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Tuesday, November 17, 2015


I came across an article on the career future for Belle Knox. Belle Knox chose a porn career to pay for college.    To tell you the truth,  I've been curious about her future myself. I say that not only as a former sex worker whose past included not only being in porn, but also as a former sex worker, and as the founder of the modern day sex trafficking movement in the USA.

I'm also curious as someone who runs a 12 step program designed to help people totally leave the sex industry in any form, porn included, and recover from any damage the industry may have done to us. Damage like which even Belle herself has acknowledged she's already suffered to the point of contemplating suicide as many of us do because of the way outside society reacts to us upon learning of our involvement in the sex industry. Depression that hit her once she realized those photos were more than just a job she took – but one where she got thrown behind an invisible line that's almost impossible to cross back over again once society has cast you there.

I know what that's like. In 1984, the media dubbed me the “High Tech Madam” because a warehouse that was dubbed a “brothel” which was found two blocks from the police station with iron bars and which had a high-tech CCTV system.  (Clips can be seen at  I was using a computer system connected to DMV and TRW I used to run credit reports on prospective clients. This allowed them to be able to pay for “services rendered” on their business accounts for anything from phone sex, private order pornography, or even to send an escort on location as an “extra” along with cocaine for the wrap party billed as a “prop” to a film's budget (yes this was discovered and was a whole other scandal involving Paramount Pictures we can talk about another time).

I had set this up because not only were many of my clients connected to the movie studios because I was based out of LA in the 80's – but also because we were dealing with a record number of serial killers targeting prostitutes at the same time we had an HIV epidemic raging. The reality of the situation ironically behind the headlines was that while I was working in the sex industry at the time - the warehouse was actually the first safe house in the USA for adult sex trafficking victims.

The only other house in the country at the time was that of Children of the Night – a program which operated a hot line and a residential program for those under the age of 18 years old. The woman found inside was one who had called for help to hide from a pimp/drug dealer who had broken her nose and arm when she told him she wanted to quit. When he realized he couldn't force his way in to retrieve his victim, he made the anonymous “tip” to the police to retaliate.

I had to set up the safe house myself because the world at large back then, including the police, the media, as well as the mental health professionals, didn't believe sex trafficking was even real, so of course there was no methods or programs set up for us to escape, let alone find recovery. That requires acknowledgment the threat is real before solutions are created. Back then, this disbelief, combined with the HIV epidemic raging at the time, meant if you were identified as a prostitute then treatment centers, as well as domestic violence and even homeless shelters, would refuse to admit you. We were viewed not only as criminals, and sexual deviants back then, but also as disease carriers. No one wanted within 10 feet of us – let alone to admit us into any programs that would help us exit.

With nowhere for adult sex trafficking victims to go, I felt like I had no choice but to set up a safe house myself until the world caught up with reality. I had not only set up the warehouse where it was for security purposes, but I even had a resident therapist working with us. He offered the women we had coming through there treatment for things like PTSD, depression, and even the sexual dysfunction many of us encountered once we tried leaving the industry.

In other words, we were helping an unrecognized silent victim. It took me a little while to explain to the authorities what this warehouse really was for after the arrest. The nightgown this woman was wearing when she answered the door in the middle of the night was her personal nightgown. But the police called it her “working lingerie” because of her past prostitution conviction. The victim's testimony against the pimp for his drug dealing as well as his violence against her helped me to get the charge for pimping dismissed. Because of the press, word spread I was helping this type of person. Ironically, this had even more victims coming to me for help after the arrest than before.

What was I going to do? Walk away? Not wanting to find myself arrested again because people outside of the industry had no idea what I was doing or why – I met with the California Attorney General at the time, Edwin Meese. Edwin is famous for the “Meese Report” he'd done on the harmful effects of pornography. After my arrest, I realized if I stopped offering adult victims help to escape sex trafficking then all existing, if not future, help for them would disappear.

Mr. Meese explained if I were to form a 12 step program I could then have prostitutes ask the court to be given help to quit through our program as an alternative to incarceration. Alcoholics Anonymous had done this for the alcoholic, NA had done for the addict, Sexaholics Anonymous for the sex addict, and so on. They each had stepped up to ask the court to view certain person's situation as one needing help rather than punishment through incarceration and he said we could do the same. Thus Prostitutes Anonymous and our hot-line for adults who needed help to leave any part of the sex industry for ANY reason was born.

