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They aren't all addicts or slaves, trapped by circumstance and bad choices.
January 20, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Sex Worker Literati is a monthly storytelling series that features sex workers, former sex workers, and people with stories about the sex industry who read, monologue, perform, and shimmy their ways into your hearts, minds, and naughty bits. (NSFW video feed)

A reading series brought to you by Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys, a website which spawned a book about sex work, written by sex workers.

In the US, Sex Worker Awareness fights the battle against stigma. Sex workers in San Francisco have their own annual film festival. When The Atlantic publishes a piece about "bein' a ho", the comments lead Jezebel to speak out against bigoted speech and assumptions.

Other glimpses into the lives of sex workers: Sex Workers Present is an international video feed of videos made by sex workers from around the world, giving their perspectives on laws and policies. Sex workers from around the world begin to organize against their stigmatized position in society. [PDF newsletter with several articles.] [Sex Workers in India - an American's journey of discovery.]

Many groups seem to be working against the U.S. Anti-Prostitution Pledge.
posted by hippybear (46 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for posting this! It's a refreshing counterpoint to all the scaremongering about all sex workers being abused, soulless junkies down the page.
posted by streetdreams at 9:58 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is relevant to my interests.

Great post.
posted by Theta States at 10:08 AM on January 20, 2010


It's a refreshing counterpoint to all the scaremongering about all sex workers being abused, soulless junkies down the page.

"Scaremongering" sort of implies that sex work isn't comprised mostly of people who come from abusive families and/or whose addictions strongly compelled them into the practice. I also welcome another perspective, but let's not kid ourselves.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:15 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a refreshing counterpoint to all the scaremongering about all sex workers being abused, soulless junkies down the page.

Sure, because being a prostitute is exactly like any other job where you work for another person and if anyone says otherwise they are some kind of pent up Victorian-era minded prude.

(just meeting hyperbole with same)
posted by Burhanistan at 10:19 AM on January 20, 2010


But anyways, this is a good FPP. Lots to read here. Thanks, hippybear.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:21 AM on January 20, 2010


given my recent over-generalizations about prostitutes in the NOLA law thread recently. this is exactly what i was looking for.

not that i think there is any "scaremongering" going on...most prostitutes and sex workers are pretty desperate people. (hell, Airforce Amy from the Moonlight Bunny Rancy was a prostitute who made TONS of money, but she was still f'n looney.)

thanks for posting this other side of the story, hippybear.
posted by sio42 at 10:38 AM on January 20, 2010


Not to self-moderate, but two people have stated that "most" prostitutes are desperate, abused, addicted, or insane. I would love to see citations for that generalized statistic. Not necessarily disputing the concept, but after researching this thread, I begin to wonder how much of that is truth and how much is part of the stereotyping and stigmatizing which sex workers are beginning to fight against.
posted by hippybear at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


“I asked my grandmother what those women were doing,” she said. “She said, ‘They take their panties off for money.’ Well I was already being forced to take my panties off, and I wasn’t getting any money.” A 1995 study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) found that people who were sexually abused as children are a whopping 27.7 times as likely as others to be arrested for prostitution.

While many sex workers do see their work as empowering and feminist, the reality is that the vast majority of sex workers are doing it for the money, often to feed drug habits, often because they feel they have no other viable employment opportunities.

All of the respondents in the New York study listed finances as their reason for getting into sex work. The majority of respondents (22 of 30) also listed substance abuse as the reason for turning to sex work, and the Chicago study showed that almost all sex workers were substance abusers and almost all increased their use of alcohol and drugs while engaging in sex work, creating a vicious cycle where working to earn money to satisfy their habit only increased their habit. ^
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:58 AM on January 20, 2010


