The past week certainly was a banner one for record lows in sex work journalism, wasn’t it?
Somewhere underground, in a cave filled with rats, three witches are convening. The witches—Rachel Moran, Meghan Murphy, and Lena Dunham—are frantic, distressed. They sense trouble. They’re panicking.
Murphy stirs the bubbling witches’ cauldron dutifully. Moran attempts to remain poised and she recites a dark incantation. Dunham merely observes, eager to absorb the methods of her seasoned sisters.
Murphy nods towards Moran, who unfurls an entire Sunday New York Times and angrily thrusts the paper into the cauldron.
“I have called this conclave because a serious problem is developing,” Murphy snarls. “Something has happened.” She glowers. “The narrative is…shifting.”
In the early 00s when I was in journalism school, my professors were feebly trying to bestow me and my fellow students with the skills required to work in print media. Sure, they said, the future of journalism is online. But none of them could quantify what that meant or how to teach it. The school’s curriculum was a great foundation, I guess, but by the time I was done, my skill set was already outdated. I was a media dinosaur.
So I studied Gawker Media. Gawker, and Gawker’s sister sites, presented the framework for what writing online could look like—objective and sarcastic. I suspect anyone who has ever dabbled in independent publishing online is feeling a bit sentimental this week. Almost every writer has a favorite Gawker story. They certainly remember the Gawker story they were most scandalized by.
One thing I think Gawker and its sister sites deserve credit for is consistently covering sex work and giving sex workers bylines.
Murder in the Bayou, by Ethan Brown
Eight murdered woman from Jefferson Davis parish in Louisiana had two things in common: a background in drugs and/or sex work. The police blamed a serial killer. But Brown discovered something else the victims had in common: they had all worked as informants for law enforcement of some kind. The rampant police misconduct Brown uncovers in his careful reporting illustrates that the people who should have protected those women are partially responsible for their deaths.
Badge of Dishonor: Top Oakland Police Officials Looked Away as East Bay Cops Sexually Exploited and Trafficked a Teenager, by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Two reporters expose one of the most extreme examples of law enforcement exploitation when their investigation reveals that an alarming number of police officers slept with the same sex working youth in Oakland, California.
“We Can Help One Another”: Drug Use, Survival Sex, And Hope Among Afghanistan’s Marginalized Women, by Michelle Tolson
Michelle Tolson manages to obtain raw, poignant interviews with a mostly invisible population, illustrating why gender-specific support is even more vital for sex working and/or drug using women in Afghanistan in light of problems like the strictures of short-term marriage contracts, the lack of legitimate income sources for women, and heightened stigma and victim-blaming.
The Truth About the Biggest Sex Trafficking Story of the Year, by Elizabeth Nolan Brown
Innocent men are criminalized while migrant workers are called victims. Spoiler: the police exaggerated—when they weren’t outright lying.
Daniel Holtzclaw: Lawsuit Claims Police “Covered Up” Sexual Assault Complaint, by Molly Redden [Content warning: descriptions of sexual assault]
The Guardian details how the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma cop rapist Holtzclaw’s victim Jamie Ligons maintains that the Oklahoma City Police Department was well aware of Holtzclaw’s assaults. They’d received complaints from many of his Black, low-income, sex-working and/or drug-using victims as early as 8 to 10 months before his suspension from the force. But it was only after Ligons, a woman with no record who had a “familial relationship” with the department, made her complaint that the department finally took decisive action.
The Throwaways: How Detroit is becoming a flashpoint for violence against transwomen, by Allie Gross
A spate of deadly violence in Detroit forces us to examine exactly how hard trans women of color have to work to survive.
The NYPD Arrests Women for Who They Are and Where They Go — Now They’re Fighting Back, by Melissa Gira Grant
New York’s Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in Prostitution law gives the NYPD clearance to surveil, stereotype, target, and arrest women as possible sex workers—most of whom are low-income, black, and gender nonconforming.
The Audition, by Sydney Brownstone [Content warning: descriptions of sexual assault]
Brownstone painstakingly traces the roots of an elaborate and long-running faux porn recruitment scheme, in which a photographer invented a friendly adult film agent woman persona to scam vulnerable young women into sleeping with him. His rapes led one victim to attempt suicide.
Threadbare, by Anne Elizabeth Moore
A vital condemnation of the global garment industry that illustrates (literally! it’s a comic!) its questionable relationship with anti-trafficking NGOs.
