QotD: “If someone had told me 10 years ago that so-called feminists would be demonstrating outside a lap-dancing club, waving placards in support of stripping for a living, I would have laughed”
I am, according to those who seek to legitimise prostitution, a Swerf — meaning sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminist. This is a fairly new insult brought to you by the nice folks that introduced Terf (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).
Swerf means a feminist who considers prostitution to be harmful and abusive, which it most certainly is, and I have been labelled a Swerf since the acronym first emerged online in 2013 on a website called Everyday Whorephobia. Before that I was merely a “pearl-clutcher”, “prude” and “anti-sex puritan”.
In 2017, during the Sheffield launch of The Pimping of Prostitution, my book on the sex trade, a group of blue-fringed “feminists” (and a few bearded men) picketed the venue, shouting slogans such as “Blow jobs are real jobs!” and “Proud whores!”.
Swerf and Terf — which when used together sound like a bad meal at a tourist-trap steak house in Leicester Square — are misogynistic insults aimed at us uppity women who refuse to accept the erosion of women’s hard-won rights.
The former prostitute Rachel Moran, whose memoir, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, laid bare the reality of the sex trade, was compelled to embark upon a lengthy defamation case against a pro-prostitution lobbyist who repeatedly claimed, over a period of eight years, that Moran had made up her entire story of child abuse, homelessness, substance abuse and being bought and sold on the streets of Dublin. The “happy hooker” crew cannot easily deal with the abuse and exploitation inherent in the sex trade, and often attempt to shame and silence its victims. Every high-profile sex-trade survivor who exposes the truth of prostitution comes in for similar treatment.
Where did this valiant attempt to sanitise the sex trade emerge from? The Labour Party officially supports blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade, but I am not sure Jeremy Corbyn realises that this means the removal of all laws against pimping, brothel-keeping and paying for sex. Many assume decriminalisation means stopping the arrest of those selling sex, but don’t realise it also means exploiters go free.
The Liberal Democrats also take the view that prostitution is a job like any other, and have ignored survivors telling them otherwise. One of the party’s prominent female members, Wendy Chamberlain, argued against criminalising the punters by saying that “sex work has been going on for thousands of years and sadly no policy will end it”. So has murder, but I have yet to hear calls for its decriminalisation.
When Caroline Lucas was its leader, the Green Party supported an increasingly popular strategy of criminalising the demand while supporting those in prostitution to leave the sex trade, but a bit of haranguing on Twitter soon had her changing her mind.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that so-called feminists would be demonstrating outside a lap-dancing club, waving placards in support of stripping for a living, I would have laughed. But this is what happened in Sheffield recently when Sophie Wilson, a 23-year-old councillor and the Labour candidate for Rother Valley in South Yorkshire, decided that the feminists campaigning to have the licence of the city’s branch of Spearmint Rhino revoked on the grounds that stripping is exploitation were, as she eloquently put it, “trashy Swerfs”.
The pro-prostitution lobby almost always holds up the “rights” of “sex workers” to “choose” to sell sex. It is interesting how the terms “agency” and “empowerment” are only ever applied to degrading things imposed upon women, such as stripping, pole-dancing and prostitution. While jumping on to the #MeToo campaign about sexual harassment and consent, the anti-Swerf brigade seem to forget that prostitution is paid sexual harassment.
De Wallen, a well known red-light district in AmsterdamANDREA PUCCI
One picket line I had to walk through was on my way to speak at Leeds city council about the disgrace of its “managed zone”, where men can shop for sex with a vulnerable, drug-addled woman without fear of arrest. The protesters were shouting “Swerfs off our turf!” and “Hands off our clients!”
When a woman was murdered in the zone by a punter, the subsequent evaluation of the pilot scheme, conducted by academics so woke they need never set an alarm clock, concluded that the initiative had been a success and that it should become permanent.
The anti-Swerf crew were given another shot in the arm in 2016, when Amnesty International adopted a policy supporting the removal of all laws relating to prostitution — or, as Amnesty calls it, “adult consensual sex work”. An internal policy document, leaked to me in late 2013, made it clear that senior personnel had already reached the conclusion that men have the right to pay for sex and that women often “choose” prostitution as a career. There was even a suggestion that criminalising the punters, or even sending them on a “re-education” programme, could be a serious human-rights violation.