I would like to add that sexually abused, desperate, mentally unbalanced alcoholics from broken homes also work in grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, accounting firms, construction companies, laundromats, singing telegram services, coal mines, cellular telephone retailers, fashion design houses, book publishers, and as lumberjacks. Oh, and risk of violence against prostitutes isn't any higher than the general public -- in other words, men treat all women as violently as they do prostitutes. Society's view on the definition of "prostitute" is what colors these statistics come from, and little is actually read into the data itself -- and most treat 'prostitute' as a secondary creature, apart from women as a whole. Problem is, once we stop focusing on what prostitutes (or drug dealers, or the homeless, etc.) are and address the problems as though they affect society as a whole, it turns an unkind mirror on the rest of us. But, oh, yes, the problem is with the prostitutes.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:02 AM on January 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


Thank you for this, hippybear.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:07 AM on January 20, 2010


I don't think the problem is with the prostitutes. I think the problem is with how they face the brunt of prosecution and, as is the case of human trafficking, often believe they have little recourse to rectify their situation. Human trafficking is a particular big problem in Europe, but thankfully there is legislation that is moving away from the standard "arrest and deport" model.

I don't think it's an incredibly simple issue, or an island unto itself. The criminalization of drugs, for example, I believe contributes to prostitution. Persistant attitudes of men towards women helps maintain the imbalance of the law when it comes to sex workers and their clients. Social systems that are steeply pyramidic also do their part.

So no, as I said, I do not believe all sex workers are in a desperate situation, but I also don't think decriminalization would just magically make these problems disappear. There is far too much contributing to this dynamic for one solution alone.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:11 AM on January 20, 2010


Yes! I like sexy sex as if it were my profession! Tell me more about it!!!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:40 AM on January 20, 2010


MStPT: thanks for your link to the minimal study showing that a majority of respondents to a study report substance abuse. I do have some doubts about drawing any real conclusions to a study which only has 30 respondents total. That study [PDF link] was focused on street-based prostitution.

Another study, conducted a few years later by the same group who conducted the first, focussed on indoor prostitution, and makes mention of drug use but does not use it as a statistic to back up why the respondents got into sex work. Whether this is because the statistics are actually different between these groups, or whether this is because "indoor" sex workers have less stigma in our society, I cannot say given the quick skim I gave to both of these studies.

In response to your opinion about decriminalization, I can only let the words of that second study speak for the (again small number of) sex workers who participated in the study:
Respondents overwhelmingly believed that conditions for sex workers would be different if all sex work, including prostitution, was legal. Seventy-nine percent (41 of 52) of respondents felt this way. Interviewers did not go into a deeper discussion of legalization or decriminalization—respondents simply discussed “making it legal,” which meant that neither they nor their customers would be arrested or considered to be engaging in criminal conduct. Participants often related the lack of respect and assistance from the police to prostitution’s unlawful status, and thought that sex workers would be in a better position to organize and assist each other to live in better conditions or leave the industry if sex work was legal and people did not have to operate under the threat of arrest. Respondents also saw health benefits, and many noted that sex workers could pay taxes on their labor, thereby contributing to the larger community and enabling them to establish social security and retirement plans.
posted by hippybear at 11:42 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


MStPT: thanks for your link to the minimal study showing that a majority of respondents to a study report substance abuse. I do have some doubts about drawing any real conclusions to a study which only has 30 respondents total.

You'll notice the sentence after that, involving a separate study in a separate city, reported "almost all sex workers were substance abusers and almost all increased their use of alcohol and drugs while engaging in sex work". There is plenty of information out there with regards to drug abuse, sexual abuse, and prostitution. I'm not really interested in doing your Googling for you. You asked for some information, I gave it to you, you chose to read it selectively, so here's where I stop linking.

I do, though, think it would be really great if we could stop conflating empathy for people in a desperate situation with some kind of condescension for sex workers. Thanks again for giving us a glimpse of people who are fortunately enough to be the mythical happy hooker, but I think I'll step out of this thread now.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2010


MStPT: I'm sorry to see you go, as I value your input. Have you actually read the second report, based in Chicago, which your above-linked article summarizes? I think you might be surprised at how they gathered their information, located their interview subjects, and what their stated goal with the survey was to begin with.

