Friday, January 25, 2008


I've neglected this blog for over a year now; my recent past has been one of those times when it's been very hard to find the kind of energy, clarity and strength that I often need in order to be able to write about systems of prostitution.

I'm not sure that I have an adequate supply of those things now, but I'm giving it a try.

The theme of this post is isolation, and it would be fairly easy only to write in painful detail about the immediate experience of isolation that victims of systems of prostitution have during experience of abuse. One of the many consequences of organized/institutional child rape is that it really devastates our ability to relate to other human beings in virtually any way. When you're a kid, and someone is doing these unthinkable, inexpressible things to your body, and whoever was theoretically ever supposed to protect you has let it happen (or is perpetrating it), and you're pretty little--- it creates this core terror of virtually any social connection. People, almost without distinction, are deeply dangerous.
A critical aspect of healing involves figuring out how the hell to rebuild not just particular or good connections, but the basic ability to connect and be associated and grounded and intentional about wanting to be in touch with another human being. This problem is particularly acute, because at the same time, our need for external comfort and support is really beyond description, and only intensifies as time passes and we continue to carry spiritual/emotional/traumatic injuries.

The central issue I want to write about here is what it's like for child survivors, as we heal and grow older, to try to rebuild social networks and communities, or to have any sort of successful relationship.

Here are some of the obstacles:

a) Off-the-edge-of-the-scale horror stories: Any really deep intimacy requires that the person connecting with us be able to hear about, witness, or know something about our stories. I've met a lot of good, kind, politicized people who haven't had my experiences, and could maybe think about them in theory, but even when they mean well and try, can't really handle knowing me unless I keep my history as a survivor pretty compartmentalized. It's taken me time and healing to get to the point where I can have these kinds of connections and feel at all authentic, and be able to appreciate people despite the fact that we're so separated. But if that's all I have around me in a given day or week, I tend to have bursts of anger or grief, and more constant feelings of exhaustion and loneliness. Sometimes I find that I want to keep talking or take up space when I'm with several people, as a reaction to the fact that I feel so invisible --- but having everyone's attention on me really doesn't resolve the feeling. Other times I just retreat and want to stop interacting with people. I notice that when the interaction isn't really working, I'll have a hard time letting it go, and won't want to say goodbye because I keep waiting for it to get better. When I do finally disconnect, I often want to hide out, and quit trying to interact socially because it takes so much work and so often doesn't yield anything sustainable.

b) Survivors can be hazardous to one another: A lot of times, those of us who've survived things like torture, organized or commercial sexual exploitation, or anything beyond 'garden-variety' (still enough to destroy you!) incest or molestation, end up in one-sided dynamics where we are the people who other survivors can talk to, we get it, but those we interact with can't really reciprocate, and often get too triggered or overwhelmed by what we've been through, for the understandable reason that their own traumas are a lot to comprehend, without opening consciousness to the most extreme examples of sexual sadism and destruction. So we become someone else's best confidante or sounding board, appreciated for the survival which at the same time, we can't really share. It's possible, but really rare in my experience, to create a sustainable, gentle, functional dynamic with another survivor who's been through something like child prostitution or pornography. I feel lucky that I've been able to make it work even a few times.
The perils are plural, these are just a few: when we get into conflict, the potential triggers are like a minefield. Upsetting or being angry with another survivor feels unbearably hard. We mirror and resonate with each other enough to tap into and trigger all sorts of feelings of self-hatred or lack of self-respect (which come out as irritation or frustration or fear towards the other person for reminding us of ourselves). The fact that everyone in the relationship may comprehend the extremes or have comparable experiences still doesn't mean we can reliably hear and witness one another. Some survivors really can't bear the stories, or can only engage in certain ways, precisely because they tap into our own pain or memories. It may not be something we have any real choice about. It's particularly frightening and disheartening when we try to connect with or share with other survivors and it doesn't work--- in this "oh hell, there's really *nobody* who can stand to know me, not even people like me" kind of way.

c) The echoing pit of need: As already mentioned, the needs of people who've been through the atrocity of being prostituted or similarly abused as a child are not small, and tend to be really complicated. We deal with it in different ways--- some by shutting down and dissociating from feelings that make us vulnerable to more disappointment, exploitation or abuse, others by throwing open our boundaries despite the likelihood that we'll get a lot more injured while trying to get help. Many of us go back and forth at different times. Once you actually find connections which feel healthy, healing and nourishing, it's really tough, whether relating to other survivors of similar things, or not, to figure out how to let that in, in small, gradual steps. How to not run away from fear of losing that person and resource, how to not cling or try to turn it into more than it can be, how to be ready to let go or walk away if it starts to be unhealthy or someone's getting hurt, despite how badly you need it to work.

d) Basic lack of political consciousness: I have to do so much '101' work, even with very smart, very politically conscious people. Jokes and casual references about pornography or stripping are totally normative. I've lost count of how many times I've had to explain to people that referring, in my presence, to the institution in which I was serially raped as a toddler and small child as "sex work", is painful, and really doesn't reflect my reality. On the flip side, this isn't the sort of issue which most politically left or progressive people seem to get that they need any education about. I might for instance, talk about sexism as a woman, or any forms of oppression, whatever my relationship to it is, and at least some of the people I know will perk up. It's a cue: "this is an issue I care about", "political accountability around this issue is important and I should try to listen and not be defensive". And in whatever haphazard way, people respond. But when I speak as a survivor of systems of prostitution, whether or whatever I disclose about my history, there often isn't that presumption that this is political, important, and not just me talking about my personal sexual trauma as if it bears on anything else, and could serve any function other than being uncomfortable to hear. Ironically, I could confront basic sexist language or humor and often get a better response than if I confront the fact that people around me are trivializing, eroticizing, or denying my and other survivors' experience with systemic sexual exploitation.

e)Pity/contempt: Reactions to victimization are so intense, and most folks' baggage about powerlessness, fear and being victimized is so loaded, that it's always a risk that if/when I share with people who I am, they won't be able to comprehend me as anything other than very damaged (which certainly, is part of what I am). I get so tired of interacting with people who either can't know me as a survivor at all and appreciate me based on the strengths that come from my survival without understanding my roots, or if they know me as a survivor, can't really recognize my strengths or experience me as anything other than the symbol of their own horror and fear of being broken or destroyed.

