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An Unlikely Union: Julie Bindel on a World of Pimps, Punters and Workers

21 Apr

This extremely important article by Julie Bindel describes how a sex workers union (the IUSW) which was founded by idealistic academics with the goal of ending prostitution was taken over by pimps and used to promote their sexual exploitation of other people.

To read click here: IUSWGaze

cruel-city

How the Sex Industry Threatens Survivors Speaking Out while Pimps Pose as Sexworker Activists

28 Jun

survivors connect network, sex worker activists, pimps, human trafficking, prostitution, trauma, sex positive feminism, radical feminism, human rights, stella marr

James Baldwin wrote “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: she has become a threat.”

I had no idea how threatening my voice was until I started to make it heard.  None of us trafficking and prostitution survivors did, until we started to write about the brutality we’ve experienced and big players within  pimp-dominated ‘sex worker activist’ groups started to do everything they could to silence us and deny we exist.  Survivor bloggers are cyber-stalked via Facebook, email, twitter and hateful blog comments.  Our email accounts are hacked and private information that could endanger us is tweeted or revealed elsewhere online.  Spiteful emails about us are sent to people we work with.

I’d like to give you a glimpse of this intense bullying, using myself as an example. I’m not asking for sympathy; I want to show you what survivor activists go through when we break the silence.

I came out as a survivor online in March 2011.  Almost immediately pro-sex industry men and women affiliated with the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA and other pimp-led activist organizations began emailing me and posting aggressive comments on my Facebook wall.  As I got bolder I started leaving comments after articles about prostitution in major newspapers and blogs.  At this point I did not have my own blog, and we hadn’t yet formed Survivors Connect Network.  I was an obscure private person. Nonetheless, members of the “Network of Sex Work Projects” found me.  An anonymous email brought me to this creepy thread about me on admitted madam (a madam is a female pimp) Maggie McNeill’s blog.  Another anonymous email led me to this piece on Bound Not Gagged.  Here McNeill implies that I’m a puppet controlled by abolitionistsNorma Jean Almodovar, the executive director of COYOTE LA, suggests that I might not exist.    Billie Jackson, the founder of SWOP Colorado, criticizes my language. Maxine Doogan, the leader of the Erotic Service Providers’ Union states that I remind her of another troublemaker.  She links to a video created by Michael Whiteacre, a lawyer and filmmaker connected with the pornography industry. The video, called The Devil and Shelley Lubben, slanders Lubben, a survivor who speaks out about abuse in the porn industry.  It includes an interview with an actor who was in a pornographic movie that depicts Lubben with six men.  He discusses her sexual performance.  The message is clear:  Make waves and this could happen to you.

These invasive tactics have only amplified as time passes.  There have been numerous other creepy comment threads and blog posts which pick at me and make false statements written by people I’ve never met who are affiliated with these ‘sex worker activist’ groups.  They are a constant background noise and the volume keeps increasing.  Most survivors who write or speak about prostitution go through this.

Any examples I give are just splashes from an ocean of harassment.  Examine these droplets:

  • A few hours after the first ever video broadcast of a talk by Survivors Connect (SC) members, rich and famous Brooke Magnanti sends a tweet to her 49,900 followers, Elena Jeffreys, head of the Scarlett Alliance, an Australian sex worker group affiliated with SWOP USA, and McNeill.  The tweet states that SC members are “like Operation Rescue” an extremist group known for harassing women at abortion clinics.  Survivors Connect formed just four months ago.  Our 48 members are all crime victims and survivors of trafficking/prostitution.  McNeill blogs at Sex Workers without Borders (SWWB) with Jill McCracken, a college professor who is part of SWOP USA. No one at Survivors Connect has ever met Magnanti, McNeill or Jeffreys.
  • As I’m editing this article I get a tweet from another stranger which contains encoded language that refers to the confidential part of my life.  If I were to interpret this fully I would be revealing my location by a matter of just miles.  The message here is clear: We know where you are.

