Elizabeth's picture

Finding common ground for rational discussion

While I disagree with their basic premise that prostitution - indoor or outdoor - should be criminalized (I believe that criminalization will make things worse rather than better) I want to point to some very helpful observations made by RI Senators Paul V. Jabour and Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey in yesterday morning's Herald News.

1. We need to re-draw the now-blurred line between prostitution, human trafficking, and age of consent issues. It does not help victims of forced labor or coercive human trafficking when we distract ourselves from their issues by focusing on the sexual content of some of their work. Nor does it help when we make generalizations about prostitution.

Norma Jean Almodovar's picture

Letter from Norma Jean Almodovar to RI Lawmakers

Honorable Representatives and Senators,

As a retired sex worker and a long time sex worker rights activist, I’d like to address the Rhode Island bill which proposes to criminalize indoor prostitution. I am hoping that reason will prevail and you will not be pressured into signing a piece of legislation which will so negatively impact the lives of sex workers in your state. While I am a resident of California and not Rhode Island, I have been fighting against laws which criminalize consenting adult prostitution- wherever those laws exist- since I left my job with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1982.

I worked for ten years as a civilian traffic officer with the LAPD, primarily at night, and  I witnessed first hand what happens when laws are arbitrarily enforced and used against women to extort sex, money and information. I left the police department because corruption on all levels was so pervasive,  and I became a call girl and a sex worker rights activist so that I could expose the rampant abuses perpetrated by the cops against prostitutes and others. Simply put, bad laws make bad police officers.

I experienced being arrested and incarcerated and I have to tell you, it is far more traumatic than anything a prostitute might encounter at the hands of her clients. Being arrested has quite the opposite effect of being ‘rescued.’ It destroys your life. If indeed prostitutes suffer from PTSD as many anti- prostitution activists allege, this may be a direct result of being arrested and incarcerated, rather than giving pleasure for pay.

Elizabeth's picture

Don't let personal attacks distract us

 I woke this morning to find lots of support in the face of a personal attack by Donna Hughes against me and the other signers of a letter to the Rhode Island legislature arguing against the criminalization of prostitution there.

Thank you to all those who are being so supportive of me. I will respond to the attack myself later, but first I want to say that I am very worried that this could distract from the real issue at hand, which is our work to keep consensual adult sexual exchange from becoming criminalized in RI.

Both for the sake of those who are victimized by players in the sex industry and also for the sake of those who find meaningful careers there, and for all those in between, we need to keep our focus on the creation of sane and useful laws. Criminalizing prostitution will eliminate a source of livelihood for some and will drive harmful activity further underground. This must be avoided.

Some important points to keep in mind, and to keep in front of those who make the laws:

  1. Adults need to be free to make decisions about the kinds of consensual sex they do and do not want to engage in with other adults.
  2. Everybody deserves a right to earn a decent standard of living.
  3. Physical autonomy is a basic human right.
  4. Everybody, regardless of industry, ought to have safe working conditions and be free from violence. Laws to protect workers, and laws to prohibit violence, need not criminalize work in order to be effective.
  5. Just because lots of states have irrational laws doesn't mean that Rhode Island needs to follow suit. (Just because something is, doesn't mean it ought to be.)


Tara Hurley, director of "Happy Endings?", wrote a fantastic letter to the RI legislators. She calls for others to do the same. She got an encouraging response from one legislator who said he was being bombarded by Hughes supporters and really needed to hear from those who oppose criminalization.

You can use these email addresses to write to the lawmakers in Rhode Island. If you live in Rhode Island your voice is even more important right now.

With her permission I am reprinting Tara's letter below. Please feel free to use it as inspiration for your own:

Honorable Representatives and Senators,

First let me offer condolences on the recent passing of Representative Slater.  I think a lot can be learned from his career. It was difficult to pass a medical marijuana law, but Rep. Slater remained the forceful voice for its passage, and I know he gained the respect of many of his fellow Assembly Members. 

One of the lessons I hope that was learned during the debate and ultimate passage of the “Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act” is that for the benefit of the citizens of Rhode Island debates should be based in reason and fact, not emotion and propaganda.  I wish the atmosphere in which the medical marijuana was debated could return for the debate on prostitution.

I know many women who work in spas from when I made my film.   I want what is best for these women.  I want what is best for Rhode Island.  I know that these two things are not mutually exclusive. 

