There's a lot of discussion lately in sex-work circles about Tacoma resident John Joseph Hauff Jr. There's even more talk about the woman—a streetwalker—who alleges he raped her. The story in the newspapers goes something like this: On April 2, Hauff allegedly picked up the victim on Aurora Avenue. She initially agreed to go home with him and do some light bondage. Once in the car, however, she became worried. She asked Hauff to stop for cigarettes. When he did, she texted a friend his license plate number and a request to contact police if she didn't call by midnight. Upon their arrival at Hauff's isolated trailer, she became more frightened and told Hauff she wanted to leave. Hauff allegedly forced her into what the press is delighted to call "a torture room" and assaulted her for several hours. She told Hauff about the text, and after he checked her phone, he released her. She notified police, and Hauff was arrested.
It's a disturbing story, and, unsurprisingly, my sex-work compatriots believe the worst of Hauff. As always, when BDSM gets conflated with assault, I'm aware that my consensual sex life could be spun in the same tone. So I will simply say that I hope justice prevails for Hauff—whatever that might be. What I didn't expect were remarks I heard colleagues making about the victim. "Well, she's a streetwalker. It was bound to happen. She's probably an addict. She probably has a pimp. She has no one to blame but herself." Hold on, ladies—am I talking to sex workers or teabaggers?
There's a barefaced class system among sex workers, and sometimes it breeds dangerous illusions. Women who negotiate through computer windows rather than car windows dismiss streetwalking as unconscionably risky. We think higher prices and careful screening keep us safer. That's generally true—but safer doesn't mean invulnerable. I've never had a client assault me or explicitly threaten to hurt me. However, there were three occasions early in my career when I was with a client and thought, "Oh shit—this guy seemed okay, but something is not right and I might be in serious trouble." By either sheer luck, careful strategy, or the grace of God, I escaped those situations unharmed. They happened years ago, but my memory of how it felt—tiny ripples of unease expanding into gut-churning fear—is sharp. Sex workers say, "I'm careful. That couldn't happen to me." That attitude leaves you unprepared for the moment when you realize that yes it could.
The vast majority of men aren't predators. The alarmist view of sex workers being in constant peril is false. But predators do exist, and no matter what the circumstances, it's not a woman's fault if one of them rapes her. Whether we're courtesans or streetwalkers, we're safer knowing about it than staying immured in denial and judgment. So how about more compassion and less stone-throwing from the by-appointment-only glass houses?