Terra: Tell us about your experience of whores.
Kat: Well I grew up in Nevada, where prostitution is legal by county option, and I lived in counties where prostitution was legal and was operated out in the open. Prostitution in Nevada is wide open and runs the gamut from street workers to call girls to people that work in houses, but it definitely framed my perception of people who work in prostitution – I never grew up thinking prostitution was wrong or bad. It wasn’t illegal. Prostitutes were members of the community. If you go through Nevada- in any small town – who built the playground? Some whore that lived there for forty-five years that ran a house, and she backed the library and she backed the volunteer fire department because prostitution creates income. So it wasn’t, to my way of viewing, the way I was raised, it wasn’t degrading, it wasn’t considered immoral, it wasn’t considered wrong. It was a means of generating income. It was a way of making a living. That’s the idea that I come into speaking about prostitution from my own experience, which is I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I have in my own life seen a lot of really bad things happen around sexual exploitation of people around prostitution and I don’t like that. I’m not saying that never happened in Nevada, shit like that happened in Nevada too – what was different in Nevada is that people could be prostitutes and not worry about the police. They could be prostitutes and not worry about people knowing that you’re a prostitute and therefore scum of the earth or whatever.
When I grew up I lived for a period of time on the streets. I had friends that were prostitutes. I never myself engaged in prostitution, I never could figure out how to do that. I thought, “Mm, how do they do that?” If I could have figured it out, I might have been a prostitute. But I don’t have the capitalist gene. I can’t sell anything. So there you go. But I’ve known a lot of people that were involved in prostitution. I’ve known people that were involved in pornography. I’ve known people that were involved in survival sex. I don’t judge people, and they know that.
As a substance abuse counselor I’ve had a lot of clients that were involved in sex work, one aspect or another, and I don’t see those people as being degraded by that. But I do see – and I always do whenever I talk to anybody involved in the sex trade – it’s dangerous. Because you could get hurt, and when you get hurt you’re not going to get the response from society that another person would.
When you have been beaten and robbed and you end up in the emergency room and you’re a whore or you are a homeless person, you’re going to be treated differently than if you are a “citizen.” So, I think that’s gotta be the most difficult thing. I know a lot of women that have been prostitutes that have had their children taken away from them because that’s how they earn a living, and it’s considered wrong or immoral. It’s considered grounds to remove children from parents, from mommies. And I think that’s so wrong. But that’s the law.
Terra: A lot of the laws that have been made in the last year or so and the legislation that’s proposed comes from nonprofits and people who do work similar to yours. They tell us that prostitutes are all victims, and prostitutes who don’t know that they’re victims are traumatized people suffering from false consciousness who don’t know that they’re victims and don’t know what’s right for them. What do you think about that?
Kat: I think that they should be talking to the prostitutes, because the women and men that I have talked to that have used prostitution as their way of getting through the world, their way of earning a living – although they might have been traumatized that’s not necessarily why are involved in the sex trade. It’s not the trauma that took them to the sex trade; it’s the marginalization and the inability to earn a living in other ways. Money is money. People have to pay their bills. If you have no way of paying your bills, what are you gonna do?
Do I think that some people are involved in prostitution because they’ve been traumatized? I don’t know. I would have to talk to an individual extensively before I would be willing to make that determination, but I think there are people involved in the sex trade that are not at all involved in the sex trade because they’ve been traumatized or because they’re victims. They’re involved in the sex trade because they know how to run a business and keep it orderly and make a good living and pay their bills and have a life. And they didn’t have to go to college. Graduates of the school of hard knocks.
Terra: There’s a lot of talk about young ladies from the villages who are lured into Anchorage and then get hooked on drugs and controlled by a pimp and then forced into prostitution or other similar situations where women are said to not be in control of their sex work. Have you had clients who’ve had that experience?
Kat: Who’ve been in sexual bondage by their pimps? I have never seen that.
I have seen younger women who have been “lured” into prostitution because it’s easy money, because it provides access to drugs and a drug lifestyle, because it’s even glamorous, because it looks like Barbie and Bratz dolls, and I wouldn’t consider that necessarily to be bondage or slavery. We have a culture that values money over everything else and we have little kids that have no money and we have communities that are so economically disadvantaged there is no viable way to make a living. Prostitution becomes a viable option, as do other “criminal” actions like drug dealing or bootlegging or stealing walrus ivory off walrus’ and leaving the carcasses float.
Terra: So do you think we need to do something about this? Does Alaska need to do something to stop these young ladies from being lured into prostitution?
Kat: How do we do that without changing our culture completely from the bottom up? From the inside up? How do you do that really without changing the culture? You know, when I went shopping last year to get Halloween costumes for my granddaughters, they could be princess sluts, they could be rock star sluts, they could be vampire sluts. I was looking at all these Halloween costumes built and designed for eight- and ten- and twelve-year-old girls and they were highly sexualized. That’s I think the piece we need to look at and start undoing. Why are we sexualizing children?
