Casting a Wider Net for Sex Traffickers?

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We are currently in a battle for personal freedoms the founders of this nation took for granted. As big business tightens its grip on our self-determination and special interest groups master the art of chicanery, those few hopeful souls who still participate in our democratic process by turning up at the voting polls, are finding it more and more difficult to decipher the true intent and potential impact of proposed legislation.

Take for instance the always popular stance against human trafficking.  I mean can you imagine anyone who would be in favor of modern slavery? Of course not. And so no matter the merits of proposed laws against trafficking, all politicians will feel compelled to lend their endorsement regardless of the actual repercussions of the new law(s).

Similarly, uninformed voters can feel inclined to vote yes to any legislation purporting to rescue the innocent and punish the perpetrators. And who can blame them? Who doesn’t want justice to prevail? And when it comes to sex trafficking, especially the sex trafficking of minors, the level of disgust, contempt and outrage most of us experience at the very thought is almost too much to bear. We may reason that the legislation may not be perfect, but anything is better than allowing such atrocities to persist.

But is poor legislation really better than no new laws?  In the case of California’s Proposition 35, you may be surprised to learn just how bad this new piece of proposed law really is. 

For instance, the wording of Proposition 35 is so vague that instead of creating better enforcement against the trafficking of minors, it could wind up being used to put teenagers in prison for 12 years and force them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. If Proposition 35 passes, simply having sex with another teenager could garner a sex trafficking conviction.  How you might ask? 

Well, let’s say an eighteen year old boy takes a seventeen year old girl to the movies and buys her popcorn to eat during the movie. Then let’s say these two teenagers share some sort of consensual sexual interaction after the movie.  You have to admit this scenario is pretty pedestrian.  It happens every night of the week all over the state of California. 

Yes, it is illegal to have sex with someone who is underage. But do we really want to see a penalty intended for sex traffickers imposed upon someone who has barely become an adult and perhaps didn’t even know that their sexual partner was underage? If you stop for a moment and envision this scenario happening in the case of a teenager you know, your first response will probably be, “that could never happen.”

But the wording of Proposition 35 allows anything of value being given or received by any person to qualify as “payment” for an act of prostitution. And since we are talking about statutory rape, construing popcorn and a movie as payment for sex is well within the wording of this proposed legislation. While it may be unlikely that the boy next door will see the inside of a prison for getting carried away with his underage girlfriend, imagine how this law might be used to persecute less beloved citizens of the state. What if the teenagers are gay?  What if they are black or Latino? What if someone decides to prosecute to the full extent of the law? Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if our laws were clear, concise and devoid of any ulterior agendas?

Californians deserve better. Send Proposition 35 back to the drafters by voting “no.”

 

Veronica Monet, ACS, CAM

Certified Sexologist and Host of The Shame Free Zone

Why Sex Workers are SO Scary

Some people – women especially – just hate what you do for a living.  Their distaste for  your profession is completely out of sync with any personal impact it could possibly have on their lives. If you have ruled out jealousy, competition and/or fear of the unknown – what is left to explain the almost rabid and allergic reaction to the way you pay your rent or mortgage?

Recently it dawned on me that very much like the gay rights movement, our movement – the sex worker rights movement – suffers its worst insults from closeted whores and johns (If you find those words offensive I invite you ask yourself why. Personally I am all about reclaiming the words used to oppress us). Let’s face it the men who are most adamantly opposed to decriminalization often turn out to be regular clients of sex workers. The most publicized example of this is of course former New York governor Eliot Spitzer who had built his career with a promise of “ethics” and the prosecution of prostitution rings but was later found to be a regular client of prostitutes.

And what about the women?  I have often envisioned them as insecure wives – worried that I and my sex worker colleagues were out to fuck their men – for free if necessary – just to show them up as the incompetent and unalluring losers they worry they are. But I don’t think jealousy is the big motivator we have allowed ourselves to believe it is. Instead I wonder if our most vehement opposition comes from women who have more in common with us than they would like to admit.

When I recall the cruelest and most dismissive reactions to my choice to become a sex worker, it has often been from female “friends” who were former sex workers or extremely promiscuous or at least prone to dating for money. The truly asexual or bashful female friends have usually been more curious than offended by my choice in careers.

