South Africa

tolivefreelyA version of this review originally appeared in issue 19 of make/shift magazine

In March 2016, South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa made a historic announcement of a nationwide scheme to prevent and treat HIV among sex workers, proclaiming, “we cannot deny the humanity and inalienable rights of people who engage in sex work.” Though Ramaphosa remained mum on the topic of decriminalization, the rousing endorsement this statement represents can’t be underemphasized. It’s impossible to imagine a U.S. politician of any importance saying something similar. The credit for this sea change in attitude goes to South African sex workers’ rights organization SWEAT (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce) and sex worker peer organization Sisonke. In her book, To Live Freely In This World: Sex Worker Activism In Africa, Fordham University law professor Chi Adanno Mgbako covers SWEAT and parallel organizations in seven countries.

Mgbako deftly and concisely goes over sex workers’ rights 101 material. The epilogue’s history of global organizing comprehensively places the African movement in its broader context, from the 1970s—Margo St. James’ COYOTE and the French Collective of Prostitutes—to the 2012 Kolkata Sex Worker Freedom Festival. Mgbako explains the importance of not reducing sex work to “a single story” of victimization, the necessity of respecting human agency, and the need to understand sex workers’ rights activism as a labor movement. She traces the connection between violence and criminalization as represented by police abuse and client violence and the structural violence of social stigma, labor exploitation, and healthcare discrimination.

To Live Freely also transcends respectability politics and actively includes the sex workers often left out of our histories. One of the book’s seven chapters is dedicated to the multiple stigmas navigated by queer, migrant, trans, and HIV-positive sex workers. Mgbako makes sure to discuss sex-working queer women, trans men, and gender nonconforming people, who because of their lower visibility are too often excluded.

Many times throughout the text, Mgbako provides long oral histories from sex worker activists. In an admirable and sadly rare move for an ally, she explicitly connects this choice with the fact that she is not a sex worker herself, “and too often, non-sex workers take it upon themselves to speak for sex workers when the latter are fully capable of speaking for themselves.” I found these sections of the book and the solidarity they represented perhaps the most valuable. Kenya Sex Worker Alliance’s Phelister Abdallah’s harrowing account of gang rape by police, the moment representing her personal awakening as an activist, was particularly affecting. Yet, Mgbako never allows these stories to become tragedy porn for non-sex-worker readers—in her introduction, she avers that she only included narratives of abuse when those narratives illustrated the sociopolitical realities of sex workers’ struggle against criminalization. “There are no broken people in this book,” Mgbako declares. Instead, the author’s interest lies in displaying the “radiating strength” of African sex workers.

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Happy Blackout Friday!  Lady Dee

Cam Model Lady Dee mugs for the camera. Happy #Blackout Day!

Bubbles said it first, but the documentary that “exposes” exploitation in amateur pornography production, Hot Girls Wanted (now available on Netflix), has some problems. Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals offers some constructive criticism of the doc and suggests what points it should also have covered.

Speaking of, what is that agent’s job from Hot Girls Wanted like, anyway?

A Portland sex worker art show/book launch party for the $pread Magazine Anthology got some local press. The show, $pread The Love, the brainchild of our own Tits and Sass Week In Links Editor Red and other Portland sex worker activists, was held yesterday.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes about how the JVTA heedlessly replicates the War on Drugs for Politico; something Melissa Gira Grant reported on a couple of years ago. Politico then ran a rebuttal letter with seven signers. They’re pretty illustrious: Tracy Sefl, is a senior campaign adviser to Hilary Clinton, and, of course, Autumn Hanna VandeHei is married to Jim VandeHei, cofounder and executive editor of Politico.

Sex workers in Zimbabwe aren’t using digital currency because it’s hip and high-tech, they’re using it for their safety. [READ MORE]

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Things fall apart in the Witcher brothel. (Screenshot from Witcher 3)

In this video game brothel, clients and workers become disembodied parts before they fuse together in a scene that manages to be amusing and nightmarish at the same time.

The top Honolulu prosecutor had to drop charges against the massage parlor workers who were arrested in a raid and then charged with sexual assault after the police couldn’t find enough evidence to charge them with prostitution. Elizabeth Nolan Brown shreds the whole incident and points out that, while charges are dropped, some of the women are still vulnerable to deportation.

Katie Hail-Jares calls out the Honolulu Police Department’s use of coercive tactics to “rescue” sex workers and discusses the multiple ways this policy is not only ineffective, but outright damaging.

A South African ex-sex worker and Sisonke activist discusses the economic circumstances that led to him going into sex work and the social stigma and violence South African male sex workers face.

Despite all the big talk about rescuing sex workers and helping people who want out of the industry, the Canadian sex work exit fund is too small to be of much use to anyone. More on that.

The Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK seems to be actually invested in helping HIV positive sex workers leave the industry! Unsurprisingly, THT actually works with sex worker support group SWISH.

A legislator in Tanzania takes the “If wishes were horses” approach to public health:

“It is unacceptable to find people engaged in commercial sex and then educating them on how to avoid contracting HIV. The only solution to addressing HIV prevalence is to prohibit prostitution,” Ms Ali said.

And on that note: two new studies are out examining why the attempts of other Indian states to replicate the success of Kolkata’s Sonagachi project—a “programme of HIV prevention through community mobilisation…intended to empower sex workers to tackle the social conditions which made them more vulnerable to HIV”—met with different results.

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April Brogan (image via @brogan_rebecca)

April Brogan (image via @brogan_rebecca)

Melissa Gira Grant’s story about April Brogan’s death from withdrawal complications while in jail is a heartbreaking look at how little regard the justice system has for sex worker lives. Our Caty is quoted on the double stigma drug-using sex workers face.

A woman running an underground brothel in Germany has been busted; her workers, undocumented Chinese migrants, will be deported.

A new Cambodian study reiterates what the Lancet already proved: further marginalization and criminalization of sex workers, even in the guise of ending trafficking, only puts us more at risk.

Sex workers don’t owe you any answers” is a sharp, smart, and sadly necessary reminder by Alana Massey that we do not, in fact, owe you answers.  Not to friends, not to teachers, and definitely not to sad little clovers on the internet:

“The best thing sex work taught me was that men will take every opportunity to demand things they feel entitled to,” Bruiser told me in a direct message on Twitter. “I literally owe them exactly nothing.”

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Sex work blogger, activist and T&S contributor Mistress Matisse subtley tells Pastor Brown how she feels.

Sex work blogger, activist and T&S contributor Mistress Matisse subtly tells Pastor Brown how she feels. (Photo via @mistressmatisse’s Twitter feed.)

Possibly cancelled A&E reality TV show 8 Minutes reneged on its promise to help sex workers. Some argue that their lives were made worse after filming. The subsequent backlash has attracted a lot of negative press for the show; representatives from the show don’t seem to be responding to any journalists’ inquiries, including our own at T&S. The good news: the controversy highlighted the endless strength of Whore Nation.

We covered sex worker activist Jill Brenneman’s life altering experience with an unhinged, violent client here. The rest of her life is pretty fascinating, too. Read about it in this poorly written but well-intentioned piece for Salon.

Journalists frequently rely on a sexy, sinister narrative when covering sex work; such is the case with Alix Tichelman, the sex worker that abandoned her client as he overdosed on heroin.

Is anyone surprised to learn that the biggest profiteers of Kiev’s sex industry are its police officers?

Will noted whorephobe and transphobe Megan Murphy get canned from rabble.ca? Probably not, but one can dream. [READ MORE]

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