I will be speaking today about addressing the topic of sex work in the classroom, as a sexuality educator, college professor or sexuality professional. I want to start with a quote from sex worker activist Trina Ricketts, who describes her experience with being unable to disclose in a higher education setting:
I would like to start by situating myself for you around the issue of sex workers in an educational setting. I first became interested in sex worker rights when I was writing for $pread Magazine as their media columnist, examining the presentations of those in the sex industry in the mainstream media. More recently, I became a community organizer for the Sex Workers Outreach Project of New York City (SWOP-NYC). As someone with a degree in Human Sexuality Education and a background in sexuality education in a healthcare setting, I implement safer sex workshops for sex workers as a member of SWOP-NYC and consult sex workers on their individual healthcare options. I also train medical providers and social workers on best practices in addressing the needs of sex workers as a sensitive population, so I have an invested interest in creating conversations between sex workers and sexuality professionals.
I am currently in the process of implementing an IRB-approved exploratory study on college students who engage in erotic labor, or as they may choose to define it, sex work, as a means of employment through their college education. Once completed this winter, the study would describe this population's basic demographics, as well as the extent to which they disclosure their work to their friends, family, romantic partners, school faculty and fellow classmates. This would be some of the first quantitative data we have on how students engaged in erotic labor identify in the United States and would better inform how we as educators can address their needs as a special population.The survey includes basic demographic questions, as well as an original scale assessing levels of disclosure for participants. There is also questions pertaining to whether participants know people who identify as sex workers, whether their work makes it possible for them to attend college and whether they enjoy their work. professional phone sex, independent escort work, street-based work, webcam work, burlesque, go-go dancing, professional domination, fetish work, erotic modeling, pornographic performance, pornographic production, running a house, running a porn site, working in a club, managing other workers or another form of work the individual self-identifies as erotic labor.
We have limited demographic information on sex workers in the United States, outside of the context of disease prevention and is rarely inclusive of sex workers working in a variety of sectors or having a multitude of gender identities. We know even less about students who are sex workers. Especially in a technological age, I believe we might see that more students are engaging in sex work online, in the form of webcam work. Research suggests that in the Internet era, the general population of sex workers is moving over to online work. How might that fit into a student schedule, someone who is already sitting long hours at their computer studying or has limited time options for employment? Who do sex workers talk to about their experience? Is it easier as a sex worker activist to be open about your work? Is it easier to do your work when you have familial support, or partner support?
The current economic climate has also generated interest in the relationship between student debt and sex work. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s quarterly report on debt recently found that delinquency rates for student loans are on the rise. Between 1999 and 2011, student loan debt has increased by 511%, with borrowers under 30 years old bearing the hardest burden. According to a recent report released by theproject on student debt, two-thirds of college students graduating in 2010 had student debt, carrying an average of $25,250 (a 5% increase from last year). This increase occurs amidst an national unemployment rate of 9.1%.
Concerns about students and tuition has sparked a burgeoning discussion on how students pay for college. Reports from France, Ireland, England, Canada, Australia and the United States, some based on government reports (such as the Parliamentary report in France) and some based on personal accounts/interviewsA lot of cut and paste journalism on this, presumably because of the raciness of this topic; reposts number in the dozensUnique Posts:Last year: 11111 (5)Last 5 years: 11111 111 (8)Last 10 years: ~20 This photo is an example of the type of visual that often accompanies these articles, despite there being little evidence to suggest that students are engaging in street-based work as a primary form of sex work.Most of the reposted articles take a moral panic approach, casting sex workers as either opportunists or victims. Some of the news pieces take a more broad approach, but few media outlets ever offer answers or support, though they clearly deem this “a problem.”
