I’m very angry today
Yesterday I went to the women’s march. It was great. It felt a little shallow, some people had signs with memes or fandom things in them. There was a guy with a sign that said “real men respect women” which lol.
But there were young women, a collective of old women who had knitted a whole sign out of yarn, a collective of romani women dennouncing discrimination and misogyny they face, little girls with their moms, there were marxist women, women fighting for education, there were some people with trans flags too, and also many signs making a symbol out of their female bodies and making chants referencing it, there were marxist women, there were women pro and anti hijab/forced modesty, and women pro and against prostitution. It was a very plural experience, and that felt good, to have us all screaming against sexual violence and sitting down in honor of the women murdered in 2019. It was a good reminder that we’re very plural, and that the people who would demand to control the narrative really don’t control all of what feminism is. Too much difference of opinion weakens a fight, but in such a time when any difference among feminism is severely punished, it’s important to realize that yes, different opinions can coexist. Because that’s the important thing, the march I attended was peaceful.
That was not the case in Madrid or Barcelona. In the later, they had “kill terfs” signs. In the former, a group of women who are prostitution and gender abolitionists had a really big sign demanding an end to sexual slavery and explotation and people tried to cover their sign, when that failed, they tried to cut it up, with A KNIFE, people took one of the signs down and tried to break it and stomp on it claiming it was “transphobic” (all the sign said was “stop misogynistic violence” but you know, it was made by a group that supports the abolition of prostitution so, they’re Satan) the feminists in question were pushed around violently, one was punched, someone tried to threaten an old woman and her dog. The people who did it? Some were part of THE MARCH ORGANIZING COMMITTEE, others were trans activists with pink bands on their arms meant to signify and “inclusive march”.
So I read that this morning, and I’m very very angry, but for once, that anger feels good. It feels righteous, like anger I can turn into something. Because I went on Twitter, and there were so many women talking about this, and not just random gender critical women, but women who have been historical figures of Spanish feminism for decades. Important activists. Journalists with a very big following. People who had no real clue what was going on but the violence didn’t sit right with them. A deputee of our Congress just casually rting gender critical articles. There has been a lot of talk on tv here over the last few days over the divisions among feminism especially when it comes to self-id and prostitution/pornography, and it is very clear whose side the mass media is on. But our perspectives were brought to the forefront, and they were listened to somewhat. And after yesterday’s circus so many more people are speaking out about who the problem is and who actually causes these so-called divisions. I don’t know if this means that we have a chance to influence things, we’re gonna have our own gender self-id row very soon (also our Minister of Equality said, about the proposal to make a law that deals with sex trafficking since we have so many cases of that, that she’s “for the complete abolition of sex trafficking but she has friends who are for the regulation of prostitution so :(” and so many people are calling bullshit, but there’s being talk of a law tackling trafficking by activists groups, the conversation is out in the open, now we must move our pieces)
I don’t know if this new notoriety is gonna make anyone listen, but we’re here, we’re condemning the absolutely despicable behaviors promoted by liberal feminists and trans activists, and so many people with a big following are doing it. For once it really feels like they won’t shut us up.
Ok I’m gonna tell you what they did in France and Belgium.
A prostitution survivor named Fiji was holding a sign that said : I am a survivor of incest and prostitution and I am an abolitionist. «Abolitionist» is what we call anti-prostitution feminists in France.
As she was bravely marching, the liberals kept following her, laughing at her and taking pictures to identify her. Then some girls came behind her, one of them asked : «are you against prostitution ?» she replied «yes», the girl said «I am pro sex» and, still smiling, tried to steal the sign from Fiji’s hands. All the feminists that were supporting her held on to her sign and protected her. The liberals were laughing. The feminists were outraged «how are you not ashamed ? How dare you do that to a victim ? How dare you speak of feminism ?» they asked. The liberals laughed some more and started chanting «DEATH TO ABOLITIONISTS».
