the inversion of the usual “sex trafficking” trope of “slaves” confined in cheap motels; and the startlingly xenophobic claim that businesspeople passing through a town for a few days on business constitutes a problem in and of itself.  Yet in the very next paragraph this bigot with a badge expects the reader to believe he’s concerned with sex workers’ safety.

…Johns, known on the streets these days as “hobbyists”…

Yes, that’s the reporter once again assuming all sex work to be street work despite saying earlier that in this town virtually none is.  Compared to the magnitude of ignorance implicit in this line, the “end demand” pap which follows is practically lucid.

…Carol Loya said she’s using her business, Truce Spa at the Westin Bellevue Hotel, to champion the healing side for sex trafficking victims…Escape to Peace is a global mission to end human trafficking…[that holds] workshops with high school students to decorate flip-flops for victims…Truce Spa also issues clients puzzle pieces – the symbol for human trafficking — for donations of three…bottles that are used to create candles to aid victims in relaxing their troubled bodies and minds.  Loya said she hopes to put informative puzzle pieces up in storefront windows and other businesses around the area where traffickers are known to recruit…

puzzleThe story goes out with a bang, assaulting our minds with a veritable cornucopia of stupidity.  The idea that whores who make $200 per hour need donated flip-flops and don’t know how to relax would seem self-evidently ridiculous, but it’s very popular right now (especially among groups like the “Cupcake Girls“); donation of cheap, nasty used clothes is another recurring theme.  But to me the crowning idiocy of this generous collection of doltishness is the claim that puzzle pieces are “the symbol for human trafficking”.  Since when?  I’ve been covering this beat for four years now, and that’s the first I’ve ever heard of it.  But this sort of off-the-cuff confabulation is the rule rather than the exception in the rescue industry; while many of the fetishists are happy to regurgitate the same mildewed myths and tired tropes, those who seek to distinguish themselves often do so by inventing some new “fact” or at least embroidering on an old one.  And none of the ersatz “journalists” who cover this rubbish ever notice that the so-called “experts” are just making it up as they go along.

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Theoretically, all children in the United States are at risk of being trafficked.  Theoretically, I’m at risk of drowning in a bucket or getting eaten by a cannibal.  –  Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Savaging

Enjoy this thorough denunciation of sex work “abolitionism” as “the worst abomination created by [neo]feminism” (from the French):

…these vile bastards…attempt to starve the prostitutes, to make them homeless, to…force them to change jobs…They claim that the vast majority of prostitutes are sex slaves enslaved by pimps…[feminists] are…[as] proud of the damage [they do] as the soldiers were once proud banner of the Crusades because each pillage every rape, every murder was an expression of superiority over the enemy…they pull figures out of nowhere…and prostitutes are not allowed to talk at their meetings unless they “repent”…

Parable

Another excellent parody of “sex trafficking” nonsense, this one from Marijke Vonk:

…“Marriage is happening right in our neighbourhoods” warns Angela Tite, co-founder of Concerned Maidens for America, a non-profit organisation against domestic abuse and romantic slavery…“Young women are lured in with promises of love and respect, only to find themselves entrapped in what can only be called modern-day slavery…it is estimated that over 70% of wives experience some form of violence or coercion…Nobody would choose that kind of life voluntarily” …According to the FBI, the average girl becomes involved in romantic relationships between 13 and 15, and some 500,000…are at risk of becoming victims of marriage and domestic violence every year.  “Child abuse is most commonly found inside homes” explains Mary Addington of No Child Left At Home…Over three thousand children and women  have been taken out of homes into…protective shelters, where home-raised children and wedlocked women are rehabilitated…deputy [Tom] Kreapy makes it very clear: “if it saves just one child, we must continue home-stings and neighbourhood raids”…

Saving Them From Themselves 

Cops want to create “child porn” to prosecute teen for creating “child porn” of himself.  I am not making this up:

