A Round Table On Police Violence Against Sex Workers Of Color: Part II

by suzyhooker on December 19, 2016 · 10 comments

in Cops, Race

Black sex workers’ rights activist heroine Monica Jones contests her arrest.

The first part of this round table is here

Harmony: How do you feel white supremacy shows up in the sex workers’ rights movement? How does that white supremacy complicate activism intended to protect sex workers of color from the police and other violent institutions? How does it make you feel knowing women like Maggie McNeill, who have written blatantly racist articles exposing their hatred of people of color, like this one, are still called on for their “expertise” on sex work?

Phoenix: Most activists I know are white and incredibly low key racist. It seems that a lot of sex work activism is like white feminism—white cis women are the standard and everything is based around them. Women of color/non-male people of color get left behind pretty frequently.

There’s also the whole “we have one struggle” thing. It’s like white feminism (TM). White women are quick to point to patriarchy as a source of problems while ignoring that we also face racism, colonialist legacies, etc. It’s the same with sex workers. Too often things are solely framed around sex workers’ rights in regards to slut shaming/stigma, bargaining, decrim, capitalism, etc. Little is discussed about the racism sex workers of color face from society, and in the industry, both from clients and fellow workers. And of course, it all reinforces things like the idea that black clients are hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual, and dangerous. Not because they’re clients but because they’re black men. There’s also an assumption that as a black sex worker, I’ll do things white sex workers won’t do. Or that I’ll do it for less, because I’m a hyper-sexual black woman.

And it’s interesting how benevolent sexism comes in more for white sex workers, too. Way more white sex workers I know have the gross clients who want to “save them,” while my clients are more likely to assume this is the best I can do with my life. Like, white sex workers are fragile and need saving, while black sex workers are just inherently more immoral and unredeemable.

Bambi: I can so relate to seeing white sex workers’ clients wanting to save them but not giving a fuck about the black girls. We are the Sapphires—we are always expected to be stronger and tougher than our white peers. It gets tiring.

Honestly, white supremacy in sex worker “activism” is what has kept me out of it for a long time. It was triggering as fuck to read what Harmony linked to, and then to know that the woman who wrote that is one of the most vocal and prominent sex worker activists. Like really? Get it together!

I did hear that Monica Jones called her out at the Desiree Alliance Conference—another place which I feel is a mostly white woman club. I think if the sex workers’ movement wants our help, they need to make us comfortable. And from what I heard about the way SWOP-Seattle treated Monica, it makes me so mad. You all wonder why there’s not more black sex workers in your movement? It’s because of the Maggie McNeills that go out of their way to reinforce stereotypes and be racist as fuck, and there’s no backlash. I’m sure we would feel more comfortable if more white workers were willing to go to bat for us when shit like that goes down, yet McNeill still has a shit ton of followers on Twitter and goes to Desiree.

Harmony: It sickens me that prominent racist sex worker activists are called on for their “experience and knowledge” in the movement. That’s how you know your movement is fucked, especially when bad bitches like Anna Saini and Janet had to basically threaten the New York Times for them to include POCs in their recent profile of the sex workers’ rights movement—coverage which was originally initiated by white sex worker activists. There’s something very fucking wrong when you have to literally fight for the inclusion of black and brown sex worker voices in the media and SHOUT OUT TO MONICA JONES FOR STANDING UP TO THEIR CLASSIST RACIST BOUGIE ASS BULLSHIT! Let’s not stop the fight, ladies! It’s time for us to be heard!

15-year-old Latesha Clay, another victim of structural police violence, cries at her sentencing.

Do you think the way the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to police violence and extrajudicial police executions of Black and Latinx people will help sex workers of color in dealing with police brutality as well?

Phoenix: #unpopularopinion—I think BLM does really important work, but they tend to fail at defending LGBTQIA people of color and black women overall. Since most sex workers are women or at least assigned female at birth, I don’t know how much they’ll help, to be honest. It seems like the focus is primarily on black men killed by cops, but there doesn’t seem to be as much effort put into women killed, and little is being said about cops that sexually abuse sex workers. I was hoping BLM would take a more definitive stand after the Baltimore report [came out] about [police violence against] sex workers and violence against women overall.

Shagasyia: Based on the BLM organizing I have been a part of or witnessed, only cis folks are represented! They forget trans women are constantly under attack, so they exclude us from the movement. The fact that we are people of color before we are trans or sex workers seems to slip their minds, as well! Fighting for the decriminalization of all marginalized sex workers and other survivor work should be a part of their mission.

Our representation is usually excluded, and that costs us when BLM has the most media access.

We are often blamed for our own assaults and told that we brought it on ourselves because of the work we do. There is no full representation so we still have to do separate missions like BTLM (Black Trans Lives Matter). They also sometimes feel like we have no right to use the language of BLM as we make them look bad or take attention away from their mission. But If black lives matter, all black lives should matter!