Not wanting to risk another “raid” I limited our help to that of being “outpatient”. We didn't limit callers to our hot-line, or admittance into our program to being only to “victims” or to only those who had been in porn, or only prostitutes, etc. If you were a man, woman, or transgender, having worked in the porn industry, prostitution, stripping, web cam performing, phone sex, etc., who had a desire for ANY REASON to exit and recover from the sex industry then you were welcomed to call our hot-line, and to attend our 12 step meetings.

Not easy at a time when no one believed what was happening to us was even “real”. All the world knew then was prostitution was illegal and therefore we were criminals. Using other 12 step programs as a model, and through help with then Mayor Tom Bradley, Chief Gates and Sheriff Block, we set up the first alternative sentencing program in 1988. Before with AA, the courts were shown data proving alcoholism was a disease. That “criminals” therefore on some charges needed “help” through the 12 step program rather than to be incarcerated.

So we set up our hot-line and the 12 step program, but then had to further explain to the court, and the mental health system, what we needed help for, and the need for services rather than incarceration for us. We achieved this by going onto any media who would listen to tell our stories, and to also talk about our ongoing needs for help with things like housing, education, medical insurance, counseling, etc. But to get these things we also needed, like federal housing for victims, we also had to get federal recognition so the government could also view us as “victims” not “criminals”.

Not easy while prostitution STILL is considered illegal just about everywhere in the USA except a few rural towns in Nevada. But it worked. We did achieve federal recognition of sex trafficking being “real” with the passing of the Trafficking Act of 2000. However, it's not a crime to be an addict or alcoholic. It is however still a crime to be a prostitute everywhere but those few towns in Nevada. Porn is illegal in some areas, as is stripping. Remember, ours is the government where when the Mann Act was passed we responded by arresting two African American men for marrying white women.  This was because they passed the law meant to help victims - but the system itself refused to learn how the sex industry itself, of which trafficking exists within, operated, let alone talk to enough victims to understand what their true needs were.

A situation repeating itself again I'm afraid.  The movement hijacked by the “moral majority” as I call them when the TVRA of 2003 was passed. Even the author, Michael Horowitz, has said it's been hijacked.  President Bush then took this to a whole other level when he added a “condition” on the receipt of federal funds to “faith based” groups only (of which we are not as a 12 step program).  Nor was any survivor, or ex-sex worker, head of a "faith based" program that Bush and Randall Tobias (author of the TVRA of 2003) essentially turned over control of the movement to.  Hence we found ourselves suddenly on the outside of the very field we had created.

What this revision did was create a sudden influx of federally funded Christian based programs who were willing to state that sex work was not a “vocation”, but in fact a human rights violation, i.e. a form of rape. It took the focus off the sex industry as a whole and instead put it only on the shoulders of those “prostituting” only. We live in a country where we can't even agree on whether or not eating eggs or cheese is on the same level as savagely murdering animals. Now instead of focusing on the “trafficking” which can exist in any level of the sex industry, legal or illegal, these people want to focus only on the prostitution part of it, and then even more narrow it down by focusing only on those being pimped.  

What this has done has created now a system where if you want help you have to state, or be, a prostitute and a “victim” instead of someone who wants to leave any part of industry for one of 100 different possible reasons or situations. Unless you make this claim – you were suddenly not provided assistance AND were excluded from even being told alternative programs existed (again like ours). Now hopefully that will change now the lawsuit of ACLU v. Catholic Bishops was won, and the 2012 Supreme Court finding that this was a constitutional violation was entered, but this is something we have to wait and see what's going to happen. Think of it this way – imagine rape is still considered a crime but that the court is now dis-allowing “date rape”, spousal rate and will only uphold a rape conviction again a man you don't know prior to the assault. Further, you have to prove you fought back against the rape by there being signs of the struggle on the rapist. Don't laugh but that's how rape is right now in some countries.

But that's kind of the effect this “hijacking” of the movement had. To fight back, the sex workers' rights groups such as SWOP, Red Umbrella and Desiree Alliance, won't even acknowledge trafficking even exists within the industry at all. Safe houses where trafficking victims are housed say nothing if they report to work at a strip club. Trafficking task forces won't extend help to someone who wasn't arrested for prostitution.

