This Time, It's Personal

Home This Time, It's Personal

I’m Katha Pollitt’s “Highly Educated” Leftist—And A Sex Trafficking Victim

tniconsent
If you can read this, you’re too fancy to matter. (image courtesy of The New Inquiry)

Earlier this year, The New Inquiry published this quiz, “Are You Being Sex Trafficked?” which appeared in an earlier form here on Tits and Sass. Katha Pollitt hinged part of her “Why Do So Many Leftists Want Sex Work to Be the New Normal?” essay on the imagined qualities of TNI’s writers and audience:

Of course, if you are reading the New Inquiry, chances are you’re not being sex trafficked; if you’re a sex worker, chances are you’re a grad student or a writer or maybe an activist—a highly educated woman who has other options and prefers this one. And that is where things get tricky. Because in what other area of labor would leftists look to the elite craftsman to speak for the rank and file? You might as well ask a pastry chef what it’s like to ladle out mashed potatoes in a school cafeteria. In the discourse of sex work, it seems, the subaltern does not get to speak.

The problem is not that the subaltern was not getting to speak, but that Pollitt was unable to listen because of her own ideas about how trafficking victims should present. We asked Tara, the author of the quiz, to respond.

On April 2nd I was at the Freedom Network’s Human Trafficking Conference in San Francisco speaking to a group of law enforcement and service providers about how to do outreach to people who are trafficked in to the commercial sex trade. I was there as part of a federal program designed to offer the experience and expertise of sex trafficking victims like myself with the goal of improving services to other sex trafficking victims. The other survivor presenting and I both had extensive experience as youth involved in the sex trade, as adult sex workers, and as social service providers. We spoke of our experiences with law enforcement and service providers and made recommendations to those present about how they could best provide outreach to sex trafficking victims.

At the end, the facilitator flipped through our feedback forms and laughingly told us that one person thought that our presentation hadn’t been about sex trafficking at all. Apparently there are rules for being a good victim: 1. Victims should cry 2. They should talk about horrible things done to them by criminals, but not by the police 3. They should not have opinions, and 4. If they do have opinions, they should present themselves as traumatized enough so that those opinions are easily discountable. If victims don’t behave this way, their status as victims can be called into question.

Surviving As Working Class After Backpage

Content warning: This post contains discussion and accounts of trafficking, debt bondage, and exploitation, both in the context of sex trafficking and trafficking in another industry. There are also brief references to experiences of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, custody loss, structural violence from criminalization, and violence against sex workers.

In the last four months, I have been in the most unusual employment circumstances of my life. I am kept in a small box with no access to even basic human needs like hot meals and showers. I am forced to stay there until my employers are ready to use me again. I am only permitted to shower when my employers are not using me. Up to a week in between showers has passed.

I am not paid for all of the work that I have performed. I am forced to share my small box with strange men when my employers demand it. These men have become aggressive and verbally abusive toward me. I am not allowed to know if the men have been violent to others before I work with them. I have been harassed sexually by my employer and I’m viewed as a sexual object by an overwhelming number of the men that surround me.

I am paid less than minimum wage for the hours that I work. I am kept apart from my family and do not see my home for months at a time. In fact, since taking this job I have not seen my home once, though I was promised I’d be brought home every three to four weeks.

I do not have access to healthcare despite having been the victim of a violent physical assault by one of the people they had living with me in my box. I’ve asked repeatedly to go home to see a doctor, but my employers keep me in my box. They keep moving my box around the nation so that I am too far away to escape and return home. I suspect they keep my pay minimal so that I cannot afford to escape.

I first saw the signs from Truckers Against Trafficking at truck stops around the nation. They were your basic public awareness flyers with signs about how to recognize human trafficking. Then at the port of entry in Wyoming, I saw a different poster from Polaris asking, “Do you want out of the life?”.  I thought for a moment and realized that I do feel as if I am being trafficked and I do want out of “the life”.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I should call Polaris for help, but I can’t. Because I am no longer a sex worker.

This all began after I left sex work.