As a woman and Rhode Islander, I am offended at the tactics of Donna Hughes and Citizens Against Trafficking.  It seems like Hughes and CAT do not care about the women, all they want is a "moral victory".   They have no basis for their attacks on me, the spas, the people who have been writing to you, and basically anyone who does not accept or promote their agenda, including RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  I have been following this a long time, and it is bad enough to attack me, fellow academics, or even the women they claim to be trying to help, but to attack a RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking is beyond the barrel.  It is horrible that this radical fringe group could drive out the coalition that seemed to actually care about the women.

To use an analogy, I would say that Hughes and CAT are to Rhode Island and sex workers as Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church are to homosexuals.  They are both radical fringe groups that use fear and hate mongering. I am an artist, so I believe in freedom of speech, so even though I do not agree with Hughes or CAT, I believe they have the same right to freedom of speech as everyone else.  I just hope that people don’t confuse the propaganda and fear mongering for fact. If you would like to save yourself some time, just delete anything that comes from Hughes or CAT, unless you enjoy reading fiction and extremist propaganda.

Sincerely,
Tara Hurley
Director "Happy Endings?"

 

Elizabeth's picture

Taking a lesson from Southern Poverty Law Center

 US National Archives photo of women posing for safety promotionIn my mail today from Southern Poverty Law Center:
 

"No woman should be forced to sacrifice her personal dignity and human rights for a paycheck ... These women -- some of the most vulnerable people in our society -- are being raped, violently assaulted, and otherwise exploited .... "


No, this isn't a story about sex trafficking. This is a story about immigrant women working in factories in fields all across the country. And SPLC's response is not to criminalize their work, thus penalizing the victims, but rather to help them file lawsuits against their employers and attackers. You can read about one such case, U.S. EEOC, et al. vs. Tuscarora Yarns, here.

It struck me as a stark and important contrast to the antiprostitution activists who claim to be working to help victims of exploitation but who are really further victimizing them by criminalizing their livelihood instead of prosecuting abusers. SPLC's strategy makes it clear that they understand the issues: All people have a right to earn a living. No person should be subject to abuse, violence, or exploitation at work. Workers in many industries put their bodies at risk to do their work, but those risks should be minimized and worker safety is everybody's concern.

This is a lesson that feminists who claim they want to protect women in the sex industry ought to learn.

Elizabeth's picture

Letter to the Editor of National Review Online

On August 12, 2009 I submitted this to the editors of National Review Online. I got the standard automated response and will certanly post here to let you know if the letter is published there. Meanwhile, here is what I sent them.

RE: "Not a victimless crime" by D. Hughes and R. P. George

"Not a victimless crime," (Hughes & George, Aug. 10, 2009) is misleading from the start in that what it describes (prostitution in Rhode Island) is not a crime in the first place. In addition, the article contains several logical flaws and much misinformation. It gives the impression that decriminalization of prostitution is associated with more violence against prostitutes and that criminalization of prostitution is associated with more effective policing of human trafficking and better protection of public health. None of this is accurate.

First, violence against prostitutes is associated with misogyny and the stigmatization of sexually active women, not with the legal status of prostitution. People suspected of being prostitutes are assaulted and killed in places where prostitution is criminal and in places where it is not. While there is violence against women, and against sex workers everywhere there is stigma against sexually active women interestingly, in places like New Zealand where prostitution was decriminalized in 2003, there has not been an increase in violence against workers.

Michael's picture

Rhode Island: The next step

In writing our letter to the Rhode Island legislature in July of this year, we were forced to depart from our usual position of building and bridging communities by the political realities. Nor was it easy for us to explain to the politicians how the bills` supporters conflated and generalised information from one sector of a highly diversified activity without appearing to privilege the indoor market.

As it so happened, our decision to send a letter from the academic community was reasonably effective. Predictably we were attacked by the extreme right wing as perverts and pedophiles.  We now need to move on to the planned second stage, a letter from the rest of the community involved in sex work, and also an opportunity for those who were unable to sign the first letter.

Elizabeth's picture

50 academics spoke up. Can you amplify their voices?

