Archive for September, 2011

Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.   –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Germanic peoples are generally considered very practical, especially in regard to sex.  And while those living north of the Baltic Sea seem to have lost their collective minds on the subject, those living near the center of Europe keep demonstrating a great deal more common sense about it than their Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian cousins.  In Germany, for example, prostitution is legal and taxed, but how can a government minimize public complaints about streetwalkers and ensure that they pay their taxes?  Americans would respond by exaggerating the problem and dispatching a horde of cops to arrest every woman in sight, but the Germans prefer a more pragmatic approach:

Prostitutes in the German city of Bonn must carry a ticket purchased from a new parking metre-like machine while working the streets or face hefty fines from tax authorities in a scheme launched Monday night.  In Germany, ladies of the night pay income tax — the level of which varies from region to region — but compliance is difficult to enforce with women seeking business on the street.  Germany’s first “sex tax meters,” from which prostitutes can purchase a ticket for 6 euros…per night, will ensure the tax system is fairly implemented, a city spokeswoman said.  “Inspectors will monitor compliance — not every evening but frequently,” the spokeswoman told Reuters.  If caught without a valid ticket, offenders will first be reprimanded, then face fines and later even a ban.  About 200 prostitutes work in Bonn.  Due to protests from residents, city officials have limited the areas of operation to specific quarters.  But critics say this has made it easier for prostitutes to ply their trade.  The city has erected what officials call “consummation areas,” wooden parking garages where customers driving cars can retreat to with prostitutes.

Even in Germany there are plenty of silly people who make absurd statements like “this has made it easier for prostitutes to ply their trade”, as though the purpose of government was to make it more difficult for workers to do their jobs; anyone who believes that would probably be happier in the U.S.  Also note that the British reporter insists on using “prostitute” interchangeably with “streetwalker”, a mistake the German authorities clearly don’t make.  And then there are the Swiss, who appear to clearly understand what most North Americans can’t seem to grasp at all:  that criminalization and marginalization create most of the danger in prostitution, and that it’s much safer when treated as a job like any other:

A study by a Swiss social worker suggests prostitution is safer for sex workers and customers when it is treated as a profession.  Eva Buschi, a professor at the School of Social Work of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, said her research found the country’s lack of regulation was a major problem for both sex workers and the sex establishments.  “In other businesses workers get contracts, in which the tasks to be performed, the price and how long they should take are clearly laid down.  In the sex business today this is mostly not the case,” she told Swissinfo.ch.  The study suggests proper working conditions would help prevent violence by customers.  Swissinfo.ch said new requirements for brothels in the Swiss city of Nidau could be a model for the rest of the country.  Brothel managers in Nidau are required to guarantee that the women are declared as sex workers and that they are in the country legally.  They must also provide the women with information leaflets in their own languages about their rights and their duty to declare their earnings for taxes.

Though decriminalization is much better for sex workers than legalization, a reasonable form of legalization is vastly preferable to criminalization.  Most Germanic people seem to understand this; too bad Americans don’t.

One Year Ago Today

He or She” is a column-length answer to a reader who asked, “How can you tell a transsexual from a real woman?

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It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?  –  Henry David Thoreau

On the night of August 21st, the popular BDSM social networking site FetLife crashed, and the person who sends out Twitter messages for the site made a stupid, puerile joke: “Whoops… FetLife just went down like a drunk hooker…”.  As you might imagine, a huge brouhaha ensued, as reported by Kitty Stryker in Tits and Sass on August 31st:

Last Sunday, BDSM community site FetLife did what a lot of popular sites do every once in a while—it crashed.  And the person running FetLife’s Twitter account made a poorly chosen joke:  “Whoops… FetLife just went down like a drunk hooker…”, later saying that they “Couldn’t think of anything better to say!” and “I make equal fun of everyone.”  People (most of them polite) called FetLife out on both the comment and what sounded like a justification wrapped in apology packaging.  All in all, they were pretty gentle reactions for a tweet that encouraged the stereotype of the incapacitated hooker…Why is a drunk hooker joke a problem?  In this case, it’s the context.  I have friends who make offensive jokes sometimes, though they’re far too sensible to post them in a public forum.  But FetLife is not a person, it’s a company.  And a company—particularly a sexually oriented one with a focus on alternative sexuality—should not be fucking around with jokes about marginalized people.  It’s bad marketing.  More than a few sex workers donate to the site, so they’re pissing off the people who financially back them…FetLife apologized, eventually with more sincerity, even thanking people for calling them out because they wouldn’t learn otherwise.  Fine.  And it might’ve blown over, especially if they had gone out of their way to demonstrate how they do actually support sex worker rights…But where it really became an issue was with a rant on EdenCafe…People who were saying “not cool, FetLife” were dubbed “rape culture warriors” hell-bent on demanding censorship and “full of fire and brimstone” (Rayne’s words, not mine).  She said she didn’t understand why people were so upset, that it was just a bit of harmless humor and, anyway, “everyone has their detractors.  It’s part of life”…

Kitty goes on to explain why it was offensive, etc.  But I’m not really interested in whether the reaction was excessive or proportionate; what I’m wondering is why sex workers and their supporters can get so damned worked up about issues inside the sex worker and kink communities which have very little effect on our lives and freedom, but largely remain silent when we’re attacked in the mainstream media.  Let someone on FetLife make a frat boy joke, or a porn star come out with some tasteless “art” which virtually nobody outside of San Francisco will ever see, and the commenters start buzzing like a broken hornet’s nest.  But let CNN or Newsweek or Huffington Post or a newspaper site print yet another asinine article insulting sex workers and spreading myths and lies about us to the general public (which then supports greater persecution) and it’s crickets chirping.  I spend hours every week commenting on such stories, posting links to sites which contain facts and refute libel, and though there are some others who do this (including many of the activists who comment here or whom I’ve mentioned often), it tends to be the same ten or twenty people every place I look.  Where are the rest of the outraged multitudes?  Why are scores of people ready to attack others within our community and allied communities, but only a meager handful can be bothered to attack stories written by people who want our profession destroyed and all of us imprisoned or consigned to Orwellian reprogramming regimes?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those who commented on either side of the FetLife or Madison Young controversies; far from it.  I’ve wasted considerable time commenting on tempests in teapots myself, but I also spare the energy to write about the important issues.  What I’m saying is this:  activists and supporters need to invest our energy more wisely.  If you have time and outrage to spare, by all means comment about every incident which annoys you.  But if you have limited time and emotional energy, why not direct it toward dealing with our enemies rather than squabbling with our friends?  Readers, every time you see a story which insults whores, reinforces negative stereotypes or spreads disinformation about us, post a link to it in a comment here so others can be alerted to it and post comments there if they feel so moved.  If you have a Twitter account, call attention to it that way.  I can tell you this without fear of contradiction:  If every single internet story which promoted “sex trafficking” hysteria, praised persecution of whores or contained insulting stereotypes was answered by negative and corrective replies from six dozen different sex workers and supporters, people would start to notice.

Another area in which we’re wasting our resources is in the judicial system.  Every hooker who’s ever been tricked by the costumed clowns knows that it’s impossible to win in criminal court, but civil court is an entirely different matter.  Consider this lady’s strategy, reported in the September 7th Orlando Sentinel:

A convicted prostitute…claims she was “severely and permanently” injured after being tased by Orange County deputies, and is now suing for more than $1 million.  Sonia Uhlmer recently filed suit in Orlando federal court against deputies James Brannon and Anthony Shea…[stating that] Brannon and Shea used excessive force when they arrested her about 3:30 a.m., Sept. 2, 2007… Uhlmer’s attorney, Paul E. Bross, told the Orlando Sentinel that…the Sheriff’s Office report [was] a “complete lie and fabrication,” and said the document states Uhlmer was in the center lane and was trying to commit suicide by running into oncoming traffic.  Deputies used physical force and tased Uhlmer…[who] was taken into custody under the Baker Act and transported to an Orlando hospital…the lawsuit said Uhlmer’s injuries “were so severe, and the recovery period was so long, that she suffered great mental anxiety and distress in addition to her pain and suffering”…Prosecutors did not file formal charges against Uhlmer in that case, the suit said…[but] Uhlmer has been arrested several times in Central Florida and has [previously] been convicted of prostitution.

