Pimps Will Be Pimps (Part 2 of 2)

James Baldwin wrote, “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: she has become a threat.”

I had no idea how threatening my voice was until I started to make it heard. None of us trafficking and prostitution survivors did, until we started to write about the brutality we’ve experienced and these big players within these pimp-dominated ‘sex worker activist’ groups started to do everything they could to silence us and deny we exist. Survivor bloggers are cyber-stalked via Facebook, email, Twitter and hateful blog comments. Our email accounts are hacked and private information that could endanger us is tweeted or revealed elsewhere online. Spiteful emails about us are sent to people we work with. Supportive activists who feature our writing on their blogs are similarly swarmed with vilifying emails and comments.

I’d like to give you a glimpse of this intense cyber-bullying, using myself as an example. I’m not asking for sympathy; I want to show you what survivor activists go through when we break the silence.

I came out as a survivor online in March 2011. Almost immediately pro-sex industry men and women affiliated with the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA and other pimp-led activist organizations began emailing me and posting aggressive comments on my Facebook wall. As I got bolder I started leaving comments after articles about prostitution in major newspapers and blogs. At this point I did not have my own blog, and we hadn’t yet formed Survivors Connect Network. I was an obscure private person. Nonetheless, members of the “Network of Sex Work Projects” found me. An anonymous email brought me to this creepy thread about me on admitted pimp Maggie McNeill’s blog. Another anonymous email led me to this piece on Bound Not Gagged. Here McNeill implies that I’m a puppet controlled by abolitionists. Norma Jean Almodovar, the executive director of COYOTE LA, suggests that I might not exist. Billie Jackson, the founder of SWOP Colorado, criticizes my language. Maxine Doogan, the leader of the Erotic Service Providers’ Union states that I remind her of another troublemaker. She links to a video created by Michael Whiteacre, a lawyer and filmmaker connected with the pornography industry. The video, called The Devil and Shelley Lubben, slanders Lubben, a survivor who speaks out about abuse in the porn industry. It includes an interview with an actor who was in a pornographic movie that depicts Lubben with six men. He discusses her sexual performance. The message is clear: Make waves and this could happen to you.

These invasive tactics have only amplified as time passes. There have been numerous other creepy comment threads and blog posts which pick at me and make false statements written by people I’ve never met who are affiliated with these ‘sex worker activist’ groups. They are a constant background noise and the volume keeps increasing. Most survivors who write or speak about prostitution go through this.

Any examples I give are just splashes from an ocean of harassment. Examine these droplets:

• A few hours after the first ever video broadcast of a talk by Survivors Connect (SC) members, rich and famous Brooke Magnanti sends a tweet to her 49,900 followers, Elena Jeffreys, head of the Scarlett Alliance, an Australian sex worker group affiliated with SWOP USA, and McNeill. The tweet states that SC members are “like Operation Rescue” an extremist group known for harassing women at abortion clinics. Survivors Connect formed just four months ago. Our 48 members are all crime victims and survivors of trafficking/prostitution. McNeill blogs at Sex Workers without Borders (SWWB) with Jill McCracken, a college professor who is part of SWOP USA. No one at Survivors Connect has ever met Magnanti, McNeill or Jeffreys.

• After receiving aggressive tweets from McNeill I ask her to please stop tweeting my name. (I’ve blocked her, but if she types the @ sign before my name, I still get her messages). She ignores my request, and I repeat it many times, explaining that I’m finding the twitter swarm that’s building around her constant tweets scary. Michael Whiteacre, a lawyer and filmmaker involved with the porn industry (Remember him? He made that hit piece on survivor activist Shelley Lubben) joins the fray. I tell them their intensity is threatening, but they don’t stop, no matter how many times I ask. McNeill tweets “I want you to feel threatened so you BACK DOWN” several times. Later Christina Page, a doctoral student connected with SWOP USA, joins in. I’ve never met McNeill, Page or Whiteacre.

• As I’m editing this article I get a tweet from another stranger which contains encoded language that refers to the confidential part of my life. If I were to interpret this fully I would be revealing my location by a matter of just miles. The message here is clear: We know where you are.

