Sunday, January 24, 2016
LETTER/ARTICLE/OP-ED I JUST SUBMITTED TO THE AVN BLOG
Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it is the saying. I'll go one step further and say this goes beyond just knowing about something happening but also in comprehending the events in the past. In 1986, Lyndon LaRouche led Proposition 64 which was asking to quarantine addicts, homosexuals, as well as sex workers on an island in order to create a quarantine process for HIV/AIDS. Speaking as someone who has seen how the system treats each of these communities – the last thing I wanted to see happen was a law being passed allowing anyone to put sex workers on some island somewhere. First of all, I resented the implication that all sex workers were possibly infected with the virus. Second, too many sex workers were disappearing in Los Angeles at this time without the police following up on any of these cases. The last thing I wanted to see was for us to be cut off from family, and friends, as well as the media and the public eye, and then trust these same people who clearly didn't care about us one bit then being in complete control over my safety and well-being.
So I fought back against this proposition with everything that I had. Thankfully it didn't pass but it didn't change the fact the world at this time was viewing addicts, homosexuals, and sex workers, as someone they could even consider treating us like we were back in Nazi Germany times. Because I viewed it as a “Final Solution” in that planting us on an island somewhere would be essentially removing us from the best health care that was vitally needed if someone was infected. On top of removing us from access to the best doctors, the latest research, etc., - this would also have blocked us from support groups and our emotional support system that was so needed should one find they were infected. While HIV/AIDS is a horrible thing for anyone to contract – it was especially horrible back then for women. Because of our hormonal cycles, most of the medications available then didn't work for us. Most research on the virus wasn't done on women either. Meaning if you were a woman back then who contracted the virus – you were usually dead within 18 months once the virus took hold.
While the gay community was rallying and connecting in order to get the latest information out to it's community with respect to the latest research, the best medications, cutting edge doctors, and taking real self-responsibility with respect to spreading information about protection, getting tested, and also banding together to get political action taken with respect to the virus and the LGBT community – this was not the case with the sex industry. You have to keep in mind that this was before we had the internet, social media, free long distance on computers, and other current methods to obtain the latest information, as well as to connect to others with a similar interest.
The civil rights movement was plotted out by people connecting to each other through the African American churches. By connecting with the young through the colleges, and the older generation through the church - a movement was able to be planned and executed. When HIV/AIDS started gaining speed in this country, the LGBT community was able to connect to each other pre-internet days through the gay nightclub scene. However, because much of the sex industry is illegal how was sex workers supposed to connect to each other in order to also learn the latest research on how the virus was contracted, thus learn prevention, and when infected keep connected into a network that could provide the latest information on the virus, as well as new medications.
Granted, COYOTE, Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, was created in the 1970's by Margo St. James. This connected together a lot of female sex workers who were engaging in illegal prostitution across the country. But this still wasn't quite grabbing the connections of the strippers, the porn performers, as well as those who worked out of massage parlors. While there were a few states where the police would bust someone for simply being gay and arrest them for gathering in a club – it didn't compare with how admitting one was a sex worker would get you arrested. While I wasn't hearing of many gays being arrested for walking down the street and “appearing gay” - I was hearing all the time this happening to sex workers. I was even seeing cases where judges were locking up prostitutes in jail to prevent them from prostituting seemingly oblivious to the idea of this being unconstitutional. Yet again here's this proposition now discussing rounding us up and carting us off to an island somewhere where in my opinion abuse of us was going to be even more prevalent than it is now by men in uniform.
COYOTE was also not connecting in to the male sex workers, nor those who were working at the lower ends of the sex industry such as street walkers, or those who were working at peep shows, live sex show theaters, studios where guys could come and take photos of nude girls (where usually the cameras didn't even have film in them), nor some of the underground sex clubs I knew that operated in California, Nevada, and New York.
HIV/AIDS testing was further complicated by the fact that many sex workers felt testing would be a form of self-incrimination. Especially in states where to work in the sex industry after they could prove you were aware you were positive was a felony. Add into this that pimps were forcing some to continue prostituting after a positive diagnosis because they could care less about the health of their victim, nor the public health – in a world that didn't even believe sex trafficking existed. There was no SWOP at this time, nor any type of magazine for the sex worker community universally read like how the LGBT community has “The Advocate”. Nor even a politician who could speak for us like some of the gay politicians the LGBT community has.
