BBC Radio 4 program on pornography broadcast this evening. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s only 15 minutes, and an interesting listen.
Melissa Raphael argues that if people are shocked by contemporary pornography it’s not because they are prudes but because, on the contrary, they actually enjoy sex. Pornography, she says, gets its thrill not from sex itself, which it finds monotonous, even disgusting, but from its own acts of transgression. Ironically, she argues, “while pornography has intensified its onslaught against sex, religious attitudes to sex have got ever more celebratory”.
Translated from Danish
Original published at Politiken.dk on March 9, 2013
Tanja Rahm, sexologist and author
Alice Viola, mentor and therapist
Christina Christensen, educator
Lita Malmberg, social education worker
Pia Christensen, cand.mag. (BA in Denmark)
Odile Poulsen, author and psychotherapist
All authors are formerly prostituted women.
We are six women who have been in prostitution. In many ways we are similar to the women Politiken described in the series of articles ‘The Brothel – A Workplace in Denmark’. Their words were our words when we were in prostitution.
Five of us told ourselves and the world around us that we were choosing to do it. That we enjoyed sex, earned good money and received lots of recognition. That we were completely in control of what we did.
The media often describes women in prostitution as strong and free and as having a healthy appetite for sex, most recently so in ‘The Brothel’. The story of the sex-loving woman who liberates her sexuality in prostitution is also the story most people want to hear. Especially men who buy sex.
Women like us are the complete opposite. When we take part in the public debate about prostitution and point out the destructive forces and consequences of prostitution, we are told that something else must be wrong with us.
For it cannot be the years in prostitution that have given us insomnia, depression, memory loss, suicidal thoughts, self-hate, pain, arthritis, anxiety, problems with intimacy and so on.
Even though hundreds of women in our situation speak of the same painful consequences of prostitution, this knowledge does not count in the current debate. ‘The Brothel’ conveys the dominant narrative: prostitution is liberating and harmless.
But what is not made clear at the same time is that it can look very different when one has exited the trade. This can contribute to the normalization of prostitution and lure young women into thinking that it is a danger-free way of earning money. It is not.
Many are those of us who have had to realize that prostitution is not a free or liberating choice, but boundary-crossing, violent, unfree. We lost touch with ourselves. So that we would be able to take it.
‘Satisfied sex workers’ are treated with a rare, uncritical political correctness by the media.
The journalist in ‘The Brothel’ accepted all the contradictions unquestioningly. But women in prostitution aren’t made of glass. So why shouldn’t they answer critical questions? How, for instance, are they going to avoid being exploited by pimps with the help of a telephone operator and a security guard? How are they going to get men to stop buying the foreign women who have no access to the famous ‘rights’—they are cheaper, after all? How does being a member of a union protect you from being assaulted by the buyers? How can you be an unemployed prostitute?
After all, you could just stand out on the street. ‘The Brothel’ gives the impression that the stigma lies in the fact that some people disagree that prostitution is an okay profession. The degrading view of women that sex buyers have is described by the interviewed women as them being sweet men who long for a little closeness and intimacy.
There is much discussion about freedom of choice. But this seems meaningless to us, for prostitution eats your dignity, free choice or not. When society does not want to give up on the notion that some women should be for sale, the stigma remains. And our pain is brushed aside by saying we chose it ourselves.
Below we have each listed our experiences and our views on being in prostitution:
Tanja: “I was superior, strong. But the facade was crumbling. I became addicted to cocaine so that I could go on. Was I too weak, a spineless victim? No. I survived and built a worthy life for myself. But I see how women in my situation constantly have to fight psychological problems, go to the hospital, get operations.” (…) “Women who exit prostitution tell a different story than that of orgasms and sweet men. Our experiences are the most stigmatizing. Because other women don’t want to realize that their men might be sex buyers and cheaters. Men don’t want to lose their illusions of constantly horny women who love to have sex for money. And society fears being seen as judgmental and frigid if we don’t embrace all sexual excesses with wide open arms. The cost of saying what no one wants to hear is condemnation.”
Alice: “As a mentor in ‘Swan Groups’ I meet many who find the media’s generally one-sided idealization of prostitution hard to deal with. In a Swan Group, you gain a better perspective of the issue. For who among us wasn’t happy, right up until we discovered something different? Very many of the Swan Women only discovered the painful reality afterward. Almost all of them have problems with closeness, intimacy, trust and sex. This has serious consequences for relationships with partners, children and others. Freedom in prostitution is an illusion, a quick fix of power and a lie that keeps both the sex buyer and the woman going around the ring.”
