Many people seem to think that dressing provocatively, in a way, invites sexual violence against a person and can even cause it. That was the sentiment of a Toronto police officer, Michael Sanguinetti when he said that women could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like sluts. Of course, the response to such a statement was quick and firm.

There is not really any information out to suggest that the way someone dresses has anything to do with if they are sexually assaulted and, certainly, dressing as a “slut” doesn’t excuse someone seriously harming another human being! The view a victim’s clothing might be to blame for their assault is pretty common and often leads to discrimination against victims who are seeking legal assistance, protection and/or some sort of closure. Knowing this, and in protest to the comment made by officer Sanguinetti, Toronto citizens hammered out a demonstration to tell the world that rape, for any reason, is not OK and neither is blaming the victim. Their actions led to many other groups following suit to spread the same message. And so it was that Spokane’s Taylor Malone organized a slutwalk for the city and I was able to be there to see the whole thing.

I had only communicated with Malone over the internet, previously, even though I think we’ve been in the same places before, around the same time (we just didn’t talk). She’s a pretty fascinating person, to say the least, and she made it quite clear that she was dedicated to her cause on facebook. I met her, armed with a small bullhorn, in person before slutwalk was to start at Riverside park in Spokane. The event was a good success, with an estimated 200 participants (though, it did seem like more than that, as people came and went at different times). We gathered together, some dressed for the occasion and some didn’t, to send a message that blaming the victim of a sexual assault was not acceptable. People carried signs and we chanted things like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, we understand that no means no,” and “I won’t be blamed, I’m not ashamed.”

The message that an individual’s clothing should not invite blame for the harm that someone has done to her was very clear, but it didn’t go without criticism. Here’s a breakdown of some of the criticism that I saw and heard:

Criticism #1: But dressing a certain way is asking for attention!

I don’t really like that I even have to respond to this, but I can’t ignore it, either. One thing, though, that I think really brings out the problem with people thinking like this was rather clear at slutwalk itself. The women dressed as “sluts” wore a variety of clothing. There was a woman dressed head-to-toe in a body stocking with booty shorts and a short top, Taylor Malone was rocking an outfit reminiscent of a 1920s flapper and I was wearing a knee-length skirt, thick tights and a V-neck blouse (which was more modest than most of my normal clothes, actually, but it was cold and rainy – I decided to go with slutty how others had seen it and not slutty as I see things, to stay warm). The variety of “slutty” clothes was pretty tremendous, with many sluts being dressed in clothes more modest than a nun’s habit. Some people chose to highlight the very problem of the subjective term through their clothes, including one woman who dressed as a bellydancer and carried a sign with a drawing of a woman in a muslim hijab. Another woman actually wore a make-shift burqa. My friend and burlesque troupe leader, the Divine Jewels wore something that was talked about in a few conversations that I heard, and a friend of mine told me about it before I even saw it. She wore sweats and a sandwich-board sign. The back of the sign said, “this is what I was wearing when I was raped.” On the back it said, this is what I wear to get respect, and it had a picture of her in one of her tops she made for a burlesque event. It was very clear amongst the crowd that very few people thought of “slutty” in the same way. If slutty can’t be easily defined by a whole mass of people with similar goals in mind, how does one decide what ‘certain way’ is considered to be asking for attention? It seems to me that the problem, here, is that while people may send a message with the clothes they wear, that message may not be shared by an observer and it is the duty of the observer to not force their interpretation onto the individual, especially since the message the observer thinks they’re seeing is very likely not at all correct.

Let me be clear about something, by ‘asking for attention,’ many commenters were literally implying that a person could dress a certain way and be asking for someone to violate them sexually and that if they were violated, it was their fault. I’m not going to say that all people who said that meant that it was OK for a girl to be violated based on her clothing, but many actually implied that. Another related comment was that dressing provocatively was similar to walking through a subway with a wad of 100 dollar bills clearly visible in one’s hand. There are many reasons why that’s bad reasoning, but I’m going to first entertain this concept before discussing why it is a problem. Firstly, let’s assume someone really IS walking through a Subway with clearly visible wads of money in hand. Should that person get robbed, would it be ethical for the police to blame the person for the crime? Of course not! That being said, the assumption in such an example being used is that walking through a Subway with lots of visible money is comparable to walking around in certain clothes where people can see you. Considering how people select others for sex, I would have to say that assumption is probably wrong.

I actually wish we had some sort of study done on this, but, instead, I’m going to have to run with professional experience in my reasoning. I apologize, sincerely, for only having anecdotes to go by, here. Essentially, when someone the victim of sexual violence, various factors come into play. Generally, there is the condition of opportunity, the condition of desire in the criminal which overrides ethical thinking. Basically, a person wants a sexual experience and doesn’t think there will be a consequence for it or doesn’t care. People don’t pick who they’re going to interact with, sexually, based only on signals about availability. In fact, in settings where sex is a product, such as strip clubs and other adult entertainment outlets, more modest girls often make money based on other elements, from them being more modest to their personality being welcoming. In the process of courtship and sexual selection, people frequently find various elements of their potential mate attractive and that’s typically what brings them to desire them.* Because so many factors tend to contribute to sexual desire, the assumption that clothing could be to blame for a significant amount of rapes is, at least, poor logic and, at most, a terrible harmful belief to reinforce (without evidence).

Criticism #2: Slutwalk’s message was unclear. More so than the previous criticism, this one deserves much consideration. What’s the point of a demonstration if people don’t understand what it is about? One person pointed out that a sign that shows up on Google when you do an image search for slutwalk is one that says, “We’re taking slut back.” Assuming that one went to Google images, first, to find out what slutwalk was and then saw the 15th image represented as representative of the message slutwalk intended to send, it could be confusing. Another criticism was about the name “slutwalk.” People got so caught up in condemning the use of the word “slut,” that there was concern that it would overshadow the intention of the whole demonstration. Organizers, though, liked the word because they felt it would draw attention to the issue and as long as the right message was sent alongside it, the event would be productive.

