OPEN DEMOCRACY: The two-fronted fight of sex workers against trafficking

Sex worker organisations have struggled with the concept of ‘sex trafficking’ ever since it was mainstreamed into international law with the adoption of the UN Palermo Protocol nearly 20 years ago. Some collectives, such as EMPOWER Thailand, explicitly state that it is an unnecessary concept that was forced onto the global south by the global north. Other organisations were found to share EMPOWER’s position in a recent report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. For these groups trafficking is, according to the report, “an issue that was introduced from outside the industry itself, propelled by a moralistic agenda, that organisations have felt obliged to understand, in order to counter the harmful effects of conceptually conflating trafficking and sex work.” Criticism of data collection methods that aim to assess the volume of trafficking for sexual exploitation and the often singular focus on trafficking in the sex industry is also widely shared by sex workers all around the world.

Nevertheless, it would be challenging to find a single sex worker organisation that does not acknowledge that exploitation and forced labour are common in the sex industry. That these phenomena exist and that they are dangerous are not disputed. Many groups have thus, often on shoestring budgets, instituted creative strategies to combat exploitative conditions and abuse in their communities. For others in the anti-trafficking field they should be natural allies. Yet they are often proactively prevented from engaging in anti-trafficking events and in discussions that are highly relevant to their communities.

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The two-fronted fight of Sex Workers against trafficking by Boglarka Fedorko

June 14th, 2019

ROLLING STONE: How the Tragic Death of Layleen Polanco Exposes Horrors of Criminalizing Sex Work

Last Friday, a 27-year-old transgender woman named Layleen Polanco was found unresponsive in a cell in Riker’s Island in New York City. Although attempts were made to revive her, she was pronounced dead at 3:45 p.m.

Polanco’s cause of death has not yet been revealed, though Aja Worthy-Davis, Executive Director for Public Affairs at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told Rolling Stone that she did not appear to have been the victim of physical trauma and that the department is “performing additional toxicology and medical examinations to identify other possible factors.” Due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding Polanco’s death — as well as the fact that she was reportedly the 10th black transgender woman found dead in the United States in 2019 alone — LGBTQ activists have been vocal in protesting her death, demanding answers from Mayor Bill DeBlasio and calling for the immediate closure of Rikers Island.

Additional details that surfaced about Polanco’s death were even more heartbreaking. Polanco was being held in Rikers on failure to pay $500 bail resulting from bench warrants — warrants that are issued when an individual does not appear in court — related to an August 2017 arrest. The arrest was the result of an NYPD sting investigation after Polanco allegedly agreed to perform oral sex on an undercover officer in exchange for money. She was arrested for misdemeanor prostitution and a low-level drug possession offense.

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How the tragic Death of Layleen Polanco exposes horrors of criminalizing Sex Work by EJ Dickson

June 13th, 2019

BITCH MEDIA: How BDSM Is Teaching Women to Become More Assertive

Feeling the need to apologize for speaking up at work or in relationships is often a learned behavior that, research shows, is much more common among women than men. But is it possible to stop saying “sorry” when it’s so ingrained in the way many of us communicate? Professional Dominatrix Mistress Tara Indianawould say yes: She’s found that BDSM (or bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) is a surprisingly effective way to help women become more self-assured and less apologetic. “Learning how to accurately use a single tail whip can help you assert yourself at work,” Indiana says. “When you master a skill like that, it gives you a boost of confidence that you can build upon in other areas of your life.”

Indiana has been teaching these skills to women since 1993 in a series of workshops focused on the art, science, and business of female domination or FemDom. Under her tutelage, women can develop Dominatrix personas for professional pursuits, or simply gain more control over their careers and relationships. “One of the first things I teach women is how to stop apologizing,” Indiana says. “It can be a difficult behavior to alter—especially during my workshops, which often involve inflicting pain. The automatic response [when you hurt someone] is to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ However, in the context of a BDSM power exchange, what the dominant (or top) does to the submissive (or bottom) is consensual and well negotiated. This teaches women to change the social dynamics they’ve been conditioned to follow.”


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How BDSM is Teaching Women to Become More Assertive by Margaret Andersen

June 12, 2019


HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: New York State May Decriminalize Sex Work

Yesterday, lawmakers in New York State introduced a bill decriminalizing sex work. Decriminalization would be a big step towards protecting the health, safety, and dignity of sex workers.

Other US states and Washington, DC, where a bill to decriminalize sex work is also pending, should follow. Nevada is the only US state that allows sex work in some places.

Human Rights Watch’s research has consistently found that criminalizing sex work violates the right to bodily autonomy and offends dignity. Additionally, it doesn’t stop sex work. What such laws do is make sex workers considerably less safe. Many sex worker groups and human rights activists worldwide have reached the same conclusions.

