I’m a public health researcher, girls’ soccer coach and community organizer running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District. During college, I worked as a stripper and I have been vocal and forthcoming about sharing that experience, so as not to leave a heavily marginalized community in the shadows.
I’m the daughter of two teachers, which instilled within me the belief that education is the ladder to opportunity, and I have thus centered our campaign around building a school-to-opportunity pipeline for every person in this country. I’m running for Congress on a progressive platform because I believe our politicians should fight for systemic change, ensuring equal opportunity and justice for all.
A few months back, age-old stigma and bigotry caused me to lose a job coaching the sport that changed my life.
I believed soccer could change the world. No matter where I have been in this world, the soccer field has always been home for me. Regardless of language barriers, differences in political beliefs, nationalities, races, religion, socio-economic status, sexuality or gender, I’ve seen the sport bring people together.
When I was a little girl, I used to wear shorts under my school jumper so I could take off my jumper at recess, use it for a goal post, and play soccer with the boys. It was no surprise when I became a girls’ soccer coach.
As I prepared to enter the political world as a candidate, I made promises that I would not leave anyone behind and that I would be honest about my experiences, including my time working as a stripper in college. I stripped to pay bills, but I feared the stigma of this work so much that I kept it a deep secret at the time.
I was afraid if I told anyone I would be stigmatized. I feared getting kicked out of school, losing my friendships, and being denied a future in the career I was working toward.
As a result, my involvement in sex work was very dangerous: If I had gone missing, like so many sex workers do, no one would have known how or where to find me. I began speaking about sex work and my personal involvement in the industry on the campaign trail because every person in this country should experience unconditional safety.
After I shared about my sex work on my campaign’s social media platform, the soccer club I worked for through the pandemic confronted me. They asked me to remove my statements while offering a demotion within the club: They were removing me from both the teams I coached. Bigotry and discrimination are painful, but what hurt the most was losing my players.
My story is not unique. So many examples exist that highlight the stigma and job loss that impact individuals, especially women, when their past or current involvement in sex work is revealed.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for the removal of a teacher, Melissa Petro, after she admitted to her past in sex work. He recommended the city take legal action against her, and the press demonized her as the “hooker teacher.”
In California, Heidi Kaeslin was fired from her job as a high school teacher for running several adult websites. In Los Angeles, Nina Skye was fired from her position for moonlighting in the porn industry. In Oxnard, California, Stacie Halas, a middle school science teacher was fired for having done porn in her past.
Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups who face stigma, abuse and human rights violations. However, due to heavy advocacy and organizing, the national conversation is shifting to where politicians are beginning to take sex workers and their needs more seriously.
The reality is, in today’s economy, more and more individuals are turning to the sex work industry to ensure their ability to pay their bills. Younger people face an intersection of issues of not being able to afford houses, rising rent, student debt, high unemployment and low-paying jobs with very few answers or support coming from our government.
Decriminalizing sex work is only a piece of the larger crisis that is the United States prison-industrial complex. We have to start addressing the root of why this complex has grown as large as it has.
Originally, prison was designed to be temporary, used when people were on trial. However, as the prison-industrial complex has grown, it now serves capitalism through exploitative labor — a form of modern day indentured servitude/slavery. It also upholds white supremacy.
One does not need to boast a law degree to see how criminalization has become about a person’s identity rather than any grievance they may have committed. The prison-industrial complex has come to serve the purity model of white supremacy and places individuals into egregious living conditions if their identity deviates from white supremacy in anyway ― their race, their sexuality, their gender identity, their economic status, their nationality, or their occupation.
The criminalization of sex work is based in misogyny. Society sets up women with less capital than men, less power than men and objectifies our bodies. Sex work turns that power model on its head and allows women to own our sexuality, own our bodies and use that to bring both money and power to level the playing field.
As the United States moves through the 21st century, Americans have had to reckon with evolving and modernizing views on the family ― the single mother, the family with two fathers, a transgender child, an interracial couple, the career-oriented couples or individuals who do not want to have children … the list can go on and on. Accepting sex workers into our evolving views should be relatively easy at this point.
Americans need to start recognizing our humanity and that sex shouldn’t be taboo. It is a natural part of our lives that we enjoy and that individuals can choose to make their life’s work. After reflecting on your own enjoyment of sex, doesn’t the criminalization of sex work seem utterly absurd and discriminatory?
Once in Congress, I will work tirelessly against the notion of criminalized sex work and move the United States in the direction of reparative law. I believe in accountability and due process that requires apology and reparations for the harm inflicted by the consequences of another’s actions ― crime and punishment does not fit this model. Prison certainly does not.
Sex work isn’t harmful, it is a person’s choice for occupation, it’s a person’s choice for their body, and very simply, it’s a person’s choice.
Decriminalizing sex work starts with destigmatization and looking both internally at your own bias and at policy that contributes to this stigmatization and marginalization of people who have found a way to own their power.