Sex worker advocate, anti-poverty activist, condom fairy & social justice crime fighter. I have the hottest followers.
Our Justice System. A Brief Rant.
One of the key ingredients to a fair justice system is the building of trust among communities. A trust that the safety of the most marginalized populations will be protected. A trust of fairness in application of the law.
I fail to see how a community can build trust with a justice system that persecutes vulnerable women due to issues of morality more than the abusers who try to kill them.
There are sex workers in Halifax who have been banned from their community and on criminal charges longer than those who beat them within a inch of their lives.
I fail to see the justice in that.
The 10 things I learned from sex workers. AKA. My growing list.
So, just a quick post tonight. I am on “vacation” which for me means I am taking time to deconstruct, and relax. So of course I can’t sleep. And then I had a lightbulb moment. About work. So ..now I am sitting in the Toronto suburbs, outlining my Fall lecture on “Ten things I learned from sex workers.” The idea just came to me, following a week of family reconnecting and deconstructing a conversation I had with a fellow advocate on my role as a non=experiential ally. (And my new obsession with TED talks)
List is not near complete. But I wanted to share the rough draft. (Very rough draft) of some points, cause it will need to be narrowed down for time. And I haven’t posted anything in a while.
Ten things I have learned from sex workers.
- You cannot criminalize sex work without criminalizing sex workers.
- It isn’t about you. (on the role of non-experiential advocates)
- It’s the money, honey (on the myth that all sex workers are forced)
- Violence is not in the job description
- Hypocrisy = Society.
- Our legal system is broken
- Humor is gold.
- Every kitchen table should have a sex worker in attendance.
- The media is your best friend and your worst enemy.
- Resilience is a golden rule
- Consensual sex does not kill brain cells. (On the smarts behind the Bedford case / sex work advocacy)
- Sex workers know more about their sexual health than Steve Jobbs knew about computers.
- The “pimp” is often disguised as a moral panic rooted in racism.
- Stigma is the often the biggest barrier to overcome.
- 50 Shades of Grey is utter crap.
Kanye, we need condoms.
Rescuing sex workers from themselves is the hot new trend amongst celebrities. From Mira Sorvino to Julia Ormand and a growing number of child actors, celebrities are flocking to the “rescue industry” as if a red carpet has been thrown on the global stage.
There are even top ten lists dedicated to “Top Ten Celebrity Human Trafficking Activists.” (See Change.org here for an example http://news.change.org/stories/top-ten-human-trafficking-celebrity-activists)
This is how I picture it all going down:
Celebrity walks into their agents’ office looking for a booking. Agent tells them “You have money, you have time now between films. We need to get you out there. Take up a cause. Throw your money at it. Support it! The public will see you as one of them and embrace you!”
Celebrity says “Of course! And I can do some good. We can do a huge campaign and I will go on The View. I’ll start an organization. I can write a song and make a music video! We will free the slaves!”
The presence of celebrity in anti-trafficking movements is extremely problematic. Many, if not all of these “activists” lack an analysis based on research which is, in turn, silencing the very people they want to support. More and more, the red carpet set is embracing activism in the absence of analysis which is fueling myths and moral panics.
Combine this activism with a well funded publicity machine and us advocates for sex workers are trying to dispel more myths than Adam Sandler has Razzies, all while sex workers themselves are pushed further behind the curtain.
It is as if celebrities who lack analysis are following some pocket guide – a star map to anti-trafficking activism.
Celebrities love to quote flawed statistics that are not based on research and that no one can prove to be accurate.
“100,000 to 300,000” seems to be the magic number of folks who are trafficked according to sitcom star Ashton Kutcher, and his A-List buddies who have stated “if you do not care, I have no opinion of you.” They also seem to know the average age of entry into prostitution, despite the fact that advocates and academics who have worked in this area for decades agree that this number cannot be proven. The result? A sympathetic public with a love for In Touch magazine and MTV are being misinformed about the issue’s true scope, while money pours into organizations that do little than flash 1-800 trafficking hotlines on their website.
