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Links #251

I just had it.  –  Lucas Hinch

This week’s video is…well, see for yourself!  The links above it are from Radley Balko (“law” and “close”), Popehat (“protect”), Jesse Walker (“irony”), Lenore Skenazy (“reading”), and Jason Kuznicki (“government”).

From the Archives

To force through a bad law you seize on a convenient…victim, and declare that its sufferings trump all the traditions and rights of free citizenship.  –  Lloyd Evans

The Red Umbrella Hardeep Sandhu

A man who raped a prostitute for TWO HOURS after knocking her unconscious with a brick has been jailed for 15 years.  Hardeep Sandhu, 39, beat his victim with a brick until she passed out and then repeatedly raped her for two hours as she went in and out of consciousness.  She suffered multiple injuries to her head, face, arms and hands during the prolonged attack in a garden near Hartington Street in Derby…

Size Matters

This ain’t gonna work, y’all:

Last fall, The Social Club of Nashville left its current quarters for an isolated office park a few miles away.  Owners spent $750,000 on the building and began renovations fit for “a private club for the enjoyment” of sexual activity.  But when neighbors figured out the nature of club members’ intended socializing, they packed the city council in support of a zoning change which would prevent The Social Club from opening…So…it will now open as the United Fellowship Center, a house of unorthodox religious worship.  The dance floor is now a “sanctuary.”  The dungeon is now a choir room.  And dozens of small, private spaces have been designated “prayer rooms.”  The United Fellowship Center has even gotten a city permit to meet as a church…

Stand-Up Guys 

We need a LOT more men to write like this rather than licking neofeminist boots:

What strikes men about feminism’s approach to the sex trade is that it relies on a simplistic dichotomy: victims/abusers.  Female victims…and male abusers…Feminists like to promote the “predator myth”…which argues that porn and prostitution…encourage men to attack women.  However, the most basic statistic overturns this theory.  How many men use porn?  All men.  How many men assault women?  Few men…I’ve never seen a single erotic scenario featuring coerced or battered women…the idea that porn converts men into rapists…sends…the individual [sex worker]…the message…”Dressed like that you’re asking for it”.  Quite a familiar line.  But not often heard from women’s rights campaigners…the law’s supporters…say [it] is part of the war against slavery…Trafficked people…pick lettuces, but we don’t ban salad.  They hoover carpets, but we don’t outlaw rugs and vacuum cleaners.  They care for children, but should we all sterilise ourselves?…

The Scarlet Letter (#19)

Greece’s government announced…the abolition of a controversial health and hygiene regulation that allowed authorities to publish the details, including photographs, of workers that had tested HIV positive.  This is the second time the regulation has been abolished since its first introduction in 2012…the law led to the publication of women’s photographs in the press, arrested as prostitutes, as a means to “protect” public health.  Its implementation had led to a storm of protests and reactions over the public humiliation of the women involved, as well as for trampling their fundamental rights and the patient-doctor confidentiality…

The Widening Gyre 

This is extra-stupid and dishonest even by prohibitionist standards:

Women rent their bodies as a choice: a myth. Pornography is a harmless spectator sport: a lie. Both enable slavery, often with teenagers plucked from American neighborhoods. Sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar industry worldwide. That only marginalized women fall prey is another false assumption…Pimps will recruit anyone, and white girls are more profitable,” said Audrey Morrissey…of My Life, My Choice…American culture lifts up female independence, which includes personal sexual choices…Many argue that stripping, for example, is a way to pay for college or to support a family. Fact: only 5 percent of female sex workers make and keep their money. The rest are prostituted through force and coercion in an industry led by men…

The Day of the Dead (#44) we don't buy it

China is cracking down on exotic dancers at funerals, the Ministry of Culture said April 23.  Although such entertainment is not widespread, strippers are thought to attract more people to a funeral, which is a sign of respect for the dead. Two recent cases “have been punished”…

The Public Eye (#324)

Another good profile of my friend Laura Lee:

Dubliner Laura Lee has the self-assurance of someone who has packed several lifetimes into her 40 years.  After a couple of cul-de-sacs in law and banking, Lee has returned to the job that funded her first law degree: sex work…“I’m not going to say, ‘I love my job’.  I don’t know any of my friends who leap out of bed on Monday morning and go, ‘Yes, work!’ ” she says.  “But I do choose to do it.  I enjoy the freedom is gives me in terms of managing my finances, spending time with my family and studying”…

Traffic Circle

As I predicted, articles questioning “sex trafficking” are now becoming more common in mainstream media:

