Really interesting and in-depth article by Julie Bindel, examining the machinations of the IUSW, the “International Union of Sex Workers”, which is more accurately describable as a lobby group for pimps. The article covers the founding of the IUSW by academics, how they allow pimps and johns to join, and how some of the few genuine ‘sex workers’ have left in disgust (and one of the pimps left because he didn’t like the idea of his union fees going to the Labour Party!).
The article was originally published in Gaze Journal, but Secret Life of a Manhattan Call Girl has it available via her blog.
According to Chris Knight, one of the IUSW founders, prior to passing its governance to the GMB in 2002, the IUSW was, “fledgling and rather informal”. In the first issue of the IUSW journal, Respect, published in 2000, the founders declared: “When the oldest profession comes out, pimps and capitalists beware! … Whatever your sex or sexual situation, if you feel you need a union, you are welcome to join!”
But the IUSW, often mistaken for the GMB Adult Entertainment Branch, is far from the left wing, pro-worker organisation its founders intended it to be. Some former members have told me that it is more of a mouthpiece for pimps and punters, and rather than warning them to “beware” as did its founders, the IUSW today welcomes sex industry bosses as members with open arms. The endorsement of the GMB, albeit for the official union branch representing those in the sex industry has led to the IUSW appearing to represent the ‘workers’ within the sex industry.
Such organisations are politically motivated lobby groups campaigning for total decriminalisation of the sex trade, hence the fact that pimps and punters are encouraged to join. In the Netherlands, where brothel prostitution has been legal since 2000, the Red Thread prostitutes’ rights group founded a union in 2002 that at its height only had 100 members, mainly managers and erotic dancers. It lost its government funding in 2004. No one within either the GMB or IUSW have been either able or prepared to give me exact figures as to how many members there are in the actual union branch, but it is thought to be between 20 and 100 out of an estimated 80,000 sex workers in the UK.
EDIT 25/Sep/16: the full article is available here:
And it is very funny, that someone who finds me so ‘tedious’ that she has to block me from commenting on her blog, is still spending time reading mine, and blogging about it! (But without any direct links to this blog, which comes across as rather underhanded – does she not want her readers to see what I’ve actually written?)
For the record, with regards to my ‘academic grooming’ post, I was talking about Hugo Schwyzer, using his “Navigating Porn” class to convince young people that using porn is great, as grooming, I merely referred to Agustin within a list of academics I consider to be “distorting, partisan, biased, corrupt and self-serving”.
It looks like Agustin doesn’t like being referred to as a neoliberal:
I also am not a neoliberal proponent of the happiness of making money in a free marketplace.
I can understand why Agustin doesn’t like being labeled a neoliberal, what with its association with Tea Partiers, Thatcher and Reagan, but it is the correct label for her worldview.
I don’t call Agustin a neoliberal because I think that she thinks that making money makes us happy, I call her a neoliberal because she reduces all human beings to economic units, and all human interactions to economic transactions, with the belief that markets will self-regulate because economic units will only ever behave rationally.
She defends prostitution as sexuality, as sex (even when the ‘sex’ is that of a homeless child engaging in survival prostitution), but at the same time strips sex of all emotional and psychological meaning and turns it into nothing more than menial labour.
To Agustin, a homeless child engaging in survival prostitution is merely making a rational economic choice, and there will be no negative psychological consequences for that ‘choice’ because the only thing that could harm that child is not being allowed to fulfill their economic potential by ‘working’ in that way.
What does sexuality look like under a worldview that reduces all sex to menial labour? What can sexuality even mean, except being ‘sexually active’, or, rather, since we are talking about children engaging in survival prostitution, ‘sexually acted upon’?
Agustin reduces sex to menial labour, then calls anyone who is against prostitution, even child prostitution, a ‘prude’. In her defense she states that “everyone has a sexuality – babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, old people” – when I asked her what the sexuality of babies and toddlers looks like under her neoliberal worldview, that was when she started blocking my comments.
There is no emotional or psychological depth to Agustin’s worldview, there is no room for fear, for suffering, for trauma; people are only ever ‘unhappy’ – a weasel word if ever there was one in the context of forced sex – and the biggest thing that makes them unhappy is not being allowed to work.
Agustin dismisses as ‘psychobabble’ the idea that an adult or child trafficked into prostitution may be too afraid to testify against the traffickers. We’ve seen, very clearly, in the Rochdale and Oxford cases, that this does happen, that gangs will use violence and the fear of violence to threaten and control; Girl C’s traffickers threatened to kill her, to kill her baby and her adoptive mother, but the idea that such threats could have kept her under the traffickers’ control is just ‘psychobabble’, according to Agustin.
