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Posts Tagged ‘stereotypes’

Even when we understand that memories can be altered, or even fabricated…the truth is difficult to accept; after all, our memories certainly seem permanent, and we might like to believe that things we have forgotten have merely been mislaid, like old VHS tapes consigned to a box at the back of a closet and covered with old clothes.  –  “Mind-witness Testimony

If you haven’t yet read my research paper, “Mind-witness Testimony”, you really ought to; it expands at much greater length and in much greater detail on the themes I discussed in “Imagination Pinned Down” and “I Disbelieve It!”, mocked in “Mulberry Street” and mentioned in passing in “Traffic Jam”, “The Swedish Cult”, “That Old Black Magic”, “Mumbo Jumbo” and many other places.  The Reader’s Digest version is:

…The human mind doesn’t passively record events as a camera does; memory is an active and dynamic process which retains information by fitting it into schemata, mental frameworks which shape our thinking and give meaning to perceptions…The same psychological mechanism which causes us to find pictures in Rorschach’s inkblots also causes us to fit memories into the complex web of schemata by which we interpret the world.  And just as we ignore those topological elements of a cloud or inkblot which do not fit the meaning our minds have imposed upon it, so do we forget or distort elements of a memory which fail to conform to the schema in which we have embedded it, or even invent elements which were not in reality present, but which the schema predicts should be…The human mind often completely fabricates memories in order to impose conformity with one’s weltanschauung.  One simple example involves police lineups:  people will often identify the man whom police imply (subtly or overtly) is their preferred suspect because they believe police to be expert assessors of guilt who would never implicate someone falsely, and this schema of police authority and infallibility actually shapes their memories, sometimes to the point of identifying a person who is later proven to look absolutely nothing like the actual criminal…

Lancashire witchesIn witch hunts of both the classic and modern varieties, hypersuggestible people such as children, the mentally ill, the emotionally needy or the severely traumatized can be induced to “remember” all sorts of fantastic things which are not even physically possible, much less grounded in actual events; when they repeat these “memories” in court (or in front of audiences hungry for “sex trafficking” narratives) they are not lying in the strict sense, but merely playing back a script that was written into their memories by processes such as suggestion, group polarization, stereotypic conformation, guided imagination, abusive interrogation tactics and others discussed in my paper.  Though the concept of “recovered memory” has been discredited and most reasonably-well-informed people understand its role in driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes.  However, as the public begins to recognize driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes.  However, as the public begins to recognize the fallibility of human memory, it’s inevitable that outlandish, evidence-free stories such as those told by Somaly Mam, Chong Kim and Theresa Flores will be treated with greater skepticism.  And though it’s a slow process, that knowledge is indeed growing; witness, for example, this treatment of a new resurgence of the “Satanic cult abuse” myth:

…two [Scottish] charities…Break the Silence and…Izzy’s Promise, believe satanic [sic] abuse to be rife in Scotland and that it has been for decades.  They say children are forced to take part in satanic [sic] rituals involving the sacrifice of babies and the making of snuff movies….it appears highly likely that…these claims are based upon “recovered memories”.  As I have written in the past in these pages, the use of various dubious techniques…aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse can often produce detailed and horrific false memories.  In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to posttraumatic stress disorder…The sad truth is that we have been here before.  [Satanic fantasies of the early ’90s]…were remarkably similar to those now…

Nor is the skepticism limited to a few reporters discussing horror stories any sane person could recognize as false:

Memory, as experts have been trying to teach judges and jurors, does not function like an iPhone camera recording. Memories can not only be deleted; they can be altered or invented without you even realizing it, as shown in a study published last year in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, which involved 861 U.S. soldiers enrolled in a survival school.  As part of training, they endured abusive interrogations.  Afterward, many were shown a photo of someone who looked nothing like their interrogator, and interviewers insinuated that the person depicted was the culprit.  Eighty-four percent of the soldiers misidentified their interrogators after being misled, and some also remembered weapons or telephones that never existed.  An extensive body of research with similar findings has become increasingly perplexing for the nation’s judicial systems, leading the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to release a sweeping report last month calling for an overhaul of how the courts and law enforcement deal with one of the most powerfully persuasive pieces of evidence that can sway a jury:  eyewitness identification.  Research has shown that leading questioning or suggestive behavior by psychiatrists, police or acquaintances, as well as accounts in the media, can result in “planting” false memories in the mind of a witness.  In some cases, this can lead witnesses to believe they saw incidents that never occurred…Unsettling as it might be to admit it, the mind is really a muddle of distorted memory associations, further complicated by the distracting details of the moment.  For most of our country’s judicial history, this understanding has been largely absent from courtrooms, but a string of shocking cases across the world over the past three decades has ushered in debate, discussion and, finally, the revamping of…laws on the issue…

