Saturday, December 29, 2007

Careers of New York Prostitutes

An interesting paper from Sudhir A. Venkatesh, "Vice Careers: The changing contours of sex work in New York City,",

In the mid-1990s, changes to law enforcement strategies in New York City pushed many women working in the sex trade off of the streets and into the indoors. Increasing numbers of women began advertising sexual services in bars, over the Internet, and in print media, and conducting their work in their homes, hotels, and brothels. This study uses in-depth interviews and participant observation to examine the impact of this change on the life and work of women working in New York’s indoor sex trade. A critical finding is that as women move their work indoors, they begin to conceive of sex work as a profession and a career, rather than just a short-term means of employment. This “professional and careerist orientation” may have significant implications for the length of women’s tenure in sex work and ultimately, for their ability to exit the trade completely.

Some random excerpts from the paper;

As Whelehan (2001) writes, “Female prostitutes in the U.S. and cross-culturally can earn as much or more in the kind of work that they do than for comparably paid work in the straight world given their skills and levels of education

In one Chicago based study on sex workers, 71% of respondents reported that someone that they knew had suggested selling sexual services. Of those who suggested prostitution, 45% were friends of the respondent, 24% cousins, 19.6% a boyfriend or girlfriend, 14.4% a sister, 7.2% were live-in partners of a parent, and 6.5% were the respondent’s mother (Raphael & Shapiro 2002).

For example, in one study, 67.5% of sex worker respondents reported spending most of their sex work income on rent and household bills, and settlement of personal and household-related debts. While a number of women reported spending significant amounts of money on drugs and alcohol, 87.5% of the sample did not prioritize spending money on material goods and considered them to be “extras” (Sharpe 1998)

Numerous women spoke of sex work as an “addiction.” Allison, who has worked as an escort and who currently works independently soliciting clients in bars and clubs, says, “It's addicting. The work, it definitely, it becomes a lifestyle.”

When asked to describe a time when she had been forced to do something she did not want to do, one woman in our indoor-based sample responded, “He had me fuck his son, a little kid. It was disgusting but he gave me $500.” Similarly painful, one woman recounted her experience with being threatened and beaten up for being a sex worker:
I got beat up twice, both times by a cop. Both of them wanted me to suck their dicks for free, right in the car. I said no, because I really don't like being in the cop cars. But, they said I had to and pulled their dicks out and just grabbed my head and pushed me down there. The first time I bit the guy on his dick. He just screamed and started beating me with his stick. I passed out. I don't know for how long. I was just laying there and when I woke up it was almost morning.

Ebony, for example, is an independent escort who is planning to relocate to California where she believes she can maximize her potential as a sex worker. She feels that there is greater opportunity to earn money in the sex trade in California. She anticipates making $5,000 a week there by seeing only five clients, money which she hopes will support family planning and retirement. For Ebony, making such money by seeing so few clients demarcates her attainment of success in the trade, and thus her achievement of upward mobility within the industry. Ebony hopes to marry and have children, desires which she does not view as antithetical to sex work.

Women frequently drew parallels between indoor sex work and legal work in a way that tempered exit. Many of them said legal work could be considered a form of “prostitution.” As Nancy reflected:

I look at what other people do, the jobs that they have, and all I can think about is what little money they make working these jobs. I think people are forced to take these legal jobs. But really, I think they are just another form of prostitution. In fact, if you ask me, the housewife is really the biggest form of prostitution. You don’t have to be out there to be a sex worker, you know. And you know, it’s hard to get out when the money is so easy. I tried to start over completely after jail but it was hard. The money and way of making it means, it means that sex work is not hard to leave but it’s, it’s very easy to stay in.

At the end of the day, may be we all are prostitutes.

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