‘Making Sense of Modern Pornography’ by Katrina Forrester, is a long, fairly well balanced (with a few exceptions, see below) article published by The New Yorker in September last year, about the current state of the porn industry, and also a review of a book called The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Shira Tarrant, I would recommend reading the whole article.
Pornography has changed unrecognizably from its so-called golden age – the period, in the sixties and seventies, when adult movies had theatrical releases and seemed in step with the wider moment of sexual liberation, and before V.H.S. drove down production quality, in the eighties. Today’s films are often short and nearly always hard-core; that is, they show penetrative sex. Among the most popular search terms in 2015 were “anal,” “amateur,” “teen,” and – one that would surely have made Freud smile – “mom and son.” Viewing figures are on a scale that golden-age moguls never dreamed of: in 2014, Pornhub alone had seventy-eight billion page views, and XVideos is the fifty-sixth most popular Web site in the world. Some porn sites get more traffic than news sites like CNN, and less only than platforms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal.
The millions of people using these sites probably don’t care much about who produces their content. But those who work in porn in the United States tend to draw a firm line between the “amateur” porn that now proliferates online and the legal adult-film industry that took shape after the California Supreme Court ruled, in California v. Freeman (1989), that filmed sex did not count as prostitution. Since then, the industry has been based in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley, where its professional norms and regulations have mimicked its more respectable Hollywood neighbors. In “The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford), Shira Tarrant explains how that industry works in the new age of Internet porn, and sets out to provide neutral, “even-handed” information about its production and consumption.
It’s not an easy task. Since the “porn wars” of the seventies and eighties, when feminists campaigned against the expanding pornography industry (and other feminists sided with Hustler to defend it), talking about pornography in terms of mere facts has seemed impossible. The atmosphere of controversy makes it hard to avoid moral positions. Even to suspend judgment may be to take sides.
Linda Lovelace’s performance in “Deep Throat,” in 1972, made porn mainstream; later, her denunciation of the movie, which she characterized as filmed rape, made the idea of the porn star as victim mainstream, too. In the mid-eighties, the revelation that Traci Lords had been underage in her most famous films led to the prosecution of producers, agents, and distributors under child-pornography statutes, and new legislation resulted in stricter age-verification requirements for porn actors. But by the time [Jenna] Jameson arrived on the scene the industry had become an efficient star-making machine. It had distributors and advertisers, production teams and industry magazines, shoots requiring permits, agents who sold the talent and trade associations who represented them. Jameson quickly achieved her ambition, becoming the industry’s biggest star and most reliable brand. By 2005, her company, ClubJenna, had an annual revenue of thirty million dollars.
Things are different now. Much online porn is amateur and unregulated. It’s hard to tell how much, because there’s little data, and even larger studios now ape the amateur aesthetic, but applications for porn-shoot permits in Los Angeles County reportedly fell by ninety-five per cent between 2012 and 2015. Now most films have low production values, and they are often unscripted. Sometimes you can hear the director’s voice; apparently, many viewers can make do without the old fictional tropes of doctors and nurses, schoolgirls, and so on—the porn industry itself having become the locus of fantasy. Where performers like Jameson had multi-film contracts with studios like Wicked or Vivid Entertainment, such deals are now rare, and most performers are independent contractors who get paid per sex act.
Tarrant’s book sheds useful light on the bargain-basement world of contemporary porn. In 2012, one agent claimed that the actresses he represented received eight hundred dollars for lesbian scenes, a thousand for ones with a man, twelve hundred or more for anal sex, and four thousand for double penetration, but there’s reason to think that these figures are inflated. Stoya, a well-known performer who has written about her life in the industry, has cited a rate of just twelve to fourteen hundred dollars for double penetration. Wages have declined across the board. Tarrant estimates that a female performer filming three anal scenes a month would make forty thousand dollars a year.
Riskier acts are incentivized. According to one analysis of an industry talent database, women entering the business now will do more, and more quickly, than they once did: in the nineteen-eighties, they would wait an average of two years before a first anal scene; now it’s six months. Jameson famously never did anal (though one of her most viewed Pornhub clips is “Jenna Jameson accidental anal,” which shows, in slow motion, that on the Internet there’s no such thing as never). From 2000 on, she had only one onscreen male partner—her husband. “I look at these new girls today and I think, What the hell are they doing?” she said in 2004. “These girls don’t know that you have to start slow, baby, and make them pay you more for each thing you do.”
Today, most porn actresses don’t stick around long enough to start slow. The average career is between four and six months. Performers work long hours with no benefits and they have to cover significant out-of-pocket costs. Tests for S.T.D.s can be as much as two hundred dollars a month. Add to this grooming, travel, and the usual freelancer expenses and it costs a lot to be legal in the porn industry.
In a context of declining wages and rising costs, attempts at regulation are unpopular. In 2012, Los Angeles County passed Measure B, a law mandating condom use in porn shoots there. Advocacy organizations for performers have resisted the measure, saying that it ignores the preferences of their workforce and would compel performers to use not only condoms but also safety goggles and dental dams. More important, perhaps, it also ignores consumer preferences: in an age when few pay for porn, producers don’t want to alienate those who do. The regulated industry has developed other ways to avoid condoms—preëxposure treatments, production moratoriums when infections are detected, and, in some gay studios, a working assumption that performers are H.I.V. positive. Other producers, rather than comply, have left California for Nevada or Florida. The industry may have created the norms that dominate online porn, but it’s being squeezed into irrelevance, and preferences have taken on a life of their own.
It would have been good to point out that these ‘advocacy organisations’ are representing the interests of the porn companies over the interests of the porn performers, that porn performers have nothing remotely resembling a real union to protect them at ‘work’, and that in any other industry, bosses arguing that workers ‘don’t want’ Personal Protective Equipment would be seen as exercising unequal power compared to non-unionised gig-economy workers. There is also no other industry were frequent, deliberate contact with another person’s body fluids is seen as just part of the job.
Whether you see porn as just another sector disrupted by the Internet or as a still powerful engine of profit-driven exploitation depends on a thornier set of debates that shape how pornography is understood. To talk about porn purely in terms of costs and incentives is not, as Tarrant suggests, neutral. Even to stress the work involved is a political move.
