by Furry Girl
I've noticed my local government's anti-trafficking ads on the sides of buses, but haven't mentioned them on my blog. Then I really saw one yesterday that did something I have never, ever seen before from a mainstream anti-trafficking campaign: declare that women can be traffickers and men can be victims. Sure, this dynamic is no shocker to people who actually know anything about migrant labor, but to see it in a county-funded ad campaign blew me away.
King County's anti-trafficking campaign has many flaws, of course, but I will say that I appreciate that the ads are not just about sex slavery. The campaign uses the Polaris Project, a Christian morality NGO as a "fact" source; is partnered with the Somaly Mam Foundation, which sends Cambodian sex workers to private prisons where they are sexually abused; and links to a Shared Hope International anti-prostitution page as a resource. So the campaign is deeply problematic and based in the lies of anti-sex worker hysterics and religious nuts, and I'm not defending that.
But I think this is still a tiny, possibly hopeful step in the right direction, because the campaign is about the many faces of forced trafficking, not just the sexy sex trafficking for sexy sexual abuse thing that we normally see. There are three ad designs, and only one is about sex trafficking. The other two imply domestic labor.
by Furry Girl
When I was a youngster, Corey Feldman was my favorite teen idol. I'd watch Stand by Me, License to Drive, Blown Away, and other films of his while swooning. I didn't have a lot of cliche girlie traits as a tween girl, but crushing on this popular actor was one of them. Today, while reading my favorite source of entertainment news and criticism, The AV Club, I was excited to see an interview with Corey Feldman. While I was a huge fan of his in my earlier years, I've never read any sort of serious commentary by him about his life and experiences as a popular child star. His account of his experiences struck me as similar to the story of sex worker activist Jill Brenneman, who was forced into prostitution and controlled by a violent pimp in her teen years, and came back to sex work later in life on her own terms when she found that other jobs just couldn't pay the bills, or were even more demeaning and dangerous.
Well, at 3 years old, kids don’t really find their way into anything or make any type of decisions. At 3 years old, it’s called child slavery, and that’s what I endured: child slavery. So I was a slave child who got very fortunate in his early career… or I guess my parents got very fortunate, I should say. And through the success that I established as a child, I was able to somehow grasp whatever I was doing, and I had some sort of talent for it and ended up making a career out of it. But I think it was all meant to be. I believe that things happen for a reason. I think there are no coincidences in life, so obviously it was meant to be that I was there, but I wouldn’t say it was my choice. I would say that it was just the path that was laid out before me.
I had a very rough and tumultuous childhood. I often wish that I had the opportunity to make my own choices in life and choose my own path. But at the same time, I realize that things happen the way they’re supposed to. Therefore as a teenager—when it was far too late for me to go back and there was really nothing that I could do other than embrace it or hide my head in the sand for the rest of my life, because I couldn’t walk anywhere on Earth without being recognized—I finally decided to embrace it and take it as a serious business and a career. And that’s where we are today.
[...] when Rob Reiner chose me [to appear in Stand by Me], he said that when he met me and looked into my eyes, the thing that he connected with was the fact that I had such an incredible amount of pain in my eyes. He said he didn’t think that there was any other young actor my age that could’ve had the reality of that amount of pain in their eyes when they were reading the lines.
Anti-sex worker activists make much of demonizing all clients/porn viewers over their potential to (even unknowingly) watch porn or patronize a sex worker who is being coerced, trafficked, or mistreated. Getting off to imagery of suffering, or having sex with someone with an abusive pimp, even if you had no idea that was the case, is an offense on par with being a rapist.
Am I a beneficiary of child slavery because I've watched The Goonies enough times to know the movie forwards and backwards? Should I be arrested and prosecuted for owning the VHS tapes of The Lost Boys and The Burbs, wherein a kid was pressured to perform to earn money for his parents (pimps), even though I had no idea I was watching an exploitative situation? Imagine if anti-sex worker activists treated all forms of entertainment the same way they treat porn, stripping, and the hiring of escorts/prostitutes. Where are the Nick Kristof-led raids of acting classes for children, the protests against movie studios that utilize under-18 performers, and the arrests of live studio audiences at the taping of TV family sitcoms?
