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Archive for August, 2013

Agony Aunt

Honest advice is unpleasant to the ears.  –  Chinese proverb

Honey Boo Boo hates Justin BieberCultural literacy is a funny thing.  We all share a stock of common knowledge which is not directly taught to us by parents, teachers or peers, but rather simply absorbed from our surroundings, taken in like air.  Because the process is so subtle and pervasive, it’s generally safe to assume that everyone who lives in a given culture for a long enough time is familiar with all of the common cultural elements even if he has no particular interest in some of them; for example, though I’ve never had any interest whatsoever in football and have never watched more than a few minutes of a game, I still know the basic rules and many of the particulars.  I didn’t have to read about it, research it or study it; I simply picked it up unconsciously from other people’s conversations, seeing games on television in the background, and other such means of involuntary learning.  In fact, it’s difficult to avoid familiarity with popular cultural elements even if one might prefer to; for example, I know who Honey Boo Boo and Justin Bieber are (and can even recognize their pictures) despite not having watched broadcast television in a decade (and despite wishing I could allocate the memory space devoted to them for something more useful and aesthetically appealing, such as a catalog of domestic animal parasites).

So it’s always a bit strange to discover someone who has somehow never learned about something which everyone else takes for granted; in this particular case, the way advice columns work.  It’s not like they’re something new; the first such column appeared in the Athenian Mercury in 1691, and they rapidly proliferated throughout the 18th century.  Nor have they vanished with the newspaper; if anything they’ve multiplied, and the freedom of the internet allows modern agony aunts to answer questions with a frankness that would have been completely impossible just twenty years ago.  Advice columns aren’t even a novelty on this blog; I answered my first reader question within weeks of starting it, and the Q & A columns were a regular monthly feature by the third month; since the beginning of this year, I’ve answered at least one reader question nearly every Wednesday.  But despite all this, a reader recently sent me a very nasty letter for publishing his question and its answer in my column, despite the facts that A) he didn’t ask for confidentiality, and I hid the few identifying details anyway; B) it’s the way I’ve always done it; C) it’s the way advice columns have been done for 322 years; and D) in my email reply to him, I specifically told him the date it would appear in the blog!  Apparently, this is not an isolated case; just over a year ago Amy Alkon of The Advice Goddess had a letter from a similarly-misinformed reader accusing her of “asking for your readers to write in with their problems so you can take your ideas from them (also called stealing) and write your own column.”  The mind boggles.

Thinking of You by Gil ElvgrenGiven two not-dissimilar cases only a year apart, I am forced to conclude that there really are some people out there who honestly don’t know how advice columns work; it would therefore seem prudent to put my own policy in writing for the benefit of such readers.  First of all, I try to answer every letter I get which asks for a reply; if I get behind in my work due to holidays, travel or other such events this could take as many as three weeks, but most of the time it’s more like three days (or three hours if the answer is short or I’m all caught up).  Not every question makes it into a column, but anything which I think other readers will find interesting or illuminating almost certainly will; however, I always remove identifying details and slightly rephrase the language (if necessary) to simplify and/or broaden it.  For example, if a reader mentions that he lives in a particular European country I will change it to “Europe” (or else leave it out entirely if I don’t think that’s significant to understanding the answer).  If you would like to ask a question but don’t want it to appear even in disguised form, all you have to do is say so; I have answered many questions confidentially and would not even dream of violating such a request.  Most importantly, I think honesty is the most important quality of advice; though I answer questions as politely as I can, I am not going to lie to spare your feelings; would you really even want that?  It’s better to take the bitter medicine which may cure the ill, than to swallow a sugar pill and continue to suffer.  One last thing: if your letter does appear in the blog, I suggest you read the comments left by other readers; it never hurts to get other opinions, and sometimes a reader may add something that I hadn’t even considered.

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Legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways.
–  Frederic Bastiat

cops gloating over lootTake a look at the posts tagged “A Broker in Pillage”  sometime, and you’ll see many examples of the armed robbery by which pathologically-bloated modern governments sustain and enrich themselves:  Robbing homeless people of their meager possessions for the “crime” of being homeless in the first place.  Stealing cash and automobiles from sex workers’ clients and robbing sex workers of their life savings.  Stealing rental vehicles from their owners because the renters crossed imaginary lines with them.  Stealing a yacht because there were cigars on board.  Attempting to steal a family’s livelihood  because a few strangers were arrested on the property.  Stealing an entire township because weeds were growing on it.  The outrage is disguised by the euphemism “asset forfeiture” (which almost makes it sound as though the victims voluntarily give cops their property), and it’s become such a gigantic, out-of-control problem that it’s even attracting attention from staid, mainstream publications like The New Yorker:

…In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient.  Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one…civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.  One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace…United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins…[and] State of Texas v. $6,037…“The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor…and…leading forfeiture expert, observes.  A piece of property does not share the rights of a person.  There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence.  Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods.  Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve…

Though this article is extremely long, it’s well worth your time if you’re unfamiliar with how egregious this extortion racket has become.  It focuses primarily (though by no means exclusively) on a case that’s particularly over the top even by the horrific standards discussed above: the bandit ring of Tenaha, Texas, whose modus operandi was to stop minorities for ridiculous “offenses” such as “driving in the left lane without passing” or “driving too close to the white line”, illegally search them, steal any valuables, and then force them to sign the loot over to the police under threat of spurious felony charges,Tenaha welcome sign false imprisonment and even abduction of their children.  The whole rotten scheme was shut down last year and federal criminal charges may be pending; the mastermind behind it, a former state trooper named Barry Washington, insisted to investigators that God had given him permission to rob people.

