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Sex Workers: YOU CAN AND SHOULD REQUEST PANDEMIC RELIEF

Eleanor Roosevelt at SheSheShe Camp for Unemployed Women in Bear Mountain, New York. (photo via wikicommons)

So we’re about a month into strip clubs being shut down. Before that, most in-person sex workers had already been worried about the potential of getting or spreading COVID-19 (the illness caused by the coronavirus) at work, and probably noticed a significant dip in business. Most times we’d be SOL when it comes to accessing unemployment benefits, since save for dancers at a handful of strip clubs, we’re not employees on payroll. But that changed when Congress passed the CARES Act in March, which expanded unemployment benefits to independent contractors.

There have been a lot of misleading screenshots and headlines implying that sex workers are excluded from pandemic relief. While it’s true that some adult entertainment businesses are theoretically excluded from the Small Business Administration’s disaster loans, sex workers as workers are just as eligible for stimulus payments and the expanded unemployment assistance that’s out there as any worker. Even if you’ve been operating as a business, you’re eligible as a sole proprietor to apply for unemployment now (Unfortunately, that only goes for citizens and permanent residents. If you are an undocumented worker in need of help, there are a lot of sex worker mutual aid funds that are prioritizing workers who can’t access government aid. Here are a few lists of those funds and resources for finding help. This COVID-19 resource post from Kate D’Adamo on Slixa also has information on other types of help available for all workers, as well as some myth busting on those Small Business Administration loans—you can still apply, and though there’s a chance you’ll be denied, you might just get it. “The definition of that term [“prurient sexual performance”] is based on the application of what’s called the Miller obscenity test,” D’adamo writes, “and a lot of things are actually fine – sex shops, sex educators, probably even strip clubs. Where it gets trying is anything involving the internet, because of competing court decisions that the Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in on.” D’adamo also notes that the whole process is a “clusterfuck” because banks don’t have enough information from the Fed to process applications, and “no one’s getting shit from anyone anytime soon, prurient sex-related or not.”)

There are two main types of assistance for individuals available: The one-time $1200 ($2400 for married couples and an additional $500 per child) Economic Impact Payments from the federal government, and the expanded unemployment benefits that cover the self-employed. Unemployment benefits are administered at the state level, so you’ll need to find your state’s unemployment website to start a claim. Maybe you’ve heard that the pandemic levels of unemployment have swamped unemployment claims? It’s not a great process to begin with, and having to revamp the whole deal hasn’t gone quickly or smoothly. But it’s a good idea to go ahead and start on the process. Supposedly workers will be able to get back payments, so try to get records of everything you can dating back to when you had to stop working due to the pandemic.

Here’s how to get started.

“86 the Violence” performance celebrates UPR Recommendation 86

We agree that no one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution, as this recommendation suggests.

The above language, derived from Recommendation 86 of the U.N.’s Universal Periodic Review is now an official part of U.S. human rights policy thanks to the efforts of hundreds of activist groups. It’s a huge, heartening step towards affirming the rights of sex workers.  While Tits and Sass is not an activist blog, one of the reasons this site exists is because there is a need to publicly state that people who accept payment to have sex, talk dirty, have sex on camera, strip, masturbate in front of a webcam, provide sensual touch, or pose for adult photos are not disposable and are not a special class of people who are fair game for violence and crime because of what they do for money.

We’re Sorry Amnesty International Ruined Your Ideology

suck a dick!
This obviously doctored photo really sucks you into a heady subject.

According to its wiki, cognitive dissonance is the “discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” Mass hysteria is defined as “a phenomenon that transmits collective delusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumors and fear.”

Calm your tits is a perfectly reasonable response to a breathless abolitionist who is experiencing either cognitive dissonance or mass hysteria. Last week, Amnesty International released a report that called for the full decriminalization of sex work and harshly condemned the Nordic Model of regulating sex work. The report, of course, is significant in that it validates what sex workers have been saying for decades (stop arresting us!) while also subverting the traditionally accepted “progressive” narrative that sex buyers are bad but sex sellers are victims.

So, how did the remaining norders (that’s the term I just made up for Nordic Model endorsers! Get it? NORD. ERS.) react when the news broke? Let’s just say, their tits were not calm. Here are some of the best examples:

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.

“I didn’t pick her up on no doggone playground.”

Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor recently plead guilty to seeing an underage escort, resulting in a sentence of six years of probation and “registered sex offender” status. Sixteen-year-old Christina Fierro came to his room claiming to be 19, but was apparently the underage victim of a violent and coercive pimp. L.T. claims not to have been able to discern her age, describing her as a “19-year-old working girl who came to my room.”