Romance & Relationships: An Escort’s Take

I’m lucky; I’ve never lied. I started escorting eight years into my current relationship, and we had an open relationship well before that. Although my partner’s not the kind of guy who wants to meet or know the other people I bang, he’s the first to acknowledge that ending our monogamy saved us from a poisonous end. So when I chose to start doing sex work it was a leap, but a logical one. Our lives are pretty boring, and we let the job be a normal part of it: I complain about illiterate text messages sometimes, and sometimes I want the car when it’s inconvenient. The biggest difference is that we use condoms now. But I’m the only one who complains about that. He likes them fine.

Romance & Relationships: A Stripper’s Love Story

As I’m writhing under the crimson-lit, leather furnished room, his eyes never leave my face. Although my glance is cast downward, I know that he is smiling and I sense his contentment. I don’t bother to hide my smirk, as I lower my lips to his neck, and deliberately graze them across the wiry brush of his beard. My knees are at either side of his waist, and I wind my waist around until I press against the bulge in his pants. He exhales against my cheek.

The last week when he visited, I giggled quietly to myself as he fucked me from behind, out of sight and sound of the other customers, staff and my coworkers. Tonight we are in the smaller, more visible private-dance room. The gauze-like curtain does little to hide our activities tonight, and so I will maintain my professionalism. Peripherally, I can see a bachelor party gawking from the couches adjacent to us.

The thumping rhythm comes to an end, and with the sound of DJ Robert’s voice, I loudly sigh and plop back in to the chair. My husband closes his eyes, and takes a breath, before reaching for his beer.

“Well, thank you Penguin,” he says to me, as he reaches in to his pocket and passes money to my outstretched hands. I daintily take it, and tuck it into my waist cincher as I bend to kiss him on the cheek. He knows the drill. Apparently he is also aware of the couch-gawkers. The bills are singles rather than twenties, but it is of no matter; I’ll surely just use them to buy us coffee in the morning.

I stand to give him a hug, as I do most of my well-paying customers. I step from the room, smiling, keeping my gaze level with the crowd, and hold the curtain open for him. My beautiful, bearded man returns to the bar, and I head to the bachelor couch.

Smiling bigger than I mean to, I greet them. “Well, hello, gentlemen. I couldn’t help but notice you watching. So…who’s next?”

Tap Dancing For The Man: Leaving Academia For Sex Work

via flickr user Iain Farrell
via flickr user Iain Farrell

Leaving academia isn’t just for sex workers, but there are a good number of former academics among our contributors and readers. Once you’ve done sex work and experienced the particular freedoms it affords, academia’s constraints can seem more chafing and its endgame more pointless. This post in particular prompted us to have some of them talk about their experiences with higher education and why they left. Thank you to our participants, who will introduce themselves:

Charlotte Shane: I’m in the US and I went to school here, mostly. I got one graduate degree (M.A.) and then went for another. The second time was when I became…A DROPOUT. I’ve been sex working in one form or another since the start of my first grad school stint. I also have various straight jobs, but none of them are dependant on any degree. (Not even high school, I don’t think.)

chelsea g. summers: Possessing a checkered academic past, I didn’t graduate college until my mid-30s, a few years after I started stripping. I worked the last year or so of college as a stripper, the year between undergrad and grad school, and the first two years of grad school. When I started my Ph.D. program, I quit stripping because I realized my students had fake IDs. It was fine if they were hot for teacher, but I didn’t need them to see the evidence that teacher was hot. Plus, I did my work at a Jesuit college here in New York City. I left my program with an M.Phil in 18th-century British Literature and a staggering amount of debt.

Lux ATL: You can find me on Facebook and Twitter. I spent 12 years in higher education, earning a B.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, and a Ph.D. in Literary Studies. In 2013 I finished my Ph.D. and officially became a doctor.  I taught Freshman Composition from 2006 until 2014. I also spent my entire adult life working on and off as a stripper and occasional nude model. I started stripping when I was 18 and have continued to strip, with breaks in between, until present. I am currently 32.