Browsing articles tagged with " sex work"
Sep
7

Dead Rentboys tell no tales

published at Feminist Current September 1, 2015

 

Philip Michael Peck picture

Philip Michael Peck, 1990

 

Philip Michael Peck was a gay boy and my best friend in high school. We met over Whoopie Goldberg in the back of the science room. We hadn’t ever spoken before and he had his usual gaggle of girls around him when one girl said Whoopie was ugly. Phil indignantly exhorted, “Whoopie Goldberg is beautiful!” and the girls scoffed for the half-moment it took me to lift my head and confirm, “Whoopie Goldberg is beautiful.” His eyes met mine and we fell in love.

Phil started prostituting at 14 when older men solicited him in New York City mall bathrooms. From there he went on to do gay pornography and live sex shows. He would send me pictures of him performing drag shows under the name Marissa (my middle name) and tell me how he got free drinks if he performed. I did not get pictures from the two times he drank so much vodka he coughed blood and spent weeks in the hospital.

Phil told me about stealing a bag of cocaine from a john and ended the story with, “Honey, this city better be big enough for the both of us because I can’t see him again.” He ran a small gay escort agency until he got arrested in a hotel overlooking Madison Square Garden.

Phil and his partner of six years, Darren, lived for years as male prostitutes in New York City. They were “rentboys” in the current euphemistic parlance. Once when I visited, Darren kept awkwardly standing around because he had gotten painful shots in the ass to cure the syphilis one of his regular johns had given him.

Phil and Darren both tested HIV positive. Darren got sick and died after a lightning fast three weeks in the hospital. AIDS can be a protracted illness, but the speed at which it took Darren shook me.

Phil kept turning tricks after learning he was HIV positive. No worried lecture from me could change his need for money, and none of my conscience-buckling at the thought of him spreading AIDS could change his reckless behavior so I supported him with the unconditional love of lifelong friends.

Philip died at the age of 32 because of men’s belief in their right to economically coerced sex on their own abusive, risky, deadly terms.

I used to brag to people with sex positive pride that I had sex worker friends who were living the good life. Doing this boosted my own sexy street cred and I consciously chose not to relay the ugly truths they told me about getting raped and getting various sexually transmitted diseases.

I don’t blame myself for the pains he went through living by prostitution and dying by AIDS, but I can’t help wondering if things might have been different if I didn’t encourage his and Darren’s prostituting all those years.

I think of Phil when I read about how legalizing prostitution is supposed to make prostituted people safer from rape and sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and syphilis. I think of how Phil worked in the legal porn industry that has had multiple decades to demonstrate how safe legalized prostitution can be, and I think of how very weak the case for legalized prostitution becomes when positioned next to the massive failures of corporate pornographers to protect the pornstitutes in their employment.

I consider the idea that legal prostitution would reduce sexually transmitted diseases not just anti-common sense and anti-science, but also demonstrably not the agenda of the already legalized pimps, called pornographers. Pornographers have fought hard against protecting sex workers from the obvious risks of industrialized sex-product production, but free market libertarians like Graeme Reid, Eric Sasson, and Tara Burns have convinced themselves this predictable result of capitalism will be different once prostitution without cameras is made legal.

I am glad Matthew Ebert is still alive to tell his tale, and I’m glad the anonymous man writing in the Guardian is still alive to tell his tale, but they can’t bring Phil and Darren back to life so that they can tell their tales too.

I last saw Phil in a coffee shop near Madison Square Garden. He had stopped prostituting, beat his addictions to hardcore drugs, and was struggling to overcome alcoholism as he volunteered with the Gay Men’s Health Clinic. He spoke about a former john who hired him to clean his massive Westchester house, but every time the man made a sexual advance Phil refused. “It’s not worth it anymore, not for all the money he has,” he told me that last time I would see him. He told me how proud he was of the anti-prostitution work I do.

I could spend every day of my life speaking for my dead best friend and it would not put back on this Earth what was taken away by johns who put their power-playing pleasure above other people’s lives. I will spend every day of my life fighting against the sexual commodification of human beings that took the life of my best friend.

Samantha Berg is a radical feminist journalist, activist, and event organizer. Her articles have been published in progressive media for over a decade, and in recent years she has organized anti-prostitution political events in the United States and Canada. Samantha’s blog is JohnStompers.com and her website, Genderberg.com, is dedicated to Phil.

