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How Did Mary Mitchell Blame The Victim And Still Get Published?

(Photo by Flickr user quinn anya)
(Photo by Flickr user quinn anya)

Content warning: this piece contains discussion of sexual violence.

By now, most reading this are probably familiar with Mary Mitchell’s Chicago Sun-Times column in which she editorializes that sex workers are responsible if they are raped, for they willingly put themselves “at risk for harm”—as if the rape of a sex worker is an occupational hazard much the way a lifeguard should expect to get wet. I would expect this type of pettiness in an anonymous online comment, not from a seasoned and respected columnist on the payroll of a major newspaper. While the views in Mitchell’s column are not rare, it is troubling to see them endorsed by the Sun-Times, suggesting the paper is more concerned with publishing a sensational, illogical, and callous opinion than it is with the harm done by reinforcing such stigma.

Mary Mitchell grew up in Chicago housing projects, and she is considered by many as an authority on race relations in Chicago. One would think Mitchell would be sympathetic to the marginalized depictions sex workers face in the media. It’s disappointing that a prominent journalist who has worked hard to call attention to inequity in her city would so eagerly discount the violent rape of a sex worker as a mere “theft of services.”

I suppose her daftness on the subject of sex work shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a column earlier this summer, Mitchell gushed over anti-Backpage lobbyist and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s letter to Visa and MasterCard asking the credit card companies to block payments to the sex work advertising website. Mitchell also repeatedly mentions Backpage in her recent column. Her use of a quote from Dart is disconcerting: “They go on the Website and meet at a hotel or people’s houses. Things can get very volatile,” he tells her, keeping in line with a victim-blaming narrative framing assaults against sex workers all too often. One has to wonder if Mitchell would have found it worthwhile to write on this crime at all if shutting down Backpage wasn’t such an important crusade for Tom Dart. Is the rape victim sex worker somehow more blameworthy in Mitchell’s eyes because she advertised on a website that has come under so much scrutiny? Hardly a week goes by in which the Sun-Times doesn’t give coverage to Dart and his war on sex work, never failing to mention Backpage. In contrast, commentators elsewhere, including editorialists at the city’s other daily paper, the Chicago Tribune, criticize the sheriff for far exceeding his authority.

Working Mother Arrested in Sting Operation


I woke up one morning last week to this story: During a sting operation in West Oakland, a 25-year-old woman was arrested when she agreed to have sex with an undercover officer in exchange for money. After being arrested, she told the police that her two twins (some reports state their age as one year, others as one month) were sleeping in her locked car nearby where she had left them to work. The children were then turned over to Alameda County child protective services, and the woman was charged with willful cruelty to a child in addition to solicitation.

The 7th San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Fest

As a sex worker in San Francisco, I feel pretty spoiled by all the resources and community we have here—not to mention that the stigma feels a little more manageable when half the city is already queer polyamorous pot-smoking Burners. Or middle-age foreign tech nerds, who happen to make great customers.

If you’re a fellow Bay Area sex worker, please take advantage of the fact that we’re lucky enough to have a film and arts festival of our very own.

Tomorrow night marks the first event of the nine-day festival, with a kick-off cabaret show at the St. James Infirmary. Producer Erica Fabulous says that the festival’s main priorities are showcasing the diversity of sex workers and building community, though she hopes it will also open the minds of people who aren’t in the industry.

Visit the website to learn more about the various programs, which will run through May 29.

“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.

WTF, Backpage?

A screenshot of Backpage’s New York City escorting page as of 1/12/2017.

We all knew it was coming. With California Attorney General Kamala Harris filing a second set of multiple charges of pimping and money laundering last month against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and with Ferrer and his shareholders’ Senate hearing coming up last Tuesday before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, plus the trafficking hysteria-fueled media scrutiny Backpage had been under over the past couple of years—well, let’s just say that few of us were buying Backpage credits in bulk anymore. But most of us expected that the government would find some way to stop Backpage’s adult ads operation, however legally unlikely that might seem after years of efforts to do just that by law enforcement zealots. (After all, the California State Superior Court spanked Harris pretty hard verbally in last month’s decision on her first set of Backpage charges, reminding her that the Communications Decency Act specified that third party sites were not liable for their posters’ illegal content. And on Monday, the Supreme Court stated it would not hear an appeal on a similar Backpage case.)

But what actually ended up happening is that on Monday night, a few hours after the publication of a Senate report accusing Backpage of editing ads to minimize evidence of trafficking, Backpage execs decided to shutter their U.S. adult ads themselves as a free speech protest. Where the ads had once been, the site announces that they are “censored” by the government in a loud red font. Visitors are encouraged to speak out in support of the martyred site by using the hashtags #FREE SPEECH #BACKPAGE on social media.

That night, us sex workers collectively panicked, wondering how we would survive this month with no well-established national advertising site to garner low-end to middle-end escorting clients.

As usual, when powerful institutions decide to use the sex work debate for symbolic ammunition, it’s sex workers who suffer horrific real life consequences. Here, two competing neo-liberal agendas are clashing, indifferent to the material plight of the sex workers caught between them.