When it suits Agustin, the police are incompetent, and if we try to get the system to work for us we are babies crying over a broken toy, but at the same time, when it suits Agustin, the fact that trafficked women and children don’t want to testify against their abusers is proof that there is no abuse!
If Agustin doesn’t like being labeled a neoliberal, perhaps she should re-examine her worldview, or just re-read her own writing a bit more carefully, like here, where she claims that “Prostitution as a sexuality is indeed a bizarre idea, and one I didn’t say myself”, when in the original piece she says this:
It may be noted also that a recent study in Massachusetts found a trend towards greater numbers of homeless among lgbtq youth. One sort of marginalised sexuality can contribute to another, unfortunately.
There it is, clear as day: “One sort of marginalised sexuality [homosexuality] can contribute to another [prostitute].”
In her more current post Agustin says this:
What I am is a believer in human agency. I believe that disadvantaged persons with limited options of how to proceed in life have, until they are actually put in chains, some space to move, negotiate, prefer one option to another.
If the only time you see abuse or coercion is when someone is literally in chains or with a gun to their head, you won’t see much abuse or coercion, and this is important because one of Agustin’s main claims is that a lot of what gets labeled as trafficking into prostitution is in fact a ‘free choice’.
This is not the way control works, and it isn’t the way control has ever worked; there has never been a dictatorship in human history where every citizen was kept permanently in chains, or was assigned a soldier to hold a gun to their head 24 hours a day (with another soldier assigned to that soldier to keep him in line, and so on, off into infinity). Control is maintained through the use of just enough violence, enough beatings, enough murders, enough disappearances, to keep everyone afraid; this is how traffickers work, but every time Agustin reads an account of women returning to prostitution, that is, for her, proof that there is nothing going on, those women are making a rational economic decision, they are not afraid of anyone, they are not afraid for their families, they don’t owe massive debts to gangs who could hurt them or their families.
At another point I referred to my own experience of being oppressed by the work-permit system, where leaving a job one has a permit for means instant expiration of one’s legal status in the country. He has been told about the live-in maids who cannot leave because their passports are stamped for that single specific employment, even if they are being abused. To find out that supposedly ‘highly-skilled’ permits are just the same and that a researcher might feel abused and want to quit the job but stay and find another had never occurred to him.
Yep, that’s right, being an academic who doesn’t like her job is exactly the same as being a maid who is starved, raped, beaten, forced to be ‘on call’ 24 hours a day with no days off, and not paid by her employers!
To Agustin, being unhappy in a skilled, well-paid job is the same as being treated like a slave, and, therefore, being treated like a slave is no worse than being unhappy in a well-paid job.
To be able to defend that women sell their bodies (and that men buy them) one must first abolish the victim and instead redefine the prostitute as a sex worker, a strong woman who knows what she wants, a businesswoman. The sex worker becomes a sort of new version of the ‘happy hooker’.
Ekis Ekman shows in a convincing way how this happens through a rhetoric which portrays the victim position as a trait of character instead of using the correct definition of a victim: someone who is affected by something. In such a way the terrible reality in which women in prostitution find themselves is concealed. The fear of the ‘victim’ in the prostitution debate … is something which mirrors neo-liberalism’s general victim hate – since all talk of the vulnerable person immediately reveals an unjust society. Through making the victim taboo can one legitimise class inequalities and gender discrimination, for if there is no victim there is no perpetrator.
Found at Next Years Girl
A key that opens many locks is a master key; a lock that is opened by many keys is a bad lock.
Except we’re talking about people and not keys and locks? A pencil sharpener that sharpens all kinds of pencils is a good pencil sharpener, A pencil that lets itself be sharpened by too many sharpeners has to be thrown away. See? We can make any fucking analogy about genitals if we want to.
I’ll go on the internet and I’ll look for videos of women who have been tricked into auditioning for a porn movie that’s not really going to happen. It’s a whole genre, it’s called ‘casting couch’. There’s just something so vulnerable about—they come in and a lot of times they’re being told that…[That vulnerability] is a thing that turns me on. What’s creepy is when a woman is staring into the camera and pretending that she’s more turned on than she is, because she’s like a porn star. I prefer like, she comes in and she thinks she’s going to be modelling. Perhaps some nude modelling. And then the guy will ask her a bunch of creepy questions and ask her to take her clothes off. She’s surprised, because they think they’re coming in just for a meeting to talk about it. And then when the guy says “take your clothes off” you can tell it’s real because they stop. As you can tell from porn, it’s not easy to get people that will be porn actors that have any ability to act whatsoever. And there’s a moment where they’re surprised, a little frightened, where they go like, “Really?” and then they take their top off, and then their pants, and then they’ll get them to fondle themselves. And then the guy will say, “And now you have to blow me” and they—their head always goes back, like “What?” cut to (gagging sounds) and then they make love to the gentleman. Without any doubt whatsoever [these are real]. I would imagine they get them to sign a waiver at the beginning, and then I imagine these guys moving around a lot at night, so that an angry boyfriend doesn’t come and kill them.
