Open letter to Left Youth Solid, an official youth organization of the German party The Left, regarding the position paper “Solidarity with Sex Workers – No to the new prostitute protection act – No to paternalism and other-directedness in the sexual service industry” (“Solidarität mit Sexarbeiter*innen – Nein zum neuen Prostituiertenschutzgesetz – Nein zu Bevormundung und Fremdbestimmung im sexuellen Dienstleistungsgewerbe”).
By Huschke Mau and eight other women exited from prostitution
Originally published in German under the title “Die Linke Freude an der Prostitution – Huschke Mau an die Bremer Linksjugend” at sisters-ev.de, 21 April 2016
Dear People of Left Youth Solid,
I want to make it clear that I am addressing those of you who voted for the proposal “Solidarity with Sex Workers – No to the new prostitute protection act – No to paternalism and other-directedness in the sexual service industry” at Left Youth Solid’s federal meeting on April 8/9, 2016. I am assuming that this doesn’t mean all of you, so there is hope yet.
I am a former—as you call it—“sex worker”, I have read your proposal, and I would like to tell you just what I think of the “solidarity” you offer in this document.
First of all, it’s great that you signed it as the Left Youth. Because when I read the phrase “sexual service industry”, I was sure for a second that the [German economic liberalist party] FDP had risen from the dead.
But I did truly appreciate that you’re against “other-directedness.” Unfortunately, while reading the proposal, I had to discover that you haven’t understood that the “other” that is “directing” those in prostitution is the john, meaning that this quality is INHERENT TO THE SYSTEM—he wants sex, I don’t actually want it, I just need the money, and thus I consent to this other-directedness under coercion. Simple as that.
“Even though sex work has long been established as a commercial service in our society and has been considered legal in the Federal Republic of Germany since 2002, sex workers are still severely stigmatized in their private and professional lives.”
I’m simply baffled that you describe the act of prostitution as a “profession” and a “service.” Sexuality is the most intimate sphere of human life. Do we get to keep that at least, pretty please, or do we have to let every single part of ourselves be completely commodified and capitalized upon? Since when has the Left been the champion of the sale of all human desire? You call sex a service, as if it were possible to separate it from the Self, the Body, the Person; as if you could simply peel it away, place it in a nice little box on the shop counter, and then some fellow shows up, hands me 50 euros and walks out with the sex. Is that how you picture it, yeah? You even speak of “poor working conditions”—do you actually believe that the abuse we have suffered and so many of us still suffer is somehow ameliorated if we’re given a nice “workplace”, as you call it? “Working conditions”? What are you even talking about? Under which conditions is the abuse that johns inflict on us acceptable to you, pray tell? Or do you simply not see it as abuse, ignoring what exited persons and trauma researchers are telling you? Sixty-eight percent of all prostituted people have post-traumatic stress disorder, and that’s not counting depression, addiction, borderline disorders and psychoses. Do you think these things are a result of “poor working conditions”? Every exited woman I know describes what she experienced in prostitution as sexual abuse. Our having tolerated sexual abuse or having been forced to do so does not turn it into a profession!
And then you keep going on about the stigma, saying we mustn’t be stigmatized. I agree with you on this, but I have to stress that it’s not the stigma that’s raping, abusing, and killing us. It’s the johns. Sadly you draw the wrong conclusions from the demand that prostituted persons mustn’t be stigmatized.
“This [stigma] is expressed in a lack of recognition of their profession.”
To be clear, what you demand is basically for the abuse of prostituted women to become normal. You want it to become a job. You want the abuse to become ACCEPTABLE. In short, you’re fighting for women’s right to call the suffering of sexual abuse a job. Or better: You’re fighting for men’s right to abuse women and minimize that abuse by calling it “work.”
Another thing I don’t get is all your talk about “self-determined sex work.” All prostituted women I know “chose” prostitution because they didn’t see any other option. How do you interpret that as self-determination? Is it because I can choose WITHIN PROSTITUTION, between only doing blowjobs with a condom and losing my income because of all the “self-determined” women from Southern Europe, and just putting every dick into my mouth without any barrier whatsoever, ‘cause that’s the standard? Some self-determination!
Our problem isn’t “lack of recognition of the profession”, our problem IS the “profession”! Nine out of ten prostitutes would exit immediately if they could. Why on earth are you blathering about recognition of the profession?!
Your whole pamphlet sounds as if it were written by the pro-prostitution lobby, and this actually appears to be the case. You refer to BesD [Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen e.V.; “Professional association for erotic and sexual services”] as “organized sex workers”—you do realize that they only represent 0.01% of the prostituted in Germany? What kind of organization for the prostituted is this if it includes brothel owners? The exploiters start a “union” to represent the workers? That’s the strangest union I’ve ever heard of. Who did you in fact consult? Apart from brothel owners like Fricke and escort agency owners like Klee? Based on whose information do you actually take your decisions? If you do something on racism next, will you consult neo-Nazis?
The next paragraph makes me doubt that you possess any ability to reflect on this or any other issue. You write:
“In addition to these legal setbacks, there is a great deal of victimization and paternalism towards sex workers even within the social left.”
I wonder who’s victimizing prostituted women—the johns abusing us or those who name it as abuse? If you want to prevent us from becoming victims, abolish john-dom! Or do you perhaps merely want people to stop SAYING that harm is being done to us within and through prostitution? If this is the case, please just say that and stop pretending that people who recognize prostitution as inhumane are somehow victimizing us—THEY are not the ones doing that.
Then you write:
“Thus parts of the left have repeatedly pushed for a ‘full ban on prostitution’ or the supposedly progressive ‘Swedish Model’, claiming that sex work/prostitution is the ultimate expression of patriarchy.”
Let me get this straight: This sounds like you don’t think prostitution is an expression of patriarchy. If it’s not that, what is it, then? Why are 98% of all individuals in prostitution female and johns almost 100% male? Now don’t say it’s because we live in patriarchy.
“Yes, sex work currently takes place under the circumstances of patriarchy, meaning that the question of voluntariness is unfortunately always difficult to answer.”
So prostitution takes place outside of patriarchy too? Seriously? And which conclusions do you draw from it being difficult to answer the “question of voluntariness”?
“It is predominantly women who work in this profession, while it is mainly men who buy the services of sex workers.”
It’s just great how you take the perpetrators’ side and trivialize sexual violence.
“However, the feminist response cannot be to take a paternalistic approach and try to tell sex workers what a decent life should look like.”
I’m dying to find out where you get this from. People who see prostitution as destructive and inhumane aren’t being paternalistic, they’re expressing solidarity with us. And that’s exactly where you could do with a little practice. You need to stop flogging that stupid notion that every person who recognizes prostitution as harmful is some kind of conservative moralist trying to lecture “fallen women”. Acknowledging the suffering and misery of prostitution and stating that it is violent doesn’t constitute lecturing; it means SEEING the real conditions that prostituted people live in and thus showing respect and care to those who suffer within and because of prostitution.
“Both the Swedish Model and a full ban would endanger the agency and protection of sex workers even more dramatically than existing laws. These stricter laws would change nothing about the existence of patriarchy with its specific roles and its social power differential between women and men.”
Why would this not change anything? Prostitution is one of patriarchy’s main pillars, just like all sexual violence is. Why wouldn’t it change anything to ban it? Why is prostitution the only sphere of life where laws suddenly have no impact whatsoever? Does prostitution take place in outer space or something? You could just as well say that rape should not be prohibited by law because it doesn’t do anything to change patriarchal roles and the social power differential! Are you saying you just want to leave everything as is? Sexual violence, patriarchal structures—this is what you’re going with? Does the Left not have a vision anymore? Or is it only out of visions when it comes to prostituted women?
Yes, I accuse you of meaning well. But if you advocate for decriminalization of prostitution on the john’s side (I believe we all agree that it should not be criminalized on the prostituted person’s side), then this is equivalent to saying: “Women affected by partner violence are stigmatized. In order to get rid of this stigma, we will decriminalize domestic violence on the perpetrator’s side. This way, the woman will no longer have anything to be ashamed of.” Is any of this getting through to you?
