For those that saw me at the conference, you most likely were handed a card about my new project, AIT Research, which has been about 2 years in the making and has finally come to fruition. This was originally a partnership between myself and a few activist friends who wanted to develop our own nationwide research survey on human trafficking in the sex trades. Since then, one of our original partners has dropped out of the project, but along with SWOP-Michigan’s Crysta Heart, we’ve created a platform to promote and develop sex worker led research that we hope will uncover some “truths” about our industry, as opposed to much of the biased research about the industry that comes from outsiders.
Our first AIT research project, The Erotic Labor Market Survey, or “ELMS” focuses on human trafficking in the various erotic labor/sex industries and was launched last week. With this survey, we hope to gain more accurate stats on how often trafficking occurs in the industry and whether or not workers, clients, and staff of industry establishments are properly educated on how to respond to trafficking situations when they are confronted with them. This project was our own direct response to the trafficking PSA that we created in 2012. One of the conversations that came out the the writing process of that video was that we create a survey for not just sex workers, but for clients and other industry personnel (staff at strip clubs/escort services/porn companies, etc.) on whether or not the can identify a trafficking victim and how they would respond if they did come across one. As we stated in that video, WE are the ones most likely to come into contact with individuals in coercive situations, yet because of the wall between us and most anti-trafficking organizations and efforts, there is little knowledge and education being done about what to do about it.
I wanted to write something about the human body in all its naked and diverse glory. I wanted to share the unexpected gift that sex work gave me; forgiveness for all my physical imperfections.
Working as a sex worker for many years I have seen naked bodies belonging to my clients, my co workers and myself in all sorts of positions, settings and lighting. Over the years I have become incredibly comfortable with human bodies and getting naked but that wasn’t always the case.
Taking my clothes off and showing my naked body to someone I just met, AND having the nerve to expect them to pay me for it, was my first and most persistent fear about starting sex work. Before sex work my experience of being naked in front of people had largely been in the dark, after foreplay and with lots of anxiety. Each time i let my mind wander what it would be like to do sex work, I would get stuck at the bit where I had to take off my clothes.
And it wasn’t just a concern for the first booking
Gracie Passette's insight:
An essay on body image, vulnerability, and lessons in beauty from sex work.
In the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, Burmese migrants sell their bodies for sex at “show bars” or other entertainment venues. The bars are legal, but it is illegal for migrants to work at them. As a result, many male sex workers do not seek medical assistance if they contract sexually transmitted diseases because they do not want to reveal their source of income.
Not for the first time, I am faced with the inevitable question: why the flying fuck (no pun intended) would seeing someone have sex preclude that person from “being an effective teacher [or whatever] and respected colleague”? What, seriously, is the matter with people? As maddening as I find this, I also feel truly bewildered, because I simply do not understand this phenomenon.
I know many of you who read here are, or have been, sex workers. Myself included, of course. We consider ourselves to be sex positive feminists who want sex work to be recognized and respected as work. Most of us believe it should be decriminalized, if not completely legal, even if we often disagree about how best to achieve those things. But often in our conversions on the subject of (and issues surrounding) sex work, it is clear that many hold onto their own experiences at the expense of seeing the larger picture. Just like those who were harmed come out swinging “against” sex work, we let our feelings color and even cloud our willingness to hear from others.
Gracie Passette's insight:
This essay includes a reading list for those interested in sex work and related issues of debate.
Fifty countries treat sex work as a legitimate job, and it has been legalized with restrictions in eleven others. Nevertheless sex workers are still widely stigmatized, discriminated against, harassed, and, in those countries where prostitution is considered illegal, treated as criminals. This is especially true in the United States, which is one of the few industrialized nations that continues to criminalize prostitution. As Melinda Chateauvert reveals in her new book Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk, these laws have put sex workers at risk.
Chateauvert agreed recently to talk with us about Human Rights Day and how important it is that the international campaign for human rights include sex workers, who have always been key activists in the struggles for gay liberation, women’s rights, reproductive justice, labor organizing, prison abolition, and other human rights–related issues.
There are a lot of myths surrounding the sexuality of whores. Everyone seems to assume we’re either nymphos or frigid, over-fucked to the point where we no longer have any interest in unpaid recreational sex. While I’m sure there are people who fit into these categories, I’ve never met any of them.
Gracie Passette's insight:
I love this line: The extent to which they assume I mustwant them for no other reason than their possession of a penis would be insulting if their desire to be wanted wasn’t so oddly endearing.
China announced as part of a raft of economic reforms that it would close its controversial re-education through labor camps, but it’s less clear what will happen to a similar system of camps for the country’s sex workers.
On Friday, one of the testing facilities that serve the adult industry alerted us to a positive HIV test by an adult film performer. While we don't yet know if the performer acquired the virus in his or her personal life, or while working in adult film, we’ve called a moratorium and immediately halted all production.
Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of misinformation in the media, and some truly reprehensible behavior on social media over the past few days, and felt it was necessary to explain how a moratorium works, and call for compassion for the positive performer.
Wente's dehumanizing language is a testament to how deeply ingrained the stigma against sex workers still is in our society. In reality, what's degrading is not sex work itself, but the language Wente uses to describe it, which reveals her personal disgust for those who engage in it -- both sellers and buyers. Despite wishful thinking to the contrary, sex work has been part of every society for millennia and always will be.
When the topic of prostitution is raised within so-called polite company, two stereotypes generally spring to mind: the drug-dependent street walker under the control of her low-life criminal pimp, and the high-end escort with Hollywood good looks. In other words, prostitution – or (as we prefer) sex work – tends to be seen as a woman’s game, and a game of extremes. The reality of the situation is that the majority of sex workers lie somewhere between these two extremes.