The liberals kept following them and laughing… feminist survivors were not safe… in a march for women’s rights. After a while, the liberals took out their own sign it said : transfeminists. You can see them behind Fiji on the picture I posted above.
Anti-prostitution activist Joana and her group (which included ex prostituted women) were attacked and punched in the face by men and women wearing masks.
«They saw us preparing for the march, taking out our banner and they jumped us, kicked us, hit us». Their big anti-prostitution banner was stolen. Joana tried to run after the thieves to get her banner back. As a result 5 people wearing masks beat her up in the middle of the street. The police had to intervene to stop the beating.
Later that day a local «anti-fascist» group wearing masks posted a picture of themselves proudly posing with a racist banner they had stolen. On the ground is Joana’s banner that says “survivors, feminists, abolitionists fighting” and “collectif abolition porno prostitution” which I don’t need to translate I think.
After realizing that Joana’s banner was visible the “anti-fascist” page changed the picture.
Too late. They have been reported to the police.
Several survivors of prostitution have reported that as they were marching some liberals/trans activists were chanting «death to abolitionists» and «death to fascists». A prostituted friend of mine added : «there were no fascist near us, yet the trans activists were looking at us, they were menacing and trying to provoke us, you could tell they wanted to beat us up». One liberal screamed “no feminism without whores !”, others were getting close enough to whisper “death to abolitionists” in women’s ears and then disappear into the crowd like some sort of sick game.
On facebook, prostitution survivor Emma wrote this post:
«I just came back from the march for women’s rights in Bruxelle. We had abolitionist signs. We were booed several times by women who chanted «death to abolionists, death to fascists» looking us straight in the eyes.
So I had to endure the violence of a pimp, the discrimination that goes with prostitution and now I am told to die during a march for women’s rights because I am speaking up about the suffering I’ve been through.»
She added a video to her post in which we can see and hear liberal women chanting «death to abolitionists».
All that being said and speaking from my experience in France, liberal pseudo-feminism is more of a cult than anything else. They are a minority who have built an echo chamber for themselves, mostly on the internet, and when out in the real world, facing their limits as an idiotic and self centered little cult they shout and threaten and grin and kick but normal people don’t understand a word they are saying. They remind me of skinheads actually. Dangerous and pathetic at the same time.
Anyway, nothing can stop actual feminism and sisterhood.
QotD: “It was clear that public protest was the only way we were going to get people talking about women’s liberation”
When I first encountered feminism, in 1979, aged 17, there was one story I heard about over and over from the activists I was hanging out with: the direct action that disrupted the 1970 Miss World competition, in front of a live audience of 100 million TV viewers worldwide, 20 million of them in Britain. Several women had dressed up and bought tickets to the televised event at the Royal Albert Hall in London and, at the height of proceedings, threw flour bombs and shook loud rattles, leading to the programme being taken off air and sending the host, the US comedian Bob Hope, scuttling backstage. The massive success of that action taught me that huge change can come from women being inventive and brave.
At a screening of the film Misbehaviour, based on that protest, I was honoured to sit next to a couple of elderly women who had taken part in the protest. I thanked them for setting an example of proper feminism for future generations, and they told me they have been heartened by what looks like a resurgence of public feminist protest.
At the time of the Miss World protest the movement was only a few months old, having been launched at the now infamous conference held at Ruskin College, Oxford, in February 1970. The way the competitors were judged and paraded around like cattle in beauty contests further entrenched the notion that women were worth nothing unless we were glamorous for men. The notorious “36-24-36” that judges considered the ideal body shape for women became common parlance and gave rise to such sexist monstrosities as the Sun’s Page 3.
My first direct action was with a group of feminists protesting against the tax on sanitary products. We went into a large supermarket, filled our trolleys with sanitary towels and tampons, took them to the checkout and then refused to pay the full amount, insisting they deduct the 15% VAT. Security eventually led us out, but lots of women stopped to ask us about the protest. Most had no idea that an essential product such as sanitary protection was considered to be a “luxury item”. We raised some awareness that day.
