Challenging Bob Herbert’s Xenophobic Statement

I found the following statement in Bob Herbert’s editorial titled “City as Predator” to be so xenophobic:

“Huge numbers of foreign women are trafficked into
Vegas. The legions of Asian women in the massage
parlors and escort services did not come flocking to
Vegas from suburban U.S.A.”

 

Here’s the comment I wrote to challenge this:

“The above statement is xenophobic. Despite the
stereotypes, not all Asian women who work in massage
parlors or for escort services are trafficking
victims. Amidst this xenophobia, migrant workers in
the sex industry, many of whom are of Asian descent,
are being subject to raids, arrests, and mass
deportations. This does nothing to advance the status
of sex workers rights or decrease forced labor in any
industry. If these raids are mainly about rescuing
trafficking victims and fighting forced labor, then
why are sex workers being arrested and deported?
In response to Herbert’s comment that these women
aren’t ‘flocking to Vegas from suburban U.S.A.,’ I say
that the U.S.A. is a very diverse country and there
are people of Asian descent who live in ‘suburban
U.S.A.’ Even if these women don’t come from the
suburbs or from the U.S.A., that doesn’t mean that
they are all trafficking victims.

In the globalized economy that we live in, many workers, including sex
workers, cross borders to make a living. The
conflation of all migrant sex work with trafficking
combined with the criminalization of prostitution makes
it harder for workers in the sex industry to cross
borders legally and work in the legal sex industry, so
they are more vulnerable to trafficking and the abuses
that are prevelant in the clandestine illegal sex
industry, in which sex workers have no legally
recognized labor rights nor equal protection under the
law. Traffickers thrive in this illegal industry, and
workers in the sex industry cannot report abuse
without incriminating themselves in the process, which
makes them especially easy targets for perpetrators.”

Here’s a link to the webpage where I found this editorial by Herbert and the comments in response to it:
http://www.lasvegasgleaner.com/las_vegas_gleaner/2007/09/and-it-wont-get.html

18 Responses

  1. I’m going to assume that you don’t live in Vegas.

    There’s not really any doubt that there is massive amounts of trafficking into the Asian massage parlors as well as into the suburban brothels.

    Why don’t you all just stop in and see for yourself during your next sex worker’s right convention? Do your own damn investigation.

    It’s all right there for you to see for yourself if you can get past your obsession with your own rights for just a second and take a look at the impact of things like the insatiable demand for small asian women.

  2. …and girls.

  3. So then Josie, you are claiming that you live in Las Vegas and have person, first-hand experience with massage parlors and ‘suburban brothels’ there? Why didn’t you say so? Please do impart your expertise based on your own actual experiences (not based on assumptions that you’ve made after watching parlors get raided on the news.)

  4. You might be surprised.

  5. Then don’t hold out – surprise us!

  6. Josie, how do you know that all the workers in massage parlors are trafficking victims? If you assume that every sex worker of Asian desent is a trafficking victim, then you’re being xenophobic.

  7. Josie,

    If, indeed, you are a trafficking victim or an Asian massage-parlor worker, we welcome your posts. Please inform us. I am sure we would all value your contributions to this discussion.

    Please keep in mind we are not denying that people have bad experiences in the sex industry. People do. People also have horriffic experiences in marriages where those who are supposed to love them beat them to a pulp and even kill them. Far more women are married than are prostitutes. But we don’t advocate for eliminating marriage.

  8. I didn’t work in Vegas, but my experience comes from working in an Asian massage parlor in the 80’s.

    Since Farley defines all prostitution as trafficking, she concludes that the massage workers are trafficked.

    My own experience there and following up with friends who worked there was that there were many strong women. I speak to many sex workers of Asian descent around the world and I often hear the complaint that the world views them all as slaves and refuses to recognize their strengths or choices.

    We need support for those who are forced and trafficked, support for other options and support for those who are working now who are not necessarily trying or wanting to get out of the business immediately.

