Sex Industry

Austrian developer Pia Poppenreiter was out on the town in Berlin on a cool autumn night when she saw a sex worker on a street corner and had the sort of “a-ha!” moment any founder will talk your ear off about. “It’s crazy that there’s an app for everything, but not for that,” she thought, referring to street-walking. “Why do they have to stand there in the winter all day?” The answer is Peppr, the Tinder for sex work.

Over the past few weeks, Chase bank has been mailing members of the adult industry informing them that the bank is closing their accounts. While we’ve seen this kind of attitude from financial institutions before, we’ve never seen anything of this magnitude. Banks and payment processors have become incredibly risk-averse in the wake of efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to combat fraud, but some suspect this exaggerated response is a ploy from financial institutions to garner bipartisan support and get the government off its back.

When the trade magazine Adult Video News, better known as AVN, was founded in 1983, there was very little in the way of attention from the mainstream media when it came to issues facing the adult industry. That’s no longer the case — we now live in a world where sex is often reported in high-profile, mainstream places. What does that mean for AVN and properties like it?

The “manifesting” prostitution statute in Phoenix is more than a wacky law that gives law enforcement a wide margin to interpret pedestrian behavior — in practice, it’s effectively turned race, and gender identity into evidence. If you’re a person of color — especially if you’re trans — it doesn’t matter if you’re walking to Sunday mass. Your very existence is a manifestation of prostitution, and you’re fair game to get picked up. This happened to Monica Jones. But she’s fighting back.

“When we’re too scared to defend sex work, because it’s not our battle, because there’s a legal gray area we’re scared to touch,” writes sex educator Sabrina Morgan, “we’re saying it’s okay to let the sex workers — our front-line sex educators — take the bullets as long as we get to play the game. And we get to play the game only as long as we play it safe. Playing it safe means being afraid to show what it is that we’re teaching.”

On Valentine’s Day, the Duke Chronicle ran a piece about a Duke freshman who spent her breaks in Los Angeles shooting porn. The student, who was given the pseudonym “Lauren”, told reporter Katie Fernelius that the idea to go into the adult industry first came to her while grappling with the question of paying for her education. This is the story of what happened next.

Today is December 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, a day created to bring attention to the crimes committed against men and women in sex work. This day isn’t about trafficking. Human trafficking and sex work are different things. In fact, failing to see the difference between those things hurts sex works more than helps them. They don’t need to be “rescued” from their work. They need rights. Until sex workers are given rights, the dangers they face will only continue.

Red Umbrella Diaries are storytelling events where sex workers share their experiences with an audience. Over one hundred sex workers have told their stories since their inception in New York’s Lower East Side. Now, the organization that runs them, RedUP, is making a documentary to bring the Diaries to the world. Formatted in the style of the concert documentary, a crew will follow seven sex worker story-tellers as they prepare to go live in front of 200 people at New York’s multicultural musical clearinghouse, Joe’s Pub.

The United States has stalled. It’s been a week since Congress failed to pass a spending bill to provide the government funding to do what it needs to do. While Congress and the president continue to get paid, some 800,000 furloughed government employees and people who depend on government assistance are on hold without paychecks. It’s tough times nationwide, but online, sex work-lite sites such as Seeking Arrangement and What’s Your Price are reporting a jump in new accounts. Will the shutdown help normalize sex work?

Pornography is work that deserves to be safe. Like nursing, boxing, and other bodily-fluid-intensive jobs, that safety is going to be complicated. What I do know from my brief time as the Nancy Drew of dick identification is that a lot of the laws that get proposed to make porn safer have unexpected side effects—some of which are just as bad as the original problem. We’re far more likely to help porn performers if we treat them less as victims in need of protection and more as workers with a stake—and an interest—in their own safety.