An Interview with Victoria Schneider

Victoria Schneider is a sex worker from the US who took the city of San Francisco to court after police strip-searched her.

Victoria’s story is inspiring and it proves that sex workers do not have to put up with injustice. She agreed to be interviewed by RESPECT! because she thinks we are “awesome”!

Respect: Can you start by telling us how long you have been in the sex industry?

Victoria: How long have I been in the sex industry? Let’s begin with San Francisco. I started working out of my apartment in 1989. I ran an ad in the local sex magazine called THE SPECTATOR. I did well for three years and then I got bored with it. Also HIV/AIDS came about and there was a crisis in the industry.

Respect: You have also been an outreach worker. Tell us about that.

Victoria: I started volunteering for the Asian AIDS project, handing out condoms to street prostitutes. There were problems getting the girls to take condoms because carrying condoms implicated prostitution. So this was the first encounter I had with the cops. I got busted for handing out condoms because I/we were “promoting prostitution”. So off to jail I went. Of course, not without a verbal exchange with the cops – unpleasant I might add. From that day on I was not on good terms with the bacon squad (I mean the cops). Since I ruined my outreach position I decided I would rather work on the streets as a prostitute and make some money. I liked the attention, money was good and I had heaps of freedom and power. As far as sex was concerned, it wasn’t bad. I use to say that the best sex I had was in jail.

Respect: Now tell us about your case. When did it all started?

Victoria: The cops first strip-searched me in 1993 and then again in 1996. The second time pissed me off because I knew they were violating my constitutional rights. And the stupid cop wrote the wrong gender on the booking card! The lawsuit began in 1997 and ended in April 1999. Just under three years – not bad!! The whole lawsuit was because I was wrongfully stripped, because I was arrested for prostitution – a misdemeanor.

The whole time the city called me a lying drug addicted prostitute. But no way was I not going to stand up and clear my name and profession of choice!! Through time the city refused to settle saying that I was lying and that it didn’t happen. We made them an offer of £10 000 and they said no, that they wanted to go to trial. So my lawyers and I decided trial it is. The trial lasted 5 days. The cops lied under oath, the jury of seven people believed my story and I was vindicated.

Respect: That is really inspiring!

Victoria: I know! It pissed the city off that a prostitute beat their ass in court and that I stood up and believed I had rights. Just because my profession of choice is prostitution doesn’t mean I don’t have any credibility.

The settled case set a precedent because this was the first case that proved that sex workers have rights. The final outcome was somewhat beneficial to all women. We have to know our rights and stand in solidarity!

Respect: It must have been very hard work… Who supported you?

Victoria: Yes it was hard work and I stood a chance to lose, but could I live the rest of my life living in fear and suffer abuse that I didn’t deserve? I had to find strength within myself and in the community of friends and co-workers – who knew that this was wrong and that it could happen to them as well.

Respect: So has a union of sex workers a role to play in this story?

Victoria: Yes of course. Because the bottom line is that all sex work should be decriminalised immediately. Then everyone in the industry can have access to equal health care and benefits as anyone else. At present we work without the respect we deserve. We must change that.

Respect: Your case has certainly contributed to that change! Thank you Victoria, for the interview, the inspiration and for what you achieved for all of us!

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