I then joined a group of women going out late at night, after the pubs had closed, spray-painting feminist slogans on billboards with messages that were sexist and demeaning to women. Over the billboard depicting a car with the slogan “If this car was a lady it would get its bottom pinched”, we daubed, “If this lady was a car she’d run you down”. Over the image of a naked woman half under a duvet on an advertisement for a bed, which was captioned, “We can improve your nightlife” we sprayed, “Join lesbians united”.
It was clear that public protest was the only way we were going to get people talking about women’s liberation. These were the days before the internet, social media or mobile phones. There was no 24-hour news, and stories were broken in a newspaper the morning after the events had taken place. Feminists became inventive, and we were very successful. There were pickets and protests outside cinemas showing “video nasties” – essentially violent and misogynistic pornography. We’d go in pairs to visit all the local newsagents once a week and remove magazines such as Playboy and Hustler from the top shelves, piling them up on the floor. Other shoppers would often praise us, joining in our protest about women’s subordination being sold as titillation for men.
One of my favourite actions was getting into the offices of the Yorkshire Evening Post after the editor had refused to acknowledge letters of complaint from my women’s group about the way that sexualised images of women, often topless, were strategically and purposely placed next to reports of rape. We found our way into the building and to the editor’s office, and politely explained why this practice was offensive and damaging. It was soon stopped.
Since those early days, before CCTV, when I was young and reckless enough not to care if I ended up with a criminal record, I’ve taken part in countless legal public protests against male violence. Despite the fact that much activism is now online, I still hold with the feminist tradition of being loud, visible and public. I wish more women would walk away from their keyboards and wave a placard or hold a banner outside the court of appeal to protest against injustice to women, such as the recent campaign to free Sally Challen. Public protest is the lifeblood of feminism, and no amount of online activity could ever replace it. I am grateful to those women that launched the Women’s Liberation Movement with such verve and sheer audacity. Let’s ditch the armchair and keyboard and grab the placard and loudhailer with both hands.
QotD: “The portrayal of porn culture as an empowering, feminist win epitomizes the degree to which pop culture feminism has lost its way”
Last Sunday, a number of Pornhub’s most popular Asian performers took to the runway at New York Fashion Week to model the “Herotica” collection from Namilia. The designers behind the label, Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl, described their choice of models as a “feminist statement.” Li explained, “The cosmos of sexual pleasure has been restricted to a few boring and chauvinistic narratives for the pleasure of the male gaze,” adding, “Porn isn’t something existentially male.” With this collection, Li and Pfohl intended to subvert the dominant narrative of submissive Asian women, by using dominatrix-inspired looks — a traditional Chinese dress was deconstructed, and merged with contemporary sadomasochistic porn culture.
The collection is heavily influenced not only by porn, but by sadomasochism in particular — the designers included a schoolgirl-type uniform, with a pink and white pleated leather skirt (a blatant nod to porn culture’s fetishization of girlhood), and printed the phrase “cock wrecker” on a number of items from the collection. During a backstage interview, Li said, “We wanted to take porn into a new context to kind of normalize sex work, prostitution, pornography, and put it in a fashion show context, so there’s not as much shame and taboo,” emphasizing her desire to create a “revolutionary new feminist youth culture.”
The portrayal of porn culture as an empowering, feminist win epitomizes the degree to which pop culture feminism has lost its way, completely abandoning the long-standing feminist goal of female liberation in favour of a faux-feminism that panders to male desire. Far from representing a challenge to the male gaze (the apparent aim of the designers), the show stayed perfectly on script, falling prey to the sleight of hand that has convinced women that our sexual objectification is subversive and liberatory. In a classic marketing move, porn culture and those who profit from it have sold us something that harms us, and convinced us that we wanted it all along.
