Amnesty International Policy Decriminalize Sex Workers Check Out Amnesty Internationals New Policy Here!
And check out the debate on Aljazeera English with Maxine Doogan, Catherine Murphy, Policy Advisor at Amnesty International and some haters…
Amnesty International Policy Decriminalize Sex Workers Check Out Amnesty Internationals New Policy Here!
And check out the debate on Aljazeera English with Maxine Doogan, Catherine Murphy, Policy Advisor at Amnesty International and some haters…
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Dear Ms. Shetty & Mr. Hawkins;
On behalf of the Erotic Service Providers Union (ESPU) I have been following Amnesty International’s evolution on my industry for over a decade. I used to contribute financially to your organization because I supported your work to get people, especially political prisoners, out of jail and away from ill treatment by governments. I stopped my support in 2005 when your organization plattformed actress Mira Sorvion as your spokesperson in a made for television mini-series titled “Human Trafficking”. This fiction was promoted as fact and directly contributed to the further criminalization of my occupation in the U.S.
As a result of this false and misleading information, new anti-prostitution laws have been promoted and passed under the guise of stopping violence against women. Other “reality” TV shows continue to promote this false narrative depicting us as victims while being subjected to police raids and arrests for prostitution. For example, MSNBC’s “Sex Slaves in America” has in-sighted a special rebuke from my community. Our online petition continues to call for signatures and action to get the show taken off the air. Another show by the A & E network was forced to stop airing a show called “8 Minutes” this past spring in the midst of objections from our community. That show featured a former San Diego vice officer turned pastor. He, his production crew, and other “non profit” rescuers who work with law enforcement agencies, staged fake rescues using real escorts. The women were promised help with rent and food but instead ended up with prostitution arrests. Sex Worker Solidarity
In the wake of the onslaught of this type of media, new state laws have been proposed and passed across the U.S. These laws falsely conflate prostitution as being a form of forced labor and our customers as traffickers. These new criminal penalties create new high fines, fees, and mandatory prison terms. We have seen systematic expansion of federal monies made available to religious based non profits under the guise of raising ‘awareness’ and providing hollow ‘services’ to those in my industry who have been caught up in the new expansion of criminalization under the guise of rescuing us.
The new anti-trafficking laws are actually the same old anti-prostitution sting operations. Everybody is still going to jail and having criminal cases that are being adjudicated in criminal court regardless of age. Juveniles and adults alike are having their civil rights systematically violated by being coerced into diversion programs. The reality is that the arrest records become the basis upon which discrimination is experienced in housing, employment, education, child custody and access to financial resources.
The latest federal law passed this spring, “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act JVTA”,
created a new federal vice squad fully equipped with electronic surveillance powers that will further erode and violate our already non-existent privacy protection.
I am particularly concerned with how the Hollywood celebrity class acts as if they have any say over our right to negotiate for our labor, define our safe working conditions, and with whom. This elite class lobbies for unfair labor practices that continue to criminalize our occupation. While their labor is protected not only by state and federal laws, they have the benefit of working under collectively bargained unionized contracts with democratically elected representation. In addition, they have layers of managers and agents who lobby for their wages and working conditions. It is hypocritical to demote us to a low class status while they run a boycott on who gets to purchase our labor and how. If they really cared about us they would be working with us to end exploitation in our industry by putting our voices first in a lobby for the same labor protections they have.
The elites have never demanded immunity or amnesty clauses to be included in any state, national or international policies or legislation they have championed. Their anti-trafficking policies have only focused on re-criminalizing us as traffickers as has been the case in Alaska where workers have been arrested for sex trafficking themselves. All of their legislation has brought heavier fines, fees, and mandatory prison time to all of our intimate, domestic and commercial relationships to be named as sex traffickers.
As someone who reported an extortion attempt last summer
on behalf of a victim who was targeted because she worked in our industry, I have first hand experience negotiating immunity. I spend many hours of my unpaid time reporting to local and state police and legislators. It wasn’t until I met with representatives of the Governor of Alaska that I was taken seriously and an investigation was launched leading to the perpetrator being charged. The victim in this case was granted full immunity. However, she experienced intimidation by the police who served her with a subpoena compelling her testimony and then they violated her privacy by giving her phone number to a religious group who harassed her because she fit their definition of a victim. She was forced to change her phone number to avoid their harassing phone calls.
In the passing of the Californian Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act, Prop 35 in California in 2012, everyone convicted as a ‘sex trafficker’ now has to register as a sex offender (a life long registration) regardless if they ever put their hands on anyone. It is in this way that they took a leading role in fueling the fervor of proliferating the prison industrial complex in California. As you know, the California prison system is currently under a federal injunction to reduce its population because of its inability to provide human rights such as access to healthcare. Our voices continue to be drowned out by their personal political power and their depictions of us on film.
As someone who is a working prostitute with permission to represent working prostitutes, I urge you and your fellow members to vote in favor of the proposed resolution for decriminalization of our occupation. The proposed policy sets a foundation towards gaining a widespread rights-based approach instead of a continuation of the failed criminalization approach.
Further, I suggest that Amnesty International has a debt to pay in terms of offering redress in the role it has played in creating the current hyper-oppressive criminalized state. I encourage your organization to publicly name and support our historic lawsuit to invalidate the prostitution law in California:
ESPLERP v Gascon, Federal filing #3:15 01007 . I extend an invitation to Amnesty International to support our efforts to decriminalize prostitution.
Our position is that regardless of how anyone becomes involved in sexual commerce, everyone has the right to access equal protection under the law.
Erotic Service Providers Union
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I have some sage advise I want to impart. Since the filing of the constitutional legal challenge, I’ve been getting all kinds of requests. Media types, researchers, people who want to help us, the desperate wanting work hook up as well as prospective customers looking for someone to play a role for them. Wink wink…All wanting my free labor to fulfill their needs and further their agendas. Fulfilling all of these requests isn’t physically possible not to mention not always in the best interest of the #whorenation.
