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Posts Tagged ‘consensual crime’

This essay first appeared in Cliterati on December 14th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

Canadian Supreme CourtA year ago tomorrow, the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalized prostitution in every part of the country with its ruling in Bedford vs. Canada, which struck down the criminal laws (very similar to those in the UK) which attempted to “control” and “discourage” the sale of sex by making it more difficult and dangerous.  Unfortunately, though the judges ruled the only way they could ethically rule under the circumstances, they still allowed themselves to be swayed by prudishness and deference to busybody ideas about government control of the personal lives of individuals:  they voluntarily stayed their own decision for one year to give the government time to cobble together some new, equally-indefensible, equally-vile law to replace those the court was striking down.  There’s little doubt that the resulting hot mess, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (or if you prefer something a bit less Orwellian, Bill C36), is merely a ridiculous rephrase of the rejected laws, combined with new, even more oppressive statutes, with the whole smothered in popular tinned Swedish sauce.  The government knows the law will never stand constitutional muster, and has known from the beginning; it simply didn’t care. The sole purpose of C36 was to delay the issue and “send a message”; even though it will certainly be struck down, that may take years, and the Conservatives will be out of power by then. In other words, they know they’ve lost and have now switched to a “long game” strategy, minimizing the political fallout by trying to ensure that the hot prostitution potato is in some other party’s lap next time the Supreme Court stops the music.  But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne may have derailed that plan:

Just one day after a new and controversial federal prostitution law came into effect, the premier of Ontario is calling on her attorney general to look at the “constitutional validity” of the law…Kathleen Wynne said she is gravely concerned the new law will not protect sex workers or communities.  Wynne has asked Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur to advise her on the options available to the province, should it be found that the legislation’s constitutionality is in question…Wynne’s comments come as more than 60 organizations, including the Canadian AIDS Society and John Howard Society, demand the new laws be scrapped.  Now Magazine, an alternative publication in Toronto, has also said it will defy the new law, and continue to run advertisements by sex workers…Supporters of the new rules [pretend] the law will help reduce demand for prostitution…

Chronicle Herald editorial cartoon 7-9-14 by Bruce McKinnonBut even police state functionaries know that it will do no such thing; one cop interviewed in the Edmonton Sun said, “At best, it’ll be useless…at worst, it will make things worse than the old law.”  Politicians like Joy Smith are either entirely dishonest or entirely delusional when they call for the censorship and suppression of those who reveal the facts about prohibition and debunk prohibitionists’ propaganda and outright lies; fortunately, however, they are in the minority.  Most of the Canadian media and academia, and a large fraction of the population, understand that threatening people with violence and caging for consensual behavior is an abomination, and it’s inevitable that laws that enable such tyranny eventually go the same way as laws criminalizing BDSM, homosexuality, masturbation and other private sexual behaviors in which the government has no legitimate interest.

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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. 

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Adults should be able to make their own choices—even if that adult is a woman.  –  Marty Klein

Rough Trade 

This would, of course, make prostitution stings legally rape (not that a cop would ever actually be prosecuted for it):

A man woos a woman to bed with tales of his riches, fast cars and a vacation home in Monaco.  But he actually lives in his mother’s basement…Under a bill recently proposed by a south Jersey lawmaker, such actions…could prompt charges of rape…Troy Singleton…introduced the bill…which would create the crime of “sexual assault by fraud,” which it defines as “an act of sexual penetration to which a person has given consent because the actor has misrepresented the purpose of the act or has represented he is someone he is not”…

License to Rape garbageman Trent Barker

As long as any aspect of sex work is criminal, whores will be vulnerable to cops and impersonators:

A Melbourne garbage inspector has been fined $1500 for impersonating a police officer in what a magistrate has described as an “amateurish” attempt to have sex with a prostitute…Trent Barker..told [her] he was a police officer investigating crime and prostitution…then showed the woman a radio, a binder and his council badge, which he claimed was a police badge…He then left the hotel after she refused to have sex.  Barker was arrested a fortnight later and sacked…

Welcome To Our World

[Georgia] Police raided an elderly woman’s home because they suspected that she was allowing people to play cards and bet money inside without government permission — an “illegal gambling house”…90-year-old Mary Helen…Morgan’s guests were [also] allegedly…paying [her] to serve them beverages…without government permission, oversight, or licenses.  [She] was charged with multiple crimes, including…disorderly house…and illegal alcohol sales.  Police charged or cited sixteen other adults with an array of other victimless crimes…[and seized] loot…[including] a gun, drugs, a 2004 Chevy Silverado…a 2003 GMC Yukon and trailer containing miscellaneous lawn care equipment…$4,100 in cash…alcohol, tobacco products, snacks and drinks…

