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The Week In Links: April 29

As bodies continue to be uncovered in Long Island, LI sex workers arm themselves for work. Meanwhile, local police keep “cracking down” on prostitutes, claiming that their press for arrests was in place before the serial killer gained national attention.

Audacia Ray offers a concise critique of the so called “superheroes” of New York who are pledging to protect prostitutes from the Long Island serial killer with their martial art skills. Everything about their approach and the media surrounding it is, frankly, a bunch of unhelpful paternalistic bullshit.

A photo has been released of the Seattle man charged with raping and torturing a sex worker. Police are asking other victims to come forward. .

Brooke Magnanti (Belle De Jour) addresses the obfuscation and hysteria that dominates discussions of  trafficking, porn, and sex work.

Hawaii is considering two different bills to suppress prostitution, neither of which is well-considered.

A former stripper is suing a Detroit strip club for firing her after she refused to perform sex acts on customers. Check out the video; the plaintiff uses the term “modern day sex slaves” but doesn’t provide any evidence of coercion and instead talks rampant drug use by her fellow dancers and ends with a moral plea to protect women from stripping altogether. The strip club owner admits there’s drug use at his club, but points out that there’s drug (ab)use in many professions.

Dickish Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame is running for mayor of Miami on the platform of requiring strippers to buy work permits. (“Fellas, relax,” he tells the customers. Because god knows dudes spending their expendable income shouldn’t be the ones paying more when you can tax the women trying to make a living.)

Police are looking into unsolved prostitute murders across the entire country in attempt to connect them with a recently charged serial killer suspect from Reno. Joseph Naso is charged with murdering four women. The media is speculating that some of those women were prostitutes but the police won’t confirm.

On Backpage

At this point in the SESTApocalypse, as I finally emerge from the paralyzing fog of wtf-wtf-wtf around the death of our business model, we’re all sick of thinking and talking about it. We’re sick of wondering how the hell we’re going to manage, sick of watching high-end workers become paranoiac internet security experts, sick of low-end workers being driven back to the streets. We’re sick unto death of the media requests, media requests in our inboxes but no money, media requests just as blithely uncaring about outing us as always, media requests which cheerfully expect a response that night before the news cycle stops giving a shit about hookers. (Oh, but could you connect us to someone even more abjectly fucked than you? Could they talk to us in between dodging assault as they re-acclimate themselves to the shittiest and most dangerous sort of desperate street-based work? How do you feel about your imminent impoverishment, the obsolescence of your only survival mechanism, and your bleak and possibly nonexistent future?) And when we do accept these media requests and bravely strive to make ourselves understood—when they don’t just quote our snarky emails refusing the most ignorant ones without our permission—we’re sick of the coverage that results, always appearing underneath that sickeningly familiar synecdoche for us, those disembodied legs in thigh high boots leaning over a car under a streetlight.

We’re understandably sick of it all as we attempt to keep body and soul together in this new landscape, but I feel I have to write a eulogy for Backpage.

Alas, poor fucking Backpage. I’m not crying any crocodile tears on your grave—your owners can sit and stew in the hundred charges in their indictments and take that instead of true justice for cynically profiting off a criminalized population—but I will lament what you meant for us.

We’ve lived with you under threat for so long, your demise hardly feels real. From innumerable lawsuits to credit card companies cutting ties with you to Senate hearings to your flagrant strikes for free speech, it seems like something has always been promising to put an end to you. But you persisted.

Personally, I was with Backpage from its murky beginnings to the end of the line. I advertised in a print ad in the back of an alternative weekly back in the aughts when Backpage founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin’s company, Village Voice Media, owned a large swathe of those weeklies. I paid $200 every two weeks for that ad, $160 for a week if I couldn’t manage to put together that $200. $200 for 100 characters, briefer than a tweet—no pictures. I had to walk into that newspaper office personally to deliver the cash, forget any concerns about outing (oh, yes, kids, and I walked uphill in the snow, both ways).

It was this crude newspaper model, these back pages only a few escorts could advertise on, which would eventually become the much more accessible Backpage. (Larkin in an internal company document, as quoted in the unsealed Backpage indictments: “We have with the Village Voice probably the longest run of adult content advertising in the United States and it is, like it or not, in our DNA.”) In fact, Lacey and Larkin initially used Backpage’s revenue stream to keep those alternative weeklies alive in a newspaper industry that was failing even then, in the late aughts and early tens. Though, as anti-trafficking discourse intensified nationally, Village Voice Media came under new ownership which denied any connection, financial or otherwise, between their high-minded journalism and Backpage’s taint.

(Though now both independent print journalism and online escort advertisement are dying models, so we have something in common again.)

“Lapdancing Nun” Ruins It for Everyone

Or so most of the reports read. One ex-stripper nun and her emphatic interpretive dancing has caused the monastery at the Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a basilica built around 325, to be shut down by Pope Benedict XVI. I see how her performances could be considered inappropriate. She does roll around on the ground, looking like she’s sliding into home with the cross. (What’s the protocol there? Do they have to burn it like a desecrated flag?) But, I have a hard time believing Sister Anna Nobili is the most scandalous thing to happen within the confines of Santa Croce in 1,686 years. We’re talking about the Catholic Church here. What does everyone think? I find her performances to be heartfelt and enthusiastic, albeit vaguely sexual in nature and not the most nunlike. Judge for yourselves.

Special AK vs VV Roundup

Tits and Sass will be coming back from July 4th with a bang. Tuesday will see the release of no less than four—yes, four!—posts related to the blowup between activist wannabe Ashton Kutcher and activist caller-outer The Village Voice. In the meantime, feel free to read up on the situation at the following T&S endorsed spots and add any we’ve missed in the comments.

The original article that started it all: “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight.”

Our take on Kutcher’s campaign when it first launched in April.

Amanda Brooks provides a solid overview of the recent events.

Audacia Ray on the use of the word “girls.”

Melissa Gira Grant discusses other terminology errors, the lack of practical solutions proposed by the DNA Foundation, and Kutcher’s hubris when confronted with his mistakes.

How Texas Made Ezekiel Gilbert’s Aquittal Possible

Lenora Ivie Frago
Lenora Ivie Frago

Last week, social media flooded with outrage over the acquittal of Ezekiel Gilbert for the murder of Lenora Ivie Frago. On December 24, 2009, Gilbert and Frago met via Craigslist and agreed that he would pay her $150 for her time as a companion. Time, Gilbert argued, that was supposed to include sex. Frago left without having sex with him, fee in hand. Gilbert then decided that her fee was now stolen goods and shot her to reclaim his property. Frago later died due to her injuries and Gilbert was charged with murder. A Bexar County jury acquitted him, leading the sex worker community and people with general good sense to ask: how in the hell did this happen?

Jury trials are, in theory, supposed to be fairer than bench trials as they are decided by a panel of people who bring a variety of life experiences and thoughts to the table. Both sides of have the chance to weed out a few jurors who they think have too much bias during jury selection, but there is simply no way to weed out all jurors with bias. There is also no way to ensure jurors are actually listening to testimony or understand the law. I’ve seen trials where jurors literally fell asleep and then went off to a small room to decide the fate of another human being.

In this case, prosecutors needed to convince these twelve people that Gilbert had committed the act of murder according to the state’s definition. If the facts did show that Gilbert committed murder, there was still a way to find him not guilty: his attorneys could show that he had a plausible affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is a defense that argues the defendant’s actions may meet the elements of the crime, but his actions had good (and legal) reason behind them.