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By Emily Bazelon. She was nervous. Around the world, on social media and in the press, opponents blasted Amnesty. They are fighting the legal status quo, social mores and also mainstream feminism, which has typically focused on saving women from the sex trade rather than supporting sex workers who demand greater rights.
But in the last decade, sex-worker activists have gained new allies. She had a part-time job as a restaurant hostess, but she liked feeling desired and making money on the side to spend on clothes and entertainment. When her parents found out she was using, they sent her to rehab. She stopped escorting and using drugs and found a serious boyfriend. When she was 24, the relationship ended, and around that time her parents sold their house.
With rent and car insurance to pay, and a plan to save for college, escorting became her livelihood. At first, she told me, he asked her to pay to get his car back after it was towed. Then he started demanding more money and dictating when she worked and which clients she saw. He blackmailed me by threatening to tell everyone, including my family. Haunted by the control her ex-boyfriend had exerted over her, she founded in a small faith-based group called Abeni near her home in Orange County, to help other women escape from prostitution, as she had.
She stopped taking on new ones, and then turned Abeni into one of the few groups in the country that helps people either leave sex work or continue doing it safely. The words they often use to describe themselves — dominatrix, fetishist, sensual masseuse, courtesan, sugar baby, whore, witch, pervert — can be self-consciously half-wicked.
Some of their concerns can seem far removed from those of women who feel they must sell sex to survive — a mother trying to scrape together the rent, say, or a runaway teenager. Human rights advocates tend to focus on people in grim circumstances.