Happy Mother’s Day to all the sex worker mamas & mothers of sex workers! For all the sex worker moms out there, we know many of you do the work you do not despite, but rather for your kids. You choose the work you do because of the flexible schedule that gives you more time with your children. You choose it for the relatively higher wages, which keeps your rent and bills paid and allows you to afford toys and trips and after school programs and health insurance and tuition and school supplies and new clothes for your children. Happy Mother’s Day! We know moms making money in the sex trade and adult industries are some of the best moms in the world, giving their kids unparalleled and non-judgmental love and understanding.
We also know sometimes, mothers’ lives are a work in progress, and we know our thread-bare safety nets create incredible obstacles for young moms, single moms, moms in poverty and with substance dependencies or mental health disabilities trying to nurture and care for their children. Even if it’s impossible for your family to be together right now, Happy Mothers Day. We know you love and care about and miss your kids deeply and are doing everything you can for them. As a community, we support you and we call for policies that give all parents access to the resources they need — housing, diapers, mental health treatment, child care, and livable wage work — to give their children the best lives possible.
For all the mothers of sex workers too–Happy Mother’s Day! From conversations with community support line callers, we know that like parents of LGBT children, sex workers’ parents face a lot of confusion and self-doubt due to the stigma of sex work, and can also be faced with judgement within their own communities. Thank you for supporting and giving unconditional love to your children who earn money in adult industries, and to your sex worker children earning money to support your grandchildren and standing by them against so much judgement and shaming.
This Mother’s Day, we also wish to celebrate all the sex worker mommas who are separated from their children — due to biased family court systems or incarceration. Our hearts go out to all the moms who lost custody against the best interests of their children because biased judges were incapable of viewing sex worker parents outside the lens of horrific societal stigma. Happy Mothers’ Day to moms like Finley Fawn, a cam worker whose former partner stalked down her adult entertainer account to sue for full custody of their six year old son. The family court judge subsequently admitted she would side with her former partner after only seeing printouts of Fawn’s cam twitter account and refused to consider evidence of Fawn’s fitness as a parent: paychecks, school records, photos of her home environment. Finley is now looking at $100,000 in expert witness, legal and court fees to regain joint custody. You can learn more about Finley here.
Finley’s son is one of many children of adult workers whose best interests were obscured by sex worker stigma. Tanaha Koontz is another sex worker who has been fighting a multi-year battle to regain custody of her children, which was awarded to her unemployed, abusive husband who pushed her to engage in commercial sex and then used her sex work against her in family court. In 2005, Janet Duran, a sex worker and the regional director of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance lost custody of her children and was forced to pay child support despite the fact that her former partner had a long and documented history of abuse.
This bias can also become lethal: In 2013, Jessica Hernandez’s 9-year-old son was brutally attacked and killed in her ex-spouse’s home. He was awarded custody of their two children despite a history of violence, substance dependence and domestic abuse, because of the presiding judge’s thoughts about Jessica’s work as an erotic dancer. “”If the judge had did her job and not abused her power I’m certain my baby would be alive today,” Jessica wrote. There’s also Petite Jasmine, a Swedish sex worker, mother, and activist who lost custody to her abusive ex-partner after a relative informed social service that she was a sex worker. Despite his abusive behaviour, her continued involvement in the sex trade–and refusal to view it as a form of self-harm—made the state view her as an unfit parent. Jasmine’s ex-partner stabbed her to death on July 11, 2013 during a supervised visitation meeting.
The above stories are just a few examples of systematic family court and DCFS bias–against sex worker parents, as well as LGBT and drug-using parents. “Every sex worker I know who’s a parent and has gone through a divorce or separation has had their ex try to use that to take the kids away,” Juliana Piccillo, a filmmaker, former AP journalist and one of the sex worker parents involved in the Red Umbrella Babies Collective, a project aimed at spotlighting the issues sex worker parents face, said in a Daily Dot interview.
According to a University of Maryland literature review, “The moral judgments and prejudices of policies and laws do not truly address the best interests of children…the courts often limit the parental involvement of LGBT and sex worker parents at the expense of the children; in some cases parents’ actual parenting skills and love for their children do not outweigh the moral prejudices of the law. As a result, children are taken away from their homes and placed in foster care or with extended family because of their parents’ perceived sexual promiscuity or deviance.”
Bias affecting sex worker parents extends beyond family court to our criminal justice system, and we cannot talk about sex work and motherhood without also calling out the criminalization of low-level crime that separates mothers from incarcerated children and incarcerated sex worker and drug user mothers from their own kids. Love to moms like Latesha Clay, who was given a nine year sentence for minor participation in the robbery of men attempting to pay for sex with minors, love to incarcerated moms represented by organizations like CLAIM, and love to the sex worker moms represented among the over 300 incarcerated sex workers on the SWOP Behind Bars newsletter list. Love to Sherri Chatman, whose daughter Alisha Walker was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for self defense and countless other moms whose children will be behind bars this Mother’s Day.