Belief in the infallibility of memories, especially traumatic memories, is deeply ingrained, and prosecutors will not be happy about the replacement of easily-manipulated crime victim testimony with more indelible and objective forms of evidence.  But sooner or later, the facts must win and eyewitness testimony uncorroborated by physical evidence will be tossed into the rubbish-bin of history along with trial by ordeal and, one would hope, confessions obtained by torture.  Moral panics will periodically bedevil humanity for at least another several thousand years, but perhaps our children’s children will no longer have to endure trials and laws based on nothing but the incredible and unsubstantiated narratives of self-professed victims. Salem accusation

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I see you so often rail about the imaginary “trafficking” issue.  I realize that very few adult sex workers are coerced, and that anti-prostitution laws have nothing to do with protection, but is there any actual evidence that there are real girls under 16 (particularly from Asia) who are really being forced to work as prostitutes? 

distorting mirrorIn a world of over six billion people, it is a near-certainty that any situation anyone can conceive of (which doesn’t violate the laws of physics) has already happened at some point and continues to happen from time to time.  So yes, I am sure that there are some Asian girls under 16 who are actually compelled (by some means almost anyone would agree were coercive) to work as prostitutes.  I have no way of guessing what that number might be, and neither does anyone else despite pretensions to the contrary:  all the cases which make the news involve women older than that; and/or the compulsion is of a type that would not be viewed as a problem if she were a maid or nanny; and/or she chose the situation as the best of a number of alternatives, many or all of them bad; and/or there is some cultural difference which causes her to see her situation differently from her “rescuers”; and/or the “trafficker” is actually an intimate partner rather than a cartoon pimp or racist caricature of a crime cartel.  Moreover, though prohibitionists paint sex workers’ clients as sadistic perverts who ignore bruises and evidence of bondage and prefer prepubescent girls to adult women, nothing could be further from the truth; sex workers who seem to dislike their work tend to get bad reviews because most men don’t actually like having sex with unwilling partners, and the idea that a business model based on the overt enslavement of traumatized tweens could ever be a thriving concern is highly dubious to say the least.  In fact, the popularity of this narrative reveals the sick, twisted psychology and sexuality of those who promote it; their view of sex work is like something seen in a warped mirror, not only reversed but magnified and distorted into unrecognizability.  The three most important forms of distortion are:

  • a rare, extreme situation is presented as though it were not only the norm, but a norm from which there is little if any variance (thus making it unique in human experience);
  • complex, nuanced human interactions are reduced to absurd black hat-white hat melodrama complete with mustache-twirling “pimp” villains, passive damsels in distress, and heroes with pure motives who ride in on white chargers to save the day; and
  • the carceral “solutions” which the fetishists inevitably favor not only fail to help women in the complex real-life situations whose existence they deny, but also to help even the women in situations which actually resemble their fantasy somewhat.  In fact, these supposed “solutions” make things worse in almost every conceivable case, as I explained at length in “Straining at Gnats” and “Enabling Oppression”.  Criminalizing sex work does not discourage a black market in which coercion can thrive; on the contrary, it creates such a market.

The one-sentence answer to your question, then, is this:  A small number of such girls probably does exist, but their situations are a lot more complex than the “sex trafficking” profiteers want you to believe, and the laws they favor actually hurt such girls by enabling those who exploit them.

(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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Given that large numbers of prostitutes operate independently without panderers, it would be difficult to characterize prostitution as inherently rooted in subjugation.  –  Gail Heriot

Think of the Children! Jaqueline Laurent-Auger

The half-life of sex radiation must be over 40 years:

…[73-year-old] Jaqueline Laurent-Auger was a teacher at the Montreal private school, Le Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf…but…the school [fired] her [because]…as a young actress…in France, she starred in a handful of erotic films…[including] Le Journal intime d’une nymphomane (1973) and Dany la ravageuse (1972).  In a statement, school officials maintain that “We’re not talking about paintings or sculptures of naked bodies produced with artistry and aesthetics in mind.  There are erotic scenes destined for an adult audience…”

Dirty Whores

The headline makes the contagion sound voluntary and evokes the “dirty whore” myth:  “…a [Liberian] sex worker…suffering from Ebola…passed the deadly disease to [Floson Louise]…who unknowingly spread it to seven other soldiers…the army barracks are being decongested to ease the spread of the disease…

Rooted in Racism

I’m really pleased to see black intellectuals writing about this:

…the movement against “modern-day slavery” deploys non-racial language to…[solidify] the existing racial regime…and…is inordinately preoccupied with women’s sexual victimization…the focus on white women…working in commercial sex recalls the…late nineteenth and early twentieth century…[panic over] the “white slave trade”…the moral authority that anti-slavery mobilizes today partly stems from the memory of black liberation that it implicitly draws upon—all the while explicitly distancing itself from black historical struggle…

Surplus Women

[Darren Vann of Gary, Indiana]…may be a serial killer who has killed…as far back as 20 years ago…Vann…was arrested…[for the murder of] Afrika Hardy…[after she] did not return from [an]  appointment [with Vann, a friend]…went to track her down and found her dead from strangulation.  Once in custody Vann…admitted…Hardy’s murder and led police to the bodies of six other women, all in abandoned houses…[officials were] unable to say whether the other victims were sex workers…

Not an Addiction (TW3 #6)

Since when do “scientists” treat patients?

Scientists have treated…the first patient with internet addiction disorder brought on by overuse of Google Glass.  The man had been using the technology for around 18 hours a day – removing it only to sleep and wash – and complained of feeling irritable and argumentative without [it]…he had also begun experiencing his dreams as if viewed through [its] small grey window.  The existence of internet addiction disorder…is hotly debated among psychiatrists.  It was not included as a clinical diagnosis in the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

It is not “hotly debated”; OCD is not “addiction”, no matter how much money-hungry scammers want to rebrand it as such.

Above the Law 

A Birmingham [Alabama] police officer arrested earlier this month on child sex abuse charges is now charged with rape of an adult woman.  Joshua Herbinger…was not in any kind of…relationship with the [victim]…In the earlier case…Herbinger was charged with four counts of sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old…

Shift in the Wind

One of the members of the US government Commission on Civil Rights openly criticized “sex trafficking” hysteria in a dissent with the Commission’s predetermined rubber-stamp “findings”, and may have cited yours truly in it:

…terms like “sex trafficking”…obscure more than they enlighten, because there is little agreement on what they mean…claims that the Super Bowl is a magnet for sex traffickers appear to be more myth than fact…In the late 19thcentury, Great Britain was also swept by a wave of hysteria over “white slavery“.  In time, the panic spread to the United States…the Heriot dissent decries the tendency to view the complexities of so-called “international labor trafficking” as something inherently sinister…There is plenty of opportunity for fraudulent or coercive behavior in these transactions.  But there is also opportunity for gain by the most vulnerable of the world’s people, trapped in poverty…

Bottleneck

Why 90% of whores prefer to work illegally than submit to licensing:

…Dancers and managers at a Washington state strip club are…suing to stop their county from releasing their names, photos, and other identifying information to a man who has filed a public records request…because strippers in most areas of Washington must obtain an “entertainer’s license”, their identities are a matter of public record…it’s entirely likely [David A. Van Vleet]…is a crazy stalker or an anti-sex nutjob.  Maybe both…it’s hard to imagine many non-nefarious reasons for requesting personal information on a wide swath of individuals in a sensitive job…

Capricious Lusts (TW3 #37)

M.C. Nanaiah , chairman of the [Indian] expert committee to suggest measures for safety of women and children has favoured a wider discussion on legalisation of prostitution…to prevent rapes…

That Old Black Magic

The “Juju sex slaves” myth just keeps on going like a zombie:

Juju “magic” may seem strange, mythical and other-worldly but it is a problem that is all too real when it comes to the sex trafficking of women from Nigeria…Trafficking expert Siddharth Kara from Harvard University said:  “[Juju] exerts a kind of control that’s so much more potent than chains or locking someone up.  It’s control of the spirit which is far more powerful and insidious”…

Westerners have our own Juju faith in self-declared “experts” like Kara, a charlatan whose degree of ignorance is astonishing even in a field dominated by charlatans.Barry Freundel

Buried Truth 

One of the nation’s most respected rabbis…[is] accused of placing a camera in the women’s…area of a sacred bath…Barry Freundel is a…leader in the Modern Orthodox movement…with controversial opinions on everything from abortion to homosexuality.  He…was known to take a strict position on morality, [saying]…just weeks ago:  “The lack of sexual morality…pervades this society…Pornography and its accessibility is wrecking marriages”…

Scapegoats (TW3 #49)

Daily Beast writer (no giggling, now) says Denmark doesn’t have enough reasons to lock people up yet:

…A new law on the table in Denmark proposes to make sex with animals…illegal.  The Danish law currently states that humans can have sex with animals as long as the animal doesn’t suffer…[but] how would one know if an animal enjoyed human sex?…If the law passes…only Finland, Hungary and Sweden will remain lawless…[the bill’s sponsor] is…concerned that…Denmark…could become the [Mecca] of animal sex tourism…

I’m not sure what’s sillier, the writer’s conflation of “doesn’t suffer” with “enjoy” or her idea that “human sex” is fundamentally different from other mammals’ copulation.