What your pamphlet doesn’t mention at all is the john—as usual.
Just do me a favor and read a few random posts on johns’ message boards, and then tell me how on earth you can support the legalization of something like that. How you can support men doing such things to women. I cannot wait to hear your arguments.
“Those who want to illegalize self-determined sex workers criminalize the entire industry and force it underground, where no protection whatsoever may be provided. In order to be better protected, sex workers require more self-determination and the social and legal recognition of their profession. Only in this way and recognized as workers can they publicly organize as part of the working class and advocate for their own interests, better working conditions and social security. A ban on sex work or the criminalization of johns (as in Sweden) would only cause sex work to become invisible and less safe.”
And then there’s the fairy tale of the underground. Please read some texts explaining the Swedish Model, which criminalizes the john and decriminalizes the prostituted. And read evaluations of this law where it has been applied, e.g. Norway. No, prostitution is not a clearly defined entity. Yes, it can be reduced. No, the Swedish Model does not shift it underground. Yes, it changes a society’s views on women when one sex can no longer buy the other. No, we do not need “recognition as a profession”, we need for prostitution to be recognized as ABUSE. And NO, we are not part of the working class, we are first and foremost people harmed by sexual abuse through prostitution! We do NOT organize as part of the working class, but in victims’ associations (e.g. sisters e.V., SPACE International—which you refuse to listen to, though. We don’t need you to organize us or talk about us; we organize ourselves, thank you very much.
“Those who truly advocate for an emancipated society must also advocate for physical and sexual self-determination.”
Prostitution is the exact opposite of sexual self-determination. One party wants sex, the other doesn’t. Money is supposed to bridge that gap. Prostitution has NOTHING to do with physical and sexual self-determination because everything I do, the john decides—thus it is other-directed. I am so incredibly fed up of all your talk of sexual liberation when you mention prostitution as a path to that liberation in the same breath. Don’t drag us into it; we will not be instrumentalized in this way! Do your own sexual liberation, but you will not be permitted to use and gloss over our abuse to get there.
Furthermore I would like you to do a little bit of research; you will quickly discover that forced prostitution and prostitution cannot be seen separately, as you prefer. For one, the lines between the two are blurred, and secondly there will never be enough women who do this “voluntarily”; a large percentage will always have to be forced to meet the demand. This means that you cannot want prostitution without agreeing with forced prostitution; one does not exist without the other. And by the way, if you support the full decriminalization and legalization of prostitution, you support the market being the sole regulating force, which means: the demand grows, the supply grows, the demand grows more because men see it as perfectly normal to be a john, the supply keeps growing, and so on. It’s an upward spiral. Have you ever actually read anything about the basic mechanisms of capitalism, seeing as you’re so eager to see capitalist value extracted from women as goods?
“Asylum law must also be reformed so that migrant forced prostitutes no longer face the threat of deportation but instead receive residence and work permits. However, our intention behind this decision is to place the focus on those sex workers who are currently restricted in their physical self-determination, their health and their rights in their professional life as sex workers—on those who made the conscious and self-determined choice to provide sexual and erotic services.”
Oh, and how many is that? One in ten at the very most. And that’s who you want to go by when determining things that affect the situation of ALL prostituted women in Germany? Do you not care about the rest or what? Who at BesD, that organization of brothel owners, did you listen to? You certainly didn’t listen to the 90 percent in this country who are migrant women, because they’re not part of that organization. And you’re actually happy to collude with this racist bullshit! The majority out there are NOT the brothel owners, high-class escorts, dominatrixes—the majority doesn’t even speak German! How ignorant can you get? Prostitution is classist and racist, or why do you think there are so many indigenous women in prostitution in other countries, and so many Romani women in Germany? How do you explain that?
And then you go and post stuff about anti-racist demonstrations on Facebook? You really make me laugh.
“Thus it is our view that feminism that is serious about its concern for women’s self-determination and sexual self-determination must also fight for the rights and demands of sex workers’ associations. The Bremen regional association of Left Youth Solid stands for such a feminism and will advocate for the legal empowerment of sex workers and show solidarity in their struggles.”
You are most certainly not showing solidarity to us in our struggles by labeling sexual violence a profession, ignoring the majority of us, and calling prostitution sexual and physical self-determination!
What the hell are you even talking about? You need to find your way back to reality. And if you can’t show us solidarity because you’re too busy listening to brothel owners, at least leave us in peace and don’t presume to speak for us! You have never had to bend over; you aren’t in prostitution—a privilege, as I’d like to remind you—and then you sit there in your Bremen regional association and at the federal meeting and blather about recognition as a profession? Get a grip.
At least once a week here at Sisters e.V., we are visited by a woman who is already exited (not to mention those who contact us because they still want out!) and who tells us she’s taken this long to break her silence because society only ever tells her it’s a PROFESSION and it’s WORK and it’s a JOB; it’s all happy, joyful sex work—and so all the injuries she suffered in prostitution indicate that there must be something wrong with HER. And this is precisely the political climate people like YOU create. All your talk is causing exited women to remain silent. I too was speechless for years because of texts like yours—because as a prostitute reading something like that, you don’t even know where to START.
Prostitution is sexist, racist and classist, and then you come along, having listened to owners of brothels and escort agencies, and want to tell us about sexual liberation? And you call that leftist? You can’t be serious. Never, ever can it be about getting as comfortable as possible within a sexist, classist and racist system such as prostitution. Who is it you expect to put up with this? Such a system must be ABOLISHED. You need to understand that supporting women in prostitution is NOT the same as supporting the system of prostitution! This system must be overcome and not further established and “recognized as a profession!” The only praiseworthy thing about your document is how exceedingly well you’ve copied and pasted from the pimp lobby—well done, indeed.
Seriously, is this what your solidarity looks like? Shame on you, and no thanks!
Huschke Mau (@huschkemau)
Signed also on behalf of the exited women of Sisters e.V.
Annalena, exited woman
Sonja, exited woman
Sandra, exited woman
Sunna, exited woman
NaDia, exited woman
Andra, exited woman
Esther Martina, exited woman
Eva, exited woman
Survivor Megaphone (links/references in original)
Any young British woman considering a career in prostitution should give careful thought to location. The same applies, our prostitution law being the mess it is, to any pimp or trafficker aiming to maximise profits without fines, arrests and other loss-making interruptions.
In Leeds, for instance, the Holbeck area is now a pimp’s paradise, the police and council having decided not to apply the laws on soliciting and kerb crawling between the hours of 7pm and 7am. Councillor Mark Dobson has explained that, since prostitution will never stop being an “industry as old as time”, “it’s incumbent on us to make it as safe as possible”. In December, one of the women benefiting from this scheme, a 21-year-old Pole, Daria Pionko, was murdered, her body discovered on an industrial estate.
In Suffolk, however, police prefer to believe, like the Swedish government, that prostitution is not part of the natural order. After five young women were murdered by a regular sex buyer in 2006, Suffolk Constabulary’s then Det Supt Alan Caton responded with a Nordic-style plan. Although the legality of off-street prostitution ruled out a full “end demand” strategy, as pioneered in Sweden, Suffolk’s zero tolerance of kerb crawling, with multi-agency support for women, rather than criminalisation, virtually eliminated street prostitution.
Nottingham, too, differs from Leeds, with its own project to end street prostitution by targeting sex buyers and by helping, instead of persecuting, women who want to exit. Since 2004, almost 900 sex buyers have attended a deterrent one-day course, of whom only 27 are known to have reoffended. Sgt Neil Radford, of Nottinghamshire police, says the number of women in street prostitution has fallen over 10 years, from 300 to around 50. If Britain followed Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada – and potentially, France – in adopting a sex-buyer law, the trade could also be reduced off-street, where prostitution remains dangerous and exploitative or, as an all-party parliamentary group on prostitution put it in 2014, a “form of violence against women and girls”.
