Mislabeling sex workers and addressing sexual misconduct between students

Earlier this week, I wrote about sex worker rights and coronavirus and the ensuing racism. Today, I’m continuing to explore those topics.

There is a new article on The Lily that is personal to me. It asks how do we respond to sexual misconduct between students. I’ve thought this as a teacher receiving threats and witnessing threats between students. I have not seen a satisfactory way to deal with it. Schools prefer to pretend that it doesn’t happen altogether. So, I’m very glad this article at least acknowledges the fact that it happens and we don’t know the correct way to resolve it.

A 4th grader was threatened with rape by classmates. She was told to ‘stay away’ from the boys.

When I was teaching 4th grade, there was a lot of bullying between students in my class. Now that I am not working in elementary education, I can talk freely about it:

The discipline policy in schools often punishes good students and rewards bad behavior. (Whether there are “bad students/children” or just “bad behavior” is another topic!)

Full disclosure: As a teacher, I did not know what was the right way to handle threats toward myself or between students. It’s not something I’ve ever been trained on. School administration gives no directions on how teachers should respond when they get threats in the classroom.

To me, it seemed that the school did not want to address that it was happening at all. PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) was about “providing support and preventing unwanted behaviors.” But clearly, unwanted behaviors were already occurring.

The result is a lot of victim blaming and asking “What did you do to provoke them?” It’s no surprise that it’s the same response that victims of sexual misconduct hear in the adult world.

There is no “magic age” that makes kids old enough to take full responsibility for incidents of sexual abuse, said Stone. But for elementary-school aged students, schools should assume kids don’t really understand what they’ve done. When a 5-year-old pulls down his pants on the playground, for example, it’s clearly very different from when a high-schooler does the same thing, said Martin.

I definitely do not wish any child to go into the court system or get sucked into the cycle of recidivism. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem right that boys’ and girls’ harmful actions toward others go unaddressed, even if they’ve experienced it themselves.

The question becomes, how do we teach children what sexual misconduct is and why it’s wrong? After all, adults are supposed to know better and children are counting on us. When we pretend sexual misconduct doesn’t happen in school, we are letting down students who then have to carry the burden of hurt and harassment, as well as students who never learn that sexual misconduct is wrong and go on to do more of it.

‘Conflating Sex Work And Trafficking Is Harmful. We Need To Stop’

There is a really great human rights blog called EachOther. They have a series on sex work, and one article talks about not lumping all sex workers into helpless victims who got into sex work through trafficking.

Human trafficking is a horrific human rights violation that utilises threats, force, abduction, deception and coercion in order to control people and exploit them.

Sex work is a consensual transaction between adults. For many sex workers, this is their only means of survival.

They are different. Sex work, by its nature, happens in the shadows. But there is a world of difference between selling nudes on social media and working in a brothel and being a slave. When prostitution abolitionists talk about sex workers as all the same, it becomes even more harmful to them.

If sex workers feel so persecuted and judged that they don’t even disclose what they do to the most trusted profession in the world, we need to ask ourselves what we’re doing wrong.

Sex trafficking victims are not prostitutes by choice.

Sex workers are not all helpless victims.

If we really want to help victims of sex trafficking, let’s not talk about all sex workers as if they are in the same situation. They are not.

Explainer: Seven ways the coronavirus affects human rights

Coronavirus is a public health concern, but it also demonstrates why human rights are a MUST. It seems strange to have to prove the need for human rights, yet it’s an ongoing struggle in 2020.

Amnesty International talks about how “Human rights violations hinder, rather than facilitate, responses to public health emergencies, and undercut their efficiency.”

  1. Early censorship
  2. The right to health
  3. The censorship continues
  4. Activists harassed and intimidated
  5. Regional crackdown on “fake news”
  6. Discrimination and xenophobia
  7. Border controls and quarantines must be proportionate

We have to continue struggling for human rights, because it is literally a life-or-death situation. Even if my rights are not being violated, the effects are much closer than they appear to be.

Keep struggling and connecting with one another! Building connections and community is how we resist. ✊💛

Periods, online dating, and virus racism

Last week, a few of my interests “appeared” in my life:

  • Mochi Magazine, the publication I write for, ran an article on racism in online dating;
  • the alarm around coronavirus increased and I saw it on Facebook and heard about it in person;
  • I ordered reusable cloth pads from Rabbit+Bear Co and they arrived!

