Category Archives: Comments/essays/analysis

An absolute low from the Guardian

In an article describing how underage girls and vulnerable women in Newcastle were groomed using drugs and alcohol, then trafficked and pimped, we have this paragraph:

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 (guardian.readers@theguardian.com) and the journalist (frances.perraudin@theguardian.com), 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.

A temporary hiatus and a new media platform

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!

The Guardian is still calling raped women ‘workers’

From a long article today about a housing development in Cambridge:

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:

Dear editor,

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.

Kind regards,
Abi

guardian.readers@theguardian.com
politics@theguardian.com

‘Making Sense of Modern Pornography’

‘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.

(Emphasis added)

[…]

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?

Male pornographers and porn consumers are quite open about the attraction of anal in porn films.

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.

Laura Lee attempts to overturn abolitionist law in Northern Ireland

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).

QotD: “my dom beats me when i mess up without aftercare”

This is one of today’s search engine terms:

my dom beats me when i mess up without aftercare

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.

Kitty Stryker thinks women should die for saying ‘no’ to men

Previous posts here, here, and here.

H/t to Appropriately Inappropriate for her reblog of the tweet.

Kitty Stryker is a phoney and a fake radical who has co-opted the language of radical feminism, and shills for the sex industry while providing a fig-leaf for the BDSM ‘community’.

On twitter a few days ago, she said “I swear to god I wish we could just put the TERFs and Nazis on a goddamn boat together and send them into the sea.”

When someone else added “or we could put them in concentration camps? Maybe before they went into ovens? Lol” Stryker merely complained that that was “in bad taste”.

kitty-stryker_concentration-camps

Sryker has changed her twitter handle to “Punch Nazis”, and added a later tweet about ‘terfs’ drowning, so it’s clear she has no problem with violence against women, when they are women she disagrees with politically.

kitty-stryker_concentration-camps-02

This isn’t the first time Stryker has demonstrated that she sees women she doesn’t like as not fully human, in this tweet I screen capped a while back, we can see her wondering if radical feminists are actually real people, the ‘kill all terfs’ rhetoric follows on easily.

KS tweet 04

Stryker is also an intellectual coward, who ran away from conversations on this blog she wasn’t winning, and now won’t even engage, but she does keep an eye on me, as she tweeted about my previous post more than once.

Here’s a clue for you Stryker, ‘terfs’ don’t exist, there are no ‘terf’ organisations, there are no ‘terf’ leaders, there are no women calling themselves ‘terfs’ except ironically, it’s a term trans activists made up in order to intimidate women into unquestioning silence and obedience.

Stryker also likes lying about the Nordic (Abolitionist) Model, claiming that it made it easier for the police to arrest her – tell me Stryker, how does decriminalising ‘sex workers’ make it easier for the police to arrest them?

She’s doing this still, implying that under the Nordic Model, the police are more dangerous to ‘sex workers’, deliberately and cynically obscuring the fact that the Nordic Model means decriminalising the prostitute her (or him) self.

[EDIT 19/Feb/17: If decriminalising ‘sex workers’ under the Nordic Model doesn’t make the police ‘safe’, then how will decriminalising the whole of the sex industry make the police ‘safe’?]

rae-story-tweet

kitty-stryker_police-tweet-01

kitty-stryker_police-tweet-02

The first loyalty of sex industry advocates is to the sex industry itself, always.

QotD: “Police criticised as organised gangs gain control of sex industry”

Organised crime is far more involved in running Britain’s sex trade than previously thought, with more than three-quarters of brothels found to have links to criminal gangs, according to pioneering research. It claims that [prostitutes]’ movements were controlled by brothels in a third of cases and criticises police for failing to tackle the criminals who control much of the off-street sex industry.

Published by an independent thinktank, the Police Foundation, the study is the first of its kind to document the links between organised crime and prostitution in a comprehensive way.

Using police data, researchers examined 65 known brothels in Bristol over two years, a figure which is a fraction of the true total, and interviewed more than 100 officials from the police and supporting agencies.

The report criticises the failure of local police to protect vulnerable [prostitutes], quoting one source saying that organised crime in the sex trade is “too hard [to tackle] for the amount of harm it causes”, while admitting that operations against brothel owners are rare.

The findings come shortly after the conviction of Christopher Halliwell for the murder in 2003 of 20-year-old Becky Godden, a Swindon [victim of commercial sexual exploitation], a development that has prompted debate about the ability of the police to provide sufficient protection to [prostitutes].

The cost of tackling trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK is estimated to be £890m a year, but the study highlights a near absence of proactive police strategies. “Occasional welfare checks were completed at brothels by a local police team and partners, but sex workers rarely came forward,” it states.

“Consequently, there were few calls to respond to and little information to direct more proactive policing efforts.” It says that police welfare checks at brothels are “sporadic and not core business for any local agency”.