Sales Pitch

Advocates for the Swedish Model claim that the law has led to declining numbers of buyers and sellers of sexual services.  However, according to Ann Jordan…the Swedish government doesn’t actually know…claims of its ‘success’ lack reliable evidence, and the source of such claims “is primarily the government’s initial and short English-language summary”…[which] cites a survey…[suggesting] that fewer men had bought sex compared to a 1996 study, but crucially omits the reservations expressed by the very person who conducted it:  Jari Kuosmanen…[who] explains…the lack of evidence…”There is nothing to support the claim that prostitution in Sweden has decreased…the problem is that politicians didn’t base the legislative change on research…

Profound Mental Disabilities

Funny how often relatives seeking revenge for BDSM relationships of which they disapprove focus on mental illness:

A [Connecticut] jury has awarded about $638,000 to a woman who sued a man she said had a sadomasochistic sexual relationship with her adult daughter…Mary Kortner…filed a civil sexual battery and assault lawsuit in 2006 against Craig Martise…saying her daughter wasn’t able to consent…because of her mental condition…In 2009, a jury found in favor of Martise.  In June, the state Supreme Court overturned that verdict and ordered a new trial…Kortner’s daughter…died in 2010 at age 39 from an undisclosed illness.  She was diagnosed with clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, bulimia and anorexia, and she twice tried to commit suicide…the state Supreme Court ruled that people don’t necessarily give up their ability to consent to sex, including sadomasochistic encounters, when they are placed under the legal conservatorship of others.  The court also said it is up to juries to decide if people are able to consent to sex…

Surplus Women

A Swazi sex worker has been killed in…South Africa by a client during payment at her residence.  Nomsa Dlamini (25)…was strangled and…robbed…The man is said to have paid with a R200 ($18) note…and asked for change.  [He attacked her when she]  took out her moneybag which contained a sum of R2000 ($180)…over eight…sex workers [were] killed in South Africa this year…

Profit from Panic Love146 profiting from panic

Rob Morris…established [Love146]…In its early years, the organization gained a certain amount of attention by building its marketing around [bogus] statistics, such as the [lie] that two children are sold into prostitution every minute.  But Morris knew that they were capable of much, much more.  So he started telling a [bullshit trafficking] story…[about one imaginary child “victim”]…The story went viral, sparking a grassroots campaign that generated worldwide awareness and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.  Between 2007 and 2012, the organization’s total revenue grew from $1.1 to more than $2.6 million, and it now has permanent offices in the UK, Cambodia, and the Philippines…[bogus] statistics can make an impression, but [bogus] stories raise emotion …and emotion leads to action.

Profound Ignorance

Any study which equates sex work with “crime” is flawed from the forge:

Gina Neff…of…the University of Washington…noticed [that] “Uber took down data science blog post showing correlation between prostitution and ridership…“…The blog post in question…takes a somewhat lighthearted look at how Uber’s own ride data mashes up with local crime statistics…the team [found that]…“Areas of San Francisco with the most prostitution, alcohol, theft, and burglary also have the most Uber rides…

So Close and Yet So Far

I get that Alison Phipps really believes she’s on our side, but writing like this supports the fallacy that sex work derives from an “evil” which would not exist in an imaginary Utopia:

Sex workers are part of an industry which…is profoundly gendered and based on the commodification of sex and desire…they have unique insights into how gendered power relations and sexual scripts work.  Some…may tell us how these can be reworked and resisted…Others may have harrowing stories about being the target of the worst misogynist impulses of our culture

The “commodification of sex and desire” is not a bad thing, but a good one; it anchors sex solidly in reality instead of consigning it to the Rainbow Unicorn Candyland of “romance”.

