THE GUARDIAN: New York to consider changing rape shield law to protect sex workers

When rape shield laws spread across the country in the 1970s to protect sexual misconduct victims from having their sexual histories used against them in court, women could finally come forward without fearing their “promiscuity” would be paraded in front of a jury.

But not all victims were covered by the laws, which were written during a time when society painted some women as virtuous and deserving of protection while others – such as sex workers – often remained unbelieved and unbelievable.

Over the last half-century, the understanding of sexual assault, coercion and consent has evolved, and rape shield laws around the country have been updated.

But in New York, stigmas and misconceptions about trafficking victims and sex workers are still etched into the rape shield statute by treating them differently when they suffer sexual attacks.

“Today, we are literally legitimizing rape by allowing this law to be on the books,” said Lola Balcon, a sex workers’ rights advocate. Now some politicians are seeking to change that.


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New York to consider changing rape shield law to protect Sex Workers by Alexandra Villarreal

Nov. 30th, 2018

ROLLING STONE: Are Sex Workers Becoming a Viable Political Bloc?

Not long ago, most porn stars, escorts, strippers and cam-girls wouldn’t feel comfortable entering the political scuffle. But thanks to a confluence of factors — including Stormy Daniels, arguably the world’s most famous sex worker, making herself a symbol of the anti-Trump resistance — the sex-work community has become America’s newest niche political bloc.

Though the movement has been happening for decades, even centuries, explains community organizer Lola Balcon, it’s taken hold in recent years in part as a result of long-term de-stigmatization efforts from human rights groups including Amnesty International, which recommended the decriminalization of sex work in 2016. But it wasn’t until the passage of the so-called Online Trafficking bill SESTA-FOSTA last spring that many workers began to organize locally, forming grassroots coalitions not just to oppose the bill but also to support sex work decriminalization efforts more broadly.

“We have a lot at stake right now. The political climate is unpredictable and volatile,” says Christa Daring, the executive director of Sex Workers Outreach Project USA, a nonprofit aimed at supporting sex workers and campaigning for the decriminalization of sex work. “SESTA-FOSTA didn’t make prostitution any more illegal than it was before, but it made a lot of people’s lives a lot harder and it really threw into stark contrast the amount of criminalization that people were facing.”


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Are Sex Workers becoming a viable political bloc? by Jennifer Swann

Nov. 24th, 2018

VICE: Your Job Has More in Common with Sex Work Than You Think

You probably have opinions about sex work. If you are a certain sort of feminist, you might think it is disgusting, dehumanizing, and completely unacceptable—that pornography is little more than propaganda for the patriarchy, that prostitution is just "rape that's paid for." You might then think that sex work needs to be abolished—if nothing else, for the good of the millions of women who are "trafficked" by pimps from poorer to richer nations and coerced into selling their bodies.

Alternatively: You might love sex work. You might be an enthusiastic consumer of pornography and supporter of prostitution. You might think sex work offers a vital service to, for instance, disabled clients; that for the women who do it, it is a fun and empowering profession. You might then think that sex work ought to be celebrated, normalized as an integral part of any healthy, functioning society.

According to sex work activists (and sex workers) Molly Smith and Juno Mac, both of these views on sex work are basically wrong. Sex work is shit—they definitely think that—and is subject to all sorts of problems which stem from the economic context in which it takes place; the legal context in which prohibitions against it are enforced. But at heart, there is nothing special about sex work. If we dropped all the prurient proscriptions and predilections, we could see it unmasked as what it really is: a shitty job just like any other.


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Your job has more in common with Sex Work than you think by Tom Whyman

Nov. 20th, 2018

INDIE WIRE: Margaret Cho-Backed Web Series About a Queer Asian Dominatrix

In a career spanning more than two decades, Margaret Cho has endeared herself to so many by saying things you’re not supposed to say. Whether it’s talking openly about experiences with eating disorders, rape, and addiction, calling out Hollywood’s racism, or dispelling myths about bisexual people and other alternative sexualities, Cho’s comedy addresses many different communities that are used to being ignored. Now, as a producer, she’s handing the mic to the next generation of queer kinky Asian-American feminists.

Based on a memoir by BDSM educator and activist Yin Quan, “Mercy Mistress” follows the character Mistress Yin (Poppy Liu), a queer, first-generation, Chinese-American professional and lifestyle dominatrix working in Manhattan. Each short episode explores the nuanced relationship between Mistress Yin and a new client as she pushes him to merge his kink life with his dating life. Sultry, subtle, and impeccably styled, “Mercy Mistress” is a pulsing romp through a rarely seen community. Centering an Asian-American queer femme kinky sex worker may sound like a mouthful, but “Mercy Mistress” dishes it out in the most delicate bites.