This thuggery is a cancer which has hastened the degradation of the justice system in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  But while the US media generally remains silent about it in most cases, or reports it somewhat neutrally when sex work is used as the excuse (“…A new [Minnesota] state law permits authorities to forfeit the cash that was used in or intended for…sex solicitation…[and] applies to prostitutes, patrons or pimps…in addition to other penalties offenders can face…”), their British cousins gleefully compete to see who can lick police boots the cleanest while vilifying their victims the most viciously, especially when those victims are involved in the sex industry:

…brothel boss [Margaret Paterson]…is set to lose her haul…as police bid to claw back £1.2 million in dirty cash…the remorseless 61-year-old faces financial ruin after the Crown confirmed it will seek to recoup the colossal seven-figure sum under Proceeds of Crime rules.  The confiscation grab would be one of the biggest single hauls in Scottish legal history…

And given that police departments in both countries keep growing while their governments criminalize ever-larger numbers of ordinary activities, you can bet the situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

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I am now depicted as a former good-guy lawyer, i.e., a “First Amendment lawyer,” who lost his halo, fell in with bad company…and…revealed his lack of wit by ignoring the Free Speech Mafia and suing an Internet saint.  –  Charles Carreon

One of the most rewarding results of my increasing internet presence has been the opportunity to make the acquaintance of other well-known bloggers and public figures who use their platforms to fight for what they believe in; had I realized there were so many I would’ve started blogging back in the autumn of 2004, when I first really began to explore the whole internet thing beyond the confines of a few commercial and informational websites.  But despite my tardy arrival, I’ve been accepted into the community of those who care enough about human rights to devote considerable amounts of their own (uncompensated) time to the struggle, and to my great amazement and delight I have discovered that a larger fraction of them than I had previously imagined are lawyers.

lady lawyerThe observation that whores and lawyers have a great deal in common is not a new or especially clever one; we both charge for our time, care professionally about people we may not like very much personally, etc.  Nor are lawyers themselves oblivious to the resemblance; in fact, I think a majority of those who have joked about it to me over the years were themselves lawyers.  The similarity extends to the fact that both professions have their goodies and baddies, their ethical and fair practitioners and their sleazy rip-off artists, their honest professionals and their opportunists who view their respective trades as little more than a means of larceny.  But I’m ashamed to say that until I started reading and corresponding with lawyers who care deeply about civil liberties, I believed them to be a very small minority; I still can’t make a credible estimate about what fraction of all lawyers they might represent, but I suspect it’s not dissimilar to the fraction of whores who are honest and competent.  As one might expect, most of them are attracted to criminal defense, and for reasons that should be obvious many of those with whom I’ve had the most contact are especially interested in free speech and the other rights guaranteed in the United States by the First Amendment.

From the time I was old enough to understand what censorship was, I’ve considered it loathsome in the extreme; it’s bad enough that busybodies want to tell other people what they can do, but telling them what they can think or say crosses over the line from garden-variety control-freakishness to full-blown mental illness.  At one time, would-be censors were merely a very vocal minority in the US, but in recent years they’ve become far more numerous and powerful, even to the point where many who could be expected to fight them (such as journalists) are instead joining them, effectively declaring themselves mental incompetents who need to be told by their “betters” what they should be allowed to see and hear.  The most common excuse nowadays (beside the nebulous “national security”) is the imagined emotional fragility of women and children; we are repeatedly told that speech or images some people don’t like must be censored to “protect” their delicate psyches from discomfort.

But the more offensive something is, the more important that it be protected, even if we disagree with it ourselves; because this is counterintuitive to so many people nowadays, it’s vital that those of us who understand it work together to defeat any and all efforts to suppress speech.  This makes us seem rather fanatical to some, while others whose attempts at censorship are vigorously opposed may go as far as to cast us as members of some sinister cabal (in the exact same way prohibitionists malign sex worker activists by pretending we’re members of an imaginary “pimp lobby”).  Hence today’s title, thoughtfully provided by Charles Carreon (whose attempts to censor every critic of his attempts to censor a popular cartoonist are already the stuff of legend).  Carreon represented a website who tried to use a creative (that’s a nice way of saying “assholy”) interpretation of trademark law to censor said cartoonist (Matthew Inman, AKA “The Oatmeal”) and make a profit in the bargain, but was defeated (that’s a nice way of saying “buried”) by said “Free Speech Mafia”, who represented Inman pro bono (that’s a legal way of saying “for free”).

Popehat signalNor was this an isolated case; the blog Popehat has a regular feature called “The Popehat Signal”,  by which it asks for pro bono help for bloggers and other worthy individuals threatened by such lawsuits (and as far as I know always gets it).  Furthermore, I have been personally involved with seeking such help from this so-called “Mafia” on two separate occasions.  In one, a popular sex worker rights podcast was threatened by a mainstream media corporation; I explained the problem to attorney Marc Randazza of The Legal Satyricon, and he was able to quickly smooth things over at no cost to the activists.  In the other, I myself was threatened by a certain large internet-based corporation I’ve written very disparagingly about in this blog on several occasions; I turned immediately to Kenneth White of Popehat, who took care of things so expeditiously I didn’t even have time to get worried (again, at no cost to me).  These men and women (and many others in the First Amendment Lawyers Association) don’t spend their time fighting censorship for the glory, and it certainly isn’t for the money; they do it for the same reason so many other activists fight attempts to infringe individual liberties, namely because it’s the right thing to do.  And if that makes them some kind of gangsters, you can consider me a moll.

