Given the takedown of MyRedbook and Rentboy, and the repeated assaults on Backpage, I couldn’t say that the seizure of Seattle’s The Review Board by local cops in conjunction with the FBI was shocking; in fact, as I told the first reporter I talked to about it, my initial reaction was “Here we go again.” Of course, there’s one big difference between this case and the earlier ones: I was currently advertising on TRB, and in fact the screenshot of the board which was included in the cops’ press release included the headline of my most recent ad, with my name right there for anyone to read.
From my point of view, the way the news unfolded was this: I had just arrived home on Wednesday afternoon to prepare for a date when one of my sex worker friends texted me to tell me she had tried to sign onto the board and was confronted with the ugly, threatening sight of police badges. I in turn texted another close friend, who informed me that she had just emailed me the news herself; when my gentleman arrived he asked me if I had heard, and I said yes. By the time he left two hours later my phone was full of texts and my computer full of emails, and a strategy meeting had been called for that evening. I told SWOP-Seattle’s media director that I would be available for on-camera interviews if needed, since I’m out; by the time the meeting was convened I had already talked to a reporter from TV station KING 5 and was on the way to meet him for an interview. When I got back I was almost immediately sent back out to talk to a reporter from KIRO, this time in the company of another sex worker friend, Caroline McLeod. And when I checked Twitter yesterday morning after awakening to another flurry of text messages and emails, I discovered something that was news to my non-TV-news-watching self: those two interviews were virtually unprecedented. Nobody who tweeted at me had ever seen a local news station ask sex workers for their opinions on a bust before, and certainly not in as respectful a fashion as KIRO did.
By the time of the press conference held late yesterday morning so cops and prosecutors could congratulate themselves and deliver their warped view of events to reporters, we had a pretty good idea of what was going on; predictably, the seven SWOP members (including Caroline and I) who went to the press conference were excluded, so we waited in the lobby and handed cards to every reporter who walked in. letting them know we’d be available for interviews afterward. As we had suspected, the allegations involved “K-girls”, immigrant Korean sex workers, who were portrayed as helpless, enslaved victims despite the fact that officials fully admitted that they hadn’t interviewed any of these “rescued” women (and refused to tell reporters where they were being held). So far, it appears the entire case was built on the statement of a single K-girl, and I don’t need to explain how cops and prosecutors go about extracting such “testimony” by intimidation and threats of dire consequences unless the victim “co-operates”. One other weird feature of the accusations is that TRB is being represented as a nationwide site, when in fact it is strictly limited to the Seattle area.
After the press conference, though, something amazing happened: reporters from two TV stations, two radio stations and two newspapers stopped to ask for our input. We split up to talk to those reporters; I handled another reporter from KING 5 and one of the radio interviews (in which I got to respond directly to the sheriff, who interestingly tried to “head me off” by negating what he assumed I would say). The KING 5 reporter seemed weirdly obsessed with the word “prostitute” (and his cameraman seemed fascinated by my snakeskin boots); he asked me if all of us there were prostitutes, and I stated that we were all sex workers. I further explained that sex workers included strippers, porn actresses, phone sex operators, etc, and that one of our criticisms of prostitution law was that it attempts to draw artificial lines between consensual sexual behavior which the state allows and that which it doesn’t. He then asked if I was a prostitute, and on camera in the hall of a courthouse, within earshot of at least half a dozen cops, I said “yes”. As I wrote on Twitter last night, “I felt a sense of great pride, power and even triumph in openly and clearly stating on camera that I am a prostitute.” When I started this blog, I cloaked my identity, and now I’m almost as out as I can be. Though the state has just thrown yet another obstacle in the way of my making a living, it can’t ever take that supremely badass moment away from me. And though there will no doubt be a lot more detail forthcoming as this story develops, the fact that reporters are at least beginning to allow sex workers a say is a huge step forward.