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Alissa Afonina. (Photo by Twitter user carnalcinema, courtesy of Alissa Afonina.)

Alissa Afonina. (Photo by Twitter user carnalcinema, courtesy of Alissa Afonina.)

In 2008, high school student Alissa Afonina, her mother Alla Afonina, and her brother were in a disastrous car accident on the Trans-Canada highway, the result of her mother’s boyfriend Peter Jansson’s reckless driving running the car off the road and overturning it. Both Alissa and her mother suffered brain injuries. Alla, a Russian immigrant with a degree in chemical engineering, began to have trouble with basic arithmetic and was unable to keep her job as a bookkeeper. Alissa, a bright student with film making aspirations prior to the accident, began the 12th grade displaying problems with impulse control, following directions, memory, energy level, and social appropriateness in class. She dropped out of school to finish grade 12 at home, and was able to only briefly attend college. Psychiatric evaluation revealed that she didn’t have the ability to maintain most employment.

Around 2013, Alissa Afonina became a pro domme in order to support herself, working under the name Sasha Mizaree. In January 2015, the British Colombian Supreme Court finally awarded Afonina and her mother 1.5 million in damages for loss of employment opportunities. Most reporting on this story has taken the court case and salaciously interpreted it as “BRAIN DAMAGE TURNED HER INTO A SEX MANIAC DOMINATRIX!” The following is a condensed and edited version of the e-mail conversation Afonina and I had to clear up the whorephobic hype.

Can you talk about the importance of sex work as an option for disabled people?

Sex work should be decriminalized. The fact is, many disabled or otherwise marginalized people need this as an option, and it makes no sense to take [it] away or make it more dangerous for sex workers to screen clients (which is what happens when you have the Swedish model for example) without offering alternatives.

I am thankful that in my area I was able to work without any legal issues. That is a freedom that everyone should have, disabled or not. However, people with limited options especially need that freedom.

When it comes to brain injuries, what one aspect of your condition do you wish the public were more educated about? How would you instruct our readers to be sensitive to people suffering from the sort of injuries you have?

A huge thing is that people think you need to “look” disabled for it to be “real.” For example, if I had a scar on my face but had no physical or mental difficulties, people would probably feel much more automatically accepting of the reality of my injury. It’s rather backwards since the brain is such an important organ and even small changes in it can have devastating effects, but still, time and time again it comes down to me not looking the way people imagine a disabled person should look.

Another huge thing is how against medication people are when it comes to emotional problems. I have been told countless times by people with zero medical training that I should look for more “natural” alternatives and get off antidepressants ASAP. Can you imagine someone telling a person to get off insulin or their heart meds? But when it comes to things like antidepressants, everyone thinks they’re an expert. Truth is, I had a hard enough time accepting that I need a pill in order to function, and don’t need anyone else doubting me.

Lastly, I wish everyone who got a concussion of any kind would pressure their doctor to do an actual MRI, not just a CT scan. I had a CT scan done when the accident happened and it didn’t show soft tissue damage. Only an MRI did a year later. The only reason that was even done was because my mom took charge of the situation, and a lot of people I talk to seem to think that concussions aren’t a big deal.

As you wrote to me in our initial e-mails, the way the media framed the quotes from the judge and your lawyers in your case was “done specifically to support the sensationalism.” In most coverage on your case, the judgement is interpreted to imply that only someone who was incapable of making “correct decisions” would ever choose to do sex work, rather than sex work being the most rational economic option for someone who’d suffered a brain injury which made it impossible for them to earn a degree or work at a nine-to-five job. How would you retell the story the media tried to tell for you?

The judge’s comment [“the plaintiff argues that it [her pro-domme work] shows a lack of correct thinking on the part of Alissa”], at least how I understood it, had to do with lack of safety measures implemented for my work. That part is very true as I failed to have even the most basic safety measures such as texting a friend. The judge also made comments about how he understood my financial needs and he actually declined the request to open the trial when the defense brought in “new” evidence showing that I am still working. This leads me to believe his comments were not meant to be sex worker negative.

My brain injury is supported by far more than just the sexual symptoms, which is all the media decided to focus on. The truth is I have brain scans, countless assessments and [a] history of behavior that is totally congruent with my type of brain injury. I very much wish that my story was just as readable to people if it was not full of flashy sexual context to spark their enthusiasm. I would love for people to be [just as] interested in being educated about mental illnesses and brain injuries.

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mggSB

In 2011, ahead of the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas Attorney General (and current governor) Greg Abbott announced that “The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” Thus were launched a thousand stories about sex workers and sex traffickers flocking to Super Bowl host cities to serve Super Bowl attendees, who were apparently possessed of a massive appetite for their services.

Before the Super Bowl was referred to as a nexus of trafficking, it was hyped as a destination for sex workers who traveled of their own accord to profit from the free-spending, mostly male fans. There are still plenty of stories about strippers flocking to town to dance during game week, and reports on spikes in escort advertising.

But when Abbott used the word “trafficking,” the trend shifted to reporting on the even more dramatic imagery of sex slaves being forced to work in Super Bowl cities. It was a deliberate shift in language and while for a time sex worker activists were expected to note that of course they opposed sex slavery, which was totally different from their consensual involvement in sex work, it has become clear that most legislation targeted at sex trafficking is merely anti-prostitution legislation that creates harsher legal penalties for things that are already illegal (slavery and sexual assault are already crimes, as is prostitution in almost all of the United States).

