Toughing It Out

The St. Paul’s Rape Trial and the Meaning of “No” — September 15, 2015
Rape, Sex Work and Opinions —

Rape, Sex Work and Opinions

I really dislike bathing my 2 nine-year old golden retrievers.  I can delay it forever and they wouldn’t mind if I never did it again at all, but all of us know it will eventually have to get done and we all look forward to it being over.  I felt similarly about reading an op-ed article regarding the rape of a Sex Worker in Chicago.

Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an opinion editorial regarding a sex worker who had called the police after being raped by a man who had contacted her from an ad she posted on the adult section of Backpage.  My Twitter feed quickly filled up with links to the article accompanied by condemnations of Mary Mitchel, the Chicago Sun-Times and then later more links to more publications, blogs and posts with both large and small organizations and individuals  calling for apologies and retractions.  My inbox filled up with angry and hurt emails and my Facebook page was deluded with more links and comments.   The intro to the links on both Facebook and Twitter were filled with fury and resentment and I delayed actually reading the article for the better part of two days because I knew this was going to be a trigger for my anxiety to crush any hope I had that the lives of Sex Workers were going to improve any time soon.  So yesterday afternoon over a cup of chamomile tea, I read – and reread – Mary Mitchells opinion piece.

Violence in general, has always been a good way to get me riled up, but violence against women by other women is just unforgivable.  Women have fought too hard for too long to allow any one of us to behave in such a way without concern for consequences.  There is no room for a woman in a place of power as a board member of the editorial staff of the Chicago Sun-Times to voice her opinions about the victimization of another woman.  Particularly one, like this sex worker, who has been violated in such a horrific criminal act and then shamed for her profession in such a public manner.  For Mary Mitchell to say that it was “hard to see her as a victim” and to be “grateful” that the perpetrator hadn’t done this “to an innocent woman on the street” and to have the Chicago Sun-Times rubber stamp their approval and publish it, was like a knife to the heart.

Mary Mitchell has been found guilty in the court of public opinion of violence against women by her op-ed piece and she should have to pay a price for that.  She has nothing to offer the community in Chicago or anywhere else for that matter that will ever makeup for this gross violation of ethics.  Mitchells insinuation that Sex Workers cannot be raped and her own “risky” behavior was just cause for her bad luck at being raped at gunpoint are the verbal equivalent of a hate crime.   Victim blaming, minimizing the act of rape and a complete disregard for the framework of “consent” are all issues that Mary Mitchell completely disregarded, setting us back decades in the Human Rights for Women in general and Sex Workers in particular.

I spent some time looking at other issues that Mitchell has written about and she seems to enjoy controversy and almost appears to have taken this stance in an effort to gain notoriety.  I think she got the notoriety she sought but I’m hoping she loses her job, her place on the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times and is forever considered a pariah in the media.  I also hope that this despicable article reinforces the need for better protection for Sex Workers and the furtherance of the cause for decriminalization of Sex Work as recommended by Amnesty International this past August.

But my greatest hope is that women everywhere will recognize that we MUST unite and force each other to be accountable for our actions.  We could achieve so much if we would simply understand that we are stronger together and find our commonality instead of looking for ways to be divisive and unkind to each other.


Amnesty Decision on Sex Work For Anti-trafficking NGO’s — September 13, 2015

Amnesty Decision on Sex Work For Anti-trafficking NGO’s

The week before the “Big Decision” by Amnesty International, someone told me that NGO’s who were anti-trafficking supporters would fold if they voted to support the decriminalization of Sex Work.  I was doubtful that it would have such a serious impact that it would cause them to pack up and go home, but I could see that some who had been fence-sitting on direct questions regarding consensual sex work might take this opportunity to gracefully bow out of this arena.  After all, the most common complaint I heard about Prostitution Outreach efforts from Anti Trafficking groups was their efforts were met with such resistance from their target audience.  I thought they would welcome the opportunity to relinquish their freakishly self-righteous control on a subject they clearly had no knowledge about how to address, successfully or otherwise, and refocus their efforts in places they could make a difference.  I was almost amused that most of them didn’t even bother to read more than the Headline on this pivotal Amnesty decision, and instead immediately started the process of demanding Amnesty “change their mind” and reverse their decision.

That is simply not going to happen.  And if they had taken the time to read the entire decision, the Anti Trafficking community would have found they had truly been given a get-out-of-jail-free card instead of wasting more time and resources trying to change that which cannot – and will not – be changed.  In fact, when Amnesty International makes a decision you don’t agree with, you really need to step back and reassess your position from a Human Rights perspective.  Amnesty International has brought us so far with so many other Human Rights issues and we should listen to them.