Besides what we see in the media, as educators, we talk about sex work in advocacy studies, anthropology, criminal justice, education, european studies, history, international studies, law, political science, psychology, public health, religious studies, social work, sociology, women’s and gender studies, queer studies, social justice/social welfare and sexuality studies. We have folks in SSSS talking about sex workers in different capacities. In a survey of 200 syllabi from American universities related to topic of sex work, I pulled out some of the the sexuality related topics in which sex work was being discussed. This is by no means an exhaustive list, however it should highlight for you the many different ways in which sex work can and might be addressed in the classroom. It should also illuminate, for those of us who address personal information in our classrooms, sites where a sex worker student might be triggered by a certain topic. This may of course also overlap with other life experiences, such as issues of sexual violence, social injustices, gender expression concerns, childhood experiences, body issues and healthcare concerns.
There are three sites where sex work may come up for us in educational environments: 1. student experience (which will come up in the form of self-disclosure – so, the varying levels of disclosure that can and will occur with students discussing sex work) as, inevitably, students within that classroom may have experienced sex work for themselves, or know someone who has and 2. Educator's Choice of Topics Related to Sex Work as the manner in which the educator chooses to present the topic of sex work3. On campuses: if there are students engaging in sex work, how is that being dealt with by student services? Are there groups? Is there a support network?
Sex workers as a group with special, yet diverse needs; sex worker students as individuals who are negotiating the experience of dual identities or intersecting identities; We have very limited knowledge of sex workers in the United States and their demographics, despite some of the amazing research folks in SSSS are doing. It would be difficult, yet I believe necessary, to have national surveys of how sex work occurs in order to get a better picture. There are also few settings and environments condusive to sex worker disclosure. For example, in terms of medical disclosure, we know from a 2006 survey at St. James Infirmary, the only sex worker-specific clinic in the United States, 70% of sex workers do not disclose to their medical providers. We also know that sex workers come from a variety of ethnic, economic and educational backgrounds. For instance, about 16% of the sex workers utilizing the services at St. James Infirmary are trans women, however you rarely see transfolks or men in the public discussions of sex work. I believe, based on limited reporting such of this as well as an anecdotal evidence, that there is clear intersectional issues for sex workers surrounding their race/ethnicity and gender identity. These layers of oppression need to be addressed with sensitivity when considering the needs of students who are sex workers.As sociologist Ronald Weitzer suggests in his work “Sociology of Sex Work,” we generally see two binary-driven paradigms at work: “the oppression paradigm” and “the empowerment paradigm.” Neither of these models is helpful for understanding the complexities of sex work. He suggests a third category, called the “polymorphous paradigm,” which would integrate the best of both models and hold that there is “a constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations, and worker experiences” 2. A sexual minority is a person who engages in sexual activities that are not part of the mainstream. I think we need to start thinking about sex workers as a sexual minority, because they experience a lot of the same discriminations and stigma that other sexual minorities do. They experience healthcare disparities, violence (both on the part of police and as a result of police support being withheld, because of the illegality of their work), rejection from friends and family, and a hostile society and media climate. 3. Many of the people I have worked with consider themselves to be professionals in their work. As a community whose work overlaps with bodywork, sex surrogacy, and other sexuality-related work that involves nudity, the body and intimacy, I think we as sexuality educators have a responsibility to validate how varied sex workers identities are. If a sex worker regards themselves as sexuality professionals, I believe they should be treated as such. There is also research to suggest that this is the case, regarding sexual health and particularly related to condom use.
A sexual minority is a person who engages in sexual activities that are not part of the mainstream. I think we need to start thinking about sex workers as a sexual minority, because they experience a lot of the same discriminations and stigma that other sexual minorities do. They experience healthcare disparities, violence (both on the part of police and as a result of police support being withheld, because of the illegality of their work), rejection from friends and family, and a hostile society and media climate.
3. Many of the people I have worked with consider themselves to be professionals in their work. As a community whose work overlaps with bodywork, sex surrogacy, and other sexuality-related work that involves nudity, the body and intimacy, I think we as sexuality educators have a responsibility to validate how varied sex workers identities are. If a sex worker regards themselves as sexuality professionals, I believe they should be treated as such. There is also research to suggest that this is the case, regarding sexual health and particularly related to condom usage.