When feminists support the sex trade, they are giving men permission to buy and sell the most disenfranchised women on the planet. To invent and use an insult against the women campaigning for an end to commercial sexual exploitation is grotesque and unforgivable.
To suggest that supporting prostitution is somehow woke and progressive is ridiculous. I recall the words of the late feminist author Andrea Dworkin: “Only when women’s bodies are being sold for profit do leftists claim to cherish the free market.”
Human rights workers at Amnesty International are braced for scores of redundancies after the management admitted to a hole in its budget of up to £17m to the end of 2020.
Up to 70 jobs will go in voluntary and compulsory layoffs amid a slump in donations and a multi-million pound increase in spending on fundraising, the Guardian has learned. Staff have been told the organisation will be reshaped in line with the vision of recently appointed secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, who wants to increase Amnesty’s work on climate change and economic rights. There are concerns that cuts will marginalise in depth research on totemic Amnesty causes such as the death penalty, torture and the arms trade.
Next week Naidoo is due to unveil a new strategic direction, which he has previously indicated requires treating issues like climate change as core components of the human rights struggle. Sources said it appears he wants to increase the focus on campaigning, rather than traditional research-led human rights investigations.
One insider said the 58-year old global organisation was in the grip of “an existential crisis”. The union resolution described it as “a perfect storm of challenges”.
The job losses follow a damning report into the charity’s culture in February, commissioned after the suicides last year of two staff members, Gaëtan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor. It detailed a “toxic” working environment and widespread bullying.
It warned: “As organisational rifts and evidence of nepotism and hypocrisy become public knowledge they will be used by government and other opponents of Amnesty’s work to undercut or dismiss Amnesty’s advocacy around the world, fundamentally jeopardising the organisation’s mission.”
According to a resolution from unionised staff in response to the threat of cuts “much of the anxiety experienced by staff in recent years has been generated precisely by the kind of mismanagement of finances and unfair treatment of staff that once again we see displayed in measures now proposed by the senior leadership team”.
The memo shows the charity was on course for a £7m shortfall on its spending of £20m and that travel budgets have already been cut and a hiring freeze extended. The shortfall includes £2.5m spent on fundraising that it could not afford. Income from Amnesty branches around the world was £4.5m less than forecast.
I would be very interested to know how much of Amnesty’s fall in income is a result of its move to support the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry (including pimps and brothel keepers). That move seems to fall under the category of ‘economic rights’ and signalled a fundamental change in direction for the organisation, away from clear human rights violations such as torture and illegal detention, into more complicated political/social areas that it had no expertise in. The shift in focus from research to campaigning risks turning it into a PETA-like organisation, existing purely to get attention/donations and to keep itself in existence. While it is very true that the environment is fundamentally tied in with human welfare, many charities already exist to champion that cause, it looks like opportunism.
As if lobbying for pimps and brothel keepers wasn’t bad enough, Amnesty adds insult to injury with this:
That’s this Shon Faye:
This is who Colm O’Gorman is:
Is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, or because it is always wrong to use massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex?
The details of the Oxfam ‘sex scandal’ have been reported in great detail already, so I won’t reiterate any of that here. There is a debate to be had about global development in its current form (is this the best way to do it? does it work long term at all?), but that is beyond the remit of this blog post; in the short-term, in the face of disasters like the Haiti earthquake, organisations like Oxfam and their activities (minus the sexual coercion) seem to be better than no action at all from the global north.
I hope this scandal, as I hope for the ‘me too’/’time’s up’ movement in the entertainment industry, results in genuine change; I hope Oxfam, and other big charities like it, use this as an opportunity to get their houses in order and regain the public trust. I hope it is not used as an excuse for the UK government to scrap foreign aid altogether.
I am genuinely, personally, upset by this, Oxfam is a brand I trusted (they partnered with the Moomins for goodness sake), and I want to be able to trust them again.
Oxfam has never promoted entry into the sex industry as a ‘solution’ to the poverty of women and girls. Every campaign to end poverty for women and girls emphasises getting women into sustainable employment and their daughters into education, which, tacitly, is about keeping them out of prostitution.
The reactions to the Oxfam scandal are very different to the reactions to Amnesty International’s decision to support the decriminalisation of the sex industry back in 2015 (see all blog posts here).
The AI decision certainly did make headlines in the mainstream press, but not like this; there was no universal rush to condemn AI for its support of abusive institutions, there were no think-pieces questioning whether human rights organisations could survive such a scandal, because it was never reported in the mainstream press as a scandal at all.