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Perhaps now that the arms race on the street has resulted in criminals equipping themselves with gravity, police should be issued with the Strong Nuclear Force so as to keep their edge.  –  Clark Bianco of Popehat

The internet has rebounded from a run of slow weeks with a vengeance, swamping me with a deluge of good stories and links.  While this column is flexible enough to absorb the surge, the “That Was the Week That Was” feature has a fixed length of ≈2000 words, and I can only trim the stories down so much before they turn into plain links.  Generally, stories that appear up to Wednesday night or Thursday morning make it into that week’s TW3, but this week I had my quota by Tuesday morning, and by Thursday morning I had enough for another column!  As you read this I’ve already posted this coming Saturday’s TW3, and the overflow will go into an extra edition on Tuesday the 27th.  Our top contributor was, as so often happens, Radley Balko, with everything down to the first video and “don’t wave at cops”.  But two others provided three links each, namely Mike Siegel (“39 stats”, “rhinoceroses” and “testes”) and Jesse Walker (“Area 51”, “terrorist” and “1776”); Grace clocked in with two (“ring” and “never call the cops”).  The first video (via pws) is a mini-horror film (from the creator of Ju-on) which is no less effective for its brevity, and the second is a demonstration of why government control of weapons is doomed.  The other links were supplied by Gideon (“Batman”), Franklin Harris  (“waiter”), Luscious Lani (“spontaneous combustion”), Pee-wee Herman  (“where no man”), Nun Ya (“26¢”), Amy Alkon  (“journalists”), Glenn Greenwald  (“non-compliance”), and Stacy Swimme (“Iceland”).

From the Archives

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The quick blow job is for [affluent white women’s] husbands…So in your mind it doesn’t affect you, but the wrong mouth on your husband’s dick could affect you.  –  Deon Haywood

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

He went home; she’s locked in a cage.

An on-duty Oregon State Police detective was caught…with a prostitute in a bush…Richard Narvaez, 50…was placed on suspended leave without pay…cited and released, the…woman…was arrested on probation violation warrants and on suspicion of public indecency and prostitution…

A Working System

Note the bottleneck effect:

Armed robbers posing as clients…have launched a series of raids on brothels [in Sydney], targeting eight premises in the past three weeks…one of the gang enters…to book a…session…then…[is] joined by up to three others armed with guns or knives…Police…believe the number of attacks might be even greater because [unlicensed] brothels were reluctant to report crimes…

Crime Against Society (August Updates)UNeasy Street

Women With A Vision responds to anti-whore propaganda:

The Times-Picayune’s…articles…dubbed “Uneasy Street”, are an…example of…[sensationalism]…that leads to increased criminalization of marginalized communities…The video…claims that once sun sets…“An even darker world emerges”…There is a darker side to Tulane Avenue.  But it’s not the one shown.  It’s the stories of mothers, daughters, friends, and wives struggling to survive in a city that has offered them little resources.  It’s women dealing with substance abuse or addiction.  It’s women who cannot be hired by traditional employers simply because they are transgender.  It’s the women who have been too busy struggling to be able to get a formal education to make them employable.  It’s the stories of human beings, worthy of dignity, respect, and far more than this series of articles has afforded them…

See “The Public Eye” for an interview with WWAV’s director, Deon Haywood.

Oops

 

Tumi Megalane, 32, of Tshwane, South Africa, said she had the shock of her life when she found her boyfriend [Ronny Mokoena], who is a pastor, at a brothel…[then] learned that he was married…the pastor told his wife that Megalane was a prophet, who was helping him with spiritual guidance.

Surplus Women

A…37-year-old [Detroit woman]…is in critical condition after she was discovered beaten…burned and possibly sexually assaulted…less than 24 hours before and…a mile away…a 22-year-old woman was discovered in the same condition…Both women are prostitutes…

A third woman was found in the same condition a few days later, on August 3rd.  Interestingly, Fox News did not feel compelled to identify the victims as sex workers in the headline, and the New York Daily News doesn’t mention the third victim’s profession at all.goofy chick in money

TANSTAAFL

 

a trio of Bay Area teens [Nazario Cruz and Jose Urias, both 19, and an underage girl]…posed as a young woman whose fantasy was to have sex while rolling around in…cash…When the victims would arrive…the suspects…would rob themThree robberies have been confirmed so far…One of the victims allegedly stole $2,000…from his job in order to roll around with the fictitious woman…

The Immunity Syndrome

American hypocrisy says it’s fine to pay people not to have sex:

2010 study in Malawi, supported by the…Gates Foundation, shows…conditional cash transfers successfully reduced sexual activity amongst teenagers…Mississippi…[resembles] Malawi…in its high rate of teenage sex and pregnancy…partly…[because] sex education in Mississippi is oriented around abstinence…Can we pay Mississippi teenagers to stop having sex…And to have safe sex if they do?…

Above the Law

Police forces are being ordered to face up to corruption by officers who commit sexual offences against vulnerable women and young people…169 officers…are under investigation for predatory sexual behaviour…ranging from rape to voyeurism…the former partner of…[one] who was jailed last year…speaks out against his actions

That cops rape women, especially sex workers, isn’t news because it happens constantly; such stories only become newsworthy when the cops are held accountable to some degree, as in this item from Cape Town: “A…police captain will appear in…court…for allegedly raping a prostitute…[she] managed to escape from [his] vehicle and took down the registration number…pseudo sex traffick

The Widening Gyre

Another bizarre “sex trafficking” rumor debunked by Snopes:

In August 2013 [a] warning about sex traffickers with Slavic…accents posing as door-to-door booksellers was spread via social media sites such as Facebook …The story was false.  That there are ”pushy” door-to-door book and magazine sellers about doesn’t mean those vendors are looking for children to abduct…into the sex trade, nor is it suspicious that such salespeople might ask…questions about children in the area.  The latter is simply a…sales technique for locating potential customers for children’s books, and being ”pushy” is hardly an unusual quality for those who engage in…door-to-door sales…

Snopes reports that the story appeared in Gilbert, Arizona, Winona, Minnesota and all over Missouri.  The company running the sales program believes the rumor started in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; since that’s a suburb of Tulsa, this should surprise nobody.

Wise Investment (TW3 #31)

Do politicians really just not get it?

