8 Minutes to Leave the Life
April 7, 2015 10:06 AM   Subscribe

In the upcoming A&E "docudrama" 8 Minutes, Santa Ana vice cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown, founder of the faith-based non-profit Safe Passage OC, poses as a john and tries to convince sex workers to leave the life. Backed by a team of volunteers, including former sex workers, Brown gives himself eight minutes to make his pitch - ideally before a pimp suspects something is up - and offers to connect the women with shelter, addiction and employment services if they want. Not all of them do. Of course, it's all filmed. (Sex workers' faces are blurred.) And perhaps inevitably, it's drawing significant criticism for putting a vulnerable population at greater risk.

You can watch an episode here.
posted by gottabefunky (63 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can watch an episode here.

Or don't. I'd say I can't believe A&E let this kind of actively dangerous exploitation on air, but they already have shows like First 48.
posted by kmz at 10:10 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm guessing this is "dangerous exploitation" because he doesn't pay them? That would seem unconscionable to me...hey come here I wanna take up a few minutes of your time to put you in danger for my own personal benefit/satisfaction and I expect you to do that for free? WTF.

I feel like, if someone really believed in doing this for all the right reasons, they would hire the sex worker, get them someplace safe and private, and then offer up the spiel...returning them to their employer with full payment if that's the choice they make.
posted by trackofalljades at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [25 favorites]


This is voyeurism at its ugliest.
posted by wuwei at 10:15 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's like a reality show where none of the contestants get paid, nobody wins a prize, and the losers end up with bruises and potentially worse! US cable television at its finest!
posted by hippybear at 10:17 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


While there are, no doubt, women in the life who could use a shelter and abuse counseling and a way out... I kind of wish there were more focus on legalizing, and regulating, the trade and prosecuting pimps. Here's my reasoning:

Initiatives like this go one of two ways:
1. offering women in difficult positions access to resources that may help them. yay!
2. Acting like the real problems are the decisions women make and that if someone just talked to them effectively enough they could do something better with their lives. boo.

The truth to my mind is this: There's nothing wrong with sex work, on its face. There is definitely something wrong with pimping. There is definitely something wrong with much of the abuse that goes along with the currently illegal prostitution game that exists almost everywhere.

But we're criminalizing a way to earn money just because we don't like it. But there's nothing actually wrong with the job, it's all the other shit that goes with it because it's illegal that causes the real problems. Abusive pimps, drug use as a form of control, johns who hurt unprotected workers, etc...

So stop acting like the women just need a good talking to and go do something about the actual problem.

That's my way of seeing it at least.
posted by shmegegge at 10:19 AM on April 7, 2015 [33 favorites]


Sex worker here. (Stripper.)

I believe that prostitution should be legal, though I don't engage in it. I think that in 50 years, we will look back on the criminalization of prostitution as a black mark on our civil rights. I understand the arguments against prostitution. Some of them have valid points, though overall, I think that criminalizing prostitution is much worse for society than legalizing it.

But I would hope that even people who are against prostitution would be against addressing the “problem” in this particular manner. This is “WTF” on so many levels—paternalistic, voyeuristic, creepy.

How dare you ambush a woman on camera, tell her what she should and shouldn’t do with her own body, and put the ambush on national television? (You aren’t off the hook just because her face is blurred.)

Maybe I will return later to this thread and elaborate. I realize that this comment is of little substantive value right now beyond just [OUTRAGE]. Please give me a pass, because I can’t elaborate right now.

There is no combination of letters and punctuation I can put in this comment to express how deeply upset I am by this. As a sex worker, as a woman, as a human being.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2015 [72 favorites]


It's amazing to me how a goodhearted action can be turned to poop by the simple addition of a camera.
posted by Mooski at 10:26 AM on April 7, 2015


Ugh. I will believe in this nonsense when they start letting me star in a version of this where I have eight minutes to try to convince a cop to stop being a cop - because frankly, if there's one line of work that fucks people up but good, it's being a career police officer.

Jesus god, I just hate everyone.

Also, frankly, the idea that you get to go in and second-guess a woman's (it wouldn't be, like, sexy if he were talking to male sex workers, right? That would be too gay) employment choices because you think it's titillating (and that's what this is about; it's not even about morality, except that morality provides an excuse)...

I would go ahead and say that no one ever goes into, like, the poultry processing plant and tries to get those women to leave that life, offering aid and so on, and honestly there are plenty of sex workers who live much more comfortable lives than women who work in poultry processing plants.

It also occurs to me that there are a lot of people who think they don't know anyone who does/has done sex work - but actually lots of people do or have done sex work. It might put a different face on this for everyone if folks could be real and realize that "sex workers" aren't some weird group that lives off over on the fringes of society being sexy-yet-dangerous-and-tragic in negligees.
posted by Frowner at 10:26 AM on April 7, 2015 [46 favorites]


It's hard to imagine sinking lower than Intervention, but hey, will wonders never cease?
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:27 AM on April 7, 2015


Connecting someone who wants to be a sex worker, or who has no other choice than to be a sex worker with "employment services" does not guarantee a better outcome.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:32 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


trackofalljades: That would seem unconscionable to me...hey come here I wanna take up a few minutes of your time to put you in danger for my own personal benefit/satisfaction and I expect you to do that for free? WTF.

