Sexual Slavery, Melissa Farley and sex work

Sexual Slavery, Melissa Farley and sex work

Excerpt from Melissa Farley’s Statement from her website prostitutionresearch.com


  • Prostitution can’t be made a little bit better any more than slavery could be made a little better.


Jill Brenneman writes in her blog, www.myspace.com/jillbrenneman

This statement is a contradiction. It would work well with a picture of a trafficking victim that has been brutalized or a child that has been sexually exploited commercially, but that is the extent of it. A soundbyte. A very good public relations statement that in context could make a powerful statement. One that in context I would also endorse. But this has to stay in the context and with a significant disclaimer.


If we go back to say the year 1800 when slavery was still legal in much of the world and part of many countries cultures and use hindsight as a guide knowing it would be 90 plus years for the majority of slavery to be abolished and in 207 years there would still be slavery, would we say that nothing should be done to make the lives of the slaves better knowing in this scenario that they will remain slaves throughout their lifetimes? Would the slave in Alabama or Brasil be better off by a statement that we should focus all resources on abolition and creation of awareness of all the horrors of slavery or should their be both? People working to abolish slavery and people working to better the lives of the slaves? It would be vastly unfair to those in slavery to say nothing should be done to improve their lives even a little bit because the institution is evil. Should we say that all resources should go toward fighting the slave owners and slave traders and with a set goal of freeing them but ignoring their plight during the struggle? Essentially if they are not free and aren’t going to be, better to leave them without rights and protection, because improving their living conditions may degrade the war against slavery?


With the assumption that they will remain slaves, they would be far better off having any rights and any improvement in their living conditions. If they are allowed to join together, to have their voices heard, to have the right to legal protection when victimized by crimes such as rape, assault, treatment for diseases without fear of stigmatization, and if they get out their status as once a slave not used against them, they only benefit.


The same thought process works for the sex industry. Those in the sex industry today can not be thrown away in the pursuit for social change. Sex worker rights advocates calling for basic principles such as referenced below from IUSW may be making prostitution a little bit better. I there any reason sex workers should not have the right to form unions, to work on the same basis as other contractors? Should they be taxed without rights and representation? Should they be denied the right to sue those who exploit their labor? Is it better to dirty unsafe places to work? Is denying the right to say no, denying access to clinics, denying training to those who want to leave a positive social stance? Are they better off being stigmatized by social attitudes?


Before we jump to a stance of saying prostitution should not be made a little bit better, perhaps we should look at the views of many actually in the sex industry and what they are truly advocating rather than relying on myths about sex worker rights activists and sweeping generalizations about trafficking and slavery. Those trafficked and those that are slaves deserve much better than being generalized with those who are not. And those that are not deserve much better than saying they should not have the right to improve their lives because there is exploitation in the industry the work in. They deserve better than those outside the sex industry making sweeping statements of blanket victimization regardless of what the life experiences and worldviews are of the sex workers. Feminism that states all of a segment of the female population are victims equal to slaves and those that say they aren’t are just not understanding reality is an insult to the women the feminism is supposed to represent. The abolitionist movement and abolitionist activists can do important work toward social change. But this work has to be done in alliance with those it states as representatives of. Not on top of them, not against them, not saying they are brainwashed by wanting their lives to improve and not linking them to present and historical evil or worse portraying them as collaborators with historical and present evil for taking steps to improve their lives.


• from IUSW International Union of Sex Workers website


  • Decriminalisation of all aspects of sex work involving consenting adults.

  • The right to form and join professional associations or unions.

  • The right to work on the same basis as other independent contractors and employers and to receive the same benefits as other self-employed or contracted workers.

  • No taxation without such rights and representation.

  • Zero tolerance of coercion, violence, sexual abuse, child labour, rape and racism.

  • Legal support for sex workers who want to sue those who exploit their labour.

  • The right to travel across national boundaries and obtain work permits wherever we live.

