Amnesty International’s push to decriminalize sex work started a heated discussion about what constitutes a victim and what constitutes a criminal.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg both think it’s ridiculous to loosen rules about prostitution or other sex work because they see too many helpless women being exploited.
But Mistress Matisse isn’t. She is a professional dominatrix, sex-worker’s rights activist, and commonly speaks to such issues on her podcast. Recently, she wrote an op-ed saying that banning sex work is ridiculous.
I asked her, why would anybody want to do sex work?
“I’ve always felt that this was my calling, to create experiences for people and show them this side of themselves — that is very hidden and taboo — is beautiful and something they can love,” said Mistress Matisse.
A dominatrix is a person who takes on a dominating role in sexual activities. Matisse, obviously, comes from the opinion that sex work should be decriminalized. From her perspective, the law’s approach is splitting hairs.
“If you take any sexual activity and you take money out of the equation, it’s not illegal,” she said. “Then why would adding money to it make it illegal?
“If he takes me out to dinner, if he buys me a diamond bracelet, if he does all these things, but if I ask for money, all of ask sudden it’s a crime?” Matisse said. “That makes no sense.”
Mistress Matisse is clearly engaged in her line of work voluntarily. But is every woman doing it voluntarily?
“You have to define what you mean by ‘voluntarily.’ Yes, there’s a small number of people who are being held in bondage, they are chained to a radiator somewhere. Those women are being harmed and we need to help them,” she said.
“You can’t say, under capitalism, that everyone who has a job isn’t doing it because they have to,” Matisse said. “Of course you have to. You have to make a living.”
In other words, if sex work is the only thing a woman can do to make a living, then she should be free to do it. But what City Attorney Holmes is saying, is he wants to go after criminal traffickers, people trafficking young girls. And when it comes to sex workers, he said they won’t be arrested, but they will be offered help.
“I don’t need help. A lot of women don’t need help. If they want it, we should give it to them,” Matisse said.
“It’s very nice that the attorney says that, but it’s entirely at his discretion. And my safety and my human rights shouldn’t exist solely at his whim,” she said.
Matisse’s position is that sex work should be decriminalized. And if it were, it would address the same problems the city attorney is talking about.
“Sex workers themselves are often in a position where they can see people who might possibly be exploited,” she said. “If I had protection of the law, I could go to the cops and say, ‘There’s this girl I’ve seen and I don’t know if she is 18.'”
“If you put us outside the law, then you make us easy prey for predators — you make us easy targets,” Matisse said.
And it’s not just the sex workers. Matisse said that it could help address Johns who are breaking the law.
“We have a bad client list that we keep among us; we talk about bad clients among ourselves,” she said. “But we can’t report them to police and we can’t make their information public because we are stigmatized.”
For now, Mistress Matisse avoids the law and goes to work each day. She knows she could be arrested and that it is at the whim of the prosecutor.
But it makes me wonder: In this line of work, what will she do after a few decades? It’s unkind to say, but — as I have come to know as the years pass — looks fade. At some point you have to retire.
“I’ve committed to this and like any self-employed person, I have saved my money and made my investments,” she said.