“All I could focus on was their bulletproof vests. What on earth were they afraid of? Two 27 year old women who chose to consensually participate in sex work. Three police women wearing bulletproof vests emerged from the adjoining hotel room. The cold weight of the handcuffs felt eerie against my wrists. I attempted to disassociate but my panic was distracting me. I recall repeatedly being asked if I was managed or if I had a pimp. I kept saying: No. No, I am not managed.
“No, I am not currently addicted to any substances, but you will find weed in my purse,” I told one of the officers. We were just impulsive young adults. On second thought, we DID have a pimp. Our pimp was capitalism.
I imagine you’re wondering how I did venture into sex work. I guess it would be more interesting if I ended up getting into sex work due to some incredulous series of events. Something like escaping a traveling (remind me to come back to the topic of traveling) sex trafficking carnival where my stepfather who happens to be the ringleader forced me into sex work or something. Nope. The truth is, we live in a capitalist society where there are many ways to make money. My good friend and I entered this world together. We started sex work by selling our used underwear at first in a vending machine in the back of a porn shop. Later, we discovered that there were sites to sell them online. From there, I discovered all kinds of work within sex work. Before FOSTA-SESTA; (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) – Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) , there were sites like Backpage and Craigslist that escorts could advertise on.
Back in those days, I only met clients with my friend who we will call Jeanette. I did not even think about working alone until a couple of years later. We posted ads, mostly on Backpage, and would meet up with clients. One night we got an outcall request to a hotel by the airport. We set up a time and headed that way. I remember this client texting and asking if we wanted anything from Starbucks. We gave him our order and twenty minutes later let him know we were pulling into the parking lot. He said that he spilled all the coffee drinks and was apologetic. I remember thinking this was weird as we headed into the Ramada by the airport. He answered the door wearing a white shirt, blue jeans, and white socks. Once we were in the room, I noticed a stack of cash on the nightstand. He asked us what things we did and did not do. We began to tell him our rules and before we could finish the sentence, “Since Jeanette isn’t really bi…” I noticed the police officers in bulletproof vests.
I can remember sitting in a chair in the adjoining hotel room, being asked a variety of questions by 2 or 3 cops. They said they had noticed our ads online for a couple months and assumed we had a pimp. I wish I would have asked them why they assumed that. After we finally convinced them that we didn’t need to be saved and that we really were independent, they told us we could do anything we set our minds to. Cool. Great. As they were getting ready to let us go, they gave us back our purses. They let me know they had to get rid of my “weapons”. Pepper spray and a self defense cat ear keychain. At least they let me keep the weed.
I remember feeling all of that adrenaline and anxiety coursing through my veins as we walked out of the hotel. How weird it felt to live in a society where the people there to “protect and serve” really couldn’t care less about helping people.
We drove home that night with a citation for prostitution and a court date. I must acknowledge the immense amount of privilege I hold. Being a white, indoor sex worker, I am treated wildly differently than a sex worker who works outside and/or is a person of color.
Our court date was sometime the following month. I remember at the arraignment we were among the other derelicts like the folks urinating in public and the Johns or clients of sex workers. I wish I were joking but when I tell you a man tried to book me during our arraignment. I just was thinking how wild that was. Him saying to me, in the seats at the multnomah county courthouse that he had been thinking about booking me. Amazing.
After we were assigned a public defender, we were told what we were sentenced to do. It involved attending a one day “prostitution class” and not having any additional legal issues within the next 6 months.The confusing thing about the class we were mandated to take? It was not relevant to us. The class was focused on sex workers who have a pimp and the empahsis of the class was on the cycle of abuse and how to recognize domestic violence. I can acknowledge that these are valid and valuable resources for some folks. For me, it would have been more supportive to get connected to mental health resources, harm reduction materials, and support applying for disability or government assistance.
Oh remember we were going to circle back to that comment about traveling? So the charge I received that night was a misdemeanor. If my friend and I were traveling to Vancouver, Washington for an outcall, things would be a bit different. traveling over state lines are considered to be trafficking each other, which is actually a felony. Friends and coworkers should be able to go on a work trip together without having to fear a potential felony.
What are the reasons this works for me? Why have I chosen to do sex work? I have enjoyed the freedom, flexibility, and financial possibilities that come with sex work.
Why did I continue after getting arrested? I worked as a writing tutor for several years and did a little online sex work on the side. After a while, $16/hour just wasn’t cutting it.
I talked about this to a civilian [non-sex worker] friend of mine and of course they said, “So when you say decriminalization you mean with some regulations right? For safety?”
We know best how to keep ourselves safe. Community is what keeps us safe. Community is criminalized within the sex work industry. There’s no need for the government to step in there. Once I went back to sex work, I found a local advertising board and I found community. I learned how to screen and keep myself safe.
The point of this narrative, or testimony, or whatever this is, is to educate and ideally do its part to destigmatize consensual sex work. Remember, there are sex workers everywhere. Chances are, someone you care about is a sex worker.”