Categories
Uncategorized

MASWAN & SWOP-Boston Statement of Solidarity

Massachusetts Sex Worker Ally Network (MASWAN) and Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) Boston stand in solidarity with protests nationwide against the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and Nina Pope, and against centuries of enslavement, economic exploitation, political suppression, and brutal racist and transphobic violence.  We condemn the militarized and white supremacist tactics of riot suppression that attempt to silence protestors.

As a group of sex workers and allies, we know firsthand that the role of the police is to suppress black, brown, and indigenous dissent, uphold the interests of capital, and protect patriarchal and cis-heteronormative sexual ideals.  We know that the police is an institution built on the exercise of violence, not on the protection of the people.  We know that black trans people are disproportionately at risk of violence and murder by police and racist vigilantes; already in 2020, 12 trans people have been murdered, mostly black and brown.  And we know that sex workers in Massachusetts, especially those who are black, brown, indigenous, queer, trans, or undocumented, are already at disproportionate risk, medically and economically, of the effects of COVID-19, while being largely excluded from the meager forms of relief that are available.

We recognize that committing to antiracism means holding ourselves accountable for histories of racism within sex worker activist communities and working to undo their effects on an ongoing basis.  We commit to doing the hard work of confronting racism and racist violence within our own struggles and uplifting the voices of all sex workers.  We call on our allies to affirm that black lives matter and to fight for black liberation, principles that are essential to any platform for sex workers’ rights.

If you’re able to, we encourage you to support the following organizations in Massachusetts:

  • Families for Justice as Healing has led the fight to disband, disarm, and defund the police here in Massachusetts. FJAH is led by formerly incarcerated women who show us there are already alternatives to policing and that abolition is possible.
  • Sisters Unchained is a prison abolitionist organization that builds community power with young women affected by parental incarceration. They use art, activism, and radical education among other methods to break through the isolation that incarceration creates.
Categories
Uncategorized

Covid-19 Relief Fund for Boston Sex Workers

We’ve started a relief fund to raise money for local Boston and Massachusetts sex workers. To donate to our fund, go here! For information on how to apply to the fund, please see the bottom of this post.

The greater Boston area has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and as the responses call for longer periods of social distancing, sex workers face severe loss of income and support networks. Club shutdowns, appointment cancellations, and social distancing precautions have meant a dramatic decrease in work. For street-based workers, police harassment has increased while work opportunities are less frequent.

Sex workers who have been hit hardest are often those who were already struggling to make ends meet; Black, trans, queer, undocumented sex workers, sex workers who are unstably housed, those who use drugs, or who are chronically ill are all experiencing compounded effects. Throughout all of this, existing resources for help have become more and more strained.

Our Response

We have assembled hygiene kits and are collaborating with a local mutual aid food distribution group to provide supplies to sex workers in need.

Our Fund

Your solidarity contribution will fund cash payments that we provide to sex workers to help meet their financial and material needs during this ongoing crisis. We are ready to distribute cash and supplies in person and online. This fund is made up 100% of community donations and will be distributed 100% to local sex workers.

How to Apply

SWOP-Boston is offering cash payments of $50-100 to sex workers who live and/or work in Massachusetts.  We are currently prioritizing funding for sex workers affected by racist, queerphobic, and transphobic violence; those who are unhoused; and those who have disabilities or who are immuno-compromised.  However, we encourage all sex workers in need of assistance in the area to apply.  We will make decisions on a rolling basis every two weeks based on need as well as the order of applications.

 

** If you would like to apply to the relief fund or need a food and supply kit, please call or text us at 617-431-6174 or email us at swopboston@protonmail.com . **

 

When you call, text, or email us, please be prepared to answer the following questions.  Please note: there are no wrong answers, but this information will help us allocate funds to those who are in the most immediate need.