A Manassas City [Virginia] teenager accused of “sexting” a video to his girlfriend is now facing a search warrant in which…police and…prosecutors want to take a photo of his erect penis…by taking him to a hospital and giving him an injection, the teen’s lawyers said…The teen is facing two felony charges, for possession of child pornography and manufacturing child pornography, which could lead not only to incarceration…but inclusion on the…sex offender data base for…life…

Saint Death Santa Muerte of Nueva Laredo

the “indicia” of drug-dealing has always been…bizarre…The defendant had $324 in cash in his pocket?  Proof he’s a drug dealer…If he has no cash…it’s proof he’s a major drug dealer…[who has] people who do the dirty transactions for [him]…It used to be the beeper that proved someone was a drug dealer…Then it became cellphones…The prosecution will put a cop on the stand…to explain to the ignorant…jury why that cash in the defendant’s pocket is so fundamentally different than the cash in their pockets.  (Hint: It’s because he’s a criminal)…the latest…is  [representing icons of] Santa Muerte…[as] “tools of the drug traffickers’ trade”…the…notion [of] “narco-saints” borders on incomprehensible…But give it a cool name like “narco-saint” and it suddenly turns religion into proof of guilt…

Finding What Isn’t There

At least US “authorities” don’t yet lock up people who debunk “sex trafficking”:  “Police in [The Gambia]…detained Sanna Camara, a journalist…as a result of a story…[in which police officials] admitted that [they] face challenges in combatting human trafficking…due to the unwillingness of victims or their families to aid investigations…”  In other words, those identified as “victims” refuse to play their assigned roles.

Wise Investment (TW3 #335)

The Chief Justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court, Allan McEachern, ruled on July 4, 1984, that sex workers on the Davie Street stroll were a “blatant, aggressive, and disorderly public nuisance”…and…banned [them] from their neighbourhood…[they] were forced to relocate…to what became the killing fields of…Downtown Eastside, with 65 women murdered since the mid-1980s…we seek a formal, public apology from Vancouver…[and] financial reparations…for a permanent memorial near the corner of Bute and Davie streets…

Innocence Never Had

Emi Koyama on how the “trafficking” paradigm harms young sex workers:

…please don’t refer to the youth as “children”…most are 16- and 17- year olds who resent being referred to as “children”…”Rescue” approach presumes that young people have a safe home to go back to and the only problem is the presence of the “trafficker.” That is not the reality for the vast majority…Youth often engage in sex trade in order to escape from violence and abuse at home or in the child welfare system…”Rescue” only sends them back to the unsafe situation that they are escaping from in the first place…It may be convenient for…society to pretend that…violence only comes from pimps and sex buyers, but it is not true…police, hospitals, and schools are much larger source of violence than pimps in the life of street youth…

Opting Out (TW3 #401)

The parental filters of U.K. ISPs are blocking 20 percent of the 100,000 most-visited websites…according to the Open Rights Group…”Different ISPs are blocking different sites and the result is that many people…can’t access their websites…there is a lack of information about how to get sites unblocked”…

Hall of Shame (TW3 #406) Dennis Hof

Your periodic reminder that Dennis Hof really is a revolting excuse for a human being:

The man who owns a well-known brothel in Nevada…is submitting plans to Phoenix city leaders asking permission to open a similar business…a month before the Super Bowl and then close it down a month after…”After [an] initial $500,000 up front, the city would take in additional tax dollars…I was raised in Phoenix…and prostitution was rampant then and is still a problem now…I do background checks on all my girls, they get tested frequently, I will cut down on the pimps and the clients will not go to an illegal source for sex if they have a legal source…Phoenix is one of the worst sex trafficking places in America and this will combat that”…

Drawing Lines

Another good one from Belle Knox, this time on Jezebel:

…I am often asked if there is solidarity among sex workers.  The answer, as I’ve come to slowly and painfully discover, is no.  We’re all essentially doing the same job — selling tickets to a fantasy — so you might imagine that, like retail, food service, or any other profession, we might have some form of solidarity.  But what I’ve learned about the…whorarchy…has helped shed some light on some of the lies I believe all women are buying to one degree or another…

