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Traffic in Nonsense

This essay first appeared in Cliterati on November 9th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

I’ve previously predicted that the “sex trafficking” moral panic will start to fall apart in about three more years:

…skepticism about “trafficking” (especially in regard to its conflation with sex work) will slowly increase, and by about 2015 it will be possible for a major media outlet to publish articles critical of both the statistics and the very concept.  By 2017 public funding for anti-sex worker hate groups will begin to dry up, and by 2019 or 2020 we should expect it to virtually disappear from public discourse except for a wave of books and documentaries by “experts” who couldn’t be bothered to speak out against it while it was going on but are happy to make a quick buck from it after it’s safely over…

I’ve seen nothing in the past three years to convince me that this prediction is off by very much; in fact, we’ve already started to see skeptical articles, including some from within the “anti-trafficking” movement itself, and academics, health officials and human rights organizations are now openly attacking the hysteria.  But what I actually want to concentrate on today is that last part of the quote; when such books start to appear, you can be sure mine will be among them.  And I plan to spend a large part of it in discussion of the truly bizarre and outrageous myths that the hysteria has spawned.  Take this article, for example; even by “sex trafficking” standards, it’s jaw-droppingly stupid:

A couple of years ago, Bo Quickel…[quit his] real estate…job…[to] dedicate his life…to ending sex trafficking…“I’ve never been in the trucking industry, but I [talked]…executives for a trucking company…[into hiring me] as a consultant…The following week I was…with social workers learning more about human trafficking”…

Bo QuickelLet that sink in: a real estate agent with a folksy name, who knew absolutely nothing about sex work, migration, psychology, law or the trucking industry, somehow managed to talk a trucking company into hiring him as a “sex trafficking” expert; he neither sees a problem with admitting this, nor with admitting that he didn’t even bother to learn anything about the subject he was hired as a “consultant” in until after he already had the job.  This is not at all unusual in the rescue industry; time and again we see cops, lawyers and even people whose “expertise” consists of having watched one propaganda film, hailed as “experts” by morons who hang on their every pronouncement, no matter how appallingly idiotic.  Given this low regard for actual evidence, it isn’t surprising Quickel contented himself with listening to the masturbatory fantasies of a couple of “trafficking” fetishists, nor that he, like other “rescue” opportunists, has absolutely no credible plan for fighting his imaginary bogey:

“…[there are] stickers on bathroom stalls (at truck stops) with an 800-rescue number on it…because that’s the only time these girls are alone.”  Quickel said truck drivers account for 60 percent of the people who pay for sex with those who are being sex trafficked…From there, Vigilante Truckers was born, an organization dedicated to creating awareness among truck drivers to end the demand to what Quickel calls “the sale of rape”…

Don’t even ask where Quickel got that 60% figure; he simply made it up as his mentors taught him.  “Sex trafficking” opportunists portray women as passive, childlike creatures completely without agency; sex with them, as with an infant, is automatically defined as “rape” because they lack the capacity for rational consent.  They are, in fact, so passive that they can’t think of calling 911 for the local police, yet the number of a “rescue line” in some other part of the country will reflexively trigger an unconscious dialing behavior if placed before their eyes in a loo on a sticker or the wrapper of a bar of soap.  But Quickel goes even farther than most, imagining whores as literally inanimate objects:

“If you look at it from a manufacturing perspective through supply and demand with sex slavery as the business, the supply is the use of their own bodies, and the demand is the people paying for sex…if there are 10 bottles of Tide at the market and the goal is to meet the people’s demand,Tide and I go in and…purchase five bottles, but there are still 10 needs for it, the supplier will bring in seven more bottles to replace the five that were rescued and the same could be said when looking at sex slavery.”

Yes, he actually said that bottles of laundry detergent can be “rescued”; he also seems to be saying that for every five doll-like girls who are “rescued” by cops or vigilantes, “pimps” will go out and abduct seven more…which if anything constitutes an argument against his methods.  And what exactly are those methods?