Actually, that sounds like a pressure tactic. If you don't come back to Huggy Bear with his money, you're getting the shit beat out of you. Suddenly, Officer Jesus' offer looks better.
posted by dr_dank at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this has been doing the rounds on sex worker/activist Twitter and the general consensus there was that this is vainglorious tittilation that doesn't really care about the women it supposedly wants to 'rescue'.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually, that sounds like a pressure tactic. If you don't come back to Huggy Bear with his money, you're getting the shit beat out of you. Suddenly, Officer Jesus' offer looks better.

See, now that just makes me want to go out of my way to immediately and directly introduce Huggy Bear (and whatever heavy object he likes to carry) to Officer Jesus.
posted by trackofalljades at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huggy Bear was a bar owner! Just because he dressed flashy didn't mean he was a pimp!
posted by maxsparber at 10:41 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


"and offers to connect the women with shelter, addiction and employment services if they want. Not all of them do. "

Admittedly I haven't watched it because I really can't sit through the ads, but keeping that in mind- the comments seem a bit harsh. If the person really does connect them with shelters, addiction and employment services if they want it then that sounds great. The sentence above also implies that some have taken her up on the offer so I guess it is helping some people. The idea is the equivalent of someone saying 'I'm here for you if you need me. If you do, this is how you can find me.' The rest is up to the person receiving the pitch.
posted by rancher at 10:42 AM on April 7, 2015


rancher, think of it this way: you're working a shitty job where you have to be selling every minute. Someone comes up and decides to take eight minutes of your working time away--so now the salesperson next to you is off making $100 and you're stuck making nothing.

If--and for the record I disagree with this kind of intervention; solid legalization and regulation is the only humane response to sex work--you must intervene in this way, the only ethical way to do so is to hire the worker in question and talk. It's not acceptable to take up someone's work time for your own self-aggrandizing project.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:50 AM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


Up until this point I thought Intervention was as low as A&E could sink.
posted by dortmunder at 10:59 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is voyeurism at its ugliest.

It's just business.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:59 AM on April 7, 2015


>Huggy Bear was a bar owner! Just because he dressed flashy didn't mean he was a pimp!
That reminds me of that scene from Pootie Tang: "Just cause a girl likes to dress fancy..."
posted by Catblack at 11:13 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huggy Bear was a bar owner! Just because he dressed flashy didn't mean he was a pimp!

Huggy Bear was an urban informer.
(Never a snitch. Snitches wear wires)
posted by madajb at 11:19 AM on April 7, 2015


As a stripper this is completely terrifying. As a resident of Southern California, this is a lurid but unexceptional confirmation everything I've ever seen or heard about cops, pastors, and Orange County. The photograph of this guy smiling a big white shark smile and embracing a crying woman made me sick to my stomach. Prime Ted Haggard territory, here. I would bet money that this guy has a big, big ledger of abuse of women, especially the sex workers he spent years arresting, in his personal history.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:20 AM on April 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


I can't help but think that there's a serious problem with shaming people who do this sort of work regardless, but in particular, I fully remember growing up poor (working class at the best of times) and fully believing that the only reliable way out of that was getting married, because the sort of jobs easily available to a young woman from a lower-class background with no college education do not pay a stable living wage. Much like the thing about abortion being how few "pregnancy crisis" centers care about your problems once your kid is six and has an ear infection, this sort of "faith-based" outreach rings very hollow when you know how many religious people would absolutely refuse to hire any one of these women for a full-time $15/hour job with benefits. I wonder how many people who think he's doing God's work are also the people who would be outraged if one of these women went to college, got a degree in education, and started teaching second-graders.

Start a program to teach sex workers who want out to be electricians and software developers and I'll at least be interested in what you're doing. Usually the plan is more like "you can go wait tables and I'll tip you with one of those fake million-dollar bills with Bible verses on it". Evangelicals in the US do not respect working women, no matter what their industry, and it shows in stuff like how they decide to "save" women, ways which never involve facilitating independence and choices.
posted by Sequence at 11:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [39 favorites]


Your Friendly Neighborhood Stripper has returned the conversation after taking a few deep breaths. Hopefully, this will add something a little more substantive to my point of view. I will elaborate on one of the many upsetting facets of this mess.

Sex workers tend to be upset by being put on camera without consent, because our physical image and our identity are huge parts of working in the industry. They affect our money and our safety. We want to have them under our control.

Let me reiterate: This is an issue of consent. Consent is not a minor goal in the sex industry that everyone ought to casually aspire to. It's the entire fucking ballgame.

So let's be charitable and assume that A&E has magically ensured that the sex workers cannot ever be identified by physical appearance, voice, surroundings, etc. (I doubt it, but anyway.) You are still putting a camera on me, a sex worker, without my consent. This is a scary experience for me, even if you don't end up putting the footage on national television or graciously blur out my face when doing so.

Put yourselves in the shoes of the sex worker. You have a horrifying, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing that your image and identity as a sex worker is completely and forever out of your control. You imagine the worst, but more than that, you imagine the likely. You think: "My parents will learn about my work and our relationship will never me the same." "I will lose my other job." "My child will be bullied in school." Etc. Society doesn't like sex workers.

