Contrary to what you may have heard from Ashton Kutcher, Amy Schumer, Kamala Harris, and other sex-work prohibitionists, not all sex workers are victims, not all sex workers are trafficked, and not all sex workers hate their jobs and are just waiting for some do-gooder police officer to rescue them. In fact, there are plenty of sex workers who do it not by coercion, but by choice.
There's very little good data on the number of sex workers who are trafficked in the United States versus the number who do it by choice, but if you ask Maggie McNeill, the vast majority of sex workers fall into the latter camp. She's in it, too: McNeill has been a sex worker, writer, and advocate for more than three decades, and her new documentary, The War on Whores, which was produced by Paul Johnson, will be screened at the Rendezvous on March 2, during the Seattle Annual Sex Work Symposium (SASS).
In addition to covering the King County prosecutor's shady dealings with an anti-sex-work group that paid the office more than $140,000 to arrest and prosecute a bunch of grown-ass men who were having consensual sex with adult sex workers, the film details just how politicians, law enforcement, and activists drummed up a panic against sex trafficking that hasn't saved many lives but has expanded government powers from internet surveillance to asset forfeiture. It's a film that should be seen by everyone with an interest in civil liberties, but the people who really need this film are those who've never heard sex workers talk about their work and their lives for themselves.
The March 2 event also features a poetry reading by Laura LeMoon, a sex worker and writer who says she was initially forced into sex work against her will as a youth in New York, but who left her pimp less than a year later and went into sex work on her own. This experience, she told me in an interview, was transformative, and she regained the autonomy she'd lost when someone else controlled her life.
Sex work might not be for everyone, but as LeMoon put it, "There is really no job you can do under capitalism that is not going to be exploitative to some extent. I've had plenty of vanilla jobs that made me feel shittier about myself than sex work ever did."
Life for sex workers has gotten more difficult in recent months, in no small part thanks to a piece of federal legislation known as SESTA/FOSTA, which closed down many of the websites where sex workers advertise their services. This was supposed to help people being trafficked, but all it did was make actual victims harder to find and force sex workers onto the streets.
Project Oratio, a coalition of sex workers, will perform a dance piece about the repercussions of SESTA and FOSTA on March 2 as well. I asked Project Oratio for details on the performance, but instead of responding to my e-mail, someone from the group accused me of being a SWERF, or "sex worker exclusionary radical feminist." They're wrong, clearly. But with no knowledge of the performance, I can't in good conscience recommend it.
My advice? Go for the movie, stay for the poetry reading, and if the dance performance is no good, head to the Rendezvous's bar.