Who's the boss
In addressing who’s the boss in the erotic service provider industry, the public has long told us it is the ‘pimp’ who is our boss and we need to be rescued from them. That big menacing man who threaten our life and limb if we don’t summit our bodies and earning. This culture definition doesn’t square with the legal definition of a pimp, which is defined and criminalized on a state by state basis. According to California penal code pimping is defined as the following:
266h. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), any person who,
knowing another person is a prostitute, lives or derives support or
maintenance in whole or in part from the earnings or proceeds of the
person's prostitution, or from money loaned or advanced to or charged
against that person by any keeper or manager or inmate of a house or
other place where prostitution is practiced or allowed, or who
solicits or receives compensation for soliciting for the person, is
guilty of pimping, a felony, and shall be punishable by imprisonment
in the state prison for three, four, or six years.
This definition has a wide range of applications that includes one’s children as pimps.
Additionally this law bars workers from hiring support staff; drivers, security, phone help, landlords, nannies, housekeepers and financiers. A quick gloss over of the rest of these laws (not listed above), included in this statue reveals their aim to curtail men forcing women into prostitution by criminalizing all of the workers’ domestic relations.
So it is against this back drop, that erotic service providers interface with organized labor tradition of boss verses employee. In recognizing our right and common need to organize ourselves on our own terms, to be self determined and operate from a place of agency in our work, it’s of no surprise that our union organizing will not look like the mainly dominate white and entitled patriarchal ruling class labor models. These rulers of our society have defined all of our relationships, domestic and business alike, as criminal. It is in this way these bosses have taken license to occupy our occupation by defining our relationships without our permission. I call this top down criminalization of our industry and it is clearly an unfair labor practice.
It was at the turn of the last century in the US that white upper class Christian women took on active suppression, not regulation of our industry, by legislative means. Their agenda included gaining their own the right to vote and stopping alcohol consumption. The idea of outlawing prostitution out of existence evolved out of the slavery abolition movement of the civil war era by early feminist who had the emancipation of women on their mind. Women, like black slaves had no rights to property or parental rights let alone bodily freedom or access to the economics of their own labor. The do-gooder women took the route of creating laws to suppress prostitution even though by doing so meant suppressing prostitute’s inherent civil rights to work in an occupation of one’s choosing.
This group of women, whose right to vote was imminent, successfully lobbied the all male legislatures to take up outlawing prostitution businesses first by zones, then by criminalizing our relationships and finally our free speech to negotiate for our labor and work conditions. They successfully convinced legislatures that prohibiting prostitution business via violating prostitutes’ civil rights would result in equalizing their role as women in society just as outlawing slavery would make equal all people. More dominate in the public discourse where their arguments that suppressing prostitution would eliminate venereal diseases and end forced labor in the sex trade, much in the same way those same arguments are used today by the same class of people. It is here, in these kinds of legislations, that we see sex industry workers’ rights collectively bargained away by these bosses. These anti prostitution laws have literally become our contract.
In a classic book titled “ The Prostitution Papers’ we saw feminist of the 1970’s specifically exclude prostitutes rights from the boarder struggle of women’s rights to bodily freedom. This move again relegated our bodies to the public domain. The 1990’s brought increased prosecutions to customers of prostitutes under the guise that penalizing men at the same rate the mostly female prostitutes would pass for equal protection. This act specifically proliferated the profiteering of diversion programs run by non profits and law enforcement agencies. The do-gooders, feminist and government have become in effect the collective modern day bosses of prostitutes and all of our support staff which in many cases is ourselves. These slave holders continue to dictate and define which ‘rights’ prostitutes and all other erotic service providers shall not have.
Today, in being the proponent of Proposition K, a 2008 local San Francisco ballot measure to stop the enforcement of the prostitution laws and bring equal protection to sex workers, I saw 41% of voters agree that prostitution ought to be decriminalized. The voters who opposed Prop K said they would have voted for it if included restrictions. Clearly this majority acted in the capacity as our boss and has continued to be more than forth coming with ideas about what limits our industry ought to be bound to even though they’ve never worked in our industry and don’t have any plans to do so.
This state of ignorance about the common economy that matters to us debases how erotic laborers actually arranges our relationships. It ignores how we perform direct services one minute and perform indirect services in support of another’s direct services the next. By rejecting prop k, voter opted not to taking responsibility for how society created and maintains the exploitive state of criminalization in the first place. The idea that legalization will magically erase 100 years of cumulative state sponsored systematic human, civil and labor rights violations lacks maturity. As if buying a licenses to whore will automatically bar anyone from challenging our parental rights, grant equality in education, employment and migration. Having to listen to the fantasy of how legalization will remove opportunities for extortion is such an insult. History tells us that solely regulating business ownership and other tools of capitalism as a means to bring enfranchisement certainly hasn’t worked for Black Americans, migrant workers, or TGBL members of our society.