Also, what is our responsibility to those students who do not engage in sex work or may only have a peripheral understanding of the complexities of sex work topics and sex worker experiences? Research spearheaded by Ron Roberts into the experience of students with the topic of sex work suggests that… Cross-sectional sample of undergraduate students at Kingston University (response rate 74%); we have little to no evidence of what the experience of the American student is. We see how it’s being talked about outside of the research field, but little on how it’s being addressed on campus or within the classroom. Sex work defined as stripping,prostitution,or lap dancing, which may be a limited definition of what sex work is
Sex workers may be able to conceal their identity at different points in the educational process; their process of “coming out” in the classroom, then, may be much akin to the process undergone by LGBT folks, in that they may disclose in part, based on varying levels of comfort. They may disclose to some classmates, and not others. They may disclose to their professor, but not their classmates. Because they can “pass” as non sex workers, they may choose to never disclose their experience in the classroom. They may also not regard what they do as sex work.We see from literature on LGBT folks (particularly LGBT youth) that there can be linkages between depression / inactivity in the classroom, when students are afraid they will be stigmatized or shamed for their identity. This can be increasingly difficult, when considering the variety of discussions about sex work that could happen in the classroom. It might be difficult for a self-described sex worker to listen to a lecture which focuses on coercive sex work as the primary form of sex work. It might be difficult for a youth who engaged in survival sex as a teen to listen to someone described underage youth as being exclusively trafficking victims. Many public conversations Americans are having about sex trafficking and coercive sex in the sex industry are consciously and decisively one-sided in their understanding of sex work. Sex workers, when they are spoken about as consenting adults, are often cast as financial opportunists, themselves exploitative of monetary opportunities, when they could simply be doing the work because they need to pay for their educations. They might also enjoy what they do. Most media coverage of sex work disregards the multiplicities of sex workers as individuals and the complicated interactions between race, sex, gender, economic disparities and sex worker experience. As educators who seek wholeness for our students and desire to challenge myths around sexuality that our students may have coming into our courses, I feel it is our responsibility to…
We see from literature on LGB folks (particularly LGB youth) that there can be linkages between depression / inactivity in the classroom, when students are afraid they will be stigmatized or shamed for their identity. This can be increasingly difficult, when considering the variety of discussions about sex work that could happen in the classroom. It might be difficult for a self-described sex worker to listen to a lecture which focuses on coercive sex work as the primary form of sex work. It might be difficult for a youth who engaged in survival sex as a teen to listen to someone described underage youth as being exclusively trafficking victims. Many public conversations Americans are having about sex trafficking and coercive sex in the sex industry are consciously and decisively one-sided in their understanding of sex work. Sex workers, when they are spoken about as consenting adults, are often cast as financial opportunists, themselves exploitative of monetary opportunities, when they could simply be doing the work because they need to pay for their educations. They might also enjoy what they do. Most media coverage of sex work disregards the multiplicities of sex workers as individuals and the complicated interactions between race, sex, gender, economic disparities and sex worker experience. As educators who seek wholeness for our students and desire to challenge myths around sexuality that our students may have coming into our courses, I feel it is our responsibility to…
A case study of sex worker students was conducted in 2001 at NYU in the sociology department, in a course where students choose a research topic of interest and investigated a specific population. Students were also asked to check in with the class about the course of the research (how it was going) and any difficulties they were having. The research arouse out of these two sociologists being confronted with students who were engaging in sex work and also wanted to research it. They looked at these three strategies as ways for students to manage potential self-disclosure.Things that may come up with #1: the student may feel stigmatized by having to hide, the student may need to decide upon partial or full disclosure to the professor or some students, or the student may be fine, keep the secret and finish the researchThings that may come up with #2: allows the professor and the student to bring up the topic of sex work in the classroom, however it doesn’t really address their fear of stigmatization, because it adds a layer of dishonesty that could be difficult for both student and teacherFull disclosure may not be possible, for safety and legal reasons. We cannot really control where this information goes after the classroom, and unless our campus has a resource center for sex workers (which few do), we have no way of referring the student to someone who can talk to them if they need to debrief after coming out.