Most of the request are coming from media types who are contacting current and former workers who have social media presence, folks with escort ads, government and non government agencies and self describe experts looking for quotes to support their narratives about us.
Mind you, I had Daisy Anarchy as my mentor so I had some guidance at the beginning of my tenure about how to set priorities and who do spend time with. I did go on from there and get myself lots of different types trainings including media trainings. Not that I’m a total expert but I feel its really important to share with you some of my experience and mistakes in light of the fact that the constitutional challenge is going to bring different types of interests out of the woodwork asking our community to participate in their projects.
As far as the media is concerned, I really never wanted to be in the public eye but I realized that if our movement was ever going to get anywhere we had to change our narrative. We had to move away from the tired old rhetoric since it wasn’t moving anyone to jump up and decriminalize us and get us equal protection under the law.
I expect that when I send out a press release with my name and phone number on it, I will get media inquires. This is good, I want our story out in the public. We need more of our actions covered by the media. I expect the press to call others in the #whorenation to get their opinions as well. That’s a good thing. The more the merrier. We need more voices. We need a choir. Our side doesn’t get asked enough about stuff that effects us but I see that changing now. I see more internet based media outlets reaching out to us. This type of media is younger and becoming more dominate as the older print press diminishes. If you ever are contacted by media to participate and you don’t know what to say, just go look though our websites at any of the press releases and use some of our talking points. Its worked for me, it’ll work for you.
If you seriously want to talk to the press, get your self some training before you talk to them. Pre negotiating with yourself your identity before you speak to the press is a topic for another time.
When asked to give a quote or an interview to the press, ask some questions first like, what is your deadline? Who is your editor? Can I contact your editor to verify that you are in fact working for that media outlet or in contract with them to write this piece. If the answer is no then your answer should be no too. Next.
I know that many online media outlets are now producing video pieces to increase their appeal. This has had mixed results for our community. They range in 2 to 3 minute shorts to longer 10 minutes pieces. I really like how this piece turned out not just because I’m in it… More Harm than Good: Sex Trafficking Law in Anchorage, Alaska #GRITtv Nov 6, 2014. One of the community members who is very media savvy, courted that producer specifically to show case our issue. She picked him because of his commitment to social justice and his solid multi level media experience. The piece is very focused so the message we wanted to share was amplied and dignified.
This media piece about Legalize Prostitution to Fight Sex Trafficking? Sex Workers Say “Yes” reasontv 1/14/2014 and Prop 35 didn’t bring home the bacon for us. The speaker for our side did a great job giving great sounds bites so the editor had to use them. The fatal flaw was that it tried to give context by including larger topics by featuring too many voices and view points. The message was muddled. This lack of focus is frequently the outcome when producers think they have to give all points of view which can back fire like it did in this piece. We don’t need viewers walking away shaking their heads feeling overwhelmed by what they just saw.
We want viewers to walk away thinking, yeah that’s fucked up but good thing those whores are doing something about that, good for them! Its okay to have our agenda. We want our message to be the dominate message! We can and should have an effect towards this end. Ask as many questions as you can before you agree to an interview. Always ask producers who else they are including. Its okay to say no. Its okay to back out at anytime if you become uncomfortable.
I remember walking out of court after a hearing regarding ballot arguments during Prop K in 2008, when a gal approached me with her video camera and asked if she could interview me. I asked her who she was and what media she was associated with. She gave her name but didn’t have a card or anything. I turned to my media advisor who shrugged his shoulders and said its publicity and my attorney said trust your gut. I insisted that she give more information about herself and asked what she planned to do with the video otherwise I wasn’t going to speak to her. She produced a pamphlet of some group that did environmental work from Santa Cruz that she was affiliated with and said she just wanted to ask some questions about the ballot measure. Some time later, I found my answers to her questions posted on a youtube video that had been edited to tell the oppositions’ narrative with my image and voice. Its took a few days but I got it taken down.
Once somebody has your image via video, they can edit it how ever they want. You have little control or recourse over how someone presents your image to the public unless you have your own copy of what you said in full to dispute any distortions they may put forward. I would say that live TV and radio are the most difficult to control message wise. And always be very weary of the documentary film maker. Media folks are well trained in how to ask unexpected and difficult questions. There are lots of strategies you can use to respond. Get some training, get informed or just say no. In any case, best to rehearse your talking points and stick to them no matter what. Have your agenda.
I was contacted by an activists a few months ago who alerted me to how they and others were about to be mis-characterized in a not yet published book on decrim. The concern was about lack of control over their own images and the damage to our community since so many of our community had contributed interviews. I can relate to this the feeling of betrayal. I have had two situation where I spent a good bit of time educating writers about our issues, giving them example after example of how we’re discriminated against, what’s wrong with the law, what needs to be changed, I referring other workers to them to have their experiences included, follow through with everyone about how it went and then those articles never saw the light of day. It seemed our experience didn’t fit the publishers’ ideas of the story line they wanted to publish.
In the weeks following the filing of the court case, I was contacted by a media outlet who wanted to do a piece on the high rents in Silcon Valley and wanted me to connect them with some young, vocal Silicon Valley-area sex workers who would be willing to go on camera to talk about how living/working in an area has become so expensive with the arrival of major companies and tech start-ups. The media outlet wanted to ask if they felt underpaid or have a second or third job to make ends meet?
Here is my response; “Thanks, I generally do not full fill these types of request for many reasons.1) I don’t care for the angle of your story, 2) I don’t see how it will benefit our cause, and 3) it involves my unpaid time.” The producer responded by thanking me for my response and appreciated my position. I added her to the press list for updates about our case in the event she wants to cover what we’re doing. The producer continued sending this same request to other groups and individuals in hopes of getting participation to give voice to their pre determined story line. I don’t know if it ever got produced.