This, I believe, is the way to go.  Virtually every prostitution-related police report is a tissue of lies, and many if not most stings involve some level of violence or sexual assault against the arrested whore.  As many high-profile civil rights cases have demonstrated, it isn’t necessary for the plaintiff to prove her case to accomplish the desired objective; all that is necessary is that the case be credible enough that the sued jurisdiction’s lawyers or insurance company decides to settle.  If a large enough number of prostitution busts and stings result in expensive and embarrassing lawsuits, it will only be a matter of time before those who hold the purse-strings decide that chasing whores isn’t worth the trouble.  Obviously we want decriminalization in the long run, but until that day comes I’d be satisfied with a moratorium on the constant persecution.

One Year Ago Today

April” is the tragic story of a troubled woman which provides an important object lesson in the real human consequences of our society’s obsession with “punishing” consensual behaviors.

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…light doth seize my brain with frantic pain.  –  William Blake, “Mad Song”

Truth is like light; it illuminates dark corners and reveals that which would otherwise be invisible.  But when one is used to the darkness, bright light can be painful and so some would rather shut out that light (or at least close their eyes to it) than make the adjustment and see things as they really are.  What’s worse, some of these confused souls actually cry out for light, but when they are dissatisfied with what it reveals they claim that something must be wrong with the lamp rather than accept the reality it has revealed.

A young man whom I met in my first semester at UNO provides the perfect example of what I’m talking about.  He was one of the most singularly unattractive people it’s ever been my misfortune to meet; he had odd, asymmetrical features, a serious case of acne, greasy hair, terrible posture, a high, shrill voice, pungent body odor and irritating mannerisms.  As if that weren’t enough, he wore ill-fitting and unfashionable clothes and was wont to show off his high mathematical intelligence.  But he was very nice to me and struck up conversations every day when I walked into calculus, and since I was the polite sort of girl who was reluctant to rebuff overtures of friendship he soon attached himself to me, hailing me if he saw me on campus and tagging along after class.  He didn’t stalk me or anything (except for one uncomfortable episode where I found him waiting for me in the dorm lobby when I came down in the morning), and he never tried to touch me or ask me for a date or anything like that; he knew I had a boyfriend and just seemed to enjoy being friends with an attractive girl who didn’t tell him to get lost.  All my friends got to know him, and though some of them teased me about him they seemed to understand that I didn’t feel it an imposition to be nice to someone who clearly needed my kindness so badly.

Well, one day Ralph (as I shall call him) seemed very moody and pensive as he walked with me back to the dorm, so I asked what was bothering him and he said he needed some advice.  We sat down on a bench near the cafeteria where we wouldn’t easily be overheard, and he told me that he was upset because he was still a virgin.  I realized that he had lured me into a minefield, but retained my composure and pointed out that as he was only 17 this wasn’t exactly unusual; he replied by saying that he had never even been on a date and girls obviously didn’t like him.  I could see two possible directions in which this conversation might be headed and I didn’t like either of them, but he didn’t keep me in suspense long:  he asked, “how can I get girls to like me?”  I was quite relieved that he had not tried to recruit me to remedy the situation; however, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and neither did I want to lie, so I asked if he wanted an honest answer and when he replied in the affirmative I gave him one, as gently as possible.  To my amazement, he didn’t seem hurt or offended by anything I said; he simply countered my constructive criticisms as though they were arguments to be refuted!  Finally, I got exasperated and said, “Ralph, if you already know more about female psychology than I do, why the hell did you ask me for advice?”

Unfortunately, Ralph wasn’t really all that unusual; there are a lot of men who admit they don’t understand how women think, yet angrily deny any explanation a woman tries to give them.  When the light is turned on in response to their requests and they don’t like what it shows, they denounce the lamp rather than accept what they see, and that brings us to the point of this column.  A lot of escorts have “NBA policies”, which means that they won’t see black clients; this is understandably frustrating to black men, and “Why do so many providers refuse to see black men?” is one of the most common thread topics on escort message boards.  Virtually every single day at least one person (usually more) finds his way to this site via a Google search on the subject; this is because one year ago today I published a column examining the reasons as they have been explained to me by girls with NBA policies, in conjunction with my own observations.  A number of black men have written thanking me for the essay; they wisely realized that the first step to dealing with a problem is understanding it.  But others react as Ralph did, angrily denying my statements and insisting that the real reason is “racism”, despite the fact that a large percentage of escorts with such policies are themselves black!  A few months ago, I was even forced to take the unprecedented step of closing the comments on that particular column because several black men (who had undoubtedly discovered it by posing the perennial question to a search engine) refused to accept the answer when it was given and decided to get ugly about it.  So to them I ask, as I did Ralph, “If you already know more about escort psychology than I do, why the hell did you ask me to explain it?”

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Today’s column is the second part of a guest blog by veteran sex worker rights activist Norma Jean Almodovar which addresses the ethical and flaws inherent in the authoritarian campaign against Backpage.com.

Says Jamie Fellner, senior counsel for the US Program at Human Rights Watch, “The widespread sexual abuse of children in juvenile facilities shows that public officials either aren’t paying attention or can’t be bothered to do the right thing.  The high rates of victimization are powerful testimony to the failure of governments to safeguard the boys and girls in their care.”  In none of the cases of more than 17,000 raped juveniles in 2008, did Backpage.com or any other adult classified ads website play any part in their abuse.  The government that claims to want to save them, however, did.  “More than 50 cases of trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors on Backpage.com have been filed in 22 states in the past three years…” according to the letter released by 45 state Attorneys General, but these numbers pale in comparison to the number of juveniles who are either raped while they are “placed under the protective custody of law enforcement,” or by their local cop, boy scout leader, priest, preacher,  or parent.

Are these State Attorneys General all completely ignorant of the findings and statistics from reports that our own government compiles and issues?  If they are ignorant of the facts, they are dangerous people and they really ought not be overseeing the prosecution of anyone for anything.  If they are aware of the facts and are ignoring them, what exactly is the motive for that?  As I stated earlier, this isn’t about the children and never was.  As one of the letter’s signatories, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna would like nothing more than to see Backpage shut down its “escorts” section, just as Craigslist did last year.  He commented, “Legal wranglings aside, it will take a cultural shift to change attitudes about prostitution…People look at prostitution and think it’s a choice, but there are very few, if any, volunteers”.  What has that to do with “protecting children”?  It is already against the law for adults to have sex with minors regardless of payment.  It’s called statutory rape.  If it is wrong for adults to have sex with minors because it is sexual exploitation, why on earth are we arresting them and subjecting them to worse horrors in jail?  Would we arrest underage persons who are raped by priests?  Or teachers?  Would we arrest the teenage Explorer Scout victims of police officers who can’t keep their hands off the underage females in the scouting program?  “Volunteers”?  These State Attorneys General want to shut down adult ads to “protect” women because they may or may not “volunteer” to engage in prostitution?  Why are we arresting them and putting them in harms’ way in jail where they are all too often forced to engage in sex with the corrections officers and jail guards?  I don’t think they ‘volunteer’ to be the sex slaves of their captors!