Sex Work is Work

Prohibitionists are terrified of people realizing that sex work really is work:

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) recently published an open letter to Associated Press Stylebook editor David Minthorn in response to an online campaign to replace the word “prostitute” with “sex worker” in AP’s 2015 Stylebook.  CATW and its allies oppose the phrases “sex work” and “sex worker” because they feel “these terms…legitimize prostitution as an acceptable form of work”…CATW’s letter also deploys…a litany of unreferenced statistics…[including the] statement:  “The average age of mortality of a person in prostitution is 34 years old”…[which was debunked by] Maggie McNeill…in 2011

It Looks Good On Paper (TW3 #340)

Here’s a little more on that religious brainwashing program to which Florida sex workers can be sentenced:

…“Turn Your Life Around” [is] a diversion program…[run by religious NGO] Selah Freedom…[and subsidized by the] Sarasota Police Department…[and] State Attorney’s Office…State Attorney Ed Brodsky [pretends this program is]…unprecedented…Selah Freedom recently moved into a larger [facility in which]…even more women [can be confined after being labeled as victims of]…sex trafficking…

Another Fine Mess (TW3 #435) fake base station setup

Though the technical aspect of this story is newsworthy in itself, the reporter seems to feel that sex businesses’ use of a new spamming technique transforms it from sleazy and annoying to sinister and frightening:

Spam text messages advertising prostitution are a nuisance to many people in…[China]…They have not disclosed their phone number to any strangers, but their phones are still mysteriously reached by unknown people…a fake mobile base station…is a device that can send out a powerful signal which forces all mobile phones in an area to disconnect from the legitimate base station…and connect to it without the owners’ consent…Most…can affect phones within a radius of around a kilometer and can send more than 20,000 messages per hour.  “We can send out all kinds of messages, such as adverts for property, private tutoring, financial services, stocks and [illegal businesses]”…[said] a cellphone spammer based in Shanghai…

Prudesville (TW3 #436)

If it weren’t for the fact that real women are harmed by Everett, Washington’s ridiculous crusade against coffee stands, the language deployed by cops and reporters in these stories would be hilarious.  The dark hints in this first one seem like something out of a film noir thriller, as though owner Carmela Panico was conducting an assassination business rather than just allowing tit-flashing:  “Everett PD says looking into Panico’s crime ring was one of their largest investigations.  ‘It was very important to…stop the criminal activity’, says Captain Bill Deckard…”  One can almost hear the reporter clutching her pearls as she informs us that “the sex acts are continuing” and her satisfied smugness when she informs us that the Everett Pimp Department is going to enrich itself by stealing both the coffee-making equipment and the money the women earned from their sexual labor.

Book Review:  America’s War on Sex (TW3 #440)

It looks like Dr. Marty Klein may be trying to make up for his long silence on sex worker rights:

…providers of erotic services…face enormous criticism and discrimination over their choice of work. One of the worst kinds…is the assumption that escorts are either coerced into doing their work, or that they’re too stupid to realize how bad it is for them.  That’s the basis for…so-called “rescue” operations…There’s some serious sexism in the idea that “escorts can’t be trusted to make adult decisions”…So it’s especially ironic that many would-be rescuers (including Gloria Steinem herself) call themselves feminists…Today’s coalition of feminists, conservatives, and even human rights activists are attempting to impoverish escorts’ lives as a way of defending “women’s rights.”  Their critiques are translated into criminalization, exclusion from social systems such as child daycare, and the prospect of discrimination in child custody battles or allegations of sexual violence…

A Procrustean Bed (TW3 #441)

For the second time since SeptemberThe New York Times profiles one of the state’s…”human trafficking intervention courts”.  This one, in Queens, sees…a large number of undocumented immigrants…This is…precisely the cohort that gets white-savior boners popping.  All those American-born sex workers on Twitter may insist they want rights not rescue, but surely these low-income, low-skill women are victims.  Surely they’ll appreciate state power being used to help rend them from their wretched lives.  Yeah, no.  The women the Times talked to…”said…that they did not feel like trafficking victims, but victims of the police…

He Said, She Said (TW3 #444)

Jian Ghomeshi, 47, former host of the internationally syndicated music and arts program Q…surrendered to police and was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one of choking…The charges follow a month-long police investigation into allegations that Ghomeshi…sexually assaulted and harassed several women…Ghomeshi [claimed]…it was…consensual [BDSM]…

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on October 26th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

As long-time readers know, I’m very fond of science fiction and fantasy; the difference between the two is that the latter describes a world which (by our understanding of the laws of the universe) could not actually exist, while the former describes a world which could but does not (at least yet).  As some have pointed out, though, the term “science fiction” is really too limited; very often the world described in such a story differs from our own not due to some scientific discovery or technical development, but in a social or cultural way.  For this reason, some writers and critics prefer the term “speculative fiction”, which broadens the genre to include things like alternate-history stories; my tale “For I Have Sinned”, for example, imagines what our modern world might be like had the Catholic Church won the Crusades and successfully suppressed the Protestant Reformation.  The story is an example of a type called a dystopia; while a “Utopia” is a fictional world better than our own1984 (at least in the writer’s estimation), a dystopia is one that is worse.  But just as the traditional science fiction of yesterday (e.g. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Destination Moon) can become the science fact of today, so can what was once the stuff of dystopian speculation become the true and horrible political reality.