  • Are you a sex worker?
  • Do you live and/or work in Massachusetts?
  • Are you currently housed?
  • Are you black, indigenous, or a person of color?
  • Do you identify as LGBTQ+?
  • Has your income been affected by COVID-19?
  • Do you have other sources of income at this time?
  • Do you have dependents?
  • Do you have health conditions that put you at increased risk in relation to COVID-109?
  • How much are you requesting ($50-100)?
  • What is your preferred payment method (e.g. Venmo, Cashapp, Paypal, cash) (It’s easiest for us to distribute funds to you electronically, but we can also arrange to get you cash, within the Boston area.)
  • Have you previously received funds from the MA Sex Worker COVID-19 Relief Fund? If so, when?

 

Categories
Uncategorized

Regular SWOP Boston Support Dinners!

If you’re a sex worker looking for community and support this year, please get in touch! SWOP-BOSTON will be holding monthly support dinners on the third Sunday of each month. We’ll also provide childcare and a MBTA pass. Even if the dates aren’t convenient for you or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send a message! DM us on Twitter or email us directly at maswan@protonmail.com.

Categories
Uncategorized

Laws on Sex Work

A Massachusetts State Representative, Kay Kahn, recently filed two bills that seek to decriminalize selling sex – that is, from the side of sex workers, but not from the side of clients. One of our members recently spoke to a reporter at The Shoestring about these proposed bills and why MASWAN supports the full decriminalization of sex work.

But unfortunately,these bills leave in place statutes, language, funding, and institutional infrastructure which undermine the legislation’s goal of reducing criminalization, creating incentives to more aggressively pursue certain sex workers over others.

The Shoestring also spoke with Caty Simon, an organizer in Western Massachusetts and co-editor of Tits and Sass, who emphasized that “when clients are targeted the whole industry is driven underground. To avoid the risk of being caught, clients resist screening processes and opt for more isolated locations for sessions, exposing sex workers to more violence and reducing our access to harm reduction practices such as ID checks.”

Including sex workers in conversations about legislation that affects our communities is essential. Nothing about us without us!

Read the full piece here.

Categories
Uncategorized

Support Group for Sex Workers

Are you a sex worker in the Boston area in need of a support group? Email us or message us on twitter for details about the upcoming meeting!

Categories
Uncategorized

New Host, Domain, & Website!

In the past few months, folks in the community have been hit hard by FOSTA/SESTA in various ways. One way we’ve been trying to keep our feet on the ground has been by gathering information from our tech-savvy comrades and trying some changes out on our end.

A few larger lists have gone out to the community – like this work in progress, started for folks who are interested in technical resources. However, that document may seem unwieldy. Another option is this shorter guide for basic information security prepared by NYC’s Democratic Socialists of America which has specific recommendations. This site from the Electronic Frontier Foundation has some basics on threat modeling and how to think about your own personal security needs, which might change often and frequently. Survivors Against SESTA has a good roundup of a few posts too.

However, one of the big holes in safety and security training we’ve noticed is how to set up a website that isn’t hosted by a company based in the US, and isn’t with a domain in the US. We’ve been doing just that, and we’re planning to show how we did it!

We have set up a brand new website! Our old Squarespace site goes down this month, and we’re not planning on resurrecting it. In case you haven’t noticed, our domain name is now .nl – we got our domain in the Netherlands through njal.la and we’re using orangewebsite.com for our hosting needs. To make this transition, we learned more about tech and digital safety online, and we did so to make choices that we think will be safe for a group that does advocacy and harm reduction work.

We’re working with some tech folks to put together a step-by-step training in case anyone is interested in knowing how this process works – and we’re tailoring the content for people who don’t describe themselves as tech-savvy. This process would work for setting up a brand new website or for transferring content from a Squarespace or similar hosting site.

We’re hoping to put this content out ASAP, but have a few details to work through, so please bear with us! In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us through protonmail if you have questions about the process or specific needs. We aren’t experts, but we’re working with a team of folks that are – people we trust – and we’re trying to get this information out safely and quickly.