Our research in New York City, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and New Orleansshows that arresting sex workers is a waste of time for both sex workers and police. It also humiliates sex workers, who are often from marginalized communities and struggling to make ends meet.

Additionally, police often use possession of condoms – which in many places is evidence of prostitution – as a reason to harass or arrest sex workers. This means some sex workers choose either not to carry condoms, or to carry only a few. The use of condoms as criminal evidence undermines efforts to end HIV transmission and contravenes the right to health.

Human Rights Watch found the same patterns in TanzaniaChina, and South Africa – humiliating harassment and abusive arrests. There, police often engage in extortion and rape, pushing sex workers into more dangerous places like dark parks and strange cars to do their work. And when clients and others beat and rape sex workers, they are afraid to report such crimes, knowing they are likely to be treated as criminals themselves. Almost all the sex workers I interviewed in South Africa were parents struggling to stay afloat and get their kids fed, clothed, and educated. It didn’t make sense to them, or to me, why they were arrested.

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New York State may decriminalize Sex Work by Skye Wheeler

June 11th, 2019

THE NEW REPUBLIC: A Historic Breakthrough for Sex Workers’ Rights

Back in February, advocates for sex worker rights in New York announced their intention to fully decriminalize prostitution in the state. But no one really suspected then that within two weeks, Democratic candidates for president would be pledging support for competing legislative visions of what they called (at times, incorrectly) sex work decriminalization. Quite suddenly, the enlightened thing to do—or at least to say you were doing—was to support these measures, a development that came as a shock even to many sex workers who had long campaigned for decriminalization. On Monday, that same group of advocates, Decrim NY, will see a bill they have helped draft introduced in the state legislature that promises to give practical shape to the goals sex workers have pursued for several decades. The bill is groundbreaking for the United States: If passed, it would make New York the first state to fully decriminalize sex work.

The New Republic has had a first look at the bill. The measure removes criminal penalties associated with adults selling and buying sex, and repeals parts of the law that have criminalized sex workers’ places of business along with “loitering for prostitution” in public. Their aim is grounded not just in criminal justice reform, but in more fundamental appeals to economic justice. “This is not just about decriminalizing workers or the absence of criminal codes. It’s about making sure people who work in the sex trades have access to making a living in the sex industry in a way that is not a crime,” said Audacia Ray, a member of the Decrim NY steering committee, a director at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, and a former sex worker.

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A historic breakthrough fo Sex Workers' Rights by Melissa Gira Grant

June 9th, 2019

MEDICAL NEWS TODAY: When and why is pain pleasurable?

Many people think of pain and sex as deeply incompatible. After all, sex is all about pleasure, and pain has nothing to do with that, right? Well, for some individuals, pain and pleasure can sometimes overlap in a sexual context, but how come? Continue reading this Spotlight feature to find out.

The relationship between pain and sexual pleasure has lit up the imaginations of many writers and artists, with its undertones of forbidden, mischievous enjoyment.

In 1954, the erotic novel Story of O by Anne Desclos (pen name Pauline Réage) caused a stir in France with its explicit references to bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism — an array of sexual practices referred to as BDSM, for short.

Recently, the series Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James has sold millions of copies worldwide, fuelling the erotic fantasies of its readers.

Still, practices that involve an overlap of pain and pleasure are often shrouded in mystery and mythologized, and people who admit to engaging in rough play in the bedroom often face stigma and unwanted attention.

So what happens when an individual finds pleasure in pain during foreplay or sexual intercourse? Why is pain pleasurable for them, and are there any risks when it comes to engaging in rough play?

In this Spotlight feature, we explain why physical pain can sometimes be a source of pleasure, looking at both physiological and psychological explanations.

Also, we look at possible side effects of rough play and how to cope with them and investigate when the overlap of pain and pleasure is not healthful.

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When and Why is pain pleasurable? by Maria Cohut

June 7th, 2019

HUFFPOST: How This Queer, Asian BDSM Practitioner Envisions the Future of Pride

Yin Q is a former dominatrix and an educator and practitioner of bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism. For Q, BDSM has long been a part of their understanding of and experience with their sexuality.

Q, who uses they/them pronouns, discovered something compelling about the push-and-pull dynamics of BDSM during their sexual awakening. Their curiosity about it, and their identification with the practice and the community, only evolved and intensified as they got older.

Q initially explored kink as a cabaret performer in college. They wrote their college thesis on BDSM and eventually moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to apprentice and learn more about the leather community.