Now you see the challenge presented in trying to get information about the HIV/AIDS virus out to the sex worker community in the 1980's which was compounded in difficulty by the fact sex work is illegal in the USA except for a few tiny counties in Nevada. The absolute only thing I saw connecting the sex industry across the board with each other was in the fact the police were arresting us. From the street walker, to the top madams, as well as strippers and porn stars – the one common thing that seemed to be a connecting point for all of us was that we were being targeted by law enforcement as criminals.
I further found it almost offensive that a drunk driver could get out of jail time by being court ordered to attend AA meetings – but even in situations where we were being forced to prostitute ourselves because of a pimp that we were thrown in jail as criminals without the court taking into consideration any of our extenuating circumstances. Even for those who were prostituting themselves because of a mental illness. Halle Barry for example played a character who had multiple personality disorder and when one of those personalities would take over – she'd actually prostitute. Believe it or not, I've also spoken to women with DID who have told me they've got “alters”, or other personalities, who when they slip into these roles they also prostitute themselves. So the alcoholic can get out of jail time claiming he's suffering from a disease and the court will allow them to seek medical treatment – but for someone who is in sex work we get no such loop holes.
These are some of the reasons why I formed “Prostitutes Anonymous” in 1987 (now called “Sex Workers Anonymous”). Once the hotline, and program were launched – I then connected to Tom Bradley, who was the Mayor of Los Angeles, along with Chief Gates, who was friends with Norma Ashby back then (a madam who had been arrested in the 1970's), and Sheriff Block. They put together a commission where someone from each department was represented – from the police, to probation, social services, mental health, the CDC, criminal justice, etc. I was also on this board and the first “alternative to sentencing” was launched in Los Angeles, California also in 1987.
What this program allowed the criminal justice system to do that hadn't been done before was to allow those convicted of prostitution a way out of jail time, even in cases where the law called for mandatory incarceration, because of laws grandfathered in by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Prostitutes Anonymous even allowed those in jail currently to be released early into our program. Another thing this 12 step program, and hotline, allowed us to do again pre-internet days, was to be a point of connection within the sex industry as a whole to also get out information with respect to HIV/AIDS about the latest research, prevention, education, testing, and even up-to-date information on treatments, medications, doctors, etc.
One of the things this committee allowed us to do was to find a way to have the police put down their weapon of criminalization for a time. We explained to them that we couldn't be expecting this community to “practice safe sex” if the condoms were also going to be considered “evidence of prostitution” and used against them in court. Many massage parlors, bath houses, and even sex clubs were not allowing condoms even on their premises because police would photograph their presence, call it “evidence of prostitution” and then start arresting people and shutting things down. The same for street prostitutes. Condoms found in their purse was being used as the sole grounds to cart them off to jail – calling the condom “evidence of prostitution”. So to get the condoms and spermicides out there being used – the police, the DA, the judges, etc., had to agree to stop arresting prostitutes, and to further stop even considering condoms as “evidence”. This extended to testing also. One couldn't be asking for the truth about one's sexual history if to do so would incriminate the sex worker.
Bradley, working together with the CDC and UCLA, set up a special test site in Los Angeles where not only could the sex workers come in for free anonymous, and non-incriminating testing and education about HIV/AIDS, but also the place was set up physically so if they had a pimp forcing them to work we could extract them from their grip. But even this couldn't be done if we didn't have anywhere to put them once we did. They were being asked to walk away with nothing but the clothes on their backs and also being HIV/AIDS positive on top of it. Meaning we had to be able to offer them food, housing, medical insurance, clothing, and job retraining if they asked for help in getting away from the pimp.
This was when we started partnering with HUD, state vocational rehabilitation (who previously hadn't considered sex work a “real job”), Medi-cal, local therapists, etc. But one also can't ask a sex worker to simply “close up shop” once they're found positive without providing them with some kind of alternative work either. Research grants were set up which allowed us to hire sex workers who had been diagnosed as positive for HIV/AIDS as “outreach workers” as well as “educators”. They served as walking billboards in a sense when they would go into strip clubs, introduce themselves as an ex-sex worker who was now HIV positive, and also said that “life went on” after a positive diagnosis. Harmony Dust was an example of one of those who started using their own HIV positive status as a means to reach back into the sex industry to try and get more testing done, education distributed, and also help those who were positive find other work that didn't expose anyone else to the virus.
