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A Tale of Two Petitions: CATW’s Amnesty Open Letter Fail

Why listen to us when you could listen to Meryl Streep? (Photo by Flickr user mostribus84)
Why listen to us when you could listen to Meryl Streep? (Photo by Flickr user mostribus84)

On July 22, a long list of prohibitionists, working through the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, released an open letter to Amnesty International as part of their long-running fight to stop them from officially adopting a pro-decriminalization of sex work stance. The letter urged the organization to vote against a draft proposal supporting decriminalization at their International Council meeting in Dublin this coming week. Besides roping in many of the usual suspects in anti-sex work circles—Janice Raymond, Julie Bindel, Rachel Moran, Robin Morgan, Meagan Tyler, etc.—the petition sought celebrity endorsements in an attempt to use fame to advance its cause. And sign on the celebrities did: Lena Dunham, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emma Thompson, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Kline, Christine Baranski, and Chris Cooper were among the more prominent names included.

When I first read that list, besides feeling like half of my favorite films had just been ruined for me, I was also really worried. People look up to these names. Who would listen to us in the sex workers’ rights movement when they could listen to Meryl Streep? The battle to support Amnesty International’s proposed stance has been a long and draining one for sex workers internationally, and it saw some particularly nasty fights here in Australia when prohibitionists tried to shout down sex workers at Amnesty Australia’s annual general meeting last July. As absurd as it was that a bunch of Hollywood’s most privileged could consider their voices about our oppression more important than our own, there was a lot of power and money in that list of names, and I was concerned that it might actually shift the course of Amnesty’s vote.

Annie Sprinkle and the Founding of December 17th

photo by Julian Cash

Sex work activist Annie Sprinkle was the mind behind the original International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. After the conviction of “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway, Sprinkle and activists from SWOP decided that a holiday was necessary to commemorate people in our community who have been the victims of violence, and to draw the public’s attention to the danger of working without legal protection and under harsh societal stigma.

Eight years later, the holiday is unfortunately as poignant as ever, as the Long Island serial killer has been occupying headlines for the past year. Annie spoke with me about the origins of December 17th, and the most memorable moments in her several decades of activism.

From SWOP’s Official Statement on PWL

One of the most disappointing aspects of this story has been AIM’s response. While quick to defend their own organization, calling themselves victims of a security breach comparable to the hacking of the Pentagon and virulently noting that not all the information on the site came from them specifically, there has been no discernible effort made to notify the victims that their information has been made public. […] Sex workers want a medical center tailored to the specific needs of the sex industry, including protection of anonymity.”

Read the entire press release here.

Fundraisers For Sex Workers Struggling Post-SESTA

Editor’s note: Inclusion on this list does not indicate that Tits and Sass is endorsing a particular fund.

Newwhoreizons is “a wealth redistribution club by [sex workers] for [sex workers].” $newwhoreizons on cash.me to donate, newwhoreizons on a private Instagram account for information—DM to request to join the club or ask for help.

Lysistrata is a member-led sex worker fundraising collective which originally formed after the Backpage adult ad closures. They maintain a standing emergency fund for marginalized sex workers as well as promoting and signal boosting individual fundraisers and events. You can donate on Paypal, Venmo, squarecash, or directly through their website. They also have a monthly donation option. You can request emergency assistance over email at lysistratamccf@gmail.com.

Note: Both the organizations above have stated that they are currently receiving more requests for help than donations.

The Black Sex Worker Collective is hosting its first community strategy meeting this coming Saturday, April 15th. Non-Black workers may attend as long as they don’t take up space and make sure to allow Black sex workers to speak and lead. You can donate to the collective here, tax-free through their fiscal sponsor Project Prosper.

CUSP in Alaska is raising money for street outreach supplies to help the many Anchorage workers who’ve been driven into street-based work since this SESTA-fueled series of ad platform closures. They’re going to start a needs-assessment program, and if they receive enough money, they will be expanding their efforts into subsidizing workers’ phone bills.

The Third Wave Foundation is starting a cross-class, multiracial, intergenerational giving circle for women, queer, and trans people with experience in the sex trade to raise money for sex worker-led organizations. Third Wave is framing this as a response to silence from the funding community in general to the passage of SESTA. Participation in the first round of the giving circle will be confined to the NYC area and the deadline for application is April 15th. They are specifically encouraging people of color as well as working class and low-income people to apply for these stipended fellowships. The circle will begin with $150K already raised and fundraise from there—it looks like a promising way for low-income and marginalized sex workers to access philanthropic resources.

As you can see, this list is a bit thin so far. Readers, feel free to link any other fundraisers you’re aware of for sex workers hit hard by SESTA in the comments. 

 

 

Selling Sex Sort of Ruined My Life—All The More Reason I Support Sex Worker Rights

Do I have a target on my head?

When I first came out in print as a sex worker, it was pretty much decided by everyone that I was an idiot. That, or an opportunist and/or an attention whore—a fact one feminist blog called “disgusting.” In the comments sections of articles I have written, it is widely accepted that no one would pay to have sex with me and that I ought to shut the fuck up. I am frequently accused of making it all up. I’ve been insulted and undermined in every way and yet, amidst the hate mail, the most damaging criticism I’ve ever received came not from a New York Post reader or even a radical feminist (although I got hate mail from them, too) but from another advocate, a sex worker, someone I knew.

“Hi Melissa:

I hope you’re well. I read your Salon.com article. I appreciate that you’re sharing your story and advocating for sex workers’ rights. And I sympathize with your struggles.

I want to share a concern with you. In this article you make a statement about sex work, particularly prostitution being work that relies on dishonesty. In [an article published on Huffington Post] you similarly made a statement that the industry is “soul bankrupting.”

I can see how this may have been true for you, but it’s certainly not the case for all of us. For someone who is out of the business I can see how these statements would seem harmless. But for those of us still working, these are exactly the concepts that we’re trying hard to dismantle—the idea that we are somehow emotionally or intellectually compromised because we do this work.

I would never ask you not to speak your own truth. But I do think it would be helpful if these statements were framed in such a way that it’s clear this was only your experience, and not broad-sweeping truths about the business. Many of us come to this work honestly and operate from a place of truth and compassion. We deserve respect for this work. It’s problematic for an “expert” to portray us as liars with bankrupted souls. It’s especially hurtful when a colleague who presents herself as a dedicated advocate takes this stance.

Respectfully,

[redacted]