Consent

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You would think that with all of the information and discussion surrounding consent that has been in the forefront of social media for the last year that this wouldn’t even be a subject that I would have to discuss again. However, I will rant and rave and write and scream it from the rooftops if I have to, over and over again until people get it through their thick skulls.

CONSENT IS NOT OPTIONAL.

IT’S NOT A GUIDELINE.

IT’S NOT NEGOTIABLE.

This week at work the unthinkable happened to me. The client I was having sex with decided to rip off the condom, and continue what he was doing. I was distracted and had a lot on my mind that day, so I wasn’t as on guard as I usually am and I didn’t notice until it was too late.

When I did realize however, and confronted him about it, he shrugged it off and didn’t “see what the big deal was”.

I don’t think words exist yet for the kind of fury that I felt as I kicked him out. I had not consented to unprotected sex, yet that didn’t seem to matter.

When I talk about the dehumanization of sex workers, through the media, through our use of language, through our perpetration of stigma – this is what I am talking about when I say that it has real-life consequences. My bodily autonomy and therefore my consent, doesn’t hold as much weight as it should. It becomes “not a big deal” for me to be sexually assaulted or raped. I can’t go to the police because I am not taken seriously, or it is difficult to prove because of the bias and beliefs that sex workers are liars and immoral. I can take my chances going to the emergency room at the local hospital for post-exposure prophylaxis (PeP) however I risk running into bias from medical staff as well.

**It is important to note that this isn’t solely a sex worker problem, rape victims are constantly faced with bias and are dismissed by health professionals and legal channels. Being a sex worker just adds to an already shitty system.

This time around (it is not the first time that this has happened) though, I found myself with a lot more support that I have previously experienced. I am lucky that I have amazing friends, a supportive partner and have finally found a doctor that believes that I should have the same access to health services as anyone else. For sex workers who aren’t ‘out’ or don’t have the support that they need, situations like this can be devastating. Feelings of shame and isolation can prevent people from seeking the information and treatment that they need, and this victim-blaming mindset is encouraged by a society that treats us as perpetual victims anyway.

So how do we work towards solving this?

By working towards reducing the stigma surrounding the industry and showing support for sex workers, we create a space that encourages an open dialogue about these experiences.

By talking about our experiences and sharing our knowledge, we can ensure that those at risk know what their options are if the unthinkable happens.

Calling out dehumanizing and disempowering language when we see it, examining the language we use and how we use it to create our experiences and unconscious biases.

Getting involved and informed with local politics, laws and organisations that support sex workers and women’s rights in general.

 

Further reading

PeP

Magenta

Health direct – sexual assault

Ainsley house – Royal Perth Hospital Sexual Health Clinic (I spoke with a wonderful doctor named Lena here, I highly recommend her as a sex worker friendly professional)

 

I am not the first person you loved – Clementine von Radics

I am not the first person you loved.
you are not the first person I looked at with a mouthful of forevers.
we have both known loss like the sharp edges of a knife.
we have both lived with lips more scar tissue than skin.
our love came unannounced in the middle of the night.
our love came when we’d given up on asking love to come.
i think that has to be part of its miracle.
this is how we heal.
i will kiss you like forgiveness. you will hold me like i’m hope.
our arms will bandage and we will press promises between us like flowers in a book.
i will write sonnets to the salt of sweat on your skin.
i will write novels to the scar of your nose.
i will write a dictionary of all the words i have used trying to describe the way it feels to have finally, finally found you.
and i will not be afraid
of your scars.
i know sometimes it’s still hard to let me see you in all your cracked perfection,
but please know: whether it’s the days you burn more brilliant than the sun
or the nights you collapse into my lap
your body broken into a thousand questions,
you are the most beautiful thing i’ve ever seen.
i will love you when you are a still day.
i will love you when you are a hurricane

Backpage panic.

On Monday, the worlds largest classified ads website, was forced to shut down its adult section in the United States, due to the number of escorts that used the platform to advertise their services.

“Websites like Backpage.com facilitate sex trafficking across Minnesota and our country,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. “Backpage.com’s announcement that it will be shutting down its adult-services section is long overdue, but another positive step forward in our fight against human trafficking.”

Shuttering Backpage does not stop pimping, but it does make it harder for authorities and for sex workers to detect that kind of dangerous activity, said Maxine Doogan, president of the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project.