…the Global Slavery Index (GSI), which received fawning publicity, including in The Washington Post….estimated that there were 29.8 million people in “modern slavery” around the world.  In November 2014, the GSI unveiled what it described as a more precise estimate: 35.8 million people.  That’s an increase of 6 million people!  What’s going on here?…there is a large gulf between the estimates of tens of millions of victims and the actual number of identified “survivors” — 44,000 at last count.  (This number is also a bit dubious)…the GSI figure has come under attack from other researchers for having a murky, inconsistent and questionable methodology…Clearly there is a problem with the numbers when the U.S. government cites a figure of 20 million and a well-funded, media-savvy organization touts a figure of “slaves” that is almost twice as high.  Media organizations are complicit in fostering misperceptions by often citing these figures as established fact, without even an explanation or examination of the methodology…these Pinocchios are for all-too-credulous acceptance of them…

Business As Usual

On 30 January, a mesmerizing report was launched at the Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting on HIV in Bangkok:  The Right(s) Evidence—Sex Work, Violence And HIV In Asia: A Multi-Country Qualitative Study.  It is a ground-breaking piece of work for several reasons.  It involved an unusual collaboration among governments, sex-worker organizations, communities, UN agencies, and regional agencies in Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  It is full of fascinating insights into the lives of women, men and transgender people in the sex industry.  It finds compelling evidence of widespread violence…and…points to a culture of impunity among the police, doctors, and other powerful players that in turn increases the threats of violence, trauma, disease and despair among sex workers, and by extension their families, communities, and customers…you’ve never heard of it…[because] it was greeted with “absolute and total silence”…the media is scared to touch it [because] the data is very clearly saying that the police are the biggest violators…

Worse Than I Thought (#531)

“…even if they appear to have been staked and beheaded“:

With an agreement now reached on (not) funding abortions for trafficking victims, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously…to pass the “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” (JVTA)…with little fanfare or discussion, Senators tacked on a late amendment to the legislation which radically alters the rules for Internet publishers.  Known as the “Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation” (SAVE) Act, the change is vehemently opposed by a broad coalition of free speech, web publishing, and civil liberties advocates.  If the SAVE amendment ultimately passes…it would go against decades of precedent related to web publishers and user-generated content.  In general, the owners of websites and online publications cannot be held criminally liable for the things that random people post. Under the new rules, however, these entities could be charged as sex traffickers if it turns out any trafficking victims are advertised on the site.  Sponsors have specifically stated that their intent is to shut down, or at least seriously cripple…Backpage.com…

Slim and Nun

Magdalen laundryFor many years, Irish sex workers dreaded being captured by cops and imprisoned in the Magdalene laundries, where they were enslaved by nuns and forced into a life of unremitting toil to “cleanse” them from their “sins”.  The last Magdalene laundry was closed only 19 years ago, but the nuns who ran these torture chambers did not merely go away; their zeal to torment and punish whores was so great that they re-invented themselves as Ruhama and rebranded their anti-whore crusade as a fight against “sex trafficking” and “pimps”, whom they depict as hiding behind every bush and lamppost like some sort of oversized fetish leprechaun.  Longtime readers will remember that Ruhama is the chief force behind “Turn Off the Red Light”, a campaign to impose the Swedish model on Ireland; to that end they have fed tons of bullshit to obsequious Irish politicians and employed shills and sock puppets to sell their tragedy porn to the credulous press.  My friend Laura Lee has been at the forefront of the fight against them for years, and on Wednesday she called my attention to the testimony of a sex worker who went in undercover to see what Ruhama really offers sex workers who come to them for help:

I decided to go to Ruhama after seeing their posters around train stations whilst touring.  The posters advertised a number to text as part of their REACH Project, so I decided to contact them directly.  I was aware that there was a lack of resources for sex workers to access support, and the one organisation that seemed to dominate the media coverage of the issue was Ruhama, so I decided to see what they would offer me.  The Services Manager, Sheila Crowley, called to give me an appointment to see her, and a week later I found myself standing outside a pub across from St. Patrick’s college waiting to meet her.  As we walked down towards her office I was told about the religious history of most of the buildings that we passed; going through the entrance to Ruhama felt like entering an old church, as their offices are located in All Hallows College (which has been run by the Vincentians since 1892).

