Falconberg questions the authority of academics who have not experienced the nightmare of prostitution and yet feel qualified to write papers that intellectually sanitize the horror.
OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS, I have seen a number of articles in the Las Vegas press that fill me with sadness. The first by local journalist Kristen Peterson is called "Glamour Girls of the Streets" (Las Vegas Sun, 4 Dec. 2007) and recounts how photojournalist Jonnie Andersen heads out to take pictures of Las Vegas street prostitutes. According to Peterson, "The girls in Jonnie Andersen's recent photos emit joy, dignity, sensuality and strength."
Among other things, Andersen dressed the girls up in wedding dresses for the photos.
Peterson writes: "At first, Andersen says, the pimps (or 'boyfriends') wouldn't let her near the women, fearing she'd talk them out of the lifestyle or that the photos would boost their confidence."
Andersen says she "saw universal similarities between these women and everyone else." The basis for this claim, writes Peterson, is that "the models are presented as humans and not as stereotyped or glamorized drug addicts working the street."
Peterson's conclusion is that "the photos don't gloss over reality and they don't exploit misery." She thinks that the "photographer spotlights prostitutes' 'humanity'."
In response, I (the prostitute with the inside track on the subject) would first address the title "Glamour Girls of the Streets" and the phrase "glamorized drug addicts." Street girls report little glamour: their heads are banged against dashboards so much they sometimes suffer permanent damage; they kneel in alleys giving blow-jobs to strangers; they are stripped and left naked in the streets by clients (read 'rapists' for this last word).
I don't know how Andersen would have talked these girls out of this lifestyle when there is no place for them to go. No social services and open arms and tender understanding. And escape is very difficult. Fear of pimps is overwhelming according to former prostitute Rachel Lloyd, who started a service called GEMS in New York to help other girls out. She says you learn to keep your eyes down in front of your pimp, in docile surrender, so fierce is the punishment meted out for the slightest infraction of 'pimp rules.'
There is no "sensuality" in being raped all day and in taking the penises of men you don't know in your mouth in a dirty alley, as you kneel, subservient. No woman subjected to this "emits joy and dignity." As for "strength," it is all on the side of the pimp who beats and rapes submission continuously into his property.
A photo of Andersen accompanies the article: a picture of a woman all bright and smiling and sane since she is not raped all day.
We whores are not "similar" to you in any way, Ms. Andersen. We are raped all day. We do not have your "universal humanity."
Did you dress up the whores in wedding dresses as a grotesque masquerade of the protection and dignity they will never know?
Not only do your photos "gloss over" reality — but they present no reality whatsoever.
A moment of reality does creep accidentally into the article when Peterson describes the girls' "hardened faces" and the bruises and scar tissue over wrists. (Suicide rates are astronomical among whores and ex-whores due to the extreme torture of the lifestyle.)
Two clean safe women, journalist and photojournalist, without a clue about that extreme torture. Journalists such as these are parasites on the prostitutes' misery. How else explain that Andersen thought it was okay to photograph women who are rape-tortured by this sanctioned system called 'prostitution' — as if taking pictures of this were a 'norm' — and then she walked away from their pain. Also a 'norm,' that walking away: safe women all over Las Vegas , and everywhere in the world, who live in comfort and dignity, while next door, or in the next street, invisible women suffer terrible sexual violence and degradation. We have so accepted that some women must be sacrificed for the needs of 'the client' — and the profit of the pimp--that we do not even seem to question the act of taking pictures of this, and displaying them proudly in books and newspapers — works of 'art' based on unbelievable psychological and physical misery.
The girls cannot escape, Ms. Andersen. They are not like you. They do not share in your "humanity."
I wonder how many hundreds of times these girls have been raped over the last few months, since she took her pictures of them?
Abigail Goldman's "Bewildered Academics Pore Over Sex-Trade Hysteria" (Las Vegas Sun. 31 Jan. 2008) exalts two female sociologists at the University of Nevada who study the sex industry in that state. Goldman also cuts down San Francisco psychologist Melissa Farley for presenting a grim picture of that industry.