There were opportunities, in the event, to network with other people who share the goal of reducing violence, judgment and helping those who have experienced sexual assault. I got to pass my business card for the Eastern Washington Sex Workers Outreach Project out to people who were curious and I got business cards from people who I know can help those who I try to help all the time.

Based on the conversations I heard and saw at slutwalk, the issues were being discussed amongst the crowd. People took the opportunity to talk about rape prevention. With all the chanting about not blaming a victim and the signs carrying similar sentiment, the only confusing aspect of the slutwalk I attended, I thought, might have been the marijuana petition people, who were confusing to see hanging around amongst the crowd.

The news outlets who covered the event seemed to understand the message very well, and their reports conveyed the desired message exactly as I think was hoped.

More criticisms:

My friend, Linda, was rightfully concerned about who was invited to slutwalk: Slutwalks not for me. Her concern was that because there was going to be an off-duty police officer at Slutwalk and that might make people in the adult industry afraid of attending. People in the adult industry are often real-life examples of the idea that a person should be able to wear or not wear anything and not have to worry about sexual assault. They willingly place themselves in sexually vulnerable positions for pay. Sometimes, their work is illegal (usually for irrational reasons, but that’s a topic for another post). A basic belief permeates society that says that because a sex worker voluntarily puts themselves in sexual positions, they should not be surprised or concerned when they are assaulted. This idea clearly ignores the fact that other people put themselves in compromising positions for their work, too, but we don’t reinforce injustices against them because of it. If a journeyman loses an arm to a giant mechanical device, we don’t say, “well, that’s what you get for working around giant machines!” There’s a reason for that, it is senseless. It is as senseless as it is for people to dismiss the the issues faced by sex workers because they choose work which makes them sexually vulnerable.  They are often devalued when they have been assaulted and are not only mistreated as victims, they are frequently ignored. Sex workers are a group that really needs to be represented at events like Slutwalk and they need to be visible. That being said, sex workers also don’t need special treatment. A sex worker could have been equally affected by someone participating in Slutwalk or someone not participating. This is why many women who were invited by me turned the opportunity down. They didn’t want to be outed as whatever type of sex worker they are, so, as far as I know, I was the only one representing Sex Workers at Slutwalk Spokane.

There have been many other types of criticism aimed at Slutwalk that have come out over the last week. I haven’t been able to keep up. If you have something specific you’d like me to address, please let me know in the comments section and I will do my best to respond to it.

Overall, I think Slutwalk was successful in its goals. Movements like this are meant to draw attention to an issue and the media coverage does seem to have made that happen. Of course, some people are going to get the message wrong. That kind of thing happens with many issues. The best way to deal with that is offer the correct information where you can and then continue.

 

*I know, it is precarious to discuss desire as a motivator for sexual assault. I am not a promoter of the notion that sex crimes are always about control because I think we have enough evidence to show that’s not true. Sometimes, they are about control and sometimes they are, sadly, about sexual desire. We can save the controversy about that for another post, though.

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine directed me towards a reality TV series called “Hookers: Saved on the Strip.” The show revolves around someone I have heard of before: Annie Lobert. Annie runs an organization called “Hookers for Jesus” and a place called “Destiny House” where she brings hookers to Jesus and pretends that they’ve all escaped from slavery. If you go to her website, you’ll find that ‘about page’ starts out with this:

Hookers for Jesus is faith based organization that addresses the realitiesannie-lobert of human sex trafficking, sexual violence and exploitation linked to pornography and the sex industry. We are committed to reaching out to children/teens/women that need assistance/escape from sex slavery.

One problem with Hookers for Jesus and the shelter she runs, Destiny House, is that Lobert uses misleading information and ideas in order to promote her organization. Based on her website, you’ll find that she seems to assume that women in the industry are somehow slaves. Obviously, anything people think is really bad should be compared to slavery or internment camps, right? The Facts page at the Destiny House website also promotes a lot of things that aren’t even true.

12-14 – Average age of first involvement in prostitution.

I’ve debunked this before. So I’ll just quote myself to save time:

That’s a lie that has been repeated for a long time, all over the place. Someone did a study on children who were forced into prostitution and then assumed that the numbers in the study on children applied to the industry as a whole. Obviously, that’s really bad reporting. It is really bad science and it is a horribly damaging myth to spread. It is sad that it is such a widespread myth. It is one of those myths that people believe because it is scary, not because there’s a rational reason to believe in it. A quick meta analysis of the information gained from this study on women detained for prostitution, you know, an actual study that collected data on the actual group we’re talking about, the average age the participants started prostituting themselves appears to be 20. Of course, we need far more information and this study has a natural bias because the people conducting the study were after other information. However, applying that data to the question of what the average age people enter prostitution is would certainly be far more accurate than using a study that was only about children entering prostitution.

Other aspects of Lobert’s site are misleading as well. For one thing, she focuses a lot on ‘facts’ related to child sex trafficking. However, there is no evidence, anywhere that I have seen thus far, that Lobert interacts with children who have been sex trafficked. In fact, where most of the ‘facts’ are related to children, on the Destiny House website, it seems unlikely that Lobert deals with children very much at all. Because when a child is found in the sex trade, it is usually a case of child sex slavery and the case gets turned over to Child Protective Services. Unless Lobert has some sort of license that allows her to foster such a child, and a suitable location for the child (which the Destiny House does not appear to be), then she can’t do the things for those children that she lists as her services on her organization websites. In other words, Annie Lobert is lying.

Furthermore, the issues facing children forced into the sex industry are dramatically different than those facing adults in the sex industry. So making a big deal out of children she’s not helping doesn’t tell anyone much at all about what she does for the women she’s supposedly helping and spouting off information that is completely unrelated to the women in her shelter is, at best, not helpful and, at worst, deceptive. I don’t think I can stress this, enough; children are incapable of giving informed consent like these women were. Children who are forced into this industry face much bigger problems than adults in the industry. They’re more vulnerable and more prone to long-term problems because of their own situations. Lumping them together with the women is demeaning to the experiences of each group.

