The Guardian, yet again, is calling a commercially raped child a ‘sex worker’.
In this article on Cyntoia Brown, who was first trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation at the age of sixteen, the first paragraph says this:
Celebrities including Rihanna, Cara Delevingne and Kim Kardashian West are calling for freedom from prison for a woman who was 16 years old when she killed a man who hired her as a sex worker.
At this point I can’t believe this is an accident; this is very deliberate, partisan language, “hired her as a sex worker”, not even “hired her for sex”, as if the situation was just a bug in the otherwise benign system of ‘sex work’.
I have written to the Guardian many times on this subject, and not ever received a reply (the Observer does better). Please feel free to use or adapt the below template:
I am writing to you, yet again, to complain about your use of the term ‘sex work’ in relation to a commercially sexually exploited child (in the article ‘Cyntoia Brown: celebrities call for victim of sex trafficking to be freed’ published online today).
Brown was sixteen years old when she was commercially raped (and had been sexually abused from a younger age), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises anyone under the age of eighteen as a child, regardless of local age of consent laws. In New Zealand, where the sex industry has been decriminalised, only people over the age of eighteen can legally consent to ‘sex work’, so there is no justification to refer to Brown as a ‘sex worker’.
This use of language is harmful, it invisibilises the abusive system in which Brown was exploited, and invisibilises the role sex buyers play in this system. By calling Brown a ‘sex worker’ you sanitise the man who paid to rape her as someone merely engaging in a commercial transaction, rather than a predator who targeted the most vulnerable children.
The Guardian keeps asking for subscribers, I will not give you a penny while you continue to sanitise the harm done to vulnerable children, young people, and adults by uncritically using the term ‘sex work’ to describe commercial sexual exploitation.
Men with a history of sexual violence and domestic abuse joined Islamic State because of the organisation’s systemic use of rape and slavery as a form of terrorism, according to new analysis.
The promotion and sanctioning of sexual violence by the extremist group was a pivotal means of “attracting, retaining, mobilising and rewarding fighters” as well as punishing kaffir, or disbelievers, says a report to be released by the Henry Jackson Society.
Enshrining a theology of rape, the sexual exploitation of women alongside trafficking helped fund the caliphate and was used to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating prohibited.
In addition, forced inseminations and forced pregnancies – along with forced conversions – were officially endorsed to help secure the next generation of jihadis, a tactic also replicated by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
Analysis of ISIS members from Europe and the US found that a cohort had a history of domestic and sexual violence, suggesting a “relationship between committing terrorist attacks and having a history of physical and/or sexual violence”.
One Briton, Ondogo Ahmed, from north London, was given an eight-year custodial sentence for raping a 16-year-old girl in the UK but fled to Syria while out of prison on licence in 2013.
Another was Siddhartha Dhar, a father of four from London, who has been described as a central player in Isis’s brutal persecution of the Yazidis, a religious minority whose followers the group permitted its members to rape.
Testimony from one victim, Nihad Barakat, 18, revealed how Dhar, a former bouncy castle salesman from Walthamstow, east London, routinely participated in the group’s systemic trafficking and abuse of Yazidi teenage girls and enslaved some himself. “These cases indicate an existence of a type of terrorism that is sexually motivated, in which individuals with prior records of sexual violence are attracted by the sexual brutality carried out by members of Islamic State,” said Nikita Malik, the report’s author.
Although Malik said more work was required to establish a definitive link between an individual’s history of domestic violence and subsequent involvement in terrorism, evidence existed to indicate a potential correlation. One of the men involved in July’s London Bridge attack, Rachid Redouane, 30, was reportedly abusive and controlling, and his girlfriend eventually fled to a unit for victims of domestic violence. The Westminster attacker Khalid Masood, 52, is another who has been described as violent and controlling, this time towards his second wife.
ISIS has repeatedly promoted and attempted to legitimise a theology of rape, occasionally through its Dabiq magazine and Al Hayat media channel. One edition of Dabiq justified the rape of Yazidi women in Iraq by dismissing them as “pagans”. The extremist group also set up a department dedicated to “war spoils” and issued guidelines to codify slavery.
Markets selling sex slaves were relatively common in territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at the calpihate’s height, while the group’s franchise in Libya has also played a role in human trafficking. One account contained in the report describes how Isis members would touch the chests of girls to see whether they had grown breasts. If they had done so they could be raped, according to the report – which will be released in parliament – and if not they would be examined three months later. Among a number of harrowing case studies are accounts of how a 10-year-old Libyan child was raped by traffickers linked to ISIS.
Apart from subjugation and spreading terror, another key reason for Isis exploiting sex trafficking is financial gain. Ransom payments directly linked to the threat or use of sexual violence and paid out by governments and individuals earned, according to the report, between £7.7m and £23m last year, at a time of lowering revenues for the group.
It’s unsurprising to note that the report (or the article on it at least), makes the link to “deeply conservative Muslim societies”, but not to our own, western, misogyny. Hardcore pornography was easily available to any ISIS fighter who grew up in the west, plus bootleg pornography is available throughout the global south.
