Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way. - Jean Anouilh
It’s really nice to know I’m not just one voice crying out in the wilderness; besides my sister bloggers (some of whose links appear in the right column) and those who consistently support our rights (such as Laura Agustín, who recently republished her very first journal article on the subject), our cause sometimes gets a boost from sympathetic outsiders. When those outsiders are journalists, it makes up a little for all the slackers who just repeat the lies promoted by police, politicians and fanatics with an anti-whore agenda; and when the boost comes in the form of attacking prohibitionists with their own propaganda I just can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction. One such attack appeared yesterday in the San Francisco Weekly (a Village Voice property) and came to my attention via several routes; it’s a debunking of the bogus Schapiro Group studies I wrote about in my columns of November 29th and January 27th, and is well worth reading for choice passages like this:
Ric Curtis, the chairman of the anthropology department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, led a Justice Department–funded study on juvenile prostitution in New York City in 2008. He’s highly skeptical of the…study’s claims. ”I wouldn’t trust those numbers,” he says. ”This new study seems pretty bogus.” In fact, the group behind the study admits as much. It’s now clear it used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding.
“We pitch it the way we think you’re going to read it and pick up on it,” says Kaffie McCullough, the director of Atlanta-based antiprostitution group A Future Not a Past. ”If we give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate — I mean, I’ve tried to do that with our PR firm, and they say, ‘They won’t read that much.’”
Even if the person placing the advertisement is the one in the picture, there’s no telling how old the photo is, says David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. ”How do you know when the pictures were taken?” he asks. ”It’s not illegal for an 18-year-old…to put up a picture of herself from when she was 16.”
“This is a logical fallacy,” says Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University…”Consider this analogy: Imagine that 100 people were shown pictures of various automobiles and asked to identify the make, and that 38 percent of the time people misidentified Fords as Chevrolets. Using the Schapiro logic, this would mean that 38 percent of Fords on the street actually are Chevys.”
And especially this:
When we asked Schapiro and Rusty Parker, the leader of the classifieds study, to fill in some of the missing pieces in their methodology, they had a hard time coming up with straight answers. In fact, Parker couldn’t remember key information about how he constructed the study. When asked where he got the sample pictures used to calibrate the all-important 38 percent error rate, he wasn’t sure. ”It was a while back,” he says. ”I forget exactly where we got them from.” Parker was equally fuzzy on how the researchers knew the ages of the people pictured in the control group. ”Um … I’m afraid I do not remember,” he says.
Forgive me if I gloat a bit, especially over the fact that, as reported in this related story, a bunch of what the moralists might call “whores and perverts” (i.e. myself, my fellow bloggers and my readers) saw through what CNN and a whole raft of major newspapers couldn’t. Speaking of newspapers, the last page of the main article mentioned a 2007 investigation by the Washington Post which discovered the virtual nonexistence of the “sex trafficking crisis”; coincidentally, one of my readers sent me a link to that very story the day before the San Francisco Weekly article appeared. I find it very strange that though this article appeared in a major newspaper three and a half years ago it has been virtually ignored in favor of ludicrous hype. And this report on the benefits of decriminalization appeared on the official New Zealand government website just a few months later; it, too was ignored in the United States. Obviously, there are a lot of people in Washington who believe exactly what they want to believe, or rather pretend to in order to advance their anti-prostitution agenda.
The Canadian government would like to conduct a similar war on whores, but it’s inconvenienced by the pesky fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights doesn’t allow criminalization of a whole group of people but rather only specific acts. Canada therefore felt it necessary to criminalize nearly everything about prostitution, but those laws were struck down by a judge in Ontario last September; the negation was appealed by the Canadian government on the grounds that people who choose dangerous jobs deserve whatever harm comes to them. And while journalists in the United States generally lack the balls to challenge the government’s oppression of prostitutes, that isn’t so in Canada as this recent editorial from the Chronicle Herald demonstrates:
If sex workers don’t deserve protection because they’ve chosen a dangerous career, neither does Montreal Canadiens left-winger Max Pacioretty. I mean, sex work? Hockey? They’re both just jobs.
The federal government filed a legal brief with the Ontario Court of Appeal Wednesday, saying it will argue a Superior Court judge was wrong back in September when she struck down three federal laws related to selling sex. Justice Susan Himel…[argued] the laws hinder sex workers’ constitutional right to safety. Safety-schmafety, the feds say. In their appeal, government lawyers will argue Parliament has no obligation to protect the physical well-being of lawbreakers. In short, the government’s appeal message is: Suck it up or get out of the game.
Funny, no one’s saying that to Pacioretty, who’s nursing a broken vertebra in his neck and a severe concussion after a barbarous ride into the boards this week by Boston Bruins’ lunkhead captain Zdeno Chara. On the contrary, the prime minister has weighed in on the Pacioretty hit, calling on the NHL to curb head shots and Air Canada has threatened to pull its sponsorship of the league…Pacioretty has the continent’s support. No such outcry for prostitutes. And the dangers they face have gone miles past broken vertebrae and head injuries. Seventeen sex workers in Nova Scotia have been murdered or reported missing since 1985. Yet few people, even fewer politicians, no prime ministers nor Air Canadas whatsoever are demanding change.
There’s a further irony at play here. One that will have you shaking your head, lest it make you cry: the lion’s share of the blame for the danger of selling sex lies at the foot of Canadian laws. The bawdy house law compels sex workers to move out of their houses and onto the street because they risk property seizure if they work at home. The communicating law, as it’s called, obliges them to negotiate the terms of dates in doorways and down alleys because they don’t want to be seen doing it. These settings make sex workers more vulnerable to physical violence, says Rene Ross, executive director of Halifax advocacy group Stepping Stone. And if they are assaulted? “There is no trust of police,” Ross says. ”So they are not reporting crimes that happen against them…society, generally, does not care about the health and well-being of sex workers…[Violent men] know this. And they will do (what they can) get away with.”
The message the feds are sending in their planned appeal goes a step further. If sex workers are deprived of their constitutionally protected safety, in the words of Ross, it’s “fair game and open season on them.” In other words, violence against prostitutes is just part of the game…If the feds have their way, [sex work] may get even more dangerous.
Still, there are a few American journalists who will stand up for us, though unfortunately most of them are in the so-called “alternative press”; here’s an example published in Mother Jones last Friday (March 18th) which makes a similar argument for decriminalization as the Canadian editorial above. The alternative press aren’t afraid to dig beneath the surface and take a stand against the status quo; why then should the mainstream media be? If the latter wish to survive and reclaim some of the readership they are steadily losing to internet sources, it would behoove them to arm themselves with the rigid blade of skepticism rather than settling for a soft weapon issued by “authorities”.