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The People vs. Kimberly Kupps

Though she’s been an adult entertainer since the 1980s, Kimberly Kupps is currently best known as half of the Florida couple who were arrested for shooting porn in the privacy of their own home. Like me, Kimberly operates her own independent porn site, so it’s a case that definitely caught my attention. Some sex workers mistakenly view porn as legal, easy, and even dismiss it as “sex work lite,” because supposedly, those of us who make porn don’t break any laws and face no risk. As a pornographer, even if you are trying to stay within the bounds of the law and don’t shoot anything “extreme,” you can find yourself dealing with an obscenity prosecution, as Kimberly and her husband have learned this summer.

The pair was arrested on June 3rd by their local Polk County Sheriff, who is going after them as a part of a war on porn to clean up the conservative area. (Sheriff Grady Judd is also facing a federal civil rights lawsuit for allegedly harassing another local woman for her atheist organization.) Kimberly and her husband are being represented by well-known first amendment attorney Lawrence Walters. Walters is donating part of his fee, but there are still plenty of costs being incurred with mounting a strong legal defense, so Kimberly has set up a defense fund. Although their computers were seized by the police, Kimberly recently took the time to do an interview with me from her iPhone.

Ontari-Ho!: A Guide to the Court of Appeal Prostitution Decision

By now you’ve all heard about the decision up in Ontario regarding the laws around prostitution. The Court of Appeal (largely) confirmed that several of the laws governing prostitution are not constitutional. So yay, right?

What you need to know before reading the decision:

1) Prostitution is legal in Canada. However, so many activities surrounding prostitution are illegal that there are very limited ways to practice, and virtually no way to practice what we would call “safely”—minimizing the likelihood that you are going to get raped, robbed, assaulted or killed. That is a weird conversation since in so many other workplaces “safety” often means “how to avoid eventually getting carpal tunnel” or “how to avoid having hurt feelings.”

The Texas “Pole Tax” and the Myth of Secondary Effects

This past August, Texas’ Supreme Court upheld the 2007 “pole tax.” Also known as the “stripper tax,” it is a $5 per patron entry fee that is supposed to go towards low-income health insurance and assistance for victims of sexual assault. Currently there are an estimated 169 strip clubs in Texas (according to TUSCL, it’s closer to 200), and proponents of the new law allege that the revenue will provide $2.5 million annually to rape-survivor programs.

Since its passage in 2007, the tax has been tied up in court battles. The Texas Entertainment Association sued in 2008, stating that the proposed tax would be a violation of the First Amendment. At first the appellate courts upheld that argument, but that decision was reversed by the court’s ruling. In Justice Hecht’s deciding argument, he wrote “The fee is not aimed at any expressive content of nude dancing but at the secondary effects of the expression in the presence of alcohol.”

The Ten Biggest Sex Work Stories of 2014, U.S. Edition

(Photo via Flickr user doug88888)
(Photo via Flickr user doug88888)

In chronological order, here’s what we deemed the most noteworthy sex work stories of 2014 in the United States. Come back tomorrow for the biggest international stories.

1. Belle Knox
In February, Duke’s student newspaper published an interview with a porn performer who was was outed to her classmates at Duke by fellow student Thomas Bagley. She was met with death threats and a three ring media circus once her performing name, Belle Knox, became public. In response, she reinvented herself as an advocate for sex workers’ rights, writing opinion pieces in various venues and speaking at the Toledo International Human Trafficking conference this year about whore stigma and sex worker exclusionary feminists. She also inspired an episode of Law & Order: SVU.

2. The Urban Institute Study
The government-funded Urban Institute study of sex work published in March (hey, look, it calls for more funding for law enforcement!), The Hustle, painted a sensational picture of the commercial sex economy where pimps can make $33,000 a week manipulating sex workers into work and inspired a hundred stories about the relative strength of the sex industry economy in U.S. cities. One problem: the study was extremely narrow, relying on a sample of only 36 sex workers, most of whom had already been incarcerated or were in a diversion program.

3. Monica Jones
In April, a Phoenix court found Monica Jones guilty of manifesting prostitution. Jones had been arrested during a sweep conducted by Project ROSE, a prostitution diversion program jointly administered by the Phoenix PD and Dominique Roe-Sepowicz of the Arizona State School of Social Work. Jones, herself a student of social work at ASU and an activist, attracted international attention when she spoke out about her arrest and experience with the sweep. Sex work activists, transgender community activists, and the ACLU all called for attention to the problems with ROSE, the crime of “walking while trans,” and the language of Arizona’s manifestation of prostitution statute. She is appealing her conviction and was recently deported from Australia for allegedly violating the work conditions of her visa while traveling for her studies. In November, Jones told the Best Practices Policy Project blog that Project ROSE will be discontinued.

4. No Condoms As Evidence
New York sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Project was one of the primary supporters of the campaign to stop the NYPD from using condoms as evidence, which achieved a measure of success in May when they announced they would no longer use them as evidence in prostitution cases. They still may be used as evidence in trafficking cases, however.

5. MyRedbook.com
MyRedbook.com and SFRedbook.com, two Bay Area sex work advertising and discussion forums and invaluable tools to thousands of sex workers, were seized by the FBI in June. The site operators have plead guilty to charges of using the mail and the internet to facilitate prostitution.

The Ten Biggest Sex Work Stories of 2014, International Edition

image via Flickr user Kate Gardiner
image via Flickr user Kate Gardiner

In chronological order, here are the ten biggest international sex work stories. See yesterday’s post for the U.S. stories.

1. Amnesty International Considers Supporting Decriminalization
In January, a leaked Amnesty International internal document about the human rights benefits of decriminalizing sex work set off protests from anti-sex worker activists and support from sex workers and public health workers. Amnesty swiftly moved to say “gotta hear both sides,” and are not expected to issue another public position until next summer.

2. New Zealand Brothel Worker Wins Sexual Harassment Case
New Zealand’s Human Rights Review Tribunal awarded damages in March to a woman who had filed a sexual harassment case against a Wellington brothel owner.

3. Indian Sex Workers Boycott Elections
After years of being ignored by the political elite, Kolkata sex workers boycotted the General Elections en masse. They demanded status as employees so that they too may receive government benefits and the removal of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act.

4. Somaly Mam’s Fraud Covers Newsweek
Somaly Mam, the anti-trafficking darling for the daytime television set, is a fraud who eventually resigned from her own organization.

5. Brothel District Cleanups Spark Protests
Rio’s public prosecutors launched extensive brothel raids to “clean up” the city for the World Cup in June. Earlier this year, though, when Chinese police cracked down hard on the southern city of Dongguan’s sex industry, publicly parading suspects barefoot and handcuffed through the streets, they received international ridicule and criticism for the move. And when the Indonesian government tried to close down the Dolly sex district in Surabaya, East Java, hundreds of sex workers rose up in protest and sex work continued to thrive online and underground in Surabaya.