Tuesday, December 29, 2015
OPEN LETTER TO EVERY DAY VICTIM BLAMING
Believe me I understand your frustration and where you're coming from. Especially when it comes to the issue of language. As you can imagine, language was a very difficult issue we also had when forming the 12 step program that we formed in 1987. We had to call ourselves as a group something. Alcoholics Anonymous was for alcoholics who had the disease of alcoholism. They identify as “alcoholics” in their meetings. However, in Narcotics Anonymous they do not identify as “narcotics” in the meeting. They identify personally as “addicts” because they suffer from the disease of addiction. So why not call themselves “Addiction Anonymous”? Well for one thing the program was founded in 1956. The disease had not been officially recognized as a disease at that time. The reason why they chose to use the term “narcotics” in the title of their program was because they felt that it defined that both prescription drugs as well as street drugs, in other words, any “narcotics” was something they needed to abstain from in order to recover.
But these programs were for people who felt they were “addicted” to something. What about people who just gathered together for a common purpose? For example there exists groups such as “Divorce Anonymous” and “Emotions Anonymous”. Divorce Anonymous is for those going through divorce who want to have other people to lend on going through the same thing. Emotions Anonymous is for anyone with any type of mental illness that wants to apply the 12 step process to their emotional disorders. To throw an extra curve ball into the mix “Over eaters Anonymous” is for those who are anorexic, bulimic, binge eaters, and even those who are in the “HOW program for those who can't eat any refined sugars or flours. So basically if you have an eating disorder you're welcome to work it through in OA. This is a program where being a normal weight is not necessarily a sign of recovery. Not if you're a normal weight by bunging and purging.
When we formed our program there was nothing else out there in the way of recovery for us and I mean NOTHING. The term “trafficking” not only hadn't been recognized federally yet – you have to realize that in 1984 when I put together the first safe house for women who were being literally sold like cattle or savagely beaten by their pimps I want you to understand that not only did Mainstream America not believe this sort of thing was even happening but further if you tried to seek help by running to a hospital, a homeless or domestic violence shelter, or a treatment center you were refused admittance. That was even if you had money or insurance.
Elvis Presley made a movie “Harem Holiday” about a woman who wanted to be rescued from a harem in 1965. Bruce Lee actually showed both human and sex trafficking in “Enter the Dragon” in his 1973 film when he went into the underground cells. The woman in the cell wasn't Asian by the way – but a white girl with blond hair who was being clearly drugged and held against her will. Both were viewed as “fantasy”. When Linda Lovelace came forward in 1980 and revealed in her book “Ordeal” she had been forced to film “Deep Throat” with a gun pointed at her off camera” by her pimp/husband while no one one the crew lifted a finger to help her on this mob financed film you could actually hear the audience members screaming “liar” at her despite the fact you could clearly see the bruises on her legs during the bathtub scene.
I myself tried to tell a mental health professional what I'd experienced and was witnessing in 1983 and they started to lock me up for psychiatric observation. When I asked why they said “you must be hallucinating because those things just aren't real”. I went to look in the textbooks that therapists, doctors, social workers, and even police were being trained on and trust me according to the textbooks the kinds of things I was experiencing and witnessing while in the sex industry didn't seem to exist under any category other than “see drug addiction”.
I took a woman who had been stabbed 51 times into the ER by the Hillside Strangler bleeding to death. The hospital only stitched her up after I threatened to sue them but refused to admit her. While her stitches were still fresh I took her to the police station to have them got arrest the two cousins that had done this to her. We were thrown out on our ears by a cop saying “we can't get a warrant issued on the word of a whore”. Meaning if you stabbed a woman with a past record for prostitution you basically had a get out of jail free card back in the early 1980's.
So what am I supposed to do when I see we literally have nowhere to go and according to the world we don't even exist at all? I turned a warehouse I'd been using as a brothel into a safe house. I had tried using my home a few times only to wind up getting shots fired into my house. I was worried the neighbors were going to be shot so I figured a warehouse was safer. Especially if I put it right next to the police station. The first person I put in it was a woman whose pimp had broken her arm, her nose and blacked both her eyes. When the pimp realized he couldn't force his way in – he retaliated by reporting that we were operating a brothel there. The police came and knocked on the door at midnight. She was there to sleep and recuperate so she answered the door in her PJ's like anyone would at that hour.
Well in the cop's mind if you're someone with a record for prostitution and you answer the door at midnight in PJ's you must be hooking. So they arrested her and charged me with pimping her. It took me a while to get them to understand what was going on but she was finally able to get them to take her testimony against him. Clearly I needed to do something differently and I didn't think it was right that we were being incarcerated as criminals for what these men were forcing us to do. Not just men either mind you but women too. I've seen more than one woman being pimped out by her mother so it's not just the men that are the pimps.
