Sweden

(Photo via Amnesty International USA Flickr account)

(Photo via Amnesty International USA Flickr account)

As the vote this weekend at the Amnesty International General Council Meeting in Dublin approaches on whether the human rights organization will adopt a draft proposal supporting the decriminalization of prostitution as policy, I spoke, via e-mail, to Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) President Pye Jakobsson on NSWP’s petition to Amnesty urging them to vote in favor of it. Jakobsson is also the co-founder of Rose Alliance, Sweden’s sex workers’ rights organization, so she has key insight into the Swedish model of criminalizing sex workers’ clients championed by the the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, the prohibitionist organization behind the petition asking Amnesty to vote against the proposal for decriminalization.

Can you comment on the notorious petition by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women urging Amnesty International members to vote against the decriminalization proposal when it’s submitted at the organization’s International Council Meeting in Dublin this weekend? It’s been signed by a gaggle of celebrities—Kate Winslet, Lena Dunham, Anne Hathaway, and Emma Thompson among them—and it received a lot of attention in the news last week. Why do you think so many in Hollywood are drawn to anti-sex worker anti-trafficking activism?

I find the whole thing revolting. actually. Right, so I get holding babies is getting kind of old, and animal rights is too mainstream to gain any real attention, so now they are hugging trafficking victims.

There are just so many problems with that, though:

1) Grown up women are neither children nor puppies.
2) People who are being exploited in the sex industry need rights, not hugs.
3) Just because you once played a hooker doesn’t give you any extra special insights [in]to what sex workers and/or people who experience exploitation in the sex industry need.

How can we fight back against that sort of star power to make our case in the court of public opinion?

I really want to answer [with] some fancy, clever version of “we have truth on our side,” but so far that hasn’t been enough.

Last weekend, me and a long-time activist looked at each other and said “Shit, we need to scramble up some celebrities.” Truth is, there are not many of those around. The actor Rupert Everett that supports ECP (English Collective of Prostitutes) is one. Rose Alliance has our own little celebrity if one is into kitsch European disco from the 80s, in our member (and yes, former sex worker) Alexander Bard. If you’ve never heard of his iconic group Army of Lovers, I dare you to look them up. But that’s it.

I am not really sure we want to go after celebrities unless they have actually worked as sex workers. I prefer sticking to sex workers themselves as the experts. I do think that it is time to hold all our so-called allies accountable. You say you are on our side? Now would be a really good time to prove it. This last week several people within the UNAIDS family, Amnesty, and other big organizations have been risking their own jobs trying to do what’s right. Now, that is commitment.

It is easy saying you are an ally because you feel all fluffy inside [on the] IAC (International AIDS Conference) when you walk around with a badge saying “Save us from saviours,” but what about the rest of the year? I know I am not very flexible on this—ask our allies in Sweden. We really don’t let them fuck around. There is no time for pretty words while people are dying.

I really think we need to demand more of our allies. It is time for some old school hardcore activism—either you are with us or you are against us. And no, owning a red umbrella does not count. We need our research spread, our petitions signed and more doors opened. We need to be included in decision making processes at all levels, and those who claim to be our allies should facilitate that. I got allergic to…buzz words of sympathy without any action or commitment the […] second [Swedish sex worker] Jasmine got murdered, and I haven’t changed since.

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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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(Selfie of Peechington Marie, courtesy of Peechington Marie)

(Selfie of Peechington Marie, courtesy of Peechington Marie)

Related to an earlier Tits and Sass post this week, “Actually, My Hand Feeds Me,”  here’s more on the Annie Sprinkle kerfuffle.  For anyone who’s a little behind, Fornicatrix goes in depth over the context of the whole weekend before getting to Sprinkle and Peechington Marie added her beautiful two cents in “Be Careful With Your Hand, You Don’t Want it Bitten Off—Annie Sprinkle, Fantasies That Matter, Sex Work, and Erasure of People of Color.”

The Rose Alliance has begun a Change.org petition calling for the Swedish and Norwegian governments to care about the health and safety of sex workers, and to admit the dangers to sex workers that they gesture at but attempt to gloss over in the August report on the success of the Swedish model.

Porn performer Christy Mack was beaten horribly by her ex-boyfriend, Jonathon Koppenhaver (AKA: War Machine), last Friday, who then fled the scene, declaring via Twitter, “It wasn’t me.” Mack’s injuries, while not life-threatening, are severe. Unrepentant and high on the entitlement of an abuser, Koppenhaver tweeted, “She’s my property and always will be.”