Regarding how educators might manage student self-disclosure, they can also introduce the topic themselves. This would…Also makes it so that the sex worker students’ experience does not account for or speak to every sex worker experiences. When individuals are confronted with a sex worker in the room, they have a tendency to engage that sex worker as though their experience is every sex worker experiences, which is problematic. It also allows the educator to decide how the discussion is framed more effectively, and allow for a diversity of sex worker voices, rather than utilizing sex worker students in the room as sole experts.
As sexuality professionals, we should support ethical, non-exploitative research of sex workers that is IRB-approved and peer reviewed. Consider how sex worker voices are being engaged. To what end are they being used? When bringing sex work topics into your own classroom, bring current or former sex workers into your classroom to effectively speak to sex worker experiences. Advocate for student services (or encourage students to advocate for these services)Encourage faculty education on sex worker topics; engage in your own self-education
Have resources in place if a student does disclose to you, so that you can effectively address their needs. When reaching out to organizations when finding out more information, talk to sex worker advocacy groups. Also consider youth service organizations whose missions take into consideration communities of color, LGBTQ folks, the notion of the self-defined sex worker who is consenting to their work, as well as harm reduction as a model for addressing sex worker needs. Education is not a neutral territory. We are in the business of changing minds. We are in business of values formation. It is important and necessary for us as sexuality educators to insure that topics of sex work in the classroom are addressed in a way that considers sex worker students, as well as how sexuality studies can and might address sex work sensitively as a whole. Thank you.
Addressing the Sensitive Topic of Sex Workers in the Classroom
Addressing the Sensitive Issue of Sex Workers in the Classroom SARAH ELSPETH PATTERSON, M.ED. WIDENER UNIVERSITY SEX WORKERS OUTREACH PROJECT OF NEW YORK CITY WWW.SARAHELSPETH.COM The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality Annual Meeting 2011 Houston, Texas
A Quote from Trina Ricketts, Sex Worker Advocate, Former Sex Worker Student “I majored in English and women’s studies, and I felt very much like an outsider in my women’s studiesclasses. I never disclosed that I was a dancer. As more sex workers come out of the closet, I hope that more people will be forced to face the fact that we are not all degraded, violated victims” (Chiu, 2011)
My Background Media Columnist for $pread Magazine, the sex worker advocacy publication Community Organizer for Sex Workers Outreach Project of New York City Sexuality Educator in New York City
Participant Inclusion Criteria Be enrolled in a college or University as a part time or full time student Be involved in a form of erotic labor Be 18 years or older Be a member of a sex worker rights organization (SWOP, PROSList or the Desiree Alliance)
Research Questions How do college students involved in erotic labor identify? What sort of erotic labor do these students engage in? What is the degree of disclosure to their partners, friends, family, fellow students and faculty members?
Current Economic Climate and Higher Education College graduates from 2010 carrying an average of $25,250 Student loan debt increased 511% between 1999 and 2011 National unemployment rate of 9.1%
Sex Worker Students in the NewsBoy, D. (2010). Irish students turn to prostitution to pay Fairbanks, A.M. (2011). Sex for tuition: Gay male collegefor class. Irish Central. Retrieved from students using „sugar daddies‟ to pay off loan debt. The Huffington Post. Retrieved fromhttp://www.irishcentral.com/story/news/danny_boy/iri http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/30/gay-sugar-sh-students-turn-to-prostitution-to-pay-for-class- daddies-sugar-babies-sex-tuition-college-105147349.html students_n_938155.htmlChiu, J. (2010). Students and sex work. The Nation. Seltzer, S. (2011). Students stripping, doing sex work andRetrieved from seeing sugar daddies? In hard economic times, thishttp://www.thenation.com/blog/156457/students-and- media obsession is based in reality. AlterNet. Retrievedsex-work