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Bedeviling her sisters 

The accuser in the Duke rape case may be, at least for the next 15 minutes, one of the least popular people in the world. I've heard several times that if Don Imus had been referring to her, nobody would have thought twice about what he said. After a certain point, after reaching some indefinable magnitude of transgression, I guess, anything goes.

When I first heard about the allegations, I didn't have much trouble believing that cocky, privileged young men with a few drinks in them might have treated a girl like her less than respectfully. You'd be amazed what some of the most upstanding pillars of society will do when they're egging each other on and they think there's no one else around to see them. I was glad to see an incident like this get some attention.

Sex professionals are in a unique position in our society: We can still find ourselves in situations where we're perceived as having somehow asked, by behavior or implication, to be abused and seen as less deserving of recourse when it happens.

"Right or wrong," says conservative blogger La Shawn Barber, "an alleged rape victim's character is always at issue. I'm not so quick to believe a woman ... who takes off her clothes in front of strangers for a living. No one deserves to be violated, of course, but if you're taking off your clothes and gyrating in front of a group of drunk men ..."

She lets her thought trail off, but that ellipsis says so much things I feel sure that Ms. Barber would never speak aloud. Let's try it another way: "No one deserves to be brutalized, of course, but if gay people insist on hanging all over each other in front of a group of drunken bigots ..."

Sound OK? Great. I'm still working on how letting people see me naked makes me less trustworthy.

Reason seems to go out the window where sex work is concerned. This is the only explanation I can think of for our own Colorado Springs City Council's absurd decision a decade or so ago to institute the transparently prudish "3-foot law," which prevents strippers at local clubs from coming within 3 feet of patrons, and instead mandates the use of tip boxes. I remember being outraged to read that one of the reasons Council members gave for passing that measure was to "prevent the transmission of HIV." They weren't specific about who they were trying to protect from whom.

It didn't take long for the accuser's story to begin disintegrating, and I started to get a sinking feeling. It's disheartening when someone being held as an example actually ends up reinforcing the stereotypes you had hoped to dispel.

By professional sex worker standards, she did everything wrong. She arrived apparently intoxicated, and without a bodyguard; wore lingerie instead of her street clothes; and got drunker while she was supposed to be working. If the men had already caused the two girls to leave the party once, why did they allow themselves to be persuaded back?

I knew it was about to become a little harder for women in the sex industry to be taken as seriously as our "civilian" sisters when something happens to us, although really it's the worst-case scenario that determines the soundness of an argument: I have the right to my own body, no matter what I happen to be doing with it.

Something ugly happened that night, and now the truth has been obscured so completely that it's unlikely we'll ever know what it was.

Maybe they were nice young guys who didn't want to pay when they found out the agency had sent a drunk in her underwear instead of a professional or maybe they were jerks who turned vile and humiliated someone they thought of as beneath them. Maybe she lied because she thought no one would care about the truth. From the outside, there's no way to tell how things got so out of control, but it's done now, and I'm afraid the fallout will hit women here and everywhere.

From the moment this became public, people on all sides have shouted for justice. After a while, it was hard to tell what that meant in this case.

Now I'm just worried about how much more difficult it'll be to come by in the future.

Alysabeth Clements is a local writer, performer, event planner and sex work pole-emicist. Find her online at myspace.com/feministstripper.

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