Christina: “I went talking to the media, praising the joys of prostitution when I was in prostitution. It was a huge self-deception that I used in order to survive. Many times I have since wondered about the question of rights. Would I have avoided PTSD, memory loss, depression, sleep disorders and general anxiety if I had had the right to be seen by a health professional every other week or been a member in the union and had the right to sick pay? No. Sex buyers differ from other men in only one respect: they can justify to themselves that it is okay to buy sex. They were pitiful when they thought they were entitled to use me because they paid for it. They justified their actions by saying, “Wow, it’s so cool that you are so strong; I could never have sex with one of the weak ones.” I could not possibly be one of those who were being hurt. How wrong they were. Pretending that you’re strong is just the way you sell the goods. “
Lita: “The rights should be the right to get out of prostitution. Help for the treatment of the problems that women in prostitution typically get, help with education or work. People should have the right not to have to sell themselves. And make no mistake: It is selling yourself. It’s not just a performance. You are alone and naked with a stranger who lies on top of you and groans and sweats, who sucks on your breasts and finally empties himself into you. That’s what it is to be a prostitute. Yes, there was always one who said, ‘I’ll be quick so it’s not so bad for you’. But if he thought it was so bad for me, why did he do it? That lack of self-control repelled me. The only thing they were really interested in was the size of our body parts–and what it cost. We were described and sold as if we were sandwiches.”
Pia: “I was violently forced to prostitute myself. That Danish women can also be forced into prostitution is never spoken about, but I am far from alone. My situation resembles that of foreign prostitutes, who also often have pimps—yes, even the ‘willing’ Danish prostitutes sometimes have those. Many women are ashamed, even if they’ve chosen to prostitute themselves, and would very much like to quit. So why are some politicians so busy trying to make the sex industry so that as many as possible can remain in prostitution for as long as possible? A lot more should be done to get women out of prostitution.”
Odile: “It’s not acceptable to talk about the damage we take away from prostitution—that destroys the common notion of prostitution as mutual, free-spirited sex. Women who haven’t been in prostitution and who don’t think that prostitution is good for society, for the prostitutes or the sex buyers, are called frigid, sexually repressed, moralizing spinsters. So how is it possible to discuss?”
Survivor Megaphone (links/references in original)
Open letter to Left Youth Solid, an official youth organization of the German party The Left, regarding the position paper “Solidarity with Sex Workers – No to the new prostitute protection act – No to paternalism and other-directedness in the sexual service industry” (“Solidarität mit Sexarbeiter*innen – Nein zum neuen Prostituiertenschutzgesetz – Nein zu Bevormundung und Fremdbestimmung im sexuellen Dienstleistungsgewerbe”).
By Huschke Mau and eight other women exited from prostitution
Originally published in German under the title “Die Linke Freude an der Prostitution – Huschke Mau an die Bremer Linksjugend” at sisters-ev.de, 21 April 2016
Dear People of Left Youth Solid,
I want to make it clear that I am addressing those of you who voted for the proposal “Solidarity with Sex Workers – No to the new prostitute protection act – No to paternalism and other-directedness in the sexual service industry” at Left Youth Solid’s federal meeting on April 8/9, 2016. I am assuming that this doesn’t mean all of you, so there is hope yet.
I am a former—as you call it—“sex worker”, I have read your proposal, and I would like to tell you just what I think of the “solidarity” you offer in this document.
First of all, it’s great that you signed it as the Left Youth. Because when I read the phrase “sexual service industry”, I was sure for a second that the [German economic liberalist party] FDP had risen from the dead.
But I did truly appreciate that you’re against “other-directedness.” Unfortunately, while reading the proposal, I had to discover that you haven’t understood that the “other” that is “directing” those in prostitution is the john, meaning that this quality is INHERENT TO THE SYSTEM—he wants sex, I don’t actually want it, I just need the money, and thus I consent to this other-directedness under coercion. Simple as that.
“Even though sex work has long been established as a commercial service in our society and has been considered legal in the Federal Republic of Germany since 2002, sex workers are still severely stigmatized in their private and professional lives.”
I’m simply baffled that you describe the act of prostitution as a “profession” and a “service.” Sexuality is the most intimate sphere of human life. Do we get to keep that at least, pretty please, or do we have to let every single part of ourselves be completely commodified and capitalized upon? Since when has the Left been the champion of the sale of all human desire? You call sex a service, as if it were possible to separate it from the Self, the Body, the Person; as if you could simply peel it away, place it in a nice little box on the shop counter, and then some fellow shows up, hands me 50 euros and walks out with the sex. Is that how you picture it, yeah? You even speak of “poor working conditions”—do you actually believe that the abuse we have suffered and so many of us still suffer is somehow ameliorated if we’re given a nice “workplace”, as you call it? “Working conditions”? What are you even talking about? Under which conditions is the abuse that johns inflict on us acceptable to you, pray tell? Or do you simply not see it as abuse, ignoring what exited persons and trauma researchers are telling you? Sixty-eight percent of all prostituted people have post-traumatic stress disorder, and that’s not counting depression, addiction, borderline disorders and psychoses. Do you think these things are a result of “poor working conditions”? Every exited woman I know describes what she experienced in prostitution as sexual abuse. Our having tolerated sexual abuse or having been forced to do so does not turn it into a profession!