This is what it’s like for survivor activists every day.  You ignore it as much as you can, and then eventually these people get so extreme, threatening or outrageous that they draw you in.  When this happens, I sometimes fall through the floor of my life and into the past’s deep water.  I become the scared, beat up girl I used to be, locked in a room in a brothel.  Then it’s hard to find my way back to the present.  Resurfacing, I’ll stare into blankness for hours while my legs shake.  I’ll feel hollow and my husband’s voice will seem to come from far away.

Because I’m telling you this, people from these ‘sex worker activist’ groups will tell you I’m a vicious liar.  They’ll say they aren’t pimps, even though they admit owning escort services or have convictions associated with profiting off others’ prostitution.  They’ll say I want to send people to jail, even though I hate the US prison system.  They’ll say I’m calling all sex workers pimps.  Their reactions can seem insane but there’s a strategy behind it. This example will help me explain:

A stranger once tried to rape me in the lobby of my tenement walkup building in broad daylight. I screamed and people came to help.  The good Samaritans who’d seen the incident ran off to find the police after asking some other people who’d arrived later to make sure the would-be rapist didn’t run.  The man who’d attacked me began telling everyone I was his girlfriend and we were having a fight.  He told them it was a private argument we needed to work out between ourselves.  He said I was always accusing him of things but he loved me anyway.  Remember this man was a complete stranger.  But the people who’d remained hadn’t seen him attack me so they let him run away.

The would-be rapist told lies and made accusations to distract people from the wrong he’d done.  Nothing he said would have stood up to scrutiny.  But within the moment his strategy worked perfectly.  He got people who might have helped me forget the truth.  As a result he was able to get away and likely go on to hurt someone else.

My attacker’s tactics were similar to the behavior of some members of these ‘sex worker activist’ groups.  They harass survivors, then if challenged or if supporters come forward, they claim to be allies rather than pimps.  They couldn’t be any more duplicitous – the truth is that suppressing survivor voices is a strategy to protect scores of billions of dollars of organized crime profits.

I was trafficked in prostitution in NYC for ten years.  Those of us in the life used the word pimp for any man or woman who profited from our prostitution.   I have a right to use this language.  All the people who pimped me were part of organized crime, some were women, all were white and most were rich.

Previously I discussed how the International Union of Sex Workers, the Erotic Service Providers Union, COYOTE, and the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP) were founded by people who’d been convicted of charges connected with pimping:  pandering, conspiracy to promote interstate prostitution, and promoting prostitution.  But there are lots more.

Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) claims to represent women in the sex industry.  But the SPOC recently won a case filed on behalf of two female pimps.   Most women in prostitution have suffered intense violence from the men or women who exploit them, but SPOC was advocating for these predators rather than women in prostitution.  The plaintiffs were  SPOC Deputy Director Amy Lebovitch,  SPOC Legal Coordinator Valerie Scott, who plans to open a brothel, and  Terri Jean Bedford, who was convicted of keeping a bawdy house (a brothel).  SPOC sought to make it legal for men and women to commercially sexually exploit others in prostitution.  In bizarre doublespeak, SPOC described those who own brothels or escort services as ‘employees’ of women in sex industry.  We wouldn’t accept that a restaurant owner was the ‘employee’ of one of his busboys, would we?

Despite the brave testimony of survivor activists from SexTrade101.com, Educating Voices,  Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, and LaCLES.org, Canadian courts chose pimped prostitution for the most vulnerable, who have no other choices.  The case has been appealed.

Turn off the Blue Light claimed to represent Irish ‘sex worker’ activists:

Turn Off the Blue Light is a grassroots movement ….We are a sex worker led association campaigning against calls to criminalize the purchase of sex, and for the health, safety, human, civil and labor rights of sex workers in Ireland...

But look who’s actually running the Blue Light campaign. It’s backed by convicted pimp Peter McCormick, who makes millions annually via prostitution websites, his son who was convicted of running six brothels, convicted pimp TJ Carroll, who used voodoo rituals to terrify trafficked African women, and convicted pimp Tony Linnane who was connected with an incident where a woman was “threatened with being burned alive after gasoline was thrown on her.”  Mihai Selaru, who humiliated a woman he pimped by starving her and forcing her to lick his shoes, was also connected.

