One of the more difficult aspects of living as a sex worker is never knowing exactly whom you can trust. Sometimes even allies can say offensive things or break confidentiality. In the wake of such indiscretions, it’s sex workers themselves who are left to navigate that broken trust and the increased vulnerability that comes along with it. I know this pattern leaves me wary, and it is perhaps this wariness that led many sex workers to mistrust the Give Forward fundraising campaign initiated on behalf of Heather, a sex worker in West Virginia who survived an attack at her apartment by a serial killer posing as a client.
The Give Forward campaign was launched shortly after the attack on July 18th by a man and a woman local to the area who knew each other, but who did not know Heather before Falls’ death. In an article on The Daily Dot by Mary Emily O’Hara from July 31st, the woman involved with the campaign, Laura Gandee, is quoted: “I got a text message from a friend telling me that Heather was hungry, upset, and feeling all alone in her apartment, and asking me if I could I take her some food and go comfort her…Of course I said I would, if she was willing to let me.” The article doesn’t reveal who this friend was, and while it implies that Heather was willing to let a stranger into her home after the trauma of Falls’ attack there, it does not indicate her comfort with Gandee’s visit in her own words. Gandee went on to say that, “I have spoken to a number of people who are part of a movement to ensure sex workers’ rights. At first they were very skeptical of our campaign because they couldn’t believe anyone from outside their circle would step up to help someone in their industry after a tragedy like this. I told them West Virginians are different.”
Gandee’s words conjure images of any number of rescuers sex workers have known, armed with ostensibly good intentions, and confident in their own efficacy in situations with which they have little familiarity. While many cultures in the United States and elsewhere, including those of West Virginia and other parts of the South, value loyalty and neighborliness in a crisis, it’s equally true is that sex workers often live in dual spaces of invisibility and hypervisibility. Many of us operate in the underground economy. Often, our friends and family don’t know about our work until we are arrested, outed, or otherwise thrust into the spotlight. Our work, and entire parts of our lives, are unknown to people one day and revealed the next to be judged by anyone with a half-formed opinion on sex work.
So, we are allowed to be cautious. I suspect many of us were not surprised when the male colleague of the woman who visited Heather, Nostra-Thomas Koenig, otherwise known as Charles de Koenig, reacted hatefully on the campaign’s Facebook page when sex worker activists from across the U.S. organized to establish another fundraising campaign: “To all the Drug Addict Hookers of the world. If my attorney catches any of you giving to this fraudulent and counterfeit fund…We WILL find you and we WILL be bring the Police.” (Koenig has since been banned from Facebook so some of his comments are no longer visible, but screenshots remain.) All it took was the possibility he might lose control of Heather’s fundraising effort to reveal the shadow side of the rescuer mentality. Too often, these rescuers’ endeavors are more about control of sex workers’ lives than they are about helping people they see as fundamentally incapable of making their own decisions. The fact that this dark, controlling instinct is often activated when sex workers are particularly vulnerable due to trauma and sudden visibility only causes additional harm.
Lily Fury, a sex workers’ rights activist who was close to Heather during the aftermath of her trauma, reported that her receipt of the money from Gandee and Koenig’s campaign was tied to her meeting certain conditions, including leaving sex work. Furthermore, she told me that Koenig and Gandee harassed Heather after the attack. In one egregious incident they arrived at her apartment with the police in tow because Heather had refused to answer the door to them earlier. On top of the stress of sudden exposure and visibility, as well as the trauma of surviving an attempted murder, Heather had to copewith this. Did Koening and Gandee feel entitled to harass her because they were operating under the assumption that they were helping her?
I had a friend who used to be heavily involved in social justice work in her city. She volunteered at a food pantry, helped out at a shelter for LGBT youth, and took part in marches for immigration reform. Over gin and tonics, she told me once, “It’s unbelievable the damage that can be done when people come with charity in their hearts.” She told me about groups who came in from the suburbs, mostly white, hetero, and upper middle class, to “help out” at the food pantry on the weekends. She bemoaned the fact that she felt she and the organization’s clients were doing more to boost the egos of the volunteers who swooped in than the volunteers were doing for the clients. She and I had a falling out, however, when she took on a part-time job at a sex worker rescue organization for women who were arrested for prostitution who, in her words, “wanted out.” The organization was largely funded by the police department, a carceral project at its core. I told her I opposed her working there and she said I wasn’t a representative sex worker. (Did she read these words off the rescue industry’s official handbook?) I told her that whether or not individuals want out of sex work, their lives don’t become better through contact with law enforcement. She said it was the only way for her organization to “access prostitutes.” I told her I was concerned that the organization didn’t know what it was doing and that it was potentially causing harm to its clients. She said, “Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to do good.”