Traffic Jam (TW3 #318)

How many moronic prohibitionist plays can the market bear?

Tony-award winning playwright…Sarah Jones…has been publicly “workshopping” her newest one woman show, entitled Sell/Buy/Date…The play is really one insult after another…Everybody was a “prostituted woman” except for a Russian male pimp who self-described as a sex worker.  And the sex worker rights activists are caricatured as dimwitted and undereducated supporters of Sarah Palin…Jones seems to be under the impression that the sex worker movement is funded by big corporate interests…Jones’ monologues [are set in an imaginary future dystopia] where…prostitution could not possibly exist…emergency medical treatment will be necessary to cure male porn addicts…However, magically, there will be a “re-sensititization” of men by forcing them to watch Thelma and Louise

Cops and Condoms (TW3 #330)

a 30-year-old female sex worker [has been sent] to prison for at least nine years under Germany’s “preventive detention” law, because she has shown a pattern of not disclosing to clients that she was living with HIV before they chose to have condomless sex with her…

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #337)

Sex workers in Northern Ireland are overwhelmingly opposed to…a law that could criminalise those who pay for prostitutes…only 2%…are in favour of the so-called “Swedish model”…61%…thought [the]…law…would make them less safe.  And…only 16% of…clients…said such a law would make them stop seeking to pay for sex…

Unfortunately, facts don’t concern politicians.

Damned If You Don’t (TW3 #343)

Charles CouchA man arrested in a police operation to harass and jail gay men was not only abused and threatened:  cops also stole his property, trashed his reputation and seriously jeopardized his career.  “Charles S. Couch…is suing the city [of Manhattan Beach, California]…Chief Eve Irvine and five police detectives, seeking $5 million in damages for mental distress, aggravation and loss of work.  He is being represented by civil and gay rights attorney Bruce W. Nickerson, who specializes in litigation surrounding police sting operations…

Rhinoceros (TW3 #403)

It turns out COAST is even sleazier than I thought:

…The majority of the board members of COAST’s backing group, the Association of Club Entrepreneurs (ACE), have been sued by their own employees for violations of labor law including wage theft, intimidation, charging debt-inducing illegal fees, and even sexual harassment…one of COAST’s co-founders, Michael Ocello, got involved in anti-trafficking efforts after the Illinois club he owned was raided by federal agents…

The Missing Word

The ridiculous claim that 42% of all UK sex workers are male derives from a bad study which makes two false assumptions: that each sex worker takes out one and only one ad at a time, and that all sex workers use all advertising platforms equally.  But that’s not the interesting thing about this article; it’s the fact that when men are the subject, agency is not denied and the word “trafficking” is nowhere to be found.

Property of the State

Women’s advocacy and drug-policy reform organizations are calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to “publicly renounce” enhanced criminal penalties for pregnant women.  It’s an issue that’s been gaining more attention since the July…conviction of Lacey Weld…[who] was pregnant at the time she made (and used) meth…[and] received an extra six years of prison time…Many object to charging a pregnant meth user with “child endangerment” on the grounds that an embryo or fetus is not yet a “child”.  But we also…[know] that heavy drinking and poor nutrition are much more dangerous to developing fetuses than exposure to meth…

The Roof Caves In

The Somaly Mam Foundation…shuttered its entire operation…and urged its followers to support other anti-trafficking groups…The SMF website on Saturday appeared to be stripped of all its content except for the announcement on its homepage…

Of course, the same bunch have already started a new “rescue” scam.

If Men Were Angels

A man who claims he can “cure” gay people…raped a teenage boy and threatened to kill him with his “warlock powers” if he told.  Kentucky police have arrested…youth pastor Rex Allen Murphy…the 16-year-old [victim said Murphy]…told him…that by brushing his skin or shaking his hand…he could tell his sins…Murphy reportedly asserted he thought he would be able to help the victim with his “battle with homosexuality because he, too, had experimented with homosexuality”…

Schadenfreude (TW3 #434) 

Five Women in Whitechapel (TW3 #437) 

It was supposed to have been the definitive piece of scientific evidence that finally exposed the true identify of Jack the Ripper…However, the scientist who carried out the DNA analysis has apparently made a fundamental error that fatally undermines his case…it would mean his calculations were wrong and that virtually anyone could have left the DNA that he insisted came from the Ripper’s victim…

Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs (TW3 #440)

following the mass eviction of over 1,449 prostitutes from…Dolly…it would appear that Papua has become a destination of choice among a small portion of the evictees…Papua is by far the richest province in Indonesia in terms of natural resources, boasting some of the largest gold, silver, copper and timber reserves on earth…nouveau riche mining capital has ensured that sex workers in Papua are among the highest paid in Indonesia…

The Face of Trafficking

I’m going to use this subtitle for stories refuting the myth of the evil client:

A woman who was lured to Dubai by promises of a job [in a beauty salon] but was then forced into prostitution was rescued by her first customer when she burst into tears and told him her story…the victim [said]…“He…booked me a ticket back to Morocco and even drove me to the airport”…she was not allowed to leave the country because…her employment contract had not been cancelled, so she headed to airport police and told them the whole story…

There was an earlier example here.

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My husband wants me to dress as his slut when he takes me out or when he has friends over; is this normal?

I think it’s a mistake to worry too much about what is “normal”.  “Normal” men in patriarchal societies tend to want their wives to dress in a way they perceive as modest; this derives from a desire to protect their “property” from those who might trespass or steal it.  The more patriarchal the society, the more “modestly” it expects women to dress; in societies where women’s status is higher, women tend to dress more provocatively, and in those where it is lower, they tend to dress more concealingly.  There are few if any exceptions, yet neofeminists teach a looking-glass version of reality in which dressing sexily is “objectification” and a manifestation of “patriarchy”, despite abundant real-world evidence that the exact opposite is true.  Now, this is not to say that one individual man, or indeed large minorities of men, might not prefer women who “belong” to them dressed in a revealing fashion; however, the majority (“normal”) view has always been the opposite.

Given the language you use (“his slut”) your husband seems to belong to this minority category, which means that in the strictest sense of the word it is not “normal”.  So what?  Why does it matter whether something is “normal” or not?  Most people deviate from the norm in at least a few ways, and nobody seems to think this is a problem except where sex is involved.  Don’t concern yourself with whether his request is something the majority of men would want; rather ask how it makes you feel, and how it affects your relationship.  Does it make you feel attractive and sexy to dress provocatively, or does it make you feel uncomfortable and ashamed?  Does it make your husband happier?  Does it seem to spice up your sex life?  Do you like or dislike the way others react to you when you dress that way?  Do you like to do it in certain circumstances, but not in others?  These are the questions you need to ask yourself, rather than whether conventional people would approve.  And if dressing like a “slut” at certain times (or even a lot of the time) works for you and makes you both happy, nobody else has a right to condemn you for your wardrobe choices.

(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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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on August 31st; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

To those who aren’t sex workers and don’t make a full-time job out of following the developments in our  persecution, it must sometimes seem as though I’m exaggerating the awfulness of the situation.  Furthermore, those same people may not think the difference between decriminalization (as practiced in New Zealand) and legalization (as practiced in The Netherlands) is all that big a deal; many times I’ve been asked some variation of “every other job is regulated these days, so why should sex work be an exception?  And what about all the trafficked children?”  So I’m always glad to see someone else write about some specific aspect of the War on Whores in a degree of detail that neither my format nor my crowded schedule allow me time to match.  Today I present highlights of a recent article by the Dutch sex worker Zondares; the original is almost 5000 words and only the last in a series of six.  However, it is well worth your time, especially if you’re skeptical about the situation as I’ve described it; I’m hoping to whet your appetite by these selections, so that you’ll be moved to read the whole thing.

…very hostile actions against prostitutes have become not just accepted by the general public, but are actually viewed as productive efforts to combat trafficking…It started out with police raids on window prostitution areas.  The neighborhood would be closed down, a huge police force would storm the streets, with a ratio of more than 8 policemen per girl…These policemen would force their way into the work areas and take the sex workers to…government buildings for an all-night interrogation.  Meanwhile, police ravage the working areas and adjoining rooms, destroying any closed lockers, boxes, suitcases or bags…Police claim the women are free to go during these raids.  However…if you do try to leave they can order you to stay, and you’ll be arrested if you don’t comply…Every raid is claimed to be a success…[but] very few arrests are attributed to raids – and on closer inspection, this is always found to be false.Die Wallen  So far none of the raids have started any investigation ending in conviction…

So if the raids don’t do what they’re supposed to do, what’s the profit in doing them?

