Farley’s methodology

(To start out with, I just wanted to thank Stacey Swimme for the inviting me to have the privilege of guest blogging here.)

The scientific reliability of Farley’s findings are open to question. Its something she’s been called on before in this critique by sociologist Ronald Weitzer (2005):

What about Farley’s own research procedures? Much is left opaque. In one study, Farley and Barkan (1998) interviewed street prostitutes in San Francisco. No indication is given of the breadth or diversity of their sample, or the method of approaching people on the street. In another study, Farley, Baral, Kiremire, and Sizgin (1998) interviewed workers in several countries: In Turkey, they interviewed 50 women who were brought to a hospital by the police for the purpose of venereal disease control; in Zambia, they interviewed 117 women at an organization that offers support services to prostitutes; in Thailand, respondents were interviewed on the street, in a beauty parlor, and in an organization offering support services; in South Africa, people were interviewed on the street, in brothels, and at a drop-in center. No information is provided as to how these locations were selected, or whether alternative locations were rejected for some reason. We know that people accessed at agencies providing services are likely to be particularly distressed. Finally, though Farley lists the topics covered in the interviews, none of the actual questions is presented. It is especially important to know the exact wording of questions, especially on this topic, because question wording may skew the answers.

Farley reports (in the “Methods” sections of her various papers, for example, here) that she uses a combination of “structured interviews” and questionnaires to elicit information from her subjects. However, the raw findings are not reported, but rather, Farley distillation of those findings. Thus, when we are confronted with statements like “92 percent stated that they wanted to leave prostitution” (an answer that’s open to some interpretation, in any event), we have no idea exactly what question or questions were asked and whether there this was subject to interpretation by Farley. Nor do we have any idea as to how Farley chooses her interview subjects. The findings may or may not be valid, but there’s a lack of transparency in her methods that casts doubt upon them. And in the case of Farley’s Nevada report, the fact that the thing is self-published would seem to indicate that there’s been no independent peer-review of this study, a fact that does not speak well for it. (Barbara Brents review makes clear that this work contains many of the same flaws that her earlier work did.)

(I also recommend having a look at this comment (scroll down to the reply dated “Saturday at 8:17 PM”) by Jill Brenneman regarding her experiences with Farley back when she was still in the same “camp” as Farley. The comments on how Farley would elicit information and coach ex-prostitutes on their statements are very illuminating.)

One method of evaluating Farley’s findings is simply to compare them to the findings of other researchers who have done similar work. As it happens, other researchers have had entry into Nevada’s legal brothels and paint a picture a much more nuanced (if not entirely rosy) picture of Nevada brothel work. Notably, Kate Hausbeck and Barbara Brents have published a number of journal on the topic and are in the process of coming out with a book of their own on the topic, “The State of Sex: The Nevada Brothel Industry”. Also, Alexa Albert, who recently published an ethnography titled “Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women“.

That Farley seems to have a knack for coming up with a litany of horrors not reported by other researchers, combined with the lack of transparency in her methodology raises questions as to how much Farley’s findings represent the ugly truth about prostitution and how much, as has been said about Margaret Mead, is a talent for finding what she wants to find.

12 Responses

  1. Oh, she excells at finding what she wants to find…any sexworker who is not anti porn who has ever tried to comment on her blog knows that.

  2. actually, amend that to any sex worker who does not agree with her whole heartedly.

  3. I personally have been interviewed by Melissa for her research and have never been “coached”. I have disagreed with her and never been put down or attacked either. I’ve witnessed more than one interview of hers and have talked to many women she’s interviewed – not one of them have said she “coached” them or even misquoted them or me. You claim you’ve witnessed her “coaching” prostitutes? How come not one of the women she’s actually interviewed have reported that? Maybe you confuse “digging” with “coaching”. I also have never seen her refuse to interview any woman who is “pro-prostitution” either as I’ve referred many who are to her to be interviewed who are, and she has interviewed them and quoted them accurately. I have however offered myself and other prostitutes I know who have worked in Nevada and in the brothels and of my own experiences with the brothels – only to be completely ignored. So who is “hunting” for only the opinions they want to voice? I’m sure Ms. Brent and Ms. Hausbecks’ book will sell many copies. The mayor, pimps, and legal brothel owners like Joe Conforte, Dennis Hof and Joe Richards and the casino owners that Goodman says will build “beautiful brothels” downtown (yet I haven’t heard a word back about the support services to those who want to retire from such places when that time comes) will probably buy a copy to supply the propaganda that supports their agenda to make more money off working prostitutes to every voting resident of Nevada. Let’s look at the profit motive here for just a second. Melissa’s book isn’t going to hit anyone’s best seller list – we already have many many people denouncing it without having even read it or commenting on it’s “full” contents – and then we have two other reseachers going to come out with a book that the legal pimps with money will buy up and use for their PR campaign to make more money off prostitutes without offering any exit services for the women when it’s time to quit. I’m sure Brent and Hausbeck will pocket a nice chunk of change for their book – while services to help trafficking victims and women wanting to quit prostitution will continue to go unfunded and unstaffed with only people like me to answer the only hotline in the state of Nevada to help women who want to escape prostitution and pimps.