Researchers say police, whose organised crime work is primarily focused on theft and drug-related offenders, did not apply a rigorous approach to the issue. “While one or two officers had attempted to scan online ads for the threat of exploitation, this was not done systematically or regularly,” the report states.

[prostitutes] most vulnerable to trafficking are those at “pop-up brothels”, which constitute up to a fifth of the number identified and move location frequently. Almost half of the [prostitutes] identified in Bristol are Romanian.

The combined failure of any agency to take full responsibility for exploitation in the off-street sex trade, the Police Foundation claims, is leaving many [prostitutes] isolated and vulnerable to exploitation by organised criminals.

“The relative impunity with which pimps and traffickers operate, combined with the almost total exclusion of many off-street [prostitutes] – particularly foreign nationals – from mainstream society, requires a radical reconsideration of what the police and other relevant agencies should be doing,” the report adds.

Overall, the Police Foundation recommends a radical overhaul of local police approaches to organised crime in the sex trade. It urges the police, working with other local agencies, to do more to help victims of exploitation to come forward and offer more protection when they do.

The study also outlines a need for police forces to gather more robust intelligence: “The police and other local agencies need to do more to identify the hidden victims exploited in the off-street sex market and facilitate investigations for which no victim comes forward.”

This is from the Observer, which, I am happy to say, no longer calls raped children workers, but is still ok calling raped adults workers, and, in the full article, quotes the IUSW without offering the alternative view of the Nordic model.

I am writing to the Observer readers editor (he at least replied to my emails before, the Guardian readers editor never has).

Dear Stephen,

I was disappointed to read an article in the Observer today (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/24/organised-crime-behind-uk-sex-trade) on the sex trade that used the term ‘sex worker’ to describe women in prostitution controlled by criminal gangs. You have already agreed that it is not appropriate to call a raped child a ‘worker’, so it should be equally inappropriate to call a raped adult a ‘worker’.

I was also disappointed to see the article quote the IUSW uncritically, without offering any alternative viewpoint on the legal status of the sex industry. The IUSW is not a legitimate union, as it allows bosses to join (see this article here: https://www.byline.com/project/3/article/4).

It is bad journalism to only offer one side of an argument, the Nordic (abolitionist) model has been successful in Sweden since 1999 (https://nordicmodelnow.org/what-is-the-nordic-model/), and should at least be mentioned along side other legal approaches to prostitution.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind regards,
Abi

observer.readers@observer.co.uk

~Vagina Dispatches~

I saw this on the front page of the Guardian yesterday:

vagina-dispatches

and despaired. I can’t bring myself to actually listen to the thing, but ‘fortunately’ there is an article summery published today. It’s all pretty meager stuff (‘fun facts’ and titillation more than anything else), and I almost gave up after reading this:

“Despite the fact that we spend more time peeing or menstruating out of them than anything else, sex remains the primary association when people think of vaginas”

Women do not urinate out of their vaginas!

And despite an attempt at being ‘trans inclusive’ they’re going to get it in the neck for talking about ‘menstrual art’.

QotD “US teens often forced to trade ‘sex work’ for food, study finds”

The Guardian is still calling commercially sexually exploited children ‘workers’, and it is particularly frustrating, when the term ‘sex work’ is not used by the children/teenagers, or researchers quoted in the article.

Teenagers in America are resorting to sex work because they cannot afford food, according to a study that suggests widespread hunger in the world’s wealthiest country.

Focus groups in all 10 communities analysed by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based thinktank, described girls “selling their body” or “sex for money” as a strategy to make ends meet. Boys desperate for food were said to go to extremes such as shoplifting and selling drugs.

The findings raise questions over the legacy of Bill Clinton’s landmark welfare-reform legislation 20 years ago as well as the spending priorities of Congress and the impact of slow wage growth. Evidence of teenage girls turning to “transactional dating” with older men is likely to cause particular alarm.

“I’ve been doing research in low-income communities for a long time, and I’ve written extensively about the experiences of women in high poverty communities and the risk of sexual exploitation, but this was new,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Impossible Choices.

“Even for me, who has been paying attention to this and has heard women tell their stories for a long time, the extent to which we were hearing about food being related to this vulnerability was new and shocking to me, and the level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time.”

The qualitative study, carried out in partnership with the food banks network Feeding America, created two focus groups – one male, one female – in each of 10 poor communities across the US. The locations included big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington and rural North Carolina and eastern Oregon. A total of 193 participants aged 13 to 18 took part and were allowed to remain anonymous.

Their testimony paints a picture of teenagers – often overlooked by policymakers focused on children aged zero to five – missing meals, making sacrifices and going hungry, with worrying long-term consequences.

Popkin said: “We heard the same story everywhere, a really disturbing picture about hunger and food insecurity affecting the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable young people. The fact that we heard it everywhere from kids in the same way tells us there’s a problem out there that we should be paying attention to.”

The consistency of the findings across gender, race and geography was a surprise.