I sat down with Sheila and discussed my financial concerns; I told her of my desire to go to full time education and the consequent worries of paying for the fees and not having enough time to work to earn the money to pay my bills and college fees.  She discussed the different supports that Ruhama offers to sex workers, and explained that some women don’t want to leave the industry and just want practical support.  However, she then said that after meeting with a Key Worker, it usually turns out that they do want to leave after all.  She seemed to be telling me that sex workers don’t really know what we need, but that people who don’t live our lives would be able to convince us that what we need is to leave the sex industry.  It would therefore seem reasonable to assume that Ruhama would be eager to offer whatever practical support we was necessary to achieve that end, but such was not the case; as the meeting went on, it became clear that practical support wasn’t on offer.  In fact, Sheila told me that they don’t have the financial resources to offer the kind of practical support I was expecting.  This surprised me as I was aware that the EU had awarded a grant of €284,302 to the REACH Project; the beneficiaries of which are the Irish Department of Justice and Equality and Ruhama.  In fact, as I write this, Ruhama have just launched a new campaign targeting the clients of sex workers; it would seem to me that Ruhama are more invested in awareness campaigns with no substance behind them instead of actually providing us with any real help when we come to them.

PrintI’ve heard the audio recording this young woman secretly made during the interview; Crowley tells her to go on the dole for a while because she isn’t going to be able to get a regular job without references.  No assistance, not even a job program; just emotional support and verbal urging to stop doing sex work.  What struck me the most, however, was that Crowley clearly understands the reality of sex work quite well, despite Ruhama’s promotion of nonsensical “pimp” and “exploitation” mythology; she understands touring and advertising, recognizes that independent girls outnumber those with managers (“traffickers”) and even gets that most clients are very decent.  Her issue with sex work seems to be due to some sort of belief in contamination, so that if three girls work together and the landlord doesn’t evict the one with a boyfriend, that makes the other two complicit in “trafficking” (or something like that; I had trouble following her “logic”).  It just goes to show Ruhama’s incredible duplicity, spreading lies they know to be lies in order to further their rotten agenda.

I’ve seen a fairly common complaint in hobbyist forums — apparently some providers will be deliberately vague about their services (as they must be), and sometimes it’s not until the actual appointment that a client realizes the provider does not offer “full service”.  Do you think providers do this purposefully or is it just an unfortunate effect of the industry being underground?  Do you think these providers have a responsibility to communicate their strict limits before an encounter, or should clients not assume anything about what they’ll receive?

smoke and mirrorsI do think that the vagueness about services is a direct (and wholly predictable) result of criminalization.  Since our society wants to pretend that it’s moral and legal to criminalize thoughts (because that’s what motives are) in the case of sex, we arrive at the bizarre and absurd situation of two totally benign and legal activities (offering sex and asking others for money) becoming illegal when performed together.  It’s therefore necessary to break the link between the two in situations where one suspects armed busybodies might be skulking about with intent to ruin peaceful people’s lives, either by being straightforward about the sex but coy about the money, or straightforward about the money but coy about the sex.  The well-known Backpage nonsense about “roses” and common euphemisms such as “donation” are attempts at the former, while the standard “time and companionship only” disclaimer is an attempt at the latter.  I say “attempt” because this evasive language fools absolutely nobody from escort to client to cop to judge; it’s part of an elaborate pantomime our society has concocted to pretend that persecution of private sexual behavior can ever be legitimate, and sex workers participate in it as a means of whistling in the dark and skating just below the strict evidentiary standard a judge who recognizes prostitution laws as evil (but dares not say so aloud) might impose upon cops and prosecutors.

Prostitution laws, and the arse-backward morality which supports and nourishes them, create an environment which rewards duplicity and punishes honesty; many sex workers who might prefer to be honest in their advertising are afraid to be, and some dishonest practitioners are thus easily able to hide amongst them.  Ethically speaking, an escort should not take money for a service she doesn’t actually provide, nor lie about her services, nor allow clients to believe she offers things that she doesn’t; practically speaking, a client shouldn’t assume that absolutely everything he might want will absolutely be on the menu.  Absolutely nobody but fraudsters and prohibitionists benefit from this kind of poor communication; a sex worker who doesn’t offer a given service doesn’t really want clients trying to push her into providing it, and a client who wants a particular service doesn’t really want to end up with someone who can’t or won’t provide it.  The review system is an attempt to bring some sort of transparency to the process by establishing how individual escorts have behaved over time, but there will never be a wholly open and honest marketplace in our trade until we can do away with the smoke and mirrors created by criminalization and the demimonde’s attempts to protect itself from persecution.

(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.)

