Rebel Yell, A victimless crime? Sex workers defend legal prostitution

News

A victimless crime?

Sex workers defend legal prostitution

Published on September 20, 2007

“Criminalization of sex work and sex workers that are legal adults and consenting solves nothing,” said Jill Brenneman of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) East, an advocacy group for sex worker rights, at an online press conference Monday night.

The conference was held by workers and advocates of the sex industry as a rebuttal to the New York Times article written by columnist Bob Herbert, and a recent book-length report by Dr. Melissa Farley, a psychologist and researcher stressing that the sex industry in Las Vegas is responsible for the degradation of women and for sex trafficking.

Bound Not Gagged is a sex worker outreach project with a blog where participants include prostitutes, escorts, exotic dancers and pornography performers, and was developed by Desiree Alliance as an online resource for sex workers to respond publicly to those such as Farley and Herbert.

Farley’s book, Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connection, was published earlier this month through her organization, Prostitution Research and Education, and can only be purchased on her website. Farley was asked to study the consequences of the Nevada sex trade by John Miller, who was the former head of the U.S. State Department committee to fight human trafficking around the world.

The book details Farley’s findings of the working of the illegal sex industry within Las Vegas. Farley suggests that Nevada is the hub of North American prostitution and sex trafficking. She also suggests that those within the industry are exploited and the industry itself is harmful and dangerous to women.

“Women’s experiences working in the sex industry are far more complex and varied than [Farley’s] research or [Herbert’s] column suggest,” said Lynn Comella, UNLV assistant professor of Woman’s Studies. Many of the participants at Monday’s conference claim that Farley’s research lacks accountability because the research methods used by Farley discredits and misrepresents women working within the sex industry. She has been accused of “ignoring those who do not agree with her views.”

“I have never been able to fathom how [Farley] could claim such commitment to the protection of women without listening to the voices of the very women they claim to protect,” said Jessica Land, a sex worker, during the conference.

Sex workers’ rights was a highlighted topic, with many bloggers stressing for an end of criminalization involving consenting adults, entitled protection from coercion, violence, sexual abuse and child labor related to the sex industry.

In a statement written by SWOP East’s Brenneman, “critics will state that youth should not be in the sex industry, they are correct. However, this requires more than press releases, position statements and pusillanimous policies of government.” The statement goes on to say, “This is a social issue that has to be addressed at the source.”

Not all participants were proponents of the sex industry. A blogger by the name of “Josie” stated, “You do not have a right to do anything you want with your body in this country. There are other people involved and impacted by these decisions.”

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New Interviews With Nevada Brothel Workers

The controversy about the Nevada brothel system impelled a journalist to go and interview brothel workers herself. They, not her, refute Farley’s claims. They don’t go out of their way to paint a rosy picture. Their view tends to be one like a lot of workers — the job works for them but it’s not perfect. They like the potential money. They also like the freedom to do their job without the threat of arrest hanging over their heads.

Farley is quoted in the article as wanting to stamp out legal prostitution. I don’t have a problem with that — this is the perfect opportunity for Nevada to try some decriminalization.

SWOP-LA @ ADULTCON…can u say dental..DAAAAAMMM?

the_adultcon_logo.jpgpneadultcongroupshot.jpgMariko Passion, Courtney, volunteer Jamez and the kind folks at Extenz and Explosion male herbal enhancement products let us use their stage and mic to do some safe sex work demos with dental dams and flavored condoms. The crowd loved it. Adultcon was the entire weekend of 9/22-24 and it was an exhaustive outreach effort selling t-shirts, performing demos and shouting at people to make donations. It was a good outreach effort, truly a non profit effort as the booth was not donated to us, but at least we did not LOSE any money. We garnered support from the hetero porn watchers, AND most importantly garnered support form a few key PORN STARS who have tried or currently do try their hands at being whores/escorts themselves. They were not only supportive, but willing to do content trades to do safe sex work porn with me/us in the future!!

SWOP-LA has made an important PARTNERSHIP with WOMEN ALIVE, an HIV/AIDS non profit that is the reason that we have the safe sex tools to give away to other sex workers and clients at events like adultcon. Alma, from Women Alive was a member of SWOP-LAS VEGAS last year and has since moved to LA and already helped SWOP-LA in amazing ways. We are returning to Venice Beach to do a safer sex work outreach demo TOMORROW, 9/29/07. come find the action if you live nearby!

View HOT FOOTAGE FROM ADULTCON NOW!!courtneymariko.jpg

Want to Know Why We Blog?

Apparently it’s for the money…

…according to a poster defending Melissa Farley’s honor (and academic credentials) over at The Rebel Yell.