What kind of precedent are we setting that our government officials would attempt to ban any labor that, in someone else’s opinion, is not done “voluntarily”?  Are we now defining “forced labor” as any work that someone would not “choose” to do?  How many women “volunteer” to be housekeepers in low end hotels where they must clean up the vomit, feces and urine on the floor left by untidy guests?  Even maids at high end hotels have to deal with unruly guests who may rape them – high powered guests like Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  How many women “volunteer” to work as domestic servants, cleaning up after households in which the adult males may force their unwanted sexual attentions on them when the wives are not home?  Are these States Attorneys General not aware of how many victims of human trafficking are forced into domestic service – in the US and around the world?  According to some international reports on human trafficking, the number of women and girls who are forced into domestic service far outnumber those who are “trafficked” into prostitution.  Most child domestic workers are between 12 and 17 but some are as young as five or six.  Does anyone believe that these children “choose” to become domestic servants?  Or the adults who also find themselves trafficked for the purpose of being a domestic slave?  Why don’t these politicians care as much about the “forced labor” of those who are so desperate for money that they must work long hours in factories, sewing garments (sweat shops), picking fruits or vegetables or flipping burgers at McDonalds – as they “care” about supposed victims of “sex trafficking”?  We arrest women whose only “crime” is that they may not have “volunteered” to work as escorts making $200 an hour or more but we don’t arrest their poor sisters who do not “volunteer” to do menial labor earning minimum wage or less?

If these politicians were to be consistent in their crusade to save victims of human trafficking, they would demand that all classified sites, newspapers, magazines and other media outlets discontinue advertising help wanted for any type of labor (such as domestic service, garment manufacturing, agriculture) into which someone, somewhere in the world is trafficked.  Truth be told, many if not most of those who champion for the arrest of prostitutes or their clients on the grounds that all sex work is modern day slavery, hire domestic help so that they can spend their time saving the poor exploited women and children trafficked into the sex trade.  Do you think that Demi Moore and her boy toy spouse Ashton Kutcher scrub their own toilets and clean their own home?  Are they not aware that in many countries around the world, domestic servitude is the primary destination for victims of human trafficking?  Or do they just not care?

Unfortunately for sex workers, the US Government is only concerned about the humans trafficked into prostitutionIt is the US Government’s official position that all prostitution must be eliminated, at whatever the cost to those who, for whatever reason and in whatever manner that people make choices, are prostitutes.  Regardless of the absurdity of their methods and the harm to those whom they say they want to protect, the US Government has decided that the next multi-billion dollar war against its own citizens is the war against commercial sex.  It will not be a pretty war, and just as in the other “wars” against its “immoral” citizens, it will come at the cost of more of our liberties.  In their view, what is the value of the first amendment when “women are selling their bodies”?  Better that we let cops have laws which allow them to rape and extort the hussies!  So let’s chuck the first amendment.  Force newspapers and websites to kowtow to “our way of thinking” or be put out of business.  That amendment is a nuisance and in the way of all the other government programs to protect us from ourselves anyway.

From the The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, February 2005, Volume 8, Number 1:

Combating sex trafficking, then, is a complicated matter.  The moral imperative to rescue women from brothels is compelling when young girls are involved or there is clear evidence of duress, but “rescuing” adult women from brothels against their will can mean an end to their health care and economic survival.  In countries and situations in which basic survival is a daily struggle, the distinction between free agency and oppression may be more a gray area than a bright line.  Indeed, the Center for Health and Gender Equity observes that sex workers who resist rescues may not do so because they would prefer commercial sex as a lifestyle, other things being equal, but because there are no “viable economic alternatives to feed and clothe themselves and their families.”  Conservative U.S. groups that have entered the larger discussion around trafficking through the issue of sex trafficking, such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America (CWA) and The Salvation Army, dismiss these complexities.  Prostitution, as CWA asserts, is by definition “a form of slavery” and, as such, must be abolished.  According to Jennifer Block, writing in Conscience, U.S. Ambassador John Miller, director of the State Department’s Office of Monitoring and Combating Trafficking in Persons, credits conservative organizations’ activism for the political momentum that led to the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in the final year of the Clinton administration.  It is no surprise, then, that the Bush administration is interpreting and implementing the TVPA by placing a priority on combating sex trafficking and, by extension, abolishing prostitution.

Oddly though, despite the fact that many radical feminists would like to skewer and pillory the customers of prostitutes, prohibitionists with a moral agenda do not seem to care at all about punishing the men who hire prostitutes – despite their claims to the contrary.  There is clearly some other motive at work when a man like Eliot Spitzer can commit a federal felony of interstate trafficking and not only NOT go to prison for decades as you or I would if charged with that crime – but not even get arrested.  Or when a man like Republican Senator David Vitter can confess to bizarre fantasies of dressing in diapers, and be re-elected by his conservative constituency – and Randall Tobias, the man in charge of doling out money to international AIDS organizations so long as they signed a pledge to not support decriminalization of prostitution, gets to retire at full pension while Deborah Jeanne Palfrey, the madam who supplied him with women for his happy endings, was convicted and faced 55 years in prison. And then there is former adviser to President Clinton, Dick Morris, who, after his prostitution scandal, became a commentary on Fox News.

I’ve already covered the kid glove treatment of Federal Judge Jack Camp and the Albuquerque Judge who sentenced to probation former Albuquerque cop David Maes who raped a prostitute. Heidi Fleiss client Charlie Sheen admitted to hiring prostitutes AND using drugs – as well as committing domestic violence on his spouses – on a regular basis and continued to be the top grossing television actor on CBS (until he annoyed the writer and producer of the hit show), while Heidi went to prison.  Previously unknown actor Hugh Grant had a momentary lapse of judgment and his indiscretion rocketed him to stardom, while his prostitute Divine Brown went to jail.  High profile Christian ministers Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, George Rekers, Eddie Long and other members of the clergy get caught hiring prostitutes, either deny their sexual indiscretions or exhibit sufficient remorse, and go on preaching the word of the Lord and continuing to rake in the dough from their understanding and tolerant parishioners.  But when teacher and former sex worker Melissa Petro outed herself in an article she wrote about her previous profession, a journalist who decided that Melissa didn’t have a right to be proud of her “shady” past and still be a teacher, took matters in her own hands and forced the school board to “reassign” the “ho”.  Melissa is currently unemployed and unemployable.  All the sentimental claptrap about “prostitutes having no choices” as a reason to abolish our profession apparently means that if you are a sex worker who puts yourself through college to “better yourself”, and you don’t express remorse about your sordid past when it is exposed, society is going to make certain that you lose that job and then you won’t have any choices at all.  As Melissa discovered, once you are branded a prostitute, no one wants to hire you.

We are also told that prostitution should remain illegal because it is a dangerous profession and there are unhinged outcasts of society out there who murder them, but when a woman gets arrested for prostitution, the local newspaper often prints or posts online the woman’s name, photo and in many cases, home address.  News sources such as Charleston, South Carolina’s WCIV, Shreveport, Louisiana’s KSLA, and Massachusetts’ Lexington Patch, Wayland Patch and Metrowest Daily News  defend this practice because, they say, they print the names and photos of all persons arrested for crimes, except they do not publish the names and addresses of cops who rape prostitutes or who have sex with minors.  But the prostitute is supposed to be the victim of sexual exploitation and while some prostitutes may welcome the free advertising to find new customers, it is disingenuous to say the least to assert that prostitution is dangerous on the one hand and post a photo of the home of a “suspected prostitute” for a serial killer to find her without having to troll the streets looking for victims.

How much more evidence does society need to realize that neither the Federal Government or the State Attorneys General are in the least bit concerned for the well being of prostitutes of whatever age?  And tell me again why these politicians are demanding that Backpage.com close down its adult ads?