I went and had a meeting with the Attorney General for California at that time – Edwin Meese. He had worked with Linda Lovelace on the Meese Report so he well understand that many of us were being forced to be out there against our will yet we were the ones going to jail, we were the ones losing our children, we were the one's having our property confiscated, we were the ones with the criminal records, etc. The judges weren't hearing that we were “forced” because again the TV was blowing up with Dolly Pardon dancing around singing in the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, the “Happy Hooker” was on the NY Best Seller List, Hugh Hefner was entertaining the top Fortune 500 executives with women dressed in bunny outfits hopping around his Key clubs or the mansion, and Joe Conforte was pushing the Mustang Ranch legal brothel by saying it was all a “victim-less crime” after all what “two consenting adults” do when alone together.
Edwin Meese told me that he didn't think we'd see the day in my lifetime that this country stopped arresting us as prostitutes. In the meantime, there was already existing law on the books because of AA and NA that allowed us to go into any courtroom anywhere in the USA and ask for “alternative sentencing” if found guilty if we had a 12 step program. Meaning if I formed a 12 step group - I had a chance to at least get us out of jail. Also, as a 12 step group, I could qualify for free public service announcements. What that meant prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1995 is that I could run free commercials on radio and TV late at night when they had left over air time (which is exactly when we wanted it). To have a TV or radio station back then – you were required to donate a certain amount of time to nonprofits free.
So in 1987 I seized my opportunity to do something to make a difference. I formed a 12 step group which we originally called “Prostitutes Anonymous”. The thinking was that anyone convicted of prostitution charges could ask the judge to come to our program instead of jail so we'll call ourselves “prostitutes” because prostitution is illegal. We didn't want pimps or panderers – so prostitutes was pretty specific. You also have to realize this was 1987 – meaning before the internet and before computers. Everything was done by directories back then. So anything to do with helping prostitutes in 1987 would have to be found in a directory under the title “prostitutes” for that reason – so we could be found.
No one wanted to record our public service announcements. No one wanted to be thought of as a “prostitute” back then. Remember – in 1986 they had just been considering a law to have us put on an island to quarantine us for fear we would kill everyone from HIV/AIDS. Los Angeles had a record number of serial killers targeting prostitutes. LAPD was going through what later would be the RAMPART lawsuits. Trust me – we were not a popular cause in 1987. A brave woman stepped up – Frances Nuyen from South Pacific and Joy Luck Club and offered. She made us a tape (we had to record things on tape then) for a 30 and 60 second public service announcement. Back then they had to be recorded on 1” size film which cost us $75 a tape to duplicate and send to each station to air. Sure they'd air them for free – but we had to pay to copy them, then ship to each station to air them for us.
Meaning if you turned on your TV or radio from 1987 to about 1995 between midnight and 6:00 a.m in the cities where we had a tape going (at $75 a shot we had about 10 tapes we'd move around from city to city), you'd hear our commercial saying “do you need help? Call Prostitutes Anonymous XXX-XXXX. For some stations who found that word offensive – we simply had “Do you need help to get off the streets?” and then our phone number. There was no website – just our 800 number that by the way I had to rent an office so we could have a business phone in order to have an 800 phone number back then.
Then came time to approach the city of Los Angeles first since that's where I was living at the time and also was experiencing the most HIV/AIDS with respect to sex workers at that time. They were telling us to use condoms but then calling it “evidence” if we had them on us. So my work was cut out for me. I was very fortunate to have the visionary Tom Bradley as mayor then and Sheriff Block was actually personal friends with Norma Ashby then who was an ex-madam he had arrested in 1980. Bradley agreed to not only allow us to launch the first alternative sentencing program here in Los Angeles for prostitutes – but he personally helped us go in and clear out the prostitutes who were having to sleep on the floors because of the overcrowding in them. That included 400 transgender prostitutes who had been forced to sleep in sleeping bags on the cafeteria floors because they were afraid to mix them in with the regular inmates.
Tom found a recently emptied out treatment center, Via Avanta, and he personally helped us go in and clear out all of the pregnant HIV/AIDS positive prostitutes first, along with those transgenders, and put them into Via Avanta instead of being in a sleeping bag in the jail because of the overcrowding. Out of about 2000 female inmates – about 1800 of them were prostitutes. That's how bad it was – and that's how many we went in and started clearing out right away. From there, the judge then allowed for those who said they were like you, who didn't want to be there, who were being forced, who wanted to do something else, he allowed us not only to get them out of simply being incarcerated, and also out of just coming to our 12 step meetings – but we had all kinds of people reaching out to help. Schools started offering scholarships, employers offered jobs, landlords offered free move-in, etc. We even had daycares offering free care while these women took classes or got counseling.