And then you keep going on about the stigma, saying we mustn’t be stigmatized. I agree with you on this, but I have to stress that it’s not the stigma that’s raping, abusing, and killing us. It’s the johns. Sadly you draw the wrong conclusions from the demand that prostituted persons mustn’t be stigmatized.
“This [stigma] is expressed in a lack of recognition of their profession.”
To be clear, what you demand is basically for the abuse of prostituted women to become normal. You want it to become a job. You want the abuse to become ACCEPTABLE. In short, you’re fighting for women’s right to call the suffering of sexual abuse a job. Or better: You’re fighting for men’s right to abuse women and minimize that abuse by calling it “work.”
Another thing I don’t get is all your talk about “self-determined sex work.” All prostituted women I know “chose” prostitution because they didn’t see any other option. How do you interpret that as self-determination? Is it because I can choose WITHIN PROSTITUTION, between only doing blowjobs with a condom and losing my income because of all the “self-determined” women from Southern Europe, and just putting every dick into my mouth without any barrier whatsoever, ‘cause that’s the standard? Some self-determination!
Our problem isn’t “lack of recognition of the profession”, our problem IS the “profession”! Nine out of ten prostitutes would exit immediately if they could. Why on earth are you blathering about recognition of the profession?!
Your whole pamphlet sounds as if it were written by the pro-prostitution lobby, and this actually appears to be the case. You refer to BesD [Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen e.V.; “Professional association for erotic and sexual services”] as “organized sex workers”—you do realize that they only represent 0.01% of the prostituted in Germany? What kind of organization for the prostituted is this if it includes brothel owners? The exploiters start a “union” to represent the workers? That’s the strangest union I’ve ever heard of. Who did you in fact consult? Apart from brothel owners like Fricke and escort agency owners like Klee? Based on whose information do you actually take your decisions? If you do something on racism next, will you consult neo-Nazis?
The next paragraph makes me doubt that you possess any ability to reflect on this or any other issue. You write:
“In addition to these legal setbacks, there is a great deal of victimization and paternalism towards sex workers even within the social left.”
I wonder who’s victimizing prostituted women—the johns abusing us or those who name it as abuse? If you want to prevent us from becoming victims, abolish john-dom! Or do you perhaps merely want people to stop SAYING that harm is being done to us within and through prostitution? If this is the case, please just say that and stop pretending that people who recognize prostitution as inhumane are somehow victimizing us—THEY are not the ones doing that.
Then you write:
“Thus parts of the left have repeatedly pushed for a ‘full ban on prostitution’ or the supposedly progressive ‘Swedish Model’, claiming that sex work/prostitution is the ultimate expression of patriarchy.”
Let me get this straight: This sounds like you don’t think prostitution is an expression of patriarchy. If it’s not that, what is it, then? Why are 98% of all individuals in prostitution female and johns almost 100% male? Now don’t say it’s because we live in patriarchy.
“Yes, sex work currently takes place under the circumstances of patriarchy, meaning that the question of voluntariness is unfortunately always difficult to answer.”
So prostitution takes place outside of patriarchy too? Seriously? And which conclusions do you draw from it being difficult to answer the “question of voluntariness”?
“It is predominantly women who work in this profession, while it is mainly men who buy the services of sex workers.”
It’s just great how you take the perpetrators’ side and trivialize sexual violence.
“However, the feminist response cannot be to take a paternalistic approach and try to tell sex workers what a decent life should look like.”
I’m dying to find out where you get this from. People who see prostitution as destructive and inhumane aren’t being paternalistic, they’re expressing solidarity with us. And that’s exactly where you could do with a little practice. You need to stop flogging that stupid notion that every person who recognizes prostitution as harmful is some kind of conservative moralist trying to lecture “fallen women”. Acknowledging the suffering and misery of prostitution and stating that it is violent doesn’t constitute lecturing; it means SEEING the real conditions that prostituted people live in and thus showing respect and care to those who suffer within and because of prostitution.
“Both the Swedish Model and a full ban would endanger the agency and protection of sex workers even more dramatically than existing laws. These stricter laws would change nothing about the existence of patriarchy with its specific roles and its social power differential between women and men.”
Why would this not change anything? Prostitution is one of patriarchy’s main pillars, just like all sexual violence is. Why wouldn’t it change anything to ban it? Why is prostitution the only sphere of life where laws suddenly have no impact whatsoever? Does prostitution take place in outer space or something? You could just as well say that rape should not be prohibited by law because it doesn’t do anything to change patriarchal roles and the social power differential! Are you saying you just want to leave everything as is? Sexual violence, patriarchal structures—this is what you’re going with? Does the Left not have a vision anymore? Or is it only out of visions when it comes to prostituted women?