One Year Ago Today

Please don’t eat or drink anything while reading “BDSM (Part Three)”.  Trust me on this.

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It’s my custom to send courtesy copies of an article in which someone is mentioned prominently to that person (unless he’s a celebrity, public official or prohibitionist) so he can alert me to any mistakes or additional information prior to publication.  Well, when I sent Tuesday’s column to Norma Jean Almodovar, she replied with an essay she had written and wanted to publish as soon as possible, but had no specific venue in mind.  I offered to publish it here if she liked, and she accepted; I am therefore honored to present my very first guest columnist, veteran sex worker rights activist Norma Jean Almodovar, author of Cop To Call Girl, founder and president of the International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education and executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of COYOTE .  For those of you who just can’t go a day without reading some of my own writing, I point you to my column of one year ago today, “BDSM (Part Two)” .  Now without further ado, I turn this space over to Norma Jean.

Just as they did a year ago with Craigslist, a bunch of politically grandstanding States Attorneys General- cheered on by an overbearing, vociferous gaggle of anti- prostitution zealots and their sycophants from the far left and the far right-  got together and wrote a letter to the owners of Backpage.com, demanding that the adult ads on their classified website be shut down “to stop sex trafficking.”  Despite the fact that they don’t have a constitutional leg to stand on, these blowhards decided they must force the closure of the adult ads section in this and any other online adult ad classified advertising site.

Although there are numerous other sites which cater solely to the adult crowd seeking other adults for adult activity, such as RentBoy- where virulently anti- gay Christian Psychologist Reverend George Rekers found his young stud travel companion on a trip to Italy- and countless other similar sites, it does not appear that these Attorneys General have much interest in pursuing those sites because many are for gay commercial sex and it is not politically correct to prosecute gays for the same ‘crimes’ they prosecute heterosexual adults.  Governments and religious institutions throughout history have attempted to eradicate what many call a scourge (but many others like me feel it is the best job we ever had), but none have been successful even when the punishment faced by those who violate the law is death.  So what motivates these particular politicians to attempt to “eliminate” all prostitution at whatever cost?

There are a number of studies which support the premise that the more vocal one is in denouncing another’s ‘immoral’ activities and demanding that they cease, the more likely it is that such a loudmouth is engaged in the very activity that he/she condemns.  It is a cliché that sanctimonious politicians pontificate on the importance of family values while having extra-marital affairs, buying the services of a prostitute (underage and adult) or sending text messages to persons who are not their spouses; the vehemently anti-gay politicians and preachers who secretly engage in homosexual relationships.  When it is a female politician, look for her husband to be a client of prostitutes, like U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D. Michigan).

Considering the enormous pressure being exerted on Backpage -and Craigslist a year ago- if one were cynical, one might think that those who are the most vocal in their demands to shut down adult ads because of the possibility that those ads are for prostitution- are being blackmailed or extorted by those abolitionists.  Consider that Eliot Spitzer, who, as New York’s State Attorney General, passionately denounced the evils of prostitution as he vigorously enforced laws against prostitution by day and paid for his ‘sex slaves’ by night… in some cases going out of state and violating the Mann Act, a federal crime called ‘sex trafficking’.  Spitzer rose to governorship on the back of political reform and cleaning up corruption.  According to many sources, his was a ‘scorched earth’ policy when it came to prosecuting white collar crimes.  One target of his wrath were ‘prostitution rings’  against which he had publicly vented with “revulsion and anger announcing the arrest of 16 people for operating a select prostitution ring” in 2004.  He dispatched his brand of justice in short order and sent them to prison.  In hindsight one could speculate that his show of revulsion and anger came not from a sense of moral repugnance at the thought of paid sex professionals but that the ‘select prostitution ring’ he targeted had perhaps been too selective and refused his business in the past?  Or did he feel a sense of pride at being able to prosecute the competition of those who did provide him with their sexual services?

Or perhaps the abolitionists knew of Spitzer’s indiscretions and used that information to extort him to be aggressive in prosecuting others who engaged in buying or selling sex?  There is no doubt in my mind that if he had not been caught with his pants down, he would be joining the other politicians in their strident crusade to shut down adult ads.  So it is not unreasonable to suggest that perhaps some or many of the signers of this letter are in a similar position.  History – both distant and recent- suggests that this may be the case…

In July 2011, a high ranking Albuquerque Criminal Judge, Pat Murdoch, was arrested for raping a prostitute.  It was not the first time he had hired a sex worker, because the prostitute he hired admitted to previous engagements with the judge.  And surely the police were aware of his activities with prostitutes, which may explain why, in 2009, he was so lenient toward an Albuquerque Police Officer -David Maes– who was also charged with raping a prostitute.  Thoughtfully, after Maes plead ‘no contest’ to the charges, District Court Judge Pat Murdoch said “sending him to prison would be a harsh sentence for an ex-cop” and gave him 5 years probation.  After Judge Murdoch was charged with raping a prostitute, he resigned, and most likely none of his colleague judges will impose a prison sentence on him, knowing that when and if they ever get caught doing the same thing, they will want leniency from the judges who oversee their cases.

Judges like Federal Judge Jack Camp… or Judge Michael Hecht... or Edward Nottingham, the chief federal judge in Denver, Colorado.  Despite the fact that an ordinary citizen charged with violating the same laws that Reagan appointee Judge Jack Camp did would have been sentenced to multiple years- perhaps decades- in prison, Judge Camp was allowed to retire at full pension, sentenced to 30 days in prison and 400 hours of community service.  He served 15 days.

Back to the States Attorneys General- are they pursuing this because they are being extorted by the prohibitionists or because they really believe that shutting down adult ads is going to somehow stop human trafficking?  Surely they are not that naïve, are they?  Having been lawyers before they became prosecutors, they know exactly how things work and that prostitution was around long before the internet and will be around long after the internet shuts the sex workers out (or moves them to other websites).

They feign concern for the sexual exploitation of underage persons through the use of adult ads, commenting that “More than 50 cases of trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors on Backpage.com have been filed in 22 states in the past three years…”  But none of them mention that in 2011 alone, more than 100 cases of pedophile and child porn possessing police/ district attorneys/ judges were brought to court... NONE of those cases involved Backpage or Craigslist or any other classified website offering adult ads – just a bunch of perverted cops, judges, FBI agents etc. who had access to these young people because they are persons in authority whom no one suspects of diddling their children.  These numbers do not include the teachers, preachers, priests, boy scout leaders, Hollywood producers and other persons who are trusted by the community and who do not find their victims on Backpage.  The US Government reports that 90% of the cases of child sexual exploitation are at the hands of someone the child knows, like the above cops, teachers, etc. and 68% of the cases of child sexual abuse are at the hands of a family member.  So if, as the prohibitionists and their misinformed spokespeople suggest, there are between  ‘100,000 to 300,000’ children trafficked into the sex trade every year, and if that represents only ten percent of the victims of child sexual exploitation from strangers, then the number of those sexually exploited by an acquaintance or family member must be in the millions per year.  As I mentioned earlier, however, the US Government’s own report says that these hundreds of thousands of human trafficking (which includes adults and those trafficked into many other areas of labor) can’t be found, with all the millions of dollars that they spend and all the government funded agencies looking for them.

