The world's response to the false allegations against Melania Trump show how dangerous attitudes towards sex workers are

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump’s reaction to the allegations has only intensified the stigmatisation being perpetuated by those on the left who are joyously sharing this story

Margaret Corvid
Friday 16 September 2016 09:40 BST
Melania Trump has filed a $150m against the Daily Mail and a US blogger over false allegations about her past
Melania Trump has filed a $150m against the Daily Mail and a US blogger over false allegations about her past (Getty)

Donald Trump is so terrifying that it’s tempting to use every tool in the box to fight him and everyone around him—including his wife, Melania Trump. It’s tempting to mock her for her appearance, or to lambast her by implying that she broke immigration rules. And it’s tempting to add to the howling din of people who falsely claim, based on a report in the Slovenian tabloid magazine, Suzy, that Melania Trump was a sex worker, an escort working with wealthy businessmen, when she first emigrated to the United States. Lawyers acting for Melania Trump have put out statements denying the allegations in full and legal proceedings have been commenced against the Daily Mail and a US blogger in connection with them.

What does this whole controversy say about how we see women – and how we see sex workers? Melania may not have ever been one, but that doesn’t mean false reports suggesting she was one don’t tell us something about society’s view of sex work.

When you share those allegations, pointing and laughing, saying “Look!”, calling her a liar, calling her a whore, saying that she is unfit for the White House because some newspaper claimed she was photographed sexually, you are stepping on everyone who really does do sex work in this country every day – most of whom are very vulnerable.

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Meg Vallee Muñoz, a former sex worker and trafficking survivor who works as an advocate and activist, is furious at liberals who are forwarding the false reports with a sense of gleeful schadenfreude: “For some reason, it’s still acceptable public practice to shame people by perpetuating the idea that sex work is the absolute lowest you can go. But who does that really hurt? It doesn’t hurt high-end escorts who work indoors, rarely get arrested, and charge $1,000 an hour. It hurts women of colour, runaways, LGBTQ [people], those being trafficked, street-based sex workers, and sometimes all of the above. That’s who is at the most risk for violence, arrest, police harassment and abuse, rape, health-related issues, and sexual/labour exploitation. When we amplify that shame, what we’re doing is not only sexist, but racist, homophobic, transphobic, and classist as well.”

I know this feels like a subtle point to a lot of liberals.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump’s reaction to the allegations has only intensified the stigmatisation being perpetuated by those on the left who are joyously sharing this story. His lawyers—including Charles Harder, who spearheaded Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker for publishing a sex tape—are undertaking an effort to have every mention of the allegations of sex work scrubbed from the internet. Donald Trump is tweeting the retractions triumphantly; as we know, he hates the media, and loves to defeat it.

Melania has every right to combat those false claims against her – but unfortunately, it seems to me that this response, and Trump’s crowing, only reinforce social whorephobia and sexuality shaming. It advances the damaging and false narrative that an escort is something that it is not OK to be, and a good husband like Trump can feel rightly proud of setting the record straight, protecting the reputation of his delicate wife. If society didn’t see sex work as shameful, the media wouldn’t have used those claims to try and discredit the Trumps in the first place.

Meanwhile, other sex workers are hit by the shrapnel. I work independently as a dominatrix in Britain, where my work is legal, but I know that it is still not safe for me to come out to my American family. The stigma is still too strong.

When liberals react with shock and horror to allegations of someone partaking in sex work, they hit me with their bullets of shame. More importantly, they hit sex workers in far more precarious positions than mine—sex workers facing police violence, rape and raids, predators posing as clients or managers, and the constant risks of disclosure, assault, robbery, rape, and death. A report by the Sex Worker Organising Project noted a study out of New York showing that 80 per cent of sex workers reported experiencing violence or threats in the course of their work; another study they cited noted that people doing survival sex or street-based sex work are most likely to face violence.

Liberal shaming hits multiple marginalised sex workers, such as people of colour, trans women, drug users, street-based sex workers, and disabled sex workers hardest, simply because of their vulnerability; inundated by violence from predators and cops who hate them, they are also patronised as victims without agency by many who claim to be on the left or radical. Shaming makes our fight as sex workers for recognition of our dignity and rights that much harder. It hits sex workers who migrate for work, or who work on the street, or who travel for work, facing risk and stigma daily. They, and all sex workers, are being hit by those bullets of shame, and it really doesn’t matter that it’s “friendly fire” meant to destroy Trump.

The full decriminalisation of sex work, which is opposed by Clinton and Trump alike, would give sex workers the chance to organise, to fight for our rights, to demand dignity. It’s the first step toward a society where anyone can speak openly, or even proudly, of their sex work. And it would also, in doing so, mean that media outlets would never try to publicly shame someone by falsely claiming that they’d been sex workers in the past. Surely that’s something the Trumps should be able to get behind.

Margaret Corvid also writes for The Establishment and New Statesman

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