Bazelon’s claim that she’d known nothing of this topic or debate prior to beginning work on this piece seems even stranger as I discovered her connections to George Soros, a billionaire whose Open Society Foundations (OSF) not only is a major donor to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HWR), and UNAIDS, but a number of sex work lobby groups across the world. Soros and OSF funded the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), which was revealed to be a front for a pimping operation last year, as their vice president, Gil Alejandra, who served as co-chair of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work & Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy, was arrested for sex trafficking. (Bazelon spoke to the president of NSWP for her piece, but didn’t mention the trafficking conviction, though she had been made her aware of it by another interviewee, Rachel Moran.) The man who appears to be the biggest financial backer of the pro-legalization lobby in the world, whose organization is overtly pro-legalization and funded reports Amnesty International relied on in order to support their position also has longstanding ties to Bazelon and her family. Bazelon herself was a Soros Media Fellow in 2004 and her grandfather’s foundation, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Emily’s sister and mother both serve on the Center’s board), receives over a $1 million in funding from OSF.
Bazelon says that it was only Amnesty International’s recent vote to adopt a pro-industry position that led her to support legalization. But this claim is hard to believe when we consider the bias she conveys in the piece, her connections to Soros, and the fact that she doesn’t acknowledge that Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO did not simply “discover” a grassroots “sex worker movement” independently, leading them to push for legalization. Rather, these organizations, alongside Soros’ OSF, have been working with pimps, traffickers, and industry lobbyists to develop policy for some time.
The report by Kat Banyard, which points out that NSWP was appointed Co-Chair of the UNAIDS “Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work” in 2009, explains:
“UNAIDS is the international body responsible for leading global efforts to reverse the spread of HIV, and the advisory group was established to ‘review and participate in the development of UNAIDS policy, programme or advocacy documents, or statements.’ Alejandra Gil is also personally acknowledged in a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) report about the sex trade as one of the ‘experts’ who dedicated her ‘time and expertise’ to developing its recommendations. NSWP’s logo is on the front cover, alongside the logos of WHO, UNAIDS and the United Nations Population Fund.”
How can reports and policy funded by a billionaire who is specifically invested in the legalization of prostitution and that were developed in consultation with pimps and traffickers be either unbiased or be considered connected to “grassroots movements” in any way? The “movements” Bazelon references as having inspired Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO to develop these policies and positions are, in fact, organizations funded by Soros himself.
Bazelon’s dismissal of the Nordic model is yet another mistake made in her efforts to cling to neutrality. In an interview on the Diane Rehm show, she repeats erroneous claims that, while street prostitution appears to have decreased in Sweden after the implementation of the Nordic model, the purchase of sex did not, based on the increased number of ads online. But reports from Sweden say the ads are unrepresentative, as many of the ads posted are duplicates and/or posted by the same person. From the report:
“Authorities who have studied escort ads in the past have noted that one and the same seller of sexual services is often found in several advertisements. This finding is also indicated by the internet surveys, mainly in the form of the same telephone number cropping up during a search of several advertising sites. The overlap between the number of advertisements and escort sites and the duplication of many ads is shown by both surveys. This is also confirmed by other authorities working the field. Against this background, there is nothing indicating that the actual number of individuals engaging in prostitution has increased.”
While she admits that abolitionists are “oppos[ed] to arresting” prostituted women, Bazelon adds, “But they want to continue using the criminal law as a weapon of moral disapproval by prosecuting male customers, alongside pimps and traffickers — though this approach still tends to entangle sex workers in a legal net.” She fails to explain what she means by that and quickly moves forward to paint support for the Nordic model as something clueless American celebrities and ideologues do: The “man” vs the little guy, is the impression we are meant to get… The “man” being Gloria Steinem and Meryl Streep, and the “little guy” being, of course, the so-called “sex worker.”
Bazelon casually throws out the term “carceral feminism,” quoting Elizabeth Bernstein, a sociologist who studies “sex work,” who explains that abolitionists “have relied upon strategies of incarceration as their chief tool of ‘justice,’” going on to imply the history of abolition is connected to “faith-based” and “evangelical” groups who worked with George W. Bush to raid brothels for American TV audiences. She continues to connect abolitionists to Bush and to evangelicals throughout the piece, failing to acknowledge that the feminists who support the Nordic model today do so through a socialist lens and have always been part of an actual independent, radical, grassroots feminist movement.
Ignoring the decades-old grassroots women’s movement and the ongoing, tireless work of underfunded working-class women and women of colour who have been fighting prostitution for years is one of Bazelon’s most suspect choices. She discusses organizations funded by Open Society Foundations and the Gates Foundation, many of which have ties to pimps and traffickers, without question but erases or misrepresents the work of movement women who have nothing to gain from their fight against prostitution but a better life for women and girls and a more equitable world in the future.
Bazelon’s claim that decriminalization will make “people’s lives better, and safer” is not only untrue, but is based on money, not facts… The money that supports efforts to legalize is vast and passed around among sex industry lobby groups, civil liberty and human rights organizations, and, apparently, journalists. The incentive to support decriminalization is very clearly financial — prostitution is yet another billion-dollar global industry. It is unconscionable to ignore that reality when discussing key players. Support for decriminalization is also rooted in a deep desire to believe that a situation that is clearly not “okay” by any means can somehow become “okay,” despite ample evidence showing that this will never be the case.
Like the cover photo, which aims to convince the reader that “diversity” was a priority in Bazelon’s reporting (but, in fact, only featured those who both identify as “sex workers” and live in three American cities: New York, San Fransisco, and Seattle), the entire story intentionally removes or distorts the perspectives of abolitionists and survivors, positioning sex work advocates as the diverse expert voices that legitimize her piece.
While Bazelon claims the view she presents (which is, to be clear, her own) “poses a deep challenge to traditional Western feminism,” she’s ironically ignored the fact that Indigenous women and women’s groups say that prostitution never existed in their cultures until they were colonized by the West. Beyond that, almost all liberal American publications (many of which claim to be feminist) support the legalization of prostitution, as do, of course, privileged men. These are the voices and publications that dominate Western discourse and have the funding to promote their views. Men are the people who, at the end of the day, benefit from prostitution — their power is reinforced through its existence.
Bazelon herself is nothing if not a voice for Western privilege and liberalism, based on her Ivy League education, career, connections, and the ideology she supports. After all, is there anything more “mainstream” than the commodification and sexualization of women’s bodies? Certainly there is nothing more “traditional” than patriarchy itself.