This is what it’s like for survivor activists every day. You ignore it as much as you can, and then eventually these people get so extreme, threatening or outrageous that they draw you in. When this happens, I sometimes fall through the floor of my life and into the past’s deep water. I become the scared, beat up girl I used to be, locked in a room in a brothel. Then it’s hard to find my way back to the present. Resurfacing, I’ll stare into blankness for hours while my legs shake. I’ll feel hollow and my husband’s voice will seem to come from far away.

Because I’m telling you this, people from these ‘sex worker activist’ groups will tell you I’m a vicious liar. They’ll say they aren’t pimps, even though they admit owning escort services or have convictions associated with profiting off others’ prostitution. They’ll say I want to send the entire world to jail, even though I hate the US prison system. They’ll say I despise all sex workers and that I’m calling all sex workers pimps. Their reactions can seem insane but there’s a strategy behind it. This example will help me explain:

A stranger once tried to rape me in the lobby of my tenement walkup building in broad daylight. I screamed and people came to help. The good Samaritans who’d seen the incident ran off to find the police after asking some other people who’d arrived later to make sure the would-be rapist didn’t run. The man who’d attacked me began telling everyone I was his girlfriend and we were having a fight. He told them it was a private argument we needed to work out between ourselves. He said I was always accusing him of things but he loved me anyway. Remember this man was a complete stranger. But the people who’d remained hadn’t seen him attack me so they let him run away.

The would-be rapist told lies and made accusations to distract people from the wrong he’d done. Nothing he said would have stood up to scrutiny. But within the moment his strategy worked perfectly. He got people who might have helped me to forget the truth. As a result he was able to get away and likely go on to hurt someone else.

My attacker’s tactics were similar to the behavior of some members of these ‘sex worker activist’ groups. They harass survivors, then if challenged or if supporters come forward, they claim to be allies rather than pimps. They couldn’t be any more duplicitous – the truth is that suppressing survivor voices is a strategy to protect scores of billions of dollars of organized crime pimp profits.

I was trafficked in prostitution in NYC for ten years. Those of us in the life used the word pimp for any man or woman who profited from our prostitution. I have a right to use this language. All the people who pimped me were part of organized crime, some were women, all were white and most were rich.

Previously I discussed how the International Union of Sex Workers, the Erotic Service Providers Union, COYOTE, and the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP) were founded by people who’d been convicted of charges connected with pimping: pandering, conspiracy to promote interstate prostitution, and promoting prostitution. But there are lots more.

Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) claims to represent women in the sex industry. But the SPOC recently won a case filed on behalf of two female pimps. Most women in prostitution have suffered intense violence from the men or women who exploit them, but SPOC was advocating for these predators rather than women in prostitution. The plaintiffs were SPOC Deputy Director Amy Lebovitch, SPOC Legal Coordinator Valerie Scott, who plans to open a brothel, and Terri Jean Bedford, who was convicted of keeping a bawdy house (a brothel). SPOC sought to make it legal for men and women to commercially sexually exploit others in prostitution. In bizarre doublespeak, SPOC described those who own brothels or escort services as ‘employees’ of women in sex industry. We wouldn’t accept that a restaurant owner was the ‘employee’ of one of his busboys, would we?

Despite the brave testimony of survivor activists from SexTrade101.com, Educating Voices, and the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, Canadian courts chose pimped prostitution for the most vulnerable, who have no other choices. The case has been appealed.
Turn off the Blue Light claimed to represent Irish ‘sex worker’ activists:

Turn Off the Blue Light is a grassroots movement ….We are a sex worker led association campaigning against calls to criminalize the purchase of sex, and for the health, safety, human, civil and labor rights of sex workers in Ireland…

But look who’s actually running the Blue Light campaign. It’s backed by convicted pimp Peter McCormick, who makes millions annually via prostitution websites, his son who was convicted of running six brothels, convicted pimp TJ Carroll, who used voodoo rituals to terrify trafficked African women, and convicted pimp Tony Linnane who was connected with an incident where a woman was “threatened with being burned alive after gasoline was thrown on her.” Mihai Selaru, who humiliated a woman he pimped by starving her and forcing her to lick his shoes, was also connected.

I’m sure there are well-meaning people working within these sex worker activist groups. I hope they find a way to continue their work in organizations free from this shocking conflict of interest. Women in prostitution deserve activist groups that don’t promote the interests of pimps or determine to silence survivors.