I’m sure there are well-meaning people working within these sex worker activist groups. I hope they find a way to continue their work in organizations free from this shocking conflict of interest.   Women in prostitution deserve activist groups that don’t silence survivors or promote sex industry agendas.

So what’s the solution?  Pimp-affiliated groups such as the IUSW, SPOC, SWOP USA, COYOTE, the Erotic Services Providers’ Union and PONY must disband and reform as new organizations that are free of “management” members.  Any organization claiming to advocate for women in prostitution that receives federal money or collects donations on our behalf must sever ties with all groups where this conflict of interest exists.  Otherwise they are supporting the suppression of survivor voices.

Meanwhile we should all advocate for services to help women exit prostitution.  They need safe housing, medical care, education, and trauma treatment including EMDR and mindfulness training.  They are precious and they need to know we care.  They will never know this as long as the academics and NGO’s continue to cooperate with organizations like the IUSW, SPOC and others who, bizarrely and disgustingly, include  pimps and/or Johns in their ranks.

I wrote this piece for the Survivors View.

Pimps Posing as “Sex Worker Activists”

24 May

Stella Marr, sex work, pimps, swop usa, robyn few, margo st. james, conflict of interest, oppression, feminism, sex work, ptsd, trauma

Well meaning people think most “sex workers activist” organizations/unions speak for women in prostitution. They are mistaken. A shocking number of these “sex worker” organizations were started by women and men who are admitted pimps and madams, or have been convicted of pimping, pandering, or conspiracy to promote prostitution. These people call themselves ‘sex workers’ but it’s a ruse. It’s an unacceptable conflict of interest. These organizations and their ‘partners’ and affiliates cannot be allowed to speak for women in prostitution or collect funds on their behalf. Any NGO, university, college or nonprofit organization that engages with these pimp-affiliated organizations or their partners is assisting them in this misrepresentation.   I’m sure there are some well-meaning people trying to good within these groups.   But with pimp founders and leaders,  these groups mostly advocate  on behalf of the predators who profit off of sexual exploitation; they rarely  help women in prostitution.

A pimp is someone who makes money from another’s prostitution. A madam is a female pimp. Whether they call themselves managers, brothel owners, escort agency owners — they are all pimps. As a survivor of ten years of trafficking/prostitution, I have a right to use this word. If someone poisons another in cold blood, it doesn’t matter if they call themselves a life extinguisher or claim they’re an innovative longevity re-allocation businesswoman. They’re still a murderer. A pimp is still a pimp, no matter what name they peddle.

But pimps don’t like that word. So these founders and leaders of ‘sex worker activist’ organizations say they’re sex workers. They appropriate the identity of those they exploit. It’s a bit like a plantation owner in blackface pretending to be one of the slaves they oppress. They’re trying to steal our survivor voices.

Douglas Fox, the main ‘activist’ at the International Union of Sex Workers, claims to be a male sex worker. But he and his partner John Dottery were featured as the owners of a large UK escort agency in the British documentary ‘The Escort Agency.’ On a website he co-edits Fox states his partner owns an escort agency and argues ridiculously that pimps are ‘sex workers.’ He also states ” The fact that paedophiles produce and distribute and earn money from selling sex may make them sex workers.”

The first so-called ‘sex worker activist’ group in the United States was Whores, Housewives and Others (WHO) which eventually became COYOTE. It was founded by Margo St. James, who like Douglas Fox claimed to be a prostitute when she was actually a pimp. She’s admitted to being convicted of running a disorderly house — a brothel – in 1962.

The Sex Workers’ Outreach Project USA (SWOP USA) was founded by Robyn Few the year after she pled guilty to conspiracy to promote prostitution via a multistate prostitution ring, a federal felony.   This means that like St. James, Few was also convicted of  charge related to pimping.  As a survivor of ten years of prostitution myself, I would never feel safe around male or female pimp (madam).  Most women in prostitution wouldn’t. Thus  organizations like SWOP USA  can’t speak for us. Few calls herself a ‘sex worker’ most of the time so the conflict of interest isn’t obvious. But the SWOP website makes a point of acknowledging her conviction. Why? Because pimps across the country are using SWOP to connect with Johns while they recruit vulnerable young women. This isn’t activism, it’s marketing while lobbying for pimp interests.