Bambi: I think BLM does great work and has literally built a movement unlike anything we’ve ever seen for black folk since the Black Panthers. BLM has made some crucial steps and headway for black folk.

But like Phoenix, I’d like to see them focus on Alisha Walker, Latesha Clay, or any sex worker of color and not mostly black men, and I don’t see them as a refuge for black sex workers, so it’s a tough correlation. I love that BLM was started by black queer women, but from the jump off, their focus seemed to be on violence towards black hetero men.

BLM’s platform, as of August, does demand the “retroactive decriminalization and immediate release of all people convicted of drug offenses, sex work-related offenses, and youth offenses.”

Shagasyia: This is awesome.

Felix: This is good and I’m hopeful, but still cautious. I’d like to see how they’re going to enact this. I’d also love if they did something for Latesha Clay, as well.

Harmony: I love BLM and I think they are doing a lot of important work and it’s great to see that they have made headway in starting a dialogue and being inclusive of sex workers! This is very empowering to see!

Ex-sex working teen Celeste Guap/Jasmine Abuslin, who was sexually exploited by Oakland police officers as a minor, then falsely imprisoned to cover it up.

How do you protect yourselves in your day to day lives against police violence?

Harmony: Now I just avoid certain areas, because, let’s be honest: There is no protection when it comes down to police and minorities. Unfortunately, they have the majority of the power and they will abuse it vehemently.

I’ve also learned about orgs like the Sex Workers Project, though, so that if I ever have another encounter with someone like Officer Smiles, he can take my ass to jail but I know that I can use my phone call to hit up Melissa Sontag Broudo, and they will work tirelessly to get me out. So that’s my main resource as a sex working women of color, and I give the Sex Workers Project’s cards out to to all the street workers and/or sex working women of color I know.

What is the most important thing for everyone to understand about police violence against sex workers of color?

Harmony: That it happens 100 times more [often] than it happens in white communities and that we need services to help our brothers and sisters stay out of the mass incarceration that is the modern day slavery of today. The police have proven that they don’t give a fuck about sex workers of color to the extent that they have put lives on the line with “condoms as evidence” laws. Laws that literally caused many trans women of color and women in general, some that I know personally, to catch deadly STI’S for fear of being arrested.

They also need to be aware of the sexual abuse that police target on WOC in poor communities. The statistics are sickening. It’s 10 times more likely for WOC sex workers to experience incarceration. The system has proven that it doesn’t work in terms of “rehabilitation” just by the recidivism rates alone. It is a for-profit system and there is a human cost.

Bambi: I know girls who legit wouldn’t carry condoms with them for fear of getting arrested, so that exposes them to more violence in the sense of risking STI’s over arrest and possible assault by the police.

I also feel like white people need to speak up more. They have a power that we will never have and they need to utilize it if they want to be our allies. There are serious racial disparities in the prison industrial complex so we are the ones who are out here getting arrested more often. We are the ones out here getting shot for reaching for our drivers’ licenses.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Elle December 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Would love to have the data and or research Harmony refers to when she says police violence happens 100 times more often to POC (sex workers right?) than white communities (sex workers). She is referring to police violence perpetrated upon sex workers correct? That’s the topic of discussion correct? Per the title of the article? Or is she generalizing? If she’s generalizing I’m going to say it’s up for debate because the sex worker community across the board is more vulnerable to police abuses than non sex workers; however, police have sexually assaulted non sex workers too, including children and people they were investigating, or witnesses to crimes which enabled the police contact.

This topic is very important to me, and I’ve been neck deep in it for many years now, after first hand experiencing sexual violations myself, perpetrated by police and not on one, but on several occasions.

I never reported these incidents because at the time I felt powerless.
Many police abuses never get reported.


Elle December 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm

There are various forms of police abuses. I am specifically talking about sexual abuses committed by police upon sex workers as well as sexual abuse committed by police upon whomever. It’s an issue all to itself and one that rarely gets any airtime.


Elle December 20, 2016 at 1:46 pm

When you’ve sat for years reading cases involving cops sexually abusing children, sex workers, witnesses, whoever, it gives you a clearer picture of the situation than narratives ever will. It’s unfortunate that there is so little research and data we can rely on regarding police abuses perpetrated upon our community or the public in general.

Norma Jean Almodovar’s site policeprostitutionandpolitics.com is an excellent resource. This list here is a collection of cases involving law enforcement who have abused sex workers: http://www.policeprostitutionandpolitics.com/pdfs_all/posters_all/Cops_rape_solicit_prostitutes_Rogues_Gallery.pdf

I wonder how often people speak from lived experiences over speaking via a narrative.