The group deplored a “near pandemic” of violence that goes unreported because women are criminalised. Under current law, women and girls who are already damaged by prostitution, whether by actual physical violence or psychological trauma, are further punished with fines for having put themselves in harm’s way. In 2013-14, there were more charges for loitering and soliciting than for the crimes of pimping, brothel keeping, kerb crawling and advertising prostitution combined. Buyers, as Sgt Radford has often observed, just walk away.
In its report, Shifting the Burden , the all-party group recommended the introduction, instead, of a sex-buyer offence, of following the Nordic model. It then asked End Demand , a campaign to end commercial sexual exploitation, to find out how this could be implemented. The resulting report, produced by a commission on the sex buyer law, is to be launched in parliament this week. This concludes – on the basis of evidence from Nottingham and Suffolk, as well as countries such as Sweden, which criminalise buyers – that a similar law is overdue here, to reduce both the human and economic cost of prostitution.
Having participated in that commission, along with, among others, Alan Caton and Diane Martin, a survivor of the sex trade who has helped others to exit, I find it harder than ever to understand how any politician, local or otherwise, would want to perpetuate, by legalising it, a trade so staggeringly unequal and so dependent on the trafficked and marginalised. In Germany, which did precisely that in 2002, the resulting brothels are warehouses of migrant women, pimped for bargain basement prices. Legalisation has failed, it turns out, both to inspire more gallantry in clients and to convince many German women that supplying oral and anal sex on demand could make a nice change from waitressing.
“I find it awful, this is not work, you don’t set out to be in prostitution”, says a Swedish psychologist Lisen Lindström, whom the commission met in Stockholm. She treats women in and exiting prostitution for the city’s social services. Post-traumatic stress is common. What of the women who protest they’re happy in prostitution? “So let them,” she says. “We don’t bother them. We let them be. The majority have had very bad experiences, so let the focus be on them.” And if it’s the career prostitutes’ right to work, unhindered by a sex buyer law? “What kind of union would fight for the right to be raped? If being a psychologist meant that I should be beaten up or raped sometimes, what would my union say about that?”
To legalise prostitution, as Sweden’s chancellor of justice, Anna Skarhed, also pointed out, is to normalise sexual discrimination and violence against women. The reaction to a young woman’s murder in England’s legalised “managed zone” in Leeds was certainly muted, for a country that gets exercised about domestic violence, forced marriages, child rape. Many women in prostitution were underage, visibly so, when they were first exploited. For them, the rules are different. One UK campaigner argued recently for the legalisation of co-working for women in prostitution, “as this is the main way in which they believe their safety will be enhanced”. That the inessential business of prostitution should be as synonymous with serious physical danger as it is with organised crime barely registers as anomalous. If there were consistency in health and safety alone, Leeds police would be insisting on hi-vis jackets and lanyards in their night-time “managed zone”.
The converse, says Skarhed, has been a steady normalising, in Sweden, of the principles underlying the sex buyer law. As enforcement, with exit services, has depleted the number of prostitutes in Sweden, so attitudes have shifted : 70% want to keep the law.
But as in Britain, a forceful lobby maintains that the sex buyer law represents a “whorephobic” attack on women’s self-determination, moreover one infinitely more threatening to their wellbeing, you gather, than the kindly traffickers – who make an annual £130m in the UK. On the contrary, says Patrik Cederlöf, Sweden’s national co-ordinator against prostitution and human trafficking; when they are not criminalised, women are more willing to report attacks. Incidentally, with decreased supply, prices for sex have risen: witness a neat ledger shown to the commission by a Swedish state prosecutor, Lars Ågren, documenting the massive profits enjoyed, prior to discovery, by a Polish outfit running 23 prostitutes. “They could charge double in Sweden than in Poland.” He adds: “The girls aren’t making money.”
It’s quite true, though, that sex buyer laws are lousy for pimps. That’s another reason why one should, I think, be introduced in Britain, in the way now backed by the all-party group and proposed to the new home affairs select committee prostitution inquiry. As with any big, ethically blighted industry, PRs for prostitution will respond with renewed attacks on its opponents, to add to despairing assurances, as in Leeds, of futility: the trade is “as old as time”. So, of course, was slavery.
[German women] were pushed out of the market by sex workers from Eastern Europe: young, seemingly childlike women from Romania and Bulgaria who have come from the poorest environments and feed their families at home by having sex at dumping prices. [Social worker] Gabi Kubik calls it “survival prostitution”. Every month a prostitute from Eastern Europe earns 400 euros on average – pimps, often family members, take in about 10.000 euros.
Most women do not have a chance to espace this dependency. They work isolated and under degrading conditions, are abused and intimidated, have either no or little knowledge of German or are illiterate. […] Migrants are not only heard to reach with language programs. “They have culturally pre-formed, most often patriarchal role conceptions. It’s difficult to make them aware of the emergency situation they’re in”, says Gabi Kubik. […]
The massive pressure to earn as much money as possible and high competition in the prostitution milieu have as their consequence that the women continue to work even if they can hardly stand the strain. “The majority of the migrants we meet is in disastrous health”, Gabi Kubi reports. The women suffer from infectious diseases, have been feeling abdominal pain for weeks, are accidentally pregnant from johns who almost always demand sex without a condom. “Three to four abortions per year are not unusual for these women”, the social worker tells us.
Healthcare for Eastern European prostitutes is a big problem in Kassel. The majority of these women does not have insurance and no access to free ambulant and inpatient care. Voluntary check-up offerings by the health office are limited to infection protection, that is to say examination and diagnosis under suspicion of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, syphilis or hepatitis. Gabi Kubik criticizes this as insufficient. “We are far more often approached by women without health insurance because of acute diseases, pain and unwanted pregnancies. We then say to them that they have to go to the doctor’s – but we know that they cannot afford it”.
This is not only unsatisfying for the street workers. The lack of free healthcare services leads to the women continuing to work under pain until they cannot take it anymore and end up as an emergency case in an ambulance. And even here prostitutes are often sent away because of unclear cost transfers. “Even if they aren’t able to stand anymore”, says Gabi Kubik.
(I have changed the description of Gabi Kubik to ‘social worker’, she was misleadingly described as a ‘street worker’.)
When Channel 4 got permission to film inside the brothel, they set out to produce an even-handed exploration of what Britain could learn from Germany’s relaxed approach to prostitution. But in December, shortly after the film crew had packed up and left, 900 police officers descended upon the Paradise, and three others in the same chain. Michael Beretin, the Paradise’s “head of marketing”, was among those arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, forced prostitution and fraud. At the time of going to press he was still being held in a remand prison.
All of which, you might think, would make it pretty tough to present the case for the Paradise as a paradigm for a more enlightened approach to the sex trade. Documentary director Ed Watts gamely tries to set out the arguments in favour of such a liberal approach, but says that, “It wasn’t an attempt to make a piece that argues one way or the other, but the material speaks for itself. I think what the experience really brought home to me was that however you cut it, the business is always extremely dark and has a profound effect on those involved with it.”
Germany legalised prostitution in 2002, aiming to bring the industry out of the shadows – an argument advanced by many in Britain, where selling sex is legal, but keeping a brothel, soliciting and pimping are banned. Germany has become the sex capital of Europe, and the number of prostitutes has doubled to 400,000, with some estimates suggesting 90 per cent are coerced into the trade.
The unremitting grimness of the industry seeps through the brothel’s velour façade in almost every scene. Josie, who’s 23 and has spent four years in the sex trade, reckons she has slept with 15,000 men. The key item in her make-up bag is a tube of Xylocaine, a local anaesthetic gel that numbs the inevitable physical pain that results from sleeping with up to 20 men a day.
The mental anguish is not so easily dulled. “It’s very exhausting,” says Felicia, another prostitute. “I don’t think sex is fun. I don’t like having sex with lots of men. I don’t have the nerves to do it any more.” There is little sympathy from Beretin. “These people are a totally f*****-up, dysfunctional bunch,” he tells the camera. “Very few have any soul left.”