And as Namia Akhtar reported, Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were porn users:
Nonetheless, Sexlamists in their private lives are obsessed with pornography (in a February 17, 2015 article, New York Post reported that Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden found a fairly extensive stash of modern pornography in his possession), they communicate through it (media sources reported that terrorist cells embedded secret coded messages into shared pornography and onto pedophile websites) and justify their own salacious carnal practices on religious grounds. Al-Qaeda leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-waki, had also indulged in notorious promiscuity. Adultery and fornication are strictly prohibited in Islam, but in terror groups abhorrent sexual practices reign supreme. Daesh, for instance, has issued fatwas justifying rapes of Yazidi women to make them Muslims. Rape is the mechanism of Daesh to achieve their strategic objectives, since it humiliates and shames respective communities.
In episode 2 of the documentary we see that the children are doing the Tangram puzzles every day, some of the girls are still struggling.
Abdelmoneim talks to Professor Gina Rippon again, who emphasises the plasticity of the human brain, and the different ways boys and girls are treated. Abdelmoneim then looks at toys and clothes aimed at girls and boys, and finds “an overwhelming avalanche” of pink for girls and blue for boys; it’s not just the colour, the pink domestic appliances are obviously ‘meant’ for girls, while the blue construction kits are ‘meant’ for boys.
Abdelmoneim goes to the house of one of the girls in the experimental glass, where an eight-year-old girl’s birthday party is taking place, in a big pink marque tent in the back garden, “an avalanche of pink, sparkles, and feather boas.” The mother of the girl says she loves being ‘pampered’, which means having her nails done – the focus is on looks and appearance.
Abdelmoneim then visits the home of one of the boys, whose toys are all Lego and guns; he also says boys are better than girls because they get better Nerf guns than girls.
Abdelmoneim talks to the boy’s mother, who says she used to believe in nurture over nature until she had a son; she says that she had “a bit of an anti-gun rule, until he stated school, but then he made them out of Lego and sticks and everything and one day he said ‘look mum, I’ve got a handgun [holding her hand up shaped like a gun], you can’t take this one off me’ and I knew about that point I’d probably lost the weaponry argument.”
It’s not clear, from what the mother is saying, if the gun obsession was there before or after the boy started school. Few parents get to raise their children in total isolation from the dominant culture, and children pick up gendered rules from a very young age; also small children have a very black-and-white understanding of the world, and want to fit in.
Abdelmoneim says that children are constantly receiving messages about what it means to be a boy or a girl, so it’s not surprising that they believe it is ‘natural’.
Abdelmoneim then looks at children’s clothing, and is disturbed by the slogans, like ‘forever beautiful’ for girls, and ‘here comes trouble’ for boys, and he wonders about how much the parents think about these slogans. Abdelmoneim then designs t-shirts of his own, and asks some parents to look at them (it takes a while to find some parents who have time to stop after school).
For the girls’ t-shirts, he starts with the bought t-shirt saying ‘forever beautiful’ then moves on to his own slogans: ‘looks are everything’, then ‘boys are better’, then ‘made to be underpaid’.
For the boys’ t-shirts, he starts with ‘here comes trouble’, then ‘boys don’t cry’, then ‘tough guys don’t talk’, then ‘bottled up and ready to burst’.
The parents don’t have a problem with the commercially available t-shirts, but they can then see the progression. It’s interesting to note that one of the boys watching with his father sticks his thumb up at ‘boys don’t cry’, while his father describes it as ‘wrong’ – like I already said, no parent gets to raise their children in isolation. One of the other fathers talks about being raised to be ‘tough’.
There is a clip of one of the girls saying you never see girls doing ‘big’ things like being an astronaut, we then see that a picture has been put up on the wall of the classroom, of a female astronaut, alongside one of a man bottle feeding a baby.
Abdelmoneim says he has to be a bit more direct and get the parents involved, so he creates ‘homework’ for the parents, looking at gendered words and household chore, and plastic sacks to use to remove gendered items from their homes. Abdelmoneim asks the parents to link up what’s positive in the classroom experiments with what they do at home.
One of the parents says children don’t pay any attention at that age, it goes in one ear and out the other, but in reality, the opposite is true, children are learning from what goes on around them all the time.
Abdelmoneim then sets up a unisex toilet experiment (I would challenge his claim here that workplace toilets are increasingly unisex; unisex single-stall facilities may be increasingly common, but multi-stall unisex facilities are not, and the toilets at the school are multi-stall.)
All the children react with horror at first, but then the boys seem more enthusiastic; it is originally a girls’ toilet, so there is a ‘taboo busting’ element for the boys. One boy says he thinks it is a good thing because then the boys will “know what the girls look like”. Since he is only seven I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, he may believe that girls use an equivalent of urinals, and it is normal for children to be curious. One of the boys and two of the girls say they don’t like it and call it ‘weird’ (we are a society were privacy is the norm).
