Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal well meaning but without understanding. – Louis D. Brandeis
Our monthly collection of short articles hearkening back to previous columns.
The Camel’s Nose (October 2nd)
Back in October I told you about the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,” (COICA), a proposed law which would have allowed the government to censor wide swaths of the internet; less than two months later I reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee (including “internet freedom champion” Al Franken) had unanimously voted to allow the bill to move one step closer to becoming law. Fortunately, as this January 18th article from CNET reports, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon single-handedly kept the bill from the Senate floor; unfortunately, according to this May 12th article from the same source, the bill’s sponsor has reintroduced it under a new name:
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today introduced a revised version of a controversial bill that would give the Department of Justice and individuals new powers to enforce copyright and trademark law against “rogue” and “pirate” Web sites that offer unlicensed copies of protected content or which sell illegal knock-offs of brand-name goods. The new bill was long expected. A late draft leaked out last week. The proposed law, “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property” or Protect IP, includes several revisions to a draft introduced last year, known then as “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,” or COICA. The drafters of Protect IP have tried to respond to some of the most severe criticisms of COICA, which was seen as dangerously vague on its definition of the kinds of Web sites that, under the proposal…Registries and other Internet infrastructure providers were especially concerned with provisions that could have required any provider of domain name look-up services to comply with court orders to block access to the underlying IP address of a condemned domain name…
But critics have already condemned the new version, noting that it not only failed to remove some of the most dangerous features of COICA, but has also added expansive provisions that the earlier draft didn’t include. TechDirt‘s Mike Masnick, for example, notes that the narrower definition of an “Internet site dedicated to infringing activities” in Protect IP is still both broad and vague. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Abigail Phillips wrote…that “Despite some salient differences…in the new version, we are no less dismayed by this most recent incarnation than we were with last year’s draft”…Like COICA, Protect IP expands the web of enforcement techniques by requiring advertising networks and financial transaction providers to cut ties to domains found to violate the law. But the new version now adds search engines and others to the list of providers who can be conscripted into complying with court orders. Protect IP would require “information location tools” to “take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible,” to remove or disable access to the site associated with a condemned domain, including blocking hypertext links to the site…Perhaps most worrisome of all, Protect IP adds a provision that allows copyright and trademark holders to sue the owner/operator of a domain directly. Again, the provision applies only to nondomestically-registered domains, but it allows the private party, like the government, to sue the domain name itself if the registrant does not have a U.S. address. That’s important because in all cases, once a suit is initiated, the plaintiff can ask the court to issue an injunction or restraining order effectively shutting the site down…Thus, with minimal court proceedings and perhaps without any opportunity for the defendant to respond or participate, the draft law would enable the Department of Justice or a private party to effectively shut down a nondomestic Web site, putting the burden on the owner/operator to prove that the site is not “dedicated to infringing activities” as defined in the law…
The “guilty until proven innocent” mechanism of the law, not to mention its “breaking an egg with a sledgehammer” philosophy, are all too familiar to whores; perhaps I should’ve filed this under “Welcome To Our World” instead.
No Other Option (October 17th)
On May 18th Svenska Dagbladet carried this article about German “sex assistants”, whores who minister specifically to the elderly and disabled. Since few of my readers read Swedish (I certainly can’t!) and some may lack access to translation software, I’ll paraphrase the entire article herein. IMHO the most interesting thing about the article is its positive, accepting tone despite the fact that it was published in a Swedish newspaper, which I think you’ll agree tends to support my May 22nd statements about the true opinion of the Swedish public on the subject of sex work.
In Sweden, Catharina König would be guilty of prostitution, but in Germany she receives calls from health professionals and desperate parents. “When people ask what I do, I usually say that I work with people with disabilities, and add that it’s sensual and erotic work. And then they look at me with big eyes,” she laughs. Five years ago (at the age of 47) she became unemployed, then stumbled across an article on “sex assistants”, people who help the disabled or elderly people to experience sex. “I felt that it could be something for me, but I didn’t know if I could pull it off. In my head, I had images of drooling and disfigured people,” she says.
Catharina König went to the Institute for Autonomy for the Disabled, a college which trains sex assistants. Her clients are mostly elderly men in retirement homes or younger disabled men. Sometimes, she says, they just want to see a female body, or caress it; sometimes they need help getting an orgasm. And often they just want to lie in bed holding someone. Many of her calls come from nursing home staff; they see that the elderly or disabled are suffering, depressed or aggressive but cannot help them. In the case of younger people who live at home, it’s usually the mother who calls. “Recently I was at home with a 40-year-old man who had never been with a woman, Catharina said; “At first he was terrified. But then it became so soft and nice.”
One of Catharina König’s regulars is 58-year-old Peter, who has a spastic paralysis of the limbs. “I am not an Adonis whom women turn to look at, but like most other men I yearn for a woman and her body,” says Peter, who wished to remain anonymous. “In principle, I think that one should not pay for sex, but the disabled have so many disadvantages in society I claim my right to do so.” When asked what he thought about the fact that in Sweden he would be labeled a criminal, Peter said he considers that an insulting idea.
Christina König agrees. “Sure I’m a sex worker; I sell sexual services. But it’s so much more than that; I’m trying to give people the feeling that they are beautiful. It’s wrong to try to punish that. Besides, in Germany prostitution is permitted since January 2002; the law considers the buying and selling of sexual services to be a commercial transaction, provided they are done voluntarily. Brothels are permissible, and prostitutes pay taxes and the same charges as other self-employed people.”
Today there are many brothels which advertise that they are accessible to the disabled; their amenities include ramps for wheelchairs and staff who understand and can help. The Association for Sexual Services, a German sex worker organization, estimates that half of the country’s nursing homes for the elderly or disabled allow prostitutes to visit their residents. Many prostitutes have discovered this as a niche; most are a little older and have life experience, says Marion Detlef, a social worker at Hydra (an organization which provides services to sex workers in Berlin). Detlef said that there is good cooperation with the old people’s homes, and more recently with nursing homes for the disabled as well. “It’s still a big taboo for many people. But even in church-based institutions, there is a growing understanding that all people have sexual needs. As it says in the Bible, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’”
What a sensible, enlightened view! And what a contrast from the monstrous, asinine official attitudes toward sex work we see in nearly every story coming out of the U.S. these days.