delve a little deeper....
Aside all the frustrating and dangerous things about being a sex worker a constant source of annoyance is how other people see sex work and how they write about it in the name of cheap thrills and fast hits. If it's not salacious tabloid pieces of celebrity dalliances with sex workers it's the outing of sex workers, usually accompanied by the horror that a mother/nurse/school secretary dare be a sex worker alongside her 'day' job.
I'm not a prostitute. I'm a female solo traveller by Melissa Douglas, published in the Huffington Post yesterday gave me a whole new set of annoyances. It manages to be stigmatising, insulting and ignorant all in one go. Apart from anything, anyone who writes for the media should know that sex worker is the correct and preferred term for a prostitute. Here's an article outlining some of the problems surrounding media use of the term prostitute
Douglas starts her piece by telling a story of how a hotel concierge stopped her when returning to her room after a night out to check she was a guest in a hotel. Nowhere does she state he actually accused her of being a prostitute, maybe he thought she was but actually, it's his JOB to make sure people who aren't guests are not wandering around hotels at night.
Her reaction seemed dramatic to say the least, she was furious (she's probably the sort of person who tells traffic wardens they are jobsworths when they ticket her for being parked illegally), couldn't sleep and had to go down to the reception desk and make a complaint.
Douglas also felt she needed to add that "For the record, and since I know we live in a society of “victim blaming,” I was dressed conservatively - a long skirt, a trench coat and heels; though I am a believer of the school of thought that women should be entitled to dress as they please without being victims of ignorance and prejudice."
So she feels the need to ensure she doesn't offend anyone by adding women should dress how they want and that she was dressed conservatively. Because obviously prostitutes do not. The insinuation is there; prostitutes dress sluttily or at least she has a perceived notion of what sex workers look like. She says she doesn't want women to be the victims of ignorance and prejudice but only if they are not sex workers, who let's face it are consistently victims of ignorance and prejudice.
But's here's a secret she was dressed exactly like a prostitute does when entering a hotel late at night! Does she think we traipse through a hotel off to see a client in a boob tube, mini skirt and a pair of white stilettoes? No, because most sex workers want to be discreet and not draw attention to themselves. In fact, trench coats are really useful for covering up a revealing outfit. Sorry love, but yes you did look like a prostitute.
She then states "There just seems to be something about a woman that takes care of her appearance being by herself in certain locations that rubs people up the wrong way. As though it is completely out of the question that she could be in a luxury hotel by herself as a result of her own successes. "
In the piece the only word italicised is own. One assumes that if she is still banging on about the awfulness of being mistaken for a prostitute the emphasis on own implies that the success of prostitutes isn't their own. Really? So who makes sex workers successful? Usually themselves, by being really fucking good at their job along with marketing, branding, writing, planning photoshoots, looking after themselves and careful financial planning. I know more sex workers with accountants than non sex workers! It isn't an accident when a sex worker is successful, it's hard work alongside the risk of being outed, assaulted or murdered not to mention tolerating the stigma and stinky men!
She also repeats this notion later; "As a woman in her late twenties who earns her own money...". Maybe she thinks most women don't earn their 'own' money or that sex workers don't make their 'own' money. Is it not their 'own' money because they get paid for sexual services? Does she think we all have pimps we give our money to?
Sex workers are in luxury hotels because they are successful, they can afford a room to entertain clients or they have secured a booking with one through their own hard work.
An odd claim is then made; As though a woman wearing makeup couldn’t possibly have an interest in history, culture, and world issues.
What has this to do with the price of fish? Who thinks this?! Melissa Douglas must have terrible friends and associates. Most women I know wear make up and most of them have some interest in history, culture and world issues or all three. Has anyone ever actually said women who have an opinion on a world issue don't wear make up?
I think this line says a lot about the credibility of this writer. who incidentally, seems very keen to let her readers know she is well travelled, well groomed, successful and attractive which is rather odd in itself.
There's also the underlying notion that prostitutes are none of these things. I expect Douglas thinks we are all ignorant and thick and couldn't possibly do anything other than sex work. Nearly all the sex workers I know have degrees, many have come from or still work in professional fields or are studying. Even sex workers who don't have formal qualifications are savvy, business minded and bright. You have to be to do this job. It's not just about waiting for the phone to ring, slipping on crotchless panties and sashaying into hotels like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
What's more, I have never been identified as a prostitute whilst in a hotel and I actually am one and from a quick ask around none of my sex working friends have either. She may be surprised to discover that sometimes I visit hotels for leisure or for business other than sex work. I have also travelled solo many times in my life too. Like plenty of other women who also happen to be sex workers.
But poor Melissa Douglas spends her life being mistaken for a prossie. I'm worried for her. She says "I cannot count the number of times that I have been approached and offered money for sex in Korea. Most of the time, I was dressed in the most unflattering attire and buying groceries or doing the recycling. "
Because prostitutes never buy groceries or recycle...
Also, I hate to be cynical, but, Since 2004 it has been illegal to both buy and sell sex in South Korea. In 2007 35,000 men were prosecuted for buying sex. There is still a thriving sex industry, but in countries where buying sex is illegal, men are super careful about how they obtain sexual services. They don't go around asking random young women for paid sex and they know the areas that sex workers do hang out and how to find a sex worker without the risk of being arrested.
As for the "lecherous looks", "eyes burning into me" and "silent judging" that poor old Melissa has experienced is either because she is deluded, most people are too busy thinking about themselves to care what other people look like or she is experiencing something that ALL women experience at some point, being hit on by men. It's nothing to do with looking a certain way and more about entitled men who think a women busy minding her own business might want to sleep with him.