Yes, I accuse you of meaning well. But if you advocate for decriminalization of prostitution on the john’s side (I believe we all agree that it should not be criminalized on the prostituted person’s side), then this is equivalent to saying: “Women affected by partner violence are stigmatized. In order to get rid of this stigma, we will decriminalize domestic violence on the perpetrator’s side. This way, the woman will no longer have anything to be ashamed of.” Is any of this getting through to you?
What your pamphlet doesn’t mention at all is the john—as usual.
Just do me a favor and read a few random posts on johns’ message boards, and then tell me how on earth you can support the legalization of something like that. How you can support men doing such things to women. I cannot wait to hear your arguments.
“Those who want to illegalize self-determined sex workers criminalize the entire industry and force it underground, where no protection whatsoever may be provided. In order to be better protected, sex workers require more self-determination and the social and legal recognition of their profession. Only in this way and recognized as workers can they publicly organize as part of the working class and advocate for their own interests, better working conditions and social security. A ban on sex work or the criminalization of johns (as in Sweden) would only cause sex work to become invisible and less safe.”
And then there’s the fairy tale of the underground. Please read some texts explaining the Swedish Model, which criminalizes the john and decriminalizes the prostituted. And read evaluations of this law where it has been applied, e.g. Norway. No, prostitution is not a clearly defined entity. Yes, it can be reduced. No, the Swedish Model does not shift it underground. Yes, it changes a society’s views on women when one sex can no longer buy the other. No, we do not need “recognition as a profession”, we need for prostitution to be recognized as ABUSE. And NO, we are not part of the working class, we are first and foremost people harmed by sexual abuse through prostitution! We do NOT organize as part of the working class, but in victims’ associations (e.g. sisters e.V., SPACE International—which you refuse to listen to, though. We don’t need you to organize us or talk about us; we organize ourselves, thank you very much.
“Those who truly advocate for an emancipated society must also advocate for physical and sexual self-determination.”
Prostitution is the exact opposite of sexual self-determination. One party wants sex, the other doesn’t. Money is supposed to bridge that gap. Prostitution has NOTHING to do with physical and sexual self-determination because everything I do, the john decides—thus it is other-directed. I am so incredibly fed up of all your talk of sexual liberation when you mention prostitution as a path to that liberation in the same breath. Don’t drag us into it; we will not be instrumentalized in this way! Do your own sexual liberation, but you will not be permitted to use and gloss over our abuse to get there.
Furthermore I would like you to do a little bit of research; you will quickly discover that forced prostitution and prostitution cannot be seen separately, as you prefer. For one, the lines between the two are blurred, and secondly there will never be enough women who do this “voluntarily”; a large percentage will always have to be forced to meet the demand. This means that you cannot want prostitution without agreeing with forced prostitution; one does not exist without the other. And by the way, if you support the full decriminalization and legalization of prostitution, you support the market being the sole regulating force, which means: the demand grows, the supply grows, the demand grows more because men see it as perfectly normal to be a john, the supply keeps growing, and so on. It’s an upward spiral. Have you ever actually read anything about the basic mechanisms of capitalism, seeing as you’re so eager to see capitalist value extracted from women as goods?
“Asylum law must also be reformed so that migrant forced prostitutes no longer face the threat of deportation but instead receive residence and work permits. However, our intention behind this decision is to place the focus on those sex workers who are currently restricted in their physical self-determination, their health and their rights in their professional life as sex workers—on those who made the conscious and self-determined choice to provide sexual and erotic services.”
Oh, and how many is that? One in ten at the very most. And that’s who you want to go by when determining things that affect the situation of ALL prostituted women in Germany? Do you not care about the rest or what? Who at BesD, that organization of brothel owners, did you listen to? You certainly didn’t listen to the 90 percent in this country who are migrant women, because they’re not part of that organization. And you’re actually happy to collude with this racist bullshit! The majority out there are NOT the brothel owners, high-class escorts, dominatrixes—the majority doesn’t even speak German! How ignorant can you get? Prostitution is classist and racist, or why do you think there are so many indigenous women in prostitution in other countries, and so many Romani women in Germany? How do you explain that?
And then you go and post stuff about anti-racist demonstrations on Facebook? You really make me laugh.
“Thus it is our view that feminism that is serious about its concern for women’s self-determination and sexual self-determination must also fight for the rights and demands of sex workers’ associations. The Bremen regional association of Left Youth Solid stands for such a feminism and will advocate for the legal empowerment of sex workers and show solidarity in their struggles.”
You are most certainly not showing solidarity to us in our struggles by labeling sexual violence a profession, ignoring the majority of us, and calling prostitution sexual and physical self-determination!