The question here is simple: is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, and the Oxfam aid workers were breaking local laws, or is it a scandal because using massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex is always, objectively, wrong?
If it is always, objectively, wrong, how can it be acceptable for a ‘human rights’ charity to campaign and lobby for the decriminalisation of the people who perpetrate, facilitate, and profit from, such exploitation and abuse?
AI had as a member Douglas Fox, a known pimp at the time, who claims credit for AI’s ‘sex work’ policy. Mexico’s Maria Alejandra Gil Cuervo was vice president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, which received money from the Open Society Foundation, and advised UNAIDS; when, in 2015, she was found guilty of sex trafficking and sentenced to 15 years in jail, the story was ‘broken’ in the English speaking world by Kat Banyard, on the Faber and Faber website (a publisher not a newspaper), and again there was no ‘scandal’.
There are some obvious differences, AI is not an aid agency, and it receives no government funding, but there is still the issue of public trust – I, personally, do not trust AI at all, if they could behave so dishonestly over this, what else are they not doing correctly?
Janice Turner in the Times (a publication I now trust more than the Guardian to report on trans and prostitution issues, misogyny transcends notions of left and right wing), reported on AI’s disgustingly cynical and hypocritical response to the Oxfam scandal:
Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, was “shocked” by the Oxfam scandal, she told Woman’s Hour. She demanded an inquiry; for “lessons to be learnt”. I’d hoped Jenni Murray would follow through with a question: so what is Amnesty’s view on aid workers in poor countries paying women for sex? But she didn’t ask it, so I did.
Why is the question important? Because in 2015 Amnesty, a global organisation with seven million members, changed its policy on prostitution to support decriminalisation. Feminists were aghast: 3,000, including Gloria Steinem, signed a petition in horror that Amnesty was not only legitimising trade in women’s bodies, but the pimps and brothel keepers who exploit them.
No matter. Amnesty had been taken over by supporters of libertarian identity politics who regard prostitution not as a system of sexual abuse driven by economic need and inequality but a personal choice or a sexual identity, like being gay. Even, it seems, in disaster zones like Haiti.
“Decisions to sell sex,” states its policy document, “can be influenced by situations of poverty . . . Such situations do not necessarily . . . negate a person’s consent.” The only exceptions are “particular circumstances that amount to coercion where an individual faces threats of violence or abuse of authority”. But Amnesty’s overall stance is that it “neither supports nor condemns commercial sex”.
So how then would it view Roland van Hauwermeiren and his Oxfam compadres rolling into Port-au-Prince in safari jackets and mirrored shades, their 4x4s full of antibiotics and baby milk? Does it constitute an “abuse of authority” to round up a few hookers in town, take them to your villa and have a little fun in exchange for a few dollars and an Oxfam T-shirt? Or must we respect that these young women in a devastated land, with sick parents or hungry babies, have, in Amnesty’s words, “the agency and capacity of adults engaged in consensual sex work”?
Where does exploitation end and consent begin? I rang Amnesty for clarification. Kate Allen’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation. “The appalling situation of aid workers paying for sex in a context where they’re working with and providing services to extremely vulnerable people in crisis situations is separate from the issue of the legal status of sex work.”
But is it? In Haiti, 316,000 were dead, millions homeless, the entire infrastructure destroyed. Oxfam was “providing services to” a whole nation. Does Amnesty think it was wrong for van Hauwermeiren to prostitute a woman he met at, say, an aid distribution centre but it was fine for him to select equally impoverished women from the local brothel?
Given its neutral stance on commercial sex, is it cool with its staff using prostitutes? “Amnesty’s employment contracts clearly stipulate that employees must not behave in a way that brings the organisation into disrepute,” it said, “and in light of the Oxfam case, we’ve instigated a full review of all relevant policies.” Which reads less like a principled stand than a scrambled PR operation: ie we’ve smelt the public mood and don’t want lost donations. Only when I pressed further did it say: “Any staff members found to be using sex workers in the course of their work would face an immediate investigation and potential disciplinary action.” Which directly contradicts its own policy! What about neutrality, women having “agency” and punters not being penalised?
