You Call that a Defense?
If Jim Norton thought he was going to be an advocate for the legalization – or even decriminalization – of prostitution or sex work in literally any country with his article in Time magazine, he has not only fallen short of the mark…he has made a strong case for why we should encourage law enforcement to focus even more efforts to arrest the buyers of sexual services and insist that they attend one of the many John Schools that are popping up throughout the country.
Before you dismiss my comments as that of a sex-work-hating-rhetoric-spewing member of the anti-trafficking movement that has become drunk on the fear mongering liquor they liberally dispense throughout the country, understand first that I speak from both the experiences of the sex industry worker and the advocates for the women who want out of the sex trade. I supported the concept of John Schools long before they regained popularity and mutated from efforts to educate and inform to an agenda to shame and penalize. I also understand – as Mr. Norton clearly does not – that the reasons for a woman to engage in Sex Work range from those that truly enjoy the work and the financial remuneration the receive, to those who are forced into the trade by circumstance, perceived cultural norms and a lack of opportunity to support themselves in any other way.
Additionally – the National Day of Johns was indeed a parade of sorts – for law enforcement to crack down on juveniles who were being prostituted, multiple cases of physical and psychological abuse and the ever present abuse of power – including a border patrol agent trying to buy sex in full uniform as well as a mother who was selling her 15 year old daughter for sex. The issues of sex addiction, and ritualistic compulsions – as Mr. Norton proudly claims to be paying a therapist to address – are also paraded in this 15 state sweep where they arrested a “daddy” soliciting the services of a prostitute with his new baby in his back seat. Wow. Who is exactly is your therapist Mr. Norton? If tallying the dollar amount is the only recommendation this therapist has to make to have you account for your behavior, you might want to check the validity of their license.
Mr. Norton also claims to be “extraordinarily loving and comfortable” towards the prostitutes he charms through the passenger window of his car. And he worries about violent behavior like rapes and homicides but did nothing when – during one of his “gentle and intimate” sexual service shopping expeditions he witnessed a woman bounced across the hood of his car and tossed into a van filled with more women. How exactly would he recommend this – or any other – pimp get thrown down an elevator shaft” if Mr. Norton didn’t take a single action to alert authorities that he personally witnessed a violent kidnapping and did nothing?!? Way to take a stand Mr. Norton! I’m sure sex workers everywhere are taking up the mantle of legalization based on your action in hopes that they will be protected from violence in this manner. Perhaps you should volunteer to attend a local John School curriculum so that you could gain some understanding of how far off the mark your defense of johns actually is. It is not the legalization of prostitution that needs to be addressed here – it is the attitude created by those such as yourself that the woman who was bounced across the hood of your car didn’t deserve an anonymous call to the police with the license plate of the van in question. You display – by your lack of action – that this woman was of No Worth. Disposable. An antidote for a comedy bit.
Mr. Norton goes on to self-righteously claim that it is the society who is at fault for the prostitute being put in dangerous situations and quote studies that suggest that Rapes and STD’S would be reduced across the board if legalization of prostitution were to be signed into law when in fact this action would only legitimize the pimp and do nothing to protect the prostitute. Legalizing prostitution would not provide health insurance and a retirement package for the prostitute nor would it encourage her to report a violent crime against her person. Just exactly how do you see the “security” being “adequate” in places of legalized prostitution when the majority of violence would occur by the very providers of the security? It is the short-sighted, self-centered point of view of the john that continues to trip up the criminal and social justice system where sex work is concerned. You are not entitled to buy sex out of the passenger window of your car as if it were a Happy Meal of sorts and “giving johns a break” has never really been the central issue when the subject comes up.
Prostitution and Sex Work are complicated issues that demand sensitive and prolonged thought when considering solutions. Prostitution and Sex Work is not the same as Sex Trafficking but there is no clear delineation that both sides of the issue can agree on to make a law – or series of laws – that provide for the variety of needs that arise from the men and women – and indeed children – who work within the sex trade whether by free and fully informed choice or force, fraud and coercion.
Johns like Mr. Norton, who troll for paid sex indiscriminately in neighborhoods where poverty, hunger and homelessness are the primary economic factors that drive this facet of the sex trade can and should expect to be demonized and arrested posthaste. They are a danger to the community and they have no dog in this fight. There is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon when it comes to the difference between a john who discreetly seeks out the company of an independent responsible sex worker who is informed and over 21 and is willing to undergo a certain amount of screening and what Mr. Norton describes as his ritualistic addictive behavior to entice whomever might be working a corner under a streetlight.