For child prostitution and torture survivors, all of these factors combined with an initial orientation that people are pretty damn scary, are enough to really cement feelings of being almost perpetually 'alone in a crowd'.
I feel truly grateful to be loved and cared about, even by people who don't get me all that well. I feel especially grateful to have at least one friend with whom I've been able to circumvent or work through each one of the obstacles I've written about above.
And I feel grief and anger, knowing that while I'm lucky, it's not enough to keep me from feeling alienated and tired a great deal of the time once I walk out my door --- and more, that for many of us survivors, it's worse--- there's not that one friend who's really gotten close, or there are nothing but humiliating and exploitative relationships which make it all worse, or there's just total isolation. People like me, people like my survivor loved ones, deteriorate, fall apart, and eventually die, not just from sexual exploitation and abuse, but because the isolation afterwards is like the infection in the wound. It sucks at whatever capacity for healing we have; it breaks our hearts as fast as we can try to rebuild the already broken pieces; it compounds the pain. Systems of prostitution kills some of us immediately, but for those of us left alive, it's not just pimps and tricks and rapists who finish us off, it's the world which decides, willfully or blithely, never to recognize us, humanize us, offer us the resources we need even when they're close at hand. The five obstacles I've described could be worked on, not always that well just by individuals, but more powerfully by communities. So much of this is about political education, about creating collective spaces in which our stories and realities are told, and broader communities are challenged to comprehend them and take them in and think about what to do with them. Our environments are structured so that we really are not supposed to exist, are supposed to be elsewhere or dead, and not wandering around among the living. We're forced to deal with that by pretending that we are not who we are, or by giving up on people who are unable to accept us, by surrendering to one form or another of isolation. And when isolated, we do so much less than we're capable of, as the damaged brutalized surviving beings that we are-- we teach less, create less, advocate less, give less, heal less, live less... we often die faster. And all of the work we are so needed for--- leading movements against systemic sexual exploitation, helping to create communities and resources geared towards healing more of us, teaching people about the connecting and integrated dynamics of oppression which make organized sexual abuse so possible --- all of this remains undone.

Isolation is the weapon which insures our inefficacy, ensures that the social, the collective, global wounds won't be recognized, held, treated, and healed, because we aren't allowed into the relationships and communities through which it could be done.

The part that's most hard to express is what it's like to think and feel hard about isolation, to write about it in the context of systems of prostitution, and to be in touch for the moment with the fact that there are so damn many of us out there, suffering through it (of course, alone). So if you've found your way to this sparse little blog, and have read to this point--- know that as I'm writing I know you or somebody like you is out there. We all deserve better than this.


Thursday, October 26, 2006


i've been a very infrequent blogger lately, and honestly it's an act of will to write now. but i am reminding myself of something wise i once heard David Sterry (author of "Chicken: Self Portrait of a Young Man for Rent") say. David talked about how writing about trauma dramatically boosts the immune system, and how much physical healing happens, how much stronger we get, when we release the shock-trauma in words. i've heard, and know, that same idea a lot of different ways--- you gotta get it out, express it, so it won't chew up your insides.

a little earlier tonight, i was re-reading some of my own poems, free-writes, tirades from 2001-2004, and i came across this piece i wrote called "oppression is a terrible reason for death". it was one of the most emotionally intense writing processes i ever experienced, i practically dehydrated crying my way through it. in it, i tried to articulate how freaking bewildering and inconceivable it is to wrap one's brain around the fact that people are completely destroyed by so many violent dynamics and institutions that you can't even list them all. and i expressed my continued longing for the return of my grandmothers, and remembered some of the stories other survivors have told me about their loved ones who've been murdered or in one way or another, taken from the world. this all seems really basic to any even slightly politically educated person, but i also think we're all so completely saturated and submerged in capitalism and patriarchy and white supremacy and the whole fucking mess, that we just become too small to really hold the knowledge a lot of the time, or at least to hold it and still have room for anything else but shock and grief and powerlessness. even having nearly died a bunch of times, and having had my life constrained so many ways by violence and torture, i think i've still got the kind of bewilderment that a lot of young children have about death. i dreamed a few years ago that i was lying next to my great-grandmother who was dead, and suddenly she started to come to life again, and to put her arms around me, and my joy and need and like... ecstatic satisfaction, was so intense that i just never wanted to move in time, at all. when i woke up, it was kind of like falling from someplace high up. i ached, i felt broken, all over.

she died, suffering, so pointlessly and viciously, because when i was 10 my family institutionalized her and left her to be deprived and drugged and emotionally starved in a nursing home, and eventually she lost her mind, along with her vision and ability to walk (they took away her cane), and then finally her life. i would see her, and she would take my hand, but she didn't know anymore who it was that she was calling 'precious darling'. it meant something that she seemed to know, sort of, sometimes, that someone who cared about her was taking her hand. but she was so lost, and i had no way as a girl, to help her find her way back to me.

i'm wanting the kind of security/clarity-of-being that i only had as a child when i was with my great-grandmother, while she was still able to look at me and know me, before they locked her away. the reason i'm especially missing that, besides that i always do, is that i'm thinking hard about tricks (i.e. johns, people who molest/rape/abuse/use/exploit people in systems of prostitution). thinking about tricks is not easy. it's kind of like trying to comprehend death. or at least the deadness of a human spirit.

i was once listening to this woman, who was a prostitution survivor, talk about what it was like to heal, become an activist and a mother to a young son, and then to try to face how it is that we live in a world in which you can buy a child for sex.
that's definitely a core question --- how is it allowed to happen? how do states and communities create it, tolerate it, sustain it? but i think right now i'm more focused on the existence of the perpetrators --- how is it that tricks can exist. sexual exploitation is so extremely, relentlessly ordinary. people practice it with humor, in company with friends, while laughing. it's sold anywhere, everywhere. there are so few questions about the experiences and spirits and minds and needs of us --- the ones who are used, we're so completely erased as anything other than the fuckable object. and while the tricks take up space, so much space, while they consume television and movies and public events, while they walk down the streets confidently and seem to possess the ground they stand on, while they laugh and have sex without thinking about it and own things, our worlds are so small. our violated bodies rebel at the touch of absolutely anyone, while we're simultaneously desperate for comfort, we can't bear to take anything in --- food or water or even air, and at the same time we hunger, thirst, gasp with need, we're too vigilant to rest, and too exhausted to protect ourselves enough, we recoil from the triggers which are embedded in every twitching bit of popular culture, while we grasp for points of reconnection with the world. nothing works well enough.

i know the tricks aren't really fine. i know a human being can't treat another being as merely destructible, and remain whole. i even get that it's that broken-ness, the gaps in themselves, that in part, motivates the need to get inside someone else, to take from someone else as if you can just use the body of another being as glue to keep yourself from breaking. in a weird way, they're desperate too, i believe.

i once heard Chris Stark (co-editor of "Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography") speak to a group of students, about her experiences as a child in systems of prostitution, including stripping. i talked a few months later with one of the men in the audience, and he told me, looking shaken, that hearing her had really changed him, changed the way he lived, that he was drawing farther and farther away from his male friends, that he couldn't just go out with them, knowing they would go to a strip club, but that he couldn't seem to tell them why. it was amazing to see him struggle and change, and reinforced my intense gratitude towards Chris, for existing, and speaking out. it also was so intense to see his inability to speak to them, to be able to own to them that he could not accept or embrace these basic things that are supposed to make males men, and to connect them to one another. it was basic, and human, and what any decent person should do, to take in the information that Chris gave him and the other students, and to at least stop contributing directly to sexual violence. so i don't mean to throw a parade for him for just daring to be slightly ethical. but i also didn't envy his world just then. it's frightening to recognize that the world one lives in, where sexual exploitation is just a joke, just an orgasm, is in fact a freaking hellhole in which real beings are being consumed and destroyed, by your buddies. he left his trick world, enough to figure out something about the one where people like me live. and seeing him facing, with some horror and shock, the world of sexually exploited and tortured children, it brought home to me what a weight, we the survivors carry, in knowing this truth, and trying to somehow reach people who have at least initially, so much comfort to lose by listening to what we know.