So, I watched the first episode of Hookers, because I felt I really needed to know what was being said about the sex industry, if anything at all. Annie kicks off the show with this little gem:

Each year, more than 100,000 women and children are sex trafficked in America. They’re bought, sold, beaten, raped and killed every day. No one hears their cries for help. For over a decade, I was one of them. I sold my body and I almost lost my soul. My name is Annie Lobert, and I’m the founder of Hookers for Jesus. The Las Vegas strip is my office and my job is to get women off the streets.

Does that statistic sound suspicious? It did to me. So, I turned to Google. On google, I found no study that stated anything like this. Yes, people are sex trafficked in America. There are such things as people being forced into slavery where they are expected to do sexual things. That is a very, very serious matter, but as far as I have seen, thus far, Annie isn’t working with sex slaves and she pretty much pulled that statistic out of her ass. Also, based on the implied definition she uses on her website of ‘sex trafficking,’ that should be a bigger number. If sex worker is the same as sex trafficked, as she implies, then she’s got a lot more counting to do if she’s to find out how many there are. The sex industry is a very large industry. It is also ethically icky to imply that you’re saving sex slaves when you’re actually helping people who voluntarily entered an industry. Shame on you, Annie Lobert!

Also, while the instance of domestic violence is higher per capita for people in the sex industry, implying that all in the sex industry experience this is misleading and saying that the solution to the problem is getting them out is kind of like saying the solution to people drowning is no longer allowing anyone to play in the water. People will, very likely, always like to play in the water and people will always be inclined to do sex work. The solution to the problem of violence against people in the sex industry is to make the sex industry safer, just like the way to prevent drowning is to teach people to swim and navigate water.

I want to reinforce something about this show, really quick, because I think it is important. Nobody featured in the first episode of Hookers: Saved on the strip was forced into the sex trade. All who are featured, including Annie, herself, describe their situations and it is clear that their entry into sex work is a choice that they made. Slaves don’t get to choose. It is evil to take advantage of real slavery and child exploitation in order to benefit Hookers For Jesus and to claim that people who were free to do something were slaves or related to those two horrific experiences. Annie Lobert was never a slave. It is sickening that she attempts to imply that she and, others who have made choices in their lives, that they decided they didn’t like, are slaves.

All that being said, I’m not against an organization that helps women leave the sex industry, if they want to. I am against treating the sex industry as if it is a ‘bad thing,’ itself and I’m against this organization using religion in order to accomplish its goals. What happens when someone wants to leave the sex trade because they just want a change and they have some other religious affiliation? Adding guilt and a natural bias against them for their choices and their lack of being a jesusphile is not going to be useful to them at all.

The first episode of Hookers focuses, partly, on a girl named Regina. Regina has a few good points to make in the show, even though they try to make her story side with Lobert’s point of view. For one, Regina has stripped before and says, multiple times, that she doesn’t think stripping is the same as selling sex. She’s right! Lobert seems to assume that, because she met her pimp while she was stripping, that selling sex and stripping go hand in hand. She actually claims that stripping is a gateway to prostitution. This is misleading. Some strippers might sell sex, but many do not. In fact, some of the highest paid strippers that I know of don’t sell sex because if you sell sex, then the guy cums and he goes home and stops paying you. Selling sex, for strippers, is bad for business. Most strippers are also aware of the dangers of selling sex and so they object to it based on a variety of other reasons, such as they don’t want to go to jail or they don’t want a disease or they’re loyal to their spouse or boyfriend. In fact, other than the potential to go to jail and not wanting to lose money, the reasons for not selling sex for strippers pretty much mirrors why most other people might not have sex with a random person. Strippers, as it turns out, are quite capable of making appropriate sexual decisions for themselves.

bio_page_regina_400An interesting element of this episode is that Regina and Annie share the screen time devoted to telling Regina’s story. I’m not sure entirely why, because there doesn’t seem to be a problem with Regina telling her own story. To further make this element of the show odd, to say the least, the story told by Regina about herself and the story told by Annie about Regina don’t seem to be entirely congruent. Annie assumes that Regina was kicked out of her home situation and, while Regina doesn’t completely contradict that, the way the story is cut up for film, Regina makes comments about calling her dad to tell him she entered the Navy and it doesn’t seem to flow with the story about a kid being kicked out. I could be wrong about this, but the story seems to be broken, here, at a critical point in the story. Regina met her pimp in the Navy, but saying she was kicked out of her house makes her story more dramatic, I guess.

Another element of Regina’s story that is worth considering are her comments about money.

The last paycheck I got, I could have made that in an hour.

That comment leads to another scene where Lobert says, “The money is definitely what keeps girls in the business.”

That’s only partly true. Money is a great motivator, I have no doubt about that, and Regina is wise to miss that money. Money gets you food and shelter and Internet access and Darth Tater, the Mr. Potatohead version of Darth Vader. Money is a nice thing to have and when it comes to making decisions based on if you have spare cash for a spudly Sith Lord or you can barely afford Ramen Noodles, many people will opt for the option to fork out the dough for Master Tater. That being said, there are other reasons why the adult industry is an appealing place to be. For example, a job based on pleasure is a hell of a lot better than a job based on removing grease from a fast food service grill. Also, being able to have control over your schedule, not having an actual boss to report to and having the freedom to say and do things that you want to and get paid for it, is a really awesome work situation to have.

I will soon watch the second episode of Hookers, and if I deem it necessary, I may write a response to it, as well. For now, I’d like to see Annie’s take on her spreading misleading information around and offering such biased services through her organization.

Note: It was really difficult to not make fun of Annie for mistaking the Squirrel’s penis for an umbilical cord. And the one thing that made the whole show worth watching was hearing the lady at the stable say, “we’re going to learn some things with these horses and shre what they have to offer. The outside of a horse is what’s good for the inside of a woman!” Hilarious!