Also, if A&E is stupid and cruel enough to ambush me about my sexual behavior and put the experience on national TV in the first place, I am not comforted when the television crew swears up and down that they will protect my identity.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 11:33 AM on April 7, 2015 [48 favorites]


Ugh, the issues around human trafficking are so much more complex than this. A&E and this dude choosing to make it in to entertainment (or more bluntly, for them: profit) just makes the whole thing more revolting. I can't watch the video at the moment (and probably wouldn't want to) but offering immediate services (shelter, employment services, etc.) is just scratching the surface. Considering how many human trafficking victims are in this country illegally and/or lack citizenship, do they offer them any kind of immunity against deportation/loss of status? What about the many, many trafficking victims who are kept in place by the continued (real) threat of violence to their families/loved ones back home?

Human Trafficking is a very serious problem that desperately needs more attention, but I'm guessing, this show probably isn't it.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:52 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


@ trackofalljades and dr_dank, I caught an episode of this and they did seem to pay the agreed upon price as long as teh girl didn't get sketched out and flee without asking about money, regardless of whether she "accepted help". Not that that redeems the whole tactic, but they did have the cash on hand to at least assist the girl in just acting like it was a routine visit to whoever she came / left with.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:25 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


But we're criminalizing a way to earn money just because we don't like it. But there's nothing actually wrong with the job, it's all the other shit that goes with it because it's illegal that causes the real problems. Abusive pimps, drug use as a form of control, johns who hurt unprotected workers, etc...

I'll admit, I'm pretty biased from reading Rachel Moran's book but no, there aren't any good reasons for legalizing the brutal sexual assault and humiliation (I'm trying really hard to avoid using the word she uses which starts with "r" and rhymes with "grape").

When a woman* is forced into a position where she feels that she has to accept payment from men to let them sexually assault her, all actual consent has been removed from the situation. There isn't any choice involved.

The idea that legalizing this exploitative, abusive system will somehow reduce it's ill effects doesn't hold up even a little bit (a random study turned up in about 20 seconds of googling: legalized prostitution increases illegal sex traffic)

The most infuriating part of this whole set up to me, is that it seems to start with the premise that these workers WANT to be doing this but need to be "sold" on the idea of doing something different. "Gee, thanks white dude, I never thought about NOT being a prostitute." ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!??!! Part of the reason illegal prostitution increases in countries where it's been legalized is because women are too ashamed to admit that this is what they do. And this shame isn't from sex in a puritanical sense, it comes from the constant, daily, hourly (minute by minute) violation of their bodies. No one wants to do this

What A&E and this ex-cop are doing is profiting from the exploitation of sex-workers. They're pimps, plain and simple.

*apologies for using these particular pronouns, just trying to be expedient
posted by ghostiger at 12:34 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


He has challenged himself to "save" women from prostitution in 8 minutes, a time limit he has selected based on his interpretation of risk. He has defined risk as suspicion by the pimp.

Gods, it's as if he thinks he's in a video game. Mr. White Knight manages to view these women as objects in every imaginable context. That's just jaw-droppingly gross.
posted by desuetude at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


ghostiger, while I appreciate where you're coming from, the very study you linked says this:
Naturally,
this qualitative evidence is also somewhat tentative as there is no “smoking gun” proving that
the scale effect dominates the substitution effect and that the legalization of prostitution
definitely increases inward trafficking flows. The problem here lies in the clandestine nature
of both the prostitution and trafficking markets, making it difficult, perhaps impossible, to
find hard evidence establishing this relationship. Our central finding, i.e., that countries with
legalized prostitution experience a larger reported incidence of trafficking inflows, is
therefore best regarded as being based on the most reliable existing data, but needs to be
subjected to future scrutiny. More research in this area is definitely warranted, but it will
require the collection of more reliable data to establish firmer conclusions.
You're clearly very passionate about this, and that's admirable, but you're also speaking for a lot of other people who may not really be accurately represented when you say things like "no one wants to do this."
posted by shmegegge at 12:48 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


When a woman is forced into a position where she feels that she has to accept payment from men to let them sexually assault her, all actual consent has been removed from the situation. There isn't any choice involved.
OK... let's assume that's universally true (nothing is ever universally true in the real world, but suppose it turned out to be close enough).

Then presumably she's doing this thing she really doesn't want to do because, as you say, she has no choice. Either she's being physically coerced, or she has no better/viable alternatives available to her, or she has some internal problem that keeps her from taking advantage of her alternatives, or some combination of those.

If you outlaw what she's presently doing, but do not address the reasons she feels compelled to do it, then how, exactly, are you helping her? Conversely, if you legalize something that was previously illegal (usually with tons of restrictions that make the legal form difficult for a desperate person to access), and you see people taking it up, that may very well mean that you have in fact given them a new "best alternative".

Outlawing bad situations only helps if it comes along with actually creating more attractive alternatives and enabling those affected to take them. At which point the actual outlawing is kind of second-order, no? The trick is that making somebody's whole life permanently better is a hard project, which is a big reason why there's so much misery in the world.

... but I agree with you and everybody else that this is obnoxious exploitation. I don't think short term job hunting help, or referral to high-failure-rate addiction services, or deportation, is likely to cut it as a "more attractive alternative".
posted by Hizonner at 12:53 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


No one wants to do this

That's a really broad generalization. I've known--in fact one of my best friends has been dating for two or three years; they now live together--many workers of varying genders who very much do want to be doing it and enjoy their work.

When a woman* is forced into a position where she feels that she has to accept payment from men to let them sexually assault her, all actual consent has been removed from the situation. There isn't any choice involved.

It's sexual assault when it's not a choice. Street-level workers rarely have a choice; that doesn't necessarily hold true for workers at other levels of the profession. Using my friend's partner as an example, they have absolute choice over what acts they will engage in, when, and with whom.