Meanwhile Margaret Corvid, the dominatrix whose writing I criticized in the original of this title, apologized for her original wording and wrote this article to demonstrate her real feelings on the subject:

…I’ve seen the reports of people…forced to do sex work.  They are called trafficked women, and are often depicted at the point of a police raid, with flashing cameras shoved in their faces…I write today to stand with Agustin, Grant, and Maggie McNeill, who have so powerfully argued that this portrayal, and the very concept of “sex trafficking” that underpins it, is a myth…[which] deprives sex workers of agency and identity, as it…fetishises our lives and bodies…

Marching Up Their Own Arses (TW3 #414)

If your local cops claim that “prostitution is…one of the biggest problems they face,” I suggest it’s time to stop wasting money on a police department.  The most hilarious part of this article: the idea that there is such a thing as a “legal escort service” that can be “differentiated from illegal prostitution”.  Blah blah blah “not a victimless crime”, blah blah children, blah dirty whores, blah disease, blah licenses, booga booga SEX TRAFFICKING!

The Mote and the Beam (TW3 #419)

Elizabeth Brown analyzes the danger of the latest “sex trafficking” Trojan horse:

The “Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act“…would…require all sites that host adult advertising (whether paid or free)…to review ads before publication, request a valid telephone number and credit card number from each poster, “prohibit the use of euphemism and codewords”…and prohibit the use of prepaid debit cards or cryptocurrencies in placing paid ads.  For sites that run paid adult advertisements, publishers would be responsible for verifying the identity of every person who placed an adult ad by obtaining a copy of a government-issued ID containing their name, photo, and date of birth.  The publisher would have to hold on to these records for seven years and make them…available to the ["authorities" on demand]…The bill insists that information won’t be used against registrants in criminal proceedings unrelated to sex trafficking.  But knowing how fond government and law enforcement officials are of privacy and keeping promises, you can see why those advertising adult services…may be reluctant to hand over such information…

The most important real-world effect of this law would be to drive virtually 100% of adult advertising to sites hosted outside of the US.

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #422)

France avoids the Swedish rot for now:

A landmark bill in France that would see clients of prostitutes hit with fines of up to €1,500 may never see the light of day after senators voted to scrap the legislation…Senator Esther Benbassa cited the bad example…[of] Sweden where…it has failed to reduce prostitution and simply made life more dangerous for sex workers…

Whither Canada? (TW3 #423) C-36 protest

The proposed prostitution bill could make sex work even more dangerous and may be unconstitutional, more than 200 legal experts said in an open letter to the prime minister …In fact, they argue, it’s no better than the old law struck down by the Supreme Court late last year for violating sex workers’ Charter rights…

If Men Were Angels

A job centre employee has admitted demanding sex from unemployed former prostitutes in exchange for work…[and] is now facing sexual assault and bribery charges…The man had been responsible for a project since 1990 in which women who wanted to escape prostitution were found work…

Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs (TW3 #426)

Digging through the prohibitionist nonsense in this article yields this kernel:

…Dolly has been home…to 1,187 sex workers and 311 pimps (according to official data)…Unofficial reports found no fewer than 9,000 people, including those operating hundreds of lodges, cafés, karaoke bars, massage parlors and food stalls, were involved either directly or indirectly in the…sex industry…The possible massive exodus of former Dolly residents has caused great concern among provincial and regional governments…health campaigners, women and human rights advocates and members of community-based organizations across Indonesia, especially in Bali, which many consider a…perfect spot for sex tourism…“Within the framework of our [Bali’s] efforts to end the HIV epidemic, the closure of Dolly could become a time bomb — a social and health disaster for the island,” a doctor who conducts outreach programs for sex workers…said…