Tragically, as many cases as there are of the victims mentioned above, there is an even greater number of underage persons who are subjected to rape and sexual exploitation by persons in authority, and the government is quite aware of it and yet does little to prevent it.  In fact, those juveniles are deliberately put in harms’ way at the insistence of the rabid prohibitions who claim they are ‘saving their lives.’  No doubt when the media reports that the FBI or other government agencies have ‘rescued’ dozens of ‘victims of child sexual trafficking’ during a sting operation (and arrest hundreds of adult prostitutes in the process), the general public envisions a militaristic style raid much like our armed forces conduct when they storm into an occupied country and free the enslaved citizens, who then jubilantly rally around our heroic soldiers with cries of gratitude.  Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth for the underage victims of sex trafficking.  What the media and the government do not tell you is that ‘rescued’ means ‘arrested.’

When the cops and the feds – and for that matter, government agents anywhere in the world- conduct a ‘rescue’ raid, all persons of any age who are suspected of being prostitutes or of being ‘victims of sex trafficking’ are rounded up and herded into custody.  Handcuffed.  Chained to each other.  Put into jail cells.  Strip-searched.  Treated like vicious criminals.  And that is as it should be, according to some wonderful Christian ladies of the Georgia Eagle Forum, or as I like to call their national group- the “Spread Eagle Forum.”  Women like Sue Ella Deadwyler, publisher of Georgia Insight, who stated – in opposition to the Republican Georgia state senator Renee Unterman who introduced a bill that would steer girls under the age of 16 into diversionary programs instead of arresting them as prostitutes – “Arrest is a valuable life-saving tool that must be used. We need to hire more cops to arrest the prostitutes.”  She said that she believes that arrest is a better deterrent than a proposal for rehabilitation — no matter the age.  “Sure there are those who are forced into prostitution, but I think most of them volunteer,” Deadwyler said of under 16-year-old prostitutes.  “Many, many children have been scared straight because of arrest.”  Of course.

One of her colleagues argues, “We cannot repeal the prostitution law for children, because that law acts as a very real barrier that protects children from sexual predators that would, otherwise, feel free to lure them into prostitution….Have we forgotten that correction oftentimes turns a life around?”

They aren’t the only ones who believe that arresting victims is actually good for them.  Newser Staff writer Evann Gastaldo, wrote in her  March 4th, 2011 article: “Why We Must Arrest Child Prostitutes:  IT MAY SOUND CRUEL, BUT IT COULD BE THE ONLY THING THAT SAVES THEM.  Says she “Decriminalizing child prostitution (and not arresting them) means effectively ‘removing the only safe and secure protection these vulnerable children have from the pimps—being arrested and placed under the protective custody of law enforcement.’” And after one major ‘rescue’ of such victims, the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, stated “We may not be able to return their innocence but we can remove them from this cycle of abuse and violence.”

Umm, I wonder if either he or those nice Christian ladies or the States Attorneys General who are demanding the shutdown of adult ads on Backpage.com have read the US Government Justice Department’s own report on what happens to those children (and adult prostitutes) who are ‘placed under the protective custody of law enforcement…’- the report entitled “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-09”?

As the May 5th, 2011 issue of the Economist states, “Sexual abuse in prison is distressingly common: the Justice Department estimated that more than 217,000 prisoners, including at least 17,000 juveniles, were raped or sexually abused in America in 2008.  A total of 12% of juvenile detainees… surveyed between 2008 and 2009 reported being forced into sex.  And that is the number of people, not incidents; most victims are abused more than once.  More inmates reported being abused by staff than by other inmates.”  So we arrest the victims and put them in jail where they are raped by those who are supposedly protecting them from sexual predators... like themselves.  And this of course will ‘turn their lives around’… actually it probably will; if this doesn’t mess up their heads and screw up their lives forever.  After the well-meaning Christian ladies and legislators tell them that it is for their own good to experience the trauma of being arrested and going to jail where they are raped by government agents in whose custody they are supposed to be safe, well, they would have to have an extremely strong character to survive the ‘rescue’ envisioned by these moral zealots.

To be concluded tomorrow.

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Come, woo me, woo me; for now I am in a holiday humor, and like enough to consent.  –  William Shakespeare, As You Like It (IV:i)

One year ago today I published my first column on the subject of BDSM, in which I stated:

Like prostitution, BDSM activities are illegal in many jurisdictions despite being practiced by consenting adults…ignorance of both…is epidemic among the general public, and the media delights in perpetuating insulting and ridiculous stereotypes of both which tend to reinforce both public prejudice and official persecution.  And neofeminists intentionally mischaracterize both as “abuse” or “violations of women’s rights” and deny that adult women have the right to choose either.  But BDSM is abuse, isn’t it?  For a man to beat a woman or tie her up or force her to have sex is wrong and illegal, isn’t it?  Of course, unless that’s what she wants!  Pushing a person out of an airplane constitutes murder, yet many people jump out of airplanes of their own free will every day.

The magic wand which transforms abuse into rough sex is consent, and thereby hangs the tale; if there are no witnesses or documentation to the consent, it can later be revoked by an emotionally unstable woman (as described in my columns of October 27th, 2010 and March 4th, 2011), with dire consequences for the hapless dominant.  Furthermore, radical feminists claim that consent given while impaired or under duress isn’t valid consent, and that it’s the man’s responsibility to divine (with the super powers of his “male gaze”, no doubt) whether she is competent or be instantly transformed into a “rapist” even if his judgment is equally impaired.  Neofeminists infantilize women still further by claiming that because of “patriarchal hegemonic norms”, women are not truly able to give consent to any kind of sex of which neofeminists disapprove, such as BDSM or prostitution or, in the case of rabid lunatics like Sheila Jeffreys, any heterosexual activity at all.  This is the “philosophical” basis of both the Swedish Model and neofeminist opposition to porn.

There are, however, cases in which the inability of someone to give consent should be apparent to any reasonable person, and judging only by the statements in this September 9th Huffington Post article, this would at first seem like one of them:

[On August 27th] a northeast Alabama couple [was] arrested for allegedly torturing and sexually abusing a mentally disabled woman who was…found naked and handcuffed to a bed.  Maurice Rex Johnson, 52, and Toni Renea Johnson, 40, have been charged with sodomy, sexual torture and unlawful imprisonment…[for] abusing a 23-year-old woman with profound mental disabilities inside their Attalla home for months, according to police…”[The victim’s] boyfriend, who is somewhat mentally challenged himself, found her,” Gadsden Police Capt. Regina May told The Huffington Post.  “She was laying on the floor nude.  They had shaved her head and handcuffed her to a bedframe and left her.”  The young woman’s boyfriend was unable to free her, so he ran for help.  Neighbors who responded contacted police, and members of the Gadsden Fire Department were called in to cut the woman free of the handcuffs.

Investigators have not yet said how the Johnsons may have come to know the victim.  “When she was rescued, she made a statement to the officers that she had been cuffed to the bed like that because she had been bad,” May said.  “She had suffered episodes of abuse, episodes of sodomy and sexual torture.”  The Johnsons also allegedly put hot sauce on the victim’s genitals and prevented her from using a shower to alleviate the pain, police said…”She wasn’t being held captive all the time,” May said.  “She functions on about the level of a 10-year-old.  She has no family, no guardian.  She was just kind of taken in by these people.”  Investigators contacted the Alabama Department of Human Resources and discovered the victim had been in the DHR system for the majority of her life.  She was released from the department’s care when she turned 21.

After rescuing the victim from the Johnson residence, police located the couple nearby and questioned them…Maurice Johnson was then arrested for possession of marijuana, and his wife was held on an outstanding warrant for resisting arrest and obstructing governmental operations in an unrelated case.  While investigators worked to obtain arrest warrants against the couple for…[the abuse], Maurice Johnson posted bail for the drug charge and fled the area…On Wednesday, he was captured…at the home of his father…The victim…has since been placed with temporary caregivers.  “It’s a horrible case,” May said.  “Hopefully she’ll get back in the DHR system, and they’ll appoint a permanent guardian to look out for her best interests.”