Goldman's stance is very odd. She asks why should Las Vegas , with its girls "direct-to-your-room," advertising, buy into Farley's ideas. Quite frankly, I don't think Goldman need worry about Las Vegas ever trying to combat prostitution and the trafficking that is such a huge part of the industry. Sex-for-sale brings in so much money in Nevada that it is untouchable by those who see the exploitative side. An article or two in the newspaper favoring Farley's side will not make a dent in the exploitation.
"Full-service girls, direct to your room," is an accepted norm in Las Vegas , no matter how many of us point out the enslaving side of prostitution.
Goldman also writes that "New York Times columnist Bob Herbert… swallowed Farley's thesis — that sex work is violence against women." (Actually, Bob Herbert has long taken a stance that prostitution exploits women in dreadful ways: he doesn't really need Farley to make up his mind for him on this. His highly sensitive articles on the subject in the NY Times are small miracles that I look forward to — they give a whore like me hope — there is a man who understands! Just his view of the meat-market line-up in the brothels as extremely degrading shows his humane commonsense. And his idea that prostitutes are the "least empowered" women he has ever seen. I'm a great example. I have no empowerment at all. It all got raped out of me and there is no 'power shake' of magic ingredients I can drink to bring it back.)
That prostitution is sexual violence toward women does not seem to be just Farley's thesis. The evidence everywhere is overwhelming. (The entire country of Sweden holds this view, by the way.) In preparation for a book I am finishing up called The Raped Vagina: A Military Prostitute's Story, I have read about 400 other books on prostitution over the past two years — so I would know what I am talking about. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of evidence that supports Farley's thesis — worldwide the picture of prostitution is very similar to what has now been termed 'trafficking': women and girls subjected to rape, violence, and terror tactics. Women and girls with few alternatives since corrupt police systems and paid-off politicians and patriarchal legal systems offer them little help. Escape from the brothel and go to the local police — and they drag you back to your owner, for a pay-off. Women and girls held in debt bondage, a modern form of financial slavery. The majority of prostituted women in the world are subjected to these conditions — horrifying and unbelievable as it seems, this torture and degradation are simply the norm for this 'profession.'
As Nicholas Kristof, another caring man who writes for the NY Times, points out, Kristen, the pampered call girl of former governor Spitzer, is not at all typical of prostituted beings. (See his excellent piece, "The Pimps' Slaves," in the 16 March 2008 NY Times.) When even the 'high-priced' girls report violence several times a year from clients, you can imagine that for the majority of 'lesser' women in the sex industry, it is a grim picture. As Kristof so beautifully phrases it, for them, "selling sex isn't a choice but a nightmare." To promote the idea that 'choice' is involved, as do the UNLV sociologists, misrepresents the circumstances of the majority of women and girls caught in this cruel profession worldwide. It is irresponsible to give the impression that the few who might have some freedom and dignity are representative. Far, far from it.
The two sociologists criticize Farley's work, saying it is not 'peer reviewed.' As an academic myself, I know what that empty, high-sounding phrase means — in this context. It means a bunch of non-whore women sitting around putting a stamp of approval on jargon-ridden prose that has no relevance to the heat and rape and pain of the brothelized whore. No connection to the bruised, beaten-down street whore with the near-death eyes.
I have said elsewhere that we need to remove the non-whore women from the discourse on the whore. Only sociologists who have been brothelized and degraded in the line-up and then set to work on the streets, on their knees, sucking the filthy dicks of guys they don't know — only these women should be allowed to write on the whore. Except their pimps will knock them around so much they won't have enough of a brain left to write with. Or enough spirit. That part of you is as dead as your body.
(I would subject all journalists and women's studies professors and other academics to the same brothel apprenticeship. Male journalists and academics included. I would make a few exceptions: scholarly women like Farley who already have sympathetic hearts and journalists like Herbert and Kristof — and a rare women's studies professor here and there who actually has a clue about the extreme suffering of the prostitute.)
At a "quiet academic gathering," as Goldman phrases it, the sociologists sat around, along with some women's studies professors, discussing the whore. (There is nothing "quiet" about rape, by the way — is a hot noisy inferno inside and the vagina is a place that bleeds and is in pain. I think that sociologists can only be allowed their self-indulgent, safe, rape-free "quiet gatherings" when no whore anywhere is ever again in the middle of the noise and chaos of rape-pain.)