Abdelmoneim visits one of the parents to see how they are getting on with the homework, she reports that her daughter put all the words (including the word ‘war’) into the ‘both’ column in the word association test (and had a rationale for what she was doing). They bag up all the ‘girls’ toys, including a whole wardrobe of princess dresses – but she does have an R2D2 toy as well.
Abdelmoneim says that even though children choose many of their own toys, it’s not much of a choice if only gendered toys are on offer.
The next experiment involves handing out toys to the children in anonymous brown paper bags (ie no packaging to tell them whether it’s a ‘girls toy’ or a ‘boys toy’); the toys are a marble run, a teddy bear sewing kit, an arts and crafts set, and a robot bug to construct. All the children seem to like their toys, even the ones not normally ‘meant’ for them. (The boy who threw the tantrum over the strength test in episode 1 liked his sewing kit bear).
We return to the unisex toilets experiment, with the girls saying the boys are annoying and dirty, and one girl saying she tries to hold it in all day, and a boy saying he wanted it to go back to normal. Abdelmoneim says he has managed to make the children ‘equally unhappy’ with this experiment (according to this Daily Mail article “the head put the toilets back to normal when the film cameras left”.) I would put this down to the fact that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are two different things, despite the fact that the two terms are used interchangeably (sometimes simply because everyday language usage is vague and people think ‘sex’ is a rude word, other times to deliberately obfuscate that this difference exists), and Abdelmoneim moved from gender differences to sex differences with this particular experiment – it’s telling that the children were enthusiastic about everything else (in spite of their highly gendered upbringing), but not this.
Abdelmoneim then goes back to the parents’ ‘homework’, and finds that in spite of the fact that some of the dads are doing a share of the housework, their children still have a gendered view of household chores (in other words they are picking up ideas from more than just their parents).
The class is then taken on a day trip to the beach. There are two tasks for the children, build a fire pit and make a picnic; the children split themselves fairly evenly between the two tasks, and girls ‘take charge’ of both tasks. But the boys get bored of the picnic preparation quickly, one of them yelling “I’m not a girl!”
Next, they set up a football game. The boys dominate in the playground at school, with some girls wanting to play but feeling that they can’t because it gets too rough. They have to practice in mixed sex teams. When Abdelmoneim asks if they want to play a match in their practice teams, or play boys verses girls, one of the boys (the same one who threw the tantrum in episode 1), suggests mixed teams would be fairer, because the boys have had more practice; Abdelmoneim sees this as improved empathy, working out that it would result in a better match for both girls and boys.
On the last day of term, the children (including the control class) retake the tests they took at the start of the experiment six weeks ago. The results show that in the experimental class the 8% self-esteem difference between girls and boys has dropped to 0.2% (girls being interviewed say they believe they can do anything now), and no girls describe themselves as ‘ugly’ anymore. Boys’ pro-social behaviour is up 10%, and their ability to identify emotions has improved; girls’ self-motivation is up 12%, and they are 40% more accurate when asked to predict their scored before a test (before, they had been seriously underestimating their own abilities); boys observed bad behaviour is down 57%. After two weeks of Tangram puzzles, the top ten pupils are five boys and five girls.
Mr Andre says all the children are more confident now, and challenge the things adults tell them; he jokes that they have been turned into ‘monsters’ and the girls were never like this before (this is done good-naturedly).
In the end of term assembly, the class puts on a performance for the rest of the school and the parents, to show what they have learnt about equality between boys and girls. One of the mothers was moved to tears by how confident her daughter is now.
The head teacher says she is really impressed by the changes, and Mr Andre will be teaching what he has learned to the other teachers. Abdelmoneim says that all of his changes were small, and not ‘rocket science’ and that it would be really easy to roll them out in all schools.
We learn at the end of the documentary that 6 weeks later, Mr Andre has presented these new teaching methods to the Institute of Education.
The children taking part in the experiment are seven (Year 3), and already have very stereotyped ideas about what men and women are like, with boys being ‘better’ and ‘stronger’ and ‘more important’, and girls being ‘pretty’.
The school, on the Isle of Wight, has two Year 3 classes, both classes are measured, but only one experiences interventions, while the other is used as a control group.
As a side note, the school seems a really lovely place; I have very few good memories of primary school, bullying was rife, the level of physical violence from the boys was epidemic, and the teachers mostly did nothing. In one assembly, there is a girl wearing an ‘anti-bullying ambassador’ tabard.
One of the first thing the presenter, Dr Javid Abdelmoneim, notices in Mr Andre’s class, is that he calls all the girls ‘love’, or ‘sweat pea’, and all the boys ‘mate’ or ‘fella’ – already marking them out as different.
Abdelmoneim goes to visit Dr Gina Rippon, professor of cognitive neuroimaging, who tells us that structurally, there are very very few differences between the brains of girls and boys, that the brain is very very plastic, and that brain development is entangled with society and a person’s experiences.