Recently I began attending a church well-known for its tolerance of all lifestyles and beliefs including atheism and paganism. I didn’t imagine that my former identity as a working girl would hold much interest for the congregation. After all, I have been semi-retired for over five years and live modestly as an author and couples consultant.  My motivation for attending church was twofold: I hoped to find a venue for my workshops on peace and I wanted to add a little ritual to my life. For instance when my dog got cancer I found the “Blessing of the Animals” to be of great comfort.

So imagine my surprise when the witch in charge of the pagan meetings (no, I am not trying to insult this woman, she really is a witch) launched an effort to expel me from the church. Initially, I thought she was simply offended by my approach to world peace: polyamory as modeled by the bonobos.  Yeah, this is another topic and not really relevant to this blog entry but suffice to say that I believe a lot of violence results from a sex negative culture and I have a lot of research and evidence to back up that claim.

But even after I abandoned any aspirations I had to teach workshops at this church and simply attended the pagan meetings as a student in search of more knowledge of the various forms of paganism, the witch persisted in her campaign to drive me from the congregation. She called one day to suggest I attend pagan workshops at a local bookstore where their approach would be more “adult.” For the umpteenth time she told me how her workshops would be “family friendly.”  I told her this might come as a shock to her but I have a family and I am a mother to four step-children. The silence on the other end of the phone was deafening. What was she thinking? Was she shocked to think former prostitutes might have families?  Or was she offended to think I had ever been allowed to parent children?  Who knows but she certainly choked on the news.

Since I have only been to about five church services and my interactions with this woman have been brief and polite, I am quite certain that her reaction has very little to do with me personally. But I do represent something that appears to terrify her. For one of the pagan rituals she held at the church, she wore a costume which reminded me of the ancient sacred prostitutes. The skirt was constructed of sheer chiffon adorned with beads and coins. I couldn’t help but wonder if she understood what her costume signified in days of old. How could she sport coins on her person without comprehending the significance of money sewn into a garment? True, some will argue that this was “dowry” money but the fact remains that the coins were sewn into the garment as a reminder that the dancer expected to get paid for her performance while she was performing – very much like strippers are paid today.

We could now have the argument of whether belly dancers are sex workers or we could ask ourselves why it is so important to draw this arbitrary and nonsensical line in the sand between the “good girls” and the “bad girls.” And that really is the point to this blog entry. Women are insanely invested in distinguishing themselves from the “bad girl” and the more closely they skirt the “bad girl” lifestyle, the more obsessive this drive to say “I am NOT a whore” becomes.

A similar phenomena is well documented in the gay rights movement. It is now common knowledge that some of the worst hate crimes against gays are often perpetrated by closeted homosexuals who are full of self-hatred and denial. Similarly I believe our sex worker rights movement would do well to understand the self-hatred and denial which fuels hate crimes against sex workers. I think we will find that our most vocal opponents are quite literally in bed with us as clients or metaphorically as self-hating closeted sex workers.

What might we do to win these closeted clients and sex workers over to our struggle for civil rights and the dignity of choice?  I’m not entirely sure. If I find a way to assuage the terror my existence has created for the witch at church I will let you know. I DO know this though. Every effort to decriminalize or legalize prostitution has been blocked by the “good women” of the community in question. Historically both prohibition of alcohol and prostitution have been feminist endeavors as championed by many of the suffragists of the early 1900’s. So although present day feminists might think their stance against prostitution reflective of political evolution, it is instead a fairly old-fashioned and conservative take on the oldest profession.

Many political movements will dissociate from other more controversial causes for fear that their primary objective will be lost. Early feminists were afraid of accepting lesbians and the gay rights movement didn’t want to champion transgender rights. This fear of being associated with others perceived as “less deserving” of civil rights is a noxious but all too human failing. I wonder if it has its roots in basic human survival and perhaps that is the impediment we battle when we seek to assert our civil rights as sex workers. Or perhaps the broader issue here is that neither men nor women possess a sexual bill of rights and rather than fight to assert their rights alongside sex workers (who are working for the rights of all adults to have sex as they see fit) they recoil with the fear of losing what few freedoms they do have.

What do you think? What is is that fuels the disrespect and even hatred we often encounter from second wave feminists, from wives and girlfriends, from concerned parents, from law enforcement, from landlords, from child protection services, from neighbors, from family, from former friends and even from our own clients?

