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Three presentations in three days: Harm Reduction Conference and TransConnect

Date: November 15, 2012

I’m giving three presentations in Portland this week. The first two are at Harm Reduction Conference held at Marriott Waterfront on Thursday and Friday; the other one is at TransConnect, a “weekend of events leading up to Trans Day of Remembrance” this Saturday.

“Empowerment-Based Alternatives to the ‘War on Trafficking'” (in panel “Trafficking Wars”)
Thursday, November 15th at 4pm-5:30pm
Harm Reduction Conference
Marriott Waterfront Hotel

“Embracing Negative Survivorship and Unhealthy Coping: A Harm Reduction Approach in the Movement Against Domestic and Sexual Violence” (in panel “Addressing Violence”)
Friday, November 16th at 5:45pm-7:15pm
Harm Reduction Conference
Marriott Waterfront Hotel

“Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade”
Saturday, November 17th at 4:30pm
TransConnect
Portland Q Center

Description: Transgender youth (especially transgender youth of color) are overrepresented among young people who occasionally or regularly trade sex for money, food, shelter, and other survival needs. There are many factors that contribute to the high prevalence of transgender youth in the sex trade, including family and community rejection, violence, isolation, discrimination, lack of medical services, mismatched documentations, and social services that are sex-segregated or religiously-based. This workshop provides an overview of various factors affecting the experiences of transgender youth in the sex trade, and how the broader transgender movement must become more inclusive of transgender people in the sex trade–while they are still alive, instead of merely mispronouncing their (often non-Anglo) names at annual TDOR events year after year after their bodies are discovered decomposing in dumpsters.

I look forward to seeing my friends in harm reduction and queer/trans communities!

Cutting off people in the sex trade from support networks: Opportunity cost of the NYC anti-“sex trafficking” taxicab rule

Date: July 10, 2012

Last month, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a new regulation targeting taxicab drivers who knowingly transport people who are engaging in prostitution. The new law imposes a $10,000 fine and the revocation of taxi license when the driver or owner of that taxi is convicted of such crimes as promoting prostitution (first thru third degree), compelling prostitution, or sex trafficking if the licensed vehicle was used in the crime.

Critics of the law have pointed out that the new regulation might lead cab drivers to refuse rides to any woman who are suspected of being prostitutes or sex trafficking victims (based on their appearance and other factors) out of fear that giving transportation to someone who might be involved in the sex trade could be construed as “promoting prostitution.”

When the bill was proposed, female bartenders who must frequently use cab to go home late at night held a protest against the law. The president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers also protested the regulation, arguing that it would encourage police officers to arrest innocent cab drivers who are simply doing their job.

While members of the New York City Council assure us that the law does not require cab drivers to determine who is or is not involved in the sex trade, pointing out that the driver has to be first convicted of one of the crimes listed above before the additional penalty kicks in, drivers’ and female riders’ fears are not entirely unwarranted, considering how broadly “promoting prostitution” is defined. Under law, “promoting prostitution” could simply mean that one “knowingly causes or aids a person to commit or engage in prostitution,” which providing transportation to and from a “date” would qualify, for example.

That said, my concern with this law is not about innocent cab drivers who might be wrongly targeted because he or she transported someone who turned out to be a prostitute or trafficking victim, or even about innocent female riders who experience inconvenience and annoyance as they are refused rides. My concern is about the loss of an opportunity to actually partner with cab drivers to offer resources and support to people in the sex trade, including victims of sex trafficking (though most actual sex trafficking rings do not use regular commercial cabs, as pointed out by the Sex Workers Project at Urban Justice Center; they generally use private vehicles that are not licensed as cab).

New York City does intend to provide training to cab drivers to identify and report suspected sex trafficking victims. But that is not likely to be helpful to the actual victims of sex trafficking, as many victims would simply go back to their traffickers rather than testifying against them in the absence of legal, financial, and emotional support and services they need. It is also very annoying and inconvenient to those who are wrongly reported as potential trafficking victims, and downright harmful to those who are non-trafficked sex workers, immigrants, and others who wish to avoid interacting with the law enforcement.

Contrary to the sensationalistic rhetoric of “modern day slavery” and “sex slavery,” the actual practice of sex trafficking–where one person exercises power and control over another person to exploit that person sexually for financial gain–usually looks more like domestic violence than chattel slavery (or what most people imagine chattel slavery are like). We should not hesitate to call the police when we hear or see signs of immediate, life-threatening violence from our neighbor’s house, of course, but calling the police may not always be the best response when we are supporting a friend or neighbor who is in an abusive relationship. In an ongoing, long-term relationship that has elements that are abusive, and I include many “sex trafficking” or “pimping” relationships in this, calls made to the police, especially by a third party, might make things worse and more dangerous for the victim, not safer.

There are many initiatives within anti-domestic violence movement that attempt to build community support for people who are in ongoing, long-term abusive relationships. One example of such strategy is anti-DV organizations partnering with cosmetology schools and practitioners to educate hairstylists and others in the field to become the first line of support and information referral point for victims of domestic violence. Hair salons are ideal, because they are female-dominated space where women spend a long time chatting with each other about their lives while their hair is being done, away from their husbands and boyfriends.

The purpose of the partnership is not so that hairstylists can identify and report suspected abuse victims to the police; it is to build trust and rapport with the women, hear their stories, provide support and encouragement, and when a woman ready and willing, give her resources she needs to escape from violence. What I wish the New York City had done is to adapt a similar strategy to reach out to people in the sex trade through cab drivers, whether or not their circumstances meet the legal definition of “sex trafficking.”

The problem with the New York City law is not that innocent drivers might get caught in the crossfire; it is that it discourages them from building trust and rapport with people in the sex trade by generating the fear that any knowledge about their passengers’ involvement in the sex trade might incriminate them and expose them to persecution. The problem is not that cab drivers have no way of determining who is or is not a prostitute; it is that they are prohibited from knowing who is, or from forming relationships with people in the sex trade that might one day allow more trafficking victims and other people in the sex trade to come forward and access support and services they need.

New Zine Release – “Understanding the Complexities of Sex Work/Trade and Trafficking”

Date: June 16, 2012

Hey people! My new zine, “Understanding the Complexities of Sex Work/Trade and Trafficking” is available for download and purchase. Okay, it’s basically a compilation of some of my blog posts on the topic with a few twists and edits, but I think it can be a great resource.

