Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February 23rd, 2018

Though Laura Lee is gone, her friends will not let her be forgotten; there were many awful people who hurt her for her work, from Catholic nuns to “feminist” crusaders to pompous politicians.  But there is one we have kept silent about for years; no more.  Brooke Magnanti obtained permission from Laura’s surviving family to write this; she published it on Medium, and asked me to mirror it here as a signal-boost.

I first met activist Laura Lee at a signing for my book The Sex Myth in 2012.  We became friends instantly, united by our belief that no activism is more powerful than being honest to people about sex work.  That showing our faces is the only way to speak truth to power.  Both of us experienced the ups and downs of going public with our pasts.  From Laura Lee’s grilling in Stormont, or how we were spoken about and treated by the press, it’s safe to say that being known as a sex worker invites vicious criticism, to the extent that we both received threats of death and violence.  We bitched and bonded over it behind the scenes, but got on with life, because some things were more important than cowering while cowards raged.  Laura was always keen to show as full a picture of sex work as possible.  She had worked at almost every level of the industry and knew the business inside out.  As she liked to say, she’d been everywhere from chicken sheds to five-star hotels.  Laura had a knack of telling her story in a way that was relatable, especially to other single mothers and concerned parents.  She had a gift.

Unfortunately that producer was not successful in developing a show featuring Laura, so the plans were put on the back burner.  But he did have other media connections, and it was his acquaintance with a music journalist in Dublin that convinced Laura to give an in-depth interview to well-known Irish writer Olaf Tyaransen.  You already know the kind of man Olaf is:  middle aged but refuses to wear ties, brags about going backstage with Bono, tweets “edgy” comments about drugs.  But he was the friend of a friend, so we figured he was probably alright.  The interview happened in October of 2014.  With so much interest in Laura’s activism, I hardly paid attention to what surely would be just one of the many positive and impactful interviews she gave that year.  When she messaged me shortly after, I was stunned by what she said.  After the interview, Laura told me, Olaf had invited himself back to her room for more chat.  And it was there he drugged her, beat her, and sexually assaulted her.  Now, for those who didn’t know Laura: she was not only formidable in activism, she was just as formidable in person.  A tall, strong woman whose physical presence served her well in domination — the part of sex work that comprised the majority of her appointments.  She was no meek submissive, and experienced enough to follow her instincts on who was potentially dangerous.  In a business that is never risk-free, she handled herself.  He still beat her black and blue.

Laura was not the kind to throw around false accusations.  I believed her as soon as she told me.  But she even shared pictures of a chat with another friend describing what he had done.  She didn’t report it, not right away.  Sex workers know that feminist solidarity rarely if ever applies to us.  Laura was a strong person but also realistic.  What power does a sex worker, even a well-known one, have against a journalist?  Who would be believed?  Sex workers are the “surplus women” who absorb men’s violence, in the view of the mainstream press.  When attacks happen we do not expect to be cared for or supported.  At worst we can expect to be disbelieved; at best, to be told that we deserve it.  Take for example the case of Morgan Marquis-Boire, a hacker from New Zealand.  The violent abuse he perpetrated was covered up not only because of who he was, but because of who his victims were, including sex workers.  It is exactly this kind of stigma that Laura spent years fighting.  The stigma that is heightened by the Swedish Model and other anti-sex worker propaganda.  The stigma that suggests it’s “feminist” for sex workers to operate in the shadows and be victimised.  The stigma that says women are only valuable if they are sweet and virginal and blameless.  The kind that makes it difficult for sex workers who are attacked to go to the police.

