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Posts Tagged ‘harm reduction’

For regular readers, this month’s guest columnist needs no introduction; Laura Lee is a sex worker and activist who lives in Scotland, but is active in the fight against criminalization both in the UK and in her native Ireland.   You can find many stories about her (and videos in which she appears) in the subject index, most of them under the subtitle “The Public Eye“.  I admire Laura for her incredible courage in coming out as a sex worker and facing down politicians both in committee rooms and on television, but for this essay she preferred to speak of the courage of others; I’d say she’s well qualified to judge that particular quality.

Laura Lee CNNIn the current debate raging about further criminalization versus decriminalization, sometimes it’s very easy to lose sight of the real people behind the statistics, those sex workers on the front lines.  This week in Perth, Scotland, some of the bravest women I have ever encountered took the stand to give evidence against a vicious rapist; their courage took my breath away.

I could summarize the circumstances surrounding the case, but I think the voices of the sex workers concerned are far more powerful.  With their kind permission, I will replicate some of the email correspondence I’ve had below, changing some personal details to maintain their privacy and right to anonymity.

Myself and a few other girls travel from Edinburgh/Glasgow up to a flat in Perth for shifts, one of girls phoned in a state.  She had let a punter in, he demanded money from her, when she said she didn’t have any, he raped her and punched her in the face very violently.  She cried through the whole attack, that was around November last year.  We begged her to report the attack to the police which she was adamant she was not going to do fearing her family would find out what she did for a living.

Early February I was working in the flat, and although there had been reports of a guy hanging around the flat all week, I’d calmed down by then and thought I was out of danger.  A punter called, he knew where the flat was and I assumed he was a regular.  He came into the flat, told me I could do things the easy way or hard way.  He had to say it twice as I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but knew I was in big trouble.

I told him I had no money (understand the other girls he raped were tiny, I body build, plus I’ve got teenagers and don’t appreciate cheek).  There was obviously a “don’t mess with me” stance which had taken over in me without my knowledge.  He threw me on the bed and spread my legs apart.  I knew he was going to rape me.  I screamed at the top of my lungs, he jumped off me and made a run for the front door, curling his fist into a ball as I ran after him to get the door shut, that was his warning to stay away as he fled.

Within 15 minutes I’d phoned the police and reported the crime.  Laura, I know what I work as makes people disgusted and they think I’m a lesser person because of that but I’m not, I’m proud, this job has supported me and my kids and given me a support system financially that a lot of single mums can only dream about.  I refuse to go to work to be abused, battered or raped.  I never signed up for that, I am proud of who I am and what I’ve achieved!!!!!

The police were lovely and very supportive, they had no clue that sex workers were even in Perth, my friend was asked by the police if she would approach other flats in Perth with the promise there would be no charges for the other girls, they were not interested in what they were doing as they wanted this lowlife caught.  After a bit of persuasion it turned out that another two girls had been attacked, anally raped and battered by the same guy which they identified.

I can’t forget what he said to me – “You can’t phone the police, you’re just a prostitute!!!!”

That will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Perth High CourtSo that’s their story.  One by one those women took the stand against the man who thought “you’re only a prostitute”.  Isn’t it time that we acknowledged that they are far from “just prostitutes”?  They are women, they are mothers, working to support their children and they deserve the full protection of the law.  The police in this case have been wonderful and very supportive of the women, and have now appointed a liaison officer so that they can report their worries in private.  He was found guilty last Tuesday, and will be sentenced on the 30th; let’s hope it’s a long, long one.

Too little, too late.  The time has come to acknowledge that whatever your moral judgment on sex work, those who work within the industry deserve to do so in safety.  Had these women not had such immense courage to go forward and report these crimes, who’s to know where it would have stopped?  We need to decriminalize sex work right now, so that every sex worker can work with others for safety, and so that the stigma and vulnerability attached to sex work can begin to be peeled away.  When this lady told me the rapist’s  words will haunt her for the rest of her life, I resolved to fight for decriminalization with a ferocity rarely tested.  That, at least, I can promise them.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on February 16th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

Bedford victoryAs you probably know unless you’ve been living in a cave, three months ago the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the laws which made the legal activity of selling sex much more difficult and dangerous, just as similar laws in the UK, India, parts of Australia and many other countries do.  As I wrote in “What Next?” just two weeks after the decision, “there is nothing in it to prevent the imposition of American-style criminalization”:

Were this the United States, you can bet the legislature’s immediate response would be criminalization. However, it’s a little different in Canada…[which] has since the late 1960s maintained a [relatively] strong tradition…that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”…On the other hand, the government has heavily invested its…case in neofeminist rhetoric, and recently adopted the Swedish model as its official position; several MPs have released long-winded “explanations” of the “fact” that women are permanent victims who shouldn’t be allowed to choose sex work.  There is little likelihood that a system proven to increase violence and stigmatization of sex workers would pass muster under Bedford, yet at the same time it would be rather embarrassing for the government to push for the direct criminalization of sex workers after proclaiming us too weak to avoid being controlled by morally-superior clients and “pimps”…

Once politicians started returning to work after the holidays, they immediately began to issue the predictable torrent of nonsense and panic-mongering.  The chief font of this flow of sewage has been Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who emitted the ludicrous (but typical) claim that Canada would become “a haven for sex tourism” (despite the fact that New Zealand and New South Wales have not), and the even more absurd statement that the sex industry is more complicated than the medical industry; he then pontificated on the “significant harms flowing from the sex trade” (ignoring the court’s finding that the laws he supports are the cause of those harms) and delivered a pitch for the abominable Swedish model (which, as pointed out above, could not possibly stand under the Bedford decision because it’s at least as harmful as the laws that were overturned, if not more so).  He also boasted that the new laws would be ready “well before” the court’s December 20th deadline.

Say NO to the Nordic Model in CanadaBut outside of Conservative Party enclaves, evangelical Christian churches and anti-sex feminist cults, there just isn’t much support in Canada for the puritanical pretense that consensual sex magically becomes violent and sinful merely because money overtly changes hands.  Young Liberals in British Columbia are pushing for their party to officially adopt a pro-decriminalization stance and have castigated Justin Trudeau and other party leaders who seem ready to get in the Swedish bed with the Conservatives.  The Vancouver City Council has “unanimously passed a motion to accept recommendations intended to increase safety and services for sex workers”.  British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta are all declining to pursue ordinary prostitution charges, and Newfoundland has had virtually no new cases since the Himel decision in 2010.  Newspapers routinely print sex worker-friendly articles, and editorials like this one are typical:

You’d think the sky was falling with all of the misconceptions circulating concerning the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down our prostitution laws.  No, the Supreme Court has not legalized prostitution…[which] was [already] legal…No, sex trade workers will not be flocking to your neighbourhood any more than they already have…They are already in many neighbourhoods…[seeing] clients in the warmth of their homes, apartments, condominiums and hotel/motel rooms…albeit illegally…because the use of any home, apartment or even a hotel room on a frequent basis for the purposes of prostitution violates the brothel prohibition.  No, the Supreme Court decision won’t increase the number of sex trade workers…Does anyone think…[they] decide to get into the business after a thorough study of the criminal law and the legal risks of prosecution?…No, the decision won’t increase the incidence of sex slaves and human trafficking…attempting to enforce a moral code by criminalizing prostitution, or the activities surrounding it, is a waste of resources…

There’s still no way to tell how long and winding a road Canada will have to traverse before it reaches the inevitable conclusion that Canadian courts, sex worker rights activists, the UN and organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are correct in saying decriminalization is the only moral and effective model for sex work; it may be mere months, or years, or decades, and the way may be littered with the corpses of failed attempts to re-criminalize it before the busybodies eventually give up.  But unlike the UK (which seems to be going in circles) or the US (which is insanely marching in the wrong direction), the Canadians at least seem to be on the right course.

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Last week I published a letter from an exceptional woman:  though she’s a Christian with a strong personal aversion to sex work, she has deeply considered the issues and realized that there are many, many problems in “anti-trafficking” discourse.  After my last letter she wrote again with more good questions, but her letter was so complex that I have separated out the individual questions not only to make this column easier to read, but to protect her privacy by eliminating personal details.  If you haven’t yet read last Wednesday’s column, you really ought to do so before proceeding with today’s.

