Politics

Victorian sex workers at a December 17th event (photo courtesy of Jane Green)

Participants at the Red Umbrella Rally, Festival of Sex Work, Melbourne 2013 (photo courtesy of the Scarlet Alliance Archives)

After the Sydney Morning Herald published an editorial promoting the Swedish model of criminalizing sex workers’ clients, exploiting the murder of Australian street sex worker Tracy Connelly to further an anti-sex worker agenda, many sex workers responded to the piece by writing to the news outlets that printed or re-printed it. Jane Green wrote a version of the editorial that appears below and sent it to both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. The Sydney Morning Herald didn’t respond or return phone calls. The Age did, eventually, but after two and a half weeks of discussions decided against running an edited version, indicating they’d provide better access to sex workers “next time.” We at Tits and Sass thank Jane for allowing us to post the what other outlets declined to publish.

As a Victorian sex worker, I looked on in horror at the article seeking to exploit the death of sex worker Tracy Connelly, published in the Sydney Morning Herald days before the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

It is horrifying and traumatizing to the sex worker community to have an article proposing the Nordic Model of criminalizing sex workers’ clients—proven to have devastating effects on sex workers’ health and safety—released on a day used to protest violence against sex workers. Horrifying, but not surprising.

Looking back on the month of sex worker Tracy Connelly’s death, July 2013, which encompassed four high profile sex worker deaths internationally, I am struck not just by the tone of the writing, but by what it highlights to me as a sex worker regarding what the media are willing to, or interested in, discussing. It tells me what is newsworthy about our lives.

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RIP Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar (photo via the Gothamist)

RIP Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar (photo via the Gothamist)

There are John Scarpas everywhere. There is a John Scarpa in every department of the federal government. There is a John Scarpa in every police department. Every four years, a John Scarpa is nominated to run for president. Our world is full of John Scarpas. The difference is that, unlike his doppelgangers, the actual John Scarpa stated the ethical beliefs that underlie the transphobia, whorephobia, and HIV criminalization policies carried out at every level of government around the globe out loud.

For those who missed it, John Scarpa was a Queens-based defense attorney for Rasheen Everett, the murderer of trans sex worker Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar. And while Everett acted out the hate in his heart by killing Gonzalez-Andujar for being transgender, his attorney acted out his own hate by way of his defense. From The Gothamist:

…defense attorney John Scarpa caught the ire of the judge when he argued against the victim’s character. “Shouldn’t that [sentence] [twenty five years] be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?” he reportedly asked, adding, “Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”

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nobadwomenTerra Burns runs the informative Sex Trafficking In Alaska site, which provides information on how Alaska’s sex trafficking laws harm the people they are supposed to protect and those who are in the sex industry by choice. This is a speech she will be giving today, December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

In Alaska, independent prostitutes and actual trafficking victims have been prosecuted under state and federal trafficking laws. Keyana Marshall, one of the featured cases on Terra’s site, is a victim of violent sex trafficking who was convicted under federal law of conspiring (with her trafficker) to traffick. You can listen to Keyana tell her story here.

A few years ago I was visiting a friend in Canada, where prostitution is basically legal. She was working with a collective of escorts—they worked together and shared the expenses of a workplace, advertising, and security. In the United States, they call this a sex trafficking ring and the women involved would be called felons, but in Canada they just call it common sense, more fun, and more safe.

So, we’re sitting around and the phone rings. It’s a woman who had been part of the collective but she’d gotten back together with a boyfriend and no one had heard from her in a while. She said she only had a minute to talk, that her boyfriend had just stepped out and he would hurt her if he knew she called. He had been keeping her in a hotel room, feeding her drugs, pimping her out and taking all the money.

This is the sort of sex trafficking that people need protection from. [READ MORE]

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Equality Now, Or Else?

by Parker on December 3, 2013 · 2 comments

in Activism, Politics

Meena Seshu (via her twitter)

Meena Seshu (via her twitter)

While Western-led feminist groups such as Equality Now continue to conflate consensual sex work with trafficking and violence, where do sex workers themselves  fit into concepts of feminism and gender equality, especially if they live in countries like India?

“When you are coming from a place like India, you have the whole caste system, stigma and discrimination to deal with.  The paradigm becomes all inclusive.  I wouldn’t talk about equality, I would talk about equity.  You cannot talk about equality when you have spaces so filled with unequal distribution of wealth and privileges,” suggested Meena Seshu, founder of SANGRAM, a women’s organization in India that supports sex worker self-organizing, when asked her thoughts on the subject.

Seshu, who also works closely with the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), considers herself a feminist, despite run-ins with feminist groups in India who labeled her a trafficker: “In the initial stages, they weren’t willing to accept that sex work is not violence.  If you are looking at sex work as violence, that stops the conversation with sex workers.  Sex workers were not willing to talk about violence against them with feminists.  They are against being victimized.  With feminists, their narrative is about the victimization of women.  Sex positive feminists were not willing to recognize the exchange of sexual services for money as part of sex positivism.”

In time, Seshu worked around these obstacles by simply listening to sex workers and supporting their work as a labor movement.  She had previously worked with Bidi workers’ (cigarette rollers) labor movement and saw potential in helping sex workers organize: “So our fight was just to give sex workers a voice.   The way we did this was to be very humble and say ‘look, we don’t know a damn thing.’ Previously, marketing targeted the client to use a condom.  Self-determination worked, giving sex workers condoms worked.”

SANGRAM, founded in 1992, is so successful that it was listed as a best practice model by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on HIV prevention for working with sex workers.  However, the situation became complicated when USAID stepped up its commitment to the the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Pledge, which required organizations receiving funds from USAID to sign a statement showing they did not “promote prostitution.”   Seshu could not comply, as supporting sex work as legitimate labor was the backbone of SANGRAM.  She declined the Pledge in 2005 and made plans to return funds for that year.  What she did not count on was having her name brought up by former House Representative Mark Souder as a trafficker: “I started freaking out.  Trafficking is a criminal offense.  It was very, very messy and it lasted many months.  The department in the U.S. that combats trafficking had labeled me a trafficker.”

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image via flickr user x-ray delta one

image via flickr user x-ray delta one

Editors’ Note: Today’s Dear Tits and Sass is unexpectedly timely considering recent events in Washington, D.C. Anonymous tweeter @NatSecWonk was outed as White House employee Jofi Joseph and summarily fired. But he didn’t have just one anonymous Twitter handle; it looks as though he is also behind @dchobbyist, the epitome of the worst kind of client, one who seeks to rank women numerically on TER while describing every perceived flaw in detail and considers haggling over price to be a point of pride. It seems only right that the kind of hubris it would take to think you could get away with an anon account from the White House would come from a “hobbyist.” So! On to our own national security questions.

Dear Tits and Sass,

Could you do a post expanding on a topic brought up by one of the articles you included in the Week in Links for September 27, about whether sex work (in that case, stripping) can keep someone from getting a security clearance? The article was great, but it leaves me with some questions especially because of the fact that stripping is legal, but other kinds of sex work are not. In general I’d love to hear any additional perspective that you guys can dig up.

I’m sure I’m not the only one out there worrying about this, but there are very few places that this kind of question can be asked, so I thank you sincerely for considering this as a post topic.

Best,
A [READ MORE]

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