Pornhub is one of the most popular porn sites on the internet. Alexa, the leading web-traffic tracker, lists Pornhub in 36th place among the world’s most visited websites, out of tens of millions of sites. Rule out search engines like Google, web portals like Yahoo, and shopping sites like Amazon, Pornhub takes fourth place, beaten out of the top spot by Wikipedia, Microsoft, and Netflix. Four other porn sites crack the top 100, including XVideos, BongaCams, xHamster, and xnxx. Between these five porn sites, their combined views per month exceed 6 billion. That equates to over 138,000 views per minute, or 2,300 views per second. Pornhub alone claims 115 million visits per day, and 42 billion specific searches annually.
Over the last year, Pornhub has been implicated in a number of cases of sex trafficking, child exploitation, and rape, as the site hosts an unknowable number of video recordings of sex crimes. In October, a 15-year-old who had been missing for a year was found after explicit photos of the girl were posted online. Further investigation found that she had appeared in 58 porn videos posted on Pornhub, and the man responsible was arrested in Fort Lauderdale. The girl reported that she was forced to have an abortion after getting impregnated during this time.
A few months after being attacked and raped at knifepoint, Rose Kalemba, who was 14 at the time, found several people from her school sharing a link online in which she was tagged. After clicking on it, Kalemba was led to Pornhub and was horrified to find multiple videos of her attack posted online. Recounting her story, Kalemba said, “The titles of the videos were, ‘Teen crying and getting slapped around,’ ‘Teen getting destroyed,’ ‘Passed out teen.’ One had over 400,000 views.” Kalemba emailed Pornhub numerous times over a period of six months, begging for the videos to be removed from the site, but she received no reply and the videos stayed up. The videos were not removed until Kalemba set up a new email address pretending to be a lawyer and threatened legal action against the site.
In a viral blog entry posted last year, Kalemba shared a detailed account of her ordeal, and called for Pornhub to be held responsible for their extended inaction. She heard from dozens of other girls saying videos of their sexual assaults had also appeared on the site. Though Pornhub claims to remove all videos of assault, the reality does not reflect this and Pornhub continues to unapologetically host videos with titles such as, “Teen abused while sleeping,” “Drunk teen abuse sleeping,” and “Extreme teen abuse.” The company’s defence is that they “allow all forms of sexual expression” that do not go against their terms of service, even if “some people find these fantasies inappropriate.”
More recently, 22 women sued the owners of GirlsDoPorn, Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, as well as porn actor Ruben Andre Garcia, saying they were coerced into performing sexual acts on film that were later uploaded to Pornhub. The men had posted Craigslist ads for “beautiful college type preppy girls” needed for photo shoots, but when the women arrived, they were plied with drugs and alcohol and pressured to participate in a porn shoot. The victims were awarded $12.7 million. According to a federal indictment, Pratt and his co-conspirators also produced child pornography and trafficked a minor.
These cases demonstrate how dangerous Pornhub is, and how easily the site can be used as a tool to capitalize on the abuse of vulnerable women and girls. Laila Mickelwait, Director of Abolition for Exodus Cry and anti-pornography activist, found that all that is required to upload content to Pornhub is an email address. No government-issued ID is needed, even to become a “verified user.” She found that it took less than 10 minutes to create an account on Pornhub, and to upload blank content to the site, which was immediately live and accessible to all users. If she wanted to become a verified user, she could have done so with nothing more than a photograph of her holding a piece of paper with her username written on it.
Pornhub is a resource for anyone who wishes to upload content, with absolutely no verification needed other than an email address, making it a perfect breeding ground for exploitation — something they appear to be in no rush to prevent, despite claims made in their terms of service.