The process is usually very gradual, just as technological development is; a poisonous idea becomes established in one place and spreads to others, expanding in scope once it’s in place.  The wicked Swedish model of prostitution law, which defines women as moral imbeciles and men as their evil oppressors, is sold to the delusional, the misandrist and the ignorant as a means of “protecting” women from dirty, bad sex, and though it has been repeatedly beaten back in England and Scotland it has now taken root in Northern Ireland:

The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted by 81 to 10 in favour of making it a crime to pay for sex…Northern Ireland is the first part of the UK to vote in favour of the measure.  There is still some way to go before the bill becomes law, but the prospect of a ban on paying for sex in Northern Ireland has taken a significant step forward…Opponents included Justice Minister David Ford who claimed it would be difficult to enforce…

“Difficult to enforce” is an understatement; the US has criminalized both the buying and selling of sex for a century now, and though only a tiny fraction of all such transactions are caught by police it takes “sting” operations and other violations of civil liberties to accomplish it.  In other words, even if you believe that stopping consensual behavior is somehow a good thing, prohibition can’t actually accomplish that.  It does, however, provide a useful excuse for the construction of a vast police state; “protecting children from porn” was the rationale for establishing the UK’s internet censorship regime, but it’s now being extended to allow suppression of any viewpoint of which “authorities” disapprove.  Nor will they be content with merely silencing such people:

People found guilty of Internet “trolling” in Britain could be jailed for up to two years…following a number of high-profile cases of abusive and threatening behaviour on Twitter.  Justice Secretary Chris Grayling…[said] “This is a law to combat cruelty — and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”…last month a man was jailed for 18 weeks for what prosecutors described as “a campaign of hatred” against a [politician].  “These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life…” Grayling said.  “That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence”…The government proposes to amend two existing laws to extend the maximum jail term and also the time limit for prosecutions, from six months to three years…

I edited this item to remove the cases politicians are using to win the support of the thoughtless and focus on their real motive: shielding politicians from criticism.  Thoughtcrime is now a very real offense in Britain; perhaps you read about this case:

Robul Hoque…[was convicted for] his collection of Japanese Manga or Anime-style images alone…His barrister Richard Bennett said:  “These are not what would be termed as paedophilic images.  These are cartoons”…Police found the images when they seized Hoque’s computer…none were of real people.  They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms…exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity…Six years ago he was prosecuted for having “Tomb Raider-style” computer-generated pictures of fictional children…

That’s right, he was convicted for having drawings of a taboo subject.  Drawings.  And pay attention to that line about how they found the forbidden doodles, because their power to search you for “evidence” (or any other excuse) is increasing all the time:

Registered gun owners in the United Kingdom are now subject to unannounced visits to their homes under new guidance that allows police to inspect firearms storage without a warrant.  The new policy from the British Home Office went into effect Oct. 15…Britain’s gun owners were subject to the home visits before the update, but the inspection had to be conducted with prior notice…the Association of Chief Police Officers [claimed] the revamped guideline does not grant police any new powers…ACPO is also encouraging [informants] to call a new Crimestoppers hotline to report any [people they want harassed by police]…The Home Office is [pretending] that legitimate guns could easily be stolen and wind up in the hands of terrorists…

Of course, guns aren’t the only things which terrorists might use; knives, household chemicals, cars, computers, money…why, the list is endless!  Clearly the police need the power to “inspect the storage” of those things in private homes, without warning or warrant.  And if the owners aren’t home when they arrive, well, in the interests of national security the police should clearly be given the power to let themselves in, and if the place gets ransacked in the process you can be sure those in charge will dismiss any claims the householders make with the assurance that proper procedures were followed.

time machineAll of us are time travelers, and though the process is both slow and unidirectional, it inevitably brings us into a world very different from the one where we started.  Unfortunately, we cannot merely hop into the TARDIS and return to the past or visit a different future if we don’t like the one in which we find ourselves; we are stuck there, like it or not.  Tyrannies don’t materialize without warning overnight, nor are they usually imposed from outside any more; the world around us is a prison we have allowed the powerful to build, stone by stone and bar by bar.  They capitalized on our fears, our intolerance, our greed, our envy, our laziness and our wrath, and though we could have stopped them many times over we were always more concerned with what other people were saying, doing or thinking, and thus handed our self-proclaimed “leaders” the weapons they needed to dominate us all.  Welcome to the future, and if you think all the things I described above are hunky-dory just wait until the inexorable action of legal precedent brings your face under the boot next.

