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Assault, Consent, and Silence

It is nearly impossible to find a non-eroticized spanking picture.

Here’s the story: A well-to-do Virginian businessman takes needy women under his financial wing on the condition that they follow the rules of his “scholarship plan.” If they break these rules, which consist of limits on alcohol and drug intake, and requirements to stay in contact with their benefactor, they receive a spanking. (He’s inspired by “The Spencer Plan,” a system of domestic “discipline” intended to be used by a husband and wife.) All of the women involved are of legal age. Many of them work together at the restaurant he owns.

One day, the man accuses one of these women of stealing from him and fires her (as an employee and, presumably, as a “scholarship” recipient.) A week later, six of these women file charges of sexual assault. A scandal is born.

The Truth Will Come Out: An Interview With Jill Brenneman and Amanda Brooks

Bruises Brenneman sustained from one of the beatings she suffered at the hands of men hired by Isgitt. (Photo by Amanda Brooks via her blog, courtesy of Amanda Brooks and Jill Brenneman)
Bruises on Brenneman’s back from a beating she suffered at the hands of Isgitt’s hired men. (Photo by Amanda Brooks via her blog, courtesy of Amanda Brooks and Jill Brenneman)

Interview co-authored by Josephine and Caty

Content warning—the following contains descriptions of extreme injuries and rape suffered by two sex workers due to a campaign of violence by an abusive client, as well as an account of child abuse.

Jill Brenneman and Amanda Brooks are veterans and heroines of the sex workers’ rights movement.  As a teen, Brenneman suffered years of of brutal abuse in which she was coerced into working as a professional submissive. In the early aughts, Jill made an amazing conversion from membership in the prohibitionist movement to sex workers’ rights activism. She set up SWOP-EAST from the remains of an anti sex work organization she’d led. SWOP-EAST grew to be one of the most vital sex workers’ rights organizations of the era. Brenneman was also a frequent contributor to early sex workers’ rights blogs like Bound Not Gagged.

Amanda Brooks is the acclaimed author of The Internet Escort’s Handbook series, the first one of which she published in 2006. They served as an important resource for escorts advertising online back when there were few other how-to sources on the topic. She was also one of the earliest escort bloggers starting in 2005, writing entries brimming with eloquence and common sense at After Hours.

The two fell off the map recently.

When they returned, we were shocked to read Brooks’ blog post about what they’d endured: a campaign of terror by one of Brooks’ clients, affluent lawyer Percy LaWayne Isgitt. Isgitt—Brenneman and Brooks call him “Pig”—caused both Brenneman and Brooks severe brain injuries when his arrogance and negligence piloting a plane the three of them were in led to a catastrophic “hard landing.” Despite the fact that Brooks was clearly incapacitated and near death, Brenneman had to browbeat Pig into taking her to the hospital the next day. Once Brooks was checked in, Pig fraudulently signed in as her relative and attempted to control her treatment. Despite her still severely injured state, Brooks continued to see Pig as a client for two sessions after her hospitalization, in desperate need of money to pay for medical bills. When she finally tried to break ties with him, he hired people to make threatening phone calls to both women. In response, Brooks went into hiding, so Pig sent men to stalk, rape, and beat Brenneman on a number of occasions, trying to discover Brooks’ location. Neither the police, nor the many medical facilities that misdiagnosed them along the way, nor the personal injury lawyer they hired were any help to the two women against a deranged, abusive man with wealth and social capital.

The injuries Brenneman suffered from the plane crash combined with the injuries she sustained from the attacks led to the fatal exacerbation of her previous medical conditions. Her doctors have told her she has very little time left to live.

This story illustrates the insidious way institutions empower abusers to commit violence against sex workers. The only people they can often rely on in these situations are other sex workers. You can read the original account here and donate to their Giftrocket account using this email address: abrooks2014@hush.com. Donations will be shared equally between them to cover their respective medical costs.

Amanda, you write in your blog post, in reference to Jill’s past abuse:

To those who doubt, her stories are true. They’re things only men would think up and most of the time, it’s the mundane details that stand out the most to both of us. I’ve read stories from so-called trafficking victims who describe ridiculous “Satanic” rituals or elaborate set-ups. The truth is, the men who were Bruce’s [Jill’s captor’s] clients weren’t very bright, in my opinion, and they had a lot of the same stupid fantasies and beliefs that most vanilla clients do—only much darker and violent.

This factor plays into your story of how Pig hurt you both, too. There’s a voyeuristic undertone to the way people listen to stories of abuse. People expect the “elaborate set-ups,” and yet abuse is usually no different than other misbehavior in kind, if not in degree—abusers do it because they want to feel big, or because they care about themselves a lot more than they care about anyone else. How do you think the fact that often stories of abuse are mundane and banal makes it harder for victims to get help?