Mr. Norton’s call to “give johns a break” is enough to confirm the need for education and information about sex work, prostitution and sex trafficking through a john school format. And if they have to be arrested in order to receive this information and behave in a socially responsible manner, then so be it.
Dear Human Trafficking:
So you thought you could get the best of me, didn’t you? You thought you could not only take my hope for a better future – but my stories of the past and use it for your own gain. You thought you could dismiss me and marginalize me. You thought that you finished me off when I stumbled out of the sex industry – cold and alone and afraid that I would never be able to live a normal life. You thought I would believe that no one could ever love me and that I didn’t deserve anything better than the cesspool of shame you left me in. You thought that I was one more notch on your belt and that the label of prostitution and sex trafficking would be enough to make me hide for the rest of my life. You thought you had damaged me enough that I would be useless. And you turned your back on me.
But while you weren’t looking – while you were busy trapping and demoralizing the younger men and women you find so attractive – I got better. And I got stronger. And I became fearless. What you didn’t count on was the fact that while you tried to convince people that I wasn’t a “real” victim, you were also making me believe I wasn’t a victim. And instead of making me feel worse – it made me feel better. Suddenly I realized that if I was still standing…I was a SURVIVOR of sex trafficking…not a victim! And now that I was standing…I thought I could help someone else.
And you laughed and turned your back on me to feed on the souls of others. You preyed on the weak and the poor. You didn’t discriminate against race, religion or political affiliation. Your wanton lust for flesh took you to the far corners of the earth and you convinced some that prostitution should be legal and it was a victimless crime and that the people that provided such services truly loved it…you took “free will” and turned it against the human race. You became powerful and blurred the lines so that many couldn’t see that this was nothing more than a new version of slave trading. And you became complacent that what you had created was beyond our ability to “fix” and that you could continue to gobble up lives with abandon.
And I got stronger and so did the others that had come before me. We are finding our voice and you can’t shut us up and you can’t shut us out. You may have taken on the mantle of “help” to try and deceive us into thinking that someone else could tell our stories and would let us in their club and have a seat at their table. Because you know the insidious nature of the this disease you created and the fear that is never far beneath the surface of any survivor of sex trafficking, you thought we would let them hide our pain and our grief with their bluster. You made them complicit with your defiance of all that is right by asking us to wait in the corner and trot us out when they needed a show. It was like they became the new pimp. The new well-meaning kinder gentler pimp. But still a pimp.
Look out Human Sex Trafficking. You have become fat and bloated and are wallowing in a sea of ignorance. And I am here to take you out.
You should know I’m not alone. All those souls you turned your back on over the years? They stand with me. And what you never counted on is that I am NOT a victim of your game of torture and dehumanization. I am a SURVIVOR. I am a FIGHTER. I am a THRIVER. I am an OVERCOMER.
And I am done with you.
Veronica was like a ray of sunshine when she arrived – bright pink Hello Kitty suitcase in hand – at the bus station in Orlando. She didn’t get in until late on a Thursday night and she didn’t arrive at the hotel we reserved for her for several hours after that. She had been referred to us by the victims advocate in another Florida county and her story was a pretty tragic.
Veronica had been shot by a Romeo pimp through her breast and through her arm. She had testified against him at trial but the jury found him not guilty and let him go. He had threatened her while he was being held in jail and the entire State Attorneys office was frantic to find her a place out town. Since he had been found innocent of this brutal crime, Veronica was not eligible for any victims benefits – not that they are that great any way – but it would have provided for a few dollars to eat and possibly even a chance to relocate.
It didn’t seem to matter what obstacles were thrown up at Veronica – she seemed to either ignore them or just turn and find another way to get ahead.. She wasn’’t spiteful or angry in the least about her circumstance but it didn’t take too long to discover that Veronica’s armor was made of paper and rubber bands.
The first few weeks went pretty smoothly. She had made some friends at the motel – however inappropriate they may have been – and within about three weeks I stopped by with some groceries and – against every rule I have ever set for myself or anyone who works with me – I knocked on her door unannounced and discovered a complete stranger lounging in the bed like he owned the place. My first instinct was to run for the door as I don’t make it a practice to hang out in motel rooms with strange men anymore, but I simply handed Veronica the small bags of groceries and backed out of the room with a little chit chat as possible.
