My response to Farley on Freakonomics- Should prostitution be Decriminalized?

I wrote and submitted this last night, but no new comments have appeared since yesterday afternoon, so it may yet go up. If not, however, I am posting it here. I also resubmitted it today without the jabs at Ms. Farley, in case that was the issue.

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/23/should-prostitution-be-decriminalized/#comment-824195@#70, Melissa Farley:

“While most people intuitively understand the harms of prostitution, they are confused about what to do about it. Decriminalization would mainstream prostitution’s human rights violations, creating a class of mostly poor girls and women, often those who are ethnically and racially marginalized, who would be available for purchase.”

Decriminalization would do no such thing. There are no human rights violations inherent to an exchange of sex – or any service – for money.

“Masquerading as a progressive initiative that would protect sex workers, Prop K directs San Francisco Police Department and the DA to refuse to enforce the State of California’s prostitution laws. District Attorney Kamala Harris explained that Prop K would grant virtual immunity to traffickers by prohibiting prostitution investigations that often reveal evidence of sex trafficking. Prop K’s proponents hide that fact.”

No such immunity would be granted. Trafficking and slavery would still be illegal, as they have been. If law enforcement were doing its job properly, they – and you – wouldn’t throw immigrants and poor women under the bus to try to address trafficking. Name one instance in San Francisco in which someone was arrested- for trafficking- because a street prostitute or an Asian masseuse was arrested and/or deported. While I doubt you can, I can name many instances in which a prostitute was harassed, robbed, raped, sexually assaulted, coerced into sex, extorted, ignored when trying to report a crime against her (or him), arrested when trying to report a crime against her (or him), or had “NHI” stamped by the police on the file for her dead body (NHI= No Human Involved)

Furthermore, in order to perhaps catch one bad guy (or gal), how many women and men (and, even more infuriating- boys and girls) and transgenders would you thrust into the criminal system? A record they will carry for life. How do you propose these people move on from a record of prostitution? How many employers can you name who would hire someone with an arrest record for prostitution? And why on earth in the first place would you arrest THEM for being the victims of the people you want to get at?? Boggles the mind. You’re a real piece of work, lady.

Last time I looked, slavery was against the law. Last time I looked also, more trafficked people have been found among textile, agricultural, and construction workers than in the sex industry. Shall we make those industries illegal too? Should we arrest all farmers in case they are harboring trafficked people to pick their produce or kill their cattle?

“Non-enforcement of prostitution laws would put our community at risk, and send a legal welcome out to pimps, traffickers, and johns. Prop K would empower pimps. K’s proponents have renamed pimps: “support staff” and “business managers.””

Sigh. Wrong again. Please show me where this has happened. You have two currently decriminalized systems: New South Wales in Australia, and the country of New Zealand. Trafficking has never been an issue in New Zealand, and has been visibly reduced since decriminalization took place in NSW. “Support staff” and “Business managers” have to follow regulations like anyone else in those areas, which means that if there are unfair labor practices happening, they can be reported to the proper authorities to be addressed, without fear of being arrested. Even if only a few women or men felt empowered and safe enough to report the abuses they experience under someone’s “management,” isn’t that better than keeping their status criminal, thereby ensuring that they remain unlikely to report abuse? Under criminalization, their situation has to be almost unlivable for them to prefer jail to continuing to endure.

I know someone in the US who was trafficked as a runaway teen into a life of sadistic sexual slavery about 5 miles from her house. The ONE thing that kept her from going to the authorities was that she knew that prostitution was illegal, and her captor reassured her every day that if she ever dared to go to the police, she would be arrested and put in jail- which is exactly what happens in far too many cases. Prostitution WAS illegal then, and did her “criminal status” save her? How might things have been different if she knew she wouldn’t be arrested for going to the authorities?

Back to management- in NZ, all brothels and prostitution-related businesses have to give access to local OSHA authorities for inspections- ensuring that the premises remain safe and clean. Sex workers there agreed that they felt far safer to report bad situations knowing they would not be arrested.