…Communications equipment like telephones or computers are taken, mostly never to be returned, and…there is…great emphasis on tracing your money.  If they can track down where your money has gone, it will be impounded, and never be released.  This is supposed to strike at the heart of trafficking.  If you don’t have a pimp to siphon off your earnings, you can lose much.  Hiding it at home doesn’t help you, because while you’re being interrogated, police has broken down your home door and is ransacking the place…As long as [your money was] moved legally, they can easily find it and take it…They claim you could get it back if detective work shows it to be clean, but so far I haven’t heard from anyone who actually had any returned.  Procedures to get anything returned are a waste of effort…

Think it’s better for independent escorts? Think again:

…The municipality is informed you’re working without a license…whether you need [one] or not…you’ve been in violation during your whole career, and they’re able to fine you tens of thousands of Euros…unless you submit to some other stipulation, like leaving the municipality or joining a licensed brothel.  Police will inform your building society, landlord or mortgage bank that you’re “running an illegal bordello” in your house.  This very often means eviction…If you’re the owner of your house, and it is not mortgaged, there is still the option of evicting you because you’re in breach of zoning laws…If [a part time] sex worker is caught…and they manage to track down where you work, they commonly inform your employer.  This very often ends in dismissal…In rare cases, insurance companies and banks have been informed their client was a sex worker.  Even those few financial institutions that don’t flat-out refuse services to hookers will do so after being “warned” by police.  Whether this is done intentionally to further ruin the sex worker or is a side-effect of police trying to track down money to impound is unclear…As if all the above weren’t enough, they go after your loved ones.  Not only do they tend to inform parents if you’re still in your early 20s, but if you have kids, those will come into the sights of youth services….Men in the house must mean violent pimps, another woman must mean that this was a crowded brothel where clients are tag-teamed, and when a 15-year old girl was present…the press…[didn’t ask who she was]…Prostitution to them is a world of cardboard cut-outs, who don’t have relatives, who can’t babysit for a neighbour when between clients, who don’t live in houses where they also have a family, so anyone near them must be part of the misery porn story…

So why all of this torture; is it just petty sadism?  Not quite:

Once they’ve threatened you with all they’re willing to do to make you miserable, childless, homeless and jobless, they explain that if you would turn out to be a trafficking victim, then all this would disappear.  You would even get help, if you wanted.  All you have to do is claim that you were coerced, and accuse somebody.  Then everything will be right…every time a sex worker doesn’t want to give enough information to actually put anyone in prison, the cops are baffled…the National Rapporteur in her reports calls for even more explicit explanation of the choice between the government ruining your life or you coming up with an accusation.  Because if it isn’t because we’re too stupid to understand the decision we’re making, then she doesn’t understand why we would choose bearing the brunt of what government can throw at us over falsely accusing an innocent.  It can’t be morals, whores don’t have any, right?

The driver for all this, as you may have guessed, is “sex trafficking” hysteria:

The police [are] pretending to be fighting…gangs that don’t exist anymore, mafia structures that never did exist, claiming success after success, but never getting any real gangsters.  They use excessive violence to force whores to help them shore up their fantasy war on trafficking…the media are completely uncritical of government…and…choose to be complicit in hoaxes…pornographic element in the stories is camouflaged by pretending it is a story of heroism and courage…A small number of semi-professional victims dominate the soft news, misery porn books and documentaries.  They get new fake names for each publication, and because their stories change each time to fit prohibitionist fashion, the public tends to view each appearance as a new case…Nor are the media ever disillusioned when large scale police raids fail, over and over, to uncover any significant amount of trafficking, let alone coercion…

And absolutely everything constitutes “evidence”:

…If your husband picks up your work phone, he is obviously controlling you.  If you both testify you love each other, then that is an obvious lie, because no real loving husband would tolerate his wife doing something so vile as prostitution…If you work during your period, you’re working while sick, and that’s proof of coercion.  If your friend spots for you by calling for security words before and after bookings, that’s controlling your work and therefore evidence of coercion.  If your man bought lingerie or condoms, then he is supplying your work and this is proof of coercion…If [your husband] carries your handbag, he’s controlling your documents …If there are deeds to his name, that’s evidence of him exploiting you – and if the deeds are to your name, that’s evidence he’s using you as a shield…

There’s a lot more, but I think you get the idea. Of course, some who read this still won’t believe it:

People are very hesitant to question trafficking dogma, even if they can see that it defies facts.  They will not…doubt the overarching mythology despite seeing it conflicts with reality in any part they can actually see for themselves…They view us as bizarre caricatures, and find it difficult, inconceivable, embarrassing, painful even, to consider that we might be people in charge of our life, with different choices and different values…Toy theatre c.1845-50

Cardboard cutouts are useful for acting out childish narratives; they can be moved around and put in any part of the flat, simply-colored background picture one wishes.  And unlike real people, they don’t argue and refuse to play the parts for which they were created.