It is in this callous disregard for the women that the show plunges into the pits of darkness. One punter, Wolfgang, says he stopped calculating his encounters at the club after he passed 500. Asked how the experience affects the women, he is stumped. “I never thought about it.”
The women pay £20 a night for their own brothel accommodation – a room they share with up to six others. That, combined with the fee they pay to work there, and a daily government tax, means they are £100 down before the day begins. Only after sleeping with three men do they begin to turn a profit.
Is there a right place for prostitution? In 2006, Steve Wright murdered five women in Ipswich. All five of them had drug dependencies, and all were engaged in prostitution to fund their addiction. Wright was a punter – a regular, not obviously more violent than any of the men who picked up women on Ipswich’s streets. Even when the women were scared for their lives, they weren’t scared of Wright. “He was always a late person to come out, he would drive round a couple of times, then choose the girl he wanted,” Tracey Russell told the Guardian (her friend Annette Nicholls was Wright’s fourth victim). “We used to call them ‘window-lickers’ if they went around a lot. He was one of them. We didn’t suspect him.”
At the time, one popular opinion on the murders was that the five women had died because they were in the wrong place – and that criminalisation had put them there. In a piece published here in the New Statesman, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) blamed the law around prostitution, claiming that “women are being driven onto the streets by raids on premises where it is many times safer to work.” At the time, I was convinced that the five would still have been alive under different legislation. Looking back over the case, though, the facts don’t quite fit the ECP’s argument. Although one of Wright’s victims, Tania Nicol, had been forced out of massage parlours and on to the streets, she hadn’t been driven by raids: according to the manager of one of the parlours, she was asked to leave because of her drug use.
The women Wright killed weren’t “sex workers” pushed into harm’s way by illiberal limits on their “profession”; they were women with chaotic, fragile lives, pushed on to the frontier of male violence by their addictions. This was not a choice. (Russell described prostitution to the Guardian as “horrible”: “You learn to blank it out over the years, and because you are on drugs, [you] just think of something else. I know that sounds odd, but you do. ’Cos you get used to it, and it’s over within seconds. Hopefully.”) Even if there had been a legal brothel in Ipswich, it seems unlikely that these five women would have been inside it.
And yet the argument that decriminalisation will make prostitution safe persists – in the UK, it’s policy for both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. What this “safety” for women would look like in practice is less discussed, but there is an example we can learn from just a few hundred miles away. Germany legalised prostitution in 2002, with the reasoning (as Nisha Lilia Diu reported for the Telegraph) that this would make prostitution “a job like any other”. Sex work as work, with contracts, benefits, workplace protections and none of the stigma that supporters of legalisation often claim is the ultimate source of harm to women in prostitution.
The German experiment didn’t go as planned: women (often migrants looking to score fast profits and get out of the country again) didn’t register for benefits, and the brothels that sprang up didn’t want to offer any contracts or risk any liability. Instead, brothel owners function more like landlords, charging the same cover fee for men to enter their premises and for women to work there, meaning a woman in prostitution won’t even start to make money till her second or third punter of the night. And what does she have to do to make that money? This week, Channel 4 documentary The Mega Brothel went inside the Stuttgart branch of the Paradise chain (yes, brothels in Germany have chains, like fast food joints or high street clothes shops) and interviewed the women, the punters and the brothel owner.
If you have any hopes that Paradise might be an Edenic scene of liberated sexuality, you should surrender them now. Early on, one of the punters explains his philosophy to the programme makers. “Sex is a service,” he says. “If you want to have good sex, you must pay good money for this service.” (The idea that “good sex” might involve respect, intimacy or mutuality has apparently not occurred to him: it is just a service, a thing performed by women for men, like doing the laundry or cleaning the house.) The interviewer asks a question: “What effect does that have on the girls themselves?” And the punter seems genuinely stumped. After a moment’s silence, he volunteers: “I don’t know, I never thought about it.”
It seems that a lot of the men don’t think about what they’re doing to the women they pay to have sex with. When Josie, who works as a prostitute at Paradise, shares the contents of her bag with the camera, she’s offering a dreary inventory of pain – experienced, anticipated and avoided. “I have a vibrator… a small one because sometimes men can be a little bit too aggressive, a little rough,” she explains. A medicinal-looking tube turns out to contain genital anaesthetic: “It’s like a small insurance if the pain is getting too big,” she says.
What kind of “work” can this be, where women have to numb their vaginas to tolerate penetration by men who don’t even think of the person penetrated as capable of feelings? Certainly not the kind of work that women are respected for doing. Michael Beretin, Paradise’s head of marketing, describes the women he lives off with maximal contempt: “These people are a totally fucked up, dysfunctional bunch of people. Very few of them have any soul left … It’s very sad but it’s what they are.” (This strange accountancy of the human essence echoes something said by the madam of a licensed Nevada brothel to Louis Theroux in the 2003 documentary Louis and the Brothel: “Every girl who’s really good at what she does gives away a little piece of her soul every time.”) The theory that stigma would evaporate on contact with legitimacy turns out to be nothing but fantasy, itself simmering into nothing once exposed to the real world.
In Germany, there are still pimps (the “loverboys” who pressure the women into the brothel and then skim their earnings). There are still traffickers, trying to get their human product into Paradise. There is still hate for the women. And fundamentally, there is still the raw brute fact of women being fucked for money, fucked sore, fucked as though they were not at home in their own bodies. Prostitution is violence against women, inflicted by men. The violence of being roughed up with a vibrator is less than the violence of being suffocated, but even having to draw that comparison is sickening. There is no “safe” here – when women’s bodies are made open for men’s use, we are simply disputing the boundary between “terrorised” and “dead”. Prostitution isn’t merely an occupation with some unfortunate but inevitable (male, violent) hazards to be ameliorated: it’s an institution that insists on the dehumanisation of women, the grinding away of our souls so we become easier to fuck, easier to use, easier to kill. Under sky or under ceiling, it’s the same. No one suspected Steve Wright. He was just another regular. The regulars are the problem.
Please note, this is the article I complained about yesterday, but I think the information is too important not to re-blog.
At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe, according to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.
In the first attempt by law enforcement agencies to quantify one of the most worrying aspects of the migrant crisis, Europol’s chief of staff told the Observer that thousands of vulnerable minors had vanished after registering with state authorities.
Brian Donald said 5,000 children had disappeared in Italy alone, while another 1,000 were unaccounted for in Sweden. He warned that a sophisticated pan-European “criminal infrastructure” was now targeting refugees. “It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children. Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with.”
The plight of unaccompanied child refugees has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in the migrant crisis. Last week it was announced that Britain would accept more unaccompanied minors from Syria and other conflict zones. According to Save the Children, an estimated 26,000 unaccompanied children entered Europe last year. Europol, which has a 900-strong force of intelligence analysts and police liaison officers, believes 27% of the million arrivals in Europe last year were minors.
“Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children. Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be,” said Donald, indicating that the 10,000 figure is likely to be a conservative estimate of the actual number of unaccompanied minors who have disappeared since entering Europe.
In October, officials in Trelleborg, southern Sweden, revealed that some 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children who had arrived in the port town over the previous month had gone missing. On Tuesday a separate report, again from Sweden, warned that many unaccompanied refugees vanished and that there was “very little information about what happens after the disappearance”.
In the UK the number of children who disappear soon after arriving as asylum seekers has doubled over the past year, raising fears that they are also being targeted by criminal gangs.
Mariyana Berket, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said: “Unaccompanied minors from regions of conflict are by far the most vulnerable population; those without parental care that have either been sent by their families to get into Europe first and then get the family over, or have fled with other family members.”
Donald confirmed Europol had received evidence some unaccompanied child refugees in Europe had been sexually exploited. In Germany and Hungary, the former a popular destination country for refugees and migrants, with the latter an important transit state, large numbers of criminals had been caught exploiting migrants, he said. “An entire [criminal] infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow. There are prisons in Germany and Hungary where the vast majority of people arrested and placed there are in relation to criminal activity surrounding the migrant crisis,” said Donald.