Categories
Uncategorized

FOSTA & SESTA Opposition Letter from National Center for Transgender Equality

In March 2018, we signed onto a letter written by the National Center for Transgender Equality opposing the passage of FOSTA and SESTA. You can read the full letter in PDF format here.

 

Categories
Uncategorized

SESTA–One Whore’s Ground Truth

97-2.

Four weeks of lobbying, tweeting, taking photos of myself and plastering SESTA all over the internet; filming myself in a corset calling Senator Markey and then having to edit out the 5 minutes it took his staffer to find a pen and paper and his wits after being told he had a sex worker on the phone; an unprecedented coalition of sex worker advocates and allies; the tech lobby; the trans rights lobby; the ACLU; and thousands of angry and terrified hookers. Then: 97-2.

When I heard, I was at home with my boyfriend having a nice, romantic day. And then: 97-2.

“It passed.” He looked up from stirring dinner. He had borne witness to the roller coaster of the past month, and he knew exactly what I meant.

My first reaction was what was about to happen couldn’t be confined to the indoors, and I didn’t necessarily want my partner watching. Slamming doors I ran outside in my day-off, tried-and-true, see-though stretchy clothes, the garage door flew open, I found my shovel. Running to the edge of the garden bed, I began pulling out the vestiges of last year’s garden, throwing kale stems and tomato branches behind me, dirt flying (I think I pulled a muscle because I was completely unaware of what I was doing—a mysterious pain appeared in my rib cage later once the adrenaline subsided). My chest heaved with sobs. I was incanting “97 to TWO.” “They want us to die. They want me to be dead”… After the decimation of the last of the sunflower stems, I grabbed the shovel and started turning over new dirt. It made no sense. But I needed to do something.

After a time, our downstairs neighbor drove up, and I realized I had to stop. I didn’t want our typically mild-mannered New-Englander neighbor to think that I had lost it. “It’s never too early,” I said by way of explanation, and fled behind the garage when he wasn’t looking. Completely out of breath, I slinked upstairs, took off my muddy shoes, and walked right past my partner and onto the porch where our seedlings were taking root. I sat under the table. “Ninety-seven to two.”

And then I began to cry for real. He followed me and sat on the floor by my side—but there was, quite simply, nothing he could do. There is nothing anyone can say to mitigate the reality that ninety-seven senators think that my life is disposable.

The weeks since the vote have not been any easier. Immediately, we began to see the effects. People taking down their social media profiles. Lots of sex worker comrades who perhaps didn’t understand the legislation, but knew that it was bad. And big. And wanted to protect themselves. “You’re playing into their hands,” I tweeted. “This is exactly what they want: a chilling effect on the industry so that they don’t have to pony up for law suits they can’t afford.” (Most of the advertising and blacklist platforms we use are hosted offshore; it is unclear what capacity Jeff Sessions has to sue a company based in Cyprus without awakening the ire of the international community—most of which has come to the conclusion that decriminalization of sex work is just good public policy—or so I tell myself at night when I’m trying to sleep). The Erotic Review, the site where I found my first client, took down their ad boards. “Your cowardice is appalling,” I tweeted at them. “The president hasn’t even signed the bill into law, and it won’t be implemented for months. There are women who need to feed their children. We all have rent to pay. COWARDICE.” (Of course, corporations never listen to people like me.) Craigslist took down their “personals” board. There’s a rumor that Squarespace is taking down websites without even informing their customer that they are doing so (I’ve been checking my Squarespace site every day to make sure it’s still up.) On the other side of the coin, in the days after SESTA, my tweets were read, liked, and re-tweeted more times than any naked selfie I have ever posted. Their tone reflected a sense of rational calm that I did not feel. But as someone who had studied the language of the bill, I had an obligation to inform my sisters/brothers/others what NOT to panic about. To try to stem the chaos—to put one small finger in the dam of terror and emotional breakdowns that almost all of us have had. Someone had to.