Last week, I received and email from a gal who said she has been doing webcam work but for economic reasons wanted to start working in another part of the sex industry and wanted me to talk to her about that. My response, ‘No I cannot talk about anything illegal. Sorry.’ Seriously, nobody should be expected to put themselves in a situation to explain that kind of stuff, I could be entrapped into talking about engaging in anything illegal as far telling others how to do it. Entrapment is legal in the state of California. Not to mention the expectation of giving my time for free to anyone who asks for it.
I will not liable myself and you shouldn’t either. Its legal to say I’m a prostitute. Its part of my right to free speech. If you want to know what constitutes acts of prostitution, go look it up. In California its called penal code 647(b). It’s the one I and others have spent years trying to repeal. It’s the one law we are targeting in our constitutional challenge. Have your read the brief? If you are going to call me up and engage me, then read what’s already out there first.
You can always hire a criminal defense attorney to tell you what is legal and what can get you arrested. I’m stunned to see so many people asking for and agreeing to illegal stuff; in email, on chat boards, in text messages and on fb. Too, I’m concerned when people who consider themselves allies are completely unaware of our precarious legal position often assuming we and they by association have so much legal ground to organize on when we don’t really. I will not be putting myself at risk for arrest or to catch charges for conspiracy or pandering so don’t let people ask those obviously stupid questions.
You know Robyn Few and I talked constantly about how it was our movement was going to be infiltrated. History has shown that all movements get infiltrated by informants. There are many Black Panthers and environmentalist jailed because paid informants set them up. I’m not only talking about the being informed on. The government is conducting electronic surveillance already. I’m talking about counter organizers within our movement who will tell lies about you to others, pitting people against each other, steel from you, eat your food, get you evicted.
Speaking of lawyers, in the wake of Prop K, one wrote a resolution for the California state bar basically asking California state legislators to implement the Nevada brothel model. I spend my unpaid time hunting down the president to explain why perusing that course of action wasn’t a good idea. Everyone I know in the business opposes working under those conditions including many whom had worked in the Nevada legal system. I contacted him about our brief to ask what he thought. I’ve not heard from him.
OH and the researchers. I remember during Proposition K I was contacted by a researcher student who wanted to do his research on the prevalence of HIV among prostitutes. He wanted me to refer workers to him. I asked him how finding out about the prevalence of HIV would benefit our community when we didn’t know how many people were even in our community over all? Why would I spend my unpaid time, calling up everyone I know to ask them to call him, spend their unpaid time talking to him or doing what every he needed them to do to further his career? He got the picture and apologized. There has been so many more like him since then.
After much research on how other sw groups have handled research and researchers, we now have an research evaluation tool available. Everyone should read it. Everyone in the industry should read it before they decide to participate in any research. Every researcher should do their best to structure their research with these guidelines in mind. Do not contact to me after you’ve administered your questionnaires to the most vulnerable population and ask me what I think. I will ask you, if your work is comparative? Did you get written consent? How are you keeping the confidential information safe? If you surveyed folks who were in involved in criminal prosecutions, how did you not manage to exploit them?
Lots and lots of students doing their papers, masters thesis and PhD’s on our community. Their careers will be furthered but we have to ask key questions. How will our community benefit from this research? How will our community be able to access the raw data that was collected and draw our own conclusion? How will our identities’ be protected? I have also been contacted by high schoolers who are writing a paper on our community. I ask the students to have their parents contact me with written permission before I answer their questions. And I only answer their questions in writing. I had a high school teacher ask me to speak to his class during the 2012 Prop 35 campaign via skype. I made him get written permission from the school as well. He felt it was important to bring balance to his students’ overwhelming need to save invisible people after they had been overexposed to so much propaganda via shows like MSNBC’s sex slave shows. Speaking of which, I don’t have a TV but its seems like we’ve not seen a new version of that media hype in over a year.
We can expect more students doing papers on legalization verses decrim as the case moves forward. They can spend $10 dollars to watch my movie, www.legalizationsucks.com
I was contacted and met with a doo gooder recently. He had a reference of which I checked out from another member in our community. Its seems he has been systematically contacted many people. He gave a donation for the cause which was great. His idea was to make a documentary about how he came to understand that sex work is okay to help others know that its okay too. I explained, as I do to everyone, that I’m doing what I can for the #whorenation from the back of the bus, (literally and figuratively) while running my internet off my hotspot.
To quote a long time activist in our community response to these types, ‘…never underestimate the intelligence of my colleagues. These are some amazingly bright and talented people and all they lack is the financial wherewithal to keep going. There is much burnout among activists because there is only so much that an individual can give up for a cause, knowing that their efforts will probably be for naught because there is no funding to get beyond the point where we have stagnated for so many years.’
For myself, I’m happy to hear ideas for our movement. But we need folks with skills who want to contribute their unpaid time to us in ways in which we think is best. Its not like I’m winging it here. Other workers have been in struggle for their rights with different degrees of success so we know what has to be done. We know what we have to do. Everyone is welcome to join us but lets respect the work and experience that has already been done. Let’s show some solidarity for each other. Let’s exercise curtesy when it comes to sharing all this information.
I know its frustrating for us as well as those who come close to see how severely limited our capacity really is. Of course we’re limited. We’ve been denied access to our right to negotiate for our own safe labor and safe work conditions for 100 years via different efforts to eradicate us through criminalizing our work spaces. Our right to associate has been eclipsed via criminalization of all of our intimate, domestic and commercial relationships! We been denied stability individually let alone afforded the luxury infrastructure for our organizations. So everyone time someone comes along and say to me, ‘hey you oughta’….I’m like , ‘yeah that’s a great idea.’ But don’t expect me to jump to it.
And that concludes my rant for today.