  • Clean and safe places to work.

  • The right to choose whether to work on our own or co-operatively with other sex workers.

  • The absolute right to say no.

  • Access to training – our jobs require very special skills and professional standards.

  • Access to health clinics where we do not feel stigmatised.

  • Re-training programmes for sex workers who want to leave the industry.

  • An end to social attitudes which stigmatise those who are or have been sex workers.



Jill Brenneman, SWOP East, Sex Workers Outreach Project

10 Responses

  1. I think Farley makes a lot of sense. Brenneman seems to be saying that some women should be able to choose to hurt themselves. Just because there are a few women who are masochistic enough to “choose” prostitution, that doesn’t mean we should mold our entire legal system around them.

    Most women in prostitution would like other options. Why don’t you help them?

    p.s. Writing long polemics on the web is not the same as actually helping them.

  2. Ah, see, this is where you are incorrect on many fronts, Baconeater. Farley, and many like her, apply the situations faced by those in the most unfortunate levels of sex work (street prostitution) to all involved in every single aspect of the industry, from stripping to freely, indpendently done escorting, to pornography. Also, the assumption that women currently in sex work or formerly in sex work have no interest in helping women who are in said business who want out to get out of it. That is not the case. Jill herself is pretty dedicated to helping women in a great many of ways, including those who want out of prostitution and protecting those, in a variety of ways, who are in the business.

    Farley deals in stereotypes and shock factor, which is great for building an academic or writing career, but not so helpful in the real world.

  3. oh, nice stereotypes on the “masochistic enough” line too.

  4. Bacon Eater,

    What is Farley doing for them? Since we are talking about long polemics. Beyond that who are you? You know what I’m doing to help sex workers how?

    You feel the current system with the war on trafficking is helping them how?

    You oppose human, civil and labor rights for sex workers because? And what in place of them?

    What are you doing?

    A few women who are masochistic enough? Ring ring, it’s the clue phone, there are far more women in the sex industry there by choice than by coercion. You’re analysis is predicated upon taking the worst case scenario and trying to make it into a macro level setting. Shock and awe yes. Reality no.

    Have I worked with many women wanting to get out of the sex industry? Yes. The vast majority are still out. Of course became a volunteer effort because our funding was eliminated by TVPRA. So the women that accessed services to get out lost a resource in more than one way in the damage done to the parent of SWOP East Project Prosper. Which Farley had play in. She contributed to the loss of resources for women wanting to get out and wanting information and support for that very process. They benefited by that how?

    Did I remain in contact with the women I was working with to get them out even when the funding was eliminated? Yes. Only legally I could do so only as a friend, not as an advocate counselor because the crisis shelter lost its funding because of TVPRA. They folded the direct services program and shut off the clients without notice or closure.

    I kept what was left for resources and offered support as a friend to the clients that could no longer be clients because of radical feminist power brokering.

    SWOP East still has a direct services counselor for women wanting to leave the sex industry or any other kind of support relating to the sex industry through a collaboration with Northwest Youth and Family Services with Lucy Spina in the Twin Cities. This has been held together by an entire volunteer effort on my part, and everyone else with SWOP East. SWOP East has managed to rebuild despite having no funding, despite the fact that I work a full and part time job plus SWOP East and everyone in SWOP East is working at least one full time job. And before you launch some rhetoric that we are all working as sex workers for 10 hours a week, you can save that too because every one of us has a full time “straight” job.

    If you want to toss some shit around about what I’m not doing, you may want to know what you’re talking about first. You’re qualified to cast the first stone because?

    You are who again? You know me how?

  5. baconeater says:

    “I think Farley makes a lot of sense. Brenneman seems to be saying that some women should be able to choose to hurt themselves. Just because there are a few women who are masochistic enough to “choose” prostitution, that doesn’t mean we should mold our entire legal system around them.”

