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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FIGHTING WORDS

You can imagine the hard time we had defining what exactly our 1st step was in the first “Prostitutes Anonymous” meeting we held (as we were originally called in 1987 before changing our name to Sex Workers Anonymous in 1995). The escorts felt they were “better” than the “prostitutes” who worked on street corners. The street prostitutes argued a “blow job's a blow job” and there was no difference between them and an escort. Of course the madams felt above either of them as did the porn stars on their way to break into “real” films who weren't even “prostitutes” at all but instead “performers”.

But we had to come up with a 1st step at our first meeting. What is it we were all “powerless” over. Were we powerless over money, sex, sex work, the industry, men, what exactly? Because until we defined our 1st step we certainly couldn't define what a day of “time” was. Was it a day without sex for money? Was it a day of not stripping? I mean what was our 1st step and therefore our definition of “time' was a very big argument during those first meetings.

To determine this – we had to figure out what we were “powerless” over. Now many of our early members had been sold as children. They didn't have any “choice” in even being sold – so they asked “are we powerless over the guys who sold us, the ones who bought us or the clients who rented us for the hour?” It truly was a big point of contention.

Those who felt they had made a “choice” to enter the sex industry argued no one made they do anything against their will – but yet they couldn't seem to stop being in the sex industry. Others argued they wanted to leave but couldn't because of economic desperation. They felt they had “no choice” but to be in sex work because of not having other work options – not because someone was threatening them with a gun.

We finally agreed upon the definition of “prostitute” as defined in the dictionary of being “one who was debased for money”. Every single member agreed that whether it was the industry they felt “debased” them, or the clients, poverty, drug addiction, a pimp, or simply not being able to leave when they wanted to – all of our members did agree they had been or felt “debased for money”.

Which even tied into our “post-prostitution syndrome”. What's that? An alcoholic has a “dry drunk”. This is what separates him from a heavy or abusive drinker. Meaning they will continue to act and feel like an active drinker even when sober without an AA program. In our research, we'd found many of our numbers had left the sex industry – but were finding they were STILL “debasing” themselves whether that be taking a crappy job for no money with a jerk of a boss, or entering into an abusive marriage with a wealthy man who used money to control us. Those coming to our program had in fact found most of the time leaving the sex industry was easy. What wasn't so easy was leaving behind the self-abuse – or finding someone to do the abuse to us. THAT required “working a program” to start finding our “recovery”

The Trafficking Act of 2000 made a legal distinction between a criminal and a “victim”. It had to make the distinction because prostitution is illegal in this country. Therefore, once they recognized sex trafficking was real – rather than decriminalize sex work so we could start looking for these victims without witnesses having to incriminate themselves in order to help us, or even ourselves for that matter - they wanted to reserve being able to arrest those they considered “criminal” while offering help to those they determined to be “victim”.

They then put the police and the courts in a position of being the one to determine if a prostitute was a “victim” or a “criminal”. However, I don't believe they're qualified to do that. In the many years I've worked with 1000's of people – I can't tell you how many don't even know themselves sometimes the answer to that question until they've been off drugs for a while, away from the situation, and put into a different environment. Sometimes it's a matter of perception.

One woman explained it I felt very well. She was 16 years old and just gotten pregnant a second time. Her mother told her “well you're going to just have to go out and prostitute honey to support us because I can't make enough for all of us”. When she went out on that corner – she felt she was “taking care of her family”. She had no concept her mother was “pimping” her or “forcing” her to prostitute herself rather than meeting her own financial and legal obligations as her mother to provide for her children until she had a couple of years clean and away from her mother so she could view her objectively.

She said she didn't “feel like a victim” but was “proud she was taking care of her family” and “keeping them off the streets” and “making sure they didn't starve” because she “loved” them When her mother threatened if she didn't prostitute that social services would come in and “break them up” this woman felt she was “keeping the family together” and thus what she felt at the time as “loyalty” she didn't see as “betrayal” until she started raising her own children and thus seeing the position her other had put her in. That's when she was able to see the truth more clearly. So if the police had asked her if she was a “victim” of her other at 16 – she would have absolutely not identified as such.

Statutory rape is another legal term. Loretta Lynch, the country western singer, married her husband when she was a 13 year old virgin. Within a year of marriage – she was popping out babies. He was a much older man too mind you. So when laws were passed calling for sex with any minor for any reason across the board as “statutory rape” - there were a lot of wives and mothers who simply scratched their heads in confusion and said “I gave consent – I married him and bore his children”.

Now when that term “statutory rape” started being applied – if this had been done sooner my own mother would have gone to jail when she was pregnant with me. Why do I say that? Because my mother was 18 years old when she got pregnant with me in the back seat of a Chevy. My father had lied about his age. While he drove a car and had a job – he was only 17 years of age. In California, if that had been 1980 instead of 1960 – my mom would have been thrown in jail as a “child predator” and my father would have become a “statutory rape victim”. I would have been born in jail.

I understand why this was done. Child pedophiles were tricking children into “giving consent” therefore using that perceived permission as a loop hole to avoid being stopped and treated like the criminal they were. But since I've seen these “statutory rape” laws coming into effect – I've also seen our whole culture change. Believe it or not, it used to be quite “normal” in many communities to be married and pregnant at 16 years old Look at the gypsy culture as one example. They've had to make some serious adjustments to their culture, or relocate to other states where the legal age is much lower like Nevada where it's 15 years of age.