All while we've got a new type of unseen victim. One where only time will tell if Belle Knox herself might be a victim. We won't know if she finds she can't transition entirely out of the sex industry itself until she tries. Almost as if anticipation of the TVRA of 2003, the National Trafficking Hot-line was launched in 2002. While we all now have probably heard of the National Trafficking Hot-line to call if you are, or know of, a sex trafficking victim. But what most of us have not heard about is our hot-line here at Sex Workers Anonymous (we changed our name in 1995) where we welcome calls from anyone in any part of the sex industry, who find they need help to exit, and recover, from the sex industry, whether trafficked or not.

In other words, we don't limit and restrict the help we offer to only those who identify as being forced to be in the industry by a pimp or a trafficking operation. Now if Belle does say decide to get married one day, have some babies, and then decides to leave the sex industry, and her advocacy behind, but then finds she's having a lot of problems with the adjustment of leaving, and/or that she can't find work because her past is restricting her – she won't be able to call the National Trafficking Hotline for help, but she is invited to call our hotline.

The porn industry combined with the internet has created a whole new barrier to leaving the sex industry behind. Not a week passes when I don't get a call from someone telling me they can't find work because of a photo, or career, following them online. Think about it – who would hire someone like Belle or Christy Mack outside of the sex industry to work for them being their faces are now pretty well known as those of belonging to porn performer? Oh don't get me wrong, major companies now are throwing money at trafficking programs, and even offering scholarships to victims to further their education. But our challenge here in SWA is that many of us have found leaving the actual sex industry easy. But finding work outside of it – well that's a whole different horse of another color.

For many of us, the real work doesn't begin until the issue of “now what” comes onto the table. A question Nina Harley and Maggie McNeal are quite familiar with because they have stated in the past they were retiring from the sex industry – only to return because in their own words, they were unable to sustain work outside of the sex industry is why they returned. Something we set about to change when we launched our hot-line and program in 1987. I did this because our research into 1000's of sex workers, not only in the USA, but in other countries, and in legal and illegal forms of sex work, was that long term exiting of the industry, even for trafficking victims, showed a 98 % failure rate.

Let's take the story of Tara, who I've interviewed for our radio show at Tara has done porn, even a few shots in Hustler. Like Belle Knox, she used the money to pay for her degree. Wanting to work with women like herself who were less fortunate, once she got her degree she got herself a job as a counselor working at the local womens' jail.

A job that ended when one of her co-workers recognized her from one of those Hustler layouts and “outted” her to her employer. Once her past in porn was discovered, she was promptly fired. Now I ask you – what kind of reference is she going to get when they learn what her reason was for being fired? A job she hasn't been able to find because prospective employers doing background checks online keep finding her porn photos for which she signed a legal model release.

Such is the reason she came to us for help. Not because of a pimp. Not because she was having trouble leaving porn. But because she was finding getting a job because of her past in porn challenging. Unlike Belle, this woman does not want to work as an “activist” because her family is very devoutly religious. Her story is one of the reasons I'd like to see a federal law passed putting an expiration date on all model releases for porn, as well as an “orientation” required for all those entering the sex industry where one has to get a license warning of possible long term consequences. In all of the cases I've heard about in 30 years of answering our hot line, not one woman signing the release even imagined a scenario where this would block her find finding work 10 years down the road.

The world came to know Christy Mack's face after she was savagely beaten. After the attack she told the world she wasn't going to quit porn. It's one thing if she's saying that by choice, but another if it's because she can't do anything else.

Suvy Favor Hamilton is not only a famous Olympic runner, but she also had well over a million dollars coming in from product endorsements before word leaked she was working as an escort. Endorsements that were withdrawn once the truth came out. Now in Suzy's case, her marriage survived the news and her child wasn't taken from her by an angry husband during a bitter custody battle. She also had a husband who took care of her while she adjusted to accepting treatment for her bipolar disorder, and what must have been a very costly course of treatment with Beverly Hills psychiatrists. She's now making money off her book sales with “Fast Girl” but I ask you, when this money dries up, and if her husband was not in a position to support her financially, then what?  

That's the question those who call our hotlink are asking. Women who for example might have instead of being Olympic runners, were instead working as teachers as one example. Who when word came out about their past, whether that be for porn, or prostitution, find themselves fired by a school board who doesn't want anyone like her “near the children”. Whose husband then files for divorce where the judge will grant him custody based solely on either a past conviction from 10 years ago for prostitution, or simply one porn photo submitted with the court filing.