What the hell are you even talking about? You need to find your way back to reality. And if you can’t show us solidarity because you’re too busy listening to brothel owners, at least leave us in peace and don’t presume to speak for us! You have never had to bend over; you aren’t in prostitution—a privilege, as I’d like to remind you—and then you sit there in your Bremen regional association and at the federal meeting and blather about recognition as a profession? Get a grip.
At least once a week here at Sisters e.V., we are visited by a woman who is already exited (not to mention those who contact us because they still want out!) and who tells us she’s taken this long to break her silence because society only ever tells her it’s a PROFESSION and it’s WORK and it’s a JOB; it’s all happy, joyful sex work—and so all the injuries she suffered in prostitution indicate that there must be something wrong with HER. And this is precisely the political climate people like YOU create. All your talk is causing exited women to remain silent. I too was speechless for years because of texts like yours—because as a prostitute reading something like that, you don’t even know where to START.
Prostitution is sexist, racist and classist, and then you come along, having listened to owners of brothels and escort agencies, and want to tell us about sexual liberation? And you call that leftist? You can’t be serious. Never, ever can it be about getting as comfortable as possible within a sexist, classist and racist system such as prostitution. Who is it you expect to put up with this? Such a system must be ABOLISHED. You need to understand that supporting women in prostitution is NOT the same as supporting the system of prostitution! This system must be overcome and not further established and “recognized as a profession!” The only praiseworthy thing about your document is how exceedingly well you’ve copied and pasted from the pimp lobby—well done, indeed.
Seriously, is this what your solidarity looks like? Shame on you, and no thanks!
Huschke Mau (@huschkemau)
Signed also on behalf of the exited women of Sisters e.V.
Annalena, exited woman
Sonja, exited woman
Sandra, exited woman
Sunna, exited woman
NaDia, exited woman
Andra, exited woman
Esther Martina, exited woman
Eva, exited woman
Survivor Megaphone (links/references in original)
The Italian government’s decision to make a series of cuts to anti-trafficking programmes in Sicily and across the country will seriously undermine efforts to create a national response to the country’s growing trafficking crisis, NGOs and UN agencies are warning.
The UN’s International Office for Migration warned this week that the trafficking of Nigerian women from Libya to Italy by boat is reaching “crisis” levels. More than 3,600 Nigerian women arrived in Italy by boat in the first six months of this year, of whom 80% will be forced into prostitution in Europe, the IOM estimates.
Europol, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, warned earlier this year that at least 5,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Italy. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.
The Italian government’s equal opportunities ministry announced this week that funding for anti-trafficking programmes across Sicily is to cease. It will support one anti-trafficking programme in Ragusa, southern Sicily, but funding to Palermo, Messina and Catania, where the majority of migrant boats land, will be ending. Financial backing for anti-trafficking programmes in Piedmont, Sardinia, Basilicata and Liguria will also cease.
Anti-trafficking NGOs in areas affected by the cuts have warned this will leave Italy with a patchy and insufficient response to the increased trafficking of migrants entering the country.
“It’s incredible – there is a decree by the government saying that the protection of the trafficking victims has to be ensured at national level and the ministry of equal opportunities is leaving out almost six regions [Piedmont, Liguria, Valle d’Aosta, Basilicata, Sardinia and much of Sicily] at a time when the problem of trafficking is getting worse,” said Alberto Mossino from Progetto Integrazione Accoglienza Migranti (Piam), an anti-trafficking and migrant rights NGO in Asti, in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Mossino said that Piam, which in 2014 was presented to the Council of Europe by the Italian government as an example of best practice in anti-trafficking initiatives, was told this week that all of their funding will be cut from the beginning of September.
“Our region is one of the worst affected by the sexual trafficking of migrant women and children. The women that are now in our protection programmes will see these programmes shut down with short notice. We have been told that they will be transferred; this means that they will be forced to restart all the paths they are going though,” said Mossino.
“Life will be easier for traffickers operating in Sicily, or in Piedmont and other regions where these cuts have been made. This means that here in Piedmont there will be no outreach programmes. Any victim of trafficking who wants to escape will have to go on their own to their police to denounce their exploiters, there will be nobody to help them through this process.”
Penelope, an anti-trafficking organisation in Messina, Sicily, has also been informed of an immediate and total funding cut, said Cettina Restuccia, a coordinator with the NGO.
“We are seeing more and more young Nigerian teenagers arriving [on the migrant boats]. Many have been already raped and forced to prostitution during the trip from Nigeria to Libya,” said Restuccia. “But if we are not at the ports when the boats arrive in – or in the hospitals or reception centres, or at the commission hearings – who will help these girls?”
The IOM expressed concerns about the consequences of the cuts.
