(via Flickr user STML)
Have you ever wondered what’s taught in university social work classes about sex trafficking? Several sex worker activists recently decided to go forth and find out by taking the online Human Trafficking course offered by Ohio State University’s Social Work program through Coursera, an education platform that partners with universities to offer online classes.
Course grades were based entirely on starting and responding to discussion forum topics and the students’ creation of human trafficking public service announcements. Although Coursera claimed that the class had 30,000 participants, in the end only 97 completed the class and received a certificate. Those who completed the class have not received the certificates yet. As activist Bella Robinson, put it, “God knows what it will say.”
The forum discussion, according to one sex worker student who posted on Facebook, was “about 99.99% about forcing women to stop doing sex work.” There was little or no moderation, with students up or down voting each other’s posts similarly to the way Reddit users do. The instructor, Dr. Jacquelyn Meshelemiah, an associate professor at Ohio State’s College of Social Work, rarely interacted with students and never corrected misinformation or addressed abusive comments. [READ MORE]
Madison Young’s memoir Daddy tackles head-on the daddy issues sex workers are always accused of having. Young skillfully and responsibly presents her journey from a little girl who misses her daddy to an accomplished gallery owner, feminist erotic film producer, author, and “sex positive Tasmanian devil.” She begins by tackling the issue of consent: yours. “I cannot hear the consenting ‘yes’ seep from your lips,” she writes, “but by the simple turn of this page you will be physically consenting to this journey, this scene, between you and I.”
I remember first hearing of Young years ago when a friend quoted her now-famous line, “How many anal scenes does it take to open a feminist art space?” Young made her place in the few areas of the sex industry I have no experience with: San Francisco, the mecca of sex worker culture; pro-subbing on Kink.com; and shooting dozens of anal scenes for mainstream porn. Although our experiences are different, I found myself nodding and occasionally clapping through every interview and article of hers I read over the years.
Usually, I am eager to read sex worker memoirs because of the ways that other peoples’ stories of sex work echo and offer new perspectives on my own experiences. Madison Young’s book was different: I had no idea what it was like to be a pro-sub porn star in a full time D/S relationship, and I wanted to know.
The first thing I noticed was the beauty and honesty of the writing. Young obviously has major skills with words and relating to an audience. She promises to lay her “heart bare, simple, raw, beating, human, and emotional with truth of honesty and vulnerability, fear and heroism,” and she delivers.
If you can read this, you’re too fancy to matter. (image courtesy of The New Inquiry)
Earlier this year, The New Inquiry published this quiz, “Are You Being Sex Trafficked?” which appeared in an earlier form here on Tits and Sass. Katha Pollitt hinged part of her “Why Do So Many Leftists Want Sex Work to Be the New Normal?” essay on the imagined qualities of TNI’s writers and audience:
Of course, if you are reading the New Inquiry, chances are you’re not being sex trafficked; if you’re a sex worker, chances are you’re a grad student or a writer or maybe an activist—a highly educated woman who has other options and prefers this one. And that is where things get tricky. Because in what other area of labor would leftists look to the elite craftsman to speak for the rank and file? You might as well ask a pastry chef what it’s like to ladle out mashed potatoes in a school cafeteria. In the discourse of sex work, it seems, the subaltern does not get to speak.
The problem is not that the subaltern was not getting to speak, but that Pollitt was unable to listen because of her own ideas about how trafficking victims should present. We asked Tara, the author of the quiz, to respond.
On April 2nd I was at the Freedom Network’s Human Trafficking Conference in San Francisco speaking to a group of law enforcement and service providers about how to do outreach to people who are trafficked in to the commercial sex trade. I was there as part of a federal program designed to offer the experience and expertise of sex trafficking victims like myself with the goal of improving services to other sex trafficking victims. The other survivor presenting and I both had extensive experience as youth involved in the sex trade, as adult sex workers, and as social service providers. We spoke of our experiences with law enforcement and service providers and made recommendations to those present about how they could best provide outreach to sex trafficking victims.
At the end, the facilitator flipped through our feedback forms and laughingly told us that one person thought that our presentation hadn’t been about sex trafficking at all. Apparently there are rules for being a good victim: 1. Victims should cry 2. They should talk about horrible things done to them by criminals, but not by the police 3. They should not have opinions, and 4. If they do have opinions, they should present themselves as traumatized enough so that those opinions are easily discountable. If victims don’t behave this way, their status as victims can be called into question. [READ MORE]
Tits and Sass contributor and wilderness expert Tara Burns has published an Amazon Single about her first two weeks as an escort in Alaska, and it’s free at Amazon.com today and tomorrow. She’s allowed us to publish this excerpt from her memoir. There are a lot of sex worker blogs out there, but Tara’s experiences are definitely unique. The first time I ever met her, she picked me up at the Kenai airport and let me live on her converted schoolbus for a week while we worked at a crazy rural titty bar with linoleum stages, plastic lawn chairs, and dogs running around in the club. That was probably a pretty dull place for her. Enjoy this excerpt and check out her book. Tara also says to our readers “They could write a Kindle book, too! It’s awesome passive income. Get our voices out there!”
I look at the camera he brought. It’s one of those old fashioned ones with a spot for a little tape. There is no tape in it, and he swears it’s not recording anything and he can’t get off without it. I don’t see any place for a little digital card or anything. He says that he used to have baby monitors, which the whores weren’t afraid of since they never record, but one day he got pulled over driving, and the floor on the passenger side was filled to overflowing with porn and baby monitors, so the cops thought he was a pedophile. They took him down to the station for questioning and he explained to them that he was not at all interested in children. Just that the only way he can get off is to watch prostitutes’ feet through a camera screen, leaning over to sniff them sometimes. The prostitutes didn’t let him use digital cameras or anything cause they didn’t want to be recorded. The police advised him to ditch the baby monitor and get an old camcorder like this with no tape. They were mean to him, too, the female detective kept asking if she had nice feet, and they all laughed at him.
First he rearranges the lamps in the room for optimal lighting, and then we sit on the edge of the bed and he sits on the floor. He points the camera at our feet and tilts the screen up so he can watch it. He sets one of my shoes next to him, and one of Mac’s shoes in his lap, both of which he sniffs deeply. He asks us to lie down and not look, he doesn’t want us seeing him. We would laugh. The poor guy is so embarrassed, and the worst part, I think, is that the whores who laughed at him probably didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. They just misread him as having a humiliation fetish. So we lie back, expecting him to start licking and sucking our feet, like most foot fetish guys. But nothing happens. We look at each other questioningly and whisper, “is he touching you?” “no, is he touching you?” [READ MORE]
Supporting a shopping habit or trying to catch up on bills?
When I said I’d create a flowchart of financial coercion in the sex industry for this site, I thought it’d be simple: the happy hooker at one end, the trafficked foreigner who’s forced to buy their freedom at the other end. After a little consideration, I figured it might be more like a chart or a line graph, but there seemed to be too many variables for that, too. What it really should be, I think, is a survey. Like in girly magazines, but at the end you’ll get a coercion score that’ll tell you how financially coerced you are. It’s fun to compare your score when you entered the industry to your score now. Ready? Here we go! [READ MORE]