Cyntoia Brown

Cyntoia Brown. (Via Youtube)

Content warning: this piece contains accounts of child sexual abuse and violence against a sex working minor as well as discussion of structural violence. 

I spent my teen years selling sex on the internet. I grew up on the Craigslist Erotic Services section, finding men who would pay me for something I didn’t take seriously because I’d been robbed of the chance to do so. I’d been raped at 12 by my next door neighbor after months of molestation, and subsequently passed around the neighborhood to two other perverts. One was an Albanian fella who definitely sold women, and he could have ended up trafficking me as well. In hindsight, my luck has been insane.

Cyntoia Brown’s story feels too close to home. Brown killed one of her abusers at the age of 16. When I was 16, I met a man on Yahoo Personals who seemed nice. After a four hour session, he didn’t want to pay. He kicked me out of the house and I had to find my way home. He could have killed me, and I thought he would, because he grabbed me so hard to throw me out. That session could have been my last, and no one would have been the wiser. If I’d been abducted, my mom would have been looking for a ghost; she had no idea what I was doing.

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Cyntoia Brown graduated Lipscomb University with an associate’s degree in prison. (Photo via Fox 17 Nashville/WZTV)

Imagine at the age of 16 being sex trafficked by a pimp named “cut-throat.” After days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men, you were purchased by a 43-year-old child predator who took you to his home to use you for sex. You end up finding enough courage to fight back and shoot and kill him. You arrested [sic] as result tried and convicted as an adult and sentenced to life in prison.

So reads the text in an image Rihanna reposted on Instagram, referring to trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown. Judging by the swirl of news media coverage recently about the case, you would think it had just happened within the past few months. But actually, the shooting death of the Nashville man took place in 2004 and Brown has been in prison for it for more than a decade. A documentary about her plight came out in 2011 and reached an international audience; a local paper, The Tennessean, has been running in-depth coverage about Brown’s case since last year; and Tennessee lawmaker Gerald McCormick was inspired to co-sponsor a bill in the Tennessee legislature in February offering parole to people with lengthy sentences who were convicted in their teens because of Brown’s story. This begs a couple of questions: firstly, why are we just hearing about this case more than a decade later? Secondly, why have anti-trafficking abolitionists stayed so quiet about this?

The answer to the second question, and perhaps the first one, is because Brown does not fit the profile of a “good victim.” Victimhood is a commodity in the anti-trafficking rescue industry. It is used, exploited, and manipulated as a means for supposed  “nonprofit” organizations to acquire more funding and political power, wealthier donors, and increased media coverage. Nonprofits tokenize survivors by having us speak for their fancy fundraisers, they use our stories for their newsletters, and they tote us around like little anti-trafficking freak show exhibits.  

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Bryan Saunders' "Extreme Makeover: Fuck Mattress Edition" (inadvertently?) improved labor conditions for street sex workers while it lasted (Photo via the Daily Dot)

Bryan Saunders’ “Extreme Makeover: Fuck Mattress Edition” (inadvertently?) improved labor conditions for street sex workers while it lasted (Photo via the Daily Dot)

Myanmar began a debate around decriminalizing sex work. The founder of the Sex Workers in Myanmar network (SWIM), Thuza Win, hopes the law will be changed before the 2015 general elections.

Research by University of Michigan economics professor Raj Arunachalam conducted among Mexican and Ecuadoran brothel workers and street sex workers found that beautiful sex workers make more money.  In others news, the sky is blue. (The interesting thing about the study, though, is that each subject’s beauty was measured by other sex workers.)

Tennessee artist Bryan Saunders revamped the decrepit mattress street sex workers used to entertain clients at a local park. He called the project EXTREME MAKEOVER: FUCK MATTRESS EDITION, and provided new sheets, a comforter, an array of condoms, new panties, and a trash can for the location. Slixa points out that the project’s value as a harm reduction and workplace safety measure outweighs its artistic merits. Apparently, after seven days, some of the panties were missing, all of the chocolate flavored condoms were.gone, and the flowers placed on the site were trampled on. It’d be great if someone had the bright idea to replenish the supplies and extend this undertaking to other outdoor sex trade venues.

Acclaimed queer sex worker author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore reviews Mindy Chateauvert’s new book, Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk for SFGate. (Stay tuned for Tits and Sass’ own review of Sex Workers Unite as soon as we get our review copy in the mail.)

Chinese gay rights groups are calling for Southern Television Guangdong to publicly apologize for using hidden camera footage of an undercover reporter meeting with a male sex worker.

Strip club owners unite to fight sex trafficking? We’d rather hear more about strippers fighting trafficking, thanks. Remember, sex workers themselves are most effective at combating this problem. Anyway, the strip club owners’ tactics sounds like more of the same: further surveillance of their employees.

“Feminist” hashtag #realjobsnotblowjobs made its debut on twitter this week. @ThatSabineGirl said it best when she tweeted in response, “bcos it’s feminist to slut shame women while you’re saying they’re forced into sex work against their will, apparently.” Hurray for consistently whorephobic internet feminism and its discontents.

A trans sex worker, Marco Noé López Castillo, was found strangled to death in San Pedro Sula, a Honduran red light district, recently. Nine killings of sex workers have occurred in the district since early December.

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