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In the Booth with Ruth – Lori Adorable, Sex Worker and Sex Worker Rights Advocate

Lori AdorableWhy are sex worker rights important to you?

Obviously a good amount of it is self-interest. My job is hard enough without the stigma and criminalization, and I know I deserve better. But I’m not the one hit the hardest by whorephobia. I’m white, cis, from a middle-class background, work indoors, and don’t do full-service. I’m not the one usually targeted by police and rescue orgs and serial killers. Sex work, as an underground economy, attracts a lot of the most vulnerable from every marginalized group, and I am very much here for them as well.

What legislation do you think would be best to ensure sex workers have all the same rights as all other citizens?

I’m not particularly in favor of any legislation at this point. I think sex work should be fully decriminalized. If the state does need to be involved, it should regulate sex work via civil ordinances rather than criminal law. I used to be in favor of hate crimes legislation that protects sex workers, but the more I learn about the prison industrial complex in the U.S., the more wary I am of giving the state more opportunities to disproportionately incarcerate poor people of color.

Experiences of selling sex, like mine, that are not positive are often used by those seeking to end prostitution in their argument for the Swedish model. I believe they show why decriminalisation is needed. What are your thoughts on this?

I understand that it’s easy for many sex workers to be reactionary and push back against partial criminalization (e.g. the Swedish model) by countering the assertion that they’re victims who hate their jobs. I’m sure it’s incredibly frustrating to hear you hate your job when you don’t, and I’d never tell anyone not to speak their truth. But making it about feelings allows the conversation to be derailed.  How workers feel about our jobs is irrelevant to the basic human right to safe working conditions, and it’s been proven that partial criminalization is anathema to safety. The “give me rights, because I love my job” argument is nonsensical within this framework.

It’s also alienating workers who don’t like their (our? I still struggle with how I feel about my job) work, who need rights most urgently. When a sex worker is independent and in control of how she works, it’s easier for her to love her job. However, if she’s a full-service street worker trying to negotiate under criminalization or a pro sub working for a house with a no-blacklist policy or a stripper dancing in a club with outrageous fines or a porn performer shooting for a company that doesn’t pay fair wages, it’s harder for her to stand up and say “I love my job!” But workers like that are crucial to the sex worker movement; they show everyone where we need to focus our energy. They (we?) also provide the strongest testimonies for workers’ rights.

Do you think because those experiences are used by those seeking to abolish prostitution, people who have had or do have a negative experience are not heard as often in sex worker rights discourse?

This is sort of a chicken-and-egg question. Is it negative experiences being used by Antis that prevents sex worker advocates from embracing those same experiences, or is it that sex worker advocates didn’t embrace those negative experiences and so pushed the women who had them to side with the Antis? I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters at this point. What matters is that sex workers with negative experiences are indeed more openly welcomed by Antis, even though they’re only valued in a tokenizing way. The mainstream sex workers’ rights movement needs to make more of an effort embrace those experiences, to show that ALL workers are welcome. I do think there are significant strides being made to that extent, but a lot of it is still lip service.

To people who believe the Swedish model will help those with negative experiences in the sex trade, what would you say?

You can argue all day over whether the sex industry is harmful to women as a whole and workers in particular, but you can’t argue with the studies that show the Swedish model allows violence against sex workers to continue. You also can’t argue the fact that, were it to succeed, sex workers would simply find themselves unemployed. So clients may be ‘punished’, but the workers will be punished as well. If you want to help those in the sex trades who don’t want to be there, provide more options. Provide alternatives. Don’t just take this one option away.

Recommended websites/further reading:

I’ve written more about how Antis can help sex workers here: http://titsandsass.com/what-antis-can-do-to-help-part-two-aiding-those-leaving-the-industry.

I also recommend people explore the websites of the organizations who are members of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. Often times, Antis will presume to speak for women in the Global South, but these women are speaking for themselves, and they’re asking for decriminalization: http://www.nswp.org/members.

Finally, for everyone interested in the data behind the claim that the Swedish model harms sex workers, check out: http://sexworkresearch.wordpress.com. It’s a great resource that’s curated by sex workers and allies with backgrounds in sociology.