Jill Brenneman: People don’t want to believe the mundane stories, they want to believe the exotic stories. Like a wife who gets hit. Unless she’s put in the hospital, no one cares. Or she returns home because she has children. But the trafficking victim imported from Estonia gets all the attention.

Amanda Brooks: Because they’re too believable or not dramatic enough. [Pig] raped me twice, yet it’s not something most people acknowledge as rape. It even took me a while to realize that it was rape, despite how I felt about it. People like to parse situations down to the point where the only way it’s “real” is if it’s outlandish.

Jill, you were held captive by a sadist for three years in your teens, and forced to endure unimaginable abuse. As an adult you returned to sex work voluntarily to make a living, and then you went through this ordeal with Amanda at Pig’s hands. What unusual problems have you faced as a sex working abuse survivor? What can we do as a movement to make things better for the abuse survivors among us?

Jill: The ordeal that Amanda went through made me livid and still does.

Working as an abuse survivor led me to more abuse. I learned from [my captor and abuser] Bruce in the 80’s. Bruce was a cliche master sadist. There was never a sense of love or affection between him and I. I was an object. I did what I was was told. I was taught how to relate to clients. I overapplied this training as an adult. I willingly went back to work as a professional submissive. This was a place that I did not belong. Despite there being a 19 year gap between [my captivity and going back to] sex work, I did not belong in sex work —especially as a professional submissive. I needed the money to pay for very expensive subcutaneous blood thinners because of a clotting disorder. I needed to pay the rent, the car payment, food, care for the dog, etc. I took the work that came. I started off with two old pictures of myself, no website, no reviews, and took some pro-sub clients to make money when it was tight. I did not belong in sex work. I was still far too impacted from previous abuse to be doing it but I had no choice, I needed the money.

The most important thing the movement needs to do is work on decriminalization so that we have options.

Amanda: The movement truly doesn’t have the power to deal with this, unfortunately. Until the laws are changed, we never will.

“Pretty Woman” Is Real

Ahh, marital bliss.

If there’s one element Pretty Woman is most commonly maligned for, it’s the improbable ending of a street working prostitute whisked away by a filthy rich client. Civilians love to crow about how wildly unrealistic it is to think that a john will ever marry his sex worker and yeah, if you’re entering into sex work with the goal to use it as a dating service, you’re probably going to be a disappointed. That goes for clients and providers. But it’s not uncommon for sex workers to have romantic, unpaid relationships with men they first met as clients. I’ve been in just such a relationship for almost six years. And at last count, I know five married couples who fit the same bill. (I should stipulate that two of these are now divorced, which is consistent with the national average.) It’s not just escorts; strippers, too, can end up with a patron. Nor it is limited to folks who work indoors. A street worker I know spoke to me once about a burgeoning unpaid relationship with a former client, although she made it clear to me (and to him) that she had no intention of quitting work just because she began dating him.

That’s where Pretty Woman really gets it wrong: even when sex workers find a man willing to support them, they often want to keep working.

Same Bat Time: The Regulars Round Table, Part One

adifferentWhat do most sex workers, from cam girls to escorts, have in common? Their regulars! Whether they’re consistently annoying, consistently charming, or consistently forgettable, they’re certainly an enduring feature of our lives. So we got a stripper, a pro domme, and two escorts into an endless e-mail chain together to see what they came up with on the topic. The round table that follows is an edited version of that conversation. (Read the second part of this round table here.)

Who was your most memorable regular?

Josephine: My favorite was a squirrely little white guy named Sheldon. There are two words that describe him: horny and nerdy. Sheldon was about 5’4″, rail thin, and shamelessly sported a suede fedora (not the douchebag kind, the Indiana Jones kind). He’d breeze into the club about once every two weeks unannounced, skip buying a drink, and grab me for dances. While I danced he’d rattle off [the plot of] the latest fantasy or science fiction book he’d read. I gave him a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for his birthday and within a few days he e-mailed a proper book report. Sheldon was some sort of layman but he always wanted to be a writer. The most endearing thing he ever was did was write a short fantasy story about me. I can’t remember what it was about except that I was a mermaid princess and he ad’hered to a go’ofy fantas’y dialect that used lots of apos’trophes and acc’ents.

Leigh Alanna: For a couple of years, I’ve had a standing weekly appointment with an older regular. And I do mean regularevery week, Sunday night, eight o’clock. Even the staff in the deli nearby know me, and have a coffee waiting for me at 7:45. Still, we’ve always sent each other a confirmation e-mail sometime in the couple of days before. One Sunday morning, instead of waking up to a friendly “Hey, same bat-time, same bat-network?”, I got an e-mail from his daughter telling me that her father had had a fall and while he was fine, he was going to be in the hospital for a couple of days and wouldn’t be able to make our appointment. I thanked her for letting me know, and sent appropriate good wishes, but entirely lacked the stones to ask her (or later, him) who she thought she was e-mailing. Did she know she was writing to her dad’s dominatrix? Or was I some bright young mentee?