This follow-up to last year’s “War on Terror & War on Trafficking” contains many of my essays complicating and problematizing the mainstream discourse on sex trafficking, addressing such topics as “push and pull” analysis of youth in the sex trade, failure of “rescue” model, lessons from domestic violence movement, transgender youth, and many others.

Cover

Table of Contents:

My zines are available directly from me at my zine store, or in person at Portland Zine Symposium and other places.

Special offer! If you purchase “Undersanding the Complexities…” and “War on Terror & War on Trafficking” together from this link ($10 for both), you will also receive a special insert of my article, “Trade Secrets: The tough talk of the new anti-trafficking movement” published in Bitch magazine last year, and a sticker that says “Real Feminists and Human Rights Activists Don’t Buy Ashton.”

Sticker image

Dear Oakland Occupy Patriarchy: You are scaring me.

Date: June 14, 2012

Sex worker activists and others are protesting H.E.A.T. Watch anti-trafficking conference this week, because it is a conference of law enforcement agencies and its allied “anti-trafficking” groups to promote further criminalization as a solution to the complex issue of commercial sex trafficking of young people.

Among the activist groups protesting the conference was Oakland Ocupy Patriarchy, whose “disruption” of the said conference has resulted in at least one arrest. But in the statement announcing their protest/disruption, they prominently use a quote from my article in Bitch magazine, identifying me as a “sex worker and activist” (they also have another quote later in the post):

OOP screen capture

However, in Bitch article I do not identify myself as a sex worker. While I do not make secret of my history in the sex trade, I use discretion as to when and where I refer to myself as a sex worker for my safety–not just safety from violence, but from prejudice, discrimination, and police surveillance.

People involved in Occupy movement more than anyone else know that the law enforcement is closely observing what they are doing, and they will certainly read statements they post on their official website. They should also know that identifying individuals as “sex worker” publicly, even if the information is already available elsewhere, would pose extra threats to their safety and livelihood. It is especially threatening when the sex worker is associated with a quote that is critical of the law enforcement on a website that discusses occupation, disruptions and direct actions.

This is the kind of incident that makes me distrust the Occupy movement, with its white boy sensibilities and priorities, despite the participation of wonderful women and queer/trans people of color, and even as they intend to actively fight the patriarchy. I would also add that it reminded of me how I was grabbed, physically restrained, and sexually harassed by two white men at Occupy Oakland last November, and nobody stepped in to do anything (after pestering me about having sex with them, they finally let me go and told me “I was just joking”–haha, funny).

I appreciate the fact that Oakland Occupy Patriarchy recognizes that the law enforcement is exploiting the serious problem of commercial sexual exploitation of youth (CSEY) to further the militarization of our society and profits of the prison industrial complex. I appreciate that they are protesting the conference in support of sex workers’ rights groups. I’m just frustrated that many of Occupy activists do not seem to “get” the amount of fear people in the sex trade are in every day, and do not seem to get that they don’t get it.


Update 06/15/2012: It appears that Oakland Occupy Patriarchy has removed my quote from its website. I appreciate that, although I wish they had thought about it beforehand. For the record, I do not object to having my work quoted; the Bitch article is a published work and I have no problem with it being used by other people. I object to being identified as a “sex worker” when I did not label myself as such in the context, and especially so when people are quoting me to justify their potentially illegal activities like direct action and disruption.

Memo: Twitter exchange with Stella about her (inaccurate) article on “pimps posing as sex worker activists”

Date: June 1, 2012

Below is the Twitter exchange with the account “Manhattan Call Girl” (@StellaMarr) about her blog article, which I commented a couple of days ago. I am archiving her comments here because she seems to have deleted many of them.

emikoyama 8:18 PM – 31 May 12
are you really certain that people you name as “pimps” actually are? http://eminism.org/blog/entry/311 @StellaMarr

emikoyama 8:19 PM – 31 May 12
bcz sex workers and even trafficking victims sometimes end up with “promoting prostitution” charge even though they aren’t pimps @StellaMarr

emikoyama 8:21 PM – 31 May 12
if they are actual pimps, then, yes i agree with you. i’m weary of criminal record as source knowing how abusive legal system is @StellaMarr

Stella responds the next day:

StellaMarr 12:35 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama Between being trafficked & pimping = #bigdifference. It’s not something easily confused #sexworker #feminism

StellaMarr 12:37 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama I used primary sources — the personal sites of parties in question. http://wp.me/p2bR3Y-6Z

She does cite sources, but her sources do not indicate that people she is mentioning are “pimps” in any way, with the possible exception of the man who is said to be a partner of someone who owns a male escort service (who is also a sex worker himself).

emikoyama 1:04 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr But you seem to be confused. Don’t you understand that “promoting prostitution” doesn’t mean pimping?

emikoyama 1:05 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Charge of “compeling prostitution” would mean pjmping. But “promoting” doesn’t. It can apply to lots of things beide pimping.

Stella seems annoyed, like I don’t know what I’m talking about.

StellaMarr (deleted and couldn’t recover time stamp)
@emikoyama you seem to have a lot of free time, read my article again http://wp.me/p2bR3Y-6Z #bullying #feminism #emperorsnewclothes

I did read the article more than once, but still wasn’t convinced.

emikoyama 1:10 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr For example, several working women sharing work space together for safety and to save expenses is “promoting.”

emikoyama 1:11 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr driving someone or providing security is “promoting” even if it’s just friend and isnt making any money.

emikoyama 1:11 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Further, consider this: pimp asks girl to introduce other girls to recruit. She complies. Is she now just a pimp?

emikoyama 1:12 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr I don’t know of any women you mention as pmps. I know them as sex workers. If they are in fact pimps, please give me more info.

emikoyama 1:13 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Because none of their criminal charges indicate that they are.

Now she is really getting irritated.

StellaMarr 1:15 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama everyone knows we hate m or f pimps. You are boring me with these silly posts most guys prefer you go to hotel or thr house

StellaMarr 1:15 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz bored

I was shocked that she would publicly display disrespect toward me rather than responding to my concern which was quite simple.

emikoyama 1:16 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr why do you need to insult me like this? i thought you were my sister. i dont like pimps any more than you do.