I loved the Yell piece because Farley tried to shut them up about reporting on us. What, can her research not withstand a little scrutiny? Where’s the insecurity coming from? And then an unnamed poster jumped in to castigate the Bound, not Gagged writers. They wonder “Could it be that they have financial rather than academic motivations?”

I wonder too. I thought this was a voluntary blog unsupported by advertising (except for a t-shirt). I guess that shirt’s raking in more bucks than suspected and I want my piece of it. So far, none of the elite inner circle of bloggers here have offered me any money and I’m feeling slighted. Since I’m currently completely unsupported by the pimp/prostitution/trafficking/stripper/porn lobby (the most powerful lobby in the US), it hurts me more than words can express to know that my colleagues here at BnG have decided to cut me out of all the dough they get by speaking up and sharing their views.

Damn!

Working together for effective solutions to trafficking and forced labor

josie, on September 19th, 2007 at 2:20 am Said:

“Karly, this is an issue I am deeply intereseted in. What should be the standard practice when dealing with trafficed women cuaght in raids? There are obviously going to be raids. And at least in Nevada, there are many undocumented people caught up in them.

So what should be done? Obviously ICE is not the answer. We can’t just send them back to their trafficker. So what is the human standard of care here? Anyone?”

Hi Josie, thanks for posting this question. It seems important, so I decided to make it a whole new thread.

Since I am a US-based worker, I cannot speak from personal experience about what trafficking victims go through before, during or after raids. For information, I look to trusted organizations such as:

The Network of Sex Work Projects

The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center

EMPOWER, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Zi Teng, Hong Kong

And there are many others. These are just examples to get you started.

This article provides a chronological explanation of how money for trafficking is routed in the US. It highlights the problem of using un-scientific and exaggerated figures to quantify the problem of trafficking. Using these figures dilutes the real problems of trafficking that exist, focuses energy on punishment rather than services and wrongfully discriminates against women who travel here from other countries, even if not for sex work or any other labor.

From my perspective, even one case of sexual exploitation is too much and something should be done about it. But one instance of abuse does not mean that all sex work is abusive. Sex workers should be seen as allies in this fight. We need real solutions that provide assistance and support to people who are actually in need, rather than money being funneled through law enforcement agencies. The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in NYC provides legal support and assistance with immigration paperwork/T visas/etc. I would check them out for info about the actual practical details of assisting an identified trafficking victim. These efforts require money, but the money available for this work comes with all sorts of strings attached. Here is a statement from SWP:

Statement on Trafficking in Persons for the 51st Session of the Commission for the Status of Women on the “elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child.”

We recommend a realistic and effective policy model on human trafficking and prostitution, which would include:

• Training people who work in all industries where trafficking occurs to identify and aid trafficked persons;

• Enforcement of laws against assault, extortion and other human rights abuses committed against trafficked persons and sex workers;

• Access to comprehensive health care, education, and opportunities to seek a living wage in adulthood for all girl children;

• Removal of harsh immigration policies that exacerbate the vulnerabilities of those who are susceptible to being trafficked;

• Reform the criminal justice response to prostitution, as harsh systems increase vulnerability for trafficking and other abuses;

• Training in business and money management;

• Reductions in social stigmas that often prohibit sex workers from moving into other forms of labor if they want to do so; and

• Education and empowerment for sex workers on ways to prevent the spread of HIV.

What has actually happened is that there are a few thousand cases annually of trafficking for sexual purposes (and many thousand more cases of trafficking for other labor) but the numbers have been inflated. The federal government pumped tons of money into the ‘war on sex trafficking’ based on these false estimates. This resulted in dozens of NGO’s and law enforcement agencies getting huge grants to find victims that did not exist (this is not to say that there are no victims at all, but there were not enough victims to meet quotas for this money.) Since there were not enough people who could be identified as trafficked persons to justify this funding- and the NGO’s, law enforcement entities and government workers wanted to continue receiving that money- the definition of trafficking needed to be broadened, in order to include anybody engaged in any consensual sexual exchange, including US citizens. There are various provisions about crossing county/state lines for the purposes of sexual commerce= trafficking, etc. Plus, they wanted to be able to go after clients, which is where the ‘end demand’ language factors in. More info about the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the 2003 re-authorization of that act can be found here.

Some more material from SWP at the Urban Justice Center:

 

CRITIQUE OF FOCUS ON DEMAND IN THE CONTEXT OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

On the supply side, poverty, unemployment, the search for economic and other opportunities, and gender inequality combine to put many people at risk for exploitation and abuse during the migration process or once they arrive at their intended destination. Addressing these causes of the “supply” will do far more to protect the rights of sex workers and of trafficked persons than ineffective attempts to curb “demand.”

