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Monday, June 18, 2012

Time To Start Listening to Sex Workers & Activists- You CANNOT Delete Us

There’s an interesting thing happening in Hartford, Connecticut. A man by the name of Raymond Bechard (whom I have discussed in earlier articles) is here to save all of the victims of sex trafficking, prostitution, and sex work. Wait…what’s that you say? Sex trafficking and sex work are not the same thing? Well, will somebody PLEASE make that clear to Bechard and his little fan following?

I am not denying the existence of sex slavery and trafficking. It exists, all over our country and all over the world. However, it is a huge problem when the terms “sex work” and “sex trafficking” are conflated. This does a disservice to both groups. Sex workers are consenting adults who are choosing to engage in sexual commerce. Simply put, it is a form of income, as are many other jobs. Maybe YOU think it’s immoral and wrong and dirty, but guess what? I think that scrubbing toilets is gross and dirty, but I am certainly not going to put down a housekeeper for doing her job. It’s not my place to judge.

Common examples of sex work include escorting, exotic dancing, performance in pornographic films, phone sex, prostitution, webcam modeling, dominatrix, and the list could go on. Some of these types of work are legal, and some are not, depending on the region. Unfortunately, we live in a country where prostitution is illegal (except for Nevada), and this has been proven to be a horrible system. You can read about the utter failures of criminalization here-  The Failures of Criminalization- SWOP-NYC

Whether or not you morally agree with prostitution is not the issue. Prostitution will NEVER go away, just as drugs will never go away. You can wage a war on it, and it will just keep going further underground. Let’s start being realistic, and think in terms of harm-reduction models. Does it make sense to keep something such as prostitution illegal, spending hundreds of thousands of the state’s money every year to arrest and prosecute prostitutes?  All while providing no services, such as STD testing and safety resources, to sex workers? To turn a blind eye, pretend that they don’t exist, and then arrest them when they are found? Imagine this scenario (and it happens all too often)- a sex worker gets raped. She goes to the police (most have learned to not do this). What do you suppose will happen? I’m sure most people are intelligent enough to guess the outcome. It’s not a good model, and it is not working.

So what resources do sex workers use in Connecticut? The Hartford Advocate’s Backroom section is one way that workers can advertise their services. Bechard has been on a crusade to have the section shut down, without ONCE addressing what will happen to sex workers in CT. His goal is to reduce human trafficking (another problem that will never go away. Especially not by getting rid of a section of the newspaper), although he speaks of “sex work” and “prostitution.” Okay, well if he’s going to use the terms interchangeably, he needs to start considering the different needs of BOTH populations. It has been shown time and time again that the shutting down of services, such as Backroom, will drive sex workers even further underground, potentially leading to even more violence against them. Why isn’t that point brought into the discourse? Is it because nobody in CT cares about sex workers? Is it because everyone cares about child abuse, but no one cares about abuse against adult women? I find that strange, don’t you? For more information on how the shutting down of these services increases violence against workers, read what this sex worker has to say here- Why Backpage is Important to Me- SWOP-NYC

To see what Bechard is trying to do to "stop trafficking" in CT by shutting down Backroom, go here- Publishers of Adult Advertisements

As with anything else, this is just more propaganda to make our society feel good about itself. Hooray, we are trying to get rid of this scummy part of the newspaper, and save our children!! So what if it will hurt an already disenfranchised and under-served population? To hell with them! They’re sex workers- they DESERVE what they get.

THAT is the mentality of these people, and yet no one comes out and says it.

So, I’ve written about this before- why am I writing about it again now? Well, on Wednesday at 7 pm at the Hartford Public Library’s Center for Contemporary Culture, a staged reading from Bechard’s book is being performed. Here is the information, right from the facebook page

Join us for the Staged Reading of Project Turnpike and Meet & Greet of Author of The Berlin Turnpike: Raymond Bechard.