When America’s pornographic secrets have been publicly aired, they have usually taken the form of First Amendment issues. In 1988, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling against Hustler that had awarded damages to the evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell, the founder of the conservative organization the Moral Majority. (The magazine had published a satirical ad in which Falwell described his “first time” with his mother.) Flynt became an unlikely liberal hero, cementing a coalition between free-speech defenders and pornographers. After California v. Freeman, the Adult Film and Video Association of America renamed itself the Free Speech Legal Defense Fund, and, later, the Free Speech Coalition.
Remember, the ‘Free Speech Coalition’ is the organisation portraying itself as a grass-roots movement by and for porn performers.
But, in the famous phrase of the legal scholar and anti-pornography campaigner Catherine MacKinnon, pornography is not “only words.” The feminist campaigns of the seventies against rape and violence against women condemned pornography not on the ground of obscenity but on the ground of harm. It wasn’t a private matter but a political expression of male power. As MacKinnon wrote, with the anti-pornography feminist Andrea Dworkin, pornography was “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women.” Dworkin described it as a form of sexual slavery.
Thirty years later, porn is more pervasive than ever, but it’s also more diffuse—and so are the debates. There are new organizations like Stop Porn Culture, led by the feminist Gail Dines, which campaign for porn’s abolition, and against the industry’s hypersexualization of women and the “pornification” of culture. Old coalitions have reappeared, deploying new rhetoric: in April, Dines supported a Republican bill in Utah that declared pornography not a moral threat but a “public health hazard.” Critics worry as much about men’s health—porn addiction, erectile dysfunction—as they do about violence against women.
Ah yes, the old you’re in league with religious fundamentalists! argument. Coalition building on single issues is a normal part of mainstream politics; nobody would complain about, say, an environmental protection bill supported by Republicans/Conservatives, nor do pro-sex industry advocates balk at working with the right when it suits their aims, it’s only radical/abolitionist feminists who are expected to meet such an unrealistic level of ideological ‘purity’.
Pornography’s defenders still lean on ideas of sexual freedom and empowerment. “I am a pervert,” Sasha Grey—the only recent star to rise anywhere near Jameson’s heights—declared in a 2009 interview. “I want to tell young women that sex is O.K. It’s O.K. to be a slut. You don’t have to be ashamed.” In a “mission statement” she wrote when she entered the industry, at eighteen, Grey said that she was “determined and ready to be a commodity that fulfills everyone’s fantasies.” She was no Lovelace: “If I am working out any issues through porn, it’s anger at society for not being open about sex.”
It would have been a good idea to mention that, it turned out Sasha Grey was being violently controlled by a much older boyfriend/pimp when she entered the sex industry.
Performers now often defend porn using the language not of freedom but of work, and begin with the idea that [prostitution] is a form of work like many others. Sure, working in the sex industry is exploitative and precarious, but so is work in other industries. The porn workers who do their jobs well enough that you buy their performance are giving their consent, but they likely do so only as other precarious workers do: they need the money and have limited choices. To an older generation of feminists, this defense sounds hollow: it concedes that sex and intimacy can be bought and sold. For a younger generation, the idea that they can’t is a misunderstanding: sex has long been monetized, and today there’s nowhere that the market doesn’t go. To reflect this, many younger feminists want a sexual politics that restores a tradition of labor organizing predating the porn wars (when even Playboy bunnies had a union), and seek to protect performers from profit-seeking managers.
Are they really? When sex industry advocates are happy calling bosses ‘sex workers’ and trafficked women ‘migrant sex workers’, and hardly ever criticize any aspect of porn production, I’m dubious about ‘younger feminists’ commitment to real change in the sex industry, beyond ‘centering alternative voices’ (whatever that actually means), and harassing lesbian pornographers for refusing to work with pre-op trans women. Also, let’s be realistic here, the Playboy bunnies were not being subjected to double-anals in front of a camera – any real workers rights in the modern porn industry would render porn production impossible.
At the fringes of the industry, performers are trying to change it from the inside, in the name of fair pay, better conditions, and more enjoyable sex. The aim of companies like Pink and White Productions and TrenchcoatX is to challenge the tube sites’ monopoly and to overthrow the racist, sexist categories that silently shape preferences. Their hope is that making inclusive, diverse porn—in which the performers’ pleasure is authentic and the orgasms real—will change sex for the better. The defense of this artisanal approach to porn pulls in contradictory directions: it at once argues that porn is work and not pleasure, and also that the pleasure it captures is authentic. Tarrant, despite claiming neutrality, is subtly allied with this view, and compares campaigns for ethical porn to those for organic, fair-trade food. In reality, it’s a harder sell. Few people want ethics with their porn.
When it comes to sexual practices, too, statistics are open to interpretation. Anti-pornography campaigners frequently cite the widely reported increase in the practice of anal sex among heterosexuals as evidence of porn’s influence. (In a 2014 study of anal sex among young British heterosexuals, a majority of young men surveyed – described as “teen-age boys” by the anti-porn camp, and “emerging adults” by the pro – admitted “persuading” their female partners to try it, with reluctant or little consent.) The campaigners insist that teen-agers are reënacting humiliations they’ve learned online. But that assumption leaves out other explanations. The British study suggested that the rise of premarital sex has meant that “conquest” narratives, which once fetishized the taking of virginity, now require a new focus. Equally, it might indicate a severance between reproduction and sex, or a straight acceptance of gay sexuality.
This last argument makes no sense whatsoever, anal sex is not ‘gay sex’, sex between two or more men is gay sex. Anal sex is not compulsory, even for gay men, and before the 1970s, it was not even a widespread practice among gay men. If the increase in heterosexual anal sex was about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why the coercion and lack of enthusiasm among the teen-aged girls? If it’s really about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why are we not hearing about an increase in heterosexual teen-age boys being anally penetrated by their girlfriends using strap-ons?
Sometimes, though, porn’s defenders overcompensate. They are too ready to interpret the lack of unequivocal data about porn’s impact as unequivocal proof that there is no impact. In a field as hard to measure as sexual behavior, this seems unwise. Pornography may be more likely to turn us into solipsistic masturbators than violent rapists, but it’s hard to imagine that it has no effect at all. The pro-porn argument, which insists that pornography is changing but denies that it changes us, appears contradictory. It inverts the anti-porn mistake of seeing porn as the key engine of transformation, instead giving it no power whatsoever. But sex is always changing, and, though porn can’t explain it all, its role can’t be ruled out, either.
This article is in the Observer today, and it is completely one-sided reporting, from the use of the euphemistic ‘escort’ as well as the obfuscatory ‘sex worker’, to the lack of reporting of the opposite side of the story. It reads more like a regurgitated press release from the sex industry.
Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is steeling herself for a battle in Belfast’s high court that she believes could make European legal history. The Dublin-born escort is now in the final stages of a legal challenge to overturn a law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to purchase sex.
Not a single person in the region has appeared in court charged with trying to hire an escort, though Public Prosecution Service figures show that three are under investigation. The region is the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime. The law was introduced in 2014 by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and supported by a majority of members in the regional assembly.
But Lee will enter Belfast high court with her team of lawyers aiming to establish that the criminalisation of her clients violates her right to work under European human rights law. Since the law was established, Lee insists that the ban has put her and her fellow sex workers in more peril from potentially dangerous clients.
Just before flying out to address an international conference on sex workers’ rights in Barcelona this weekend, Lee told the Observer that most men currently seeking escorts in Northern Ireland no longer use mobile phones to contact her and her colleagues.
“They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.
This sounds like a pretty weak argument to me, as if there isn’t CCTV, credit card receipts and plenty of other ways to trace whoever rented the hotel room. If the police really cared about violence against prostitutes – something we all want – they would be able to track these men down.
Where do these ‘bad johns’ go under full decriminalisation of the sex industry? They go to the women who are trafficked, who are desperate, who can’t afford to pick and choose.
What these comparatively privileged woman in the sex industry are fighting for (aside from the sex industry itself) is better conditions for them, the ones at the top of the pyramid (the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base); decriminalisation increases demand and lowers standards, it is clear from Germany, and the cracks are beginning to show in New Zealand as whistle-blowers come forward.
Lee seems to be leading a jet-setting activist life-style – subsidised by Amnesty International perhaps? – how much actual ‘escorting’ is she fitting in around the legal action and the public speaking?
Among those supporting Lee is Amnesty International. Before the court hearing, Amnesty’s campaign manager in Northern Ireland, Grainne Teggart, said they had major concerns about the “Morrow law”: “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Teggart.
“Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress. Laws must focus on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police, not place this relationship at risk by criminalising them and the context in which they work. Similar laws in Nordic countries have failed to decriminalise sex workers, who are still pursued and punished under remaining sex work laws.”
This is just lies, the Nordic/Abolitionist model decriminalises the prostitute her/him self, what they are actually referring to is the criminalisation of pimps:
In Norway we found evidence that sex workers were routinely evicted from their homes under so-called ‘pimping laws’. In many countries of the world, two sex workers working together for safety is considered a ‘brothel’.
We need to remember, AI deliberately chose to look at Norway, a country that had only recently enacted abolitionist laws, rather than Sweden which has had the law in place for over a decade – if the way a law is enacted doesn’t follow the intention of the law, as described above, that can and should be addressed, changes in the law always include re-educating the police and changing the culture, as happened in Sweden.
There is this very dishonest argument from sex industry advocates, that the abolitionist approach doesn’t improve the relationship between prostitutes and the police – if the police hate prostitutes that much, what difference would decriminialising the whole sex industry make?
Decriminalising the whole sex industry is the main goal of sex industry advocates; the proof is there that decriminalisation increases trafficking, and lowers working conditions, the real beneficiaries are pimps and brothel keepers (and the hand-full of already privilidged ‘sex workers’ at the top of the pyramid).
AI’s own research found no evidence of police violence against prostitutes in Norway, so the idea that full decriminalisation of the sex industry is necessary for a good relationship between the police and prostitutes has no foundation. In the UK, the ‘Merseyside Model’ was enacted only by a change in police culture, and no change in the law.
Lee’s Belfast legal battle is only the start of a Europe-wide campaign to overturn the model in which Scandinavian countries pioneered the outlawing of men buying sex. Lee’s next target is the Irish Republic, which, under new anti-trafficking laws, has introduced a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients.
“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe. If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries,” she said.
From the outset, Lee said she had expected a “tsunami of abuse” on social media from her opponents, an alliance of religious groups and some feminist organisations on the island of Ireland. “In the hate mails they focus a lot on my daughter and say things like ‘I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game’ and vile things like that. Religious people tell me they can’t wait until I burn in the fires of hell – charming really! But they must know I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet and take a public stand. I am strong enough to do so and can take their abuse.”
And, of course, there is the dishonest lumping together of feminists and the religious right; I am confident no radical feminist has told her to burn in hell, or said “I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game” (although they may have asked her how she would feel about her daughter entering the sex industry, not exactly the same thing).
Kitty Stryker is a phoney and a fake radical who has co-opted the language of radical feminism, and shills for the sex industry while providing a fig-leaf for the BDSM ‘community’.
On twitter a few days ago, she said “I swear to god I wish we could just put the TERFs and Nazis on a goddamn boat together and send them into the sea.”
When someone else added “or we could put them in concentration camps? Maybe before they went into ovens? Lol” Stryker merely complained that that was “in bad taste”.
Sryker has changed her twitter handle to “Punch Nazis”, and added a later tweet about ‘terfs’ drowning, so it’s clear she has no problem with violence against women, when they are women she disagrees with politically.
This isn’t the first time Stryker has demonstrated that she sees women she doesn’t like as not fully human, in this tweet I screen capped a while back, we can see her wondering if radical feminists are actually real people, the ‘kill all terfs’ rhetoric follows on easily.
Stryker is also an intellectual coward, who ran away from conversations on this blog she wasn’t winning, and now won’t even engage, but she does keep an eye on me, as she tweeted about my previous post more than once.
Here’s a clue for you Stryker, ‘terfs’ don’t exist, there are no ‘terf’ organisations, there are no ‘terf’ leaders, there are no women calling themselves ‘terfs’ except ironically, it’s a term trans activists made up in order to intimidate women into unquestioning silence and obedience.
Stryker also likes lying about the Nordic (Abolitionist) Model, claiming that it made it easier for the police to arrest her – tell me Stryker, how does decriminalising ‘sex workers’ make it easier for the police to arrest them?
She’s doing this still, implying that under the Nordic Model, the police are more dangerous to ‘sex workers’, deliberately and cynically obscuring the fact that the Nordic Model means decriminalising the prostitute her (or him) self.
[EDIT 19/Feb/17: If decriminalising ‘sex workers’ under the Nordic Model doesn’t make the police ‘safe’, then how will decriminalising the whole of the sex industry make the police ‘safe’?]
The first loyalty of sex industry advocates is to the sex industry itself, always.
