“Ms. Mam’s stories were told in interviews with journalists including Nicholas Kristof, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. She attracted high-profile supporters: There were benefits thrown by Susan Sarandon; Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer, is on the advisory board of her foundation. Ms. Mam’s target audience of well-off Westerners, eager to do good, often knows little about the sex trade. It doesn’t require much for them to imagine all women who sell sex as victims in need of rescue.”
– “The Price of A Sex Slave Rescue Fantasy,” my first op-ed for The New York Times, out today
“In an entrenched meritocracy, those who cannot purchase credentials are not only ineligible for most middle-class jobs, but are informed that their plight is the result of poor “choices”. This ignores that the “choice” of college usually requires walking the road of financial ruin to get the reward - a reward of employment that, in this economy, is illusory. Credentalism is economic discrimination disguised as opportunity… In 1971, 58 percent of journalists had a college degree. Today 92 percent do, and at many publications, a graduate degree in journalism is required - despite the fact that most renowned journalists have never formally studied journalism. Journalism is one of many fields of public influence - including politics - in which credentials function as de facto permission to speak, rendering those who lack them less likely to be employed and less able to afford to stay in their field. Ability is discounted without credentials, but the ability to purchase credentials rests, more often than not, on family wealth.”
– College is a promise the economy does not keep, Sarah Kendzior
“The sheer bodily excitement of that noise was almost too much to bear. I guess it sounded like… sex. Not that I knew what sex was. I was a virgin. I’d never even kissed anyone. But as Mick Ronson’s guitar collided with my internal organs, I felt something strong and strange that I’d never experienced before. Where was suffragette city? How did I get there?”
I Get Email: Men Who Want To “Help”
I have been photographing and telling the stories of street walkers, addicts, homeless, for last three years. I have formed very close bonds and I get asked for help often. I also get offers of help, but sadly they are often unrealistic. Attend a workshop is beyond the resources, often its about just getting enough money to get the next fix.
I see the same thing when it comes to advocacy for other issues I cover, like “stop and frisk.” The ACLU wants me to hand out iPhone apps. That is missing the point, “burn phones” are not app friendly.
I know its well intentioned, but the ones who suffer the most from the negative stereotypes, from the patronizing smugness of people liks Kristof, from the police, are the ones least served.
The offers of support come in two types, both wrong. 1) Women are all victims of sex traffic, lets put them in van, move them to convent or something. 2) Lets put them in a workshop and have them write about their experiences.
What is needed is writers helping them tell their stories, lawyers helping them learn their rights, and politicians realizing they are humans not statistics. Boots on the ground.
Sorry for rant, I know what you and others are doing is fantastic work. I just find that resources seem to drift towards the liberal arts student who does escort to pay her way through college, rather than the down and out addict who is just sucking dick to get crack.
Cheers and keep up the great writing”
I hear that you want to help. So with that in mind, I’ve got two pieces of feedback to help —
In the way you are talking about the kinds of help sex workers need, I think you’re creating dichotomies here that aren’t especially useful. I’ve worked in direct services for sex workers, and am a former sex worker myself. People make all kinds of assumptions about what sex workers need — and you are correct in identifying that. But sex workers who have been working for the health, safety, and human rights of all sex workers identify a spectrum of needs. You’re totally right that legal aid is critical — and almost no funding is available for that. Likewise, there’s little funding for basic needs like housing, child care. And what there is usually is only offered to people after arrest.
And I’d caution you to not use language like this, even as a joke —“Sucking dick to pay for crack” — that’s a really hard thing to hear. I’m not denying that it’s a reality, but it’s not your reality — it’s a reality you observe, photograph, and to an extent, derive value from in creating photos from it.
As valuable as your work might be, it is not as valuable as stories sex workers themselves share about their own lives.