In my series on solicitation, “Johns” sounded off on many of their sex work experiences: being robbed, falling in love, instances of trafficking and the morality of sex work.
Now it’s time to hear from the other side, the sex workers. In this round-table, a group of celebrated current and former sex workers weigh in on what we’ve seen through the eyes of Johns. In this first segment, they offer insights on violence in sex work, trafficking and take on the media’s “shady John” image.
So, what is your take on the media’s shady back-alley image of “the John” —does this jive with your findings?
Kendra: Every woman you see in the grocery store could potentially be a prostitute, and every man you see could potentially be a John. You would be surprised at who sells and buys sex. Your dad could be doing it - have you seen him lurking in an alley lately?
Tracy Quan, a sex worker and author of the Manhattan Call Girl novels, most recently Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl and Expert Insight's Love Guru, applying her call girl expertise to matters of the heart and body.
Veronica Monet, a former high-end escort, author of Sex Secrets of Escorts, and currently self-employed as a Couples Consultant specializing in Anger Management and Sacred Sexuality.
Wendy Babcock, a former child sex worker and celebrated sex work rights activist who is currently in her second year of law school. Wendy helped to create include the Safer Stroll Project, Bad Date Coalition, Sherbourne Health Bus Sex Workers Stop, Regent Park Community Health Centre's Sex Worker Drop In, and self-defense training for sex workers.
Kendra Holliday, a sex-positive activist, writer and editor of The Beautiful Kind. Kendra is the co-founder of Sex Positive St Louis, an Alternative Lifestyle Advisor and a Gynecological Teaching Associate for Washington University School of Medicine. She is also a former sex worker, having stripped, escorted, and acted as a sex surrogate.
Mariko Passion, an educated whore and urban geisha, an activist and artist. Mariko does spoken word and performance art in the name of social justice for sex workers. Her blog is a political and educational platform aimed at other sex workers, clients, activists, artists and anyone else who is curious.
Mistress Collette is Head Mistress at La Domaine Esemar, the oldest BDSM training chateau in the world. Mistress Collete has been a professional Dominatrix for six years. Some of her interests are mind games, rope bondage, corporal discipline, role play, service, humiliation, cross dressing, and bullwhips.]
Tracy: I blame feminism for the way Johns have been vilified. These men are our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Yet we are told to hate and fear them because they have paid for sex, this is ridiculous. There is also vilification of men who go to inexpensive brothels, as if being poor means you especially should not have sex.
Wendy: The media wants to paint sex workers as villainesses, as “used goods.” So showing Johns as the men they really are — regular men ranging from the nerd you’d see at a Star Trek convention to a business CEO — would contradict the image of a sex worker that they’re trying to portray.
Mariko: I work off of backpage.com and deal with minimally screened, impulsive clientele who can be shady and disrespectful. I have been robbed twice in my escort career in LA and have had countless verbal and scary interactions. I have dealt with groups of men in their twenties, drunk or on drugs who think that a hoe is a fair target for violence or dehumanization.
Veronica: About one third of all American males will see a prostitute at least once in their life. It is normal behavior for normal males.
A lot of men called their experiences with sex workers life-changing, seeing emotional or psychological value there. Do you see this in your clients?
Collette: I am unwavering in my belief that I am doing good, amidst the controversy and misunderstanding surrounding my career. I receive profound, heartfelt thanks on a daily basis. I have the privilege of working with people on their most intimate fantasies. Sometimes they reveal things about themselves that no one else knows. The acceptance, dignity and compassion that they are met with builds a strong bond of respect, trust and love.
Mariko: The life changing aspect of the sex worker-client relationship works for both the provider and the client. Not enough providers admit this and like to see themselves as the sole givers in the equation. I know of one escort who actually attended therapy with her client and then broke up with him eventually.
Many of the clients I talked to considered themselves activists for sex work. Do you see any increase in this? How can clients help in being allies?