These all happen to be things I have strong feelings about: menstruation, microaggressions, and Asian Americans. (It’s also interesting when what happens online intersects with real life!) I’ve had a weekend to digest it and here are my thoughts.

I was bullied as a child after the SARS outbreak, now it’s happening again with coronavirus

There is so much misinformation around an unknown virus, and when compounded with stereotypes about China, it’s no surprise that it turns into racism and fearmongering.

If this outbreak happened in any other country, there would be hashtags like #PrayforParis or #StayStrongLasVegas right away. However, because it’s China, people react with avoidance rather than sympathy.  On Facebook, I see moms worried about the virus coming to their city, videos of bizarre Chinese street food being shared, and polls of whether Thailand should ban Chinese tourists. All of these are valid concerns, but not more so than the risks we encounter in everyday life. (For one, we could walk around being afraid of white men with guns, but you don’t see us doing that.)

People said I was being too dramatic and overreacting about the fake news and sinophobic articles being shared, yet a man in Sydney has already died from the “yellow peril” rhetoric spread by the media. He collapsed in Sydney’s Chinatown and died of a medical issue unrelated to the virus because people refused to administer CPR  due to a viral video going around of people apparently “collapsing” on the street in China.

There are no vaccines or precautions against negative attitudes toward certain countries or groups of people. To be fair, I see fear from both Asians and non-Asians, and China does need to be more transparent about how it responds to outbreaks. When it comes to viruses, let’s think Us vs. Virus, rather than point fingers and spread unhelpful paranoia.

Meet the Latina Fighting Chicago’s Period Poverty

Ashley Novoa started the Chicago Period Project to gather and give period supplies to homeless and in-need people. This includes pads, tampons, underwear, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and wipes. (Yes, having periods and being female in general, comes with a lot of costs!) Novoa works with the UI Health Pilsen Food Pantry in her old neighborhood to distribute the products.

“People talk about sex but are disgusted to talk about menstruation, even though it is the simplest part of reproductive justice. If people are not talking about periods, they fail to think about the menstrual struggles homeless people face with their periods,” Novoa says.

I love this because it’s a great example of starting where you are and working with your community. Also, it draws attention to the needs of homeless menstruators. Periods are so hidden that it seems as if people are not having periods at all, and among the resources given to the homeless, menstrual products are probably at the bottom of the list.

Support the Chicago Period Project here.

Sexual Racism: The Struggles AAPI Men Face and What We Can Do About It

It’s a fact: Asian men have a harder time getting matches on dating apps than Asian women. It’s uncomfortable to talk about hierarchies within your own race, but this is why it’s so important:

A phenomenon like this runs the risk of turning the female body into a commodity, of creating an arena in which Asian females come across as falsely privileged compared to their male counterparts and in which white women appear to be the ultimate prize. These racist stereotypes can fuel deep-rooted insecurities about Asian men’s masculinity and/or sexual appeal, which can spiral into negative notions about AAPI women.

Asain women’s privilege on dating apps really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and when you start to unpack what it implies — that it’s easier to get some people to date you, that it’s a privilege to date certain people — you see that sexual racism really pits people against each other, and as usual, white supremacy wins.

I don’t want to end on a bleak note, because I am really glad these articles were written. Online dating, period poverty, and viruses are all huge things that one individual can do very little to change, but I believe that microactions can be as helpful as microaggressions are harmful.

Let’s engage in and change the course of conversations about these topics. 🗣💬

Rights, camera, action!

Mobile phones are ever-present in our lives. In fact, smartphones have become synonymous as “device” itself. Phones and social media go hand in hand, and unless you make an effort to keep yourself off the grid, social media is a significant part of life today.

Image is everything on there. The images that we are flooded with and the images that are absent or erased both say a lot about who we are and where we’re going. What does the camera on phones mean for human rights? It can do a lot of good, or it can be a tool that authorities use to control people. Here are three posts discussing how record keeping and human rights go together.