(Sarah Wooley wrote a piece in a similar vein earlier this year, Why I wince though Hollywood sex scenes and not porn.)
by Furry Girl
"...SCTNow, along with similar anti-trafficking concerns, uses a simplistic language of good and evil in its discussions of trafficking. In this way, its selling of the anti-trafficking movement closely mirrors the selling of the 'War on Terror' in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Instead of untangling the resentment against American imperialism built up globally through centuries of exploitation, many Americans rushed to accept the nonsensical explanation, put forth by politicans and pundits, that terrorists 'hate us because they hate freedom.' We wanted enemies that we could name and locate so that we might destroy them, not lessons in humility and self-reflection. Likewise, today’s mainstream anti-trafficking movement appeals to middle-class Americans with the idea that trafficking happens because there are bad people out there just waiting to take your kids away from schools and malls. Thus, its prevention efforts focus less on the systemic realities of poverty, racism, domestic abuse, and the dire circumstances surrounding runaway and thrownaway youth, and more on installing high-tech security cameras at schools and stationing more security guards at malls. And it measures the success of its activities by the number of criminal convictions it achieves, rather than by the long-term health and well-being of the women and children who are most at risk."
-- Emi Koyama, in Trade Secrets on bitchmagazine.org
by Furry Girl
It's been a busy month, but I wanted to post a photo from last week's Google protest in Seattle. The protest was just myself and @ishfery, a sex worker I'd previously only met on Twitter. (And, ornery cunt that I am, I'd wondered if she was real, since "in a post-Alexa world," I've come to suspect all sex worker bloggers who don't post photos of themselves are possibly creepy dudes.)
The protest of two went well, and I was certainly happy to not be alone. Being a lone protester makes you look like some kind of crazy trying to "educate" people about 9/11 being an inside job or something. One protester is a nutjob, two protesters are lovable underdogs. While I can make a banner I can hold by myself, it's hard to hold a banner straight and hand out fliers at the same time. What this photo doesn't show is that I had another sign on my back, hastily tied onto my scarf, reading, "Google Don't Be Evil!" The reason for the sign on my back was not just so Google employees in the building could see it, but because a little birdy alerted me to the fact that Google Seattle's web cam covered this portion of the bridge.
We probably handed out about 100 fliers, and had some really position conversations. One woman introduced herself as a budding filmmaker in the early stages of putting together a documentary about the partners of sex workers, and the troubles she was having trying to find people willing to go on camera to talk about those dynamics. A number of Google employees either emailed/tweeted, or said supportive things in person. One took a stack of fliers to hand out in the building. (At the end of the protest, I went to give the reception desk fliers to explain why we were there, and they already had them.) Everyone was extremely nice and interested, and the only detractor was a homeless-looking older man who told us to get a "real job." It sounds like the San Francisco and LA protests went well, too, and SWOP Bay Area has some photos online.
I'm now wondering what the next step should be. It being the Christian holy month, the world is half shut down until early January, so trying to do anything this week would be pointless. I'm curious if another round of protests is something people are interested in, and when to schedule that. (Second week of January, I'm assuming, since many people go out of town for Christmas and New Years.) I'm also wondering about effective ways to utilize internet-based activism as a part of this campaign. I am steadfastly against pointless, masturbatory "activism" like e-petitions, and with Google being such a massive company that doesn't exactly engage in dialog with the public, it's hard to know where to focus energies.
What I do know is that I'm happy to be working on a campaign that engages in real solidarity with sex workers in the developing world. Though Google's shitty NGOs do things that harm sex workers right here in America, the brunt of their harm us directed as the poorest and most marginalized people in the world. Some of the current crop of sex worker "activists" engage in "activism" in the form of attacking people online about which words they're allowed to use and how awful they ought to feel about the erratically-defined issue of "privilege," but it's just bullshit posturing that accomplishes nothing other than making a few people feel self-righteous. If you surveyed sex workers in the developing world and asked what American activists could do to help them, I'm pretty sure that not one respondent would beg us to spend more of our time bludgeoning each other with freshman-level identity politics and feminist dogma on Twitter. I love having an issue around which we have discuss the tangible effects of neocolonialism and Western do-gooderism, and what it really means when these NGOs say they want to "rescue" sex workers. I don't know where the campaign will lead, and if we'll be able to pressure Google into supporting non-missionary, harm-reduction and rights-based services for sex workers, but this is the general direction I'd like to see American sex worker activism go.