How Orgasm Politics Has Hijacked the Women’s Movement, by Sheila Jeffreys
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, it was widely believed that the sexual revolution, by freeing up sexual energy, would make everyone free. I remember Maurice Girodias, whose Olympia Press in Paris published Story of O, saying that the solution to repressive political regimes was to post pornography through every letterbox. Better orgasms, proclaimed Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, would create the revolution. In those heady days, many feminists believed that the sexual revolution was intimately linked to women’s liberation, and they wrote about how powerful orgasms would bring women power.
Dell Williams is quoted in Ms. as having set up a sex shop in 1974 with precisely this idea, to sell sex toys to women: “I wanted to turn women into powerful sexual beings…. I had a vision that orgasmic women could transform the world.”
Ever since the ’60s, sexologists, sexual liberals, and sex-industry entrepreneurs have sought to discuss sex as if it were entirely separate from sexual violence and had no connection with the oppression of women. Feminist theorists and anti-violence activists, meanwhile, have learned to look at sex politically. We have seen that male ownership of women’s bodies, sexually and reproductively, provides the very foundation of male supremacy, and that oppression in and through sexuality differentiates the oppression of women from that of other groups.
If we are to have any chance of liberating women from the fear and reality of sexual abuse, feminist discussion of sexuality must integrate all that we can understand about sexual violence into the way we think about sex. But these days feminist conferences have separate workshops, in different parts of the building, on how to increase sexual “pleasure” and on how to survive sexual violence — as if these phenomena could be put into separate boxes. Women calling themselves feminists now argue that prostitution can be good for women, to express their “sexuality” and make empowering life choices. Others promote the practices and products of the sex industry to women to make a profit, in the form of lesbian striptease and the paraphernalia of sadomasochism. There are now whole areas of the women’s, lesbian, and gay communities where any critical analysis of sexual practice is treated as sacrilege, stigmatized as “political correctness.” Freedom is represented as the achievement of bigger and better orgasms by any means possible, including slave auctions, use of prostituted women and men, and forms of permanent physical damage such as branding. Traditional forms of male-supremacist sexuality based on dominance and submission and the exploitation and objectification of a slave class of women are being celebrated for their arousing and “transgressive” possibilities.
Well, the pornography is in the letterboxes, and the machinery for more and more powerful orgasms is readily available through the good offices of the international sex industry. And in the name of women’s liberation, many feminists today are promoting sexual practices that — far from revolutionizing and transforming the world — are deeply implicated in the practices of the brothel and of pornography.
How could this have happened? How could the women’s revolution have become so completely short-circuited? I suggest that there are four reasons.
(I posted this back in 2012, but I think it could do with a re-read)
Translated from Danish
Original published at Politiken.dk on March 9, 2013
Tanja Rahm, sexologist and author
Alice Viola, mentor and therapist
Christina Christensen, educator
Lita Malmberg, social education worker
Pia Christensen, cand.mag. (BA in Denmark)
Odile Poulsen, author and psychotherapist
All authors are formerly prostituted women.
We are six women who have been in prostitution. In many ways we are similar to the women Politiken described in the series of articles ‘The Brothel – A Workplace in Denmark’. Their words were our words when we were in prostitution.
Five of us told ourselves and the world around us that we were choosing to do it. That we enjoyed sex, earned good money and received lots of recognition. That we were completely in control of what we did.
The media often describes women in prostitution as strong and free and as having a healthy appetite for sex, most recently so in ‘The Brothel’. The story of the sex-loving woman who liberates her sexuality in prostitution is also the story most people want to hear. Especially men who buy sex.
Women like us are the complete opposite. When we take part in the public debate about prostitution and point out the destructive forces and consequences of prostitution, we are told that something else must be wrong with us.
For it cannot be the years in prostitution that have given us insomnia, depression, memory loss, suicidal thoughts, self-hate, pain, arthritis, anxiety, problems with intimacy and so on.
Even though hundreds of women in our situation speak of the same painful consequences of prostitution, this knowledge does not count in the current debate. ‘The Brothel’ conveys the dominant narrative: prostitution is liberating and harmless.
But what is not made clear at the same time is that it can look very different when one has exited the trade. This can contribute to the normalization of prostitution and lure young women into thinking that it is a danger-free way of earning money. It is not.
Many are those of us who have had to realize that prostitution is not a free or liberating choice, but boundary-crossing, violent, unfree. We lost touch with ourselves. So that we would be able to take it.
‘Satisfied sex workers’ are treated with a rare, uncritical political correctness by the media.
The journalist in ‘The Brothel’ accepted all the contradictions unquestioningly. But women in prostitution aren’t made of glass. So why shouldn’t they answer critical questions? How, for instance, are they going to avoid being exploited by pimps with the help of a telephone operator and a security guard? How are they going to get men to stop buying the foreign women who have no access to the famous ‘rights’—they are cheaper, after all? How does being a member of a union protect you from being assaulted by the buyers? How can you be an unemployed prostitute?
After all, you could just stand out on the street. ‘The Brothel’ gives the impression that the stigma lies in the fact that some people disagree that prostitution is an okay profession. The degrading view of women that sex buyers have is described by the interviewed women as them being sweet men who long for a little closeness and intimacy.
There is much discussion about freedom of choice. But this seems meaningless to us, for prostitution eats your dignity, free choice or not. When society does not want to give up on the notion that some women should be for sale, the stigma remains. And our pain is brushed aside by saying we chose it ourselves.
Below we have each listed our experiences and our views on being in prostitution:
Tanja: “I was superior, strong. But the facade was crumbling. I became addicted to cocaine so that I could go on. Was I too weak, a spineless victim? No. I survived and built a worthy life for myself. But I see how women in my situation constantly have to fight psychological problems, go to the hospital, get operations.” (…) “Women who exit prostitution tell a different story than that of orgasms and sweet men. Our experiences are the most stigmatizing. Because other women don’t want to realize that their men might be sex buyers and cheaters. Men don’t want to lose their illusions of constantly horny women who love to have sex for money. And society fears being seen as judgmental and frigid if we don’t embrace all sexual excesses with wide open arms. The cost of saying what no one wants to hear is condemnation.”
Alice: “As a mentor in ‘Swan Groups’ I meet many who find the media’s generally one-sided idealization of prostitution hard to deal with. In a Swan Group, you gain a better perspective of the issue. For who among us wasn’t happy, right up until we discovered something different? Very many of the Swan Women only discovered the painful reality afterward. Almost all of them have problems with closeness, intimacy, trust and sex. This has serious consequences for relationships with partners, children and others. Freedom in prostitution is an illusion, a quick fix of power and a lie that keeps both the sex buyer and the woman going around the ring.”
