The RedUP gang at yet another conference. (Photo courtesy of Red Umbrella Project.)

The RedUP gang at yet another conference. (Photo courtesy of Red Umbrella Project.)

When I accepted the chance to go the International Human Trafficking, Prostitution, and Sex Work Conference in Toledo, Ohio, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The organization I work for, Red Umbrella Project, attended the conference to present our report on New York’s new Human Trafficking Intervention Courts. Just the fact that they accepted us—a sex worker-run organization—to speak threw me for a loop. When I saw that members of SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project) and Miriam Weeks (AKA Belle Knox) were also speaking, I wondered if this conference might prove an exception to the usual anti-sex work stance of the rescue industry. After all, “sex work” was right there in the title. Someone in charge must have understood the complex reasons people get into sex work better than to assume that everyone everywhere within the sex industry is being exploited and trafficked, right? But as a sex worker, I also knew what the rescue industry—and what seems like most of the world—thinks of me and my job.

Our organization has just completed an eight-month study on New York’s Prostitution Courts, now known as Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs). Now, in 11 jurisdictions within New York state, anyone charged with prostitution is assumed to be a victim of human trafficking and instead of being charged as a criminal can choose to do five to six sessions in a diversion program.

It felt to me like we were pretty well received. We didn’t deliver an impassioned speech about the plight of American sex workers, we instead explained the trafficking courts of our city, pointing out how they aren’t meeting the needs of the people they’d taken a seemingly more compassionate legal stance for. Our study found that the racially motivated arrest tactics of the NYPD were very visible within the courts, and that due to a shortage of capable interpreters, defendants who spoke English as a second language were progressing through the system at a third of the speed of native English speakers. We also suggested that the six weeks of therapy the diversion programs provided did little to address the needs of people doing sex work for survival. After a defendant charged with prostitution completes their mandated diversion program, they have an open record for six months, which can be a barrier when trying to find other work. They also cannot be re-arrested during this period or they have to start the process from the beginning again.There are more and more new court systems in the US that are similar to New York’s, and the idea of using “human trafficking” as a term that refers to all people in the sex trades is becoming more popular. And most of the time, the fight to end human trafficking is led by people who make no distinction between someone who is forced or coerced into the sex industry, someone who enters it by choice or curiosity, and the myriad scenarios in between the two. We saw a lot of this in the Toledo conference.

The best example might be the woman who, after finding out what Red Umbrella Project does, asked us, “But if your organization is made up of current and former sex workers, how do you keep the current ones from recruiting the former ones?” The member who she asked was floored as he tried to explain that that has never been a problem. How could you explain to someone with that view of sex work that no, our organization is not partially made up of unscrupulous hookers lurking around trying to sucker recovering trafficking victims back into a life of drug-addled degradation? We all tried to explain, taking varying tacks with forced cordiality. We explained that RedUP is made up of sex workers from all walks of life and varying circumstances, that our main goal is to give our members the tools to tell their own stories and advocate for themselves, and would you like to take a look at our literary journal of sex worker memoirs? It was exhausting, but it felt important for us to be there, no matter how much teeth-gritting it took.

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The ladies I performed with in the new Mastodon video, “The Motherload,” were not all strippers, but I don’t think that matters much to the 800,000-plus viewers that watched the video in the first week. Though those of us who were strippers initially sat in cliques—the girls who knew each other from the same club or girls who had danced with each other in the past—we still exchanged pleasant glances. When the director came in and told us we’d be having a twerk dance battle with dancers we didn’t know, there was a momentary gasp.

This could get ugly. [READ MORE]

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(Screenshot of Association of Club Executives newsletter.)

Mayang Prasetyo, a trans woman sex worker, was killed by her boyfriend in Australia (trigger warning: article describes a brutal, perverse murder).  The Courier Mail used some unconscionably unfeeling headlines in relating the murder, and is being called on it.

Oregon lobbyists are working with strippers and social workers to come up with legislation that will offer protections to strippers, reinforcing their labor rights given that, in Oregon as in so many other places, strippers are illegally classified as independent contractors. Mary Emily O’Hara notes:

Though the panel won’t finalize the bill until later in the year, everyone seemed to agree on one thing: if you’re going to work as a stripper, some sort of basic education that clarifies rules around touching, employee status, and other workplace protections is desperately needed.