I find that I am tired all the time. But I’m lucky. Unlike many in our community, business is ok—for now. I worry about the future, but at the moment, I am making as much money as I have ever made. Many clients are blissfully ignorant of the potentially catastrophic realities we are facing. Others have called or e-mailed me just to make sure I’m ok.


When I work, I feel confused. The other day, after a particularly good orgasm, I thought to myself, “I just don’t get it. Sex is so normal. So human. Sex workers are so necessary.” For me, it never feels like a crime in the moment—it feels like two humans in a room being human, one of us periodically drawing on some acting skills. After a session with a regular with PLS mostly spent dancing to Prince (apparently I’m more effective than his psychotherapist and physical therapist combined), I thought, “We hold up the world. We really do. Without sex workers, society would crumble.” We are the invisible emotional safety net that people come to in their times of need, frustration, unfulfillment. People seek sex workers when they don’t know what they need, just that they are deeply unhappy in an intangible way. When they need a companion in a very lonely world. And the awful part is that we are so silenced that no one knows this simple, historically immutable fact. There never has been and never will be a society without prostitutes.

The activists among us with their fingers on the pulse of government knew that this was always going to pass. Being “anti-trafficking” is an easy sell. Swimming against the current because a lot of articulate hookers called your office and explained REASON in an empirical way…ah, midterms.

What has been underestimated, however is our anger. Specifically, our anger and intolerance of the fact that most of the people who voted for this bill know nothing about sex work, our lives, and have never asked a sex worker or trafficking victim what they need from their politicians. We know that this passed—many staffers even admitted to the fact—because of either ignorance, willful ignorance, or misinformation, a misconstrual of reality. “What bill?” the staffers would say when we called. “How do you spell that?” They asked, clearly trying to be friendly (as their job description dictates) while being entirely clueless that such a thing as a “sex worker lobby” exists.

They can be forgiven for that. It hasn’t. Well—it didn’t.

The power that has been unleashed by the passage of SESTA is something no one, not even the savviest of our activists, ever anticipated. It is a groundswell. It is all the grass and all our roots, extending deeply into many communities, some with a lot of political power. It has become conceivable that a day may come when the sex worker lobby equals in importance the pro-choice movement or the burgeoning trans-rights movement, which shares a vision with us in many ways. I also think, thanks to Law and Order SVU and every single detective TV show, where prostitutes are always murdered—always—the average American underestimates how much we read. How much we pay attention. Right now I’m elbow-deep in The Suffragette, a meticulously factual retelling of the militant feminist movement culminating in universal suffrage for women in the UK, as witnessed by Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst (c.f., my pseudonym). We are also studying the effects of the Contagious Diseases Act in Victorian England, as well as the long history of political activism on the part of sex workers in France, including the notorious demonstration that galvanized feminists to support prostitutes and merited a visit by feminist luminary Simone de Beauvoir, which inspired International Whores’ Day (June 2nd).

To this day, when people think of women, they don’t imagine us putting bombs in post office boxes because four successive prime ministers have not enacted universal suffrage despite the fifty gals in beautiful Victorian hats sitting in the gallery at parliament, chanting until they were sentenced to prison or a fine—and even the wealthiest of women never paid a fine over the political statement made by ladies of status surviving months in Newgate, where heating in the winter was a distant but annoying idea and gruel was an actual thing.

In short, we are taking notes. We are studying up. We are compiling data (lost of us are scientists—how do you think people afford college in this era of “Rich family? No? You’re on your own, kid”). We are remembering the tactics that ACT-UP used to shut down the FDA when people with AIDS were dying by the thousands with no treatment in sight; how gay citizens won the right to marry; how women have periodically emerged from under the thumb of every society we have ever inhabited, gradually, in dogged pursuit of equality. We are witnessing how sex workers have been the “canary in the coal mine” for every women’s equality movement known to history, scoping out the battlefield before the rearguard of “respectable” women arrive.