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Last week The Daily Dot ran a story about a Twitter campaign petitioning the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook to rename prostitutes as sex workers in their 2015 annual update. The AP Stylebook, for those who may not know, is the essential go-to writing manual for journalists, freelance writers, editors, professionals and students. It provides fundamental guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and journalistic style, along with constantly changing common use slang.
I am more than a bit perplexed by the idea that we need to be renamed. Who is suggesting this? The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA, Mamacash and Soros Foundation? Mamacash, the only granter to ‘sex workers’ in the US of A, demands that recipients of their monies be ‘sex worker led’. According to SWOP’s overbroad definition, legal sector sex workers include but are not limited to strippers or dominatrixes. It seem that by supporting the replacement of use of the term prostitute, they’re supporting non prostitutes to rename us prostitutes a clear act of colonialism.
The term sex worker obscures the underprivileged illegally working prostitutes. Is it appropriate for actual prostitutes to be renamed by privileged legal sector workers such as exotic dancers and fetish models? The Soros Foundation too seems to be supporting this change when they haven’t lifted a finger to help us get out from underneath the train-wreck of being renamed sex trafficked victims by the UN and DoJ, and subsequently journalists who read the AP Stylebook.
Basically, I am concerned that non-working non-prostitutes are calling for this change in the AP Stylebook when they don’t understand the legal consequences of ignoring the fact that ‘sex work’ is considered ‘prostitution’. Prostitution is not only illegal, it is often considered a component of ‘sex trafficking’. The press perpetuates the public perception of that reality by the vernacular they use in reporting on prostitution.
As an activist and working prostitute, I would say that reporting on my industry leaves a lot to be desired. Pun intended! I spend a lot of my unpaid time educating journalists and asking people like Soros and Mamacash for financial support. My experience convinces me renaming us won’t change my legal status. Changing what name we are called in the public spheres won’t enfranchise us. It won’t bring us equal protection under the law.
The term prostitute is completely appropriate to use especially when reporting on arrests for prostitution, which is what the press usually reports when it comes to our community. It is not like reporters go out of their way to cover our fundraisers, or events like they often used to prior to California’s Red Light Abatement Act of 1914, or the Alaskan ‘Line’ being shut down in the 1950s. Old newspapers frequently covered brothels and prostitutes philanthropic events at a time when we were treated as any other (legal) valuable members of society.
Now-a- days those of us who are ‘out’ get hit up by young journalists who want to follow us around for a few days to give the ‘day in the life of…’ feel to their piece. Exposing ourselves doesn’t really do anything for us. It doesn’t make us more money. It doesn’t make us safer. It actually makes us more likely to be arrested for or discriminated against- not for sex work but for prostitution. In fact, since these requests are often unpaid and may introduce unwelcome attention, it usually costs us to participate in that style of expose. It is important, however, to report on prostitution arrests so we all know what is going on.
So consider this: If arrested it is not going work to say we’ve been arrested as ‘sex workers’. Telling judge and jury you were just ‘sex working’ will not clear charges. Changing vernacular without changing the law does not get us out of being criminalized.
Changing our name may allow some to feel like they’ve done something for the cause. It’s one of the those feel-good neoliberal moves that we’ve recently seen, for example in being called ‘victims’, as in ‘sex trafficked victim’, and how now we are being provided ‘much needed services’ when in fact we’re being forced to give our time for free to attend yoga classes and/or unqualified ‘peer-to-peer’ based substandard mandatory counseling to get out of going to jail.
Another problem when journalists write about prostitution arrests is they often use real names. Using our real names without our permission, causes harm. It puts targets on our backs so all the creeps, both within and outside of law enforcement, can find us for a ‘free sample’. Using our real names exposes us – and our families – via Google searches to landlords, employers, education systems, child custody challengers and financial lenders who can line up to take a swipe at us because we’re named to be in association with (not sex work) prostitution, which illegal.
Currently the trend is on reporting sex trafficking. Would it behoove journalists to be more accurate in their reporting on prostitution by stopping calling all of us victims of sex trafficking? Just because the police blotter or the yearly FBI press release renames us as victims doesn’t mean reporters should repeat these inaccuracies, or infantise us by conflating all acts of prostitution with child abuse. Statistics about us in press releases by self appointed experts are often presented out of context. This lack of critical thinking misleads the public and policy makers. In this way reporters play a role in getting the public to go along with the proposed bad policy du jour being brought by the politicians under the guise of rescuing sex trafficked victims. The fact is that we’re all going to jail for (not sex work) prostitution. We’re all having criminal cases being adjudicated in criminal court for? Prostitution. Renaming prostitution as sex work, especially during the current trend in stacking trafficking with prostitution, is more complicated than mere politically correct etiquette.
Ironically, the renaming campaign is being led by SWOP USA. Their founder the late Robyn Few, came to me after her arrest, enthusiastic to start some kind of sex worker group, she asked my input. I told her about the Sex Worker Outreach Project in Australia where prostitution is decriminalized. My friend Rachel W. was an outreach worker there distributing condoms and safe sex information kits. Robyn immediately liked the name, saying she would use it. I encouraged her to contact Rachel W. for permission to associate and share mission, though she never officially aligned with the Australian network. For SWOP USA to say they want to rename prostitutes as sex workers seems highly suspect. I’ve yet to hear current U.S. members actually publicly identify as actual working prostitutes. For legal sector workers like strippers, fetish models, or even former prostitutes, to want to rename of group of active workers they don’t globally identify with is not entirely okay.
I’m not opposed to the term sex worker, but until all workers gain access to their individual and collective voices via decriminalization of prostitution, this effort will create more false reporting.
Lastly prostitution isn’t just a legal term. Prostitution is a part of each era of history. The terms prostitute and prostitution predate adult film performers, pornography, webcam and phone sex performers, lingerie or fetish models, doms, subs, burlesque and pole dancers, strippers, the gamut of diverse erotic service providers. The term prostitute has historic value. Some of us are able and willing to stand in pride as being part of this valuable occupation. We accept – embrace even – what we truly are, and what as prostitutes we have to offer.
