July 29th, 2015 by Amelia
Irochka Pechalochka organized a benefit for Red Light Legal that is occurring this weekend in Oakland, California. Red Light Legal is a clinic that is a resource for those who work in the sex industry. I thought it was important to interview her regarding booking this benefit for two reasons. First- it’s important that punks book benefits and that we use our shows to help our communities. Second- I also wanted to raise awareness about sex workers within the punk community aka your community in order to bring compassion and acceptance. Here is Irochka Pechalochka on the Red Light Legal benefit shows and sex work within the punk community:
What is Red Light Legal and what services do they provide?
Red Light Legal is a sex worker-led legal clinic based in Oakland, California. The organization was founded by executive director Kristina Dolgin and staff attorney Matt Kellegrew. They advocate to reduce stigma, violence and discrimination associated with the sex industry, particularly for those who face intersectional oppressions due to racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and classism. Red Light legal provides direct legal services, public policy advocacy, community education and litigation services to sex workers in all corners of the industry.
Why is it important that an organization like this provide sex workers with resources?
Sex workers are a highly vulnerable population. They are stigmatized and often criminalized within the legal system. Because of this, many sex workers are less likely to access legal services when it would otherwise be to their benefit. Red Light Legal responds to this gap in services by providing low-no barrier legal support from the perspective of current and former sex workers to anyone working anywhere in the sex industry.
Sex workers are often the targets of discriminatory policing. Making things worse, the common myths about sex work cause actual, real life sex workers to be drastically misunderstood. This lack of understanding combined with repressive stigma creates counterproductive, harmful laws and policies. The Anti-prostitution pledge for example, denies government funding to anti-trafficking and harm reduction NGO’s if they provide services such as STD testing and condoms to prostitutes.
The term “human trafficking” is also used alarming flexibly to describe people in a spectrum of circumstances ranging from those engaged in consensual voluntary sex work to people who have been the victims of serious, terrifying crimes. This ambiguity has caused law enforcement to prioritize the “low hanging fruit” or the most visible sex workers, leaving those who have truly been victimized to either fend for themselves or risk arrest and incarceration by coming forward. The result is less safety for everyone.
NRS.201.300 is another example of over broad public policy. Under this law, the children, family and friends of sex workers can be prosecuted as “panderers” or pimps if the sex worker supports them financially in any way. This puts not only sex workers, but their families and support networks at risk.
If public policy is ever going to change to become less harmful to sex workers, then it is going to be a result of advocacy by sex workers themselves. Red Light Legal aims to provide a safe, respectful space for sex workers that supports their individual needs while also working to shift public policy.
Are there other similar organizations in the Bay Area?
Red Light Legal is the first sex worker-led legal clinic. There is a lack of sex-worker led organizations. However, St. James Infirmary Clinic in the Mission has been recognized for its outstanding work as a sex worker-led medical center that provides free and affordable medical access and resources to all sex workers.
The Sex Workers Outreach Project(S.W.O.P.), BAYSWAN, PROS Collective and Erotic Service Providers Union are some other organizations that have done outstanding work to reduce stigma, raise awareness and empower sex workers.
Why raise awareness in the punk community about sex work and sex workers rights?
There is an increasing number of people entering the sex industry, including in the number of punks entering, it’s important that resources are accessible to them to keep our overlapping communities welcoming and safe for punks from all backgrounds. With sex work, there are no clear-cut, handwritten guidelines explaining how to safely enter the industry and protect yourself while you’re in it. Those first entering sex work may be vulnerable and need resources or guidance. Because sex work is so stigmatized, it’s hard for new sex workers to know who they can seek help from when critical questions or issues arise. It’s not uncommon for police to arrest or harass individuals from marginalized communities with the same laws that penalize sex workers. It’s important that the struggles of sex workers and punks from marginalized backgrounds are represented as we make up a portion of the demographic. The only way to reduce stigma, slut-shaming and discrimination is to inform outsiders of how certain laws and law enforcement individuals harm us.
How is sex work relevant to our community? Do you think sex work is relevant in punk in general?
Sex work is and has been extremely prominent amongst punks. Because sex work is a hidden population including within the punk scene, it’s important that we are aware of resources available to them if our sex worker friends need support. I personally spent a good chunk of time feeling isolated and ashamed of my involvement in sex work. Entering the sex industry was at times scary for me because I only had one sex worker friend at the time. The first few people I came out to were punks. Some were confused, others were disgusted or asked if I had drug problems or had been raped. I experienced a few relationships with punk men who slut-shamed me or cried when I came home from work. Despite all that, I still believe in the power of communication and its ability to improve communities.
