Of course you knew you could get rich working in prostitution! But in small print it says “Pimps keep the profits, while prostituted women pay with their lives.” Well then, it might be better to be a pimp right?
Or how about this…You’re walking down Michigan Avenue with your children, ages 10 and 7 and see a sign on a bus shelter that says “Prostitution. There’s Nothing Victimless About it”, prompting your 7 year old to say “what’s prostitution?”
Or worse, you pick up your elderly parents at the airport and on the highway a large billboard reads “I don’t know anyone who pays for sex.” Underneath that, in small print, it says “Yes, you probably do.”
Mortifying and offensive, right? This is all happening RIGHT NOW in my hometown of Chicago. And I am aghast.
“The Ugly Truth” is a new advertising campaign for the End Demand Illinois campaign that was created by the Voices and Faces Project, an organization that works with survivors of sexual violence. I just attempted to make a phone call to Voices and Faces, but they don’t have a direct phone number, just a hotline for arranging speakers that goes to a third party. I admit I don’t know much about this organization, but I do see they are based in Chicago seem to have a lot of money to throw around. Or at least someone connected to them does.
Yes, this is an expensive ad campaign that posts these signs all over the city of Chicago from now until June, once again imposing their morality on unassuming Chicagoans, most of who probably don’t think much about prostitution on a daily basis, but now have it in their face wherever they go. I can’t help but think of what the money used for all this could’ve better done for these so-called “survivors” they always talk about. Provided oh-so-needed housing? Paid for groceries and rent for these prostituted women so they wouldn’t have to prostitute themselves? How about buying a new car for some of these prostitutes so they don’t have to sit on a bus or an El train with all this bullshit nonsense up in their faces?
But no, once again these over-funded prohibitionist organizations show their true colors by showing that they are only interested in preaching “ugly lies” to an unsuspecting public that are now blushing in embarrassment when being forced to view these signs when mingling with friends, family, co-workers, and worse yet, children and teens who have something to giggle and be ashamed about for the rest of the day. Why not put photos of half-naked and abused white women on there to really hammer the point home?
This is not the first time this has happened here. A few years ago, there was a public billboard campaign that was just as creepy, with signs reading “Did you just pick up my daughter tonight?” pictured with a mans hands in handcuffs. You can only wonder about people’s initial responses to those… “well if you were a better parent, that wouldn’t have happened!” I believe those were created by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, on organization you’d think that would have more pressing issues to work on, right?
All this comes at a time when The End Demand campaign in IL is doing something commendable (yes, I am gagging as I say that) in promoting a bill (SB 1872) that will eliminate felony prostitution from IL and lowering the penalty for prostitution to a Class A misdemeanor (it is currently a Class B). While it’s not decriminalization, it is a step in the right direction, even though it is motivated by the belief that “all sex workers are victims” and need a break.
We do need a break. A break from this type of rhetoric promoted by do-gooder feminist types that refuse to listen to individuals who have worked in the sex trade unless they have a sob story to tell that includes a pimp or a trafficker and abusive johns. Anything less is just not the “ugly truth” apparently. Still, what I find even more disturbing is the willingness of some of these individuals and organizations to take part in even the most exploitative of media dramatizations on prostitution. Last evening a friend texted me to express her disgust after catching an episode of MSNBC’s “Sex Slaves” series. This one was called “Sex Slaves in the Windy City” and featured the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force performing arrests on prostitutes and johns in a Schiller Park motel room. I’d seen the episode before and was equally horrified by it…not only did they the show the busts going down, but they showed the full faces of all the prostitutes that were arrested and conveniently blurred out the faces of the cops and the johns who were arrested. In one scene, a john is given a ticket after his arrest and let go with a warning while a prostitute in another room is taken down to jail and forced to undergo an intervention with Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute who now works closely with law enforcement and the End Demand Illinois campaign. All the arrested prostitutes were forced to do interventions with Brenda and even if they admitted they were working on their own and didn’t want or need help, Brenda hinted that they may not take the help now, but they’ll be back eventually. Because who doesn’t want to be rescued? And really, what other jobs would be waiting for these women after having their faces shown on a national television show (that is re-run over and over again) being arrested for prostitution?
It’s all a big publicity stunt. Let’s force the public to shed a tear about this issue so they’ll throw money at us and we can launch even more misguided publicity stunts and turn “rescuers” like Powell into minor celebrities. Meanwhile, the voice of consenting sex workers are being ignored again because “if you don’t have anything negative to say about prostitution, don’t say it at all.” Compare this campaign to SWAAY’s struggle to get a pro-sex work billboard put up in Los Angeles or The St. James Infirmary’s rejection of their “Someone You know is A Sex Worker” campaign billboards by CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel because of the use of the terms “sex work” and “sex worker.” Apparently, when your message is a positive one about sex work, it’s not acceptable to advertise but somehow “Get rich. Work in prostitution” is. Sometimes folks don’t read the small print, you know?
Incidentally, I just called the 800 number listed on the advertisements to complain and got the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The girl who answered the phone was very nice and apologized that I was offended, but had little knowledge of the “Ugly Truth” campaign. Instead, she said “sometimes people advertise our number and we don’t have any control over it.” So you’re saying you didn’t consent to having this number published on these signs? Hmmm…
As great as it would be to have enough money to launch a counter-campaign, I believe that people shouldn’t be forced against their will to have messages about prostitution in their faces while enjoying their morning coffee or taking their kids to school. When people are mature enough to read up on the facts themselves or talk to actually people involved in the sex trade, then they can gather the “truth” for themselves. But the ugly truth about “The Ugly truth” campaign is it’s all a bunch of lies.