Feb
8

Norwegian prostitution research solid like iceberg

published at Feminist Current February 8, 2013


Samantha Berg elaborates on Pro Sentret’s research into violence against prostituted women under the Nordic model.


The third page of Pro Sentret’s Dangerous Liaisons report lays out the mission statement for the 2012 investigation:

“The purpose is to evaluate whether the women are more exposed to violence after the introduction of the law.”

The methodology of choice was a comparison of 2007/08 numbers with new 20012 numbers:

“The design of the questionnaire was approximately the same as the questionnaire that was used in 2007/2008, albeit perhaps somewhat shorter.”

Comparable numbers were compared. Murder attempts weren’t asked about in 2007/08 so those numbers are broken down for race and indoor/outdoor but left off the graph comparing dates.

When I noticed the potential discrepancy between years in prostitution before and after the law change I played the responsible journalist and emailed Pro Sentret. The unspeakably high mortality rate in prostitution reduces “career” longevity by a fair degree (aka women don’t last long), and the notorious influx of young foreigners from poverty-stricken countries made me suspect the pre-2007/08 average time in prostitution wouldn’t have been many years.

Pro Sentret’s senior officer Camilla Hammergren’s replied that the data hasn’t been translated into English and added, “The women were asked how long they had been in prostitution. The data/results were not given room in the report must mean they gave no significant findings regarding vulnerability.” She also suggested author Ulla Bjorndahl might offer more information when she returns from personal leave in late February.

Provide me with the translated raw data and I’ll read every speck. Berg blood is valkyrie blood and I’m a linguist with training in Germanic languages, so if anyone wants to pay for the educational materials and give me a few weeks I’ll read it in Norwegian. Until then, I’m taking the Dangerous Liaisons report on its own terms. Pro Sentret set the board, they put down the pieces, and they explained the rules according to them. The Nordic model won the game.

If you consider the methodology too sketchy to trust, all right. The report is dead to you, you can stop reading now, goodbye.

For the rest I have another game, still on Pro Sentret’s board and using their pieces, but played by the rules of those who are trying to discredit the research.

Imagine that the average time in prostitution before 2007/08 is triple the three year research window since, nine years prior to three years post. As intended, that generous hypothetical would lessen the impact of the very dramatic reductions in rape, pimp violence, and client violence currently reported.

Here’s the home viewer participation portion of the game; how does that hypothetical affect the 150% leap in biting and 167% increase in hair pulling since 2007/08?

Pardon the intemperance, but I believe my theory explaining the already formidable rise in biting and hair pulling was perfect. Add up an imaginary nine years of pre-2007/08 biting and hair pulling and set them next to what men did in the last three years to see a downright unholy rise in these very specific violations.

Why?

Contemplate your answer while we advance to the second level: quotes! No numbers allowed, this is the round where proof that criminalizing punters is effective scores big points on the strength of words and common sense.

Meghan Murphy recently wrote, “The sad truth is that, if buying sex is legal, the police aren’t likely to start going after or charging johns who rape and abuse prostitutes on their own accord. We know this. We know the police have been ignoring violence against prostituted women, particularly those who are poor and racialized, for years.”

We do know, and thanks to Pro Sentret’s report we also know:

Most of the women who said they would seek help to protect against violence said that they called or threatened to call the police when they found themselves in a dangerous or threatening situation. This would often scare the customers, or others, who were acting threatening/violent away.”

Remember my email to Camilla Hammergren? I had included a request for clarification on ‘most’ and ‘often’ in numbers because I’m thorough like that, but honestly it doesn’t matter. Putting the power of police in prostituted women’s hands is the theory behind the Nordic model and it works.

We also know there were no reports of police committing any kind of violence whatsoever against prostituted women in the 2012 research, which is a card I can play this round because “nothing” isn’t a number.

My final hand from Pro Sentret’s deck:

“A fairly large amount of the women said that there was little they could do to protect themselves against violence. The reason they gave for this was usually that they already did what they could, and that prostitution was so risky that it was impossible to protect yourself against violence. Some of the women who said there was little they could do, also said the only thing they might be able to do was quit prostitution.”

Let’s play again soon.

Prostitution FAQ

In 2005, I endeavored to write the best prostitution FAQ on the web and it still is.

prostitution faq

Radio Interview

“Interview with Samantha Berg: A Primer on Abolitionist Feminism” with Ernesto Aguilar for Pacifica Radio, originally aired on Houston, Texas channel 90.1 FM KPFT, June 25, 2014

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