A friend of mine belongs to an anti-trafficking ministry which gives out gift bags to ladies in brothels and tries to build friendships with them.  The gift bag includes shampoo and sometimes cookies and earrings, and also a packet of tissues, inside which they have slipped a hotline for getting out of prostitution.  Would you personally find such a message with a hotline number insulting?

trafficking soapMost sex workers would probably consider that more funny than insulting, because the idea outsiders have that we’re all “trapped” or “victims” or “slaves” is very amusing when it isn’t backed up by uniformed thugs.  But once the cops start smashing down doors, beating, raping and robbing sex workers before caging them and giving them criminal records that will follow them for life, it goes far beyond mere insult.  The idea that we’re “victims” is a symptom of what you mentioned in your first letter:  the refusal to listen.  It’s kind of like the way gay people are treated in some churches:  “I can’t understand how a man could be attracted to another man, so there must be something wrong with them.”  The old narrative was that sex workers were “bad” women, but over the past 800 years Christianity has slowly shifted toward viewing us as “fallen” creatures to be redeemed, and that became the dominant social discourse in English-speaking countries from the 1880s on (largely due to the influence of the Salvation Army and other groups promoting the “white slavery” hysteria).  After criminalization became the norm in the US (from 1910-1914), people naturally started seeing prostitutes as “criminals”, and that view persisted until the beginning of the present moral panic in 2004 (though several years earlier in Sweden).

I have seen sites that quoted (at least they claim) comments from clients about prostitutes, 95% of which were horrendous.  So why do clients come to you?  Is it really that men who are willing to buy women are often aggressive and do not respect women in general? 

Those “client quotes” are totally cherry-picked.  The idea that men pay good money to spend time with women they hate is about as absurd as anything I can think of; it’s related to the radical feminist notion that all intercourse is rape.  The fact is, I was often treated better by the men who paid me than guys who just dated me, and that’s a very typical experience.  The majority of sex workers’ clients are either horny or lonely, and that’s it.  They’re not looking for women to “objectify” or “abuse”, and the only people who can believe otherwise without being lied to are people who believe the Marxist foolishness that all economic transactions are innately exploitative, or those who believe that all sex not sanctified by marriage (or all heterosexual sex, period) is bad.  The only reason they pick on sex work is that when they try to apply those ideas more universally, most normal people mock, shun or ignore them.  Sex workers have been turned into a pariah caste against whom rhetoric that wouldn’t last five minutes when directed against anyone else, suddenly becomes palatable.  The most common form of prostitution these days is probably GFE escorting, where GFE stands for “girl friend experience”.  In other words, the majority of clients want a girl who is nice and friendly and chatty and sweet, just like a regular date.  Yes, there are bad clients…but that’s true of every business in the world, as anyone with experience in retail or waitressing can tell you.

Do you not mind when a man comes to you only for your body, with no interest in your personality, your soul, your mind, your history?  Although if I must think of sex work as normal work, I suppose it would be as ridiculous as if I asked an office worker, do you not mind that your boss has no interest in your personality etc and that you are reduced as just a working cog in a cooperation.  In an office, ideally you’d find a caring manager who does care about your well-being – and I guess there are clients who are similar?

sex dollAs I explained above, most clients are.  If you talk to sex workers who have had “straight” jobs, you’ll find they usually felt far more objectified in those than in sex work.  People who talk about “bodies to be used” must have a very low opinion of men, to believe that that’s how men see sex.  In fact, one of the most annoying client behaviors is when they go on about “I want to give you pleasure” and “what would you like to do?” and that sort of thing, which many of them do.  We hate it because it makes it much harder to satisfy a customer who won’t say what he wants, but as you can see it’s exactly the opposite of that “objectification” jazz.  When I was an escort I advertised myself as “the thinking man’s companion” because I have a hard time “dumbing down” my conversation and wanted to attract men who liked that…and there were plenty.  You were talking about reviews earlier; you know who gets the worst reviews?  Girls who just lie there like a “body to be used”.  What prohibitionists claim men are looking for, is actually the thing which will probably kill a sex worker’s business faster than anything else.

My anti-trafficking friend never says “prostitute”, but rather “ladies in the sex industry”; she also never gives out their names “in order to protect their confidentiality”.  But if sex work is just work, what difference does the word make?  And why wouldn’t prostitutes want people to know their names?

If sex work were completely accepted, normal and legally protected, I would agree with you that there would be no need for aliases.  But that isn’t the way it is, and it won’t be in our lifetimes.  Your friend is wise to be discreet.  As for the term “prostitute”, it’s a very legalistic word that has acquired  considerable negative baggage.  So while I myself use it because many outsiders with whom I discuss it (especially lawyers & politicians) see it as a neutral term, it is in fact pejorative and should be avoided.  “Sex worker” is considered the most polite term; “prostituted woman” is the most insulting and demeaning because it casts us as passive, inert victims without intellect, will or agency.

I’m uncomfortable saying that sex work should be okay and treated as any other job, but I’m also uncomfortable with criminalization because everyone has the right to choose what they will do and how they want to live their lives.  How do I resolve this conflict?

Now we’re getting into the philosophy of harm reduction, which is quite complicated but here’s the nutshell version.  I personally think cocaine is awful; I hate the way people act when they use it, I hate the way it makes their noses run and their mouths get crusty, I hate the weird fantasies they have when they’re on it.  Eventually I got to the point where I’d refuse clients I knew were using it because I didn’t want to deal with it.  However, the harms that result from cocaine aren’t nearly as bad as those that result from attempting to suppress it, such as the establishment of a surveillance state, empowerment of police to violate civil rights on a massive scale, bloody cartel wars, bad (even fatal) reactions to tainted drugs, the attraction of criminals to the business, the vast waste of money and the highest incarceration rates in history.  I don’t have to like cocaine or approve of its use to recognize that its prohibition is a horrible thing and the wellspring of myriad evils, and you don’t have to like or approve of sex work to have the same view about its prohibition.  And considering that it is the prohibition of sex work that is the chief enabler of coercion, I would think that every moral person who is truly concerned about that would join with the UN, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many others in calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

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After breaking down doors and waving…guns around, it’s gratifying [for cops]…to pacify terrified slaves by tasering them.  -  Joyce Arthur

Recognition

An elderly Italian man got a rather unwelcome surprise when he ordered an escort – and his…40-year-old son’s South American girlfriend…arrived at his house…the pair declined to take the encounter further and swiftly parted ways.  The man [decided]…to tell his son…prompting a bitter fight between the pair…the son [sued] his father for injuries…Barbie and Lammily

Barbie

While whitebread feminists wet themselves over the newest version of “Happy To Be Me”, Virginia Postrel isn’t having any of it:

…All right-thinking people  seem convinced that Barbie instills in her pre-school fans a false and remarkably detailed standard of beauty.  Hence the widespread  praise for Lammily, the latest anti-Barbie concept doll.  A crowd-funded project from artist Nickolay Lamm (the source of her ungainly moniker), Lammily is based on the average proportions for a 19-year-old…[but] the average 19-year-old female American stands 5 feet 4 inches tall.  She has a 33.6-inch waist and…weighs 150 pounds…If Lammily were true to life…she’d have rolls of fat, not a firm plastic tummy…Celebrating one version of average as “normal” and “realistic” implicitly stigmatizes everyone who doesn’t meet that standard.  Barbie doesn’t pretend to do that; Lammily does…

A Narrow View

This NPR article on diversion programs is full of the usual “sex trafficking” nonsense and dishonest platitudes about the programs’ effectiveness, but one section was especially troubling:

…Judge Pratt says that initially her treatment-focused approach…improved the ability to prosecute the traffickers.  But…a lot of the boys…were becoming pimps.  “The foster care system and juvenile justice system is creating both sides of this market, the suppliers and the goods,” she says…

Her revolting dehumanization of girls as “goods” is bad enough, but her willful mischaracterization of young male sex workers as “pimps” in order to prop up the vile “pimps and hos” myth is utterly reprehensible.