“There’s no research that says removing advertising sites reduces trafficking,” said Doogan, noting that women used the site to carefully screen clients, who could provide references to other Backpage workers. “Everybody is scrambling.”

Now, while most people are running around in circles, flailing and screaming “but trafficking!!!1”, what people fail to see is that by removing a platform that is mainly used by lower end providers, survival sex workers, POC, trans workers and basically marginalized people who are already most at risk of violence, what we are going to get is an influx of people turning to street-based work and more risky ways of earning money. Sure, everyone has seen the movie Taken, and as a result of sensationalized media, society has this narrowed, oversimplified view of what sex trafficking actually is.

When I was working in brothels, I would occasionally come across women who would be considered as being trafficked into the industry, by shitty abusive partners or by shitty circumstances. You wouldn’t know by looking at them or by talking to them, and while their situation was pretty crappy, they had emotional support from their peers and by management, access to health services, a place to conduct their business in a safe environment with no questions asked, and lodging and food whenever they needed it.

You know what DIDN’T help them? TAKING AWAY THEIR MEANS OF INCOME. 

 

What we see happening in the media, and with anti SW agencies is the profiteering of ‘pity porn’, with the Big Bad Pimps being painted as the villains of Captain Save-A-Ho journalists; sensationalism and fear-mongering at its utmost peak. People don’t want to actually help trafficking victims, otherwise they would be coming up with alternatives that these people could engage, or y’know, solving issues such as youth homelessness or poverty or domestic abuse, immigration issues, or the myriad of issues that result in people entering into the sex industry when they don’t want to. I could go on for years about the countless stories of women being ‘saved’ from the sex industry and forced into sweatshops or other forms of menial labor, while church groups and Anti’s pat themselves on the back for being heroes.

So how can we help trafficking victims?

I get asked this all the time, by well meaning people that realize the harm that criminalization is doing, but have no idea what to do about it. The answer isn’t a simple one, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because there are so many nuances and grey areas within the industry. The way to cut through all of this is basically just asking individual people-not people around them, not law makers, not charity workers or priests or social workers-what support they need in order to get to the lives they want. And then, if you have the ability, helping them in the ways they requested. That’s all you need to do. So if someone says they were exploited and they don’t want to be, ask them what they personally need to get to a space where they aren’t being exploited. If someone can’t make rent on minimum wage and wants to do sex work, ask them what support they need to stay safe.

 

Further Reading

http://www.backpage.com/classifieds/Media

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/civil-rights/313872-why-congress-should-move-cautiously-with-online-sex-sites

The power of language

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What power has language other than what we give it?

An argument that I have heard over and over in regards to political correctness and slurs.

Sure, but wouldn’t you want your words to be powerful?

With our words we bear witness, we pay our respects to events that might have been totally out of our control, but impacted others in an insurmountable way. We have the opportunity to create entire worlds with our words, to invoke emotion and to create beautiful things.

What people try and do is remove the power from certain words by using them as liberally as possible, as if the intensity of hurt has an expiration date, when all they are achieving is disrespect to those people for whom those words still hold influence.

Language is a strange thing. Symbols and sounds that shape our thought and our experience of reality, given meaning by outside influences, and then by our experiences. Sure, we translate words in our own way, transform them to back up what we already know. Isn’t there a certain arrogance in not allowing others to display hurt and anger, silencing and dismissing them as politically correct, as if that itself was a slur?

The Other

‘Otherness’ is a fundamental category of human thought. From the time that we are infants, we can recognize things outside of ourselves, that are not a part of ourselves, this is a natural part of our growth. However, social identity is not a natural process, as it involves the idea of the ‘other’ on a larger scale, of entire groups based on whatever set of characteristics that we decide on.

Because otherness is not like us, we can never truly understand it. This causes chronic anxiety as it constantly creates the tension of uncertainty. Yet because it is not like us it affirms us and so also creates certainty. We hence cling to the other to know what we are not and so complete our defining boundary. – Lacan, J. The mirror phase

So what does this mean? We create a group, we label them (y’know, with words) and in that action of doing so we perpetrate a sense of uncertainty because we cannot ever truly know something that we are not. We also know that the driving force of hate is usually fear of the unknown.

I’ll leave you to put two and two together.

Personally, if I found that I was using a word that was offensive for a group of people, it doesn’t matter if I have those same feelings, I stop using that particular word out of respect. I don’t tell them to ‘get over it’ because hey, out of the millions of words that I have at my disposal, swapping a few out here and there isn’t going to kill me. But you know what? Not doing it might kill them. Because guess what? Words have power, and we have the responsibility to do beautiful things with it, rather than hurting people.

