Alison Bass: Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law

Cover: Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law by Alison Bass

Cover: Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law by Alison Bass


Alison Bass
University Press of New England, Oct 1, 2015, $29.95
ISBN-10: 1611686342
ISBN-13: 978-1611686340

Bass reports:

I hadn’t given much thought to the largely hidden world of sex work until I met with a student in my writing class at Mount Holyoke College to go over her profile assignment. The student had chosen to write about a twenty-something community activist, but was having trouble bringing her subject to life. At one point, the student blurted out, “She’s also a sex worker.”

Two other interesting facts leaped out at me: the activist’s middle-class background and her volunteer work with an organization that offers alternative treatment for people with mental illness. I was then writing a weekly blog about the side effects of antidepressants, the topic of my first book, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial.

The student used the activist’s real name in her profile, and did not mention the woman’s sex work. After the semester was over, I decided to interview the activist about her work with the mental illness treatment center.

Alison Bass

Alison Bass

I met “Jillian” at a café in the town where she lived. During our conversation, the topic of how she earned a living came up. “I enjoy being a middle-class escort,” she said, as if what she did was just an ordinary job. “It’s fun.”

Over the next months, I met with Jillian several times. She opened up a fascinating window onto the reality of sex work in the 21st century. She also put me in touch with other sex workers. The stories they told clashed with the popular narrative of prostitutes as drug-addicted women forced into the trade by pimps or traffickers.

Published research also contradicted this narrative, and pointed to a very different story: that laws criminalizing prostitution are not only largely ineffective in curbing the sex trade, but also create an atmosphere that encourages the exploitation of sex workers and violence against all women. Studies also showed that anti-prostitution laws make it more difficult for sex workers to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.

I soon realized there was a book in all of this, exposing the myths about sex work and telling the stories of these unusual outliers. In time, I found a publisher who agreed.

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The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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