i'm not about some kind of 'it's my personal mission to heal the pain of all the monsters' agenda. i want it to stop, whether it means they change or die or get scared into quitting, or lose their access to vulnerable bodies. i'd like it if they healed, but i don't think they all will or can. so long as they stop, or we find a way to stop them.
but i think part of reclaiming my right to be anywhere but underneath the cultural noise of sexual objectification --- to be where people laugh without a backlash of terrible grief, walk down streets without feeling exposed and endangered, touch the environment without getting burned --- involves breaking down the conceptual separation between us and them, at least halfway. otherwise we, the survivors, are always out on the edges trying not to fall off. i'm a living, somewhat complete/whole, if severely broken being, and they are also in some sense, living, and very incomplete and also broken, and we have all been created and produced by oppressions that go generations deep. we exist simultaneously in one extremely damaged, highly medicated and distracting, horribly hierarchical, not (as yet) thoroughly hopeless and destroyed world, which we can choose to fight for and to heal with/in. we can take up enough space, even change things, to the extent that we can write, struggle, feel, and bite our way through our hurt enough to make ourselves known (and hopefully to break down some of their denial, and rapacious entitlement). this brings me full circle for now.


Monday, September 04, 2006


This post is partly building on the previous one by Tree Collards on forgiveness (thanks for that!).

There are a lot of mental health practices and theories, therapy modalities (modalities = framework or way of doing things), and spiritual movements which address the question of the anger experienced by victims of violence, as well as the anger of perpetrators. I've noticed repeatedly that I tense up when people start talking about overcoming anger, or presuming that anger itself/alone is the basis for abuse.

I believe in anger. More specifically, I believe that any kind of project related to healing, personally or socially, is nonfunctional without anger. Someone once offered me a definition of anger: anger is the information that something is wrong, contained in the energy to do something about it. That definition pretty much sums up why I feel protective of anger --- my own, and that of survivors generally. I respect and empathize with why people find anger scary or hard, or certainly why people tune it out or avoid it. The information can be hard, and the energy exhausting, if there isn't somewhere useful to go, or because it's been suppressed for many survival reasons. But I really really distrust theories or practices or ideologies which treat anger as a negative, or devalue it, or think the goal is to eliminate it completely.

I once heard bell hooks speak. She was talking about meeting Thich Nhat Hanh, and she was trying very hard to be in some particular kind of emotional space. Then when she met him, she expressed in much distress, "I'm so angry!", feeling that she shouldn't be, or ought to be able to overcome it. He replied, "Use your anger as fertilizer for your garden". I like that response: it says to me that even if anger is hard or has unpleasant things about it, it's also nourishing, and helps things grow into what they need to be. I think demonizing anger (or any emotion, including hate) keeps the focus on the symptom rather than the underlying illness. Kind of like Tree Collards' points about forgiveness --- attacking or trying to eliminate anger itself is about adjusting the way we respond to oppression, rather than changing the oppression. I like the adage, "if you're not angry, you're not paying attention", though I would expand it to, "if you're not angry, you're not paying attention, or you're immersing yourself in privilege, or you have complex and necessary dissociative mechanisms, or you're broken, or you've been terrorized when you've displayed signs of anger or resistance, or you've lost hope that you have any power, or you've been shamed for not being happy, etc".

There are lots of reasons, both about privilege and oppression, and about despair and survival, why people can't deal with anger, or aren't in touch with anger, or don't like anger. But it's never anger itself that's really the problem. In fact, anger is part of what makes up a whole human, like sweating, breathing, sleeping, eating, hugging and being held. Imagining that it should ideally be excised is just about as ridiculous. We can survive without enough sleep or food or comfort, for awhile, and even without enough to breathe (I've experienced all of those, actually) --- but it's not like we're okay living in deprivation. Losing the ability to know things are wrong and act on it is, when you think about it in those terms, dangerous. It would only make survival sense in times when ones own survival instincts are mostly so useless or assaulted (like during torture) that it's too much to keep having the reaction. At those times anger can be like a fever that's gone too high and for too long, so you have to cool your body down and quit trying to burn the disease out cuz otherwise you'll die trying.

In hierarchical societies, we learn to continually misdirect anger away from its appropriate targets (the privileged, the perpetrators) because we're punished when we do, so we learn to habitually turn it on ourselves, or stifle it into depressions, or turn it on others, horizontally, or down the hierarchy. And this explains a lot of why many abuse victims also find anger hard or scary, because we so often see it channeled harmfully. So someone has the information that something is wrong (i.e. "I feel miserable/small/poor/ugly/less than/inferior") and uses the energy around that feeling to lash out. Witnessing that pattern, we come to understand anger as just the continual venting of pain on those within reach, or on our own bodies, and so forth. We don't have as many models of truly healing, righteous beautiful anger. But they're there if we look, in poetry, in the work of social movements and activists, in artwork, in resistance to perpetrators. When we do look at those models, it becomes really clear that the beautiful, healing, justice-making actions couldn't have taken place without rage or anger--- as fuel, stimulus, basis for clarity. It's why so many abuse victims who fought back against batterers, or got out of abusive situations, will talk about a moment when they fought back or escaped in terms of "I really, finally got mad".


Sunday, August 20, 2006

On Forgiveness

On Forgiveness

by Treecollards

One of the most important interventions I have learned in the last few years of being a doctor is to ask the question, “What is the goal?” Especially in end-of-life or palliative care situations, knowing the goal makes it relatively easy to chose specific strategies, such as IV fluids or CPR, by whether or not they contribute to that goal.

I think of forgiveness as a strategy, and therefore I ask myself the question, is forgiveness a strategy that will contribute to my goal?

What is my goal?

I want to free the world, rescue and protect it from perpetration, that is, the violation of trust brought about by empathic failure. Some of the strategies I know how to use include: naming acts of perpetration as I see them; helping people (myself included) get past the denial and self-protective aversion that makes it so difficult to see what is really going on; not cooperating with perpetrators, trying to keep them from positions of power, not letting them define the terms of the argument, (the framing: please read George Lakoff’s Moral Politics, it is so helpful); advocating the goal of non-domination-based models of human interaction and society, promoting the strategies appropriate to that goal, such as non-violent communication, conflict resolution and child rearing; meditation and body awareness practices; and the formal study of empathy and perpetration.

I don’t at the present see forgiveness as a strategy that fosters my goal. In fact, I had this horrible image as I thought about all this: After the last fish in the sea is dead, and the last tree on the land is cut down, the last person alive on the planet gasps with their last breath of poisoned air, “I forgive them!”

