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Archive for January 12th, 2012

Without metaphor the handling of general concepts such as culture and civilization becomes impossible, and that of disease and disorder is the obvious one for the case in point…In the social and cultural domain no metaphor is more apt than the pathological one.  –  Johan Huizinga

One year ago today I published “Social Autoimmune Disorder”, in which I compared anti-sex worker laws and police activity to autoimmune disorders:

The bodies of societies sometimes also develop such syndromes; the systems which were meant to protect society from invaders or other troublesome organisms are instead turned against some of its own systems, sometimes even vital systems.  And just as in biological autoimmune disorders, those who are affected most are usually women.

There have been further developments in all the cases I mentioned in that column:  Taiwan still suffers from the disorder despite a predicted remission, but in the UK a police official who supports getting rid of bad laws was promoted to assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard.  In the United States the persecution of escort advertising websites has only grown worse, and AHF’s campaign to force porn actors to use its sponsors’ products is about to come to a head; meanwhile, the virulent Swedish strain of social autoimmune disease has continued to spread through Europe.

The most dangerous form of the disease is direct police violence against sex workers; we’ve discussed it often here, but it’s always nice to see it acknowledged in a larger venue, such as this recent Chi Mgbako article from Reality Check:

When we think of violence against sex workers, we conjure up images of dangerous clients and serial killers who target prostitutes…[but] one area that receives scant public attention despite its entrenched global reality is police abuse of sex workers.  The illegal status of sex work in most countries has not eradicated prostitution.  Instead, criminalization has increased sex workers’ vulnerability to human rights abuses and created fertile ground for police exploitation, especially of street-based sex workers.  For example, in South Africa, where sex work has been illegal since the former apartheid regime criminalized it in 1957, police officers often fine sex workers inordinate sums of money and pocket the cash, resulting in a pattern of economic extortion of sex workers by state agents…police [also] confiscate condoms to use as evidence of prostitution; demand sexual favors in exchange for release from jail or to avoid arrest; physically assault and rape sex workers; actively encourage or passively condone inmate sexual abuse of transgender female sex workers assigned to male prison cells; and use municipal laws to harass and arrest sex workers even when they’re engaged in activities unrelated to prostitution…

Police abuse of sex workers…is echoed in documented reports throughout the world, from New York City to Cambodia to Papua New Guinea to Eastern Europe and beyond.  Police are also often impediments to sex workers’ access to justice.  “To gather evidence of a crime against a sex worker, they have to first take it seriously,” argues one sex worker about the lack of police attention to reports of violence.  “If we go to the police to report abuse, we’re made fun of, we’re told ‘you deserve it.’  They chase you away,” notes another sex worker.  In addition, because of the continual police harassment they face, many sex workers don’t bother to officially report abuse to police.  Most sex workers’ experience with criminal justice systems is not as survivors of abuse but as “perpetrators” of the “crime” of prostitution.

Of course, not all police officers abuse sex workers…but the moral stigma that is attached to the criminalization of prostitution often leads to the deeply offensive attitude, on the part of some police, prosecutors, and others, that sex workers somehow consent to abuse.  Prohibitionist legal regimes insist that all sex workers are criminals, making it almost impossible for society to view sex workers as legitimate victims of violent crime when it occurs…Decriminalization would allow sex workers to come out of the shadows and defend their rights, ensuring that the crimes committed against them by police and others will no longer be hidden…Sex workers deserve the basic respect and protection from violence that each nation owes its citizens.

Of course, there are many benighted souls who subscribe to the “NHI” doctrine and therefore believe that prostitutes “deserve” violence; many of these moral retards are lawyers in positions of power.  But laws which criminalize prostitutes have an indirect effect on all women, and sometimes – as illustrated in this December 21st story from the Phnom Penh Post – on the entire society:

Laws and policies the government has enacted to fight crime are hampering efforts to combat public health threats, including HIV/AIDS, and are leading to human rights abuses…“We think that the laws cracking down on drug and human trafficking remain problematic because after their enforcement, we see that condom distribution has gone down and sexually transmitted disease is on the rise,” public health expert Kem Ley told [a government forum]…Health officials identified the 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, the 2005 Law on the Control of Drugs and the 2010 village and commune safety guidelines as containing articles and points that have led to harmful consequences in terms of public health and human rights…Sex work is confused with human trafficking, and police crack down harder on sex workers as a result, he said, adding the drug law blurred the lines between users, traffickers and producers…

As one would expect, the government officials insisted that their wonderful laws could not possibly be at fault; social autoimmune disorders thrive in such a climate of denial.  And so the sickness continues until it spreads to other vital social systems…and eventually progresses beyond the point where the patient can be saved.

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