Tag Archives: trauma

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.

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.

Aside

Trafficking/Prostitution Survivors Inspire Each Other

20 Mar
 Trafficking/Prostitution Survivors Inspire Each Other
oscar romero, 9to20blog, survivors connect, human trafficking

"I am in the process of freedom"

 
I found these beautiful words on the blog of another trafficking survivor:
 
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
 In realizing that. This enables us to do something,
 And to do it very well.
 
– Oscar Romero
 
This survivor blogs at http://www.9to20.wordpress.com  I’m so moved by her bio:
 
I’m willing to take the risk if you are– to become uncomfortable. I’m willing …to share with you my story of being sexually trafficked right here in America, if you’re willing to listen. What I do not want however, if for this to be a story of despair– because it’s not. It’s a story of hope. There is a thrasher-filled road of healing ahead of me yes, but I am in the process of freedom. 
 
Related articles

How a Holocaust Survivor Can Help Prostitution Survivors

11 Feb
The amazing Primo Levi

My Hero

Primo Levi is amazing.  Many trafficking/prostitution survivors I know read him again and again.  We need him and somehow we find our way to him.

Primo (he will always be ‘first’ to me) has been necessary for my intellectual survival.  I’m not drawing any direct parallels between the concentration camp and what I experienced in prostitution (though in many ways it was an underground Gulag), but Primo defines the denial of evil and how evil molds and changes the people it preys upon better than anyone I’ve ever read.

I’m so thankful to him, for his amazing clarity, honesty and courage, for having the guts to write the truth, when it wasn’t what people wanted to hear.  For going beyond his outrage, pain, despair, to examine like the scientist he was what happens to people  when they’re subjected to unfathomable violence, fear, loss and pain.

From the Drowned and the Saved:

“The well-known euphemisms (‘final solution,’ ‘special treatment,’ the very term Einsatzkommando literally ‘prompt-employment unit, disguised a frightful reality) were used not only to deceive the victims and prevent a defensive reaction on their part, they were also meant, within the limits of the possible, to prevent public opinion, and those sections of the army not directly involved, from finding out what was happening in all the territories occupied by the Third Reich.” “The entire history of the brief “millennial Reich” can be read as a war against memory, an Orwellian falsification of memory, falsification of reality, negation of reality.

All Hitler’s biographers … agree on the flight from reality which marked his last years, especially beginning with the first Russian winter. He had forbidden and denied his subjects any access to the truth, contaminating their morality and their memory; but, to a degree which gradually increased, attaining complete paranoia in the Bunker, he barred the path of truth to himself as well. Like all gamblers, he erected around himself a stage set of superstitious lies and in which he ended up believing with the same fanatical faith that he demanded from every German. His collapse was not only a salvation for mankind but also a demonstration of the price to be paid when one dismembers the truth.”

The falsification Levi describes above reminds me a lot of the many lies and euphemisms society and the sex industry use to hide the degradation and violence of prostitution.  These untruths dehumanize the prostituted class.

Good John, Bad John?

9 Feb

Survivor Angel K’s honesty and guts always leave me breathless.  Check out her hard-hitting new post at her blog Surviving Prostitution and Addiction.  Here’s an excerpt

You kind of think, what d’you want, a fucking medal because you’ve chosen not to be an out and out sadist today? So you didn’t shout at me and beat me up. Hardly a qualification for sainthood. Perhaps you asked me how I am or why I’m here, in a pretence of care (you don’tactually want to know), to make yourself feel better. It demonstrates either stupidity or a wilful ignorance of the obvious, that anything I say in this context will be lies for your benefit, to appease your conscience, such as it is. Disobedience and backchat is potentially deadly as a prostitute so I have to say what you want to hear. So I’ll tell you I’m here cos I love sex, and I love talking to you and I love being here, love your company and your cock, and pretend I’m not here for the money for the addiction and because of the mental hell caused by the abuse I suffered in my past.

Read more

You might kill me

7 Feb

I pity you

though you might kill me

 

I am a piano and the keys

at my crotch are seaglass

Worn away by pound

by touch

 

Manhattan makes wraiths

of women like me

At 4 AM this January morning

 

I’ve searched the interstellar dark

even though I’ve heard

Once torn away

like lost summer nights

Time won’t come back.

 

Time lived between my legs

Till they ripped Time out,

leaving me

Only the Immediate

and Eternity

 

In August the wanting sex

from stoop-sitting boys

pulses rhythmic as traffic

Hyacinth kisses shiver in thick

shadows behind their knees

 

Now Ice rusts their throats

 

How many voices are impaled on the

razorwire strangling vacant lots?

 

How many murdered girls cry out

from the park’s dark clarinet?

 

These nights I walk through ice,

dragging sleep meant for men impaled

by the view out their window

Men drowned in constellations

shot dead as they fled the sky

 

Tongues wait in the

fire escape shadows

Torn out like Time

they’ll never speak

 

I am a piano and the

keys at my crotch

are sidewalks

jellyfished with brine

 

I knock hoping you won’t open

but if you do I hope you won’t

see the murdered clarinets

in the dark behind my teeth

 

You’re wearing the thick terry robe

barely tied

Your room moisturized with the luxury

of a gardenia holding absence

 

You give me your fear and

your voice’s glass dust

in a box

You will make me  open carefully

 

I can tell by your eyes

you’ve seen the vacant buildings’

toothless mouths

 

I can tell by the tense of your lips

you’ve heard the murdered girls cry

As vacuumous cold

hides thick within your cheeks

 

The dullness at the windows

is all that remains

of the flypaper that once wrapped you,

That you can’t rinse away

from your sleep

 

I am a mirror that wants to incarnate

All  the tenderness

We’ve never found before it smashes

 

The closer you come the more

Space inside me explodes

against my throat

 

You live in my thighs and aching fingers

a skyscraper of  lack

I rub serpentines into your shoulders

You rub money into my hips

Your pubic hair sticks to my cheek

 

Pinning me to the mattress

Is how you refuse to use a condom

 

This darkness is not as light to us

though sometimes

I see light bubbling

from my breath

During my dives

in the Night underneath you

 

Fling me across the bed

in rips of shipwrecked sail

Till I cling in curling seaweed at your feet

 

I Implore you

 

Throw me back into the Oceanic night

Which is my only Freedom from you

 

Where I wait for  the first

panted breaths between stars

And gulp cold-throated rain

 

This is a sketch of what it feels like to be trafficked in prostitution in Manhattan