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When Will It Be #TimesUp For Rapist Cops? #MeToo And Sex Workers

Content warning: This piece contains general discussion of sexual assault and state violence. 

Last week, Time Magazine published a story about sex worker exclusion from the #metoo phenomenon. Sex workers are a criminalized population vulnerable to sexual assault, composed of people oppressed in many intersectional ways, so the inaccessibility of this newly popularized movement against rape and harassment is particularly egregious. At worst, it seems that only privileged women have access to an individualized #metoo movement. At best, sex workers are told they should have their own separate-but-equal movement in a manner which reinforces popular misconceptions about the sexual violence we face as intrinsic to sex work and our clients rather than stemming from stigma and the state.

In reality, much of the abuse and violence sex workers face comes from institutions like the police. This makes participating in a sex worker #metoo difficult since it entails calling abusers in positions of power to account.

Police are guilty of routinely targeting marginalized women and raping them. They prey on women whose allegations against police are rarely taken seriously. These women include sex workers (especially street and survival sex workers), women of color, trans women, and drug-using women—most often, women who are part of many or all the above groups. We are told to stand up for ourselves and report sexual assaults to the police, but when the abuser is the police, it becomes impossible to report it. A Brooklyn teenager tried to report a sexual assault committed by two police officers. Nine officers showed up en masse at the hospital she was in to convince her not to do a rape kit. Predatory police officers are commonly simply shuffled from one department to another when suspected of sex crimes.

In Alaska, the police are allowed to engage in sex acts before arresting a sex worker. This system of rape-as-entrapment results in only the provider being arrested. In Oakland, police officers had sex with an underage sex working teen in exchange for information about future busts. Only three of the men involved were convicted and the victim was sent away by the department to an out of state rehab facility in an attempt to shut her up. NYPD officer Raul Olmeda was paid to investigate sex trafficking. Instead, he paid an underage girl for sex and filmed their numerous encounters. It took seven months after police seized his computer for charges to be filed against him. A Phillipsburg police officer demanded free sex from two Backpage providers, threatening arrest. The officer, Justin Sanderson, had a history of sexual harassment at other law enforcement jobs and yet he was still able to gain employment in Phillipsburg. When sex workers get in trouble, we are not as immune to consequences as Sanderson was—when we are arrested, our records are tainted and we are not able to skip from job to job. This is one of many reasons why the threat of arrest has historically been very effective for rapist cops to wield against sex workers. Ex-Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw assaulted 13 Black women and young girls, many of them drug-using sex workers and almost all possessing records. It was only because the thirteenth Black woman he assaulted had a clean record and friends within the police department that the other twelve women’s reports became credible. It’s rare that officers are held accountable for being sexual predators the way Holtzclaw was. The majority of police departments do not have a training program for on-duty police officers to teach them to avoid sexual misconduct toward citizens, let alone ones training them to behave themselves appropriately specifically towards sex workers.

Confronting this police abuse is next to impossible for sex workers. Some of us have been arrested after police engaged in sexual activities with us. Some of us have been raped by cops who threatened us with arrest if we spoke out. Some of us have been assaulted and bullied by men posing as police officers. Police harassment can literally ruin our lives. Early last November, a migrant Brooklyn sex worker died jumping out of a window in order to avoid being re-arrested and deported during a brothel raid, after local cops carried out a campaign of terror to pressure her into becoming a confidential informant. The police are major perpetrators of violence against sex workers, whether as abusive individuals or as an oppressive system of state violence, and most of us are not in a position to speak out against them.

Judges also hold prejudices against sex workers. In Philadelphia, Judge Teresa Carr-Deni reduced a gang rape charge to “theft of services”, leaving the sex worker victim without justice. Several states make sex workers ineligible to receive rape victim compensation funds due to the criminalization of our work. In Indiana, for example, “a victim who was injured while committing, attempting to commit, participating in or attempting to participate in a criminal act” is ineligible for victims’ compensation.

When the entire apparatus of law enforcement and criminalization contributes to sexual violence against sex workers, it’s difficult to understand how an individualized, neoliberal movement like #metoo has become can help. Standing up against specific abusers, however powerful they are, cannot do much when an even more powerful system continues to create the conditions of our abuse. While the Time piece does devote a few paragraphs to police sexual abuse of sex workers—most notably, referencing the results of a 2016 Department of Justice report on the Baltimore police which found that the department ignored sexual assault reports made by sex workers and many officers raped sex workers after threatening incarceration—what it and other mainstream media reports on the topic miss is that criminalization and state violence are responsible for the particularly vicious rape culture we sex workers live with. When will it be #timesup for rapist cops—or for a criminal justice system which legitimizes that rape as an investigation technique and would rather jail us and reward our abusers?

