As Unearthed continues its second season, we’re bringing you the weekly recap. This week the second season, “Boundaries: Sex and Consent,” provides an interview with Bella Robinson, delving into her perspectives on the relationships between sex work and the #MeToo movement.
At age 17, Bella Robinson became a wife to a 41-year-old man. At 18, she became a sex worker. Now, at 53, she is executive director of Coyote RI, or Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, an advocacy group for sex workers’ rights in Rhode Island.
She first entered sex work through a man known as Joey the Drag Queen. Joey taught Bella everything she needed to know—how to use condoms, what to charge, how to be safe, and more. She quickly learned that through sex work she could pay for a hotel, cigarettes, and food.
However, her life hasn’t been easy since then. She has gotten into drugs, has been in and out of jail, and moved across the United States, settling in Providence in 2009. In Providence, she learned about a loophole in the state that makes indoor prostitution legal.
Relationship to #MeToo
Now, with a solid client list and rent money, she’s doing well for herself.
However, legislation still makes it harder for people like Bella to do their job. She explains that stricter laws against sex work across the nation make her feel more endangered than ever before. Additionally, she says that the increase in the awareness of human trafficking has made sex workers look like helpless victims.
Bella Robinson: This is always about catching a trafficker, that’s what the US laws are. It’s not about supporting poor people or victims or helping someone that has been exploited. It’s about forcing people to exit while expecting them to remain in poverty. And just be a good woman and don’t complain about it.
Bella feels similarly ignored by #MeToo, a movement created to give voices to the voiceless.
Bella Robinson: #MeToo was started for poor women who were waitresses and maids, and if they complained about sexual harassment at work, they were fired! It became about Hollywood’s casting couch, about privileged women with HR departments.
She adds that #MeToo’s objectives regarding consent, healing, and sexual assault prevention doesn’t reach the often ignored sex industry. She believes that in order to achieve justice for sex workers, society has to completely reframe the way it views commercial sex.
Bella Robinson: No one wants to talk about the dynamics that create exploitation. Criminalization creates exploitation. It increases violence. So whether you criminalize someone for prostitution or criminalize someone for crossing a border, you have now made them more vulnerable because they can’t tell on the bad guys anymore.