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Governments need to be reminded (at least annually if not constantly)…that [their] overthrow…by a disgruntled minority is always a possibility.  I would like to see most if not all politicians and their minions paying for their power and privilege by being forced to live in a constant state of nervous anxiety.  –  “Guy Fawkes Night

I only call myself a libertarian because it’s the only popular term which has some general resemblance to the way I see the world.  Technically, what I am is a minarchist, someone who is to an anarchist what an agnostic is to an atheist; I’m also more or less an agorist.  But use either of those terms to most people, even to many libertarians, and you’ll be greeted with blank stares; I had to add both of them to the Microsoft Word dictionary while writing this.  For most uses, “libertarian” is good enough, though it means that I have to endure opprobrium from semi-literates who write for sites like Think Progress, Alternet and Salon and seem to believe that “libertarian” means “caricature of a fundie plutocrat” or even “whatever I don’t like”.  The demonic misnamed “libertarians” in these yahoos’ tiny minds are like cartoon distortions of Ayn Rand characters,Gilded Age political cartoon mustache-twirling (excuse me, “beard-stroking”) villains who are perfectly happy with the system except insofar as their own power-plays are disrupted by the good, noble, valiant white knights in government.  Not counting the cops and the military, of course; those are bad parts of government, totally and completely disconnected from the good parts who only try to “help” people by telling them how to live, why to fuck, whom to associate with, where to shop and what to eat, wear, buy, watch, say, do and think.  Said directives are of course implemented by laws (for our own good, naturally) and enforced (look carefully at that word) by the cops they pretend to disapprove of and locked up in the prisons run by powerful crony-capitalist corporations they pretend to hate (in Facebook posts made on their iPhones).

In truth, I’m as far from many libertarians (especially Libertarians) as I am from most Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Socialists; the main difference is that the vast majority of libertarians, no matter what their flavor, respect my right to have different beliefs from them and different opinions about which issues are most important.  And that makes them in my estimation vastly better human beings than those who assert the right to ownership over my person, my time and my effort, even if I disagree with them on a lot of issues and just can’t get terribly excited about the trials and tribulations of people who’ve made more money since breakfast than I will in my entire life.  One important way, perhaps the most important way, in which I differ from most libertarians (especially Libertarians and “libertarian-leaning” anybodies) is that I do not believe our current system is salvageable.  Unlike most people, I harbor no delusions about American exceptionalism and no 21st-century chauvinism; I refuse to comfort myself with the childish belief that the culture and time in which I live is magically different from all others that have gone before, because of God or science or “democracy” or “feminism” or mass communications or what-have-you.  As a pragmatist and a student of history, I recognize that all cultures  – every last stinking or shining one of them – are as mortal as the humans who build them, albeit on a slightly larger time scale.  No culture is immortal; all of them are born, grow, mature, sicken, decline and die, usually over a period of a few centuries to a millennium at best.  And pretending that wholly different cultures are the same merely because they occupy the same territory and call themselves the same thing is as absurd as insisting that Elizabeth II is actually Queen Victoria.  The United States of history, the patriotic fiction to which so many believe they owe fealty, is as dead as the dodo; it was born with an ugly birth defect which doomed it from the start, and the monstrous doppelganger which grew like some loathsome fungus inside of its carcass would not be worthy of saving even if that were possible.  Nor are the majority of modern Western nations any better.

I’m not calling for a revolution; I’m saying that a revolution is inevitable, whether we like it or not.  The powerful have made it inevitable, despite the best efforts of those philosophically-inclined revolutionaries we call the “Founding Fathers” to minimize the extent to which the power-hungry could take control over the less-able, less-connected, less-ambitious and less-evil.  They wanted to make it impossible for anyone to gain very much power over anyone else; they failed.  It was partly due to the toleration of an institution in which one human being could literally own another (the birth defect to which I alluded earlier), partly due to oversights and errors in the legal instruments they created, and partly due to new and horrific disguises for totalitarianism developed by successive generations, but mostly due to the fact that what they wanted was flat-out impossible; any system of government can and will be remade by the evil to give them power.  Last December, Clark Bianco of Popehat wrote a powerful polemic about what our system has become; in it he refutes the common argument that the system is “broken” (which implies it can be “fixed”, a contention he and I both deny).  It’s well worth your time, but here’s a sample:

Twenty years ago I was a libertarian.  I thought the system could be reformed. I thought that some parts of it “worked”… whatever that means.  I thought that the goals were noble, even if not often achieved.  The older I get, the more I see, the more I read, the more clear it becomes to me that the entire game is rigged…the system is not reformable.  There are multiple classes of people…the bottom of the hierarchy…can, literally, be killed with impunity…Next up…are…regular peons…[who] can have our…rectums explored at the roadside…because the cops got permission from a dog…Next up…are the…disciplined-voting-blocks…[then] the cops…judiciary and…prosecutors…and…at…the [top]…the true ruling class: the cabal of (most) politicians and (some) CEOs, conspiring both against their own competitors and the public at large…The system is not fixable because it is not broken.  It is working, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to give the insiders their royal prerogatives, and to shove the regulations, the laws, and the debt up the asses of everyone else.

Burn it to the ground.

Burn it to the ground.

Burn it to the ground.

The fires have already started, though the Powers That Be are expending considerable effort to extinguish them while simultaneously denying that they exist.  Sooner or later they will develop into a conflagration which will consume the current edifice; with any luck those who next build on the site will be able to salvage a few sound parts of the old structure to incorporate into the new one.  Maybe the next experiment will get a bit closer to the goal and last a bit longer before it, too, degenerates into tyranny.  But history teaches us that is rarely the case; things have indeed slowly improved over the ages, and there’s no reason to suspect that trajectory will change.  But the improvements always come from virile young cultures learning from the mistakes of the old ones, not from moribund old ones too obsessed with past triumphs to bother gazing upon their own decaying visages in the mirror of time. burning capitol

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on September 28th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

Tyrannical laws, especially those against consensual behaviors, are supported by many people suffering from the delusion that these laws (or other, subsequent laws based on the precedent of the laws they supported) will never, ever be used against them or anyone they care about.  Of course, this is nothing but a naïve fantasy; the fact of the matter is that, as I have written many times before, a weapon once forged can be used by anyone who cares to pick it up; furthermore, once its pattern has been invented there is nothing to stop other tyrants from forging similar weapons to use against those they wish to oppress…which might very well include those who supported the first law.  Over and over again we see examples of prostitution laws being used to arrest women who have never been paid for sex in their lives; because a whore looks exactly like any other woman, and her “criminality” derives entirely from taboo motives for an activity which is completely legal otherwise, cops routinely arrest  “women who carry condoms, answer personal ads, wear sexy lingerie, go without lingerie, fail forced ‘virginity tests’ask a cop if he’s a cop, ‘act sexy’, go out after dark without a male chaperone, or even just ‘look like a prostitute’.”  In some parts of the US, some of these acts are themselves criminalized, leading to a bizarre and evil regime in which a woman can be arrested and convicted for “acting like a hooker” even if everyone agrees that no “act of prostitution” took place.

I’m sure most of you heard about this incident last month:

[Hollywood actress] Daniele Watts…has claimed she was “handcuffed and detained” by Los Angeles police officers because of her race.  Two police officers approached Watts and her white boyfriend Brian James Lucas when they were seen showing affection in public, the actress said…she refused to produce her photo ID…and was then handcuffed and held in a police car as the officers tried to figure out who she was…

Daniele Watts arrestNaturally, the police chief insisted that the cops acted properly (as police chiefs always do, even when an unarmed person is shot in the back or an autistic teenager is tased to death):  “Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck is defending the actions of officers who briefly detained and questioned an actress…following reports that she was ‘involved in a lewd act’ in a parked car…”  Setting aside for a moment that the initial reports said she was suspected of prostitution, not “indecent exposure”, it seems disingenuous to claim that their being an interracial couple had nothing to do with the harassment.  Here’s an account from a woman who, though she was eventually arrested for having the same name as someone for whom there was a warrant, was initially stopped merely for being a black woman in a vehicle with a white man, despite the lack of “indecency”:

…I rode shotgun in a pickup truck with…my friend, Nathan…On the way to the restaurant we drove too far and had to turn into the entrance of a very wealthy, very white neighborhood to get back on track.  Suddenly we heard a police siren coming from an unmarked SUV, signaling for us to pull over.  Before the arresting officer made it to Nathan’s car, two more unmarked SUVs and a police car joined them…Their first question was addressed to Nathan: “How do you know this woman?”…