Bread and Circuses

The June 25 seizure of…MyRedBook…by the FBI has been heralded by some as another win in the war against…child sex traffickers…the FBI and CNN…fail to mention that the site also functioned as a critical exchange for sex workers looking to reduce harm and share best practices…the seizure has not only cut off a source of income for sex workers, but also a source of information and community…among crusaders committed to criminalizing sex workers and the people who purchase their services…sex workers…are either trafficked girls shackled to beds when they’re not servicing sadistic ghouls, or they are thrill-seeking degenerates blissfully unaware of their privilege…The former daydreams of a police raid that will liberate her…while the latter feverishly supports the “Pimp Lobby” from Twitter…The massive gulf of silence between these two caricatures gives space to a convenient narrative that…the overwhelming majority of sex workers require intervention by benevolent law enforcement agencies…

Lucy Steigerwald points out that there are scary implications for amateurs, too:

…The warning on My Red Book states that domain names count as property, therefore they can be taken under racketeering laws.  But that is a wide and rocky road towards censorship which needs to be challenged.  A website is speech…Shutting one down without due process is nothing more than censorship.  Just because the federal government wants to shield our eyes from prostitution doesn’t mean we should let it…

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The mind demands rules; the facts demand exceptions.  –  Mason Cooley

kiwiOf all the different varieties of irritating weenies in the world, one of the worst is that species of tiny-minded pedant who is completely unable to comprehend the concept of a generality.  Though there is no such thing as a rule without exceptions (except, perhaps, for that one), this perennial poop feels compelled to interrupt any general statement with the unnecessary declaration that there are exceptions to it.  Make the statement, “Birds have wings,” and this knob will invariably remind you that kiwis do not; it doesn’t matter to him that kiwis are but five species of the roughly 10,000 in the class Aves, that they are entirely limited to New Zealand, and that they number only about 60,000 of the total 400 billion birds in the world (approximately 0.000014%).  Expressed another way, if at birth you were given a magic hat which produced a randomly-generated bird once per minute, you’d probably be past puberty before the first kiwi popped out.  But to the anti-generalist, that doesn’t matter; his creed is, “If it results in the recognition of even ONE KIWI, it will all be worth it!!!!1!11!”

Though I used the masculine pronoun in the paragraph above because that’s what one does in English, I’ve never noticed any difference in the gender distribution of this particular personality flaw; men and women seem equally afflicted by the inability to comprehend that exceptions don’t invalidate rules.  For years, MRAs have complained about the syndrome they refer to as “NAWALT” (Not All Women Are Like That), and in the past year feminists have started making the same complaint, which they refer to as “Not All Men” and bizarrely associate with fedoras and the Kool-Aid Man character.  Of course, both of them are right in considering this sort of person annoying, and dead wrong in pretending the syndrome is limited to the opposite sex…which, as it turns out, supports my contention that feminists and MRAs are actually the same critter with different genitalia.  Yes, there are some negative characteristics that tend to appear in many women…and not all women are like that.  And yes, there are some negative characteristics that tend to appear in many men…and not all men are like that.  And in neither case is it actually necessary to say so, because fanatics won’t believe it anyway and rational people already know it.

Unfortunately, the word “rational” does not actually describe very many people in the modern West.  As the spring wore on and the “Not All Men” thing grew from an inane trope into a fad far more annoying than the behavior it was intended to mock, some master of Not Thinking Things Through apparently decided that the way to counter the truthful-but-unnecessary assertion that not all members of a sex are identical was to wrongfully assert that they are.  At least, that seemed to be the premise behind #YesAllWomen, a Twitter hashtag apparently dedicated to the notion that the actions of a homicidal psychopath were somehow indicative of the behavior of ALL men, and that ALL women constantly live in mortal terror of this.  Or something.