“Ten years ago, the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women issued a Report titled “Violence Against Women in Prostitution in San Francisco.” 78% of those who identified as prostitutes/sex workers had been traumatized by violence, the Commission found, “ranging from childhood sexual abuse, kidnapping, beatings, rape, torture, domestic violence, to sexual coercion and harassment – with many reporting multiple incidents and repeated re-victimization.” “

According to some statistics, 30% of ALL women, regardless of their income-generating activities, have experienced some form of sexual assault. Yet 30% of ALL women, somehow, do not end up as prostitutes. Amazing, eh?

This is not causational, and you’ll be hard-pressed to even call it correlational. How will arresting anyone protect them from childhood sexual abuse or domestic violence? Should we arrest battered women/men to save them? Hmmm…

Perhaps you think it would be better for prostitutes to experience sexual abuse at the hands of the proper authorities than someone not sanctioned by the likes of yourself.<

What you omitted from your reference to the 1998 report is that the report came to much of the same conclusions that Proposition K wants: they passed resolutions recommending that instead of using funds to arrest and prosecute prostitutes, they use those funds for social services for prostitutes and their families.

“Women from Korea, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam testified about the San Francisco sex industry. Some had been sold by traffickers in San Francisco, where they existed in conditions of actual slavery.”

And once again, arresting them will help them HOW? Don’t you think that these people would be better served by social services than handcuffs?

“Prostitution itself is a racist, sexist activity that increases human trafficking.”

Can you cite evidence for this? I know prostitutes of all ethnicities and social strata, and I know consumers of their services, also, from all ethnicities and social strata. And just how does it increase human trafficking? As I said before, the largest groups of trafficking victims have been found among textile workers, agricultural workers, and construction workers. By your logic, these industries should be criminalized right away! Or does the fact that I take money for sex increase the likelihood that while I am enjoying my sexual commerce, somewhere out there someone is being coerced into sewing t-shirts without being paid for it? That’s like the argument that every time I masturbate, god kills a kitten (there would be a lot of dead kittens…).

“The first prostituted women in California were trafficked Chinese women. Today we see the same trafficking of Chinese, Korean, Filipina, Thai, and Vietnamese women who are sold to johns in Tenderloin massage parlors and brothels located in residential neighborhoods like the Sunset.”

This is a sexist and racist statement. Are only *Asian women* trafficked? Are only *Asian women* providing sexual services in the tenderloin? Hmmm… is prostitution sexist and racist, or is your prohibitionist stance sexist and racist?

“Decriminalization can’t stop the violence, abuse, and stigma that are built-in to prostitution. Prostitution has increased dramatically in Australia and New Zealand since decriminalization, with a 200-400% increase in street prostitution in Auckland and a 300% increase in brothels in Victoria. Prostitution of children and youth has increased in both locations, with humanitarian agencies declaring that Maori and Aboriginal children are at highest risk for prostitution. Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands are now known as destinations for sex tourists.”

This paragraph is completely incorrect (nothing is “built into prostitution.” Attitudes like yours perpetuate the stigma. Not to mention that, as prostitution has been illegal in SF for around a hundred years and these conditions still exist, it would seem that the laws “can’t stop the violence, abuse, and stigma.” Criminal status certainly doesn’t help. Arresting them stops it how?). Re Australia and NZ, please show me evidence of this. On the contrary, Farley, I can show you evidence that nothing of the sort has taken place in NZ:

Claims that Numbers Have Increased

The Committee is aware of reports claiming the numbers of sex workers, and in particular street-based sex workers, have increased as a result of decriminalisation. Addressing these claims forms a substantial part of this chapter. Often, the increases have been reported in general terms, based on impressions, rather than citing actual numbers. One exception is the claim that the numbers of street-based sex workers in Auckland increased by 400% as a result of decriminalisation. This claim cannot be substantiated, and was not based on systematic or robust research.

