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A Paper I wrote- The Violence in Our Silence

May 22, 2015

Caution- long post. This is a paper I wrote for one of my Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies courses. I published the piece under my dance name. I wanted to show the class that sex workers are people and the professor wanted us to write in the first person. So… I did it. I figured I’d share it here. Outing myself infront of my class was one of the most terrifying things I’ve done. I’m very greatful for the support my classmates showed me. That support is one of the reasons the paper exists.

The Violence in Our Silence

Violence in Silencing Sex Workers and the Rescue Industry

“Don’t ever for a fucking second forget that there are women, self proclaimed feminists who hate you because you are a sex worker and wouldn’t think twice about degrading you”

-Citrine8 via tumblr

My name is Delilah, I am a sex worker. This is something that’s terrifying to say at times. Saying I’m a sex worker, that I’m a dancer, invites violence- physical, economical and cultural. Who is most likely to be violent against me though? Not my customers, not my boss, not my co-workers although this can happen no doubt. No, the violence that comes with claiming the reality of my sex work comes instead from those who want to save me. The ones who decide to use me as their pity porn are the ones who harm me the most. Police, NGO’s and those who claim to know best silence my voice against the injustices that they themselves throw at me. They silence my sisters who are legally criminalized, my brothers who are ignored and they forget about my trans siblings in their search for a pat on the back. Their enforced silence is the most effective control against me and the greatest violence. Well I refuse to remain silent. Academia ignores me so I enter the academic ring myself.

“Sex workers want to be safe”

-Slutocracy

I don’t want to talk about the violence that can come from customers or bosses- at least not in depth. This is readily available for it is the only violence focused on by most acadamia. I want to talk about Corporate Captain Save-a-Ho or as Dr. Laura Maria Agustin coined the term “the rescue industry.” This industry is actually very lucrative for people to be involved in. The Ruhama Agency- an Irish anti-sex work organization- gets 14.4 million a year from one single government agency. In their busiest year they helped 241 women (Slutocracy). However their help must be question as the Ruhama Agency also ran the Magdalen Laundries where rescued sex workers were abused for years.

“I’ve “sold my body” to countless men yet I still have it right here on the couch with me. Odd that.”

—@AnarchaSxworker via Playing the Whore

In her blog The Naked Anthropologist Dr. Agustin comments on how anti-prostitution redderict oversimplifies the issue into a two sided narrative of the victim and the perpetrator. The sex worker is always the victim, the john is always the perpetrator. Sex work is always rape and a sex worker is never not a sex worker. For a moment let’s accept this simple narrative of rapist and victim. Who is the rapist? According to a 2002 study done in Chicago the rapist is a cop for 30% of exotic dancer and 24% of street based sex workers (Mogul et. Al, 63). In West Bengal the Dubar Mahalia Samanwaya Committee surveyed 21,000 sex workers about violence. They found 48,000 reports of violence from police and 4,00 reports of violence from police (Gira Grant, 6). This reality of police being the biggest threat to sex workers is often ignored.

“No one likes a stripper in the daylight- then they have to admit she’s real”

Delilah- nottheonlystory.wordpress.com

Police aren’t the only “helping” people who are violent against sex workers. Rescue programs around the world abuse and rape the women they hold. Molli Desi a sex worker who now works in the UK was kidnapped by a rescue program in India. She says this of part of her experience-

At the “rescue” centre (which we only thought of as a “detention” centre) we were told that the NGO had custody papers for us from a court, and that we could not leave.  I think it is important to understand why we are held in custody rather than given our freedom after we are “rescued”.

-Molli Desi via The Honest Courtesan

In another interview with Slutocracy she says-

If we want anything from outside like sweets, chewing gum or magazines or phone credit we have to give hand job or blow job to security

-Molli Desi via Slutocracy

Desi was not even engaged in sex work when she was kidnapped. She was visiting a friend who also did sex work. The NGO took her saying that they had to protect her from her friend who might traffick her (The Honest Courtesan). In fact Desi says many of the women and girls at the center were not involved in sex work but were considered “at risk”. Some had been girls who were raped while working in domestic service. The women are not allowed to leave the detention centers- they are prisoners. Desi tells of how she and another woman fled the center- escaped from their “rescue”.

After another few more days of oral sex with the night guard and some of his friends (whom he was charging money for access to us), we arranged for two of our sisters to come to the centre in an auto-rickshaw, late at night (this was during a festival time).  We then used a metal bar we got from the guard to prise open the metal cage on our window, lowered ourselves onto the annex roof, and got down to the garden.  Unfortunately, the main gate was still

locked and we could not get to the street, so we rang our sisters outside and they convinced the auto-rickshaw driver to break the lock and let us out, whereupon we all ran to the auto-rickshaw and fled away into the night.

-Desi via The Honest Courtesan

I want to emphasize the voices of sex workers. We are so often left out of the discourse that is our lives and our labor. There is money in the rescue industry. NGO’s recieve more and more funding for the more and more women they “save”. It is a convenient way to further take away the voices of already marginalized women. In the UK any person who comes to the UK and does sex work is automatically considered trafficked. Autonomy is taken away and women become money in not a pimps pocket but in a rescuers. Desi is now based in the UK, she is a migrant sex worker- she is legally trafficked. This oversimplification of her narrative does far more damage than sex work ever could.