You men have it easy. With a few notable exceptions—feudalism, the killing-fields of cotton and tobacco, the draft, the modern prison-industrial complex and its appetite for black men—you have never had to wonder to whom your body belongs. Under current law, my body does not belong to myself. The way I use it is outlawed, and, if caught, will belong to the carceral system. I don’t think any of us of the vulvular persuasion can ever explain to you what it feels like to possess a spirit inhabiting an illegal vessel.

 Politicians seem to think they can create a world without hookers. They are wrong. They always have been wrong, for hundreds of years. Most of them know why we’re important—they’re just afraid to tell their friends or speak about it on the Senate floor. It’s ok. We’ll tell them for you.

And for those inhabitants of the Capitol: We will educate you about our lives if it means prison. We will educate you about our clients, from the ones who rape us at gunpoint to the ones who have remembered our birthdays every year since they met us. We are coming for your ignorance. With grace, with beauty, with courage, with stories of tragedy and death, with stories of timelessness, with razor-sharp perception, and, foremost, with data—the ground truth—we will take your ignorance prisoner, as you have taken so many of us prisoner, and transform the seat of power of this country into a body that understands that you have voted to cause us to die, and that those of us who survive to tell the stories of the silenced, the incarcerated, and dead will hold you accountable for the trauma, suicides, and murders that will result from depriving us of our connectivity online and our human rights—and you will hear us, or the country will know of the willfulness of your cowardice. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have a connection to sex work or a sex worker—including many of you—and we will no longer suffer indifference to our fates. We are coming to expand your awareness. If you will not—we are coming for your seats.

 You who threatened us with hell,

we have come to eat at your table.

Sincerely,

Emma Pankhurst

Categories
Uncategorized

Statement on Massage Parlor Raids

WBUR has been running a series on massage parlors in the Boston area. We were recently contacted for comment in this five part series. As of writing, parts one, two, and three have been published, but the perspectives in the stories are still limited. We’ve sent this to WBUR, but we’d like to offer it to the public, unedited.

SWOP-Boston believes that all people working in the sex industry–including those working in massage parlors–should be accorded the same dignity, respect, human rights, and recourse to the justice system as other individuals in the US, regardless of their immigration status. These basic rights are often denied the sex worker population, particularly by those usually carrying out the raids—the Boston Police Department, Homeland Security, and ICE—who have a long history of intolerance and abuse towards the sex worker population.

Recently, in New York, Yang Song fell to her death out of her window during a raid on a massage parlor. In light of this tragedy and many others, we must be very careful how we conduct raids on businesses suspected of sex trafficking. While human trafficking is a real and tragic phenomenon, additionally problematic are the assumptions upon which the mass spate of massage parlor busts are based and the manner in which they are conducted. There are allegations that Yang Song had been raided before and was sexually abused by a police officer at that time, causing her to make the decision to risk death rather than another encounter with the police.

When considering these raids, we cannot deny the fact that the majority of them involve people of Asian descent. We must acknowledge institutionalized bias, particularly pertaining to Asians and Asian-Americans in the sex industry. In these raids, we see clearly at play an assumption that Asians as a race are broadly fetishized; also, that owners of massage parlors exploit their employees; additionally, that many of the employees of the massage parlors work against their will. We encourage the agencies involved to interrogate these assumptions so that they can better serve their communities. 

SWOP-Boston holds firmly that sex workers deserve and should be accorded the same rights under the law as those of any other person: namely, the right to work under conditions of their own choosing. We do not see the existence of non-coerced sex workers (who make up the majority of the sex worker population, as we see among our members and contacts in the greater Boston community) acknowledged by law enforcement.