Christina: “I went talking to the media, praising the joys of prostitution when I was in prostitution. It was a huge self-deception that I used in order to survive. Many times I have since wondered about the question of rights. Would I have avoided PTSD, memory loss, depression, sleep disorders and general anxiety if I had had the right to be seen by a health professional every other week or been a member in the union and had the right to sick pay? No. Sex buyers differ from other men in only one respect: they can justify to themselves that it is okay to buy sex. They were pitiful when they thought they were entitled to use me because they paid for it. They justified their actions by saying, “Wow, it’s so cool that you are so strong; I could never have sex with one of the weak ones.” I could not possibly be one of those who were being hurt. How wrong they were. Pretending that you’re strong is just the way you sell the goods. “
Lita: “The rights should be the right to get out of prostitution. Help for the treatment of the problems that women in prostitution typically get, help with education or work. People should have the right not to have to sell themselves. And make no mistake: It is selling yourself. It’s not just a performance. You are alone and naked with a stranger who lies on top of you and groans and sweats, who sucks on your breasts and finally empties himself into you. That’s what it is to be a prostitute. Yes, there was always one who said, ‘I’ll be quick so it’s not so bad for you’. But if he thought it was so bad for me, why did he do it? That lack of self-control repelled me. The only thing they were really interested in was the size of our body parts–and what it cost. We were described and sold as if we were sandwiches.”
Pia: “I was violently forced to prostitute myself. That Danish women can also be forced into prostitution is never spoken about, but I am far from alone. My situation resembles that of foreign prostitutes, who also often have pimps—yes, even the ‘willing’ Danish prostitutes sometimes have those. Many women are ashamed, even if they’ve chosen to prostitute themselves, and would very much like to quit. So why are some politicians so busy trying to make the sex industry so that as many as possible can remain in prostitution for as long as possible? A lot more should be done to get women out of prostitution.”
Odile: “It’s not acceptable to talk about the damage we take away from prostitution—that destroys the common notion of prostitution as mutual, free-spirited sex. Women who haven’t been in prostitution and who don’t think that prostitution is good for society, for the prostitutes or the sex buyers, are called frigid, sexually repressed, moralizing spinsters. So how is it possible to discuss?”
Survivor Megaphone (links/references in original)
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)
QotD: it is the voices of the prostituted speaking against the expansion of the sex-trade that are actually ‘excluded, stigmatised, and marginalised.’
In the spirit of the media’s usual ‘sex workers are under-represented’ stance the media (this time in Daily Life) have published another piece about ‘sex workers being under-represented’. The latest is by Kate Iselin who apart from being a self-described sex worker and published writer is also ‘furious’.
Targeting the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for not having a ‘sex worker’ on the panel ‘Invisible Women’, Iselin wrote a piece titled ‘Sex Workers are not invisible. We’re just being ignored’. No you’re not Kate, pro- sex trade voices are so ubiquitous that even calling prostituted children ‘sex workers’ has become entrenched in the media and public psyche. You are so far from being ignored that when a writer exposing the sex-trade is appearing on a panel to talk about their own book, you get a voice in Daily Life to complain about it. The pro- sex trade are so far from being ignored you have Amnesty International influencing their membership of some 4 million people and every single lefty- neoliberal I come into contact with. All prostitution survivors ever hear from the media and the public is, “But isn’t prostitution actually sex work and just another job? What’s your problem you pearl-clutcher.”
What Iselin really means is that her particular voice and the voices of those who unequivocally support the full-decriminalisation of prostitution are not on the panel.
For the record, as a prostitution survivor featured in one of the books being discussed, Spinifex Press asked if I could be on the panel, the Festival declined.
For the record, the Scarlet Alliance were offered an entire session at MWF but they declined. I guess if it wasn’t a place on a panel where they could have a go at discrediting Tankard Reist and Tyler, the people they claim to represent aren’t really worth the Scarlet Alliance’s time.
Claiming this not the first time a festival has ignored ‘sex workers’ Iselin points to the 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas which also did not have an ‘actual sex worker’ on it’s panel ‘Women for Sale’. She uses the example of journalist Elizabeth Pisani giving up part of her time on the panel so a ‘sex worker’ could be allowed a voice . How noble of her. This orchestrated stunt actually gave the audience the voice of then Migrant Project Manager (see sex-trafficking) of the Scarlet Alliance, Jules Kim. Kim is indeed now the CEO, replacing Janelle Fawkes who, to my amazement, also calls herself a ‘sex worker’. (I don’t doubt that some members of the government funded Scarlet Alliance sell sex, or used to, but the media and the public need to be wise to the fact that a lot of them don’t and never have.)
Iselin is not ‘furious’ about there not being a ‘sex worker’ on the panel ‘Invisible Women’, she is merely furious that Melinda Tankard Reist and Dr Meagan Tyler are. (I have not read Wykes book, so won’t comment on Iselin’s statements about her.)
While she pays lip-service to our testimonies in the book Prostitution Narratives, going so far as to say she believes our stories should be ‘amplified’, would Iselin mind having a go at the festival on my behalf? How about a current ‘sex worker’ in New Zealand who agrees with Reist and Tyler that prostitution is a human rights violation. Would Iselin want her on the panel?
You see it is the voices of the prostituted speaking against the expansion of the sex-trade that are actually ‘excluded, stigmatised, and marginalised.’ Voices like Iselin’s and the Scarlet Alliance are not. Iselin is ‘furious’ that our voices got put in a book that doesn’t serve her or the Scarlet Alliance’s agenda. So she pops it in this article instead, shamelessly playing a favourite liberal media trump card – under-represented sex workers. It’s getting old. Iselin is ‘furious’ that a feminist publisher and two editors were brave enough to publish our stories. And believe me, in this pro-sex trade climate it is incredibly brave. In fact those who don’t support the rights of men to buy women to use as their personal sexual devices are vilified ad nauseum by voices like Iselin’s and those she represents.
Iselin’s piece is manipulative and disingenuous. It was offensive and hurtful to read that she doesn’t doubt the veracity of our testimonies but then swipes at us anyway. She did it by attacking the women who listened to survivors, respectfully gathered our stories and wrote about us and our ‘dead friends and colleagues’. Claiming they are just headline grabbers. Reducing their exhaustive research, intelligence and courage to tabloid chasing attention seekers.