“Trafficking” is a powerful word, and its use by activists was no accident. The Arizona Republic published a story in January about its use, quoting noted arrest-based diversion program Project ROSE founder Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz as saying “It just has been a grammar change” from “prostitution.” Sepowitz goes on to say that “I believe every adult (prostitute), I believe almost every single one of them was trafficked.” [READ MORE]

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image via Flickr user Kate Gardiner

image via Flickr user Kate Gardiner

In chronological order, here are the ten biggest international sex work stories. See yesterday’s post for the U.S. stories.

1. Amnesty International Considers Supporting Decriminalization
In January, a leaked Amnesty International internal document about the human rights benefits of decriminalizing sex work set off protests from anti-sex worker activists and support from sex workers and public health workers. Amnesty swiftly moved to say “gotta hear both sides,” and are not expected to issue another public position until next summer.

2. New Zealand Brothel Worker Wins Sexual Harassment Case
New Zealand’s Human Rights Review Tribunal awarded damages in March to a woman who had filed a sexual harassment case against a Wellington brothel owner.

3. Indian Sex Workers Boycott Elections
After years of being ignored by the political elite, Kolkata sex workers boycotted the General Elections en masse. They demanded status as employees so that they too may receive government benefits and the removal of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act.

4. Somaly Mam’s Fraud Covers Newsweek
Somaly Mam, the anti-trafficking darling for the daytime television set, is a fraud who eventually resigned from her own organization.

5. Brothel District Cleanups Spark Protests
Rio’s public prosecutors launched extensive brothel raids to “clean up” the city for the World Cup in June. Earlier this year, though, when Chinese police cracked down hard on the southern city of Dongguan’s sex industry, publicly parading suspects barefoot and handcuffed through the streets, they received international ridicule and criticism for the move. And when the Indonesian government tried to close down the Dolly sex district in Surabaya, East Java, hundreds of sex workers rose up in protest and sex work continued to thrive online and underground in Surabaya.
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(Photo via Flickr user doug88888)

(Photo via Flickr user doug88888)

In chronological order, here’s what we deemed the most noteworthy sex work stories of 2014 in the United States. Come back tomorrow for the biggest international stories.

1. Belle Knox
In February, Duke’s student newspaper published an interview with a porn performer who was was outed to her classmates at Duke by fellow student Thomas Bagley. She was met with death threats and a three ring media circus once her performing name, Belle Knox, became public. In response, she reinvented herself as an advocate for sex workers’ rights, writing opinion pieces in various venues and speaking at the Toledo International Human Trafficking conference this year about whore stigma and sex worker exclusionary feminists. She also inspired an episode of Law & Order: SVU.

2. The Urban Institute Study
The government-funded Urban Institute study of sex work published in March (hey, look, it calls for more funding for law enforcement!), The Hustle, painted a sensational picture of the commercial sex economy where pimps can make $33,000 a week manipulating sex workers into work and inspired a hundred stories about the relative strength of the sex industry economy in U.S. cities. One problem: the study was extremely narrow, relying on a sample of only 36 sex workers, most of whom had already been incarcerated or were in a diversion program.

3. Monica Jones
In April, a Phoenix court found Monica Jones guilty of manifesting prostitution. Jones had been arrested during a sweep conducted by Project ROSE, a prostitution diversion program jointly administered by the Phoenix PD and Dominique Roe-Sepowicz of the Arizona State School of Social Work. Jones, herself a student of social work at ASU and an activist, attracted international attention when she spoke out about her arrest and experience with the sweep. Sex work activists, transgender community activists, and the ACLU all called for attention to the problems with ROSE, the crime of “walking while trans,” and the language of Arizona’s manifestation of prostitution statute. She is appealing her conviction and was recently deported from Australia for allegedly violating the work conditions of her visa while traveling for her studies. In November, Jones told the Best Practices Policy Project blog that Project ROSE will be discontinued.

4. No Condoms As Evidence
New York sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Project was one of the primary supporters of the campaign to stop the NYPD from using condoms as evidence, which achieved a measure of success in May when they announced they would no longer use them as evidence in prostitution cases. They still may be used as evidence in trafficking cases, however.

5. MyRedbook.com
MyRedbook.com and SFRedbook.com, two Bay Area sex work advertising and discussion forums and invaluable tools to thousands of sex workers, were seized by the FBI in June. The site operators have plead guilty to charges of using the mail and the internet to facilitate prostitution.

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Faithfully bringing you media by and for sex workers since 2011. (Photo by Flickr user carterse, "Winston Retrieves The News")

Faithfully bringing you media by and for sex workers since 2011. (Photo by Flickr user carterse, “Winston Retrieves The News”)

1. “The Erasure of Maya Angelou’s Sex Work History,” by Peechington Marie, 5/29

2. “The Fifth Annual Vagina Beauty Pageant: A Judge’s Notes,” by Elle, 8/8

3. “Discussing Other People’s Lives: Social Work and Student Sex Workers,” by Annie O’Neill and Adrienne Graf, 4/11

4. “I Don’t Care About Clients,” by Olive Seraphim, 2/19

5. “Stop AB1576: Compulsory Condom Use Won’t Make Porn Performers Safer,” by Cyd Nova, 5/20

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