SWOP USA and COYOTE aren’t  the only ‘sex worker activist’ organizations founded by a female pimp. The Erotic Service Providers Union is led by Maxine Doogan who was convicted of running an escort service. Like Robyn Few, Maxine Doogan poses as a ‘sex worker. She claims that legislation which helps pimps is good for women in prostitution. Terri Jean Bedford, who was widely represented in the Canadian media as an advocate of women in prostitution, was convicted of running a brothel. So she’s also a pimp.

Executive Director of COYOTE/ Los Angeles Norma Jean Almodovar was convicted of pandering while she was working as a cop. As such she is part of a long tradition of police officers involved in the prostitution of other women. It’s an unholy alliance that sends women in prostitution the message they can’t get out and they can’t get help. Like Robyn Few, Norma Jean Almodovar calls herself a ‘sex worker,’ but details the pandering conviction on her nonprofit organization website.

Now when a survivor of trafficking/prostitution such as myself happens to bring up this conflict of interest, the parties in question react as if viciously attacked. But there’s nothing personal about saying someone has a conflict of interest. It’s a statement of existing conditions not a vendetta. The majority stockholders of Walmart can’t speak for the company’s minimum wage employees because what benefits those stakeholders may be bad for the workers. But in the ‘sex worker activist’ movement, pimps pretend to be workers when in fact they are management — the ones in control.

No wonder SWOP -USA, COYOTE, The Erotic Services Providers’ Union, the International Union of Sex Workers as well as their partners and affiliates which include the Desiree Alliance, the Red Umbrella Project, and Prostitutes of New York (PONY) support policies that protect pimps rather than women in prostitution. PONY actually claims to “reach out” to Madam members.   I’m sure there are well-meaning people not connected with pimping trying to good within these groups.

We trafficking/prostitution survivors have had enough.   We’re going to start calling out the NGOS, universities, and academics who tacitly support and encourage these pimp-led groups. The concept of fruit of the poisonous tree applies here. Any organization that partners or collaborates with these groups is tainted by association They can’t speak for us or collect funds on our behalf.

To be clear:  There is a position in a pimp-led ‘family’ called a “bottom bitch.”  These women are subject to brutal violence and end up ‘assisting’ the pimp.  These women are victims in a tragic domestic violence situation, not pimps.   But there’s a world of difference between a ‘bottom bitch” and a madam running a brothel or  escort service, who is usually associated with organized crime and can enforce any threat.

Nevada’s Legal Brothels are Coercive Too

22 Apr

Survivors Connect Stella Marr Prostitution legalization human trafficking Swedish model rachel lloyd martha nussbaum chika unigwe max waltman norma ramos new york times room for debate

It was an honor to participate in a  New York Times “Room for Debate” on  Prostitution alongside Rachel Lloyd, Chika Unigwe, Max Waltman, Norma Ramos & Martha Nussbaum.

Here’s what I said:

Well-meaning people who’ve never been commercially sexually exploited often think that legal brothels will protect the women in prostitution from pimps and violent johns. They are mistaken.

In the 10 years I worked in New York City’s sex industry, where the pimps were part of organized crime and could follow through on any threat, I met many women who’d experienced Nevada‘s legal brothels. They all preferred the New York sex industry.

Women who worked in Nevada’s legal brothels said they were like prisons where you have to turn tricks. Rimmed with high-security fencing and an electronic gate, they can look like a detention camp. The women live in lockdown conditions and can’t leave the premises unless they’re accompanied by a male pimp. Living and working in cramped, dark rooms, they’re on call 24 hours a day. This is what happens when the law protects people who profit from commercial sexual exploitation. It’s the ideal business model. It’s the best way to get a woman to turn as many tricks as possible.