When I searched for her Twitter name, I found a lot of people calling her a liar and being rude toward her, so I could understand that she thought I was just one of them. I am not. I think I’ve kept everything pretty respectful. She changes her tone a little bit.

StellaMarr 1:20 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama then quit defending pimps darling, sorry I just get bored with these ridiculous hairsplittings — wish you well xo

Great, let’s go back to the actual content of our disagreement.

emikoyama 1:22 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr not defending pimps. i just think you are wrong to determine they wre pimps based on evidence we have.

emikoyama 1:24 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr because i can just imagine how horrifying it is to be falsely accused of being pimp. it would make me wanna die if it were me.

emikoyama 1:24 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr but otherwise i totally agree: pimps arent sexworkers and dont belong in sw groups.

Stella doesn’t contradict anything I say, or provide any further evidence.

StellaMarr 1:28 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama Lets agree to disagree —

StellaMarr 1:29 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama Based on evidence we have they should not be founding &leading sex worker unions/activist orgs — conflict of interest #feminism

We can’t just “agree to disagree” about whether or not someone is a pimp. That is a serious allegation and cannot be made lightly.

emikoyama 1:54 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr seriously, don’t we need to be more careful about calling people pimps? criminal charges you site don’t equal pimping.

emikoyama 1:59 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr pimps can be convicted of pandering or promoting prost but not everyone convicted of these are pimps. it’s that simple.

emikoyama 2:00 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr i am also concenrned and speaking out about conflict of interest within sw movement. i wrote about some examples in my blog.

emikoyama 2:02 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr to me, calling someone a pimp is among the worst thing you can say about someone. i dont want anyone to be called that wrongly.

Stella has not made any further responses since then, and appears to have deleted most of her replies toward me.

I understand that it is difficult to be speaking out as a survivor. I also understand that everyone says things on social media that they regret later. But her blog post is spreading extremely damaging information about sex workers’ movement that isn’t true, something that are being used to discredit and marginalize a whole movement that is fighting violence and exploitation of people in the sex trade.

If she regrets making any of the comments I quote above, I ask that she become transparent about it. Further, I ask that she retract the original blog post unless she can provide actual evidence that the people she name are “pimps.” I’m sure she understands how horrible it must feel when someone “expose” you as a pimp when you actually are not.


June 2, 2012 Update

At least one person who is mentioned as a “pimp posing as a sex worker activist” has responded, stating that she has never been a pimp. I don’t personally like her rhetoric (especially about Stella’s brain being damaged), but I can empathize: I would be pretty angry too if someone called me a pimp or flat-out negated authenticity of my experiences.


June 2, 2012 Update 2

Another woman told me that Stella called her a pimp, even though she wasn’t at all. She found the allegation particularly offensive because she has had a pimp herself. I wrote the following plea:

emikoyama 9:45 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr This is a personal and emotional plea. Please, please, stop calling people “pimps” when they aren’t.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Multiple people you named as pimps have now stated they aren’t pimps. One woman says she had a pimp too. You have no evidence.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Your “source” is criminal cases that don’t equal pimping. Pandering and promoting can and do apply to people who are not pimps.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr I’m sure you understand how offensive it is to call someone who was exploited by a pimp a “pimp.” If it were me I’d be suicidal.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr This is beside politics. We can disagree about everything else, but this is one thing survivors don’t do to each other.

emikoyama 9:48 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Okay, maybe I’m wrong and they are pimps, though evidences don’t seem to support that. Perhaps. I’d rather err on that side.

emikoyama 9:50 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr …than taking the risk of erroneously labeling survivors “pimps.” It is extremely traumatic.

I don’t know what’s going on in her head now, but I really hope that she hears me.


June 9, 2012 Update

After posting above, Stella asked me to remove this page because it made her feel unsafe. I do not want to make her feel unsafe, so I agreed to unilaterally remove this page as a demonstration of good faith. But at the same time, she was making many women unsafe by falsely labeling them “pimps,” and I asked her to delete the false allegations. I told her that I would permanently remove this page altogether if she did.

Stella continue to insist that her allegations were supported by evidence, but did not provide any evidence beyond what she included in her blog post. She also asked me not to contact her again. I agree not to contact her unless she contacts or mentions me first, which unfortunately made it impossible to engage with her further. I have now reinstated all exchanges I removed once because while I do not want to make her feel unsafe, I cannot ignore how she is making many other women unsafe with her false allegations.

Below is a statement I posted to this blog while the content was temporarily removed.

June 4, 2012 Update

After posting this entry, @StellaMarr asked me to remove this page. Well that’s not entirely accurate: what happened was that she claimed that she had asked me to remove it, even though I did not receive any such request. But okay, so she wants this page taken down–and I am willing to comply with that, even though I was merely quoting the comments she posted to Twitter.

The reason I am honoring such request is because she is a survivor and that means she is my sister and I feel loyal to her. I do not want to publicly criticize or expose another survivor even when she sort of deserves it, considering the fact she is making outrageous false allegations against other women in the sex trade that they are pimps. These women she is hurting are also my sisters too, and I want to defend them as much as I want to defend Stella.

So here’s what I decided to do: I’m going to unilaterally remove all the comments she made on twitter from this page as a gesture of good faith. And as I do so, I ask that she takes down false allegations against other women, or provide evidences to support her claim. “Pandering” and “promoting prostitution” charges are not evidences of someone being a pimp for the reasons I explained before.

After removing her tweets from this page, I will wait for 24 hours. If she does not remove her false allegations against other women and stop making similar attacks against my sisters, I have no choice but to conclude that she is acting in bad faith and reinstate this page to the original state.

Stella says that it is not a personal attack to point out that someone is a pimp. Well, it is definitely a personal attack when the allegation is false. My blog post, on the other hand, is not a personal attack against her: I am simply quoting her actual words to point out why her allegations are false.

I wish I didn’t have to criticize another survivor. In fact, if she would remove the false allegations and keeps it off her blog and tweets for long enough to convince me that she won’t do the same thing again, I will remove this page altogether including this statement itself. That is how loyal I feel toward a fellow survivor.

But if she does not remove her false allegations, and continues to make similar allegations against other survivors and sex workers who are not pimps, I will have to stop letting my loyalty to her as a fellow survivor get in the way of honoring my loyalty to these women who are being hurt by her actions.