Turner also describes how the Labour Party has failed in its response to the Oxfam scandal:
Amnesty is not alone in being tied up in liberal knots. The Labour Party has been notably silent on the Oxfam prostitution scandal. The shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor defined it as a “safeguarding” breakdown, which reduces it to a failure to protect underage girls or prevent coercion, swerving the tougher question. But then in 2016 Jeremy Corbyn declared “I am in favour of decriminalising the sex industry”. Does he then approve of Roland’s poolside fun?
In Corbyn’s view, decriminalisation is a “more civilised” approach. Indeed, no feminist who signed the petition against Amnesty wants to punish desperate women. Rather, most favour the Nordic model, now law in France, Sweden, Ireland and other countries, which legalises selling sex but criminalises its purchase. Total decriminalisation always causes the sex trade to expand. And while Amnesty distinguishes between trafficking (coerced: bad) and sex work (consensual: fine), when male demand soars, more “product” is required and locked vans of Albanian girls arrive at the mega-brothels of Amsterdam or Hamburg’s Reeperbahn.
Finally, something on which we can agree: charity officials ought not to buy sex. No one, so far, seems prominently to have argued, of the Oxfam employees’ misconduct in Haiti and Liberia, that, providing their female purchases were adult, and not coerced, then their prostitution should rightly be called sex work, that is: a perfectly dignified transaction, from which both sides – say, impoverished survivors of a disaster and benevolent male humanitarians – stood to benefit.
We have yet, admittedly, to hear from Amnesty International, the human rights NGO, which now doubles as the world’s leading advocate of legalised prostitution. In 2015, a year that will forever be celebrated by its allies in the pimping and trafficking community, Amnesty committed to the decriminalisation of all aspects of “sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse”.
So, hint for Roland Van Hauwermeiren, who is currently to be found in Ostend, explaining how incredibly easy it is for a vivacious Oxfam official to be mistaken for a sex-buyer: Amnesty is there for you. Equally, critics of Oxfam’s conduct, including Theresa May and Penny Mordaunt, can expect a reminder from Amnesty that it’s people “who live on the outskirts of society that are forced into sex work. It may be their only way to earn a living.” Once you see it that way, Oxfam workers who live, courtesy of charitable donations, in villas suited to large pool parties, can be seen as doing prostitute attendees a tremendous kindness. Inalienable human rights, meet trickle-down effect.
The Oxfam-related outrage must be baffling, also, to many British parliamentarians, for whom the option of reducing prostitution via the Nordic Model (also adopted in Northern Ireland, Canada and France; now backed by the SNP) is so much less appealing than the formal commodification of – overwhelmingly – women’s bodies.
Jeremy Corbyn, for example, supports decriminalisation because he wants to “do things a bit differently and in a bit more civilised way”. Around a pool, perhaps? At any rate, all that was missing from this progressive analysis, given the exploitation reported in the decriminalised German and Dutch industries, was an alternative scheme whereby sex trade “things” could be separated from violence, poverty, murder, pimping, drug abuse, stigma, illness, trafficking, misogyny and coercion – and the inevitable implication that all women, prostituted or not, have their price.
In a rare show of political harmony, Corbyn’s enthusiasm for a free market in women’s bodies, or, as it would be defined in Sweden, unfettered violence against women and girls, is shared by the Lib Dems, the Greens and by the Commons home affairs select committee. The latter, reconstituted under new leadership, has yet to withdraw a 2016 report on prostitution that urged immediate decriminalisation (without any measures to protect women from exploitation). Only after publication did it emerge that its chair, Keith Vaz, one of eight men on an 11-person committee, was himself a sex buyer. Mercifully for Vaz’s future in public service, the relevant purchases had occurred in Edgware, not Port-au-Prince.
In fairness to Bennett, her piece only came out a day after Turner’s, so she couldn’t have seen the replies from AI. But, it seems, she is not a thorough Guardian reader, otherwise she would have seen the report last week calling the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Haiti ‘underage sex work’. (And in fairness to The Observer, it and the Guardian are editorially independent, the Observer has, in the past, been better at not calling raped children ‘sex workers’.)
This article explores the activities of George Soros and his charitable organization, Open Society Foundations (OSF), in advocating for the full decriminalization of the sex trade industry. Research finds that OSF spends only a small amount of money on grass roots “sex worker” groups around the world advocating for full decriminalization, but the foundation awards larger amounts of funds to large human rights groups whose reports and policies have a wider reach. OSF’s rationale for full decriminalization fails to consider violence and coercion in the sex trade industry, misreads research, and does not include research from venues where full decriminalization of prostitution has occurred. Thus OSF and its grantees have created a partial view on prostitution that they advocate to the public. Those concerned with trafficking for sexual exploitation, violence, coercion, and abuse in prostitution should be cognizant of these strategies used by decriminalization advocates funded by OSF and be prepared to point out the unsupported assumptions and meet OSF’s allegations with proven facts.