One huge problem still remained in that sex workers just generally don't trust non-sex workers with sensitive information about their lifestyle. It was found to be invaluable to have outreach workers, as well as educators, to be ex-sex workers to make this connection. But we had no medical doctors the community could turn to that was retired from the industry. At least not any that would admit it openly anyway. This is when a porn performer, Sharon Mitchell, stepped up. A special type of medical license was issued for her which allowed her to perform STD testing on sex workers – without her having to go through the standard years and years of training those wanting to be a doctor normally had to go through.
The AIM Clinic was born. While the press talked a lot about how AIM was used as the primary source of testing for the porn industry – the truth is that it was used by many within any part of the sex industry. This recognized the fact that many who worked in porn also stripped, also prostituted, and sometimes just used porn as a platform to promote their work in prostitution. Anyone going there for testing knew information on who their sexual partners were, their clients, and also their personal lives were going to not only be safe there, but also wasn't going to be turned over to the police in a manner to be incriminating.
The AIM Clinic was shut down because of accusations Dr. Mitchell took a bribe. I might think that was true if not for some of the other things that happened to them that brought about the demise of the clinic. One of the things I felt most proud about with AIM was that not only was this clinic founded and ran by an ex-sex worker who was open about having been in the porn industry at one time and now she was a doctor running this important company – but also that it was being run by a woman. Many people don't remember what a difficult time women had getting their voices heard with respect to HIV/AIDS testing, medications, etc. When men were able to get these “cocktails” over in Canada that was making them almost without any symptoms of the virus at all – women were still pretty much dropping dead about 18 months after their diagnosis. Research wasn't being done on women that recognized we had monthly cycles the men didn't have to contend with. Many circles were even acting like women, especially lesbians, had “nothing to worry about” at all like we never were even at risk of contracting the virus.
Think about HIV/AIDS during the 1980's and you immediately think about men like Larry Kramer, and groups like ACT UP. Now think about a straight female with respect to this disease and tell me if any name, or name of a group, pops up immediately to mind. Because heterosexual women were being completely ignored by many of the politics, and the medical community, going on with respect to the virus back in the 1980's – the light wasn't even put onto the fact heterosexual women were affected until a demonstration at Shea Stadium in 1988. http://vi.uh.edu/pages/buzzmat/Radhistory/radical%20history%20articles/Act%20Up%20and%20AIDS%20Activism.pdf
But here the AIM Clinic is now a connecting point of everyone within the sex industry, especially the porn industry, which is being run by not only an ex-sex worker, but a woman. I'd like to point out briefly here that while Dr. Mitchell did run this clinic – not only was any outbreaks contained within almost 24 hours within the industry – but that this country was seeing us gaining against the virus.
The AIM clinic has been shut down for about 10 years now. Since it's closing, this country is now seeing another HIV/AIDS epidemic just like we saw back in the 1980's. It's been confirmed in Kansas, Indiana, Tijuana and China as reaching epidemic proportion. I think AIM could have fought back against the bribery accusations and continued to stay open if not for the events that happened shortly after this news broke out. What I mean by that is when all of her clients' medical records were leaked to the Porn Wikileaks site. http://gawker.com/5787392/porn-star-hiv-test-database-leaked Porn performers real names, their home addresses, information on their family and children, other jobs they might be holding, were all leaked online. That was the nail on the clinic's coffin. Some had to be behind that leak and the timing was very telling that someone wanted AIM shut down. It was shut down in December of 2010, with the file leaking happening about March of 2011.
The person who has been trying to take AIM's place since day one is Michael Weinstein of AHF. There's information that's come out that a man who worked for the AIM Clinic, is now working for the AHF. Some “insiders” feel he was working against the clinic to get it shut down so AHF could take over the empty hole left by it's closing. I don't know if it's true – but I do know this. When most people who were working within the sex industry were going to her clinic for testing, and when those who told the clinic that they wanted help to leave the industry were then referred to our program for assistance, as well those who were being pimped and trafficked, we were a tight knit network within the sex industry that many people besides Michael Weinstein wanted to see disrupted.