She and I have barely spoken since then. For a while, I regretted not explicitly drawing a parallel between her new work and the weekend volunteers from affluent suburbs who frustrated her. Now I’m not sure she would have seen it. Like many non-sex workers, she was blind to the ways in which she consciously and subconsciously condescended to and mistrusted sex workers. It seems impossible for this persistent condescension and mistrust to productively coexist with efforts to “help” sex workers in moments of particular vulnerability. What seems more likely is that the same people who come with a desire to help also bring their egos, their ignorance, their desire for sex workers to be subordinate to their narratives of rescue, and their poorly informed conceptions of what sex workers need.
Violet, thanks for this so much. These conversations have been the hardest of all, having to contend with “But we really meant well …” with an aversion to hearing exactly how ‘helping’ sometimes hurts, decreases agency, and strips people of their dignity and empowerment. I got to talk to Koenig, and although he did indeed mean well, his hateful and hurtful threatening remarks were intended as a publicity stunt to drive up donations for Heather (totally unbeknownst to her, of course)… Even that action alone only serves to prove his intervention and control was outside the scope, input, permission, and direction of the one person it would impact and effect most: Heather.
Thanks again, Violet for reminding us that unless you’re actually listening to us, you probably don’t have our best interests at heart.
OMG! That’s some crazy behavior right there. Thank you so much for reporting the details of what happened. I hope Heather is getting better.
From someone who’s common sense and wisdom I trust I have heard more on this story that I won’t go into here (Heather is entitled to more privacy than speculation), it seems clear to me that more than one person went into this with stellar intentions, and no idea what they should be doing and at least risked doing more harm than good.
For what she has been through and what she saved others from Heather deserves absolutely EVERYTHING we can give her…but that doesn’t mean we know what she needs at all, and I hope all this zeal to take care of her will last until she has enough of her head back together to know what she needs for herself to tell us.
Someone should go take some screen shots from the “Heather Our Hometown Hero Face Book group”.
It seems “, Nostra-Thomas Koenig, otherwise known as Charles de Koenig,” has his posey slamming everyone who helped Heather and he is not being as gracious…
I didn’t believe for a minute that he only acted like a “controlling, abusive asshole” because he thought it would raise more money for Heather and I think it was just a excuse for his bad behavior. The man still thinks he is in control which shows just how dangerous he is. He doesn’t get that when doing outreach one asks the victim what they want and says “how can I be of service”
From the “Heather Our Hometown Hero” Face Book group
Posted 7 hours ago by Jennie Vermillion He busted out laughing. He’s says in a few days he’ll address your fictional revisionist story on what “HorribleNation” did to the original Giveforward fund and those who ran it. He plans to demonstrate how these kinds of heavy handed hit pieces are a repeating pattern with those in “the biz”. He’ll be back soon enough and he says he has a very damning witness to present that will expose all of you who are involved in the shaming and slandering as the frauds you are. He has a witness who was up close in the days leading up to your decision to attack the original local fund. This female witness says you wanted to take the Heather story and you had your own ambitious agenda. She has evidence too. She called out “Tara” as your Ring-A-Ding Mafia leader. She also says those involve here also betrayed her. You are busted. He basically called you some names and then dropped off the internet for a few days. This drove the conspirators into a batshit crazy frenzy He finally contacted Heather, transferred 100% of the money to her. He has the conversation recorded and records to prove IT ALL. Yes, you’re dumb. Ambitious, vicious but dumb. He thanks you for rallying to give Heather, their hero and client more money. He thinks when he comes back he will be able to piss you off again and maybe the fund will take off again. He also says it’s been a month now and you can stop feigning to be these delicate kittens who were permanently damaged by the word “Whore” etc and he’s 100% certain you’ve been referred to that before and should be used to it and not offended by it. What’s the name of your group again? #whorenation?
Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs · Edited
Jennie Vermillion Correction: He has TWO witnesses and maybe a third. They are going to show you don’t have anyone’s interests but your own in mind. He has offered to negotiate with you over how you’d like him to begin promotion of the 2nd Heather fund in a last ditch effort to get it moving again and lend it some legitimacy. He’s is MAKING me play this tune again and says he plans to smoke you like the dopes you are, whatever that means and he’s says heroin is bad. HEROIN IS BAD. Also, what’s the worst name he can call you so to really make you mad? Any one in particular?
These people did all kinda stuff to Heather (and also to me) that isn’t mentioned in this article. I’m still not comfortable talking about it in public even now. Someday, with Heather’s consent, I’ll tell the whole story. Glad we got Heather the money they raised and that, as far as I know, they’ve had no further contact with her. But yeah, suffice it to say: situation was FUCKED UP.
I think that Jennie Vermillion person posting on behalf of Nostra-Thomas Koenig is actually him. As in, I think she either gave him access to her facebook account since he’s banned and can’t post under his own account, or he’s sending her whatever he wants to say and she copies+pastes it. “Her” writing style seems identical to his. I also don’t believe for a second that he only acted like a whorephobic asshole out of the goodness of his heart to try to drive donations to Heather’s real fundraiser.
I know Nostra-Thomas, and anyone who knows him knows that this is the way he is. He tells it like it is, he has a weird sense of humor and anything said was with the best intentions. His posts do generate a lot of publicity and it’s not because they are sugar coated. Could he have gone about it a different way? Sure. Would it have raised any money or publicity? Probably not. And for the record unless you were there it’s unjust to make assumptions on a persons character based on whats on the internet, because God only knows that if it’s on the internet then it must be fact! But hey that is just me I guess and as Nostra-Thomas would say you are entitled to your own opinion (but hey that is just the kinda guy he is).
“anyone who knows him knows that this is the way he is”
Good to know Nosta-Thomas is just being himself, when he was being a whore and drug user hating and shaming man.
“he has a weird sense of humor and anything said was with the best intentions”
Also good to know that “best intentions” and “his humor” is hate-filled and disgusting.
You have GOT to be fucking kidding me….
Hello. It’s me. I could have made some comments before now but I wanted to hold my cards close. This won’t fit on a bumper sticker so pack a lunch. I have to say you fine folks really know how to milk a story and keep it alive! That is the biggest steaming pile of journalism I’ve read in a year. The Heather the Hometown Hero Community Page is back up and running now. I am willing to address all of these claims and set the record straight. I did so on my now infamous website just now. Listen, I admit I said some provocative things but if you look close they don’t make any sense at all. I can tell you I was honestly not angry but very cool and collected. I knew exactly what I was doing and what would happen. My persona online is ~Ñöstra-Thomas® Futureseer after all. I think I went WAY too far. It was at 2 AM and it seemed like a really good idea at the moment. I have a comprehensive timeline of what occurred but after the beating I took I assumed you gals were a little tougher than that.
The Giveforward Heather the Hero crowdfund never spent a dime of her money. Nor did we place any stipulations that she go get any kind of treatments, or go to church, or see a shrink or any of the paranoid claims I read over the last month. None of it is true. We did not lead any police raid on her either. But I will say we are filing a FOIA to get the police report on what, if anything did occur if we can get the correct dates of the alleged incident. But no, we didn’t do any of that. I was really stumped when I heard about it.
I’ve spoken personally to some who have commented on here. One in particular was on the phone when I poured out all the problems we were experiencing and asked for advice in earnest. She was my friend clear up and until she wasn’t. One in your ranks forwarded a screenshot of what you were all saying and planning to do. Shamey shamey. We need to bridge the gap of mistrust and I will admit I didn’t help matters on my WAY OUT. At that point I all but gave up on her fund. A day and a half later, what I was shown came true. A well organized and relentless attack occurred. Our fund was contacted by several people who I can show and complained to Giveforward that we were frauds and refused to give Heather the money etc etc. Giveforward then contacted me concerned and asked me what was going on. I explained that the Charleston Police had taken Heather’s phone. We had started a fund on her behalf and it began to grow and I couldn’t reach her. No, we didn’t have her permission but no one from a small town in WV thought anyone would complain in a million years for doing it. Crowdfunding has built in protocols and the money is not in a piggybank or like a football that I could just toss from 500 miles away to Heather. Even if I could, she was not taking calls, accepting visitors, etc. After the accusations began to fly that we were abusing Heather and misappropriating her funds, the Giveforward people gave me 48 hours to get Heather to lend support and permission to continue.