The Rohingya lists: refugees compile their own record of those killed in Myanmar

The Rohingya live in refugee camps. Since they are a stateless people, there are no official historians documenting what happens to them. Last week, the ICJ took Myanmar to court for its atrocities against the Rohingya. But justice is not only seeing your perpetrator in court but also getting to tell your own story.

Now in Bangladesh and able to organize without being closely monitored by Myanmar’s security forces, the Rohingya have armed themselves with lists of the dead and pictures and video of atrocities recorded on their mobile phones, in a struggle against attempts to erase their history in Myanmar.

In this case, documenting who is dead, what they look like, and who they were, is an act of dissent. It’s saying that the Rohingya have history. Giving them record keeping tools is empowering.

Here’s How Some People Think Tech Is Affecting Our Free Speech

Even though social media feels like a place where anything goes, there are actually plenty of rules governing it. Some of those rules make the internet a more restrictive place to express your opinions than in the real world.

If people lose their willingness to research source material, whether through Google, Wikipedia or other sources, and if they are robbed of the freedom to speak out online, free expression as we know it will surely be affected.

The other aspect of technology that has proven harmful for democracy and free speech happens on the receiving end — tech is being used to share hateful, nationalist and

Uprooting Democracy: The War of Memory and the Lost Legacy of the People’s Party

When there are no celebrations of the constitution or festivals connected to constitutional monuments, people in the locality forget how they are important to the point of forgetting that they exist, so many of them are removed, replaced or destroyed.

The last and perhaps most eerie part of image-making and record keeping is erasing it. Erasing history, such as monuments of democracy and progress, means changing the reality. Who will bear witness to the truth? Who will remember how things really happened?

If you have a phone and camera, it’s in your power to remember and bear witness. Don’t look away.

Sex worker rights are human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed on December 10, 1948. We’ve had less than 100 years to make sense of what it looks like if everyone has basic rights, which has never been the norm in any society. How do we begin to communicate what human rights means and what it entails? 

According to Sunee Chaiyarot, a former human rights commissioner in Thailand, “The big picture includes individual rights, community rights or rights in local areas, and it also relates to the justice system.” Sex workers rights intersect with all the dimensions Chaiyarot mentions:

  • individual rights of sex workers
  • how sex workers coexist with the community
  • the role of sex work in local areas
  • how the justice systems protects or denies the rights of sex workers

Let’s begin to understand how sex workers might exist in the community. 

Help from one (former) sex worker to another

There’s a ton of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding sex work, and groups interested in helping workers get out of the sex trade. For help to be truly helpful, however, it needs to involve people who have been in that situation. For example, CityLight Coffee in Bangkok employs former sex workers. It offers them an alternative to sex trade. They work with other former sex workers who shared similar challenges: physical assault, forced into sex trade, and being viewed as immoral. 

The community aspect as powerful. Twice a week, the cafe also turns into a pro bono hair and nail salon for sex workers. “They are not advertised, but known through word of mouth among the sex workers’ circles.” 

The pros and cons of “harm reduction”

How do non–sex workers help sex workers? Harm reduction seems like a great idea, but in practice, there are so many factors that turn good intent into more harm. In Denmark, an NGO called the Red Van provides “street-based sex workers the option to work in an indoor space equipped with healthcare items like condoms and lube.” The idea is that an indoor space and a third location would make it so sex workers don’t need to follow a customer into their car. 

However, stigma wins out. Residents complain that they don’t want sex work on their street. Sex workers keep their distance. People are careful about being associated with sex work activity, or even being accused of pprofitingoff sex workers, even if they are not customers. 

“Stigma greatly exacerbates the risk of harm for sex workers. It can prohibit sex workers from seeking advice or support and push them into riskier situations.”

Progressive laws that are meant to protect sex workers often have negative effects. The procurement law  passed by the Danish Parliament ended up making it hard for sex workers to rent appartments or get legal and financial help. Sex workers still need landlords and accountants, but the law that is meant to help them makes it so people them down. 

Evaluating solutions

To evaluate solutions or ways to help, let’s go back to the Declaration of Human Rights. 

According to Article 23, “(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” and Article 29 “(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.”

Given that, we have a few questions to ask:

Does the action empower sex workers?

Does it take away or build on their rights?

Does it make it sustainable for them to exist in the community?

Lastly, the only way that solutions will even be helpful to sex workers is if it takes into account their needs.