This Mother’s Day, we also must call out the violence that stems from criminalization and stigma, the violence that has permanently stolen young sex workers from their parents and sex worker mothers from their children. Over 50 sex workers were murdered in the U.S. in 2015, many of whom were mothers, and all of whom will be missed by families celebrating Mother’s Day today.
Violence against sex workers is rife. Bias is prolific, public defender systems are often overstretched, and legal aid for family court representation is often minimal or nonexistent. This Mother’s Day, we invite organizations working to uphold the rights of socially marginalized parents to work in tandem to educate court systems and fight to end judicial bias, the criminalization of survival, and the vulnerability of sex workers, street-based, immigrant, trans, drug-using and low income women and women of color to violence.
As a sex worker I was able to earn enough money to raise my daughter as a single parent. We always had our own household and I never had to shack up with a man or go on public assistance. My daughter just came to town to visit for Mother’s Day weekend. After a wonderful day I am sitting and reflecting what a amazing and self sufficient young woman my daughter grew up to be. I am so proud of her.
-Bella Robinson, Executive Director of Coyoti-RI
Our family needs Alisha home. Alisha has a very close relationship with her younger sister and brother. We all miss her terribly. There are nights I don’t sleep because I ache to hold my child. There are days I cannot function normally because I miss my daughter so much it hurts. Alisha needs to be home to refill the void that is here..so much heartache and anger!
No one can take my motherhood away from me. I parented and loved my children the way I knew best. Even in the darkest hours of my life, I kept my children close. At times we couldn’t be together — I hope my children understand why. Even as I struggled against impossible odds to reunite with my children, the system and society were structured to destroy my family. I hope my children know how much I love them. My motherhood is a work in progress. I continue to learn how to mother myself, my children, and those in my extended family.
-Members of Power Inside, Baltimore
There’s this painful thing that happens when you’re a sex worker and become a mother. You start to realize how incredibly intense a mother’s love Is, Yet start to question why your own mother’s love was not strong enough to reject stigma and accept you. For everyone experiencing that, I want to remind you that it’s not you. For the love of everything you hold sacred, for your children, don’t ever lose sight of how amazing, strong, resilient, powerful, and brilliant you are.
-Meg Vallee Munoz, Founder and Executive Director at Abeni
When I became a sex worker, I was finally able to provide for my children without worry or fear. I finally understood the joy of being able to afford things, and I felt worthy as a mother. I cannot explain how awful it felt to never be able to afford even food for them..like I didn’t deserve them. The money and free time was so empowering! It was a choice I made as a consenting adult, engaging in financial agreements with other consenting adults. Criminalizing this type of sex work is nothing more than a moral judgement, unrelated to concern for public safety. The real moral sin is the ripple effect that arrest and incarceration of these non-violent workers has on the children involved. People will say it was a choice to break the law. I say the beauty of the law is it’s ability to be amended, when it ends up causing poverty in the name of protection.
Parenting as a sex worker was a miracle for me until the floor fell from under my feet and my ex tried to use my job to take my son. Sheer terror. I was lucky the judge just looked at my ex nonplussed and asked, “Why should I care how she makes her money?” But other sex worker moms I know are far less fortunate. When I kicked my abusive husband out of the house, I had to agree to no child support–otherwise he said he would get custody of my son. He’s trust funder and an attorney and I had nothing. I wasn’t going to chance it by insisting on child support.
All I wanted to do that first year free of him was take my four year old to Disneyland. He has cerebral palsy and autism and nothing engaged him more than Mickey Mouse back then. I began escorting. I was embarrassed at first: 40 years-old with a Master’s degree escorting. But soon I had enough money and we drove to California and stayed in a cute hotel near the park and I let him buy every single stuffed toy he wanted and we took pictures with all the characters and it was sheer bliss. I could take care of my family without a dime from my abuser. Life was beautiful. So that’s why I went back to sex work and that’s why other women are sex workers. We take the risk because the rewards are so great. That the system would punish us for that is beyond cruel.
-Juliana Piccillo, a filmmaker, former AP journalist and one of the sex worker parents involved in the Red Umbrella Babies Collective
Desiree Alliance supports all mothers and families on this day. We also wish to acknowledge the mothers and families that have been forced into unjust systems due to stigma and who do not have the luxury of celebrating children and families today. We work towards a unified front so that sex work will be decriminalized and families will be reunited.
-Cris Sardina, Executive Director at Desiree Alliance
Tomorrow is Mother’s day. I remember last year clearly. My partner got me beautiful flowers and my son surprised me with beautiful flowers. We went out for a low-key burger and some hanging out outside. I got to spend time with the two people I love the most. This year is going to be different. My ex is “letting me” (how noble) pick my son up for 2 hours. Then I won’t get to see him for a week.
We have such limited time tomorrow that we will most likely pick something up to eat and go hang out outside at a park. I am glad I will get to see him, there’s a lot of mother’s out there who want to see their children tomorrow and won’t be able to, so for that I am privileged. And for those who cannot see their child(ren) tomorrow, I am there for you.