Quickel’s organization has 10 semi-trucks that are regularly parked in truck stops across the Southeast, wrapped in information about the parent organization “Stand As One”…the 800 number of the national hotline for anti sex slavery and rescue, and anti-sex slavery statements…Quickel said they’ve had highly effective results from placing the trucks at area truck stops as they are considered “moving billboards that create sex free zones wherever it is parked [sic].”  Quickel said trucks are parked at their respective locations for 10 hours at a time and essentially stop the demand for the product during that time period under the authority [sic] that they are being watched and all slavery activities will be reported to the national hotline in real time, and GPS located pictures will be uploaded to the Vigilante Truckers database for public viewing and rescue response… “If we have 10 trucks parked for 10 hours that’s 100 hours of sex-free zones at truck stops…Their handlers will not bring in a supply of girls when one of our trucks is parked at a truck stop for fear of being reported, and the same goes for the truck drivers.”

This ludicrous fantasy would strain the credulity of even the most lawheaded simpleton were it not for the presence of the magic word “sex”, guaranteed to freeze all cognitive functions in at least 40% of all humans and 60% of Americans.  Imagine someone seriously declaring that a billboard plastered with anti-drug propaganda had the magic power to stop people from carrying or consuming drugs in the area; he’d be laughed off the stage.  Even taken out of context, the phrases “sex free zones”, “slavery activities” and “supply of girls” are astonishingly dumb.  Yet Quickel insists his lies are superior to those of other self-declared “experts”:

Quickel said Charlotte [North Carolina] ranks sixth in the nation “for the demand of sex slaves and services provided by human trafficking victims”…Quickel disagrees with Mooresville Police Chief Carl Robbins’…opinion that human trafficking is not a problem in this town.  “I’ve personally sat outside (four massage parlors [here]), and I can tell you that the only people coming in and out of there are men every 45 minutes, and if the women that are working at these places were there of their own free will they would leave”…

“I’ve personally sat outside four grocery stores in Yahootown, and I can tell you that the only people coming in and out of there are shoppers every minute, and if the cashiers that are working at these places were there of their own free will they would leave.”  This is the level of nonsense emitted by those who declare themselves “experts” in this foolish fairy tale; I imagine future students reading this idiocy in my book and laughing themselves silly.  Alas, we aren’t in a position to laugh at present, because clowns like Quickel are parroted by politicians with absolutely straight faces, and thus actually influence the policies which are inflicted on sex workers, our clients, our associates and our families by heavily-armed gangs of thugs. Magical Truck of Sex-free Zone Generation

Unfolding

Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.  –  Max Frisch

unfolding roseAnd so the time has come for another change in the way I do things.  This one is not so much an alteration as an unfolding; it’s a continuation of a process which has been going on practically since the beginning of this blog.  When I first realized that there were far too many news items to possibly write full essays about, I instituted update and miscellanea columns; within a few months these were appearing once per month each, and contained anywhere from three to a half-dozen items each.  But time marched on and my news-gathering procedures  improved, and soon both the miscellanea and the updates were multi-part affairs; clearly a change was needed, so I started publishing the news weekly, and “That Was the Week That Was” was born.  The feature has continued for three years now, but it’s beginning to show signs of strain, and is therefore in need of refurbishment.  For one thing, each installment carries so many items (often over 20) that I find readers are beginning to miss some of them; for another, my greatly-expanded travel schedule has made it quite difficult to get the columns done on time while I’m on the road (#447 was finally done a mere 45 minutes before it was scheduled to post).  And so, the unfolding process must continue; as the news went from a monthly feature to a several-times-monthly feature to a weekly feature to a huge weekly feature with several supplemental ones per year, so now it must become a semi-weekly feature.  As of the beginning of the new year, there will be two news columns per week, Wednesday and Saturday; the current Wednesday feature, reader questions, will now appear on Thursday instead.  This new arrangement has several advantages:  it will make the columns shorter, causing less information overload for readers; it will allow me to feature breaking items in a more timely fashion; it will save me time, since the work that once created one column will now create two; and it will make it much easier for me to get the columns done on time, since their lengths will be more flexible.  Obviously, I can’t call a twice-weekly feature “That Was the Week That Was” any more, so from here on out it will be named “In the News”; the numbering system will continue, because with four columns pre-empted by holidays per year that gives me exactly 100 columns per year.  Some of you may not like the new system (with its concomitant loss of 48 full-length essays a year), but I think most of you will.  And less work for me means both more time for extra-blog writing and activism, plus more time for myself and my loved ones; given that some of you have been nagging me about that subject for years, I think you’ll agree it’s a good thing.