Please note that I never defended the owner of male escort service she mentions in her article. It is clear that he and his partner are owners/managers, and while some people disagree about the use of the word “pimp” to describe managers who, like employers in other industries, hire people to work for them without coercing or exploiting them, and even though they are sex workers themselves as well as managers, I think Stella has a valid point about challenging the conflict of interest. Plus, I don’t like bosses in any other industries so I have no reason to like bosses in the sex industry either. So I am not defending the two men she mentions in the beginning of her article.

Other people she attacks, however, are probably not pimps, under any definition. Pimps can be charged with pandering or promoting prostitution, but not everybody who is charged with these crimes are pimps, because people can be found guilty of these crimes even if they do not control anyone else and do not even profit from another person’s sexual labor. I don’t want Stella to feel unsafe because of what I write here, but I also can’t let her continue to threaten safety of other women who do not deserve to be hurt.

Finally: Stella wants me to stop communicating with her on Twitter, and I respect that. I am going to post a final tweet to let her know this URL to give her an opportunity to act in good faith. Her refusal to engage with me directly makes it difficult for me to defend other women who are hurt by her actions without posting it publicly, which might make her feel unsafe. I struggle with this dual loyalty, but in the end I will have to side with people who are at the receiving end of the undeserved attacks rather than the other side. Stella, I wish you would not put me in that position.

Not so quick to call sex worker activists “pimps”: criminal charges do not tell the full story

Date: May 30, 2012

Last week, sex trafficking survivor and activist Stella Marr wrote an interesting article exposing some of the leaders of sex worker’s rights groups as “pimps” who are “posing” as sex worker activists, ostensibly to silence survivors like herself and promote “policies that protect pimps.” I appreciate her effort to address the conflict of interest within sex worker organizing as it is something I’ve been speaking out about, but I am troubled by her use of criminal records to support her claim that many “sex worker activists” are actually “pimps.”

That said, I want to state this first: regardless of what one’s views regarding prostitution and sex trade are–whether they are pro- or anti-prostitution, feminist or moralistic, libertarian or paternalistic, secular or religious–I feel a sense of connection to and camaraderie with everyone who has lived through abuse and exploitation in the sex trade. I hesitated responding to Ms. Marr because I fear that there are people out there who are not one of us, who would quote my words to attack her, as they would use her words to attack me and others like me. But this discussion is so important that I could not avoid it.

One of my first encounters with the national sex worker’s movement was in 2001, when I attended a series of workshops for sex workers held in conjunction with the Sex Worker’s Art Show in Olympia, Washington. I was naive about the racial/class/etc. division within the sex worker’s movement at the time, so I was really excited to be surrounded by sex workers who were proud, not ashamed, of what they did. I had never thought that it was possible to validate myself as a “sex worker,” rather than feeling ashamed or damaged about my experiences. (And this honeymoon period with the sex worker’s “community” and the sex worker identity lasted for less than a year.)

But even to my naive self, it felt very weird and offensive to hear one of the presenters chastise sex workers “who don’t enjoy their job” as being “sex-negative.” It was later that I found out that she had stripped behind a protective glass while she was a graduate student “as part of a research project,” and was managing a sex toy shop at the time. No wonder: as a manager, she had a vested interest in convincing her employees (which, I don’t consider sex toy shop workers to be “sex workers,” but that’s beside the point) that their jobs are fun and liberating: it’s cheaper than offering good pay and benefits.

Similarly in 2004, I was involved in the debate at/around St. James Infirmary, a free comprehensive health clinic specifically for sex workers in San Francisco. In order to make up about $80,000 budget shortfall after a funding cut from the city, SJI organized “Erotic Health Day,” on which “much of San Francisco’s adult entertainment community, including local exotic dancers, adult entertainment club owners, and sex workers” donate 10% of their proceeds to the clinic. The fundraiser was endorsed by the owners of the clubs (Hustler Club, New Century Theatre, Market St. Cinema, and others), but many sex workers were concerned that dancers would be forced or pressured by their bosses to give up their earnings.

In addition, there was a concern about St. James Infirmary, an institution that has to stand on the side of the vulnerable workers, becoming financially dependent on the bosses who exploit dancers every day. The controversy was further exacerbated after critics discovered that one of SJI’s board members (at the time) was a club owner, and that the board had contracted with his company to provide publicity for the fundraiser. (See my comments from November 2004 in “Pimps are not our friends: sex workers’ clinic should distance itself from managers.”)

In that sense, Ms. Marr is right: for a movement that purports to promote the notion that sex work should be treated just like any other work, its failure, in many instances, to actually treat sex workers’ interests and rights violations like any other workers’ is deeply troubling, even though there are also many sex worker activists with labor rights and other social justice analyses.

Where I become concerned about Ms. Marr’s article is her reliance on criminal records to label and dismiss someone as a “pimp.” Charges she conflates with “pimping,” such as promoting/facilitating prostitution, running a brothel, etc. do not necessarily mean that someone is controlling or taking advantage of another person, or even profiting from another person’s sexual labor. Under Oregon law, for example, promoting prostitution is defined as:

A person commits the crime of promoting prostitution if, with intent to promote prostitution, the person knowingly:

  • (a) Owns, controls, manages, supervises or otherwise maintains a place of prostitution or a prostitution enterprise; or
  • (b) Induces or causes a person to engage in prostitution or to remain in a place of prostitution; or
  • (c) Receives or agrees to receive money or other property, other than as a prostitute being compensated for personally rendered prostitution services, pursuant to an agreement or understanding that the money or other property is derived from a prostitution activity; or
  • (d) Engages in any conduct that institutes, aids or facilitates an act or enterprise of prostitution.

This statute, which is similar to many other jurisdictions’, is quite broad. For example, it can apply to sex workers who share a “work space” to save money and increase safety for themselves, or people (including friends) who provide transportation and other services for sex workers to work more safely, even if they are not controlling another person or profiting from their sexual labor. I am personally guilty (although I have never been charged with promoting prostitution), for example, of helping a friend who had just left a pimp learn to use Craigslist to post ads on her own, among other things, that might fall under this broad definition.

One reason it is so broad is that real pimps (i.e. those who control other people and pocket their earnings) are notoriously difficult to prosecute for what they do, which in Oregon law is called “compelling prostitution.” Prosecutors want to have the option to charge them with something that is easier to prove in court. But the same law can be and are used to target sex workers, survivors, and our associates–sometimes even as a threat to coerce us into “cooperating” with the prosecution against those they perceive to be “pimps.” In addition, while I don’t have any hard data, I would not be surprised if racial/class/gender/etc. stereotypes and prejudices sometimes influence what specific charges are brought against sex workers and victims of sex trafficking.