The figure of a 400% increase has been re-reported several times, demonstrating the ease with which opinion can be perceived as ‘fact’. In his speech to the House during the second reading of the Manukau City Council (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill, Gordon Copeland MP attributed the report of a 400% increase to the Maori Wardens’ submission on the Bill in 2006. The Maori Wardens may have been influenced by an article in the NZ Herald in 2005 in which Mama Tere Strickland was reported to say, ‘Numbers have quadrupled since that Bill [Prostitution Reform Act]’ (New Zealand Herald, 2005).

A 400% increase in the numbers of sex workers was predicted prior to the passage of the PRA, and was also claimed in relation to the law reform in New South Wales. This may be the original source of the idea that numbers of sex workers will, or have, increased by such a margin as a result of law reform. Officials advising the Select Committee were unable to find any statistical evidence to support the claim. In addition, the Select Committee noted that ‘there may appear to be a growth in the industry because it becomes less hidden in nature’ (Select Committee, 2002).

In the Committee’s first report, the number of street-based sex workers in Auckland was estimated to be 360 (PLRC, 2005). An increase of 400% would mean there would now be 1,440 sex workers on Auckland’s streets. The Committee considers that the research undertaken by the CSOM conclusively refutes an increase of this magnitude, with the 2007 figures estimating the number of Auckland street-based sex workers at 230.”

http://www.justice.govt.nz/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/chapter-2.html#264

“Mayor Job Cohen has begun closing down Amsterdam’s prostitution zones because legal prostitution did not reduce crime as proponents had promised and women were no safer than when prostitution was illegal.”

This is debatable as well. This is – as you say – purportedly be because it didn’t do what they thought it would. So, instead of doing something about organized crime (which is still criminal no matter what the status of the workers is), let’s take the prostitutes’ jobs away- because that will really help matters along, won’t it? How about this possibility: Cohen sees the real estate as more of an economic asset to Amsterdam if used for something else- like art- than the prostitution windows are. He decides that rather than say he’s turning less-privileged citizens out on the streets and rendering them jobless in order to capitalize on their real estate, he says he is saving women from prostitution, and the city from crime. Sounds better, achieves the same goal. However, I question his wisdom: what are the numbers of people you know who go to Amsterdam for the art compared to those who go for the pot and to see the prostitutes? I think he’s shooting Amsterdam’s tourism industry in the foot.

“When prostitution is decriminalized, neighborhoods mount legal battles over whose back yard the next brothel will be zoned into. A few days ago, frightened parents discovered that a New Zealand brothel was in the same building as a child care center. Under decriminalized prostitution “We don’t believe we have any legal avenues to stop them,” said the director of the child care center. “

Boy- this is a fun one. Have any siblings? Then guess what? Someone had sex with a child IN THE SAME HOUSE!!! Oh my god!! Who was watching the child while your parents were having sex? They should be reported!! If it was a poor family in a developing country- chances are they had sex IN THE SAME ROOM as the child!! And in some places in China and elsewhere, where in the poorest households families must all share a bed, they had sex IN THE SAME BED!!!

Furthermore, the people next door to you probably are having sex. What difference does it make if money is crossing hands? I’ll tell you so you don’t have to think too hard: it is more likely that the woman or man being paid for sex in that building where the child care center is located is much safer than the woman having sex next door- the woman having sex next door can be trapped in an abusive marriage where she is raped, while the prostitute in the building can sue her client if he takes of his condom during sex (as has happened in NZ). The people in that neighborhood could do something- they could lobby their local councils. They are responsible for the zoning. Or they could get used to the fact that somewhere, at this very moment, probably within 100 feet of them, SOMEONE IS HAVING SEX. And get over it.

“In 2004, the voters in Berkeley overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for decriminalization of prostitution…The exploitation of women and children, especially teenage prostitutes, would likely increase in Berkeley as a result of decriminalization. Decriminalization would significantly increase the cost of law enforcement, he predicted, and would also result in an increase in the numbers of crimes of sexual assault, battery, and robbery.”