from http://www.alternet.org/health/151883/students_strippEscort agencies luring students into prostitution to pay ing,_doing_sex_work_and_seeing_sugar_daddies_in_for college. (2007). The Irish Independent. Retrieved hard_economic_times,_this_media_obsession_is_basefromhttp://www.independent.ie/national-news/escort- d_in_reality?page=2agencies-luring-students-into-prostitution-to-pay-for-college-1082362.html Warren, M. (2011). Hard up students turn to prostitution. The Local. Retrieved fromSherriff, L. (2011). Spearmint rhino boss says students http://www.thelocal.fr/1526/20111020/#can strip to pay for degrees. The Huffington Post UK.Retrieved fromhttp://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/10/04/spearmint-rhino-boss-urge_n_994080.htmlFairbanks, A.M. (2011). Seeking arrangement: Collegestudents use „sugar daddies‟ to pay off loan debt. TheHuffington Post. Retrievedfromhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/29/seeking-arrangement-college-students_n_913373.html
Where Sexuality Studies and Discussions of Sex Work Overlap Women‟s Rights/Feminism Gender Expression, LGBT Rights Performance and Identity Sex Trafficking Youth Sexuality Pornography Prostitution Sex Tourism Gender and Sexual Minorities Erotica HIV/AIDS Prevention Body Politics Healthcare Cultural Perspectives on Sexual Exploitation Sexuality Sexual Behavior Sexual Health Sexual Deviance and Social Sex and the Internet Control Work/Family Conflict Sexual Violence Sexed and Gendered Bodies Sexuality and Culture Anti-Oppression Race and Social Justice
Where Sex Work Comes Up In student experience In our syllabi In campus life
Seeing Sex Workers in the Classroom: A Conceptual Model I. Sex workers as a diverse, sensitive population Dual identities Healthcare disparities Layers of oppression (Weitzer, 2009) - Empowerment Paradigm Polymorphous Paradigm - Oppression Paradigm
Seeing Sex Workers in the Classroom: A Conceptual Model II. Sex workers as sexual minoritiesA sexual minority is a person who engages in sexual activities that are not part of the mainstream.• Experience of discrimination and stigma• Experience of social and interpersonal rejection
Seeing Sex Workers in the Classroom: A Conceptual Model III. Sex workers as sexuality professionals (Parsons, Koken & Bimbi, 2004)• Overlaps with: • Bodywork practitioners • Sexual surrogates • Sex educators • Educational erotic media
Addressing Other Students in the Classroom10% of students know about students engaged in sex work in order to support themselves financially(Roberts, Bergstrom, & La Rooy, 2007), with 16.5%indicating that they might be willing to engage in sex work to pay for their education (Roberts, Sanders, Myers & Smith, 2010).
Stigma Concealment and Classroom DisclosureSex worker identity as a “concealable stigma” (Smart & Wegner, 2000) sex workers as able to “pass” as non-sex workers “coming out” as a non-linear experience
Stigma Concealment and Classroom Disclosure Potential links between depression/classroom inactivity in LGB populations and sex worker student experience (Frost & Bastone, 2007; Beals, Peplau & Gable, 2009) The need to validate and affirm identities of students in classrooms where personal experience is discussed and evaluated (Rosenboom & Fetner, 2001)
Potential Self-Disclosure Strategies 1. HIDDEN INVOLVEMENT 2. FICTITIOUS INFORMANT 3. FULL DISCLOSURERosenbloom, S. R. & Fetner, T. (2001). Sharing secrets slowly: Issues of classroom self-disclosure raised by student sex workers. Teaching Sociology, 29, 439-453.
Educator Intervention as StrategyIntroducing the Topic as Educator removes the pressure from the individual student helps redirect inquiries to the teacher reduces the possibility that the class will stigmatize an individual student who may decide to self- disclose (Rosenboom & Fetner, 2001)
Educator Intervention as StrategyReflective Journaling as Management Tool allows for self-reflection on the part of all students minimizes disclosure concerns minimizes discomfort (Rosenbloom & Fetner, 2001)
Other Suggestions for Best Practices in the Classroom (and on Campus) Researching sex worker student experience in the United States Engaging sex worker voices Offering student resource centers and services (Portland State University‟s Women‟s Resource Center) Educating faculty on the multitude of topics related to sex work
A Call to ActionSarah Elspeth Patterson, M.Ed. firstname.lastname@example.org