Most of the women I knew in the brothels and escort services, had a history of trauma and abuse. I was homeless at the time I entered the life and, had multiple sclerosis. That vulnerability makes them even more easily victimized by pimps. And pimps don’t stop being pimps when you legalize what they do. If we legalize brothels we’ll only be giving these predators more power, while we help them protect their cash.

As the prostitution survivor and activist Natasha Falle has said, “Where there’s high-track prostitutes, escorts, strippers and masseuses; there’s pimp violence.”

Read the full debate here.

The Anti-trafficking Movement Needs Survivor Voices: Why Are We Ignored?

2 Apr

human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, sex work, survivors connect, stella marr, sex industry, feminism, ptsd, trauma

My sister survivor Holly Austin Smith has a great new post on her blog, titled The Importance of the Survivor Voice.  She discusses an issue that’s central to most  of us:  Why aren’t more survivors being uplifted to lead the anti-trafficking movement?  Sister  survivor Rachel Lloyd is a splendid exception to this rule, as are  Vednita Carter and Kristy Childs.  But so many of us our ignored and discarded after we’ve been used by anti-trafficking organizations once or twice to tell our story.  No one knows more about the sex industry and human trafficking than we do.  No one knows more about recovery from trafficking/prostitution than us.  The absence of  survivor leaders  in most  major anti-trafficking organizations creates a hole in the movement.   Much more would accomplished much faster if we were given the chance to lead.  Because so few of us are empowered to lead,  so much time is wasted — so much knowledge and insight lost.

What’s especially troubling is that even when survivors find ways to lead on our own we’re ignored or talked through.  Our Canadian sister survivors in the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, Educating Voices, LaCLES, and SexTrade101  have been valiantly educating the public about the harms of the Bedford ruling — which upholds the criminalization of prostitutes on the street — who are crime victims– while it empowers and legitimizes their predators, the male and female pimps and traffickers who own brothels and escort services.  While some of the major anti-trafficking organizations have commented on the ruling or written documents concerning its issues, there’s been precious little support and acknowledgement of the brave work of these Canadian survivors.

The 34 members of Survivors Connect recently voted to issue a statement of support for our Canadian sisters against the Bedford decision.  34 prostitution/trafficking survivors joining our voices  in political action is a big deal.  It was a historic moment, and marked a big change in how survivors participate in the movement.  But there was no response by the big anti-trafficking organizations.  A  few wonderful women within these large anti-trafficking organizations  have reached out to me — there are great people in these groups, of course.  But in general survivors are ignored, not uplifted.

What can survivors do about this situation?  What we’ve been through in the sex industry unites us.  We must remember our voices are powerful, form survivors groups where there are none, and join existing survivor groups.  Sometimes nonprofit organizations become competitive and don’t work together.  We can’t afford this.  It’s important that our different survivor groups work and flow together as one so that our voices aren’t fragmented.

Survivors Connect is an international online leaderless network.  We already have 34 survivor members, and we’ve only been around for two months.  We joyfully welcome new sister survivor members. Here’s how to join us.

In response to the need for survivors’ voices,  Holly Austin Smith has started a speaker’s bureau called Survivor Strong.  Here’s an excerpt from her brilliant post on the subject:

 I am in touch with survivors from around the world: new survivors, empowered survivors, educated survivors, struggling survivors, and scared survivors.  We unite under these umbrella organizations to offer each other support, guidance, and empathy and to work together on survivor-inspired projects.

There is a particular topic which has been surfacing lately on many of these forums and that is the lack of survivor invitations to participate in local and national conferences, symposiums, workshops, etc.  Often, survivors are requested to recount the details of their testimonies, and then they are excused from further participation.  This is baffling to me.  If there is to be a discussion regarding the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors, shouldn’t there be a survivor’s perspective present?

Please realize I recognize that many organizations involved in such events are survivor-informed; however, I still believe that empowered survivors whom are able to attend the event should be invited to participate.  What better way to convey to new survivors that their futures hold promise but by providing a place and by lifting the voices of survivors who are ready to come forward?

Read more.