The solution is fixing a) the idea of work and availability of jobs--which necessarily translates to educational/job training opportunites and frankly a basic guaranteed income, and b) the notion of pimps/madams.

Is there a perfect solution? No. As long as humans are humans, there will never be a perfect solution. However, this situation is pretty analogous to teens having sex: it will happen, no matter what anyone says about it. So the logical step to take with teenagers is to provide education (comprehensive sex ed both raises the average age of first intercourse and lowers the teen pregnancy rate) and condoms. The logical thing to do with prostitution is to provide education (for everyone, including job training), and safe spaces without fear of legal reprisal.

Many people in sex work want to be there. Many don't. The way to deal with this is make it safe and legal for the former and provide avenues for the latter so they never have to be there in the first place.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:57 PM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


But I would hope that even people who are against prostitution would be against addressing the “problem” in this particular manner. This is “WTF” on so many levels—paternalistic, voyeuristic, creepy.

For the record, I am (though in the sense that I think dismantling the patriarchy would have the benefit of getting rid of most prostitution, not in the sense that I want to criminalize prostituted women in the meantime) and I am. This is appalling.
posted by jaguar at 1:10 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


You're right, feckless and shmegegge, that was an overly-broad generalization. I'm sorry about that.

But I still have the strong impression that the majority of those involved in prostitution don't want to be there. And even telling who really "wants" to be there is tricky in that humans are spectacularly adaptable when put into situations that they can't get out of. They'll find away to convince themselves of an agency that they don't really have just to make their circumstances more tolerable.

I'm certainly not in favor of any system that punishes those who feel like this is their only/best option. If the option is between punishing sex workers or legalizing the whole thing, I'm more in favor of the latter. But there are much better alternatives like the Swedish model (criminalizing purchasing sex but not those selling it).

At it's base, though, sex work still centers around an act of violation. And serves a market that primarily exists because men believe they have a right to sex. (And wow, wouldn't this be a better show if he was ambushing the johns to convince them to change their ways)
posted by ghostiger at 1:24 PM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


But there are much better alternatives like the Swedish model (criminalizing purchasing sex but not those selling it).

How does criminalizing a) make it safer for those who want to, and b) give other options for those who don't?

At it's base, though, sex work still centers around an act of violation.

If I say of my own free will that I will have sex for you for $20, how am I being violated?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:34 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even if you come at it by criminalizing the johns, you're still trying to shut down the activity itself, and you're still therefore still trying to deprive the workers of what is presumptively the best alternative presently available to them, without giving them anything better.

Also, although I have never been a sex worker, I have had people tell me I couldn't possibly want to be in situations that I unequivocally did want to be in, and I have never perceived it as particularly empowering to be told that my agency was false.
posted by Hizonner at 1:35 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that one has to do some very, very clever ideological footwork indeed to suggest that sex work is ipso facto worse than, eg, sweatshop labor, working as a part time nanny with insecure hours, being a hotel cleaner, etc. It often pays a lot better, for one thing. I happen to know several people who've been in a variety of insecure pink collar jobs and have actively chosen sex work because that is the best choice for them, provides the best livelihood and the best schedule, etc.

Being trafficked is bad, of course, but women (and others) are physically coerced into all kinds of labor. I recognize that people who oppose sex work tend also to oppose sweatshop labor, but I feel like most of the time there's an attempt to create sex work as a special category which is always and forever worse than any other labor, and I just don't think that's born out by the narratives of actual sex workers.

I also feel very uncomfortable - due to the combination of shame/titillation in our culture around sex work and women's bodies - with narratives which break sex work off from other kinds of work. It seems to leave the field open for people to be super interested in rescuing sex workers because of a vision they have of sex workers as vulnerable young women of normative body type...basically it provides a narrative which allows a rhetorical leer. I think that it's very easy to allow one's own unexamined/unprocessed ideas about sex into a narrative of sex work.

I think that if someone wants to save women from sex work, that person should be working just as hard to save women from a life of part time hotel cleaning or other shitty working class labor, and should absolutely not conceptualize sex work as a special case split off from our understanding of exploitative labor in general. (Actually, a friend who does sex work had the skeeviest experience of their life working a straight up regular gig as a cocktail waitress as one of our finest metropolitan hotels - pressure to sleep with VIPs, for example, and certainly not for any extra money, just to keep the job.)
posted by Frowner at 1:38 PM on April 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


What I'm saying is that most labor is coerced. Coerced labor vs "free" labor isn't a really useful metric in the type of society we have.
posted by Frowner at 1:39 PM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Plus, it's impossible to shut down the activity. It's the world's oldest profession, and it's just highly unlikely to ever go away. People--not just men, although I'll grant you it's mostly men--want sex. Sometimes the easiest way to get that is to pay for it. Whether that's overt cash changing hands, or sugar-daddy/mama-type relationships, it's going to happen.

Trying to criminalize either side of what is essentially a private business transaction does nothing to deal with the reality on the ground. We can choose to deal with reality or we can ignore it; which do you think is the more effective long-term strategy? Drug legalization/criminalization is an appropriate parallel to draw here.

