When Christina was considering sex work a few years ago, she discovered my blog and read voraciously before actually starting the work, so I’m her whore-mama. She’s turning into a hell of an activist, and I’m very proud of her; she also has a blog of her own.
He’s nervous. His voice on the phone is shy as he introduces himself. “Hi. I reached out to you on Reddit…?”
Of course. I chime in on anonymous social media when the topic of sex work comes up. In this case it was the recent sting at the Euro Spa which I wrote about a few weeks ago. I received a message from one of the gentlemen who got caught in the net. He felt lost, afraid, as if his whole future were at risk and he had no one to reach out to so he reached out to me. I leaped at the chance to speak with someone who lived this experience and offered to meet for coffee or to talk on the phone, whatever he felt comfortable with. A few days passed and I thought it likely that he wasn’t comfortable, maybe I had come on too strong, and I wouldn’t hear from him again but this afternoon a ring interrupted my poolside reading. We agreed to meet at a nearby public park and just talk; I wanted to reassure him that he wasn’t alone, offer what help I could, and record a step by step walk-through of what he experienced. I’ll refrain from describing him physically, to keep his anonymity as safe as possible, but my first impression was that he was nervous, relieved that I was who I said I was, embarrassed to go into details. He is exactly the kind of client I would NOT like deterred from seeing sex workers and yet his experience may keep him from being one of the many kind and respectful clients who allow me and my sisters financial security and are enjoyable to see in session.
It started, as it often does, with stress and loneliness. Intimacy is often difficult for shy, busy people and many turn to the professionalism and convenience of sex workers to find much needed human connection. In this digital age, he went online to find a solution and found it in a Backpage advertisement for “massage” complete with a photo of “a scantily clad woman and a massage table.” He reasoned that an establishment was a safer gamble than one of the many independent Backpage advertisers so, early on a Wednesday evening, he called to make sure they were open and then made his way to what he assumed would be an hour of intimate physical touch. He had an idea that there would be sexual contact involved, and that was one of the attractions for him, but until he spoke to the woman working the room he wasn’t sure exactly what. Walking in the door, he looked to his left to see a twenty-something woman behind a desk. He remembers a black dress and a red bra, that she was very clear in both words and hand gestures what she was offering, that she didn’t show any signs of abuse or coercion or of being underage, and that as soon as she offered sex, he knew that was what he wanted.
“Hi. I’d like a massage.”
“OK, but extras cost more.”
“What kind of extras?”
“A handjob, or sex for a hundred.”
He handed over his 100$ and she showed him down a hall into a dimly lit room with a massage table and pleasant but forgettable decorations in it. He waited for her but before long, and much to his surprise, two plainclothes detectives entered the room and cuffed him. The detectives walked him outside (in handcuffs!) and upstairs where he sat, still and quiet. The entire process had taken less than five minutes. Five or ten minutes later he was joined by another cuffed man, far less calm. A few minutes after that the two were escorted to a car and taken to the police station where he spent the next six hours behind bars and undergoing various booking procedures including fingerprinting and changing into prison orange. He didn’t want to say much about what the other victims of the sting said or did (especially the one he rode to jail with), because he didn’t want to try to tell someone else’s story for them; however it was clear to me that whatever they did and said left its mark on him. Finally released at one in the morning, he went home and tried to forget about it. When I asked how he felt, he said he felt calm the whole time, as if he was just an observer and this wasn’t really happening to him.
But two days later, a uniformed cop walked into his place of business and the reality of his situation hit him like a sledgehammer to the gut. Thoughts raced through his mind: Are they here for me? What if my boss finds out? What if my coworkers find out? As it turned out, the cop was only there to grab a bite to eat; three days prior that wouldn’t have given my new friend a second thought, but now it sent his heart rate through the roof. That night he finally flipped through the documents police had sent him home with and began to worry. He is, as of our meeting on July 29th, still waiting for his court date to be set. He calls and asks every day so he knows right away how long he has to prepare. Not that he can do much; mired in student debt and unable to get outside support, he will have an overworked and underpaid public defender as his counsel, facing an aggressive “end demand” agenda driven by vast private funds. He will likely face fines upward of $2700, not including miscellaneous court fees and the cost of the ridiculous and ineffective “John School”. Why? In what universe is someone seeking services from an aggressively, provocatively dressed woman blatantly and casually offering sex for money the same as a “human trafficker” or an abuser? How does financially crippling a young man just starting his life build up our community? What good does it do to saddle someone, anyone, with the ambiguous and damning crime of “sexual exploitation” when all they did was offer payment to a willing, adult sexual partner? Who benefits from traumatizing him for a nonviolent transaction? Not me, not you, and not him. The $100 he thought he was paying for some intimate human contact is a drop in the bucket compared to the cash SPD will net from this sting and from the continued financial support of privately funded anti-prostitution organizations; it will also provide free campaign publicity for pro-Swedish model public officials. My heart goes out to him and his 203 fellow detainees, and I hope that we can help them.
He was brave to agree to meet with me after such an experience, and he was careful not to accidentally out his fellow clients. He said he did it because he hoped that his story would help: help the push towards decriminalizing sexual services; help someone else in his predicament find comfort; help humanize the clients facing criminal charges; and help lessen his own ordeal by letting him get it off his chest to someone who could listen without judging. There are 203 other stories much like this. Men from all walks of life who felt bored, horny, lonely, busy, curious or whatever, who sought a consenting adult to help them assuage whatever they felt, are all painted with the same black brush: evil, stupid, and shameful. But it is the use of police resources to persecute consenting adults under the guise of ending abuse which is evil, stupid and shameful, and we need to call for its end. If you are one of the 203 others, or another victim of law enforcement actions against those seeking sex workers, I invite you to contact me. The sex worker community has done good work toward humanizing the providers of sexual services but we also need to humanize clients and advocate for their rights. By striking down the laws against the simple act of exchanging sexual services for money, our government can focus resources on the victims and perpetrators of violent crime and leave the rest of us alone.