Goldman writes that the "commodification of intimacy" is not all that simple. Actually, it is very simple. You cannot turn 'intimacy' into a commodity — except in the distanced vocabulary of the intellectual. Goldman favors these academic women. She seems to believe that you have to "elevate the discussion" to the intellectual level to get at the root causes. Well, the root causes are there and evident: a body is bought and sold, according to an historically sanctioned rape system called prostitution. The root cause is as clear as the bleeding vagina. I don't think we need any more academicians to point out the obvious in 'scholarly' prose no one can read. Goldman laments that no one will listen to the sociology professors since their format is "erudite dialogue." She is certainly right about the 'erudite.' Of those 400 books I read, a goodly number were written in this abysmal language we term 'academic' and 'peer-reviewed.' You would never know that the author was writing about a suffering, raped being, so distanced is the language from any reality. Even the few scholars out there with hearts become lost and ineffectual in this abominable way of writing.
A women's studies professor at the same "quiet academic gathering" believes that the way "sex workers" (her phrase, not mine) are presented as "universally exploited, trafficked, raped and coerced" goes well with the media's tendency to sensationalize. I would say the media is not 'sensationalizing' enough. They are not really uncovering the raw truth of what prostitution is. They need to follow the example of actress Daryl Hannah, who went into brothels to film the misery and also to take girls out.
More 'raw' reality is needed, not "quiet academic gatherings." Raw reality of the sort that actress Emma Thompson has brought to the table: she stars in a PSA video called "Trafficking is Torture" in which she portrays an Eastern European girl trafficked into the UK who is forced to have sex with 40 men a day. It is emotionally and physically wrenching. Bravo to Thompson for not "quietly" covering up reality but instead presenting the red-hot inferno of rape that prostitution is for most who are snared and trapped by this trade.
I don't think there is any excuse for "quiet academic" approaches to this misery. Even The New Yorker — a cool, distanced, and safely ensconced magazine if ever there was one — does not entirely hide the suffering from its readers. In a recent piece called "The Countertraffickers" (5 May 2008) William Finnegan, writing about the flourishing trafficking of girls from Moldova , describes how the "trauma and sorrow are intense." The New Yorker is usually pretty cool and intellectually distanced about pain. Yet Finnegan describes a prostituted girl covered with "knife scars and cigarette burns." He says the stories of the girls are ones of "desperation, violence, betrayal." If the girls are ever rescued, they "seem broken. Beatings, rape, and torture are common forms of labor control among pimps."
The majority of prostituted beings around the world undergo some form of violence and humiliation. For the academics who study these girls to actually give the impression that the profession usually involves 'choice' is false. It rarely does so. And who would chose a profession where beating and sexual violence are a possibility, even if not an everyday occurrence.
I'd like to use myself as an example again. Once I entered prostitution, I simply assumed that there was no way out. It was so damaging that I didn't have any will or commonsense or intellect or brain left — to fight it or to make other decisions for myself. I had no way of seeking help from others since I was such an outcast, due to my prostitute status. And, although not burned with cigarettes, I did once face a client who threatened to burn my nipples with a cigarette lighter if I didn't do what he wanted. I only faced two acts of violence the whole time I was in prostitution. This cigarette lighter incident was one of them. (The other was an anal rape.) No one hit me. No one slammed my head against a dashboard. I was not broken and controlled by a pimp. I could leave my apartment at any time I wanted, unlike the trafficked girls who are under constant surveillance lest they try to escape. (Never mind that I rarely did leave my apartment due to agoraphobia and a fear of leaving enclosed spaces that troubles me to this day.) I worked as a prostitute under optimal circumstances — compared to most of those poor wretches out there in the sex industry. But even those two acts of violence were too much. I am still haunted by them. If I had been beaten and burned and anally raped everyday, I would not have survived even a week or two.