Maybe I'm being unfair on Melissa Douglas and should give her leeway because of her youth and naivety, and honestly one of the joys of getting older is that you care less what anyone, especially strangers think of you.
She also perhaps needs to think about her stigmatising and stereotyping of sex workers which is frankly shitty and as a woman who writes for a female market she should think about how othering a group of already stigmatised and maligned women fits into her brand. Maybe think about those who actually do sex work and the pressures and dangers of that. Be outraged that sex workers don't have fair safe laws around their jobs, be an ally and if you are going to champion women they don't throw some of them under the bus or make unfair assumptions about their lifestyle choices.
In the last 15 or 20 years, I've watched the British press simply go to hell. There seems to be no limit, no depths to which the tabloids won't sink. I don't know who these people are but they're little pigs.
John le Carre
Way before Le Carre's time Marie Antoinette was the subject of a campaign of vilification that took place from the time she ascended the throne as Queen of France in 1774. This carried on throughout her reign until her death at the hands of the revolution in 1793. Much of the reason she was so unpopular was due to the tabloids of the day; crude pamphlets that were circulated at court, in Paris and then later more widely throughout France.
Marie Antoinette was painted as extravagant, frivolous, arrogant and callous to the sufferings of her people. Whilst there is evidence of her extravagance, she was hardly single handedly responsible for the decline of France's fortunes! Not only that, she was also reported to be a bi-sexual nymphomaniac, rapacious in her lusts for men and women, forever cuckolding her husband King Louis XVI.
They even had illustrations depicting her liaisons dangereuses...
But how much has changed? The power that these pamphlets had in forming the views of society has continued through to today. The pamphleteers of the 18th century could make up stories, use unsubstantiated rumours and use images drawn by someone's imagination. These days our tabloids are no less vicious, but have modern technology to help them get the dirt and to satisfy the public need for evidence so rather than drawings we get to pour over photo and film.
Last week the trial of Tulisa Contostavlos for supplying drugs collapsed when the judge threw it out based on lies that had been told by the prosecution witness Mazher Mahmood. Full BBC report here if you're not up to date.
Tulisa was set up by Mahmood a Sun on Sunday journalist who posed as a film producer who wanted her to appear in a Hollywood film starring Leonado DiCaprio. It was an elaborate scam that including flying her to Vegas, meetings in smart hotels with the lure of fame, fortune and the acting career she has dreamed of. Incidentally Mahmood is also known as the fake Sheikh who gets his headlines from sneaky manipulation, hidden filming, flattery and a lot of elaborate lies. He has set up Sophie Wessex, Sarah Ferguson, Sven Goran Ericksson, although met his match with George Galloway.
But why Tulisa and for what ends? She might not be the most famous or talented person in the world but she did OK with her band N-Dubz winning a MOBO and releasing two platinum and one gold album. Despite this Simon Cowell was critisised heavily when he gave her the role of a judge on The X Factor. Tulisa baiting continued and reached a peak when a tape of her giving an ex boyfriend a blow job was leaked. The tabloids and internet gossip sites had a field day and the nation could unite in believing this was the proof she was just a common chav and a slut. Because of course only a certain sort of woman gives blow jobs, let alone lets her boyfriend film it...
Tabloids survive by feeding the masses salacious stories centred on young women and their sex lives. It's no difference to how the young, naive Marie Antoinette was viciously and continuously critisied, lied about and mocked, much of it based on her sexuality and sexual behaviour both real and made up. The printed press still continue to act as our moral guardians and perpetually prod the fires of outrage and shock. You'd think 200 odd years on from Marie Antoinette's death society would be a little less taken in by sex scandals and that we might have grown up enough to accept people have sex. Haven't we realised that sometimes people have lots of sex with lots of different people and sometimes they even have sex with more than one person at a time or have weird sex you can't even read about in Cosmopolitan magazine? No.
Tulisa isn't the only one by a long shot. Abi Titmuss was shot into the spotlight when her then boyfriend John Leslie was accused of raping Ulrika Jonsson a TV weather girl and presenter who incidentally received much critisism for daring to be married three times and having four children by four different men (the slut) as well as having an affair with Sven Goran Eriksson (double slut!)
Titmuss was forced to leave her nursing job because of tabloid attention and ended up making a career of being a glamour girl. She has since said she regretted it but felt at the time she couldn't continue as a nurse and needed to make a living somehow. She was subjected to the humiliation of the release of a sex tape showing her having a threesome with John Leslie and another woman. in 2012 she said I was devastated by the violation. It affected me very badly. I guess there was something accessible about me.”
Both Abi Titmuss and Ulrika Jonsson appeared at the Leveson Inquiry with regards to their phones being hacked. Actress Sienna Miller and singer Charlotte Church also appeared. Miller had her phone hacked in relation to her affair with Daniel Craig.
At the Inquiry Church said her overnight success as the ‘Voice of an Angel’ when she was just 11 had warped her childhood and meant she was hunted by paparazzi for years, with newspapers determined to portray her as a ‘fallen angel’.
It's easy enough to conclude that sex sells and that if society wasn't so obsessed with the miniature details of the rich and famous and with even the less rich and not quite famous then the papers would cease to exist. It is easy for a journalist (I use that term loosely) to maintain that the public should be told when a whiter than white celebrity is indulging in an extramarital affair or dabbling in class A's.
