Sex, Media & Culture 

Denver’s Hunt for “Victims” or Sex Workers?

Alex Andrews Sep 23

Denver’s Hunt for “Victims” or Sex Workers?

Article by Eris Brianna Boyd, 2011

Denver police are potentially wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and distorting facts while trying to find the elusive “victims” of a crime that is being blown immensely out of proportion.

Police officials are so determined to justify their actions they openly state they refuse to believe people who claim they’re not victims, but are instead just trying to make a living in today’s post-recession world.

The so-called crime (and much of the time it’s not illegal at all) is being an adult involved in sex work of her own free will. (Although there are male as well as female sex workers, the feminine pronoun will be used here to refer to sex workers in general in order to maintain clarity.)

Recent articles in The Denver Post regarding the topic (such as “Denver police increase efforts against human trafficking” on Oct. 30th) revealed how Denver police are attempting to convince sex workers to play the role of “victim” after being arrested. In exchange for saying she was forced into the business by a pimp, the sex worker is given special treatment and even potentially allowed to go free.

Faced with the alternative of jail time, obviously such a practice openly encourages the creation of fictional stories about imaginary pimps. Or, to quote the noted Denver Post article, “Prostitutes often avoid charges if they cooperate.”

But even in situations where a sex worker tells the truth and informs officers that she’s an independent business woman working of her own free will, Denver police have chosen not to believe them.

“We have to help them realize they are victims,” Denver vice Lieutenant Aaron Sanchez told reporters of a local newspaper, despite the fact he also said, “These girls just flat out say, ‘Nope, that’s not what’s happening.’”

Why would police act in such a way? Because if they don’t have victims, they don’t have any reason to accept the huge grant – $290,000 from the federal government to fight human trafficking – which means to keep the money they need to find victims … even where victims don’t exist.

“I do not feel any shame for what I do. In fact, quite the opposite,” said Danielle Rae, an escort in her mid-30s who has been in the business for three years.

She’s anything but a victim. Before entering her current line of work, Danielle spent 14 years as a Cherry Creek paralegal and attended nursing school. “When I worked at the law firm, I busted my ass for eight to 12 hours a day, many weekends and holidays. I prepared 90 percent of the cases and yet the attorney made the big bucks,” she said. “Today, my hourly rate is more than the those attorneys I slaved for for almost two decades and I feel empowered and worthy and in control of my life. I dread returning to the 8 to 5.”

People involved in the sex industry tend to have a very individualistic view regarding personal rights.

They tend to think outside of the mainstream, and, as part of coming to terms with their desire to step outside of societal limits, they tend to form personal belief systems, and re-evaluate their morality to the point where they often view taboo behaviors as acceptable. They are risk takers, both legally and philosophically, an attitude that should be encouraged, not attacked. Such a philosophy is what led our forefathers to defy the British government and write their own constitution. It’s what led civil rights activists to stand up against racial discrimination.

“By being an escort, I declare myself a feminist, in that I am demonstrating my right as a woman to own my body and do with it as I wish, giving of myself and sharing the joys of life as they come naturally,” said Jessica Palmer. A woman in her 40s, she said she decided to try escorting after a decade as a corporate software developer.

“Now I run my own business, working as an independent contractor, dealing with all the expenses, taking all the risks – both financial and physical,” she said. “It takes brains to do what I do at my age. If I was in any other type of industry, people would applaud me.”

An issue to consider, however, is that what Jessica and Danielle do is not against the law in Colorado. According to state statutes, prostitution (which is illegal) is when a money exchanges hands specifically for the performance of sexual acts.

When a client contracts with an escort, however, he is purchasing time with her without any specific agreement regarding anything sexual, and what the client and the escort do with that time is up to the two of them as consenting adults.

This may sound like a legal maneuver, but in reality it’s extremely important, because it allows the escort total leeway in deciding what activities she feels comfortable with during each of her sessions.

An escort’s session might involve nothing more than stripping, performing full-body massage or acting as a platonic dominatrix, or even just accompanying a client to dinner, all of which are perfectly legal yet maintain her role as a sex worker because it is her sexuality that makes her attractive.

“I once spent two hours with a client discussing politics, world history and philosophy,” said Jessica, who has two college degrees, including one in computer science, and is a member of Mensa, the high-IQ society.

“Clients repeatedly tell me they’re seeking companionship as much as the sex. My goal is to create for them wonderful memories they can look back on and smile about.”

The idea of forced prostitution has been a hot-button issue lately. Films like “Taken” bring in millions of dollars while people cheer an action-hero dad fighting to rescue his daughter after her kidnapping by modern-day slavers. Celebrities Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher produce humorous but well-meaning ads stating, “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.”

So-called “experts” repeatedly claim in media outlets that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are forced to become prostitutes every year in the United States alone. This would be a horrible problem if it were true – but it’s not.

According to published reports, that number is actually based on an estimate made by two researchers, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, regarding not the number of children in the United States who become prostitutes, but simply the ones that are at risk of such – and in interviews the researchers admit their figures are based on very vague values, such as the number of transgender children in American and the approximate number of children living near the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Other claims of dramatic rises in the number of child prostitutes in this country have been shown to be based on pure guesswork by activist teams who made sweeping estimates after looking at various escort advertisements on the Internet and trying to approximate how old the women were.

In fact, according to law-enforcement officials themselves, the number of children arrested for prostitution in the United States each year averages to less than 900 a year – which is a far cry from the huge numbers being reported by anti-prostitution groups, even when you include the numbers who escape arrest.

Of those children who are, indeed, involved in the sex industry, other reports have shown that the majority tell researchers that they are, in fact, doing it of their own free will, much like their older counterparts, and they see their job as simply a way of trying to take control of their situation while bringing home more cash than they could ever make flipping burgers.

Do victims exist? Are children being exploited and forced into prostitution? Yes, without a doubt. The Denver Post has reported during the last year on several cases around the country that resulted in lengthy prison sentences for the adults involved. But those cases are so rare that they make the news in Denver even when they happen in distant cities.

The idea of anybody being forced to engage in sexual acts is horrible, whether or not somebody is making money off the situation, and it’s even worse when the victim is a child.

But if we’re going to fight the issue, we need to keep the facts in perspective.

We need to see who are the victims, and who are the people simply trying to do what they can to survive in this tough economy.

Throwing money at any problem never helps unless the money is spent wisely and effectively to help those being hurt. And that’s all we ask to be done by the Denver police and anybody else who is concerned about this issue.

Photo by Gio Mikava on Unsplash.

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