“The risk is that the places available for the trafficking victims in protection programmes will decrease and we are particularly worried for the unaccompanied minors,” said Simona Moscarelli, an anti-trafficking expert at the IOM. “There should be an increase, not a decrease, in the anti-trafficking interventions, particularly in Sicily.”
The ministry of equal opportunities defended the decision, saying it was increasing the amount of anti-trafficking funding from €8m (£6.9m) to €13m but that more resources would be channelled into a smaller number of service providers.
The ministry added that a “technical error” made in the application for funding by administrators in the Liguria and Piemonte regions had triggered cuts to anti-trafficking initiatives. The decision to end funding to NGOs in eastern Sicily was put down to concerns over the quality of the services provided, but the department expressed confidence that the grant given to Ragusa would cover services across the island.
QotD: “It’s personal and sometimes very extreme in its nature. Sometimes it’s pornographic, sometimes violent, often very misogynistic”
When Wavertree MP Luciana Berger passes the steps at the back of Central Lobby in the Palace of Westminster, she is able to give a nod to her great-uncle Manny – which is a good trick given that he died in 1986. Manny Shinwell, the famous Red Clydesider, is one of few people who was not a prime minister to have a bust in parliament. “It’s amazing to see that and be part of that heritage,” says Berger, who has read all of her great-uncle’s books. He was also, she points out, the last parliamentarian to throw a punch in the chamber. Shinwell, who was of Polish-Jewish extraction, took exception to a Tory MP telling him to “get back to Poland” and lashed out. “And good for him!” says Berger.
Were he alive, Shinwell would be as proud of his great-niece’s defiance as she is of his, given the scale of antisemitic provocation she, too, has had to endure. Three men have been convicted of abuse against her and there’s even been an international social media campaign – #FilthyJewBitch – organised against her. But that is not the only reason that Berger, who resigned as Labour’s shadow minister for mental health following Brexit, has been targeted. An atmosphere of contempt and violent aggression has recently begun to pervade political discourse. The most extreme illustration of it was the murder of politician Jo Cox, but others have had to endure aggressive and misogynistic intimidation. None more so than Luciana Berger. “It’s a combination of being young, female and Jewish,” she explains.
“Look,” says Berger, who was the director of Labour Friends of Israel for three years before becoming an MP, handing over her phone. She shows me a website which contains a vitriolic catalogue of messages, urging people to tell her – and I can’t even repeat what they call her – that Hitler was right – six million times.
The campaign, organised because antisemites were angry at one of their own being jailed for abusing Berger, has been online since 2014. Could Twitter do more to control it? “Of course they could!” Berger says. The effects of receiving these messages go deep. “It’s personal and sometimes very extreme in its nature. Sometimes it’s pornographic, sometimes violent, often very misogynistic. At its peak, there were 2,500 tweets. Some people who were shown just one message couldn’t believe it, so to receive thousands is difficult.”
But Corbyn’s Labour party has heralded strangely intimidating times, and resulted in new attacks on Berger who is supporting Owen Smith in the current leadership election. Almost half of Labour’s 99 female MPs (including Berger) signed a letter to Corbyn deploring the party’s bullying culture and accusing him of not doing enough to stop threats against women by his supporters. “I’m very worried about the future for women in politics,” admits Berger, who joined parliament in 2010 as one of 64 new Labour MPs – 32 men and 32 women. “It’s definitely got uglier. People feel they have permission to say the most awful things.”
That tone has been evident in recent Labour party mayoral nomination elections across England. It was not just that there was only one female candidate – Berger – across four contests. It was the way she was treated for having the temerity to stand. Berger has kept quiet until the vote but scheduled our final meeting for the day after the result. The nomination has gone to Steve Rotheram, Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary. Jess Phillips, Labour MP for the Birmingham Yardley, has already posted an acerbic tweet. “All the mayors can now go on an actual man date. We can make the tea.” The responses include calling Phillips “renta gob” and a “stupid woman” – which make her point even more neatly than she does.
The morning of the result, she received messages of support from women who feel she has made a difference, just by seeking nomination in the current climate. One says,: “The way you were treated during the selection process by some was awful so I wanted to thank you for standing.” What was that treatment? “At the start,” she says, “I had a colleague say to me that we already had a contest with the two men, which disgusted and appalled me.”
Following the result, criticism increased. “My campaign manager and I were shouted at by people who should have known better. There was a massive sense of entitlement around the other two candidates’ teams. I was absolutely right to stand – I’d do it all again tomorrow.”
Strange that it was Berger’s experience that was constantly questioned. “The left have a problem with women,” one young (male) party member tells me, while another describes their horror at hearing Berger publicly referred to as “a young pup” by another candidate. Yet she was the only one of the three with shadow cabinet experience. She has two degrees and despite being only 35 has worked at the London stock exchange and BP, and for the Commission for Racial Equality mapping Muslim-Jewish engagement, as well as being a runner at Paramount in America and a debt collector for an American production house. (The English accent worked, apparently.) And Disney, of course.