Related articles

Terrible Beauty: Prostitution & the Inadequacy of Language

23 Feb
nelson mandela, hero, angel k, prostitution, human trafficking, sex work, sex industry, sex worker, trauma, torture, ptsd

My Hero

Survivor Angel K’s writing is searing and fearless.  In a recent post up at her blog Surviving Prostitution and Addiction she describes the after-effects of prostitution — the flashbacks, the startle response, the sleepless due to the terrible dreams.  Researchers have found the women in prostitution suffer from the same levels of trauma symptoms as the victims of state-sponsored torture.  It  forever changes how we face the world.  After going through something like state-sponsored torture or trafficking/prostitution everything you do is an act of will — you must continually summon a new being  from your fragments. Yet as the survivors of torture or trafficking/prostitution rebuild their lives, their selves, their voices  — they can develop extraordinary abilities to connect with, inspire, and understand others.  Nelson Mandela exemplifies this type of rebirth.

Most everyone understands that Mandela’s experiences of being held 27 years in a prison infamous for torture make him unique.  When he was finally released few denied the vast injustice done to him.  No one expected him to act like everyone else.  Instead South Africa and the world stepped back, and waited to see how this extraordinary man would transform the terrible wrongs he’d been through — they gave him a chance to bring something new into being.

It’s my hope that the public will start seeing us trafficking and prostitution survivors as people society has wronged in a similar manner.  I hope they’ll understand we’ve been changed by the pain and harshness we’ve experienced.  Public denial of the violence we experience and whore-blaming forces many of us into hiding.  If this stopped, we survivors would be empowered to bring something new and beautiful into being.

With exquisite precision, Angel K writes of  how it feels to live inside this trauma and form a new self and voice from the fragments.  Here’s an excerpt:

 The images remain, technicolour, replaying when I sleep or sometimes anyway. Something triggers me and I’m gone, magically transported back there, no tardis required.
I sleep with the light on, and barely even then. Scared of dreaming, but scared of my thoughts lying awake hour after hour. The night looms, interminable, the fragile grip on sanity of the day stretched to a mere thread, at breaking point. The body, that is to say my body – the splitting I did to survive what they did to me continues – doesn’t help. Muscles tense and tire, old injuries ache, and now the exhaustion from night after night of broken sleep has taken it to the point of fainting, of collapse. Both body and mind work against me, telling me I am in danger now, making me re-experience what happened then now.
Many thanks to Rebecca Mott  for our conversations on Mandela which inspired this post.

Looking for Unicorns: The Search for the “Happy Hooker” & the “Good Punter/John”

12 Feb

The brilliant Rebecca Mott’s clear, piercing voice feels like an oracle for prostituted women.  She has a new post up on her blog called “Looking for Unicorns” which takes on the ridiculousness of two ciphers the sex industry uses constantly in its attempt to silent survivors:  the “good punter (John/customer) “and the “happy hooker.”  Here’s an excerpt:

Looking for the unicorn of the good punter is not just wrong, it is also endangering for the prostituted.

If all you care about is finding that good punter – then you can live with ignoring the extreme violence and hate that nearly every single man who make the choice to buy the prostituted puts into her.

You will abandoned the prostituted, or they get in the way of your rose-tainted scenery. For that I will damned you to hell.

One myth of the good punter is the concept that punters will say (report) and even stop if there are prostituted women in danger, if he sees a prostituted woman may be trafficked, that the prostitute is under-aged, that the prostitution is run by crooks.

This is utter bullshit – but it is nice to believe such rubbish.

Punters know and don’t care that all those types of prostitutes are easy to access. Most punters see and hear the prostitutes being beaten, raped and mentally tortured – even if he make the choice to be “gentle”, he is in the environment where he has full permission to be sadistic.

I hate to burst your balloon – but if punters do report abuse or trafficking, it is usually to save his own skin in fear of being arrested or having his name known. He would have fucked the prostitute before he chooses to report it – he gets his money worth.

There is no such thing as the good punter – for if a man has “good” in him he would not even think to buy a prostitute for his selfish sexual wants.

Read more of Rebecca’s post here