Prostitution

Annie Sprinkle: a woman who needs to get back in touch with her movement rather than speaking over it (Photo by Creatrix Tlara, via her flickr and the Creative Commons)

Annie Sprinkle: a woman who needs to get back in touch with her movement rather than speaking over it (Photo by Creatrix Tlara, via her flickr and the Creative Commons)

As a general rule, I absolutely love being called “adorable.” It reaffirms a lifetime of well-intentioned cheek pinches and makes me feel like I still look youthful as I approach 30. But being an adorable person is a very different thing than being part of an adorable movement. So when Annie Sprinkle took to Facebook to chastise sex workers who decided to “act up” at a conference called “Fantasies that Matter–Images of Sex Work in Media and Art,” and used condescending terms like “adorable” and “well intentioned” to describe sex workers who seek a voice in discourses about them, well, I got just adorably incensed.

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(Image via St James Infirmary's flickr)

(Image via St James Infirmary’s flickr)

I have experienced a lot of abuse in my life. The realization of each instance was a gradual process, despite how accustomed I should be to identifying it by now, despite how thoroughly I understand the dynamics, the signs, the underbelly of the beast. I have always believed, since I was 18 years old, that talking about the abuse was not only cathartic but a small step towards ending the silence surrounding it. It’s not my fault, so why should I be ashamed? Why should I protect abusers with my silence? Still, the realization that I am in fact someone who was forced into the sex industry, that group of silenced victims fauxmanists and policy makers alike claim to care so much about, was a realization that happened in stages. It was a slow process right until I was shouted down by a sex worker exclusionary radical feminist because my views on sex work and decriminalization weren’t taking into account the lives of people who were forced or coerced into the industry or abused in it and unable to leave. And I was livid, because that is my story.

The definition of what constitutes sex slavery and sex trafficking is intentionally blurry. Obfuscating the reality of sex industry abuse is a deliberate tactic utilized to attack the industry in general. Most people I know imagine trafficking victims to be forced to travel from South East Asia or Eastern Bloc nations in terrible conditions to arrive in affluent countries where they can be bought and sold as objects by sadistic rapists while being kept under lock and key. In truth, NGOs and governments usually define trafficking as involuntary participation in the sex trade. In essence, the term sex trafficking is a misnomer; the “trafficking” itself may be no more than a 15 minute drive from home to the brothel, like it was for me. It’s a phrase that brings up very specific associations that are generally inaccurate.

By the definition above, I guess I’m a trafficked person. Wider definitions also include underage sex workers, so a lot of people I know who started before they were 18 years old are as well. This is fairly well understood in most sex worker activism and yet there seems to be no emphasis in our movement on acknowledging and supporting survivors who enter the industry through force or coercion. Through describing some of the difficulty of my experience within activist circles, I hope to be able to offer some insight as to how to better support all members of our community while tackling head on the erroneous idea that antis are trying to help survivors within the industry.

When I was 21, I went to a queer event at my university and met a bunch of people, including a few sex workers. We hung out, chatted, and exchanged Facebook info. I went home and told my partner about the experience. I was primarily interested in talking about the workshop I’d run and the friendships I’d made but my (now ex) long term boyfriend was fascinated with the idea of my becoming a hooker. During our relationship he’d visited various brothels a number of times (though he’d sworn he wasn’t doing that anymore) so I guess at that point he knew more about the industry than I did. Behind my back, he began talking to my friends on Facebook through my account, pretending to be me, asking about the work and how to get into it. Meanwhile, he would bring up the idea whenever the issue of money came up—which it often did, with him being a meth addict—when we were in bed together, really any time he could. When his cajoling, against the backdrop of his verbal, sexual and physical violence didn’t work, he delivered an ultimatum: if I didn’t start hooking, he would start cooking meth again. I had been through this before: visits from the cops at all hours of the night; waking up and walking into my living room with ammonia gas filling the house my children were sleeping in; strangers coming through the door and cutting up, weighing and bagging ice in the kitchen; and his escalating violence under the influence of his constant use and paranoia. It wasn’t something I could go through again. The potential money I could be making working with a friend at the parlor, $100 to $500 a night, seemed like a much better choice. He was already using my bank card to take all of my money to the point where a friend of mine had to steal a container of formula so I could feed my daughter because my ex spent my last $50 on half a point. Sex work seemed like an out. And you know what? It was.

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Photo taken by Silvia Escario

Visual approximation of Ms. Harm Reduction back in the day. (Photo taken by Silvia Escario.)

Dear Ms. Harm Reduction,
I’m an escort with an Oxycontin habit. For the most part I can plan ahead and maintain, but sometimes supply runs out and I have to go to work when I’m in withdrawal. I serve a middle class clientele, and I’d lose clients if they found out I was a drug user. I’m also afraid some of them might even become violent if they discovered I was a “junkie.” How do I hide the tell tale signs of dopesickness while working?