You have to admire Berger’s courage and tenacity, particularly in the wake of fellow politician Jo Cox’s murder. “I suppose we all think we are untouchable but it means we have to take our security more seriously.” Did it frighten her? “I suppose I have been contending with issues surrounding my safety and security for years.” But what’s going on right now – why have things escalated to such ugly proportions in British politics? “Everything is just so much more polarised, particularly in the wake of Brexit. If you think about the British psyche right now, I saw doctors’ reports of increased presentation of people concerned about their mental health, for instance. Brexit was a prompt, a catalyst for uncertainty.”
To be fair, Berger believes that – unlike misogyny – antisemitism exists more out of the Labour party than in it. But she is still “disappointed” that Shami Chakrabarti’s official report into antisemitism absolved the party completely. “There [was a bit of it] that had no place there unless someone had asked for it.” Did she feel the report was manipulated? “I just didn’t believe that it was independent.” Does she believe Corbyn is manipulative as a leader? “You can’t just look at him in isolation. You have to look at the people who surround him. Incidentally, not many women!”
Corbyn, one party insider tells me, is a puppet in the middle, divided between MPs who don’t think he can lead Labour to victory and party militants who are more interested in the power of opposition than the power of government. It’s an unprecedented catch 22 with accusations of intimidation flying. Did Berger feel there was a murky side to what was happening at Westminster? “Yes, but it was more the ineptitude. I served under Ed Miliband and there was a stark contrast in terms of the professional operation and everything that happened in terms of trying to get a response.”
She remembers the 80s recession and her family not being able to afford a Chinese takeaway. She remembers Thatcher getting to the top and pulling the ladder away, so she makes sure she mentors a woman every year through the Fabian Women’s Network. Small changes can make big differences.
QotD: it is the voices of the prostituted speaking against the expansion of the sex-trade that are actually ‘excluded, stigmatised, and marginalised.’
In the spirit of the media’s usual ‘sex workers are under-represented’ stance the media (this time in Daily Life) have published another piece about ‘sex workers being under-represented’. The latest is by Kate Iselin who apart from being a self-described sex worker and published writer is also ‘furious’.
Targeting the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for not having a ‘sex worker’ on the panel ‘Invisible Women’, Iselin wrote a piece titled ‘Sex Workers are not invisible. We’re just being ignored’. No you’re not Kate, pro- sex trade voices are so ubiquitous that even calling prostituted children ‘sex workers’ has become entrenched in the media and public psyche. You are so far from being ignored that when a writer exposing the sex-trade is appearing on a panel to talk about their own book, you get a voice in Daily Life to complain about it. The pro- sex trade are so far from being ignored you have Amnesty International influencing their membership of some 4 million people and every single lefty- neoliberal I come into contact with. All prostitution survivors ever hear from the media and the public is, “But isn’t prostitution actually sex work and just another job? What’s your problem you pearl-clutcher.”
What Iselin really means is that her particular voice and the voices of those who unequivocally support the full-decriminalisation of prostitution are not on the panel.
For the record, as a prostitution survivor featured in one of the books being discussed, Spinifex Press asked if I could be on the panel, the Festival declined.
For the record, the Scarlet Alliance were offered an entire session at MWF but they declined. I guess if it wasn’t a place on a panel where they could have a go at discrediting Tankard Reist and Tyler, the people they claim to represent aren’t really worth the Scarlet Alliance’s time.
Claiming this not the first time a festival has ignored ‘sex workers’ Iselin points to the 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas which also did not have an ‘actual sex worker’ on it’s panel ‘Women for Sale’. She uses the example of journalist Elizabeth Pisani giving up part of her time on the panel so a ‘sex worker’ could be allowed a voice . How noble of her. This orchestrated stunt actually gave the audience the voice of then Migrant Project Manager (see sex-trafficking) of the Scarlet Alliance, Jules Kim. Kim is indeed now the CEO, replacing Janelle Fawkes who, to my amazement, also calls herself a ‘sex worker’. (I don’t doubt that some members of the government funded Scarlet Alliance sell sex, or used to, but the media and the public need to be wise to the fact that a lot of them don’t and never have.)
Iselin is not ‘furious’ about there not being a ‘sex worker’ on the panel ‘Invisible Women’, she is merely furious that Melinda Tankard Reist and Dr Meagan Tyler are. (I have not read Wykes book, so won’t comment on Iselin’s statements about her.)
While she pays lip-service to our testimonies in the book Prostitution Narratives, going so far as to say she believes our stories should be ‘amplified’, would Iselin mind having a go at the festival on my behalf? How about a current ‘sex worker’ in New Zealand who agrees with Reist and Tyler that prostitution is a human rights violation. Would Iselin want her on the panel?
