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Cate is something of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a pro-domme at a fetish house but has held numerous interesting jobs in the adult industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry. 

As you all know, I was arrested about two months ago for “presence in a house of ill fame.”
I spent several hours at the police station, three of which were in a holding cell. I was released on bond and assigned a court date. My boss provided me with excellent legal representation, and I appeared at court confident that I would have to face the most minimal of consequences, if any.

In Chicago, a first arrest for prostitution or any similar offense is dealt with by assigning a class to the fallen woman. They do their best to make it cute–the class is called “UnHooked” and is paid for mainly by the fines levied on men who are caught patronizing or soliciting sex workers.

I was fairly certain I was never going to experience hooker school. Presence in a house of ill fame is not the same as prostitution and I felt there was a good case for me just being, say, a cleaning lady who wandered about in lingerie and recreationally hit guys with riding crops at my place of work.

When they called my name, my lawyer went to the front of the courtroom, some words I didn’t catch were exchanged, and he motioned for me to follow him out of the courtroom.

“They want you to take a class,” he explained. “We’d be crazy not to take it.”

“Seriously?!” I asked, “I wasn’t even doing anything illegal! This is ridiculous!”

My lawyer explained that it really didn’t matter. My charge was such that there was pretty much no way the city would let me walk away with no consequences. I could accept the class immediately, or try to fight it and end up having to take it anyway. I agreed to take the class.

When they called my name, I walked up to the front of the courtroom with my lawyer, and was given a piece of paper with the name of the program and a number to call.

As soon as I got back from court I lost no time in calling the number. An old-sounding woman answered, asked me when I’d been arrested and when my court date was. She then informed me that I would have to take a class one day before my next scheduled court appearance. This was ridiculous. I managed to talk her into letting me attend the class two months before my next appearance and listened to her speech about how it was a special class and I absolutely had to be there. I told her I’d be there, hung up, and looked up the address she’d given me on Google maps.

Hooker School, it turned out, was at 111th and Vincennes, an address so far away from any part of the city I was familiar with that I wasn’t entirely sure it was even within city limits. I’m from the south side, but this was a side farther south than I had ever been. I was going to have to get up at five in the morning if I was to be there by eight. It was weeks away, but already my anger was mounting.

In the weeks leading up to my class I took a special, sick pride in every single session. “Ha ha,” I would think every time I put a dildo in a guy’s butt or gave a footjob, “they’re going to try to teach me not to do this!” I was expecting a class that mostly consisted of scare stories and speeches about how we dumb whores need to value ourselves, as this can’t possibly be something we’d chosen.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t entirely correct.

It was pouring the day of my class. I got up when it was still dark outside, and dragged myself from Daniel’s house on the north side all the way down to 111th and Vincennes. I intended to record most of the class, and wanted to preserve my phone battery, but couldn’t resist going on a small, espresso-fueled Twitter rampage anyway. Just thinking about how my tax dollars were going to fund the punishment and persecution of myself and my fellow sex workers was too much to bear, and since none of my friends were awake I just ranted into the ether.

My anger increased when I saw the sign on the building where I was supposed to be unhooked: Christian Community Health Center. This did not bode well. I suspected it might double as one of the fake women’s health centers that tricks pregnant ladies in with promises of implied abortion, then feeds them and forces them to get ultrasounds in order to guilt them into believing the potential humans living in their uteruses are, in fact, actual current humans.

There wasn’t any evidence of such a practice inside, but that didn’t help me feel better. I looked around and saw two other girls sitting in chairs, presumably my new classmates. There was a young, pregnant black woman and a Ukrainian girl. They looked at me as if I was an insane person as I went to sit with them.
“Are you here for Unhooked? You don’t even look like you belong here!” the black girl exclaimed.

“No,” the Ukrainian agreed, “she looks like she could work here.”

I laughed, and told them that was exactly what the women at the police station had said when I was brought in. I privately wondered what it says about our society that even other whores have a set idea of what a whore does and does not look like. Neither of the girls waiting for me looked “like whores” they both looked like ordinary girls. The only thing that set me apart from them was the fact that I was dressed like it was the 1950s, as usual.

After chatting about how we got arrested for a while, we were ushered into a room and asked to fill out a survey. It asked for our ages, race, phone number, address, why we were here, and what our definition of prostitution was. I defined prostitution as “a valuable sexual service that ought to be decriminalized” and was prepared to defend that position to the death, if need be.

As we filled out our survey, three other women filtered in. A pretty young redhead, probably about my age, an old toothless woman in sweatpants, and one of the most exquisitely beautiful girls I have ever seen.

We told our arrest stories, and then a heavyset woman came in and told us she was going to play us a film about street prostitution in Chicago. It was poorly made, and mostly featured horror stories from “rescued” sex workers about how they’d been horrifically abused by their pimps and wanted to further rescue other workers. There was no mention of voluntary sex work, and the only part of the film I could really get behind was the related storyline about lobbyists trying to remove the felony charge for third-time prostitution arrests.

We all basically laughed through the film, even after the woman kept coming in to tell us it was serious, and afterwards the black girl, who I’ll call Leia for now, informed us that street work on the West Side wasn’t really even like that anymore. Most girls, she said, used their phones like she did. I asked if she’d ever been a street worker, she had! I was fascinated. I have so many luxuries and privileges as an indoor worker, and I have so many more options and so many fewer safety risks. I resolved that by the end of the class I would ask her for an interview, and hopefully get a yes.

Shortly after the film finished up, the heavyset woman came back.

“I’m here to talk to you guys about domestic violence,” she said, “we’re going to talk about the cycle of abuse and how pimps trick you.”

Great, I thought. Here we go with the “all sex workers are coerced victims, no one would ever choose this life” bullshit.
Surprisingly, this was not the case. What followed was a surprisingly sensitive discussion of actual abuse that barely even touched on the problem of pimping. I was confused. Where was the shaming? Where was the insistence that we couldn’t make choices for ourselves? Why was it that when I said, “I love my job” I was greeted with only the slightest touch of skepticism? I was immediately suspicious. They had to be buttering us up. There was no way the unhooking process would go on being this whore-positive, if only passively so.

After the discussion about abuse, we were given a lunch break, and even served lunch. Fortunately there was a Subway across the street, otherwise I would have been forced to eat the greasy chicken and limp French fries, but I thought it was sweet of them to at least consider our appetites.

Unfortunately, lunch was the marker between acceptance, albeit vaguely disapproving acceptance, of our choices and blatant fear mongering. The next few hours were filled with a message that could be boiled down to “if you decide to be a whore you will get pregnant and you will die of drugs and also murder.”