The police agency has also documented a disturbing crossover between organised gangs helping to smuggle refugees into the EU and human-trafficking gangs exploiting them for sex work and slavery. He said that longstanding criminal gangs known to be involved in human trafficking, whose identity had been logged in the agency’s Phoenix database, were now being caught exploiting refugees.
I mean, look at this last paragraph “sex work and slavery”, for fucks sake, he can write ‘slavery’, but he’s too afraid of the sex industry lobby to write ‘sex slavery’?
How fucked up is it that the commercial sexual exploitation of children is separated out from slavery?
As I said yesterday, the author is on twitter: @townsendmark
Why not let him know that his terminology is on the side of the child rapists?
A study of the impact of legalized prostitution has found that countries where prostitution is legal experience larger reported human trafficking inflows than countries in which prostitution is prohibited.
Professor Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and a team of researchers analyzed data on human trafficking from a global sample of 116 countries in order to determine what effect a country’s domestic policy on prostitution has on trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.
The authors described international human trafficking as “one of the dark sides of globalization,” where the victims, the vast majority of whom are women and girls, end up being sexually exploited through prostitution.
Domestic policy on prostitution in countries of destination, the researchers found, has “a marked effect.”
“Most victims of international human trafficking are women and girls coerced into the sex industry abroad,” said Professor Neumayer. “We wanted to find out if legalized prostitution increases or reduces demand for trafficked women.”
The researchers considered two opposing economic theories that could come into play to support their findings: the “scale effect” where legalized prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market, thus increasing human trafficking, and the “substitution effect” that reduces demand for trafficked women as legal prostitutes are favored over trafficked ones.
“One theory is that legalized prostitution reduces demand because legally residing prostitutes are favoured over trafficked ones after legalization,” Professor Neumayer wrote.
“However, our research suggests that in countries where prostitution is legalized, there is such a significant expansion of the prostitution market that the end result is larger reported inflows of human trafficking. While legalizing prostitution can have positive effects on the working conditions of those legally employed in the industry, it also appears to boost the market for this fast-growing global criminal industry.”
The research team identified the contrasting domestic policies on prostitution of Sweden, Germany and Denmark as significant examples that were representative of their conclusions.
In 1999 Sweden passed legislation that criminalized the buying of sex, and decriminalized the selling of sex. The principle behind this legislation is clearly stated in the government’s literature on the law: “In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem… gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them.”
The legislation virtually wiped out prostitution and sex trafficking in Sweden. The Swedish government estimates that since 1999 only 200 to 400 women and girls have been annually trafficked into Sweden for prostitution, while in neighboring Finland the number is reported to be 15,000 to 17,000.
Germany legalized prostitution in 2002. The researchers found that “Germany showed a sharp increase in reports of human trafficking upon fully legalizing prostitution in 2002.”
Moreover, reports from German authorities have shown that legalization has not had the expected “workplace” benefits for prostitutes, nor has it improved the situation for German women at large.
The LSE researchers’ examination of Denmark, where “self-employed prostitution” was decriminalized in 1999, revealed that the number of human trafficking victims was more than four times that of Sweden, although the population size of Sweden is about 40 percent larger than Denmark.
The LSE study corroborates a 2003 study by the Scottish government on the consequences of prostitution policies in several countries. That study found that countries that had legalized and/or regulated prostitution had a dramatic increase in all facets of the sex industry, saw an increase in the involvement of organized crime in the sex industry, and found a dismaying increase in child prostitution, trafficking of women and girls and violence against women.
Australian feminist, environmental activist and whistleblower Isla MacGregor gave a compelling case against Amnesty International’s “Sex Work policy” at the Women’s International League For Peace and Freedom (WILPF) forum in Hobart, Tasmania today .
MacGregor was invited to speak by Human Rights Award recipient Linley Grant.
The talk by the self- described “retired activist”, (who recently won the Volcano Art Prize for her evocative photographs of the environmental impacts of mining on both the earth and community) was “well received”and praised as “informative and mind-changing” by attendees at the forum.
MacGregor’s talk has been taken as a case to the WILPF branch of the United Nations.
“How will Amnesty International’s Sex Trade Policy
Impact on Human Rights,
Poverty and Violence to Women Globally?”
Talk by Isla MacGregor for the
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Forum in Human Rights Week, Hobart 4 December 2015
Thank you Linley for inviting me to give this presentation during the 2015 Human Rights Week events in Hobart.
“Prostitution affects all women because it affects the way men regard women.”- Julian Burnside – @JulianBurnside #qanda 5:36 AM – 1 Sep 2014
(Julian Burnside AO QC is an Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, and author.)
The subject I am about to talk about is not one that receives much public or media attention. Nor is it a topic of ‘polite’ in depth conversation amongst members of social justice or human rights groups.
But the inherent harms to women in a globally expanding sex trade urgently need to be brought back into public discourse – especially now, when the White Ribbon campaign to end men’s violence to women is attracting so much media attention.
Recently, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said –
All violence against women begins with disrespecting women….and further….. men need to take action.
There are many urgent questions that must be addressed by the human rights community. Most importantly, the voices of survivors of all forms of violence against women, including in the sex trade, must be heard. They must not be silenced or threatened.
Why does the debate about men’s violence toward women not include the violence perpetrated by men against the 40 million women worldwide who are part of the $99 billion dollar per annum sex trade? Many of these women have been trafficked, tricked or coerced into transactional sex as a result of war, poverty, terrorism, ecological disasters, or socio-economic disadvantage. Most have little or no education, many are homeless, and a disproportionate number have been sexually abused as children.
Society accepts the commodification of women’s bodies and its ensuing harms for the purpose of providing sexual access for men. Why has that not been considered as a contributing factor in the broader debate about the root causes of violence against women?
Why are the relentless multi-media pornification and hypersexualisation of our cultures, and the increasingly overt sexualisation of young girls not being widely questioned?
How could Amnesty International develop a policy that is incompatible with the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, the 1949 United Nations Convention on the Suppression of the Trafficking in Persons and on the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, and the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)?
I will begin by discussing what has been considered by many in the human rights movement globally as one of the most retrograde steps any human rights organisation has taken on the issue of women’s rights – Amnesty International’s new policy on what they controversially refer to as ‘sex work’.
Amnesty International began its consultation process on the issue of prostitution in 2008, largely in response to lobbying by the Amnesty Newcastle UK branch, and AI member and known pimp Douglas Fox. Fox stated publicly that he would pursue Amnesty International ‘mercilessly’ to develop a policy supporting full decriminalisation of the sex trade, including sex buyers, pimps and brothel owners.
Amnesty was roundly condemned for fast-tracking the sex laws policy and for dishonestly misrepresenting the alternative to decriminalisation – the Nordic Model – in the material distributed to members. They described Nordic Model laws as a ‘criminalisation’ of the sex trade, and ignored their true rationale – the decriminalisation of sellers of sex, and criminalisation of buyers, pimps and brothel owners.’
The Hobart branch of Amnesty International, for example, did not facilitate any meetings on the issue or invite input from proponents of different legislative approaches to the sex trade. At the 2014 Tasmanian Branch AGM, however, the issue was hotly debated when a resolution was moved by members who stacked the meeting in support of Nordic Model laws – not necessarily a democratic result, but it made a strong point about Amnesty’s decision making processes. Amnesty failed to invite submissions from international women’s human rights groups, or circulate information to members, on all alternative legislative approaches to the sex trade. The members were not fully or properly informed.
Prostitution survivor and National Director of the Nordic Model in Australia Coalition (NorMAC), Simone Watson said –
The proposed Amnesty International Council policy calling for the decriminalisation of sex work released at the Amnesty International Australia AGM held in Sydney last weekend (July 2014), has been roundly condemned by human rights, women’s and survivor groups and Amnesty members all over the world.
