Thursday, January 21, 2010

Slut Shaming 2.0: Sex Offender Sluts – New Orleans edition

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Sex worker denied entry into popular nightclub on Bourbon St. In New Orleans
A sex worker is denied entry into a popular nightclub on Bourbon St. in New Orleans.

We’ve all heard of, or seen examples of, slut shaming, the phenomenon where sex workers are derided, harassed and humiliated for the nature of their employment. After all, what’s more filthy and worthless than a whore, right? (Other than hobos.) (Yeah, that was sarcasm. Chill out.) Being treated as second-class citizens, being leered at with either unrestrained lust or equally unrestrained disgust, and generally being portrayed as disease-ridden, drug-addicted bottom-feeding filth of the streets and gutters are all par for the course for sex workers, the vast majority of whom probably fit few, if any at all, of the perverse stereotypes they’re routinely, if not permanently, labeled with once they start selling sexual favors for money to pay rent and put food on the table.

However, if you thought that wasn’t bad enough, then you’ll be pleased to learn about the state of affairs for sex workers in New Orleans, where more than half of the city’s sex offenders are prostitutes – whose names ended up on the registry for no other reason than they indulged in “unnatural copulation”; ie. orally or anally, rather than vaginally.

I can give you the exact face I was wearing as I read this report: o_@.

New Orleans city police and the district attorney’s office are using a state law written for child molesters to charge hundreds of sex workers like Tabitha as sex offenders. The law, which dates back to 1805, makes it a crime against nature to engage in “unnatural copulation”—a term New Orleans cops and the district attorney’s office have interpreted to mean anal or oral sex. Sex workers convicted of breaking this law are charged with felonies, issued longer jail sentences and forced to register as sex offenders. They must also carry a driver’s license with the label “sex offender” printed on it.

Of the 861 sex offenders currently registered in New Orleans, 483 were convicted of a crime against nature, according to Doug Cain, a spokesperson with the Louisiana State Police. And of those convicted of a crime against nature, 78 percent are Black and almost all are women.

The law impacts sex workers in both small and large ways.

Tabitha has to register an address in the sex offender database, and because she doesn’t have a permanent home, she has registered the address of a nonprofit organization that is helping her. She also has to purchase and mail postcards with her picture to everyone in the neighborhood informing them of her conviction. If she needs to evacuate to a shelter during a hurricane, she must evacuate to a special shelter for sex offenders, and this shelter has no separate safe spaces for women. She is even prohibited from very ordinary activities in New Orleans like wearing a costume at Mardi Gras.

[My emphasis]

Once again, I find myself experiencing that familiar feeling I get at times: the one where I suddenly feel slightly nervous and uncertain, face contorted into an odd air of mingled disgust and incredulity, and my chest filling with a sincere sentiment of hope that what I’m reading has to be a bad joke, or satire gone awry. Even though, intellectually, I know it isn’t.

So, lemme get this straight … thanks to a law (“archaic” wouldn’t begin to describe it; more like, “medieval”) from the early 1800s, anyone – sex worker or not (though, of course, these make for prime targets) – can become a registered sex offender, one of the most socially reviled titles in existence, simply by engaging in oral or anal sex? And, this is directly responsible for the fact that more than half of New Orleans’ sex offenders – 483 of ’em – are on the registry at all? Not for rape, or assault or battery, or threats, or stalking, or anything like that, but for giving or receiving anal or oral?

… Wouldn’t you know it, I’m genuinely at a loss for words, here.

And, of course, that’s not to mention the bit I’ve underlined, where all of those arrested for this “unnatural copulation” bullshit are women. Yeah … nice to see slut shaming never goes very far without its little cousin, plain ol’ misogyny.

It only gets better. As Radley Balko points out, merely getting arrested when your name is already in the sex offender registry can add another 15 years to your time on the list. And, naturally, trying to fight back in court, barring tiny exceptions, only makes worse, possibly slapping you with up to a lifetime on the list.

As if your life hadn’t been ruined enough already.

For buttsex and oral.

Will someone please tell me what the fuck is wrong with the world when stories like this are out there?

(via The Agitator)