Archive for Sex+ Work

August 20th, 2010

At the Risk of Repeating Myself…

I feel like I’ve said this all before. Yet I seem to continue to encounter some of the same assertions, postulations, perspectives about sex work, specifically the decriminalization of prostitution, to which I still feel, and have felt in the past, compelled to respond.

In this case, as I mentioned in my recent post about human trafficking, there was more to which I wanted to respond in the two articles I referenced. That post of mine focused on the (erroneous) conflation of sex work and sex trafficking, and as I said then, in the interest of post length I didn’t want to get into the things in both articles with which I disagreed about the principles of prostitution and its decriminalization in general.

That I saved for this post.

Philosophically, in addition the fallacious perspective that equates prostitution and sex trafficking, the perspective offered in these two articles seems to find the current and continued criminalization of prostitution advisable and desirable. Michelle Brock, the author of both articles, asks in the second one,

“If you were a trafficker, would you be drawn to a country where men were criminalized for giving you business, or to a country where they felt free to roam?”

And that seems to me an interesting question. The first answer that occurs to me is that since trafficking of human beings is (appropriately) illegal, I don’t know whether the legal status of the places traffickers are going would seem of particular importance to them. If what they’re doing is illegal anyway, it doesn’t seem obvious to me that they would be seeking out legal enterprises or environments in which to operate. Dealers of illegal drugs in the United States, for example, don’t seem to have avoided bringing said products to the country despite their illegal status. If such drugs were decriminalized, I don’t feel sure that the same covert mechanisms and tactics for provision would still be necessary and that current dealers of illegal drugs would suddenly flock to the United States where they were “free to roam.”

And actually, it seems to me that the traffickers referred to in the question may prefer the former—being somewhere where the demand was criminalized. If they are doing something illegal to provide a service, why would they go somewhere to provide it where the practice is not criminalized? Essentially it seems this would eliminate or at least decrease the demand for their services. If the service were freely or easily accessible and legal, why would illegal means be necessary to further provide it? Such may in fact create an environment in which traffickers might not feel so comfortable operating.

The same article states,

” … I have read in most other government and NGO documents that many victims are afraid of telling police the truth, since they are threatened and by traffickers.”

That strikes me as truly ironic. I don’t doubt that it’s true (and find it tragic). I wonder why it doesn’t seem to occur within this context that when prostitution is criminalized, virtually ALL working whores, trafficked or not, feel exactly this way by the very law in regard to reporting crimes and telling the truth? If they do experience some kind of assault, especially on the job, the exact description cited above fits that which every sex worker (in an environment in which said work is criminalized) may face—sometimes afraid not of traffickers, but of the law and officials employed to uphold it.

Incidentally, since decriminalizing prostitution certainly doesn’t mean decriminalizing human trafficking, nothing about the above would presumably change in the face of the decriminalization of prostitution. What would change, rather, is that the many working in the sex industry by choice would legally hold more recourse in reporting abusive or unlawful acts without (so much) fear for their own freedom or safety. In addition, law enforcement would be in a position to devote more attention to actual situations of abuse and coercion since the law would not call on them to identically pursue incidents of consensual sex work.

Going back to the first article,

“Paying to have sex with a prostituted woman/sex worker is inherently dehumanizing because it takes the wholeness out of the woman’s humanity.[Emphasis theirs]

…What in the hell does that mean? I’m really not being a smart-ass here—I truly do not understand this. What exactly is the part that’s “dehumanizing”? The having sex? That would seem to be quite the assertion (though not unheard of, I guess). The being paid for it? Um, is most gainful employment dehumanizing, then? What about, for example, writing, which is something I have loved to do since I was seven and that I feel has been a significant part of my existence—and for which I have also been paid. Is that dehumanizing? How about professional psychologists? Are they “dehumanized” by being seen for their training and education when one buys their services, taking the “wholeness out of [their] humanity”? Feel free to insert virtually any profession you’d like to in the above statements, as I don’t see exactly what is differentiating one from another. Why is this profession somehow more “dehumanizing” than the other services we perform for money in a capitalistic social and economic system?

Moving on to practical matters (still in the first article):

“If you throw in some drugs, second-hand clothing, and the watchful eye of a pimp, you’ve got yourself a more realistic picture of what the majority have for a work environment.”

