NYC Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms
The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her.
She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She’d had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.
He arrested her for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.
When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network’s Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I’d worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.
The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you’re a middle-class white girl like me, you’re probably safe. But say you’re a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you’re a trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.
Then you’re not safe at all.
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?
Let’s say you are a sex worker. You’re carrying condoms to protect your health and that of your clients. You may have gotten the condoms from the city itself. New York distributes 40 million condoms a year. The city has its own condom brand, it’s logo spelled out in the bright letters they use to mark subway lines. So you’re arrested. The proof needed to lock you up is that you’re carrying one of these city-branded, city-distributed devices. If the cops don’t arrest you, they have a habit of confiscating your condoms.
— Molly Crabapple (via ericmortensen)
Making Friends with the Prostitutes of Switzerland
In Italy, much like every single other country in the world, it’s not uncommon to see girls—with or without penises—stalking street corners, watched over by some volatile pimp in a pleather jacket and a bad haircut. The act of selling yourself isn’t actually a crime here, but aiding or inducing the sale of yourself is, which makes hooking kind of tricky, especially if you’re not particularly into the thought of spending your evening inside a cell.
For those who want to make a little extra change in partnership with their vagina, however, Switzerland—just across the border—is a haven for sex workers, being one of the few European countries where prostitution is legal. Bar Oceano, a historical, family-run brothel in the Swiss border town of Lugano, is one of the landmarks of the Swiss sex industry, so my friend Georgio and I drove up there to have a chat with Ulisse, the brothel’s 60-year-old owner, and Nicola, his right-hand man.
After being greeted by a monolithic bouncer, we were led inside to the brothel’s reception. We quickly found out that Ulisse had already gone home for the day to sit in his pyjamas, but he had left his 19-year-old niece, Diandra, in charge. Diandra told us a bit about how the brothel usually functions. “The clients come into the lounge, pay the cover charge—which includes a drink—then all the girls line up in front of them.”
Diandra gave us some good advice, should we ever feel like forking out cash for sex at any point in the future: “Never pick the first girl, they’re always the most desperate.”
You have to be registered to prostitute yourself professionally in Switzerland, which, by law, only EU citizens are allowed to do. Until last year, the Swiss government would turn a blind eye, meaning girls from all over the world (but mostly South America and Eastern Europe) would flock to its brothels, but since they cracked down, there are only Romanian girls left.
Diandra at reception.
Despite the fact that everything seems to be running by the books, the brothel still has its problems with the police. “Our girls all have visas, but the police always end up finding something they don’t like,” Diandra told us. “First, the room prices are too high, then they call us out on girls approaching clients, which is illegal because it’s considered soliciting.”
After we’d been given the full run-down, we asked to chat with some of the girls. Diandra took us through to the VIP lounge, where we were told to choose any one of the girls on offer. The first girl we spoke to was Paola, a 27-year-old Romanian who’d previously worked in Spain but had been living in Switzerland for the last couple of years. She didn’t appear to have any reservations about her line of work, because “a job is a job and I do it for the money.”
Paola does everything—”everything everything”—in her very pink, pungently-scented, IKEA-heavy room: pisses on people, licks feet, sodomizes men, and dresses up in costumes. Once she even dressed up in a dog costume, which makes me kind of worried for the majority of dogs wherever that particular client calls home. Many of her customers are married Italian men, but she claims she’d never set foot in Italy because streetwalkers there are “garbage, they never wash and they do it in cars.”
My Hooker-Cation in Palm Springs
When a john emailed me plane tickets to Palm Springs this winter, I felt like I’d climbed another rung on the golden ladder of prostitution. Then it settled in that I’d be spending the oversexed weekend taking my brutal morning shits mere feet away from a man I hardly knew. And I would need to be ultra sneaky about shaving my face. Nevertheless, I was being offered $2,000 in the middle of January to spend a couple of days tied to a bed, with the occasional break to swim in an outdoor pool. So I threw my ropes and ratty swimsuit in a bag and took off in pursuit of the good life.
Everyone asks prostitutes how we separate our working sex lives from our nonworking sex lives, and avoid getting emotionally involved with clients. It’s a pointless line of questioning, because for most of us, these are nonissues. We do put in a fair amount of work to help our clients work through these distinctions, though; we make them feel like they’re getting the “real thing” (i.e., not paying for it), while ensuring their understanding that the interaction has a beginning (money on the table, or more precisely, the screening process before we even meet) and an end. The end, more than sex, is often what they really pay us for—however, they are not professionals in this matter, and need some guidance at times to know where their life with us cuts off and the rest begins.
Before Palm Springs, Roger had already been my primary source of income for a month while he worked on a film shoot in Chicago. We hadn’t discussed it on the phone, but the twinkle in his eyes when I first walked into his hotel room told me that this was a man who’d have me on my knees with my hands behind my back in no time. Conveniently, my own sexual proclivities lie on the brutal side. Most clients are more concerned with my pleasure than their own—rather, my pleasure is their pleasure—though they express this by franticly fumbling around with their hands or stubbly faces, and while we all still get what we want out of the situation, it’s always nice to run into a client whose tastes match my own. The downside to this is that it softens the distinction in a client’s mind about what this is all about. Toward the end of our first four hour session, Roger said, “You like this so much that you’d probably still be here if I wasn’t paying you.”You cannot humor them in this regard. Instead, you find a delicate way of explaining that you are enjoying yourself, but you wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying you—no matter how well you do this, if they’ve breached this line in their heads they will feel slighted, and feel that you’re lying to them now or you’re faking it. The client who makes this kind of remark is asking for an opportunity to resent you.
According to the recent proliferation of sensational reporting, popular books, and made-for-TV movies, the sex industry is an international crime syndicate exploiting hundreds of thousands of women and children every year. The sex industry’s nemesis, the rescue and reform industry, is experiencing considerable growth—witness Kony 2012, and columnist Nicholas Kristof’s hysterical op-eds. The latest target of the rescue industry’s wrath is Backpage, an affordable escort ad site that filled the void left by the Craigslist erotic services section. Village Voice Media, which owns Backpage, has responded to the rescue industry’s attacks by running a series of articles debunking the more egregious trafficking myths, an act that cannot begin to fill the void of critical perspectives on these myths in popular culture and the news. As high-profile hotel escort raids become increasingly common in the U.S. and Thai women are dragged out of their brothels and dumped into sewing classes, the rescue industry and its Hollywood representatives pump hysterical stories of horror and redemption out to politicians and the press. These well-intentioned altruists estimate that 50,000 women and children are brought to the U.S. each year for “sexual slavery.” This dubious number is culled from an estimate of the total number of migrant workers who enter the country with the help of an extralegal party.
To be fair, there is some cause for concern: women (and men, and young people) have indeed being coerced into working off debts, through prostitution, to those who have helped them emigrate. However, there are many more who have been coerced into working off debts in clothing factories, in agriculture, and as domestics in private homes. This is an abhorrent, exploitative practice, but as the severity of anti-immigration laws increases, migrants are increasingly dependent on smugglers and coyotes. Victims of debt slavery are hindered, not helped by a national discourse against “sex trafficking.” The vast majority of people lumped into trafficking statistics are workers looking for work, in prostitution or in another industry, not victims that have been duped into an unsavory job against their will.
Prostitutes need to have social services and other employment options made available to them if that’s what they want. They don’t need to be arrested and treated like victimized children.