Celebrities love to take field trips to promote their efforts.
Celebrities love their field trips! Take for example Meg Ryan who recently joined Nicholas Kristof on a trip to Cambodia where he participated in a brothel raid. Does Meg know that raiding brothels can be more detrimental to the health and safety of young girls? Does Meg know that sex workers would rather have rights over rescue? Does she know how Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the detention centers that many of these “rescued girls” end up in? Well, most likely not. That would take balanced research.
Celebrities love to take up space that should be reserved for sex workers to influence harmful laws and policies.
Just recently, Jada Pinkett Smith with husband Will and daughter Willow in tow (all in matching Free the Slaves T-Shirts) testified before the Foreign Senate Relations committee to urge them to wage war on human trafficking.
Jada has been active on this issue for less than a year, and shared with the committee that she became concerned on this issue based on her 11-year-old daughter’s research. Yes. Her 11 year old daughter’s research.
Therefore, while we have a Senate Committee hearing for a celebrity whose eyes have been opened by the research of her 11-year-old, countless organizations by and for sex workers can only dream of an opportunity to provide real solutions and strategies.
It is a slap in the face, really, to know that there are strategies out there that can help tackle the problem of human trafficking, by those who are most impacted by policy. Yet, sex workers and their organizations are totally shut out by celebrities who are provided access to forums when they have absolutely no experience.
Moreover, the Smith family has recently joined a human trafficking organization that is fighting for the removal of ads from Backpage.Com. A protest by these organizations occurred in the US recently. Even though sex workers were in attendance, the machine that is now the “rescue industry” overshadowed them. If only celebrities and the organizations they are promoting would listen to sex workers, they would come to understand that the removal of such sites will only exacerbate the situation by driving the trade underground, by limiting the ability of sex workers to screen clients and by putting them in more danger.
Celebrities love to start ridiculous campaigns that embrace their own narcissism as opposed to providing real facts.
I am still trying to figure out what Justin Timberlake was doing with shaving cream and that chainsaw in the “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” ads. Also, why is Selma Hayek directing music videos with a naked Jada Pinkett Smith rolling around on the floor? (I’m especially disappointed in Selma. I had such high hopes for her after her Candy Girl routine in Dogma).
Celebrities are a money machine.
They will bring big bucks to the table, which will leave sex workers and those who have been trafficked with various useless resources and centers. Thus leaving the door open for organizational corruption and a complete lack of accountability. Research clearly shows that the best services are those that are tailored by the folks that need the services.
Celebrities are using their influence to tell the masses that the issue of human trafficking is conflated with sex work.
Does trafficking exist? Yes it certainly does. Is it a cause for concern and action? Most definitely. Are there sex workers, even those on the street who choose to be there? Yes. Are there sex workers who do not need to be rescued, but who demand better health and safety protection? Overwhelmingly so.
The fact of the matter is the issue of trafficking vs. sex work is complicated, and celebrity machines are complicating it more, while society continues to view sex workers as either 1. People who need saving or 2. people who need to be persecuted.
Yet, while persecuting sex workers is a fan favorite of many residents and businesses in communities where sex workers are located, “rescuing” sex workers appeals to those who are sympathetic and who are fed moral panics without an analysis.
The power of celebrity can be good for social causes; if only they would develop an analysis and make space rather than taking it up. If only sex workers did not have struggle to have their voice heard in the presence of the all mighty celebrity. Hopefully there are still some celebrities out there who will use their publicity machines to listen to those who are most impacted by policy.
Who will listen to sex workers? Who will learn that the key to being an advocate is listening to those who are most impacted and worrying about the MTV appearances later?
I don’t think Kanye West has been roped into the hype lately. Maybe he can help.
Kanye, if you’re reading this – we need condoms and juice boxes for the stroll.