    These don’t have to be conflicting. I think society tries to separate us based on our moral interpretations of prostitution. But our experiences are diverse. I don’t think we have to be separated on that basis.

    Some make a choice (which can be defined in many ways-ie, not too many people choose to work, anyway) and some may look at sex work as a survival strategy, and others are forced and coerced in many degrees.

    The rejection of whores who will not renounce their situation is a misogynistic way of dividing us based on our sexual experiences.

  9. “Since Farley defines all prostitution as trafficking, she concludes that the massage workers are trafficked.”

    WHAT? You’re going to have to cite that, I just don’t think it’s true.

  10. Melissa does not define all prostitution as trafficking. Nor does Bob Herbert say all massage parlor trafficking victims are from Asia. Maybe someone needs to put their reading glasses on. And yes I live in Vegas and have seen all of what goes on in this town with my own eyes and experiences of myself and the many other women I know from this town I’ve helped when women like the ones on this board won’t lift a finger to help them.

  11. Really, where did this prostitution = trafficking nonsense come from? Certainly not from Farley.

    About the massage parlors – they are the obvious and low hanging fruit of trafficking in Vegas. Anyone who wants to can easily make the case and shut them down.

    Hmmm. I wonder why no one seems to want to do that?

    Here are some possible reasons…

    1. Vegas makes money on trafficked women in massage parlors, cause the johns love those little asian women.

    2. Politicians get either a piece of the action, or a piece of ass, depending on their preference

    3. Feds love the little asian women too.

    4. Casinos and other big biz players use the asians ladies as bait to bring in the high rollers.

    In fact, the little asian ladies are a big competitor for you large boned american prostitutes. I would think you would want to shut down the competition.

    But you are so sold on the concept of women for sale, you side with the johns and pimps and you don’t give a crap what is happening to real women in the asian massage parlors of Vegas tonight.

    So climb off your high horses ladies. You’re just as guilty as the pimp walking into Lucky Massage Parlor tonight and asking for the youngest girl they have. You don’t give a crap about her any more than that john who is about to rape a 14 year old Korean girl who doesn’t speak english. As long as you get to keep your right to sell access to your vagina, you don’t care.

    Because to acknowledge that she exists is to muddy up your happy hooker message.

  12. This is the Letter to the Editor of the NYT that I sent in response to Herbert’s column (it was not published):
    Re “City as Predator” by Bob Herbert (column, Sept. 4): Herbert makes several bizarre claims regarding prostitution in Nevada and elsewhere. Graphic terms are used in depicting prostitution as thoroughly evil, such as the notion that workers are “chewed up” in the sex trade and that prostitution takes a “horrendous toll” on the workers. He claims that “all aspects” of the sex industry are “coercive,” which is simply not true. Such language does not reflect the experiences of many indoor workers, such as escorts and those who work in massage parlors and brothels. Research shows that victimization is largely concentrated in one sector – street prostitution.
    Much of Herbert’s column is based on the flawed writings of Melissa Farley. Farley’s work is roundly dismissed in academia because it violates accepted standards of research and is driven by her activist agenda in abolishing all aspects of the sex industry, whether currently illegal or legal. Academic research, including studies of legal brothel prostitution in Nevada shows that there is great variation in workers’ experiences, working conditions, and job satisfaction – ranging from negative to quite positive.

  13. >Really, where did this prostitution = trafficking nonsense come from? Certainly not from Farley.>

    *sigh*

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Melissa_Farley

    Prostitution/trafficking/pornography systematically discriminate against women, against the young, against the poor and against ethnically subordinated groups. Specific acts commonly perpetrated against women in prostitution and pornography are the same as the acts defining what torture is: verbal sexual harassment, forced nudity, rape, sexual mocking, physical sexual harassment such as groping, and not permitting basic hygiene. The psychological consequences of these acts are the same whether it is named state-sponsored torture or prostitution. –Farley, M. (2006) Prostitution, Trafficking, and Cultural Amnesia: What We Must Not Know in Order To Keep the Business of Sexual Exploitation Running Smoothly. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 18:109-144.