Ephemeral: Probably the nightclub guy. He was in finance, mid-forties, a young face that didn’t match a rapidly aging hairline. He loved to take me out to all the “sexy spots” (his words) in the Meatpacking District and LES. We would go out “late”10 PM. Which was great because I don’t know anyone who gets there before 1 AM. He drank way too much, and hated drinking alone. He was too tall for how bad his dancing was. Afterwards, he’d take me home to fuck while 80’s rock blasted from a sound system: “ITS SUCH A RUSH, YOU KNOW?”  The moment of giving a blowjob while the Eagles played and him saying this line is the only time I’ve ever felt ashamed of myself as a sex worker. He had no idea what he was doing with his life, but the Ivy League degree, and two story Manhattan apartment would suggest that he didn’t need to stop and re-evaluate. Just keep drinking, just keep trying to dance, keep buying hot girls to dance with him. He was constantly perplexed as to why I couldn’t stay the night for the same rate, because “we’re having so much fun!” I’ll never forget anything that infuriating.

Caty: My weirdest regulars were the ones I inherited when I first started working, from the group of women who trained me–the same dysfunctional frequent callers we all saw. You know, guys like the gambling addict who was the only one we all trusted to pay with a check, a guy who had what looked like elephantitis of the balls, who’d go through every outcall in total, eerie silence.

There was the pretentious ex-military officer whose dick was literally as big as a baby’s arm holding an apple. He’d boast, “Oooh, the girls are all afraid of it at first, but then they’re bouncing up and down on it like there’s no tomorrow!” My rule with him was that as soon as I said stop, he had to pull out no matter what. One time, I told him to get off me and he just kept keening, “Oh, baby, I’m almost there, I’m so close…” So in a display of hysterical strength, I flipped him off of me and he sailed over the bed ass over teakettle, landing headfirst into a lamp. After that I had his perfect obedience.

Then there’s Rick, the most entitled, whiny Jew boy I ever did meet—and having grown up in the Russian Jewish community, I know from whiny Jew boys. There’s nothing atypical or particularly memorable about him except for the fact that he’s everything that annoys me about clients taken to the nth degree. When I first started to see him he used to complain to the other escorts about me, because I wouldn’t massage his pasty white anus—”she has a shitty attitude!” I always wanted to point out that I might have a shitty attitude, but he had a shitty ass. Nowadays whenever I see him he always goes on at length about how FAT one of our mutual escort friends has gotten and how DISGUSTING it is. I always want to turn his face to the mirror to look at his washed out, chubby, bald self head on, but so far I’ve resisted the temptation. Rick is a pharmacist, but that’s never allowed me any drug-related advantages. He’s always wondering why he can’t get a date while complaining vociferously and at misogynistic length about every woman he meets over dating sites. He’s also the one client I ever worried might DIE while in session with mehe came in to see me once right after getting stung by a bee in the parking lot of my incall, and his allergies were so severe I thought I’d have to out him in order to call an ambulance for him for a few minutes till he gathered himself enough to drive himself to the ER. Death by allergies—so stereotypically whiny Jew boy, if you’ll pardon my self-hating anti-Semitism.

“Two and a Half Men” Meet a Prostitute

I don’t purposefully watch “Two and a Half Men,” but like many popular sitcoms, it eventually becomes part of the cultural atmosphere and thanks to the public ubiquity of TVs, even the unwilling breathe it in. I first caught wind of an episode involving a prostitute when I was with a client. (Of course.) He turned on the TV in his hotel’s sitting room and then we retired to the bedroom. It wasn’t long before I started hearing the sounds of “hooker!” floating in. I think my guy was too wrapped up in my feet—figuratively; my feet aren’t quite that big—to notice, but I was aware and slightly embarrassed. Related: this one time a client and I went to see Cedar Rapids during our long weekend and ended up sitting through scenes featuring a sweet, hotel hustling lady who, if memory serves, has the obligatory “you think I like going with all those different guys?!” moment. Awkward! Dear World: when I’m playing girlfriend to a client, I need you to erase any and all references to prostitution because it makes us both feel weird. Kthanx.

Anyway, the next time I happened to be in the vicinity of a TV tuned to “Two and a Half Men,” I had a feeling that fate was about to be kind and hit me with that “hooker!” episode again. And sure enough, it did. Surprisingly, it was not as terrible as I anticipated.