When I was 23, I worked for a school district in my hometown as a Teacher’s Assistant. I was pretty good at my job. My sister, who was 16, at the time, attended the same school district.  I frequently took care of her. She was a troubled kid, which isn’t surprising, since over the previous 10 years, she had partly been raised by me. It was always easy for the school district to contact me when she caused problems in school, since they always knew where I was. One day, I was called to the Principal’s office at a grade school I was working at. They were informing me that, yet again, my sister needed me. My default thoughts were that she had stolen something, skipped school or yelled at a teacher. That’s why they usually called, anyway. I was wrong.

I rode my bike across town, a three mile ride, in a very short time, to get to my sister’s High School. She was sitting in the nurse’s office, arguing with the school’s Vice Principal. Her yells were full of emotion, she was sobbing and clutching her hand to her chest. “You’re not going to tell my parents!” Most of the time, she didn’t care what our parents heard about what she did. They were usually unable to do anything about it. Dad worked too much and mother was so ill by then that she barely did anything beyond self-care and, even then, she needed help for her dialysis. I had more control over my sister’s behavior than they did. So why did it matter if Mom and Dad knew that she’d been in another fight and why wasn’t she protesting them calling me? She hated when I showed up at her school for disciplinary problems. She viewed me as something of a parental figure and so she rebelled against me, too.

As it turns out, she wasn’t just in a fight, she’d been trapped and beaten up because someone saw her staring at another girl. My sister has always been bisexual, she’s known since puberty. Her sex life started when she was 14 and most of her partners were girls. I was aware of it from the beginning. She was terrified of our parents knowing. Their Mormon dogma condemned such things and she didn’t want to be seen as an abomination. Furthermore, my parents already pinned every other problem she had on sexual abuse, she didn’t need innate parts of herself blamed on the same thing. Thus, her sexuality was a secret that I helped her keep. That’s why, when I showed up at her school, she fell into my arms, sobbing, and asking me to tell them not to tell dad.

My role that day was to save her from something. Something that I had to protect her from for years. That moment, holding her in my arms and trying to calm her, helped define how I approached the world’s views on human sexuality. Over time, I became more and more aware of sexual diversity. I shed many of the ideas that I was raised with which dichotomized sexuality. I ignored the claims people made which demonized sexual variation. I learned that there are at least 100 different variations in human sexuality, most of which are linked to physical causes like chromosomal differences, hormone changes, hormonal environments during development and even medical conditions like androgen insensitivity. It was astonishing, to me, that the rest of the world wasn’t clued in on these things and it was horrifying that, because of the lack of knowledge, people were constantly getting hurt. More so than people like my sister, people who had more obvious sexual variations were being discriminated against and even killed.

If it was hard to console my sister for the wrong that was done to her, how hard would it be to face the loss of her at the hands of people with the same hatred as their motive? It is difficult to imagine that more hate could exist than what did that to her, but it does. While my sister isn’t transgender, it was her experience that led me on a path which brought my attention to troubles faced by sexual minorities, like the transgendered.  The Transgender Day of Remembrance is devoted to transgender people who have died, many at the hands of hatred. It is a call to the World to raise awareness about the plight of transgender people. In mourning their loss, there is a hope that one can plant the seeds of social growth that may lead to change. There is opportunity, in this day, to teach people that transgender people, or anyone in the GBLT community, deserves to have a life free of hatred; to be treated as equal and just as worthy as anyone to have a normal life. This day is meant for the World to work toward a goal of a future where losing people to hate-driven violence is a sad echo of the past and not a modern danger.

I ask that you, valued reader, take a moment on November 20 to remember those who face discrimination due to their sexuality. Take a moment to remember those who have been killed at the hands of hatred as a result. Then, make an effort to raise awareness for others. Even if you’re just passing on a link to this page, or you make a comment to a friend, it is at least something. On November 20, remember, then take a step to make a difference. Thank you.

Transgender Day of Remembrance on Remembering Our Dead

(The Transgender Day of Remembrance is acknowledged by EW-SWOP and SWOP as an important day to acknowledge in order to help work toward changing perspectives in human sexuality. As such, this message is written with that in mind and with the encouragement that those who support sex worker outreach and awareness also please support the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Thank you.)

ANNOUNCING:

girlannouncephoto

EW-SWOP representatives have teamed up with a talented, professional photographer, who has been gracious enough to donate his time in order to help with our portfolios, at our next meeting, just in time for Halloween!

Beverages and munchies will be provided, but bring more to share and add to the fun.

This is your chance to expand on your professional portfolio, or to start one if you don’t already have one. People who do phone sex or other work where they don’t have a direct clientele are also welcome to have their picture taken.

Bring at least $1 for a disc with your pictures on it, bring more if you want to contribute to EW-SWOP funds. Any donations will be used for future meetings and activities.

Also bring 1-3 costumes/outfits to pose in for your pictures. No more than 3 costumes per person, you will have a chance to talk to the photographer about other modeling opportunities after the photo shoot. Please keep your clothes contained in a bag so they don’t get lost. There will be six shots per costume, per person so we can get through everybody.

We will have security present for this event. While this is mostly a sex worker-only event, we understand that some my not feel comfortable working with a new photographer without someone present, so you may bring ONE helper.

As the photographer preps for the photo shoot, we will take a little time to discuss SWOP events, concerns that we all face within the industry as well as safety issues. We will also be discussing and distributing resources that might be helpful to you in your work and we will gather ideas for other fun SWOP activities and meetings.

Please RSVP at my email, listed on this page.

We hope to see you there!

S & E

In a world where sexual topics are frequently shunned in most formal contexts, where walking into certain buildings requires us to attempt to leave our vaginae and penises behind, it is not surprising that conflicts will exist between sex industry workers and the rest of the working world. Sadly, a crossing over of the sex industry into other elements of American culture can have tragic results and adding to those matters the tendency for humans to be self-righteous and self-serving (not that all do this, but many do) and one sex worker coming out to the rest of the world can result in the biggest social explosion he or she will ever see.