I feel plenty of empathy for those in desperate situations. I also know that it is not a long leap from seeing desperation and abuse amongst a population to viewing all members of that population through that lens. The lens you present those studies through has its own color, and should certainly be acknowledged if you are not going back to the actual source documents.
posted by hippybear at 12:04 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


You'll notice the sentence after that, involving a separate study in a separate city, reported "almost all sex workers were substance abusers and almost all increased their use of alcohol and drugs while engaging in sex work".

This was also true at an Office Max where I once worked.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:04 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I didn't realize that Office Max employees were now considered sex workers.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:12 PM on January 20, 2010


I think he meant Orifice Max.
posted by kaseijin at 12:21 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


All of the respondents in the New York study listed finances as their reason for getting into sex work.

To be fair, I think finances are the reason almost all of us show up at work.
posted by desjardins at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2010 [13 favorites]


I didn't realize that Office Max employees were now considered sex workers.

All I'm saying is you don't have to be a sex worker to be a depressed drug addict. I'm also saying we had a lot of sex at Office Max.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:29 PM on January 20, 2010


I'm also saying we had a lot of sex at Office Max.

Crap, I worked at the wrong damn OfficeMax. Still, I was on the CopyMax side, we were the band geeks of the store.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:33 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah. All the action was up with us register jockeys.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:35 PM on January 20, 2010


you wanna find a group of sex crazed, drug addled kids - you turn to the band geeks. ah, how i miss traveling for regionals.

as far as jobs where drug use goes up with length of employment - look towards tech support call centers (which, coincidentally also involved a lot of sex).

thanks for this post, hippybear.
posted by nadawi at 12:46 PM on January 20, 2010


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: I do, though, think it would be really great if we could stop conflating empathy for people in a desperate situation with some kind of condescension for sex workers. Thanks again for giving us a glimpse of people who are fortunately enough to be the mythical happy hooker, but I think I'll step out of this thread now.

Just today you described prostitution as "renting human beings". That's not condescending to sex workers?

The "mythical happy hooker" isn't condescending to sex workers?
posted by stinkycheese at 12:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


All of the respondents in the New York study listed finances as their reason for getting into sex work.


I have to say, I got in to my tech job for that same scandalous reason...

Oh sure, I try and apply feminist notions to justify myself, but we all know how easily one can dismiss whatever kind of dignity I apply to my work. Because deep down, it's all about the money to feed my easily mockable habits.


And I am pretty sure system design drives most people to drink.
posted by Theta States at 1:06 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


A 1995 study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) found that people who were sexually abused as children are a whopping 27.7 times as likely as others to be arrested for prostitution.

All apples are fruits, but not all fruits are apples.

Just because the 1995 study (which probably includes figures from the 80's) shows that the sexually abused are more likely to be involved in sex work, does not mean that ALL sex workers have been sexually abused.

Does that make sense, or do we have to go through with the "all squares are rectangles...but not all rectangles are squares" with the box, and pegs and holes?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:35 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: sexually abused, desperate, mentally unbalanced alcoholics from broken homes
posted by sexyrobot at 2:05 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


sexyrobot: Judging from some of the questions in AskMe, you're not far off.
posted by desjardins at 2:15 PM on January 20, 2010


So, takeaway from the thread (of which very little has to do with the actual post): Because people from all vocations have drug problems and abusive pasts, prostitution is just another career choice among many and, red blazers are sexy.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2010


Not to self-moderate, but two people have stated that "most" prostitutes are desperate, abused, addicted, or insane.

I prefer not to use the term insane because it's not a clinical term and doesn't have any particular use in a treatment framework. "Person in recovery" is the currently promoted terminology. All the women I've come in contact with have in fact had addiction problems (I work in drug court) and co-occurring mental health disorders which I then work as a part of a clinical treatment team to help stabilize and then facilitate recovery. Prostitutes who come in contact with me are lifer dope addicts. I understand that low-bottom dope addict, street walking prostitutes do not constitute the whole of sex work, but it does constitute the type of prostitute who is typically going to wind up on a social worker's caseload. And of course they are desperate. Why else would they be sitting in front of me? They need help.

