In a time when prostitution and female education were both considered unwholesome, professional courtesan Veronica Franco established herself a leader in the 16th Century literary arts. Although initially known among the Venetian literati for her iconic beauty and razor-sharp wit, Franco busted through the Venetian glass ceiling with her success in erotic love poems.
I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be taken care of. I wanted to be rescued. I was sexualized long before I sexualized myself. Even as a child, I knew the way men looked at me. I knew what it meant. In Mexico, men called out in the street and hissed when I walked past. Even older men—friend's fathers, male teachers—even as a little girl. Even in grade school, I knew what it meant to be a woman and I was no longer a little girl. At nineteen years old, I was well aware that my body had become a woman's body. Even as a child, I knew what that was worth.
The H-Word presents first person stories from current and former sex workers across the U.S. Jessie Nicole describes herself as a queer, stubborn, and committed anarcha-feminist. A former prostitute and dedicated activist, she lives in West Hollywood with her longterm partner. I asked Jessie to talk about why she no longer sells sex.
"Retired" feels like such an odd term to use when I'm about to turn 25 but, yeah, I can talk about retirement. If 1 is "I'd go back tomorrow" and 10 is "I'd rather starve first," I'm somewhere around an 8.
Earlier this month the Village Voice made public the findings of a study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which looked to define the most vulnerable population of sex workers: underage prostitutes. According to the study, "The typical kid who is commercially exploited for sex in New York City is not a tween girl, has not been sold into sexual slavery, and is not held captive by a pimp." The study found that 45% were boys, 45% got into the business through friends, 90% were U.S. born, most serviced white, wealthy men and struck deals on the street (as opposed to the Internet). Importantly, 95% of respondents—70% of whom had sought assistance through a child service agency within the past year—said they exchanged sex for money "because it was the surest way to support themselves." According to these researchers, even the most at-risk segment of the sex worker population—underage sex workers—are going it alone, selling sex on their own volition, and perceive themselves as making a choice given their circumstances. Only 10% were involved with what the researchers labelled a "market facilitator" (aka pimp).
Not so good morning, America. I woke up yesterday to discover that on Monday night the police had cleared Zuccotti Park. As of this morning, Zuccotti Park remains largely unoccupied and quiet, thanks to a judge's ruling that the city needn't allow them back in. At a press conference yesterday, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his decision to effectually shut down the protest, which had lasted 61 days and counting, saying that the "health and safety conditions became intolerable." In a statement made yesterday morning, Bloomberg said: "I have become increasingly concerned ... that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community." Hey, disease is no joke, Bloomberg seems to be saying. Politics aside, you've all heard of the black plague, right? Who wants that to happen again!!? Certainly not our mayor! Sounds pretty rational, until you consider how sanitation and the interest of public safety, including fear of the risk of communicable disease, is a rationalization our country has relied on historically to control its population, particularly minorities.
"Sometimes it was very sexy and sometimes I was attracted to the person and sometimes I had great sex. And sometimes I was just going through the motions and it was neither good nor bad. And sometimes it was really unpleasant and I just got through it."
TRIGGER WARNING: The following story includes a description of a sexual assault.
"I'm a whore, a proud whore. What does this word mean? A whore is a prostitute, sex worker, hustler, degenerate, scum in a female body. I call myself a whore revolutionary. I consider myself a survivor."
"Be sustainable - Don't buy sex!" exhorts a postcard that is being distributed to guests of 160 hotels in Copenhagen during the UN Climate Summit. The proprietors of the lodging establishments received the postcards along with a letter from Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard requesting they not facilitate transactions between the COP15 guests and the city's prostitutes. In response to their local representatives' attempt to thwart a potential bump in business, the Sex Workers Interest Group (SIO) has co-opted the postcards as a marketing tool by announcing that anyone who brings one to the group along with their COP15 ID badge will get to indulge in the sex workers' services for free!
"The average age of entry into prostitution today in the Untied States is 13 years old." The stories of some of the girls whose lives bear out this disturbing statistic are told in Very Young Girls, one of three documentaries in recent years that examine the lives of black girls and women.