The sociologists at that quiet safe academic gathering bring up the idea that to object to the sex industry in Nevada is reactionary in someway — it "recalls a time when pornography was widely seen as exploitative and dangerous. That was before it became accepted that some adult starlets had chosen their path and enjoyed it…"
The parallel between porn and prostitution is striking, but not in the way these sociologists think. The few porn stars who have made it big are not at all representative of the industry. Even ones who have prospered, like Belladonna, often tell of horrific experiences. Her first porn shoot was gang rape by a dozen men and she was torn up badly. Jenna Jameson herself criticizes the direction porn has taken — the desire to stuff the woman's orifices to breaking point. It is a shock to a woman's senses — and her sensibility — to watch current-day porn and see another woman stretched to ultimate pain by two penises in her vagina and two in her rectum. Many standard practices in mainstream porn are dangerous and degrading to all of us — like the idea that sex is simply the endless pounding of the penis into the female body — with little foreplay or human interaction. I am not prudish. I am not anti-sex. I love porn that has foreplay and tenderness and sensual dimensions and imagination. But, as with 'voluntary' prostitution, non-exploitative porn is very rare.
Only a sex industry that never hurts and degrades anyone will work. You cannot have a few pampered women who have by some miracle bypassed the usual enslaving conditions of prostitution and set them forth as the 'norm,' when the majority live in great misery. Even one woman enslaved destroys the freedom and dignity of us all.
Goldman ends her article by saying that these sociologists want to "study" the girls, not "save them." I don't think it is morally possible to study "suffering" without helping those who suffer.
It is interesting that the photo that accompanies this article has, in the foreground, a page from the Las Vegas yellow pages open to the section called "Entertainers." This particular page advertises "Barely Legal Teens" — pointing to yet another dangerous trend in pornography — the eroticizing and 'commodification' of children. (For my purposes, a teen is a 'child' as far as sex goes. I am quite old-fashioned in this respect — teenage girls are too young for sex. They have not figured out their bodies and emotions enough to engage in this incredibly important and beautiful act. Not only no sale of teens [children] in my world of kind and non-exploitative sex, but no sex for any girl until she's in her 20's.)
In the photo, behind the page open in the phone book, sits Chong Kim, an ex-prostitute who spoke on a panel in Las Vegas hosted by Farley. Ms. Kim was trafficked into Las Vegas , imprisoned in a storage locker, raped up to 50 times a day, and had her arm damaged so badly by her pimp that she is partially crippled.
Not a great photo to accompany an article on prostitution as a 'choice.'
The next article is by Henry Brean and is called "Love for Sale 101: Brothel Tour Part of College's U.S. Culture Curriculum" (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11 April 2008).
Love for Sale 101? Hum.
This one details a group of women students from ivy-league Randolph College in back- east Virginia who visit the Chicken Ranch Brothel. (I wish that journalists would be more accurate. "Rape for Sale at a Battery Fuck Factory" reflects what is really going on.) The photo accompanying it shows one of the wholesome college girls in the brothel room of a prostitute. This poor prostitute looks like a sad caricature of extreme sexual degradation. She has a huge artificial bosom, cleavage like the Grand Canyon , stale dead blonde hair, and heavy heavy heavy make up--all the whore paint trimmings she must dress up in to survive and hide herself from her deeper self. And to 'distinguish' her from the 'decent' women around her. The badge of dishonor — the heavily painted whore must look like a whore. If, as the sociologists imply, this is such a benign and non-exploitative institution, why must the prostitute look this way — cheap and sad and degraded. If you want to bring the sex industry into the realm of the safe and respected and the acceptable, then the woman should not be a composite of layered artificiality. She should look wholesome and sweet, if prostitution is so good for her as a career. This poor creature is in the requisite high high heels and her dress is practically up to her pussy. Sad. Cheap and sad and depressing. What we, the human, race, have turned women into and labeled "for sale." And in this same photo, this college girl is observing her surroundings. This "field trip" to the rape ranch, to the "sex battery farm," disguised as an outing to study 'culture.'
(Note: I found the phrase 'sex battery farm' in an article by UK journalist Janice Turner — "Brothels are Booming," Times Online, 23 Feb 2008.)
Studying rape culture and doing nothing about it. Making the simplicity of 'prostitution- rape' 'complex' by studying it and denying that a brothel is a rape prison.