The problem, of course, is that because of anti-BDSM bias in the police and media we can’t be sure how much of this is true.  Police also described the woman in the Bagley case as “mentally deficient” despite witness claims to the contrary, and a follow-up article on the Hopkins case revealed a number of salient facts which were completely omitted in the original story.  If the woman is as retarded as this article claims, it should have been readily apparent to the Johnsons and their actions thus did constitute abuse.  However, I won’t be at all surprised if a DHR report declaring her competent surfaces.  If she’s competent to live on her own she’s competent to consent to sex, and if she’s not competent why did DHR emancipate her at 21?  The state cannot have its cake and eat it, too; if the Johnsons are found guilty the DHR is also culpable for abandoning its duty to someone who cannot care for herself, and if state doctors considered her competent how are non-psychologists supposed to tell she isn’t?

There’s a postscript to the story; take a look at the comments which follow it on Huffington Post.  In a case like this, one expects the mob to believe whatever they read and react like villagers with torches, and there’s certainly a great deal of that there.  But it goes far beyond that; a plethora of ugly Yankee stereotypes about Southerners are trotted out, plus dozens of childish comments about the mug shots making them look “inbred” or “genetically defective” (actually, they look like typical mugshots of fairly typical middle-aged people).  And though as you can see the story is apolitical, that doesn’t stop dozens of soi-disant “liberals” from making moronic “red state” comments and, most astonishing of all, not one but several blaming the “Tea Party” for the incident.  I am not making this up; I only wish I were.  The alleged victim in the story is said to be unable to give consent due to “profound mental disabilities”, but it’s clear that many of those who commented on the story, and are no doubt presumed legally competent, could be described in exactly the same way.

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In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.  –  Alexander Hamilton

I’d like to thank all the readers who called the story about the raid on the Phoenix Goddess Temple to my attention; I first heard about the temple back in February when the Phoenix New Times published an article on it.  When I read that article, I have to admit I was a bit confused, bemused and appalled.  Some of their professed beliefs sounded a bit hokey to me, I thought it was odd and irregular to have males claiming to represent the female principle, and I was rather offended by the practitioners calling themselves “goddesses” (which is either hubris or garden-variety megalomania).  But I could make similar statements about a lot of religious beliefs, just as I’m sure others find fault with mine; I have no right to tell others what they can or can’t believe, nor do I have the power to look into their hearts to divine whether those beliefs are sincere or merely some kind of dodge.

Police and prosecutors, however, have no such principles; like the healers of the Goddess Temple they profess themselves to be gods (of the little tin variety) and imagine that they have the ability to read minds and thereby determine guilt or insincerity.  And since they have heavily-armed goon squads enforcing their pronouncements, no matter how divorced from reality those pronouncements might be, I was utterly mystified at the Temple’s allowing a reporter to describe exactly what went on in their rituals, even to calling their practice “new age prostitution”; it was as though they somehow failed to realize that they were inviting a pogrom.  Of course, the cops are doing their usual strutting, crowing and slandering; the ones interviewed by Phoenix New Times for this September 8th follow-up story made the typical claims of having the witch-doctor-like magical ability to see guilt (“This was no more a church than Cuba was fantasy island”), projected their own criminality onto their victims (“They hid behind religious freedom to protect their crimes”) and lied (in the passive voice, of course) about their persecution tactics (“there are policies we follow, guidelines we use so we don’t entrap people…you can presume in this case that acts of prostitution were arranged.”)

As usual, the comments on online reports of the story are largely of the “why aren’t you losers fighting real crime?” variety; it’s clear that the computer-literate segment of the public is overwhelmingly in favor of either decriminalization or legalization, and equally clear that the self-proclaimed overlords aren’t listening.  But this time there’s another type of comment, ones based in the religious freedom angle; though comments on a pagan site (called to my attention by regular reader Tonja) seemed divided between “we need to support their right to religious freedom” and “those dirty criminals give pagans a bad name”, the comments on mainstream sites were actually more uniformly supportive of the Temple and critical of the cops.  And though some of the pagan commenters agreed with some atheist commenters (such as Furry Girl) that the law doesn’t allow exemption for religions, that really isn’t true; there are a number of cases of religions being granted exemptions for victimless crimes.  For example, during Prohibition the Catholic Church was officially allowed to use sacramental wine, and American Indians are allowed to use peyote in religious ceremonies, despite the fact that it’s a felony for anybody else.

The truth is, religions get special legal treatment all the time, as long as they’re big enough (the “Native American Church” isn’t that large, but has a large political support base because Indians are practically the definition of an oppressed minority).  There are lots of different pagan groups in the United States, but because they aren’t unified they can’t lobby for special treatment like the big boys can.  The same goes for sex workers; if we were better organized (like certain other sexual minorities who have in recent years almost completely reversed their historical mistreatment) it would be much more difficult for the prohibitionists to shout us down.  Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter whether a minority group is persecuted for the race, beliefs, ancestry, politics or sexual practices of its members; all that matters is that it is large enough and loud enough to be heard over the greatly-amplified voices of cops and politicians pontificating through their bullhorns about why it’s right and moral to oppress them.

One Year Ago Today

Flavor of the Month” is essentially an autobiography of my bisexuality.

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And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  –  Matthew 7:3

Just over a year ago (September 4th, 2010) Craigslist surrendered to political pressure from busybody attorneys general out to make a name for themselves by taking pot-shots at a straw man.  Founder Craig Newmark is a shy, timid fellow who may have Asperger’s Syndrome and was unable to cope with tyrannical demands and false accusations from people who relish upsetting others.  So he simply shut down his “adult services” section, thus granting the witch hunters their empty symbolic victory and allowing the whores who advertise on Craigslist to return to the personals and therapeutic services sections where they posted their ads before the government demanded the creation of an “adult services” section in the first place.  Deafened by plaudits from trafficking fetishists, the attorneys general were apparently unable to hear either the yawns with which the majority of Americans greeted their “victory” or the denunciations from civil libertarians and other rational folk, so now they’re at it again, issuing empty threats against Backpage:

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley joined with 44 attorneys general nationwide demanding Backpage.com crack down on prostitution ads, saying the site is the new online mecca for the sex trade.  “Children are being forced into prostitution in Massachusetts and across the country, and those traffickers are being given a tool to make this even easier,” Coakley said in a statement.  “We urge Backpage.com to stop child-sex trafficking on the site by completely removing all adult service advertisements.”  Backpage, owned by Village Voice Media, charges a dollar for each ad.  While the site states it does not tolerate ads promoting illegal services, the National Association of Attorneys General, citing industry analysts, said the company earns about $22.7 million in annual revenue from adult services ad sales.  The prosecutors’ group claims the site does minimal vetting of ads.  “The stated representations about the site are in direct conflict with the reality of Backpage’s business model:  making money from a service illegal in every state, but for a few counties in Nevada,” the group said.  A Backpage spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.  The prosecutors’ association is the same group that pressured Craigslist.org into abandoning its “adult” category in 2010.

As I was told by Pete Kotz back in January, Village Voice Media is not run by gentle, socially-awkward souls who shrink from confrontation, and its owners have no intention of running from this fight; some commentators have observed that they actually seem to relish it, and why shouldn’t they?  The attorneys general don’t have a legal leg to stand on, and they know it; they’re just trying to blow down paper targets with hot air.