But what of Tulisa? Her case clearly showed that she was manipulated and lied to and was lead by a shiny Oscar shaped carrot to agree to supply drugs to the fake film producer. She was daft to arrange it but if you watch the recent documentary Tulisa: The Price of Fame you'll see how she fell for it, how she bigged herself up and acted in a way she thought they wanted to see to secure the pretend film role. But why? Why on earth would anyone sit down and plan a ludicrously expensive operation purely to bring someone down? To potentially get them sent to prison. Whatever you think of her she didn't deserve that and was it just to sell papers or just so the media hacks can wield their puppet strings to dictate who the public should love or hate?
I never managed to comprehend why I was outed back in 2011. I'm not famous, not on anyone's radar nor particularly interesting or glamorous. I actually don't know why I was chosen to be picked upon other than a bloke I had a brief fling with and didn't like it when I ended it apparently told his hack mate about me. At the time when he texted me to tell me this (among a myriad of other threats) I laughed because it seemed so ludicrous.
As it happened they waited a couple of months and after firstly telling my employer about by dalliance on adultwork (Written about here if you're interested) I had a visit from a journo who had heard I had resigned from my job. This was a couple of hours after I had resigned. I hadn't told anyone, all I had done was call HR and then write an email confirming my resignation. I also blogged a one liner stating I had resigned from my job. The blog was friends only. I am in no doubt that noone who followed me gave the journalist access. The bitter ex fling didn't know any passwords and never could have guessed. I never knew how they got their information. One can only assume something was hacked. And even now, I find that notion ridiculous.
Anyway, to cut a long story short (and I'm not sure I can even write about that period in detail without getting upset) I was outed in The Sun. I don't want to reveal too much about the article, but it wasn't very complimentary. It wasn't filled with much actual truth and it was incredibly damaging to my career and personal relationships.
I kind of related to Abi Titmuss (yes, I am slightly ashamed of writing that) when I read her book because I felt that same sense of shame, despite being quite happy with my own body and sexuality, it's horrible to have intimate images spread across the paper without your consent. It's horrible to read in print someone calling you a tart or a slapper and know your family, friends, colleagues and potential future employers or partners could read this about you.
The irony being it forced me into sex work full time, not dissimilar to Abi going down the glamour model route I suppose because at the end of the day we all have to eat and once that slut mark has been stamped on you it's not easy to go back.
What was the point in what that journalist did to me? I definitely was not news or public interest and only served to damage my life and upset plenty of other people in the process. What was the point in what Mahmood did to Tulisa other than just to be really fucking nasty and fill a few column inches.
I've written before about sex workers and the tabloids, but by the same token the outing of sex workers and the revelations about the private lives of women all comes down to 'slut shaming' and a total disregard for someone's privacy. These articles perpetuate the ideology that women should be chaste, monogamous and traditional in their sex lives. If we haven't reached the 21st century without this changing what chance is there of it ever changing?
The Leveson Inquiry has changed nothing.
We started with one royal woman so we shall end with another more modern one.
"....This is not a time for recriminations but for sadness. However I would say that I always believed the press would kill her in the end. But not even I could imagine that they would take such a direct hand in her death as seems to be the case.
It would appear that every proprietor and editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy, ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana's image has blood on his hands today."
Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer
This month I spent some time ranting about The All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (APPG) are launching an inquiry to assess the current UK legal settlement surrounding prostitution. They wish to identify how legislation to tackle demand could safeguard those in danger of sexual exploitation and abuse. I wrote about the issues that concerned me regarding the APPG in this blog and urged people to respond to the questionnaire. In fact I was so determined to get people to take note and respond I blogged a helpful breakdown of the questions, along with my answers.
Incidentally, the responses for this survey are due to be released in January 2014, so that'll be interesting.... watch this space.
I also had a photoshoot in January. Here is one of the photos:
Consisted of me both plugging my March tour to Reading and trying to convince people to romance me on Valentines day. Both failed miserably :(
I also wrote my first blog on my struggle with feminism and how I found it hard to relate to. As someone who of course believes in the equal rights of women, I found it hard to discover that many other women only want equal rights for a certain sort of women (ie. Not sex workers, the working class or anyone who they disapprove of) and that radical feminism has hateful views on sex work, transgender issues and all men.
The Easter Bunny with One Ear was one of my favourite stories I shared with you this year! The saga rumbled on into May too where I wrote about it again. I never did get a refund!
Other than being the oldest bunny in town I wrote a lot in March! Joan Smith pissed me off, I worried about Talking Dirty and I got pissed off again, this time with Melissa Farley and was inspired to write Why I made The Choice to become a prostitute by Brooke Magnanti who had written about Farley.
With April's showers came a long piece on porn, this took for-fucking-ever to write so you can read it again- it's a bit about the history of porn and inspired by me getting fed up with men who learn about sex from porn and therefore don't know how to do it properly!
I also dabbled in satire after Samantha Brick annoyed the entire nation yet again by announcing she was so beautiful other women hated her...
Finally, probably one of the hardest stories to write, but also one I am proud of being allowed to tell. It also highlighted the appalling rape conviction statistics and the Merseyside model in relation to Police attitudes to sex workers.
The Minxipedia was born!
AND I started a Twitter Storm!
Go May !
Oh, and then I got all angsty about feminism again!
Another tough blog- I wrote, for the first time about when I was outed at work. A hard one to write but something that a lot of people wrote to me and tweeted about which was lovely.
However, I also got slagged off by Mumsnet (I'm sure I need a T shirt for that) and in terrific news there was Victory for Scottish Sex Workers.
Part Two coming up tomorrow!
It's kind of ironic that last night I was literally round the corner from Soho having been to see Miranda Kane and her Coin Operated Girl show. A comedy performance of a former escort aiming to dispel some of the myths that sex workers are unhappy, forced, trafficked drug addicts *insert media stereotype of choice*. It's hilarious and brilliant by the way.