So what goal does forgiveness serve? For one thing, I think that forgiveness is a strategy for dealing with the feelings of being overwhelmed and broken that are such a massive part of recovery from perpetration. It reminds me of the strategy of “turn it over,” which I used early in my recovery, when I was actively Twelve-Stepping. It’s a way of avoiding total breakdown or death by leaping over the most intense, unendurable feelings, the ones you know broke you completely the first time around, leaping over them into the “god-space.” Being in the “god-space,” like achieving enlightenment or “getting happy” through prayer, definitely helps a person feel better, and may save lives, too.

But as the Zen masters say, “after enlightenment, the laundry.” I am all in favor of forgiveness as a pain management, coping strategy for survivors. I am basically in favor of anything that relieves the pain. But I don’t see forgiveness as a political strategy that will free all of us. You can’t stop there.

The more I think about the forgiveness movement, the more I want to ask the always helpful question, “who benefits?” (Remember how Deep Throat advised, “follow the money”?) I hesitate a little to make these suggestions, because I have a lot of respect for some of the advocates of forgiveness, many of whom are themselves survivors of atrocities. But it seems to me that only the perpetrators benefit when victims get caught up in, and stop at, forgiveness. Instead of a social movement aimed at eradicating the causes of oppression, we have people engaged in an individual process of changing themselves so they can endure oppression better. I think this plays right into the hands of the perpetrators, especially their strategy of getting us to think that we create our own suffering: if you feel bad, it’s just because you have not completely forgiven those who hurt you.

Those “bad” feelings, especially the anger, are energy that can be used in the service of rescuing the planet. My goal would be to help people make that connection, connecting personal healing with social justice.

There are an awful lot of people out there carrying these horrible, huge, mind and body breaking, death shrouded feelings resulting from atrocity, and there is virtually no agreement among mental health practitioners about how to help them. Because of the power structure of our society, which permeates all our institutions, including the healing professions, a lot of what passes for treatment is fundamentally re-enactive, dedicated to maintaining and reinforcing power and denial, and subsequently helplessness and hopelessness, all the while reporting in amazement the growing numbers of people with “chemical imbalances.”

Perhaps it is possible for a survivor to have had truly effective therapy, to be a committed activist in the work of ending perpetration, and to advocate forgiveness of perpetrators. But for myself, today, I am not there.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

safety is not a whistle

when conservative or mainstream agencies or groups address violence, the primary words that come up are 'crime' and 'safety'. 'crime' is generally code for poor, for people of color or immigrants. and 'safety' is about some particular kinds of protection: protecting respectable neighborhoods from intrusion by the unwanted, protecting girls and women from the streets, the night, by restricting our ability to be out in the world. the idea of being safe from economic exploitation or vulnerability, or one's own parents, or from government, doesn't really factor into the rhetoric.

'safety' campaigns involve lights, and whistles, both fine ideas in and of themselves--- but which taken in isolation totally ignore the issue of why we are supposed to expect violent attack, and from who. or they involve laws which only target economically and racially vulnerable people, and swell prison populations. 'safety' is either an excuse for state violence, or it's so deeply depoliticized and trivial, that it holds no meaningful promise for survivors of extreme oppression and violence.

a little more than a year ago, i worked with someone who was training as a somatics therapist. somatics can potentially be really helpful for some survivors, because it provides a way to help our bodies heal and express the pain of trauma. it was a very good experience for me, including the moments where my experiences of physical and sexual torture challenged the limits of what the body worker knew about healing. for the first few sessions, she would ask me various things about how my body could feel safe, or what kinds of movement or positions felt safer. eventually we were able to communicate about the fact that the questions just felt strange, or almost irrelevant to me. i could say that things felt bad, or less safe, or safer --- but the goal of establishing safety, in my body, in the presence of another person who'd i'd met recently --- was so far out of reach as to be impossible. for a while, it was an emotionally frustrating bind, because the body worker was presuming that we couldn't continue our work together if i felt unsafe, and i was totally unable to give her or myself an answer about how that might ever occur. so as she would try again to figure out with me how i could feel safe, based on the presumption that without that experience, i couldn't do any healing work, i would feel increasingly hopeless and alienated. part of what helped me through that process was knowing, from experience, that i'd already, in my life, been able to do a lot of healing without an experience of safety. once i was able to communicate more about it, and once the body worker figured out that my showing up and participating meant that i was being about as trusting as i conceivably could, we were able to move forward, with the shared understanding that i was going to work on healing, without the precondition of being or feeling "safe".

in talking to friends who've had similar experiences of torture or sexual exploitation, we were able to laugh (sadly) about the idea that anyone would think that feeling safe could be so achievable, so simple. although it wasn't the first time i'd thought or considered the issue of trauma and feeling unsafe, it highlighted for me the fact that i've lived most of my life, and done almost everything i've ever done, while feeling deeply unsafe. "unsafe", to me, means knowing that terrible and unexpected things may happen to me, even today, as an adult with my own home. probably, hopefully, likely, they won't --- but then again, once the unthinkable and unbearable have already happened, over and over, a bunch of times, well... all bets are off. it also means knowing that even if my life in the moment involves no bigger dramas than paying bills and doing lots of laundry, the memories, not just thoughts or images, but the full-body, emotionally wrenching, overwhelming memories --- are still with me. one of the consequences of being tortured in ways that --- as a child --- are totally incomprehensible and impossible to defend against, is that you get driven into a space that people sometimes think of as "edge of death" or "beyond horror". it's not something anyone just comes back from, at least without many many years of healing, and a lot of resources and support, and some pretty extraordinary resilience. in the meantime, not dying outright means deciding, consciously or not, to live, with most of one's psyche in that borderland between destruction and survival. it doesn't matter if i'm alone in my home, with locks locked, under a blanket, and about a 99.9% certainty that noone's going to show up. and it's not the .1% chance that someone will that makes me really feel so unsafe. it's that i was taken away from 'safety' as a small child, like it's some birthplace i don't remember, and have never re-visited. locks and blankets and friends and a home make me feel safer, less unsafe, and that's hugely important. trust, safety, security, are continuums --- and it's not that i'm always at the worst extremes. but "safe", i don't know or have.

while feelings of despair are sometimes part of the sexual trauma survivor borderland i live in, and while safety is mostly an unknown for me, it's actually really important to me to assert some relationship to the idea at least, of feeling safe. and i'm hopeful that it matters.

returning to the beginning of this post, i think it's especially important to talk about "safety" in ways that are politicizing, and that particularly speak to the needs and survival of people who've been deeply victimized. safety, to me, isn't cliche, or conservative. it's something i crave, like a missing piece of myself. being able to sleep, deeply and restfully, and wake up feeling strong and peaceful... being able to share with people who i am and what my life has been without bracing myself for objectifying, insensitive, or pitying responses. being able to ask for help and trust that some of the things i really really need will actually come to me, from people who care, and have resources to give freely. most importantly, living in a world that's some close approximation of safe, not specifically for me, but for kids, for people who are vulnerable, for animals, for the earth. safe... from exposure to slaughterhouses, pesticides, pedophiles, pimps, irradiation, presidents, militaries and militias, the IMF, bosses, and pornographers. see, here's the trick--- to go through extremes of sexual and physical torture, and to survive it emotionally, you have to be in touch with pain, to really know your own, know what it's about, rage it, grieve it, cry it, and turn it into art and action and words. to survive emotionally, you have to let yourself know the world that created torture, and to understand your connection to it. and if you understand that you're connected to the world, and to the beings in it, then it becomes absolutely and totally impossible to experience "safety" while knowing the constancy of oppression and violence. it matters greatly to me that i've had the luck, privilege, and stamina to stay alive and establish some kind of environmental/external safety around myself, represented by my loved ones, my home and its lockable doors, my checking acct, my adult citizenship, my education, my skills. but it's not, it's never ever nearly enough for me.