We are troubled by the perpetuation of a narrative of victimization among all sex workers with whom law enforcement comes into contact. Above all, we are disturbed by the myriad of harms that sex workers—whether they be citizen or immigrant, coerced or voluntary—frequently experience at the hands of law enforcement officers. It is clear that these officers are not being trained in how to interact with traumatized individuals and are not familiar with the diversity of the sex worker population and their unique needs. These raids may rescue some individuals from a dreadful reality, but, in our experience, the social services needed to aid this often-traumatized population are simply not in place, and these individuals are not given access to the services they need; there are often no provisions made under the auspices of these raids to help these previously employed individuals find work in other sectors, forcing them into an economic limbo that can be exceedingly dangerous.

The risk of traumatization, injury, or even death, is ever present and likely in the course of raids on massage parlors. We encourage law enforcement to face the human cost of their actions. While maintaining the order of law is necessary, the system must provide for the human beings whose lives they disrupt in the course of their actions, regardless of their intent.

SWOP-Boston and the Massachusetts Sex Worker Ally Network stand ready to assist and educate the public and service providers about the unique needs of the sex worker population.

Categories
Uncategorized

#LetUsSurvive: How to Help Fight SESTA This Week

What is SESTA?

SESTA (Senate Bill 1693) would close online platforms for the sex industry. Being able to work online (and thus, indoors) is for most folks, the best method of harm reduction. This applies to everyone trading sex, wherever they are on the spectrum of choice, circumstance, and coercion. State Attorneys General have already talked about wanting to take sites like Backpage down, and this bill would give them the tools to do that. The bill attacks visible platforms for online sex work, and it is a moment for all sex workers to stand in solidarity. If it’s Backpage today, it could be Pornhub tomorrow.

This is the beginning of a long term struggle to shift the narrative. People who hate sex workers want to pretend criminalizing us will stop trafficking. It won’t. In fact, it makes our community more vulnerable to trafficking. It makes it harder to identify and support trafficking victims. The best defense against trafficking is a safe, strong, connected community. We all know housing and anti-poverty work are what prevents trafficking in the first place, not closing down a website.

Poster from the Stop FOSTA/SESTA Campaign with a raised red fist with text that says "Call Your Senators" and "Text 'Resist' to 50409"

Call (BOTH OF) Your Senators (Multiple Times)

We’re going to be posting on twitter under the hashtag #LetUsSurvive, but the real push is for everyone to call their senators. Seriously, call. The call volume in each Senator’s office helps determine meeting priorities. Even if we’re lobbying and doing work on our end, if people aren’t calling and making their voices heard as constituents, our opposition to SESTA is seen as just another niche issue that can be written off. Don’t let this happen. Find your senator’s contact info here. Find out if your senator is a cosponsor of the bill here. 

Not sure what to say? We’ve got a call script for you!

Call Script for SESTA. Plain text below. “Hi, my name is ____________ and I live in ___________ (state). I’m calling to urge Congressperson ____________ to vote NO on SESTA, Senate Bill 1693. I am a [loved one of a/parent of a/service provider to/an ally of] sex worker[s] and this bill would compromise the lives of people who trade sex, including trafficking victims, by taking away the platforms people are using to stay safe. I am calling to ask you not to put [me/my community/my loved one/my child] in danger of  greater violence and victimization. Please vote no on this terribly misguided bill, which is expected to be voted on March 12. Thank you for your time!”

Additional Reading

Looking for reading materials, things to add into your tweetstorm, or literature to convince someone who’s not well-read on sex work and trafficking? Look no further!

Injustice Today article by Melissa Gira Grant on how FOSTA (the House bill that just passed) was opposed by people who work with trafficking victims

Decriminalization of Prostitution is Central to Trans Rights

ThinkProgress article on how FOSTA conflates sex work with trafficking

Engadget article on how FOSTA is (like most other legislation) throwing sex workers under the proverbial bus

FastCompany article on how FOSTA could harm sex workers

https://stopsesta.org campaign page from the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Sex workers and advocates explain why the House’s online sex-trafficking bill is bulls**t

Article from EFF highlights actual anti-trafficking advocates who say SESTA will hurt survivors

Read this post for context on the aftermath of Backpage’s closure in 2016