Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers

 

headlesstopless

Vincent Musetto, writer of the greatest headline in New York Post history—HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR—died on Tuesday.

The fact that 225 Haitian women being forced to resort to transactional sex with UN peacekeepers to obtain food, medicine, and other needed items comes as a scandalous surprise makes me worry about the naivete of the public.

This week in strip club op-eds: Nick Kristof gave a budding young johnalist room in the New York Times to practice the art of centering a story about harm reduction workers on his perspective as a first-time visitor to Baltimore’s Block. Women can be johnalists, too, as yet another tourist report shows. This column, though, on a Florida strip club that’s training its staff in how to use a defibrillator, is some actual news you can use.

Multiple stupid articles about camming this week, with inflated claims about the power wielded and the income earned by cam models.  The first is essentially an extended ad for Cam Girlz, a documentary that looks like an infomercial for camming rather than any attempt at cinema verite.

The Stranger tries next, declaring: “Camming is not like any other form of sex work.”  No, of course not: no long shifts with sometimes huge, sometimes minimal payoff; no performance of emotional authenticity; no live interactions. Camming is totally different.  Right.

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A march organized by Honduran sex workers' rights organization RedTraSex Honduras (Photo via upsidedownworld.org)

A march organized by Honduran sex workers’ rights organization RedTraSex Honduras (Photo via upsidedownworld.org)

Honduran sex workers marched for recognition and protection, protesting the murder of sixteen Honduran sex workers since September of last year.

Canadian sex workers keep it cute: “Jesus had love for Duke Ellington too!”: Tabatha Southey’s cute-but-cogent rebuttal of the current debate around the Nordic model is a must read. Vanessa D’Alessio puts Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay on the Bad Date list after elaborating on measures workers take to keep themselves safe and the way the proposed Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act undermines these measures.

Who needs a shelter when you can suck dick for cash? Tits and Sass contributor Tara Burns asks in this post for Vice on surviving foster care through survival sex work.

Lawyers say China’s police-run “custody and education” system for sex workers are the same as re-education labor camps and call for their abolition.

File under The Many Ways To Pole Dance. No, seriously, folks, this video made our week.

In a blow to the grand tradition of dinner dates, a Florida man was arrested after agreeing to an undercover cop’s proposed exchange of a blowjob for salad.

Republicans are casing Kansas City as a potential site for the 2016 RNC and one strip club covered up its sign in hopes of not offending their delicate sensibilities.

Clumsy rewording in Rhode Island bill 2602 does more than equate sex trafficking with sex work: it also equates carpooling with sex workers to trafficking, punishable by the same penalties.

This week in “nope:” A Long Island City strip club offers free lap dances to dads on Father’s Day.

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VAMP members after the raid (Photo by Dale Bangkok, courtesy of Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers)

VAMP members after the raid (Photo by Dale Bangkok, courtesy of Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers)

Sitting in a warm room in Phnom Penh with several other women from the Asia Pacific region, Kamalabai Pani, a sex worker and a board member of Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP, Prostitutes’ Collective Against Injustice) in India, became visibly upset when discussion turned to the efforts of U.S.-led feminist groups to discredit several United Nations bodies’ recommendations to decriminalize sex work in support of HIV prevention. These recommendations have been welcomed by sex worker-led groups as they believe criminalization endangers not only condom use but their very livelihoods.

In their writings and speeches, Western feminist groups have used the tactic of labeling sex worker collectives—essentially a form of trade union—as “promoters of prostitution” and “traffickers.” This lack of logic infuriates sex worker union advocates and the impact on sex workers’ lives is far more severe.

A warm woman with a demeanor of quiet strength, Pani spoke with anger recalling the raid on the VAMP community on May 20th, 2005. “These guys came to our brothel area and gave out contraceptives and sweets. Then they asked us details about the girls, how much they studied and things like that. The next day, a Friday, then came the police. There were about 40 people in plain clothes, 20-30 police in six vehicles that came to the red light area of Gokulnagar. They blocked off about five lanes and the houses. They did not ask us anything, they just came in.”

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Equality Now, Or Else?

by Parker on December 3, 2013 · 3 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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 Scarlot Harlot at the Portland Sex by Sex Worker fest (courtesy of BAYSWAN)

Scarlot Harlot at the Portland Sex by Sex Worker fest (courtesy of BAYSWAN)

Carol Leigh, aka Scarlot Harlot, was the first sex workers’ rights movement celebrity I ever met. I’d been escorting for only a few months when she came to speak in my area, and I identified deeply with her writing in my dogeared copy of the 1980s edition of Sex WorkI was struck immediately by her spaced out, comforting voice, her self-deprecating yet confrontational humor, and her political conviction. My coworkers and I enjoyed how frank and matter-of-fact she was with us, dishing about clients like we were already old friends. Carol is the kind of person one needs in every movement: able to connect with anyone and everyone, able to bring people together easily. No wonder she’s been so effective in her pioneering role as one of the first artist activists of sex workers’ rights movement.

I caught up with Carol while she was working on two events, the upcoming Desiree Alliance Conference in Las Vegas and the 8th Biennial San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival, and yet she still put aside time to do this interview with me.

One of the things you’re most renowned for is coining the term “sex work” in the late 1970s. How well do you think the term has held up as a way to describe our work and unite us politically?

When I think of the term and concept of “sex work,” I think of how it has empowered our activism through international use. This global proliferation of the term was largely due to the work of my mentor, Priscilla Alexander, who worked at WHO (World Health Organization) in the 80s. “Sex work” is particularly powerful as it was the first term that referred to this act without euphemism. The term “sex work” implies a rights advocacy.

At the same time some issues have come up with the use of this term.

I have heard from some quarters that sex work implies consensuality. At first I strongly resisted that notion, from the perspective that if sex work is basically work, then, in general, all work can be forced. Someone doing factory work, domestic work, etc. can be forced. (I use the term “forced” in a very general way as forced labor is part of a continuum of labor abuses.) It has been very basic in sex work advocacy to emphasize that prostitution is work, as opposed to an expression of one’s personal deviance, or a form of rape.

I often hear sex workers explain that they are not trafficked victims, but rather workers. I want to remind people, as we hold the reins of our options, that when force and choice are seen as a dualism, it obscures class and other divisions. Economic factors greatly impact one’s choices. In response to accusations about prostitution defined as rape per se, sex workers are moved to defend our work as “choice,” when we mean relative choice or choice among certain options. It’s just another typical case in which our message can’t come forth with the clarity we need and want, because we are in such a tight corner, due to laws and stigma. The term “sex work” can fall prey to dualistic thinking when one claims that by definition “sex work” implies consent. This is a long discussion and I haven’t seen much written about this. I look forward to the ongoing work of developing political philosophy based on our experiences of sex work. There is a lot we can learn from each other about discrimination, sex, minority rights, race, class, and survival.

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