The attacks on sex workers by paternalistic politicians and their armed enforcers at the local, state, and federal levels grow worse by the year. As of 2008, only two states — Nevada and Rhode Island — allowed individuals to buy and sell sex. In 2009, Rhode Island closed its legal loophole which allowed for paid sex under certain circumstances, making Nevada the only state in which consenting adults can freely engage in prostitution. This all shows how far behind the times the US is when it comes to its treatment of those working in the massive but widely detested sex industry.
Radical feminists and other social critics often point out that the pressures of capitalist androcentrism blur the line between free choice and force, resulting in marginalized women being coerced into the sex industry against their will. This is a salient critique, especially in an era when queer homelessness, transantagonism, and misogynistic bigotry are ever-present and oft unrecognized problems. These issues are only exacerbated by the criminalization of sex work. By imprisoning already marginalized women, the state is adding weight to the already heavy burden of patriarchy. Not only must sex workers, especially women of color, contend with the oppressive forces of racism and misogyny, they must also fight to survive under a state that seeks to label them criminals for having the nerve to attempt to scrape together a simple living. This is doubly true for undocumented sex workers.
The demonization of sex work by the American political establishment is not limited to illegal practices. Actors and actresses who work in pornography are often made out to be nothing more than hapless degenerates, fringe riders with little ambition and even less moral character. Oh, and did I mention that they probably had a terrible home life? Anyone who hasn’t bought into mainstream, puritanical social norms knows that such egregious stereotyping only contributes to furthering the state-sanctioned suppression and cultural stigmatization of sex work.
Miami police officer Sabine Ramonvil experienced this particular brand of stigmatization firsthand when she was alerted that the internal affairs department of the Miami PD had begun an investigation regarding her past employment in the porn industry. Ramonvil, a young woman of color, acted in several pornographic films in 2009. The fact that Sunshine State busybodies found such an investigation necessary speaks volumes about both the ultimate purpose of law enforcement and the dramatic effect that patriarchal sexual mores have on the lives of marginalized individuals. By singling out and reprimanding Ramonvil, law enforcement higher-ups are making it clear that sex workers aren’t fit for public service. Individuals whose personal sexual histories offend the traditionalist sensibilities of those in charge of maintaining the state’s monopoly on force are given the metaphorical Scarlett Letter and branded as untrustworthy deviants.
Cops exist to protect the status-quo. The fact that a black officer having acted in a porn flick warranted an immediate and vigorous internal response while the deaths of multiple young men and women of color at the hands of the police elicited little more than a shrug proves this. You won’t catch me crying over the possible firing of a cop, but to ignore the reasoning behind Ramonvil’s harsh treatment is to ignore a serious societal ill. The power to maim, kill, and imprison with impunity is an undeniable reality of life as an officer of the law. You’d think that if cops are comfortable with this reality, they’d be okay with just about anything. But in Ramonvil’s case, not even her badge protected her from the patriarchal conservatism that obviously has a home in police departments.