Today, Q ― now based in Brooklyn, New York ― uses their expertise and platform as an active, visible, queer Asian American person in the BDSM community to elevate the experiences of marginalized people, perform BDSM rituals with clients as a form of therapy and host workshops for members of the LGBTQ community. They are also the creator of the web series “Mercy Mistress,” which is co-produced by Margaret Cho and is based on Q’s time as a dominatrix.

Q, 44, chatted with HuffPost about how they use their work to highlight underserved communities, how they understand BDSM’s role in exploring and furthering queer pride and how they envision the future of the LGBTQ movement.

June 5, 2019

COLOR LINES: Say My Name: On the Importance of Taking Up Space and Making Noise

Being an Asian woman in America is complex. There are stereotypes we face by dint of being Asian: myths perpetuated about being subservient, obedient and model minorities. There are the notions others inflict on us from their own lens: nativism in the phrase “go back to China” (even when we’re American, even when our families have been in the United States for generations, even when we’re not Chinese) and sexualization by men who hit on us because they have “an Asian fetish.”

There are the typical biases, and then there are the surprising ones: as an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) woman, much of the racism and microaggression I experience actually arises in response to moments when I exercise my voice and take up space.

Well-meaning and “open-minded” White people will say things like “you’re so articulate!” or “it’s so refreshing to see an AAPI woman who speaks her mind!” without realizing that they are reinforcing the very stereotypes they think they are bucking. These are the “compliments” I receive as an AAPIwoman—backhanded compliments that serve more as insults. Added to this mix are the battles we face just as women, creating a double-bind for those of us with hyphenated identities.

This Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, it’s time for some truths about the AAPI community and about AAPIwomen. We are actually overwhelmingly progressive, and a key part of the women of color voting bloc. AAPI women have been at the forefront of the resistance to the Trump administration, and continue to challenge the status quo. Women still make less than men, still don’t have mandatory paid parental leave and still live in a culture that normalizes sexual harassment and rape. We fight alongside other women on these policy fronts every day, while also countering issues specific to AAPI women—like fighting U.S.militarism and anti-immigrant policies that have led to so many of the most damaging sexualized and exoticized stereotypes about us.

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Say My Name: On the importance of taking up space and making noise by Sung Yeon Choimorrow

May 24th, 2019

MEDIUM: Anti-Abortion Lawmakers Have No Idea How Women’s Bodies Work

Last night, the Alabama Senate voted to make abortion illegal from the moment of conception, punishable by 99 years in prison, with no exceptions for rape or incest. It will be the most extreme anti-abortion law in the nation, voted into effect by men who had trouble articulating the most basic facts about women’s biology, conception, or even how the law itself would function.

When Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, for example, was asked if the law would allow for incest victims to obtain abortions, he responded: “Yes, until she knows she’s pregnant.”

He did not elaborate on how someone would have an abortion before she knows she’s pregnant, outside of claiming, “It takes time for all the chromosomes to come together.”

Women’s bodies, lives, and futures are quite literally in the hands of men who seemingly couldn’t pass a high school health class. That’s part of what’s so hard about watching these debates: It’s not just that women’s rights and autonomy are being legislated away, but that it’s being done by complete morons.

This lack of remedial understanding of women’s bodies is not limited to Alabama. Representative John Becker of Ohio, a Republican, for example, sponsored a bill to limit insurance coverage for abortions, but claimed that it would have an exception for ectopic pregnancies, when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. “That treatment would be removing the embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus,” he said, explaining a procedure that doesn’t exist and isn’t medically possible.

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Anti-Abortion lawmakers have no idea how Women's bodies work by Jessica Valenti

May 15th, 2019

OPEN DEMOCRACY: Rights not rescue for migrant sex workers

The sex workers’ rights movement has, in the last few years, taken an unprecedented leap in visibility and recognition. Global organisations such as Amnesty International, the World Health Organization and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association have publicly supported sex workers’ rights. Prominent politicians such as the president of South Africa have called for decriminalisation. Particularly with regard to legal reform, the demands of sex workers have reached a tipping point.

Paradoxically, support has also increased for those who oppose sex workers’ rights in the belief that they exacerbate gender inequality and lead to trafficking. This has been particularly true in the policy-making arena. Due to the well-funded advocacy of these abolitionist groups, political support for the ‘Swedish model’, which criminalises the clients of sex workers but not the sale of sex itself, has continued to grow.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Sweden’s proclaimed flagship feminist law, which has, since 1999, taken root in many other parts of Europe and the world. Despite the negative impact of this law on sex workers, and particularly on migrant sex workers in an increasingly xenophobic Europe, Sweden and France are now united in promoting the model globally.

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Rights not rescue for migrant Sex Workers by Luca Stevenson

May 14th, 2019