A new “silent victim” who can't hide behind the claim “someone made me do it” that trafficking victims are now afforded today to wash away the sins of their past. To test my theory, I contacted 10 corporations who are offering “scholarships” for “trafficking victims” to get their degree in order to assist them to leave the sex industry. I then asked them if they would hire someone who is a “known” porn performer who had photos currently online easily found on Google. They each did a word dance on me in response but the message of “no” was clear.  I hear on the news a lot about how this or that trafficking victim is in "school".  What I'm not hearing about is ONE of them gainfully employed in a long term career, or founding a successful business.

While I know of many who have achieved a degree - I have yet to hear of one being a professor who has obtained tenure in the USA who is a "known" survivor either.  If anything, I have read about one ex-sex worker in Arizona, Sue Sisley, who was fired in a way that I personally believe it was related to her past in the sex industry.  While the news attributes it to her stand on medical marijuana what was left out of that article was the fact her stance was based on medical marijuana being a good treatment for PTSD.  Something many ex-sex workers, and certainly all trafficking victims, suffer from.

So while some people think she was fired for supporting medical marijuana - other ex-sex workers believe her "at will" firing was done because of the administration finding out more about her past history.  Especially at a time when people like John McCain are joining other Arizona officials claiming to be "fighting sex trafficking".

Really?  Where's the victims?  How easy to blame it on us "not reporting".  Rather than addressing WHY they aren't reporting  Because I can assure you - I'm not having any problem with victims calling us up to talk about the help they need.  I am however having problems getting trafficking task force officials to return my calls - preferring to limit who they speak with to only being women arrested for prostitution.  Only I know from experience most sex trafficking involves the local authorities.  So no they aren't going to be speaking about it to local police. Not if they value their lives.  If you don't understand what I mean by that - I ask you if the women at this DEA owned strip club could have felt confident in speaking to the local police or even going into a program that wasn't set up for this type of situation?

Yesterday I spoke to a woman who joked “Last year I ran an escort service where I managed 10 women and we booked over $1,000,000 in sales. What job am I going to get where that experience doesn't actually exclude me from being hired?” I had to say that was a very good question we haven't answered yet. Because while we did get the world to believe that sex trafficking victims were real and we needed to change the very structure of our society to create a system of escape and recovery for these – what we haven't done yet is to view this world through anything but “moralistic” eyes of who they'll accept as a victim vs. who they won''t. One where we offer help to anyone, for any reason, who wants to leave that world behind, but can't, or don't want, to claim victim status.

Because I look around and the only adult hot-line I see answering calls from anyone who is NOT identifying as strictly as victims is ours. Why? Because we're still at the point where the world doesn't believe these people even exist, let alone they need just as much help, if not more in some cases, then those identifying as “victims”. There are a lot of ways someone can be “forced” into something. Yes a gun is one way while morality is another. Which is what we have now – a system that is saying “okay you'll classify as a victim so we'll help you” to one but then turning to another and saying “no we don't think you qualified” so to you - we're going to just act like you don't even exist.

When a school teacher can be fired for a legally obtained porn photo taken 10 years before, and then find no other school will hire them after the scandal hits, then one may find themselves with economically no choice but to return to the sex industry to pay the rent. I don't know if I call that return just as “forced” as someone who has a literal gun pointed at them – but it's not something I'd call “chosen”. Nor do I think they should be excluded from being helped because they're not identifying as a “victim” and what they did was in the legal sex industry.

We have a long way to go as far as understanding the sex industry as a whole when we can have Jada Pinkett-Smith on CNN one week speaking about “sex trafficking victims”, and then the very next week see her promoting “Magic Mike XL” acting like there's no such thing as an adult male trafficking victim working in strip clubs. We have a long way to go where the victims that exist within the other 90 percent of the sex industry are being told they don't exist, nor does anyone want to hear their voices either .

So desperate are some people in wanting to limit the definition of who needs help in this issue to a very small segment they hire these celebrity spokespersons like Jada, or even create entirely “fake” ones like Samoly Mam was. You'll notice that with all the press those two are getting – people like us who are speaking out about a broader idea of what a victim is are not invited to these events.

As before, all we can do is to keep getting the word out to those who need us. If anyone has been in any part of the sex industry, for any reason, and wishes to get help to leave, and recover, on a long term basis, then you will find help through SWA. Also, if you're a company willing to hire men or women with a past – then please get in touch also.

(copyright 2015 J. Williams)

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