  4. “I have however offered myself and other prostitutes I know who have worked in Nevada and in the brothels and of my own experiences with the brothels – only to be completely ignored.”

    Are you saying that we’ve ignored you? Thats bizarre, considering that none of your posts have been censored and folks here at this blog have been engaging in debate with you.

    I believe that RenegadeEvolution was making a point that when sex worker rights supporters try to post at Farley’s blog, their comments are censored.

  5. “and then we have two other reseachers going to come out with a book that the legal pimps with money will buy up and use for their PR campaign to make more money off prostitutes without offering any exit services for the women when it’s time to quit. I’m sure Brent and Hausbeck will pocket a nice chunk of change for their book”

    In a word – bullshit. From what little I’ve seen of Brent and Hausbeck, their work is pretty far from a “PR campaign for legal pimps”. Just because they don’t take the more abolitionist-than-thou POV that Farley takes hardly makes them apologists for the present brothel system.

  6. In fact, Brents and Hausbeck have documented some quite harsh issues in the brothels. If I am remembering correctly, they wrote about an attempted strangling.

    No- nobody will be waving their book as a tourist’s brochure for the brothels. But it will paint a far more balanced picture of them.

    And unlike Ms. Farley, Brents and Hausbeck allow for possible different findings: they clearly state that their research covers those who were available at the brothels when they were there, and that their same questions could have been answered differently by different women on different days.

    Farley discounts any differences in findings from the off- by saying that you may see sex workers smiling, but behind their smiles are traumatized, drug-addicted, and abused children, etc…

  7. In fact, we keep WAITING for Brents and Hausbeck to enlighten us with their research. They are on the ground, they are the local academics. They are certainly the ones with the most access. For christ’s sake, they are friendly with George Flint, the lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Owner’s Association.

    We are WAITING for their enlightenment on the issue.

    The only conclusion we can draw, after 10 years of research, and no information that challenges the legal brothel owner pimps… is that they , too, like everyone in Nevada, is so afraid of the Nevada sex industry they cannot publish what they know.

    It is simply too gruesome.

    And their lives would be in jepardy if they actually report the truth.

    Think about the implications of that. If academics can be cowed, how is a mere prostitute supposed to stand up and tell the truth about what is happening?

    THINK ABOUT IT!

  8. I hope it is not true.

  9. Josie is wrong about Brents and Hausbeck. They have published at least 3 major articles on Nevada’s brothels. It’s laughable to claim that they are not publishing their book because they are “afraid of the Nevada sex industry.” You are fabricating reality to even suggest this with absolutely no evidence.

  10. Farley’s “research” has been thoroughly criticized by Ron Weitzer, in an academic journal. See his article, “Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution” in VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, vo. 11 (June 2005). Farley responds to him in that journal, and he then replies to her response. Very lively reading. Bottom line is that we cannot have any confidence in anything Farley writes. She is widely regarded in academia as an ideologue, and hardly an objective researcher.

  11. I quote part of Weitzer’s critique in the above post. If you go to the Wikipedia article on Farley, under “External links: Debates between Melissa Farley and others”, there are links to PDFs of entire debate between Farley and Weitzer:

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

    (Full disclosure: I wrote much of the Wikipedia article, and though I’ve made every effort to be evenhanded, various internet radfems have always held my involvement with that article against me, especially since I called Nikki Craft to task for the slant that she wanted to put on the article.)

  12. From what I’ve read, Farley defines all sex work as prostitution. Thus, according to Farley, strippers, phone sex operators, sexual webcam workers, etc. are in prostitution. Yet, does Farley interview workers from all segments of the sex industry? If not, then why does she generalize her findings to sex workers in all segments of the sex industry? She does this by defining all sex work as prostitution, so when she says prostitution, that doesn’t mean just direct sex acts, but all forms of sexual service providers and entertainers in the sex industry.

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