“How the Feds Are Using Civil Asset Forfeiture to Threaten Free Speech: Sex, publishing, and quasi-legal theft collide in the Backpage prosecution.” Elizabeth Nolan Brown
Until prostitutes have equal protection under the law and equal rights as human beings, there is no justice. – Robyn Few
2012: Sex workers all over the world were saddened to hear of the death (after a long battle with cancer) of the charismatic and tireless Robyn Few, founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA. When the day finally arrives on which sex work is recognized in the majority of the world as work like any other, hers will be one of the names remembered as instrumental in achieving it.
Robyn L. Spears was born in Paducah, Kentucky, on October 7th, 1958, to Virginia Owen Spears; she had an older brother and a younger sister and lived in the small community of Lone Oak, Kentucky. She attended Lone Oak Elementary and Lone Oak Middle School, but dropped out and ran away from home either during or after her 8th grade year, when she was 13 years old. The causes of her leaving are not clear, but whatever they were she later reconciled with her mother and in fact died while visiting at her home. Like so many runaways she soon turned to survival sex work, and though she later received vocational training to be a materials tester for concrete and tried a few “straight” jobs such as drafting, she was never satisfied with these and became a stripper soon after turning 18. As she says in the video below (recorded in Chicago in July of 2008), “I loved it so much; it was so empowering to be able to get up on the stage…I came alive, and for me being paid to dance and to show my body [that] I was so proud of anyway…it was just an amazing experience.”
After stripping for a while she started working in a massage parlor, then later escort services and a clandestine brothel; in her late 20s she married one of her clients and had a daughter, but after her divorce in 1993 (after which she retained her married name, Few) she moved to California and began to take college classes with the intent of earning a degree in theater. She became interested in marijuana and AIDS activism, but the bills had to be paid so she returned to escorting in 1996 and soon became a madam. Like so many of us, she never told anybody about her sex work; her activism was directed toward other causes until fate decreed otherwise.
The events of September 11th, 2001 engendered a heightened climate of paranoia, and the enactment of the PATRIOT Act soon made an unprecedented level of funding available to any government agency which could make even a remote claim to “fighting terrorism”. And though then-Attorney General Ashcroft had been strongly rebuked by Congress for devoting more FBI agents to the “Canal Street Brothel” case in New Orleans than to counterterrorist operations, he had learned his lesson and justified later whore persecutions with flimsy “anti-terrorism” excuses. Robyn’s agency was accused of having “terrorist suspects” as clients and she was arrested in June of 2002, then convicted of “conspiracy to promote prostitution” and sentenced to six months house arrest (during which the trial judge allowed her to continue her activism). After her arrest, she was angry to discover that both neighbors and supposedly “enlightened” activists treated her differently once they knew she had been a prostitute; she threw herself even harder into medical marijuana activism, but began to think about how people’s ignorant attitudes and the oppressive anti-sex work laws could be changed.
Her inspiration came a year after her arrest, in the form of the US Supreme Court decision Lawrence vs. Texas: Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in his dissenting opinion that “state laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of [the overturned Bowers vs. Hardwick decision’s] validation of laws based on moral choices,” and though the other justices tried to pretend otherwise Robyn knew that Scalia was correct, and that the court had opened a door for sex workers’ rights. So after a Berkeley, California high-school teacher named Shannon Williams was arrested for prostitution in August, Robyn gathered a group of sex workers to protest outside the courthouse at Williams’ arraignment in September. Unfortunately (but understandably), Williams wanted the whole mess to go away as soon as possible and so had no desire to become the “poster child” for prostitutes’ rights. Robyn of course backed down, but the fire had been lit; with the help of her partner Michael Foley and sex worker Stacy Swimme (whom she had met earlier that year at a medical marijuana protest), she founded SWOP-USA the following month.
The organization was modeled on SWOP Australia, and Rachel Wotton (who now specializes in sex work with the disabled) was instrumental in securing permission for the American group to use the name and helping to set things up. Within a few weeks the new organization was contacted by Dr. Annie Sprinkle for assistance in arranging the very first Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, and for the next year Robyn worked furiously to contact politicians and get the attention of the media so as to let them know that sex workers were not going to quietly accept persecution any more, and were mobilizing like those in many other parts of the world to demand our rights. But after the failure of “Proposition Q”, a ballot measure she wrote which would have established de facto decriminalization in Berkeley, Robyn and SWOP settled in for the long haul and committed themselves to the slow, arduous task of reversing centuries of stigma and decades of oppressive legislation.