Again, I’d like to know on what evidence this assessment was based. Sounds like hysterical conjecture to me. This has not happened in New Zealand.

http://www.justice.govt.nz/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/index.html

“Medical providers would see an increase in STDs, according to the City Manager, especially in vulnerable groups of people with HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. Regardless of its legal status, prostitution places those in it at extremely high risk for HIV. That’s because they are the most raped class of people in the world, and because many johns refuse to use condoms. There is no evidence that decriminalized prostitution reduces HIV risk. A recent study documented a 3-4% increase in HIV risk for each additional month spent in a brothel.”

A recent study where? Of what brothel?

Again, please back this up. On the contrary, it is well-known in healthcare circles that when prostitutes are placed in charge of their own healthcare, they rock.

Here is what happened in NZ:
http://www.justice.govt.nz/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/chapter-4.html

Two sex worker-led groups recently received awards for their excellent work in reducing HIV among their communities. The EMPOWER group in Bangkok received the UNAIDS Red Ribbon Award (http://www.empowerfoundation.org/sexytalk.html , and http://www.redribbonaward.org/content3.php?lg=en&pg=winner_2008_10), and the Asian Network of Sex Workers received the Human Rights Watch HIV award (http://us.oneworld.net/issues/gender/-/article/sex-worker-activists-win-human-rights-award). Durbar in Calcutta, another sex worker-led group, have also been excelling in such endeavors (and much, much more): they were able to REVERSE the spread of HIV in their community, and keep the seroprevalence at a steady 5%:

Condom use by sex workers in Sonagachi increased from 3 percent in 1992, to 70 percent in 1994, to 90 percent in 1998. In fourteen catchment areas outside of Sonagachi that are served by DMSC clinics, condom use rose from 30 percent in 1996 to 52 percent in 1998.

HIV prevalence among sex workers in Sonagachi has remained steady at about 5 percent since 1992, while HIV rates among sex workers in most parts of India have increased dramatically.

STI rates have dropped: the proportions of sex workers with recent syphilis and genital ulcers fell from 28 percent and 7 percent, respectively, in 1993 to 11 percent and 2 percent in 1998. http://www.rho.org/html/gsh_progexamples.htm#India

Decriminalization was a huge topic at the International AIDS conference in Mexico City this summer, and only those who support the US abstinence-only approach to fighting AIDS would really speak against it. The head of the Global Fund for AIDS answered, in direct response to my question to him, that yes, of course decriminalization of sex work should be the first approach to fighting AIDS. He was shocked that it wasn’t already promoted more. I can’t find the video, but I did find this report of the session: “Michel Kazatchkine repeatedly stated that the Global Fund … support[s] … decriminalization of sex work…” http://www.redribbonaward.org/content2.php?lg=en&pg=Tequio_Daily_Journal_Day4 (second paragraph)

Here, Peter Piot, the head of UNAIDS, can be seen chanting, “Sex Worker Rights are Human Rights”:

He says at the end, “Countries that criminalize sex work, they are doing very badly when it comes to HIV.”

And here’s Ban Ki Moon, from the UN:

Punishing Sex Workers Won’t Curb HIV/AIDS, Says Ban-Ki Moon
http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2008/06/23/sex-workers-grateful-banki-moon<

Not to mention that in a CDC report some years back, only 3% of HIV infections were found among sex workers, and those were almost entirely found among those who used, or whose partners used, intravenous drugs. The demographic most responsible for spreading HIV were regular sexually active (non-prostitute) young adults between 18 and 24. I would venture to say the same applies today.