This paper is definitely worth reading in full, it covers the funding given by the Open Society Foundation to Amnesty International, as well as other charities like Human Rights Watch and the ACLU. It also shows how research has been misrepresented and misinterpreted, with those misrepresentations being repeated across the OSF funded organisations.
It also shows the huge sums of money involved – there is nothing democratic or accountable about any individual, of any political orientation, having such a huge, global, influence.
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).
Rhode Island chapter of Amnesty International has broken with Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA, on the issue of sex trafficking
Group 49 of Amnesty International paused in its petitioning on behalf of political prisoners to talk about sex trafficking Sunday.
Group 49, the Rhode Island chapter, has broken with its parent organizations, Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA, on the issue of sex trafficking. The parent organizations in 2015 adopted a policy, in the words of Rhode Island coordinator Marcia Lieberman, “to decriminalize all aspects of prostitution.”
As guest speaker Cherie Jimenez put it at a Group 49 gathering Sunday, “If we want equality between men and women, we have to end this” organized prostitution. Although legalization is a fashionable “neo-liberal” approach, prostitution is “not an empowering experience” for girls and women, she said.
“It’s made me a little crazy and a little angry,” she confided to her audience. “Because it’s been around forever is not a basis for its continuance.” Jimenez said she has never met a sex-trade practitioner who wanted to stick with it.
Jimenez, who is in her 50s and used to be a prostitute herself, is founder and director of the EVA Center in Boston – as in Education, Vision and Advocacy – which offers peer counseling, housing and other support for women seeking to leave the commercial sex industry.
She said women who go into prostitution believe they do not have options because, in the United States, they usually are products of a public social-services system that does not do enough for them.
“We have so many flawed … systems,” she said, such as indifferent group homes that take in children from dysfunctional domestic situations but cannot overcome their behavioral problems.
“Why isn’t this a human rights violation?” she demanded to know.
After digressing to discuss sex trafficking, the 29th annual Write-a-thon resumed in the parish house of the First Unitarian Church on College Hill, with about 35 volunteers sitting at long tables hand-writing letters on behalf of at least 10 selected prisoners of conscience around the world. The letters were deposited in a glass container, to display the writers’ progress.
As usual, participants lit a large candle draped in barbed wire – the symbolic “candle of hope.”
Regarding sex trafficking, Group 49 officer Merritt Meyer, of Bristol, said decriminalization increases trafficking because it increases the market.
“It’s not just a job,” Lieberman protested.
She said various members of the group have communicated their disagreement to the parent organizations.
A second speaker, Providence police Capt. Michael E. Correia, commanding officer of the detective bureau, summarized how his department underwent a pronounced change and now goes after prostitution by treating prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators of crime.
“The victim isn’t just someone who signs a witness statement,” Correia said, but is someone deserving of help. The police do not handcuff suspected prostitutes and they introduce them to advocates like Jimenez, hoping the suspects will cooperate later in prosecutions of their pimps.
As part of the change, the police dropped the use of the word “john” as a euphemism for a prostitute’s customer.
“They’re not johns,” he declared. “That’s an antiseptic name. They’re sex buyers.”
Correia acknowledged that the revised approach is difficult to justify to higher-ups in the department because resources are often used in cases with no accompanying arrests to “clear” the cases statistically.
Bazelon’s claim that she’d known nothing of this topic or debate prior to beginning work on this piece seems even stranger as I discovered her connections to George Soros, a billionaire whose Open Society Foundations (OSF) not only is a major donor to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HWR), and UNAIDS, but a number of sex work lobby groups across the world. Soros and OSF funded the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), which was revealed to be a front for a pimping operation last year, as their vice president, Gil Alejandra, who served as co-chair of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work & Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy, was arrested for sex trafficking. (Bazelon spoke to the president of NSWP for her piece, but didn’t mention the trafficking conviction, though she had been made her aware of it by another interviewee, Rachel Moran.) The man who appears to be the biggest financial backer of the pro-legalization lobby in the world, whose organization is overtly pro-legalization and funded reports Amnesty International relied on in order to support their position also has longstanding ties to Bazelon and her family. Bazelon herself was a Soros Media Fellow in 2004 and her grandfather’s foundation, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Emily’s sister and mother both serve on the Center’s board), receives over a $1 million in funding from OSF.