That’s what happened to Lisa D. Chávez. Her story is actually pretty complex. The major players in the events that transpired each have their own agendas and have to deal with their own set of battles due to what happened with Chávez. I don’t want to assume that any single person is an evil individual, in this matter. Instead, I think there are some serious flaws in people’s thinking that builds upon this issue and creates a complete social mess that can ruin lives.

Does that sound overly dramatic? Well, it isn’t. People in the sex industry are constantly fighting against some extreme social stigmas that can affect the kind of future we might have. This isn’t because people in the sex industry have automatically done something wrong, instead, it is because society often assumes people in the sex industry are bad people, with questionable moral values and lacking skills. Furthermore, people often want to avoid being associated with those in the sex industry because they don’t want to deal with others questioning their judgment.

The Chávez case includes more problems than that, though, so I’m going to sift through the information that I have and see what we find. My first impression of this issue started here, when ScienceGoddess sent me the link. From there, I read the article David Kroll linked to, here. A quick Google search generates links that all lead back to the article in the Chronicle, but additional google-fu did get me to the site Chávez worked for*.

According to the Chronicle, Ms. Chávez took the phone sex job as a natural response to being stuck in a sucky economic situation. This isn’t an uncommon motivation for entering the sex industry, which has a high turnover rate because it seems like an easy way to make fast cash and, as our society becomes more sexually progressive, it seems like a more acceptable thing to do. That is, unless you’ve got some significant social standing, like being a professor. This kind of job, though, isn’t easy and people frequently leave the industry as fast as they entered, for a variety of reasons.

The self-described, pro-sex feminist, Ms. Chávez had heard about being a phone sex dominatrix through her students, she discussed the empowerment that such a job can give an individual and how this job could give the students good life experiences and improve their writing. I can tell you, based on my experience and the experiences that my peers have shared with me, those things are very true. Sex work can be very empowering and can give a person experiences in life that they can’t find anywhere else. The catch is, you still have to deal with the rest of society.

Back in 2008, it really bothered me how others reacted to the sex industry and how the people I knew within the industry didn’t really reflect the image that society seemed to create of them. As a result, I conducted a series of very informal interviews, asking my peers questions about how they saw themselves and about how they thought others saw them. One of the most disturbing things I noticed was that my peers seemed to indicate that the worst part of their job was not the work itself or how their clients treated them. Instead, it was how the people outside the industry treated them. There was a running theme that seemed to indicate that the thing that made working in the sex industry the hardest were the social rules that told each worker that they were bad for what they did; it was the people who discriminated against the sex workers who made life for the sex worker suck. The job was often power; general society were robbers of it. Sadly, it didn’t take much time for the empowered Chávez to experience this and part of the reason was due to a few mistakes she made.**

Chávex’ story, if her side is really what happened, doesn’t really show malicious intent. The errors that Chávez made appear to be that she might have influenced a student’s choices and she had her picture taken with another.

When I first started stripping, the experience was absolutely amazing. One of my friends was also a stripper and one night, we were sharing our experiences and talked about how our job made us feel. In that conversation, she said to me something like, “you know, when I see a girl in a sucky job, like bagging groceries, and I think about how pretty she is and how nice, I often wonder why it is that if I were to tell her she should try my job out, it feels like I’m selling crack. If I had any other job, though, it would be like I was handing her a life-saving tether.” My friend was right. My friend was right. Our jobs are looked at so negatively by society, telling a person that they should apply at McDonald’s ranks higher than telling them that they should be a stripper, even if the latter was more likely to meet all of her needs. There’s no way to know how the conversation played out when Chávez talked about the sex industry or her job with students, but even if we did know how the conversation went, the odds are high that her peers would have been just as critical. One of her students could have been starving and Chávez was likely to face criticism when her opinion on phone sex influenced a choice. In fact, the story of the student Chávez posed with, Liz Derrington, had a sad story of her own to tell, having gone through a divorce and apparently landing a job at the same place Chávez worked on her own, but people didn’t look at the events that transpired as someone trying to claw their way out of a pot of boiling water. The other student mentioned was also not seen with a very objective light on her story. Even the Chronicle hints at a concern that Chávez indirectly influenced her decision, but it ignores that this person is an adult that made her decision on her own and Chávez didn’t force the girl into it. Instead, they saw it as Chávez potentially abusing her position and harming the learning environment.

Pictures are the inarticulate mouthpiece of the sex industry. people say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but if that is true, pictures can be horribly deceptive bastards. People give pictures far more credit than they’ve ever deserved. I don’t want to say that pictures are horrible and all wrong, but pictures tell a very limited story which usually lacks context. So it was that when Chávez posed for a picture with her student, the picture spoke for them, but it didn’t really say much at all and, to some people, it said the wrong thing, entirely.

Chávez and Derrington were at work, at a job unrelated to Chávez’ position as a professor and Derrington’s role as a student when suggestive pictures of them were taken for the people they were working for. In other words, they were doing a different job. Yet, these pictures were a major player in Chávez’ becoming a target of her peers. The objection to Chávez’ alternate job could easily have cost her the position she had as a professor. Yet, most other alternate jobs that a professor might take wouldn’t have been a big deal, no matter if she was working alongside a student as an equal or not. So, is it an abuse of authority if Chávez poses next to a student, who happens to be a co-worker, in that context, for erotic purposes? Not anymore than if they worked alongside each other at a fast food joint because, in that context, Chávez wasn’t in an authoritative position over her student.

But that’s not all that fueled the controversy around Chávez. Chávez taught creative writing and her students complained to other professors about sexually charged conversations in class. This brings up some other interesting questions. When is it appropriate to talk about sexuality in a college classroom? If the person teaching Gender Studies classes can talk about porn, why can’t a Math teacher? It seems to me, the difference is in context. Is talking about sexuality relevant to the class or somehow important to the student’s experience in that class? If so, then discussion about sexuality should be open, honest and frank as long as nobody’s safety is compromised. Skill in writing is not an easy thing to gain. Unlike other subjects, where going from a problem to a solution is easy, where 2+2 will always equal 4 and knowing what the Fibonacci sequence is can unpack a number of useful applications for you, neatly, being successful at writing is complicated. Writing is barely formulaic and being able to write articulately about things requires knowledge and experiences to draw upon that aren’t mathematically constant. Furthermore, a good creative writer can write about all aspects of life. Sex, one of our most innate drives, is one of those aspects. So, does sex have a place in a class on creative writing? I am quite certain that it does, but society probably disagrees with me. I just don’t think they have a rational basis for their disagreement. So, for the students who complained about the sexually-charged conversations in Chávez’ class, unless they weren’t learning anything and/or someone was getting hurt, the problem in their class was with them.