Abdelmoneim quotes research from Stanford University, saying that seven is a key stage in a child’s development, because it is at this age their ideas about the roles of men and women become fixed.
The children take a psychometric test to measure what they think about men and women, their own levels of self-esteem, their perceived intelligence (how clever they think they are), and things like empathy, assertiveness, and impulse control.
The results show that the girls have low self-esteem, significantly underestimate their own intelligence, and only describe themselves with words relating to their appearance (‘pretty’, ‘ugly’, ‘lipstick’), while the boys over-estimate their abilities, and the only emotion they can express is anger. 50% of the boys describe themselves as ‘the best’, but only 10% of the girls.
Abdelmoneim changes the classroom, adding signs saying that ‘boys are strong’ and ‘girls are strong’, the same with ‘sensitive’, ‘clever’, and ‘caring’. He also adds a lottery to make sure that children are picked randomly to answer questions (Mr Andre had been observed calling on boys more often than girls to answer questions).
Abdelmoneim then tackles Mr Andre’s use of gendered endearments. He asks a number of the boys how they would feel if Mr Andre called them ‘sweet pea’ and they react with horror and outrage (the documentary does not make this point here – it is very much, and rightly so, about challenging gendered norms in order to benefit both boys and girls – but it is clear that the boys already know that being ‘treated like a girl’ is the worst thing ever, the girls don’t mind occasionally being called ‘mate’). As Abdelmoneim points out “this kind of language has power,” and “constant reminders of difference sink in.”
The classroom is given a ‘score board’ for the children to add sad-face stickers to every time Mr Andre uses an endearment. Also, the two coat cupboards, which were segregated by sex, are desegregated and the children paint them orange together (they are both originally pink, and some TV reviews said that they were pink and blue, which I find amusing; we are so used to such splits that our brains fill them in automatically).
The children all have very gendered ideas of what jobs men and women can do, so they are introduced to a male dancer and make-up artist, and a female magician and car mechanic. All the children have a great time, the girls find a car engine really interesting, the boys enjoy learning dance moves and having fake black-eyes painted on (the make-up artist had worked on Star Wars and Avengers, which would obviously be impressive to the boys, but it is still showing that there is more to make-up than ‘lipstick’). Abdelmoneim points out how easy it would be for every school to do something like this.
Abdelmoneim visits professor Rippon again, who shows that girls who played Tetris intensively for three months had improves spatial skills (related to mathematical ability), and showed structural changes to the brain. Tangram puzzles are introduced to the class, the boys do better, but the boys have been playing with Lego for a long time, so have had more practice.
Next, there is a recreation of the ‘Baby X’ experiment that was conducted in the 70’s, there is a clip of this available here, and very little has changed in over 40 years, adults treat a baby very differently, depending on whether they believe this baby is male or female, in ways that reinforce sex stereotypes.
Abdelmoneim points out how sex stereotypes affect men and women differently, and both negatively, with men more likely to behave violently while women turn their distress inwards.
Mr Andre removes any books with sex stereotypes, all the books with superheroes (competition and aggression) aimed at boys, and passive princesses aimed at girls. One of the girls being interviewed says that girls are better than boys at ‘being pretty’ and ‘wearing dresses’. The class read books with princesses being brave and confident; one of the girls in the class says she does not like reading, but she liked the book with the active princess.
All the children think boys are stronger than girls, but Abdelmoneim points out that, before puberty, boys and girls have no difference in muscle mass. ‘Strong’ has an emotional component; at seven years old, the boys already know that they are not allowed to cry, they express their anger by breaking things instead.
A fairground with a ‘test your strength’ machine is set up in the playground, the boys all say they are the strongest, and all the girls under-estimate their abilities; one girl who scores 10 after predicting she would only get 5 is so overwhelmed she starts crying. One very confident boy who predicted he would get a 10, scores zero because he does not have the co-ordination to hit the button with the mallet; he reacts by throwing himself on the ground, screaming and crying, then starts kicking things – an illustration of boys’ inability to cope with negative emotions.
Interviews with the children throughout the documentary show that they do change their opinions and ideas about boys and girls for the better.
Episode 2 coming soon!
Although many of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite prostitution for gain, there is no suggestion that any of the victims were sex workers.
It’s disgusting. It implies that there is a separate class of underage girls and vulnerable women who are unexploitable, because they are ‘sex workers’. It implies that some women and girls can be complicit in their own exploitation, that if any of those women and girls laid claim to a certain ‘identity’ (or had that ‘identity’ applied to them, as happened in Rochdale), then they wouldn’t have been victims of exploitation.
It is also implying that there is a separate realm of ‘sex work’ which has no connection to paedophilia, grooming, exploitation and forced prostitution.
I will be emailing the editor (email@example.com) and the journalist (firstname.lastname@example.org), not that it ever does any good. Frances Perraudin is also on twitter (@fperraudin) if any reader of this blog would like to let her know that she is throwing vulnerable women and girls under the bus.