Shortly after the two shorter videos were recorded at the International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harms in Warsaw, Poland (May of 2007), Robyn was diagnosed with cancer; she continued to work tirelessly for the cause all through her chemotherapy, and though the disease appeared to have gone into remission in January of 2010 it returned by July of 2011, and this time proved terminal. She died on September 13th, 2012 while visiting her mother, and there will be a memorial service on what would have been her 54th birthday (October 7th, 2012) at the Milner and Orr Funeral Home in Lone Oak . I never had the pleasure of meeting Robyn, but as you can see from the personal accounts on her website and the many expressions of grief all over the internet, those who did speak without exception of her warmth, her strength, her good humor, her courage and her plain human decency. And though it’s an oft-used phrase, there is no other which sums up the way everyone in the sex worker rights community feels about her passing: she will be sorely missed.
(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan. I am indebted to the Sin City Alternative Professionals’ Association (formerly SWOP-LV) for information and links, and also to a group of Robyn’s school friends from Lone Oak, who contacted me Sunday morning and filled in a number of vital details I could not find anywhere else. If anyone reading this can correct an error or omission, please email me with the info.)
Until prostitutes have equal protection under the law and equal rights as human beings, there is no justice. – Robyn Few
Last Thursday, sex workers all over the world were saddened to hear of the death (after a long battle with cancer) of the charismatic and tireless Robyn Few, founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA. When the day finally arrives on which sex work is recognized in the majority of the world as work like any other, hers will be one of the names remembered as instrumental in achieving it.
Robyn L. Spears was born in Paducah, Kentucky, on October 7th, 1958, to Virginia Owen Spears; she had an older brother and a younger sister and lived in the small community of Lone Oak, Kentucky. She attended Lone Oak Elementary and Lone Oak Middle School, but dropped out and ran away from home either…
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WE OPPOSE FL 540: Senate Considers Creating Prostitution Registry: Florida Senate Bill 540 with the Orwellian title “Human Trafficking” would create a registry for people found guilty of the loosely defined crime of “soliciting, inducing, enticing, or procuring” another to commit “prostitution, lewdness, or assignation.” #sexworkersagainsttrafficking
Plan for ‘adult cabaret’ strip club in central Pa. shopping mall nixed by U.S. court | pennlive.com
M Dante Writing As The Lady Dahlia Black for SLIXA
UK ACTION ALERT: 3/8 Global Sex Work March 8th 7P Leicaster Square London UK Get Yourself There Wear Red Stand Up! Speak Out! FIGHT BACK.
NSWP/EMPOWER Thailand: ‘Mida Tapestry’, created by migrant sex workers to compliment the ‘Hit and Run’ sex worker research project. The tapestry was first publically displayed at the 12 February, 2012, launch of the ‘Hit and Run’ research initiative in Bangkok, Thailand. Image attributed to EMPOWER Foundation.
FOSTA: A Death Sentence for Sex Workers By Meghan Peterson and Bella Robinson Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE) Rhode Island Introduction On April 11, 2018, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) were signed into law. While outside the Capitol building sex workers condemned the bill for its inevitable impact on safety, the bipartisan FOSTA-SESTA package sailed through the United States House and Senate. FOSTA/SESTA outlined new provisions to amend the Communications Decency Act to note that websites can be prosecuted if they engage “in the promotion or facilitation of prostitution” or “facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims." While supporters of the law claimed to target sex traffickers, its text makes no effort to differentiate trafficking from consensual sex work. Its passage was hailed by abolitionists as a victory in the fight against “sex trafficking,” an invisible force that anti-trafficking lobbyists claim victimizes innocent women and coerces them into the evils of sex work. Among actual workers, its passage was denounced as a death sentence for sex workers who were then further pushed underground and away from tools used to maintain safety and screening.
Sex workers across the US have previously protested against legislation intended to fight sex trafficking when US President Donald Trump signed controversial bills: the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) last year. Sex workers claimed the bills made them more vulnerable to exploitation. https://www.occrp.org/en/27-ccwatch/cc-watch-briefs/9099-us-approves-430-million-for-human-trafficking-fight Tajna Biscevik OCCRP
JAN 10 • Thank you so much for your fair and balanced coverage of the 15th Annual IDTEVASW. Since 2012 SWOP and SAFE have strived to stand up and speak out in Philly on issues specific to stigma and gratuitous violence against sex workers. Folks are always amazed at how hard and painful this event is to do, yet in the end how truly blessed we are to be able to come together to do it. Many households in most areas of Greater Philadelphia, if not all of PA, are touched somehow by this issue. Talking about sex work and prostitution is hard. Living in shame and silence is harder. D/17 is not fun, though it is full of love. Truly. We are here because we have been there, and we care. Our voice is their voice. Thank you for covering the memorial. Words cannot even express the gratitude I feel right now. Philly is proving we got LOVE!