The fact that people sought to harm Chávez by showing her pictures from her other job to her superiors is a horrible statement about the type of people they are. To me, it seems just as unethical as when people tried to get PZ Myers fired over unprovoked harm to a cracker. I know, having erotic pictures taken of you is not the same as violence to a cracker, but the similarity is in people being unable to keep in-work behavior separate from away-from-work behavior.

There is part of this controversy that is so sticky and confusing that I’m going to refrain from saying anything authoritative on it at all. In regards to a student, Carrie Cutler, there is a lot of he-said-she-said involved. There’s not really a way to gather information on what happened between them mostly because all that is related to them in this issue is from personal testimonies from people which appear to vary. It also seems as if there is some missing conflict that isn’t talked about, even in the article from the Chronicle. Basically, the conflict doesn’t make sense and appears to be something that should be disregarded when examining Chávez’ work as a telephone dominatrix. If either the student’s accusations that Chávez spoke inappropriately about her or Chávex’ claim that the Cutler was trying to harm her were true, those are matters that should be dealt with on their own. Chávez is responsible for her actions as a professor and students are also responsible for their own conduct. If the student and Chávez were moonlighting as waitresses, we wouldn’t consider drama carrying over from their waitress jobs to be questionable, just because it caused drama at the school. Instead, it would just be the conduct that took place at school, related only to the dramatic incident, that would be a concern for Chávez’ employers.

Yet another issue lurks in the murky water of this controversy, as well. When we look to an educator to help teach us a subject, we hold them to a kind of odd standard. Instead of measuring each professor based on what they can teach us, we set up other standards that go beyond that one thing. The classroom and general feel of a lesson is all the burden of a professor to carry. We call this, ‘the learning environment.’ Ms. Chávez was investigated for possibly creating a bad learning environment for her students. These accusations were not based on information gained from all of Chávez’s students. Instead, it was, again, the accounts of a few who may not have had all the information. Furthermore, this kind of investigation appears to make Chávez responsible for the educational environment when others could be influencing it. I’m glad that the investigation resulted in the conclusion that Chávez was not guilty of creating a hostile learning environment or of sexual harassment because it appears to be the case that it is the aversion that her peers had that was the driving force behind it, and not something Chávez did to actually harm someone. Chávez’ peers were then asked to reach some sort of peaceful settlement.

It didn’t help. The teachers are still objecting to Chávez staying with the school.

Enter another complicatedly tangled web: racism and sexism. Given the sparseness of evidence related to these issues, I’m only tossing them out there because they relate to the story. The hows and whys of their relevance have not been clearly revealed and so are not really worth commenting on other than to mention that they are there. Sadly, racism and sexism are a serious problem when it comes to issues related to the sex industry. That’s pretty much all I can say to shed light on that aspect of the story. Again, if these accusations are true, they should be treated as another matter, and not be used to influence decisions about Chávez’ work in the sex industry. For similar reasons, I have to skip over many of the accusations found in the Chronicle, such as faculty calling Chávez a prostitute. It is silly, but not uncommon for people to exaggerate the role an individual has in the sex industry. I get accused of being a prostitute, as well, and most of my work is done at home, while I’m completely alone (it is impossible to have sex with someone for money when there’s not a someone there with you). I think these accusations come from a desire for those objecting to the industry to demonize individuals as much as possible and it is a elementary school playground tactic. The biggest difference seems to be that, as adults, those involved in this scandal get to let their lawyers do the name-calling for them.

The saddest aspect of this whole debate seems to be that a whole department in a school has been affected by, not Chávez’ actions, alone, but by the reaction that her peers had to her work as a performer. Her work, which should not have mattered, has such a stigma attached to it that her peers were incapable of dealing with it as adults. Their tantrums over how they feel has created chaos that the rest of the school has to deal with. I’m not going to paint Chávez as a lone victim, but I really don’t think she’s as guilty of creating a poor learning environment for her students as her peers appear to have been.

David Kroll, from PLoS suggests that Chávez resign:

Not knowing anything more about the case than the article in The Chronicle, the simplest resolution would seem to be that the faculty member in question resign.

While I understand his reasoning, the student experience is a very important thing to consider, I don’t really think that is the right answer. If this issue really is being fueled by the offended peers of Chávez, then her career is lost due to their callous, bully hands. Her actions as a phone dominatrix were not harmful and were not an example of an abuse of power. Regardless of if they looked like coercion, they shouldn’t be treated as if they are because we know, based on the information given in the Chronicle, that they weren’t. Allowing her picture to be taken was a mistake by Chávez, but only because of how society reacts to these things, not because she actually was doing something wrong. Should she be forced to resign over the picture, then it is more of a testament to the power of bigotry against someone who worked in the sex industry than an actual, rational response to the situation.

As for the other accusations that exist in the comments and in the article, there’s no way for bystanders like myself and Kroll can’t really get enough information on them to take any objective stance, so we should really be responding to the whole thing with that in mind, and addressing only those issues which the Chronicle gives us sufficient evidence for.

*As a side note from someone who has been around in the industry for a while, the site Chávez worked for is an atypical contract arrangement. It doesn’t encourage the same safety standards that most other contracts do that allow people in the sex industry to keep their identities hidden. Further, in order to begin working for them, People Exchanging Power requires applicants to first pay for an information packet and then you can start working for them and, if you stick around for six weeks, you might get your money back. None of what is said to be in the information packet is something that couldn’t be put online someplace for performers. While it may not be the intention of PEP to do so, this stinks of a way to take advantage of people looking for this kind of work.