The UK’s highest-paid sex worker has announced he’s A) paid more than the Prime Minister and B) out to end stigma against sex workers.Flaunting one’s income in an austerity economy sounds like a sure-fire way to do it, yeah.

The Barton Street East Neighborhood has an innovative way of dealing with the sex worker population amongst them: acceptance and support.

“The women are not a blight on the community, they’re an asset,” Braithwaite said, adding that the committee is not working to get rid of the women, but rather to work with them and make them feel safe…

“This community is not about gentrification, not about stopping (the women),” she said, adding that they are all “fibres of our community.

Part of making them feel safe is looking for support services, food, and health outreach spaces that the workers can access, as well as shelters where needed, and continuing with community education, so that residents are aware of issues facing the women.  The police force is also involved, having changed its focus from one of persecution to one of support and safety planning. [READ MORE]

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Ohio gubernatorial candidate and ex-stripper Larry Ealy (Photo by by Lynn Hulsey, via the Dayton Daily News)

Ohio gubernatorial candidate and ex-stripper Larry Ealy (Photo by by Lynn Hulsey, via the Dayton Daily News)

“I did it for the exposure; really, it was more of a promotional thing,” said Ohio gubernatorial candidate Larry Ealy of his time as a stripper.

Some excellent tips for reporters looking to liven up a slow news day with salacious and sloppy stories about how sex workers are everywhere. We are, you know.  Watch out. And also watch for this formula!

The fact that sex workers use the internet is still surprising to some, but this roundtable with Melissa Gira Grant, N’jaila Rhee, Hawk Kinkaid, Stoya, and Tits and Sass contributor Emma Caterine goes beyond the initial shock of sex workers as Real People Who Really Exist to talk about some of the realities of sexual and emotional labor and the issues facing sex workers right now.

The Department of Justice’s Operation Choke Point (ignore the weak gag about blow jobs) is probably behind the closing of porn performers’ bank accounts.  As Melissa Gira Grant said in the TtW panel, “if you want a preview of what will happen to everyone else on the Internet, this is a really remarkable opportunity.”

Namibian sex workers want to meet with the police chief of Windhoek municipality to discuss pending legislation that threatens their lives and livelihood.

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atheemperor

The Emperor’s New Clothes. (Illustration via Commons, by Helen Stratton)

Once upon a time, there was a cold little kingdom in the north—we can call it Swedala. Now, you might not believe in magical spells, frogs that turn into princes, or other imaginary things. But believe me when I tell you that in this kingdom people were living in two parallel worlds so different they might as well have been different universes.

The emperor who ruled the country had, for the longest time, tried to erase any individual forms of expression among the people, aiming for a kingdom where each and every person lived the exact same life as their neighbor. Now, you might think that the emperor was an evil man, but he was actually a simple soul, worried about receiving love and worship from his constituency. To achieve that, he hired a stable of advisers. They assured him that in order to receive the approval of the people as well as the admiration of neighboring kingdoms, it was necessary to repair the very fabric of society. They told him that magic rules to control the population were the only way that could be achieved. Sometimes the rules seemed unnecessary, complicated, or harsh to the emperor. But the few times he questioned them, it was insinuated that he might not understand the brilliance of the golden rules, for only smart men could truly grasp their innovative greatness.

Those who learned at a different pace were locked up and denied the right to have children. Others who chose to use gold dust to enjoy life were left to die in the streets, and alternative ways of expressing what it meant to be a human being were punished severely. So all those who wished to stay the way they were had to hide in the parallel world of shadows where no one could hear them—even though they could be seen, people knew to ignore them as if they were invisible. At times, the emperor had doubts about this being the right way to treat the kingdom’s citizens, but he was afraid that the advisers would find him a simpleton, and quickly pushed away his doubts.

A particularly evil adviser, the adviser of state feminism, had decided that yet another group should be sent to the shadows of the parallel world. This time. it was those who provided pleasure in exchange for gold. Pleasure was seen as something that only had value if it was provided for free. The adviser of state feminism assured the emperor that if he banished these people, all the neighboring kingdoms would not only admire but eagerly line up to emulate his magic rules. The people in Swedala applauded this new idea, as they never questioned the emperor’s wisdom, but in the shadows the pleasure providers feared for their very existence.

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