…a federal judge ruled [that a New Jersey law]…conflicts with federal law and likely is unconstitutional as well…[the] law…[would have penalized] anyone who knowingly publishes or disseminates any ad for a commercial sex act that includes the depiction of a minor.  The law was challenged…by Backpage.com…[which] notes that federal courts in Tennessee and Washington have issued permanent injunctions against similar laws in those states…

Japanese Prostitution (TW3 #131)

New evidence [demonstrates]…that Japan’s…army directly managed Asian women for sexual slavery, dealing a fresh blow to Tokyo’s denials of responsibility…a diary that a Korean manager of Japanese brothels wrote…between August 1942 and December 1944…shows that the Japanese army received revenue-related reports from military brothels, examined the bodies of sex slaves and regulated the relocations of sexual entertainment facilities…[Professor] Park Han-yong…[said] “This diary is a historical record that shows the Japanese military…[was] involved in the forced mobilisation of Korean women for sexual slavery”…

Under Every Bed

If real freedoms weren’t being endangered by these yokels, this absurd language and looking-glass logic would be hilarious:

Human flesh is being sold for sex…and it’s happening online…”It was a rarity to see a prostitution case anywhere in North Dakota.  Now, my agents are telling me they’re beginning to see it with some regularity,” says…Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.  There’s no way to tell exactly how many people are involved in human trafficking.  The best estimates say about 100,000 children may be victims in the U.S.  And…there’s no reason to believe it’s not happening here…

Dwayne Jones

Monsters

Dwayne Jones was relentlessly teased in high school for being effeminate until he dropped out.  His father not only kicked him out…at…14 but also helped jeering neighbors push the youngster from the rough Jamaican slum where he grew up.  [On July 22nd Dwayne, now 16]…was…beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car when he showed up at a street party dressed as a woman…

The Public Eye (TW3 #318)

Here’s another interview with Carol Leigh, this time in a small but mainstream publication; the more interviews like this Americans see, the harder it will be for the prohibitionists to spread lies about us.  And here’s one in Tits and Sass with Deon Haywood of Women With a Vision, talking about activism, human rights and whorearchy.

Which I Doubt

Remember how I’ve said that prosecutors ignore women’s statements that they don’t have pimps so they can repackage ordinary hooking as “sex trafficking”?

The Brooklyn DA…[told] prosecutors…not to make written records of early interviews with sex-trafficking victims…so the information could be withheld from defense attorneys…“When these girls first come in, they often deny they have been hit or pimped.  We were told not to write down those statements,” a law-enforcement source said…

Israel Opera Traviata

Marie Duplessis

Dr. Laura Agustín on imagery of the “fallen woman” in La Traviata, a topic she has discussed more generally before:  “…Violetta always has a scene on the floor to drive home her moral abjection…People who fall get back up right away; if they can’t, they are too injured.  In Violetta’s case the injury is moral…

Sold Out

A gay therapist explains “Why Queers Should Care About Sex Offenders”:

…sex offenders are referred to as participating in deviant sexual behavior, having deviant sexual fantasies, and being inherently “deviant” themselves…The same methods historically used by the government to imprison and pathologize homosexuality and gender variation are being used today to justify the extreme marginalization, lifetime institutionalization, and oppression of people who have violated sex laws…[including] public nudity, [urination or] masturbation, peeping, photographing or videotaping without consent, consensual sex with a 17-year-old, sexting, and downloading unlawful pornography…At one point, the idea of the predatory, untamable homosexual was…widely held…the very fact that a man…[desired] another man was reason enough to criminalize his existence…While mainstream…perception of queer people is shifting, it affirms monogamous sex between married…gay and lesbian adults.  Gender variation and other forms of sexual desire and behavior…still face condemnation…

To really drive the point home, read the comment thread as well.

Puppet Show (TW3 #329)

Laura Lee explains why Ruhama shill Rachel Moran could never have been a Dublin sex worker:

…Moran and I worked in Dublin at the same time, the early nineties.  I worked in the same brothels, for the same escort agencies and had regular contact…with the same women, she says she stood on street corners with.  One of those…is now a prominent activist…[who swears]…that she has never set eyes on Moran until her book launch…Moran…should know…[the names of brothel owners, but doesn’t; she] says that in seven years of sex work she never met one client who showed her a shred of empathy or kindness.  That’s incredible.  Because in all of my time there, I met some lovely guys…the language employed by Moran…is literally like she is reading from a script…a…co-activist…confirmed that Ruhama…offered her money to “turn” and campaign for their side.  In fact, they offered her a book deal and a tour too, exactly as Moran has now…

The activist Laura speaks of (who prefers to remain anonymous) also told me the same thing over a year ago.

Across the Pond (TW3 #330)

Anyone who actually professes to believe that laws can make a major city “brothel-free” should be disqualified from office on grounds of stupidity:

…officials are putting together “exit” services to help the dozens of sex workers who face having their place of work closed down…Edinburgh’s decades-old policy of licensing saunas…appears to be coming to an end.  A police raid in June led to seven individuals being charged with brothel-keeping and living off immoral earnings…A local newspaper…[quoted] one prostitute…[as] saying:  “I just can’t get my head around why they want to close us.  The police could end up putting women at risk of getting raped, or murdered like in Ipswich”…

Don’t be afraid, unnamed sex worker; Ipswitch claims to have “eradicated” street prostitution!

More than 220 teenagers…at risk of slipping into the dangerous world of the sex trade have had their lives rescued since the launch of Ipswich’s prostitution strategy…street prostitution and kerb crawling has been eradicated from the town…however off-street prostitution and sexual exploitation remains an issue…

Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #10In truth, of course, they’ve merely pushed it so far underground that the danger has been increased even more, which is the only thing prohibition ever accomplishes.

Broken Record (TW3 #332)

It’s even worse than I suspected; the victims of the Sturgis “sting” were entrapped by “age-regressed photographs of women who now are adults”.  The state has charged people with imaginary crimes against nonexistent people for years, but this kind of pseudoscientific quackery is a new low.