So what’s the solution? Pimp-affiliated groups such as the IUSW, SPOC, SWOP USA, COYOTE, the Erotic Services Providers’ Union and PONY must disband and reform as new organizations that are free of “management” members. Any organization claiming to advocate for women in prostitution that receives federal money or collects donations on our behalf must sever ties with all groups where this conflict of interest exists. Otherwise they are supporting the suppression of survivor voices.

Meanwhile we should all advocate for services to help women exit prostitution. They need safe housing, medical care, education, and trauma treatment including EMDR and mindfulness training. They are precious and they need to know we care. They will never know this as long as the academics and NGO’s continue to cooperate with organizations like the IUSW, who, bizarrely and disgustingly, invite both pimps and punters into their ranks.

2 Responses to Pimps Will Be Pimps (Part 2 of 2)

  1. Dear Stella: Welcome to the club! I just found out about you because I’m coming out of yet another round of having to go “underground” for a while to save my ass literally because of the work I do not only in trying to get the “truth” out about sex work and trafficking – but also about how some groups are “claiming” to help prostitutes and trafficking victims in order to get large donations and grants but are clearly shell operations that deliver none of the services they’re representing themselves to be offering in order to solicit money – as well as being a person who actively and directly does assist people/victims to get out of sex work and/or of being trafficking victims and into new lives. As a direct connection with being so close to the only state in the USA that does have “legalized” prostitution here in Nevada – I’m surrounded not just by the very same people you mentioned in your letter here – but also with the many “friends” of the brothel industry who have clearly stated their main goal is to expand legal prostitution outside of Nye County, and into Las Vegas and the world if they can. I will never forget the backlash I went through after I stood up with Melissa Farley and gave the press conference here in September of 2007 about her report on sex trafficking in Nevada. I had the Mayor threatening a reporter who published an interview with me with a “baseball bat to the head” if he ever set foot in Vegas again after he “dared” to publish this interview. I then saw the Mayor with my own eyes threaten Metro Officers with termination if they even so much as “looked” at her report or attended the conference we were giving later on in the day about it at UNLV. There was a suspicious batch of empty chairs in fact where we had left reserved seating for Metro at the conference. The next day after the news – I had my phone lines, internet lines and cable lines physically cut that were running into my apartment. I then had the Nevada Power company turn off my power. When I called in about it – I was told I had to pay them $2000 for my dead mother and dead grandmother’s electric bills in order to get service restored (when I had never even been billed for this or received any notice about this whatsoever before). When they refused to restore service or make any type of payment arrangements even on such an illegal charge in the first place – I asked an Assemblyman who assured me he would give me “back-up” if I came forward to be a part of this press conference if he could do anything. It turned out that a brothel owner also happened to be on the board of Nevada Power (which explains how I got illegally cut off). The assemblyman was able to get my power restored in one hour by making a phone call – but then he got literally “set-up” on phony ethics charges shortly thereafter and lost his position as assemblyman. People from the Review Journal actually made a $5.00 deposit into an account off a website he didn’t even monitor anymore and that he didn’t know about – and then when he didn’t report it – they file an “ethics” charge against him! On top of that – I had the cable, phone and internet company I had service with cut me off and send me final bills. When I called to get my service restored – they claimed that “I” had called to close out my service. This is information I would think could only have been obtained by people in law enforcement. What made it even more interesting was I had made an appointment to meet with a teenager and their probation officer to discuss helping to get her away from her pimp – when all of these services went off at almost the same exact time as my appointment. The intimidation factor was clear – and this probation officer was too scared to even speak to me again. I was able to get the teenager out of state however to a safe residential program for prostitutes despite the clear attempts at interference and intimidation. I’ve had Metro officers who were “in bed” with traffickers literally handcuff me in a parking garage and laugh about how easy it would be to shoot me and “claim it was me resisting arrest” or how they could leave my body in the desert never to be found if I didn’t give up this work and leave the state. I’ve had a brothel owner, one of his friends, a sheriff, my then-apartment manager, and another goon show up at my house with a moving truck and “tell” me how they were going to relocate me out of Nevada to “anywhere else I wanted to go but in Nevada” because “it was time that I leave” Nevada. I had been asked once to come to Carson City when they were voting on the issue of whether or not brothels could pay sales tax – which was clearly an attempt to get themselves considered “legitimate” business. Besides, if they paid state sales tax – they could then demand to sell their “wares” anywhere in the