Priest arrested for 'raping mentally handicapped victim' in Latvia | Daily Mail Online Catholic priest is arrested for 'raping mentally handicapped victim of human trafficking' in Latvia, ahead of a visit by the Pope
The date of December 17th was selected for the observance because it was on that date in 2003 that Gary Leon Ridgeway, the notorious Green River Killer, was sentenced for his crimes. “Between July of 1982 and January of 1998 Ridgeway was responsible for the deaths of dozens of women and girls in King County, Washington, the county that includes the cities of Seattle and Tacoma. Many of his victims were prostitutes and others marginalized by society, such as runaways. Ridgeway was sentenced to 48 consecutive life terms for his crimes plus 480 additional years; a plea agreement eliminated the possibility of the death penalty. The first International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers was observed on the day he was sentenced and utilized art as sublimation through the conflicting emotions of relief, grief, anger and fear.
At the intersectionality of sex work and trafficking are the people who lived it and no longer fit any of the definitions others are creating except by saying: We too are here. Photo of Mistress Lilith, Miss Gabrielle Monroe and M. Dante sharing some love taken by Blind Filmmaker David Block at the 15th Annual International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers (IDTEVASW) at Thomas Paine Plaza Philadelphia.
12/18 Mtg w/ PA (D) Senator Robert Casey’s Aide Rob
Press Release: Under The Red Umbrella Monday, December 17, 2018 will mark the 15th annual observance of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. As people gather around the globe to celebrate the holidays, some mourn the loss of those close to them. In Philadelphia, the observance features two connected community events: … Continue reading Press Release: Under The Red Umbrella
4 ways the US can take the lead in the fight against human trafficking | World Economic Forum
HUMAN TRAFFICKING Child victims of human trafficking cannot be prosecuted for crimes they are compelled to commit under a new law that also requires police to contact the state Department of Human Services whenever they encounter a child who has been sexually exploited. The Department of Human Services also must establish ways to provide victims with homes, schooling, training and counseling.
NSWP announces an important Norwegian court decision in all respects as a precedent for similar cases for sex workers who are in a similar situation and conveying to employers that persons selling sex have the same legal protection as other workers. Congratulation to Lilith for the good work and having the strength and courage to bring the case to court
(C) Sarah Doughty Kerosene “I didn’t know who I would be. But I think I know now. I was meant to survive.”
NEWSDAY: Corinna Slusser of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, was last seen on Sept. 20, 2017, in near 1922 Boston Rd. in the Bronx. She last spoke with her mother that day, NYPD officials said. According to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in Manhattan federal district court, she was one of two alleged sex trafficking victims of Ishi Woney, 23. By Anthony M. DeStefano
Another Report Shows That FOSTA Increased (Not Decreased) Sex Trafficking; Where Is The Outrage? | Techdirt
Authorities break up Norristown prostitution ring By Oscar Gamble email@example.com NORRISTOWN — At least four people are facing prostitution-related charges stemming from their alleged involvement with an incall/outcall brothel authorities say operated out of two locations in the municipality.
apple.news/AKDfreXliTfmWZvYmrIzQVw You buy a purse at Walmart. There’s a note inside from a “Chinese prisoner.” Now what? By Rosalyn A. Warren Tracing a mysterious message across the world to understand how what we buy is made. When Christel Wallace found a piece of paper folded up at the bottom of her purse in March 2017, … Continue reading Real Slavery Is Clear, And It Is Also Our Fault As Consumers
This October, Rigby & Peller is proud to support Free the Girls, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides job opportunities for survivors of sex trafficking in developing countries. Gently used bras are collected* and donated to these women as starting inventory for their own business selling bras. Through the collection of bras in Western countries, Free the Girls is able to educate people and organizations about human trafficking issues globally. *Boutique exclusive event, store credit earned can be used in boutiques only.
Ø Date of Workshop: Friday, October 5th, 2018 Ø Time: 10:45-11:55 Ø Title of Workshop: Instrument of Crime: Condoms, Prostitution, Prosecutors and Public Safety in Pennsylvania Ø Workshop Location: The Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th & Arch Streets (West Concourse Entrance) Ø Room # : 106ab Please arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your workshop … Continue reading Beyond The Walls: Reentry Summit and Prison Healthcare