This is an appalling abuse of due process by the Amnesty International Council. Amnesty International is an organisation that has become increasingly top down in its consultation processes with members.
The International Secretariat previously admitted after receiving responses in 2013 to their Sex Work policy discussion paper that –
‘There is no question that the consultation process could have been handled much better.’
Of the 29 Amnesty sections that submitted consultation responses, nearly all were from Europe and North America but few responses were received from sections in developing nations or those where indigenous populations have proved to be at high risk of human rights abuses in the sex trade.
With just under 60% of Amnesty International sections not submitting any response on the Sex Work Policy and only four sections giving support to the policy, it is appalling that Amnesty persists with their policy direction.
Of the 40% of sections that submitted written feedback on the policy, all supported decriminalisation of sex workers.
Twenty eight per cent of sections that responded said they needed more research to be conducted by Amnesty to inform their views. And further, 38% of respondents called for an extension to the consultation process. Others found the consultation process to be flawed.
NorMAC submitted a formal and detailed complaint to Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty seeking an independent investigation into the conduct of the International Secretariat during the policy development process. NorMAC also expressed concern about the lack of proper membership and stakeholder consultation for the policy. Contrary to normal Amnesty procedures, Salil Shetty took no action.
Amnesty declined to offer any response to questions about the omissions from their final report to the International Council Meeting in Dublin in August this year.
For example, there was no reference to research critical of decriminalisation/legalisation outcomes in Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Neither was there any mention of positive outcomes for the Nordic Model in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The latter three countries are in the top five nations on the Global Gender Equity Index.
As I mentioned earlier, survivors’ voices and their experiences need to be heard. Simone Watson has written of her experience in the sex trade –
The first harm of prostitution arrived the day I took on the first ‘john’ and needed prescription medication to endure it. Far from being risqué and ‘kinda cool’, I experienced the need for dissociation, inhibiting of vomit-reflexes and humiliation. This did not end even after I left the industry, due to PTSD. It flares up to this day.
Writing the words ‘vomit-reflexes’ I am aware many will take that as the reality of being orally penetrated, and it is. Further, I mean to make clear that having been raped prior to, during, and after my time in the sex trade, nausea is commonly associated with rape, particularly when one is not able to engage the natural fight/flight response and thus experiences the ‘freeze’ response. As I was being paid, these natural reflexes where inhibited by way of my, quote, ‘job description.’ Prescription medication became my instant best friend.
I did not meet one woman, man or transperson in the sex trade who was not taking some form of medication, including, but not limited to, diazepam, xanax, alcohol and illicit drugs, outside of or during our ‘working’ hours.
I often hear that disabled men need access to prostituted people, and that women such as myself are therefore providing a service to these men, much as we do to soldiers, and any other group of men. The fact that those of us in prostitution end up with disabilities as a result of being sexually used by men seems irrelevant to the discussion and apart from being patronising to disabled men, I think that the prostituted matter and thus our right not to be bought and sold is in keeping with the same principle which demands one marginalised group of people should not be pitted against the other.
The research on the harms of prostitution is damning. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) posted a letter from survivors of prostitution on their website. It said –
The average age of entry into prostitution in the US is 13. By the time an ‘average’ girl in prostitution turns 18, she has been abused countless times as a minor by adults. Turning eighteen does not magically change the poverty, sexual violence and abuse, lack of education, racism, sexism, homophobia, and disability, which lead to and are perpetuated by the prostitution trap.
The European Women’s Lobby recently reported that –
80% of registered victims of trafficking are women and girls, and 69% are trafficked into the sex industry. Nearly all of these victims are women, who, in addition to the human rights violations they have already faced due to trafficking, are receiving very limited support, protection and attention from European legal systems.
NorMAC’s analysis of the sex trade is useful –
Research in 2003 looked at the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst women in prostitution across nine countries. It was found that 68% of those in the sex trade experienced PTSD. This rate is comparable to the trauma faced by rape survivors and survivors of state-sponsored torture.
In 2005 the National Drug and Alcohol Research centre published an article titled ‘Mental health, drug use and risk among female street-based sex workers in greater Sydney’. The project interviewed 72 women who had been involved in prostitution for 3 months or more, and the statistics highlighted the following –
- One quarter of the identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
- More than half left home before the age of 16.
- The median range for school completion was year 9.
- 14% had no fixed address or were currently homeless.
- Nearly half the sample reported being homeless within the past 12 months.
- Three-quarters of the sample experienced child sexual abuse before the age of 16.
- Almost two-thirds reported that after the age of 16 someone had sexual intercourse with them despite them making it clear they did not consent.
- One third of participants reported moving into prostitution before the age of 18.
- Two thirds of respondents found sex work stressful with half stating that the clients were the cause of this stress.
- 85% of women reported experiencing violence in prostitution, particularly physical assault (65%), rape with gun/knife (40%), rape without weapon (33%) and attempted rape (21%).a little over half (39 respondents) reporting severe depressive symptoms. A little over half of this group (54%) reported having attempted suicide and one-quarter of these had been before the age of 18. Half the sample also screened positively for a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with approximately half the total sample also meeting the criteria for PTSD with 31% of respondents reporting current PTSD symptoms.
‘Stigma’ is a word we often hear in conversations about the sex trade. Sex trade advocates often cite ‘stigma’ as one of the major issues for women in the sex trade and charge that abolitionists are doing nothing to ameliorate the problem of stigma for those in prostitution. But who is doing the stigmatising? What do men say about the women they use in prostitution?
Here are some examples –
No big deal, it’s just like getting a beer.
You pay for the convenience, a bit like going to a public loo.
Prostitution is like being able to masturbate without doing any of the work.
We’re living in the age of instant coffee, instant food. This is instant sex.
Look, men pay for women because they can have whatever and whoever they want. Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them real women would not put up with.
Prostitution is being able to do what you want without the taxation.
Ironically, today’s neo-liberal feminists support the arguments of ‘agency’ and ‘choice’ put forward by the sex trade lobby as justification for decriminalisation. Are they aware they have been co-opted by those who benefit from the sex trade? Not the prostituted persons, but the punters – the men who buy sex- the pimps and the brothel owners.
A study published this year in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence co-authored by UCLA Professor Neil Malamuth profiled men who buy sex. It found that men who buy sex are more likely to report having committed rape and other aggressive acts.
Professor Malamuth, a professor of communications studies and psychology, said –
Our findings indicate that men who buy sex share certain key characteristics with men who are at risk for committing sexual aggression. Both groups tend to have a preference for impersonal sex, a fear of rejection by women, a history of having committed sexually aggressive acts and a hostile masculine self-identification. Those who buy sex, on average, have less empathy for women in prostitution and view them as intrinsically different from other women.
Men who work in law enforcement in decriminalised/legalised jurisdictions have a unique perspective on the relationship between sex buyers and prostituted persons. A senior German Police Officer giving evidence to the European Parliament in Brussels said –
This is precisely what we had to experience in the course of investigations against a brothel in Augsburg a few years ago. We had found that the women were subjected to very strict rules and regulations by the brothel operators. For example, they had to be at the disposal of the punters for 13 hours running, they weren’t allowed to leave the brothel earlier, they had to walk around stark naked, they weren’t even allowed to decide on the prices for their services. Prices were unified and set. They partly had to offer unprotected sex. And they had to pay fees to the brothel for the infringement of any of these rules. These conditions are of course incompatible with human dignity. But the court declared all of this to be legal now, because of the new Prostitution Act.
The Nordic Model
As part of a hearing in the European Parliament recently, Jonas Henriksson, a Swedish Detective Sergeant who works combating prostitution and trafficking, referred to the model of prostitution legislation implemented in Sweden in 1998. He said –
The goal is to damage the market and to starve it of its buyers.
Also at the hearing, a member of the European Parliament, Malin Björk, who organised a workshop on the Nordic Model said –
I am happy to hear you will be focusing on addressing demand for trafficked women, but what exactly is this demand? Brothel owners, pimps, but also men buying sex. The Nordic Model has been very effective in addressing the issue of demand, so what will the Commission do to tackle this?