state – so it was very important for them to get this vote approved. The night before I was going to leave for Carson City – I had four cops show up at my doorstep over a traffic ticket I’d already paid years ago in Clark County. They claimed there was a warrant out for me for not paying this ticket – and arrested me. They then held me until they supposedly discovered – oh viola – I did pay these tickets and let me go about two hours after the vote was done. Since I was held less than 72 hours I understand I couldn’t prosecute for wrongful arrest and detainment. They’ve spread rumors a bout me and any reporter in Nevada who has written a story or interview about me – has been fired within one month of the story being published. I have had a reporter at the Review Journal tell me to my face that “a story will never run on you or your work in this state ever – even if it costs the lives of 100’s of young women who won’t be able to find help because of it”. When there was a trafficking program out here in Vegas one year that had a budget to do something about trafficking – they weren’t getting any referrals. I found out they were only allowed to get referrals from one Metro Officer – who the victims I’d worked with out here reported to me he was one of the traffickers and made deals with other pimps out here. There’s no way he’s going to refer a victim that’s going to blow the whistle on him – so I pressed the director to be allowed to receive referrals from another source. When I pointed out to her that she should question why she’s never getting any referrals from this guy in this town – I then got met with a threat from a local FBI agent to have myself locked up on a psychiatric charge and my daughter taken away from me if I continued to push on this woman to actually do something in this town to really help victims and identify the real traffickers out here. When Jeanne Palfrey was found dead – I suspected foul play because she had gone to her mother’s in the first place because she was being followed for one thing – and for another every high profile white female madam I know of that’s ever been in a situation like this has had attempts made on her life (some of them have been made to look like suicide – hanging in all of the cases for some reason just like with Jeanne). When I called the detective in charge of her case and demanded that there be a full and “real” investigation as to foul play done or I’d go to the media with the emails between her and I for the last two years that would clearly show this was not suicide – I then was greeted with five police officers in cars and a drug dog showing up at my home at 4:00 a.m. with an unsigned warrant with no charges against me to search my apartment for vague unnamed “papers”. They were clearly trying to find something illegal in my home – and when that failed they became angry. When they failed to find any of the papers from Jeanne in my home – they got even angrier. They actually called a CPS officer to demand they come and remove my child from the home claiming it was a “pigsty” after they had trashed the place themselves. In my protection – this particular agent just laughed at their request and hung up on them! But when they failed to find anything to arrest me illegally – one of the officers them emba
    rked on a whole campaign to ruin my life. He told my landlord if he didn’t kick me out – he’d revoke his business license and shut down the whole complex. He then went to my bank and falsely claimed I’d filed an identity theft case against myself and that the person who was using my bank account “wasn’t me” and I had to go down to my bank to “prove” who I was to even get my own money back out again. So between the years of harassments, and threats and some of them even actual death threats – I can tell you it is not an easy road to walk when you’re trying to help prostitutes and trafficking victims. But I am tired of trying to report some of what’s happening to people like me and having people think I’m nuts – but as more and more of us come forward and tell our story – we are then believed. Just as when we were trafficking victims – and now when we’re being re-victimized in this manner. I’ve spoken to people like Shelley Lubben and others in this field who have also had horrible other “set-ups” pulled against them, threats, etc. – and as long as we’re not talking about it publically we are just being made to sound like we’re crazy. This is why I feel there is the need for a forum for us to be telling our stories – not just about when we were victims of sex trafficking – but now that we are victims to harassment, threats and intimidation for the work we’re trying to do to help others. I’m also getting really tired of seeing some groups rake in millions of dollars in donations and grants – that are not being used as they’re supposed to be used – and to see these prostitutes being “re-pimped” by the so-called field that’s been supposedly set-up out there to try and help them escape pimps! For this reason I have started a radio program (I”m tired of physically being threatened – so I’m going on the radio this time and not showing my face or using my real name on this) where I will interview people like yourself. Please get in touch with me so we can talk. These people count on the fact we tend to keep to ourselves and keep a lot inside – and that’s how some of us are being chased out of this field – or forced out of this field as in how they did Sharnel Silvey recently. Thanks – Jody sexworkrecovery@yahoo.com

  2. Great blog post! sorry that you have had to go through so much harrassment. i have been fearing something like that for myself. hmm. poor you !! these guys sound so unpleasant, my gawd. xx

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