“I think it’s so unique, and such a fresh perspective, and it’s a fresh take on what we think of as a BDSM community and the queer community and also Asian-American-ness,” Cho told IndieWire in a recent interview.


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'Mercy Mistress' Exclusive: Margaret Cho-backed web series about a Queer Dominatrix by Jude Dry

Nov. 20th, 2018

COUNTER PUNCH: It’s Time to Decriminalize Sex Work

Two New York City Democratic Socialist were overwhelmingly victorious in the November 6th elections – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the U.S. House for the 14th District (Bronx-Queens) and Julia Salazar’s for 18th District (Brooklyn) of the New York State Senate.

Going mostly unreported, Salazar called for the decriminalization of sex work. “Sex workers are workers and they deserve to be treated with dignity, including protections and decent working conditions, rather than the abuse and criminalization that they currently face,” Salazar said.  She added, “I’m dedicated to defending workers’ rights, reforming our criminal justice system and ending exploitation, and we know that criminalization puts everyone in sex work at risk rather than protecting them.”

Another Brooklyn candidate, Suraj Patel, lost to 13-term incumbent Carolyn Maloney in the recent Congressional primary, but he met with members of GLITS, an organization serving transgender sex workers.  “To me, this issue [of sex work] is wrapped up in the whole discussion of how prior generations of politicians in both parties—who need to go—really have only one tool in their tool kit when it comes to criminal justice, and that’s a hammer,” he said.  And added, “They can’t think outside the box about prevention and building healthier communities that have more economic opportunities for people. It’s always about criminalization.”


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It's Time to Decriminalize Sex Work by David Rosen

Nov. 9th, 2018

SLATE: It’s Time to Recenter Kink and BDSM as Part of Radical Queer History

This piece is part of the Radical issue, a special package from Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Read more here.

When we celebrate queer history, we’re usually thinking about the elders who came before us and the sacrifices that they made to ensure that future generations wouldn’t have to go through the same hardships that they did. By remembering their radical calls for acceptance and civil rights, we’re really thinking about action-oriented activism. But in doing so, we leave out the importance of the practice of kink and BDSM, which are radical acts in their own right. It’s time to correct this, to include and center kink as a valid part of queer history—because without it, we are erasing an essential part of our heritage.

Kink has been somewhat mainstreamed in recent years by films, books, and popular media (ahem, Fifty Shades) that speak to only one part of what it means to be in the lifestyle. But what exactly makes kink radical? There’s a taboo around discussing sex and sexuality in our culture still, and it is especially seen as taboo for queer people, who have been ostracized and outcast for not falling into heteronormative expectations of how we should love and form relationships. Many kink and BDSM (an acronym standing for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism) subcultures were formed in response to individuals’ desire to fight against these expectations. These were often some of the few spaces where queer people, before civil rights efforts had gained any ground, could form relationships that existed outside of shame and build their own communities.

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It's Time to Recenter Kink and BDSM as a Part of Radical Queer History by Cameron Glover

November 7, 2018

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DAZED: Lessons from Annie Sprinkle, the radical sex positive educator of 1980s NYC

In mid-1980s New York, a resident in the apartment building of 90 Lexington Avenue knocked on the door of flat 11F and exclaimed “What are you doing in there? I know you’re having sex, but my god it sounds incredible! How do you do it?” Annie Sprinkle (sex positivity educator, porn star, sex worker, and above all prodigious sex artist) opened the door and told him about her apartment-cum-centre for sex activists, sex education, and filmmaking: the Sprinkle Salon, dubbed by the artist herself as the Andy Warhol Factory equivalent of sex art. “I was really into art and sexual politics”, explains Sprinkle, ”so the Sprinkle Salon was a reflection of my curiosity and creativity, just as the Factory was an extension of Warhol’s. There just weren't other places at the time where you could go to learn about sex and be freely sexually expressive, so we started my space.”

From 1980-94, the Sprinkle Salon was a spiritual and physical extension of Sprinkle’s identity. Her radicalism was translated into fetish, tattoo, and body modification parties, while her pledge to sexual positivity emulated in female empowerment sex classes like Sluts and Goddesses (where she used sexual costuming as a tool for women to explore their inner slut and goddess), and her role as a leader in the sex industry was equally translated into sex worker rights groups like PONY (Prostitutes Of New York) and porn support groups like Club 90. Above all, the Sprinkle Salon was a central point for New York’s underground sexual rebellion and a place to push the revolution into the rights of fetishists, porn stars, and sex workers.

Below, Sprinkle takes us on a journey through the 14 year run of the Sprinkle Salon to give us life lessons on how to openly embrace and explore sex.