Maxine Doogan and M. Dante
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A great article Labor Intensive: In Defense of Sex Work is an anonymous angry rant along the lines of ‘we sex workers are tired and we’re not going to take it anymore’! Its got some great analogies like this one in talking about how simulated violence in adult films isn’t real violence but how the response to a recent adult film performer is blamed for actual domestic violence acts she suffers; ‘We wouldn’t blame a stuntman, after all, for getting hit by a car in real life just because he sometimes gets hit by a car during work hours.’
When discussing our position in the current climate of extremist capitalism, they say ‘We understand that our work is negotiated in different, complex ways and in the context of the most oppressive economic system the world has ever known’. As a prostitute, I am proud to be associated with that statement.
Its good to know that some of us are well aware of our precarious position and demand to be fully enfranchised in the economy. However the authors’ critique of the broad based criticism we all receive for working in the oldest profession seems to not quit demonstrate how its up to the collective ‘us’ to grasp and then leverage the common economies matter to us as a means to organize ourselves. Oh well, I imagine we’ll get there someday.
I do love how the authors take on everything and every body. My favorite line is ‘We make this world turn, and we make this world cum. Respect us’. Lets make that a tag line or # for a good long while!
With all that said, it seems they’re waiting on the labor movement to organize us when in fact that’s not how organized labor works, at least not in Amerika. The authors ask ‘how about the labor movement stop ignoring the oldest profession, and start organizing us? That’s a fair question for those who haven’t spent any time with us in organized labor. It is often the misconception that labor happens like everything else happens to us. Its worth our time to learn about the history of organizing labor and our own sex workers rights struggles in addition to learning what it would take to organize the sex worker rights movement into organized labor.
My experience in organizing sex industry workers and organizing with organized labor is that you have to show up and do it face to face. Its cannot be done over a blog. Organizing labor style means you have to show up for your own issues because you have issues. You have to be willing to show up and stand in solidarity with others who might be from different social/economic/race/gender/sexual orientation back grounds or who might be doing different types of sex worker than what you might consider…safe or politically correct….but who share your issues.
The authors also call for allies to be in solidarity with sexworkers ‘for union representation, free speech, improved working conditions and decriminalization’ but the fact is sex workers in general lack a significant amount of solidarity amongst ourselves in these areas too. Given the authors own feelings of ‘fear of reprisals’ if their identities were known for writing this article, I would say that solidarity has a long way to go within the sw rights movement. And given that solidarity is a prerequisite to unionizing; gaining access to our right to negotiate for our own labor and safe work conditions and decrim, we need to be finding a way to be in discussions with each other that would be productive towards these ends.
Having said that, I’m concerned about our ability to come together upon reading recently public critiques of sex worker rights activists by other sex worker rights activist. There is a great need for face to face space to create real solidarity amongst ourselves. Coming together ought to be prefaced with different types of trainings. Some of the much needed trainings would be labor specific like exercises to inform each other of the economy that matters to us. But before we get to that point, we need to get some violence de-escalation training. We could use some non violent communication training. We could use some respectful confrontation training and some conflict resolution training with the goal of standing in solidarity with each others work publicly, not to fortify the currently existing fiefdoms.
I love that the authors of this article are using the labor word, but writing it is no replacement for action. A good place to start to practice solidarity is to find other workers at your nearest labor rally who too are in struggle for their rights and join them.
And finally get some training! If we all had what it takes to change our status in this world, we’d not be in the situation we’re in so get some training-any training then make yourself and your skills available to your nearest sex worker, sex worker rights activist and sex worker rights based organization.
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What’s in a name?
Being renamed by those who have no regard for you is a drag. Hence the case of California Senate Bill 1388 authored by Sen. Ted Lieu set to go before the California Senate Appropriations committee on May 5th. His bill is called Human Trafficking but really his bill renames us prostitutes as ‘performers and our customers as ‘purchasers’ and mandates the later to spend 48 hours in jail and pay a $1000 fine to be split between police, prosecutors and non profits creating a sex bounty. The bill says the fines must go to provide those shame based sex negative substandard ‘peer to peer counseling’ for minors who have been working as prostitutes. ‘Bounty’ and ‘self dealing’ are words the analysis of the Senate Public Safety Committee used described this bill before they voted to approve it.
This bill is just like the First Offender Prostitution Program here in San Francisco. The FOPP was sold to the pubic under the guise of holding our customers financially responsible for all structural race, gender and social inequalities on the planet but really the public has been subsidizing the salaries of the uncredentialed counselors, the police and prosecutors all these years.
My current legal title is prostitute. I’m fine with that. I used to be an escort when I first started working in the biz in a massage parlor the mid 1980’s that was also licensed for escorts. I got a massage permit, so then I was a masseuse. When I stared working as an outcall escort, I got a license for that too thinking I would be afforded protection. I was wrong. I really liked the term sex worker until I figured out the other people who were using it weren’t doing prostitution. I don’t know what they were doing but it didn’t seem to involve the touching of other people and they weren’t at risk for being arrested for prostitution. The sw terms seems to have some sort of class connotation to it. Political commentators on MSNBC use it now with a smile. I stopped using that term to describe myself for the most part. I am a provider, a provider of erotic services, an erotic service provider, I’m definitely not a performer.
California criminal code 647(b) is the legal definition for prostitution which is anyone providing a ‘lewd act’ for money or ‘consideration’. A ‘lewd act’ means anyone touching breasts, genitals or buttock area with anything by another. So even using my feet to give a sensuous massage of the groin area, or sliding my riding crop over someone’s nipples or grinding my hips on a lap where a penis resides, all constitutes prostitution in California.