To Protect and Serve (August Updates)

San Diego cops use “sex trafficking” as an excuse to send a SWAT team to a strip club:

A manager at Cheetahs strip club says his dancers felt violated by police who photographed them almost nude…10 officers swarmed the building with guns and bulletproof vests, interrupting business for a couple of hours…to make sure all 30 dancers had proper permits and were in compliance…

Don’t Take My Word For It

Male delusions about sex work start extra-early in Sweden:  “Swedish police have received a report that three underage boys [as young as ten] speaking bad German tried to sell sex to women at a busy commuter hub in central Sweden…

Not for Everybody

Though Meg Munoz had a very bad time as a sex worker and for a while supported prohibition, she eventually recognized the harm it creates:

…Poorly conducted, [biased]…research needs to stop being used as the foundation for fundraising…the refusal to have sex work acknowledged as real work…has all but halted any civil discourse…Allowing moral biases to dictate policy is dangerous for those who are there by choice and force…

Above the Law Deon Nunlee

No, you lying asshole, it’s exactly what police officers do, which is why this is the second most common subtitle on the blog:

…while police responded to [a] domestic violence call, one of the officers allegedly took the woman into an upstairs bedroom and sexually assaulted her…Deon Nunlee has been charged…Detroit Police Chief James Craig said…“This is an anomaly.  This is not what our police officers do”…

In fact, here’s another in the same city:Geoffrey Townsend

A former Detroit police officer who was convicted of criminal sexual conduct involving participants in his boot camp for misbehaving teens is being sued by two of the victims…Geoffrey Townsend…began making unwelcome sexual advances [eventually culminating in rape when one]…victim was 13 years old…and…the…[other] 16…

And it’s not limited to the US, eitherScott Andrew Terry

[Durham, Ontario police Constable Scott Andrew Terry] sexually exploited [a 16-year-old girl] …with whom he first came into contact after she was busted for shoplifting in May of 2000.  Instead of filing charges…he…[offered] her a rental room in his house…[then] began making advances which…escalated to nude photos, sexual touching and eventually rape…“in exchange for the rent”…

First They Came for the Hookers… 

This dumb story about dumb strip-club restrictions in Chicago is, as you might expect, mostly just dumb.  But these comments from anti-whore zealot Bob Fioretti venture into a higher realm of dumbness:  “we have an underlying social problem.  Between 15,000 and 25,000 women a day engage in prostitution…in this city.  That underground activity undermines us a city — a world-class city…”  I’ll bet you didn’t know we were so dangerous, or that roughly 4% of the adult female population of Chicago were whores.

Higher Education (TW3 #23)

Unlike the last time we saw this, these teachers are actually qualified:

An enterprising association of sex workers in Barcelona has angered some of Spain’s most prominent feminists by offering an “intro to prostitution” course…at a cost of €45…the four-hour intensive course for aspiring sex workers was held last month by the Asociación de Profesionales del Sexo…Lidia Falcón…[who] has spent years fighting to have prostitution [criminalized] in Spain…said…the problem with the course lies in its underlying suggestion that some women are working in the profession out of their own free will…

So Falcón wants the course banned because it blatantly disproves her lies.

Imagination Pinned Down

Though the social climate which led to the Satanic Panic had been building for years, it was the McMartin Preschool hysteria that really launched it.  Now that it’s a generation in the past, even media outlets like the New York Times which fully embrace “sex trafficking” hysteria recognize its earlier incarnation for what it was.  Here’s a good retrospective called “McMartin Preschool: Anatomy of a Panic”; watch it with the current hysteria in mind and note the many parallels.

The Widening Gyre

If “authorities” don’t want stupid myths about women being abducted spreading around, they sure have a strange way of showing it:

[A rumor] warns of attempts to abduct women and girls in broad daylight at crowded shopping centers.  It warns that a new gang initiation requires members to kidnap, rape and beat womenBig Pimp and then dump them in parking lots.  For years, authorities have tried to keep such messages from spreading, debunking their claims as urban myths…

To clarify:  Women being abducted by gangs for quick rape = “right up there with Bigfoot”, but women abducted by gangs for years of captivity and sexual slavery = 100% credible.

South of the Border

In Mexico, a respected advocate is arrested as a “pimp” for helping sex workers organize:

…the recent arrest of Alejandra Gil…[is due to] new legislation, which…conflates sex work with human trafficking…Gil has worked tirelessly for the human rights of sex workers for many years…Laws and policies that target “third parties” under the premise of “protecting” sex workers, increase our vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, and create real barriers for sex workers organising…

Bottleneck

Considering that more than 90% of whores prefer to work illegally than submit to licensing, how well do you think this colossally stupid Italian law will work?

…prostitution will be permitted in private houses, subject to certain conditions, including the use of condoms…the draft law, which was presented…by…Maria Spillabotte…includes the issuance of a licence, stating that the holder is free of sexually transmitted diseases and confirming that a payment has been made…of €6,000 for a full-time licence or half that amount for part-time work…Prostitutes will also be required to get a certificate of mental fitness.  “This is a fundamental way of getting women away from coercion,” says Spillabotte.  “During an interview, the specialist will be able to tell if the girl is being forced into prostitution or if it is her free choice”…

That Old Black Magic

Patrick RockThe Sharjah Police…arrested an Arab woman and a man for forcing women into prostitution and engaging in black magic…

Buried Truth

When a politician obsesses about “protecting children from porn”, this is usually the reason:  “A senior aide to David Cameron resigned…the day before being arrested on allegations relating to child abuse images.  Patrick Rock…was involved in drawing up the government’s policy for…online pornography filters…

Between the Ears (TW3 #133)

This article on “Why Viagra Ruined Sex Work” quotes a few ladies whose names regular readers may recognize:

…“I wouldn’t say ED drugs are the worst thing, but they are really annoying,” laughed…Jolene Parton…“it…makes it harder for the client to come.”  Anna Gristina…dubbed [it]…“The working girl’s worst nightmare come true…It went from wham-bam, thank you ma’am,’ to ‘Oh my god, can you just finish, man’”…Amanda Brooks…says…men become obsessed with having an erection at the expense of any enjoyment for anyone…

It Looks Good On Paper (TW3 #311)

Texas joins the states arresting people to force them into “diversion” programs:  “The Corpus Christi Police…conducted a ‘Jane Sting’…in conjunction with the Red Cord Diversion Program…all six arrested persons were signed up to participate…rather than have criminal charges immediately applied.”  Yes, they actually referred to sex workers as “janes”.

The Crumbling Dam (TW3 #315)

Joyce Arthur hits it out of the park with this satire:

In a bold move aimed at protecting workers from exploitation while on the job, the government today passed a new law that criminalizes most employers and customers…Law and Order Minister Punter MacCunny…pointed out that 95 per cent of people hate their jobs and want out, according to a new government-commissioned study…Police welcomed the new law, which gives them sweeping new enforcement powers to target the huge increase in organized crime.  According to Det. Sgt. Billy Clubber, head of the RCMP’s new Slave Save Squad, “We’ll be cracking down on slavery rings, basically any place where workers are bribed with wages to provide services”…The law now designates employers and customers as “pimps” and “johns,” respectively…

Long Spoon (TW3 #351)

Reason’s video on condom criminalization specifically refers to the Human Rights Watch report condemning the practice in New Orleans:

Ladies of the Night

Saith Dr. Brooke Magnanti in The Telegraph:

It’s an unusual move to go from policy and social commentary to fiction, especially as the stories cover a range of genres from romance to crime to sci-fi.  And yet it works.  The eye for detail that fans of Maggie’s non-fiction writing appreciate is well played here.  She invents worlds with ease and populates them with thought-provoking, yet never two-dimensional, women and men.  If you love plots with twists, she has them to spare.  (If you’re not into twists, or women who aren’t always whiter than white, probably best to stay away.)  And the cover art by acclaimed cartoonist and Louis Riel author Chester Brown is wonderful.

She also reviews Daddy by Madison Young and Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant.

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #410)

Sex columnist Suzi Godson presents “10 Things You Need to Know Before You Support the Swedish Model of Sex Work” in response to the new push by UK prohibitionists.  It’s not anything new for readers of this blog, but it’s possible ammo for online discussions you may get involved in.