About Ruth Jacobs (294 Articles)
Ruth Jacobs is the author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a drug addicted call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from her own life. In addition to fiction writing, Ruth is also involved in journalism and broadcasting, primarily for human rights campaigning in the areas of sex workers' rights, anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking.

14 Comments on In the Booth with Ruth – Lori Adorable, Sex Worker and Sex Worker Rights Advocate

  1. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  2. Reblogged this on Soul Destruction and commented:

    This brilliant interview with the very wise Lori Adorable, a sex worker and sex worker rights advocate, is great reading not only for those in the sex worker rights movement but also for those supporting the Swedish model.

  3. Interesting post to read in my travels between the polarities of the abolition movement and the sex worker rights movement. Thank you for this.

    My only comment is about this point that Lori made: “making it about feelings allows the conversation to be derailed. How workers feel about our jobs is irrelevant to the basic human right to safe working condition.” <—- I think that feelings are *everything* and are front and center to this and any other social justice issue; humans are humans, not robots (or commodities, but that's for a philosophical convo that the here and now reality of violence in prostitution does nothing for). It's not "sexy" or "scientific" to talk about feelings (so we're told), but that doesn't mean they aren't front and center and our compass to whether something is healthy or harmful.

    I am personally at a crossroads about this issue, and like Lori, right now I'm thinking I'm not in favor of any existing legal remedies because they're just not enough — criminalization AND decriminalization still result in harm to sex workers/the prostituted/trafficked, so maybe we're just not dreaming big and hard enough when only looking at laws. "The Law" is a colonist tool of oppression, repression and depression anyway, so how can we expect anything radically good (or different?) to come from it?

    I don't advocate taking away the rights of 1 or 2 or 5 or 10% of sex workers who are truly in the sex trade by choice and have total control in their job, nor can I advocate decrim when survivors are screaming with all their hearts and guts that this will only make an already horrible situation, worse.

    The more I learn about the sex trade the more complex I am finding it to be. I just want to help stop the harm, and the only thing I can think of that directly addresses this, is teaching people what it means to be human, and how to treat others as humans, with dignity and respect. If we had this in place, we likely wouldn't have a sex trade to be arguing about, and if we did, it would look radically different from the one we have today.

    • Aussie Sex Worker // January 16, 2014 at 1:13 am // Reply

      “criminalization AND decriminalization still result in harm to sex workers/the prostituted/trafficked,”

      I come from a state in Australia which is decrimialised. Where is it written that NSW and New Zealand (where the whole country has decriminalisation) are failing? Ive only seen good coming from decrim and i see it first hand!

      Great interview guys! well done!

    • Lori Adorable // January 16, 2014 at 11:48 pm // Reply

      Hey there. I’m glad you’re starting to understand how complex this is!
      In your breakdown of my quote, it sounds like we’re actually agreeing. The only thing I meant was that workers should not be punished for disliking their jobs, and practically speaking, that’s what’s happening with the abolitionist movement . It’s not the intent, of course, but it’s the practical effect of criminalization: workers are pushed further underground into more dangerous conditions, in a failed attempt to save us from shitty working conditions!

      There is no perfect solution. If I worked in a fully decriminalized environment, I still may have been assaulted by a client last year (although serial killers who specifically target sex workers like Robert Pickton and Gary Ridgeway and the Long Island Serial Killer, who is currently operating in my area, would have a harder time getting away with murdering for such lengthy periods of time). However, if my work were decriminalized, I could have gone to the police afterwards without fearing being arrested OR fearing have ALL of my clients arrested instead of just the one who assaulted me. If all my clients were rounded up, as they very well could be under the Swedish model, I would be unemployed and desperate and would have to turn to a more dangerous form of sex work to make ends meet. Or I would simply continue to lack access to the police.

      In short, full decrim is a major step up. Eliminating abusers is a great goal, but it’s lofty. I need help *now*, and this is what will help me.