As Frowner says, sex work is just work. It's a difficult job, with its risks and rewards--which, admittedly, can both be rather more extreme than more mainstream forms of work. I've had worker friends who've been in terribly dangerous situations, and a couple who've traveled the world (with and without clients). Literally every other profession has labour regulations protecting the workers. Why not sex? In every single job you are trading your time and your body for money. Involving your genitals doesn't make it particularly different or special.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:45 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


At it's base, though, sex work still centers around an act of violation. And serves a market that primarily exists because men believe they have a right to sex. (And wow, wouldn't this be a better show if he was ambushing the johns to convince them to change their ways)

Can you explain where you get these assertions from? Nothing in this quote looks true on its face.
posted by shmegegge at 1:48 PM on April 7, 2015


I also feel like a lot of people - not people in this thread! - are interested in "rescuing" sex workers as long as they are young, pretty, cis straight women who can be cast as relatively "innocent" victims. Men, older sex workers, sex workers who aren't thin, often sex workers who are not white, sex workers who are gender non-conforming, sex workers who do, like, "weird" stuff, sex workers who have committed crimes or had serious drug addictions - they all seem to drop out of the narrative, and that's because there's a really creepy sexualized fantasy around "rescuing" these women, or around prostitution itself.
posted by Frowner at 1:50 PM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


I admit I'm not super well-read on this particular topic per se, but the fact that sex-work negative activists in the UK line up almost exactly with TERFs makes me quite wary of blanket sex-work negativity.
posted by kmz at 1:55 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ghostiger: I'll admit, I'm pretty biased from reading Rachel Moran's book but no, there aren't any good reasons for legalizing the brutal sexual assault and humiliation (I'm trying really hard to avoid using the word she uses which starts with "r" and rhymes with "grape"). ... When a woman* is forced into a position where she feels that she has to accept payment from men to let them sexually assault her, all actual consent has been removed from the situation. There isn't any choice involved. ... that was an overly-broad generalization. I'm sorry about that. ... But I still have the strong impression that the majority of those involved in prostitution don't want to be there.

And as I said up-thread, I am a stripper. Please believe me when I say that I am making a good-faith effort to think about the points made in your comments and respond in a diplomatic way.

I drafted and then deleted a comment in response to a statement in your first comment, that seemed to say that there is no such thing as consensual sex work, and so all sex work is automatically rape. I think this statement, in one sweeping motion, would offend many sex workers, many customers, and even many rape victims. I was offended by it. But then after your follow-up comment, I deleted that comment and wrote this one instead.

The book you linked to describes the prostitution of a 15-year-old girl, driven by homelessness and drug addiction, which is most definitely sex trafficking, not sex work. So maybe that's where you're coming from?

In your first comment, you said that "no one wants to do this," which is a really strong statement, then softened it in your next comment, in which you apologized for your phrasing but said you "still have the strong impression that the majority of those involved in prostitution don't want to be there."

I just don't know how to unpack either of those statements because they feel so obviously false to me.

I genuinely like my job. (Stripping, not prostitution, but the two jobs go under the same umbrella of "performing naked services in person for money.") Based on my experiences—having worked with my coworkers on the club floor, gotten to know them behind the scenes in the dressing room, and hung out with a fair number of them outside of work—I believe that a lot of my coworkers like the job as well.

I absolutely concede that there are problems in the industry. But overall, I think my job is awesome. The work is interesting and enjoyable to me, and for the most part, it pays well.

So, please be careful making broad statements about sex workers based on impressions formed by a book about sex trafficking.

All this being said, I am so comforted to know that members of both extreme viewpoints on prostitution condemn this television program. When a sex worker who supports the legalization of prostitution and a person who feels that prostitution is inherently rape both rail against it, you know the program is really fucked up.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 1:59 PM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think that one has to do some very, very clever ideological footwork indeed to suggest that sex work is ipso facto worse than, eg, sweatshop labor, working as a part time nanny with insecure hours, being a hotel cleaner, etc. It often pays a lot better, for one thing. I happen to know several people who've been in a variety of insecure pink collar jobs and have actively chosen sex work because that is the best choice for them, provides the best livelihood and the best schedule, etc.

Personally (and I'm not trying to be a spokesperson for the anti-prostitution movement; it's not a huge focus of mine, except for the human trafficking part of it), I agree that all forms of labor exploitation are bad and we should find ways to stop them, though I do think prostitution creates a bigger opportunity for workers to be sexually assaulted than other forms of labor (though I know that marginalized workers are often sexually assaulted in non-sex-work jobs, too), which concerns me. I also think that society's racism and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia and ableism create inescapable coercive pressures that pretty much negate "free choice" for almost everyone who's not at the very top of the food (labor?) chain, and which do create weird incentives for certain people to participate in sex work when they might not otherwise choose to do so. The misogyny/sexism/racism/etc-ism present also, I think, helps prop up a multibillion-dollar exploitative industry with a lot of power to shape the dominant narrative about both sex work and sex, which works further against free choice and agency.

Which, again, for me does not mean that I think sex workers are uniquely limited in asserting agency (most of us are, to some extent) or that criminalizing sex work is a good solution to any of that. I do think that in a society without all the misogyny, sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, etc. and with better workers' rights in general, many many many fewer people would choose sex work (because marginalized people would have other equally or better-paid options) and many many many fewer customers would choose to pay people for it (because there'd be fewer hang-ups about sex in general). I think getting to that state requires protecting exploited workers, or workers at high risk for exploitation, while doing all the general kyriarchy-busting work that would lead to my speculative utopia. It certainly doesn't involve shoving cameras in the face of women on the street for the entertainment of the masses while pretending to be some sort of white knight savior.
posted by jaguar at 2:15 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


If I say of my own free will that I will have sex for you for $20, how am I being violated?