The Association of Club Executives was way less than thrilled by O’Hara’s article, as you can see from the screen shot above, taken from their newsletter. “Empowerment Enterprises”! That’s some beautiful cheek.

The Cambodian government is also proposing to enforce the labor rights of workers in entertainment venues, including sex workers.

A recent study of sex workers over 40 in India found their circumstances to be very distressed, often exacerbated by the Devadesi system.

Another sex worker is on reality tv: Former stripper Courtney Lapresi is on Master Chef, and the response to this from contestants and critics has been even more negative than Irish response to sex worker Kate McGrew on Connected. Naysayers theorize that Lapresi might exchange sexual favors in exchange for winning. As Esmerelda Murray reports, Lapresi herself is framing stripping as an embarrassing and regrettable decision she made while she was broke.  What’s embarrassing and regrettable is that, after making it on to a cooking show, she felt she had anything in her past to apologize for. Badly done, Master Chef.

Several cases of male violence after rejection made the news this week, only one involving a sex worker (progress?): An English sex worker was attacked on the outskirts of Manchester after attempting to keep walking and ignore a man who wanted her attention.

A days-long trafficking investigation/sting across Canada, which interviewed over 300 sex workers, resulted in 9 arrests, although police in Edmonton, for example insist that they got a very guarded feel from many of the women.  You don’t say.

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(Photo by Julie Bates, via Jane Green and sexliesandducttape.)

(Photo by Julie Bates, via Jane Green and sexliesandducttape.)

As a writer, a former sex worker, and someone who has been quite vocal in my writing about the industry, I’ve been approached quite a number of times to write about the play Ugly Mugs by Peta Brady.

I’ve declined each time. Firstly, because I have not seen the play. I’ve only read about it online and read sex workers’ concerns about its content. Secondly, because I wondered how much I could really contribute after reading such powerful and articulate pieces by people such as Jane Green on the subject. But I was asked again, and this time I had just been on the phone to an old friend talking about an incident that happened many years ago. And something inside me clicked, something that made me feel compelled to tell my story.

When I was in high school I had a diary. Like most teenage girls’ diaries it was full of angst and bad poetry, interspersed with observations of the people and situations around me.

I was not a popular girl in school. I had been given the “slut” label very early on and it stuck. I guess, if you were using the vulgar base meaning of the word “slut,” I was one.

I ran around with boys. I liked getting their attention. I was not afraid of sex, sexuality, sexual pleasure, and sexual gratification. I masturbated as often as I could. I watched porn videos and read Playboy magazines.

I was very lucky that despite being shunned and shamed by the “popular kids,” I had a friend, a girl who was pretty much just like me, who shared my obsession with sex and sexuality.

My girlfriend and I would swap my diary back and forth and fill it with our own dirty stories, our fantasies about the different boys (and sometimes girls) that we knew. We would tell our deepest secrets and horniest stories to each other within those pages. We also used it as a way of communicating what others were saying about us. What the rumors were about which girls were going to “fight us” after school. Where they’d said they’d be “waiting for us.” Which boys to stay away from because they were the ones who ran around telling the rest of the school about the things we had done.

It was our little safe haven. Our solidarity. Our secret.

I’m not quite sure how it fell into the wrong hands. I think I had it in my bag at a sleepover party. I don’t know why I would have even taken it with me… but I did. And when I got home the next day I realized it was missing.

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“I was never accused of having done anything wrong, but rather I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”—Paul Davis

“What’s the difference between a hooker and a politician? There’s some things a hooker just won’t do.”—an old joke I first heard from a lobbyist

Regardless of your opinion on reproductive justice, single-payer health care, or self-employment taxes, there’s someone running for office who will reflect that position. No viable candidate, however, supports sex worker rights. When it comes to the sex industy, a candidate need only be sex worker-adjacent to be subject to a vicious attack, no matter his party. Sex workers truly have no friends in major party politics in the United States (sure, Libertarians, in theory, but once they decide to run as Republicans they tend to neatly pull back on select issues of personal choice). This election year’s sex work-adjacent scandals are pathetically unimportant and an indication of campaigns that are desperate for distractions. One deals with a 15-year-old raid on a strip club; the other with a state-run jobs website that “accidentally” listed some adult-industry jobs. One’s a Republican attacking a Democrat; the other’s a Democrat attacking a Republican. [READ MORE]

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