But just in case you are an Anti Trafficker and have sand in your ears, here is a quick primer on what this policy decision really could mean to this – in the very words of Amnesty International – most marginalized group of people world-wide.

Decriminalization does NOT mean legalization.  Legalization – as in Germany and in Nevada  – have unintended consequences and most Sex Workers do not support it.  Legalized sex work leaves sex workers tangled up in a mess of burdensome regulations where they must conform to license requirements that bring an unfair burden on women who are already living in poverty and the very application of a license can immediately stigmatize a sex worker and keep her from eventually accessing other employment opportunities.  For example – a Sex Worker in a legalized model in the United States would be required to register as a sex worker and pay a licensure fee – kind of like an occupational license – before she began working as a Sex Worker.  This would probably mean she would have to have a physical and be tested for STD’s which is a good thing if she is not already having problems accessing affordable healthcare.  Women’s Healthcare – particularly low-cost affordable healthcare – has always been a problem and even more so with the problems organizations like Planned Parenthood has faced over the years.  Before she got her license, she may even have to attend government sponsored Sex Work classes or submit to questionnaires that she may or may not fully understand.  She might also be required to perform or conduct Sex Work business in a location that also requires a legalized, bureaucratic process as well and might be hampered unfairly by a lack of transportation to get to this location. This legalized location would most likely be a brothel. Brothel owners have a clear interest in maintaining their image as law-abiding, trouble-free businesses to keep their licenses and maintain good relations within their communities. The owners ensure this by making it policy to call the police at the slightest hint of trouble to send a message that they don’t tolerate bad behavior. The whole name of the game is control.  Just that statement alone is cause for concern about legalizing Sex Work in a Legalized environment – it almost immediately removes the control from the Sex Worker over who and when she sees a client and who she alone decides what she considers bad behavior.

Women in a poverty situations often undertake Sex Work as an intervention to crisis (pay the rent, buy food, provide for her children)  and would be subject to fines and tickets and court costs to defend themselves about participating in sex work while unlicensed in a legalized environment.  Then, of course, she would be ineligible to get the required license or registration because of the financial penalties that would accrue if she were “caught” performing Sex Work without a license.  This sequence of events amounts to the criminalized system we already have firmly in place in most areas of the United States.

Legalization would mean the regulation of prostitution with laws regarding where, when, and how prostitution could take place.

Although often presented as a more tolerant and pragmatic approach, the legalized model still criminalize those sex workers who cannot or will not fulfill various bureaucratic responsibilities, and therefore retains some of the worst harms of criminalization. It disproportionately excludes sex workers who are already marginalized, like people who use drugs or who are undocumented. This makes their situation more precarious, and so reinforces the power of unscrupulous managers.

The US has actually had some experience with both models. Nevada has a highly regulated legalized prostitution system.  Rhode Island also decriminalized prostitution in 2003 and, according to University of California researchers, instances of reported rape and sexually transmitted diseases plummeted after Rhode Island stopped policing prostitution.  Nevertheless, due to public moral outcry and absolutely NO input from Sex Worker voices, Rhode Island outlawed prostitution again in 2009.

The Amnesty International policy recommendation that calls for the decriminalization of one to one consensual Sex Work refers to the removal of all criminal and administrative prohibitions and penalties on sex work, including laws targeting clients. Removing criminal prosecution of sex work goes hand-in-hand with recognizing sex work as work and protecting the rights of sex workers through workplace health and safety standards.

Decriminalizing sex work allows workers to access financial services like bank accounts and insurance and other financial services.  Moreover,
decriminalization means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, and fear of violence. All good things, right?  To effectively protect the health and rights of sex workers, governments must remove all criminal laws regulating sex work, including laws that criminalize the purchase of sex.  Systems that maintain criminal penalties for clients – like the Swedish model – who purchase sexual services continue to put sex workers at risk.  Rather than ending demand for sex work, penalties on clients force sex workers to provide services in clandestine locations, which increases the risk of violence and limits the power of the sex workers in the transaction.
Not only does the decriminalization of Consensual Sex Work benefit the of-legal-age Sex Worker, there are a host of other benefits as well.  For one, in a decriminalized environment, who do you think is in a better position to recognize and assist in the identification of underage sex workers?  Do you think it’s an actual full-time Sex Worker or a church lady who volunteers for one of your Faith Based Alliances a few hours a month?  And you can bet your bottom dollar that a Sex Worker will recognize – and report – a predatory member of the community faster than you can say “Call 911!”
When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are empowered to realize their right to work safely, and to use the justice system to seek redress for abuses and discrimination. 
Even if sex work is decriminalized per the Amnesty International policy recommendation, the prostitution of minors and human trafficking can and should remain criminal acts although we should really take another look at a better plan for minors than criminalization as well.
So Anti Trafficking Organizations should happily put their stamp of approval on this Amnesty Policy recommendation and be assured that your lucrative efforts to freak out the general public about Human Trafficking “taking place in your backyard” is safe and secure.  You just don’t get to speak for Sex Workers anymore without even bothering to consult them.
Scale? What Scale? — September 11, 2015

Scale? What Scale?