HARTFORD, CT. – HartBeat Ensemble, Hartford’s local professional theater ensemble, will perform a staged reading of their newest play in development, Project: Turnpike at 7pm on June 20th at the Hartford Public Library.

Based on the 2007 landmark federal trial of United States vs. Dennis Paris, which took place here in Hartford, Project: Turnpike presents 72 hours in the life of four exploited sex workers in a motel room on the Berlin Turnpike. In addition to personal interviews with people affected by the industry, HartBeat is working with Raymond Bechard, author of The Berlin Turnpike, in order to create this new play.

Bechard explains, “With a long and sordid history, the Berlin Turnpike serves as a metaphor for the landscape in which human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and all forms of prostitution have existed in the US for centuries while continuing to flourish today.”

Also, one of the women involved in the play sent me a facebook message today, to let me know about a new play about “the sex industry.” So, we have the terms “sex industry,” “sex workers,” and “prostitution” all here- without a single fact about what sex work really is. The play is NOT about these things, but rather, about sex trafficking. I am sick and tired of seeing these words used interchangeably. So, being the concerned activist that I am, I went on the event page and posted some helpful resources and links, explaining the difference. I also posed the question of how Bechard and his crew plan to cater to the needs of a population that they would be harming, if Backroom were to disappear. Nobody could answer me. Then, actual adult consenting sex workers started posting as well. We were all respectful, and trying to offer sex worker resources, such as this one-

So what happened? Well, we were insulted (screen shot below), and the entire thread was deleted, along with every other resource that we had posted. Wow. So, I guess these people really don’t care about sex workers, do they?

This was my response on the thread, after I realize that everything we did was deleted:
"I was asked earlier today on this page if I am "against freedom of speech," which seemed like a very strange question to pose to someone such as myself. Of course, I am not, but now I can see that there are individuals here who are against free speech. Earlier, I posted a few resources for those interested in sex worker activism, explaining the differences between sex trafficking/slavery and consensual sex work. Every single resource and post was deleted.
The public that's consuming the material of the play, and that of Bechard, have a right to hear both sides. That sex workers and victims of trafficking are NOT the same. These are two different populations, that the language of this play continues to conflate. In the ad for the play, they're referred to as "sex workers," and the descriptions discusses prostitution. Additionally, I have seen this play referred to as a play "about the sex industry," which it is NOT. As a sex worker advocate, I feel very concerned by the issues that are raised by Bechard's work, and by the false information that is being presented here. For example, I (and a few ACTUAL sex workers) posted information about the harms that will come to sex workers if the Backroom of the Advocate is shut down. These are legitimate concerns that MUST be part of this discourse. If you're going to do something to try to help one population (traffick) victims, but it hurts another population (sex workers- forcing them further underground and increasing the risk of violence towards them), then BOTH sides must be discussed. The problem is that people in our society do not care about the welfare of sex workers, and this is a real shame. As an activist for this disenfranchised population, I will not be silenced. I am incredibly disappointed that a group of individuals who claim to be concerned with one group have absolutely no regard for another at-risk group.
You are speaking of under-served populations, such as "sex workers" and "prostitutes," without actually addressing or having concern for the safety of these populations. This is not a play about sex work or prostitution. It is a play about sex slavery. If you're going to silence the voices of sex workers and not allow them to bea part of the discourse, at least use the proper terms. Words DO matter. Additionally, if one is going to have an agenda that harms a group (such as shutting down Backroom ads, as Bechard is attempting to do), then one needs to look at the HARMFUL consequences of that. Stop turning a blind eye and stop ignoring the under-served. Lastly, someone on the thread responded to (name removed) and I in a very disrespectful and sexist nature. That was deleted as well, but luckily, I grabbed a screen shot."
In response to a sex worker who supported my efforts, I also wrote:

“Until they stop conflating the terms "sex work" and "prostitution" with sex slavery, I will not stop talking about this. People need to recognize and respect the difference. If you're going to go out and publish books and write plays about "exploited sex workers," then get to know both sides of sex work. TALK to actual sex workers who AREN'T exploited, such as the ones that attempted to post here. LISTEN to their concerns, and the ways that the decision to shut down Backroom will affect them. They matter too.