Bazelon says that it was only Amnesty International’s recent vote to adopt a pro-industry position that led her to support legalization. But this claim is hard to believe when we consider the bias she conveys in the piece, her connections to Soros, and the fact that she doesn’t acknowledge that Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO did not simply “discover” a grassroots “sex worker movement” independently, leading them to push for legalization. Rather, these organizations, alongside Soros’ OSF, have been working with pimps, traffickers, and industry lobbyists to develop policy for some time.
The report by Kat Banyard, which points out that NSWP was appointed Co-Chair of the UNAIDS “Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work” in 2009, explains:
“UNAIDS is the international body responsible for leading global efforts to reverse the spread of HIV, and the advisory group was established to ‘review and participate in the development of UNAIDS policy, programme or advocacy documents, or statements.’ Alejandra Gil is also personally acknowledged in a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) report about the sex trade as one of the ‘experts’ who dedicated her ‘time and expertise’ to developing its recommendations. NSWP’s logo is on the front cover, alongside the logos of WHO, UNAIDS and the United Nations Population Fund.”
How can reports and policy funded by a billionaire who is specifically invested in the legalization of prostitution and that were developed in consultation with pimps and traffickers be either unbiased or be considered connected to “grassroots movements” in any way? The “movements” Bazelon references as having inspired Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO to develop these policies and positions are, in fact, organizations funded by Soros himself.
Bazelon’s dismissal of the Nordic model is yet another mistake made in her efforts to cling to neutrality. In an interview on the Diane Rehm show, she repeats erroneous claims that, while street prostitution appears to have decreased in Sweden after the implementation of the Nordic model, the purchase of sex did not, based on the increased number of ads online. But reports from Sweden say the ads are unrepresentative, as many of the ads posted are duplicates and/or posted by the same person. From the report:
“Authorities who have studied escort ads in the past have noted that one and the same seller of sexual services is often found in several advertisements. This finding is also indicated by the internet surveys, mainly in the form of the same telephone number cropping up during a search of several advertising sites. The overlap between the number of advertisements and escort sites and the duplication of many ads is shown by both surveys. This is also confirmed by other authorities working the field. Against this background, there is nothing indicating that the actual number of individuals engaging in prostitution has increased.”
While she admits that abolitionists are “oppos[ed] to arresting” prostituted women, Bazelon adds, “But they want to continue using the criminal law as a weapon of moral disapproval by prosecuting male customers, alongside pimps and traffickers — though this approach still tends to entangle sex workers in a legal net.” She fails to explain what she means by that and quickly moves forward to paint support for the Nordic model as something clueless American celebrities and ideologues do: The “man” vs the little guy, is the impression we are meant to get… The “man” being Gloria Steinem and Meryl Streep, and the “little guy” being, of course, the so-called “sex worker.”
Bazelon casually throws out the term “carceral feminism,” quoting Elizabeth Bernstein, a sociologist who studies “sex work,” who explains that abolitionists “have relied upon strategies of incarceration as their chief tool of ‘justice,’” going on to imply the history of abolition is connected to “faith-based” and “evangelical” groups who worked with George W. Bush to raid brothels for American TV audiences. She continues to connect abolitionists to Bush and to evangelicals throughout the piece, failing to acknowledge that the feminists who support the Nordic model today do so through a socialist lens and have always been part of an actual independent, radical, grassroots feminist movement.
Ignoring the decades-old grassroots women’s movement and the ongoing, tireless work of underfunded working-class women and women of colour who have been fighting prostitution for years is one of Bazelon’s most suspect choices. She discusses organizations funded by Open Society Foundations and the Gates Foundation, many of which have ties to pimps and traffickers, without question but erases or misrepresents the work of movement women who have nothing to gain from their fight against prostitution but a better life for women and girls and a more equitable world in the future.
Bazelon’s claim that decriminalization will make “people’s lives better, and safer” is not only untrue, but is based on money, not facts… The money that supports efforts to legalize is vast and passed around among sex industry lobby groups, civil liberty and human rights organizations, and, apparently, journalists. The incentive to support decriminalization is very clearly financial — prostitution is yet another billion-dollar global industry. It is unconscionable to ignore that reality when discussing key players. Support for decriminalization is also rooted in a deep desire to believe that a situation that is clearly not “okay” by any means can somehow become “okay,” despite ample evidence showing that this will never be the case.