But Iselin didn’t stop at that piece of nastiness, in trying to discredit Reist and Tyler through the guise of targeting Melbourne Writers’ Festival, she then went on to use this as a sneaky way to dismiss survivor voices and the stories of our ‘dead friends and colleagues’ as ‘tragedy porn’.
Thanks for that.
In paying us and our testimonies some lip service, Iselin is then able patronise us as sad but unreliable dimwits who fell under the spell of dodgy ‘anti-sex worker’ advocates . I guess our voices shouldn’t be ‘amplified’ after all.
Daily Life certainly fell for you didn’t they Ms Iselin. Quelle Suprise.
Nordic Model Now have released a thorough and comprehensive response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s Interim Report on Prostitution, I will highlight some of it below, but please go and read the whole thing.
If you are a UK citizen, writing to your MP about this could be an effective form of activism (rather than lobbying the committee directly), if there are going to be any law changes, they will be voted on in the House of Commons.
On 1 July 2016, the UK Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) released an interim report on its inquiry into prostitution.
Nordic Model Now! welcomes the recommendation to decriminalise soliciting and to delete convictions and cautions for prostitution from criminal records, and the call for in-depth research. However, we have some serious concerns about other aspects of the report.
We are particularly concerned that it exhibits a significant bias. This is not surprising given that the committee is composed of eight men (Keith Vaz, James Berry, David Burrowes, Ranil Jayawardena, Tim Loughton, Stuart McDonald, Chuka Umunna, David Winnick) and only three women (Victoria Atkins, Nusrat Ghani, Naz Shah).
Prostitution is an extremely gendered institution, with the majority (80% or more) of those bought and sold in prostitution being female and 99% or more of the buyers (punters) being male. Prostitution therefore has a very different significance for women than for men. The committee has downplayed evidence of the harms that prostitution causes both to those who are in it, and to women and girls and gender equality more generally.
Moreover we find it troubling that many concerns about these serious and significant harms have been written off as “moral values” and “emotive” reactions, while the report fails to mention the thinly veiled entitlement that infuses many of the contributions from men and which inevitably clouds the judgement of the male members of the committee. Instead there is an unexamined and clearly incorrect assumption that they are acting dispassionately.
Conflicts of interest
It is notable that there is no mention of whether the members of the committee are or have been sex buyers. It is clear that this is a common male behaviour and the majority of the committee members are male, and so it is statistically likely that some of them are or have been sex buyers.
The inquiry had a brief to consider whether buying a person for sex should be criminalised. Being a sex buyer or having a history of sex buying is a therefore a clear conflict of interest. We believe there is a strong case that members should formally declare whether they are or have been sex buyers and if so, to step down from the inquiry.
On page 3, the report says:
“Terminology is also disputed, with some opposition to the description “sex workers”. Our use of the term in this report is a neutral one and refers to female, male or transgender adults who receive money in exchange for sexual services.”
The term “sex worker” was coined as part of a deliberate attempt to normalise and sanitise prostitution by implying that it is ordinary and wholesome work. It is a euphemism and many people reject this term and many survivors of prostitution ask that it not be used.
The report defines the term as the exchange of “sexual services” for money. This is yet more euphemism. The Oxford online dictionary defines service as “The action of helping or doing work for someone.” Being paid to be sodomised, to endure a man ejaculating in your face, and many of the other core components of prostitution are not helping or active work. Rather it is being used as an object for someone else’s gratification.
The committee’s choice of term and definition therefore reveals a position, a judgement, on the issues, and to describe that as “neutral” is disingenuous.
Migrant workers and trafficking
The report does not make it clear how the committee defines sex trafficking.
At least one written submission drew attention to the fact that the Modern Slavery Act uses a different definition of human trafficking from that internationally agreed and set out in the Palermo Protocol, and the urgent need to correct this anomaly.
The variations in how sex trafficking is defined and understood can explain some of the extreme variations in the numbers of trafficked persons in the studies quoted. For example, on page 13 the report quotes research by Professor Nicola Mai which “found that only around 6% of all female interviewees felt that they had been deceived and forced into selling sex in circumstances within which they felt they had no share of control or consent.”
The Palermo Protocol definition makes clear that consent is irrelevant when any of the following means have been used:
“threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
The notion of “abuse of power or a position of vulnerability” recognises that trafficking can take the form of taking advantage of people’s vulnerability within structures of inequality based on aspects like age, sex, race, caste, and poverty. This may not be apparent to the person being taken advantage of. Not recognising the true extent of one’s lack of options is a normal psychological mechanism to maintain the hope and sense of control without which life becomes intolerable or even impossible. The report from Nikki Holland on the following page of the report implicitly recognises this dynamic.
In the light of this, Professor Mai’s test of whether the women he interviewed had been trafficked is severely flawed. That the committee reports his findings uncritically suggests that they too are uninformed about both the internationally agreed legal definition of trafficking, and its awful realities. We believe that this lack of understanding is a thread that can be seen running through the entire report and contributes to the committee’s misguided conclusion that sex trafficking and prostitution are separate issues.
The Palermo Protocol definition makes it clear that third-party involvement in the exploitation of another’s prostitution is the essential feature of sex trafficking. As Catharine MacKinnon says, “trafficking is straight-up pimping”.
Most women and girls in prostitution worldwide have a pimp. So we should not be surprised that Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking 2004–2008, said: “Prostitution as actually practised in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking.”
We insist the committee (and the government) familiarise themselves with the Palermo Protocol definition and use that as the standard.
The Sex Buyer Law
The section of the report on the Sex Buyer Law is perhaps the most disappointing of all. The section starts by saying that a “large proportion of the evidence we received was from individuals and organisations arguing in favour of the introduction of a Sex Buyer Law in England and Wales.” The report then goes on to largely ignore that evidence and to extensively quote and refer to those who are clearly opposed to this approach.
For example, this section of the report quotes or refers to 17 people or organisations who are clearly ideologically opposed to the Nordic Model, three who support it and three who appear to be neutral, as shown in the following table.