But let's face it – the USA doesn't even have that issue worked out yet entirely Not when the legal age of consent is 18 in California, and across the border into Nevada it's 15 years old Not when a pimp wanting to avoid sex trafficking and statutory rape charges transports a 15 year old girl from California into Nevada specifically to avoid facing criminal charges where he then gets her a job working at either a legal brothel or strip club. Now what he's doing in the eyes of Nevada might not be statutory rape – but I personally may feel that it is. But the law will force me to say that same girl in Nevada is NOT a statutory rape victim – as well the fact she's in a legal club with a license from the state does not mean she's not a trafficking victim to me either.

So I think the issue becomes really complicated when you mix in legal terms, with moral terms with cultural terms. They are not always interchangeable. But if we don't even have words yet to describe rape across the board that everyone agrees upon – I don't know why people are trying to find words that everyone can agree upon for sex trafficking victims. Especially when those arguing are not victims themselves. I find that as offensive personally as a white person telling an African American he can't use the “n” word. He may be right but I don't think it's his place.

We also need to understand the words we use when doing outreach also must be very different. You want up to any addict in active addiction and say “you're an addict” and you're liable to wind up with a pretty big argument on your hands. Besides, you can call that person an addict all day and night and it's not going to make any difference in their lives until THEY say they have a problem.

Where I'm having a problem is with non-survivors going to people within the media and trying to convince them to change the language they're using to address this issue. The media is not a legal arena. It's not a medical arena. Nor is it the streets where these victims are even. So we're not talking a legal debate about what's a “victim” and what is a “criminal”. We're not their therapist trying to figure out if this person was being harmed by themselves or another to help them with their recovery. We're not even standing in front of a person in a strip club or a street corner trying to talk them into getting some help.

There's only one reason and one reason only for going to someone in the media and trying to convince them into changing their language. Noam Chomsky spoke about it in his book “Manufacturing Consent” when he said “language is to democracy what violence is to dictatorship” http://hope.journ.wwu.edu/tpilgrim/j190/Chomsky.summary.html    meaning you can control a group of people just as effectively with violence as you can with words. THAT'S what's going on when so called “activists” are going to the media trying to tell them what to call us without involving us.

That's about control – not about “help”.  Because while you're arguing about "what" to call us - we're dying.  I need people to make phone calls, hang signs, knock on doors, hand out cards, etc  That's what I need.  While the legislators are arguing the law, and the churches are arguing that all sex work is rape and wrong, and the shelters are trying to write up a program that will not block them from getting federal funding or private grants (much as we've seen how Planned Parenthood has to structure themselves a certain way to qualify for funding so they're making program design decisions based on funding also) - I'm out here with the actual victims.

Prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1995 - our hotline used to get free advertising at night with free public service announcements that TV and radio were REQUIRED to run from 1987 when we started to 1995.  Meaning at 2:00 a.m. you used to hear Frances Nuyen's voice and lovely face smiling at you saying "do you need help to leave?  Then call  . . . " and we generated calls that way all over this country and into Canada.

Once that Act yanked that requirement - so too did our free ads and our free weekly cable show go by the roadside.  Suddenly I can't even BUY ads.  You know why?  I'm told that this will "anger their bigger advertisers" who are in the sex industry.  Legal brothels in Nevada buy a lot of ads.  So too do strip clubs and massage parlors and chat lines, webcam studios, porn movies, male enhancement products, adult toys like "Adam and Eve" - all don't want an ad for Sex Workers Anonymous running saying "do you want help to leave?"  Hell no.   So I've had many major shows and publications REFUSE ads from us.  Now groups like Polaris have enough money to go up toe to toe with those other advertisers.  We don't.

We also take more calls that Polaris or Children of the Night even does.  Why?  We take calls from any adult - male or female - in any part of the sex industry - whether trafficked or not - if they want help to leave.  That's it.  Now experts have said that trafficking is maybe 7 percent of the sex industry - meaning the other 97 percent are going to want to quit one day.   Meaning I'm getting calls from strippers whose knees just gave out and want to quit for that reason - not because they're being trafficked or to get away from a pimp.  You can hear some of our members at www.leavingtheliferadio.com

Now yes Polaris has passed a law requiring that a sign be posted with their hotline number upon it in many businesses in different states.  For example, in California, it's supposed to be in all sex industry locations - as well as truck stops and emergency rooms.  I can assure you it's not in any of them that I've walked into.  Who is enforcing this?  No one can answer me.  Those who don't have the sign are supposed to be ticketed.  Yet I can't get an answer from anyone as to who to call to make a report to get a business ticketed and who is going to do that!

Now to prove these signs are not up - I'm embarking upon some research   I'm starting with www.pasadenaproject.com  Once done, I'm moving on to another city and another.  While we're out there however asking if signs are up - we're going to be handing out signs and looking for signs of trafficking.  We're also going to let the sex workers know we're not the cops and we're there to help them if they want to leave.

We need help.  Cars, gasoline, bodies, people to hang signs, etc.  So please - stop trying to argue about language and let's get on with the DO.  If you don't know what you can DO right where you are in your city or state - ask me.  I can use help on the phones.  I'm sure you have massage parlors and strip clubs and red light zones by you or TV stations you might be able to talk into free advertising.

So instead of telling reporters what to call us - call me.  www.sexworkersanonymous.com  I'll show you ways you can make an impact today.  Not when some million dollar grant comes in - but now  Please stop with the fund raisers.  I got a call on the hotline last weekend from Miami to help two women.  Every number I called to find them housing - everyone was gone at a fundraiser to raise "awareness".  Enough.  Please enough.

Let's get on with the work. 

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