@ those who demand that prostitution be “legalized and tested”:

The idea that sex workers should be mandatorily tested is as logical as the idea that all sexually active adults should be mandatorily tested. Sex workers know that their bodies are their businesses, and they see their health care professionals much more often than your average woman. They are also responsible for much of the safer sex education of the general public- either because they teach their clients how to be safer during sex, or because they teach each other. Not to mention the simple fact that when a man and a woman have unprotected sex, the woman is far likelier to contract an infection from the man due to her genital physiology. Men have a tiny hole through which infections can be transmitted via a mucous membrane, while a woman’s entire vagina is a mucous membrane susceptible to infection. As such, if anyone is to be forced to be tested, shouldn’t it be the men? Do you see that happening any time soon?

Also, legalization, as you all seem to be promoting it, will require the state to be the pimp. Licenses will be required. How many people do you know would be comfortable telling you that they are strippers? A perfectly legal job. But the stigma remains, and when people are denied custody of their children because of their work in the sex industry, asking someone to sign a piece of paper and get a license that permanently ties them to prostitution would probably be very unsuccessful. Thus you would still have a huge illegal- and underground- sector of the population carrying on as they do now. What would legalization have then achieved? It woulod cost the state tons of money to enforce the silly testing and licensing laws, and they’d reach a precious few of the sex workers.

See this story on Australia’s two cases, NSW (decriminalized), and Queensland (regulated), and the health of sex workers:

“A new report to be presented at a major sexual health conference found that all three cities have a ‘thriving’ sex industry, with nearly 400 brothels in Sydney, 160 in Melbourne and 40 in Perth.

Researchers said Sydney was the ‘highest risk’ city for sexually transmitted infections, as it absorbs all the migrant sex workers from Asia, but instead it appeared workers are well protected by decriminalisation of the industry.

‘What we found is that sex workers (in Sydney) are not frightened to seek proper health services because there are no legal issues stopping them,’ said Basil Donovan, a professor in sexual health at the University of NSW, who led the survey of 600 sex workers.

Melbourne on the other hand was a vastly different story, with a decriminalised system that still requires brothels to register their workers so they can get monthly health check-ups.

‘That might sound nice but it’s extremely expensive, unnecessary and an intrusion on these women’s bodies, and it scares women away from being registered at all, which drives the whole thing underground,’ said Prof Donovan, who argues the law should be reformed.

‘It is simply a stupid system that creates an underclass of hidden sex workers who may very well suffer much worse health outcomes, if we could even track them down to find out.'”
http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0, 21985,24348679-5005961,00.html

We need more services for women escaping prostitution, not more pimps trafficking women into San Francisco. A recession is hardest on those already struggling to get by.

Yes, I agree with you 100% that we need more services for women who wish to escape a bad situation. The $11 million used to arrest them right now could be put towards that. What could you do for them with $11 million? I would bet more than the police can. (Or you’d just self-publish another badly-researched and factually incorrect “book” like your most recent pile of wasted paper… in which case those funds are better off with social service workers.)

Trafficking is illegal and would remain illegal. This proposition would free up police to pursue actual trafficking rather than harassing women, men, and transgenders on the streets just trying to get by. I also agree that a recession is hardest on those struggling to get by. And you want to arrest them? I question your motives and sincerity.

“People in prostitution, whether they are teens running from abusive homes, gay youth rejected by homophobic environments, women who have no other way of paying next month’s rent, or women who’ve been trafficked from China, Guatemala, Korea, Russia or Honduras – all are at risk and deserve our support, not Prop K which eliminates services and locks in those who tell us they want out.

Deeming them criminals and arresting them- you call that support? Nobody is saying that we can’t help people at risk. We’re just saying that arresting them and trusting them to the tender care of police is NOT supportive. It is throwing them under the bus for a ridiculous, ideologically-based anti-prostitution agenda. And the funds- the $11 million- in the hands of actual nonprofits who know how to help people at risk would be far more useful than in the hands of the police. Who goes to the police for warm and caring social services???

14 Responses

  1. […] Bound Not Gagged has been posting a lot these days on Prop K in California. If you live there, vote for it, and as usual- please ignore Melissa Farley. […]

  2. Such a brilliant arugment, useful for so much of the shit antis throw at us.

    XX

    PS: Love the dead kittens things. Ring a bell, an angel gets its wings; have a self-induced orgasm, kill a kitten. Where do people come up with this?