“I wasn’t sure we would see it,” Popkin said. “Kids knew about all these strategies: hanging around your friend’s house and see if they’ll feed you, going hungry so that their younger brothers and sisters could eat, saving their school lunch so they could eat it at night so they could sleep at night.

“Everybody knew where you get the cheapest food and how you keep some emergency stuff in your house. It was just very matter-of-fact and very common, in the richest country in the world.”

In every community, and in 13 of the 20 focus groups, there were accounts of sexual exploitation, often related with distaste. A girl in Portland, Oregon told researchers: “It’s really like selling yourself. Like you’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”

Another comment from Portland: “You’re not even dating … they’ll be like … ‘I don’t really love him, but I’m going to do what I have to do.’”

Many prefer to rationalise what they are doing as dating of sorts. A boy in rural North Carolina said: “When you’re selling your body, it’s more in disguise. Like if I had sex with you, you have to buy me dinner tonight … that’s how girls deal with the struggle … That’s better than taking money because if they take money, they will be labeled a prostitute.”

In seven of the 10 communities, teenagers told stories of girls exchanging sexual favours with strangers or stripping for money in abandoned houses, at flea markets and on the street. A girl in San Diego, California, said: “Someone I knew dropped out of high school to make money for the family. She felt the need to step up. She started selling herself.”

Another girl in Chicago told researchers of an 11-year-old girl who dropped out of sixth grade to work in the sex trade, while boys in Los Angeles described how middle school girls put up flyers in public places to advertise their services.

In the communities with the highest poverty rates, both girls and boys steal food and other basics from local stores for themselves or their families. A male teenager in Chicago said: “I ain’t talking about robbing nobody. I’m just talking like going there and get what you need, just hurry up and walk out, which I do … They didn’t even know. If you need to do that, that’s what you got to do, that’s what you got to do.”

Some children begin stealing at the age of seven or eight, according to the focus groups. Boys mainly take items such as phones, shoes, jewelry and bikes. Selling drugs is also common. One in Los Angeles said: “A lot of kids at a young age will sell drugs to get money for their families. People think it’s good but it messes you up.”

Popkin, who has been researching distressed public housing communities for more than 25 years, explained: “With the boys there was a lot of hustling and shoplifting or maybe stealing a car stereo or something small they could sell. Getting pushed into drug dealing, sometimes getting pulled into gangs.

“I find it particularly disturbing that all the kids in almost every focus group were aware about what was happening to the girls – they knew the story about girls dating older guys or being exploited. The stories we heard were mostly about girls dating older men in order to get them to provide money for them for rent, for food, for clothes. They’re just very vulnerable.”

She added: “It’s a sexual exploitation. You hear about homeless teenagers engaging in transactional sex, you hear it about refugees. To hear it from stably housed kids in the United States is shocking and even if it’s only a handful of kids, it should be something that we’re paying attention to, that there are kids that desperate.”

I have lost count of the number of times I have emailed the Guardian about this, and I have yet to receive a single response, but I will keep on trying.

Please feel free to use or adapt the template below.

Dear editor,

I am writing to you to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in an article about the commercial sexual exploitation of children and teenagers (“US teens often forced to trade sex work for food, study finds” published online 12/Sep/16)

The children interviewed for the study were between 13 and 18 (and a sexually exploited 11-year-old girl was mentioned), an 11- or 13-year-old child cannot consent to sexual activity with an adult, it is statutory rape at the very least.

While this is very much a poverty issue, it is also a sexual exploitation issue; by using the term ‘sex work’ you reduce child sexual exploitation to a labour issue, and also invisibilize the men who use economic and social inequality to coerce children and teenagers into sexual activity.

In the quotes in the article from the children and teenagers interviewed, none of them used the term ‘sex work’, and the academic who wrote the article used the term ‘sexual exploitation’.

I would like to remind you that the Guardian style guide calls for ‘child pornography’ to be referred to as child abuse images. Therefore a recording of a child doing ‘sex work’ would be an image of abuse, but the creation of that abuse image would just be ‘work’, which is nonsensical.

The guide also says to use the term ‘child sexual abuse’, rather than ‘child sex’, so how is referring to commercial child sexual abuse as ‘sex work’ in keeping with the Guardian’s stated guidelines?

Earlier this year, Stephen Pritchard, the Observer’s readers editor, altered an article on child exploitation (“10,000 refugee children are missing, says Europol”, published 30/Jan/2016) to remove the term ‘sex work’, stating: “This article was amended on 11 February 2016 to remove the term “sex work” relating to children. Children caught up in the sex trade are victims of abuse.” I hope you will follow the precedent he has set.

international@theguardian.com
politics@theguardian.com
guardian.readers@theguardian.com

david.smith@theguardian.com

The Guardian readers editor is on Twitter, if you have a twitter account, please ask them why they think it is ok to call a raped child a ‘worker’

@ GdnReadersEd