The Importance Of Sex Worker Made Media
In light of last week's Elliot Spitzer scandal
that escalated the sex industry into the spotlight of nearly every imaginable news source, it became all the more clear to me how important it is for sex workers to be creating our own media nowadays.
In addition to Spitzer being maligned by the media, the escort involved in the case, "Kristen" ( I won't mention her real name here) was virtually crucified and labeled a "Bad Girl" by the New York Post, a newspaper so worthless it is almost shocking to me that people would actually take anything written in it seriously. Spitzer was a little more deserving of the shame. He, after all, busted up prostitution rings (whatever this means) when he was attorney general, most likely at the very same time he was using the services of prostitutes himself. He may have felt that because the prostitutes he was busting up were a lower class than the ones he was patronizing, he was doing a good deed. Regardless, he was a hypocrite, and on top of that, he was a hypocrite that requested "bareback" services, which is just completely inexcusable. However, he is just one of millions of men who do the same thing nearly every day and never get caught, so perhaps his folly here was patronizing an escort service that was possibly involved in money laundering. If only he has used the services of independent escorts, this probably never would have come to light.
"Kristen", on the other hand, is hardly deserving of the exposure and scrutiny that she has received in the media. She is probably one of many, many escorts Spitzer had seen (he is rumored to have been using escorts for over ten years) and was just doing what many other women, like myself do every day. The media really thinks that splashing her face across newspapers and on television is going to stop other escorts from pursuing their trade, but this girl was making several THOUSAND dollars an hour. If anything, it's going to lure more women into the sex industry. This girl was livin' large in NYC while pursuing her music career. She had it made. Now, she has to move back in with her family in Jersey while she contemplates whether or not to pose for Hustler for 1 million dollars. I guess in the end, she might get a big payday, but Kristen hasn't had a voice in all this. She hasn't made a public statement and has had her entire life scrutinized from head to toe, even more so than Spitzer has. Kristen wasn't a public official, she had no responsibility to the public to adhere to certain standards. Spitzer did.
Never before had I seen the sex industry so exposed as I did last week. Nearly ever NYC sex worker was being interviewed by every possible media outlet. Spread magazine editor Audacia Ray was asked by MSNBC if she had ever been a "whore" (those exact words). Ever television, newspaper, and Internet news site was doing exposes on how escort services are run, how much escorts work, how these operations are able to exist while blatantly offering an illegal service. I mean, really...my mind was spinning. All of us are now starting to decompress now that the scandal is dying down. Soon enough, it will become yesterday's news until the next sex scandal hits and we will all have to revisit this all over again.
What bothered me the most about all this was the way media outlets were using and abusing the words of sex workers to create their own stories about how "awful and "degrading" the sex industry is. They lifted the words from Kristen's MySpace page that talked about how she had "abused drugs" and "been homeless" as if this validated all their suspicions about the life of a prostitute, not matter how high or low-end she was. The truth for many sex workers, including myself, is far from that of Kristen or the majority of sex workers that the press tend to focus on. We enjoy what we do, are active in championing sex worker's rights, and wish Kristen would speak out on how sex workers are just regular people trying to get by, just like
Last night's 20/20 special on prostitution in America was another piece of shoddy, sensationalistic journalism that once again, portrayed all sex workers as victims or desperate drug addicts. Diane Sawyer's report was two years in the making and apparently put on hold by 20/20 until the Spitzer scandal broke. She visits with a variety of prostitutes from street workers to high-priced escorts where she manages to find some kind of childhood sexual abuse or drug use between them all, creating a two hour sob story. The one exception was an escort who appeared in silhouette and claimed she enjoyed her work and was paid very well for what she did. Still Diane prodded her asking, "Are you sure you haven't been sexually abused as a child or adult?" When the woman answered "no" over and over, Diane seemed to be almost shocked that this woman was a sex worker who had never been a victim. The women at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City, Nevada didn't fare too well either as they welcomed Diane in with open arms (even making her an "honorary trainee" as reports say) and all she did was look for a sob story and evidence of drug abuse among the workers there. As Charlie Brown would say, "Good Grief." Doesn't the media ever get tired of portraying people as stereotypes? Or do they believe it's their job?
What's funny is that this came at a time when I was just at the crux of creating a glut of sex worker made media with my cohorts in SWOP-Chicago. After two podcasts detailing the truth of our lives in the sex industry, I was hounding the ladies to take to the streets so we can get started on the television show idea I had been mulling for so long, Red Light District Chicago. The Spitzer scandal gave us a perfect treason to get out and talk to the public about prostitution and...voila!...now the sex workers are turning the tables and interviewing the public instead of the other way around. Hopefully a scandal like this will get more sex workers active in championing their rights as individuals and speak out about what our lives are really like. Not all of us are drug addicts, not all of us are being trafficked or forced into this industry. We're making good money, we're setting our own hours, we're independent of bosses or pimps, we're sleeping late and staying up late, we're making our own own media, and we're loving every minute of it.
We're also organizing...and this summer the Desiree Alliance conference will be held in Chicago from July 16-21. Registration is open and scholarships are available for those in financial need. If you come you can meet me, Libby, and some legendary other sex work activists such as Carol Leigh, Audacia Ray, and Robyn Few. So what are you waiting for? Your voice needs to be heard.