Institutional Slut Shaming

By Juan Lacayo|June 4, 2018Student Writing, Top Stories|0 comments

With the passing of recent federal legislation – [Allow States and Victims to] Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) – a once lucrative profession that was steadily becoming safer and more legitimized through the use of modern technology is now being threatened by misguided legislation meant to prevent sex trafficking and to protect victims of these crimes. According to research, approximately 5% of college students are sex workers. Virginia (V) Martin, Coordinator of the Cascade Queer Resource Center (QRC) leads an ongoing weekly student sex worker support group as well as workshops for staff and faculty on best practices for supporting student sex workers. Whether FOSTA/SESTA will affect the support services that PCC offers its students in this regard was not determined by the publication of this article.

It’s possible that more students could be members of the often-stigmatized industry, but there’s no way of knowing the real numbers because, as V put it,”student sex workers often have to remain ‘in the closet’” in order to avoid the “judgment, harassment, and sometimes violence from their peers and instructors,” which stands as just one obstacle for data collection for this demographic. What is known, says V, is that “queer and transgender populations work in the sex trades at higher rates than cisgender and straight folks.”

Then Vs. Now

In the days before the internet, sex workers had few options for finding customers, let alone vetting them to ensure their safety. Their options were: work the streets, place ads in industry-friendly publications, or enlist the “help” of a pimp. Each avenue has its risks: street-walking carried the risk of victimization by the police or predatory “customers”, answering calls placed the worker at risk of getting caught in a police sting, and working for a pimp often was analogous to falling into debt bondage under a violent manipulator that controlled their lives even beyond their livelihoods.

With the advent of the internet, online classified services like Craigslist or Backpage and industry-oriented forums like www.MyRedbook.com enabled sex workers to take control of their lives and their businesses. No longer were they beholden the violent whims of an unpredictable pimp. No longer did they have to take a call to find out whether a client was shady or abusive. No longer did they have to expose themselves to the dangers of street-walking. With the help of technology, sex workers were poised to make a decent living, without the hazards of walking around with a target on their bodies.

The difference between sex work and sex trafficking

The primary difference between these often conflated terms is consent. Sex workers consent to provide a service to customers seeking that service. Sex trafficking never involves the consent of the person performing the service; it always involves forcing someone to perform a sexual act for a third party, profits of which go to the trafficker.

An anonymous source known as Red offers a glimpse into the stigma faced by sex workers that is based on the conflation of sex work and sex trafficking:

“The idea that sex workers compromise personal or ethical or physical (or all three) integrity to do sexual labour; the idea that we’re dangerous, or live particularly dangerous lives, or attract a dangerous element of people; that we can’t be trusted; that we are not deserving; that we cut corners and are looking for an easy way out.

“In school this tends to play out with teachers who find out thinking that we must be either sexually exploited or immoral or stupid, and [are] thus undeserving of good grades and possibly cheated to get those grades.”

Sex work is often conflated with sex trafficking for reasons ranging from ignorance to what some equate to a sense of moral righteousness on behalf of a population they don’t understand and to whom they cannot relate. Yet, despite the stigma, many people willingly choose to enter this line of work because of the convenience it offers to students pursuing academic or career goals, sex work-related or otherwise. Red offered an oft-repeated explanation for how or why people become sex workers,

“People have to live, wages are low, the cost of living is high, some people have children or illnesses or disabilities or other circumstances in their lives that make working long hours for low wages impossible or very difficult, and sex work can be a flexible alternative that pays more for time/effort put in than other jobs.”

 

Unintended Consequences?

With the implementation of FOSTA/SESTA, anyone promoting, facilitating, or connected with sex work will be prosecuted by the State for sex trafficking. What this means in practice is that, among the most disturbing effects, Google Drive will be deleting explicit content and/or locking out users; Google Play updated its policy to ban explicit content such as “promotional images of sex toys” and “apps that promote escort services;” Microsoft updated its Terms of Service such that the use of “offensive language” and “inappropriate content” such as nudity could result in account suspension or ban and; EventBrite changed its Terms of Service to exclude events that constitute or promote “explicit sexual activity or pornography.” The consequences for non users of these services are myriad and unpredictable, but what can be gleaned from this is that violators of these updated Terms of Service could be implicated as sex traffickers.

Moving Forward

In the Portland area, Stroll, a nonprofit resource for sex workers run out-of-pocket by Red, provides meals for houseless people in North Portland every third Thursday at 3pm. As well, Stroll provides resource referral to people unfamiliar with the Portland social services landscape and raises funds with their annual art show and with the proceeds from their bi-annual zine that is by and for sex workers. Stroll also accepts donations through their Patreon account (emphasis added).

Self-proclaimed “sexual priestess and one [sic] badass sexual goddess” Laura LeMoon proclaims that she is not a victim of sex trafficking, but rather a survivor and that victimhood is a condition foisted upon her and other survivors by out-of-touch politicians looking to capitalize on the supposed rescue of victims. She claims that FOSTA and SESTA are “touted as the answer to solving the problem of sex trafficking” by prosecuting websites that “enable” these crimes. The bills, she claims, are red herrings meant to “erase sex work and thusly couch [the government’s] efforts to quell the autonomy and freedom of sex workers.” They only offer unsolicited “help” that marginalizes and impoverishes the people who benefit from the services offered by the websites stymied by the restrictions that would be heaped onto them.

The solution that LeMoon proposes: decriminalization of sex work. And the New Zealand model provides strong evidence for the viability of this solution. By pursuing a pro-sex worker and pro-industry solution, informed legislation can be implemented that ensures the safety of workers and clients. Any solution that seeks to pass moral judgment upon sex workers and an industry that will not be eradicated will only created a highly concentrated atmosphere of state-sanctioned human rights abuses. Laws are meant to protect the rights of their stakeholders and expand freedoms, yet somehow we find ourselves in a situation where the upward mobility of a marginalized class is stymied because the rights to abuse them are protected and the means for their exploitation are expanded.

 

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Juan Lacayo

About Juan Lacayo

It’s difficult to describe my academic path because I haven’t figured out how to merge my interests into a degree program. I’m currently enrolled in the Multimedia Studies program in the hopes that I can gain the skills to cobble together a career with a Vice News or Radiolab type of organization as a storyteller. My interests include: music (jazz, electronic, hip hop, etc.), cinema, reading deviant or counterculture literature, comedy, social justice, and attempting to understand cultural and individual idiosyncrasies. My passions include: writing fiction, riding and working on bikes, and capturing the world through the “Juan” filter. I’m one of the lead bakers with Blue Star Donuts, which means that I have my hands in just about everything on the production side of the operation. On any given day, I could be making the dough, rolling out and cutting doughnuts, frying and finishing doughnuts, or making the magical potions that comprise our glazes, garnishes, and fillings. This type of position suits me, as I fancy myself a Jack-of-all-Trades, and I like to keep busy. Whatever I’m involved in, I like to have a hand in as many things as my expertise will allow. I love learning new things.

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