Mumbo Jumbo

“Trafficking” mythology gets more farfetched all the time; embedded in this mixture of agency denial porn, arse-backward bootlicking and cheerleading for bullshit “safe harbor” laws is the claim that many of the underage sex workers arrested in the vast “Innocence Lost” boondoggle “may also be charged for possessing the cocktail of drugs that traffickers use to create dependency and compliance in the children they sell.”  This is the first I’ve heard of this magical mind-control philter, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 7th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

??????????????As I recently pointed out, people rarely recognize that allowing the rights of one group to be violated opens the door for everyone’s to be; they are wholly oblivious to the power of legal precedents, refuse to recognize that slippery slopes exist, and happily support any abrogation of the rights of people they don’t like, blissfully unaware that the noose they’re gleefully tying will fit their own necks as well as anyone else’s.  Individuals of this type are unable to recognize any danger residing comfortably in the Neverland of tomorrow; however, the danger posed to non-sex-working women by anti-prostitution laws is not in the future, but in the present.

The more common and less severe form of the danger lies in the simple fact that there is no such thing as an identifiable “hooker type”; women who will take money for sex are indistinguishable from those who won’t up until the moment the deal is made.  So it’s inevitable that aggressive campaigns of persecution against the former will ensnare some of the latter.  When prostitution is criminalized to any degree, women who carry condoms, answer personal ads, wear sexy lingerie, go without lingerie, fail forced “virginity tests”, ask a cop if he’s a cop, “act sexy”, go out after dark without a male chaperone, or even just “look like a prostitute” are regularly arrested and charged with having sex for a reason some people don’t like.

And then there’s the less common, but more severe form:

The husband of murdered rape victim Jill Meagher has hit out at the sentence handed down to her killer Adrian Bayley, saying his wife would still be alive if the justice system had taken the serial sex offender off the streets…The 41-year-old, who has a long history of violent attacks on women, was sentenced to life for the murder, and 15 years for what the judge described as “a savage, violent rape of the worst kind”…Tom Meagher [said]…”Given what this man has done in the past, I think that 15 years is a disgrace, considering the maximum penalty for rape is 25…I don’t know what the maximum penalty is for if it’s not for that man?”…In September 2000 he was jailed for…eight years for the rape of five prostitutes over a six-month period.  Mr. Meagher says he is concerned the justice system treated the attacks on the sex workers differently than the attack on his wife.  “I’m aware his previous victims in previous cases before Jill were sex workers, and I’ll never be convinced that doesn’t have something to do with the lenience of his sentence,” he said.  “Put it like this:  if he’d raped five people like Jill that many times in that brutal a fashion, I don’t think he would have served eight years in prison…What it says to women is if we don’t like what you do, you won’t get justice…And what it says to people like Bayley is not ‘don’t rape’, but ‘be careful who you rape'”…Jill Meagher

All too often, the “justice” system minimizes, ignores or excuses the rape or even murder of sex workers, who are classed as somehow less than other women because some people don’t like the reasons we choose to have sex.  Defining some women as “unrapeable” endangers and demeans all women, not merely because it helps to enable the crimes of men like Adrian Bayley, but also because it sets a precedent that a woman’s value as a human being is entirely dependent upon how she chooses to use her genitalia.

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Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.  –  Thomas Jefferson

When Professor Higginbotham furrowed his brow and stared into the distance, it invariably meant he was wrestling with some abstruse problem.  When he steepled his fingers as well, it meant the problem had resolutely resisted his attempts to conquer it for some time.  And when he added quiet huffing noises to the mixture, it meant the problem was winning.  On this particular occasion, it seemed likely that some new mannerism would join the others to signal a previously-unprecedented level of frustration.

Après le Bain by Henri Tanoux (1912)The problem in question was exactly five feet, two and one-quarter inches tall in stocking feet, admitted to one hundred and ten pounds, was somewhere in the general vicinity of twenty-five years old, had brown hair (tinted red) and hazel eyes, and answered to the name “Bernadette” (though it was not the one her mother had given her at birth).  She was quite intelligent, terribly witty and could speak English, French and German; she played the piano creditably well, was a good cook (by her own estimation), knew how to drive an automobile and attended every Chautauqua she could; and was also a Presbyterian, a bibliophile, a birdwatcher and a suffragette.

And a prostitute.

And that last was the nub of Professor Higginbotham’s quandary.

The learned man had spent some years in the study of the Great Social Evil, and was recognized as an expert in it; he wrote articles for both scholarly journals and popular magazines, and was often asked to speak to ladies’ societies and politicians alike on the subject of white slavery.  But the professor was not content to rest upon his laurels; he was determined to prepare the definitive text on the subject so as to assist those arguing for its eradication through progressive legislation.  But this had proven more difficult than he had at first imagined:  the pimps and madams, no doubt fearful of the light he meant to shine upon their noxious trade, refused to allow him access to their charges without payment; and the fallen women he managed to interview on the street or in jails kept giving him outlandish responses which indicated to him that nothing they said could be trusted.

After several months of fruitless effort Professor Higginbotham was sorely tempted to throw up his hands in despair, when suddenly one fine summer evening Bernadette had approached him in the vestibule of a house of ill repute to which he was once again attempting to gain entrance; she introduced herself, asked what exactly he was trying to accomplish and responded to his exasperated explanation by offering to meet him for tea the following afternoon.  Though he was reluctant to be seen in public in the company of a known prostitute, the professor was desperate; he accepted her offer, made sure he arrived at the rendezvous early, patiently explained his course of inquiry and asked if she could answer some questions and introduce him to others in her situation who were willing to do the same.  He could barely contain his joy when she answered in the affirmative.