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Lessons from Annie Sprinkle the radical sex-positive educator of 1980s New York by Lexi Manatakis

Nov. 7th, 2018

DAILY BEAST: The Kink and Tattoo Artists Letting Their Freak Flags Fly for Sex Workers’ Rights

In April, a mashup of two bills, SESTA and FOSTA, was signed into law. SESTA/FOSTA aimed to combat sex trafficking online. But according to many sex working people and community advocates, as well as sex trafficking survivors, the law has already begun to put people in peril by limiting access to safety resources, work, and community. Already, websites that were used to screen dates, find clients, and share resources have self-censored and shuttered, forcing workers onto the streets and into potentially exploitative situations.

Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective & Fund, an emergency fund that provides financial resources to sex workers in crisis, experienced a “huge flurry of requests” in the wake of SESTA/FOSTA’s passage. Cora Colt, the co-founder and acting treasurer of the fund, told the Daily Beast that although the law does not fully go into effect until the new year, “the amount of instability they’ve managed to create from what measures online platforms have already taken voluntarily paints a bleak picture for the hardships workers will be experiencing when we start finding out how far this administration is going to take this very dangerous constitutional loophole they’ve created for themselves.” Lysistrata MCCF currently offers emergency assistance in amounts of $50 to $200, and has provided funds to “around 80 individuals” since March.

“The harm SESTA/FOSTA is causing is being exacerbated by increases in discrimination and violence, cutting of health/social services and benefits, and increased powers given to law and immigration enforcement,” Colt continued. “What this combination of factors is very literally doing is forcing people into the industry out of desperation, taking away what safety networks might have been available to them and pushing them out of indoor living and working spaces onto the street where workers are being assaulted, trafficked, pimped, murdered and arrested in staggering numbers compared to previous years (the majority of these deaths that I know of have been trans women of color).”


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Kink And Tattoo Artist Letting Their Freak Flags Fly For Sex Workers' Rights by Amy Zimmerman

November 6, 1028

PACIFIC STANDARD: How the fight for Sex Workers' rights can put Sex Workers first

"Nothing about us without us" became the slogan of the disability rights movement in the 1990s, but the message continues to reverberate today—particularly with sex workers. There have increasingly been calls, especially within progressive and socialist circles in the United States, to reform the criminal justice system's approach to penalizing prostitution. Politicians like Julia Salazar, a Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidate for the New York State Senate, are pushing for sex workers to be fined rather than arrested, while others like former President Jimmy Carter have advanced what's known as the "Swedish" or "Nordic" model of targeting managers and customers. But according to sex workers themselves, none of those reforms adequately address the challenges they face.

In their new book, Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers' Rights, United Kingdom-based sex workers and activists Juno Mac and Molly Smith examine the global fight for sex workers' rights. Relying primarily on testimony from sex workers—and taking seriously that it is work—Mac and Smith critically examine various regimes governing prostitution around the world, including those in Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. They find that, while such models are better than the extreme criminalization common in most of the U.S., those regimes still push sex workers further into the margins. Revolting Prostitutes compellingly argues that true supporters of sex workers' rights must put the voices, experiences, and welfare of sex workers first. In other words: Nothing about them without them.

Pacific Standard interviewed Smith and Mac about Revolting Prostitutes, the fight for sex workers' rights, and how so many people have gotten it so wrong. As with their book, they wrote their responses collectively.

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How the fight for Sex Workers' rights can put Sex Workers first by Arvind Dilawar

Nov. 2nd, 2018

ROLLING STONE: Republicans and Democrats Are Also Divided on Sexual Fantasies

They say politics make strange bedfellows, but apparently politics also play a role in what and who we fantasize about in bed.

Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, wrote a piece for Politico citing data from “the largest and most comprehensive survey of sexual fantasies ever conducted in the United States” that shows that Republicans and Democrats are turned on by different fantasies.

While both parties reported they fantasize at the same rate — several times a week — the themes of those fantasies were divided along party lines. Republicans tended to prefer fantasizing about sex outside of marriage: “things like infidelity, orgies and partner swapping, from 70s-style ‘key parties’ to modern-day forms of swinging,” Lehmiller wrote. Republicans also reported more voyeuristic fantasies like going to a strip club or watching one’s partner have sex with another person.

Democrats, on the other hand, were more likely to favor fantasies that included domination and power dynamics, including BDSM. According to Lehmiller, “The largest Democrat-Republican divide on the BDSM spectrum was in masochism, which involves deriving pleasure from the experience of pain.”

To explain why the political parties differ so vastly in their sexual tastes, Lehmiller looked to each party’s values. He wrote that we fantasize about forbidden fruit, that which we cannot have. So Democrats value equality, and domination and submission seem antithetical to those values, making them forbidden and therefore ripe grounds for fantasy. Since Republicans value sex within the bonds of marriage and single partner sex, the idea of multiple partners and infidelity turns them on.

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Republicans and Democrats are also divided on Sexual Fantasies by Peter Wade

Oct. 28th, 2018