Traffic Jam (TW3 #410)

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz answers the many criticisms of Project ROSE by denying them to Christian Post after refusing interviews with mainstream reporters.  And if you imagine the denials are substantive or backed by facts, think again:  her entire rationale for cooperating with cops to railroad people and deny them lawyers is, “sex-work…is against the law.”  Meanwhile, in last week’s other installment of “Traffic Jam”, a demonstration of the motivation behind the fakery:

A study of advertising placed during the recent Super Bowl in New Jersey suggests the volume of sex trafficking that will occur when the event comes to Arizona in 2015 will likely exceed the ability of any one law enforcement agency to address.  Phoenix Police Lt. James Gallagher, who co-authored the study…said law enforcement must coordinate to combat sex trafficking during major events…

In other words, “give us more money and power!”  Here’s a Storify of the fun several of us had with this mess last Saturday.

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This world of imagination is the world of eternity.  -  William Blake

In a place that is not a place as material beings understand the term, on a plane of existence several levels above our own, three friends came together to share stories of their travels since the last time they had met.  I shall refer to them as Red, Green and Blue, but what they actually call themselves (if indeed they use a concept as crude as “name”) I do not know.  As was their custom they eventually lapsed into a philosophical discussion, debating various ideas in much the same way as sentient beings everywhere in the multiverse do, and one of the topics they touched upon was the ephemeral nature of the societies created by material beings.  Soon the conversation turned to a comparison of these societies, and they began to speculate about which of these had the lowest likelihood of still existing in a recognizable form by the time they got around to visiting it again.

colors“I visited a world whose inhabitants were expending its resources at a shocking rate,” ventured Red.  “They had developed technological means of improving their physical conditions, but made not the slightest effort to calculate the probable supply of the raw materials consumed in the process, nor even the most basic contingency plans for the eventual depletion of those materials.  Though enough of them were skilled in the development and use of technology to maintain and even improve their control over their environment, the majority of the population was fixated on an irrational belief system which pretended that beings from higher planes like ourselves had nothing better to do than to watch over them constantly, protecting them from the consequences of their own foolish actions.  Though they believed such beings could transcend the laws of nature and violate conservation of energy, they simultaneously imagined that the beings were obsessed with the tiniest details of their behavior, and would dole out reward or punishment based upon how closely each individual could adhere to a set of arbitrary, pointless and mutually contradictory rules.  So rather than prepare themselves for the ultimate necessity of modifying their procedures to maintain or improve their current standards of living, they instead devoted tremendous effort to asking nonexistent benefactors to somehow materialize favorable consequences for them, and to spying on each other to ensure nobody was breaking any of the silly rules which they imagined their incorporeal benefactors to care about above all else.

“Surely, such a misguided sense of priorities must eventually result in catastrophe; if they fail to think ahead they must eventually reach a point where their resources run out, and when that happens their society must either collapse or decline into barbarism.”

“That is indeed a sorry situation,” replied Green, “but I think we must all agree that whatever the chances of such a civilization’s survival, they would be lower still if those hapless creatures were burdened with even more deficiencies.  I visited a world very like the one you just described, but in addition to the resource depletion, irrational belief system and refusal to face reality, they were also incredibly violent.  A large fraction of their already-limited means was expended in the infliction of harm upon one another, and when they could find no sensible reason to do so they invented ridiculous ones.  Like the beings you visited, they were obsessed with monitoring each others’ mindless obedience to foolish regulations, but they further believed that they had the right to inflict violence upon each other for even the smallest and most inconsequential violations of those regulations.  They even selected from among their number a designated group whose entire purpose was to go about not only looking for rule-breaking, but to actually deceive their fellows into breaking rules so as to provide an excuse for the infliction of violence.  Nor was this violence limited by some principle of proportionality; these special agents were allowed to inflict grievous, even fatal harm upon their victims for even the tiniest transgression of the most obscure rule.  And when they could not discover a large enough number of rule-breakers to satisfy their assigned quotas, they would simply pick victims at random, falsely accuse them and inflict harm just as though they had actually done whatever it was they were accused of.”

“Incredible!” rejoined Red.

“There’s more.  Though there were already so many rules it was totally impossible for any of them to ever learn them all, they designated another group whose entire function was to invent even more of them, and to ensure they were too complicated for the ordinary individual to understand; they were written in a form of code so that none without special training could even hope to comprehend them.  And if these rule-makers failed to make enough new rules to satisfy certain other individuals, they were criticized for inefficiency.

“It seems inconceivable that such a civilization could even last long enough to run out of resources; surely they must destroy themselves well before that point.”

sperm & egg microphotographBut then it was Blue’s turn.  “I fear that the world I visited must come to a bad end even more quickly still, for its inhabitants were afflicted by all of the behavioral flaws the two of you have described, and another which I consider still worse.  Like many material life-forms, they reproduced sexually and the biological drive to mate was a strong one.  But though the act of reproductive union was so pleasant to them that they would use every opportunity to engage in it, even when biological conditions did not allow impregnation, they simultaneously believed that the act rendered them ritually impure.  A very large fraction of their arbitrary rules were dedicated to restricting the act of mating, and infractions of these rules were held to be among the most serious of all, and subject to some of the harshest penalties in the society.  Furthermore, mated pairs were supposed to be exclusive despite the fact that one of the biological sexes tended to have a much stronger and less selective drive than the other, and though transgressions against that exclusivity were extremely common they all pretended that their own mates would never behave so.  An entire profession was dedicated to allowing the expenditure of such urges in a controlled fashion so as to reduce the potential harm resulting from transgressive mating; without this profession the long-term pair-bonding upon which their entire social structure was built would undoubtedly fail far more often than it did.  Yet those who practiced it were vilified and stigmatized by most of their societies, even by those who used their services, and the dedicated rule-enforcers spent wildly disproportionate amounts of time and effort in their persecution.  Furthermore, they seemed to labor under the delusion that if they could only cage everyone they discovered in this transaction, the biological basis for it would vanish without affecting their rate of population replacement.

“Given that such a large fraction of their racial energies was expended upon a wholly futile task which, if they could somehow succeed at it, would totally destroy the foundations of their society, I cannot believe that this culture still exists in the form I perceived it.  Such mass derangement must surely prove disastrous within a relatively small number of generations.”

The friends agreed that the world Blue had visited must indeed have fallen into chaos by now, and was therefore the worst of all those they had seen.  Perhaps they were wrong; it may be that as astral entities they had an imperfect understanding of the tenacity and adaptability of material life.  Or perhaps the time-scale on which they functioned was so protracted that nearly any society of material beings would perish quickly by their standards; it may be that “soon” to them would be twice ten thousand years by the way we measure time.  Conversely, it may be that my poor, ephemeral brain of matter was unable to grasp the true nature of their conversation, and that upon awakening from this vision I filled in the gaps with my own mortal preoccupations.  And really, in all likelihood, Red, Green and Blue exist only in my imagination (and now in yours), and this entire tale is but the idle fancy of a tired and cynical mind.

We’d better hope so, anyway.

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I’m passionately against sex-trafficking, and on the whole I do not support sex work.  If the existence of the sex industry hides trafficked victims, which it does, then I’d rather there’s no sex industry at all, because while the willing sex worker is able to do other work, the trafficked victim has no such choice.  I was an advocate of the Swedish model until a Swedish friend of mine sent me a blog post that explained how it’s making life worse for sex workers (even coerced ones), contrary to what the Swedes and well-meaning Christian community might have us believe.  I’ve also keenly noticed that in all the sex trafficking discussions and films I’ve seen, nobody – absolutely NOBODY – asked the prostitutes, the very people who know what it is they need, and what the situation is really like on the ground.  So I’m interested knowing what, in your opinion, do sex workers need?  What kind of system, law, or facility should be in place to better protect and help sex workers?  Is it possible to help and rescue trafficked victims, whilst not interfering with willing sex workers?  What would actually help rescuers identify and free trafficked victims in the sex trade?  Finally, why have YOU chosen to be a sex worker?  I’m asking not to judge you or to preach or change your mind.  I just want to hear the other side.