Looking back on it, a small voice in the professor’s consciousness expressed the opinion that perhaps it would have been better for all involved if he had given up; the voice was quickly suppressed by the other elements of the professor’s psyche, but not before his ego had heard it and responded with a disapproving frown.  Despite his confusion, it was certainly better that he had more data than before, and he was certain that he could eventually reconcile all of the information he had collected with what was already known about prostitution.  After all, a great deal of it was not at all problematic; little he had heard from Negro or Chinese prostitutes contradicted his assumptions, and though only a small number of the white girls would admit to having been forced into their tragic straits, that was easily attributable to the shame he knew they must feel, whether they admitted it or not.  And while a few of the women of all groups said things he could not easily fit into the model, that was almost certainly a result of the short and superficial interaction he had with them; longer and more thorough interaction would probably have allowed him to discover the reasons for the seeming contradictions, had the women allowed it.

Unfortunately, that line of reasoning did not hold for Bernadette.  His association with her was neither short-lived nor superficial; in fact, she had given him more of her time than he could ever have hoped for, and he had come to know her quite well and to feel a greater affection for her than he would have thought possible.  He was quite certain that she was both honest and rational, and yet a great deal of what she told him – both about her own life and those of her fellow prostitutes – made no sense to him at all.  She denied that coercion was common, averred that venereal diseases were not epidemic among them, and insisted that selling their bodies was for most of them a pragmatic response to the abominably-low wages modern industrial society offered women, rather than the result of coercion, congenital degeneracy or moral turpitude.  And even if he could dismiss her claims as beliefs which her sweet nature had constructed in order to protect her mind from the dreadful reality inhabited by her sisters, the fact remained that they were certainly true for her personally.

ProfessorWhen the anomaly first became apparent, the professor suspected that she was not actually a prostitute at all; he was, however, forced by the evidence of his own senses to abandon this theory in very short order.  He then reasoned that her declaration of contentment with her lot was merely a defensive pose which would crumble the moment she saw a way out of her awful condition; however, when she turned down his sincere offer of honorable marriage, it became clearly obvious that she was telling the truth.  The contradiction was maddening:  Bernadette was an intelligent, sensible, well-bred, well-educated girl without a dishonest bone in her body who claimed not only to have chosen a filthy, degrading trade for rational, practical reasons, but also to be not unusual in that respect.  This flew in the face of everything Professor Higginbotham knew; there must be some missing variable, some x factor as it were, which explained why Bernadette and a few others like her could submit to men’s bestial desires for money without having been forced to do so by man, nature or bad company.  But what that x factor might be had eluded the professor for weeks, and had stubbornly refused to reveal itself to him today despite his devoting the deepest cogitation to it all afternoon.

His level of frustration can be judged by the fact that an impossible solution had presented itself to his searching mind several times already today:  what if she was right, and he was wrong?  What if her analysis was exactly correct, and the common wisdom about the flesh trade, developed through the work of three generations of dedicated scholars, had veered radically away from reality due to incomplete data and fallacious initial assumptions?  What if a certain fraction of women were neither asexual nor as subject to lust as common men, and were thus able to exploit men’s desires to earn a living for themselves, just as any entrepreneur might prosper by taking advantage of human frailties?  What if harlots were neither victims nor villains nor vixens, but simply businesswomen?

But no, it was preposterous; it would mean the whole citadel of social thought had been constructed on a faulty foundation without anyone having noticed.  Such things simply couldn’t be true; they were as fanciful as Mr. Wells’ scientific romances.  No, there must be something else, some credible factor which did not require the re-thinking of everything that was known about womankind.

Perhaps Bernadette was a witch…

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If you are a woman interested in experimenting with woman on woman contact, how does one go about looking for a provider?

Lesbian KissReally, the process of looking for a female escort isn’t much different for a woman than it is for a man who’s looking for a particular appearance or activity; in fact, it’s probably easier than finding one who caters to an unusual kink, because bisexuality isn’t all that uncommon in women.  There is one catch, though; while most escorts will advertise the fetishes they work with, most don’t advertise that they see female clients (outside of couples) for the simple reason that there aren’t that many (I saw exactly two in my entire career).  So when you do your research (these two posts should help you there), don’t just look for ladies who specifically state that they will see female clients; also look for ones who say that they enjoy seeing couples and also do “doubles”.  If an escort sees couples and is willing to do two-girl shows with other escorts, there is a very good chance she will also be open to seeing a woman alone.

Once you’ve found a lady who appeals to you and who you think would be willing to see you, contact her by whatever means she specifies on her website; be sure you let her know that you are a woman and that you want to see her solo, i.e. your husband or boyfriend won’t be there.  Otherwise she may think you’re approaching her for a couple call, or even fail to recognize that she isn’t corresponding with a man (if your screen name doesn’t make your gender obvious).  Since you’ve never done this before, you don’t have any references; this may not be a problem because A) most women aren’t going to be as wary of meeting a strange woman as they are of meeting a strange man; and B) I sincerely doubt many cops are trying to set up escort stings with female fakers.  This is by no means a sure thing, however; some ladies may insist on screening you on principle, so just give whatever information they request and it shouldn’t be an issue.  If you want to be on the safe side, try to find one who says she’s “newbie friendly” in addition to the bisexuality factor; that usually means she’s willing to do full screening rather than relying on references.

I have one more suggestion:  since it seems from your question that you’ve never had any lesbian experiences before, you might consider hiring your escort for several hours rather than just one; you could then take her to dinner, chat for a while and warm up to her as you would on a regular date, instead of just jumping into the sack.  I think that would dramatically increase your chances of having a good experience, which would in turn help you to know whether you really like it or not.  After all, if you rushed things and things didn’t turn out well, it might turn you off to the idea of further experimentation when the problem was really with the uncomfortable situation rather than with the lady.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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Foolishness is indeed the sister of wickedness.  –  Sophocles

demon-slaying BuffiesIf you haven’t heard about the “teenage exorcists” yet, take a look at this short interview from Vice in which the girls helpfully explain that you can “catch” demons by having sex with prostitutes because “Satan can’t just go into anybody that he wants to.  He has to have a legal right.”  Apparently, they think harlots are licensed agents of the Devil, which A) would probably surprise Jesus, and B) seems to mean they’ve got us confused with witches, and witches with Satanists.  But since they also seem to confuse demons with STIs and mental illness with mythical metaphysical monsters, this is not really very surprising.