At some point in the past century, extremism became the norm in the United States; that defective way of seeing the world seems to have since spread to much of the West.  No longer is it enough to disagree with someone else’s political position; now its opponents must assume a diametrically opposite posture.  Dislike some aspect of x?  Crusade for its total eradication, no matter how many civil liberties must be trampled, how many billions wasted and how many people killed in the process.  Dislike a politician?  Oppose all of his policies, even those which were started by your party the last time it held the office.  Irritated with “Not All Birds” yo-yos?  Insist that every last bird is as identical as a plastic toy made from a mold, and that one draconian, narrow-minded policy is good for all of them.  Then argue until you’re blue in the face with your supposed “enemies”, and don’t be too surprised when reasonable people want  nothing to do with either of you.

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Christina Parreira has done several different kinds of sex work, from stripping to camming to porn; she’s also an activist and is currently working on her PhD in sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  When she started working at a Nevada brothel I asked if she’d write about her impressions for me; since most of the sex workers who post frequently here dislike brothel work, I thought it important to present a different view.

As someone who has worked in different sectors of the sex industry for years, I have met and befriended many sex workers in various parts of the industry, both legal and illegal.  But until January, I had never worked in a brothel, and like many sex workers only knew the stereotypes.  Although some sex worker publications have written about the brothels, they are missing the one thing that should be essential to any article about the experiences of a marginalized group: the voice of the workers.  I have only worked in one brothel for four 7-12 day stays, so I do not profess to be an expert;favoritesign that being said, I am happy to share some of my observations about brothel life, and I thank Maggie for giving me a platform to do so!

I will NEVER forget my first day moving into the brothel!  I was absolutely terrified and had no idea what to expect in terms of income, relations with other workers, and client interactions.  I was no stranger to sex work, but had never been required to live on premises.  The fear of confinement was anxiety-provoking, and having to obtain a sheriff’s card to legally work as a prostitute was no picnic either.  Despite the hassles of regulation, I pushed my reservations aside and instead focused on my aspirations to conduct brothel research as a worker.

First, a lengthy disclaimer:  I am not advocating brothel work, nor saying it is any better or worse than other types of sex work.  I cannot and will not speak for others, but I can certainly speak for myself.  Despite the flack that I caught from activists who labeled me as a “traitor” for working in the legal system, I enjoy working in the brothel.  I know myself well enough to know that I am not cut out for independent work:  the advertising, the screening, the (unfortunate) fear of arrest.  The brothel provides the comfort of structure and safety without the worries that accompany work in a criminalized system.  I believe that decriminalization (or rather, full legalization, the more accurate way to describe it) is the ONLY acceptable answer to the problems created and perpetuated by criminalization; however, I would still choose to work in a brothel rather than independently given the choice, a choice that ALL workers should have.  No one should be confined to working in a legal system that requires licensing and testing regulations, just as no one should be confined to working independently if there are other options available.  No one should be shamed for their decision to participate in the legal brothel system, regardless of whether or not anyone else believes that the brothel system is exploitative.  That’s the funny thing about rights; they should apply to everyone regardless of personal preference.  The whorearchy is still alive and well, but more on that later.

Life in the brothel is dictated by sound; something as simple as a doorbell could cause a spring to action or a sigh of relief.  The entrance is locked, just as any door to a home would be locked.  The manager on duty is referred to as “House Mom” by workers, which I believe helps to add to the “homey” feel of the brothel.  First and foremost it is a business, but it is also a home that houses sex workers of all ages, ethnicities, body types, and backgrounds.  The feminist assertions that brothels only employ “hegemonically beautiful” young, thin women is simply not true.  I will repeat:  the radical feminist assertion that all brothel workers are tall/thin/large breasted/blonde/young/blah blah blah is simply not true; I see women of all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, and ages.