I’ll try as best I can to answer all your questions; if I miss anything, please reply and ask it again.  You may not like everything I’m going to say, but you seem like someone who’s genuinely trying to understand so I hope you won’t reject uncomfortable truths out of hand merely because they do indeed make you uncomfortable.

Amerikaz Most wantedThe first question you need to ask yourself is, what is it about sex work you don’t “support”?  If you merely mean that you can’t envision yourself as ever being in a position to either sell or buy sex, the statement makes perfect sense; I could say that “I don’t support the rap industry” because I don’t like rap and therefore contribute no money to that segment of the music business.  However, my powerful dislike for rap does not give me the right to deny that it undoubtedly gives pleasure to those who do like it, and provides a creative outlet for people who nonetheless could do “other work” under far less satisfying conditions and for vastly less money.  Nor would it be right for me to demonize rap and blame it for things that derive from the nastier portions of human nature; these problems would still exist even if rap could somehow be eliminated by establishing a totalitarian state whose police had the power to violate people’s rights at will in order to further the War on Rap.  It is never right, moral, justifiable or even possible to stop people from pursuing peaceful, consensual, private activity, whether that activity involves music, books, sex or drugs.  You mention the prohibitionist myth that the sex industry “hides” the existence of coerced workers, but this is no more true than saying the agricultural industry “hides” the existence of coerced farm workers or the domestic service industry “hides” the existence of coerced domestics.  The sad fact is that some human beings are willing to directly subject their fellow creatures to coercion, and most human beings are willing to allow others with fancy titles and interesting costumes to inflict coercion as long as that violence achieves results they like, whether those results be enlarging their country’s territory, filling the state’s coffers, inflicting their moral agenda on strangers or producing cheap food and consumer electronics.  Most people who position themselves as enemies of “sex trafficking”, yet seem relatively unconcerned with other forms of coerced labor, do so for two reasons: first, that they do not themselves buy or sell sexual services; and second, that they wish to stop others whom they do not even know from doing so.  If these same people were constantly calling for the abolition of other industries in which some degree of coercion occurs (such as agriculture, domestic service, textiles, electronics and the prison industry), their position would at least be logically consistent (if naively Utopian).  But that is not the case:  they are perfectly willing to accept exploitative and coercive, even quasi-slave-like, treatment of agricultural laborers, domestics, sweatshop workers and those arrested under prohibitionist laws; it is somehow only sexual exchange, coerced or otherwise, which inflames their ire.

I am really pleased that you recognize the necessity of listening to sex workers; that is the major point of my essay “Let Me Help”, which I think would answer most of your questions.  It contains links to other essays of mine (and to resources outside this blog) which will help you to understand not only that very few sex workers are coerced in any meaningful sense of the word, but that most of the people “authorities” label “trafficked” are not the helpless victims in need of “rescue” that they are painted as being in exploitation films and prohibitionist propaganda.  These people themselves say this over and over again, but as you pointed out nobody wants to listen because the truth conflicts with the narrative they prefer to impose upon it.  And one thing upon which virtually all sex workers agree is that decriminalization – the removal of all laws which treat sex work as somehow magically different from all other forms of work – is absolutely the best way of dramatically reducing the harms which plague the industry under criminalized, semi-criminalized or quasi-criminalized regimes.  My recent essay “Treating Sex Work As Work” sets out the case in exhaustive and thoroughly-cited detail, explaining how every attempt to control sex work by criminal law results in causing far more harm than it prevents.

I chose the job that suits my needsIf you want a longish answer to your last question, you should probably read my three-part “Genesis of a Harlot”; however, I can give you a much shorter answer which is at the same time more universal.  I chose sex work for the same reason about 98.5% of all sex workers do:  it was the best fit for my needs at the time.  Sex work is both more lucrative and more flexible than any other kind of work available to most people; in its most basic form it requires no special equipment, starting capital, intensive training, licenses or tests.  And though those characteristics are attractive to many people, they are especially attractive to members of certain marginalized populations – including, ironically, women with prior prostitution arrest records – who find it difficult or impossible to secure or maintain conventional employment.  In other words, the more laws, rules and regulations a society allows government to inflict upon it, the larger the fraction of people who will be driven into underground economies by their inability to get other work.  The more a government tries to control people’s work, movement and lives – including their sex lives – the larger the sex industry will become; prohibitionists are therefore their own worst enemies, because the more they crack down, the more people they push into conditions under which sex work is the best available means of support.

(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.)

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Sex work can be dangerous; but those dangers are exacerbated, or in many cases even created, by criminalisation.  -  Jean Urquhart

Something Rotten in Sweden (December Updates) Maxine Doogan

sex workers [protested] a San Francisco anti-trafficking panel discussion…about “Discouraging Demand”…[including] the “John School”…Maxine Doogan…[of] the Erotic Service Providers Union…[said] “Using the term ‘john’ to describe our clients is like using the N-word…It’s a derogatory means of dehumanizing the customers.”  Law enforcement efforts that go after clients ultimately increase risks for sex workers, she continued.  “Any criminalization of our customers is going to bring us more violence”…Doogan also cited the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision…striking down…anti-prostitution laws that the justices unanimously agreed were…dangerous…

For Those Who Think Legalization is a Good Idea

the law which regulates sex work in India today [is] the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA), 1956.  This does not criminalise sex work per se, but, as the Lawyers’ Collective that works for sex workers’ rights points out, it results in “de facto criminalisation through prohibition of soliciting, brothel and street work”, and this “has effectively undermined sex workers’ ability to claim protection of law”…Often sex workers are evicted from the only roof they had with their children in the name of “closing down brothels”…[the avails law] criminalises…their children as soon as they cross the age of 18, and old parents and younger siblings who many sex workers support.  However…“The criminalisation of soliciting is one of the most obvious legal problems…Sex workers are arrested even when they’re not soliciting”…

Against Their Will

This has a few irksome passages, but it’s probably much more palatable to rescue industry types than the way most sex worker rights activists might express it:

…Imagine someone flying across the country to pick up an individual they only recently met.  They are removed from everything they have ever known.  Then they’re placed in a home where they can’t have contact with anyone in the outside world.  Sounds much like trafficking?  It also sounds like a rescue…More often than not the story of Captain Save a Ho and the “fair maiden” ends with the girl running out as friends console the rescuer saying, “You did the best you could”…“She had too many problems”…or “Maybe she was wounded beyond repair”…The term “rescue” naturally implies that a person is incapable of helping themselves, and sometimes this is true…but the effects of being rescued can leave a lasting emotional mark on the survivor, which is difficult to overcome in the new life…

Saving Them From Themselves arrested teen girl

[Virginia] police say a teenager is facing child pornography charges after allegedly tweeting nude pictures of herself…The teen’s phone was confiscated for evidence, and she was charged with one count of distribution of child pornography…this could end up…with jail time…investigators say they are seeing a surge in these types of cases because teens see it as harmless sexting.

How dare they form their own opinions!  Only “authorities” have the right to determine what is harmless, and teens must be taught that by the infliction of much more severe harm.

Neither Addiction Nor Epidemic

David Ley…and colleagues conducted a review [showing]…only 27 percent…of articles on porn addiction contain…actual data, while [most suffer from]…poor experimental designs, [low] methodological rigor and lack of model specification…The review…found very little evidence — if any at all — to support…the purported negative side effects…There was no sign pornography was connected to erectile dysfunction, or that it caused any [brain] changes…people reporting “addiction” are more likely to…have a non-heterosexual orientation …high libido…and…religious values that conflict with their sexual behavior and desires…the research team said pornography might improve attitudes toward sexuality…increase quality of life…and…provide…a legal outlet for illegal sexual behaviors or desires, and its consumption or availability has been associated with a decrease in sex offenses, especially child molestation…

Coincidentally, Dr. Ley also appears in “Horns” below.