The distinction between people who “engages in any conduct that institutes, aids or facilitates an act or enterprise of prostitution” and those who actually perform the sexual labor (trafficked or otherwise) is not as clear as Ms. Marr suggests. Many of us who trade sex, regardless of why or how we do it, are also vulnerable to prosecution under “promoting prostitution” laws: it can apply when we exchange health and safety tips or are on the lookout for a friend who is getting into a strange vehicle. It will definitely apply when a pimp asks (or makes) us talk to and recruit other “girls.” That should not disqualify us from speaking as a sex worker or a survivor of abuse and exploitation for that matter; in fact, it is part of what it means to be a sex worker or survivor of abuse and exploitation in the sex trade.

Pimps who control and abuse other people should never be allowed to speak as a sex worker or lead a sex worker organization. But people whose criminal histories include “promoting prostitution” and other similar charges are not necessarily guilty of controlling and abusing us, and some of them are actually not any different from us. Ms. Marr is correct to point out that sex worker’s movement often fails to address the inherent conflict of interest that exists within the sex industry as well as in the sex worker’s movement, but I don’t agree with her tactic of using people’s criminal history to reduce them to “pimps” just like her abusers.

(See “Pimping does not equal enslavement: thoughts on the resilience of youth and adults who have pimps” for more discussion about the problem with the label “pimps.”)

Constructing “domestic minor sex trafficking” as a “gang-related” issue: what I learned at a forum on “the other kind” of human trafficking

Date: May 18, 2012

On April 26th, I attended Portland Human Rights Commission’s public forum on human trafficking. Unlike many other “trafficking” events I’ve attended over the past several years, this one was specifically designed to address what the Commission called “transnational” human trafficking for labor exploitation. Speakers were mostly made up of law enforcement officers and immigration advocates, but the forum also featured a testimony from a Mexican man who had been trafficked at a small labor camp in Oregon. The only person on the panel I recognized was Detective Keith Bickford from Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, who heads Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force.

Detective Bickford explained that there were two parts to the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force. One of the areas is the domestic minor sex trafficking, which he thinks is doing pretty good in terms of public awareness and funding. The other part is those involving “foreign born” victims of labor trafficking, according to Bickford. The community often want to hear about domestic minor sex trafficking only, Bickford said, but the trafficking of “foreign born” labor trafficking must be addressed also.

Even as he stresses the importance of addressing all forms of human trafficking, I can’t help but think how his (and Oregon’s) formulation of human trafficking as domestic minor sex trafficking and transnational adult labor trafficking leave out many forms of human trafficking that actually take place in Oregon, such as domestic adult sex trafficking, sex trafficking of “foreign born” people, domestic labor trafficking, labor trafficking with sexual exploitation component, and labor trafficking of minors.

Bickford adds that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is doing a great job assisting foreign born victims of human trafficking, even though the actual victims of trafficking and exploitation often feel fearful of immigration officers. He explains: trafficking victims fear police and ICE because governments and law enforcement officers in their home countries are often corrupt and abusive, so they associate government agents with that impression, even though such fears are unwarranted in the U.S. Yeah right, that’s why American youth who engage in sex trade totally feel comfortable and safe with the police. Not.

Throughout the forum, I notice that panelists are using phrases “trafficking of foreign born victims” and “transnational trafficking” interchangeably, but that is not accurate. Those who entered into the U.S. consensually (either legally or illegally) and then were trafficked domestically tend to have less rights and protections than those who had been trafficked from the beginning. Because trafficking often involves deception, it is often difficult to tell the difference between the two.

Immigration advocates know how difficult it is to secure protections for victims of labor trafficking and exploitation unless there is a strong indication or evidence of inculpability, as explained by immigration attorney Stephen Manning from Immigrant Law Group PC. “The distinction between (consensual) migrant smuggling and human trafficking is clear legally, but it is very subtle in reality.”

An audience member asked Bickford about the magnitude of transnational human trafficking in Oregon. He responded that he was unaware of any figure, though Oregon’s farm labor camps are known among immigrants from South and Central America as a destination.

Next, Manning introduced one of his former clients, a Mexican man who has been abused and exploited in an Oregon labor camp. He spoke about circumstances that led to his arrival in Oregon, his experiences at the labor camp, and how a Christian pastor who visited him eventually made his captors afraid of being exposed and abandon him. I elect not to publish any further details of his story, but he quickly left the room after giving his testimony.

Another immigration attorney, Anna Ciesielski from Immigration Counseling Services spoke next. She works with Bickford on cases involving human trafficking, and discussed difficulty having her clients trust him. The law enforcement wants to arrest traffickers, she explained, but they can’t do so without cooperation from victims, she said. She also spoke about how Catholic Charities’ loss of a major federal grant for assisting immigrant victims of human trafficking has left a gaping hole of services for the victims.

Ciesielski’s office has worked with about ten immigrant victims of human trafficking so far this year, she said. Because resources are limited, they are able to take only the “strongest cases” that are likely to lead to a special trafficking victim visa.

Senior assistant attorney general Diane Schwartz Sykes came up next. Prior to joining the Oregon Department of Justice to lead its Civil Rights Unit, she has worked for Oregon Law Center and Legal Aid Services of Oregon, specializing in immigration and civil rights cases, during which she has visited many labor camps throughout the State. For every registered labor camps she visited, she observed a couple of small ones that aren’t registered (in Oregon, labor camps must be registered if they hire more than a certain number of workers).

Chris Killmer from Catholic Charities explained how funding cut had forced the organization to abandon some of its services for victims of trafficking, but it keeps receiving referrals from other organizations. In the two years that the organization was funded to provide services, Catholic Charities worked with about 60 victims, 65% of which came from Latin America. Portland is also a point of entry for Asian immigrants and trafficking victims. Real numbers are difficult to uncover because this is a hidden population.

Asked about outreach to labor camps, Sykes stated how it became more difficult for her to reach out since becoming a government officer. Government agencies such as BOLI (Bureau of Labor and Industries which handles discrimination cases), OSHA (occupational safety and health), Human Rights Task Force, and ICE have interest in finding out what goes on at labor camps, but are not welcomed. Religious communities and legal advocates have easier time accessing laborers.

