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Liveblogging Allied Media Conference: Sex workers and the media

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

July 17th, 2009

Quick hit: Sex Workers and Media at the Allied Media Conference

I’m attending an enlightening discussion about the impact of corporate media coverage of the sex industry on the lives of sex workers — and the reasons why sex workers have created their own media to tell their own stories, on their own terms, to expand the public dialog about the political and practical realities of sex work.

The session, “In Our Own Image: Sex Worker-Made Media and the Story of $pread Magazine,” is being moderated by Lisa Davis, $pread Magazine, with presentations by J. Kirby and Andrea Ritchie of the Sex Workers Project.

Haven’t been able to transcribe the presentations. But what jumped out at me during the discussion was how many parallels I’m hearing between the presenters’ critique of corporate media coverage of sex work (a desire on the part of media outlets to exploit the most sensational aspects of a story, eschewing complexity in discussing issues in the news, and news frames that stigmatize impacted community members and demonize organizers) and WIMN’s critique of corporate media coverage of varied feminist, social justice and human rights issues, from reproductive rights to economic and racial justice to immigrants’ rights.

Though Women In Media & News has not researched news media representations of sex workers, I’m not surprised by what I’m hearing from Kirby, Ritchie and Davis. $pread and Sex Workers Project’s analysis of problematic news media framing, battles against invisibility and the reduction of people to sensationalistic soundbites tracks quite closely to the way corporate (and sometimes alternative) media cover social justice movements and communities dubbed “outsiders” (and in some cases, criminalized) by media power holders.

Personally, I feel deeply conflicted about the complex issues surrounding the sex industry, for a huge range of reasons. But it is important to separate a critique of the industry’s exploitation of sex workers, in particular women and trans people, from the very real needs of sex workers to create and use their own media outlets to report on issues crucial to their social and political survival, issues that are marginalized or simply missing from dominant debate.

It seems that there are multiple potential points of engagement, alignment and collaboration between sex workers looking for more complex, humane treatment of their stories and issues in the media, and other communities working for media justice. I’m hoping that this discussion at the Allied Media Conference will be able to spark an entry point for the beginnings of some of this kind of collaboration.

I’m feeling inspired by this session to, hopefully, explore some issues related to sex workers and the media in this space in the future. Stay tuned.

The program description of the session is as follows:

The mainstream media’s tendency is to gravitate towards sensationalism when covering the sex trade, while simultaneously denying the voices of sex workers themselves. News stories that allow only for victim-criminal portrayals of sex workers help enforce and perpetuate damaging stereotypes. What happens when sex workers become not just the subjects of media gaze, but the authors, reporters, and publishers of sex trade news? This documentary short takes a look at $pread Magazine, one example of sex worker-made media, and discusses its aim to change the way that media itself approaches sex work. (US, 19 min.-2009)

There will be a Q&A with the filmakers and a discussion following the screening, addressing the question: How do we make media that centers the voices and experiences of marginalized/criminalized populations while overcoming barriers to access/time/resources?

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