The Stormy Daniels Effect: When Prostitutes Unite, Powerful Men Tremble

(via wikimedia)

It is now public knowledge that President Donald Trump’s attorney allegedly paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 for something. Although Daniels has, in the past, made mention of an affair with Trump, she now coyly denies it. On Jimmy Kimmel, she once again subtly suggested that the affair did indeed take place, holding a puppet of herself with tape over its mouth—a rather obvious testament to the ways that she has been gagged from speaking about the matter.

Whether the pair engaged in sexual activities or not, there is an undeniable connection between sex workers and rich, powerful men.

After all, seeing a sex worker implies a degree of economic freedom. That politicians in the United States tend to be rich, powerful men is perhaps a different conversation entirely, but it is not hyperbole to say that sex workers in this country have the capacity to ruin these men, but not for the reasons most might think. Indeed, the claim that sex workers can ruin rich, powerful men in this country is a loaded statement, particularly if “ruinous” is defined as simply holding onto kinky secrets.  

Activist Spotlight: BARE on the Mass Closure of Strip Clubs in New Orleans

via BARE’s Instagram

An unholy mix of gentrification and trafficking hysteria created the perfect political climate to allow law enforcement to shutter several New Orleans strip clubs, leaving scores of dancers unemployed. The Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers rapidly sprung into action; they disrupted the mayor’s press conference and organized the Unemployment March the following night, which drew national attention. I talked to them about the situation in NOLA, their strategy, and their future plans.

So, to start, what is BARE? How long has BARE existed and what kind of activism does BARE do?

Lindsey: BARE is the Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers. We are an organization run by strippers, for strippers. I started coming to meetings a few months ago, but some of our members have been at this since the Trick or Treat raids of 2015. What we do first and foremost is provide a voice that’s been previously underexposed during the city’s assault on strip clubs: the voice of actual strippers. We’re attempting to work with city officials to influence policies and decisions that affect us. Outside of that, we really just want to foster community among dancers and show the people who don’t understand us that we are valuable members of the New Orleans community. During our first ever charity tip drive, participating dancers donated all of their tips from a Friday night’s work to a women’s shelter. Strippers literally paid that shelter’s rent for six months!

Lyn Archer: I arrived in New Orleans after being laid off from two seasonal jobs in a row, one in secretarial work and one in hospitality. I was on unemployment and got a job cocktail-waitressing at a Larry Flynt drag club. One night, a few weeks before Christmas, the club closed without notice and let everyone go. That’s when I saw how quickly fortunes could reverse on Bourbon Street and how little protection there is for workers. My first week on Bourbon, I was the likely the only stripper that didn’t realize that Operation Trick or Treat had just happened. I entered a work environment where strippers were scared, mgmt was over-vigilant, and customers were scarce. Everyone seemed confused about “the rules.” I later learned that’s because what’s written into the city code about “lewd and lascivious conduct” is different than state law and different than federal law. But these supposed “anti-trafficking” efforts are a collaboration of badges. Undercover agents from many offices move through the clubs. I began researching and writing on this for my column in Antigravity, called “Light Work.” I began to see how a feedback loop between press, law enforcement, self-styled “anti-trafficking” groups and civic policymakers can cause so much destruction for people they haven’t even considered. The club I started at was the first to close. The club was inside a building that was the house Confederate president Jefferson Davis lived in. The house I live in was the home of a Confederate general. We are working against, while inside-of, unfolding histories that are deeply, deeply violent. The more I learn about the history of sex worker resistance in New Orleans, the more I know this fight is lifetimes old and will replicate itself if we do not end it entirely.

It’s our 2018 call for pitches!!!

This picture is a pitcher pitching a pitcher because we’d like to emphasize that we want your pitches.

Happy New Year, readers! Per usual, we are taking our January hiatus—-just a small break from publishing while we do a little site maintenance. Tits and Sass wouldn’t exist without you, so perhaps considering resolving to write something this year?

We’re soliciting for your pitches! New writers, please familiarize yourselves with our contributors’ guidelines. A gentle warning: first time writers are usually edited rigorously (but kindly!). E-mail your pitches to info@titsandsass.com.