But there’s another aspect to the story which was called to my attention by veteran activist Norma Jean Almodovar; in a comment on the Kansas iteration of the same news story she pointed out that the politicians are making a big deal about imaginary “children forced into prostitution” in order to call attention away from their own disorderly house:

“More than 50 cases of trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors on Backpage.com have been filed in 22 states in the past three years, the letter says…”  And in 2011 alone, more than 100 cases of pedophile and child porn possessing police/district attorneys/judges were brought to court…NONE of those cases involved backpage.com or craigslist or any other classified website offering adult ads – just a bunch of perverted cops, judges, FBI agents etc. who had access to these young people because they are persons in authority whom no one suspects of diddling their children.  These numbers do not include the teachers, preachers, priests, boy scout leaders and other persons who are trusted by the community and who do not find their victims on backpage.com.  The US Government reports that 90% of the cases of child sexual exploitation are at the hands of someone the child knows, like the above cops, teachers, etc. and 68% of the cases of child sexual abuse are at the hands of a family member.  Why don’t the states attorneys general deal with those issues instead of conflating all commercial sex with underage sex trafficking?

And in a comment on the Massachusetts story linked above, she went one better by actually publishing a list of 102 cops who have been accused of child molestation or possession of child porn THIS YEAR ALONE.

It seems to me that Martha Coakley and her partners in crime need to heed the advice of scripture, specifically Matthew 7:5:  “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

One Year Ago Today

The Doors of Perception” discusses people who have no trouble recognizing whores as whores, no matter how completely we blend with our surroundings.

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…in this splendid novel…Mr. Burroughs has…given you as remarkable a heroine as you might expect.  For the Girl was a member of “the oldest profession in the world,” and the hero was foreman of the grand jury.  –  Editorial foreword to The Girl from Farris’s

Near the end of June, regular reader Americanus sent me an email containing the following passage:

…the French military had a group called “Mobile Field Brothels”…The women were all volunteers from French Algeria and part of a tribe known as the Ouled Nail…[who] teach their young women the arts of dancing and prostitution.  The young women then go out and…[work] to gain a large enough dowry…once they do, they return to the tribe and marry without any resentment on the part of the men.

I found this exciting not merely as a great column topic, but also because I had encountered the term “Ouled Nail” before.  I’m sure regular readers have noticed that I have an exceptional memory, and can often recall unusual words encountered years before.  And I remembered exactly where I had seen this one; in The Return of Tarzan, the ape-man escapes his enemies with the assistance of an Ouled Nail.  In the book, the term is used synonymously with “dancing girl”, and I was thrilled to discover the extra dimension which linked this character to my own profession.  But Tarzan’s friend is not the only harlot to appear in his creator’s oeuvre, and so I’d like to follow yesterday’s column on the Ouled Nail with one on whores in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Each of the works cited contains a link to a free online copy, so if you intend to read them please be warned that this column contains spoilers.  Also note that The Return of Tarzan and The Gods of Mars are sequels to Tarzan of the Apes and A Princess of Mars, respectively.

As I’ve said before, when my beloved cousin Jeff taught me to read he preferred to use his own favorites rather than “baby books”, and the authors to whom he introduced me over the next few years are still among my favorites.  One of these was Burroughs, who is most famous as the creator of Tarzan but also wrote several other series and many stand-alone works in a career which stretched from 1912 to his death in 1950.  Burroughs is generally considered a “men’s author”, and that is a shame because his books are full of romance and strong, interesting female characters; I honestly believe that one of the reasons I found traditional romance novels boring was that in Burroughs’ stories I found love intertwined with adventure in settings which excited my young imagination.  And though he was in many ways a product of the Victorian Era (born 1875), he had some very liberal views about nudity and sex which, though restrained in his earlier works by commercial necessity, are much more obvious in his writings of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

While researching yesterday’s column I revisited The Return of Tarzan and discovered that, though Burroughs’ understanding of the Ouled Nail is clearly faulty, he does hint at their prostitution in a passage from chapter 7:  “The frightened Ouled-Nails were crouching at the tops of the stairs which led to their respective rooms, the only light in the courtyard coming from the sickly candles which each girl had stuck with its own grease to the woodwork of her door-frame, the better to display her charms to those who might happen to traverse the dark enclosure.”  The story takes place in 1910, after the French authorities had restricted the Nailiyat to working for licensed cafes, and the girl who tips Tarzan off to the planned attack and helps him to escape his pursuers is depicted as a slave, abducted by marauders and sold to the café owner.  She senses Tarzan’s nobility by the way he speaks to her and the respectful manner in which he tips her after her dance, and so alerts him to his danger at great risk to herself.  Of course Tarzan rescues her from the café and returns her to her father, and in chapter 10 she again risks her life to rescue him from another band of nomads hired by the villainous Nikolas Rokoff to accomplish what two previous groups of hirelings had failed to do.  Not all of the whores Tarzan encounters are so principled; in chapter 3 of the same book, Rokoff hires a Parisian streetwalker to lure Tarzan into an ambush by calling for help, and after he defeats his assailants she lies to the police, telling them that the ruffians had tried to save her from an attempted rape by Tarzan.

The Girl from Farris's by Frank Frazetta (1965)Burroughs also tried his hand at contemporary drama; the heroine of The Efficiency Expert (1921) is a prostitute called “Little Eva” who befriends the hero when he works for a while as a waiter at a cabaret she frequents.  Her belief in him inspires him to apply for the titular position, and her unflagging support keeps him going when he is later accused of murder; he is acquitted due largely to evidence she collects herself, and only her death in an influenza epidemic keeps him from marrying her.  I’ve never quite forgiven Burroughs for the poor girl’s fate, though I’m sure he could not have used the ending I wanted in an Argosy title of that time.  June Lathrop, the heroine of The Girl from Farris’s (1920) dodges the censors in a different way; though in the first scene she escapes from a brothel and we assume throughout the novella that she is a (reformed) prostitute, it is revealed at the end that she was actually the victim of a bigamist who had merely housed her in a room rented from the brothel owner.  Thus, she is free to marry the hero without provoking outrage in the readership.

Burroughs pushed the envelope a little farther in The Girl from Hollywood (1922), whose titular character, Shannon Burke, is an actress who becomes the kept woman of a director who “auditions” her on the “casting couch” and then gets her addicted to morphine in order to control her.  While shooting on location at the Rancho del Ganado (a fictionalized version of Burroughs’ own Tarzana ranch, on which the town of Tarzana, California was later built) she befriends the Pennington family (based on the Burroughs family), who help her to break her addiction and even forgive her for her sordid past.  The standards of the day did not allow Burroughs to allow an unrepentant whore a happy ending, and indeed the one heroine who is specifically described as a prostitute (and not excused via enslavement or downplayed as a kept woman) has to be killed off at the end as in Camille.  However, I think it’s clear that in all of these cases he does his best to show that the mere fact of a “sinful” life does not make a woman “bad”, and indeed his fictional analog even bestows his blessings on a relationship between such a woman and his own fictional son!

My final example (and certainly the most coy treatment of the subject) is Thuvia, Princess of Ptarth on the planet Mars.  Burroughs’ Martians believe in a physical paradise at the South Pole of their planet, presided over by a race of living gods called the Therns; those who are very old (their natural lifespan is over a thousand years) or tired of life can make a Pilgrimage to this paradise and never return to the outer world.  But as the hero John Carter discovers in The Gods of Mars (1913), the whole thing is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by the evil and cannibalistic Therns, and those who make the Pilgrimage are captured and either eaten or enslaved.  Some years before Carter’s arrival, the beautiful but moody young Thuvia makes the Pilgrimage (for reasons never disclosed) and becomes the plaything of a Thern leader.  After her rescue by John Carter (who exposes the whole horrible scam to the world) she returns home and is treated like a virgin despite the fact that after years as the slave of a degenerate cult she absolutely could not be in any literal sense.  The only thing I can guess is that, though Martian standards of female chastity are Victorian in their rigidity, an exception is made for rape; and though most Martian noblewomen would rather commit suicide than submit to violation, Thuvia instead chose to live.  This is but one of the enigmas surrounding Thuvia, who is certainly one of the most interesting characters in the series; I believe her to be, like the Ouled Nail of Sidi Aissa, one of the earliest examples in the development of Burroughs’ recognition that there was something not quite right in the conventional ideas of female sexual morality prevalent in his time.

