International Whores Day Direct Action 2018 - Chicago, IL

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“Sex work is real work,” Sophie said into a megaphone in Daley Plaza Friday afternoon. A sizable crowd of sex workers and allies gripping handmade signs and red umbrellas returned the chant with equal measure. 

June 2, known as International Whore’s Day or International Sex Workers Day, was recognized with demonstrations in Chicago, New York City, Oakland, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Austin and Washington D.C to demand the decriminalization of the profession, the end of police raids and to address the harms of FOSTA/SESTA.

International Whore’s Day celebrates the anniversary of the occupation of Église Saint-Nizier in Lyon, France in 1975 where more than 100 sex workers took over the church for eight days to protest inhumane and unsafe working conditions. During the occupation they chanted “you who threaten us with hell, we come to eat at your table.”

“We as a sex working community and our family have come to eat at the table of those who have threatened us,” Sophie said. “We will make them see our faces and see who their laws, their raids are harming.”

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43 years later, sex workers are taking to the streets in seven-inch Pleaser shoes, carrying the added weight of the passage of FOSTA/SESTA.

FOSTA, known as Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and SESTA, known as Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act were signed into law April 11 by President Trump to the dismay of sex workers. In attempts to eliminate online sex trafficking, the bills hold websites liable for any content that could “promote or facilitate prostitution,” even if it’s posted by a third party. Since FOSTA/SESTA was signed into law, sites that host ads used by sex workers to screen clients have been reduced or shut down entirely. Craigslist took down their personal ad’s section for fear of legal ramifications and the popular ad hosting site Backpage has been seized by the U.S government. 

Without sites like Backpage, sex workers have lost the resources used to do their job safely. Sex workers are unable to screen clients online and many are being forced to go back to the streets for financial security, which can lead to increased risk of violence, sexual assault or death. A study done at Baylor University found that during the time Craiglist had an “Erotic services” section, they saw a 17.4 percent decrease in all female homicides, not just sex workers. Since the shutdown of Backpage, at least thirteen sex workers have been reported missing and 2 have been confirmed dead, according to anecdotal data acquired by Tits and Sass. 

“I stand here in solidarity with my brothers and my sisters and my siblings who cannot be here because they are criminalized, they are in jail, they are dead,” said Avia, a sex trafficking survivor and self proclaimed current whore. “Since FOSTA/SESTA has been passed I have been raped three times by long term clients who have told me that they know that I don’t have any other option. These laws are killing us.”

The seizing of free or low cost sites like Backpage also puts poor, disabled and undocumented sex workers out of their source of income. And for those who cannot physically work on the street, their livelihood is on the line.

“I’m disabled and poor and I just lost my job,” said an anonymous individual in a statement from the Bay Area Pro Support Group. “The only job that is physically possible for me. Every website that I’ve ever used to connect with clients has gone offline and I have no way of getting work now. Thousands of chronically ill and disabled people have just lost their means of survival.”

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There was no march on Friday. It was a supportive space for statements and discussions about how these laws affect real people and how they can move forward. When a speaker would get choked up, members of the crowd would say “I love you.” Amidst the pain and the sadness, there was also laughter and hope. Against everything, this chosen family of sex workers say that they are stronger together.

Attendees also stressed the need for allies to speak up and fight for the rights of sex workers and to not make sex workers fight these battles alone. “Social justice issues are kind of a hot button topic and have been in the past decade but we don’t hear anything about sex workers in mainstream media and people in the general population really know nothing about this,” said Rowan, an ally.

“Many of us can’t even admit to the majority of the people in our lives that this is happening because it’s too risky,” said the anonymous individual from the Bay Area Pro Support Group. “We desperately need non workers to talk about what’s happening, to explain to people that these measures only harm. They don’t help trafficking victims or anyone else — but they do ruin lives.”
 

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INTERVIEW: Emily Blue

By Cody Corrall

Emily Blue is a force to be reckoned with. Her debut album, Another Angry Woman, was a vulnerable look into rape culture and being a woman in this day and age. Another Angry Woman was entirely nonprofit, with all proceeds going to R.A.C.E.S: the Rape Advocacy, Counseling, and Education Services in Illinois. She is also the frontwoman of two Illinois based Indie bands: BOYCUT, and Tara Terra, who just released their newest album Where’s Your Light? n May. 

Since then, Emily Blue has been on a musical evolution. Her newest singles, “Blackberries // Rico Acid” have a more summer pop flavor, but don’t hold back on the messages from her earlier work. We sat down with Emily to talk about growth, her advocacy work, and her love for Chicago.

Photos by Emily Blue

Photos by Emily Blue


Your music has really evolved since Another Angry Woman, how has your growth as an artist changed and/or evolved your sound?

After Another Angry Woman came out, I felt absolutely drained. I had put all my time and effort into raising funds for R.A.C.E.S. + the album, in addition to talking repeatedly about multiple traumas. So honestly, I wanted to move toward an outlet that felt joyful, empowered, and fun. 

I went to Chicago partially because I wanted to run away from the things that had happened to me -- I was overwhelmed and needed a change. I met my friend Max Perenchio and we started working on these crazy pop tunes, and I fell in love with production and pop music all over again. I’d say I evolved into an artist that wants to spread joy and move forward, to dance around and be silly. There’s so much value in being able to have fun, laugh.

You strive for activism and social change, especially with your work with R.A.C.E.S. Do you think your music is political? Do you revel in that label or do you try to distance the art from the activism?

I think my music is extremely personal, but you know the expression, “the personal is political.” I view my traumas as a reflection of a society that perpetuates very similar traumas. I don’t try to make it inherently political, but of course art always plays a role in the political climate.

At the end of the day I want Another Angry Woman to support survivors, to resonate with them. I want it to challenge rape culture and gender inequality.

I really respect how you acknowledge other experiences and identities, specifically in the "No Pain" video. Why is that so important to you as an artist who speaks on issues like this?

I think that it’s vital to acknowledge that our experiences differ based on our identities. For example, I have the huge privilege of being white and cisgender. This means that I’m less vulnerable statistically to certain types of violence and discrimination. In the video, I just wanted to open it up to anyone who was dealing with the pain of sexual assault. Sexual assault rates intersect in very complex ways based on identities, with trans people of color being perhaps the most vulnerable. We definitely don’t talk about it enough.

How does Chicago act as a home-base for your work? What do you love about the music scene here?

Chicago is beautiful. In my heart, Chicago is this electric entity with tons of different personalities and infinite avenues to explore. I love the hip hop scene especially, because everyone is so genuine, so supportive. I love the artists in the city and cannot wait to dive in even more.

You can buy Another Angry Woman, Blackberries // Rico Acid, or see her live in Chicago on 6/16 at Martyr's supporting Matthew Santos and Christopher the Conquered.