Now agreeing to do a ‘lewd act’ for money or consideration is currently protected under the first Amendment but taking any ‘furtherance’ to do or receive the ‘lewd act’ for money or consideration, like even offering or accepting a ride down the street for example, can constitutes an arrestable prosecutable criminal offense under current law and under the proposed bill. However SB 1388 goes way beyond criminalizing behavior. This bill actually renaming us without our permission. This is shocking considered the bill’s title is human trafficking. Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, you know that mantra. Slavery like how Africans were captured and sold on action blocks here in the good ol U S of A to have their labor extracted by any means. People who were turned into slaves in this way were striped of every right known to mankind. Typically when they were sold, they were renamed by their masters.
Now I’ve never formally met the sponsor of this bill that’s attempting to rename us. But I did have occasion to sit near him at the April 22nd California Senate Public Safety hearing where he stated his case for his bill, SB 1388. Well he didn’t really that say much. He let Daphne Phong, of Prop 35 and some other woman who spoke about how her daughter liked to watch Disney at the age of 20 but then started dressing ‘like a cheep ho’ do most of the talking. The mother of the daughter testified that her daughter abused other women because he boyfriend made her. Somehow all of this domestic violence justifies reaming of us as ‘performers’ and our customers as ‘purchasers’ and recriminalizing our customers to spend 48 hour in jail and conflating them to sex traffickers to pay new high fines. It’s all about ‘that money’ according to the mother. That would explain why all the police and prosecutor associations supported it.
I’ve never spoken to Senator Ted Lieu before. I wondered why he wants to rename me to be a ‘performer’ and my customers as ‘purchasers’? So as I was sitting there in front of the Senate Public Unsafety Committee near Ted Lieu, a man of Asian decent and looking at one of 3 co sponsored for his bill, Holly Mitchell a black women, I’m wondered what possessed people of color to rename us to create a funding stream for counselors? Coining a pejorative term to refer to human beings is undignified and legislating it into law is certainly below the station of a state senator and the state of California.
I stated in my oppositional testimony among other things, that renaming us without our permission was a human right violation. The Chair of the Public Unsafety Committee, Senator Loni Hancock asked Ted Lieu and Holly Mitchell to address the issues we brought up in opposition to their bill. Senator Holly Mitchell said that we couldn’t just walk in and testify and expect her to respond. That we would have to submit our issues in writing if we expected to be addressed. One of the purposes of speaking up at hearings is to have a chance to speak why decision makers support or oppose something; that’s how our democracy is supposed to work. Chastising us, the unfunded already marginalized workers, publicly for not using a particular process is typical cheap shot and a form of political escapism to avoid taking responsibility. Besides, many of the issues we raised were already written in the 19 page committee analysis in great detail. Her high handed remarks to us made me think she had not bothered to read it.
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California SB 1388 is two pronged failed approach:
It recriminalized customers of prostitutes with the purpose of creating a funding scheme from new high fines to pay for counseling services for minors involved in prostitution.
Where’s the evidence?
The author of this bill has yet to present any evidence that mandatory jail time and new high fines to be shared with non profits who provide counseling to minors and law enforcement has any positive effects on anybody. http://www.diplomaticourier.com/news/topics/politics/2105-devoid-of-research-an-evaluation-of-human-trafficking-interventions
Indifferent to the existing human rights violation of criminalization
By bringing mandatory penalties onto customers of prostitutes, SB 1388 places the burden on us newly defined ‘performers’ to protect our customers by forcing us to work in more secluded spaces. Carrying or insisting on using condoms to protect ourselves will put additional risks on an already vulnerable population, not to mention the public health risk.
UN General Assembly. The protection of human rights in the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS): Report of the Secretary-General. Human Rights Council, 16th session. UN doc. no. A/HRC/16/69, 20 Dec. 2010.
Why legislate failed policy?
The author of SB 1388 has yet to show that the cost of mandatory jail time, in combination with the bounty incentives it creates for law enforcement to make arrests and prosecutions will be covered by the proposed high fines let alone cover the cost of counseling.
The authors of SB 1388 have ignored the already failed policy of San Francisco’s First Offender Prostitution Program administered by the District Attorney’s office that clearly shows that this very same fine scheme DOES NOT cover the cost of said ‘counseling’ let alone the cost of criminalization.
MOU Between San Francisco Police Department/DA/SAGE
Management Audit of the San Francisco First Offender Prostitution Program
The authors of SB 1388 have ignored widely published studies that show that long term housing is the priority for youth in prostitution, not counseling. http://ann.sagepub.com/content/653/1/225.full.pdf+html
Why Does SB 1388 Get To Violate State Professional Standards?
Given that the California State Legislature has allowed non credentialed ‘peer counselors’ to provide counseling to youth, SB 1388 has yet to show how these unaccountable non profits avoid the pitfalls of unethical and ‘self- dealing’ actors from being allowed to use and further risk the most vulnerable for more harm? http://oaklandnorth.net/2013/12/06/juvenile-hall-in-oakland-plans-to-create-a-girls-camp-for-sexually-exploited-youth/comment-page-1
Ms. R’s testimony
California Senate Public Safety Committees’ Analysis of SB 1388
2013 VAWA pp101 http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s47enr/pdf/BILLS-113s47enr.pdf
Why do they get to rename us?
SB 1388 renames us prostitutes as ‘performers’ and our customers as ‘purchaser’. This renaming of our identities, our relationships and our work as ‘commercial sex acts’ without our permission is a human rights violation of the most egregious kind and is completely unacceptable!
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Since its tax time, I’ll give my yearly tax talk.
Many folks say, “They should tax and regulate prostitutes” instead of arresting us.
Well, taxing and regulating prostitution won’t bring us equal protection under the law.