bedroom2The majority of my time in the brothel is spent in bed writing, chatting with other workers in the parlor, and relaxing in the outdoor hot tub.  Sometimes I work out on the pole in the parlor or treat myself to a trip to the tanning bed.  There are no shifts, and workers are encouraged to spend time interacting with clients on the message boards during slow days.  I show up to line-up as frequently as I can, depending on my state of mind and how many clients I have seen (or turned down) that day.  As an independent contractor, I set my own prices.  These vary by amount of time, activity, and of course on the client’s disposition (yes, the “asshole tax” does exist!)  Negotiations between workers and clients take place in the worker’s bedroom behind a closed door – the only place where it is legal to discuss the exchange of money for sexual services.  Once a service is agreed upon, the house mom takes care of payment and keeps track of time.  After that, the client and worker disappear into her room until the house mom gently knocks on her door to let them both know that time is almost up.  Sometimes I go days without booking a single client, and turn many away (YES, we are allowed to turn down clients!)  Some days are quite profitable, but I have never seen more than three clients in one day.  Note that I use the word “client” rather than “man”; yes, women DO come to the brothel and pay for sexual services from other women.  Is it the majority?  Is this representative of all brothel patrons?  No, but does it need to be?

So, what about the line-up?  It all begins with the doorbell; one ring means a client, and two rings means a worker, friend, partner, or anyone else who knows better than to ring the bell once.  One ring means the potential for money!  House Mom answers the door, welcomes the visitors and asks if they would like a line-up.  Some visitors are tourists who want a tour and a free ogle, and thankfully others are patrons who are interested in our services.  At this point, we hear yet another bell; one that calls us to the parlor to line up for our visitors.  Unlike some other establishments, this brothel does not require workers to come to line-up, but to miss line-up could mean missing out on income.  Regardless, this is the worker’s choice, and thank goodness for that!  Some women choose to “sleep pretty” (usually in make-up and sexy nightwear) in order to always be ready for the bell, but I need my sleep.  Brothel workers have much more autonomy than most realize, but again, this really depends on the brothel; I can only speak for the uniquely decorated pink house that sits alone in the middle of the desert.

As with all forms of employment, there are pros and cons to working in the brothel, and one of the major cons is the stigma…from other sex workers,  mostly independent escorts who accuse me of pushing a legalization agenda by conducting academic research while working in the brothel.  The irony is that these are the very same people who spend their lives advocating for their rights to work in the ways that they deem appropriate, the same people whom I’ve respected for years.  If you believe that working legally offers many more protections than working in an “unregulated” system, then I suggest you remove your blinders; if, on the other hand, you believe that working independently makes you more of a target (or more of a “real activist”) than those who choose to work in the legal system, you’re just as misguided.

Some days the hypocrisy seems unbearable.  However, the whorearchy extends far beyond prostitution; whores in various sectors of the industry think that they are superior to one another.  Back in December, a porn performer had the audacity to publicly blame the “unregulated US escorting industry” for the few porn performers who tested HIV positive.  Her logic (or lack thereof) is problematic for several reasons.  First, ANY sex off camera presents a risk, whether the sex be with clients, lovers, life partners, or pool boys.  Second, anyone who has her own escort ad online should probably refrain from casting the first stone, but I will leave it at that.

I spoke to Belle Knox, Duke University student who was thrown into the spotlight after being outed as a porn performer, about her thoughts on whorearchy.  After being outed, Knox was taunted by classmates and perhaps more surprisingly by her own peers in the porn industry.  When I asked about her experiences with stigma within her own industry and from other sex workers, Knox said this:

I have been called a hoe by a stripper; others have sneered at me and taunted me by saying some variant of “at least I don’t suck dick for a living”.  Within my own industry, I have been marginalized for my participation in a rough sex scene early in my career.  In a world where sex workers face discrimination, stigma, and bigotry ubiquitously, it deeply saddens me that I cannot find solace among the very men and women who I work alongside.