First, I really wonder how one claims to know that this represents a “majority.” But second, why, why, why does it not seem to occur to us that this may be in huge part because the industry is forced underground due to its illegal status? I really don’t understand why this does not seem more commonly recognized. Does it really seem like the above would need to or likely be the case in a non-criminalized industry?

Maybe an example would help this seem clearer. Let’s pretend that we decided to criminalize, say, soccer for some reason. Do you think soccer would remain just as it is now, with the same audiences, environments, and performing conditions? Does it seem that perhaps the aforementioned factors may be affected by its suddenly having lawfully punishable status? That viewing it, following it, participating in it would suddenly need to be done covertly, so that the methodology(ies) arranged to employ this may shift, take on a different feeling, be exploited in different ways? Seriously, ponder that. And if this were the case, does it seem obvious that this would be not because of soccer itself but rather because of its illegal status?

Then there is the line at which I just sigh:

“This means she [Pye Jakobsson] cannot speak on behalf of the sex trade industry, specifically when it comes to trafficking victims.”

I wonder why, then, Ms. Brock feels that she can? I wonder who exactly can speak for sex workers if not sex workers themselves? This is not the first time I’ve seen or heard such an assertion—you’re “an exception”; “most” sex workers are like this. How do the people purporting this know this (even more pointedly, know this better than sex workers themselves)? Why does it seem so commonplace and cavalier to blatantly disregard, particularly as “atypical,” sharings from sex workers who have chosen to work in the industry and who express their perspectives? At what point is it appropriate for those perspectives to be taken into consideration? Why have they seemed so consistently ignored? What constitutes a “valid” sex worker perspective worthy of attention? Perhaps most pointedly, why would someone who has not worked as a sex worker seem to feel so strongly about wanting to speak for them while ignoring expressions from those who have or do work as sex workers as they speak for themselves?

For the record, I don’t claim to speak for all sex workers, nor do I feel I have some magical understanding and knowledge of the majority of sex workers’ experiences or working environments or contexts. I frankly don’t know how virtually anyone feels like s/he knows this, especially in an area of work that tends, contemporarily, to be so covert. What I do feel is that, as I have said before, in a capitalistic environment, I see no justification for the arbitrary disallowance of sexual services to be recognized as among the myriad services legitimately offered for financial compensation. In addition, to purport to speak for the workers comprising an entire industry without necessarily even speaking personally to any of them, much less what may be construed a representative sample, seems inappropriate, or at the very least, subject to scrutiny, to me.

Love,
Emerald

“Everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, why don’t they just let me live?, I don’t need permission, make my own decisions, that’s my prerogative…”
-Britney Spears (originally by Bobby Brown) “My Prerogative”

August 3rd, 2010

Fallacy and Distinction

Recently on AKIMBO, the blog of the International Women’s Health Coalition, Audacia Ray posted about the June release of the 10th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report by the United States Department of State. I have not read completely the 373-page report but rather browsed it a bit, spot reading a few paragraphs on different pages. What I read I (not surprisingly) found heartbreaking.

There is no intention in me whatsoever to undermine, dismiss, or observe with any lack of appropriate reverence the horrific phenomenon of human trafficking. I do feel concern, however, about a conflation of human trafficking or sex trafficking specifically with sex work in general. As Audacia pointed out when she provided the link, the ugly phenomenon of human trafficking encompasses far more areas of industry than just sex work, and indeed, in my brief perusing of the report, much of what I saw related to other forms of industry. And yet, sex trafficking seems to be the area most associated with human trafficking to the public, and in some cases this emphasis seems to be used to argue for continued (or increased) criminalization of prostitution.

This is not to necessarily accuse the perspective that proposes this conflation of exploiting the tragedy of human trafficking, but it does seem important to me to provide another perspective(s). The current phenomenon of human trafficking seems to me related to a number of economic, social, psychological, evolutionary, and consciousness-related factors beyond the scope of this post, and a consideration of human trafficking or sex trafficking as synonymous with sex work seems to me severely misguided. I see no intrinsic connection, much less interchangeability, between the two.