 

 

THE DANGER OF CONFLATING TRAFFICKING AND SEX WORK:

Sex work is alternately described as being the same as trafficking in persons or the cause of trafficking into sex work.16 These conclusions are based on flawed studies, providing biased and inadequate information.17 Conflating sex work with trafficking into sex work erases the voices of sex workers, worsening the conditions of sex workers and warping discussions of trafficking.

16 See Feingold, supra note 2, at 24 (The State Department website argues “Where prostitution is legalized or tolerated, there is greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery,” despite a lack of data to support this bold assertion). 17 Ronald Weitzer, The Growing Moral Panic Over Prostitution and Sex Trafficking, THE CRIMINOLOGIST, 30(5), 1-5, 3-4 (Sept./Oct. 2005).

 

Response to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights aspects of the victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Sigma Huda

A human rights-based approach to human trafficking acknowledges the root causes of trafficking, such as discriminatory practices in education, health and education marginalizing women, girls and minorities, and focuses on empowerment models to reduce or eliminate the vulnerability of persons to being trafficked. A human rights approach is more effective than a solely repressive criminal law strategy that claims to address the consequences of trafficking but not the causes.

I hope that this material will be helpful to you in understanding a human rights based approach. Hopefully other folks can add more material or clarify some of my summary. Thanks for taking the time to look into this Josie!

sincerely,

Karly

Melissa Farley, comparing actions and alliances to her words

Farley has published more than 25 peer-reviewed publications on sexual violence, prostitution and trafficking. She has spoken with a thousand women, men, and the transgendered in prostitution in 10 countries on 5 continents. She talks about the psychological harm of prostitution, her expertise based upon interviewing 1,000 women men and transgendered prostitutes. Ms. Farley presents herself as a strong advocate for prostitutes. Perhaps she is. But there are also actions and alliances from her past which challenge the credibility of her understanding of the psychology of prostitutes. In 1996 Ms. Farley along with Nikki Craft wrote “Why I Made The Choice to Become a Prostitute“. Perhaps they felt it was comical and amusing to insult the intelligence of prostitutes, to imply that prostitutes are motivated by sexual desires for their step fathers, even comparing prostitutes to being grade A ground beef and the cow simultaneously. Many women that identify as survivors of prostitution have written to Ms. Farley stating their concerns about this piece. These women in prostitution’s viewpoints were ignored or perhaps not pertinent because she was not studying them or already had. Why would a researcher with more than 25 peer-reviewed publications on sexual violence, prostitution and trafficking feel that such a piece below, after being reviewed by survivors of prostitution, sex workers, advocates of sex workers and strongly opposed continue to stand behind such a condescending and insulting literary publication?

Ms. Farley maintains a strong alliance to activist Nikki Craft, sharing publication credits, by Craft’s definition being close colleagues of thirty years. Ms. Craft in her website Always Causing Legal Unrest advocates the firebombing of porn stores, promising to publish the pictures of porn stores that have been the target of radical feminist arsonists guaranteeing confidentiality. While they and others oppose pornography, is arson a valid method of opposition? What if there were people inside? Whether they be employees, customers, even porn actresses themselves, do they deserve to be injured or killed in a firebombing? Is it ethical to publicize this type of action guaranteeing the confidentiality of the criminal? Would that confidentiality extend even if there were deaths? It does not state otherwise in the Always Causing Legal Unrest website which Ms. Craft owns, Nikki Craft and other radical feminists support through their publication of literary works upon. See “One Hot Shot, Burn Baby Burn, Madison Wisconsin Porn Shop Burning and further states in red “WANTED ONE HOT Shot! Large Detailed (!) Picture of Porn Shop Burning! The website proclaims “There are visitors to the ACLU website who have hot fantasies about burning porn stores down. If you have any pictures let us know and we’ll post them on this site for your viewing enjoyment. Privacy will be Protected”

Chilean Sex Worker Rights Advocate and SWOP East Latin America’s advisory board member Beatriz Mercado stated upon reading “Why I Made the Choice to Become A Prostitute” that she could not believe women would write such a piece instead expecting that kind of mockery and vitriol towards prostitutes be the work of junior high school boys. Instead, much to Beatriz’ shock it is the work of a prostitution expert who proudly states her understanding of the psychology of women in prostitution and her ally.