My biggest complaint right now with the whole anti-trafficking community that's sprouted up since federal recognition we helped to get passed has now meant that there's money available that wasn't before to try and help sex workers. Our hotline has always averaged calls that amount to maybe about 5 % of those seeking help to leave sex work are doing so because of being sex trafficking victims. This means there's 95 % left over who are not victims but who are wanting to quit the business for other reasons. Maybe they're HIV/AIDS positive, gotten pregnant, their knees are making it too hard to dance around the pole every night anymore, maybe they've been beaten horribly by an ex-boyfriend like we saw with Christy Mack making it so she can't do any porn shoots for who knows how long.
Meaning with all these billboards going up talking about “sex trafficking” - the conversation about HIV/AIDS virtually stopped once the Trafficking Act of 2000 was passed. This was impounded even deeper when the TVRA of 2003 was passed. When this revision was passed, making it so any money to help this community was only to be distributed to “faith based groups” for one thing. For another, only to groups who were “anti-prostitution”. Meaning that only religious groups who are against the industry, and the workers, are the ones getting the money. So no it's not a surprise to read AIM was also being shut down because of a “lack of money”. AIM, like our program was not “against” the industry anymore than Alcoholics Anonymous is for prohibition or against the welfare of the alcoholic.
So I'm not surprised that the AHF has risen to power on top of AIM's ashes because they show a complete lack of any regard or concern whatsoever for the sex worker. From the day they opened until recently, I've knocked on their door to open discussions about how to EFFECTIVELY do outreach where it's needed within the sex industry. I've tried to open up discussions about how trafficking victims with HIV/AIDS infections are unable to leave without assistance to escape their pimps to no avail. I mean let's face it – someone who is working in mainstream porn as a performer is probably going to be HIV negative. They're not the ones who need to be found, tested, and extracted from sex work because they're exposing huge numbers of the public with unprotected sex.
I'll tell you who is the one I'm most concerned about with respect to the HIV/AIDS virus = and that's the victims of the Asian trafficking rings. I've been getting calls from women who are being brought over from China where there is already a confirmed HIV/IDS virus to this country through LAX. They are brought over on either marriage contracts or work permits to work in nail salons and/or restaurants. Once here, they're put to work in massage parlors where they're having as many as five to ten sexual contacts a day without protection. They aren't being tested and many of them don't speak English. Because of not speaking English – they're reading and watching materials in Mandarin on Asian programming. The doctors they do see are Chinese doctors who are seeing them “off the books” as well as the “johns” who don't want their tests showing up on records their boss or wife might see.
THAT'S who I'm the most worried about with respect to carrying this virus, second only to those who are being trafficked by the Mexican Cartel being that there's also another HIV epidemic confirmed out of Tijuana. The cartel brings them across the border also as drug mules where they're sleeping with the border patrol to get into this country without being searched. The women are then trafficked like cattle from city to city across the USA to other Hispanic men. Again, the media they're watching isn't American English speaking programming – but shows that are primarily in Spanish. It doesn't help that Telemundo's new CEO is Steve Sassa. A man not known for caring much about the sex workers since he was fired from Hearst Media after being blackmailed by a pimp.
After having Mr. Weinstein refuse to even speak to me about the condom law with respect to the porn industry, and that being something I had a hand in back in the 1980's where we had obtained the cooperation of the porn industry to incorporate safe sex into their product – it was clear to me this man didn't care at all what happened to sex workers and something else was at work here with him. That's when I went back to the Ryan White people who remembered my work with this virus in the 1980's and let them know about his refusal to even return my phone calls, let alone try and work with me with respect to HIV and the sex industry. Their response was to deny him a $3.8 million dollar grant that year. I thought that would at least get his attention – but no such response happened.