Meanwhile, raise the topic of male sex work and your polite company might recall American Gigolo (1980), about a handsome heterosexual male escort, or Midnight Cowboy (1969), where a straight street hustler has to resort to “gay for pay” sex work to survive. Or they might just snigger at the idea, remembering the comedic Duece Bigolo: Male Gigolo (1999).
Put simply, we tend not to take the issue of male sex work seriously.
Gracie Passette's insight:
About sex work and laws about it in Ireland ~ but great reading for any location really.
The implication is that with the insufficient “supply” of women, tempting men with a hint of sexuality is too dangerous. This is almost a textbook example of victim-blaming, in which victims of sexual assault or aggression are construed to have been asking for it based on non-verbal cues, such as clothing, demeanor or profession. This sort of rhetoric flares up in large-scale rape cases. While covering the alleged rape of 14-year-old Daisy Coleman, known in the media as the Maryville case, an expert witness on Fox Newssaid, “What did she expect to happen at 1am in the morning after sneaking out?” The example in the New York Times article is a variation on the same concept; the woman is cautioned that she should adjust her behavior because this will either tempt or invite sexual aggression from men. It is not the man’s responsibility to not rape women; it is the woman’s responsibility to not ‘ask for it’.
It may seem redundant to point out the commodification of female flesh in the industry of sex work. However, the issue at hand is specifically the rationalization that it is a simple function of the influx of men that creates conditions fertile for exploitation and predation. Critically absent from this discourse is a question as to why the men in Williston engage in this behavior. Ara Wilson, an associate professor of women’s studies at Duke University, points out that the definition of capitalist markets as “benign vehicles” that merely channel “wants, needs, and desires” overlooks the fact that “desires can be fostered and created.” Anybody can see how a sense of necessity did not precede the existence of consumer goods like smart phones, jewelry, or the millions of toys produced each year. However, with sex work, it’s taken as a given that desire precedes the market, and Wilson notes that a discussion of the creation of desire for sex work “remain[s] surprisingly unexamined”.
Gracie Passette's insight:
Overall an excellent essay; however, it does not make distinctions between sex & rape. Sex work is about delivering a consensual service; rape is not about sex ~ it is about violence.
The moral crusade against the sex trade, whether it is pursued by the police or by high-profile feminists who have never done sex work, serves the same function that it has always served, writes Laurie Penny.
Webcam studios are to bedroom masturbators what brothels are to Johns. And if the internet had a designated red light district, it would be Romania, where there are currently an estimated 2,000 studios in operation. The cousins’ studio—Kazampo—is the latest addition to that digital den of sin. It’s housed on a Bucharest backstreet in a building that can accommodate up to 11 "models" at a time, all masturbating in the direction of a webcam for lonesome, horny Americans thousands of miles away.
How'd you like to make $250 an hour? Sounds good, right? Well, if you're willing to join the glamorous world of sex work, you might be in luck. So where do you start? Lucky for you, there's a class.
A few months ago one of our producers came across RENT U on twitter. At first we couldn't believe it, but when we dug deeper we found it was all too real. In some ways the group is a reaction to the popularity of rentboy.com, a site that pairs young men in need of financial assistance (so called "rent boys") with clients who willing to provide said assistance in return for companionship.
Hawk Kincaid founded the new program for Hook Online, a not-for-profit online resource for men in the sex trade, in 2005. Since then, this industry-only series of workshops has met periodically and in secret, covering everything from legal issues faced by sex workers to marketing to how to negotiate with clients. Their next class, scheduled for Dec. 19, will focus on self defense. These classes are strictly off limits to the press, so we did the next best thing and took a private lesson for ourselves.
Clearly, Sam Matthews is not cut out for life as a sex worker. Although many male prostitutes are straight, not being prepared to have sex with men is kind of a career killer in the sex-for-hire trade.
When I followed up with an opinion piece for The Conversation on the success of the Nordic Model, a handful of men, and one prominent Australian feminist , spent hours trading inaccuracies about the Nordic approach to prostitution policy and disparaging anyone stupid enough to think that a booming industry which trades in women’s bodies is anything but inevitable.
These falsities and fabrications will be familiar to anyone who has written or said anything that publicly criticizes the sex industry. The same claims, usually without reference to relevant evidence, are repeated so frequently in certain spheres that they have practically become mantras. If you say it often enough, it becomes true, right?
In the interests of being able to offer more than 140 character responses to these predictable criticisms, here’s a list of responses to the most common myths I’ve had thrown at me.
Prostitution exists because inequality exists. At the same time, prostitution embeds into society the very inequality it feeds on; thus perpetuating the subordination of women.
For prostitution to exist as a monetary exchange, women must be commodified as products in the stream of commerce. In commercial terms, I have a problem with both supply (too many women live in poverty) and demand (too many men believe they have a right to sexual access). Both facts require that women be subordinate. That is why the radical feminist position on prostitution is abolition. Abolition is the only way to address the root cause of prostitution i.e. personal and structural inequality. We must both improve the lives of women around the world so that they can truly exercise choice and independence and teach men to understand that sexual access is not a right.
Gracie Passette's insight:
Continuing the Cato debate; this is the third entry.
Prof. Ronald Weitzer argues that prostitution should be treated as a legal commercial transaction. He finds that much of the conventional wisdom on the sex trade is the result of generalizing from experience under legal regimes where it is criminalized. He argues that in a legally tolerant regime, many of the problems we observe today would vanish.