In other words, prostitution laws provided a useful pretext for a stop.  Certainly, there are many such pretexts, including the hundreds of inane traffic regulations that actually exist and the dozens of others cops just invent on the spot.  But it’s telling how often prostitution laws are used as that pretext when it’s black women the “authorities” want to harass:

…Kantaki…Washington, Cydney Madlock and J. Lyn Thomas say a member of the [Standard] hotel’s security team accused them of being hookers.  The women had just come down from…[the] bar…and settled in the lobby when several men approached them and offered to buy them drinks…a security guard from the hotel whispered something in the man’s ear and ushered him away.  “After…he comes over to me and my friends and says, ‘Come on, ladies.  You can buy a drink but you can’t be soliciting,’…We were like, soliciting?  He said, ‘Don’t act stupid with me, ladies.  You know what you’re doing’…Dude, I’m a lawyer and these women are educators…Why the hell would I be in here soliciting prostitution?”  Outraged, Washington demanded that the guard give her his name and the name of his manager…When she and her friends approached the manager…they were met with indifference…Several weeks later, Washington received an email from…the hotel inviting her and “three guests back to The Standard for a bottle of champagne…followed by dinner…”  None of the emails…addressed the prostitution accusation…

Of course, they’re lucky he was only a rent-a-cop; otherwise it might’ve gone more like this:

A Galveston couple is suing three police officers who they say arrested and beat their 12-year-old daughter after mistaking her for a prostitute…Named as defendants are…Gilbert Gomez…David Roark and Sean Stewart…Dymond Larae Milburn went outside her home…to flip a circuit breaker about 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2006.  Responding to a call that three white prostitutes were soliciting in the neighborhood, the plainsclothes officers jumped out of an unmarked van…and one of them grabbed the girl, who is black…the officers did not identify themselves as police and…the officer who grabbed her, later identified as Roark, told her, “You’re a prostitute.  You’re coming with me.”  Her parents, Wilfred and Emily Milburn, heard her cries for help and came outside to see the hysterical girl hanging on to a tree and screaming “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” while two officers hit her in the head, face and throat…Two hours later…emergency room…doctors found she had a sprained wrist, two black eyes, a bloody nose and blood in an ear…Weeks later, the girl was arrested during classes at…school, where she was an honors student…She was tried a year later on a charge of resisting arrest, but the judge declared a mistrial on the first day…Wilfred Milburn was arrested the…day [after the initial incident] for interfering with police and assaulting an officer…

super cop mind probing machineThe systemic racism of the American “justice” system is hardly a secret, and only a fool would pretend that the removal of any one law would do much to stop police abuse of black people; they would simply use another of the many laws available to them under universal criminality.  But just as legislative precedent can be used to build new laws, so can judicial precedent be used to overturn old ones.  The vast majority of the laws used to harass all people, but especially minorities, are those against consensual activities because they allow cops to stop, annoy, question, beat, chain and cage peaceful people who have done nothing to anyone else, based purely on cops’ whims and feelings.  To accuse someone of prostitution, a cop need not even produce drugs to plant upon his victim; all he needs is a prejudice or a wanking fantasy.  And the eradication of any such vile law is a step toward eradicating all of them.

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Dave Krueger used to run an excellent blog named Sex Hysteria! in which he chronicled the many instances of human stupidity about the subject.  “Sex trafficking” was only one of the many topics he covered, and I first heard about the “gypsy whores” myth from him.  Alas, real life eventually put so many demands on his time he could not continue the blog, and he doesn’t write as often as he used to, however, he recently reappeared on Twitter and I hope this isn’t the only guest spot he does for me.

One doesn’t have to be an avid follower of the news to notice that American law enforcement is becoming ever more tightly integrated into the day-to-day affairs of ordinary citizens; you no longer have to be suspected of a crime (in the traditional sense of the term) to warrant the interest of any of a multitude of police agencies with overlapping jurisdictions at federal, state, and local levels.  Almost every government agency that generates regulations has an enforcement branch armed with guns making sure you aren’t braiding hair or arranging flowers without a license, dealing non-approved milk, buying too much cold medicine, or allowing your kid to sell lemonade, etc.  Government insists on using its police powers to dictate even the tiniest details of human commerce; in today’s America, if you breathe, you are probably a law breaker.