safety for me, is the goal of social change. without safety, sexual choices are never fully choices. without safety, health is always compromised, partial, vulnerable. without safety, pleasure is always tinged by grief and rage, because any pleasure highlights, by contrast, the intensity and variety of pain. without safety, words are always at least a little constrained, or frightening, or costly. without safety, privileges and 'protections' acquire distorted importance, and still are always inadequate. without safety, i can't rest. this kind of safety can't be had by restricting, or taking away freedoms, by giving up choices, or by policing, or criminalizing. it comes only with deep respect, to the point of reverence, for life in its many incarnations. it comes with the insistence on stopping abuse and torture and the willingness to confront and recognize perpetration, and it comes with the commitment to finding solutions to violence which deal not only with individuals as perpetrators, but even more so, with the histories and systems and that create them.


Monday, July 31, 2006

violently disabled

people mean a lot of different things when they talk or write about disability.

in a lot of media, charity, and pop culture, disability just means: tiny tim, jerry's kids, wheelchairs, and helen keller as a child learning to spell 'water' (without any acknowledgement of the fact that she later went on to be a deeply radical activist). the representations are usually patronizing, and pretty much preclude thinking about disabled people with descriptives other than heartwarming, or pathetic.

within communities of disabled people, disability rights movements, as well as healthcare institutions that respond to (or sometimes abuse) disabled people, disability generally includes physical disabilities related to sight, hearing, speech, or mobility, learning or cognitive disorders like retardation or dyslexia, or a wide range of chronic physical illnesses which include asthma, pain and fatigue disorders, MS, diabetes, cancer, HIV, and many others. sometimes disability also is understood as including psychiatric disabilities like chronic depression, schizophrenia, dissociative disabilities, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and panic conditions, and also conditions which overlap between "psychiatric" and "cognitive" categories --- like ADD (attention deficit disorder).

some disabilities, like cancer, are conditions which virtually no one would want to experience. others, like autism, are ways of being or having a brain/mind which are simply different, but are treated as problems, and become social disabilities based on ideas about normalcy. some like ADD, are blurry or medically controversial categories which authors like Peter Breggin (author of "Talking Back to Ritalin") argue are a way to ignore the fact that not all children learn the same way, or want to sit in overcrowded, under-staffed classrooms quietly for 7 hours a day. some people who have visual or hearing disabilities, for instance, will assert that they would not choose to gain or re-gain sight or hearing, and point to the good things that may come with having a particular type of body, and learning to negotiate the world without relying on that particular sense (which may mean other senses are strengthened).

to explain this another way: some disabilities are such because they cause people who have them to physically or mentally suffer. some disabilities are such because they prevent people from doing certain things with their bodies which many others can do (like walking). some disabilities are differences labeled as abnormal. an example would be "gender identity disorder", a psychiatric diagnosis used to label people who are transgender or gender variant as "sick". this kind of labeling is also known as "medicalization", taking a social characteristic and labeling it a disease or disorder. some disabilities are really a word for people not adjusting well to problematic or unhealthy circumstances --- in other words giving that person a diagnosis puts the problem on the person rather than the society around them (like with the over-diagnosis of children with ADD).
some disabilities wouldn't cause suffering on their own, except that the world has so many structural barriers that ableism (disability oppression) takes away the ability to live or work or get education or navigate public spaces or participate fully.

the idea of disability is based on an idea of what's normal. we don't say that human beings have flight-disabilities because we can't fly like birds or peter pan. we also don't say that infants are disabled because they can not walk or cook themselves a meal or read. people who can not walk 5 feet are disabled, but people who can not walk 50 miles are presumably just normal people who use mechanical transportation like buses or cars. wheelchairs and scooters are transportation for disabled people. golf carts and motorcycles are not.

but one of the things that's commonly true across most discussions and representations of disability is that we think of of disability as caused by genetics, biology, or by some random circumstantial tragedy, or we just don't talk about where disability comes from at all.

i want to focus now only on the types of disabilities that actually cause pain and suffering --- like injuries and diseases, and on the kinds that take away a sense or physical capacity, so i'm excluding things which are just about the medicalization of difference.

the crux of my argument here is that most of the things that we think of as disability, in this sense --- are often presumed to be the result of genes or random tragedy, but are often, possibly most often --- caused by oppression. examples are:
1) environmental/economic disability: this includes people who develop respiratory illnesses or cancer due to exposure to chemicals and toxins in their neighborhoods and communities, which originate from some sort of industry or corporation. environmental racism describes this problem where it particularly hits poor and working class people, disproportionately people of color or marginalized ethnic groups. the movie "Erin Brockovich" also focused on this kind of pattern.
2) disability as a consequence of domestic violence: domestic violence can certainly cause death --- and if it continues over time, almost always causes either some form of physical disability or injury, or some kind of psychiatric or emotional disability (like post-traumatic stress) or both. it also can contribute to survivors substance-abusing and developing addictions, in order to cope with the pain and trauma, or because they're exposed to it often by abusers. i include chemical or self-injuring addictions, when i think about disability.
3) disability as a result of poverty: the lack of pre or neo-natal care, malnutrition, lack of healthcare through the life course, overwork, work in dangerous or exploitative conditions, lack of adequate shelter, homelessness, lack of access to birthcontrol or safer sex resources --- all of these are outgrowths of poverty, and they weaken the systems of the body, cause exposure to and spread of diseases and prevent their cure, cause avoidable physical injuries, and cause extreme emotional pain. they also trap people in abusive homes (see #2 on this list) and cause people to live in vulnerable geographic areas where they may be more likely exposed to environmental harm (see #1 on this list).
4) warfare and genocide, state violence as a cause of disability: mass violence can injure bodies in a wide range of ways, particularly when you factor in germ or chemical warfare, and torture. wars also cause extreme traumatic stress, and can leave some victims too damaged to work, or have healthy relationships, or navigate the world.
5) disability as a result of medical negligence, malpractice, pharmaceuticals, human experimentation: poorly tested or regulated pharmaceuticals, rotten medical care, untreated or poorly treated diseases, and also the intentional use of humans as pharmaceutical, psychological, or surgical "guinea pigs" can all cause a range of medical problems and disabilities. all of these things involve some kind of class inequity, or profit motive --- there's an economic reason.