Many folks in the sex industry pay taxes, local, state and federal taxes already. We pay sales taxes, hotel taxes, property taxes, gas taxes…same kinds of taxes everybody else pays. Except we don’t have access to the constitutional rights like everybody has. We don’t have access to equal protection under the law for example. If I’m assaulted on or off my job, I have to seriously consider how reporting that crime and its substantive investigation will effect my ability to work. Even legal sector sex industry workers don’t have equal protection under the law. They are not protected from discrimination and harassment in housing, education, employment, child custody nor are they guaranteed access to financial institutions. Legal sector workers who pay taxes cannot keep religious zealots from invading their work spaces. Got cupcakes? Free mascara? Nail polish anyone?
FYI, the US doesn’t allot rights based on your ability to pay taxes. If that were true, then why are the big corporations being exempt from paying taxes? Why is one of the richest men in the world paying a less tax rate than his secretary? Yes money gives more access to legislators to make laws that favor your capital but our capital is outlawed and it doesn’t matter how much tax I pay my legislator won’t propose laws to change my status.
We’re severally economically disadvantaged because the anti prostitution laws that have systematically, over a 100 year period, banned our ability to negotiate for our labor and own safe work conditions. So I would say that the US government ought to mandate that our class not pay ANY taxes until such time we have been completely enfranchised to the point where all the negative stigma and discrimination against our class has disappeared!
That is my position and that should be your position. Don’t let them off the hook for how they’ve treated us all these years! Make them pay some consequences and restitution to us for violating our human, labor and civil rights. Don’t just sit back and let us activist do the heavy lifting of changing the laws and then agree to be taxed and regulated. We’re not like any other business. What other business has been so violated to the degree that ours has? Therefore the antidotes to the poison that criminalization has caused all of humanity must be cured and gaining tax exempt status is a good first start.
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Wow, I just saw a non sex worker tell the 2 presenters who led the sex worker panel at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair that they cannot call themselves Gender Dentata as they were putting forwards ideas of names for their newly forming group. They are currently calling themselves Vagina Dentata. http://bayareaanarchistbookfair.wordpress.com/2014-program-schedule/
The non sex worker said that vagina was too exclusive a term and went on to say that because they were white women, they couldn’t be leaders in the movement. Let us first acknowledge how brave these white women were to identify themselves and secondly out themselves in a public space as outlaw anarchist sex workers. Thirdly; to travel to the bay and lead a sex worker panel. They were told they weren’t good enough to name themselves or had any right to organize.
I cannot think of anything that would have been more antithetical to say at an anarchist book fair!
In my mind, these 2 women are already leaders in our movement and rightfully so.
This same non sex worker, who identified herself as being in association with the San Francisco Sex Worker Film Festival as her cred, spoke all about Prop 35 and how scary it was now that its passed because our friends can be arrested as sex traffickers. This struck me as odd because our group was the statewide opposition and we couldn’t get enough people to respond to all the voters’ requests for information during that election no matter how many times I asked people in our industry to do so. Apparently there are degrees of comfort in being ‘out’ even for non sex workers who support sex workers.
I totally support former and non-sex workers speaking out for the rights and well-being of sex workers as allies. I just have a huge problem when individuals of this group dismiss the voices of actual prostitutes when advocating for ourselves about what to call ourselves, in what manner we advocate for ourselves, what rights we advocate for and telling us our skin and gender aren’t the right ones. I believe there are studies that say most prostitutes are white and women so I am not sure why the 2 presenters were being dissuaded for standing up. I believe more people of color are in jails but that doesn’t mean white women in the sex industry don’t get arrested, or don’t go to jail or get fucked for free less. To say that only people of color who are non gender conforming are the only one’s who can stand up for sex worker rights is counter productive. These oppression qualifiers that non sex workers have put on our movement are counter productive. Its a type of red hearing or is it oppression/privilege baiting? This behavior is really akin to being a counter organizer.
But back to the other related topic, the Freedom Network U.S.A. conference being held in San Francisco March 31 from 8 to 10 pm at the downtown Hilton. When I asked them who was going to be on the panel, they listed off the usual suspects except not any actual direct service providers who’ve “had their lives directly impacted by the anti trafficking policies and laws”. So I offered to connect them with actual women who’ve been arrested for prostitution under the guise of being rescued as sex trafficked victims. They’ve not responded to me.
Only one speaker I saw on their list, before it was removed from the fb page event, identifies as a actual working sw, which is great but I didn’t see anyone who’s been arrested for prostitution under the guise of being arrested for being a sex trafficked victim.
So this begs the question, why would an anti trafficking group invite non prostitutes to lead such a ‘dialog’? I mean, isn’t that what their types do everyday anyway? And why do they need to come to San Francisco to host their $315 a person tariff (at a hotel that took Local 2 years to get a collectively bargained contract)?
I too find it really essential to expand the dialogue about the human, civil and labor rights violations that are occurring under the guise of fighting trafficking. I’m glad to see that others like Veg Vix are taking issue with former and non-sex workers who treat policies like criminalization of us as if that don’t matter. It makes me wonder what polices are good enough? What skin color is the right color? What gender is the right gender?
I can see the Freedom Network U.S.A. is not addressing the harms of policies that conflate all prostitution with trafficking: http://freedomnetworkusa.org/more-penalties-for-prostitution-wont-help-victims-of-human-trafficking/. Freedom Network U.S.A. is only stating that more penalties for prostitution won’t help victims while ignoring one of our key values: including actual workers being affected by the policies.
Any anti-trafficking groups that seriously wanted to address the harms of policies and rhetoric conflating all prostitution with trafficking would put decrim including our customers in their legislative packages, training sessions and raising awareness campaigns and they’re not. None of them have called me up to say, ‘hey we’re going to visit legislators in your state to talk to them about trafficking, wanna come along?’ Have they called you?
They haven’t showed that kind of respect because they don’t really want us in the room with them at legislator visiting time. But who they do want at their high priced Hilton Hotel Conference? Those who lack the political will and skill to hold them accountable for their hollow policy.