Proposition K called for decriminalization as a means to remove the threat of arrest from all workers to gain equal access to protection under the law as a first step to enfranchise all who participate in prostitution in San Francisco regardless of country of origin, documentation or lack thereof. We don’t need our bosses to arrest us first, rename us as victims, a poor means to accessing human, civil and labor rights under the burden of having a criminal record. Some workers have been deported! We don’t need society, our bosses to arrest our clients and support staff and rename them abusers and pimps for our own good in order to access equal protection under the law. We need law enforcement to stop its dual mandate of harassing us out of work, and instead enforce the equal protection laws. Reporting crimes of rape, robbery, theft, coercion, fraud, assault, battery, extortion and murder are the higher priority for everyone. When society encourages perpetrators to target us for aggression because we aren’t valued via the criminalization of prostitution law that says I’m not to give my money to anyone who’s services I value or live with, society has effectively emboldened perpetrators but ultimately the general public’s safety has been compromised.
The issue for sex industry workers is that we have to employ the labor principal of always being recognized at the center of any and all contracts that concern us. Of concern are the practices of ex-workers who usurp our voices on our behalf as ‘advocates’ without our permission. We see non workers acting in the boss capacity to gain access to public and private monies to employ themselves to bring us ‘services’ instead of our right to migrate for work, to hire support staff, agencies, to support and live with our loved ones. We already are and will continue to be a global workforce. We have to live and work on our own terms not the terms of suppression polices proposed by these bosses who’s salaries that are tied to suppression enforcement policies.
We have one set of bosses, law enforcement agencies, who arbitrarily enforce criminalization and civil laws while they stand with politicians in opposition to repeal these bad laws. And another set of bosses, generally associated with NGO’s , are in bed with government funding who busy themselves with implementing new laws that would further violate our civil rights to due process, our privacy, free speech and further restrict our travel. Known prostitutes are deterred from not only from applying for work and educational opportunities outside of the sex industry for fear of recrimination and becoming targets for sexual extortion. All of these bad laws lay us vulnerable to employing a third party bosses who offer us assistance in these matters and there by setting up the possibilities of entering exploitive work and living conditions because our work, our lives and our relationships don’t have legal standing and our voices don’t count.
And unionization is the means by which we can take back custody of our voices. Standing in solidarity with each other no matter what continent we’re on or what part of the industry we work in is the way to collectively demand that the bosses stop dictating to us the terms upon which we work, live, and receive protection under the law. In coming together, we afford ourselves the opportunity to identify the larger systems of oppression and oppressors but more importantly identifying our common economy the matters to us and best to protect ourselves. In acknowledging the inter relatedness within the different factions of the erotic service provider community, we have to stop the onslaught of passing more bad laws that aim to control us for no other reason than we exist.
For example, passing US federal law 2257 now requires among other things, that online porn creators and distributors maintain ‘regular business hours’ to allow government officials to review on demand documentation of model’s age of consent. This law is now the means by which online escort advertisers right to privacy are being compromised without any access to equal protection under the law. On a local level, San Francisco enforces the anti prostitution laws against everyone except dancers working as prostitutes inside the dance clubs who pay illegal fees to owners for the right to work. This brings up questions about federal labor racketing and corruption violations. Internationally, the American’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act has in effect forced countries like Cambodia to criminalize prostitution targeting brothels for closure resulting in brutal rapes and assaults of workers by police while in police custody!
In unionizing, we have to institutionalize for all workers the ability to access agency through a labor model of our defining. Sidestep mistaken identity politics of the old bosses is what we have to do. Demanding that these people stop acting as our bosses and stop occupying our industry by defining for us who our oppressors are and who can gain representation and what form that agency can take place is part of the oppression that we have to collectively face and change. We have to come together with the idea of being in long term relationships together to go beyond applying short term pressure on leverage points de jure to attain lasting constitutionally relief from this state of submission.
May the millions of erotic laborers on the planet be organized into a labor model that will work for all of us. Join as many labor based organizations that will have you. If you don’t work in the sex industry currently, then join as us in an associate or auxiliary member and become part of the important support system to help us access change on our own terms. Join our collective demand that our unions be recognized on our own terms, and not made to jump through qualifying hoops by the same bosses who criminalized us 100 years ago.
In Sexual Solidarity in the year 2009
Erotic Service Providers Union
site of Erotic Service Providers Union