Gross Governor Spitzer and Degradation

A topic which deserves some clarification in light of the recent resignation of New York’s Governor Spitzer is the different working conditions in various branches of the sex industry. In reality, sex work spans a huge industry with drastic differences in pay, the services provided and working conditions. Since many people have trouble thinking clearly as soon as you mention “sex,” I like to draw parallels with food. For example, an 18 year old kid flipping burgers at McDonald’s is doing the same thing world famous chef, Wolfgang Puck, does for a living. They both prepare food for people to eat. Yet no one would argue that these two individuals experience the same working conditions or “job” satisfaction.

When it comes to sex for money though, the media, second wave feminists and voters are quick to equate street prostitution, massage parlors, brothels, incalls, outcalls, escorts and courtesans as the same thing.

I will be the first to admit they are equal “morally.” And that IS the primary reason all prostitution is lumped together – because most people are more concerned with the “moral” implications of prostitution than any other factor. The amount of money you make doesn’t change whether what you do for a living is inherently “good” or “evil.” And if that’s the discussion we want to have, then let’s bring it out in the open and stop dancing behind smokescreens like “oppression” and “sexually transmitted diseases.”

Got you with that last one, huh?

Well, in the United States, the fact is that prostitution only accounts for about 7 to 10 per cent of all sexually transmitted infections. Those numbers are very different in other countries but in our country, condoms are inexpensive and readily available. And contrary to what “abstinence only” sex education preaches, condoms DO work very well if you use them properly. I should know. I used them for over 14 years with over 1800 clients and stayed perfectly healthy the entire time.

Although prostitution was once considered the “fault” of the prostitute, it has become fashionable to cast sex workers as “victims” and label the profession of prostitution “oppressive” and “degrading.” The only way you can make this stick is either by assuming sex is inherently degrading to women unless they do it for free; or by conflating drug addiction and domestic violence with how a person makes a living.

Street prostitution does have a very high incidence of drug addiction and domestic violence. It is woven into the very fabric of this sector of the sex industry. Domestic violence in particular is an accepted part of the street culture. But treating either domestic violence or drug addiction as part of any profession is stupid and ineffective. Educating street prostitutes to the realities of domestic violence and providing domestic violence shelters for working prostitutes would work far better. Incarcerating pimps for domestic violence would also be a good first move.

However as the laws are currently enforced, street prostitutes are regularly rounded up in so-called street sweeps where they are jailed for a few hours, fined and released. They then go back to take a beating from their pimps for not making that night’s “quota” due to the arrest. And they have to “turn” even more “tricks” to pay the fine. It is a ridiculous cycle which turns your local government into a pimp and costs you tons in tax dollars to accomplish nothing (a city like San Francisco spends more than $7 million annually to put street prostitutes through a never ending cycle of arrests and fines).

Additionally, street prostitution accounts for only about 20 per cent of all prostitution in the USA. The rest of it is on the Internet and by referral. Many independent escorts are college students, college graduates and women in their 30’s and 40’s who are fed up with the “glass ceiling” and/or want to supplement their income. These are neither drug addicted nor battered individuals. Instead they are simply people who have made economic choices which fall outside of the norm.

Some say that prostitution cannot constitute a choice because of the limited economic options available to a given population. That is certainly a discussion worth having. But let’s not label it a discussion about prostitution. Economic choice affects all professions but especially dangerous or unpleasant tasks which could include field labor, garbage collection, emptying bedpans and cleaning septic tanks.

I would much rather catch a plane to a beautiful resort and sit on some bored business executive’s face than do any of those jobs. And that doesn’t mean that the average street prostitute shares my sentiments. If she is getting beaten and raped on a regular basis, any other job might look like an attractive alternative. But what if she could catch the plane to a resort and be pampered? Is it really the prostitution which is repugnant? Or isn’t it the violence and hatred which kills the soul? Decisions such as this are really best left to the individual.

One final word. Governor Spitzer was a lousy client. His whining about using condoms illustrates immaturity, selfishness and short-sightedness. His nitpicking about cheap train tickets and mini-bars points to the fact that he wasn’t ready for The Emperor’s Club. But then again, anyone who would order brunettes, blonds and redheads from an agency with such a pretentious name as if he were ordering take-out, reveals himself as a pretender to the throne.