That’s what’s wrong with the picture which Harmony and Bambi refers to…. people have narratives they can pay lip service to all day long, but no lived experiences.


Elle December 20, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Btw…….blogging and tweeting isn’t ACTivism. ACTively working to change policy, to change the status quo, is ACTivism.


Elle December 20, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Wants us to shut up on one hand…..then we are supposed to speak up on the other. Which is it? No matter, because I’m going to fight for the decriminalization of the criminalized erotic service provider community.

Sure doesn’t help when people with the BLM unwittingly promote white supremacy narratives connected to sex trafficking, as they were in Oakland around the Celeste Guap case: https://youtu.be/i6OTMkTmMC8


Criminalized marginalized & stigmatized December 22, 2016 at 1:15 am

Oops I posted the wrong link. THIS is the video about the Oakland BLM affirming white supremacist narratives https://youtu.be/qo0k_P88QZw


Rachel March 6, 2017 at 1:37 pm

I don’t understand why you’re being so combative. Do you feel personally attacked by this round table? Did anyone state anywhere in this article that they feel that white sex workers aren’t also subject to police abuse? It is a problem for all of us. Coming into the comments here to try and refute the words and narratives of women of color in the sex industry doesn’t really help to make the situation better… frankly, the only thing it does is make you seem racist. (not necessarily saying you are, just trying to be honest about how it feels to read it. As a white person even. I am white).

It is vital that white members of the sex workers rights movement in the USA listen to what non-white sex workers are saying. Just as you did not report the abuse law enforcement subjected you to, people of color are even less empowered to report police abuse. I don’t know what statistics you’re looking at, but you can’t look at the statistics of any sort of police abuse, or arrest and incarceration rates, without seeing that this country has a massive problem with police violence and abuse against people of color. I guess that’s just a “narrative” to you? But narratives are also important in the battle to achieve rights.

I know that me calling you out on this here is just going to make you feel more combative, it will put you on your defenses. But that’s OK! It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, and it is OK to make mistakes. Take it from my own experience, though; it is best to sit with those feelings and try to understand why you’re having them, rather than shifting the blame for that discomfort onto the people who participated in this round table. Every single white person has racist thoughts and tendencies- it’s unavoidable. What matters is what you can learn from it, and how you move forward- not trying to prove that you are not racist. We all are! Every white person benefits from white supremacy, and we often can’t even see it or understand it until a non-white person is kind enough to take the time to explain it to us.


Juniper Fitzgerald December 20, 2016 at 4:03 pm

I’m so thrilled this round table is happening.

My question is this– Bambi, you say that white people “need to speak up more.” Harmony, you say that you’re tired of privileged white sex workers “being called on.” So what’s the balance there? Should people like me step up or sit down? What can we–white, privileged, former or current sex workers–do to immediately to support POC working in the sex industry?

I also want to directly respond to the idea that white people should utilize their power. As a PhD, I will write letters of recommendation, call whoever needs calling, write letters to judges, etc etc etc…. People in positions of power respond well to “Dr.” and I want to be of service in that way if I can. If anyone has any ideas on how best I might put my bougie title to use, I am open to anything.

Also, as a white former sex worker, I am horrified by Maggie McNeil’s post. In my experience, dissenting voices in the sex industry/ activism can be harshly punished. We all have a lot to lose–even white sex workers–and in some instances, people don’t speak out against this shit because they’re afraid of being outted (but let’s also remember that a lot of sex workers DID speak out against this McNeil post). I don’t know what the solution is, particularly when I see blatantly hateful and racist sex workers on Twitter who, like ya’ll said, amass huge followings.

All this to say, I want to be the best ally I can be and this post has definitely given me a lot to think about.


Clare December 21, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Thanks for doing this roundtable! The SWer’s rights movement was my first foray into activism that I really have a stake in. The presence of POC and trans folk’s voices in the sex worker’s rights movement has pushed me to question my white feminist assumptions and to actively fight for reform on issues that aren’t about people like me (a white, cis, sex worker). I’m glad to see Bambi’s mention of the Monica Jones/Desiree issue – I was around for some of that and I was genuinely confused. I had no idea about that Maggie McNeil post, and although I was aware of the generalized dominance of white narratives in the decrim movement, I didn’t realize how much pain they have caused. This summer was the first time I ever met with other sex workers to organize, and for a while after I felt like I shouldn’t participate in discussions about sex worker’s rights at all, or pay attention to news and policy about sex workers because I couldn’t handle the factionalism and contention. There’s no denying that sex worker’s rights activists are mostly cis white women, and it’s not POC of trans folks’ responsibility to spell out in plain english all the ways that cis, white activists can alienate y’all. But thanks again for doing so here.


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