Ms. Farley in her recent study in Nevada stated “30% of her funding was from the Trafficking in Persons Office of the US State Dept” which if the case represents an important question of whether the US State Department is aware they are giving grant money to researchers collaborating openly with an activist advocating felony criminal actions that could easily lead to serious injury or death openly proclaiming she would obstruct justice in the event her invitation to arsonists is taken at face value.

These are important facts to consider when pondering the expertise, ethical basis and independence of the studies

Nikki Craft and Melissa Farley

co-authored the following article

I became a prostitute because . . .

1. I saw Pretty Baby and it reminded me of my stepfather and I thought I could get paid for it.

2. I saw Pretty Woman and I liked the clothes.

3. I saw a Demi Moore movie and I thought, Wow, what an easy and fun way to make a million dollars.

4. I like getting fucked by the football team, the fraternity brothers, and law students at graduation parties. I realized that gang rape could be a transcendental experience.

5. I figured that laying on my back and getting fucked by hundreds of men, and getting on my knees and sucking thousands of dicks, was the most profound empowerment a woman could have.

6. My vocational counselor and I discussed a whole lot of possibilities: doctor, lawyer, women’s-studies teacher, legal secretary. I was offered a four-year scholarship at Stanford, but frankly, prostitution seemed the most rewarding job option available.

7. I worship the goddess and she told me, “Fuck mankind.” I misunderstood her spiritual message and found myself in lifetime sexual servitude instead.

8. I came to appreciate the depth of Hugh Hefner’s, Larry Flynt’s, and Bob Guccione’s understanding of my sexuality.

9. My boyfriend wanted me to do it. He said that being part of a stable of whores who worked for him could help me learn how to get along with other women.

10. My father wanted me to do it.

11. I met a nice man on alt.sex.prostitution.

12. Camille Paglia told me it was the feminist thing to do.

13. I felt coerced by my landlord, the day-care center, the utility companies, the grocer, my dealer and my plastic surgeons to pay my bills every month.

14. I didn’t want to work at Red Lobster.

15. I wanted to be treated like a lady.

16. I went to COYOTE’s Halloween extravaganza, the Hookers’ Ball, and found out just how glamorous prostitution could be.

17. It’s complicated, but I thought that working in the sex industry would increase my self-esteem. It’s sort of like saying to the world, “I am the best Grade A ground beef” and being the cow.

18. And then, ya know, even though it all sounded really good, and selling fucks and blow jobs sounded really empowering, I realized that talking about it and writing books defending it would be even more empowering.

Another message from Melissa Farley

Apparently, somebody set up a counter-blog to our blog-in, a blog for responses from Farley, but to the best of my knowledge, nobody here ever got word of it. I had no idea this blog even existed until accidentally running across it when googling for something else. The blog is at vegasmadam.wordpress.com and apparently is run by a friend of Jody Williams, who (unlike Williams) is apparently not in direct contact with Melissa Farley and isn’t even entirely in the Farley camp, and who doesn’t seem to have publicized the blog, in any event. Why Farley prefers such tortuous routes of communication is beyond me – I’m sure if she just wanted to communicate directly by commenting here and/or sending longer responses to be posted, nobody here would have had any objection.

Anyway, of the two posts by Farley on that blog, we’ve already posted one. Here’s the other, I kind of FAQ-style response to her critics:

Info from Farley to Pro Sexer’s

From: Melissa Farley

Who paid for the research:

Farley’s research for Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections was sponsored primarily by Prostitution Research & Education, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reflect the voices of prostituted women, to advocate for alternatives to prostitution with the ultimate goal of abolishing the institution of prostitution. 30% of the expenses of the Nevada research project were paid for by the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. None of the contents of the book has been changed to conform to anyone else’s agenda, including the U.S. State Department. The opinions in the book are Farley’s alone.

Legal prostitution does not protect women from the harm of prostitution:

Despite claims to the contrary, legal prostitution does not protect women from the violence, verbal abuse, physical injury, and diseases such as HIV that occur in illegal prostitution. Many women in the legal brothels are under intense emotional stress; many of them have symptoms of chronic institutionalization and trauma. All prostitution, even that which appears voluntary, causes harm.

There is a dangerous lack of services in Nevada for adult women seeking to escape the sex industry, services such as emergency shelters, and social services, medical and vocational assistance. Since the prostitution of 13-17 year old children is “rampant” according to one police officer, more services for children are also needed.

The connection between prostitution and trafficking:

Prostitution and sex trafficking are linked in Nevada as elsewhere: sex trafficking happens when and where there is a demand for prostitution and a context of impunity for its customers. In Nevada, women are trafficked primarily into the state’s illegal prostitution venues: strip club prostitution, escort prostitution, and massage parlors that function as illegal brothels. There also appear to be instances where women have been trafficked into legal brothels.