Pro Nordic Model Neutral Ideologically opposed
- Nordic Model Information Network
- APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade
- Mika Malmö
- Swedish Government
- Norwegian Ministry of Justice
- ACC Nikki Holland
- Amnesty International
- Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford
- Professor Peter Shirlow of the University of Liverpool
- Support and Advice for Escorts (SAAFE)
- The Sussex Centre for Gender Studies
- Laura Lee
- Professor Philp Hubbard of the University of Kent
- The Sex Work Research Hub
- The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective
- Dr Jay Levy
- International Union of Sex Workers
- Action for Trans Health
- Bridie Sweetman
- Feminists for Solidarity Sweden
- The Sussex Centre for Gender Studies
- Miss E, a sex worker
- Sex Worker Open University
Moreover much of the “evidence” in this section from those who are opposed to the Nordic Model is biased, not strictly relevant, or is conjecture and argument.
For example, under the subheading, “Health,” the Sex Work Research Hub is quoted as stating that “data from multiple countries linked criminalisation of sex work with up to a five-fold increase in risk of HIV infection or other sexually transmitted infections.” However, the research referenced does not appear to have been conducted in a country that has implemented the Nordic Model approach. We therefore question the relevance of including this quotation here.
Another example is the report saying that Bridie Sweetman “argued that the Swedish model limited the ability of sex workers and their clients to access preventive health measures and health checks; was associated with a drop in willingness to carry and use condoms; and workers were more likely to engage in unprotected sex out of desperation for work and the inability to report a client for insisting on unprotected sex.”
However, her written evidence on these points is mostly pure conjecture, such as that a client would have to admit to committing a crime in order to seek a sexual health check-up and that a “sex worker” would be “further stigmatised and degraded if they seek assistance from sexual health providers.” Similarly she says: “There is also a drop in willingness to carry and use condoms for two reasons: condoms are often used as evidence of transactional sex.” However, this is backed up by a reference to page 88 of a World Health Organisation publication from 2013, Implementing Comprehensive HIV/STI Programmes with Sex Workers which does not mention the Nordic Model.
Arguments for and against the Nordic Model
The bias of the committee is further revealed in the way the arguments for and against the Nordic Model were presented.
The arguments for were put under the heading “Potential benefits of a Sex Buyer Law” and amounted to two brief paragraphs; whereas the arguments against it were put under the heading “Arguments against a Sex Buyer Law” with two entire pages separated under a number of subheadings, containing many quotations, most from those who are ideologically opposed to the Nordic Model or have vested interests in the sex trade.
For example, page 26 quotes the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW). In an interview with Julie Bindel and Cath Elliott, Douglas Fox, one of the leading figures in the IUSW, admitted that it is an activist and lobbying group rather than a trade union and that it includes pimps, who are redefined as managers and “sex workers”.
Another example is self-described “sex worker”, Laura Lee, who was quoted several times in the report, including in this section on page 25. She uses advertisements on social media both to accrue business and for political campaigning. She has raised funds for a legal battle against the Sex Buyer Law in Northern Ireland directly from men who pay for sex regularly. Thus there is a potential conflict of interest, as her public position and expressed views must take into account the wishes of those who fund her campaigning work.
So the committee chose to quote a lobby group run by and for the benefit of pimps and a campaigner funded by punters and possibly pimps rather than the European Women’s Lobby, UNISON, Welsh Women’s Aid, SPACE International, the Soroptimists, or the Women’s Support Project. None of these organisations were quoted a single time in the entire report, even though the former represents hundreds of women’s organisations throughout Europe, UNISON is a large trade union that represents millions of low paid women, SPACE is an international organisation of survivors of prostitution and the others are well-respected and established women’s charities.
Many other organisations, including those that work with prostituted women or conduct research on how policy affects women and girls, submitted written evidence that was ignored, including Community Safety Glasgow, Ruhama, JBS-R Associates, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, Women @ the Well, Women Analysing Policy on Women, Wales Assembly of Women, Trust Women’s Project and the Judith Trust. All of these organisations recommended a Nordic Model approach.
It appears that the committee did not make a concerted effort to understand the thinking behind the Nordic Model and the conclusion of this section states, incorrectly, that it “is based on the premise that prostitution is morally wrong and should therefore be illegal”. We urge the committee to reconsider the Nordic Model afresh, taking on board the full written presented to the committee and the oral evidence from Kat Banyard, Mia Faoite and Alan Caton.
The interim report cannot be considered evidence-based because the selection of the evidence relied upon was biased and the evidence that didn’t match that bias was downplayed by undue emphasis on routine caveats or the dismissal of the motives of the person presenting it as “emotive” or deriving from “moral values”.
No one demolishes the attempt to dismiss the argument for the Nordic Model on the basis that it is a moral crusade better than Meagan Tyler:
“Perhaps this all depends on how you define “moral crusade.” If you view the movement for women’s equality as a “moral crusade”, then I suppose it is. If you are determined to dismiss all of the evidence in support of the Nordic Model and instead want to debate this on a “moral” level, then by all means do. Those who think violence against women is a bad thing are bound to win that argument.”
Prostitution causes great harm to those who are in it, it damages society, it leads to higher rates of harassment and sexual violence, it treats women as commodities that can be used to generate profits, it lowers the status of all women. Of course it is a moral and ethical issue.
We believe that the committee has failed in its responsibility to consider the issues surrounding prostitution dispassionately and we believe they need to start afresh. But first we urge the committee to take a step back and consider what type of society they want the prostitution legislation to contribute to. For example:
- What are the core principles that govern our society?
- Do we believe in equality between men and women, girls and boys?
- Do we believe in the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
- Or do we believe that might is right?
- That greed is good?
- That women and girls must acquiesce in the face of the ancient patriarchal male sex right?
- That women and girls are not in fact fully human and so their rights to dignity, safety and freedom don’t count?
We urge the committee to consider these, the ethical issues that underpin the system of prostitution and the ever expanding sex trade. We believe that only after considering such questions should they proceed with their inquiry.
We urge the committee to read again, with an open mind this time, the many written submissions from individual women and organisations who called for a Nordic Model approach. The committee has a very serious responsibility to get this right because the health and well-being of future generations of women and girls depend on it and many people will take their lead from the committee.
When the government considers its response to the interim report, we urge it to take into account all of the flaws and weaknesses that we have set out above.
We end with a short quotation from the written submission from Jill Thomas:
“The open sale of women as bodies for sexual pleasure undermines equality and messages of consent. The main cause of sexual violence and abuse is a man’s attitude and belief in the worth of women. The relegation of women to a commodity to be enjoyed without any care for her feelings or impact on her health is dehumanising to all women and girls and ultimately dangerous. It has no place in a modern egalitarian society.”