Best,
Sniffling Isn’t Cute y’Know

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(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

Prose & Lore is a literary journal published by the New York sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Project. Memoir stories about sex work are collected in two issues per year (Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer). We at Tits and Sass have been following Prose and Lore since the journal began, and the fourth issue is even more fantastic than those that preceded it. Prose & Lore Issue 4 features 20 original, true stories about experiences in the sex trades, written by sex workers who were supported in writing their stories through Red Umbrella Project’s peer-led writing workshops in NYC and by mentor editors who worked with folks from outside of NYC.  Contributors include new writers we have our eye on like Ava Talley and Leigh Alanna, our very own Tits and Sass co-editor Caty Simon and longtime Tits and Sass contributors Lori Adorable and Elle Stranger, Tits and Sass interview subject and harm reduction pioneer L. Synn Stern, and veteran Desiree Alliance activist Cris Sardina. Issue 4 came out  on July 15th - order ebook or print copies directly through RedUP or enter to win one of five free copies on Goodreads. Interested in writing for the next issue? Details will be posted on this page and RedUP’s tumblr.

Here we feature an excerpt of the journal, the piece “Got Milk?” by Janet, about her experience working as a pregnancy fetish and lactation fetish provider during and after her pregnancy. Janet’s wry humor and honesty about finding a way to make bank as a single mom student escort who was terrified that getting knocked up would leave her unemployed had us cracking up through just about every paragraph.  Janet was born and raised in New Jersey and has been a sex worker for 18 years, half her life. She started dancing at lock doors and strip clubs, but after getting tired of the dancing scene, she went on to work at various services as an escort in New York City and Northern New Jersey. She has traveled and worked escort services up and down the East Coast. She is currently working as an independent escort wherever it tickles her fancy.

How does one really decide to be a lactation fetish provider? I would love to say I calculated the short time I had the true potential of making bank, especially with my great fucking nipples and high milk production, which I made it my mission to keep up. I was a single mom and horny as hell. Working while breastfeeding was the only sexual outlet I had and it helped pay some bills. Well, only a small part of that one is true. I was a single mom and it helped pay some bills, but the rest is what I like to call a stereotypical situation avoidance strategy.

I certainly was not out to be the next unwed single mom college dropout. I wish I could have thrown teenage in there but I had done this dumb shit before and like they say, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I was working on baby number two and in my junior year in college, full-time status, I may add, and technically single. I was already relying strictly on sex work to pay all my living expenses, and living in Northern New Jersey was expensive even then, more than a decade ago. I never really thought it was but everyone that I met was surprised to hear I lived alone as a single mom. They would inevitably go straight to, “Oh, what do you do?” Answering with, “Full time college student” would not work. So I avoided socializing outside of work and the occasional recreational sexual escapade when working was not my cup of tea. This way everyone I spoke to already knew what I did and that I was a full time student. Once I was naked it was pretty obvious from the stretchmarks that I had kids.

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Sex worker activist Velvet Steele at a June 14th Red Umbrella rally in Vancouver. All photos courtesy of the author.

Sex worker activist Velvet Steele speaks at a June 14th Red Umbrella rally in Vancouver. All photos courtesy of the author.

On June 4, Canada’s Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced Bill C-36. According to the Pivot Legal Society, this legislation will, if passed, criminalize “the purchase of sex, communicating for the purpose of selling sex, gaining material benefit from sex work, and advertising sexual services.” It would be functionally impossible to establish brothels, agencies, and sex worker collectives legally under the proposed legislation. This legislation is markedly different from the existing prostitution laws, as buying or selling sexual services has never been a crime in Canada. The Conservative government is adamant that this situation should change. According to MacKay, prostitution is inherently harmful and passing Bill C-36 will provide law enforcement the tools they need to go after “the perpetrators, the perverts, those who are consumers of this degrading practice.”

Bill C-36 comes on the heels of the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision which struck down Canada’s existing prostitution laws last December in the Bedford case (after Terri-Jean Bedford, one of three sex workers who brought the case before the courts). The laws the Court struck down were: communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution, and keeping a common bawdy house (which is legalese for brothel, in this context). In their ruling, the judges declared that the laws were unconstitutional because they interfered with sex workers’ ability to take steps to keep themselves safe. The right to life, liberty and security of the person is guaranteed under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the prostitution laws were found to violate sex workers’ ability to exercise these rights. In their ruling, the judges explicitly state that “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes.” They also maintain that “a law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to a safe haven”—an indoor work space—“is a law that has lost sight of its purpose.” [READ MORE]

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