The campaign kicked off with an 11-city tour called “Hidden in Plain Sight,” held in movie theaters alongside blockbusters and concession stands. For $5, attendees could watch a film on the sex trade in Seoul, Korea, listen to guest speakers from social service agencies, and hear Polaris staff pitch the campaign — popcorn and soda included.
Last week, days after dancers took to the streets of New Orleans to protest recent police raids on the city’s strip clubs, the state agency that led them was in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals fending off a challenge to a Louisiana law barring 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds from working as strip club dancers. In 2016, long before the raids, three dancers who lost their jobs because of the age ban sued the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) arguing that new age limits violated their labor rights. The age ban, known officially as “Act No. 395,” passed the state legislature in 2016 with little opposition, pushed by social service agencies that alleged a link between strip clubs and sex trafficking — the same allegations that prompted January’s raids.
The New Orleans Police Department, the Louisiana State Police, and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) have raided eight French Quarter strip clubs in the past 10 days. At a Monday press conference, both NOPD and ATC claimed the raids were the result of a multi-month, ongoing “human trafficking” operation, yet they also admitted they made no trafficking arrests, nor did they identify any victims of trafficking. Instead, what the ATC alleged occurred inside the French Quarter strip clubs was not trafficking, but 28 counts of violating an administrative statute that forbids liquor license holders from “permitting any prostitute to frequent the licensed premises or to solicit patrons for prostitution.” Of the arrests, ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard said, “Prostitution in and of itself is sex trafficking.”
The legislation is meant to protect victims of sex trafficking, but many advocates who work directly with people who have been trafficked oppose both bills. “They think that shutting down any online platform is going to miraculously end human trafficking,” Jessica Peñaranda, director of strategic initiatives at the Sex Workers’ Project, told In Justice Today. “They think it’s an easy way to do this.” But real solutions aren’t so easy, she says.
The position she and other advocates are voicing against SESTA and FOSTA is one that tends to get drowned out. Typically, high-profile anti-trafficking lobbying groups that lead the charge for federal legislation, such as World Without Exploitation (led by former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Lauren Hersh), or Christian right groups like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (formerly known as Morality in Media), oppose not only sex trafficking but sex work itself.
Since 2015, Kelly has zeroed his anti-trafficking efforts in on the city’s strip clubs. “We see time and time again that strip clubs are fertile ground for human traffickers,” Kelly told WWLTV one year before the Times-Picayune series was published, “to pick off, to seduce, to bring into their stable young victims, young women.” But according to independent research by Loyola University on Kelly’s own agency, Covenant House’s clients have not reported being trafficked for sex in strip clubs.
This week, outside the apartment where Yang worked, there were still four bouquets of flowers on the threshold. Yang’s confidences have left her mother and brother wary and defensive. While the police maintain that they were not in the room when Yang jumped off the building, both Hai and Shi insist that she would not kill herself. In the absence of a thorough explanation from the NYPD, they are left with the stories Yang shared with them about her life in Flushing — and of the police she said she felt harassed and intimidated by.
#MeToo gained attention through its connection to media and celebrity. But what led to this “moment” is that women’s liberation and the work of gender justice are unfinished. “The angel in the house” was set free by feminism’s first wave, and thanks to the second wave “the problem with no name” is now freely spoken of, yet how women’s rights are imagined—in truth, women’s power—is still stuck at the threshold, with the woman as arbiter, the one who says “no.”
Song’s death comes seven months after the NYPD pledged to arrest fewer people on prostitution charges — part of a larger initiative to build trust, particularly in immigrant communities, even as President Trump’s immigration policy stokes fear of deportation. Song had been previously arrested in Queens on September 27, 2017. Her case was referred to the Queens human trafficking court, which handles prostitution-related cases. Her next court date was scheduled for December 1.
This phrase — “trafficking opportunity” — has no meaning. Any business in which labor exploitation is possible (which is a lot of businesses) could likewise be described as a “trafficking opportunity.” The shakiness of this phrase might also explain why the Times-Picayune called the series, “The Track: How sex trafficking has taken hold of Bourbon Street” — even if the series lead reporter, Kevin Litten, conceded, “there has been no evidence that clubs knowingly employed dancers who were victims of human trafficking.” Instead, after a year-long investigation that involved Times-Picayune reporters conducting “14 visits to 10 strip clubs during the past 12 months,” reporters observed not trafficking but what they allege are violations of regulations barring contact between dancers and customers.
On 28 November, she tweeted: “That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks.” And then: “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.”
Then she logged off.
In what may have felt like Stoya’s silence, reporters, critics and fans wondered for her: what did this mean, this public rape story told in 55 words, involving two of the world’s most high-profile porn performers, who were once in a very public relationship with each other? (James Deen posted some tweets of his own, denying Stoya’s story. A request for comment from Deen was not returned by the time of publication.)
That silence was filled almost immediately by other porn performers, some with allegations similar to Stoya’s, and about the same man, and saying that, despite what the reporters and critics and fans might have been wondering, yes, no matter what you see on screen, a porn performer has a right to her boundaries, on-set and off – and that yes, they believed her. That chorus of voices that followed Stoya’s shook the porn industry. They reverberated, and now the public is hearing, perhaps as loudly as ever, about the particular structural problems the porn industry contends with, and the persistent and pernicious idea that sex workers are by definition unrapeable. So what change has Stoya’s intervention made – and what remains?