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I started to fall in love with an escort I first saw as a client; there was a tremendous spark between us from the first, and she always gave me extra time and soon started refusing payment entirely.  We had great dom/sub sexual chemistry, but it wasn’t just that and we soon started to get very serious.  However, she did not want to give up her financial independence and I’m not wealthy.  Also, I was worried that I only believed I was in love with her; I couldn’t trust that there wasn’t a pimp or pimp-surrogate somewhere, or that she was somehow scamming me.  I also didn’t want to be a rescuer figure, and didn’t want a relationship I could never really be honest to my family about.  I didn’t disapprove of what she did, but the whole thing made me uncomfortable regardless and I worried something terrible could happen.  So it eventually got messy and complex and I cut it off terribly and hurt her.  The whole thing feels unresolved; I don’t know if it’s over, or if I’m over her.  Should I just stay away because of what it is?

As I’ve explained in many previous essays, sex workers’ relationships actually aren’t dramatically different from others’ relationships unless their partners try to make them different.  When a reader asked my husband,  “How do you know that she won’t fall for someone else the same way that she fell for you?”, this was his reply:

Like any other marriage.  She’s not more likely to fall in love with someone else than any other woman would be.  You might as well worry about your wife falling in love with some guy she sees in the produce aisle at the supermarket.  There has to be trust.  I have to trust her just like any other man has to trust his wife; if you don’t have trust your relationship won’t work whether she’s an escort or a secretary.

Unfortunately, you could not give the lady your trust.  This is not a recrimination; you said it yourself, and people can’t help their feelings.  You mentioned “pimps”, but as I have explained before that is nothing more than a pejorative term for any non-client male in a whore’s life; managers, drivers, bodyguards, boyfriends, landlords and even male relatives and friends are tarred with the epithet “pimp” even if their behavior is no different from that of a man in the equivalent relationship with an amateur.  I might point out, in fact, that had your girlfriend been arrested while the two of you were together, the police might very well have accused you of being her “pimp”.  So you’re right in that there really was a pimp somewhere…and it was you.  Again, that’s not a recrimination, just a wake-up call about how cops and prohibitionists would have labeled your relationship (especially since it was a dom-sub one; just imagine what a reporter would’ve made of that!)  Not wanting to play the part of a white knight, and not wanting to be dishonest with your family, are certainly valid concerns…however, I must point out that her not wanting to give up her independent income makes her a far less likely candidate for “rescue” than many a husband-hunting amateur.  And since I sincerely doubt you are planning to discuss the intimate details of any future dom-sub relationship with your family, I do think the thing about honesty is a bit of a cop-out.

As I said, nobody can help the way we feel; we practically absorb cultural prejudices and fears with our mothers’ milk, and it’s nearly impossible to root all of them out no matter how hard we try.  I wish I could give you some magical means of erasing your concerns, but I don’t have that power; had the relationship gone on you would probably both been hurt a lot worse.  So I think it’s for the best that y’all both move on:  you to a woman who won’t trigger the biases you never asked to be burdened with, and her to a man who somehow managed to avoid or shed them.

(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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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 20th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

All week long I collect sex-work-related news stories for my Saturday “That Was the Week That Was” news columns, and when I prepare the columns each item is filed under a subtitle which refers back to a previous post.  But as I explained in “Case Study”, “every once in awhile a story comes along which is so interesting, funny, horrible, odd or whatever, that I like to analyze it at length.”  This is one of those stories, and my attention was attracted to it by two things: one, that it was difficult to fit into only one heading; and two, that there’s so much ignorance here one almost has to admire the journalist’s dedication to spreading misinformation.  After all, she could have obtained nearly all the information she needed from the two activists she interviewed; instead, she chose to shove their input to corners of the article and instead concentrate on the pronouncements of a clownish cop and a self-important academic (whom I’ve criticized on several occasions for his dopey assumptions).  Author Jessica Guynn wastes no time, starting off with monumentally dumb statements from the very beginning:

For years, sex workers have been the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley that no one talks about.  But…the sex industry has been closely linked to boom times in the Bay Area going back to the Gold Rush…