My friend Jacob Appelbaum made a comment during his talk about Tor at a nerd convention that stuck with me because it concisely and politely explains what white Western political folk like myself should be doing with our time: "You should consider using your privilege to help other people."
by Furry Girl
I've spent almost the entire last 5 days researching the groups that Google is now funding. Please see the campaign page and read something I've put a lot of time info!
Why are sex workers' rights supporters upset with Google?
Google announced last week that they are making the largest-ever corporate donation to "ending modern day slavery": an impressive $11.5 million dollars. We applaud and support Google's desire to fight slavery, forced trafficking, and exploitative labor conditions, but Google's funding recipients include three NGOs that cause serious harm to sex workers in around the world: International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and Not for Sale. As small sex worker support services struggle for funding to serve their communities, it is offensive to watch Google shower money upon a wealthy faith-based group like the International Justice Mission, which took in nearly $22 million dollars in 2009 alone. (In contrast, the St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco clinic that provides free healthcare to sex workers, operated on only $335k in 2010.)
Does Google know what their money is really supporting? Let's take a look at what you won't read about on the front pages these groups' glossy web sites.
Also, I'll be protesting outside of Google's Seattle building on Wednesday from 2-4pm (on the bridge next to it, to be specific). There are also protests in other locations, too, so check the campaign page. Please join me so I don't have to feel like a lonely sad protester.
by Furry Girl
This morning, I saw a tweet from a nerd that I knew was going to mean bad news: Google is donating $11.5 million to "fight modern slavery". And what have we learned that politically-loaded phrase usually means? It means "fighting to imprison and further criminalize vulnerable sex workers in the developing world."
Looks like the next campaign idea I've been looking to find for SWAAY has just popped up.
In the next few days, I'll have a better idea for a response to Google getting into the anti-sex worker business under the banner of "stopping sex slave trafficking," but for now, I'd appreciate any more information on the groups I'm not familiar with. For one, I'm not sure if I even have a full list of the organizations Google is funding, so if you know someone at Google, I'd appreciate having them check. Google's own charity giving web site has the list below, but I'm not sure if it's a complete one. It's not exclusively anti-sex worker groups, but IJM, the Polaris Project, and Not For Sale are known foes.
Aide et Action
BBC World Service Trust
International Justice Mission
La Strada International
Not for Sale
Please post information in my comments area, I want to flesh out this subject so we know who exactly Google is funding, and what those groups do to sex workers to "save" them. If you're not already familiar with how Western NGOs hurt sex workers in the developing world, please browse the video collection at Sex Workers Present, which is mostly from South East Asia.
by Furry Girl
"On the subject of ethics in sex work research, we usually think of the insensitivity and careerism of researchers whose interest is in obtaining information they will take credit for. I want to point to another problematic angle: the issue of whether those being researched are honest with researchers. Why, after all, should people who are being treated as objects of curiosity tell the truth?
To put it another way, keeping secrets may help sex workers gain independence or control over projects to help them. Talking about sexual risks with people who think it's wrong to ever take any risks may cause them to treat you as irresponsible. Admitting the desire to stay in sex work after getting out of the clutches of abusers can render you ineligible for victim-protection programmes. The best policy may be to omit certain information from responses or to put on the expected front.
-- Dr Laura Agustín, in Alternate Ethics, or: Telling Lies to Researchers on lauraagustin.com
by Furry Girl
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the only agency that keeps track of how many children the legal system rescues from pimps nationwide. The count, which began in June 2003, now exceeds 1,600 as of April of this year, according to the FBI’s Innocence Lost website — an average of about 200 each year.
Through interviews and analysis of public records, Village Voice Media has found that the federal government spends about $20 million a year on public awareness, victims’ services, and police work related to domestic human trafficking, with a considerable focus on combating the pimping of children. An additional $50 million-plus is spent annually on youth homeless shelters, and since 1996, taxpayers have contributed a total of $186 million to fund a separate program that provides street outreach to kids who might be at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.
That’s at least $80 million doled out annually for law enforcement and social services that combine to rescue approximately 200 child prostitutes every year.
