One of the kindest persons I met while incarcerated in an Oregon State Prison was a guy with the moniker of America. By the time I arrived in prison, America had completed about seven years for charges related to sex trafficking. America, whose younger siblings attended my high school, was like a wise older brother to me: thoughtful, always offering encouragement, asking me to share my post-parole plans, sharing his own plans (he seemed destined to conquer the free world) for when he was released. Though, as I said he was like an older brother, America also reminded me of some of my uncles and my stepfather, all of whom at some point supported themselves by pimping. And it is impossible to consider those men without contemplating my maternal aunt who was murdered while prostituting for my stepdad’s brother, or my mother who was encouraged by my stepfather to prostitute herself.
What I mean is that America reminded me of my family and its relationship to sex work, of the choices that make men engage in pimping as a way of life, of the forces that compel women in particular to allow men to pimp them. America also reminded me of how all of those circumstances are compounded by the ties of family. A few years after America’s release, I saw him on a college campus — our alma mater. He bragged about being close to graduation from business school and offered me, as ever, encouraging words. Little did I know that America at the time was under federal indictment for sex trafficking in Illinois, a charge of which he was convicted.
My short story “By Blood” takes as its inspiration my aunt, uncles, mother, father, and the story of America. More than anything, it seeks to understand sex work from multiple perspectives, while also trying to imagine the power dynamics of sex work when family members are involved. To write the story, I researched America’s case, as well as interviewed my mother and uncles, and reviewed other primary and secondary sources. The act of writing “By Blood” demanded copious amounts of empathy, which is what I want for people who engage with this project.
Some important statistics related to sex work in Chicago:
- According to a report by the Center for Impact Research there are between 16,000 and 25,000 women and girls working in the sex trade in Chicago.
- According to Chicago Police Department public safety data 90.9% of arrests are for participants who sell sex. Only 0.5% are for pimping.
Find two or three people close to you whose opinions you value.
Interview each person separately about about their relationship to and understanding of sex work.
Questions might include:
- When did you first become aware of sex work? How?
- In terms of workplace protections, what challenges do sex workers face that other professions do not?
- How does the criminal legal system impact the safety of sex workers?
- What steps can society take to guarantee the safety of sex workers going forward?
Record each interview, then listen to them.
Write a reflection on what you learned through this process and how your perspective has changed, if at all.
Share your reflection using the online submission form below.
By Blood: The Sex Work Narrative Project