 

Connection

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The last few weeks have been a really strange time for me, with feelings of loneliness and being disconnected from not only other people, but from myself. For the most part I have been watching myself go through the motions as if my body and mind were not even occupying the same space.

Holiday season is a strange time for a lot of people. We are told that it is a time of family and gratitude, love and most of all connection. Yet most of us spend the last few weeks of the year feeling more disconnected than ever.

This might be because of the anxiety of getting together with family that you have strained relations with, or the commercialization and pressure of giving the best gifts, the expectation to be sociable and put on a happy mask when you might not be feeling up to it.

(For me, the fear of certain conversations with my family around sexuality and sex work is enough to make me want to become a literal burrito and never see the light of day again.)

Whatever the reason, it’s a weird time, and a lot of people disconnect and withdraw back into their safe shell when they feel the pressure (myself included).

Last night my love bought me back a copy of a comic that I had been wanting to read for a while, called ‘Love is Love’. It is a tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, an event that shook the LGBTQIA community to the core. While a lot of it was quite somber, the theme of solidarity, perseverance and love was devastatingly beautiful; enough to cut through my little protective shell that I had spent the last few weeks building up, and I finally broke down and let out all of the tears that had been building up for longer than I care to admit.

When we disconnect, we might think that we are protecting ourselves from being hurt, but what we are actually doing is shooting ourselves in the foot and not allowing ourselves to be accepted and loved, and so proving ourselves right and repeating the cycle of whatever weird made-up story that we have told ourselves about being rejected.

There is a certain bravery in conscious connection that can’t quite be explained, the willingness to be vulnerable and open even when there is the risk of being rejected or hurt. Being authentic in who we are and where we are at doesn’t just feel good for us, but it helps give those around us a safe space to do the same.

I will admit that I had forgotten how to be brave this month, with the pressure of the holidays getting to me and turning me back into a sullen teenager, but being authentic in who I am is no longer a choice, and moving forward with openness and gratitude is an act of rebellion in a society that wants to dictate how and who we love.

______________________________________________

Comic tribute to Orlando victims released today

Buy Love is Love here.

 

 

Short circut

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The soul of the rose – John Waterhouse 

 

Walking through the city first thing in the morning is usually a relaxing time for me, a part of my daily ritual of basking in the sunshine and clearing my mind as I head to the park on the way home to meditate or read. My brain is usually a scrambled mess of thought, buzzing with ideas and grand plans, it’s hard to slow it down to make any sense of it sometimes.

A year ago I had a mental breakdown, anxiety getting the best of me and I was literally unable to function without being dosed up on a cocktail of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants and benzos. I developed agoraphobia, refused to eat and would spend the day intermittently crying and having panic attacks. I moved to Melbourne with my ex and we focused on getting me the help that I needed one day at a time. 

This morning as I walked home through the park I felt the old familiar dizziness and nausea flood , a swarm of angry bees buzzing in my rib cage threatening to burst out through my skin. There was no coherent thought pattern to break, no trigger or reason. My brain just decided that today it would short-circuit, just for fun. Thanks buddy. I head home to rest after attractively vomiting into a trash can, fighting back tears of frustration.

Although I fucking refuse to go backwards after working so hard to get where I am now, I see this hiccup just a gentle reminder of the difference within myself from a year ago, and the gratitude I feel is palpable.

Gratitude that I am perpetually surrounded by love.

Gratitude that my body has returned to a state of health.

Gratitude for my friends for their support.

Gratitude for the reminder of how far I have come.

 

 

International day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

On the 17th December sex workers and allies all around the world celebrate International day to end violence against sex workers. The fact that there is a specific day to bring light to the fact that hundreds of providers are killed every year, means that there is something terribly wrong with our current system.

This year alone, 151 sex workers were killed.

Let that sink in for a minute. One hundred and fifty one.

The majority of those were from countries in which sex work is criminalized. (What does that tell you?) If any other industry had a high rate of violence, we would be asking the workers what we could do to make their job safer, not abolish the whole industry.

Marginalized people within the industry; POC, trans workers and street based workers are all more likely to experience abuse at the hands of police. In the US, where sex work is criminalized, the process of raids include the undercover police posing as clients, having sex with the worker under false pretenses and then arresting them. Which is, y’know, rape. Street based workers report again and again that police are among their most common abusers.