Last week 50 academics signed on to a letter written by Ron Weitzer and myself. It was a collaborative effort and required compromise and you can read the letter here. Today there have been several news stories about this letter. If you support the overall mission of keeping prostitution in RI from being criminalized please comment on the stories listed below, or blog about the same. Here are some links:

Academics oppose banning indoor prostitution in Rhode Island

     Boston Herald - Boston,MA,USA

Academics urge RI to keep indoor prostitution legal

     Providence Journal - Providence,RI,USA

Professors Oppose Rhode Island Banning Indoor Prostitution

     FOXNews - USA

Rhode Islands Future: Politics & Culture:: 50 Academics Sign ...

     By BrianHull 

Press release: Prostitution law reform bills

     RIRepbulican.com

 Update: More news coverage! Please comment on these stories if you can!

Providence Daily Dose: (author is a state rep)
http://providencedailydose.com/2009/08/03/50-academics-oppose-prostitution-bill/

Boston Herald:
http://news.bostonherald.com/news/national/northeast/view/20090803academics_oppose_banning_indoor_prostitution_in__rhode_island/srvc=news&position=recent_bullet

WJAR 10 Providence:
http://www2.turnto10.com/jar/news/local/article/academics_oppose_ri_banning_indoor_prostitution/20964/

US BRK:
http://www.usbrk.info/court/professors-oppose-rhode-island-banning-indoor-prostitution-143.html

WBZ Radio (Boston):
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/R/RI_HOOKER_LOOPHOLE_RIOL-?SITE=WBZAM&SECTION=SPORTS&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

News on Feeds:
http://www.newsonfeeds.com/article/9625277/Academics%20oppose%20RI%20banning%20indoor%20prostitution

Newstin:
http://www.newstin.com/tag/us/136879572

USA Today:
http://content.usatoday.com/topics/article/Places,+Geography/States,+Territories,+Provinces,+Islands/U.S.+States/Nevada/0dH13jL9I8fiL/1

Breakingnews.com:
http://www.breakingnews.com/story/professors-oppose-ri-banning-indoor-prostitution


Elizabeth's picture

Sneak Peeks at my Sex Blogger Calendar photo shoot

I'd been planning a sexy personal essay to accompany this post but I'm writing from the my mother's hospital room where things might well be personal but they are not sexy. Still, I wanted to share a few sneak peeks at something that is both personally important to me, and I hope sexy to you.

You probably know all about the 2010 Sex Blogger Calendar. The purpose is to raise money for Sex Work Awareness, a very important organization that assists and trains sex worker advocates in media work and other advocacy skills. The theme for my photo shoot was "At your own risk". We shot the photos on Frying Pan, an historic lightship that is currently part of Pier 66, a floating bar and grill on the Hudson River. Frying Pan is a beautiful piece of maritime history and the kind of place where people are trusted to enjoy themselves without being told "don't touch that" and "don't go there." The whole ship is open for exploration, and a tour of the ship reveals its evocative contradictions. It is neither land nor sea. It is not wholly safe but it can be enjoyed safely by people who exercise good judgment, it is beautiful and it is falling apart. The ship defies easy categorization and offers many surprises. It is in many ways an excellent metaphor for my own sense of sexuality.

Click the "Read More" link to see the four short video clips from the photo shoot. (Yes, sometimes I enjoy being a tease.)

Elizabeth's picture

Queers for Economic Justice seeks Executive Director

 Queers for Economic Justice header image

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT

Executive Director

Queers for Economic Justice seeks an experienced, creative, mature, visionary, progressive leader to fill the position of Executive Director (ED). This position is full-time and located in New York City.   (Check out our website at www.qej.org/jobs for more details including a full job description)
                                
Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ) is a progressive multiracial, multi-classed and multi-gender non-profit organization committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation. We are committed to the principle that access to social and economic resources is a fundamental right, and we work to create social and economic justice through grassroots organizing, public education, advocacy and research. The organization has a staff of five, many dedicated volunteers and a committed board of directors.
 

Laura Agustín's picture

Cultural studies and commercial sex: a form of liberation

Much of what is said about the sex industry revolves around a single question: Is it okay or not? This question can be phrased in many ways: Is it okay that prostitution exists? Can street hooking ever be a real job? Is everyone who sells sex exploited or free? To address this question, most people talk about their own experience or that of the people they know personally or did research with, after which they extrapolate to a bigger group. But in the end it’s a question with different answers for different people in different places and moments in their lives.

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