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.