Jessica Drake Is No Less Of A Trump Victim Because She’s A Sex Worker
Last week, Jessica Drake stood up in the office of high-profile civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred and told the world how, over 10 years ago, Donald Trump had forcibly hugged and kissed her, and offered her $10,000 for sex. As she stood tall and read her powerful statement during the press conference, her eyes glanced back and forth as the shutters snapped on the cameras that surrounded her, taking her picture over and over. Perhaps she was thinking that, despite the many times she had stepped in front of a camera to perform a role, these cameras, documenting her truth, would be the ones that would make her most vulnerable.
Drake is the eleventh woman to come forward publicly after the release of a 2005 video where Trump had confessed to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush that he liked to kiss attractive women, and to “grab them by the pussy.” But for Drake, to disclose what Trump had done to her was particularly fraught with risk, because she is a porn performer and director, and a sex educator.
Overall, the media on Drake’s revelations hasn’t been great. Too many headlines have highlighted her occupation, singling her out among the other women who have stood up against him, accusing her of self-promotion. But it doesn’t matter that she is called a porn star, or that she has just launched an online store. What Trump did to her is the same as what he did to a woman sitting beside him in an airplane, and to a woman at a restaurant table with him, and it was done to Drake not because of her work, but because she is a woman.
Commentators on Twitter have wondered why she would be offended to be offered money for sex, when she was a porn performer. But what made Trump’s actions toward Drake so despicable are the same things that made his actions towards other women despicable: He allegedly pressured, violated, and assaulted her in his proximity merely because he wished to, and because his fame and power inflamed his sense of entitlement to her body. She did not consent to what happened; it was abuse.
Some reports have emphasized the point that Trump presumed Drake’s consent to sex, wearing pajamas to his private meeting with her and assuming that he would sleep with her for pay, indicating a gross misunderstanding of how consent works. Others, meanwhile, have questioned the legitimacy of any of the complaints that women have made in the office of Gloria Allred.
Writing in Refinery29, journalist Judith Newman thought that the gropes, the kisses, the pressure from Trump are too minor to report, and that they will play into the hands of Trump’s supporters:
“You know what happens when some stranger behaves grossly? You’re skeeved, and then you tell your girlfriends, and they tell you their creepy stories, and you all try to one-up each other in vileness, and by doing so you make each other feel better. You know what doesn’t happen? You hire Gloria Allred and hold a press conference . . . There is a continuum of awful behavior. We have to remember that in order for women to be taken seriously when they are abused, we can’t constantly redefine victimhood to meaninglessness. It’s sort of like an accident that makes you run to the ER. We can debate about the seriousness of various ills and injuries, but we all know the difference between a severed leg and a paper cut. Don’t waste your time with the paper cut. Slap on a Band-Aid and move on.”
These statements offend me deeply. To call out abuse of any sort is essential; a society that tells women to slap on a Band-Aid when they’ve been assaulted or intimidated, subtly or overtly, in public or in private, will never be able to stop rape culture, because silence around any sort of assault tells men that they will get away with all of it.
The author says that the women coming forward to talk about Trump’s creepy behavior give ammunition to the alt-right. But her statements against the women, and the singling out of Drake for her work, undermine the solidarity of women. And yet, as Jessica Drake read her powerful testament, as the flashbulbs strobed upon her somber face, she encapsulated solidarity in a few words:
“I am choosing to share my personal exchange in light of the recently released tapes, in order to lend my voice, my strength and my support to the other women who are coming forward. Collectively, his words and his actions are a huge testament to his character, that of uncontrollable misogyny, entitlement, and being a sexual assault apologist. This is not acceptable behavior for anyone, much less a presidential candidate. And I realize in this situation I may be but a tiny grain of sand, but clearly this is an enormous beach.”
In this election, that beach is crucial to the task of stopping the Trump tidal wave. Women have made the casually disgusting behavior of men an election issue, and Hillary has amplified the voices of the Trump accusers, cementing her poll lead. But the enormous beach only stops the wave of Trump, and of all the creepy, rapey men, if we acknowledge that it truly includes all women, not just the socially respectable ones, not just the marketable ones, not just the white ones (and that it includes those who are trans and gender nobinary as well).
In her career as Secretary of State, Clinton divided that beach with respectability politics. She made international development funds contingent on recipients pledging to support the criminalization of sex work — even though sex workers’ organizations everywhere, as well as internationally respected groups like Amnesty International, call for full decriminalization as the only path to safety, health, and respect for sex workers. (Clinton’s dangerous sex worker stance is outlined in my essay “Hillary Screws Sex Workers” in False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton.)
Drake spoke truth when she counted herself as a grain of sand on the beach of women who have been affected by rape culture. All women, young and old, from all walks of life and in all occupations, face a constant barrage of sexism, and society encourages victims to diminish the violations against us: to say that it was only a minor violation, to say others have suffered worse. Society encourages us to blame ourselves and other victims for the violations, saying that we drank too much, or that were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that we had the wrong job. Stigma against women’s sexual expression and against sex workers is perpetuated by people of all genders. But to break the water, the beach must be strong.
Let Hillary lend her support to Drake — vocally, specifically. Let her say that nobody, not a porn star, not a housekeeper, not a reporter, deserves the creepy behavior of Trump. Let her call on the states to decriminalize sex work. Let her call on the federal government to stop prosecuting the websites where workers can advertise and screen clients safely.
Otherwise, she does nothing to stop those who would dig trenches in the beach, coloring some of those grains of sand scarlet, and casting them out into the sea.
Lead image: YouTube