Within the past few years, I’ve seen the punk community I participate in evolve in ways that slowly destigmatizes sex work within the scene. I have observed friends and past partners who once strongly opposed consensual sex work become allies and form healthy relationships with current and former sex workers. I’m also seeing more hope and positivity in other punks who were once ashamed of their sex worker identities. I believe awareness of sex work will positively impact other minority groups within the punk scene including women, trans and queer individuals who have been encouraged in the past to put each other down in order to earn acceptance in a white, male-dominated scene. There is also a lack of unity within the sex workers who participate in punk. As a sex worker, I’ve witnessed and experience the shaming of punks who do one form of sex work by other punks who do other forms of sex work. These classist attitudes only prevent the sex worker movement from moving forward while reaffirming discriminatory laws against us. In order to have a safer environment that punks of all backgrounds including women, POC, trans, LQBTQ and punks with disabilities can participate in, sex work should be addressed as well. If even one or two individuals learns something new about the sex worker movement, that in itself contributes to the formation of a more dynamic punk scene.
Why did you organize this benefit?
For several reasons. I’m aware that there will always be punks who don’t give a fuck or may be put off by “political babble”. However, what attracted me to punk music was its frustration with societal values, the police force and other systems of oppression. If we want punk music to remain a source of empowerment and political awareness for our community, the punks affected by systems of oppression should be heard and represented too. I want punk shows to raise more awareness about what’s going on the world and for punks to find common ground between our struggles in order to connect. I’m a sex worker and a punk as well as a queer woman of color. I grew up around immigrants and individuals with mental disabilities. The punk scene is made up of people from all backgrounds yet there is currently a lack of events that welcomes and empowers punks from marginalized communities. It’s important to me that my community is aware of legal rights and current obstacles in law that oppress certain groups if not all groups of people. Maybe this event will encourage more punks to feel supported in the scene, encouraged to play music as well as attend and book future show.
Were you met with any hostility while organizing it?
A few people definitely told me straight up that no one gives a shit about prostitutes.
What bands are playing?
SYNDICATE, FOLLETO(from Los Angeles), TORSO, COMPOSITE and new band, BEAST will play on August 1st. RECKLESS, SERPENT CROWN, WAR TRIBE, L.A.V. KUSH(my new band with Ryan Rocha) and FOLLETO(opening at 8pm sharp) will play on August 2nd.
Were you amazed that the Oakland punk community was so supportive?
Yes, I was amazed at how many people showed interest in helping put the show together. A lot of members from various bands including Apriori, Busted Outlook, G.L.O.S.S., Replica, Pig DNA, Cloak, Limp Wrist, Bellicose Minds, Generacion Suicida, The Light, SBSM and Ragana were supportive. Some showed interest in playing possible future benefit shows. Many punks who book shows in San Jose and Oakland were very supportive and offered endless suggestions whenever I had questions. Diana from the band Beast helped me get in contact with members of Torso and Composite playing on August first. I’m so grateful for all the band members that are going to play and all the people who tirelessly helped me flyer and promote this show.
Where is the show being held?
Both shows are in Oakland. The August 1 show will take place at Dead Rat Beach. The August 2nd show will be at Vinyl Club in downtown Oakland.
How can punks in other punk communities support sex workers in their scenes versus alienate them?
The more informed punks are about sex work, the more supportive they can be. It helps to have the knowledge that “sex work” is a broad term for several distinct categories and subcategories within the industry. It’s commonly misconceived that all sex workers enter the industry for the same reasons, earn the same rates or lead similar lifestyles. There is also a common misconception that sex workers are desperate, sleazy and unintelligent. Yet many former sex workers have become health care workers, academic instructors and political activists or do both. Additionally, it’s important that punks are aware that clients are often regular everyday people with a variety of reasons for seeing sex workers. Some clients may have physical disabilities, be widowed and some are too overworked and lack intimacy in their lives. I’ve had clients who have helped me during financial hardships with rent or bills, expecting nothing in return. I believe a large part of the reason we are stigmatized is because our clients are stigmatized as well.
To friends and partners of sex workers, be aware that a lot of mental preparation and aftercare goes in to sex work. Some sex workers may need down time after work. If you date a sex worker, please understand that the intimacy they experience with you is very different from the intimacy they present to their clients at work. Most sex workers learn to separate intimacy for pay versus intimacy for the sake of being intimate. If you ever feel jealous or worried, please express it in a healthy and constructive way.