When sex workers or former sex workers write as academics, their voices can’t be reduced solely to sex.  –  Noah Berlatsky

The Proper Study

Noah Berlatsky on sex workers conducting our own research:

Melissa Gira Grant…is not alone; there are many sex workers and former sex workers who research and analyze sex work from an analytical perspective.  Author, media consultant, and former sex worker Maggie McNeill, for example, discusses common myths about human trafficking…The Red Umbrella Project, a peer-led sex worker advocacy organization, conducted a study of New York City trafficking courts that found police were disproportionately targeting black sex workers and using racial profiling to make arrests…Tara Burns…researched Alaska’s trafficking laws while working toward her Master’s in social justice…Christina Parreira…has continued to work as a sex worker while also pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology…she has…interviewed other workers about how they understand their work…dropbox logo

Saving Them From Themselves

Missouri law enforcement is serving cloud-storage site Dropbox with a search warrant for an account used by area teens suspected of sexting…after school officials heard rumors that students were sharing nude photos via phones and Dropbox…cops interviewed students and seized some of their cell phones.  And what did they find?  No pics.  But…with just a little more privacy infringement, they’re certain they can turn up some nude teen photos…

King of the Hill

Two for one!  “Michigan ranks No. 2 for human trafficking sex trade behind only Nevada…

If Men Were Angels

A chiropractor in…Iowa…has had his license pulled after being accused of trading services for sex with clients and for performing exorcisms…Dr. Charles Manuel voluntarily surrendered his license after the Iowa Board of Chiropractic accused him of unethical conduct…The board also stated that Manuel had instructed some of his patients to stop taking their prescribed medications…

Schadenfreude (#434) 

Voice of America has followed the party line on “sex trafficking” thus far, so it’s nice to see them publishing an interview with super ally Anne Elizabeth Moore:

The garment industry, because there are so few employment options for women, creates this sense of an almost economic imperative..in the U.S. we talk a lot about how horrible it is for women and the sex industry in Cambodia, and how they all are trafficked.  And all the reports are about quoting Somaly Mam, who of course…spent a lot of time talking about how everyone that she worked with in her various foundations was a victim of sex trafficking, when you actually talk to the people that live in her shelters, and/or sought assistance from her, or even people who were…involved in…anti-trafficking organizations elsewhere, what you discover is actually that most of them are not victims of trafficking.  Most of them identified as people who were working either in the sex industry or another industry.  And the opportunity provided to them by the anti-trafficking organizations was simply better than their continued labor in that industry…

Served Cold

Utah based Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) has attracted a great deal of attention since it was first endorsed by Glenn Beck…This new addition to the already crowded field of anti-trafficking organisations “us[es] cutting-edge computer technology…[to] go into the darkest corners of the world to…liberate enslaved children and dismantle the criminal networks.”  It is this type of language that identifies OUR as yet another disturbing example of a “raid-and-rescue” organisation…these interventions represent the latest version of the “white man’s burden”…OUR takes things one step further by sending, essentially, gun-toting vigilantes to foreign countries in the pursuit of “hope and freedom” for enslaved children…

Buttons, Bags & Banknotes (#445) clogs

It would be hard to imagine a more unintentionally-revealing example of mental masturbation than this attempt to entangle the supposed morality of overpriced clogs with welfare-state propaganda and dangerously-prudish Sweden’s wholly-undeserved reputation for sexiness:

Blixt’s wooden shoes are not just “hasbeens’ because of the retro style – it’s also a comeback of retro Swedish sexiness – not the stereotype, but rather the truth.  Outdated stereotypes of Sweden as overly sexualized have reigned for too long.   “I think it’s a misunderstanding,” Blixt remarks. “Sex is one thing, and a naked body is something else; it’s natural.”  When Blixt talks about sexy shoes, she’s speaking of classic Swedish values.  In other words: au natural…Made only with natural materials in good work situations, the shoes are sustainable, durable, and handmade…“We are actually raised to be creative in Sweden, and it’s easy to start a company here with our free education, access to social security, funding and young people who dare to think big,” Blixt reflects. “People learn to dare and believe in their ideas, and that is our hope for the future”…

The smugness is so thick one could cut it with a knife.

Guinea Pigs 

Another software package designed to sell whores out to the cops:

Rescue Forensics claims it “archives massive quantities of data from classified advertisement sites specializing in commercial sex ads.”  It gathers a lot of text, and even more nude and semi-nude photos.  Then it turns all that over to the cops…what Rescue Forensics appears to be selling is just one more tool to help cops track people engaged in sex work through their online activities…there’s a good chance that if you’ve placed an ad online in the last two years for escorting, massage, BDSM, stripping, private modeling, nude housekeeping, selling your underwear, or any other permutation of the various sexual services people can put on offer, Rescue Forensics has a copy.  And because Rescue Forensics has a copy, so do their users in law enforcement…for Dalton, the fight against trafficking isn’t just about finding the people Rescue Forensics believes are “exploited”:  It’s about abolition…Dalton was a policy advisor to Shared Hope International…Dalton himself acknowledges what they’ve built isn’t enough to identify someone who has been trafficked into sex work, and that there’s no way to tell from an ad if someone is forced or coerced…Dalton still stands to profit from a product that can’t make that distinction, placed in the hands of law enforcement officers who…routinely…harass and arrest sex workers…