Thing is, you aren't having sex with them for $20. You're having sex done to you and then getting paid $20 for the use of your body. That's what makes it a violation. You're renting out the most personal, private thing you have on the planet to someone who is only interested in the physical sensations they can get from your personal and private thing.

I'll grant that some people won't experience this as a violation, more power to them, but this isn't "just another job." Working in a mine or a sweatshop can be exploitative in it's own way, but not on the intimate, invasive level that sex is. You at least have some dominion over what's within your own skin. Sex work, however, removes even that. The "client" has purchased use of your body.

At it's base, though, sex work still centers around an act of violation. And serves a market that primarily exists because men believe they have a right to sex. (And wow, wouldn't this be a better show if he was ambushing the johns to convince them to change their ways)

Can you explain where you get these assertions from? Nothing in this quote looks true on its face.


Assertion of the "violation" comes from many survivor accounts. I'll again point to Rachel Moran (I don't have my other materials at hand right now, but I can link stuff later)

Assertion of the "primary market" comes from... well... the world? Why else does this market exist so overwhelmingly driven by men?

The better version of the show, I think, would be better.

Peppermint Snowflake: I appreciate your response. I didn't mean to come across as sex-work negative as kmz put it. I'm sorry if I seemed critical of you and people you know.

It's just prostitution, specifically, and especially the "legalization" argument that gets to me. I think that stance tends to paint an overly rosy picture of prostitution and its personal costs especially when it comes to those in the lowest economic strata and that the "choice" people focus on isn't as clean or as "free" as we'd like to believe.

FWIW, Rachel Moran worked in prostitution for many years and many of those quite successfully through an escort agency. I'm not sure where that lands in the sex work/trafficking dichotomy.
posted by ghostiger at 2:26 PM on April 7, 2015


Ugh. I will believe in this nonsense when they start letting me star in a version of this where I have eight minutes to try to convince a cop to stop being a cop - because frankly, if there's one line of work that fucks people up but good, it's being a career police officer.

that's brilliant!

you could drive around the right/wrong part of town in an old honda accord with a tail light out and when some cop pulls you over thinking he's going to get some action, the camera starts rolling and you confront him about the drinking, other forms of self-abuse, suicide, and the way the culture of the industry encourages bad habits. If he/she can't think of themselves then you can implore them to think about their friends and family; the suffering the lifestyle and business of doing "police work" inflicts on them is tremendous.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:30 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thing is, you aren't having sex with them for $20. You're having sex done to you and then getting paid $20 for the use of your body

You're really stuck on this idea that sex workers have no agency of their own, that they become soulless automatons as soon as money changes hands. I'd wager that I know rather more sex workers than you do, and this is not the actual lived experience they relay. Entering into something of your own free will doesn't suddenly remove your agency because your genitals are involved. Sorry, but that's just not how it is. If you're coerced? Yes. If you're forced? Yes. The sex workers I know and have known have rarely--at least from what they've said--been forced. They pick and choose--and turn down--clients. My friend's partner, for example, makes limits clear beforehand and has stopped calls when the client goes over them.

You may think it's a violation. The sex workers I've known don't.

Does sex work harm some people? Yes. Does it fulfil others? Also yes. Again, given the factual reality that people aren't going to stop paying for sex anytime soon, how do you propose to keep the ones who want to safe, while providing other avenues of employment for those who don't?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:43 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bankers with their charging interest and exploiting the poor are the next to get on-camera shaming, while being religiously dissuaded of their disgustingly sinful enployment, right?!
BTW, prostitution - completely legal in OT law. Not encouraged, but allowed for both (female) provider & female and male clients. OT factoid of the day.
posted by Dreidl at 3:15 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ghostiger, are you a sex worker? Do you personally know any sex workers? You are very passionate about the graphic acts you're describing and/or fantasizing about, but do not seem to be operating from a place of either education or experience. You, like many sw-exclusionary feminists (who, to answer another point, have significant crossover with transphobes) seem to be using sex work as a catchall for all of your fears about patriarchal sexual violence, rather than a real industry populated by real people who may in fact be listening when you go on rants about the graphic details of the way you imagine they are routinely being violated. I doubt you would consider it acceptable if I or PeppermintSnowflake or any of the other swers on Mefi were to go on long, gratuitous reveries speculating about your possible experiences with sexual abuse based on your current job or posting history; please return that courtesy when you feel inclined to make comments like the ones upthread.

Rachel Moran is a deeply controversial figure in sex work activism circles (most of whom are also working to prevent trafficking), primarily because the activist community in Dublin suspects her to be a plagiarist and fraud, enough that members of the community have sworn legal affidavits against her. The second reason is that she is a spokeswoman for Ruhama, an Irish anti-prostitution organization that was created by two orders of nuns, the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, who were heavily involved in the long institution of detaining sex workers and other marginalized women for slave labor in Magdalene Laundries. Many sex work activists (including anti-trafficking activists) refer to this kind of work as the "rescue industry" because the practice of shunting sex workers into wage slavery for their own benefit is essentially unchanged. This would appear to be the dynamic behind A&E's "8 minutes" series as well.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:53 PM on April 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'll grant that some people won't experience this as a violation, more power to them, but this isn't "just another job."