There are two stories that are told about rescue industries. There is the one the industry themselves tell you. That they save these women. That they rescue these women. The women are always cis and they are never spoken to. They are always young. Desi was 17 but the NGO told the courts and the public that she was 12. Then there are the stories sex workers themselves tell. In a twitter conversation between Molli Desi, Melissa Gira Grant and @wassailingirl the three discussed a sex worker version of #notyournarrative. From this conversations #notyourrescueproject was born. This is the other side of the rescue industry. This is where women tell their stories of what happened to them by the hands of their “rescuers.” This is where we find out about the violence and the rape that women face at the hands of police, NGO’s and other Helping Services.

In her book Playing the Whore Gira Grant shows the difference in these stories. She traveled to Cambodia to meet with several sex workers she had networked with outside of a brothel near Phnom Penh. They were invited to be there. She did not charge in with pomp and circumstance. She did not live tweet the event to breathless followers. She was invited in and did not bring camera crews. They talked. They talked about sex workers caught in brothel raids- after the camera’s go away locked 30-40 in a single cell (Gira Grant, 106-Kindle edition). They talked of women being illegally detained.

“So long as there are women who are called whores there will be women who are trained to believe it is next to death to be one or mistaken for one.”

-Gira Grant, Playing the Whore, 127

There is no forum for sex workers to discuss our lives. Not openly. Even in this paper I hide my identity. I use the anonymity of Delilah because I cannot speak in open forum.  Sex workers anonymously blog, tweet, tumble but we do not have a recognized platform because to out ourselves would be to tell the world we are this thing that everyone loves to hate. Maybe that’s why I wanted to write this paper. I blog, I tweet and I tumble but in any academic environment I am silenced by the stigma assigned to me. Exposure means violence- physical violence, financial violence, emotional violence. I can be kept from jobs even though I’ve only done legal sex work and have never been arrested. I can be excluded from academia without a single question being raised. I can be ostracized by my support systems. I’ve been in therapy with my family for over a year. Once I claim the title of sex worker I am no longer a student, a feminist or any other identity I claim. I am a whore and a whore only even if I’ve never done full service sex work it is stated that to do one is to do all. All are condemnable. It doesn’t matter our motives or our reasons. We are now whores- broken and waiting to be saved.

I’m the girl you’ve been thinking about

the one thing you can’t live without

I’m the girl you’ve been waiting for

I’ll have you down on your knees

I’ll have you begging for more…

… But let me tell you something baby,

You love me for everything you hate me for

-Whore by In This Moment (Song)

Melissa Gira Grant talks about this phenomenon- whenever sex work is debated a single token whore will be found and paraded  for the group. She might even speak but if she does she will be paid less than her counterparts (Gira Grant, 35- Kindle Edition). A carpenter is not reduced to his hands or his back, a doctor is not reduced to her stethoscope so why am I reduced to my vagina or my boobs? Why do the number of people who see my breasts or my vulva devalue my ideas as a student?

The obvious answer is that it doesn’t. My humanity is not an arbitrary topic for discussion. My humanity is not tied to the work I do. Maybe that’s why I wanted to write this paper. As a student sex work is so often discussed in my classes and stigma forces me to remain silent. I can’t count how many times I’ve wanted to stand up in a class and scream that this is my life being debated. This is my safety. Why are you ignoring the people you talk about?

I can’t answer that question. I’m on the wrong side. I am the person that is ignored. Instead I can offer up a second narrative. For this paper I used the voices of sex workers. I turned to academia some but I turned to social media more. I looked at blogs, I looked at twitter, I looked at Tumblr. I looked at my life and the lives of my sex worker brothers and sisters and non binary siblings. I look at sex worker in the United States and in similar countries. I look at sex workers in countries where sex work is decriminalized. I look at the Nordic Model. I look at the violence that has been scripted as inherent to our lives.

Yet when I look at the violence that surrounds sex workers lives I see that the violence doesn’t come from the sex work itself but from the institutions that condemn it. From police raping sex workers to unsupervised “rescue” programs raping more to shows like “8 Minutes” (where an ex cop turned pastor connors sex workers in hotel rooms and tries to convince them to leave sex work in 8 minutes) that exploit sex workers stories for entertainment.

As we as a classed discussed with Feminism Without Borders it important to remember that we cannot define experiences that our not our own. Feminist discourse needs to remain vigilant of academia’s tendency to act paternalistically toward sex workers. Sex workers are capable of defining our own lives however, due to our stigmatization we need feminist discourse to not speak for us but offer us safe platforms to discuss our experiences and our lives.

Bibliography

Grant, Melissa Gira. Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Verso, 2014. 136. Print.

Mogul, Joey L., and Andrea J. Ritchie. Queer (in)justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. Boston: Beacon, 2011. Print.

Agostin, Laura Maria. “The Naked Anthropologist.” The Naked Anthropologist. Web. 15 May 2015. .

“Sex Workers Are #notyourrescueproject: Rape by Anti-trafficking NGOs & Stigma by Feminists.” Slutocracy. 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 15 May 2015.  https://slutocracy.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/sex-workers-are-notyourrescueproject-rape-by-anti-trafficking-ngos-stigma-by-feminists/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-2

“The Honest Courtesan.” The Honest Courtesan. Web. 15 May 2015.  https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/

“Not The Only Story.” Delilah. Web. 15 May 2015

nottheonlystory.wordpress.com

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3 Comments
  1. It feels odd to “Like” this post but it’s well written and reasoned. Well done!

  2. Brian permalink

    Wonderfully written piece. You got a talent for communicating. I enjoy visiting your page every so often, just for a bluntly honest look at a “subculture” I have limited experience in.

    • Brian permalink

      Hey, I check this place every so often and noticed no updates. I hope you’re OK. I hope to read more from ya in the future.

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