And call me naive, but what I discovered after a couple of trips to these places is that many of these women are victims of sex trafficking. They’re imported into the country under the ruse of getting a good American job, and then their handlers make them work off their exorbitant “travel fees” in the sex spas before they are cut loose. And even after they work off their debt, often they just return to the sex industry, because they lack skills, they lack a verifiable work history, they don’t speak very good English, and the sex work is what they know and it becomes, in a way, easy money.
Thing is, they are not glassy-eyed robot slaves sobbing under their oppressor like you see in movies about this kind of thing. They’re funny, they’re charming, they’re nice to you. And they’re very much in control as far as the sex goes: they set fierce limits about what is and is not allowed, and are usually much stricter about condom use for every act than regular escorts.
Rumpus: But it’s not consensual. It’s coercion. It’s sex slavery.
Max: And I felt very remorseful when I learned this.
And then I did it again.
The basic problem that afflicts many pro- and anti-sex work arguments is that they take for granted the desirability and legitimacy of wage labor in general. They are caught up in an ideology that says that work is supposed to be a source of meaning and dignity in life. They are therefore committed to either stigmatizing sex work as an illegitimate and particularly dehumanizing kind of work (if they oppose it) or endorsing it as being just as dignified and fulfilling as any other job (if they support it).
After I got sober and lost weight and got some of my self-esteem back, the attraction of these relationships was the implicit agreement about non-commitment. I was unavailable for a long-term relationship. When I got involved with a non-professional, feelings would develop, things would go too far, and eventually somebody, usually both of us, would get hurt.
The real question is how will I rebuild what has been broken? When I first started dancing, hands crawled across my body like crabs, and I’d cry, but soon I developed an emotional shellac, like the other girls in order to shoulder rejection and be touched when I didn’t feel like it. Nearly 20 years later, I want to melt. I want to feel cared for by someone I am fucking. I want to fuck the person whom I care for. I want to be held by someone who’s not paying me. I want to be moved and be in love and I want to fucking feel something other than isolated. That’s why my book is called “Stripped” because I want to be stripped bare of the shellac and not be scared shitless and run. I don’t want to cringe like a feral kitten when someone I love tries to hug me. And all of that theoretical, post-modern, feminist ideology was great and fun and empowering, but it’s hogwash when all I want to do is sear through the numbness and walk out of the strip club into the sunlight. Can someone point me in the direction of the sunlight?
Tatiana [trafficked from Eastern Europe] woke upwith a miserable hangover one misty Amsterdam morning in late May 2002.
The misery outlasted the hangover. This was her first day in slavery. At 6 p.m. that evening, Anton returned, unlocked the apartment, and took her to her new workplace. Because she was one of an estimated 150,000 illegal aliens in the Netherlands, she could not work in the regulated clubs or in red light districts. Instead, he drove her to a desolate, waterfront tippelzone, one of several taxpayer-funded areas that in 1997 the Amsterdam City Council had zoned to contain streetwalkers.
Tatiana regularly saw police come through thetippelzone. Officers in the Amsterdam antitrafficking vice units were allowed to purchase sex from prostitutes, as long as they did so out of uniform, and not in their own jurisdiction. In Tatiana’s case, they just nodded at her falsified passport, and moved on. “I found it ridiculous,” she said.
The other girls in the tippelzone explained what would happen if she told the police that she was a slave. They would deport her to her home country. “If I got out at the airport there,” she said, “the traffickers’ friends would be my escorts.” A girl from Tatiana’s country escaped with the help of a client. When her traffickers found her at home, they killed her. There was no investigation by the police. “Case closed,” Tatiana said.
Yes, infidelity and lying are bad. It’s not something I’m proud of. The original interview (the first draft was about twice as long as what you see here) got into details about my marriage, but Antonia suggested and I agreed that it got us off on a tangent. As you point out, infidelity is a whole issue on its own regardless of whether sex workers are involved, and there are millions of words written elsewhere about cheating, so in the interest of staying on-topic, we decided to leave it out. But I don’t think “just end it” is something that anybody could say who has actually been through a divorce, or been in the position of thinking about initiating a divorce. Divorce is traumatic and awful. Yes, cheating and seeing escorts is maybe taking the easy way. Maybe you can imagine how great is the temptation to take the easy way if you have a choice between that or the terrors of the family court system.
Still, there’s something thrilling to going from feeling utterly alone and unlovable to realizing that all these women with all these pictures in all these ads, you can be with any one of them, at least for one hour, and pretend. And all you need is money. It’s not a replacement for love— it pales in comparison to a real loving relationship with somebody who you are sexually compatible with, but it sure as fuck beats being alone and feeling untouchable.
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