These agencies might improve upon their $400,000-per-rescued-child average if they joined in the effort to develop a clearer picture of the population they aim to aid. But there’s no incentive for them to do so when they stand to rake in even more public money simply by staying the course."
-- Kristen Hinman, in Lost Boys on villagevoice.com
If you haven't read this new installment in the Village Voice's series exposing the myths around sex trafficking, I suggest you do so.
by Furry Girl
Last night, I was doing some reading about the most popular political panic of the mid-80s, and stopped to tweet, "Sex work activists should read about the political manufacturing of the crack 'epidemic.' 25 years ago, it was crack; now it's trafficking." I'm no expert on drug issues, but I feel like I should explain my comment in more detail, so here is a (non-exhaustive) list of parallels between the crack epidemic and the sex trafficking epidemic. I think it would benefit sex workers' rights supporters to look at how another moral panic was whipped up and profited from by those with special agendas.
Medicalized diagnoses, criminalized cures
First, I have to start out with an important note on how language is used as a tool to frame an issue in one's favor. Proponents of both the crack craze and the idea of sex trafficking as a vast and ubiquitous problem (and inseparable from consensual sex work) use language of health problems like epidemic, plague, disease, and addiction, but their proposed solutions to both are arrest, shaming, further marginalization, and punishment. Imagine if police responded to the health problem of people having the flu this winter by conducting taxpayer-funded raids, kicking in the doors of homes where people were suspected of staying home sick - arresting them, subjecting them to fines and imprisonment, and even keeping a public registry of the dangerous monsters who have been convicted of carrying the flu, preventing people who ever had the flu to be able to lead a non-flu-tainted life. But we don't do that to flu sufferers for that "epidemic."
Causes and effects
Continuing on with of the topic of medical euphemism is the issue of confusing symptoms with causes of social ills. The crack "epidemic" was framed by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum as not a symptom of poverty, inequality, and larger social disparities, but as the cause of social problems in the first place. Urban ghettos weren't getting worse because of the lack of social services, educational opportunities, affordable healthcare, and quality jobs, they were simply suffering from crack cocaine. Sex trafficking is also seen not as a response to social forces such as some countries having more wealth than others, the desire to go abroad to earn better money, few employment options for undocumented migrant workers, or the difficulties in legally entering a Western country if you're poor. No, sex trafficking is the social ill to be eliminated, and all that complex stuff about class, race, immigration, and gender gets neatly swept under the rug in favor of an explanation that lets people scapegoat manufactured omnipresent boogeymen while failing to address real social problems.
At last, an issue everyone can support!
As mentioned above, the crack panic wasn't just a right-wing pet project, but a topic around which both liberals and conservatives could battle to see which party could take the loudest and harshest stance. No more worrying about pesky minor problems like the economy and joblessness, let's give everyone a chance to come together and agree: the real issue plaguing the country is crack/sex trafficking. There are few topics around which both Democrats and Republicans will battle over who supports/condemns it more, and when such is the case, you have to consider the idea that such an issue is being used as a shiny distraction. (See also: hysteria around terrorism being successfully deployed by all politicians to keep people from thinking about eroding civil liberties and a tanking economy.)
Both panics exploded in popularity during major economic downtowns
The crack epidemic could be said to have peaked in the late 1980s, the same time as the US was experiencing a recession. Our current recession and financial meltdown dovetails perfectly with the rise of interest in and coverage of sex trafficking.
The solution to both problems is not harm reduction, but arrest and locking people up
Billions of dollars were spent on stateside law enforcement as a means to curb the "epidemic" of crack addiction, but where did that get us, as a country, aside from having the world's highest rate of incarceration? Likewise, does anyone really feel safer in when their tax money is used on costly police stings that arrest and jail prostitutes in hopes of being able to fin even one "trafficking victim"? Lots of money is wasted on "cures" that do nothing to help real victims, do everything to drive both victims and criminals further underground, and ultimately only achieve good PR and further funding for police, politicians, and other people with a stake in selling the moral panic. The solution is never to provide services to people at risk of exploitation, but to use arrests and imprisonment to try and cover up things that cause discomfort among members of the middle and upper classes.
Who needs evidence when you have hysteria?