Sykes also mentioned that many laborers speak indigenous languages, rather than English or Spanish, which makes it even more difficult to outreach. Their children, if any, may speak English through Head Start program and such, but are also vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

At that point, an audience member who is a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office was invited to make a statement, which she was completely unprepared for. She admitted that she had no experiences in advocating for, investigating, or litigating human trafficking cases, though her boss (U.S. Attorney S. Amanda Marshall) considers the issue “a high priority.” Everything she said came from trainings she received for her job, not from any actual experiences addressing human trafficking.

But it is then she slipped the information that confirmed what many activists knew was the case but most government experts were smart enough to conceal: that the U.S. Attorney’s Office views domestic minor sex trafficking as “primarily gang-related,” and has moved the issue to its “gang unit”; transnational human trafficking on the other hand was moved to the civil rights unit.

The admission that the U.S. Attorney’s Office views domestic minor sex trafficking as a “gang-related” problem is significant. While right-wing anti-trafficking groups such as Shared Hope International has always insinuated racial overtones to the issue (e.g. urban Black men kidnapping suburban white schoolgirls), government officials tended to be more careful in how they communicate the issue. With the admission, however, it should now be a public knowledge that human trafficking is becoming yet another way for young men of color to be criminalized and imprisoned, while leaving behind many economic and social circumstances that lead many youth to engage in the sex trade.

The rep from the U.S. Attorney’s Office continuously praises her boss to the point I get embarrassed for her. An audience member comments how the “turf war” between State and federal officers are often obstacles, to which she responds “it depends on the individual–call my boss if you have any issues.”

Someone in the audience commented that victims of human trafficking like the man who gave his testimony should be supported so that they can become leaders and educators in the battle against human trafficking, rather than simply having their stories used. Bickford and Sykes respond, but they don’t seem to get it: Bickford says how he appreciates victims because he learns a lot from talking with them, and Sykes talks about how victims can make good outreach workers because they speak indigenous languages being spoken by other laborers. They don’t get it.

Frustrated, Jeri Williams–a Portland city employee with background in environmental and labor activism who identifies herself as a survivor of sex trafficking–speaks out: when Human Trafficking Task Force and others ask survivors of trafficking to “tell their stories” without payment, they are continuing the exploitation rather than fighting it–especially when celebrity speakers are paid thousands of dollars to be keynote speakers for anti-trafficking conferences (Williams didn’t name the conference, but I believe she is referring to the 2011 Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking conference which paid actress Daryl Hannah to keynote). I disagree with Williams on many things (after all she supports “end demand” campaigns that I think are ineffective and harmful for women), but I totally respect her for speaking out on this and supported her unsuccessful bid for the City Council this year.

Williams further spoke about how New Options for Women which provides drug treatment and other services to adult women who have prostitution records is facing budget elimination and stresses how we must salvage it. Another audience member who works for Multnomah County spoke out against Secure Communities initiative which prevents immigrant communities from cooperating with the law enforcement because of the fear that such contacts would lead to immigration detention and deportation of their family and community members. In response, Bickford stated that he was just a lowly detective in the law enforcement but he has been educating himself about the issues, carefully avoiding any statement that can be perceived as too political.

Overall, the forum was informative in terms of the government’s perspective of human trafficking in Oregon: that they seem to only recognize two variations of human trafficking (domestic minor sex trafficking on one hand, and transnational adult labor trafficking in the other), and that domestic minor sex trafficking is now being treated as a “gang-related” issue. It was also interesting to observe that, other than Jeri Williams, none of the people who are involved in the movement against sex trafficking were in the audience (in fact, there was a leader of an anti-prostitution group in the audience at the beginning, but she left after finding out that the forum focused on transnational labor trafficking), further demonstrating how we perceive a clear division between the two officially recognized categories of human trafficking–which, to borrow Manning’s phrase, may be more subtle in reality.

Janus Youth’s conscious move to betray youth, and why we need to create systems to hold social service industrial complex accountable

Date: November 23, 2011

Last week, I wrote about how Janus Youth, Portland area’s largest youth service provider, assisted the City’s raid on Occupy Portland encampment under the dubious premise that the camp “endangered” youth (rather than that it simply attracted youth who are already endangered due to lack of housing, opportunities, and services). I also discussed how it reflected Janus’ increasingly pro-police stance as it became further and further dependent on “anti-trafficking” funds.

But the reality of Janus’ betrayal of youth was much worse, as I found out when I attended a presentation about Portland’s CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children–which should actually say “youth” instead of “children” for CSEY) programs at the national runaway and homeless youth conference.

The presentation, titled “CSEC: A Collaborative Approach to Addressing Sexual Exploitation of Children in Your Community,” was presented by three individuals representing Janus Youth, FBI, and Sexual Assault Resource Center (which has a trafficked minor program inside a big church).

The person from Janus started off his presentation with a statement that he was going to say some critical things about his agency. His complaint: Janus workers were not very friendly to the police officers in the past.

For example, he continued, when police officers detain and deliver youth to the Janus service center for curfew violation and other reasons, youth are frequently angry at the police officer. They often complain that they have been brutalized, harassed, or otherwise treated unjustly by the officer. Social workers at Janus validated their feelings and helped them file grievances, which made police officers hostile to Janus.

Janus guy felt it had to change, so he told all of his staff to treat police officers “like their best friends.” As a result, police began to like Janus a whole lot more, and now they are such great partners. In other words, Janus has made a conscious decision to side with the police when youth feel violated and abused by the police, rather than affirming and validating youth’s experiences.

Janus also helped police officers get hold of a youth who was camping at Occupy Portland. Because many Occupy protestors were hostile to police officers, it wasn’t the best idea to send police officers into the camp in order to search a youth. Instead, they asked Janus worker to go into the camp to find the youth for them.

It was in the context of this intimate relationship between Janus and the law enforcement that the former provided the justification for the City to use its police force to forcibly evict youth who had chosen Occupy camp over Janus’ services, presumably to save youth from themselves.

The director of trafficked minor program at SARC spoke next, also describing friendly relationship with the law enforcement. She, too, criticized other feminist anti-violence projects that are skeptical of law enforcement, and discussed how SARC was different from those in that they value partnering with the law enforcement.