Our program in Los Angeles was so successful – I had Allentown, Pennsylvania calling. They also had women not just suffering on the streets at the hands of the pimps but also being stuffed from the rafters in the jails. So in 1989 I sold everything I owned, left my job, and relocated to Allentown to help launch the “Program for Female Offenders”. They said we saved the country over $750,000 and we had an unheard of 80 % effectiveness rate. That was so successful we had one of our members go up and open up the first drop-in center that later became PACE in Vancouver Canada in 1991.
So you know what? Everyone was FINE with identifying as a “recovering prostitute” within our meetings. I wasn't hearing any complaints out of anyone. Until 1995 when the internet was born. Suddenly we had two big problems. The first was the fact that adult filters were blocking the word “prostitute”. Now guess who was the type of person most likely to be trying to find us online? You guessed it – the college girl paying for her school this way. Where is she going to be looking for us? On the college library computer. Which is blocking the word “prostitute”. The yellow pages is blocking the word. AOL is blocking the word. Every database online is blocking the word. I would call the directories and get them to agree to lift the block – but then people's emails were blocking the word.
What's the other problem? Webcam girls. Suddenly we have a whole wave of members coming in saying “I haven't relapsed – I'm working on a webcam and I'm not having sex with anyone therefore I haven't relapsed.”. Well technically maybe they had a point. Was it a relapse if they didn't have physical sex? It was a relapse if they stripped or did porn – so wouldn't webcam work be a relapse?
Okay well then what word do we use that conveys what we are but also conveys that ALL forms of sex for ANY type of money is a relapse? You know what? That's when a lot of members started saying “I hate calling myself a prostitute” but they were agreeing that the term “sex worker” implied that what they did was a job and not an identification of who they were as a person. Actually this made more sense. Because yes being a “prostitute” is a form of identification. However, sex worker being a job means it's what I did not who I am. We took a group conscience of all of our members that we could take a vote from in 1996. A few test runs on the computer proved the term “sex worker” bypassed the adult filters. The members liked the idea of saying this was a job they did – not who they were. Now as to whether they liked the job, wanted to do the job – well that's like any job now then isn't it in that every case is different.
So we changed the name to Sex Workers Anonymous in 1995. Everyone was FINE with it. They were fine with having an alternative to jail. They were fine with having a hotline they could call answered by another person in recovery 24/7. Remember now there was no Polaris in 1995. There was no Shared Hope in 1995. There wasn't anything out there for adults in 1995 because the whole issue of sex trafficking hadn't received federal recognition yet.
Do you know how that happened? I kept getting calls from Attorney General's telling me that prostitutes weren't qualifying for victim services because they were criminals. They kept telling me they wouldn't qualify for this until we got federal recognition which we weren't going to get until the American public believed. How were they going to believe? We as survivors had to keep going on TV that's how. Only it wasn't as easy as telling our stories to be believed. We couldn't sell any book or make a movie deal because then the public would accuse us of “just trying to make a buck”. We couldn't go on TV with sunglasses on or wigs because then the audience couldn't see we were telling the truth. I had to go on TV with my news clips about my arrest and the safe house so that no one could accuse me of “making it all up”. Plus every time I went on national TV and told my story I'd come home to find myself evicted and fired. Lost a few boyfriends and friends along the way.
Remember we weren't “heroes” back then. We were called “whores” “criminals” “degenerates” “perverts” “deviants” and a few other choice words I'd find spray painted on my car after a TV appearance back then. I don't think we really made headway until I went on the Joan Rivers show with a million dollars in book and movie offers to tell my story like the Beverly Hills and Mayflower Madam had done. I showed them to the camera and Joan and then tore them up. After Joan got down pretending to faint she asked me why I did that. I told her the truth – if all I wanted was money I'd go back into the sex industry.
But that I couldn't go back in the industry knowing that someone had to be out here on the other side helping men and women to find their way out and until someone else was out here with me helping them I couldn't afford to take those offers and be accused of making all this stuff up. Because back then trying to convince the world that the “Happy Hooker” wasn't so happy but that some of them might have had their drinks spiked or having a gun pointed at them off camera – well it just wasn't something the men especially wanted to hear back then.
So we kept bringing on more stories and more stories until finally we saw the Trafficking Act of 2000 passed. Only now I feel a bit like those Indians who were only told about the upside of their reservation getting federal recognition because once we got the official recognition of “trafficking” that's when all this war broke out over what is and what isn't trafficking. Not because it makes any difference except in the bottom line of what gets paid and who doesn't.