Just two months ago I had a program graduate who came onto my caseload more than a year ago experiencing symptoms of chronic psychosis, homelessness, physical problems related to years of IV drug abuse and trauma related to sexual violence she suffered as a sex worker. She graduated from the program at the end of November stable, thriving, healthy, emotionally recovering, housed and having had her felony drug and prostitution charges dropped and expunged. That's what professional, evidence based social work practice can do for addicted, mentally ill prostitutes. It was a tremendous amount of effort on everyone's behalf, especially hers.

I appreciate that her story, nor the stories of other women I have encountered in the field are representative of sex workers on the whole, and I'm not sure why you would draw the conclusion -- at least I sense that you do -- that I oppose any of the efforts you've documented here of sex workers to tell their own stories or empower themselves through their work, or support stigmatizing sex work in general.

Regardless, I will say that my support for these women is not measured in comments to internet boards or strong opinions voiced at dinner parties, it has been measured in long hours of hard work for shit wages to do everything I can to help them when I encounter them. I hope that everyone else here with such strong opinions are devoting an equal amount of time and effort offline to support and help sex workers who need it.
posted by The Straightener at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


Burhanistan, I'm guessing that many people aren't commenting directly on the post because it was posted during working hours in North America, and people didn't want to open links about prostitution in their work browsers.
posted by desjardins at 3:20 PM on January 20, 2010


Oh, and risk of violence against prostitutes isn't any higher than the general public -- in other words, men treat all women as violently as they do prostitutes.

Sorry, Azrael Brown, but I'm not so sure I'm buying the study you are linking to as evidence that violence agianst prostitutes isn't any higher than the general public. The study interviewed clients/johns, some of them anonymously, and basically asked them, "So, are you violent?" and then took them at their word.

Your OWN LINK mentions that criticism of that study is rampant: “It’s an outrageous study and it really works towards normalizing sexual assault,” said Aurea Flynn of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.

If you could find a study detailing reported violence against prostitutes, and that took into account the unlikelihood that a woman who is engaged in illegal activity would even report being beaten or abused to the cops in the first place, than I would love to see it.
posted by misha at 4:02 PM on January 20, 2010


Your OWN LINK mentions that criticism of that study is rampant: “It’s an outrageous study and it really works towards normalizing sexual assault,” said Aurea Flynn of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.

The article also says that Flynn's position is that prostitution in itself is violent -- not an even-handed denial of the study; by her measure, anything which doesn't criticize prostitution promotes violence against women, which is a big leap of thought. I agree, voluntary participation self-selects, but that's a common factor in a lot of sociological studies; people still argue about Kinsey for that very reason. My point, regardless of how hole-filled the study is, is that violence is common in our society, and placing the problem on a downtrodden group and emphasizing how they need to be fixed rather than fixing the problem at large is a failing of society. There's plenty of stories about pizza delivery people being robbed, beaten, or killed in the line of duty, but there's no moral outrage about how pizza delivery drivers are broken people due to family and drugs and their moneymaking choices should be made illegal for their own safety. They, at least, get sympathy in the news.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Straightener: "I will say that my support for these women is not measured in comments to internet boards or strong opinions voiced at dinner parties, it has been measured in long hours of hard work for shit wages to do everything I can to help them when I encounter them. I hope that everyone else here with such strong opinions are devoting an equal amount of time and effort offline to support and help sex workers who need it".

Do the people who agree with you strongly need to devote an equal amount of time and effort offline, or just the people who disagree with you?
posted by stinkycheese at 4:34 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Arg. Metafilter does not do this topic well.

Can we please, please just acknowledge that:

1) There are many, many streetwalker-level prostitutes who are desperate people in marginal situations. They are often forced into the situation through economic necessity (sometimes exacerbated by drug addiction) or literal slavery. More than a few have a history of being abused. They are often treated in horrible and sometimes life-threatening ways by their customers, their pimps, and the police and legal system.