The person from FBI who works closely with the anti-trafficking division of Portland Police Bureau also repeated her satisfaction with the law enforcement’s relationship to service providers like Janus and SARC. She explained that the law enforcement specifically chose these two organizations to work with over other anti-violence projects because of their pro-police stances.

“Collaborations with Janus and SARC are great; it makes victims better witnesses for the prosecution,” she said. SARC person echoed this sentiment when she explained the benefit of SARC’s services: Because SARC isn’t a mandated reporter, youth feel safer disclosing their experiences to them. And once they disclose their experiences to someone, they are more likely to disclose to other service providers who are mandated to report, or even to the law enforcement.

In my opinion both Janus and SARC have perverted their mission to support youth when they bought into the structure that prioritize prosecution rather than empowerment and long-term well-being of their clients. It is probably true that someone who discloses once to a non-mandated reporter are more likely to disclose to someone else who will act on that information, but is it beneficial to the youth? It feels like the premeditated manipulation of youth they are supposed to empower.

Someone in the audience asked whether they thought a locked facility (i.e. some place youth cannot get out of on their own will) might be a good option for victims of sex trafficking. Both Janus and SARC persons were cautious, but the Janus person said it was more preferable to build a non-locked facility in areas far removed from the City (which of course is no different from a locked facility unless one has access to a vehicle). The SARC person claimed that over half of the women they are serving want to be locked up, which I find highly questionable. She made it seem like someone engaging in non-suicidal self-cutting should be locked up for her safety, which I completely disagree with, as I believe cutting can be a very useful coping strategy for many survivors (including myself).

Another person, a youth worker from Texas, asked the presenters to comment on the most recent Village Voice article which cites a study from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Among many things, the study reports that only about 10% of the youth who trade sex in New York City have pimps, undermining the theory that youth survival sex equals “modern day slavery.”

The SARC person completely dismissed the study, claiming that most youth who trade sex have pimps, and suggested that researchers probably didn’t have enough rapport with the youth to discover the truth. But people I know from Safe Horizon/Streetwork, which reaches more street youth in New York than any other organizations there affirm that the John Jay study reflects their own understanding of reality. The youth worker from Texas also seemed to believe that the John Jay study to be valid, and seemed surprised to see SARC’s dismissive attitude.

In response, the SARC person characterized the “debate” over sex trafficking to be between those who believe sex work is an empowering choice versus those who disagree with that, clearly positioning herself in the latter camp. But this is a grotesquely unfair and dishonest characterization of the real debate here. The real debate is between youth-centered versus police-centered approaches, harm reduction versus paternalism, and reality-based versus ideological.

I also attended several other workshops on the topic, all of which turned out to be throughly dishonest and anti-youth.

For example, the workshop titled “Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking: A Collaborative Approach” was presented by two women from Rainbow House of Columbia, Missouri, which I was particularly interested in because I have engaged in sex trade as a teenager while living in Missouri and therefore I know something about the topic.

Their level of knowledge and awareness was dismal, as evidenced by their tacit acceptance of mythical “statistics” about youth in the sex trade. They also included “mail order bride” as an example of human trafficking, which doesn’t agree with the actual legal definition of trafficking, despite the fact they take advantage of the legal definition when it is convenient to do so as they characterize all sex trade by a minor as “modern day slavery.”

The presenters placed a huge emphasis on the role of Stockholm Syndrome as a way to explain why many youth defend people who are abusing and exploiting them. “Youth frequently go back to their pimps and traffickers because of brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome,” they insist, but fail to mention the possibility that their services do not meet the youth’s needs.

Someone in the audience gave an unsolicited advice: “When a youth runs away from your services, try to locate them in the adult services section of Backpage.com!” Well, what about thinking about ways to make the services more attractive so that they don’t have to run away from you?

The Rainbow House people also gave a “story” of one of its clients, most likely without the explicit permission of the youth whose story was used, and I find such practice exploitative and offensive. They even told the audience that the youth did not admit to trading sex, but other clients told them about it; she eventually run away from Rainbow House. These details made their telling of her story even worse. I don’t understand why they can’t simply find a youth who consent to having their stories shared in this form.

The presenters demonstrated their cluelessness when they recommended that service providers learn and use street slangs in order to “make youth feel comfortable.” I can’t believe that they said this. Service providers certainly should learn and understand street slangs, but it is an extremely bad idea to use them unless they actually come from the street culture. Youth do not feel comfortable with people who are fake; in fact, they will completely distrust you when you present yourself as something that you are not. It is much better to simply own up to their status as (often white middle-class) college-educated professionals.

Further, someone in the audience asked the presenters about dealing with girls who recruit other girls in the youth services into sex trade, possibly for a pimp. The presenters replied that they have never seen that happening in their years of working at the youth shelter, which once again shows that they do not know what they are talking about.

Yet another workshop I attended was presented by Polaris Project, a prominent national anti-trafficking organization. Their presentation felt more like a cult seminar than a social service workshop, because the whole audience seemed to have “drunk the cool-aid” that dissociated them from the reality. Aside from repeating all the false “statistics” and the supposed spike in human trafficking during the Super Bowl (which there is none), their perception of sex trade was so unreal.

For example, Polaris vastly exaggerated the number of sexual acts that a typical “trafficked youth” (which is any minor who trade sex) performs, or the money pimp makes each year, giving the figure that is completely unrealistic. When the presenters began “brainstorming” for what the society associates with pimps, the audience responded that the society views pimps as benevolent protectors–which I highly doubt is what most people think about pimps. Interestingly, nobody mentioned how the word “pimp” has a racial connotation.

Overall, the conference was a painful reminder that most of the youth services are horrible and anti-youth. I sometimes feel jealous of youth today because there seem to be more resources for them than I had 20 years ago, but Youth Services Still Suck. There were several more presentations about trafficking of youth, but I had to go home early because I could not handle it any more.

On the last day of the conference, the closing keynote presenter was (predictably) Rachel Lloyd from Girls Education and Mentoring Services. I actually agreed with many things she said, such as how we must work toward fighting poverty if we truly cared about stopping sexual exploitation of youth.

But it was painful to hear her speak knowing that GEMS takes most of its clients from criminal justice system as an involuntary, court-mandated “services,” or that they do not accept any transgender girls and young women who need services, or that they do not honor gender identities and pronouns of female-assigned transgender or genderqueer youth who get mandated to receive their “services” like a prison sentence.