I read two online articles recently that I interpreted as presenting fallacious assertions about sex work and human trafficking.* Both were at an anti-sex-trafficking website called Hope for the Sold. The first was published June 8 of this year and is a response to a video of Pye Jakobsson discussing sex worker rights and the Swedish model of criminalizing the patronization of sexual services. The second is a follow-up article in response to comments received on the first.

In the second referenced article, Michelle Brock of Hope for the Sold states,

“Legalization grows the size of the sex industry, which includes a rise in demand for paid sex.”

This seems to me a possible subtle fallacy. The legalization of alcohol at the time of Prohibition did not seem to increase the demand for it. The demand was already there. Maxim claims prostitution as the world’s oldest profession. In this country and much of the world, capitalism is an official and strongly ingrained social system. Sexuality is intrinsic in us. Combined, the demand for sexual services does not seem to need much help.

Does it seem likely that an increase in the demand for manual labor has occurred because it is legal to work in that industry? For domestic work? Is that why we think human beings are trafficked for these purposes? Because domestic work and manual labor being legal are increasing the demand for it? To me that makes little sense. As with sex work, the demand seems to be already there and not to need any help. I see no basis for a supposition that sex work being legal increases a demand for it, or really that demand is or would be affected very much by legal status at all. Human trafficking seems to encompass numerous factors, contributors, and circumstances not exclusive to or even necessarily directly related to sex work or any of the particular industries in which it is occurring.

In the first article, Ms. Brock asserts,

“[Ms. Jakobsson] fails to see that prostitution and sex trafficking cannot be separated.”

Really? So does that mean manual labor and manual labor trafficking cannot be separated, and domestic work and domestic work trafficking cannot be separated? What will we do about that? Try to abolish a demand for manual labor and domestic work? Criminalize them? Criminalize the purchase of such services? I fail to see how “prostitution and sex trafficking” any more “cannot be separated” than other kinds of work from their respective trafficking occurrences.

Which brings me back to the heartbreaking point that there are many other areas and cases in which human beings are currently being trafficked besides sex work. The fixation on sex trafficking to the exclusion of other areas of trafficking is one of the things that signals that a bias against sex work itself may be in operation.

It does not seem productive to me to perceive an “us against them” circumstance between those who support decriminalization of prostitution and those who seek to eradicate human trafficking. There is nothing mutually exclusive about these positions; on the contrary, I don’t recall ever encountering or hearing of anyone who supports the decriminalization of prostitution not also unquestionably desiring the elimination of human trafficking.

What seems important to me is to present an alternative perspective(s) to any which may be focused on a hostility toward sex work itself and thus draw superficial, ignorant, or arbitrary connections between decriminalization and sex trafficking that may be more related to ingrained cultural perspectives than what is actually occurring. (I do not use “ignorant” there derogatorily but rather advisedly—ignorant of an understanding of consensual sex work, a category into which much of the population may fall—and not necessarily by fault of their own: there is little in mainstream society to illuminate this understanding for the general public.)

As I ponder how to close this post right now, what feels forthcoming is a sincere reiteration of respect and love for everyone, encompassing the heartbreak for the tragedy of human trafficking and the holding of unconditional love in this deep wish for the Awakening of all humanity.

Love,
Emerald

*This post focuses particularly on the perspectives postulated in the articles related to human/sex trafficking. There are a number of other assertions in the referenced articles regarding the selling of sexual services in general to which I also have a response that I plan to address in a separate (forthcoming) post.

“Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all, together we stand, divided we fall…”
-Pink Floyd “Hey You”

May 1st, 2010

“Versatile Inspiration” at Oh Get A Grip!

As announced earlier this week, my guest post is up today at Oh Get A Grip! It is again such an honor to share space at OGAG with the esteemed writers who blog regularly there, and I thank again the extraordinary Ashley Lister (of whom I am a huge admirer) for inviting me to make an appearance there.

I myself have a busy day in front of me as the Maid of Honor in a good friend’s wedding, so I will likely be offline most or all of the day. I look forward to catching up tomorrow—thanks for reading and again to the lovely hosts/bloggers at Oh Get A Grip! :)

Love,
Emerald

“Thus, making a living in the arena of sex is not the reason I write erotica or the main inspiration for what I write about. There are, however, ways in which the two converge.”
-from “Versatile Inspiration” at Oh Get A Grip!