But even aside from the regulatory environment, fabricated crime has replaced traditional crime as the central focus of the justice system.  In a traditional crime, some act injures a non-consenting person in some way; in a consensual “crime”, all parties engaged in the activity consent to it.  Consensual crimes may still result in injury, but no force was used to compel anyone into being a party to them.  Consensual crimes include almost all prohibitions on drugs, sex work, gambling, and usury; laws specifically targeting minorities (race, gender, and sexual orientation) belong to the same class.  Without compulsion and victimization, it is rare for anyone to report such “crimes”; that is the crux of what differentiates traditional from consensual crime from a law enforcement perspective.  Equally important is that many more people engage in outlawed consensual behavior, and usually do so more often than they would commit traditional crimes.   In other words, consensual crime creates an endless supply of easy targets for law enforcement.

Over the course of the 20th century, the US justice system experimented with and expanded its focus on consensual crime; in recent years, federal grant programs and asset forfeiture laws have actually incentivized police departments to divert resources away from traditional violent crime fighting.  Because people who engage in consensual crime rarely complain, law enforcement must resort to “stings” and confidential informants (CIs) to produce evidence of law breaking; a sting consists of tricking someone into committing the outlawed act, and a CI is anyone willing to testify, in exchange for cash or favors, that someone else committed a crime.

The most prolific campaign against consensual crime started in the 1970s with Nixon’s “War on Drugs”, which triggered a perpetual erosion of the civil liberties which were once considered a defining characteristic of American freedom.  Key among these lost freedoms are protections against self-incrimination, unreasonable searches, and privacy in general.  The U.S. now has the distinction of having more criminals behind bars than any other country on the planet, and virtually all convictions now come from plea agreements induced by prosecutors who overcharge a defendant and then offer to reduce the charges in exchange for a guilty plea.  The path from freedom to prison has become a high-volume assembly line consisting largely of clerical steps in a Kafkaesque system that holds all the cards.

Mixed with the bad news that all Americans are subject to harassment and arrest is the sobering fact that police are not subject to the same laws as the rest of us; there are no consequences when they don’t respect our rights.  In the absence of public outrage and irrefutable proof of misconduct, the entire justice system stands ready to shield cops from accountability.  Nothing has exposed this culture of corruption like the widespread use of video-capable cell phones to expose cops blatantly and routinely lying about the facts of an arrest, but even when caught red-handed it’s rare for a cop to even be fired, much less charged under criminal law.  Cops are also shielded from damages stemming from civil suits; successful suits are paid by taxpayers.  On top of that, police are taking on a more militaristic character; SWAT teams that were once intended for dangerous situations like hostage standoffs are now used to serve routine search and arrest warrants.  This militaristic, us-against-them, mindset instills an attitude that the public is the enemy; escalation of violence is becoming a reflex law enforcement reaction rather than a tactic of last resort.

Is there any way to reverse this trend?  Even as traditional crime rates plunge, the fear-mongering “tough on crime” rhetoric that permeates election campaigning remains very effective with voters.  And though millions of Americans are adversely affected by the government crusade against consensual crime, they remain largely disorganized and ignored by the establishment media.  The drug war throws thousands out of work, making many unemployable, eroding the tax base and exacerbating poverty, while the voting block that benefits from this taxpayer-financed crusade (cops, prosecutors, judges, the prison system, treatment specialists, attorneys and the illegal drug industry itself) thrives.  So although there has been some limited success with rolling back some state marijuana laws, there is not going to be any noticeable diminishment of the powerful industry that benefits from consensual crime laws without massive public pushback; this, however, is highly unlikely because  activists who fight consensual crime laws are divided by category.  The crusader against the drug war doesn’t see gamblers or sex workers as natural allies, etc.

The only viable prospect for reversing this trend is for everyone with a dog in the fight to recognize they are all fighting the same foe; rather than remaining in isolated pockets of resistance, they need to join together as one movement with one voice.  It’s time to make the case that consensual crime laws and the American police state are everyone’s problem.  This is not a left vs right issue; the current state of affairs has been an enthusiastic hand-holding joint venture between both Republicans and Democrats, but history shows that parties can change when pushed by a large enough interest group.  If you’re a sex worker, gambler, or drug war opponent, you are part of that interest group.  If you are the spouse or parent of someone whose life has been ruined because of some low-level consensual crime arrest, you are part of that interest group.  Even if you’re just a taxpayer who doesn’t want your taxes used for persecution, you’re part of that interest group.  There is power in numbers; we need to stop sending thousands of people to prison every year for no other reason than we don’t like what they do behind closed doors.

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