i could go on... this is a short list, not really getting into the abuse of prisoners, overwork in capitalist systems and heart disease, agribusiness, pesticides, and genetically engineered foods, and so on. human bodies have an expiration date, built into our cells --- and under the very best of circumstances, if we live long enough, our bodies start breaking down further and further until we die. in other words, under the best of circumstances, we don't live forever in perfect health. but i think we get sicker, more injured, die earlier or under socially created circumstances, or lose quality of life because of oppressions. and i think this is true of most disability --- at least the kind i'm focusing on here.

so all of this leads to the point that people are violently and oppressively disabled in systems of prostitution as well. here's a non-exhaustive list of some of the disabilities and chronic illnesses that can be caused by sexual exploitation and violence in the sex industries:
HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, post-traumatic-stress disorder, complex post-traumatic-stress disorder, addiction, dissociative disabilities/disorders, panic and anxiety disorders, HPV (human papilloma virus), herpes, anal or vaginal scarring (which can cause ongoing vulnerability to infection or injury, or more difficult bodily functions), rape trauma syndrome, high blood pressure, insomnia or other sleep disorders, arthritis as a result of repeated injuries, agoraphobia, and a virtually endless list of symptoms that come from curable but undiagnosed or untreated STDs, compromised immunity or damage from exposure, homelessness, and lack of medical care, and injuries at the hands of pimps, tricks, cops, and prison guards.

i've probably met 100 or so survivors of the sex industries at least, and i can't think of anyone i know who's been there, and isn't dealing with something on this list. in fact i think it's exceptional to only be dealing with one or two.

to think about or talk about or organize with and advocate for survivors of sexual exploitation, and to be effective, means recognizing that survivors are virtually universally people who could lay claim to being disabled, although many of us don't identify or claim that word. 'hidden' disabilities in general --- those which aren't visibly identified by wheelchairs, canes or other obvious paraphernalia --- are often entirely ignored, sometimes even within disability communities, so it's not surprising that survivors of sexual exploitation, en masse, don't identify as disabled. but to my mind, disability and illness are one of the primary and most important consequences of sexual exploitation and victimization of people in systems of prostitution. aside from transmittable diseases, and violent physical injuries, it's very much about trauma, pain, grief, horror, terror, shock, prolonged exhaustion, instilled self-hatred and silence. over time, the pain wears down our bodies, fills our sleep with nightmares or negates our physical capacity to relax, makes it hard to care for ourselves, and eventually uses us up. in a sense, it speeds up the physical deterioration process that's part of mortality, while stealing away quality of life. and it's one of the things i find really heartbreaking and unbearable about sexual exploitation, because if you're one of the people who eventually gets out or escapes, it's not as simple as crying for a bit, or getting counseling, and then you have the rest of your life. surviving the sex industries is an ongoing process, battle, struggle: to heal the body, the spirit, the mind, and to find ways to feel and express unbearable and often suppressed memories and feelings, layers thick. and if you can't do all of that well enough and fast enough, the aftermath of the sex industries may basically be the process of dying, a bit later. and if you're also recovering from addictions which have already ravaged your body, and if you're trying to get on your feet economically in ways that may not be sexual violence, but are still difficult and physically demanding or too hard, or if you've already got HIV or another STD --- then even with tons of emotional healing, you still may not have enough physical strength or health left.

most survivors don't get disability assistance or accommodation, or free or affordable medical care or decent counseling, or anything much. we survive because we fight, or if we're lucky--- because someone helps us. we survive in a world that's hostile to disabled people, cruel or blaming towards people in the sex industries, inaccessible, exhausting, expensive, objectifying, violent. we survive as long as we can, and it takes so much energy, and time, and work, and injury, that it doesn't leave much room to be any braver, or stronger, to tell enough of our stories, to be activists or advocates for long or loudly enough. millions of people pass through systems of prostitution, and most are massively abused, and the majority were children or youth when the abuse started. and i'm writing this little blog in a context where there are few organizations run by and for survivors of prostitution, no anthologies by child or youth survivors, very very few public speakers who are 'out' as child or teen survivors, no mass well-organized survivor movements. when i 'come out' to people i know as a kid survivor of the sex industries, i'm usually the first they've (knowingly) met. shame and death are both partial explanations for the relative silence. but disability and the challenges of physical and emotional survival are also a big reason. getting that is really important, both because survivors deserve more resources, more rights, more support, and because to build a movement of survivors who are stronger, healing, healthier, and more capable of resistance and speech and community-building and problem-solving, we have to address our needs as violently disabled people. this means a lot of structural resources, funding, training. and it means creating art, dialogue, memorials, creative and political expression which helps express the enormity of survivor grief and horror, because though not all disability in itself is a tragedy, to be violently, oppressively disabled, to have ones body and psyche damaged, assaulted, and harmed in ways which usually can't be fully undone, is a deep violation which extends past the momentary survival of particular rapes, assaults, and humiliations. the words "post traumatic stress" don't capture this experience very well, especially the "post" part.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Hands Off Liza Maza Campaign

Liza Maza is the GABRIELA Women's Party representative to the Phillipine Congress, and a human rights leader in the Phillipines. in 2003, she sponsored the Phillipine Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. recently, the Philippine Government placed Liza Maza and fifty others (including other congresspersons) under house arrest for more than two months until early may, on charges of "rebellion". the Phillipine courts found the charges groundless. however the Phillipine government is planning to re-file charges, and Liza Maza faces future punitive arrests.

click to sign the petition urging the Phillipine government to leave Liza Maza alone, or read more background information first.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kirstin Lobato gets a new trial

Kirstin Lobato is a young woman in nevada, currently in prison for murder. in may of 2001, she was attacked in a motel parking lot by a man attempting rape. she fought him off, using a knife in order to cut the area of his genitals. when she left, he was alive, though curled up crying. a friend reported the incident to the police a while later. Kirstin didn't report the attack to the police because at the time, she was a stripper, and was using amphetamines, and had the sense to know that she wouldn't receive any kind of help from law enforcement. approximately 6 weeks after Kirstin fought off the attacker, a different, much smaller man was murdered in Las Vegas. at the time of the murder, Kirstin was in Panaca, Nevada, with her parents. the murder victim's genitals had been severed after death, and police decided based on that similarity that she was a suspect. they questioned her, and failed to tell her anything about the body type or timing of the crime--- leading her to believe that the man who had attacked her in may had been found dead. kirstin described her experience, and the police wrote off the many discrepancies between her account and the murder as a result of a "drug-induced haze", despite the fact that kirstin had been drug free for several weeks at the time police questioned her. they arrested her, and then ignored the statements of her parents who, upon learning the date of the crime, immediately came forward to attest to her whereabouts. fast-forward to trial, where Kirstin, reliant on the efforts of a court-appointed public defender who mounted almost no defense, was attacked by the DAs office because she had a history of child sexual abuse. this history was used to make the argument that she must have committed the crime due to a hatred of men.

all of these events are documented by the Free Kirstin Lobato campaign, composed of Kirstin's supporters and friends. thanks to several years of advocacy, and a number of media stories focusing on her wrongful conviction, the nevada supreme court has finally granted her a new trial, beginning september 11 of this year. at this time, she's still imprisoned.