March 3rd, 2010

International Sex Worker Rights Day

Today (March 3) is International Sex Worker Rights Day. I would like to observe the occasion here by listing and highlighting some things pertaining to sex work/sex workers’ rights lately that I find cool/uplifting/heartening/lovely. The t-shirt I am wearing in the picture, by the way, was produced by the fabulous and local-to-me organization HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive).

Also, if you happen to be in the New York City area, a potluck dinner celebration will be held this evening as organized by SWOP, SWANK and PROS Network.

Okay, on to the aforementioned list:

1) “An open letter from a client” at Harlot’s Parlour. I love that this is a letter to a governing body in support of sex workers’ rights in relation to proposed legislation, I love that a client cared enough to write it, and I love what it says.

2) As posted on Violet Blue‘s website, San Francisco-based porn company Pink and White Productions has compiled a recommended practices list for the porn industry/porn performers. I am all about safer sex practices in porn and like Violet am delighted to see a company present a document such as this.

3) While it may not seem directly related to sex work/sex workers’ rights, sexuality education and open dialogue about sexuality in society seem to me quite intermingled with them, and the circumstances surrounding this center on the eve of its grand opening illustrate the struggle for sexual freedom in which sex workers’ rights is encompassed. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Rhode Island opened its doors on February 1 after a surprise controversy that erupted late last year over supposed zoning concerns threatened its doing so. Congratulations to founder Megan Andelloux and the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health!

4) The story in this comment on the blog of Veronica Monet. Feel free indeed to read Veronica’s blog post as well, but it’s not necessary to contextualize this account in the comment, posted by Gillette (no contact information given):

“I will, though, share a story.

When I first started my work 14 years ago, I shared with a Tantrika friend about what I was doing [prostitution, I have the impression] and why. I felt safe sharing as, heck..we were assisting at a Tantra workshop, she did “healing massage” and we were both supposedly doing our inner work. She blasted me like no one had before. I just kept breathing, knowing that we had to be together all weekend in this close environment, working together for the participants. Our “stuff” had no place there.

At first she wouldn’t look at me. I simply kept reminding myself that this had nothing to do with me, it was her stuff. I was safe, all was well, etc, etc.

The last day she came up to me and thanked me. During the course of the weekend she realized that her blast had come from her fear about doing the same work. That she had been getting intuitive flashes that it was her next step but she was afraid.”

Oh my. I don’t even know what to say about this except that it may be one of the coolest personal accounts I have ever read in the context of sex work.

And there is my list of beautiful celebrations I specifically honor on this International Sex Worker Rights Day. Best wishes, support, gratitude, and love to all current and former sex workers on this day of celebration of our universal rights amidst our professional vocations. (And of course best wishes, support, gratitude, and love to everyone everywhere as well. We are, after all, all One. :))

Love,
Emerald

“No more turning away from the coldness inside, just a world that we all must share, it’s not enough just to stand and stare, is it only a dream that there’ll be no more turning away?…”
-Pink Floyd “On the Turning Away”

December 17th, 2009

Lighting a Red Candle

As I mentioned last year (though on MySpace at the time, as it was before this blog was launched), December 17 is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers as conceived and named by Annie Sprinkle and SWOP-USA in 2003. The red umbrella is an international symbol (history/origination here) of support for the rights of and protestation of violence and discrimination against sex workers.

An article by Dr. Sprinkle about the origination of the recognition of this day may be found here. It is a read I highly recommend.

SWOP-USA’s December 17 site contains a listing of events around the country and world to recognize the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I don’t know of any organized gatherings in the geographical location where I am this year, so my own commemoration will be solo. I have procured a red candle (conveniently easy to do this time of year) that is currently lit and that I plan to have lit throughout the day in silent support for current and former sex workers, our rights as professionals and as individuals, and deep reverence and respect for those who experienced violence in the line of work in the last year and ever.

And reverence and respect for all.

Namaste.

Love,
Emerald

“One day you’ll have to let it go, you’ll have to let it go…one day you’ll stand up on your own, remember losing hope, remember feeling low, remember all the feelings and the day they stopped; we are, we are all innocent, we are all innocent, we are, we are…”
-Our Lady Peace “Innocent”