one former slave on helping cleveland kidnap victims

Yet another call for donations. No, this blog isn’t going to turn into that. But sometimes things happen that move me and I know that many readers have good hearts. It never matters how much you give because I know those in need appreciate every dollar; but it does matter what happens to your hard-earned money.

My friend Jill and I have discussed the Ohio women every day since the news broke. We’ve wanted to help but didn’t want our money to go anywhere but directly to the victims. Jill feels she has found a way to donate that will help the women the most. I’ll let her explain why this matters so much to Gina, Amanda, Michelle.

I’m Jill Brenneman. Amanda graciously asked me to do a guest post on her blog about donations for the Cleveland kidnapping victims. I want to express why it is very important that anyone who can donate does so, because while they are now free from Ariel Castro, their recovery will be a lifetime process.

Donations are being processed by the Cleveland Foundation. While there appears to be more than one donation website, the Cleveland Foundation is the only site that states it will be giving 100 percent of the proceeds to the victims.

My post will refer a great deal to my own life experiences after being held captive for three years until I escaped. It is imperative to me that my purpose is understood: I am using my experiences to illustrate what life is like once one has escaped because there is little information or discussion about it. While much of this discussion is about me and my experiences, the post is about why the three kidnapping victims need our help. While I appreciate whatever concern may be felt about me by those who read this post, I would ask that you please focus on the purpose of the post: Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry need our help. They are the focus of this post. My experiences are only to illustrate the reasons why a former captive needs immediate assistance. This post is about the three women in Cleveland. Not about me.

I was a kidnapping victim in circumstance similar to Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry. I was fortunate to escape after three years. Nonetheless, escaping a captor isn’t even a halfway point to recovery. For three years I was tortured, raped, endured sensory deprivation, placed in restraints that kept me in stress positions for long durations of time, malnourished, and had absolutely no control over any part of my life. Life for me as a captive was always cause and effect — usually with violent consequences. Even involving things I had no control over; for example, bruising from a vicious beating was cause for punishment. I was expected to address basic bodily needs once a day when he came to take me to the bathroom. Anything beyond that was automatically grounds for punishment because it was seen as defiance. This has profoundly impacted my life even though I escaped nearly thirty years ago.

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dec 17 — back in the usa

Not only am I late with this post, but I’m honestly not doing much of anything about it this year. Last year I was in Hong Kong, marching with Zi Teng (still need to post about that). This year, in Dallas, going to spend the evening with someone I’ve just started seeing, someone who I feel isn’t sex-worker-friendly. So there is only so far things can progress. A good friend’s relationship just went down the toilet, due in part to issues surrounding her being a sex worker.

Though none of that compares to the lives lost this year. SWOP-USA has put together a great Dec 17 site, so please peruse at your leisure.

Expendable can happen in so many ways. The job can overshadow so much: who the sex worker is, their basic civil rights, their claim to humanity.

Dec 17, words and remembrance

Today (for me) is December 17 — The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The history of it is here and I highly recommend you read it. It’s also particularly relevant today because they’re recently discovered more remains in Oregon of yet another Ridgeway victim.

Dec 17 is our day to remember that stigma kills. Sticks and stones break bones, words like “criminal” “illegal” and “No Human Involved” kill. I encourage you to peruse the list of victims, updated every year through word-of-mouth and news stories. Though no one has done a Google map of the victims yet, I’m willing to bet that the greatest numbers of victims occur in countries where prostitution is illegal. Words — i.e., the local criminal code — kill. Words — i.e., shame –kill.

If you think I’m over-generalizing, think again. Criminalizing and shaming sex workers kills us. Forcing us underground leaves us to the mercy of predators. Though some sex workers embrace their outlaw status, I’ve yet to meet a single one who wouldn’t like to be able to freely press charges when raped or robbed. Every one of us want police to take the murder of a sex worker as seriously as the murder of a college student or housewife. None of us see violence as part of our job description.

Nor do we see shame as part of it either. Shame is a by-product of society, not the work itself. A lot of sex workers unfortunately internalize the shame — as we’ve seen when sex workers commit suicide after arrest or trial. Words can kill.

There are plenty of strident “feminist” voices in mainstream America who wish to abolish all prostitution. Most recently, they won a victory in Rhode Island by getting prostitution criminalized. Aside from the arrests of consenting adults, what do you think will be the consequences of this criminalization? The empowerment of criminals. Not those who are made criminals by an act of words (i.e., exchanging sex for money instead of sex for love), but real criminals — people with the desire to cause harm to others.

Dec 17 is not a day to say that sex work is violent and that all sex workers are going to meet a bad end. Not at all. It is a time to recognize that more needs to be done to prevent us from being targets. The criminalization of prostitution continues to create a class of people who have no rights, including the right to live and their families the right to justice.

Dec 17 is a time to remember my brothers and sisters who were killed merely for working to pay their bills, for doing the same thing I’m doing. Their families rarely receive justice; were something to happen to me, I doubt mine would either. If that turns your stomach — it should.

I feel the real criminals in this situation aren’t even the men who kill sex workers — the real criminals are those who work to uphold the current broken legal system in the US that perpetuates a class of so-called “criminals”, probably the only class of criminals in the world who are simply targets for other criminals. The crimes against sex workers are far worse than our so-called crime (felony robbery, assaults, rape, homicide; compared to misdemeanor charges of prostitution, solicitation or loitering).

Dec 17 is not a time to paint sex workers as victims. Hardly. Few people are willing to go through as much as shit as we do just to put food on the table. The victimization comes not from sex work itself, but from the helpless vulnerability the legal system forces us into. This is true of all countries where prostitution is illegal.

Dec 17 is a time to remember daughters, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, friends, colleagues. The difference between you and them is only in your mind.