In her book, Pornland, Gail Dines explains that when you Google the term “Porn,” over 2.3 billion pages show up in the results, generated in less than half a second, with Pornhub being the top search result (hence it being frequently referred to as the “YouTube of Porn”). Based on what comes up just in the first page of links, some of the most common sex acts in mainstream pornography appear to be vaginal, anal, and oral penetration of one woman by three or more men simultaneously, double anal sex, double vaginal sex, gagging, and bukkake, along with regular references to women being “destroyed,” “punished,” “choked,” and “brutalized.”
The three porn performers that modelled for Namilia are Asa Akira, Marica Hase, and Jade Kush. A quick search of these names on Pornhub turns up videos with titles such as, “Japanese Porn Star Marica Hase Fucked Rough in Bondage,” “Marica Hase Beauty Teen Fucked Hard,” and “You Fuck Jade Kush Every Which Way Then Cum On Her Face.” When we consider the amount of abuse that has been hosted on Pornhub, the normalization of such titles is unsettling at best. And the idea that portraying Asian porn performers as dominatrixes will subvert the norm of submissive Asian women is nonsensical.
First, reversing a norm does not necessarily weaken the norm, and in fact could be said to strengthen it. The reversal is an acknowledgment of its power. The idea of a dominatrix is only considered sexy because we have been taught to eroticize imbalances of power; that a dominatrix is treated as a fetish shows that she represents a deviation from the norm of male domination. She is a male fantasy. Second, we do not undo the damage caused by sexist stereotypes by swapping sides in the narrative. A dominatrix is “sexy” because it is not real — that “power” does not extend beyond that moment, in that bedroom or scene. The dominatrix, though somewhat contrary to the social norm of male supremacy, still reinforces the eroticization of unequal power. Being a “cock wrecker” is not a feminist position, and only further perpetuates the idea of violence and abuse as sexy.
This move by Namilia does nothing to liberate women, and instead represents yet another instance of the pornification of pop culture. Pornhub is not a feminist utopia of sexual empowerment, but quite the opposite — it is a resource frequently utilized by abusers of women for manipulation and humiliation. Collaborating with Pornhub to display outfits that fetishize sexual power imbalance, girlhood, and leather is about as far from feminism as anything could be, and indeed, only serves to normalize and bolster the site not only in the eyes of the general public, but for young women specifically, who are being told this is what feminism looks like.
Andrea Dworkin once wrote that “the new pornography is left wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die.” It looks like the corpses will be dressed in pink leather school skirts with “cock wrecker” emblazoned across their chests.
QotD: “only women seem to have this magical ability to reclaim our power and our bodies by giving men the exact thing that they want from us”
Y’all ever notice how only women are given the line that if we allow more men to buy our bodies for sex, we’re actually gaining our power back from men. that line wouldn’t work or make sense with any other type of capitalist exploitation. you’d never hear a leftist say that a retail worker dedicating even MORE of their life and their time to their capitalist boss is “taking back their power” or a sweatshop worker being worked to death by a capitalist company is “reclaiming their bodies” — only women seem to have this magical ability to reclaim our power and our bodies by giving men the exact thing that they want from us.
QotD: “It’s basically impossible to do ethical porn research in any way that would provide meaningful results”
In undergrad, I was told that it’s basically impossible to get funding on porn research because we know it’s so harmful. You can do correlational studies based on self-report, but you can’t do experimental studies where you expose people to pornography and then study some kind of outcome. The potential harms to participants and the people around them are considered to outweigh the benefits of studying it.
Which… there’s a lot to unpack there.
Basically, there haven’t been any good experimental studies on porn exposure since the 90s. Because, even by that point, research was overwhelmingly converging on “porn is harmful.” Y’all hang out around here, you know the effects – acceptance of rape myths, distorted perception of sexual norms, sexual dysfunction, cruelty or lack of compassion towards women, etc etc etc. These effects were found through both experimental and correlational studies based on self-reported, self-selected porn watching outside of a lab.