There has been a brief (semi) hiatus on this blog, there are comments (and emails) to be answered, and that is not going to change for a while longer.
I have created a tumblr blog, most of what I re-blog here is from tumblr, and the sheer volumn of material has become overwhelming.
I will continue to run this blog, but will reblog from tumblr on tumblr.
Let’s see how it goes!
It’s not quite so positive in the eyes of the Cambridgeshire police, called to the development “a disproportionate number of times”, not only to patrol late-night student antics, but to investigate the trafficking of sex workers. “We’ve seen an awful lot of ‘pop-up brothels’,” says Detective Inspector Nick Skipworth, who recently asked the council for extra resources to police the area.
“A huge number of the properties are available as short-term holiday lets for a week at a time, so they’ve been targeted by the sex trade. We’ve been running an operation to safeguard sex workers over the last two years and made several arrests related to trafficking in the CB1 area.”
And so, unfortunately, are the police, but I’m not sure how one complains to a police force over this kind of thing.
I have emailed the Guardian before about this, and never received a reply (the Observer has been better), but I’m going to keep on trying. Please feel free to copy or adapt this template:
I am writing to you to complain about the article ‘‘An embarrassment to the city’: what went wrong with the £725m gateway to Cambridge?’, published in today’s Guardian.
It is wrong to call women trafficked into prostitution ‘sex workers’, rape is not ‘work’ and a raped woman is not a ‘worker’.
Under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but when the rapist hands over money to a third party, who has violent control over the rape victim, it gets called ‘sex work’. This makes no sense, and invisibilises the men who are happy to pay to rape trafficked women; it turns a sexual abuse issue into a mere labour issue.
The fact that the police officer interviewed for the piece used the term ‘sex worker’ is no excuse, newspapers are supposed to hold public bodies to account.
I look forward to hearing back from you on this issue.
‘Making Sense of Modern Pornography’ by Katrina Forrester, is a long, fairly well balanced (with a few exceptions, see below) article published by The New Yorker in September last year, about the current state of the porn industry, and also a review of a book called The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Shira Tarrant, I would recommend reading the whole article.
Pornography has changed unrecognizably from its so-called golden age – the period, in the sixties and seventies, when adult movies had theatrical releases and seemed in step with the wider moment of sexual liberation, and before V.H.S. drove down production quality, in the eighties. Today’s films are often short and nearly always hard-core; that is, they show penetrative sex. Among the most popular search terms in 2015 were “anal,” “amateur,” “teen,” and – one that would surely have made Freud smile – “mom and son.” Viewing figures are on a scale that golden-age moguls never dreamed of: in 2014, Pornhub alone had seventy-eight billion page views, and XVideos is the fifty-sixth most popular Web site in the world. Some porn sites get more traffic than news sites like CNN, and less only than platforms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal.
The millions of people using these sites probably don’t care much about who produces their content. But those who work in porn in the United States tend to draw a firm line between the “amateur” porn that now proliferates online and the legal adult-film industry that took shape after the California Supreme Court ruled, in California v. Freeman (1989), that filmed sex did not count as prostitution. Since then, the industry has been based in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley, where its professional norms and regulations have mimicked its more respectable Hollywood neighbors. In “The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford), Shira Tarrant explains how that industry works in the new age of Internet porn, and sets out to provide neutral, “even-handed” information about its production and consumption.
It’s not an easy task. Since the “porn wars” of the seventies and eighties, when feminists campaigned against the expanding pornography industry (and other feminists sided with Hustler to defend it), talking about pornography in terms of mere facts has seemed impossible. The atmosphere of controversy makes it hard to avoid moral positions. Even to suspend judgment may be to take sides.
Linda Lovelace’s performance in “Deep Throat,” in 1972, made porn mainstream; later, her denunciation of the movie, which she characterized as filmed rape, made the idea of the porn star as victim mainstream, too. In the mid-eighties, the revelation that Traci Lords had been underage in her most famous films led to the prosecution of producers, agents, and distributors under child-pornography statutes, and new legislation resulted in stricter age-verification requirements for porn actors. But by the time [Jenna] Jameson arrived on the scene the industry had become an efficient star-making machine. It had distributors and advertisers, production teams and industry magazines, shoots requiring permits, agents who sold the talent and trade associations who represented them. Jameson quickly achieved her ambition, becoming the industry’s biggest star and most reliable brand. By 2005, her company, ClubJenna, had an annual revenue of thirty million dollars.
Things are different now. Much online porn is amateur and unregulated. It’s hard to tell how much, because there’s little data, and even larger studios now ape the amateur aesthetic, but applications for porn-shoot permits in Los Angeles County reportedly fell by ninety-five per cent between 2012 and 2015. Now most films have low production values, and they are often unscripted. Sometimes you can hear the director’s voice; apparently, many viewers can make do without the old fictional tropes of doctors and nurses, schoolgirls, and so on—the porn industry itself having become the locus of fantasy. Where performers like Jameson had multi-film contracts with studios like Wicked or Vivid Entertainment, such deals are now rare, and most performers are independent contractors who get paid per sex act.