Like the cover photo, which aims to convince the reader that “diversity” was a priority in Bazelon’s reporting (but, in fact, only featured those who both identify as “sex workers” and live in three American cities: New York, San Fransisco, and Seattle), the entire story intentionally removes or distorts the perspectives of abolitionists and survivors, positioning sex work advocates as the diverse expert voices that legitimize her piece.
While Bazelon claims the view she presents (which is, to be clear, her own) “poses a deep challenge to traditional Western feminism,” she’s ironically ignored the fact that Indigenous women and women’s groups say that prostitution never existed in their cultures until they were colonized by the West. Beyond that, almost all liberal American publications (many of which claim to be feminist) support the legalization of prostitution, as do, of course, privileged men. These are the voices and publications that dominate Western discourse and have the funding to promote their views. Men are the people who, at the end of the day, benefit from prostitution — their power is reinforced through its existence.
Bazelon herself is nothing if not a voice for Western privilege and liberalism, based on her Ivy League education, career, connections, and the ideology she supports. After all, is there anything more “mainstream” than the commodification and sexualization of women’s bodies? Certainly there is nothing more “traditional” than patriarchy itself.
Over the weekend, Emily Bazelon, a staff writer at the New York Times, published an article called “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” What she didn’t say was that she had already answered her own question, and that she chose to distort (or outright ignore) facts and interviews in order to push a narrative in support of full decriminalization, under the guise of neutral reporting.
Her bias becomes clear early on to anyone who is familiar with the politically loaded term, “sex work,” which she adopts uncritically, claiming this is “the term activists prefer.” While Bazelon admits that most of those who speak publicly as “sex workers” are white and very privileged in comparison to most women in the industry, she doesn’t challenge the language.
The piece centered itself around Amnesty International’s recent decision to adopt a policy supporting the decriminalization of pimps and johns. Due to the choice of organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW), World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and Amnesty International to advocate for the legalization of prostitution, Bazelon is able to claim this as the “human rights” approach to prostitution legislation, without acknowledging the unethical ways these organizations came to this advocacy, the hypocrisy of this position, and without fairly representing the opposition. In fact, defining decriminalization as the “human rights argument” is a distortion tactic itself as, by comparison, those who oppose the legalization of the industry are positioned as not being onside with human rights goals. In truth, prostitution itself is defined as “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” by the UN, meaning that organizations like Amnesty International and HRW defy their own mission statements, core values, and responsibilities by advocating for a system that accepts and normalizes prostitution.
Bazelon claims that “sex work” activists are “fighting the legal status quo, social mores, and also mainstream feminism,” leading me to wonder who and what, exactly, Bazelon believes “mainstream feminism” is…
Feminism is a radical movement that fights a system of oppression called “patriarchy,” so to call it “mainstream” is strange, in and of itself. But I myself have, admittedly, used the term from time to time, in reference to the large, mainstream, liberal publications that promote a version of “feminism” that is pro-capitalist, pro-objectification, pro-sex industry, and that fail to challenge male power at its root. This is to say that, when I have used the term “mainstream feminism,” (which I have, in the past, used interchangeably with other terms such as “Playboy feminism,” “liberal feminism,” and “corporate feminism”) I don’t mean “feminism” at all. My perspective is that feminism is not, as celebrities like Matt McGorry and corporate beauty magazines like Cosmo and Glamour claim, a thing that happens any time a woman makes a choice about anything at all, nor is it something that is not specifically about “women’s liberation” but rather about “gender equality,” nor is it something that must necessarily be inclusive of men. No. Feminism is a movement that is focused on ending the oppression of women under patriarchy and on ending the male violence women are subjected to within that system.
That Bazelon positions those fighting for men’s right to legally buy and sell women as “fighting mainstream feminism” confirms either ignorance with regard to what the feminist movement actually is or a strong bias.
But Bazelon not only doesn’t acknowledge a bias, but denies one, saying in a video conversation posted to Facebook shortly after the article was published, “Six months ago, I really knew almost nothing about this topic.”