The latter is the only thing you’re still allowed to do (mostly). Unfortunately, it is now nearly impossible to perform good research on the subject, because it’s so difficult to find a control group. At least if you’re studying men. Nearly all men watch pornography regularly. In fact, one of the only populations you can still study with a decent control group is teenagers. But research on minors has its own ethical red tape, to say nothing of getting guardians to agree to it, so it doesn’t happen much either. So, with no control group to compare it to, you’re going to get weak results at best. You can compare self-reported volumes or types of porn watching between each other, but that’s really about it.
In some ways, the ethical considerations have become somewhat pointless. If all men are watching porn, what does it matter if they watch it in a lab or not? But since you basically can’t find men who haven’t been exposed to porn, and you can’t guarantee that these men aren’t going home between lab sessions and watching porn, porn-related research will be limited to the immediate effects of exposure. And you’ve still got an uphill battle to explain to an ethics board why your research on immediate effects of porn exposure, which you know will be harmful in some way, is going to add to the existing literature in a way that is significant enough to be worth the harm. Because, regardless of if these people are going home to harm themselves in the exact same way, it’s still generally unethical to expose people to known harms to study the effects.
And because we know porn watching is addictive, that further complicates the ethical considerations. To give a fair analogy, it’s similarly difficult to get approval for an experimental in-lab study on the effects of giving opiates to people. We know what it does, we know it’s harmful, and we know it’s addictive, so unless you have some truly groundbreaking new research idea and some way to significantly mitigate the harm, you’re not going to get approval for that. (Ex: You can get approval for testing a new opiate that you think has a lower possibility for abuse, especially if you plan on testing it on people with chronic pain disorders or terminal cancer patients or something. That’s groundbreaking, there’s a way to mitigate harm, and it has the potential to do more good than harm. You can’t just get approval to give a bunch of Dilaudid to undergrads to test, say, how it affects short-term memory.)
TLDR, it’s not just that scientists don’t care. It’s that it’s basically impossible to do ethical porn research in any way that would provide meaningful results.
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.”
When the sex trade survivor Rachel Moran published her memoir, Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution, she knew not everybody would be happy that she’d laid bare the realities of sexual exploitation. Pimps, brothel owners and punters would hardly be pleased that she’d lifted the lid on the world’s oldest oppression. What she could never have imagined was having to sue another woman for defamation, for repeatedly claiming that Moran had based her book on a pack of lies.
Gaye Dalton, who was also a prostitute in Dublin’s southside red-light district, one of the spots where Moran was bought and sold, has repeatedly alleged that Moran fabricated her entire life history, and had never even been in prostitution. These extraordinary claims were ruled as, ‘Untrue, offensive and defamatory’ by a judge in Dublin’s Circuit Court today, and Dalton was legally restricted from repeating them.
In 1989, when Moran was 13-years-old, her father took his own life. Her mother, who also suffered serious mental health problems, then became even more difficult to live with. Moran left home shortly afterwards, moved in and out of hostels, state-funded B&B accommodation and domestic violence refuges, before becoming street homeless. Soon after Moran was groomed into prostitution. Her life was dogged by men’s violence and abuse, drug addiction and transient accommodation. After seven years, in 1998, Moran found the strength to kick narcotics and exit prostitution. She returned to education, undertook a journalism degree at Dublin City University and began to write her memoir Paid For, which took her a decade to complete.
The book, published in 2013, became an instant bestseller. Feminists all over the world picked up Paid For, which world-renowned legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon described as, ‘The best work by anyone on prostitution ever.’
Moran soon became a much-loved icon within the international feminist movement, and her book has since been published in the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, Korea and various other countries. Moran had set up an organisation made up of sex trade survivors, SPACE International, the year before her book’s release. SPACE grew as an organisation, and Moran became its Executive Director. The organisation, which operated without funding for the first four years of its eight year existence, was held together by an ingenious strategy of connecting sex trade survivors with feminist organisations who wanted to hear their voices, with much interest generated by Paid For. Moran and her colleagues slept in feminists’ spare rooms, on sofas and in cut-price B&Bs, as they spread their message about the abuse inherent to the sex trade to as broad an audience as possible, on zero budget.