She stepped outside the door with me and shamefully told me that she had been lonely and had called a friend from the county she had fled from and he wouldn’t leave now. She was both embarrassed and a little frantic and together we went to the front desk of the hotel and got her a new key card and gave her instructions that when he left to go hang out at the pool, she was to pack his things and set them outside the door and leave the area. The hotel was kind enough to promise to call me if there was a problem and about 4 hours later, Veronica called to let me know he was headed back to the bus depot and back home. He had been angry at first, but had decided not to make a scene. The suburban area of Orlando where I live and where kept the girls wasn’t really much of an area that encouraged homeless vagrants and he could see that he was as close to being arrested as he cared to be.
I knew at that moment that Veronica was going to be a bit more of a project than I might have thought.
She got a part time job and within a week had met Prince Charming and couldn’t wait to introduce me to him. I agreed to meet in a public place and was ready to fire at him from all barrels when the nicest young man I had ever seen approached me – clearly a bit scared as he could see me loading my verbal gun when they pulled up.
“Could it really be that she met a nice guy?” I thought to myself. It was unlikely and completely out of character for girls so new to OOTL to hook up with decent men but not unheard of. I never liked to pass judgment on these experimental relationships that the girls often use to test their boundaries and their newly discovered decision making skills. I always figure that we learn from our mistakes and even though we don’t like to keep making old mistakes in our new lives, a lot of times it helps to have someone help them see the way that old behavior can influence what our lives look like. And there’s a bit of a hopeless romantic in me that really believes that sometimes God shows us what I call “A Promise” – that if we straighten up and get it right, all the things we ever wanted – including being loved – will come to pass.
And sure enough…this new guy was willing to take on all of the baggage from Veronica’s past and walk it out with her. They settled into a sort of domestic bliss with Veronica happily cooking dinner and keeping the small apartment neat while Timothy was at work. But doom was imminent and Veronica soon got bored with the lack of chaos and drama that she had grown so accustomed to.
Although I had counseled her sternly that she should refrain from encouraging inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex, Veronica could not resist her innate desire for attention – ALL of the attention – and out of boredom, she invited a new “friend” over to the apartment while she was alone and the inevitable happened.
Of course she was caught and asked to leave with all of the drama that she swore she was willing to leave behind and immediately returned to tricking.
Veronica is in a transition. She just turned 20 and she feels like an adult but has the attention span of a child. She has not yet tired of the chaos and drama that she has known all her life, but we remain in close contact and at such a time when she is truly ready to surrender and refuse the life of a victim, she has someone to call and someone who cares.
We have had many frantic calls from clients who refuse to drop the drama. This is almost viral with women. We seem to get a thrill out of pushing the envelope and seeing how closely we can step to the flame without getting burned. When the inevitable happens and they feel the heat they are always so surprised that they have been embroiled in yet another firefight. It would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.
The cycle is never ending when your life is chaos centered. There is a cycle of abuse – whether it be physical or substance – coupled with trouble from within the family and complicated by bad relationships are the recipe for the disaster that many women can’t let go of. They have often been in this cycle since birth and they don’t know there are other choices.
Veronica has struggled to get the proper medical and psychological care she needs. Most psychologists won’t agree to see her because she has a marijuana addiction that she refuses to release. She will go a few weeks doing well and working and feeling good about her self and then something will take place that just shuts her down and she starts acting out in explosive ways that are almost frightening.
It was during one of the good times – the holiday spirit completely enveloped her and she longed to return home to see her grandmother. She took a trip down to her hometown and then suddenly things went wrong. She ended up being raped by her step brother – violently – as he and his father – also Veronica’s step father – had been drinking. Terrified, Veronica jumped out of the window and ran to a next door neighbor. The neighbor called the police and drove her to the local station. There, the officer on duty ran her name through their database and saw the record of prostitution arrests and immediately shut her down.
Veronica would not be swayed. She insisted he call the sheriffs office and called a local rape crisis center hotline herself and then called me. I also called the crisis center and they assured me they would be on the way. It was nearly 10pm on Christmas Eve.
By 2 am it was clear that no one was coming to take her statement or to a hospital for treatment
To the system – she was a throw-away – of no importance.
After all, how can you rape a prostitute?