It saddens me too; as Dr. Barb Brents pointed out in “Why Decriminalizing Sex Work is Good for All Women”, whore stigma affects ALL of us.  First, they came for the whores…  pooltable

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Companies will not change ‘til they learn that discriminating against sex workers gets them more flak than providing services to sex workers.  –  Molly Crabapple

I’ve been writing for several years now about the slow turn of public opinion in sex workers’ favor.  Despite the efforts of prohibitionists both in and out of governments to depict us as pathetic, broken victims or evil, calculating criminals (when we’re not depicted as both simultaneously), our voices are increasingly being heard and we are winning ally after ally.  Health organizations, human rights organizations, UN officials, academics and even some feminists and journalists are increasingly recognizing that the prohibition of consensual sex is a dangerous abomination that helps nobody but the police state.

buried aliveThis terrifies the prohibitionists, whose entire agenda depends upon keeping sex workers isolated and friendless and the average person misinformed about our lives and work; accordingly, they’ve embarked upon a campaign to bury sex workers alive, to return us to a state of voicelessness so they can again pretend to speak for us while working against us.  As Charlotte Shane explains at length in a recent essay, prohibitionists are now harping on how sex work is “hidden” while simultaneously recognizing that clients have no trouble finding us.  In a pathetic, yet dangerous attempt to make their fantasy of “invisible, voiceless” sex workers trapped in a “dark underworld” true, they continuously attack the online advertising which makes us anything but “invisible”, pretend that the many sex workers who speak online are “privileged” and “unrepresentative”, and ridiculously brand all of our allies from the UN to Human Rights Watch to academics who study the sex industry as “pimps”.

Though the erasure of many millions of people is obviously impossible, that never stops governments from trying (usually by turning their countries into police states and increasing levels of violence to near-genocidal proportions).  I’m happy to report, however, that the attempts are beginning to attract such bad publicity that at least a few of them are starting to fail.  On Sunday I discussed the backlash against a police department that thought it would be hip and fun to “live tweet” their destruction of peaceful citizens’ lives via a prostitution sting.  Operation Choke Point has attracted a lot more opposition than the “authorities” would have liked, and now another supposedly-private company’s vile behavior (almost certainly resulting from or at least inspired by Choke Point tactics) has resulted in another public relations nightmare for the perpetrators.  Stephen Elliott has a good summary on The Rumpus:

Eden Alexander…had a nearly fatal reaction to a commonly prescribed prescription drug and, because she’s a sex worker, it was assumed to be related to drug use…because she wasn’t treated she developed a staph infection.  A fundraiser was started for her on GiveForward, a Kickstarter like service [which] helps people seek funding for medical bills.  GiveForward processes payments through WePay…which is like Paypal.  A webcache copy of the fundraising page is here…She had raised over $1,000…[when] she got a note from WePay saying her fundraiser had been cancelled because the service cannot be used in connection with pornographic items…

Yes, they classed a human being (or her medical bills) as a “pornographic item” because she happens to be a cam girl; keep in mind this is a company originally started by two guys trying to raise money for a bachelor party, including “bottle service at a club” (i.e. strippers), a company which has welcomed everyone from revenge porn scammers to abortion prohibitionists.  But somehow, a sick woman who retweeted some things an eavesdropping bluenose didn’t like was beyond the pale?  Yeah, I smell the government’s nasty hand in this.

Eden Alexander's message from WePayFortunately for Eden, Molly Crabapple and other allies with loud social media voices started calling attention to her plight within hours after WePay kicked her in the face last Saturday morning (May 17th); the Rumpus article appeared early that afternoon, and was followed by a number of others on various blogs and news sources.  Even the Daily Mail picked it up, though in typical Mail fashion the story concentrated on the tragedy porn of a dying woman’s desperate and hysterical tweets rather than the unforgivably-callous action which precipitated them.  Soon WePay realized it had made a serious error in assuming “nobody will care what we do to a filthy whore anyway”, and issued a mealy-mouthed apology citing unspecified “rules” for the evil, stupid decision.  But whatever those mysterious “rules” are, they apparently don’t apply to another funding platform named Crowdtilt, whose founder reached out to Eden’s friends and invited them to start a new fundraiser on his site; they did, and the funding goal was exceeded within hours thanks to all the publicity  (as of this writing, more than 8x the amount WePay tried to deny her).