The links between legal and illegal prostitution in Nevada, and the profound harms caused by prostitution to all women are much like those in other countries where legal prostitution exists. The parallels between Nevada, Australia (legal prostitution), the Netherlands (legal prostitution), and Cambodia (prostitution is illegal but socially and politically tolerated as in Las Vegas) are striking.

Las Vegas is the epicenter of North American prostitution and trafficking. The sex industry in Las Vegas alone generates between one and six billion dollars per year, according to seven informed sources. Women are trafficked for prostitution from many parts of the world into Las Vegas.

Legal prostitution creates a ‘culture of prostitution’ in the state that is fostered or tolerated by politicians, developers, and the entertainment industry. A sex industry the size of that in Nevada exists because of political and judicial corruption and a willingness to tolerate organized crime including domestically organized motorcycle gangs and internationally organized Armenian, Russian, Israeli, Mexican, Korean, and Chinese criminals. Revenue from prostitution generated by international criminal networks has been connected with weapons trafficking.

Farley’s research methodology:

Farley’s psychological research is methodologically sound. Other researchers have independently replicated her methodology and subsequently published the results. Farley has published more than 25 peer-reviewed publications on sexual violence, prostitution and trafficking. She has spoken with a thousand women, men, and the transgendered in prostitution in 10 countries on 5 continents. In the Nevada study, Farley extensively cites the work of other researchers in Nevada, including Lenore Kuo, Alexa Albert, Barb Brents and Kate Hausbeck. Brents and Hausbeck reported an attempted strangulation in one of the legal brothels in Nevada. They no longer advocate legal prostitution. They now advocate decriminalized prostitution. Farley’s findings in Nevada are carefully documented and explained in detail, with 628 footnotes.

All science is infused with values, whether it’s stem cell research, research on the psychological effects of colonization of one people by another, or research on the effects of incest or rape or prostitution. The issue is not whether research is permeated with values – it always is – but whether those values are made explicit as opposed to being vaguely stated or deliberately concealed. Baral, Kiremire, Sezgin and Farley wrote a decade ago: “We initiated this research in order to address some of the issues that have arisen in discussions about the nature of prostitution. In particular: is prostitution just a job or is it a violation of human rights? From the authors’ perspective, prostitution is an act of violence against women: it is an act which is intrinsically traumatizing to the person being prostituted.” Farley has always made her perspective and hypotheses transparent. She also made her methodology and the ways in which her hypotheses were tested sufficiently explicit for others to replicate the study. Findings from Farley’s research has not always turned out in the direction she predicted but she still reports those findings.

As other researchers of prostitution have noted, it is not possible to obtain a random sample of people currently prostituting. Investigators therefore use a variety of techniques to learn about the experience of prostitution for those in it. Generally, smaller numbers of interviewees limit the generalizability of results. We have reported data from a large number of respondents in different countries and in different types of prostitution. It appears that Farley’s critic Ronald Weitzer in Washington DC has never interviewed women currently prostituting in any research he’s done. He’s a policy analyst, not a research psychologist.

Rape rates in Nevada:

The rape rate in Nevada is extremely high, as documented by some fairly devastating statistics from the FBI. On page 240 of Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections, Farley writes:

BEGIN QUOTE FROM BOOK: I asked Kelly Langdon, the Nevada State Rape Prevention Coordinator, how she understood the relationship between legal prostitution and the high rates of rape in the urban areas of Nevada. Emphasizing the inequality of the prostitution transaction, whether legal or not, she said that legal prostitution “creates an atmosphere in the state in which women are not seen as equal to men, are disrespected by men, and which then sets the stage for increased violence against women.”

A Las Vegas rape crisis counselor spoke bluntly about the relationship between the sex industry and the city’s high rape rates. ” Men think they can get away with rape here,” she told me.

Data from the 2004 FBI Uniform Crime report validates these analyses and raises the possibility of an association between legalized prostitution, the state’s prostitution culture, and rape rates in Nevada. The Nevada rate of rape was higher than the US average and was twice as high as New York’s rate of rape. The rate of rape in Las Vegas was three times greater than that in New York City.

Rape Rate per 100,000 Population by State

Nevada 40.9
U.S. average 32.2
California 26.8
New York 18.8
New Jersey 15.3

Rape Rate per 100,000 Population by City

Las Vegas 44.7
Sparks-Reno 41.3
San Francisco 24.5
Los Angeles 23.2
New York 14.0
END QUOTE FROM BOOK