International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

17 Dec
 
I joined a group of workers. Middle class white women. “High-end” escorts. They told me the first order of business was to make sure each of has someone we can call to check-in and out of appointments. “Anyone who doesn’t have a safe-call, put up their hand.” I put up my hand. Up until that moment I was not “out” as a sex worker to anyone within close enough proximity to keep me “safe” in the event that I was in danger. I have a lover who is local but he doesn’t know what it is exactly that I do and I don’t want him to know. I have friends here but they are not close friends and I’m a very private person.

I’m private by necessity. Because being poor and brown is lethal enough. Adding prostitution to that mix often makes it feel like a death sentence. It makes me consider the statement, “I would rather die than have them find out I’m a prostitute.” It’s funny in a morbid way, I think, maybe it’s true.

One of the ladies named Jollee volunteered to be my safe call. Jollee is a former big wig business woman who joined the industry after losing a major client. She says I should text her when I arrive at an appointment and leave an appointment safely. I wondered what she does if she doesn’t received an “AOK” text from me. We did not talk about what to do and she does not ask, which is fine because I don’t know what to tell her.

My closest family and friends live hundreds of miles away across an international border. I have the number for a criminal attorney that understands immigration issues. A lot of lawyers will recommend that clients charged with prostitution plead to a lesser offense but for immigrants, especially undocumented folks like me, this will often mean deportation with a lifelong ban from reentry. The U.S. maintains an archaic lifelong travel ban against anyone who they can identify as ever having engaged in sex work and they don’t distinguish between legal and illegal work. Not that it mattered; I was doing illegal work and I could not afford the criminal immigration attorney or any lawyer, for that matter, who was well equipped to represent me should I get caught. 

The assumption is that Jollee would call the police. Even though they are whores just like me, I realize they perceive that the law enforcement, that the law itself, exists to protect them. They are probably right. Jollee does not know I am an undocumented immigrant. I am an illegal and a whore. She cannot fathom how my circumstances contextualize my notion of “safety” and that the cops are more likely than any of my clients to assault me, to rape me of my sex and freedom.

They know my friend and colleague Elizabeth and they know her story. She once did a “double date” where she saw one client and his friend back-to-back. When she was done with the second guy, when he was dressed and she was still mostly naked, he pulled out his badge and arrested her. He took her condoms to later use as evidence of prostitution against her. They confiscated her money as “avails of prostitution” so she could not use it to bail herself out. They are thieves without mercy, dignity or humanity They stole everything they could from her.   

Even though the group knows what happened to Elizabeth and knows this is standard operating procedure with low rent whores like me and her, no one offers their number for me to call if I need bail money, which is the best way a person with disposable income could contribute to my safety. When the cops get a person like me into a cage they intend to keep me there for as long as possible and they usually are fairly successful in this endeavor, Bail, a good lawyer – these are things that could help. Both cost money I don’t have.

The stress of this reality is almost too much for me to bear by myself. I do not offer to be someone’s safe call. I have enough to worry about as it is. It is even too much for me to remember to text Jollee when I get in and out of appointments.

But I do call Elizabeth to talk about the burden, about the anxiety that she understands all too well. We call each other when the anxiety feels like a strangle hold. The burden does not weigh less after we speak but I seem to have a grip on it. The anxiety does not loosen because of our talks but I feel I can feel my breath again. I know that these calls to and from Elizabeth are not what they mean when they say “safe-call”. I guess these calls don’t make me any safer, but these are the calls that keep me alive.    

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