Tarrant’s book sheds useful light on the bargain-basement world of contemporary porn. In 2012, one agent claimed that the actresses he represented received eight hundred dollars for lesbian scenes, a thousand for ones with a man, twelve hundred or more for anal sex, and four thousand for double penetration, but there’s reason to think that these figures are inflated. Stoya, a well-known performer who has written about her life in the industry, has cited a rate of just twelve to fourteen hundred dollars for double penetration. Wages have declined across the board. Tarrant estimates that a female performer filming three anal scenes a month would make forty thousand dollars a year.
Riskier acts are incentivized. According to one analysis of an industry talent database, women entering the business now will do more, and more quickly, than they once did: in the nineteen-eighties, they would wait an average of two years before a first anal scene; now it’s six months. Jameson famously never did anal (though one of her most viewed Pornhub clips is “Jenna Jameson accidental anal,” which shows, in slow motion, that on the Internet there’s no such thing as never). From 2000 on, she had only one onscreen male partner—her husband. “I look at these new girls today and I think, What the hell are they doing?” she said in 2004. “These girls don’t know that you have to start slow, baby, and make them pay you more for each thing you do.”
Today, most porn actresses don’t stick around long enough to start slow. The average career is between four and six months. Performers work long hours with no benefits and they have to cover significant out-of-pocket costs. Tests for S.T.D.s can be as much as two hundred dollars a month. Add to this grooming, travel, and the usual freelancer expenses and it costs a lot to be legal in the porn industry.
In a context of declining wages and rising costs, attempts at regulation are unpopular. In 2012, Los Angeles County passed Measure B, a law mandating condom use in porn shoots there. Advocacy organizations for performers have resisted the measure, saying that it ignores the preferences of their workforce and would compel performers to use not only condoms but also safety goggles and dental dams. More important, perhaps, it also ignores consumer preferences: in an age when few pay for porn, producers don’t want to alienate those who do. The regulated industry has developed other ways to avoid condoms—preëxposure treatments, production moratoriums when infections are detected, and, in some gay studios, a working assumption that performers are H.I.V. positive. Other producers, rather than comply, have left California for Nevada or Florida. The industry may have created the norms that dominate online porn, but it’s being squeezed into irrelevance, and preferences have taken on a life of their own.
It would have been good to point out that these ‘advocacy organisations’ are representing the interests of the porn companies over the interests of the porn performers, that porn performers have nothing remotely resembling a real union to protect them at ‘work’, and that in any other industry, bosses arguing that workers ‘don’t want’ Personal Protective Equipment would be seen as exercising unequal power compared to non-unionised gig-economy workers. There is also no other industry were frequent, deliberate contact with another person’s body fluids is seen as just part of the job.
Whether you see porn as just another sector disrupted by the Internet or as a still powerful engine of profit-driven exploitation depends on a thornier set of debates that shape how pornography is understood. To talk about porn purely in terms of costs and incentives is not, as Tarrant suggests, neutral. Even to stress the work involved is a political move.
When America’s pornographic secrets have been publicly aired, they have usually taken the form of First Amendment issues. In 1988, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling against Hustler that had awarded damages to the evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell, the founder of the conservative organization the Moral Majority. (The magazine had published a satirical ad in which Falwell described his “first time” with his mother.) Flynt became an unlikely liberal hero, cementing a coalition between free-speech defenders and pornographers. After California v. Freeman, the Adult Film and Video Association of America renamed itself the Free Speech Legal Defense Fund, and, later, the Free Speech Coalition.
Remember, the ‘Free Speech Coalition’ is the organisation portraying itself as a grass-roots movement by and for porn performers.
But, in the famous phrase of the legal scholar and anti-pornography campaigner Catherine MacKinnon, pornography is not “only words.” The feminist campaigns of the seventies against rape and violence against women condemned pornography not on the ground of obscenity but on the ground of harm. It wasn’t a private matter but a political expression of male power. As MacKinnon wrote, with the anti-pornography feminist Andrea Dworkin, pornography was “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women.” Dworkin described it as a form of sexual slavery.
Thirty years later, porn is more pervasive than ever, but it’s also more diffuse—and so are the debates. There are new organizations like Stop Porn Culture, led by the feminist Gail Dines, which campaign for porn’s abolition, and against the industry’s hypersexualization of women and the “pornification” of culture. Old coalitions have reappeared, deploying new rhetoric: in April, Dines supported a Republican bill in Utah that declared pornography not a moral threat but a “public health hazard.” Critics worry as much about men’s health—porn addiction, erectile dysfunction—as they do about violence against women.
Ah yes, the old you’re in league with religious fundamentalists! argument. Coalition building on single issues is a normal part of mainstream politics; nobody would complain about, say, an environmental protection bill supported by Republicans/Conservatives, nor do pro-sex industry advocates balk at working with the right when it suits their aims, it’s only radical/abolitionist feminists who are expected to meet such an unrealistic level of ideological ‘purity’.