For Love

I’m in love with a sex worker, and we’ve decided we are going to live together and she is going to retire and pursue a “normal” career.  Despite having a degree and being intelligent and capable, she’s concerned about getting work; I’ve told her I don’t have a problem with her seeing her more trustworthy regulars from time to time until she feels financially comfortable.  I’d be willing to support her completely, but financial independence is very important to her and she has said she doesn’t want to rely on me for support.  She reads your website avidly, so I wonder if you have any advice for us?

My biggest concern about the situation as described is that it’s nearly always a bad idea for a sex worker to stop working for love.  I did it, and it set the stage for two separate financial debacles in 2004 and 2008; we still haven’t yet recovered from the second one.  I’ve also seen others do it, with results ranging from OK to disastrous.  If your lady wants to quit sex work for other reasons that have nothing to do with you, well and fine; but if the sole reason she’s quitting to pursue a relatively low-paying “normal” job (in a bad economy, yet) is because of your relationship, she is making a mistake (potentially a very serious one).  The stress, drudgery and inadequate compensation of a “straight” job are likely to lead to resentment against you even if she makes the choice of her own free will, and if y’all get into dire financial straits because of the lesser income that resentment will be quadrupled.  Obviously, the choice should be hers and hers alone; neither you nor I nor her non-sex worker friends have any right to push her in either direction.  But she needs to deeply consider the potential consequences to her, to you, to your finances and to your relationship if she leaves a well-paid job for which she’s temperamentally suited in favor of a less-remunerative one for which she isn’t.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

Diary – Week 232

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo last Tuesday I went to look at that car, which turned out to fit the bill; it was a little more downscale than I wanted but also five years younger than I expected, so I think it was a good trade-off.  I put a down payment on it that day, then paid the rest and took it home yesterday.  It’s in excellent shape, low mileage for its age and has the features I want; it’s also supposed to get 35 MPG, but that remains to be seen when I take it for its first long road trip.  I got it for about 2/3 of the book value, but that still meant draining my business account and throwing in about $200 of my own money; if you’d like to help replace that and pay for the taxes and insurance (or just want to start building up my war chest again), please PayPal any amount you like to maggiemcneill@earthlink.net, and thank you!

On the blogging front, I seem to have pulled out of my slump and I’m catching up again; by the time I go to bed tonight I should have the advance work for next week done, and by Friday night I should have Christmas week all sewn up.  With any luck, I should have the first week of January prepped before Jae gets here for the holidays on the 23rd, and that’s good because I think it’s awfully rude to work too much when one has a guest.  Oh, and speaking of guests: I’m going to be Rachel Mills‘ first one on her new podcast!  We’re recording tonight, and I’ll let you know next week where you can hear it.

Dr. Paul Maginn is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Western Australia; he is the co-editor and co-author of several chapters in the recently published book (Sub)Urban Sexscapes:  Geographies and Regulation of the Sex Industry.  I asked him to comment on his book and explain why a planner & geographer is so interested in sex work.

Suburban SexscapesAt social events whenever we meet someone new for the first time it can be guaranteed that they will ask, “So, what do you do for a living?”  In the past, my stock response was generally:  “I’m an academic…an urban planner”!  The stock replies to this usually range from:  “Oh! What does that mean?” to “Oh, that’s nice! I have to go now because there’s my friend over there”.  You see, being an academic doesn’t seem to capture too many non-academic peoples’ attention.  So nowadays, when I’m asked what I do for a living I say:  “I’ll give you three guesses”.  I do this because it’s a good way to sustain conversation, it can be fun, and it’s a way of testing people’s perception of oneself.

Invariably, posing this question to people seems to immediately get their imaginations racing; it’s something of a “loaded” question, after all.  Hence, people start to think that you do something weird, exciting, dangerous or risqué for a living.  Whilst I was in my hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in July 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting up with activist Laura Lee, who was on tour at the time.  We were sitting outside a well-known bar having a drink when a woman and her adult nephew, out celebrating the latter’s birthday, asked if they could sit at our table.  Of course, being sociable creatures we said, “Sure, no problems!  But you may want to avert your ears because of our conversation”.  They laughed and insisted that they were big enough not to be offended by whatever we were discussing.