This claim is hard to believe, even without considering the perspective put forth in the piece, which left out testimonies from survivors, distorted quotes from abolitionists, presenting them as out-of-touch conservatives, irrational ideologues, and misogynists, and provided false information about both the Nordic model and decriminalization.
In one case, Bazelon writes, “Melissa Farley, a psychologist who received Bush funds, wrote in 2000 in the journal Women and Criminal Justice that any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically — ‘enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature.’” The actual argument from “Prostitution: a critical review of the medical and social sciences literature” reads:
“Pornography, for example, is a form of cultural propaganda which reifies the notion that women are prostitutes. One [john] said ‘I am a firm believer that all women… are prostitutes at one time or another’ (Hite, 1981, page 760). To the extent that any woman is assumed to have freely chosen prostitution, then it follows that enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature, that is to say, she is a prostitute (Dworkin, 1981).”
The argument being referenced here is Dworkin’s, which says that normalizing prostitution or saying that women freely choose to work in the sex industry because they “enjoy it” leads to the conclusion that women, in fact, enjoy being dominated and raped, as this is what we see both in porn and in prostitution.
Likewise, Farley does not argue that she believes women enjoy rape and domination, but that buyers (johns) believe this and that men who buy sex have antiquated, sexist notions about gender and accept male sexual aggression and entitlement as “natural.”
For Bazelon to read all that and then to rewrite Farley’s words, framing her argument as one that says “any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically” and that “enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature” is deeply disturbing in its overt dishonesty.
While Bazelon centered her piece around the perspectives of those who support a legalized sex industry, she intentionally left out stories of survivors who would have disrupted the chosen narrative for her story. A woman named Sabrinna Valisce who was involved in the sex trade in New Zealand on and off for many years, both before and after decriminalization, told me she spoke with Balezon for the piece, but that her interview was cut. Valisce was a volunteer with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) until about two years ago and had advocated for full decriminalization until she experienced its results firsthand.
While the Prostitution Reform Act was meant to make the industry safer for women in it and enforce safe sex practices, it’s done the opposite, Valisce says. Women were suddenly expected to engage in “passionate” kissing and oral sex without protection (called “NBJ” or “Natural Blow Job”) — things that had previously been viewed as “a betrayal of the sisterhood” and internally policed by the prostituted women themselves. “All that has gone by the wayside [due to] high competition and lowered rates,” Valisce says. “Girls are also now expected to let men cum as many times as they can within the booked time. It was never that way before. They paid once and received one service.” Under decriminalization, Valisce’s efforts to institute exiting programs were rejected full out.
Not only that, but a kind of routine violence was normalized by johns. “I’m not talking about punching and beating… [though this still does happen] I’m talking more about the everyday violence of gagging, throttling, spanking, hair pulling, rough handling, and hard pounding.” Valisce says there has been a notable rise in men’s sense of entitlement and a normalization of abuse since the new law came into effect.
Just weeks after decriminalization was implemented, Valisce says just about every brothel in the country rolled out what they called “all-inclusives.” This meant, she told me, “that women couldn’t negotiate their own fees or services, nor could they decide what their boundaries were.” The reason she had supported decriminalization, Valisce said, was because she wanted “the power in the hands of the people who work in prostitution” and to ensure that women weren’t getting arrested or ending up with criminal records. She was told that decriminalization was the only way to go.
Her goals remained the same, but she realized the only way to address the problems she was seeing under decriminalization was through the Nordic model.
Regardless of the real effects of decriminalization and contradictory testimony from survivors, Bazelon parrots Amnesty’s claim that legislation in New Zealand and Australia places “greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organize in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments.”
When I spoke to her over Skype, Valisce said she had told Bazelon that she had worked alongside trafficked women post-decriminalization. Trafficking was hard to track, as it had been rebranded as “sex worker recruitment,” but it still went on. Nonetheless, Bazelon reported that “the New Zealand government has found no evidence that sex workers are being trafficked,” and left it at that. Bazelon’s desire to paint a rosy picture of decriminalization in New Zealand seems to have led her to expunge Valisce’s testimony from the record, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she was the only person Bazelon interviewed who had worked under decriminalization in New Zealand.
“The things she’s said about decriminalization in New Zealand are absolute falsehood,” Valisce said.
Everything Valisce told me, she also told Bazelon. Which makes her statements about New Zealand and the benefits of decriminalization all the more shocking, and Bazelon’s choice to leave Valisce’s testimony out of the story all the more telling.