I no longer have the backing of politicians in office we once had in the 1980's. While the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors is talking about how to get addicts out of the jails and into counseling – they won't even allow me to speak at many of these events about what to do about allowing this same help to prostitutes. If anything, it looks like for every addict they're going to lose their per diem while they're incarcerated the system is intending on making up by putting as many prostitutes into custody as they can. Oh excuse me, we don't call them that anymore. The system only recognizes “trafficking victims” as real and says there's “no such thing” as a prostitute anymore. That's why in 2015 the LAPD has published a big fat zero in the number of prostitutes arrested. The problem with that is this has eliminated all the mandatory HIV testing of those who were branded prostitutes.
Without any idea how many prostitutes are infected with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles – I ask you how we're supposed to get any money out here for this same community? What this “no such thing” campaign did essentially was wipe out any money being set aside to help prostitutes infected with HIV/AIDS because the statistics of those infected now reads “zero”. I've again tried to speak to AHF about this fact – and of course got no response again. If the man won't even acknowledge that Sex Workers Anonymous exists – then I'm not surprised he doesn't want to talk about what's happening to the sex workers calling my hotline reporting they're infected in the same numbers as we used to see in the 1980's.
Yes there are sites that will test sex workers for free in cities like Los Angeles, California. I've even set up a system where once a week we're providing transportation to sex workers to get tested who can't get there on their own. But I'm worried about those in other cities where we don't have members who can coordinate such rides there. I'm also worried about the fact I've gone into random strip clubs, massage parlors, and even places like the Paris House which has been around since the 1970's, and the men and women working there not only don't have a clue about HIV/AIDS prevention, they're not using protection, and they have never even HEARD of a vaccine.
I wrote a letter asking the AVN if I might be able to set up some kind of booth to get more information out there at their shows not for those who would be there exhibiting, speaking, or taking awards – but for those watching the AVN at home. I got a strange response about them not being sure how to “not offend people” with such a booth and then was blown off. I found it even more interesting however they did bring in a hospitality booth from the “Cupcake Girls” to be at a hospitality suite giving away cupcakes and make-overs.
People – giving away cupcakes and make-overs is not what needs to be done at the AVN. From where I stand, these events are the closet thing we have to connecting the industry as a whole we've got right now. Those who aren't there involved – are watching the event from home. Our clients are people who have walked away from the sex industry. Meaning those with money usually won't even acknowledge their past in the industry while those who do are those who are broke. So no I don't have the funds to pay for a booth to help us get information out there. So I'm asking you readers – any ideas? The AHF is not being run by a sex worker – retired or active. Polaris is also another male run group run by a man who never was a sex worker. When James Deen took over the APAC – we were excluded from any contact with the members. I didn't know why at the time – but now I think I know why we weren't allowed to be brought into the loop when they were having discussions about sex trafficking or leaving the sex industry. One of the largest drug treatment centers in Los Angeles was recently in the press for using the female clients who were sex workers as the founders' personal harem. One woman who couldn't get clean because of this man being in charge of her treatment died even. Dennis Hof has told me he has “invested too much money into recruiting” to allow us to post our flyers up in the legal brothels.
I'm seeing the Hunt Foundation donate millions of dollars to prosecutors across this country to put up billboards offering “help to trafficking victims by calling the National Trafficking Hotline”. So all of the community outreach materials are talking about trafficking – which means not talking about the spread of HIV/AIDS virus right now in the industry. I got a call last week from a man who has been working in porn for the last year. He tells me not a month has gone by he's not infected with something. Los Angeles for January's Human Trafficking month had all kinds of walkathons, parades, conferences, etc. all over the country about sex trafficking. We were denied even five minutes of time, any type of flyers posted, anything about HIV/AIDS within the sex industry or our hotline which offers help to anyone wanting to leave the industry for any reason. We were denied because they say by calling the sex industry an industry and not rape that we're “legitimizing the industry” and therefore are “no better than the traffickers”.
I have no idea when simply offering help to anyone leaving the sex industry became such a political hot potato. I have no idea when the idea of distributing HIV/AIDS education to those new to sex work became such a hot potato issue either that the AVN nor APAC even want to talk about it by simply allowing us to get our hotline # out there to those who might need help. But while everyone is out there fighting out all these issues like what to call us, whether this is “promoting” something or not, and all this other ideological debates are going on – the calls of to our hotline of those who are diagnosed as positive is increasing daily.
And I don't know what to do about it anymore. If you have any suggestions – please call us at (702) 468-4529.