  3. Your comments are some of the best comments I’ve ever read, existentialhedonist. I went to the link you provided and noticed the Freaknomics promoted the Swedish model as a comprise between criminalization and decriminalization. Really bad idea. Why should we support the Swedish model if the sex workers being harmed under this legislation don’t support it? Here’s some more information:

    Comparision between the Sweden and New Zealand anti-prostitution legislation: http://apnsw.org/r/aug_07/swedish/law_reform_models.pdf

    How the Swedish model harms sex workers:
    http://www.petraostergren.com/content/view/44/108/

  4. Existentialhedonist, I submitted a reply on Freakonomics after you said you replied, and my reply is up, so it may be a good idea to recheck. Then again, they may have censored you, but I don’t know why because they accepted other posts by supporters of decriminalization. Besides, you’re criticisms weren’t toward Melissa Farley personally, but toward her claims (which she provided no support for many of them) and prohibitionist agenda. Yet, Farley also criticized advocates for decriminalization, but they accepted her comments.

  5. Thanks, Amanda and sexworkeradvocate. I appreciate the compliments.

    SWA, I think maybe they could be censoring me, or perhaps the post was just too long. I resubmitted a nicer version, and resubmitted it again today. We’ll see.

    I liked your comment too, SWA!

  6. Awesome, Existentialhedonist! You hit the points very well. Freakonomics needs to post your response in full.

  7. i just had a more…profanity laced…go at this over at my place.

    She just does not get it, the zealot.

  8. this is an excellent rebuttal, btw…

    and has anyone noticed how sloppy her schoolwork is for an “academic”? ‘Studies show’? What studies, where? Where are her links, her proofs, her footnotes? Her merely typing ‘studies say’ does not stand up to academic standards. She’d so get an F for such shoddy work in any school worth its salt.

  9. Ren, you bring up such an excellent point. She’s been heavily criticized by many reputable academics. It’s just a matter of academic integrity to cite your sources, as anyone who ever took a high school, community college, technical college, or university class on writing would know.

  10. […] Existential Hedonist at Bound, Not Gagged: “My response to Farley on Freakonomics- Should prostitution be Decriminalized?”: I know someone in the US who was trafficked as a runaway teen into a life of sadistic sexual […]

  11. What an excellent job. I think this is one of the best takedowns I’ve ever seen constructed on this subject. Very well done.

    BTW, as for Farley, when we’ve discussed her in both my undergrad and graduate courses (human sexuality & women’s studies), no one in academia takes her seriously.

  12. Thanks everyone! Unfortunately, after resubmitting several times, it is still not up. I am afraid I am being censored. Perhaps it makes too much sense for them. Sigh. I think I will inundate their emails with my response and ask why it was never posted. This is so frustrating!!!!

    Does anyone know where Farley studied? It would be interesting to know more about her credentials.

    I have to remind myself that she is a coddled baby of the NYT after that awful man Bob somethingorother published the article about Las Vegas and her “book.” Anything that challenges her directly may not get published.

    I am sick to death of us being silenced!!!!!

    Alexa, it is very inspiring to know that she’s not taken seriously in your classes. I know she is on a few syllabi out there who use her “work” to damn the industry.
    ;-[

  13. In response to esistentialhedonist, Melissa Farley’s Ph.D. is from the University of Iowa. However, I wouldn’t hold that against everybody who has ever gone there. I had a professor who also earned her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa and she is supportive of sex workers’ rights. She assigned us a reading by an anthropologist named Patty Kelly who supports decriminalization, which was such a breath of fresh air considering all the horrible and shallow information I’ve seen about sex work in various academic texts.

  14. Hey, SWA! Always wonderful to read your posts.

    Do you remember the title of the Patty Kelly article? I haven’t heard of her and I am always looking for new academic literature on sex work and decrim.

    Great convo!

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