Completely unaware what was going on in Soho I went home to discover via Twitter that the police had been making raids on 25 flats of sex workers, three sex shops and two lap dancing clubs. This morning's media is awash with stories of crime, trafficking and forced prostitution. The angle is all about 'cleaning up' Soho and rescuing women. I am not naive enough to think that Soho is squeaky clean, I am pretty positive that there are criminal elements in Soho, however sex work is not one of them and the treatment of the women caught up in the raids is appalling and barbaric:
I just feel feel very angry, sad and helpless.
There is some irony that having published a guest blog earlier today from a lovely client that I then read THIS from The Independent by Mary Honeyball, a Labour MEP for London. Said article informs me that actually, my clients are committing violence against me and she is in favour of the Swedish Model.
Yes the Swedish Model which criminalises clients, but not the sex worker (except she uses the term prostitute, natch) which is well documented as dangerous, ineffective and stupid and of no help to sex workers whether they choose to be in the industry or not.
Soooo much has been written regarding the Swedish Model and attempts by other countries to introduce similar models or the criminalisation of clients including me, but far better by Dr Brooke Magnanti- here, Laura Lee here, here by the International Prostitutes Collective, here by Feminist Ire and here is a paper that explains why The Swedish Model has failed. A small drop in the ocean of blogs, newspaper articles and academic papers on the subject.
I read such articles as the one mentioned in my first paragraph and feel angry, ranty and sad. They make me want to shout, I feel frustration, I feel confused why sex workers are not listened to by these people who think they know better what sex workers want or need to operate safely.
I have said before but I truly believe the anti brigade operate on the basis of personal preferences (I don't want to have sex with strange men so why should anyone else), a sense of do good-ing blindness (Oh lucky middle class me, let me rescue some poor people) and possibly fear (These filthy women lure our husbands into dirty vices). Or is it just terribly trendy to come out as anti prostitution? (ooh brave old me, tackling such a gritty grimy subject, I'm just like Princess Di hugging those AIDS children) or simply misguided all men are bastards feminism?
I don't know.
I wanted to tackle what Mary Honeyball has said, but it's been said, over and over and over. Crap stats and skewed studies have been discredited, heck Melissa Farley for starters? Joan Smith, who is referenced in the Honeyball piece was laughed at collectively for her little jaunt to Sweden to sit in cop cars as 'research', but forgot to speak to any actual sex workers... then we get ridiculous TV shows where Jodie Marsh is considered a good idea and "hard hitting" expose documentaries about the seedy side of the industry whitewashed as the *entire* sex industry.
Honeyball starts her piece by referring to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women citing rape, domestic violence and genital mutilation as issues that (rightly) need tackling, then goes on to whine that prostitution isn't considered violence against women and that everyone seems to be mildly amused by it because Russell Brand pays for it! Seriously, you think that?! You don't think there is enough anti sex work propaganda about?! Or maybe, just maybe, many people do actually think that plenty of women do enter prostitution freely, do it happily and not under force or pressure. I do hope Smith reads the comments on her piece which are overwhelmingly negative with regards to her words.
Apart from anything, I don't want want crimes of violence against women shoved to one side and yet another debate on prostitution had. Those who are forced into prostitution are not sex workers, they are as much victims (and survivors) as other women subjected to violence.
Further to that, Honeyball says:
I favour the Swedish Model, a middle way which permits selling sex but criminalises buying it.
Can't you hear the clutching of pearls and smug, holier than thou smile? Aren't I clever, I'm not harming the poor women, just the nice, law abiding clients who pay for their services thus their bills and food on the table and shoes on their children's feet.
Not only has it halved street prostitution...
I think you'll find the advent of the internet did that to the industry from about ooh, what 1999?, Oh yes, by coincidence the year the Swedish Model was introduced. Spooky no?
...but it has also successfully stigmatised using the sex trade...
Ahh yes stigma, we all want more stigma don't we? Why don't we start sending unmarried mothers to the country to be hidden away until their baby is adopted or shall we start putting up signs in pub windows saying 'No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish' ? or why don't we sack women who work as escorts because they get outed by the press? (oh, that happens still).
Yes stigma, it's what made Britain great.
Finally, just in case anyone hasn't got this point:
THERE ARE ALREADY LAWS IN PLACE WHICH COVER THE RAPE, ATTACK, ROBBERY, COERCION OF MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN. WE DON'T NEED SPECIAL ONES FOR SEX WORKERS THAT STOP US DOING OUR JOBS!
This weekend was Nottingham Womans Conference. One of the topics was sex work. They invited no sex work relevant organisations along- at least not ones that were anti criminalisation, made up of current sex workers or those who don't feel sex work is 'bad'. This link from the blog of SWOU (Sex Worker Open University) details the issues many sex workers have with the conference.
Three women from SWOU went along to the conference to try and gain entry to the conference and to try and put across their views. If you read the last two blogs from SWOU you'll see other organisations offered the SWOU women a place but this was refused by the organisers.
It's not my story to tell, but the women from SWOU spent the day talking to people from the car park. Last night Eithne Crow tweeted some of the things said to her:
The woman from POW Nottingham yesterday asked me if I use condoms after ten minutes of discussing my various qualifications.
"What should I do once my clients are criminalised?"
"You'll find something else."
"Sex can't be work, it's too intimate."
Me: "But my physio put her fingers in my vagina last week."
"Yeah but she didn't come."
Me: "Because of my health, and the debts that I have, I can't currently do anything else than sex work."