The Disturbing Trend of Vigilante Attacks On Sex Workers, by Frankie Mullin
All of Mullin’s sex work reporting in Vice this year, from her examination of an anti-sex work charity misrepresenting their research on a small sample group of survival workers to portray all sex workers as poorly paid and desperate to her piece on October’s Operation Lanhydrock and the history of raids on migrant massage parlor workers in London’s Soho and Chinatown over the past few years, has been uniformly excellent. But perhaps her best this year was this article on the under-reported phenomenon of vigilante attacks against sex workers cropping up throughout the UK and Ireland. To follow this story, Mullin spoke to outreach centers as well as individual sex workers and gathered the few statistics that were available. She even spoke to a man who started a Facebook thread online in support of a menacing brothel protest in Belfast’s Donegal Pass, in which people posted comments advocating “ethnic cleansing” and “a night of the long knives.” The author ties all this reportage together by considering the utility of extending the Merseyside Model, in which crimes against sex workers are counted as hate crimes, as well as pointing out the connection between the violent rhetoric of criminalization and these vigilantes acts.
How Canada’s Immigration Laws Make Migrant Sex Workers’ Jobs More Dangerous, by Brigitte Noel
Pulling together telling quotes from interviews with representatives of Immigration and Citizenship Canada and Canada’s Border Services Agency, as well as with Asian migrant sex worker advocacy organization Butterfly’s president Elene Lam, Brigitte Noel outlines how Bill C-36 and immigration policies combine to persecute and deport immigrant sex workers.
Pizzagate Rumors Falsely Link Death Of Sex-Worker Advocate To Nonexistent Clinton Probe, by Glenn Kessler
This Washington Post writer employs the paper’s penchant for rigorous fact-checking in service of sex worker rights advocate Monica Petersen’s memory. Petersen was a brilliant researcher who traveled to Haiti for her work critiquing the trafficking narrative. But after Pizzagate blew up, a fresh spate of fake news painted her suicide death there as retaliatory murder by the Clinton Foundation for an anti-trafficking investigation against them—an investigation Petersen never conducted.
Impunity Has Consequences: The Women Lost To Mexico’s Drug War, by Nina Lakhani
Lakhani’s reporting reveals that many sex workers contracted for political events and private parties with cartel members and government officials have gone missing along with thousands of other women in Mexico. The theory is that these drug war victims were disappeared because they knew too much about the connection between high-level drug dealers and corrupt politicians. These women are vulnerable to both abduction and femicide by the cartels and illegal imprisonment and torture by the security forces.
Why Are Strippers More Heavily Vetted Than Uber Drivers?, by Susan Elizabeth Shepard
Same labor model, vastly different regulations. An explanation.
The new normal: why television has chosen to humanize sex workers
The headline says it all, folks. And yet, when the author attempts to answer her own question, it gets worse: “Sex sells, and it always has. But now being woke sells, too. By humanizing these characters, by providing them with a rich inner life – and, therefore, a backstory to and a reason for all the fucking – we can justify watching them fuck.”
How Sex Workers Are Fighting Back Against Trump
Intrepid reporter digs deep to discover that, golly gee, sex workers are just like other normal people organizing against the President-elect.
I applied for a job at Nevada’s most famous brothel
This set up just won’t die, no matter how much we want it to—every six months or so, like clockwork, we’re treated to yet another undercover journalist’s shocking revelations on the scant time she did sex work in order to write an article. We have Gloria Steinem’s original 1963 Show Magazine sex work tourist account of being a Playboy Bunny for eleven days to blame for all the examples of this genre we’ve endured since. But even Steinem managed to make it through the application process…which this author failed to do. Oh, but she did inform the madam that she has a stripper friend! I don’t know if that counted for or against her.
Near impossible to stop cops bribing sex workers, Parliament told
In uniquely honest headlines. Read “rape and blackmail” for “bribe,” btw.
Judge orders client of teenage prostitute to buy her books on women’s dignity
The hapless client was required to buy the young woman works by Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Anne Frank. I read Mrs Dalloway as a teenager and still ended up becoming an escort, so maybe there’s something tragically wrong with my reading comprehension.
Webcamming: the sex work revolution that no one is willing to talk about
No one is willing to talk about it, except the authors of a gazillion salacious pieces on camming that preceded this one! Columbusing sex work seems alive and well as a source of countless pitches moving into 2017.
My roommate, the prostitute
This affectless recollection of what a huge inconvenience his Backpaging roommate’s overdose death was for the author might just be able to claim the title of the year’s most dehumanizing writing on sex workers. We don’t know—there’s a lot of competition there.
Sex robots could over-exert their human lovers, academics warn
The ubiquity of pieces hand-wringing over the ethics of sexbot lurv has become a problem over the past two years, but the trend may have reached its apotheosis in the charming image this article evokes of robots literally fucking us to death.
The porn star who went to Iran for a nose job
That’s it, guys, that’s the story.
Why is Pokémon Go like prostitution?
Pokémon Go as an analogy for sex trafficking? Nailed it.
Daniel Holtzclaw raped at least 13 women, many of whom were sex workers, as an Oklahoma city police officer. SB Nation’s profile of him was so horrendous that the website took the unorthodox measure of pulling it the same day.