2) There are also other prostitutes -- more than some people apparently think -- for whom the profession is a real choice rather than a forced one. They can easily make 300 dollars an hours and don't have pimps. They are not seen by drug counselors, probation officers, homeless shelter workers, or social services representatives because they have no need for them or contact with them. They have high-speed internet and vacation in Barcelona.

Both groups are prostitutes. Both groups exist in the U.S. Yes, there are probably a lot more of group 1 than there are of group 2 -- but the second group isn't vanishingly small by any stretch of the imagination (Hint: You know all those rich and famous people who get caught in prostitution scandals? They are going to the second group.)

Pretending that either group doesn't exist is silly.
posted by kyrademon at 4:36 PM on January 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sorry, my last comment was jerky - but I really resent the implication that anyone is not a social worker has no right to their own opinion, or is just somebody yapping at a dinner party.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:39 PM on January 20, 2010


anyone who is
posted by stinkycheese at 4:51 PM on January 20, 2010


kyrademon: I think it's also to be acknowledged that sex workers around the world are fighting against the stigmatization which they have traditionally been under, and are organizing and finding new power and pride while at the same time striving to improve their collective health and living standards. And to be acknowledged that it isn't only the $300/hour hookers in the US who approach being sex workers with a positive attitude.
posted by hippybear at 4:53 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


(True enough, hippybear. I tried to qualify my statements about the first group with words like "often" and "sometimes", but I probably could have been clearer about that. By no means are all streetwalkers drug addicts, abuse victims, or unhappy with their profession. But it should be acknowledged that all of those things do happen -- one major reason being the stigma they suffer under, which I would be happy to see go away and never come back. Decriminalization would be a nice first step ...)
posted by kyrademon at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2010


Scarlet Alliance, the Sex Worker association for Australia, where sex work is legal in most states but has different regulations between them.
posted by divabat at 8:33 PM on January 20, 2010


Just wanted to come back to let you guys know that hippybear and I sorted things out via MeMail, and that my reasons for leaving the thread had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with what this subject does to me emotionally, as well as some of the snappish, jerkish commentary it seems to inspire. Guess I'll be avoiding this topic in the future. Sorry about the huffiness. Kyrademon said what I intended to say, only much better.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:49 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have nothing but schmoopy for MStPT, and yes, we've sorted things out.
posted by hippybear at 10:11 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know all those rich and famous people who get caught in prostitution scandals? They are going to the second group.

Probably less so than you think. Just because you are a "high-class" prostitute (read: expensive) does not automatically keep you out of the ranks of the enslaved, drug addicted, abused, ill, or desperate. I believe there are far more grades than your very black and white two. Some of the trafficked women I've worked with in the past wound up in the "finest" of LA brothels, they were still very much abused, addicted, desperate, and enslaved.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:49 AM on January 22, 2010


And some low-earning prostitutes are happy, well-adjusted, and quite intelligent. It's a big world out there with all kinds of possibilities.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:56 AM on January 22, 2010


Both true. No argument.

I was simply making the point that both groups *exist*, not that there exist no other groups. There seems to sometimes be a strange denial by some that either prostitutes can be in terrible situations, or that prostitutes can have great lives.
posted by kyrademon at 12:31 AM on January 23, 2010


kyrademon, I have met both desperate, pitiable streetwalkers, and high-end sex workers who choose their profession, unaddicted, in enviable homes with enviable vacations. Yes, both exist. And, obviously, the first group far outnumbers the second.

And, yes, even among high-end (that is, expensive-rate) sex workers there are some who are addicts and/or victims of physical abuse, rape, or childhood abuse.

However, I'd draw one exception to your comments. This seems to be categorically unlikely:
By no means are all streetwalkers drug addicts, abuse victims, or unhappy with their profession.

It's really doubtful that, given the risks and low returns of streetwalking, anyone who does it is happy.

I've met at least one streetwalker who wasn't an addict; she was an unemployed nurse with a child to support. Otherwise, the addict label is probably also near-universal. Self-abuse with drugs seems sadly concomitant with that level of risk-taking.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:24 PM on January 26, 2010


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