Tara Burns

Tara Burns lives in Alaska, where she’s a board member of the Community United for Safety and Protection. She’s the author of the Whore Diaries series, and has written about sex work issues for AlterNet, VICE, The New Inquiry, and others. When she isn’t writing and lobbying, she’s making public records requests at the cutting edge of research by the people and for the people. Follow her on Twitter @THEecowhore


This isn't sex trafficking. (An image used in a campaign for anti-trafficking organization Voices for Dignity, by Flickr user dualflipflop)

This isn’t sex trafficking. (An image used in a campaign for anti-trafficking organization Voices for Dignity, by Flickr user dualdflipflop)

Sex trafficking is when evil men steal little girls from the mall and keep them chained to beds where they are forced to service 100 men a day. Sex trafficking is when you ask your husband to sit in the next room while you see a new client, just in case. Sex trafficking is when a child molester agrees to pay for sex with a hypothetical, nonexistent eight-year-old and then shows up to meet them with duct tape and handcuffs. Sex trafficking is when a client asks for a duo and you book an appointment for yourself and a friend. Sex trafficking is when you “conspire” with your rapist and kidnapper to torture yourself. Sex trafficking is when you place an escort ad online for yourself.

Words mean things. Sex trafficking is a legal term with many different definitions in different states and countries. The legal term has become confused with the common mainstream usage—which tends to involve people being forced into prostitution—and this has led to a lot of confusion all around. As journalists, our job is to be precise with language and provide accurate information to the public. When reporting on sex trafficking, or sex trafficking cases, consider describing what has been alleged or what the statute the person is being charged with actually says—because it rarely refers to people being forced into prostitution.

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(Screenshot of "Alaska State Troopers, VIce Squad"—a cop wipes a arrestee's hand after she's touched an undercover officer)

(Screenshot of Alaska State Troopers, Season 2, Episode 12: “Vice Squad”—a cop wipes an arrestee’s hand after she’s touched an undercover officer)

In the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report, released in November 2014, Alaska reported 648 prostitution arrests: 1 juvenile and 647 adults. This number is up from 38 arrests in 2012 and 69 in 2011. How could prostitution arrests have jumped so much in just one year?

They didn’t. Alaska maintains a report entitled Crime In Alaska, based on the same numbers that are submitted to the FBI for the Uniform Crime Report. In Crime In Alaska 2013, released in 2014, the state reports only 46 prostitution arrests in 2013: 22 sellers and 24 buyers of sex. This number seems correct: the Anchorage Police Department reported 41 prostitution arrests, and the state made five prostitution charges in 2013.
Stephen Fischer, an FBI spokesman, explained that the issue was caused by “an error for entering data.”

Just what kind of trouble can 602 imaginary prostitutes created by a typo by the FBI cause?

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Anchorage, Alaska (via Flickr user paxson_woelber)

Anchorage, Alaska. (image via Flickr user paxson_woelber)

On April 4, 2014, Anchorage Police Department officers responded to a report of a “hysterical female.”  The woman reported that she had lost her purse and she believed her coworker had taken it.  In response, she’d threatened to tell the police about the “prostitution ring” they were involved in, and her coworker had threatened to assault her if she did.  Three months later, officers with the Alaska State Trooper’s Special Crimes Investigative Unit decided to follow up with that “hysterical female.”  They did so by flying to the town where she was then working independently and booking an escort session with her.

“Oh baby,” an officer can be heard moaning in a recording of the encounter,“I’ve never had that before.”

Moments later, other members of the Special Crimes Investigative Unit can be heard entering the room and putting the woman in handcuffs.  Under Alaska state law, which has redefined all prostitution as sex trafficking, the woman is a sex trafficking victim.  In the incident report, she is listed as a victim.  She called 911 and reported that she was, by their definition, a sex trafficking victim, and they chose to follow up on that by what sounded like having sexual contact of some sort with her during a prostitution sting operation. [READ MORE]

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via flickr user STML

(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]

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Daddy (2014)

by Tara Burns on June 13, 2014 · 4 comments

in Books, Porn, Reviews

adaddycoverMadison 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.

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