The reality of this history – an absolute grassroots feminist struggle – is probably what makes the allegations against Moran so unjust and insulting. Far from fictionalising her history, Moran laid out the painful truth so other women wouldn’t have to live it. Far from profiting from it, the first time I met Moran at a feminist conference in Malmo, she didn’t even have the price of a meal. I ask Moran about those early days and what was involved in building an organisation from the ground up. She said ‘I began travelling internationally in 2012 on the back of a blog I’d begun writing a year before my book came out, and I met all these fantastic women from across Europe and North America and the thing that struck me so forcibly was that, regardless whether we were white women from Europe or black women from the US or Indigenous women from Canada, we were all saying the same thing. You couldn’t fail to see what a powerful force these voices would be if they were united. The first thing we faced were lies and slurs, and we face them to this day.’ One such slur would be that delivered by Ms Dalton, who allegedly said the women of SPACE International were ‘A pack of greedy, spiteful little frauds who sold sex workers lives out along with their souls.’
‘It’s just disgusting to see our women spoken about in that way’ says Moran. ‘Every woman representing SPACE International has lived the sex trade, many of us delivering frontline services to women currently in prostitution. We know what we’re talking about because we’ve lived it and we’ve witnessed other women live it. Whitewashing the sex trade won’t work with us. That’s why our voices must be rubbished as fraudulent. They are a dangerously powerful opposition to the counter political narrative.’
Asked how she feels about finally being vindicated, Moran says, ‘Well I always knew I could be vindicated because I always knew I was telling the truth. What I didn’t know was whether I’d be able to see Ms Dalton inside a courtroom. Thankfully that day has come and the media is now reporting what I’ve always known.’
Moran’s court submissions included two affidavits, one from a former foster mother who took Moran into care under court order after she had been arrested from a brothel as a minor in 1992, and the other from the Vice Squad Officer who’d arrested her.
It’s not just about Dalton though, is it? I ask Moran. ‘No, it isn’t’ she says. ‘This is not nearly as straightforward as one women spreading malicious rumours about another. It’s much further reaching and more sinister than that. This was a concentrated campaign of harassment that ran for years involving hundreds of people, thousands of tweets, scores of videos and blog posts, false allegations, defamation and the deliberately threatening public release of my home address.’
Some of that mud stuck. I remind Moran that I myself was prevented from publishing a profile piece on her in a major British newspaper on the grounds that there were ‘murmurings about her authenticity’. ‘There’ve been murmurings about the authenticity of every woman who’s ever spoken out against male violence in the history of the world’ says Moran. ‘Those murmurings don’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that some women who’d call themselves feminists believe them and repeat them. I’d suggest they look up the word “feminist” in their dictionaries, or take a look in the mirror, or maybe do both at the same time.’
In a letter submitted to Dublin’s Circuit Court Ms Dalton’s psychiatrist described her as ‘ill’ and asked the Court for leniency on her behalf. I ask Moran how she feels about Dalton now? ‘I have some sympathy for her’ says Moran. ‘I feel she’s been used. The piece that’s been revealed here is a long-term psychiatric patient’s bullying and vilification of a total stranger with allegations that have just been deemed defamatory in an Irish Court. The piece that’s gone under the radar is how a whole global cabal of pro-sex trade voices took advantage for years of her mental frailty and of my inability to defend myself against it. They used one woman to hurt another, and they knew exactly what they were doing.’
Perhaps less easy to discount is the pornography consumed by Boy A, including material depicting violence against women. Gardaí found thousands of images on his various devices, as well as internet searches for “child porn” and “horse porn”. But the psychological assessments stated that he had a normal view of sexual matters, a fact scarcely believable given the nature of the attack. Ana was naked when found, her ripped clothes scattered around the room.
