Desmond Ravenstone is an activist and organizer with more than thirty years of experience, from his student days at Oberlin College, to the marriage equality movement in Massachusetts and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Knowing his reputation, I was very pleased when he became interested in organizing clients, and his efforts with COSWAC have exceeded my expectations.
If I ever met Swanee Hunt, one of the leading prohibitionists in this country, do you know what I’d say to her? “If you’re so concerned with stopping trafficking and moral uplift, there’s another area where you need to focus your efforts. So many selfish and negligent people feel that it’s okay to pay off some stranger to act as surrogates in a vital relationship. Sometimes they find some untrained, underage girl whom they can pay a pittance. Other times, they connect with some ring that lures unsuspecting young women from other countries on the promise of ‘seeing the world’, only to be trapped in a house to satisfy their demands. Clearly, this must be a form of trafficking. After all, no one dreams of having to care for another person’s child.” Many folks would find it offensive to have babysitters, au pairs, and nannies called “victims of human trafficking”. But I’d also wager that parents would feel personally offended at being called “selfish and negligent” or compared to slave keepers. They would argue rightly that, with the complexity of their lives and needs, they have important reasons to hire someone to watch or care for their kids.
The same holds true for sex work clients. Some have been in loving relationships lasting decades, only to suddenly find themselves alone due to divorce, abandonment, disease or death. Some have escaped abusive relationships and are now struggling to regain confidence and trust. Some have difficulty finding intimacy due to disability, poor socialization, or questions about their own sexuality. And some just need cathartic, pleasurable release without the baggage of expectations or judgement. Knowing that isn’t enough, however; prohibitionists have painted a black-and-white picture of clients as heartless predators to be persecuted and shamed. It’s time for clients to speak up, and to work together with sex workers for change. That is why CoSWAC – Clients of Sex Workers Allied for Change – was started.
It began with Maggie’s July 18th blog post on the recent “johns sting” in Seattle, and her battle cry for clients to begin speaking up more for decriminalization. As a longtime activist for sexual and personal freedom, I responded quickly; soon others joined in, and we began online discussions on how to get clients organized. It was decided that launching a website, to provide information and a contact point for interested clients, was the best way to start. As we began our plans, Dan Savage echoed Maggie’s call to arms at the end of August, so it was decided to speed up our efforts and launch the site as soon as possible. Within two weeks, the CoSWAC site was public, and already attracting attention. The most distinctive element of the website is a page where clients share their stories. While they are predominantly from hetero male clients in the United States, there are also female and gay male clients, and stories from Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. These stories shatter many of the prohibitionist myths around commercial sex, revealing an important dimension to our understanding, including narratives of emotional healing.
Ultimately, we hope to go further. Right now, a smaller group is working on the process of creating a more formal structure – board, advisory body, and a framework for local groups. We hope to encourage and empower more sex work clients to come out of the shadows, and work with sex workers and other allies towards decriminalization and other common goals. As we grow and network with existing groups, we hope to provide more resources towards this end. So, if you are a client, we encourage you to connect with CoSWAC. Visit our website, and bookmark it to stay updated. Share your story among the growing number being sent to us. If you’re interested in helping us to build, let us know through the contact page. Keep educating yourself on the issues around sex workers’ rights, and share that knowledge with those around you. CoSWAC is here to provide a vehicle for clients to engage in the effort for the human rights of all involved in the commercial sex industry. Get on board and pitch in!