Above the Law

The lengths to which prosecutors and reporters will go to avoid saying “rape” when the rapist is a cop are nothing short of amazing:

Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot admits he committed sex acts with an unresponsive woman…and now faces a federal sentence for lying to the FBI about it…Theriot…placed her in the front seat of his police vehicle and took her to his office where he “engaged in…sexual contact with her”…

And in Hawaii,

[Alexandria Gregg]…is suing the…department of public safety and [prison warden] Neal Wagatsuma…for…[sexually] shaming…her and other female inmates…“During open public meetings of male and female detainees…Wagatsuma repeatedly forced…[female inmates] to stand at a podium and speak about their private, intimate and traumatizing sexual experience”…the warden ordered [them] to elaborate on…incidents of rape as well as sexual preferences.  The public questionings were videotaped by male detainees…“Typically, the detainees selected for filming were young attractive women”…Press Freedom Index

Pyrrhic Victory

Presented with minimal comment: the US continues its descent in the press freedom index; it is now just below Papua New Guinea and Romania, and just above Haiti and Niger.

Naked Truth

A good article by Melissa Gira Grant on the real effects of political crusades against sex work.  Note that though Salon chose to point fingers at “the right” in its headline, the article itself makes no false partisan distinctions:

…Super Bowl lent the excuse for New York and New Jersey…to step up their routine anti-prostitution policing, in anticipation of an increased demand for commercial sex that, in Super Bowls past, has never been borne out.  NYPD’s vice unit coordinator Anthony Favale doesn’t even seem to mind that the hype is just that, telling Time, ”I don’t know if the increased number [of prostitutes] is a legend or not, but I am exploiting the opportunity”…Long before the media turned the Super Bowl into a…story of violence and exploitation…people engaged in the sex trade have been documenting…all the ways anti-prostitution policing pits them against law enforcement and puts them at risk when they need help…

Sex Work is Work

Sometimes the absurdity of the idea of consensual crime is blatantly obvious:

The European Union is [finally] enforcing laws which…require countries to estimate how much cash changes hands on their black markets.  Those figures will be taken into account when calculating national GDP and allocating the £120-billion Brussels budget.  EU officials say the change will ensure consistent economic comparisons between member states.  As prostitution and drug use is legal in some member states – like the Netherlands – officials say it’s only fair for other states to acknowledge those activities in their national accounts.  Prostitution in the UK is expected to be valued at £3 billion a year, and drug dealing at around £7 billion…

Train Wreck (TW3 #48)

An…NGO, Society Against Prostitution and Child Labour in Nigeria (SAP-CLN), in collaboration with Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) have elected to embark on a controversial campaign to rid Nigeria’s capital city of prostitutes…armed soldiers and police…run amok…[victims are charged] N5,000 each [about $30.50 US]…those [with] the money [are] released instantly [but] others [are held overnight to see a] magistrate…SAP-CLN has many [lawsuits] hanging on its neck [over this]…and…the… Dorothy Njemanze Foundation…has called on the Federal Government to stop SAP-CLN…The group said many female students …employees… shoppers and even married women have been brutalised and abducted…

Original Sin (TW3 #321)

Dr. Brooke Magnanti on the evangelical underpinnings of “sex trafficking” myth:

The scandal of counsellors in “crisis clinics” that claim to offer “abortion support” claiming that terminations can cause breast cancer and women to become child sexual abusers was exposed this week…The vast majority of such “clinics” in the UK…are run by…Christian Action Research and Education (CARE)…the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.  This APPG aims to promote the so-called Swedish Model…It’s been revealed over and over again how far left second wavers are beholden to anti-homosexuality, anti-trans, anti-sex work and anti-abortion interests, yet many people refuse to acknowledge the truth…I think Pee Wee Herman says it best…


Deafening Silence

Time bravely denounces police violence against sex workers!  But only in China, of course; American anti-whore police violence is A-OK:

…A 6,000-strong [police] force reportedly raided 12 hotels and entertainment venues in Dongguan] leading to 67 arrests — 90-odd cops for each of the alleged perpetrators.  Two police chiefs were later suspended, according the South China Morning Post… “Swept Away: Abuses Against Sex Workers in China“…documented torture, beatings, physical assaults, arbitrary detentions and fines.  Another report, by Asia Catalyst, found that escaping custody meant paying bribes.  Periodic “busts” focus on shaming women, not stemming the trade.  In a now-notorious 2010 case, Dongguan officials publicly paraded male and female suspects, barefoot and handcuffed, through the street…But…China’s netizens know where the real shame lies…“clean [up] your so called police troops, that’s what people really want to see” [said commenters]…“Arrest 67 officials [instead]“…

Between the Ears (TW3 #322)

Once again:  female sexual desire has nothing to do with blood flow, to the genitalia or anywhere else:

…a pill dubbed “female Viagra”…containing an extract from French pine bark called pycnogenol, goes on sale this month…[under the name] Lady Prelox…The manufacturer…claims its product “boosts libido and increases arousal in women”, because it “encourages blood flow to the reproductive organs as well as the brain”…

Torture Chamber

the Dutch justice ministry announced the planned closing of…19 prisons…[due to] a continued decline in crime rates.  Additionally, those who are convicted are choosing electronic tagging instead of incarceration.  This allows people to go back to work and continue as productive members of society. It also saves about $50,000 per year per person…

Horns

B0000351 Human sperm showing exceptional sperm countFrom an evolutionary perspective, the idea that a guy would take pleasure from watching his wife with another man is counterintuitive.  Historically, men have gone to great lengths to avoid being “cuckolded”…fear of cuckoldry…shaped how our male ancestors approached sexual relationships and, to this day, is…the reason men tend to get more jealous…about…sexual infidelity than women…Increasingly, scientists favor a biological explanation based on a growing body of work on sperm competition.  Research shows that when one woman mates with several men, those men can display behavioral and biological changes intended to increase their likelihood of fertilizing her egg…David Ley…[thinks it’s related to] displaying…one’s sexy wife [as] a status symbol…

Innocence Never Had

More truthful headline: “Underage Sex Worker Murdered in Yorba Linda

A 17-year-old girl found stabbed to death in…Yorba Linda [California]…was a victim of human trafficking…about two weeks before she was killed…Officers identified Aubreyanna Sade Parks as a victim of human trafficking during a crackdown on prostitution in Santa Ana….Parks was turned over to county social service workers…[and] taken to a shelter but walked out in the following days…Larry Soo Shin [has been arrested for the murder]…

It’s bad enough that criminalization almost certainly contributed to this young woman’s death; do they really need to erase her agency in an attempt to increase that criminalization for living sex workers?

The Public Eye (TW3 #403)

Considering it’s in an Irish newspaper, this is nothing short of amazing:

…Watching [Northern Ireland’s justice committee] in action, you could very well be back in Salem in the final years of the 17th century…Laura…Lee’s treatment was so bad that she has registered a complaint with the Assembly…Lee does much of her sex work with terminally ill and disabled men, offering them a discount from her normal rate…In one of the most repulsive parts of the hearing, Paul Givan asked her, “Why would you exploit a disabled individual and make him pay?”, as though Lee was targeting defenceless men and entrapping them into having sex with her…[these] posturing men…clearly fancy themselves as grand inquisitors, when in reality they mistake boorishness and stupid sneering for incisive interrogation.  It is [they], not…Laura Lee, who should be ashamed of themselves.

Catastrophic Consequences (TW3 #406) Jean Urquhart

MSP Jean Urquhart did something extraordinary this week:

Jean has criticised Edinburgh’s decision to delicense its saunas and massage parlours, and called for a debate on decriminalising sex work in order to improve safety and decrease stigma.  Her intervention has been praised by…SCOT-PEP as “courageous”…Jean highlighted calls from sex workers’ organisations for full decriminalisation, as practiced in New Zealand since 2003…

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Mark Bennett is a criminal defense lawyer in Houston who, as he says in the text below, is unafraid to defend sex workers.  I first linked his blog just over a year ago in “The Truth About ‘The Truth About…’“, then more recently in “The Spiral of Absurdity“.  But in December he wrote a series of “tweets” which impressed me so much, I asked him to turn them into a guest post; this column is the result.

An adult’s body belongs fully to that adult.  It does not belong to his parents, to her husband, or to the government.  If something—including your body—belongs to you, you can do what you want with it, as long as what you do doesn’t hurt (or create an unjustifiable risk of hurting) other people.  If you cannot do what you want with it (without interfering with others’ rights), a thing does not belong to you.  You have at best a limited license.