No one has yet responded. For more information on Raymond, check out this link. Interesting article about how his charity was faced with a lawsuit a few years ago. Just food for thought. Charity Organization Faces Lawsuit

Here’s an article written by Bechard, in which he can’t seem to keep his terms straight- 

He writes: "While the Internet is mushrooming with sex-for-sale sites like Backpage, Fling, Adult Friend Finder, Eros, and The Erotic Review, something else has emerged, bringing an entirely new dynamic to human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.” 

Raymond Bechard is also founder of a group called Men Against Prostitution and Trafficking. Once again- he fails to recognize or address the difference.

Now, I’m sure Raymond knows the difference. Perhaps he just doesn’t care about the safety of sex workers. Perhaps he wants the entire sex industry to be shut down (please keep your morality away from my vagina). He’s obviously against prostitution, as is evident by his articles. However, when I brought these issues up in the thread on the event page, Bechard-fans were quick to say that the play is not about sex work, it’s not about consensual prostitution. WELL THEN WHY ARE YOU USING THOSE WORDS?? WHY IS BECHARD CONSTANTLY TALKING ABOUT THESE ISSUES?

So- is it about sex work, or is it not? If it is, then what is Bechard’s response to all of the sex workers who will continue to be pushed underground if the Hartford Advocate’s Backroom section is shut down? Does he care? Well, according to his websites, he’s a human right’s advocate, so he SHOULD care. Time to wake up and recognize the fact that there are women, men, trans individuals who are consensual sex workers, ENJOY their jobs, CHOOSE to do porn, prostitution, stripping, etc etc etc, and that THIS IS OKAY. And YES, there are also victims of sex slavery in our state and in many others, so let’s start talking about how we can help BOTH populations, rather than helping one at the expense of the other.

Here’s an article by Bechard titled “What Do You Really Know About Hookers?” in which he never once mentions sex work, or “hookers.”  What Do You Really Know About Hookers?

Last but not least, this lovely screen shot from the thread that was deleted. Another activist and I were discussing these issues, and we were told to "do what we do best" and bring the batteries- an attack on our sexuality. Big surprise. 

So, what now? Will Bechard and those that support the shutting down of The Hartford Advocate's Backroom section address the concerns of sex workers? Or just continue to ignore them?

By the way, thank you so much to members of SWOP-NYC for helping me today and for putting out such incredible articles! xo



  1. There is a huge difference between sex work & sex trafficking. Victims of sex trafficking have no choice, & forced to perform. Sex workers, such as adult performers, have sex willingly, & can stop whenever they would like to. When people call sex work trafficking, it is an insult to the real victims of sex trafficking. Maybe people just don't understand the definition human trafficking...

  2. I'm at a loss here on a few things. First and foremost, the synonymous use of sex work and sex trafficking, and why the difference is so unclear. A simple dictionary review would help there. But for people who's go-to response to educated feedback is a personal, sexist insult, I guess I shouldn't expect so much. That brings me to my next point. It's f*cking embarrassing to watch men insult women by bringing all of us back to the 1950's. Why are the insults always about women in their "only useful roles" as holes and cooks? Is it a threat to see an intelligent woman? Is it too rough to (not) come up with an equally intelligent response? The treatment of women absolutely disgusts me. But if we really want to bring it back to the 1950's, then let's. And we can bring back all of the other bull shit that came with it. The shit that's apparently not so funny. I guess it's only funny when we can point out traditional sex roles of yore.

    Unfortunately, I know commenting here is only preaching to the choir. But it's a great soap box...

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Thanks for your post.

    Here's a link to an interesting clip that makes a similar (and similarly compelling) argument about the anti-trafficking/abolitionist movement and its myopia.