I can assure you that when our hotline gets a call from a woman who is being pimped out of a massage parlor run by an ex-cop or a strip club by a DEA agent and they want our help to get out of there – they could care less what we call them as long as they can call us for help. The same if you're trying to find work and your porn photos or criminal record keep following you everywhere. You could care less what label is used on you – as long as we can help you find work outside of the sex industry. You're facing jail time for a prostitution charge and you got two kids you're going to lose to foster care if you go to jail? Trust me you could care less what the name of our program is as long as I can sign that court card for the judge and keep you out of jail.
As I said, we launched our program and hotline in 1987 and I have not heard one single complaint out of anyone about the name of our program or what people call themselves at a meeting. As a matter of fact, the only thing we ask members to call themselves at a meeting is anything they want. If they want to say “recovering prostitute” fine. If they don't – fine. We don't ask anyone to do anything they're not comfortable with as long as they come into our program with the desire to leave the sex industry and find recovery.
The ONLY time I've seen this all out war over words came with the TVRA of 2003. That's when Randall Tobias and then President Bush came in and said that you don't get any money to work with trafficking victims unless you (1) are a faith based program and (2) unless you come out against the sex industry and pornography as not being a job or work but as a human rights violation. THAT'S when words became an issue.
Up until 2003, we had a meeting of our program in just about every major city of the USA. The courts were using us as an alternative sentencing program at no cost to them or the defendant. No special courts, grants or judges were needed. The Salvation Army or Catholic Charities would let us hold a meeting on their property with their clients. The local jail would let us hold a meeting there also. The local vice cops would give out our phone number to the women who said they wanted out. The local health department would give out our phone # to those who came out HIV positive. Local drug treatment programs would refer their clients to us who had issues and everything seemed to be chugging along just fine. Professor Sharon Oselin did a 10 year study of our program in “Leaving Prostitution” and it came back with great quotes from women saying it was our program that “turned their lives around”.
But then I had Melissa Farley come to me and ask me if I'd agree to state that sex work was rape and not just that all SWA members were, but that ALL all sex workers were rape victims. Well there's a problem with that and it's called the traditions. I can't take a position on “an outside opinion” like that no matter what my personal beliefs are. That would be the equivalent of asking Jimmy Kinnon, the founder of Narcotics Anonymous, to come out and say “there's no such thing as medical marijuana because any use of marijuana is an addictive recreation, not medicinal, use of the drug.” In AA terms – it would be like Bill Wilson or AA saying that “There's no such thing as a non-alcoholic. Anyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic and any alcohol use is addictive.”
As to who is at fault for what – that's all explored and written about in the steps on an individual basis by each member. I can't make a statement like that without violating our steps and traditions. Were you forced to do what you did by your pimp? That needs to be explored in your step process? Did you blame your pimp for what you did like the guy who blames the booze he drank the night before for what he cheated on his wife? That needs to be explored in your step process. I can assure you I've spoken to just as many people who have truly been forced to be in the sex industry truly against their will and had no choice as I have spoken to people who blame someone for their time in the sex industry.
Then again there's some issues that's really up to the person only. Take a woman for example who is running a motel in the middle of nowhere. She has three kids and she's now only 22 years old. This woman has no money and the motel has had no guests in over a month. They are broke. Totally broke. A man shows up and tells her husband that he'll check into a room for the night – but only, and only if, she agrees to take another $100 to spend the night with him. Now let me ask you – was that her husband's responsibility she went and slept with that man? Was she forced to sleep with that man against her will – could she have refused? Did that man show up in time to save them from starvation? You know what? It's not up to me or you to decide on this or this woman – it's up to her to decide what she feels about this. That's what our official position is on that sort of thing – it's up to the member, her sponsee and the higher power of her understanding.
So guess what happened when I refused to make such a public statement which violates our traditions when Melissa Farley asked me to? Suddenly every Salvation Army, Catholic Charity, and every other little faith based shelter tells me our program is no longer welcome on their property. Then the police, social workers, mental health counselors, etc, are all told they can't give referrals to us. Suddenly the news is printing stories that the “are no resources”.
I'm sitting back scratching my head wondering what they're going to do because my understanding is that an alternative sentencing program can't run without a 12 step program. That's what my mentor board told me when I put together a team of 12 step group founders to mentor me into how to form a 12 step group back in the late 1980's. They told me that the alternative sentencing programs couldn't run without either a very expensive program run by a PhD of some kind, or a 12 step program. Now unless someone is going to go out and start their own 12 step program I'm sitting back and I'm going to see what all these people are going to do.
