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Archive for September 28th, 2010

Results are what you expect, and consequences are what you get. –  Anonymous

The “Law of Unintended Consequences” is the principle that in any complex system, the actions of people or governments can result in consequences that the originator of those actions neither intends nor desires.  One excellent example of this is Prohibition, which was intended to morally purify the American scene but instead almost singlehandedly created organized crime in the US.  Politicians are forever attempting to ban or control complex physical, economic or social phenomena by simply passing laws; ignorant people hail such attempts as “progressive”, but the wise recognize that such behavior is exactly equivalent to that of a primitive medicine man attempting to control the weather by shaking a rattle and doing a dance.

In the past few years sex workers in the United States have been subjected to a long series of persecutions and official attempts at collective character assassination unlike any other since the days of the Social Purity Movement at the beginning of the last century.  As I suggested in my column of the day before yesterday, it is very likely that the primary reason for this is the widespread trend toward decriminalization of our profession in most countries and the growing public acceptance of our work in the US and other nations which still adhere to the barbaric principle that women’s bodies are owned by the state.  Since nobody likes having his property taken away, politicians and neofeminists (who believe they own women’s souls) have therefore mounted a campaign to arrest this disturbing tendency before it results in our emancipation, and to this end have resurrected the old White Slavery bogeyman as we’ve discussed several times before. They have repeatedly sent this reanimated monster forth to attack the most visible of targets, resulting in the recent recriminalization of prostitution in Rhode Island (where it was technically legal for 30 years) and the highly-touted censorship of the adult services section of Craigslist, where many low-end and semi-professional hookers advertised.  And now they’ve sent their misshapen abomination against Backpage, which is used even by many midrange escorts; if this trend is allowed to continue, how long would it be before the tyrants decided to go after true escort websites such as Eros?

But if the politicians expected the Great Unwashed to cheer their victory against evil classified ads and clamor for their appointment as dictators, they were very much disappointed.  Though the neofeminists and “child trafficking” hysterics praised the action, the response from the general public was distinctly underwhelming; there was no clear consensus among the masses as to whether censoring Craigslist was “good” or “bad”, and many, many analysts have pointed out that the closing merely drove the real criminals farther underground.  Indeed, even some prohibitionist organizations who would love to see every whore in America locked up (thus depleting the female population to a tremendous degree and filling every jail and prison in the country to overflowing) whined that prostitutes would simply move their advertising elsewhere, which is absolutely true.

These repressive actions have also inspired a groundswell of resistance, both from prostitutes’ rights organizations and from more general human and women’s rights ones, not to mention free speech advocates.  77% of respondents in a recent debate at The Economist voted in favor of legalization, and several pro-sex work online petitions such as this one have appeared in recent days.  But perhaps most important was the release of this statement by the Third Wave Foundation, a well-funded feminist group which opposes the groupthink and anti-sex policies of mainstream feminism:

We do not believe that sex work is a cause of that violence or oppression, nor do we believe that seeking to prohibit safe and consensual sex work or the demand for it is the solution to eradicating gender-based inequity or violence. In fact, these attempts to criminalize sex work often have the unintended consequence of leaving young people even more vulnerable. Prohibitions on sex work — even when targeted at third-parties such as customers and advertising venues — criminalize young people and force them further underground in order to meet their survival needs. As a result, they are more vulnerable to violence and isolated from one another and from rights advocates.

THIRD WAVE SUPPORTS YOUNG PEOPLE ENGAGED IN SEX WORK AND IMPACTED BY THE SEX TRADE AS CRITICAL PARTNERS IN ENSURING HEALTH AND JUSTICE.

We at Third Wave are deeply concerned about the ways in which young women and transgender youth may be subject to abuse and violence in any aspect of their lives. Over the last decade of supporting this work, we have learned that young people come to sex work and the sex trade through a wide range of experiences that include choice, circumstance, and coercion. Our community of grant partners and allies includes sex workers, people involved in the sex trade and street economies, and people who have been trafficked. Regardless of how young people are involved in or are impacted by the sex trade, they must be considered partners in the work of advocating for rights and achieving justice.

WE RECOGNIZE AND AFFIRM A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SEX WORK AND TRAFFICKING, AND URGE POLICYMAKERS AND ALLIES IN HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY TO APPROACH THESE ISSUES WITH RESPECT FOR THAT DIFFERENCE.

These are nuanced and deeply complex concerns. Pursuing a plan of action to address violence, coercion, or trafficking without considering the needs and leadership of young people with direct experience in sex work and the sex trade will result in solutions that do not fully address the harms that young people face. Nor will advocates benefit from the depth of their expertise.

WITH OUR SUPPORT, YOUNG PEOPLE ENGAGED IN SEX WORK AND WHO ARE IMPACTED BY THE SEX TRADE ARE ORGANIZING IN THEIR COMMUNITIES AND ACHIEVING WINS.

Across the US, our grant partners are supporting one another to create smart solutions that are rooted in their day-to-day realities.  They conduct research on the needs of their own communities, mapping the complex social service systems that they must navigate successfully in order to seek support.  They operate their own health care clinics with state and city-level health partners.  They advocate for and participate in city taskforces that address youth housing needs.  They have developed their own programs to secure legal advocacy for their communities.  They organize and train one another to work within criminal/legal systems to advocate for their rights.  Together, they create innovative new models for peer support and education rooted in harm reduction principles and respect for young people’s power to make change in their own lives.

WE VALUE THE FULL RANGE OF EXPERIENCES OF YOUNG PEOPLE WHO DO SEX WORK AND ARE IMPACTED BY THE SEX TRADE, AND SUPPORT WORK THAT BUILDS THEIR POWER AND AGENCY.

It is a step forward for policymakers and advocates to recognize that young people who do sex work or who are impacted by the sex trade are not criminals. We must also recognize that not all young people who do sex work and who are impacted by the sex trade are victims.

Partnerships between young people and adult allies must support the vision and leadership of young people. We work in collaboration with young people to secure the resources they need to continue creating a healthy and just world. We urge policymakers who seek to protect young people from violence to include young people’s expertise at every level of their decision-making. We also urge our community partners and allies to center the voices and experiences of young people who do sex work and who are impacted by the sex trade when advocating for their human rights.

Third Wave has been advocating for sex workers since the beginning of this century, but this is its strongest statement yet against prohibition, the equation of voluntary adult prostitution with “human trafficking” and the neofeminist dogma that all sex workers are victims. Here’s hoping that their efforts and those of all of our other advocates will at last begin to make an impression on the thick skulls of politicians by forcing them to recognize that their ill-conceived and wrongheaded attempts to suppress prostitution even further are alienating a great many taxpayers. The popularity of the so-called “Tea Party” movement shows exactly how sick many people are of big government, and it doesn’t get much bigger than using propaganda and outright lies to suppress consensual adult behavior; I can’t even begin to guess how much money governments in the US might save if prostitution were decriminalized as it was in New Zealand seven years ago.  In 2008 a report on the Prostitution Reform Act was prepared; it should be required reading for every government official in every state of the US.  I’ve added a link to it in my “resources” box at the right for those who are interested, but its findings are summed up in its abstract:

The PRA has been in force for five years. During that time, the sex industry has not increased in size, and many of the social evils predicted by some who opposed the decriminalisation of the sex industry have not been experienced. On the whole, the PRA has been effective in achieving its purpose, and the Committee is confident that the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry are better off under the PRA than they were previously.

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