That isn’t to say that legality of our work is the only risk factor, although the threat of being jailed is enough to not go to the police when something does go wrong. Misogyny, stigma in terms of how we are treated by healthcare workers, isolation from society, domestic violence etc. Having sex with strangers isn’t inherently violent. It is how our clients and society are taught to treat us as a result of selling sex.

Contexts of violence

There are several contexts, dynamics and factors that put sex workers at risk for violence. Understanding them is key to designing appropriate programmatic responses.

• Workplace violence: This may include violence from managers, support staff, clients or co-workers in establishments where sex work takes place (e.g. brothels, bars, hotels).

• Violence from intimate partners and family members: Stigmatization of sex work may lead partners or family members to think it acceptable to use violence to “punish” a woman who has sex with other men. It may be difficult for sex workers to leave an abusive relationship, particularly when perpetrators threaten them, or have control due to ownership of a home, or the power to harm or refuse access to their children.

• Violence by perpetrators at large or in public spaces: In most contexts, the antagonistic relationship with police creates a climate of impunity for crimes against sex workers that may lead them to be the targets of violence or of other crimes that may turn violent, such as theft. Some perpetrators specifically target sex workers to “punish” them in the name of upholding social morals, or to scapegoat them for societal problems, including HIV. Sex workers may also face violence from individuals in a position of power, e.g. nongovernmental organization (NGO) employers, health-care providers, bankers or landlords.

• Organized non-state violence: Sex workers may face violence from extortion groups, militias, religious extremists or “rescue” groups.

• State violence: Sex workers may face violence from military personnel, border guards and prison guards, and most commonly from the police. Criminalization or punitive laws against sex work may provide cover for violence. Violence by representatives of the state compromises sex workers’ access to justice and police protection, and sends a message that such violence is not only acceptable but socially desirable.

– World Health Organization

Since I began sex work nearly 4 years ago, I have been the victim of multiple attacks by clients, sexually harassed by management, and treated like ‘the bottom rung of society’ by the majority of people that I talk to about my job. I was recently interviewed for the Star Observer magazine in which I spoke about my experiences.

I used to see this guy semi-regularly when I was working at the brothel, he saw lots of different ladies because he was on home arrest for dealing coke. We would party, two or three of us there at a time, sometimes he even invited his girlfriend around for a threesome. One night I got sent there by myself, he had been up for a couple of days and was erratic, but not bad enough for me to call off the booking. Plus he always tipped well, so we proceeded to the bedroom. We start having sex and it is apparent that he is frustrated, complaining about the condoms, complaining that I wasn’t doing my job properly. He started getting a little rough, ignoring my subtle requests to stop, and then my not so subtle ones. Finally he ripped off the condom and shoved himself in my ass without asking. I eventually pushed him off me and ran out of the apartment, pulling my clothes on as I ran out on the street. When I got back to the brothel I was sat down with a cup of tea and was told to have a breather before I got back on the floor. Sympathetic bunch. 

Anyway. This wasn’t the first or the last time I was to experience violence at work; working night-shift there is always one or two asshats that think they are allowed to treat you like shit because they payed a few hundred dollars at the door. Entitlement issues at its finest. In saying that, I have never gone to the police about my experiences because I didn’t want to be outed or humiliated, if they even took me seriously in the first place. On several occasions when myself or my friends went to the hospital to get an emergency HIV testing and preventative treatment after an incident, we were told that the risk of rape was just a part of our jobs.

That’s pretty messed up.

In many states in Australia, we are prohibited from hiring security or drivers or working from a residence with more than one other worker. Not quite indicative of worker safety is it?

Sex workers are also more likely to experience violence at the hands of their partners, a direct result of the stigma surrounding the industry. I have lost count of the beautiful ladies that I have known that have come to work covered in bruises, or crying, or have had to take refuge at the brothel for a few days because their partners were being abusive. All the while assuring me that it was hard for them to find a relationship, that I was so lucky to have a partner that was okay with my work, because ‘men are naturally jealous creatures’.

I don’t think I can physically roll my eyes any further than I am right now.

Sex work isn’t inherently violent, but we are unsupported by our government and by health workers and police, let alone by our family and friends who we are supposed to protect from our ‘terrible secret’. Pushing for decriminalization won’t solve all of our problems, but it is a damn good start.