Ken Lane watches his daughter Hannah sign the purity covenant at the annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball in Colorado SpringsIt is true that the law and society treat us as having a limited license to our bodies.  In most American states you can’t legally smoke marijuana, you can’t hire someone to help you end your own life, and you can’t have sex with someone for money.  It has not always been the case that a woman’s body belongs to her, even aside from the claims upon it by government; historically, women’s bodies have effectively belonged to their male kin, who were honor-bound to protect their purity until they married, and to their husbands thereafter.  There are still segments of society in which this is the case.  Witness, for example, “purity balls” at which adolescent girls pledge that they will preserve their virginity until married and fathers pledge that they will protect their daughters’ purity.  I do not claim to be a feminist, yet it strikes me as creepy that a father should take such a proprietary interest in what his grown daughter does with her vagina.

To the avowed feminist, the claim of male ownership (transferred from the father to the husband, with no intermediate ownership) of female sexuality must be the height of patriarchy.  Yet there’s a wide gap between rejection of male ownership of female sexuality, and acceptance that everyone’s own sexuality belongs to him or her, to do with what he or she will as long as it doesn’t hurt (or create an unjustifiable risk of hurting) other people.  This gap is illustrated by the feminist position (not universal, but much broader than just the PIV-is-rape crowd) that sex work should be criminalized.  Sex work is the explicit exchange of sexual services for value (as opposed to the implicit exchange of sexual services for value, which we just call “sex”).  Criminalization is the use of violence (including the threat of violence) to compel people to refrain from doing something.  This is what libertarians call “the gun in the room”:  without violence, government would be powerless to compel anything, so those who support criminalization are using violence (through proxies) to force women not to engage in explicit sexual commerce.  The argument against decriminalizing sex work depends on people possessing a thing that they cannot be permitted to sell.  But if a person possesses something that she could not (assuming a willing buyer) sell, she doesn’t own it.  By criminalizing sex work we teach people that their sexuality is not their own, but subject to society’s—government’s—license.  If male ownership of women’s sexuality was bad, government (male-created and mostly male-run) ownership of women’s sexuality is worse.

I write as a criminal-defense lawyer who represents sex workers, as a libertarian, and most importantly as the father of a girl.  “Would you have sex for money, Mark?  Would you be happy about it if your daughter chose to?”  I reckon not.  But each of us experiences life’s many facets differently; I know women who derive satisfaction from sex work, and I’m not prepared to force my own tastes on other people at gunpoint.  Outlawing sex work makes women’s sexuality (most sex workers are women) the property of the community.  There would be a certain internal logic in this if you were a PIV-is-always-rape feminist:  you would see in the sex worker a woman who thinks she is honestly exchanging sexual services for money, but who a) suffers from false consciousness; and b) is harming your cause by promoting a culture of penetrative sex, and therefore rape.  (You would also have written off this post, on seeing my name, as mansplaining.)  By the same token, if you were a religious fundamentalist you might think that sex workers were calling the judgment of God down upon society, and feel that using violence to stop sex work was justified to prevent a greater harm.

protest postersBut I suspect that most people fall somewhere between these two extremes.  If they view sex work as harmful, most people see it as harmful to the sex workers, harmful to individual relationships, or a symptom of a more severe disease.  When sex work is harmful to sex workers, the harm is often due to criminalization, which drives the criminalized behavior underground, where it’s easier for violent people (including police) to harm those engaging in it.  Even absent criminalization, sex workers would sometimes put themselves into danger, but the risk of harm to sex workers cannot justify using violence to stop them.  When sex work is harmful to individual relationships, that’s the fault of the people in the relationships, and not of sex work; using violence to stop sex work because some relationships are troubled is an irrational overreaction.  And though I do think that society is sick, sex work (which has always existed in all societies) is not a symptom.  Even if sex work were a symptom of a societal disease, applying violence to sex workers would not cure it; on the contrary, it would just drive the symptom underground.

I think that most people have a visceral moral reaction against sex work, which they rationalize and don’t worry about a lot about because they don’t consider the downside of criminalization.  I’d like to ask those people:  could we try treating a woman’s sexuality as her own property, to keep, give, rent, or sell as she will?  Let’s try, just for a generation or two, teaching our daughters that they are sovereign over their own bodies.

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The human body is not essentially…pornographic, and I think to make it so is a mistake.  -  Pat Robertson

This was one of those weeks in which I couldn’t be sure who was going to take the top position; it went back and forth several times before Radley Balko took it with six.  Popehat and Grace were tied for second place with four each (“irony”, “911″, “nanny”, and “fireman” for Popehat; “Palm Beach”, “3rd”, “hair”, and “spray” for Grace);  Jesse Walker (“gothic”, “Pat Robertson”),  Cop Block  (“10″, “20″) and Edward Cunningham (“together”, “test”) had two each,  and the rest of the links were provided by Franklin Harris (“RIP”), Walter Olson  (“physics”), Police Misconduct (“cop-lovers”), Jasper Gregory (“scrolls”), Jason Kuznicki (“cost”), Jemima (“strip”), Mike Siegel (“ABC”), and Lenore Skenazy  (“sign”).  The Via North Carolina Harm Reduction requested I share the second video, and I discovered the first while reading this article in order to answer a reader question.

From the Archives

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The movement of sex workers has become successful because they have learned to recognise themselves as workers.  -  Samarjit Jana

R.I.P. Gloria Leonard

Gloria LeonardPorn star and men’s magazine publisher Gloria Leonard died on February 3rd after suffering a stroke at her Hawaii home on the night of January 31st; she was 73, but had been in good health.  Like me, she was already over 30 when she began sex work and had already had a previous career (in her case, as a stockbroker).  She was hired as publisher of High Society in 1977 and still continued to star in and direct movies for several years afterward; she also pioneered one of the first phone sex lines in 1983.  During the feminist “porn wars” she became an outspoken advocate of sex work, and served as president of the Free Speech Coalition from 1998-2001.

Juxtaposition

Compare and contrast this:

Notified by The Street of its investigation that revealed that escort services were using Twitter, Rep. Chris Smith…urged that Congress investigate…to initiate a crackdown on Twitter, Backpage, Craigslist and other social media “that are the conduit for this terrible exploitation of women”…

And this:

Saudi Arabia’s feared religious police authority has decided to launch a war against what it described as vice and sorcery accounts on Twitter…The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice said it had formed special teams to track those accounts and arrest those who are behind them…[for] “spreading vice and witchcraft…we are determined to eliminate these accounts before they become widespread and out of control”…

Oops

[Indian] police have [difficulty] acting on tip-offs about prostitution activity…[because] moral boundaries are changing at different rates and what some call illicit sex is…[to] others…usual dating practice…In September…18 couples…in “compromising positions” were  rounded up from rooms in a hotel in…Ludhiana and detained under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act.  Dharampal Singh…who led the raid, [said]…“Every couple says that they are there by consent or are dating [secretly]”…which is not uncommon in a society where families still arrange marriages and frown on premarital sex…

Well, At Least They’re Consistent

A [Virginia] state law that makes it a crime to have sex outside of marriage remains on the books after an effort to decriminalize it failed…Lawmakers…had concerns over potential loopholes the change would make in relation to incest and other sex crimes…[bill sponsor] Mark Sickles…[said] members want to make sure the bill is redrafted correctly and sent to the state Crime Commission for review before it is taken up again.  Eight people were convicted of fornication last year…

Surplus Women

[In 2007] Bonnie Barrett…was murdered by [Derek Brown]…who police believe was imitating Jack the Ripper…Bonnie worked as a…sex worker in Whitechapel…and…Jackie [Summerford] believes better policing could have prevented her…death.  She is one of several women who are today launchingRobert Richard Fraser a campaign on the Change.org petition website to change the way police interact with those in the sex trade.  She says… “They deserve to be protected, not ignored by police”…

Meanwhile, “Police have arrested a man [for]…the murder of…Maria Duque-Tunjano [last week]…Robert Richard Fraser…[is also suspected in]…an attack on another sex worker on January 18…

Imaginary Lines (November Updates)

The Gibson guitar company, having had its federally seized wood returned to it, is celebrating with the release of a new product made from that very wood:  the Les Paul Government II Series…available in one color:  “Government Tan.”

