Sex Worker Sexual Assaults and Hope for our Future
By Michelle Keep
Content Warning (CW): Rape, graphic violence, links to upsetting images of assault, victim blaming. I use heavy, blunt words for brutal behaviours.
Social media can do amazing things. We can receive information and reactions faster than ever, and without it being filtered by multi-millionaires at the top. Some benefits are that there are a greater variety of voices that are being heard, and that grassroots movements can take on a bigger power which would previously have been snuffed out. The occupy and blacklivesmatter movements were born from social media, touched a chord with people, and has shaped history.
One of the other benefits, though, is that more women are taking power into their own hands when it comes to suffering from rape and domestic violence. When only 3 rapists are convicted out of 1,000 assaults, it’s clear something needs to be done. Victims/survivors are refusing to be shamed, and can use social media to connect with thousands or millions of people overnight.
This is especially amazing, and heartbreaking, when it comes to sex workers with a large platform. One thing that has always bound sex workers together — their willingness to disclose bad dates to one another — and now they can reach even more people.
Stoya, a porn star and writer, was raped by her ex-boyfriend and former co-star, James Deen. In her own words, he held her down and fucked her while she said no, stop, and used her safeword. They were both co-workers, and a couple, around a year ago. This has spawned the hashtag #solidaritywithstoya. People in the industry have joined in support of Stoya, saying this is not the first time they have heard something like this about Deen, and that they’d seen other behaviour that backs up what she’s saying. Joanna Angel, another ex-girlfriend and former costar, has tweeted her support to Stoya. Deen identified publicly as a feminist while at the same time making rape jokes.
Christy Mack, another porn star, suffered from 18 broken bones, a broken nose, a ruptured liver, a fractured rib, multiple stab wounds, and missing multiple teeth. Her ex-boyfriend, War Machine, an MMA fighter, threatened to rape her. He beat her friend. Now he’s in court, mocking the proceedings, mocking the (pregnant, female) prosecutor, and mocking all of us watching in horror. His attorney claimed that because she engaged in consensual rough sex during their relationship, and was a porn star, that it suggested consent to the heinous beating months after they broke up. He claimed her performances showed “the desire, the preference, the acceptability towards a particular form of sex activities that were outside the norm.” The judge has requested War Machine’s defense to submit a written motion detailing their sexual relationship.
A columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times accused a sex worker — who was raped at gun point — of making a mockery of rape, because it was more akin to ‘theft of services’. She says that she doesn’t believe that rape victims are at fault, but that she doesn’t see the sex worker as a victim, because “when you agree to meet a strange man in a strange place for the purpose of having strange sex for money, [she] is putting [herself] at risk for harm.”
Are you angry? Because I’m angry. I’m outraged.
I’m outraged that these women’s jobs or sexual decisions are being used against them, even when they’re beaten to the disgusting point that Ms. Mack was. I’m outraged that people are confused why attractive men are rapists. I’m outraged because they didn’t deserve this. I’m afraid that they’ll be subjected to an even higher level of scrutiny than most rape victims. And I’m disgusted that these women’s future sexual decisions and choices will lead people to judge the validity of their allegations.
But people can choose to engage in consensual, rough sex, and still be raped.
People can choose to be sex workers, and still be raped.
But you know what gives me hope? Faith?
The few people who have been vocally gross about this are vastly outnumbered by people offering their support, kindness, and love. The few people who tried to use it to push their own narrative, such as SWERFs [sex-worker exclusionary radical feminist], and talk over Stoya have been called out for their despicable behaviour, and the disgusting serial harassers online — you know the ones — are being ignored. It was way easier for me to find positive and heartwarming tweets and responses than cruel ones, and that’s amazing.
The Frisky is no longer publishing James Deen’s Sex Advice Column, and I would imagine that other sites will soon be pulling their platforms from him as well. People are listening to — and believing — Stoya.
It’s easy to focus on the things that make us angry. There are so many horrible things happening in the world, and sometimes, it seems too easy to find things to be upset about. It’s easy to hold onto those things, and feel despondent and frustrated.
But I’d urge you to open your eyes to the good, as well, because it’s a combination of the good and the bad that will keep you going. It’s knowing that things need to change, and seeing that there are others working to usher it in that will keep your momentum up on dark days.
Caring a lot is hard, and I care with everything I have. My heart breaks daily for people who are hurting, but my heart is mended by allies, by those that are working towards and hoping for the same things I desire: Compassion, understanding, a better society.
Even compared to the muted reaction back in February when Cytherea was attacked and raped in her home, where many feminist channels were silent, we’ve improved. We’re making progress. All of our hard work and advocacy, in standing up for sex workers, is helping. In August, Amnesty International gave the middle finger to all those well-to-do actresses that fought their policy by ruling that sex workers’ rights are human rights. The Liberal Justice Minister says she’ll listen to Sex Workers on prostitution reforms. Locally, we now have a street nurse and the Anglican Diocese is offering S.H.O.P. a new home and we have a dedicated line to Warn Other (sex) Workers about bad dates. We had our first Trans March, and we’re finally getting some much needed trans rights passed, like allowing transgender people to change their birth certificate and government IDs to match their gender identity.
Standing with sex workers, standing with victims, standing with oppressed minorities, is always the right thing to do, and society is changing to see that. Don’t forget to take a moment and realize how quickly public opinion is changing. If you support sex workers, and you support victims, and you support equality, you’re standing on the right side of history. Don’t lose faith.
Michelle Keep is an eternal optimist, a Marxist feminist, and believes that sex work is work and needs to be treated as such. A Jill-of-all-trades, she runs a small publishing empire with her husband, has sold hundreds of thousands of her fictional books, and takes beautiful photos in her spare time. On twitter: @jmkeep