Nordic Model laws decriminalise all people who sell sex and provide exit programs for those who wish to leave the sex trade, including services aimed at providing housing, health, education and employment support. The prostitution law is part of broader legislation know as the Women’s Peace and Sanctuary Laws. As a result of criminalising buyers of sex these laws have had a marked effect on cultural attitudes to women, especially men’s attitudes, and has been effective in reducing sex trafficking.
In February this year the European Parliament voted in support of Nordic Model laws on prostitution. Recently, Northern Ireland implemented Nordic Model laws and it is expected Eire will follow soon. In Scotland there are moves to reintroduce a Nordic Model style bill next year. Along with Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and South Korea have introduced these laws, with Canada passing similar laws earlier this year. France and Israel are set to follow.
Prostitution and war
Many of you here might remember the shocking case of the whistleblower and American policewoman Kathryn Bolcovac. Kathryn exposed international humanitarian employees, UN police and NATO troops as regular buyers of sex from minors and trafficked women in Bosnia in 1998. She further revealed that UN police were involved in the trafficking of women. Her role was intended to stem the incidence of forced prostitution and sexual abuse in Bosnia but instead she ended up fighting for protection under public interest disclosure laws.
Another example of the sex trade flourishing in times of conflict is documented in the book Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World by Associate Professor of Anthropology David Vine at the American University in Washington, DC. He wrote –
As World War II came to a close, U.S. military leaders in Korea, just like their counterparts in Germany, worried about the interactions between American troops and local women. ‘Americans act as though Koreans were a conquered nation rather than a liberated people’, wrote the office of the commanding general. The policy became ‘hands off Korean women’, but this did not include women in brothels, dance halls and those working the streets.
U.S. military authorities occupying Korea after the war took over some of the ‘comfort stations’ that had been central to the Japanese war machine since the 19th century. During its conquest of territory across east Asia, the Japanese military forced hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, Okinawa and rural Japan, and other parts of Asia into sexual slavery, providing soldiers with ‘royal gifts’ from the emperor.
The arrangements were further formalized after the 1950 outbreak of the Korean War. ‘The municipal authorities have already issued the approval for establishing UN comfort stations in return for the Allied Forces’ toil’, wrote the Pusan Daily. ‘In a few days, five stations will be set up in the downtown areas of new and old Masan.
The ‘camp towns’ became deeply stigmatized twilight zones known for sex, crime and violence.
Former camp town former sex worker, Aeran Kim recalled –
Women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans. Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s
They urged us to sell as much as possible to the GI’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots’. Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military.
The links between war and the normalisation of sexual abuse and harm to women in prostitution remains a case of business as usual for male privilege and protection today.
Amnesty’s ‘sex work’ policy is a band-aid solution that ignores the lack of real global action on poverty and violence to women in the sex trade since the Nairobi Women’s Conference in 1975. This conference concluded that –
Men own 90% of the world’s wealth and women do 75% of the world’s work.
According to documents leaked in 2013, and prior to any consultation process, the Amnesty International Secretariat had already decided to push through with a full decriminalisation position. But who, other than 80 people claiming to be sex workers, did Amnesty consult with? Certainly not survivors of prostitution – not one was consulted.
The organisation, Abolish Prostitution Now (APN), provides a useful reference point on the Amnesty decision. Recently it posted the following –
Claudia Brizuela, a former leader of the Association of Women Prostitutes of Argentina and a founder of the Latin American-Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network, was arrested and charged for sex trafficking a year ago.
The latter network was also represented by Alejandra Gil in Mexico, also charged with sex trafficking this Spring, found guilty and condemned to 15 yrs. Both groups were funded by UNAIDS and referenced by Amnesty International in support of the policy it intends to adopt, where trafficking is described as not to be conflated with pimping and brothel-managing.
Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, summarised the issue in an article in the Huffington Post in October this year, titled ‘The Framing of Gender Apartheid: Amnesty International and Prostitution’.
What would happen if every country decriminalized prostitution? Not just the few that have already disastrously done so, but what if every government legitimized pimps and brothel owners and failed to hold men accountable for purchasing human beings for sex? Would the United Nations and its member states launch a 2050 Agenda for Investing in the Sex Trade as a Solution and Sustainable Development for Women and Girls, Especially the Most Indigent?
What marketing slogans would ensue? Might public agencies launch poverty alleviation campaigns? ‘First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal, African-Americans and Global South Populations: Are you Poor, Young, Incested, Transgendered, Homeless? With our help, the Sex Trade will provide you with shelter, food, free condoms and the opportunity to contribute to your (or a foreign) country’s Gross National Product. No experience or education required’.
Women have the unequivocal right to make decisions about their health, body, sexuality and reproductive life. Men, on the other hand, do not have the fundamental right to gain access to that body in the sex trade or in any other sphere, despite Amnesty’s premise to the contrary. Amnesty is refusing to admit that the prostituted suffer at the hands of buyers regardless of the legal environment, wilfully ignoring johns‘ own accounts of their predilection for dehumanization, and research showing their propensity for sexual violence.
Think of this: over three million women and girls are sold to men on a daily basis in mega-brothels in India. Under Amnesty’s plan, that number would exponentially increase with legalized demand and cultural acceptance of prostitution as a viable livelihood for poor, low caste and invisible girls and young women. A vote to endorse the global sex trade would wipe out any progress to advance women’s rights that Amnesty might have made in the past years.
The Afrikaans term apartheid means ‘apart and aside’ and evokes one of the most brutal regimes in modern history. By encouraging governments to enshrine the sex trade as just another potential employer, Amnesty is promoting gender apartheid, the segregation of women between those who deserve access to economic and educational opportunities and those who are condemned to prostitution. Make no mistake: as long as women are for sale, no woman will be viewed as equal in corporate boardrooms, in the halls of legislature, or in the home.
A visionary human rights organization crafts its mission on what we’d like the world to be, not accommodate the untold suffering that exists. But until Amnesty rights this wrong, its legitimacy is tarnished; its soul, lost; its candle, extinguished.’
And this decision by Amnesty International comes at a time when women in Greece – a country experiencing a dire financial crisis – have been forced to sell themselves for the price of a sandwich. When the spectre of climate change means an impending human and ecological disaster and the mass migration of women from rich food growing coastal belts to urban ghettos, with few options for survival available to them.”
Eva Marree Smith Kullander, a Swedish mother of two, was stabbed to death by her ex-husband during a supervised visit with her children on July 11, 2013.
A few years prior to her murder, Kullander (known professionally as Petite Jasmine) lost custody of her children when a family member reported her to social services for selling sex. Despite telling social services that her ex-husband was abusive, the state gave primary custody to him, and he refused to let Jasmine see their children. Jasmine fought hard to regain contact with her children, even though her ex-husband continuously threatened her with violence. After two years of court battles, social services finally began working to reunite Jasmine with her children. It was in a social worker’s office, during the first visit she’d had with her son in over a year, that Jasmine’s ex-husband stabbed her to death (the attending social worker was also stabbed, but survived).
In response to this vicious murder, the English Collective of Prostitutes, the International Committee for the Rights of Sex Workers, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) and many other sex worker rights organizations staged protests, demonstrations, and rallies in cities all over the world.
Jasmine was “stabbed to death by stigma,” they claimed. “End violence against sex workers,” they demanded. “Full decriminalization now.”
According to these sex worker rights organizations, if prostitution in Sweden were fully decriminalized, Jasmine’s ex-husband would never have killed her.
“NSWP (Global Network of Sex Work Projects) condemns the ‘Swedish Model’ that claims to protect women involved in sex work by criminalizing clients. This paternalistic approach fundamentally denies women’s agency and marks a state stamp of approval on the stigma attached to sex work, a stamp that cost Jasmine her life at the hands of her ex-partner.”
Unlike New Zealand, which is praised by sex worker rights organizations for fully decriminalizing prostitution, Sweden has adopted the Nordic Model, which decriminalizes women like Jasmine, but continues to criminalize pimps and johns.