beyond general sloppiness and bungling by detectives and by the DA, kirstin's incarceration wouldn't have happened without a whole set of problematic and oppressive things first being true:

1) people who can not afford good legal representation are routinely left without any real semblance of constitutional due process
2) strippers and other people in the sex industries are suspect, presumed to be criminals
3) fighting back against a rapist is not understood as self-defense
4) the fact of child sexual abuse does not necessarily occasion respect, solidarity, or empathy from juries, for victims --- in fact it can occasion contempt, blame, and retaliation
5) the fact that people in the sex industries self-medicate or use drugs is taken of further proof of guilt or lack of credibility, rather than as evidence that the state is harming economically and/or sexually vulnerable people by driving us into commercial sexual exploitation

the trial is coming soon, and if you're in nevada, it helps to have bodies in the courtroom. there's also more information on her campaign website about donating to kirstin's legal fund, and other ways to support her.

it's hard to figure out how to fully express solidarity with someone who's been sexually abused as a child, survived the sex industries, fought off a rapist, and then been punished for each of those things with years of prison time. the injury the state of nevada is doing to kirstin is vicious and irreparable and most direct. there's also harm to rape victims, sexual exploitation survivors, to victims of oppressive criminal justice systems, to anybody who needs to be able to fight the abuses of our bodies. the only reason that kirstin is getting a new trial, after years of prison, is that she never in fact killed the man in question. there's an underlying and broader message --- that if a sexual assault victim manages to kill an assailant, this is a terrible crime, somehow worse than the rape it stops. the police, the courts have said: escaping a rape is punishable, criminal. and now, in 2006, the court will decide whether or not 5 years is enough time for such a crime.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

every time george w. bush says he cares about children we should scream out loud

in his january 2006 state of the union address, u.s. president bush stated:

We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption, and despair are sources of terrorism, and organized crime, and human trafficking, and the drug trade.

the references to girls in slavery and human trafficking build on his prior public championing of the cause of trafficking and sexual slavery.

some visible figures in the anti-prostitution movement have embraced the president's claims, including scholar donna m. hughes, who states:

The president's stated commitment to opposing the global sex trade places the U.S. on the forefront of a new movement for human freedom, rights, and dignity. It was fitting that he made this statement alongside a call for democracy building in Iraq and opposition to terrorism.

i agree with donna hughes that it was "fitting" that president bush compared the u.s. interest in fighting sexual violence to the u.s. interest in democracy in iraq, and opposition to terrorism.

before i move forward with a critique here, i have to stop and think for a moment what it would be like if someone who had billions of dollars at his disposal, who could gain the attention of virtually every media source in the world, who could engineer the passage of laws, who had enormous influence over the praxis of international human rights law and the administration of bodies like the IMF and the World Bank --- were to talk about sexual violence, acknowledge its devastating consequences for girls, and declare that the problem must be fought --- and... here's the crucial part, what would it would be like if i could believe him.

it's a painful fantasy, i tear up a little when i think about it. what would it be like if the people who are in a state of intense consciousness, rage, and clarity about systemic sexual violence and exploitation weren't only people who have been massively brutalized and traumatized and are mostly just busy surviving? what if some of the people who 'got it', felt it, meant it, with all their hearts were presidents? what if that were true right now, and i could think about the rapes of kids and teens in systems of prostitution which are happening right now, this second as i type, and think --- it's going to stop. really. soon. it's ending, it's on its way out. in 2008 or so, sexual exploitation will have decreased by 97%, and communities of politicized people, led and energized and furious with the stories of survivors will be tracking down and confronting those last vestiges. funding will be pouring into previously slashed arts programs and education and healthcare to meet the incredibly glaring and complicated needs of people who have been tortured, to create healing, to extend shortened lives. there'll be vigils and memorials and days and weeks and months of remembrance, which will be massively attended by workers who are no longer busy just making a living because the wealth of institutional pimps and bosses and corporations will be redistributed to actually change the conditions which push so many people into systems of prostitution. and as we proceed with the return of lands to indigenous north american communities, we'll at least have a starting place to confront the racial and economic and cultural histories of annihilation which have swelled the numbers of living beings used as sexual commodities and objects.
i can only begin to fathom what it would mean for children to be safe from incestuous and pedophilic predators who like to play daddy-pimp (there's a freaking reason those two words are associated!) or amateur pornographer. if kids had places to go, and people to tell, and the recognized right to break away from any family which was dangerous or violent, and didn't belong to anyone but themselves. what if there were a president, who wanted all that. who got all that. who needed it like i do.

it's not just that george w. bush is a liar. he is a liar. "americans" as a big whole group do not respect or protect or support human lives, mostly give no thought to malaria, or to slavery of girls in international trafficking rings. iraqis are not receiving democracy from troops with weapons who refer to them with a range of racial and religious epithets. the trafficking victims protection act has resulted in very very few actual prosecutions, and almost no distribution of t-visas to victims, and does not recognize most victims as such anyway. none of this is news to anybody paying attention.

but it's not only the outright lies. it's his certainty that he can appropriate to himself the role of 'crusader for human rights', and use people like me as his symbolic recipients of 'compassion'. rhetoric about cracking down on sex tourists is ludicrous without any attention to u.s. military prostitution, camptowns, and trafficking --- taking place everywhere the u.s. has a goddamn base, which is... everywhere. and talking about stopping sexual slavery while promoting u.s.
economic interests or "progress" globally is such an enormous contradiction, it's practically unfathomable. because systems of prostitution feed on economic vulnerability and poverty, and the impoverishment and vulnerability of most of the world is the constant prerequisite for the existence of the u.s. as a military and economic 'superpower'. and for a president who's slashed head start, slashed education, slashed medi-cal, slashed most of the programs which might maintain any quality of life for children who don't happen to be born into very privileged families... for that president to speak in gripping terms about saving children, is a mindfuck of alarming proportions.

for him to use people like me, survivors of systemic sexual abuse and exploitation to bolster his status as a human rights leader --- and to link it to u.s. military aggression in iraq, to the invasion of afghanistan and abuses of other nations and peoples, and the erosion of already compromised civil liberties in the u.s., in the name of fighting "terror"... well like i said, it fits.

so since apparently it falls to someone like me to try to call out president bush on his attempt to appropriate the stories of sexual exploitation survivors, i'm trying out phrases like "how dare you", or various obscenities. but unsurprisingly, it's really hard to imagine an adequate response.

i've been thinking about the way that privilege and power are loud, the ways that people in power are so often sure that they can say virtually anything, tell any lie, take possession of anyone's experience or story and revise it into something unrecognizable --- and be sure that no matter how outrageous, how dangerous, how cruel --- the responses will be soft, too low, too easy to drown out. or that we won't be there to answer at all. especially with people like me, cuz we're presumed to be dead, or else a cowering poster-child, who has few words other than, "thank you for saving me, god bless america

while i'm navigating in fantasy-land a little here anyhow, i'm thinking about what it would be like, if every time president bush announced that he cares about children, survivors of childhood violence screamed, all at once, as loudly as we could. scream-ins, screaming marches, scream-alongs on the whitehouse lawn. the resulting tumult might bring press, or neighbors, or --- unfortunately --- cops, but whoever it brings, it would be an opening to explain --- i am screaming because president bush is lying about people like me so loudly, and if anyone's going to notice, we've got to make some noise too. and here's what the lies are. and here's why they're so dangerous. and here's how they hurt. and here's how to actually help --- and please don't talk about 'helping' or 'caring' unless you're willing to let the survivors take the lead, and willing to follow through. cuz otherwise, you're just more bad noise. i'm thinking also about what it would be like if every time president bush talked about stopping trafficking, survivors of systems of prostitution screamed, or if our voices or throats are too damaged, thumped, banged, twanged, bullhorned, drummed --- and made such a seriously unavoidable sound that we got at least enough attention to be able to get in a soundbyte, which would be simply: "president bush is an enemy to children, and to victims and survivors of rape".