What they did do was straight up lie to me and violate my copyrights and trademarks. They would lie to my face and insist they were not holding meetings of our program – and then they would run them any old way they felt like running them. I start getting these crazy phone calls where women are telling me that they just went to a “Prostitutes Anonymous” meeting where they were told that “prostitution is a disease” and that they are going to “need meetings for life” and that their “pimp is what made them do all those crazy things” and I'm hearing back that these meetings are sitting back pimp blaming for their actions no different than how alcoholics blame the booze for their bad behavior. Took me a while to get the evidence – but I did and I slapped all 11 of these courts with a “notice to cease and desist” because of my copyright violation. I still don't know what any intends to do about the money that was collected in my name, because of my name and about the damage done to our reputation because of this nonsense.
Because that's what I started hearing back from these groups. A bunch of women sitting around blaming everyone else for why they are where they are today and expecting everyone else to take care of them. Like somehow the government is supposed to hand them a check because they're a victim. Well I'm sorry but going from thinking you need to have some man take care of you to now thinking you need to have the government take care of you isn't our goal in our program.
In our program we say that we don't “care who you ran with, how much you made or what you did – but only in what your problem is today and how we can help”. Now the name of our program is “Sex Workers Anonymous”. That is not what we ask you to call yourself. In fact, we don't ask you to call yourself anything. The only we do ask though if you want to join our program is that you “have a desire to leave the sex industry (for whatever reason) and to find recovery (from whatever is up to you)”.
Now our first step ask that you “admit we are powerless over our addiction”. We define “addiction” by the NA Basic Text definition.
“The Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous, as adapted from A.A., are the basis of our recovery program. We have only broadened their perspective. We follow the same path with a single exception; our identification as addicts is all-inclusive with respect to any mood-changing, mind-altering substance. Alcoholism is too limited a term for us; our problem is not a specific substance, it is a disease called addiction. We believe that as a fellowship, we have been guided by a Greater Consciousness, and are grateful for the direction that has enabled us to build upon a proven program of recovery.”
We go by the NA definition of addiction in our program because it covers everything we need to cover. First, it covers any type of drugs and/or alcohol we might be using both in or out of the sex industry. Second, of course it also covers anything that we believe will lead us into “jails, institutions, and death”. Now for some of us that also includes eating disorders. For some of us it doesn't. For some of us that includes abusive relationships. Some of us have come within an inch of our lives of being murdered by someone who said they “loved us”. It includes criminal behavior as that would also wind us up in jail. Gambling is covered within this definition IF it's a pattern for us that winds up up within that “jails, institutions and death” pattern. Any thing, any behavior, any substance, or any person that's going to wind us up in a hospital ER, a jail, a courtroom, or six feet under that we're finding we can't stop by our own control or choice - well then that falls within our first step. For some of us we could be standing there 20 minutes listing off substances and behaviors. That then becomes a point of division “well I'm sicker than you are”. No – we each are all covered by one point of contact which is we are each there to find “recovery” from our “addiction”.
Now if you don't find you fall within that category – then guess what? Maybe we're not for you. Alcoholics Anonymous is not for everyone who has a drinking problem. AA is for those who found that nothing else they tried to stop drinking worked for them. Now if you're standing in a courtroom with a judge about to pass sentencing on you to drag you off to jail? Guess what? You qualify for our 12 step program.
I will say this – I don't get in anyone else's face and tell them what their personal experiences are nor what to identify themselves as. But I am getting real sick real fast of people using me as a punching bag since 2003 I'll tell you that. People who by the way haven't done HALF OF THE WORK AND SACRIFICE that I have for the men and women who have needed help when this wasn't a “popular” field to be involved in. When it wasn't “cool” and when there wasn't a dime in this work. I'm also frankly getting real sick of a lot of other people right now in this field getting paid to do the work I'm doing.
Other people are going into the nice fancy restaurant around here and then sticking me with the tab and the clean-up and frankly I'm getting really sick of it. The ONLY reason I haven't thrown in the towel and I keep our phone on now is the same reason I turned our phone on in 1987 – because someone around here has to do the work no one else is doing.
So if you don't like the name of our program – then please be my guest to go out there and start your own program. Or even better, how about you do some service work around here for a year, get yourself on our board, and then you can make a motion to have our name changed. No I take that back – even better is you chip in on the bills around here and then you come talk to me about the name we go by. But the next person that wants to get in my face about the name we go by – you come up with a better way to do the work we've been doing and I'm all ears. I'm not telling you what to call your experiences and I would appreciate the same respect of you not telling me what to call mine.