We understand that Routledge is scheduled to publish a new journal, Porn Studies. While we agree that pornography and porn culture demand and deserve more critical attention, as a group of academics, activists, anti-violence experts, health professionals, and educators, we are deeply concerned about the journal’s intention and focus and about its editorial board, which is uniformly pro-porn.
Routledge is in a position of authority, and framing the editorial “experts” on porn as pro-porn under the auspices of neutrality (which is what the journal title does) further fosters the normalization of porn and misrepresents the academic, political and ideological debates about the issue. The composition of the editorial board (at least thus far) risks marginalizing any critical or anti porn position.
Given this, we have three questions: 1) In what ways and to what extent, if any, will this journal feature essays which represent an array of perspectives on the complex and vexed issues concerning pornography and porn culture?; 2) How likely is it that diverse perspectives will be represented, given that the editorial board has a pro-porn academic record?’ and 3) What might Routledge do to address this bias?
In the interest of academic integrity and thorough critical inquiry, it is imperative that a journal titled Porn Studies creates space for critical analyses of porn from diverse and divergent perspectives. Our hope is that you will change the composition of the editorial board, confirm the journal’s commitment to a heterogeneous interrogation of the issues embedded in porn and porn culture, and ensure that diverse perspectives are represented – on the board and also in the essays published in the journal. Failing that, we ask that you change the name to reflect and make evident the bias of its editors (Pro-Porn Studies) and create another journal which will represent the position of anti-porn scholars and activists and the voices of mental health professionals, porn industry survivors, and feminist scholars whose analyses examine the replication and reification of misogyny, child abuse, and sexual exploitation in mainstream pornography (for instance, Critical Porn Studies).
The claim of gender parity in domestic violence, or at least of much less difference than is conventionally believed, is nothing new, in fact it’s been popping up – and out of the mouths of Men’s Rights Activists – since at least the 1970ies. No matter how often or how robustly ‘gender symmetry’ claims are rebuffed and refuted, its advocates continue to regurgitate their position.
‘A third of all victims of abuse are male’
The data referenced, that approximately a third of victims of domestic abuse in the UK are male comes from data from the British Crime Survey. It contrasts significantly from data from police crime reports which estimate that between 80-90% of violence against the person reported is by women assaulted by men.
The main problems with the statistic that a third of reports are by men are
- It is about domestic abuse and/or conflict, not domestic violence
- The data does not differentiate between cases where there is one incident of physical conflict/abuse/violence or those where violence is repeated. If we look at the data for where there have been four or more incidents, then approximately 80% of victims are women
- The data does not differentiate between incidents where violence and abuse are used as systematic means of control and coercion and where they are not
- The data does not include sexual assault and sexual violence
- The data does not take account of the different levels of severity of abuse/violence, ‘gender symmetry’ is clustered at lower levels of violence
- The data does not take account of the impact of violence, whether the level of injury arising from the violence or the level of fear. Women are six times more likely to need medical attention for injuries resulting from violence and are much more likely to be afraid
- The data does not differentiate between acts of primary aggression and self-defence, approximately three quarters of violence committed by women is done in self-defence or is retaliatory.
In fact, if these issues are taken into account, research consistently finds that violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women and levels are consistent with data of reports from the police. This is supported by data from the Crown Prosecution Service that shows that across the five years between 2007/8 and 2011/12, 93.4% of those convicted for crimes relating to domestic violence were men.
Meghan Murphy at Feminist Current does a great job of refuting the ‘feminist porn’ argument put forward by female pornographer Anna Arrowsmith in a recent debate in London. The whole post is worth reading!
Arrowsmith begins her argument in a most telling way; describing how, one night, walking through London’s red light district, she realized that, rather than feeling angry, she was “envious” that men’s sexuality was being catered to “in so many different ways.” This feeling is likely familiar to many of us and is also an entry point into pro-porn/prostitution feminism for many women. After all, it’s not particularly unreasonable that a woman might feel “envious” of men’s position in this world. It makes perfect sense to feel as though we’ve gotten the shaft (pun!), as women, as far as cultural and social prioritization of female sexuality goes. But is the answer to take what men have in the sex industry, break off a corner piece, and try to mold it into something marginally less male-centric? Is the answer to exploitation to provide “equal” opportunity exploitation? Is our goal, as feminists, to be more like men and to merely adapt to a male-dominated world as best we can? Are we so unwilling to imagine something different than simply “more porn!”?