Pornography’s defenders still lean on ideas of sexual freedom and empowerment. “I am a pervert,” Sasha Grey—the only recent star to rise anywhere near Jameson’s heights—declared in a 2009 interview. “I want to tell young women that sex is O.K. It’s O.K. to be a slut. You don’t have to be ashamed.” In a “mission statement” she wrote when she entered the industry, at eighteen, Grey said that she was “determined and ready to be a commodity that fulfills everyone’s fantasies.” She was no Lovelace: “If I am working out any issues through porn, it’s anger at society for not being open about sex.”
It would have been a good idea to mention that, it turned out Sasha Grey was being violently controlled by a much older boyfriend/pimp when she entered the sex industry.
Performers now often defend porn using the language not of freedom but of work, and begin with the idea that [prostitution] is a form of work like many others. Sure, working in the sex industry is exploitative and precarious, but so is work in other industries. The porn workers who do their jobs well enough that you buy their performance are giving their consent, but they likely do so only as other precarious workers do: they need the money and have limited choices. To an older generation of feminists, this defense sounds hollow: it concedes that sex and intimacy can be bought and sold. For a younger generation, the idea that they can’t is a misunderstanding: sex has long been monetized, and today there’s nowhere that the market doesn’t go. To reflect this, many younger feminists want a sexual politics that restores a tradition of labor organizing predating the porn wars (when even Playboy bunnies had a union), and seek to protect performers from profit-seeking managers.
Are they really? When sex industry advocates are happy calling bosses ‘sex workers’ and trafficked women ‘migrant sex workers’, and hardly ever criticize any aspect of porn production, I’m dubious about ‘younger feminists’ commitment to real change in the sex industry, beyond ‘centering alternative voices’ (whatever that actually means), and harassing lesbian pornographers for refusing to work with pre-op trans women. Also, let’s be realistic here, the Playboy bunnies were not being subjected to double-anals in front of a camera – any real workers rights in the modern porn industry would render porn production impossible.
At the fringes of the industry, performers are trying to change it from the inside, in the name of fair pay, better conditions, and more enjoyable sex. The aim of companies like Pink and White Productions and TrenchcoatX is to challenge the tube sites’ monopoly and to overthrow the racist, sexist categories that silently shape preferences. Their hope is that making inclusive, diverse porn—in which the performers’ pleasure is authentic and the orgasms real—will change sex for the better. The defense of this artisanal approach to porn pulls in contradictory directions: it at once argues that porn is work and not pleasure, and also that the pleasure it captures is authentic. Tarrant, despite claiming neutrality, is subtly allied with this view, and compares campaigns for ethical porn to those for organic, fair-trade food. In reality, it’s a harder sell. Few people want ethics with their porn.
When it comes to sexual practices, too, statistics are open to interpretation. Anti-pornography campaigners frequently cite the widely reported increase in the practice of anal sex among heterosexuals as evidence of porn’s influence. (In a 2014 study of anal sex among young British heterosexuals, a majority of young men surveyed – described as “teen-age boys” by the anti-porn camp, and “emerging adults” by the pro – admitted “persuading” their female partners to try it, with reluctant or little consent.) The campaigners insist that teen-agers are reënacting humiliations they’ve learned online. But that assumption leaves out other explanations. The British study suggested that the rise of premarital sex has meant that “conquest” narratives, which once fetishized the taking of virginity, now require a new focus. Equally, it might indicate a severance between reproduction and sex, or a straight acceptance of gay sexuality.
This last argument makes no sense whatsoever, anal sex is not ‘gay sex’, sex between two or more men is gay sex. Anal sex is not compulsory, even for gay men, and before the 1970s, it was not even a widespread practice among gay men. If the increase in heterosexual anal sex was about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why the coercion and lack of enthusiasm among the teen-aged girls? If it’s really about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why are we not hearing about an increase in heterosexual teen-age boys being anally penetrated by their girlfriends using strap-ons?
Sometimes, though, porn’s defenders overcompensate. They are too ready to interpret the lack of unequivocal data about porn’s impact as unequivocal proof that there is no impact. In a field as hard to measure as sexual behavior, this seems unwise. Pornography may be more likely to turn us into solipsistic masturbators than violent rapists, but it’s hard to imagine that it has no effect at all. The pro-porn argument, which insists that pornography is changing but denies that it changes us, appears contradictory. It inverts the anti-porn mistake of seeing porn as the key engine of transformation, instead giving it no power whatsoever. But sex is always changing, and, though porn can’t explain it all, its role can’t be ruled out, either.
This article is in the Observer today, and it is completely one-sided reporting, from the use of the euphemistic ‘escort’ as well as the obfuscatory ‘sex worker’, to the lack of reporting of the opposite side of the story. It reads more like a regurgitated press release from the sex industry.
Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is steeling herself for a battle in Belfast’s high court that she believes could make European legal history. The Dublin-born escort is now in the final stages of a legal challenge to overturn a law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to purchase sex.