Scott CunninghamThat it’s the San Francisco Bay Area is neither here nor there; every place there are men with money to spend, there will be sex workers for them to spend it on.  Guynn seems to imagine herself an intrepid investigative reporter exposing some hidden scandal; I’m sure she thought it clever to intersperse sentences about the mundane doings of sex workers with those describing recent anti-sex worker pogroms and the overdose death of a Google executive, no doubt hoping the latter two would lend some lurid spice to the rather dry meat of the former.  And even when she’s dealing with basic, easily-checked facts, the “pimps and hos” mythology she learned from cops (or television, or other equally-ill-informed sources) seems to interfere with her ability to transcribe them; when the story first appeared she referred to the screening service Preferred 411 as “Preferred911”, and even in the corrected story she portrays it as an escort service directory (with obligatory scare quotes around the perfectly ordinary word “escort”) rather than what it is, a screening service and ad platform.  I’m sure activist Siouxsie Q (the first source quoted herein) could’ve thoroughly explained P411 to Guynn, but instead she quickly turns to Scott Cunningham, who might actually be able to turn out good research if he’d consult sex workers instead of proceeding from his own wholly-erroneous preconceptions:

Scott Cunningham, an associate professor at Baylor University who studies the economics of prostitution, said the Internet has made the sex trade “extraordinarily efficient,” taking it from the streets and red-light districts to home computers and smartphones.

This is the fundamental flaw in Cunningham’s work:  he believes (and has repeatedly stated) that prior to the internet, the majority of whores worked on the street; all of his studies are based on this fallacy.  Street workers have never been the majority at any point in history, and under criminalized 20th-century conditions they represented 15% or less of American prostitutes.  While it is true that some street workers moved indoors after the advent of the internet, the majority of internet-based escorts are those who used to work in hotels, take out ads in alternative papers or contract with escort services (which largely advertised in phone books).  But Cunningham insists on comparing apples to oranges, resulting in strikingly-wrong statements like, “Before the Internet, clients didn’t know where to find the prostitutes and prostitutes did not know where to find the clients.”  That’s news to me, and to every other sex worker who did quite well in pre-internet times; I can assure Professor Cunningham that my clients had no trouble whatsoever finding me, and the idea that hookers had trouble finding clients seems to proceed from another ridiculous and false assumption:  that clients are only a small subset of all men.

Kyle OkiThe belief in a lost era of woebegone streetwalkers crying plaintively in the night for rare and elusive clients (and its counterpart, the creed of the magical whore-multiplying powers of the internet) is also clearly evident in the statements of Sgt. Kyle Oki of the San Jose Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force (formerly known as the San Jose vice squad), who said “prostitutes are gravitating to the Internet because they can charge clients they find there more money for the same sex acts”.  This is a fine example of the principle of Garbage In, Garbage Out; Oki proceeds from a set of faulty assumptions, and authoritatively states a conclusion which is literally the exact opposite of the truth:  because the internet makes it easier for amateurs to place ads, cheapskates can more easily find cut-rate girls and established ones must either charge less or do more to compete, or else resign themselves to less business.  In other words, contrary to Oki’s blather, most prostitutes find that because of the internet they can charge clients less money for the same sex acts.  In 2000, the going rate in New Orleans was $300 per hour, above the national average; though it’s still possible for an established lady to get that, $300 buys a lot less than it did 14 years ago.  And in some areas (such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles) the bottom has almost dropped out of what was once a very lucrative market.

The rest of the article suffers from the same syndrome that permeates all of prostitution law and much of the public’s conception of sex work:  the fallacious belief that sex is different from all other human activity, and sex work different from all other work.  Would a reporter find the idea that any other entrepreneur had grossed almost $1 million over several years of brisk business remarkable?  Of course not, but somehow it becomes so when the entrepreneur is a sex worker (I also doubt Guynn would use the demeaning word “servicing” to describe the work of a landscaper, chef, masseuse or therapist, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day).  And then there’s this line: “One sex worker [said] she uses credit-card payment processor Square to charge clients…” to which any normal person’s response should be, “So what?”  How many businesses have you run into lately that don’t take credit cards?  Accepting credit cards is not remotely notable, for sex workers or anyone else, and it hasn’t been for at least two decades; the fact that a businesswoman uses a popular payment processor doesn’t make it any more interesting.  But that’s par for the course with mainstream articles on sex work; rather than discuss important issues like sex worker rights, police brutality and how “authorities” use the moral panic around “sex trafficking” to justify massive violations of human rights, reporters prefer to present dry-as-dust details that they portray as somehow shocking because the transaction involves sex, then liberally moisten the mixture with lies, myths and sexual fantasies from self-appointed “experts” who know less about sex work than they do about quantum physics.

Professor Scott Cunningham says these indoor sex workers will have to wait at least another century for their clients to find them.

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