3 other women: "We think you can."
"Do you get condoms and get yourself tested?" A left-field and exceptionally inappropriate enquiry during unrelated discussion.
People are very keen to tell sex workers they are wrong, to ask invasive questions and what we do isn't work, isn't acceptable and so on.
On Friday these tweets from @allovrr amused me and make a great point:
Good tip: every time you say something with SW in, substitute "postman". If it sounds weird, it's probably wrong/ whorephobic.
"Does your partner mind you're a "postman?" "You can't be a postman forever." "So what do you do other than being a postman?"
Further to that, I got embroiled this morning in a series of satirical tweets reversing the notion of paid for sex and 'free' sex.
The ridiculousness of these statements highlight how annoying and offensive some of the assumptions and questions are to sex workers.
So there you go.
Have a think before you ask sex workers questions or try to save them and how you might be offended if the same thing was asked of you.
Thank you to all those who took part in the #banfreebies hashtag. There are more if you care to look!
"But if you do not heed me and do not keep all these commandments, if you reject my precepts and spurn my decrees, refusing to obey all my commandments and breaking my covenant, then I, in turn, will give you your deserts. I will punish you with terrible woes--with wasting and fever to dim the eyes and sap the life. You will sow your seed in vain, for your enemies will consume the crop.
I will turn against you, till you are beaten down before your enemies and lorded over by your foes. You will take to flight though no one pursues you.
Bullying has always been around and can be found in any area of the globe or period in history you might choose from. There are individuals and groups that target others with tactics designed to intimidate, coerce or harm them. In some cases bullying is used to maintain social order and ensure that no one acquires too much dominance, status or personal power.
According to psychological sources, bullying is a specific type of aggression in which (1) the behavior is intended to harm or disturb, (2) the behavior occurs repeatedly over time, and (3) there is an imbalance of power, with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one. This asymmetry of power may be physical or psychological, and the aggressive behavior may be verbal (eg, name-calling, threats), physical (eg, hitting), or psychological (eg, rumors, shunning/exclusion). The key elements of this definition are that multiple means can be employed by the bully or bullies, intimidation is the goal, and bullying can happen on a one-on-one or group basis (Nansel et al, 2001).
Even animals can pick on each other. Research has shown that among baboons from sub-Saharan Africa groups of related females work together to compete over resources and in doing so regularly gang up on individual females. (Altmann, 1980). It has been observed that some individual rats and mice will repeatedly attack others and steal their food.
The mice that suffered repeated social defeats were more anxious and experienced changes in brain chemistry (Kinsey et al, 2007).
It seems slightly ironic that a week after David Cameron told us that "online pornography is corroding childhood" that the press is now full of stories about internet bullying. Is this the real problem with the internet or has the internet just given us a new outlet for those who wish to intimidate or cause upset to others?
The death of 14 year old Hannah Smith this week who was relentlessly sent abuse via ask.fm has opened up yet another storm about how websites manage cyber bullying, abuse and trolling. Last week it was Twitter under pressure to change how it deals with bullying after campaigner and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez was put under what she described as 'a tidal wave of abuse' with rape and death threats. Threats were also made to MP Stella Creasy and Classicist Mary Beard.
Of course these are three well known people and what they received was a fraction of the abuse, bullying and harrassment found across the internet and poor Hannah Smith is one of many children across the world to have become suicidal over online bullying.
A man has been arrested over threats made to Criado-Perez, but of course the cynic in me wonders whether this was due to the fact she has a public profile (and even more cynically if because she is white, straight, middle class and nice looking).
However, today after the death of Hannah Smith pressure has been put on Ask.fm. Ask is a site that allows people to join and offer anyone who wants to ask questions anonymously- in that they don't have to sign in or provide an email address.
David Cameron has talked about irresponsible websites and asked people to boycott such sites if they don't 'clean up their act'. The Sun described ask.fm as a "suicide site" and said said the men behind ask.fm were "troll kings" on its front page. The irony of The Scum taking the moral high ground here is not lost on me. Several advertisers such as Vodafone, Specsavers, Save the Children and Laura Ashley have also moved to withdraw their adverts.
Following the pressure of Twitter to review their report policy and the frankly pointless 'TwitterSilence' on Sunday spurred on by Caitlin Moran to show some sort of protest (I never did quite get the point) it feels the blame for all ills of society is to be put onto the people who run websites.
Just because a car may run someone over the blame isn't put on car manufacturers? It's not down to them to ensure people either drive safely or not walk in front of a moving car. The onus has to be put on ensuring people drive safely, children are taught their Green cross code and harsh penalties for those who drive dangerously.
Ask.fm has around 8 million accounts and Formspring (a similar site) 29.5 million. Facebook has 1.11 BILLION users and Twitter 140 million users and sees 340 million tweets per day. Whilst all these accounts won't be used that is still a massive number of people to manage.
All these sites have processes to block, delete or report abuse and there are moderators who respond to this. Ask.fm have said they have a team of moderators present "around the clock - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days per year" who manually check all content posted to its site.
Like with the porn issue, parent's need to know what their kids are doing online, children need to be educated. They need to know the consequences of bullying online, the law with regards to making threats and of course how to respond when someone threatens or taunts you. This kind of thing has to start happening now. The internet has grown so fast and changed our lives so quickly, almost too quickly to manage and all of a sudden we find ourselves with 24/7 access to almost anything you could possibly want (or not want) to view and a new, more underhand way to hurt, abuse, insult and goad others.