Question the anti-crack rhetoric, and a public figure would be attacked as "soft on crime," and detractors could obtusely ask how one could be in support of the crack plague taking over the country. Similarly, if you question any part of the agenda of those selling and profiting from the sex trafficking scare, you are painted as being in favor of raping children and the sexual enslavement of millions. The topic is framed and such over-the-top hysterical ways, it leaves no room for reasonable discussion of the facts. Anyone who questions anything is a monster.
Emotional-tinged "statistics" trump real data
Parents were told that young people around the country were falling victim to crack addiction, and that "an entire generation" was hooked on the substance. However, even according to government surveys, cocaine use/experimentation of any kind had peaked among young people in 1982, and in 1986, while the media was touting the coming crackpocalypse, daily cocaine use of any variety among high school seniors was a mere 0.4%. (How many of them were crack users in particular is unknown.) Less than 4 out of every 1000 seniors is obviously not "an entire generation" addicted to crack, but boring facts like that have no place in a moral panic. (Just like boring facts rarely get any play in discussions about sex trafficking, where people prefer to fantasize about how millions of children are being captured and raped at every turn.)
The "epidemic" is portrayed as a personal threat to all Americans and their children
Those with something to gain have managed to hype both crack and sex trafficking as attacks upon the fabric of our culture over which everyone must worry, painting pictures of crack dealers hiding behind every corner, ready to get Johnny Quarterback hooked on drugs, or kidnap little Betsy Countryclub from her ballet lessons and sell her into a child sexual slavery ring. Everyone is a target, and the evil people are poised at this very moment to ensnare your children. There's no time to think, only to worry hysterically.
It's not about race and class, except when it is
With both the crack and sex trafficking panic, there is this pervasive undercurrent of fear of the other, fear of nonwhite and poor people, fear of them infiltrating us and ruining everything "we" built. The crack epidemic was about fear of poor, urban Blacks and Latinos, mostly young men who might be in scary gangs. The sex trafficking epidemic, when not about stealing your children for sexual slavery, has the more subtle racial component of a fear of migrant workers sneaking into "our" country and doing morally distasteful things with our husbands, our dads, our brothers, corrupting us, tearing at our family values, and making us impure by association.
Extreme cases are way more exciting than our routine problems
Alcohol, car crashes, and tobacco kill tons of people, but that's not very exciting, and such "mundane" deaths hardly every make the news. But comparatively-rare crack-related deaths and injuries became a top political issue for both parties. Likewise, spousal abuse, domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault are accepted as facts of life, only making the news when there's some bizarre, celebrity, or "funny" angle to the story. Yet, when occasional cases of barbaric forced sex trafficking or the pimping of an underage girl are uncovered, it's held up by proponents as a major problem that is happening to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the country. The focus is always on exploiting extreme cases for political gain and financial contributions, and insisting that extreme cases are the norm.
The issues play well on TV and make for dramatic publicity stunts
In 1989, George Bush Senior held a famous press conference to hype the crack problem where he showed bag of the substance and declared that it had been seized in a drug deal in the park across the street from the White House. A photo of Bush holding the bag was printed in newspapers around the country, proving that crack was everywhere now, even in "good" neighborhoods, and thus, warranted the panic of all Americans. However, the backstory to that photo-op is much more interesting. Since no drugs, let alone crack, were available for purchase in Lafayette Park, the government needed to manufacture a situation that would make for good televison. An 18-year-old African American high schooler was cajoled to come to the park to sell the crack, a young man who famously asked the undercover DEA entrapping him, "Where the fuck is the White House?" I can't recall the last time a week went by that I didn't read about an anti-trafficking publicity push, carefully coordinated and framed for maximize sensationalism.
Now, the "war on drugs" is largely recognized as a failure
I can only hope the war on sex workers, framed as the "war on trafficking," will meet the same fate. I'd love to hear how anti-drug war activists were able to shift public perceptions from the early 90s onward, because we should really emulate whatever they've been doing. (Or how to play up everything the government and moral crusaders are doing incorrectly.)
If you have more interest in this topic, the most awesome and in-depth thing I read was The Construction of America's Crack Crisis by Craig Reinarman and Harry Levine. Hat tip to their research for providing a bunch of the information in this blog post.
by Furry Girl
"At times, working in news is like playing a giant game of telephone. Someone reports something, and everyone else follows suit. The truth gets lost along the way.