I wonder if these ivy-league students know that the prostitutes are not allowed to sit in local restaurants during certain hours for fear their presence will contaminate the local schoolchildren. I wonder if these students see the double-standard contradictions involved here: the customers, all respectable fathers and sons and brothers, can visit the brothel to unload, but the women they unload into are too dirty to be in the presence of 'normal' society?
Eleven women students were given a PR job by a spokesperson and by two prostitutes who talked to them. Were the prostitutes 'coached,' as in HBO's Cathouse? How can we know? The brothel PR machine shows the public what it wants them to see.
Then the students left with plastic bags of souvenirs. All of this is presented as if it were harmless, just fine, and the author of the article calls the two prostitutes who were interviewed by that ugly misnomer 'working girls.'
On occasion a truth slips through. One prostitute says it "'takes courage' to stand in a line-up and take a customer back to a room to negotiate a price."
Nothing as degrading as the 'line-up' was ever forced upon me during my time in prostitution. I could not have done it if I had been trapped in that grotesque imitation of 'independence' called the line-up. If the woman is truly an 'independent contractor,' the smokescreen phrase for every brothel inhabitant — trafficked or pimped, or not — then there would be no line-up. There can be no freedom or choice in the life of the 'independent contractor' if she has to face a line-up where any sleaze can pick her off the auction block. This used to be called 'slavery' when whites did it to blacks — and it was as sanctioned and acceptable as the slavery of the brothel is now. 'Decent' women in their go-to-market finery would pass indifferently by the slaves in their shackles, just as these ivy-league college girls visit the rape factory without even recognizing what it is. It is a place where a women stands, displayed, in the cheapest, saddest way while a man she has never seen picks her to go back into a room, where she has to let him inside her body. No customer choice. This means no independence and no freedom and no dignity. I had customer choice. I could say no. I would not have lasted a day in prostitution if I had been put on an auction block. Did not the Randolph college girls see anything wrong with this auction block?
If the prostitute has been put in the brothel by her pimp, then she doesn't even get the money for this degradation.
I wish these girls had spoken to the local investigative reporter who has interviewed about 80 prostituted girls in his career and he says that almost all of them seemed damaged. I wish they had talked to Eve Pouinard, an ex-prostitute who helps run a johns' program for Metro. She uses the same word the investigative reporter does: she says prostitutes are 'damaged' women.
The author of the article, Brean, writes that the "field trip was downright scholarly, touching on psychology, commerce and feminism." Feminism? He quotes a student asking if "legal prostitution is a feminist industry?" What? How? Who? I don't quite know how to express the outrage this question stirs in me. This student has obviously not read any literature about what happens when prostitution is 'legalized' — trafficking skyrockets. Of the 400,000 prostitutes in Germany , the majority are trafficked. Over one million German men per day visit these enslaved girls, not to mention the sex tourists and US military members that use them. Nevada brothels are advertised on the internet, and German tourists come here and rape our prostitutes after they have raped their own.
Another student says that before this trip she did not have an opinion on prostitution. No opinion on it? The most important aspect of female liberation in the world — the fact that no female liberation is possible without the eradication of prostitution as we know it — in its current horrifying form — and this supposedly educated young woman has no opinion on it? ( I can see why WHISPER, an organization in New York that helps prostitutes, says that prostitution will be the last bastion feminism will have to face and dismantle — it is that difficult to get 'feminists' to see the harm it does.) The student then says "it's hard to condemn the industry after seeing it in person." What was she condemning? The women in it — for letting themselves be raped everyday? And what has she seen? Nothing — but the outside. Nothing but a slick PR job.
The trip was organized by the college's "experiential learning coordinator." I guess that everyone at the college can now congratulate themselves that the students have seen the rape animals in their cages, have pretended it is not rape--per their 'cultural experiential' expectations--and have gone back to their café lattes and cups of tea at their ivy-league ivory tower without a clue. Gone back 'culturally enriched' by rape.
Brean writes: "One of the four faculty members on the trip said the students will discuss what they observed at the brothel and write about the experience in journals they are assigned to keep."