I find it hard to comprehend why anyone would return to their ask.fm site once bullying started. Of course I'm not critisising Hannah Smith or anyone else who continues to read hate hurled at them or tries to fight back, but a simple lesson in life is that bullies like a reaction- any reaction. Silence bores them. Responding angrily or trying to argue against a viewpoint feeds them. Indeed, you'll often read 'Do Not Feed The Troll!' posted on forums when someone is spilling their venom or posting ridiculous or controversial view points. I think they are right. Responding to someone who is out to cause trouble won't make them stop and think about what they have done or change their views (unless you happen to troll Mary Beard and someone knows their mother!).
I'm not saying everyone should keep quiet about this kind of behaviour. The Twitter Silence day was met with a ShoutBack day by those who felt that being silent was offensive to those who don't get their voices heard often enough, whether it be women, sex workers or trans* women and men. Many see Twitter as a platform where they can be open about their life and experiences and by shutting up plays into the hands of those who don't think certain groups should have a voice. I certainly can attest to that and I do think that whilst there is no point engaging with trolls or hateful people I do think if you have the clout or the support network in place you can make others see what you are subjected to.
Freedom of speech is important though. I can shout pretty loudly about sex work and why I am not more inferior to anyone else and I have a right to do that, and I can do it in a reasoned manner. The person who thinks I should get a proper job or am letting all women down has the same right to make their views heard as me. However, once that crosses the line into personal abuse I'm shutting up. There is no point if you can't have a reasoned debate or exchange of views.
This doesn't help much when it comes to children being bullied on social media though. The answer isn't to limit the internet or reduce the ability to remain anonymous (in sex work circles for example staying anonymous is of paramount).
It's a change in education, it's making sure children (and maybe even adults) know the consequences of bullying, teaching them to stay safe, how to report bullies and where to get support and yes, maybe even teaching them to walk away. I really do believe sometimes silence is the right response. Retaliation only fans the flames of many who bully and abuse online.
There isn't a simple answer though, but screaming at the website owners isn't it either.
Those of you who follow 'the industry' will be fully aware of the recent murders of two sex workers and several blogs have already talked about them so I am not going to regurgitate their words when so much has been beautifully written already.
What I wanted to to do was highlight these terrible events and promote the demonstration happening on Friday to those of you who follow this blog and may not have read about the deaths of Dora in Turkey and Jasmine in Sweden.
Please do take time to read the following links:
From Tits and Sass by Caty Simon
Sometimes it's just a cigar blog Justice for Jasmine by Jemima. Do read the comments made by Jasmine's mother
It's time for ACTION by Laura Lee
From The International Commitee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe by Luca Stevenson
and the press release from the ICRSE
Following the murders of Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine on the 9th and 11 of July 2013, sex workers, their friends, families, and allies are coming together to demand an end to stigma, criminalisation, violence and murders. In the week since the two tragedies occurred, the feelings of anger, grief, sadness and injustice – for the loss of Dora and Jasmine, but also for the senseless and systemic murders and violence against sex workers worldwide – have brought together people in more than 25 cities from three continents who agreed to organise demos, vigils, and protests in front of Turkish and Swedish embassies or other symbolic places. JOIN US on Friday the 19th at 3 pm local time and stand in solidarity with sex workers and their loved ones around the world! Justice for Dora! Justice for Jasmine! Justice for all sex workers who are victims of violence!
Words taken from http://jasmineanddora.wordpress.com/
What I'd love is for some non sex worker type to come out in support too. Do read the above links to see where a demo is happening near you.
If you can't make it then you can do your bit by getting #stigmakills to trend on twitter at 8am, 12pm and 10pm. Follow @whorephobia for more info and look out for my relevant tweets which you can retweet.
The irony of course is that those who aren't connected with the industry will be too embarrassed what other people might think to stand in solidarity with us.
Take a little bit of that fear or shame and use it to understand how stigma, whorephobia, shite laws and injustice effect the lives and cause the deaths of sex workers.
Do it for the Jasmines and Doras of the world.
Anyone who knows this blog well enough will know of my loathing of the press and it has been at the front of my mind again because I was thinking about content for the wonderful Everyday Whorephobia website. I offered my blog post about tabloids and the outing of sex workers which was kindly accepted and posted (here if you're interested).
I'm reluctant to go into details about my own personal outing (Oh God, that sounds like I went to the seaside for the day; I mean in the press) because obviously I would prefer to protect my anonymity/.
What I haven't ever really written about is what happened when I was outed at work. I think it's time I got it down, firstly for my own cathartic reasons and secondly it is a perfect demonstration of whorephobia and the stigma sex workers face. I also feel a bit uncomfortable telling this story to other sex workers who also have other jobs because it scares the hell out of them. However, if this blog works as a reminder of why you should be really fucking careful then it's done some good. Some details are sketchy or have been altered to protect myself.
When I started escorting it was on a very part time basis. I had a full time job which was fairly demanding and meant working weekends, but this worked well because it meant I was able to work on week days when I was off work which tend to be the busier times. I didn't live with anyone I had to hide it from and my lover and best friend at the time were very supportive.
In a way escorting saved me. It sorted me out financially and I as I was started to feel disillusioned with one night stands and meaningless flings it gave me sex without the crap that went with it and despite what some people might think I found I didn't feel ‘used’ in the way I was starting to with men I would meet on civvie street. In fact I still say to people that most of my clients are nicer, kinder, more honest and more reliable than many of the non paying men I have had in my life!
Everything ticked along nicely, me being happier than I had been in a long time. Juggling work and clients was easy. I didn't have to see many clients because on top of a decent salary the extra £200 or so a week made a massive difference to me and I was getting debts paid off and able to enjoy life again. I was hardly out buying Louboutins and jetting off on luxury holidays, but able to do , you know, normal things like pay my bills on time, be able to afford to meet friends for dinner after spending so long having to turn down most social arrangements.