As usual, pitches from workers who are of color, trans, and/or genderqueer will always be prioritized, but don’t feel pigeonholed into writing on topics of identity. We know you’re experts on a wide variety of topics.

We love pop culture and media analysis, takes on breaking sex worker news, event coverage, and essays that illustrate the way the personal is political. We’re less keen on hyper-personal narratives but exceptions are sometimes made for the truly extraordinary. Pitch us almost anything you want, but listed below are a some specific topics we’re always looking for.

Porn workers: you didn’t get nearly enough coverage in 2018. We want to hear from you—-particularly about the ways your industry is both influencing and being shaped by the tech industry.

Sex working in the Trump administration: Has a second gone by when you aren’t reminded that Donald Trump is president? What are the sex worker angles? Migrant workers, we want to hear from you on how you’re navigating this especially hostile landscape and what other sex workers can do to help.

Movie, book, and television reviews: Vanity Fair said that the past year was a great one for sex worker portrayals in entertainment. What say you? We generally prefer reviews of entertainment that’s fairly current, but older material isn’t off the table.

The newest trends in criminalization we should watch out for: How are law, policy, and anti-trafficking discourse being leveraged against us black and grey market workers in this new year, and how are we adapting and resisting?

Survival workers and trafficking survivors: We want to make Tits and Sass accessible to your analyses and perspectives, so often shut out of the sex workers’ rights movement. Tell us what you’re thinking about and what issues are relevant to you.

Naked Music Monday: This column’s only parameter is that it must have some music. Write us the perfect playlist for a session or strip club shift. Is your favorite artists latest single sex work adjacent? Analyze it for us. In the past, writers have covered Cardi B and Beyoncé plus pole dancing with Bruno Mars, given us inspirational playlists and endorsed art haus indie for a session.

Support Hos: Does a sex working character on your favorite TV show warrant a closer inspection?

Activist Spotlight: Americans workers, show us who’s doing the work on ground in your area.

Don’t forget, if you need advice, we have some irregular advice columns. E-mail Dear Tits and Sass for any of your general sex work inquiries.  If you need advice about making a risky decision as safe as possible, send that to Ms. Harm Reduction.

 

I Partied With The Robot Strippers Before The CES

Human strippers with robot strippers. (photo via The Busty Bruiser)

When hypnotizing videos of robot strippers went viral recently, the internet was abuzz. (At least it was in my circles, comprised primarily of current/former sex workers and horny writers who never miss an opportunity to crack a Philip K. Dick joke.) People marveled and hypothesized about the potential implications these gyrating mannequins might have on the strip club landscape: Were these robots here to replace ladies who dance for a living? Were men actually like, into this? Should your friendly neighborhood strippers start worrying about being usurped by rechargeable batteries and knees that will never need replacement? It seemed that everyone who encountered this quirky bit of tech-lore was either mesmerized, amused, or vaguely hostile to the idea; but was anyone actually turned on? (Turns out, the answer to all of these questions is basically: not really.)

An old friend with tech media connections was able to score an invite to an exclusive media-only event being held at Sapphire, a major pillar of the Vegas strip club scene. We were lucky enough to check out the robots up close and personal before they make their debut on the CES Expo floor later this week. I spoke with the robots’ creator, Giles Walker, about their inception and how they came to be the most buzzed-about attraction at the biggest tech event of the year.

Despite all of the jokes and speculation about emotionally-stunted nerds in basements building girlfriends for themselves, Walker doesn’t even come close to the socially-awkward engineer I had envisioned. In fact, he’s a British sculptor with deep roots in the London punk and art scenes. With his spiked ear-gauges and cheeky fedora, Walker looks more like the guy who wants to sell you rare Japanese Sex Pistols b-sides on eBay, not the Dr. Frankenstein of sexy late-stage capitalism. An active member of art collective, The Mutoid Waste Company, which erects guerrilla-art installations all over Europe, Walker first began incorporating motors into his found-object sculptures in the mid-1990s using scavenged parts from junkyards. “When I first started I was just a broke punk, you know? I didn’t have $10 in my pocket, so I had to use whatever I could find on the street.” Today, the robots are constructed using mannequin limbs, windshield-wiper motors, a gate-opening motor, and CCTV cameras.

The dancing fembot concept first began to take shape for Walker after the broadcast of an infamous “sexed up” report on British television convincing the nation to go to war in Iraq.At the time, Walker says, “I started noticing these CCTV surveillance cameras on every single street corner in London, it was nuts. And those things are total garbage! They don’t even protect people, they only protect f*ckin’ property!”