There's something weirdly puritan, when you step back and squint at it, about the idea that it's ok, acceptable, even laudable, to make money by providing a valuable service with these bodily organs, while providing a valuable service using those bodily organs is bad and gross and inherently violating, whether the person involved actually feels violated or not. Really? We're still not done with that bullshit victorian sexual morality yet?

Off the top of my head, I can think of eight of my friends and acquaintances who do or have done sex work, and I'm sure there are more. Oh wait, yeah, nine. Probably others. Seems to be pretty normal when you hang out among artsy freaky alternativey people, burners and hackers and singers and sculptors, burlesque dancers and goths and polyamorists and sci-fi fans; sex work is just a thing some of our friends do, not particularly unusual.

None of these people got into it out of desperation, as far as I know; they're doing sex work because they want to, because they're good at it and it pays well and it suits the other things going on in their lives. Obviously I have not talked in depth with everyone I know who does sex work, but one woman in particular would tell you that it's not "just another job", it's a "really freaking awesome job". She gets to give someone care and affection and touch and emotional support, send them on their way feeling good, and she gets paid well for it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:57 PM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mars Saxman, you made me think of a really useful parallel.

Ghostiger, if I give blood--in the USA, for money (which you can't do here)--am I being violated? My skin is being pierced, it is as intimate as one gets; the fluid that literally allows me to live.

I'm willing to bet that you'd say no. How is sex any different?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:02 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's not thousands of years of cultural taboo and entire patriarchal systems of control governing blood-giving behavior.
posted by jaguar at 4:20 PM on April 7, 2015


I am not a sex worker, nor do I have any close friends who are. All I can relate is what I've learned from various accounts. If, as it turns out, those sources are frauds and I've been led into a labyrinth of confirmation-bias, then I've been duped.

I'm really not against sex-work, I've just been led to believe that prostitution is damaging to many of those who work in it. If I've offended anyone or anyone felt like was shaming them personally, I'm sorry, that was never my intent.

So, anyway:

Boo! A&E

Now I'll be over here eating my crow.
posted by ghostiger at 5:15 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


No need to eat crow. Prostitution has a wide variety of effects on different people, there's no one story.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:48 PM on April 7, 2015


Mooski: "It's amazing to me how a goodhearted action can be turned to poop by the simple addition of a camera."

Charity is when you do something for for people, while other people are watching...

That said, this guy is just another fucking pimp, using Women in his quest to gain a certain amount of status/money. I think there are certainly legitimate causes to help women in the sex-work industry. But this is definitely not one of them, and even if it were, making it into a spectacle is wrong on so many levels.
posted by symbioid at 8:58 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is “WTF” on so many levels—paternalistic, voyeuristic, creepy.

This, so much this. You can be for or against legalization of sex work, but it is hard for me to see an argument for this guy's stunt as being anything other than gross.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:19 PM on April 7, 2015


Ghostiger, I used to be a prostitute. I worked for myself. I did not have a pimp. I was of age. I did not do drugs. I did not accept clients I had a bad feeling about. I did not do acts I wasn't comfortable with, and in fact rarely had intercourse.

I am not rare in these regards. There are plenty of women who have engaged in sex work in other than the coerced circumstances you imagine are so common. I knew some of them. You may very well know some too and not realize it.

I almost never talk about it, because I know that most people --including people who are otherwise relatively open-minded--seem to become ultra-judgy around this topic. Being judged for being immoral is only marginally less pleasant than being judged as being some poor soul who must not have had any choice in the matter.

What you are doing, presuming that women generally have no agency if they choose sex work, is extremely patronizing and anti-feminist despite being done under the guise of concern for women. It's offensive. As is your revised stance of 'oh, well stripping is OK, I mostly meant prostitution'.

You also make some pretty damning assumptions about the way clients must interact with sex workers, what their motivations must be, and how they must view them. But it's not hyperbole when I say that I never once had a client who was as disrespectful to me as have been people who've found out I'd done it and judged me for it.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 12:52 AM on April 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


I wish they would do a show about rescuing Scientologists instead.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:08 AM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Some people are exploited, some people are in sex work, some are both, some are neither. Many people in sex work are no more or less exploited/neurotic/whatever than anybody else you have ever met.

Want to talk about exploitation? We rarely see the same level of knee-jerk reaction when people talk about day labor, cleaning staff or food prep as when people talk about sex work, but the topic of sex, let alone the idea of monetizing sex, sets people off. People like to foist narratives onto it.

That's not to say that human trafficking, etc. is not a huge problem in certain tranches of sex work. That's not my point. My point is, the benighted life of poor prostitute who suffers from substance abuse and other issues is not tightly linked with, say, the more comfortably banal life of a porn star, who is quite typically just a plain old person with an admittedly unusual job. One might as well look at the life of a migrant worker who picks cabbages and try to forge a tight link to your average server at an average restaurant.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:22 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was thinking about this thread earlier. I used - before I had any friends who did sex work - to feel that sex work was a particularly invasive kind of work, presented particular problems separate from routine misogyny, etc. I think what really changed my mind was two things: a nagging feeling in my conscience that I was projecting my own issues about my body and sexuality onto sex work and the fact that most of the writing about prostitution as violation was very, very selective in which sex worker narratives they actually used. This was back in the nineties when there was a particularly annoying "stripping is empowerful for women [who are young, thin, not otherwise vulnerable, cis, middle class, etc and who already have quite a lot of social power - and again, we are not going to discuss men because that is too gay and also admitting that male bodies are sexual bodies is just a bridge too far]!!!!" narrative going around in the Utne Reader and the larger kind of fanzine so there was a lot of stupid in the air at the time.

