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Chicago Sex Workers Dispute Media Stereotypes

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Nicholas Kristof was baffled.

A year after the New York Times columnist rescued teenaged Cambodian prostitute Srey Mom from a Poipet brothel by purchasing her freedom for $203, she was back in the brothel.

Voluntarily.

In fact, she wouldn't even be rescued initially without her cell phone and jewelry which Kristof had to buy back for her.

Didn't she want to be saved?

Not necessary said organizers from Sex Worker Outreach Project-Chicago (SWOP) at a Chicago presentation in June, sponsored by the Open University of the Left and the Chicago Socialist Party


The right wing-backed human trafficking movement, part of the "anti-prostitution industrial complex," deliberately blurs the line between sex work and sex slavery to further its moralistic agenda and line its pockets said Jasmine, a SWOP organizer at the presentation called Sex Workers, Criminalization and Human Rights.

It has duped many, including the media, into seeing "sex slavery" where labor, immigration, gender and human rights abuses exist and occluded the plight of both consensual sex workers and women trafficked into household, farm and sweatshop work which is more common, charged Jasmine.

Sorry Nick.

The flip side of the missionary imperative to save-the zeal to glorify the downtrodden- also infects sex work perspectives said SWOP spokespeople.

Regardless of Heidi Fleiss' escapades, movies like Pretty Woman and college boys' tales of their Cool Trip to Nevada, sex work is not noble, salt of the earth employment that just needs legalization.

As long as sex workers are morally quarantined by illegality and stigma, they risk being robbed, cheated, raped, knifed, shot, beaten up, strangled, abducted, arrested and given diseases said "out" sex worker and SWOP organizer Pussy Willow, 47.

Not only are sex workers devoid of human rights, they can't even recruit community advocates because of the opprobrium, Willow added.

"How many of you admit to having bought the services of a sex worker," she asked the audience to a show of two timid hands. "When you're a sex worker, everyone wants to be your friend-until it jeopardizes their family or standing in the community."

While SWOP-Chicago is only a year and a half old, it inherits a bloody sex worker history.

Thirty nine sex workers were killed during the 1990's in Chicago by four different mass murderers.

Sex workers in Chicago's marginal neighborhoods were terrorized by Gregory Clepper- alleged to have confessed to killing 40 more prostitutes- Geoffrey Griffin aka the Roseland Killer, Hubert Geralds and Andrew Crawford but often had to keep working because of pimps and addictions.

China, a cousin of Kizzy Macon, 17, who was murdered by Gregory Clepper, told the Chicago Tribune in 1996, "Kizzy would get high with anybody," and admitted she too had partied with the killer before he was arrested. "I didn't know he would kill her," she added.

Street prostitute Pam Bolton, killed in 1995, told the Chicago Sun-Times days before her death, "This street life is more addictive than cocaine. More addictive than heroin."

Like other johns, Clepper, Griffin, Geralds and Crawford knew they could gain access to a sex worker for a few dollars, harm her with no police intervention and dispose of her body with impunity because no one would miss her.

A 2007 study by bestselling Freakonomics author and University of Chicago economics professor Steven D. Levitt with Alladi Venkatesh, found Chicago sex workers were victims of violence from pimps or clients once a month and forced into extorted sex with law enforcement officers or gang members in one out of 20 transactions.

"Condom use is shocking low," says Levitt in "An Empirical Analysis of Street Level Prostitution" and sex workers "absorb enormous risk for a small pecuniary reward."

Nor are public health programs working, said SWOP members.

"They train workers to train workers to train workers to then go out and try to find 'victims,'" said Willow. "Meanwhile who is handing out a bag of condoms to the outdoor sex workers on Belmont Avenue? Who is protecting women who are getting beat up?"

The true needs of the sex worker community are subverted by asinine "studies" full of social scientist babble said Willow, citing a recent, highly publicized report which "didn't even interview sex workers, just occasional johns called 'hobbyists.' Hello?"

Especially ridiculous said Willow is a $1000 "john school" where arrested clients of sex workers are remanded in California to "learn how to not buy sex."

"I'll teach them that for $250."

Martha Rosenberg is Staff Cartoonist, Evanston Roundtable

Martha Rosenberg
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