Now, most people in the general public and nearly all of my readers may chuckle over the earnestness with which these sheltered young women declaim their outlandish beliefs, but it wasn’t so long ago that the same news agencies who seem inclined to mock them now were reporting stories of gigantic Satanic conspiracies with a straight face.  Furthermore, those same agencies, and probably many of the same reporters, accept and repeat the ridiculous stories of the “trafficking” hysteria with the same level of credulity these girls display in discussing demons; as I’ve pointed out before, the “trafficking” narratives are practically identical to those of the Satanic Panic, except that the shadowy all-powerful organizations abducting hundreds of thousands of nubile virgins from their families are now called “pimps” instead of “cultists” and are supposed to be motivated by evil greed rather than evil religious fervor.  There is the same focus on lurid BDSM sex, the same impossibly-high numbers of victims and sex acts per night, the same claims of vast criminal organizations, the same inability to catch any of the supposed perpetrators and the same total lack of physical evidence.  In Sweden, Satanic cults, “sex trafficking”, “repressed memories” and “patriarchy” are part of one seamless narrative, and in the rest of Europe “trafficking” cults are said to control their victims with black magic.

So really, it was inevitable that the black magic connection would reach the United States as well; “trafficking” rhetoric has grown increasingly wild and bizarre for over a year now, and the age of the supposed victims has been slowly creeping down toward the range of those in the daycare sex abuse branch of the larger Satanic hysteria.  I haven’t seen a whole story devoted to it yet (though that’s just a matter of time), but hints are starting to appear in typical “sex trafficking” stories.  For a long time now “pimps” have been credited with preternatural powers of persuasion, but this is the first time I’ve seen it cross over into the quasi-supernatural:

…Sheila Simpkins McClain’s life was fractured by violence.  At around age 14, McClain left home and became involved in prostitution…Now, years later, McClain has dedicated much of her life to working with women who are coming out of situations similar to hers.  She’s the assistant resident manager for Magdalene in Nashville, Tenn., and an intervention specialist with End Slavery Tennessee…Pimps, McClain says, can almost hypnotize young women…McClain helps to break that spell…

White ZombieYes, McClain does use the qualifier “almost”, but the reporter also uses the word “spell” in the next line despite the fact that hypnosis is neither magical, nor can it induce a person to do anything she is strongly opposed to doing.  The general public, however, believes otherwise, and it is clear that the idea McClain is trying to project is one of paranormal power.  There is no way to tell whether she believes this herself or whether it’s just a useful lie; she also claims that the internet has increased the ability of pimps to control whores, when even a large fraction of cops and other political prohibitionists recognize it’s the exact opposite (which is why they’re so desperate to persecute online ad sites that make it much harder for them to catch a large number of hookers by raiding a single brothel or stroll).

That story appeared on NPR, which abandoned its façade of journalistic skepticism a long time ago; this one from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune doesn’t even make the pretense of it.  Author Christine Stark (a staunch disciple of Dworkin who has referred to animal testing as a “system of prostitution”) uses “trafficking” as a direct synonym for “prostitution”, utterly denies that sex workers exercise any agency whatsoever, and vomits out a number of bogus “statistics” such as the astonishingly-ridiculous claim that 98% of sex workers are homeless.  But while these are typical rhetorical devices in these anti-whore, anti-male screeds, even Melissa Farley might hesitate to make the revolting claim with which Stark concludes her deranged attack:

…Duluth harbor is notorious among Native people as a site for the trafficking of Native women from northern reservations…to be sold on the ships and in Duluth and Superior.  Native women, teen girls and boys, and even babies have been sold for sex on the ships…

As I’ve pointed out before, the common lie that the “average prostitute enters the trade at 13” automatically implies that a huge number of underage hookers are literal babies.  But because most of the people who repeat this idiocy are far too stupid to understand that, I don’t think most of them actually believe that large enough numbers of men want to rape infants to support a commercially-viable enterprise; Christine Stark does, though, and is willing to say so in print.  How the disappearance of all these babies is covered up (even in a marginalized population) she cannot say, but it’s not difficult to see the resemblance between Stark’s sex-trafficked infants and those the Satanists were supposed to have produced in droves by impregnating young girls, then wiping their memories and returning them to their homes.  And if one can believe that the magical hypnotic powers of “therapists” can “recover” memories, it certainly isn’t that much of a stretch to believe in the magical hypnotic power of “pimps” to erase them.  Or the magical power of demons to possess someone via sex.  Or the magical power of teenage girls to drive said demons out.

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So far, all of my guest columnists have been female; this month I have the pleasure of presenting my first male guest columnist (other than my husband).  Kevin is a graduate student in epidemiology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia; he’s also a professional research consultant, which means he gets paid to help people design and conduct their research.  I thought you might enjoy reading what an actual scientist had to say about the state of sex work research.