Where Are the Protests?

I guess rugs just aren’t as sexy as whores:

…researchers documented more than 3,000 cases of forced labor in India’s handmade carpet sector…factories and shacks where workers toil 10 to 12 hours a day for six to seven days a week were “cramped, filthy, unbearably hot and humid, imperiled with stray electrical wires and rusty nails…and contaminated with grime and mold”…Workers were subjected to frequent beatings and abuse and…suffered from…long-term health issues because of the grueling nature of the work.  Many…suffered from eye disease or loss of vision due to insufficient light.  Some developed spinal deformation…The average adult worker was paid between 21 and 24 cents an hour, while children were paid less…These carpets are sold in a number of major retail chains including, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Target, Sears, Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Ethan Allen, IKEA and others…

Neither Addiction Nor Epidemic

Brigham Young University wants young Mormons to “rescue” their friends from the scourge of wanking by ratting on them to religious “authorities”:

Presents, Presents, Presents!

Thank you to new reader Xavier Naff for Vampyres, a lesbian vampire movie I first read about over 20 years ago but have never actually seen.  I’m told it’s very interesting on several levels.

Above the Law

Chicago police strip-searched three people on the street, and forced the woman to discard her bloody tampon while five male officers watched and made jokes about her body…Caprice Halley, Tevin Ford, and Willie Douglas…sued the City of Chicago and its Officers Wherfel, E. Doughtery, A. Granat, D. Balesteri, B. Rodekohr, J. Reckard, R. Federici, and T. Conlon…In May 2013, Halley and Ford were passengers in Douglas’ car, when they were confronted by police in an unmarked car driving toward them the wrong way down a one-way street…

Beside the vaginal probing of the woman, these uniformed molesters also shackled Douglas to a house’s burglar bars, pulled down his pants and spread his buttocks.  “Wherfel [then] took a small bag of heroin from her own sock and falsely claimed she had found it in Halley’s waistband”…

An Example to the West DMSC logo

A six-day conference of sex workers began [in Kolkata]…discussions [include] issues concerning their well-being as well as those relating to trafficking of minors and pension to old sex workers…

Hall of Shame

Your periodic reminder that Dennis Hof is a revolting excuse for a human being:

…Denis Hof…started pondering an expansion north of the border after he heard about the Supreme Court striking down prostitution laws in this country…“The smart residents will understand that it’s going to stop the sex trafficking that’s going on now. You got a huge sex trafficking problem…Our way would slow that down substantially”…

Yes, he’s spreading “sex trafficking” lies in Canada in hopes of lining his own pockets at independent sex workers’ expense.

The Public Eye

Here’s a short interview with Melissa Gira Grant in New York Magazine about her new book, Playing the Whore; in it she discusses Nick Kristof, Gloria Steinem, Jill Filipovic and other prohibitionists who claim they want to “rescue” us from our own choices.lurid sex trafficking (so-called) art

Profit from Panic (TW3 #40)

California State University, Stanislaus…senior Hannah Noonan took a proactive approach to educate her peers…through the creation of…“Crate Human Awareness,” a graphic installation displayed in a heavily traversed area of the campus…“My desire is to educate others that humans are being kidnapped and sold into slavery, prostitution, pornography, and organ harvesting”…humans are typically smuggled in crates of this type…according to Noonan…

A 22-year-old art major said it, so it must be true!

The Leading Players in the Field, Not (TW3 #44)

Gloria Steinem continues her journey into irrelevance:

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem today described prostitution as “commercial rape” and said it was wrong to term prostitutes as sex workers.  “Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work.  So how can you call it sex work?  Prostitution is the only word you should use”…

That “body invasion” nonsense says almost all you need to know.

Above the Law (TW3 #313)

A New Jersey State [prison guard is going to]…prison for…[threatening] four prostitutes into having free or cut-rate sex with him…Juan R. Stevens pleaded guilty to official misconduct in return for…five years in prison…two before he’s eligible for parole…[he] also forfeits his state job and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey…

The End of the Beginning

A New Hampshire house committee has just passed a bill 18-1 (!!!) that would prohibit the establishment or existence of sex offender residency restrictions in that state.  This…is completely unheard of.  It’s one thing to simply not pass residency restriction bills, but it’s quite another to pass a law that explicitly prohibits them…[the bill’s sponsor] argued that restricting housing for sex offenders pushes them “underground,” in campgrounds, under bridges and to other places the police cannot monitor…

Guest Columnist:  Sarah Woolley (TW3 #324)

Cathy Reisenwitz in Daily CallerAmnesty International logo

It just couldn’t be clearer.  “Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults.”  Thus begins a recently leaked document from the famed human rights organization calling for an end to prohibitions on sex work…Amnesty…defines sex work as work, making a clear delineation between employment and slavery…As Maggie McNeill details, anti-prostitution campaigners paint the typical sex worker as a child slave, while governments use anti-trafficking laws to restrict migration.  And that ill-intended confusion muddies the entire debate…as Amnesty International points out, “Criminalizing or otherwise punishing people for their choices in selling or buying consensual sex in any way fails to address these structural inequalities, and rather serves to further disempower individuals”…

A Broker in Pillage (TW3 #330)

The federal government must pay nearly $40,000 to cover the legal fees of a California woman who successfully sued to reclaim more than $1 million of her money [stolen by police] during a Nebraska traffic stop…Tara Mishra…[earned] the money…as an exotic dancer…and…[gave it to friends] to invest in a New Jersey nightclub…The government’s claim that the money was tainted with drug residue was of little value, the judge said, as…nearly all cash in circulation is drug-tainted…

Little Tin Gods

The Jefferson Davis Parish sheriff’s office claims that eight survival sex workers there were murdered by a serial killer.  However, all the women knew one another well; several were related to one another, and every one of them was a drug informant to a sheriff’s office which is notoriously corrupt even by Louisiana standards.  Read this long, thorough investigative report on the murders, and I suspect you’ll come to the same conclusion I did the very first time I heard about the case.

Number Puzzle (TW3 #350)

Alice Schwarzer…accused news magazine Spiegel…of trying to damage her reputation by reporting on her [paying]…‘a six-figure sum’…in back taxes [for]…her Swiss bank account…she…accused Spiegel of acting in the interest of [prostitutes]…

Catastrophic Consequences

Edinburgh City Council has scrapped the licensing of saunas and massage parlours…but it [does] not mean the saunas [will] close…Scot-Pep…said…”With Police Scotland persisting in its policy of using condoms as evidence of sex work against the explicit recommendations of the World Health Organisation, workers will fear to keep large quantities of condoms on their premises, as this could be used to criminalise women.”

Here’s a more surprising reaction to the news:

Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) has voted to publicly support the rights of sex workers…approximately 70 students…voted overwhelmingly in support of the motion…[which] stipulates that EUSA officially advocate the decriminalisation of sex work, offer its support to sex workers who are students at the University of Edinburgh, as well as endorsing sex workers’ rights organisations, “such as SCOT-PEP and Sex Workers’ Open University”…

The More the Better (TW3 #404)

Franck Ribery and…Karim Benzema were acquitted on charges of soliciting an underage prostitute…the…judge ruled there wasn’t enough proof the men were aware that…Zahia Dehar…was a minor at the time…

O, Canada! (TW3 #405)

More on the Canadian sex worker intimidation scheme; note they are only just realizing now that most escorts advertise online:

[Halifax, NS] police who worked in a recent nationwide sex-trade operation are seeing a shift toward online communicating…A joint news release issued by a number of Canadian sex-work support groups said the operation uses deception and intimidation…male officers posed as clients to book appointments, but then had several officers arrive…and demand entry.  They…[interrogate] her…demand to see her identification and search her premises and possessions…Fiona Traynor…of Stepping Stone…criticized the police news release for saying the sex workers were under some level of control.  “There’s no [evidence] of…that,” she said…

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