But are prostitutes in New Zealand really safer than prostitutes in Sweden, as sex worker rights organizations claim?
Since the Nordic Model was adopted in Sweden 16 years ago, not a single prostituted woman has been murdered by a john. Not one. Jasmine is the only one to be murdered during that time, and that was a murder committed by her abusive ex-husband.
New Zealand, with only half the population of Sweden, has lost several prostituted women to gruesome murders committed by johns since full decriminalization was implemented in 2002.
And yet not one of the sex worker rights organizations that protested so vehemently against the murder of Petite Jasmine saw fit to protest the murders of these women in New Zealand. Their murders didn’t fit the pro-sex work agenda, and so their murders were erased.
Here are a few of their stories:
Ngatai Lynette Manning was 27 years old in 2008 when she was stabbed, strangled, raped, and beaten to death with a metal pole.
Manning, more commonly known as Mellory, had a difficult childhood spent mostly in foster care, and was pulled into the vicious cycle of drugs and prostitution at the age of 14. After her sister committed suicide, Mellory fought successfully to break out of that cycle, fearing she, too, would die young. Mellory was able to get clean, enroll in a polytechnic school and study art. She and her partner, Kent Gorrie, talked about getting married and having children. But when Mellory’s poverty and unemployment made her unable to afford Christmas presents, she decided to return to prostitution for “just one night.”
On December 18, 2008, Mellory was walking down Blenheim Road and was picked up at 10:35 by Mauha Huatahi Fawcett, a 21 year old man who went by the gang name, “Muck Dog.” Fawcett had not yet received entry into the Mongrel Mob gang and had been ordered to take part in the killing of Manning to gain membership. As part of his gang initiation, Fawcett was ordered to stab Manning but claims to have backed out. He testified that as loud music blared, Mellory was strangled, stabbed, raped and beaten with a metal pole while gang members “barked like dogs” and gave Nazi salutes. Mellory died from her injuries and Fawcett dumped her body into the nearby Avon river.
Catherine Healy, national coordinator for the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, says her organization is a huge supporter of New Zealand’s decision to decriminalize sex work, which makes it easy and legal for johns to purchase sex from women working at home, on the street, or from the web.
“It’s really important to have as many options as possible and to be able to work wherever one wants — we’ve avoided a monopoly scenario and it keeps exploitation in check,” Healy claims. New Zealand’s policy of full decriminalization has “been just fantastic, really,” she said.
When Mellory was murdered, sex worker rights organizations did not call for a “sex worker uprising” as they did following Petite Jasmine’s murder. In fact, there was not a single protest, rally, or demonstration organized on Mellory’s behalf. Not one.
“Suzie Sutherland was a petite woman who is said to have hated violence,” the New Zealand Herald reports. In April 2005, Jules Patrick Burns picked her up on the street to buy sex, strangled her, and left her naked body propped awkwardly against a wooden fence in a vacant lot. Her family described Suzie as a “very beautiful young woman, well-spoken and gentle.” They said she had been a good student as a child, and could play the piano and cello. A “happy and cooperative” girl, she adored animals, was artistically talented, and loved singing and acting. Her dreams for the future included travelling the world and pursuing her education. Sadly, as a young adult, Suzie started using drugs and became addicted to morphine. At 20, she attempted to get sober and entered rehab, but left before finishing her treatment. Suzie’s family hoped she would try again to break free of her addiction, but instead she moved away to Christchurch and shut them out of her life.
The john who murdered Suzie, Jules Burns, told the jury she seemed “very professional.” At the start, he said, she was “enthusiastic and talkative”, but became irritable after a while, and angrily told him he was “taking too long”. Burns claimed the sex had been a “satisfactory experience” for him, and that when he was finished he drove Suzie back to the corner where he had picked her up. According to a police statement, Burns approached several prostitutes on the morning of the murder. He was convicted of strangling Suzie and sentenced to a minimum of 17 years in prison.
There was not a single protest, rally, demonstration, or “sex worker uprising” called for by sex worker rights organizations on Suzie’s behalf. Not a single one.
In December 2005, 24 year old Anna Louise Wilson, mother of a four year old girl, was picked up for sex by Peter Steven Waihape. He drove her to a carpark, where an argument broke out when he refused to use a condom. Waihape then partially strangled the young woman, removed her clothing, bound her hands and raped her. He then pushed her out of the car and ran her over. When Anna became trapped under the car, begging and pleading for her life, he ran her over again. Witnesses to the murder reported hearing Waihape laughing as he repeatedly ran her down. This was not the first time he’d assaulted a woman.
Justice Lester Chisholm shared damning witness testimony at Waihape’s sentencing hearing: “You were then seen to get out of your car and kick her at least twice. She managed to free herself and sat up. She pleaded for her life. Then you drove at her a number of times, smashing through a concrete wall.” Waihape then dragged the young woman back into his car, drove her to the Avon river, and threw her half-naked body into the water.
“The ultimate indignity,” Judge Chisholm said, “was that you used her as a stepping platform to get out of the river. It couldn’t get much worse, Mr Waihape.” Anna’s semi-naked body was found in the Avon River about 3pm on Thursday, lying in mud on her back with her wrists bound in front of her and her head submerged under water.
At the sentencing hearing, Anna’s father described the heartbreak he felt at his daughter’s funeral, watching his granddaughter “stand next to her mother’s coffin… rubbing her dead mother’s stomach.”
Despite the viciousness of the murder, there was not a single protest, rally, demonstration, or “sex worker uprising” called for by a single sex worker rights organizations on Anna’s behalf. Not one.
Nuttidar Vaikaew was a Thai prostitute living in New Zealand who went by the professional name, “Sky.” She was strangled to death by one of her “regulars,” Gordon Hieatt, in her own home. After murdering Sky, Hieatt continued to visit other prostituted women. His computer records showed him engaging in online chats with one prostitute in Thailand while still living in the apartment with Sky’s decomposing body. In the messages, Hieatt admitted to murdering Sky and “said he read jokes all day to cheer himself up.” When the police found Sky’s body, it was on a bed in the lounge, heavily decomposed, and holding an ace of hearts playing card. Hieatt was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
There was not a single protest, rally, demonstration, or “sex worker uprising” called for by sex worker rights organizations on Sky’s behalf. Not one.
“It’s been just fantastic, really.”
“Often sex workers are really envious that sex workers have rights in this country that are the same as anyone else in the work force,” Healy said.
New Zealand has half the population of Sweden. Half. And not one prostitute has been murdered by a john in Sweden since the Nordic model passed in 1999. Not one in 16 years.
Surely anyone who cared about the lives of prostituted women would call that “fantastic” — much more so than the gruesome realities faced by New Zealand’s prostitutes.
But let’s not just pick on New Zealand. In Germany, 55 prostitutes have been murdered since 2002 when prostitution was legalized. There have also been 29 attempted murders.
The Netherlands has almost the exact same overall murder rate as Sweden. But 28 prostituted women have been murdered in the Netherlands since the year 2000, when prostitution was legalized.
Let’s review those numbers.
Germany: 55 sex workers murdered by johns in 13 years. The Netherlands: 28 sex workers murdered by johns in 15 years. Sweden: Zero sex workers murdered by johns in 16 years.
“We demand an end to stigma, criminalization, violence, and murders. “ the NSWP declares.
But if that’s really what they want, why aren’t they supporting the Nordic Model? Perhaps it’s because the Nordic model cuts into the profits of the more privileged women in prostitution, pimps, and brothel owners. What’s a few murdered women when there’s so much money to be made?
Mellory, Suzie, Anna, and Sky. Say their names. Their lives matter. And they were viciously murdered by johns in a country where prostitution is being normalized.
Please do not erase them.
Imagine opposing big business in ALL its forms. Challenging industry lobbyists. Following the money. Fighting for alternatives. Freeing the world’s poor from having to service the world’s rich. Choosing solidarity with women, children and the world’s poorest.