      • Hi Lori, thanks for the dialogue. :) Yes this is all very complicated, and the more I learn, the more complex it becomes! I initially was only listening to abolitionist voices which were and remain very compelling, and I agree with pretty much all of them in theory, but as I learn more about the here and now reality of the sex trade for those still in it, I am seeing that the ideology behind abolition, without the proper “infrastructure” to actually make it happen, helps nobody right NOW, as you said. Ruth has kindly provided me with a ton of links to research and articles so I can further educate myself on the issues involved and the details of how the Nordic model is failing and harming; as I get through them, I will be able to better form an opinion (thanks to you and Ruth for the links at the end of your interview, I’ll definitely check them out). In the meantime, I’ve been listening to as many expert voices as I can (i.e. actual sex workers, prostitution and trafficking survivors, both out of the life and still in it) and trying to make sense of things, as well as trying to understand the commonalities between abolitionists and sex worker rights advocates, which I feel exist, but which hurt feelings and distrust swirling around in a political climate of urgency, make difficult to see (or act) clearly & meaningfully, from what I see anyway. As I learn more, I’m hoping things get clearer so I can support useful endeavors that will actually bring about safety, protection and a way out of the sex trade for those who need/want it.

        I agree that sex workers should not be punished for disliking what they do, and indeed this was probably not the intent of abolitionists. I’m so sorry you were assaulted by a client, and I’m glad to know that this is not a norm for you, though would you agree that it is a risk with every single client (I suppose not regular ones), and that there is no good way of assessing or preventing their assault until after the fact? Would you agree that the immediate issue is violent johns/tricks/punters as well as pimps? If there was a job out there that a) you enjoyed, and that b) paid the same as what you make as a sex worker, would you stay doing sex work, or opt out?

        Last thing, about the point you made about serial killers and rapists — there are many sex-buying men who regard the prostituted/sex workers very similarly to how the Robert Pickton’s and Gary Ridgeway’s of the world do. Robert Pickton is one person, and he is not much different to me than 50 separate sex-buying men who each kill or rape or torture one sex worker/prostitute (and just got away with it for a long time, as you said), and because so many of these men exist, the sex trade will never be safe, and these men know it, and they make up a good portion of the demand of the sex trade. I just don’t see how any laws can prevent their violence, and I hate the idea of having to wait for the Lori Adorable’s of the world to get assaulted first before the police can do anything about it, if they decide to do anything about it, and that’s a whole other issue, isn’t it? The number of lawyers and judges and cops who use the sex trade — how can we expect them to enforce laws that would punish themselves/their buddies?

        • Lori Adorable // January 20, 2014 at 1:53 am // Reply

          In that first link I provided in the interview I talk about my experiences with violence in the industry + my feelings about it.
          It’s important to note that misogynist violence isn’t restricted to the sex trade. No form of violence is restricted to the sex trade, but western feminists rarely talk about the garment industry or the domestic labor industry, which materially benefit the majority of ‘abolitionist’ white middle class women in ways the sex industry does not. There’s no agitation to end capitalism as a whole instead of sex work in particular from ‘abolitionists’, and that’s incredibly suspect to me. They don’t seem to realize that, in tackling violence, it’s important not to perpetuate a special hatred of sexual labor, because it’s that hatred that fuels much of the violence sex workers face. The problem is much wider than it’s acknowledged as being, and a big part of it is ‘feminist’ activism that targets sex work. It’s not just misogyny, but classism and whorephobia. I point that out because it seemed to me a glaring omission from your analysis in the last comment, most of which I agree with.

          • Hi again Lori, I’ve read both parts of your linked article and I feel like we are very much on the same page about many things. I think you would be a formidable policy analyst/maker. The views and solutions you have would lead to a crumbling of the colonist empire, which is why it cannot have too “radical” (i.e. sensical) of minds and voices in its ranks, such as yours.

            I don’t align with much of western feminism. My personal agitation is against the entire predatory colonist machine and I see the sex trade as but one of its many, many harmful, oppressive and exploitative “products.”
            I found my way to the sex trade abolition world by coming across sex trade survivor activists whose arguments and cries for understanding and non-judgment were so compelling that I was drawn in after seeing the deep humanity in survivors, learning about how INhumanely they were treated in the sex trade, and then seeing how shitty they get treated as survivors of it (i.e. how some feminists treat them — is this what you mean by whorephobia? Or do you mean it in a normalization-of-the-sex-trade way?).