This placed us in an unwinnable scenario. Heather had some complex issues and we needed her to provide a designee or someone to receive the money. Someone has to show up and accept it, either her or her representative. There have to be bank accounts and all the formalities that go with these things and she was in no position to provide those things at the exact moment in time and outsiders were pressuring us to do so. I finally did speak with Miss Heather on August 4th just before noon and had texted with her on a limited basis in the days prior. By the time I actually spoke to her the missile had already been launched and you guys were understandably on the rampage. I got the necessary information required to turn the control of the fund over to her. I added her to the “Team” first as per protocol and then transferred fiduciary authority over to her. I was still “Captain” but she was the fund manager. But I gave up totally on this project and transferred the Captain’s duties to her an hour later with no contact info for the media or anyone to formally request information. The new one sends you to a link where they talk about kicking balls etc and no legitimate media is going to take that serious. In my one and final phone conversation with Heather she thanked me and Laura and apologized for all the rancor and bitterness. She SAID ‘SWs from outside were compelling her to not trust us and to shut down the Giveforward Fund Drive and lend her name to the Crowdrise Fund.’ She said she was vulnerable and didn’t know who to believe so she said she “Stood back and just let the two sides fight it out.”
Guys, this is no way to handle situations like this in the future if you want to see the change you wish to see in the world as it pertains to legislation . There could have been two separate crowdfunds. Once from the local community of Non-SWs who were being contacted by highest media outlets in America from Huffpo to Diane Sawyer’s advance team and several renowned crime writers…..AND there could be the one for SWs to have their voice heard and understandably adopt Heather as their Hero too for killing Neal Falls. In the end that is what started all of this. A small band of local Liberal activists swimming in a sea of Conservative Confederate flag wavers wanted to give a reward to a gal who killed a serial killer. Somehow that effort was turned into an ugly scenario of paranoia, betrayal, attention seeking, and blind accusation without a shred of evidence. Because of that an ENORMOUS opportuniuty was lost. The timing was perfect. Legislation in California, the hig profile movie stars making Human Trafficking statements and the controversy of theat and then a nasty serial killer is killed by a tough Mountaineer BP Escort. In his car was the things real nightmares are made of. That somehow got lost during this unnecessary feud over control of the narrative(s). I take the blame for what I did and I will let those with access to the timeline of the Crowdrise fund decide if it worked. But the bottom line was the donations poured in and then died off sharply after less than a week. I had an interest in seeing she wasn’t abandoned after the attention died off as has happened to some others I’m in contact with. Here is the link to my FB page and you are free to let me have it. Facebook has allowed me to come back and it’s not the first time I’ve been suspended for stunts. My 1st Amendment is not open for negotiations, I will find a way to speak. We should try to get along but I understand if you don’t want to, but we intend to start a new fund for someone who was left on the curb by the “Movement” and continue to post interesting and thought provoking articles on Sex Workers in America. I could use some advice obviously but someone has to bridge this gap and I seem to have some anti-Capital and I’m willing to spend it accordingly. We’d like to see you achieve decriminalization, that’s our position but we don’t assume that’s yours. Both sides F***ed this up and we can learn from it and I will wear your villain costume if it helps. Forgive me and my bad grammar.
I saw you post on FB that you were putting conditions on Heather getting her money + you also admitted in in a FB message to me. You don’t get to use “I was trying to raise more money” as a excuse to abuse members of our community. I told you weeks ago, that you would never come back from this without publicly apologizing to Tara and the others, but rather than take responsibility , you continue to post stigmatizing statements about our community. I do not think #whorenation needs a whoreaphobic, abusive man as a allie.
Ñöstra Thomas the new “giveforward pimp” who terrorized #whorenation during a crisis. He is not a team player.
Meet Kamylla Foster. Victim of rogue pastor Kevin Brown and the fine people at A&E’s “8 Minutes”. You are all aware of what they did and who they targeted. Please, no matter what you think of me or the past, help me promote Kamylla’s effort to clear her name out of the Texas “Cash for Justice” expungement trap. We also like to help her relocate out of that city and state. She is on the team and I have FULL permission to proceed. I have promoted your new ‘Heather is a Hero’ fund drive even in the wake of some intense vitriol, the least you could do is help promote and give to mine. I gave to yours. Donate to Kamylla’s fund, I shouldn’t have to resort to stunts to get you to do so. She is a very nice woman who just needs a break from the Lone Star trap.
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