    Interestingly, I have heard this same argument about reproductive rights–from religious right conservatives.

    How does my “right to choose” become lost on the mass of culture when I accept cash for sex? Is it because abortion is desirable, and sex work is not? Is the stigma and legal status of reproductive rights subject to social acceptance? Do we let women’s rights fall by the wayside due to unpopular vote? Obviously. The same ideology that extends to the rights over my own body never extend far enough. Where does that draw the line? Do we really believe women can make their own decisions about their bodies, or is it just accepted that some choices are o.k., while others are “masochistic”? I can have sex with whomever I want. I can work wherever I want. The revolution of sexuality and feminism carried women closer to that. But legally and within the parameters of acceptable behavior from women, I can do neither at the same time?

    And as long as we are asking the questions: Why is it oh-so-easy to dismiss the very notion of empowering/helping sex workers? Why are we “pimps” if we congregate and work cooperatively? The same laws that keep sex work illegal, keep sex workers from creating networks and alliances that keep us and other sex workers safe and consensual. Every time I hear someone criticizing a sex worker for not “helping” her fellow worker, it is usually the critics attempt to compartmentalize there own incompetence for presenting a solution to issues surrounding sex work.

    Helpful Hint: When people are searching for social services, they tend to balk at platforms of outreach attempting to “save” them. It’s as demeaning as Catholics running reproductive rights clinics.

  6. There is also this faux Titanic Syndrome created by those that benefit from TVPRA that all sex workers are on a quickly sinking ship with a painful death waiting for all those not getting a seat on a lifeboat.

    Except, it isn’t like that. Those who want to leave the sex industry should have every resource for that purpose. Which I advocated in the opening post in this thread. A point which radical feminists consistently “miss”. However, want is the key word. Unlike the doomsday scenarios of TVPRA and it’s backers there is a large percentage of sex workers who do not want to leave the sex industry, that are not coerced, and are there by their own consent and choice. Coincidently many of these sex workers are intelligent, educated, and have other choices but choose sex work and can leave at any time.

    The Titanic Syndrome is a false creation taking a worst case and pretending it is the default.

  7. bacon eater writes:

    :ust because there are a few women who are masochistic enough to “choose” prostitution, that doesn’t mean we should mold our entire legal system around them.”

    All day a point about this has been running through my mind. That this question is even being raised is statement.

    The legal system should exist to protect the human, civil and labor rights of ALL people. An occupational choice should not be expected to be a waiver of human rights. The legal system should exist to protect the rights of human beings not to take them away.

    Would we say if someone chooses a religion we shouldn’t take the time to afford them human rights? No.

    The list of this goes on. Funny how some of the same feminists that talk in other political forums about the human rights of prisoners of war advocating them so strongly make an exception to demanding human rights for sex workers that choose their occupation.

  8. I am so tired of this fallacious association between prostitution and slavery. Melissa Farley and Donna Hughes do it constantly, and it makes me wonder how they scored on their SATs.

    Slavery isn’t a kind of work, it’s a condition under which people work. The 13th ammendment didn’t abolish agricultural labor or domestic servitude. How can they possibly compare forced labor with a chosen occupation, especially when so many enter the profession for the higher pay and greater freedom it allows?

    I think they really give themselves away by insisting that it is never willfully chosen, never a preferred occupation when so many insist to the contrary. If they were really so concerned about the 500,000 – 2million sex slaves they claim are out there, they would focus all their efforts on rescuing them and stop wasting their time trying to convince the world that the rest of us don’t really exist.

  9. baconeater-
    I would ask how you would know that choosing sex work is masochistic? How are you able to qualify that statement? I am genuinely curious.
    Thanks

  10. Stephanie,
    While you live in the fantasy world believing that women in the sex industry “chose” that occupation, some of us understand the coersion and violence it took to get most of them there. If 5% of prostitutes are in that “chosen occupation” the rest of the females shouldnt have to pay for it.

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