I think there's some difficulty for everyone in getting a really broad, representative and detailed set of narratives by people who do sex work, precisely because the people who are the most marginalized are likely to have the least access to distribution channels and the least experience in writing/narrating. And also because there is a market both for the titillating and the tragic, so it's more difficult for people to tell actual, complex stories. So I feel like when non-sex workers are trying to understand social policy issues, there really is already this limit. At the same time, I think that any narrative about sex work which can't account for and has to discard a whole subset of sex workers' own narratives has a real problem, and I feel like that's where a lot of the anti-sex-work feminist stuff breaks down - it can't account for people who like the work, or who would like the work if the job itself were more secure and not despised.

It also often can't seem to separate out labor conditions from the work - no one likes a job where you don't have much control over your working conditions, or where it's painful or it makes you sick. On the green right now is a question from a woman who was being horribly, horribly exploited at her big box store job to the point of what sounds like pretty serious physical damage, for instance.

To me there is a concern as sex work becomes more normalized/socially acceptable (which it clearly is, even though change is slow) - it is one more realm in which total commodification becomes the norm. You could argue that the old bias against sex work, problematic as it was, was still a bulwark against the total neoliberal (there, I said it - but the neoliberal body is at issue here) commodification of the self - that the normalization of doing sex work fits in with Uber and Washio and Air BnB, where every last corner of what used to be private becomes legit for commercialization. And I think that's true - I think that sex work is becoming more socially acceptable because workers in general are more vulnerable and everyone has to have a hustle of some kind, and if lots and lots of people have to do something, there's no point in stigmatizing it too much. But under the old ideological regime, basically it was stupid, because lots of people did sex work anyway and were even more socially punished than they are today. We need a new narrative which is anti-neoliberal without separating out sex as a special category - no one should have to work all the time and sell every spare bedroom/moment of driving/moment they could be doing cam work, but that's a worker's issue, not a sex issue.

I also think there's this misogyny that underlies our collective preoccupation with sex work - just as much for people who are anti-sex-work as anyone. I think (and honestly, I base this on how I used to feel, and conversations I've had with various people) it really unconsciously bugs people that some women can use their bodies to make money, and that if the working conditions are good, those women really hold most of the cards. I think we're all really deeply conditioned to believe that women's bodies don't belong to them - they belong to society if not to men, and therefore a woman using her body to make money is just not right. (Which I would argue is why people get way, way less upset at the thought of guys doing sex work - it's either ignored or a joke, but there are plenty of vulnerable young men doing survival sex, etc.) That is, it's okay to commercialize women's bodies, as long as the women don't really make the decisions about it. But women should never, never suggest by word or deed that sex is anything other than either a huge chore that they do Because Family or a pure, romantic ritual. And I think that's part of why it's so difficult for a lot of people to really hear sex workers who say that sex work is the best choice for them, or that they actively like the work.

In short, I think that the discourse around sex work has unfortunately little to do with actually finding out who is being exploited and how, and what those people would like as alternatives. "What would help you?" is the important question to ask women who are being injured or exploited - it's the only question that makes any sense.

I mean, maybe if we gather enough information - "we" meaning sex workers and non-sex workers - we'll find out that because of the weight of capitalism and misogyny, there's basically no way to have sex work without it being terrible for the vast majority of people - no amount of worker protections or destigmatization can overcome the situation as it stands. I have no idea. But I also feel like the most important people to ask about this stuff are sex workers.
posted by Frowner at 6:32 AM on April 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I totally agree with what you're saying. For this:

At the same time, I think that any narrative about sex work which can't account for and has to discard a whole subset of sex workers' own narratives has a real problem, and I feel like that's where a lot of the anti-sex-work feminist stuff breaks down - it can't account for people who like the work, or who would like the work if the job itself were more secure and not despised.

I agree, and I think that's true on the other side, too. I often see (not in this discussion) a lot of people (both sex workers and not) using the narratives of well-paid sex workers who are not coerced or forced into it to erase the reality of the coercive end of the spectrum, in the same way that various "Oh, I was poor as a college student and waited tables or worked retail, so I understand poverty!" narratives erase the reality of exploitative labor.
posted by jaguar at 8:42 AM on April 8, 2015


I hope I didn't come across as saying that--I was trying to offer counterpoint, not erasing the very real problems.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:57 AM on April 8, 2015


UPDATE: A&E has pulled "8 Minutes." Tits and Sass link. (A website by sex workers, for sex workers. NSFW.)

Apparently, this happens in the wake of some troubling claims. (Another Tits and Sass link—again, NSFW.) A sex worker alleges that she was contacted by the show before showing up for her appointment—i.e. the intervention was staged—and she agreed to appear on the show in return for help getting out of the business. However, she received no help. She continued with prostitution, but this time, she was arrested in a sting operation. She contacted the show for help yet again, she says, and the pastor told her that he would pray for her. Then she contacted writers and started several crowdfunding campaigns.

Fun fact: The author of the first linked T&S article is the same author of the article about being a traveling stripper in Williston, North Dakota, which is a fantastic piece of journalism about stripping and was well-received by the MetaFilter community.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 8:34 PM on May 6, 2015


psst, Peppermint Snowflake
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:59 PM on May 6, 2015


Oops! Thanks, fffm. :)
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 9:27 PM on May 6, 2015


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