Wendy: Unfortunately I haven’t. With the Ontario Court of Appeal listening to an appeal of the Hon. Justice Susan Himel’s decision that three of the provisions targeting prostitution be struck from the Criminal Code their have been numerous news stories covering the opinions of current and former sex workers, law officials, feminists, but I have yet to read about a John proclaim his outrage over these laws. I would love to see men who pay for the services of sex workers show their identity and proudly claim they are not monsters intent on degrading women, nor are they perverted creeps, but rather they are men that get pleasure from sex with no strings attached.
Clients can certainly assist with promoting the rights of sex workers, if they aren’t ready to come out, they can write anonymous letters to their MP’s [Members of Parliament], write anonymous articles to newspapers, start a web group, connect with sex worker rights groups (such as the Bad Date Coalition or Sex Professionals of Canada), donate to pro sex worker organizations, discussing sex worker rights with friends, and educate those who make disparaging remarks about sex workers.
Mariko: If they are lawyers, doctors or other professions, they can donate their services to the sex worker community.
Veronica: Clients need to start their own movement and begin to come out of the closet! Do the talk show circuits! Blog about it! Write a book about it. Chester Brown's new Paying for It is an excellent effort in this direction!
In my interviews, I didn't want to shy away from discussing real instances of violence. Most buyers talked about the victimization they experienced. Other individuals said they’d heard of acts of violence by men against women...
Collette: Some people engage in sex work because they think it will make tons of easy money and they are very shallow in how they treat their clients. A client can be profoundly hurt by this and traumatized. I do a lot of rebuilding after someone has been hurt by another sex worker.
Mariko: I got my start in the escort industry, in L.A., by being a bait and switch agency girl. I was the girl who showed up at the house in the middle of the night and did not look like the picture. I had to hustle for the agency fee (usually $250) and my own take home (tips starting at $200).
This hustle is an extremely popular one in LA, and I have actually also done it with an “upscale” national agency as well. Many times, as a provider, if the guy was not going to tip, you would leave without question and without giving them a refund of their agency fee collected. This $250 would be a huge amount to the guy, but only $40-50 for the provider. This small percentage would not be enough for girls to get naked, so this set up often had the potential for violence with every potential client.
Most of the guys ceded in their loss and would let the agency girl disappear into the night, but some would try to put up a fight. I have been chased, told to get my clothes on and get the fuck out and more.
I mostly victimize my clients by taking advantage of their impulsive and unhealthy behaviors and use them for my financial gain. This is not the same as robbing them, though, as I am taking their money with their consent. Their consent, of course, is weakened by my hustling skills and I am adamant upon collecting my hourly rate every hour, on the hour. I am in this business to profit, not to make friends, and if it were not me collecting this money in certain instances, it would be another b--ch. I call myself an urban geisha because my way of working is one level above the streets, and can be grimy and unfair to the guy at times, but I am okay with that.
Wendy: The enormity of violence against sex workers far exceeds violence against clients of sex workers. We certainly have not, at least in Canadian history, seen serial killings against clients nor a vast amount of sexual and other forms of violence like we have with sex workers and that is paramount over theft.
What about Trafficking?
Mariko: A minor in the U.S is considered a trafficked person, and I started a thread on a sex work board, as to whether guys carded their provider (if they believed she was underage). I am someone who thinks some of my clients are underage too. I was once called to a high school guy’s house and talked to his parents about getting gas money for my time.
Veronica: Trafficking occurs in a variety of professions, but the media and the law are obsessed with sex trafficking. Many of those purported to be trafficked aren’t, and will return to the work shortly after their “rescue.” Much of the fervor surrounding trafficking seems to be racially motivated, much as the original Mann Act was. Decriminalization can reveal the true traffickers in a way which legal repression never will.
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO: The sex workers will talk about dating their “Johns”, clients who are married, women clients and the times they’ve bought sex themselves!