Then if small children take advantage of that fact and say, “Oh, I could earn a living. I’m thirteen years old, but guess what I can make money this way.” Who’s at fault there? That strikes me as bizarre.
Terra: So you used to work at a local shelter for kids, right? We’ve talked before about how many kids are turned away from the shelter or can’t access shelter services.
Kat: For a variety of reasons. When I worked at the shelter, kids couldn’t be in the shelter if we couldn’t contact their parents. Well, that’s interesting. Kids couldn’t be in the shelter if they were high, if they had used, if they were intoxicated. Kids couldn’t be in the shelter if they had outstanding warrants. There was such a ridiculous screening process that actually if you were a kid in crisis, we couldn’t have you in our shelter.
Those rules were broken all the time by staff, and they were arbitrarily enforced. Kids were refused shelter in our shelter because of behaviors that the staff found problematic. Kids that most needed our help often were the least able to access it.
Terra: What do you think those kids ended up doing when they couldn’t access shelter?
Kat: I imagine that they, um, some of them were involved in the sex trade. I imagine that some of them ended up being raped, I imagine that some of them, oh God, I don’t like to think about it. I know for a fact that sometimes kids ended up going back into very dangerous situations that they were attempting to self-rescue from back into unviable home situations where there was sexual abuse going on or there was domestic violence going on that they were witnessing or being victimized by.
Terra: So, was it state laws or individual shelter policies?
Kat: It was shelter policies. And, like I say, arbitrarily enforced. I don’t think anybody gets into social services because they want to hurt people and jerk them around. But there were always problems in regards to more people needing our services than we had room for and therefore a kind of prioritization thing going on. There were always problems with certain behaviors that are just beyond the pale.
Terra: Like what kind of behaviors?
Kat: Like cutting, self-mutilation, prostitution, certain religious practices, and some mental health behaviors, especially explosive behaviors. Explosive behaviors just, we couldn’t deal with this, we just couldn’t deal with this. And that’s wrong. That’s wrong. Because we had people that were reacting to dangerous scary situations being put back out into dangerous scary situation because they couldn’t react calmly. It’s hard to react calmly when you’re in a dangerous scary situation and the people that you’ve gone to for help are saying, “We can’t help you.”
I did not work in that place for a long time, less than a year. Those are unhappy memories.
Terra: To go backwards a little bit, how many clients do you think you’ve had in Alaska over the years that have been involved in the sex trade as well as drugs and/or alcohol?
Kat: Counting survival sex, I would say of my female clients, probably twenty-five percent.
Terra: Is that hundreds or thousands or?
Kat: No I wouldn’t say thousands. I would say dozens or maybe hundreds.
Terra: And how many of them were forced into it?
Kat: Lured with money, with drugs, with glamour, but most of all with the illusion of escape from poverty, from cultural displacement, from disenfranchisement. There’s a big difference between those two things. It’s not sex slavery. You hear about sex slavery, but it’s money slavery and sex is the medium of exchange.
Terra: So what do you think Alaska should be doing about prostitution or sex trafficking, which are really legally the same thing now?
Kat: The whole sex trafficking thing confuses me. It just confuses me. Because I think it’s prostitution I don’t think it’s sex trafficking, I think it’s prostitution.
Terra: That’s the legal definition of sex trafficking now, operating a prostitution business.
Kat: When you say sex trafficking it brings up a picture, and I don’t think that that picture is the reality of what’s really going on. It’s certainly not what I’ve seen. It’s not what I hear when people sit in my office and tell me this and that and the other and this is why I’m here. What do I think should be done? I think they should decriminalize drugs and prostitution. I don’t think they should put the government in charge of it though; that’s really a scary thought, because then I have this vision of camps! That would be sex slavery!
Terra: That’s what they have in Nevada. They’re not allowed to leave.
Kat: Well, some counties. They have rules, many many rules. I don’t think that’s necessarily good either. I don’t understand the entire demonizing of selling sex. What is sex? You know, and why is that wrong? I have an issue with the petroleum industry drilling holes in my earth, pulling noxious chemicals up from hundreds of thousands of feet down there where those chemicals oughta stay. I think that’s wrong! That’s what we oughta be doing something about because that’s dangerous, that’s bad. Like I say, I have really skewed perceptions about this and they don’t mesh with what I hear. When I hear people beating that drum about sex trafficking, to me it’s just like when they were beating the drum about crack. Crack cocaine – it’s bad, it’s bad, it’s bad. I’m not saying that crack cocaine is wonderful, but I think we have much bigger things that we should be paying attention to and worrying about.
I listen to the interviews on the radio, police officers, social workers, to me it just feels and sounds so much like smoke and mirrors, like a dog and pony show. What my mom would call much ado about nothing. It’s very disheartening to me because it appeals to an emotional reaction and people using misinformation can stir up people’s emotional reactions and we end up saddled with all kinds of rules and regulations and laws that aren’t to the best interests of anybody, except maybe – I don’t know, to whom? People who want to murder whores, I guess.