Veg Vix said “Though the sex workers’ rights movement has been at the forefront of addressing the harms of such misguided and oppressive policies for years, the movement shouldn’t have to do this alone and it can be very powerful when some anti-trafficking groups also denounce such harms.” And I agree but denouncing these harms isn’t good enough.
Anti trafficking/prostitution have to join prostitutes activist to be demanding decrim as the primary means to reducing these harms. It has to be stated clearly on their websites not just whispered at conferences or assumed. Its especially essential that anti trafficking/prostitution groups take this step because the anti trafficking policy was created primarily as an anti prostitution policy and we ought not let them get away from that fact. Freedom Network USA’s funding, just like the funding for all the other anti trafficking/prostitution orgs are at our expense, or at least those of us who are still working.
They should be made to take responsibility for invading us when they repeat as in brow beat us with their ideas of us in public, in the media, on our chat boards, text messages, advertising spaces and our work spaces. (California passed a law that mandates sex worker spaces post state sanctioned anti trafficking/prostitution baby girl being abducted eyes photos). Not to mention that special surveillance we, (those of us who are actual workers) are all under here in California thanks to the illegal use of the sting boxes and the tracking systems the silicon valley partners have installed for the them on us. These are all ways current workers’ human, civil and labor rights are being violated every single day.
I believe in aligning on common ground. Building alliances could strengthen our movement overall and is important for ending such oppressive policies against sex workers under the guise of fighting trafficking. It’s really essential that anti-trafficking groups have at the top of their list complete decriminalization across the board to even be considered allies, as a starter. And with so many non prostitutes on this NOG’s panel, I am concerned about having the sw rights movement looking like its been co-oped. They’re going to be able to say, “we had a sex worker panel” and while never actually have done anything for us.
Co-oping us is part of their agenda. I wonder what form the carrot will take. What will they put forward towards this end? What monies or positions or projects will they offer whom?
If they were really concerned, they would have invited the actual women who have had their lives directly negatively impacted by the anti trafficking/prostitution laws and they didn’t.
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The closing of the Lusty Lady is a huge loss both to the local and international erotic service provider communities.
It was the only hourly waged and unionized sex worker business in the America.
While the rest of the strip clubs in San Francisco or the state for that matter, have sustained class action lawsuits on behalf the dancers for wage and hour violations, the Lusty managed to pay a legal wage. This guaranteed wage afforded many new comers to the sex industry to explore their sexual expression for pay in a supportive environment.
That’s something the other strip clubs cannot say. All the other clubs in San Francisco have instituted the old pay to work schemes where dancers have to figure out daily if not hourly how they are going to come up with enough money to pay the management for the right to come back to work the next day.
I’ve worked with gals over the years who were sexually and economically harassed by the strip club management. One young gal I worked with at an underground brothel said she had been pulled off stage after her set by her manager and dragged into the backroom and forced to perform oral sex on him in exchange for not paying the illegal stage fee.
Its really important for new comers in our industry to get support, coaching and mentorship to explore sex for pay on our own terms and the Lusty was one of those few places that offered that low impact entry level sex work. You could get that kind of help from one of the few underground brothel or dungeons that still dot the bay area if you are lucky but they rarely take on the totally inexperienced like the Lustie did. Likewise, the Lusty provide long term employment for experienced workers as well.
Despite the theater’s one of kind unique sexual experience, the closing always seems to be imminent with the yearly negotiations over the rent with the landlord. Too, the internet and the surrounding competition from other clubs couldn’t be converted into any financial benefit for them. I remember Daisy Anarchy trying to mobilize the Lusties to help unionize the surrounding clubs. Clearly it was in their own best interests to bring up the work conditions in the nearby businesses since many of the Lusties worked in these other clubs already or would be working in them eventually. But their focus always seemed to be on their own internal struggles.
For all of the obstacles, the Lusty had major political clout and earned media of which they hardly ever spend or used. I remember crashing one of their membership meetings to get their support for Prop K. I couldn’t figure out if they were more shocked that Prop K had made it to the ballot or that I called for the yays and the nays myself to get their endorsement! It was really hard to get any conversations going with them about how much support and help they had to exchange at their fingertips. It seems they never knew the powers our city commissioners, politicos or their own union had to offer them. I always wondered if they could have taken steps to have their location designated as a historical landmark which would have opened up much needed dispensation but I could never get anyone at the theater to return my calls.
Many labor groups like the Coalition for Union Women, have supported our erotic service providers organizing with resolutions and political access. The Lusties were in the unique position to call upon the means for real impact organizing resources for the whole sex industry. Their union SEIU 1021, a public sector union, was the one of the most powerful unions as unions go in the city and the region.
The closing of the Lusty holds lessons for the labor movement and the rest of the nouveau fast moving sex industry; if you don’t take steps to organize yourself and those around you and share the love as we say, then you are surely to loose what you have.
The larger labor movement has been in steep decline with the local, national and international public sector workers under attack by these same land barons extremist capitalist types who now own our elected national government which no longer serves us.
Despite these recent losses and even though the sex industry is comprised of illegally working independent contractors, we can still come together to organize and collectively bargain new social contracts for ourselves, former sex workers and those that will come after us. There are still resources. We just have to show up and do our part. We know that by doing so all sex trade workers and everyone else on the planet will be lifted up. Now is the time to come together no matter what form of sex work you do and get into mutual aid.
Your Sister in Sexual Solidarity,
SOIBHAN BROOKS AND GRED WALSTON – INTERVIEW BY MAXINE DOOGAN (courtesy KPFA Women’s Magazine): Former “Lusty Lady” Soibhan Brooks and attorney Greg Walston are interviewed on Martin Luther King Day 2006 about racism as a factor in the sex industry during the time that the Lusty Ladies Peepshow unionized and how this discrimination is being fought through the court system. Part 1
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