Sure enough, this being Belfast, the nephew turned to us shortly after sitting down and said: “So what do yous’ do for a living?”  Laura and I looked at one another, smirked and replied:  “We’ll give you three guesses!”  Then without skipping a beat Laura replied in her Dublin burr:  “I’m a professional dominatrix!”  The nephew was dumbfounded, even more so when Laura presented him with her business card.  He excitedly asked if he could keep the card, adding quickly, “Not that I want to book you or anything”.  Then he looked me up and down and asked, “Are you in porn?”  Laura Lee can testify on a Sisters of Mercy bible that this actually happened!  I replied:  “Close, but no cigar.  I’m not in porn.  But, I’m into porn!”  I qualified this by explaining that I was an academic planner who researched the geographies and regulation of the sex industry and was working on a book on the subject.

So, what do planners and planning have to do with the sex industry? When commercial forms of sex – street- or brothel-based sex work; adult entertainment (e.g. stripping, lap-dancing or pornography); BDSM services; and sex shops, novelty stores or erotic boutiques – manifest they require spaces or premises to operate from.  This is where planning and zoning come into play.  Put simply, planning is concerned with trying to create “orderly” spaces by ensuring that there is a place for everything, and that everything is in its place via zoning.  Planners basically use rationality and technical skills to ascertain whether or not certain land-uses should permitted; however, when commercial sex premises are presented for planning/zoning approval they are often hijacked and held for political and moral ransom by politicians and others who often vehemently object to such proposals, even when such land-uses are perfectly legal.

It is this politicisation of planning and the wider politics and political rhetoric that tend to surround commercial sex industry activities that particularly interest me as an academic.  I’ve done some work looking at how state politicians in Western Australia (WA) have framed sex work in the wake of proposals to introduce legislation to regulate street- and brothel-based sex work.  In short, the political debates here in WA (and elsewhere in Australia for that matter) tend to be informed and dominated by moral arguments as opposed to evidence.  The same also applies to Northern Ireland, which recently passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill.  This Bill, when it finally receives Royal Assent, will see the introduction of the so-called Swedish Model of regulation of sex work.

There has been a fervent (some might say unhealthy) over-interest by governments, certain religious organisations and some branches of the feminist movement, in the sex lives of citizens.  Such over-interest has spurred the introduction (or efforts to introduce) legislation designed to exclude sex shops, curtail the number of strip clubs, prevent people from downloading “extreme porn” and criminalising the purchaser of sex services.  I am not suggesting for one minute that there should be no regulation of the different sectors of the sex industry, and neither do the various sex workers I know.  But recent efforts to regulate different forms of sex work are akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  It also seems fairly clear from observing proceedings in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Canada, for example, that politicians have little regard for the nuanced evidence on sex work and the “Swedish model”. I mean, who needs evidence when you have blind faith on your side?

Moreover, they seem to have contempt for the real experts in the field – sex workers – and a fixation that sex work is populated only by “fallen women” in need of “rescue”.  But sex work is a highly complex form of labour that takes places in a variety of spaces – streets, cars, bars, hotels, casinos, brothels, houses/apartments and the internet – and involves people who identify as female, male transgender and intersectional, who are straight, queer and bisexual, and who come from a range of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.  Whilst sex is obviously a key facet of the transactional relationship between sex workers and clients, there is much more to sex work than just sex.

If governments were sincere about reducing harm to sex workers, their efforts would be better placed on protecting the human and workplace rights of sex workers.  As we know, banning, prohibiting or over-taxing particular goods and services (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography and diesel) merely creates alternative unregulated markets which are often controlled by criminal elements; they thus represent a loss of tax revenue for governments and pose a higher risk to people (the very thing that governments claim they want to reduce).  Government regulation of the sex industry needs to be measured, pragmatic and evidence-based; policies premised on stereotypes, religious beliefs and moral superiority do more harm than good and result in unintended consequences.

So, next time you’re at a party, a wedding, Bar Mitzvah or funeral and you happen to bump into an urban planner why not say to them:  “Let’s talk about sex”?  I’m sure you’ll make their day, but be sure to clarify what you mean if you want to avoid them thinking that you’re coming on to them. 