I'm going to skim over the story of who outed me and the background to that huge almighty fuck up of a relationship but I will say it was someone I had only known about six weeks, it was a bit intense and I felt I needed to tell him about my escorting work because at the time I thought it was a relationship going somewhere. Once I realised he was controlling, manipulative and a liar I got out. I ended it nicely (it's not you it's me type thing!) It was a fling, it was brief, it didn't work out, no harm done... you'd think.
Oh how right I was in my suspicions this man was a nutjob. He didn't take being ditched very well. After much pestering, begging, threats, anger, tears, accusations of STI's via text, voicemails and emails for two months he did finally go away.
However, four months after the end of the six week fling he reappeared. Well, actually he didn't reappear, what did appear was an email sent to several departments of the organisation I worked for. The email was written as if from a third party who knew that I was working for them and as an escort and how could they allow such a disgusting person be part of their organisation. There was a helpful link to my adultwork profile and a couple of personal bits of info thrown in such as my job title and where I lived.
The person who first picked up the email; someone I worked with a lot and got on well with came to see me with it. She assumed that it was all a made up lie and wanted to warn me that I obviously had an enemy. Incidentally, she got bollocked and taken down a disciplinary route for telling me first and not flagging it up to her manager first. She suggested I went to tell my manager and I felt I had to because she did have a responsibility to deal with it and I didn't want to have to make her feel disloyal by doing it. I'm glad I did because it would have come out anyway once other people had seen it (It went to the PR dept and the directorate too I discovered later).
So, I showed my manager and admitted that parts of it were true. He freaked the hell out and I ended up reassuring him that I was fine and I was happy doing it. Off he went to HR in a tizz. Seriously, for a senior manager he handled it appallingly and made it obvious he had no idea how to deal with me or seem to be able to cope with me as a sexual being. I was so the opposite end of his scale of the kind of woman he finds attractive! I also suspect he thought sex workers should look like Julia Roberts in Pretty woman or be heroin addled drug or some other stereotype.
Later that day I had to go to an informal meeting with him and HR where I was asked all manner of embarrassing questions. As much as I was proud of myself for getting my life together by escorting I couldn't help feeling excruciatingly embarrassed and shameful for having done it. I suppose in a way it was like discussing sex with your elderly granny which probably is a good analogy of the organisation I worked for. It wasn't a street wise teenager of a company, it was a prim, conventional, old fashioned stuck in the dark ages kind of place.
Fun questions included Why didn't you tell your manager you had a second job as per company policy? WHY DO YOU FUCKING THINK?!
Have you ever conducted business on company property? Now, if you knew where I worked you'd find this as hilarious as I did.
They asked me about the legality of what I did, who else knew, was I paying tax, where did I advertise, did I think it affected my ability to do my job properly. I mean seriously- I had been there ten years with a perfect record, little sick time and had been promoted in the last year, I hit targets, I ran a department and it's million quid budget, I was respected and frankly shit hot.
I reassured them that I would give up (ha!) and that my job wasn't effected, as surely my boss would have noticed. I only worked occasionally- maybe an hour or two a week and I was very discreet. There was nothing out there regarding my real identity or place of work and that it was only because of some insane, spurned dickhead it had been revealed.
Everyone who I told about this reassured me. It would be fine. Say you're sorry and you'll give up straight away. They can't fire you, you've done nothing wrong, it doesn't effect your work, it's not illegal, what you do in your own time isn't their business blah blah blah.
I was told they weren't going to suspend me whilst they 'investigated' further pending a formal disciplinary, but there were some limitations put on me and I know full bloody well they didn't suspend me because they needed me to cover over the Christmas period.... So I plodded on, more miserable than I ever had been, I was told not to tell anyone at all, so my team were confused at my behaviour and why I wasn't doing certain things and hiding in my office. My boss couldn't look me in the eye and actively avoided me. I was scared and upset about my job and bewildered as to what they were doing to 'investigate' and he was fucking useless. He was furious with me for 'being so stupid' and 'bringing shame on the organisation'.
So Christmas passed and then on New Years Eve I was hauled back to HR (who had come in specially) and told they had investigated and discovered 'incriminating evidence' on my computer. What they had actually found was a word document I had drafted, a Gumtree ad for a threesome, nothing to do with sex work at all but a private thing with a lover. They also had a couple of photos I had inadvertently downloaded (or uploaded, I don't know) wearing tarty clothes and one topless one. Again these were for the lover I had emailed (via hotmail, not the work email, I wasn't that stupid) but had somehow ended up on my hard drive.
Despite being comfortable with my body and taking my clothes off for strange men I was HUGELY embarrassed by this. It was mortifying. Despite quite liking men getting off on photos of me I was cringing like mad over the fact people in IT, HR and my boss had seen these photos. At this point I was suspended. I had the humiliation of being escorted to my office to collect my things, had my staff pass and keys taken away and escorted off the premises like some common thief.
As I walked to the train station I knew I would never go back.
A good friend had put me in touch with a lawyer who despite everyone else telling me that they couldn't sack me told me that yes, indeed they could sack me. Despite not using company property, assets or time to escort, the fact it isn't illegal I was still potentially bringing the company name into disrepute.
I had already decided that I couldn't face going back and never wanted to see my boss again and having discussed it with the HR woman (who was fantastic and kind in many ways) I realised by resigning prior to a disciplinary hearing I could go with an unblemished record and a good reference.
