First they came for the street workers...

Elizabeth's picture

Thanks to Morpheus (of the NYC Alt Events list) and to Doug Henwood I have these New York Post and New York Daily News stories about the recent persecution of NYC BDSM dungeons and the political response of the pro dommes who work in them. This Daily News story details the raid on Rapture, closing it down and arresting one of its workers (who later saw prostitution charges against her dropped as long as "she stays out of trouble"). And this Post story discusses the nascent attempts of dommes to organize, hiring an attorney, beginning the process of forming a political action committee and hopefully, eventually, a union.

Unfortunately one of the arguments being made, and it is very understandable, is that "BDSM isn't the same as prostitution." From the Daily News piece: Click here to read more

"The NYPD does not know the difference between prostitution and freedom of expression," said Reeve's attorney Salvatore Strazzullo.
"There is nothing on the books that states S&M is illegal," Strazzullo said.

"The City of New York should know the difference between prostitution and a perfectly legal S&M dominatrix house," he added.

And from the Post article:

More than a dozen dominatrixes and dungeon owners have retained John Campbell, partner of the Tilem and Campbell law firm.

"This isn't like the escort industry, where there's a lot of illegality and everyone knows it," said Campbell, who also represents escort agencies. "In the BDSM [bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism] industry, virtually everyone was operating under the belief that what they were doing was legal."

The law is unclear, and this poses a major challenge to dominatrixes who want to run legal businesses but can't figure out what is and isn't allowed, said Campbell.

I am thrilled to see these workers organizing. I am excited about their political action committee and the possibility of a union. I am completely in support of their efforts to clarify the law so that BDSM, whether for pay or for free, is clearly legal. But I am dismayed by what seems to be part of the overall strategy: making the law clearer by stipulating some kinds of consensual adult sexual expression as clearly illegal is a very bad idea. It is the kind of strategy that works well in the short term but in the long term it is likely to have dangerous unintended consequences. It is tempting to say "Look, what I do is not sex, so it can't be prostitution." But if we do that we are agreeing that commercial sexual exchanges are fine to criminalize. And just how comfortable are we about letting the law define what "sex" is? Once we stipulate that a list of sexual activities, when performed between consenting adults, is illegal, that list becomes expandable as the political mood dictates. We need to be on the side of saying that no erotic exchange between consenting adults should be criminal.

If we don't stand up for each other, all of us who engage in sexual expression that is stigmatized or criminalized, all of us who engage in sexual exchange outside of socially-sanctioned relationships, we are, all of us, sunk. At the risk of appearing to trivialize what I think is one of the most profound statements about why we need solidarity, let me offer you this:

First they came for the street workers, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a street worker.
Then they came for the escorts, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an escort.

And in some places they came for the clients, and I didn't speak up because that seemed more "feminist" than coming for the women who serve them.

Then they came for the pro dommes, and I didn't speak up because I don't whip people for pay.

Then they came for the phone sex operators, and I didn't speak up because I don't talk dirty for money.

Then they came for the swingers clubs and SM dungeons, and I didn't speak up because I don't visit those places.

And then they came for the private suburban sex parties...

You see where this is going.

When marginalized groups fight amongst themselves the dominant groups get their way. Every time. And as long as the dominant group is operating under erotophobic and antisexual values, none of us is safe. We can't afford to fight with each other over what kinds of consensual sexual expression are okay.

Some people have of course been speaking up for a long time. Many many many of them, working to unite people across various sexual communities. These people, and the organizations they create, are role models for the rest of us trying to find our voices. But none of us can afford to remain silent, and none of us can afford to say that our preferred kinky sexual expression should be legal while the rest its okay to criminalize.

Prostitution is sexual expression. We can't scapegoat or sacrifice the prostitutes in our attempts to achieve sexual freedom for ourselves.


...because public space really matters!


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