'What about the kidnapped children?' a producer in New York asks.
'What kidnapped children?' I say.
'They claim lots of storm orphans are being kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.'
'Who’s "they"?' I ask.
'Everyone,' the producer responds. 'It’s being reported all over the place.'
'We’ll look into it' I respond, which is usually the only way to end such a conversation.
Child trafficking is a major problem, especially in Southeast Asia, but when we start checking the kidnapping story being reported on other networks and papers, it seems slim on facts. It’s mostly just aid workers worrying that children separated from their parents by the disaster may get kidnapped. Part of the aid workers’ job is to get relief, and one way for them to do that is to raise red flags, warn of impending problems. Warnings, however, aren’t facts.
We’ve hired a Sri Lankan newspaper reporter named Chris to help us get around, and when I ask him about kidnappings, his eyes light up. 'Oh, yes, it appears a very big problem,' he says, his British-accented English accompanied always with a peculiarly Sri Lankan shake of the head.
Chris shows us a headline on the front page of one of Sri Lanka’s daily papers: TWO KIDS, RESCUED FROM WAVES, KIDNAPPED BY MAN ON MOTORCYCLE.
'There have been a lot of stories like that,' he says. 'It’s all very dramatic stuff.’
'Is it true?' I ask.
'I have no idea,' he says, 'but it makes for a great headline.'"
-- Anderson Cooper, in his autobiography, Dispatches from the Edge.
Cooper goes on to follow this story, learning that the only two children reported to have been kidnaped were actually taken to a hospital by a good citizen on a motorcycle.
This book was a holiday present from a relative, and while I never would have picked it up it on my own, this memoir was better than I was expecting for a TV personality's bestseller.
Furry Girl: a good time not yet had by all.
- I operate SWAAY.org, an accessible sex workers' rights site that educates the general public about our lives and our issues.
- I've been vegan for 13 years because it's the easiest way for an individual to contribute to less violence, suffering, and exploitation.
My adult sites
- Cocksexual.com: Strapons
- EroticRed.com: Menstruation
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- VegPorn.com: Herbivores
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New to my blog? Some favorite posts
- "You have no right to dislike feminism after all it's done for you!"
- "You misrepresent true feminism by focusing on the bad feminists. They're not real feminists anyway!"
- An argument for more sex workers to be out?
- Degrading, violent desires
- Do you have what it takes to be an empowered sex worker?
- Feminism is the shitty relationship you had in your early 20s
- Feminist porn isn't a branch of sex workers' rights, it's an obstacle
- How are we branding sex workers rights in the US? (Let's focus more on *worker*, less on *sex*!)
- How to do your homework on trafficking, "rescue", and the affected communities
- Let's stop pretending that "objectification" is a thing that exists
- Musings on ethical porn and the red herrings of "feminist porn" and "violent porn"
- My call for a "working" class uprising against inaccessible discourse and the over-representation of dabblers
- Sex trafficking is the new crack: manufactured "epidemics" as political tools
- The common logical fallacies deployed by anti-sex worker activists
- Things I've gained from being a sex worker: an anti-paternalistic perspective
- Vigilantism and 'crushing bastards': in praise of anger, hatred, and taking joy in the smiting of one's enemies
- Want to play BINGO with the antis?
- Watch out for psuedoscience: my long-time nemeses of concern trolling and "teaching the controversy"
- What do I mean when I say "sex worker"? Why I'm against an overly-broad definition
- Why I call them "anti-sex worker" rather than "anti-porn" or "anti-prostitution," and why you should too
Favorite sex/ho blogs
- Amanda Brooks
- Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
- Belle de Jour
- Born Whore
- Bound, Not Gagged
- Dan Savage on SLOG
- Danny Wylde
- Jiz Lee
- Kat's Stories
- Laura Agustín
- Lux Nightmare [2006-2007]
- Maggie McNeill
- Our Porn, Ourselves
- Sequoia Redd
- Serpent Libertine
- Sex Worker Pie Charts
- Sexonomics by Brooke Magnanti
- Shit They Say to Sex Workers
- Stuff Sex Workers Eat
- Whore Madonna