Not a single person in the region has appeared in court charged with trying to hire an escort, though Public Prosecution Service figures show that three are under investigation. The region is the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime. The law was introduced in 2014 by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and supported by a majority of members in the regional assembly.
But Lee will enter Belfast high court with her team of lawyers aiming to establish that the criminalisation of her clients violates her right to work under European human rights law. Since the law was established, Lee insists that the ban has put her and her fellow sex workers in more peril from potentially dangerous clients.
Just before flying out to address an international conference on sex workers’ rights in Barcelona this weekend, Lee told the Observer that most men currently seeking escorts in Northern Ireland no longer use mobile phones to contact her and her colleagues.
“They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.
This sounds like a pretty weak argument to me, as if there isn’t CCTV, credit card receipts and plenty of other ways to trace whoever rented the hotel room. If the police really cared about violence against prostitutes – something we all want – they would be able to track these men down.
Where do these ‘bad johns’ go under full decriminalisation of the sex industry? They go to the women who are trafficked, who are desperate, who can’t afford to pick and choose.
What these comparatively privileged woman in the sex industry are fighting for (aside from the sex industry itself) is better conditions for them, the ones at the top of the pyramid (the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base); decriminalisation increases demand and lowers standards, it is clear from Germany, and the cracks are beginning to show in New Zealand as whistle-blowers come forward.
Lee seems to be leading a jet-setting activist life-style – subsidised by Amnesty International perhaps? – how much actual ‘escorting’ is she fitting in around the legal action and the public speaking?
Among those supporting Lee is Amnesty International. Before the court hearing, Amnesty’s campaign manager in Northern Ireland, Grainne Teggart, said they had major concerns about the “Morrow law”: “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Teggart.
“Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress. Laws must focus on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police, not place this relationship at risk by criminalising them and the context in which they work. Similar laws in Nordic countries have failed to decriminalise sex workers, who are still pursued and punished under remaining sex work laws.”
This is just lies, the Nordic/Abolitionist model decriminalises the prostitute her/him self, what they are actually referring to is the criminalisation of pimps:
In Norway we found evidence that sex workers were routinely evicted from their homes under so-called ‘pimping laws’. In many countries of the world, two sex workers working together for safety is considered a ‘brothel’.
We need to remember, AI deliberately chose to look at Norway, a country that had only recently enacted abolitionist laws, rather than Sweden which has had the law in place for over a decade – if the way a law is enacted doesn’t follow the intention of the law, as described above, that can and should be addressed, changes in the law always include re-educating the police and changing the culture, as happened in Sweden.
There is this very dishonest argument from sex industry advocates, that the abolitionist approach doesn’t improve the relationship between prostitutes and the police – if the police hate prostitutes that much, what difference would decriminialising the whole sex industry make?
Decriminalising the whole sex industry is the main goal of sex industry advocates; the proof is there that decriminalisation increases trafficking, and lowers working conditions, the real beneficiaries are pimps and brothel keepers (and the hand-full of already privilidged ‘sex workers’ at the top of the pyramid).
AI’s own research found no evidence of police violence against prostitutes in Norway, so the idea that full decriminalisation of the sex industry is necessary for a good relationship between the police and prostitutes has no foundation. In the UK, the ‘Merseyside Model’ was enacted only by a change in police culture, and no change in the law.
Lee’s Belfast legal battle is only the start of a Europe-wide campaign to overturn the model in which Scandinavian countries pioneered the outlawing of men buying sex. Lee’s next target is the Irish Republic, which, under new anti-trafficking laws, has introduced a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients.
“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe. If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries,” she said.
From the outset, Lee said she had expected a “tsunami of abuse” on social media from her opponents, an alliance of religious groups and some feminist organisations on the island of Ireland. “In the hate mails they focus a lot on my daughter and say things like ‘I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game’ and vile things like that. Religious people tell me they can’t wait until I burn in the fires of hell – charming really! But they must know I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet and take a public stand. I am strong enough to do so and can take their abuse.”
And, of course, there is the dishonest lumping together of feminists and the religious right; I am confident no radical feminist has told her to burn in hell, or said “I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game” (although they may have asked her how she would feel about her daughter entering the sex industry, not exactly the same thing).
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For anyone visiting this blog in this type of situation, you are being abused. It doesn’t matter what ‘contract’ you signed, what you agreed to verbally, how nice your abuser is other times, what kind of ‘pillar’ of the BDSM ‘community’ your abuser is, this is a dangerous situation, and you should leave, not just your abuser, but the BDSM ‘scene’ altogether.
You deserve love and affection and care without having to be tortured first, you deserve respect without having to agree to total submission and obedience first. You can take responsibility for your own life and your own decisions, you don’t need a ‘dom’ to do this for you.
If you feel like you can’t leave, because of financial reasons, because you have become isolated from family and community outside of BDSM, because you are afraid of what your abuser might do, there are resources out there available to help you escape.