There is also a little deception in how they present your potential earnings on the site. While the website says that an individual makes $35-$50 per every hour of talk time, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be talking the whole time that you’re logged in to work for them. most companies have a range of per minute earning potential, but the catch is that you’re only going to make money when you’re talking and if there are large gaps of time between the calls you take, you are unlikely to make the kind of money they’re trying to imply.

**While I think my interviews with people are relevant and important to this article, I am aware that they cannot be considered something that was done with scientific rigor. While I do my best to preserve the scientific process as I go about my study of sex and the sex industry, I am only one person and my peers are not even close to including the diversity I would encounter were I ever able to have the exciting opportunity of doing a cross-sectional study.

September 10, 2010 – Eastern Washington Sex Worker’s Outreach Group (EW-SWOP) is a new organization that wishes to help sex workers gain and maintain rights that they are often denied. Issues from legalizing prostitution to decreasing domestic violence within the industry are addressed by the group. Alongside these goals, the group helps to fight for equal rights for the LGBT community.

The group serves another purpose, though. The outreach group also serves as an alliance that allows sex workers to connect with others within the industry. The taboo nature of the sex industry often leaves workers feeling isolated and unable to discuss important matters with people who don’t understand life in the industry. EW-SWOP hopes to help those workers by giving them someone to turn to.

EW-SWOP is already planning on events related to the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17th, International Sex Worker Rights Day on March 3rd, and joining in activities related to local Gay Pride events. The group plans to meet one or two times a month.  Web utilities or phone trees will be options for those who cannot travel or who lack internet access.

Introducing the Eastern Washington Sex Worker’s Outreach Project (EW-SWOP).

This is an organization devoted to unifying people in the sex industry to offer social support and to fight for the rights of sex workers around the globe. You can join us so you can feel less alone in the industry and you can help us fight to change the attitude that the world has regarding the sex industry. If you’re interested in joining our local chapter, please contact me at SophieHirschfeld [at] sexandscience [dot] org. I would be more than happy to hear from you. You can also reach me on twitter here and on facebook here.

In order to read more about SWOP, check out this website.

I will be writing several articles, soon, to discuss and elaborate on topics important to SWOP, so pay attention to this category on my website. I will be using it to keep everyone updated on local activities as well, and to encourage discussion amongst my peers.

Again, if you are in the Inland Northwest, especially if you’re in Eastern Washington, and you’re in the sex industry, we invite you to come and join us to help make our world a better place. Anyone in the industry from phone sex workers to strippers to escorts are welcome to join.

This morning, my attention has been drawn to this. A well-meaning feminist who thinks Jay Leno has hurt women, most of whom he has never met, by using two words. “Victims” of prostitution will now forever remain victims because of Jay Leno. At least, that’s what she appears to be claiming. I’m pretty sure this is not the case, so I took it upon myself to examine everything she said in order to see what is valid, what isn’t and what may or may not make sense. All the quotes to follow are from her, until I state otherwise:

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
3000 W. Alameda Avenue
Burbank, CA 91523

I’m glad she put the address there so I can write a letter of my own.

Dear Jay:
I watched your show for years but I can no longer do so. Why? Because words matter, Jay. Without fail, several times a week, you refer to women in the sex industry as “whores” or “hookers.”

Of course words matter. If words didn’t matter to us, we would not be the ja-y-offend1species that we are. We’d be something else; something else that does not use words. Just ask a zombie!

It is true that the words ‘hooker’ and ‘whore’ gets used a lot on some tv programs. I can’t really comment on the frequency with which they appear on the Tonight Show because I don’t watch it often enough. I have seen the show, though, and I am sure I’ve heard him use those terms. I don’t think, though, him using those terms would be a great reason for someone to stop watching his show. Jay Leno is an entertainer. It is his duty to keep people’s attention. Sometimes, he has to do this using words that are attention-grabbing. Most talented entertainers will do that.

Furthermore, words matter, but so does your reaction to them. Language changes rapidly as a result of people’s reaction to them. Feminists have whorechanged the meaning of the word ‘bitch’ and it is pretty likely that if Whore Magazine is a success, it will change the meaning of its name as well. We don’t need to throw a tantrum at Jay Leno to make this happen. We can do this ourselves.

Jay, did you know that most women, especially in lesser-developed nations, are sold into the sex industry, often by their own relatives?

Unless you have a seriously distorted idea of what the word ‘most’ means, that statement is wrong. Some women do get sold into slavery, sometimes into a situation where they are forced to become sex workers, but it certainly isn’t a majority and it isn’t necessarily the most common way for women to end up in the sex industry.

Did you know that right now, in India and probably many other counties, children as young as three are gang raped for profit and infected with HIV?

How could you possibly link Jay Leno’s use of two words to children being raped in India? Children being sexually abused, in any fashion, is a serious matter and I don’t want to downplay that or to pretend that it doesn’t happen. I do doubt that it happens on a regular basis. I doubt it is some sort of afternoon ritual. But, I know it can and probably does happen. It makes me sad and makes me feel like I’m not doing enough in this world. Of course, tugging at that emotional string is precisely what this sentence was for. Child abuse is a a pretty big deal and it is something that every country should be working to prevent. When you so carelessly swing the issue about, like this, as if it is a club against someone totally unrelated to the problem, that’s completely inexcusable. Shame on you, whoever you are, for using it that way! The children who do get abused in such a horrific manner deserve something much better than someone pinning the blame of their nightmare onto an innocent who couldn’t possibly be connected to it.

That in the United States, the average age of entry into prostitution is reportedly 13?