I’ve had a pretty bad relationship with my bathroom scale for – well – forever.  I really don’t care for scales in general. Or math or measurements or portion control or counting calories or carbs or fat grams or whatever tricks are played to calculate my self worth in relation to my body image.  And at the same time I am facinated by the numbers games – or really mind games – that I am willing to play to register my dedication to the process.  In the days before smart phones, I kept a food diary and I was less than accurate about my food budget.  The new apps on my iPhone are much more condusive to accurate reporting my intake of not only calories and other nutritional info, they are generous with calculating the activities that burn the calories and carbs.  I’ve actually lost two of those expensive wearable fitness accessories that communicate steps, sleep and activity.  Maybe it was for the best.


In fact – I have signed up for so many of these diet and fitness apps that I frequently get alarming emails admonishing me to enter what I had for breakfast or asking me if I plan to go to the gym in accordance with my profile goals, or even announcing a new sequence of ab exercises I have mysteriusly “unlocked” by virtue of being a “member”.   One of them even tells me how much I would weigh in 5 weeks if I were to have the exact same food and exercise routine every day after I proudly complete my entry for that day.  Some of them sync with each other and others don’t so really all I have managed to do is feel incompetant.  But feeling incompetant to manage my addiction for electronic apps that tell me how I should be feeling have not really impacted my actual fitness results.

After 7 and one half months of going to the gym every day (I’ve only missed 6 days total when the gym was closed completely and 2 days when I drove there and just couldn’t get out of the car) I can easily say I feel pretty good.  I don’t feel satisfied that I am making the kind of progress I would like to have made but there is a deep satisfaction in the achievement of simply showing up that supercedes my reaction to the reflection I get in the mirror and the number on the scale.  Spending this first hour of my day at this independently owned gym on a treadmill or reminding myself to count the number of reps is where I find sanity in the numbers.  Even when the scale doesn’t say a number I’d like, there is an overwhelming peace in this place.  Its become a refuge.  A shelter.  Even the physically brutal time with my trainer twice a week is something I look forward to because all of my preconceived notions of what kind of brain a personal trainer would have have been dashed.  We have breathless (or rather I am breathless and he picks up my counting reps slack) discussions of philosophy and community and humanity and often transition to business discussions of ROI or joke about how nice it would be if we could do business without clients or employees.  It has become my preferred form of therapy.  It is making me a better person even if not the skinny person I was hoping.

I still have my bathroom scale although I have been setting it in the bathtub behind the shower curtain in an effort to honor my pledge to only weigh in once a month instead of 3 or four times daily. I lost 8 pounds in two months for a grand total loss of 23 in 7 and a half months and I recite “MUSCLE WEIGHS MORE HAN FAT” out loud three times before getting on.  I take three readings at each weigh in to satisfy myself that it is as accurate as its going to get and immediately pet my beloved golden retriever Sugar Bear afterwards, who stoically has accompanied me for these dreaded weigh ins, afterwards.  She loves me regardless of the number on the scale.

My husband and lover (same person) of nearly 15 years has been guardedly respectful about this process.  His love for me has never been measured by the number on a scale or the size of my jeans.  I think it is partly because the gym and the trainer and the dedication I have demonstrated the past 7 1/2 months has curbed my desire to power-shop for silly outfits which I will never wear.  I have a closet full of designer labels from size 4 to size 14 that still have tags on them and I’m not even sure I would wear most of them if I could.

The other number in my life that is not a reflection of who I am is my age which recently rolled over to 51 years.  Some days I feel older than that pesky number and some days I feel like I am in my mid 20’s.  If you have read earlier posts you will know that I have been taking HGH injections as part of an anti-aging regimen and I have reported a general overall sense of well being in addition to smoother skin and lasting energy.  I don’t give all the credit to the HGH, but I think it has been a large part of my devotion to making the rest of my lifestyle match that effort and expense.

I know my relationship with fitness and health numbers are going to always be a part of my life but it is no longer the method that determines my mental attitude when taking on my daily activities.  I have accepted my age and my weight as a part of my overall desire to be a better person and I feel ready to take on new challenges that reflect all that I am becoming.  A recent visit to my physician for the whole annual physical was a positive reinforcement of my progress when my blood tests, sugar and cholesteral and all the other “lady stuff” came back with an all clear.  And if the doctor says I’m doing well…well than I must be doing well.