It was painful knowing, as she promoted her film, Very Young Girls, and her book, Girls Like Us, that girls shown in the film (who were court-mandated to be there) were not told how their images were being used, and that girls whose stories illustrate Rachel’s narratives throughout the book did not give permission for their stories to be told. I can’t write everything I know about GEMS here, but there are many other reasons I felt sad and in pain as I heard Rachel receive a standing ovation.

There seems to be so much desire in our society to reach out to the youth experiencing rough times, but the institutions that supposedly exist to provide services are often fundamentally flawed. Especially in this time of economic downturn (and hence greater reliance on government funding), more and more organizations are assuming their role as the extension of the law enforcement and the welfare system that dehumanize and abuse youth.

I think we need to replicate “Bad Encounter Line” system that Young Women’s Empowerment Project has developed in Chicago. BEL is “a way to report bad experiences you had with institutions such as police, the health care system, public aid, DCFS, CPS, etc.” that are “set in place to help” youth. The repots are published as zines, and used to introduce systems of accountability in social service fields.

I want to start this. Is anyone in Portland or Seattle area interested also?

Reclaiming “victim”: Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse

Date: November 22, 2011

Feminists organizing against domestic and sexual violence generally use the word “survivor” instead of “victim” to refer to people who experience violence (unless, of course, the person is murdered, in which case the term “survivor” obviously does not apply). “From victim to survivor” (and even “to thriver” sometimes) is a model often invoked by people who are working to heal and empower victims/survivors of abuse as well as by the victims/survivors themselves.

I myself have used the word “survivor” for many years. But as I began questioning “survivor” narratives and exploring negative survivorship as a compelling alternative to the cult of compulsory hopefulness and optimism in the “trauma recovery industry,” I came to identify with and embracing the term “victim” more. I never felt that I survive well enough to call myself a survivor anyway.

Many people prefer the word “survivor” to “victim” because “survivor” feels strong and proactive. I understand that, as that is precisely how I felt for a long time also, but I am starting to think that we need to honor and embrace weakness, vulnerability, and passivity as well, or else we end up blaming and invalidating victims (including myself) who do not feel strong some or most of the times.

The society views victimhood as something that must be overcome. When we are victimized, we are (sometimes) afforded a small allowance of time, space, and resources in order to recover–limited and conditional exemptions from normal societal expectations and responsibilities–and are given a different set of expectations and responsibilities that we must live up to (mainly focused around getting help, taking care of ourselves, and recovering). “Healing” is not optional, but is a mandatory process by which a “victim” is transformed into a “survivor”; the failure to successfully complete this transformation results in victim-blaming and sanctions.

This is the so-called “victim role,” an extension of sociologist Talcott Parsons’ theory of “sick role.” The society needs victims to quickly transition out of victimhood into survivorship so that we can return to our previous positions in the heteronormative and capitalist social and economic arrangements. That, I believe, is the source of this immense pressure to become survivors rather than victims, a cultural attitude that even many feminist groups have internalized.

This victim-to-survivor discourse is a common theme in the trauma recovery services/industry. A self-help website, for example, states:

This section is about moving from Victim-To-Survivor.

This is an action step, and a change in mentality.

Yes, you are a victim of sexual abuse, but a victim stays in a victim role and never moves further and changes any behaviors that might change the outcome of the feelings that you are suffering from.

You can’t change what happened to you… but you CAN change how you will react to it and how you want your life to be from this day forward!

Once you make the decision to recover, you have the power to change your life!!

Your abuser does not have to win! You can take back your power and move on and not stay stuck where you are!

Hence, victimhood is construed as static and uncomfortable. Being a victim means that the abuser has won, and the victim is left without any “power” and is “stuck” where she or he is. The only hope for the victim is not a revolution, or community accountability and care, but “a change in mentality.” I find this rhetoric overly apolitical, individualistic, and victim-blaming.

Such messages are not uncommon. Another examples is a recent (10/26/2011) “expert blog” article on Mayo Clinic website, which is ironically titled “Victim or survivor? It’s your choice.” When I first saw the title, I thought the article was about how we as victims and survivors get to define our own experiences. but it wasn’t. Because the author is an oncologist, I assume that it is an advice intended for cancer survivors–but the article itself does not make that explicit, and his comments feels very similar to things people say to victims/survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Everyone has setbacks, disappointments and frustrations. But the way you respond to these challenges and opportunities is what defines you. Whether you become a victim or a “seasoned survivor” depends on your attitude and the way you view the setback.

When faced with an overwhelming crisis, whether personal, spiritual or financial, your circuits can be overloaded. You may feel paralyzed. However, once a little time has passed, you can marshal your options to creatively deal with the problem.

Whatever has happened, you can choose to whine and complain about it, or to profit and learn from the experience. Whining is not only unproductive, it also pushes away your support network. Friends and colleagues will listen for just so long, but then it is time to move on. The choice is yours. Your life depends on it.

Once again, victims who “whine and complain” are blamed for causing their own suffering by pushing away our support networks, as if our mentality is the only barrier for us victims/survivors to thrive. While the author pretends to offer “choices,” he is clearly promoting normative survivorship over “unproductive” whining and complaining, blaming those of us who remain “victims” for failing to live up to our societal expectations.

I argue that feminist anti-violence movements and communities must embrace unproductive whining and complaining as legitimate means of survival in a world that cannot be made just by simply changing our individual mentalities. We must acknowledge that weakness, vulnerability, and passivity are every bit as creative and resilient as strength and activeness. And I think we can start that by reclaiming “victim” and “victimhood” and resisting the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse of the trauma recovery industry that imposes compulsory hopefulness and optimism in the service of neoliberal capitalist production.

Erasure of Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade — My keynote at Transgender Day of Remembrance

Date: November 20, 2011

For those of you who came to my keynote presentation at Transgender Day of Remembrance at PSU (no, not that one, the one in Portland) this afternoon, thank you for coming! As I’ve promised, I am posting the slides from my presentation publicly so that people who came to the presentation can go back to read the slides again, and those who couldn’t make it can also see what I presented about. Please note that the slides are not intended to be stand-alone; they may not be self-explanatory without my talk. But regardless–enjoy!

(10/28/2012 – Link updated after Apple shut down iWork.com)

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