t’s not uncommon to hear lyrics about sex in music. We can sing for days about milkshakes bringing the boys to the yard, or licking my neck, my back…
The only kind of sex we don’t hear about in music is sex work. Hadas Hinkis, an artist and a sex worker herself, has been trying to change that for years. To celebrate International Whores Day on June 2nd, she is releasing a special music video called Ball in the Park to scream her message from the metaphorical mountaintop:
‘Sex work is work’.
Before we get into it, you are going to see a lot of talk about a very long acronym — SESTA/FOSTA.
It stands for the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (apparently they just ignored the first three words to make the acronym work) which was signed by Trump in April 2018. One of the most important parts of the bill reversed a law that protected companies if their websites were found to facilitate sex work or sex trafficking.
In essence, sites were able to feign innocence about what their users were posting and say it wasn’t their problem or job to police every post. Under SESTA/FOSTA however, a company can be penalized even if they had no idea it was even happening.
The immediate effect of this law was the shuttering of sites like Backpage.com and the Craigslist “Personals” section, the two sites most commonly used by sex workers to find clients. While there was undeniably a dark side to these sites, they allowed sex workers to create systems where they could vet potential clients and work together to ensure their safety. Once that was shut down, many workers were forced to take on riskier encounters just to make ends meet.
While this law was only intended to affect sex traffickers and sex workers, two years later, it now affects anyone with a social media account. Sites like Instagram, Facebook, and even Tumblr have locked down when it comes to content and now error on the side of being overly cautious when flagging and removing posts.
Hadas tells me almost everyone she knows has had their content flagged or had their profiles taken down. The given excuse is usually that a post violates the company’s code of conduct, but it’s often not clear what that means. More importantly, content gets wrongly flagged all of the time and it’s almost impossible to make your case to these companies and get your profile reinstated.
Germany has some of the most liberal laws in the world when it comes to sex work. At the moment, it’s fully legal, but because most social media sites are from the US, Hadas, and everyone else in the world, has to play by the US’s increasingly shadowy and Draconian rules.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your career, both in terms of the sex work and your music.
I studied art. I’ve done music, videos, some directing, fashion, and visual art. Then seven years ago, I moved to Berlin. As a creative, you’re either successful, which I wasn’t, or you work in a café, which I did for many years. Eventually, I got sick of it. I found an ad in the paper one day looking for dominatrixes and just thought I have to try it. I really liked it, so I continued and started to integrate it with my art.
Shauna…Is a lot of your music interwoven with your experience with sex work?
I think almost every song I say something about it. It’s funny, I like to make jokes about it. It’s also kind of become a part of my identity, a part of my brand.
Shauna…You decided to use your real name for your art, why did you choose to do that?
That was a big deal for me, and it took years to decide. I wanted to use this dominatrix stuff in my art, so I thought about making up a new name. But a new name means a new Instagram, a new website, a new everything. A name is so important these days. How Googleable are you?
It was super scary though, to be out with your real name. Hardly anybody ever does it because it’s super dangerous. It could hurt your family, they can take your kids away. There is just so much stigma involved.
It’s like the gay movement, it wasn’t until everybody came out and people realized their son was gay or their neighbor was gay, that they realized these people aren’t somehow from the devil.
If we don’t show ourselves, then it’s not going to change.
I am not saying everyone should do it, not at all. I can do it because I’m an artist. I can’t hold myself back because I’m afraid of something that might happen because society is fucked up. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I do.
Shauna…Can you tell me a little bit about “Ball in thePark” and why you want to do something for International Whores Day?
I wanted to really focus on this idea, ‘Sex Work is Work,’ but it’s also a joke. It’s the theme of a dominatrix, so of course, it’s kind of funny. I wanted to show the playfulness and the humor and all of that.
Shauna…Whores Day was originally a protest to bring to light the inhumane working conditions of sex workers. What do you think some of the biggest hurdles of sex workers are right now?
Sex workers are at this junction and we don’t really know what’s going to happen. In Germany we have our own set of problems, going from one of the most open countries a few years ago to now, where we have this new ‘whore pass,’ as we call it. It’s a registration we have to do with the government saying that we are sex workers.
This is a problem because it separates us from any other workers, we have this stamp. It’s also very dangerous for some women who can’t be out about what they do. All these new rules take away my security, safety, and community as a sex worker. They all play on this stereotype of the trafficked victim tied to the bed in this horror fantasy. These regulations don’t protect those women, they just hurt the women who choose to work in this field.
This is the same thing that happened with SESTA/FOSTA, this is why the internet is so censored now. And it’s not just sex workers, people who want to express their sexuality, educators, young people looking for information, they are all getting censored on the internet because we don’t know how to differentiate between sex work and sex trafficking.
It’s all completely related to SETSA/FOSTA. This is a huge thing, and it’s unbelievable that no one talks about it. At first, it was a small thing that only sex workers knew about, but it became bigger and bigger. It all ties up with our inability to accept sex work.
Shauna…How do you think this kind of censorship affects sex workers?
Now in times of Corona, for example, we can’t get paid. You can’t use PayPal or any other (US) financial service if you are a sex worker. If they find out you are getting paid for sex work, they can take all of the money from your account. It’s pure stigma.
Some people are getting completely shut out of society. We are talking about how we can include more people and open up to new marginalized groups, but why is it still ok to marginalize sex workers?
The second thing is advertisements. Instagram, for example, say I built my community on Instagram for my sex work, but I could wake up one day, and Instagram could delete me. People base their entire businesses on Instagram.
As a company, their stocks grow on a pile of butts and boobs and gorgeous people. I invest in their company by investing hours in creating amazing content that people follow and like, and then they can just destroy my business in a second. That’s not fair at all.
Shauna…It seems that so many of the problems you are specifically facing right now somehow come from a top-down policy, the trickle-down of FOSTA/SESTA. Do you think there is anything the general public could do to better support sex workers?
Everyone needs to make their own decision. People have a lot of reasons to think that sex work should be completely terminated. For religious reasons, moral reasons, whatever. But we need to at least listen to sex workers. I see things all of the time that say, “why would anybody ever go back to this disgusting job?” Or ‘nobody would want to do this job anyway.’ It’s like saying to me you are stupid or you don’t know what you are saying.
I think that until everybody has heard from a happy sex worker who chose this life, we won’t be finished with this story. Everybody in the world has to hear it.