You see it is the voices of the prostituted speaking against the expansion of the sex-trade that are actually ‘excluded, stigmatised, and marginalised.’ Voices like Iselin’s and the Scarlet Alliance are not. Iselin is ‘furious’ that our voices got put in a book that doesn’t serve her or the Scarlet Alliance’s agenda. So she pops it in this article instead, shamelessly playing a favourite liberal media trump card – under-represented sex workers. It’s getting old. Iselin is ‘furious’ that a feminist publisher and two editors were brave enough to publish our stories. And believe me, in this pro-sex trade climate it is incredibly brave. In fact those who don’t support the rights of men to buy women to use as their personal sexual devices are vilified ad nauseum by voices like Iselin’s and those she represents.
Iselin’s piece is manipulative and disingenuous. It was offensive and hurtful to read that she doesn’t doubt the veracity of our testimonies but then swipes at us anyway. She did it by attacking the women who listened to survivors, respectfully gathered our stories and wrote about us and our ‘dead friends and colleagues’. Claiming they are just headline grabbers. Reducing their exhaustive research, intelligence and courage to tabloid chasing attention seekers.
But Iselin didn’t stop at that piece of nastiness, in trying to discredit Reist and Tyler through the guise of targeting Melbourne Writers’ Festival, she then went on to use this as a sneaky way to dismiss survivor voices and the stories of our ‘dead friends and colleagues’ as ‘tragedy porn’.
Thanks for that.
In paying us and our testimonies some lip service, Iselin is then able patronise us as sad but unreliable dimwits who fell under the spell of dodgy ‘anti-sex worker’ advocates . I guess our voices shouldn’t be ‘amplified’ after all.
Daily Life certainly fell for you didn’t they Ms Iselin. Quelle Suprise.
Pornography is a lucrative business. Increasingly, women have participated in both its production, direction, and consumption. This study investigated how the content in popular pornographic videos created by female directors differs from that of their male counterparts. We conducted a quantitative analysis of 122 randomly selected scenes from 44 top-renting adult videos in 2005 (half male- and half female-directed). Findings revealed that all films shared similar depictions: Verbal and physical aggression was common, women were the primary targets of aggression, and negative responses to aggression were extremely rare. Compared to male-directed films, female-directed films were significantly more likely to portray women-only scenes and sexual acts. Even when controlling for main characters’ gender, female-directed films showed significantly more female perpetrators aggressing against female targets and significantly more depictions of women as perpetrators of aggression. We highlight the importance of economic forces, rather than director gender, in dictating the content of popular pornography.
Psychology of Women Quarterly 32(3):312 – 325 · August 2008
QotD: “More than 150 people in Wales have been reported to police for meeting children following sexual grooming over the last five years”
More than 150 people in Wales have been reported to police for meeting children following sexual grooming over the last five years, new figures show.
Dyfed-Powys Police saw the highest number of recorded complaints with 60, while North Wales had the lowest with 26.
Almost 60% of the crimes reported from 2011 to 2015 included online grooming.
NSPCC Cymru wants compulsory online safety lessons to become part of the curriculum.
Figures obtained by the charity under the Freedom of Information Act, showed 155 complaints were filed against adults accused of meeting a child under the age of 16 following sexual grooming.
South Wales Police received 35 reports while Gwent Police got 34.
Dyfed-Powys Police reported the highest number of crimes involving online grooming with 37, followed by Gwent Police with 22, North Wales Police with 17 and South Wales Police with 16.
NSPCC Cymru has called for mandatory online safety lessons in schools from September to teach pupils about the dangers of social media and online grooming.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Education is the key to teaching children how to use the internet safely so they don’t find themselves at risk of serious harm.
“Online safety is a 21st century child-protection challenge and it is something that we need to tackle head on.”
The Welsh Government said it had an “extensive” e-safety education programme, which included online resources and classroom materials to help pupils “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly online”.
“We have also created an online one-stop shop, Hwb, providing help for children and young people to stay safe on the web,” a spokesman said.
South Wales Police, Dyfed-Powys and Gwent Police said they worked with schools to educate pupils on issues including grooming, sexual exploitation, the taking and sharing of inappropriate images and staying safe online.
Gwent Police Supt Leanne Brustad said the force gave 1,874 lessons to almost 50,000 pupils in 2014/15, while South Wales Assistant Chief Constable Con Jon Drake said it worked with agencies to ensure those working with young people understood the signs of such abuse.
Dyfed-Powys Police said it had put more resources into tackling the issue and it had a team of digital detectives, forensic computer and mobile phone investigators.
North Wales Police has been asked to comment.
I was asking myself just now why they have “16 and pregnant” but not “16 and impregnated a girl” but I realized it would be pretty boring to watch a 16 year old boy play video games and go to school and live life as normal.
Goatmeats (original no longer available)
Grumpyradfem (original not publicly available)