Ironically, the prohibitionists’ attempts to render sex workers invisible and mute, to bury us alive in unmarked graves and even erase us from history, are beginning to backfire on them.  Not so long ago, prostitution “stings” came and went with little media attention and many businesses discriminated against known sex workers without a peep from anyone outside the sex work community.  But once the whore-haters’ hubris grew so great they began to actually believe in their own mad sexual fantasy of “abolishing” us from all existence – past, present and future – the cacophony of violence and lies they have raised could not help but attract the attention of good people who previously hadn’t thought much about whores, and whose attention we might never have been able to attract on our own.  Eden Alexander’s fundraiser was far more successful than it would’ve otherwise been; Prince George’s County’s “sting” failed utterly instead of catching the usual modest harvest of victims.  Pay attention, prohibitionists:  we’ve lived in this world since long before anyone conceived of the idea of controlling others via organized violence, and we’ll be here long after that idea is consigned to the historical rubbish-heap along with human sacrifice, chattel slavery and other such atrocities.  And all your attempts to make us disappear only succeed in increasing our visibility.

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There is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says “That’s the one!”  –  Elizabeth Loftus

AGLR coverAfter I participated in the Albany Law School Symposium in February of last year, the organizers asked if I’d like to submit a research paper for inclusion in the school’s journal; the invitation was both enticing and intimidating.  On the one hand, it would allow me to present my arguments in a form and medium through which they would both reach a professional audience that might otherwise be denied me, and give those arguments a certain gravitas denied to the contents of a “mere” blog.  On the other hand, I had not written a scholarly paper in twenty years, and even then not for a journal; furthermore, I was unfamiliar with what might constitute an acceptable style for a law journal, and also with the citation format.  I was assured that they would be happy to hold my hand if necessary on the matter of style, and that the editors checked all citations and put them into proper format.

So I accepted the invitation, and though the deadline wasn’t until September I worked on it through last June and submitted it on July 2nd so as to give the editors plenty of time for all the revision I was sure it would need.  To my great pleasure it needed very little; the editor wanted to double-check some citations, asked for a couple of alternate sources and requested that clarifying text be included in a few passages.  Finally, the journal was published in March and I received a box of copies last week.  I scanned it into a PDF and uploaded it, and today I’d like to formally present “Mind-Witness Testimony:  The Unreliability of First-Person Accounts in Sex Trafficking Discourse” (Albany Government Law Review, volume 7).  It’s much longer (34 pages), much more formal and much more scholarly than my usual writing, but I don’t think y’all will find it too dry and the points it makes are, in my opinion, very important.  Here’s the concluding paragraph of the introduction:

…While some fraction of the firsthand accounts, related by those who represent themselves as victims of “sex trafficking”, are almost certainly true as related (subject to the usual distortion of time), and another probably larger fraction have been altered by the process of stereotypical conformation described [herein], it is likely that the majority of reported narratives are not factually correct in any way, however real they may seem to the self-identified victim.  I realize this is an extremely bold and controversial claim; however, in this paper I will present three types of evidence to support it:  first, that “sex trafficking” is neither as common as the public has been led to believe, nor as consistently and stereotypically exploitative; second, that there is extremely strong evidence for a mechanism for the formation of absolutely false memories, and that the narratives reported by self- identified “trafficking victims” bear a striking resemblance to past examples that experts and the legal system alike now agree are undoubtedly false; and third, that there are strong sociological, political, and economic reasons for certain parties to encourage the development, dissemination, and public acceptance of these narratives.

It’s a topic I’ve covered in this blog before, but it’s examined in much greater depth in the paper; you may also appreciate the historical overview in the first section. Oh, and one more thing:  I reduced the scans by 40% to keep the PDF down to a manageable size, so you’ll need to expand the display to read it properly.  Class dismissed, and I promise not to give you a pop quiz. students taking test

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