In the absence of external factors, it’s tempting to label one or both boys as budding psychopaths, devoid of empathy and preprogrammed to commit horrific crimes. But again the reports said neither showed signs of personality disorders or traits indicating psychopathy. Similarly, there was no evidence of mental illness in either teen.
This is what we mean when we say misogyny is ‘normal’ and ‘normalised’; hatred of women is so entrenched in ‘everyday’ culture and society that a ‘normal’ teenaged boy who looks at violent porn online can go on to commit a brutal sexual murder for ‘no reason’.
A mock-Tudor semi on a residential street in west London is the nerve centre of the organisation that made history 27 years ago in a landmark domestic violence ruling.
Southall Black Sisters (SBS), a not-for-profit group, is celebrating the 40th anniversary since it began challenging gender-based violence and providing practical support to black and Asian women escaping domestic violence and forced marriages.
Most famously it supported Kiranjit Ahluwalia, whose successful 1992 appeal against her conviction for murdering her violent husband changed the law on provocation and the understanding of battered woman syndrome.
To less fanfare, a 20-year campaign resulted in changes to immigration rules that had trapped women from overseas in abusive marriages. The 2012 concession let women who had come to the UK on a partner visa claim benefits while applying for settled status after fleeing domestic violence.
Formed by Afro-Caribbean and Asian women, SBS arose when in 1979 Southall communities united to oppose a National Front march through the town. Pragna Patel, who has led the group since 1982, says: “The growing anti-racist consciousness and second wave of feminism came together with the recognition that you couldn’t prioritise the fight against racism at the expense of women’s struggles.”
She explains that the word “black” in the name was a political and unifying term, bringing together disparate minority communities with common histories of imperialism and colonialism. With funding from the Greater London Council, she started out with two others. SBS now has 14 staff and, through a trust, owns its premises. Her vision, inspired by the burgeoning law centre movement, was to bring the law to people to deal with their realities.
“I was 22 and very naive in lots of ways, but fearless in other ways,” Patel says. “If you asked me to set up something like that today, I’d say you were kidding.”
In 1980 one of its first campaigns followed the death of a local woman, known only as “Mrs Dhillon”, burnt by her husband because she had only given birth to daughters. “The same community that had shown such indignation about racial violence was silent on gender-based violence,” Patel says.
The same year, SBS exposed the racist and sexist Home Office practice of testing the virginity of Asian women coming to the UK to join their husbands. Officials at the time argued that the test was necessary to determine the authenticity of their marriages.
The organisation shot to national prominence when it took up the case of Ahluwalia. It was pivotal for two reasons, Patel says. “It laid bare the built-in discrimination in the criminal justice system, based on white male assumptions of behaviour and conduct. And it forced minority communities to acknowledge that gender-based violence existed and the way they treated women was partly responsible.”
Ahluwalia tells The Times: “When I got my life sentence and my trial solicitor said there were no grounds of appeal that was a big blow. I had no lawyer, no family. I lost everything.”
After receiving her letter for help, Patel visited Ahluwalia hundreds of times and painstakingly put together her history to support her appeal. “In my trial statement there were 40 pages,” Ahluwalia says. “When SBS took over my case, there were nearly 500. I don’t have the words for SBS and Pragna. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”
SBS also worked to introduce the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, giving courts power to stop someone from forcing another into marriage. Until then, Patel says, authorities were reluctant to intervene in what they saw as “cultural matters” for fear of being branded racist.
Patel insists it is racist not to act: “Tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism are important in the fight against racism. But you can’t allow multiculturalism to be used to cloak abuse of more vulnerable people in the community.”
As SBS celebrates its anniversary, there is much still to do. The group has just been given a grant from the tampon tax fund to support migrant women escaping domestic violence. They are fighting for changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill, published this year, which leaves migrant women unprotected and trapped in cycles of abuse, exploitation and destitution.
These women do not need charity, Patel says — they need rights.