            You say listen to all sex workers (exited/survivor abolitionists say the same thing), and I agree and personally, these are the only voices I listen to when it comes to this issue. Though up until now, I’ve been only listening to exited men and women antis pushing abolition/end demand, and in their arguments, sustainable exit routes are a critical component to abolition, though I have yet to learn of the detailed ways in which exit routes are being successfully implemented. There is SO much to this one component, and I absolutely agree with you where you say: “Any solution to my dilemma and to the dilemmas of so many sex workers who feel trapped in our work to varying degrees will be far more complex than eliminating our clients. It will need to be systemic and holistic. It will need to attack multiple issues at once, and it will need to be spearheaded by sex workers.”

            I also couldn’t agree more with what you said in your part 1 article: “If an Anti wants to save me from my “exploitation,” she damn well better set up something up for me in its place first.” <— This here is the part I need to continue working on and working out so that my own social justice will help, not harm. This is also the hardest part because it requires a lot of time, thought, WORK and "resources" to make it all happen — the latter being the toughest part of it all, with lack OF resources of course being one huge reason why we have this mess to begin with!

            Like you, I too want and need (and soooo appreciate!) dialogue that leads to revolution which, by its nature, will bust all chains of oppression, not just those of the sex trade.

            • Lori Adorable // February 3, 2014 at 2:54 am //

              I’m never going to defend the sex industry as it exists, and I would be down with abolishing it as part of the capitalist system. But that’s not what most survivor orgs are advocating. They want to abolish *just* the sex industry. This, despite the fact that survival sex work will exist as long as people struggle to survive, and they will struggle to survive so long as they live under capitalism. The only thing criminalizing sex work does is criminalize survival and make it even more dangerous.

              I very much respect the voices of survivors and exited women, and I would never deny their experiences. Their personal experiences, however, don’t make the flawed statistics they cite any truer, or the harmful policies they advocate any more benign. When addressing any issue, the people who *are currently living it* are the ones whose voices we have to listen to above all others. Survivors and former sex workers don’t have anything to gain from decrim personally, but they have a lot to gain from advocating criminalization: it functions as an imperfect form of justice for them to be able to penalize, under other laws, the men who raped them. It allows them to get closer to respectability than unrepentant whores– although still not terribly close, as survivor stigma is a major thing.

              I consider whorephobia to be a form of classism against members of the lumpenproletariat who are (usually) otherwise oppressed via gender, socioeconomic status, disability, trans status, etc. It has material effects, such as denial of healthcare and housing. It also has social effects, isolating sex workers from family and friends and community via stigma. It’s not just a buzzword for ‘being mean to sex workers’. (Not that you were saying it was. But that seems to be how many hear it.) Former sex workers don’t experience whorephobia except to the extent they’re still stigmatized and subject to criminal penalties. And survivors of all sorts of abuse certainly face stigma and discrimination.

              I hope that clears up some of your remaining questions!

          • Hey Lori, what do you think of expert-led organizations like this one, run for exiting women by exited women? They do great work and have taught me much, and I have tons more to learn. Would you agree that this is an example of a light out of the darkness that is the sex trade?

            http://www.sextrade101.com/

  4. “You also can’t argue the fact that, were it to succeed, sex workers would simply find themselves unemployed.”

    My pimp would tell me while beating me that I could never be anything but a whore. He was wrong and so are you.

    • Wow. What an awful way to interpret that sentence. Did you read my own story? I am disabled and can’t work full-time. This is the only option that works for me right now, and even if I am never abled enough to do anything else, that doesn’t make me a lesser person. I am also a writer, an advocate, and so many other things that have nothing to do with my capitalist value to produce. If you want me to be something else (and for the record, I think it’s terrible to shame a woman for not wanting what you do), dismantle this system as it currently stands.

      I am not a pimp, and I have no interest in telling women what they can and can’t do. I am simply acknowledging that many of us do in fact need this job, and even those of us who don’t will not magically find ourselves sitting at a desk the next day.

3 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Week In Links—January 24
  2. The Sex Trade: Lies, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and Other Silencing Tactics | Soul Destruction
  3. The Sex Trade: Lies, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and Other Silencing Tactics | Ruth Jacobs

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