Monday, July 24, 2006

welcome to life support

life support blog is a forum for and about people who have survived systems of prostitution as children or youth. "systems of prostitution" includes street, brothel, military/camptown, massage parlor, internet-based, escort service prostitution, pornography, stripping, peep shows, live sex shows, phone sex, trafficking, mail order bride rings, or any other form of commercial or systemic sexual exploitation.

i'm creating this blog for a number of reasons:

i'm a child survivor, and have an understanding and analysis of my own experiences, and of the institutions and causes of sexual exploitation.

although child prostitution, pornography and trafficking are sensationalized issues, actual people who've survived systems of prostitution, or the sex industries, in childhood or as teens are mostly unrepresented or 'silent' in public discussion and debate, activism, policy-making, research and scholarship, and various cultural and community discussions about systems of prostitution. the fact that we're mostly a silent/silenced population means that we can be alternately used as convenient symbols by the political and religious right, or virtually ignored by liberal or left proponents of 'sex work' or legalization of the sex industries. there's a real vacuum where survivor leadership, insight, and political criticism ought to be, which this blog attempts to partially, slightly, begin to fill.

i want to acknowledge and particularly express gratitude to the handful of survivor writers (such as Andrea Dworkin and Maya Angelou) who have written publicly about experiences in systems of prostitution. i also want to acknowledge and express qualified appreciation to some of the feminist activists and writers who have challenged victim-blaming stereotypes and taken up the issue of prostitution as gender-based violence. however, there's an absence of writing, visible political activism, or analysis which focuses on children and youth in systems of prostitution, and also engages with all the interlocking oppressions which create sexual exploitation. gender is very important to me, and to this discussion. but i believe that considering gender by itself or in isolation --- without discussion of class and economic oppression, the oppression of children (adultism), ageism, racism, imperialism, disability oppression (ableism), heterosexism, transphobia, the destruction of the environment and of the species of the planet, and anti-semitism --- is also totally inadequate. the idea that oppressions are interconnected is not at all new or my invention. i particularly appreciate Audre Lorde's classic essay, "there is no hierarchy of oppressions". i'm also a big fan of Joanna Kadi's book, Thinking Class, which theorizes how child abuse is a result of oppressions, and of Aurora Levins Morales' essay, "The Politics of Childhood", which analyzes the oppression of children as a basis for learning how to participate in other oppressions. however, there's not a real activist, cultural or literary language or analysis out there which thoroughly applies these ideas to the issue of children and youth in the sex industries. without 'voice', or a way to name, describe, make sense of, or confront systems of prostitution as a product of oppressions, i don't think we have an icecube's chance in hell of making deep, sustainable, healing social change.

i need to acknowledge that this is an enormous challenge, and without devaluing my own insights, emotional intelligence, and knowledge as an individual survivor --- i'm very clear on the fact that i can't do it or even comprehend it all, by myself, or with one blog, or a multitude of blog posts. however, i think this space can be a starting point, and a forum for guest writers/bloggers, mostly survivors who do not have another public space to 'speak' or write as self-identified survivors.

i'm also creating this blog because i'm physically and chronically ill. sexual violence and torture have left me with about a half dozen disabilities and illnesses. i'm pretty sure that the sex industries have shortened my calendar --- and i feel a deep need to write and advocate and organize as much as my health allows, in the time i have. when i write, sometimes it helps my body heal or get stronger, because it releases trauma, and that tends to boost my immunity and energy. so i hope this little blog will help me stay alive longer. although i'm in compromised health --- i'm still alive as an adult, which hasn't been true for too many children and youth in the sex industries. i'm not in the sex industries now, and i'm not substance abusing, and i'm not in an abusive or violent relationship, and i have a home, and a political/activist education as well as a formal education, and there are people in my life who know me, and offer me respect, love and support. and i can write. so i figure for every survivor who's like me, there are about 999 victims or survivors who died young, or who never got out, or who never found a way to speak, or who are actively self-destructing, or who are still regularly getting abused or raped by somebody, or who are incredibly isolated, or who don't have the resources or privilege or time to do anything besides try not to die or to bear up under the weight of depression, complex post-traumatic stress, nightmares and flashbacks, and all the accompanying damage to our bodies and spirits. so... being really in touch with the fact that i'm mortal and fragile... and also being really aware of my own strength, luck, privilege/access, and indebtedness to the people who've helped me survive, i'm starting this blog because i can't afford to wait any longer for it to exist. and because, when i use the word survivor, i'm not just meaning "victim who didn't die". that word connects me to a much broader experience. i am a survivor of a particularly brutal, devastating, life-destroying, vicious process of mass sexual violence, which eventually kills most of the people (and other animals --- in bestiality prostitution) it abuses. without thinking, remotely, that i can speak for everyone, i'm connected to, aware of, many other victims and survivors who can't do what i'm doing here. the word survivor, in this moment at least, means that i'm someone who has organic and intimate knowledge of systems of prostitution, and hasn't (yet) been destroyed, though i've come close. it also means that i've done some healing, that i'm claiming a relationship to life, and that in doing so i've learned some things which can help solve or point to solutions to bigger problems. so i'm writing, and seeking writing from others, because i'm one of the relatively few of us who can.

the blog is named "life support" for a few reasons, which are probably now evident. for me personally, it is, literally. i hope that reading or connecting with what's written here may do something similar for other survivors. i also believe that writing and thinking and conversing about extreme forms of torture and violence is potentially a catalyst for activism, and therefore a necessary part of moving from domination-based social organization or structures which destroy lives and quality of life, to those which support healthy, integral living.

so... here we go. my gratitude to you--- whoever you are, for reading. more posts coming soon: "safety is not a whistle", "violence-based disability", "a list of things which we need so that more victims can heal", "not a sex worker", "the U.S. is a pimp", "thankyou alice walker (read her already!): feminism, race, and the anti-pornography movement", "i really wish sheila jeffreys would stop talking about me: a carefully thought out rant on solidarity with transgender survivors", "everytime george w. bush says he cares about children we should scream out loud"

in struggle,