I knew Paula since we were in elementary school, and we were very close in junior high and high school. But it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that Paula taught me about true friendship. A case of growing apart from friends, but still knowing they would be there if you ever needed them. And when you saw them it was like you saw them yesterday. She was one of the two friends back home who came to see me when my Mom passed. We took my little girl to the Bargain Shop and bought her a crap load of toys while making each other laugh about silly things on such a horrible day. She made the darkest day so bearable. This woman, who I have not seen in person for almost 10 years, who flew into my house hours after learning of my Mom’s death, only to say, “I’m getting you out of here.” I will always keep the note from her that said “Call me if you ever need to vent. That is what friends are for. And I have broad shoulders.” Yes you did my friend, yes you did.
Paula passed away today after an illness that came on in a matter of weeks. Folks are sad and in shock. She was 39. She leaves behind a wonderful husband Todd, three young and amazing kids, and two wonderful parents who cherished her.
Paula loved Springhill and Springhill loves Paula. The town is fundraising for her family and having a celebration of her life. There is an account set up for the McPhee Family at CIBC and the link to fundraising event is here
Miss ya buddy.
The Trouble With Bridget
Sex gets attention. It always has and always will. Combine sex with innovative public awareness campaigns and your message will spread like wildfire. Risky media campaigns are not new to me. Keep in mind, I was the one who had my grandmother model for a poster campaign with the tagline “I am proud of my tramp for raising two kids on her own” and plastered the city with her image. So really, you would think that I would be the last person to have issue with campaigns that have been released in Halifax that use sex to gain an audience.
The Halifax Harbour Bridge Commission has put out a new awareness campaign to urge drivers to slow down on the bridges (I was unaware that speeding was an issue on the bridges, by the way, with all the congestion it takes forever to cross the dang thing). The brilliant minds have come up with Bridget, a female personification of the bridges who talks like Kathleen Turner with a head cold and looks like a graduate of the Hunger Games. We’re still unsure around these parts if Bridget is supposed to be a sex worker or a dominatrix, since it costs a dollar to cross her. But if she is supposed to be a sex worker she wouldn’t make a very good one….she’s not very nice. And she’s pretty sexist. Bridget’s campaign is targeted at men, and berates “fastboys” every chance “she” gets. This is being done through radio ads, billboards that are going up, and now on her twitter feed at @ListentoBridget
Here are some excerpts from her Twitter Feed:
“I freak my freak on naughty drivers”
“Now that turns my crank”
To a fellow tweeter “You can ride my bridge anytime you like, Matt”
This campaign is problematic on so many levels.
- The campaign is sexist. While folks at the Bridge Commission claim that their target audience is the general population between 18 and 45, it is totally targeted at straight men. It’s there in the tagline. “Watch your speed on my bridge fastboy.” Do straight men only speed and need to pay better attention on the road? I think not.
- Bridget is fuelling the adolescent discourse that objectifies women in our city. The campaign has only been out for a few days and I am already getting tired of the “When do I get to throw loonies at Bridget’s tits and in her mouth” jokes. And of course there are the responses she is getting on Twitter. Like one gent who wrote “You like that huh? I bet you’re naughty. Real FREAKY naughty.”
- Who is sending our message that sexuality and violence (oh yes, Bridget will make sure you were never born if you don’t obey her rules) equals safe driving to our daughters? Not a shock jock radio station. Not a soft drink company. But our city. And our tax dollars. (50,000 bridge crossings to be exact is the cost of this campaign).
- Can Halifax really afford to be putting out sexist ad campaigns? Between 1999 and 2004 sexual assault rates in Canada increased in only two provinces and Nova Scotia was one of them. Also in our dear province 44 percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 25. Our girls are facing huge obstacles at every turn but instead of finding programs and working with them we ban them from wearing leggings and yoga pants at schools, and put billboards of Bridget up on our bridges, as some sort of moronic empowerment model.
I could blame the marketing agency that came up with this idea, but as I know from my own experience in working with agencies, that the client has the final say. The client can refuse work, send the team back to the drawing table, and tell them to slow down if they are going in the wrong direction.
If only someone was there to tell the Bridge Commission to slow down.