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Pimps Are Not Our Friends

sex workers' clinic should distance itself from managers

Forum: pro-decrim list
Date: 11/22/2004

Annie wrote:

I'm floored that a group of about five people have been giving the St. James clinic (a free clinic for sex workers, run by sex workers) an awful time, trying to shut it down, and slandering it, because they think the Clinic shouldn't take monitary donations from strip club owners.

I'm not one of the five or so people in question (and in fact, I don't agree with all of their demands), but my understanding is that nobody is trying to shut down the clinic. There is a genuine disagreement among sex workers over whether or not the clinic should take money from the managers and pimps, and it should not be turned into a question of loyalty.

I find Annie's characterization of the controversy similar to how critics of war on Iraq or of PATRIOT Act are attacked as aiding and abetting terrorism and being anti-American. It's wrong to turn a genuine disagreement over issues into a test of loyalty because it stifles the free exchange of ideas and perspectives.

Since when do sex workers who need money not take money from those who have different beliefs, lifestyles, jobs, politics, etc?

There is a difference between individual sex workers taking money they are entitled to in exchange for their service, and organizations that are supposed to represent the interest of sex workers taking money from those whose economic interest is dialectically in conflict with ours.

When Danzine began publishing 'zines in Portland, some strip club owners offered to place ads in them to help cover the printing cost. Even though their offers were genuine and no visible strings were attached, Danzine refused to take their money, because we needed to keep Danzine independent of the managers in order to advocate for workers' interests in its pages.

Besides, not all strip club owners are bad people at all. Some are quite wonderful and do good things.

Do they treat their workers as employees and pay them livable wage, instead of charging them fees to work? Do they provide medical and other benefits that workers and their family members need? Do they take responsibility for occupational safety and health, covering them under the workers' compensation insurance, for example? They need to fix these things first before they can be considered friends of sex workers.

The St. James is not taking money in return for favors to club owners, or to any other donors.

Club owners are getting a good PR as if they care about sex workers' health, without actually making any changes at their establishments to improve working conditions that directly affect the well-being of their workers. If they are so concerned about sex workers' access to health care, why don't they already provide health insurance for all of their workers?

By associating themselves with the St. James Infirmary, managers are getting what they paid for: the public (mis)perception that they are concerned about their workers--which allows them to continue to exploit and mistreat workers at their establishments. Plus, they get tax credit. And a seat at the Board of Directors.

The Board! I still can't believe that they would put a boss on it. I could imagine having to accept a few checks from club owners to make ends meet, but I don't know what rationale there is for putting them on the Board. Why is that? My first guess was that it was offered in return for cash donations (which happens a lot within the 501c3 system), but Annie says that donors don't get any favorable treatment from SJI, so I'd like to find out what the actual reasons were that lead to the decision to invite the club owner to the Board of Directors. Someone please tell me!

Please fight the real enemies. (Ie: Bad laws, rapists, harmful addictions, stigma, sexually transmitted infections, predjudice, hate, etc.)

Bad management is our enemy. Consider how much money they are stealing from workers each night by refusing to treat them as employees and by charging stage fees, or how much money they are saving by not providing health insurance. The money they give back to sex workers in the form of donations to SJI is miniscule by comparison. Anyone who takes advantage of the society's prejudice toward us (prejudice is the reason for the government's refusal to enforce labor laws) for personal gain is just as much enemy as the prejudice itself.

- ek