The Hotpress piece by Tyaransen ran in December 2014, and eventually what she told me about the interview left my mind.  Laura continued to follow Olaf on Twitter after the assault, which was no surprise if you knew her.  She followed a lot of accounts she disagreed with, from Irish anti-sex work campaigners Ruhama to Abolition Scotland to Human Trafficking News.  Keep your friends close and your enemies closer as the saying goes.  Life went on.  Or seemed to.  Then 2017 happened, and so did #MeToo.  The movement began with Hollywood and Weinstein but it didn’t end there.  Suddenly the floodgates were opening.  Powerful men in media who for decades had gotten away with harassment, abuse, and rape were being called out by their victims.  Some were even being held to account, losing projects and positions.  #MeToo gave Laura hope.  Hope that finally she would be able to go to the Gardaí and be believed.  Hope that she could tell her story and, if not put her abuser in jail, at least prevent any other woman from going through what she went through.  Now, there are all kinds of men who abuse.  In the case of people such as Harvey Weinstein, power covers their tracks.  But others are more insidious.  They lurk in the shadows, picking off the vulnerable, the liminal, the unlikely to be believed.  They attack people with complicated pasts such as sex workers.  And they present a blameless face to the world.  Consider, for example, this tweet from Tyransen in December 2017:

My tweet (now deleted) asked if there was a reason he in particular might be afraid of the ground shifting.  I wanted to let him know, if he was self-aware enough to realise it, that what he had done would not stay secret for much longer.  Rape is more than an edgy lifestyle choice for sad middle aged journos on a Hunter S Thompson trip.  It’s fair to say he either didn’t get the hint or was still confident a man’s insistence would win out over a sex worker’s evidence.  This was his response:

Twitter spats count for very little; what matters is holding abusers to account.  In November 2017, Laura, supported by Wendy Lyon, gave a statement of evidence to the police at Store Street Station in Dublin.  The weight of what had happened troubled her in the years since it happened.  In particular the thought that with no one speaking out, he might have been able to do the same thing to someone else.  With police and papers suddenly interested in exposing abusers, Laura felt that — regardless of the stress it would cause her, with so much else going on — it was time to speak up.  Wendy stayed with her on that day, while Laura gave her statement for over six hours.  Laura was a strong person, almost unimaginably so.  And this took every bit of strength she had.  We waited for something to happen.  And waited.  And waited.  Meanwhile, her attacker went about his life as if nothing happened, because for him, it probably was nothing.  We continued to keep tabs on him, noting how dismissive he was of the Presidents Club dinner wait staff who had been abused.  A subtweet meant for Laura?  Maybe.  A shudder-inducing insight into the mind of a predator?  Definitely. 

And then everything changed, again.  I wish I could say this is the part where the guards kick in a door, cuff the guy, and justice prevails but many readers will already know how this story ends.  It ends with Laura Lee’s sudden death.  It ends with Gardaí closing the case because the main witness is gone.  It ends with a man who preyed on someone he thought would never speak out just…getting away with it.  Now it is over three years since Olaf Tyaransen sexually assaulted Laura Lee in a hotel room, drugged her, beat her black and blue.  For far too long we watched and waited and hoped for something to be done only to be told, now, there will never be justice.  But I am alive.  And I don’t give a shit about legal threats and bluster and the egos of violent men.  Laura would have done the same for any sex worker.  In fact she did: staying on social media all night to make sure a friend who was raped on tour was OK.  Lambasting journalists for how they reported on the trial of Bala Chinda, who murdered sex worker Jessica McGraa.  She was not one to let violence against sex workers by cowardly men be brushed under the rug.  Laura Lee tried, in a world that little cared for our lives and safety, to be an advocate.  She tried to put her abuser behind bars.  She can’t carry that on anymore, and between the indifference of the #MeToo movement to the stories of sex workers and the failure of the police to move forward as soon as they had evidence, perhaps this will go nowhere.  Perhaps I am just pissing in the wind.  But I don’t think I am, and I don’t think Laura would believe I was either.  It matters for people to know her struggle and her pain.  It matters for people to know who the predators are, the ones who bide their time so they can attack women they perceive as vulnerable and sneer about it all later.  Olaf Tyaransen drugged and raped Laura Lee.  He beat her.  And he went on with his life as if nothing happened.  He did it because of who she was, counting on her never being able to tell her side of the story.  She tried to fight the stigma and use the system to her advantage, but now she is gone, and he wins.  Just the way they always did and always do.

Beware this man Olaf Tyaransen, abuser, vile slime in journalist’s clothing.  And never let him do this to anyone ever again.

Laura left behind a teenage daughter on her own; please consider donating to the ongoing fundraiser to help Cat, which runs until the first week of March.

Read Full Post »