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Sex Work and Partner Violence: How We’re Forced To Negotiate Our Own Abuse

Late porn performer Linda Susan Boreman/ Linda Lovelace, abused for years by her manager boyfriend Chuck Traynor (Image by Nino Eugene La Pia, via flickr and the Creative Commons)
Late porn performer Linda Susan Boreman/Linda Lovelace, notoriously abused for years by her manager boyfriend Chuck Traynor (Image by Nino Eugene La Pia, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: This post was originally erroneously attributed to Victoria Joy. The piece is actually by Ruby Rue.

Victims of violence are more likely to have experienced violence at the hands of someone they know. The same goes for sex workers. There seems to be a lot more concern about stranger-danger in the industry than there is for what I’ve seen as the bigger threatthe people already in your life. I’m not suggesting you don’t screen clients, of course that is important. I’m also not suggesting isolating yourself from friends and family. But, article after article I’ve read about sex workers’ partners reflects some of my own experience. Now, luckily, the situations I’ve been in have never escalated to physical violence. Butverbal abuse? Manipulation? Sexual harassment? Sexual assault? Check, check, check, and check. Let’s break down this potential mine field and see how sex work stigma and abusive partner behavior collide in the worst ways possible.

I think about how many times I’ve had a friend who was a good decent friend, a decent, “good guy.” I figure, he’s pretty great, I should date him. And almost immediately, the whole situation sours. I wonder, “Did I do something wrong?” Maybe if I had a clearer head I’d see that the deterioration of the relationship is related to his resistance to my standing up for myself. Still, in the context of abuse, it’s going to be branded as my fault. There is no way of knowing that a guy will treat you the same way when he’s dating you as he did when you were just friends. For whatever reason, dating can open the can of crazy douchebag worms in a seemingly otherwise wonderful man in your life. The beautiful wonderful man you are dating can make this very same quick switch the second he discovers you were or are a sex worker, though I will bet you anything that if he reacts poorly to that information that there were already other problems in the relationship.

The first instance is misogyny and the second instance is whorephobia. Both misogyny and whorephobia are leveraged in relationships in order for the abuser to gain:

1. More outside supporta rallying cry against you
2. More sympathythey’re broken hearted, you’re just a slut

I’m going to break down some intersections between whorephobia and abusive partner behavior, based on my personal experiences. You can use this to help identify whether your partner is an abuser or not. Much of this will be familiar, because the world is still pretty shitty about these issues.

Both A Mother And A Whore

Happy Mothers' Day. (image via Flickr user owly9)
Happy Mothers’ Day. (image via Flickr user owly9)

The illusion of “common sense” and its alleged empirical certainties is one of the the most steadfast means by which we collectively propagate whore stigma. As a recent example, critics lampoon Imtiaz Ali’s short film, Indian Tomorrow, for portraying an economically savvy sex worker. “Prostitutes who rattle off sensex [India’s stock market] figures during sex,” proclaims one critic, “exist only in the world of fantasy art.”

Tacitly deferring to “common sense” as a barometer of a sex workers’ intellect is not only deeply paternalistic, but it also acts as a censor for the kinds of stories we tell as a society. Surprising no sex worker rights advocate, it seems like the only acceptable cultural depictions of sex workers are those that fall in-line with the “common sense” stereotype of harlots as intellectually inferior. Art allows us to envision a better world. If artists are deterred from producing nuanced depictions of sex workers as agents of their own lives, even if these depictions are utopic fantasies, our culture will likewise be deterred from envisioning better circumstances for sex workers.

But this cultural imperative to tell one dimensional stories is limited to the stories of marginalized people like sex workers. Stories that transcend the simplistic theme of victimization are critiqued as dangerous and sexist. This is in spite of Standpoint Feminists themselves claiming that the moral obligation of any society is to tell more stories, not fewer. 

Aw, You Shouldn’t Have: A Compendium of the Odd Gifts We Receive

(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)
(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)

Sex work comes with a lot of fringe perks: convenient hours, creative work uniforms, and basically having the coolest job on the planet. One of the lesser-known perks of sex work are the gifts we receive: the tokens of appreciation that the men that favor us hand out around the holidays. Most of the time we get the traditional pretty girl-type gifts. A box of chocolates. An austere piece of jewelry. Maybe a bottle of perfume.

Any veteran sex worker will tell you that he or she has also unwrapped something a little…peculiar. It’s true—we get a lot of weird gifts (it’s worth noting that weird isn’t necessarily synonymous with bad). We’ve learned over time how to gracefully accept some, shall we say, unconventional presents.

Our clients and customers try, they really do, to mixed results. Bless their hearts.

We wondered: What sort of oddities have our readers received?

From an Industry to A Hobby: How Review Boards Have Changed Our Work

The good old days: 2007 Village Voice print escort ads, shortly before the dominion of the review boards (courtesy of the Design Observatory Group)
The good old days: 2007 Village Voice print escort ads, shortly before the monopoly of the review boards (courtesy of the Design Observatory Group)

When I first started working as an escort in this industry, review boards did not exist. The internet was not as widely used as it is now and I worked for agencies that advertised in the phone book or in local papers. We didn’t even have to post photos of ourselves in a public forum; some operator just described our looks and personality over the phone and clients took their chance at booking us. Business was hit or miss, but I liked the anonymity. Though I heard more and more escorts were using online advertising to promote themselves, I was late to the game. My old way of working didn’t yield me as much revenue as other workers, but it protected my privacy. And then finally the gig was up. I had to change with the times and start advertising online or I would have virtually no business. But I didn’t want a website. And I definitely didn’t want reviews.

I first became aware of escort review sites when I read an article about the Big Doggie debacle of 2002 and even then, I still didn’t quite understand what the website was. Upon visiting TBD for the first time, it looked like a confusing mess of ads and message boards, none of which I could access. Sometime later I found out about The Erotic Review, mostly from the controversy stemming from its founder Dave Elms and the various charges that were brought against him. Either way, I wanted nothing to do with either site. As someone who had already experienced arrest once before while working, I couldn’t believe any escort would want a detailed description of a session with a client posted online for anyone to read, providing law enforcement with another tool to prove their guilt in prostitution cases. Oh sure, the  disclaimer stated that the reviews were for “entertainment purposes only”, but when escorts got “fake” reviews, they were sure to raise holy hell about it and complain to the site administrators to have it removed, which is a daunting process in itself.

Then I got one. A fake review, that is. Yes, my first review was a fake review. It described me as having blond hair (not at that time),fake boobs (I wish) and doing a session I don’t recall booking, but I couldn’t read the rest because I wasn’t a “VIP” member. It was just a fluke that I found it as I never looked at TER, but I was bored one night and there it was, linked to my phone number and email address.

Your Bunched Panties, Revisited

Image via Matt's Movie Reviews
Image via Matt’s Movie Reviews

You, the sex working masses, have spoken! Here are the top three most hated work aspects for strippers, escorts, and fetish providers. Choose one from the list/s that apply to you, and wait on the edge of your seat for the inauspicious winners to be crowned on Monday, October 28th. Voting is open until 11:59pm PST Sunday, October 27th, but why wait for the last minute to vent your rage? DO IT NOW.