Sex Work and Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Online harassment, Victim blaming
If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach a point which is triggering for you, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the death of Alyssa Funke.

It disturbs me that her death was framed as consequence of sex work, and that the harassment she faced is being dismissed by so many as an acceptable consequence of her work (three pages I follow on Facebook have shared this story; in all three threads, which are all on fairly feminist pages, people have commented saying “she could have just blocked them” and “she shouldn’t have been ‘bragging’ about being a porn star online if she didn’t want people to talk about it”).

Sex workers of any kind do not deserve to be harassed. If you don’t like what sex workers do, don’t use their services (no porn for you!) and leave them alone. It’s that simple. This victim blaming crap is garbage. Saying awful things about people is an awful thing to do, and if you say awful things about someone, you are being an awful person. What the person you are talking about has or has not done is irrelevant. Taking the time and expending the effort to bombard the person with your awfulness on social media makes you not just a normal awful person, but a consciously malicious and hurtful awful person.

It disturbs me further that the story of her death is being used as a platform by some people to condemn sex work and sex workers at large. Had Funke expressed a problem with the work she had done, this might be relevant – but to the best of our knowledge, she didn’t. She expressed a problem with the harassment she was subjected to, and further stigmatizing the field encourages this harassment. Don’t use her death to encourage the people who seemed to want her dead.
If you believe that sex work exists exclusively as the result of coercion, work to end that coercion and hold the people doing it responsible, and leave the workers alone. Don’t yell over them, don’t patronize them, don’t accuse the sex workers who speak out to say they love their work of lying or being unable to think for themselves – just focus on solving the problem you see, and leave them alone. Meanwhile, that’s not what this story as about, and derailing conversation about this tragedy to condemn the world of sex work does nothing for the deceased young woman and the people who love her.

What disturbs me most, and gets to me on a deeply personal level, is the willingness of people to dismiss all other aspects of Funke’s situation to focus solely on the fact that she suffered from depression. It’s as if suicide is seen as the expected outcome for people with depression, and worse, as if this outcome is simply accepted. Depression absolutely can lead to suicide – but the overwhelming majority of the time it doesn’t, so why are people (including the Stillwater PD) so quick to point at her depression as the singular explanation in this case, despite her parents insisting otherwise?
Depression alone does not automatically cause suicide. Depression feeds on all of the ugliness in your life and the world around you and fixes your attention on it until it feels like there is no goodness left and it feels certain that things will never change, and that hopelessness drives some people to suicide – but not everyone who commits suicide is depressed, and not everyone with depression commits suicide. Whatever other reasons Funke may have had to feel suicidal do not absolve the people who contributed to that feeling of their responsibility for causing her emotional harm.
It would be different if people were using the story of her death to highlight the importance of accessible mental health care and using this tragedy as an example of what can happen without access to adequate care, or to emphasize the importance of being considerate of the invisible illnesses that anyone around us could be suffering from at any time, but that’s not what I’m seeing. I’m seeing very little empathy for the suffering that Alyssa must have been going through, and very little discussion of what can be done to help those still living among us who are experiencing the pain of depression and other suicideality-inducing illnesses. I’m seeing a lot of people attempting to use her illness as a means of dismissing important discussion about the harm caused by online harassment or the harm caused by the stigma against sex workers. If these people actually cared about the suffering caused by depression and other mental illnesses, they would be talking about that suffering and those illnesses and the people like me dealing with them and the stigma that we face – but for the most part, they’re not. Because most of them don’t actually care. They’re just making excuses, and justifying the horrible behavior of a bunch of young people who apparently lack empathy and have a problem with women who embrace their bodies and sexuality, and avoiding their own responsibility for doing nothing to help her and all of the people like her who are still out there.
If you’re just going to yell “DEPRESSION!” without offering any help to the millions of people struggling with this illness or any comfort to the family and friends of this young woman, and then attempt to shut down our conversation and interrupt the process of mourning the loss of this beautiful life, please just go away. Just go back to ignoring us like you usually do. Meanwhile, we have stigma to fight and care to provide and lots of other important work to do. If anything, her having depression aught to make the torment she suffered at the hands of online harassers even more despicable. Emotionally beating on someone who cannot emotionally protect themselves due to an illness is essentially the same as physically beating someone who cannot physically defend themselves due to a physical disability. It’s despicable, and awful, and to use her illness to excuse the people who psychologically tormented her is disgusting.

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