Links #231

The police are becoming our enemy, and society is becoming the enemy of the police.  –  Frank Serpico

We’re not seeing many Christmas links yet, but since today’s second video (provided by Cathryn Berarovitch) is about a toy, I think it qualifies.  The first video, from Deep Geek, is a parody of the trailer for Fifty Shades of Gray; I don’t think one has to be a lesbian to appreciate it, but it might help.  Everything above the first video is from Radley Balko, and the links between the videos are from PopehatJason Kuznicki, Jillian Keenan and Tushy Galore, in that order.

From the Archives

Mortal eyes cannot distinguish the saint from the heretic.  –  G. B. Shaw

Saint Nicholas & the three daughtersToday is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of whores.  Yes, you read that correctly; the Christian saint most closely associated with Christmas (especially in his modern guise of Santa Claus) also has a special devotion to sex workers, which is why I devote a column to him every year on this day; he also appears in two of my fictional interludes, “Christmas Belle” and “Visions of Sugarplums”.  If you don’t understand why St. Nicholas (rather than St. Mary Magdalene) is our patron, you might wish to read my very first column for the occasion, from four years ago today:

According to the story, a formerly wealthy man who had fallen on bad times had three daughters, but could not afford dowries for them.  Because of this they would not be able to marry, and in the absence of other marketable skills would be forced into prostitution to support themselves.  But on the night before the eldest daughter came of age, Saint Nicholas threw a purse full of gold coins through the window so she would have a dowry.  He repeated the gift a year later on the night before the second daughter came of age, and the third year the father decided to lie in wait so as to thank his daughters’ unknown benefactor.  But Saint Nicholas wished to remain anonymous, so he climbed upon the roof and dropped the bag down the chimney instead…

Note that the story linking him with harlotry (actually with its avoidance, but one can’t have everything) is also the one which gave rise to the legend about his coming down chimneys; that article also explains the origins of a number of his other droll traits.  Last year’s column explains how whores even have a patron saint despite being “sinners”, and the year before that I looked at how his image is “pimped” to promote highly objectionable causes.  I don’t mean commercial products, by the way; this busy saint is also the patron of merchants, so I hardly think he’d object to his image being used to hawk Coca-Cola.  No, what I mean is that one of the most beloved symbols in the world, practically the image of loving generosity, has been used for decades by hatemongers to support their campaigns against one of the groups that Santa loves best; I’m referring, of course, to the vile Salvation Army, which helped invent the myth of “sex trafficking” in the late 19th century and is still heavily involved in pushing it today.  I don’t know if any of the money put into their kettles goes to support their hate campaigns, but it stands to reason that if they had less funding they might not be able to afford to do things like running re-education camps in which captured sex workers can be imprisoned by the Manitoba provincial authorities.  And lest you think sex workers are the only sexual minority targeted by these dangerous fanatics, consider that their official policy is that gay men and lesbians “deserve death”, and that death by hypothermia is preferable to “sexual violation”:

When it comes to helping families in need, the Salvation Army turns a cold shoulder to…teenage boys.  A family in Johnson City, TN, found this out recently when, on a freezing cold night, they asked the organization for shelter.  But because their family of five contained a 15-year-old boy, they were turned down… the dad, Tim Lejeune, explained:  “They said he’s too old to stay on the women’s side, because of the women running around in their pajamas and they said he’s too young to stay on the men’s side in case some pervert wants to do whatever”…So instead the family headed to their car.  The temperature:  18 degrees [Fahrenheit (-8o C)]…local police officers…brought them to the Johnson Inn…the night clerk…comped the room…after that, the Salvation Army did take the family in—minus the teen boy…[who’s] now in a mental health facility…[after having] a breakdown…because he thought it was his fault the family was turned away from shelter…

Please don’t give money to these sex-hating bigots; there are plenty of worthwhile charities, including my favorite Toys for Tots.  If you just can’t pass by one of their bell-ringers without depositing something in their kettles, I suggest you print out the protest slip below and give them that instead.  I have no real hope that they’ll ever see the error of their ways, but those who misuse the image of jolly old Saint Nick to collect money which helps them to hurt those he favors, certainly deserves as much coal in their stockings as we can give. Salvation Army donation

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