One Year Ago Today 

Greek God”, a short story I wrote in 1985, is the earliest example of my writing which has ever appeared on this blog.

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[The] Ouled Nail, with her robe of vivid crimson embroidered in gold, her soft silk veil of the palest blue…the wide gold girdle with its innumerable chains and pendants, the necklaces of coins, the bracelets of silver and gold, and the crown-like head-dress, is the personification of the gorgeous East.  –  Frank Edward Johnson, “Here and There in Northern Africa” (The National Geographic Magazine, January 1914)

The Ouled Nail (pronounced “will-ed nah-eel”) were a Berber tribe who inhabited the Atlas Mountains of Algeria; their origins are lost to history, and though they were converted to Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries CE along with the other Berbers, they retained a number of distinctive characteristics which set them apart until well into the 20th century.  Chief among these was the status of their women, or Nailiyat; not only were they free from purdah, in adolescence they actually went down into the cities unescorted by men and worked for a time as dancers and prostitutes in order to amass a personal fortune with which to purchase property at home, and only after they had done this would they seek marriage.  The Nailiyat were thus not only remarkably independent by the standards of tribal cultures or Muslims, but even by the traditional standards of European cultures; they enjoyed a freedom unknown by any but the wealthiest, boldest women before the “sexual revolution”, and indeed greater than that of many “liberated” women to this very day.

The Nailiyat were not forced or expected to practice dancing and harlotry, but it was more common than not and the trade ran in families.  Daughters learned dancing and the erotic arts from their mothers, and about the age of 12 started travelling down to the cities for part of the year, accompanied by their mothers, grandmothers or aunts (who not only advised and helped them, but also kept house).  They typically returned home seasonally, and as they grew older and more experienced they might sometimes make the trips with sisters or cousins of similar age instead, or later graduate to escorting younger relatives.  After five to fifteen years of work (depending on the individual’s aspirations and level of success) a Nailiya usually returned home permanently, purchased a house and garden, and began to accept suitors; after marriage she settled down to the normal domestic role and marital fidelity which are traditionally expected of women throughout the world, and when she had daughters of her own she trained them and accompanied them down to the cities in their turn.  Women of the Ouled Abdi and Ouled Daoud tribes sometimes worked as dancers and whores as well, but unlike the Ouled Nail they only did so after being orphaned, divorced, widowed or otherwise cut off from financial support.

No one knows when the tradition began, but it probably predates the advent of Islam because the name of the chief city (250 km south of Algiers) to which they come to work, Bou Saâda, means “Place of Happiness” in Arabic, thus testifying to their presence there when the Arabs first arrived in the 7th century.  Soon after the French conquered Algeria in 1830 they in turn discovered these emissaries of an alien culture, and like the Arabs before them were amazed and entranced by what they found.  The typical Nailiya wore a layered dress, heavy, spiked silver bracelets which could be used as weapons, and copious jewelry made of coins she had earned.  She accented her eyes with kohl, decorated her hands and feet with designs in henna, and knew nothing of the kind of sexual shame which oppressed her European sisters.  The Nailiyat danced erotically (and in the latter parts of their shows, sometimes without clothes), smoked tobacco and marijuana, openly prostituted themselves with the full knowledge and cooperation of their mothers, and accepted any children born out of wedlock (especially if they were daughters).  Many a French tourist was captivated by these strikingly unconventional ladies, and their fame spread through Europe in the latter half of the 19th century and even to North America by the early 20th.

But though the French and other Europeans enjoyed their dancing and other services, they either could not or would not understand their traditions and cultural dynamics.  Since the men of the tribe did not leave their homelands, Ouled Nail communities in the towns were entirely composed of women; early ethnographers were at a loss to understand this and so some described the Nailiyat’s dancing and prostitution as a pre-marital “rite of passage” similar to the single act of sacred prostitution Herodotus says all Babylonian women had to perform.  Others characterized the accumulation of wealth as “earning a dowry”, claiming that the motive was to make themselves more marriageable and that the dowry would be presented to the groom; they pointed to the display of wealth (the coins mounted on their jewelry) as evidence of this.  In truth, the women displayed their wealth thus for practical reasons; it was safer where they could keep an eye on it than left elsewhere to be stolen.  And as we have seen, they did not turn the money over to their husbands, but retained control of it even after marriage; indeed, some of the Nailiyat enjoyed city life so much they never returned home, but continued to work as dancers and harlots until they could secure an advantageous marriage with an outsider or else set themselves up in some other business (a café of their own, perhaps) in Bou Saâda or even Algiers.

Because she had independent means, a Nailiya could marry for love, and because she had no romantic illusions about sex (as I have pointed out in reference to modern whores) she had no temptation to cheat after marriage.  The men of their tribe understood and appreciated this; in his book Flute of Sand (1956), Lawrence Morgan quotes one of them:  “Our wives, knowing what love is, and having wealth of their own, will marry only the man they love.  And, unlike the wives of other men, will remain faithful to death,  Thanks be to Allah.”  But sadly, this important truth is lost on those who suffer from misconceptions about prostitution; the idea that the Nailiyat “danced for their dowries” (ignoring their whoring and downplaying their financial independence) has become a popular legend among American practitioners of belly dancing, and even Dr. Andrea Deagon (to whose work I am indebted for much of the information in this column) opines that the Nailiyat were not “true” prostitutes because most of them were selective about clientele and charged for their company rather than for specific acts (in other words, they were much like modern escorts).

But though their contact with Western culture spread the fame of the Nailiyat, it also doomed them.  The dishonorable and rootless French mercenaries who ran wild in Algeria during the first few decades of the French occupation, enabled by their 19th-century European belief that whores are subhuman, sometimes murdered Nailiyat for their coin-laden jewelry.  Nor did the French government treat them any more humanely; the moralistic tyranny of the social purity era inspired French officials to classify them as prostitutes and to subject them to arbitrary travel and residence restrictions, heavy taxation and ruinously expensive licenses, fees and fines.  By the First World War they were reduced to working in specially-licensed cafes (owned, as usual in such regimes, by the politically-connected) whose management devised ways of extorting even more money from the increasingly-exploited Nailiyat.  Thus deprived of their traditional means of livelihood, many of them jumped at the chance to earn good money in the new Bordels Mobiles de Campagne (BMCs), mobile brothels housed in trailer-trucks which were used to bring whores to soldiers at the front lines or in isolated outposts; these brothels were used for the regular French Army until 1954 and in the Foreign Legion until the late ‘90s.  Descriptions of the staff of the BMCs invariably describes them as “Algerian”, but they were specifically Nailiyat (though in the post-WWII period joined by many Vietnamese women).

By the end of the Second World War the Ouled Nail way of life had irreversibly changed, and the authoritarian socialist government which took power after Algerian independence in 1962 finished the job by collectivizing agriculture and forcibly assimilating them.  In the early 1970s Aisha Ali found a small group of holdouts still living and performing in Bou Saada, and she recorded their music for her album Music of the Ouled Nail; this recording, a number of photographs and paintings, and the imitations of their fashion and dance styles by American belly dancers since the 1960s are all that remain of a once unique and fascinating culture, now ground into the dust of the Sahara by the twisted schemes of tyrants.

One Year Ago Today

New Book Reviews” was the first of a number of similar columns and presents my reviews of a number of volumes you may find interesting.

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