Bazelon’s claim that she’d known nothing of this topic or debate prior to beginning work on this piece seems even stranger as I discovered her connections to George Soros, a billionaire whose Open Society Foundations (OSF) not only is a major donor to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HWR), and UNAIDS, but a number of sex work lobby groups across the world. Soros and OSF funded the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), which was revealed to be a front for a pimping operation last year, as their vice president, Gil Alejandra, who served as co-chair of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work & Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy, was arrested for sex trafficking. (Bazelon spoke to the president of NSWP for her piece, but didn’t mention the trafficking conviction, though she had been made her aware of it by another interviewee, Rachel Moran.) The man who appears to be the biggest financial backer of the pro-legalization lobby in the world, whose organization is overtly pro-legalization and funded reports Amnesty International relied on in order to support their position also has longstanding ties to Bazelon and her family. Bazelon herself was a Soros Media Fellow in 2004 and her grandfather’s foundation, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Emily’s sister and mother both serve on the Center’s board), receives over a $1 million in funding from OSF.
Bazelon says that it was only Amnesty International’s recent vote to adopt a pro-industry position that led her to support legalization. But this claim is hard to believe when we consider the bias she conveys in the piece, her connections to Soros, and the fact that she doesn’t acknowledge that Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO did not simply “discover” a grassroots “sex worker movement” independently, leading them to push for legalization. Rather, these organizations, alongside Soros’ OSF, have been working with pimps, traffickers, and industry lobbyists to develop policy for some time.
The report by Kat Banyard, which points out that NSWP was appointed Co-Chair of the UNAIDS “Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work” in 2009, explains:
“UNAIDS is the international body responsible for leading global efforts to reverse the spread of HIV, and the advisory group was established to ‘review and participate in the development of UNAIDS policy, programme or advocacy documents, or statements.’ Alejandra Gil is also personally acknowledged in a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) report about the sex trade as one of the ‘experts’ who dedicated her ‘time and expertise’ to developing its recommendations. NSWP’s logo is on the front cover, alongside the logos of WHO, UNAIDS and the United Nations Population Fund.”
How can reports and policy funded by a billionaire who is specifically invested in the legalization of prostitution and that were developed in consultation with pimps and traffickers be either unbiased or be considered connected to “grassroots movements” in any way? The “movements” Bazelon references as having inspired Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO to develop these policies and positions are, in fact, organizations funded by Soros himself.
Bazelon’s dismissal of the Nordic model is yet another mistake made in her efforts to cling to neutrality. In an interview on the Diane Rehm show, she repeats erroneous claims that, while street prostitution appears to have decreased in Sweden after the implementation of the Nordic model, the purchase of sex did not, based on the increased number of ads online. But reports from Sweden say the ads are unrepresentative, as many of the ads posted are duplicates and/or posted by the same person. From the report:
“Authorities who have studied escort ads in the past have noted that one and the same seller of sexual services is often found in several advertisements. This finding is also indicated by the internet surveys, mainly in the form of the same telephone number cropping up during a search of several advertising sites. The overlap between the number of advertisements and escort sites and the duplication of many ads is shown by both surveys. This is also confirmed by other authorities working the field. Against this background, there is nothing indicating that the actual number of individuals engaging in prostitution has increased.”
While she admits that abolitionists are “oppos[ed] to arresting” prostituted women, Bazelon adds, “But they want to continue using the criminal law as a weapon of moral disapproval by prosecuting male customers, alongside pimps and traffickers — though this approach still tends to entangle sex workers in a legal net.” She fails to explain what she means by that and quickly moves forward to paint support for the Nordic model as something clueless American celebrities and ideologues do: The “man” vs the little guy, is the impression we are meant to get… The “man” being Gloria Steinem and Meryl Streep, and the “little guy” being, of course, the so-called “sex worker.”
Bazelon casually throws out the term “carceral feminism,” quoting Elizabeth Bernstein, a sociologist who studies “sex work,” who explains that abolitionists “have relied upon strategies of incarceration as their chief tool of ‘justice,’” going on to imply the history of abolition is connected to “faith-based” and “evangelical” groups who worked with George W. Bush to raid brothels for American TV audiences. She continues to connect abolitionists to Bush and to evangelicals throughout the piece, failing to acknowledge that the feminists who support the Nordic model today do so through a socialist lens and have always been part of an actual independent, radical, grassroots feminist movement.
Ignoring the decades-old grassroots women’s movement and the ongoing, tireless work of underfunded working-class women and women of colour who have been fighting prostitution for years is one of Bazelon’s most suspect choices. She discusses organizations funded by Open Society Foundations and the Gates Foundation, many of which have ties to pimps and traffickers, without question but erases or misrepresents the work of movement women who have nothing to gain from their fight against prostitution but a better life for women and girls and a more equitable world in the future.
Bazelon’s claim that decriminalization will make “people’s lives better, and safer” is not only untrue, but is based on money, not facts… The money that supports efforts to legalize is vast and passed around among sex industry lobby groups, civil liberty and human rights organizations, and, apparently, journalists. The incentive to support decriminalization is very clearly financial — prostitution is yet another billion-dollar global industry. It is unconscionable to ignore that reality when discussing key players. Support for decriminalization is also rooted in a deep desire to believe that a situation that is clearly not “okay” by any means can somehow become “okay,” despite ample evidence showing that this will never be the case.
Like the cover photo, which aims to convince the reader that “diversity” was a priority in Bazelon’s reporting (but, in fact, only featured those who both identify as “sex workers” and live in three American cities: New York, San Fransisco, and Seattle), the entire story intentionally removes or distorts the perspectives of abolitionists and survivors, positioning sex work advocates as the diverse expert voices that legitimize her piece.
While Bazelon claims the view she presents (which is, to be clear, her own) “poses a deep challenge to traditional Western feminism,” she’s ironically ignored the fact that Indigenous women and women’s groups say that prostitution never existed in their cultures until they were colonized by the West. Beyond that, almost all liberal American publications (many of which claim to be feminist) support the legalization of prostitution, as do, of course, privileged men. These are the voices and publications that dominate Western discourse and have the funding to promote their views. Men are the people who, at the end of the day, benefit from prostitution — their power is reinforced through its existence.
Bazelon herself is nothing if not a voice for Western privilege and liberalism, based on her Ivy League education, career, connections, and the ideology she supports. After all, is there anything more “mainstream” than the commodification and sexualization of women’s bodies? Certainly there is nothing more “traditional” than patriarchy itself.