Now, isn't that nice. All tidy and neat and orderly. It's a shame they're not taking notes on where the average prostitute in America comes from: she typically enters the 'profession' at age 14 and is broken into her new whore status by a pimp. She is terrified to raise her eyes to him for fear he will 'discipline' her through violence and psychological terror. She is terrified that she will not bring home her fuck-quota money from a night spent on her back as disgusting beer-sweat truckers screw her at the stops in Arizona and California where the men pick up their fresh young whore-meat fix for the night. (The students also need to take notes on the 'stats' that relate to sex at too young an age for the female body: increased cervical cancer rates, for one — and the pain is terrible since young girls' vaginal tissues are thin and not ready for intercourse yet.)
It is not unlikely that this grim picture is the background of many of the prostitutes in the rape factory that these ivy league girls visited, that they have so comfortably and safely observed as part of "experiential learning 101."
The only way to learn about this is to put your body in the brothel bed. Rape 101. Then I bet these college girls won't be so sanguine and distanced. And they will be too busy surviving rape to take any notes or write any term papers.
About the brothel trip, one of the accompanying faculty members says, "The really important thing is for them to see how this works. You can read about it, but it's not the same as being here and seeing it face to face."
What have they seen? Nothing. They obviously have not read anything either. Those 400 books on prostitution that I read over the past two years build up an appalling picture that far exceeds any of the torture and pain I went through as a prostitute. They are available in all college libraries. This is no longer hidden information. The massive ignorance of college girls as to the suffering of their prostituted sisters must be deliberate.
Did these college girls ask themselves how these other girls got here — in this place called 'brothel' — rape space and playground for men? Did they ask if the girls were 'willing' to lie down and fuck men they did not know? This is a revolting thing to have to do. You have to be 'broken' in order to bear it. You have to be raped so much you are now numb to it.
The college girls did not seem to understand even a tiny tiny tiny ounce of the disgust of this act. They took a sanitized PR trip through a rape factory and came away with nothing. Except plastic bags of souvenirs.
I think these girls need to look up the stats and the facts. Overall, prostitution is full of abused, raped, broken human beings. They are not happy campers, let alone happy hookers. The instances in which a woman might actually enter this so called profession on her own, eyes open, aware, happy and thrive in it, without any physical and psychological damage, are so rare that maybe they do not exist. Prostitution does not exist for the benefit of the prostitute. It exists for the benefit of the client who rapes her. And the owners who make money off her body.
I think part of my disgust at this article, and the women in it, was my imagining them 'studying' me. Are you going to put me in front of your fancy ivy-league classes and observe me, the rape-fucked whore with no dignity and no place in your safe, soft, protected world? It would repulse me to be interviewed by you. No one interviews me. I interview myself. No sociologist — or ivy-league college girl — better ever try to 'study' me. I am not a fuck-rape specimen for cool, academic observation. That would degrade me far more than the whore-rape I experienced.
Thirty years after leaving prostitution, I cannot be interviewed. To let you into the place where I have suffered inside would be impossible. I don't think any prostitute can really be interviewed. You have to keep what happened private, to protect at least one tiny spot inside.
My last sad, depressing article is from the Las Vegas Weekly, last Valentine's Day. The title: "Love at the Chicken Ranch: Visiting the Brothel on the Most Romantic Day of the Year." On the cover of this issue is a very slick photo of a young whore girl in those platform heels. She is naked and holding a teddy bear across the front of her body.
The authors Benjamen Purvis and Aaron Thompson go to "the Chicken Ranch for a day of… romance?"
"On the day dedicated to all things love, photojournalists Aaron Thompson and Benjamen Purvis hit the road to find at what life is like at Pahrump's world famous Chicken Ranch," says this jaunty, fun piece.
Basically, at this point I don't have too much to add. Just deep, deep depression at the 'gimmick' of this article: to hunt for romance at the least romantic site on the planet, a rape playground miscalled brothel, and to pretend it is all in good fun.
A couple of truths slip out, past the fun and jolliness. "It's difficult when you hide your life all the time," says one prostitute. And, when the journalists ask another prostitute if this is hard life, she responds: "If you're mentally strong, you'll be all right."
At that point, I cried.
Copyright © 2008 Suki