I think they would have sacked me if I had gone through the disciplinary process. I had worked for them long enough and with HR enough times on disciplinary hearings for both my own staff and as an independent manger for other departments to know how they operated and the things they kept raising such as policies regarding second jobs and using company equipment they were gunning to get me on something.
Ten days after I resigned the tabloid rag printed their story on me so even if I had got away with a slap on the wrist I'm pretty sure I would have been forced into leaving one way or another. Yeah, the psycho man was responsible for telling the paper too...
It's a shitty story I know, but it happened and I'm fine. Please don't feel sorry for me, these things make me a stronger person and quite likely I am much happier than where I was a few years ago.
The points I want to make are:
Be very careful if you escort and you work elsewhere.
The stigma of escorting sucks.
Can you imagine if I was bringing a company into disrepute for being a birdwatcher or into knitting or if I babysat the kids next door twice a week. What about firing someone for making a bit of cash on eBay or for staying up all night playing Candy Crush. Why is sex work a reason for forcing someone out of a job? Why does society think that this industry is akin with stabbing kittens or kicking old ladies in the street?
I have some theories but I'd love to know what others think.
I discovered the other week that I had received traffic to my website via Mumsnet. I had a look on their and did a search but could not find any link to me or this website at all. I thought it was probably something to do with this post which was my response to the Invisible Men Tumblr as I had quoted some thoughts from mumsnetters and linked to their thread about it.
Anyway, I found I had a few more hits whilst looking at my Google Analytics page today so thought I would investigate further and (after some faffing!) found that I was indeed linked on the Mumsnet thread. However, it appears whoever linked me had their post removed and possibly some comments were also removed as there was a swathe of deleted posts just before someone does mention my blog and then towards the end of the thread I am mentioned by name.
I am not inclined to join Mumsnet to give my own response so here is an letter to them. If anyone who is a member does want to link it or cut and paste it to the thread I don't mind.
I have no idea if whoever linked my blog piece on the website The Invisible Men did it because they found it a useful addition to the debate or if they wanted an excuse to be further outraged by it. Interestingly the post that linked it is not there anymore and of course I have no idea why.
I would like to clarify a couple of points.
1) I wrote the blog in an attempt to show that one needs to look further than a few lines of prose to get the whole picture. I also wanted to give my own personal view on reviews.
2) I have never thought that ALL sex work comes from a good place. I am aware my experiences in sex work are largely very positive, but I know not everyone's are. I am as appalled as any human is by abuse and suffering. I am not in denial that everything for all sex workers is hunky dory. Equally, I know not all clients are a respectful as mine.
One of the things that most annoys me is the RAGE against prostitution and the men who pay for sex from people with NO IDEA and those using flawed statistics and parroting from the anti prostitution lobby.
I don't expect everyone to share my opinions, and I can quite easily see why it would be hard for some women to comprehend how I do my job. However, my opinions made from my experiences in the industry and very valid and very real.
I could have joined mumsnet to defend myself, but I am not a mother and I don't feel it's my arena to join. Based on the comments directed at those who are clearly opposed to all forms of prostitution and the insults directed at those who have tried to put across their views there would be no point. These people have made their minds up and nothing I would say would make any difference. Besides I have better things to do with my time!
A new link to my original post has now been put up since I started writing this blog and someone is obviously 'spying' on me because I have been accused of lurking and a link to my twitter feed has been added.
In response to some of the things said about me:
Now she's lurking and insulting people publicly. Really vile. It's unbelievable someone can think like that.
I have a commercial interest in finding out where my website hits are coming from and I was of course intrigued why I was appearing on Mumsnet. Hardly my target audience. Also, who have I insulted? OK on Twitter I said: And no wonder men pay for sex if they are married to moralistic, sex is yucky, narrow minded old bags!
OK, a bit unfair I admit, but yeah, men do pay for sex when they are in a relationship with women who don't give their partners affection, kindness and time. Yes, and sex too, but it might surprise many people that it's not all about sex.
Other than that I have not insulted anyone personally (unlike a couple of Mumsnetters!) or any more than that one tweet shown above.
It's interesting that whenever pro-pimp/punter apologists post something they think exculpates them, they simply demonstrate their revolting beliefs and lack of intelligent thought. They make the case against themselves better than anyone else.
Seriously? My beliefs are revolting? Which ones exactly? Lack of intelligent thought? OK, fine you think that without knowing anything about me! So it's OK for you to insult me but not me you?!
Apparently we are just bitter, ugly and no good in bed. She'll be claiming our husbands all wish they could pay for her services next.
Again, you have no grounds for this accusation. I have never said that. Lying is a particularly unattractive trait sweetie.
It would be of course very easy to insult those who don't agree with me, I could easily say "Ha ha, some of your husbands pay for sex!", but I won't.
I know many many husbands pay for sex and statistically some of those on that thread do have partners who cheat or see escorts. I don't actually condone cheating myself and I think it's a shame so many people are in long term relationships that aren't open and honest enough for intimate issues to be discussed. I don't laugh or sneer at the wives whose husbands I see. I don't feel anything. It's not my place to judge someone else's relationship.
Let me summarise again the point I was trying to make regarding the Invisible Men tumblr. I'll try and be clear so the hard of thinking can comprehend:
Ultimately, many women enjoy sex work. I am not rude about monogamous, sex free relationships so why should anyone feel they can be judgmental about my choices?
I also do not feel I can discuss a job that I have never worked in and pretend that I know just what it is like and how someone doing it must feel. Therefore kindly fuck off with your half baked, inaccurate, mythical fairy tales borne out of your own insecurity and sexual suppression.