Worse Than I Thought (#525)

Bad laws never die, even if they appear to have been staked and beheaded:

U.S. Senators…reached a deal on legislation addressing human trafficking.  Passage of the “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act”…had been delayed for several weeks due to a partisan dispute over abortion funding for trafficking victims.  CBS News explains the complicated compromise, which ultimately does not allow funds allocated under the bill to go toward abortions…there’s still a chance that political maneuvering could doom the legislation…if Republicans force a vote on controversial amendments concerning immigration and other issues…

Precedent

There’s a saying in American politics:  As California goes, so goes the nation.  If that’s true, we may be at the start of a nationwide fight to decriminalize sex work.  The Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education, and Research Project (ESPLERP) filed a federal lawsuit on March 4 that seeks to overturn the criminalization of prostitution in California by arguing that the ban is unconstitutional…because it hinders sex workers’ rights to participate in private and consensual activities…If the lawsuit is successful, California could become the tipping point for the decriminalization of sex work nationwide…the decriminalization argument will acquire powerful legal precedent in the most populous state in the country…it could move the conversation forward even if it fails…The state will almost certainly use trumped-up concerns over human trafficking to put the lawsuit to rest…But…nearly 40 million people live in California.  To even put this issue on the political radar of that many people is a revolutionary act…

Diary #251

0421150119iIf you had told me a little over a year ago that I’d be thumb-typing a column on a smartphone mere hours before posting time, while waiting for a ferry on an island off the coast from Seattle, I would have laughed at you.  Yet that is exactly what I’m doing right now.  Life is queer with its twists and turns, isn’t it?  Here I am back at work again, making all sorts of personal, business and activist connections, running incredibly late on my deadlines and even using a damned smartphone…and being OK with all of that. It’s been a hell of a year, and I have all my loyal readers to thank for it.

My Normal

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a movie review column, mostly because its been a long time since I’ve seen a movie; I don’t really like watching movies alone, and since Grace and I don’t always enjoy the same films and I was frightfully busy all last year, movies were just something that had been pushed way down in my time-triage hierarchy to somewhere below “clean the bathroom” and slightly above “stand outside and look up at the stars.”  But now that I’m living with Jae I’ve had to make adjustments, and movies have re-entered the picture (at least on occasion); Saturday night we watched a film which she thought would interest me on two levels, and I was not disappointed.

My NormalMy Normal (2009) is the story of Natalie, a young lesbian (Nicole LaLiberte) working as a dominatrix in New York; though she enjoys her work, she views it as a temporary gig on the way to a career in filmmaking.  She befriends her drug dealer Noah (Ty Jones), who has aspirations to be a screenwriter himself; soon afterward she enters into a new relationship with Jasmine (Dawn Noel), whom she meets at a club.  But while Noah accepts her work and the two of them collaborate on a screenplay based on her life, Jasmine finds herself increasingly troubled by Natalie’s work and sexuality, and pushes away from her out of fear and jealousy.  Eventually, though, Natalie learns that her sex work is neither something to be ashamed of nor a secret impediment to her goals, but rather a source of skills and connections that will enable her to realize them.

This is an independent film with good production values and a talented cast; it has a few noticeable editing issues and a couple of clumsy plot contrivances (such as the fact that Natalie and her three dominatrix friends all leave the dungeon where they work to pursue various life paths at apparently the same time).  It also suffers from a bit too much “Hollywoodness”: the first scene was way over the top and IMHO pandered too much to popular media BDSM stereotypes; the denizens of the lesbian bar were all young, attractive and conventionally-groomed; and the end was a bit too neat to be realistic (not to mention the fact that its use of recursion came across as cute rather than profound).  But despite these problems it is a fun, light film with likable, engaging leads and a satisfying conclusion, and its pro-sex work, anti-stigma message make it a breath of fresh air.  In a medium where most sex workers are portrayed as either pathetic victims or nigh-superhuman temptresses, the depiction of Natalie and her friends (and the enterprising drug dealer) as ordinary human beings doing their jobs and getting by like anyone else was both refreshing and inspiring; even the title carries the powerful message that no matter what outsiders may think of the lives of sex workers, they are absolutely normal for us.

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