    * Prostitution is advertised online, where it is indistinguishable from pornography. The Internet has expanded the reach of traffickers and it has intensified the humiliation and violence of prostitution. Pornography is one specific means of trafficking women for the purpose of selling women into prostitution. –Farley, M. (2006) Prostitution, Trafficking, and Cultural Amnesia: What We Must Not Know in Order To Keep the Business of Sexual Exploitation Running Smoothly. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 18:109-144.

    1) “Prostitution…is indistinguishable from pornography”

    2) “Pornography is one specific means of trafficking women”

    3) (bonus!) “The psychological consequences of these acts are the same whether it is named state-sponsored torture or prostitution.”

    So, not only prostitution=porn=trafficking, even if one may be a -variant- of the other, they’re all also equivalent to -torture-, now.

    And, really, Josie:

    1) You’re asking people to do their own research into the terrible sordid world of which you coyly may or may not have firsthand experience, but you can’t even be arsed to do a three minute google search?

    2) “little asian women?!”

  14. Oh, and there’s also this from Dorchen Leidholdt, co-founder of CATW:

    http://action.web.ca/home/catw/readingroom.shtml?x=53793

    What is the relation if any between prostitution and sex trafficking?
    The truth is that what we call sex trafficking is nothing more or less than globalized prostitution.

    …Conversely, what most people refer to as “prostitution” is usually domestic trafficking.

    … In spite of efforts to differentiate and separate prostitution and trafficking, the inescapable conclusion is that the difference between the two, at most, is one of degree of, not of kind. ”

    ***

    Really, it’s pretty boilerplate abolitionist rhetoric; I don’t know why you’re acting all shocked that “prostitution=trafficking ‘nonsense'” is being brought up. It’s hardly a straw argument.

  15. belle, thank you for taking a moment to do a simple research request and posting your findings.

    To that, I add this, which some people need to read for their own education! (yep I’m still looking at you, Josie and Jody!)
    THE DANGER OF CONFLATING TRAFFICKING AND SEX WORK: A Position Paper of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center: http://www.sexworkersproject.org/working-group/downloads/20070330-BriefingPaperOnConflationOfTraffickingAndSexWork.pdf

  16. I decided not to do the more extensive quote, but if you read through that Leidholdt piece in full, it’s pretty enlightening. Among other things she’s pretty clear that she believes trafficking for sexual purposes is inherently 1) gendered, always, and always in a particular way (why are male prostitutes so rarely mentioned in these things? why is it always “women and children,” like we’re passing out lifeboats? yea, I know there are MORE, but..) 2) worse than any other kind of trafficking .

    I mean, she’s right that other kinds of trafficking also tend to encompass within them sexual abuse, but, well, anyway, you see where the dogma starts to influence the policy. Male sexual domination of women is the root of all oppression, therefore we must strike the root. Prostitution in all its forms is not only all aboout male domination but the PRIMARY mode of expressing it; therefore we must strike at prostitution and kill that fucker dead. QED. No retreat, no surrender.

  17. …oh, look, here’s more from Farley:

    “Some words hide the truth. Just as torture can be named enhanced interrogation, and logging of old-growth forests is named the Healthy Forest Initiative, words that lie about prostitution leave people confused about the nature of prostitution and trafficking. The words ‘sex work’ make the harms of prostitution invisible. –Farley, M. (2006) Prostitution, Trafficking, and Cultural Amnesia: What We Must Not Know in Order To Keep the Business of Sexual Exploitation Running Smoothly. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 18:109-144.”

  18. […] At least Feministe commenter annalouise gets it. More excellent related links here, here, here, here, and here. Best quote of the bunch: “Slut does not = stripper does not = […]

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