Journalists: How To Make Your Sex Work Stories Less Insanely Creepy
Now that we've all endured this FOX 5 story on "morning prostitution"—which deemed sex workers "too gross to describe," much less speak to—I think it's about time to begin the healing process. How might we, as journalists, begin to make local news reports on prostitution less insanely creepy? Cyndee Clay, Executive Director of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), graciously agreed to help us reporters out with our sex work work. Hint: scrubbing your copy of a platform heel fetish, highly sensationalized "censored" antics, and use of Nelly's "Pimp Juice" is a good start. "Well . . . I mean, it was a very interesting story," Clay allows the FOX 5 story. "However, considering a less sensationalistic approach to the story might have let viewers understand the larger issues here."
The Street-Walking Montage: "I think it’s unfortunate. I think there’s a larger human story there about who those women are and why they’re working the streets at six a.m. I think a lot of media tends to take the easy way out, go with the sensationalistic side, and it doesn’t help us as a community to get a dialog going about why this is happening in our city, and what an appropriate response would be. I don't know. Maybe it was sweeps week."
The Use Of "Pimp Juice" In Said Street-Walking Montage: "Oh, awesome. It almost makes it a joke. These women’s lives aren’t jokes."
The Huge, Red "Censored" Button Inserted Over A Sex Worker's Personal Hygiene Routine: "What did she do? I’m trying to think of what it possibly could have been. God forbid I ever have to walk down the street and adjust my underwear at some point. How many guys walk down the street and adjust their junk every day? . . . Again, it just doesn’t seem like serious journalism."
The Same Story You Wrote Last Sweeps Week: "I think that there’s always some hook for doing a story on sex work in the city, whether it has to do with a community complaint, an act of violence—or a Senator getting arrested. There will always be reasons. We’re obsessed with sex but we don’t want to talk about it in any way that’s really mature, that looks at all the layers. Unfortunately, what ends up happening—no matter what the hook is—is that it’s always the same story. There are girls walking down the street wearing short skirts and heels. And that's basically it. . . . If we look at say the history of articles like this, it’s showing the same problem, the same problem, maybe switched to a different time or a different neighborhood. But it doesn't get at why this problem isn't going away."
The "Frightening, New Epidemic" Approach to Sex Work: "If this is a new thing that people are seeing, I would definitely challenge the statement. The part of the segment that said that the Prostitution-Free Zones eliminated the problem ten years ago? My organization has been around for 15 years, and we have not been hurting for clients for the past 15 years."
The Lack of a Key Perspective: "Stories like these are really sadly uninformative about what the real issue is. Women aren’t walking the streets at 6 a.m. to ruin your commute. They’re not walking the streets at 6 a.m. to annoy local businesses. In many cases, they’re out there to survive and make money, because they have to work. Or their pimp is forcing them to work. . . . I think that there are quite a number of community organizations they could have reached out to to show that there is a human face to this issue. . . . Instead, they're only showing businesses and law enforcement, not the women who are involved and why they’re out on the streets. Admittedly, it can be difficult to do, because there's a lot of distrust. Sex workers know, 'this is how they’re going to portray me.'"