That’s a lie that has been repeated for a long time, all over the place. Someone did a study on children who were forced into prostitution and then assumed that the numbers in the study on children applied to the industry as a whole. Obviously, that’s really bad reporting. It is really bad science and it is a horribly damaging myth to spread. It is sad that it is such a widespread myth. It is one of those myths that people believe because it is scary, not because there’s a rational reason to believe in it. A quick meta analysis of the information gained from this study on women detained for prostitution, you know, an actual study that collected data on the actual group we’re talking about, the average age the participants started prostituting themselves appears to be 20. Of course, we need far more information and this study has a natural bias because the people conducting the study were after other information. However, applying that data to the question of what the average age people enter prostitution is would certainly be far more accurate than using a study that was only about children entering prostitution.

That one study in Colorado found that prostitutes die at a crude mortality rate of 391 per 100,000 in comparison with non-sex workers, where the standardized mortality for the general population during this same time frame was 1.9 per 100,000?

You must mean this study. Again, this doesn’t really have anything at all to do with Jay Leno’s use of the terms you’re upset about, but some important observations need to be made, here. Firstly, if you read the study, you’ll find that it shows that the cause of death for most of these women wasn’t because they were prostitutes. Correlation is not causation and in increased death rate for prostitutes may not be caused by the fact that they’re prostitutes. According to the study, the most common causes of death were violence and drug use. These are two issues that could more easily be addressed if prostitution were legalized and we could get people help more easily if they are on drugs AND we prostitutes who are victims of domestic violence can turn to the police without fear of being arrested because they did something illegal. A pretty decent argument could be made for the legalization of prostitution, based on this information.

That every prostitute is someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother or mother?

So is every serial killer, florist, asshole and lawyer, but that doesn’t stop us from making edgy jokes about any of them. Well, except maybe the florist. They have to deal with enough trouble in their lives, there’s no need to make jokes about them or invent crass terms to identify them with, those stamen fiddlers!

Jay, using words like “hooker” and “whore” further desensitizes people who barely care when prostitutes die locked up in cages, are tortured, thrown from cars or are left dead near a river.

There is absolutely no evidence that this is true. not a single shred of evidence. Again, we’ve approached a very serious matter and here is the author, flinging horrific events that can and sometimes do happen as if it is some sort of club that should hit anyone who happens to offend her. The abuse of sex workers is a very real and serious problem. Sex workers need to have safer environments and they need protection and they need to live in a safer world. Pretending that just saying a couple words on TV causes these problems belittles women in this situation. It devalues their experience and that can desensitize people to their troubles.

Getting a cheap laugh at the expense of these victims, and yes, they are victims, is pathetic. I really hope you are better than that.

Prostitutes, in general, are not victims because they are prostitutes. Some prostitutes are victims because people are careless. Some prostitutes are victims because they have no protection. Some prostitutes are victims because it is illegal for them just to do their job. Not all prostitutes are victims, though, and trying to make them all into victims is unappreciated and doesn’t help them.

Please take time to educate yourself on the reality of the sex industry. If you took a few hours out of your life to learn the realities of the sex industry in this country and many others, I almost guarantee you would stop throwing those terms around. There is enough pain and suffering in the world without you casually contributing to it with your callous disregard for these victims.

Jay Leno’s use of the word ‘hooker’ and ‘whore’ does far less of a disservice to prostitutes than your rant toward him does. That being said, I do hope that Jay Leno becomes informed about the sex industry. I don’t think it will change his vocabulary, much, but sex workers of all types could use more advocates. People in the sex industry face a great number of issues that tend to get ignored due to bigotry toward the sex industry. It isn’t the bigotry that leads to Jay Leno tossing terms around as an entertainer. Instead, the bigotry that hurts sex workers is the kind that claims they’re all victims, that they’re all drug addicts, that there are no other life options for them and that they’re all horrible people. It is the bigotry that makes excuses for the laws against the industry and for rants against the wrong people that creates the most problems.

I’m not going to leave this post here, though. I’m responding to a letter that was addressed to Jay Leno and posted online, encouraging people to join this person (who remains anonymous) in a writing campaign. I’m going to write my own letter. The following quote is what I will send to Jay Leno.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
3000 W. Alameda Ave.
Burbank, CA 91523-0001Dear Mr. Leno,

I understand that a writing campaign against you has begun. As far as I know, it at least involves one person, but could involve many. I would like to offer a counter-campaign that could involve just me, or could involve many.

The campaign against you is a complaint against you using the words “whore” and “hooker.” I would like to encourage you to, instead, use these words more. I don’t think you need to increase your random use of the terms, though. Instead, I want you to do just one of the things that the woman who is against you asked. I want you to learn about the sex industry.

The person who has complained about your word use seems to think that if you learned about the sex industry, you would use those terms less. it seems to me, though, that it would be wiser to use what you learn and use the terms more. It would be a tremendous help to those in the sex industry if you discussed how hookers face an incredibly high rate of domestic violence and that because their work is illegal, they can’t easily seek protection from the law. A story like that might require the use of the word ‘hooker’ several times! Likewise, discussing the tendency of the villainization of whores within the media and how it relates to stigmas that people in the sex industry face would allow you to use the word ‘whore’ a lot. I would also like to see you use the word in a more liberal way. Not only do I want to see you refer to hookers as whores, I want to see you refer to everyone in the sex industry as whores. Then, I want you to discuss how the fight against pornography hurts whores because it is literally a fight against society to take jobs away from whores. Whores need jobs, too.

Besides, if local whores are no longer doing the job, we may have to outsource and, as we all know based on our experience with call centers, heavy accents and poorly paid employees make for shitty customer service.

Sincerely,

Sophie Hirschfeld

P. S. Here is where you can find a copy of my response, online, to the campaign against you:

http://sexandscience.org/blog/?p=350

sophiefawkesIf you so desire, you can write to Jay Leno as well. However, please make your letter to him as productive as possible. Popular television shows get a tremendous amount of mail and it is possible that this campaign against Jay Leno could get overwhelming enough without them having some redundant counter-campaign going to them as well. If you do write back, it would be super-awesome if you included a reference to this post, just because I like to have credit for my evil deeds. Also, offer helpful suggestions for the show, don’t just gush over it. I like the idea of any campaign being productive, even though most of them aren’t.

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