I first came across The Honest Courtesan a little over a year ago after Maggie’s stint as guest-blogger for Radley Balko.  Some of the first columns that grabbed my attention were on the topics of bogus research on sex work and baseless numbers feeding malicious public policy, for obvious reasons.  Initially I was unconvinced that the field of sex work research was as bad as all that; “Surely, these are just a few hand-picked, exceptionally bad examples”, I thought.  I did a review of studies completed to date here in Canada, which has since branched out to the international literature as well.  To my surprise, Maggie’s characterization was spot on; studies on sex work often suffered from major flaws that made it hard to take their findings seriously.  This was even more surprising considering the fact that research on sex work was no new field; it’s been going on for decades.

hierarchy of evidenceResearch on a topic rarely starts with expansive, large-scale studies that answer all of our questions on a subject in a single salvo; in young fields, small-scale, low-cost studies help bridge the gap between idle guessing and establishing the first facts about an under-investigated topic.  As time goes on, the facts generated from such research are used to develop new hypotheses, which are then tested with more elaborate and rigorous methods.  What starts with case studies or focus groups eventually develops into large-scale cross-sectional surveys to accurately portray the population, cohort studies that follow participants for years at a time to establish cause and effect relationships, and eventually systematic reviews and meta-analyses that objectively review what is known about a given topic.  As a field adopts increasingly rigorous methods, we can have greater confidence in what we know about the subject.  Unfortunately, research on sex work has shown a staggeringly slow progression up this hierarchy of evidence.

One of the first things I noticed when surveying the literature on sex work was the overwhelming number of opinion pieces and editorials, which normally make up a tiny portion of articles published in academic journals.  In comparison, authors can routinely be observed arguing for shades of decriminalization and prohibition of sex work in the pages normally reserved for such tedious things as methodological advances and results from new studies.  The politics of sex work intrude into the realm of science to an astonishing degree, and I think this is one of the two main causes of the slow rate of advancement in sex work research.  As Maggie has pointed out more times than I can count, one side of the debate on the legality of sex work has a vested interest in portraying workers (and clients) as inherently dysfunctional; mass-producing hatchet jobs draped in academic garb is simply a means to that end.  Many such “studies”  are so poorly designed that anyone picked off the street at random could pull them apart in minutes; they’re a slightly more elaborate version of asking someone whether they’ve stopped beating their wife.  The end result is that the academic literature is a minefield of guesswork and kabuki dance posing as, and hidden amongst, earnest attempts to better understand the industry and the people in it.

Aside from the counter-productive dishonesty in the field, the other major limiting factor on the quality of sex work research is that it is really and truly hard to do.  The criminalization of sex work in many jurisdictions around the world makes recruiting large numbers of sex workers extremely difficult.  Likewise, the social stigma, potential for police to seek workers’ confidential data, and the risk of encountering an unethical quack all likely act to chill sex workers’ willingness to trust researchers enough to participate in studies.

The difficulty in recruiting for studies limits the options of honest investigators.  Here in Canada, sex work studies with fewer than 100 participants are par for the course; even recruiting fewer than 50 was relatively common less than a decade ago.  This is important because the size of a study’s sample determines how precise the estimates the study generates can be;out of focus the more participants an analysis includes, the smaller the margin of error for the results.  To put it another way, investigating a population with small samples is like looking at something out of focus; you’re sure something is there, and may even be able to make some educated guesses about what you’re seeing, but the fine details elude you.

Worse still, samples are almost always made up primarily or entirely of street-based “survival” sex workers recruited from addiction rehabilitation programs, which are used as convenient points of contact by researchers.  This method means that what is known of the industry is heavily biased towards the most visible and most marginalized segment of the market; the segment where rates of violence, substance abuse, and early age of entry tend to be highest.  The low-profile indoor market, which is generally estimated to make up ≈85% of workers (though we have no hard data with which to confirm this in Canada), is vastly under-represented in the literature.  Even when indoor workers are included in studies, the sampling hasn’t been designed to represent the sex worker population as a whole, meaning that even our most detailed picture of the industry is blurry and incomplete.

Despite everything you’ve just read I’m still optimistic about the future of the field for two reasons.  The first is that the composition of the people doing the research has changed a lot in the last thirty years.  While the appearance of HIV/AIDS was a huge political setback for the sex workers’ rights movement, it does appear to have attracted a new group of researchers, and much more rigorous methods, to the fray.  My review of the literature leads me to believe that, prior to the 1990s, most work done in the field was in disciplines such as Sociology, Criminology, Political Science and even the dreaded Women’s Studies; terms like feminism and patriarchy can be seen in actual, straight-faced research papers.  Epidemiologists and public health researchers began entering the field at some point after that, often tackling sex work research by investigating sexually transmitted infections, addictions issues, and the effect of public policy on workers’ health and safety.  Instead of engaging the topic from a political perspective, most modern sex work studies have adopted the dry, technical language and emphasis on coherent, replicable methods that one might expect from proper research.  Harm reduction has long-replaced feminism as the dominant framework seen in the literature.  The changes haven’t merely been superficial; whereas the studies of thirty years ago recruited <50 participants in one-off focus groups, some modern studies track over 500 sex workers for years at a time.  In countries where HIV/AIDS is more endemic (e.g., India), studies recruit workers by the thousand.  In short, researchers in the field of sex work are now putting in the hard work needed to get serious, credible answers to the most basic questions in the field; this isn’t the only recent change, though.

scienceinprogressThe second cause for optimism is the ongoing development and adoption of methods that enable researchers to circumvent some of the barriers to large-scale and representative recruiting of workers for studies, and for the first time put sex work research on par, quality-wise, with other fields.  Even the hardest-to-reach participants in the industry (e.g., underage workers) can now be efficiently recruited into large, representative samples that allow for accurate estimates of population size and structure; for the first time, we can credibly answer basic questions such as ‘How many sex workers are there?’‘How many work indoors versus outdoors?’, and ‘How many enter the trade underage?’.

It’s probably fair to say that, historically, the sex workers’ rights movement and the academic study of the industry haven’t had a good relationship; much of the time the field has seemed to be implicitly working for the other team.  Nevertheless, as the objectivity and quality of research improves, and as we learn more about the industry as a whole, fabricating “facts” about sex work becomes less and less effective a tool for pushing dangerous, wrong-headed policies.  As was the case when Canada’s sex work laws were tested in the Supreme Court earlier this year, the ability to decisively cut-down prohibitionist myths in real-time and in front of a panel of judges can be a powerful tool in fighting for sex workers’ rights.

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