Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs

The prostitute is the scapegoat for everyone’s sins, and few people care whether she is justly treated or not.  Good people have spent thousands of pounds in efforts to reform her, poets have written about her, essayists and orators have made her the subject of some of their most striking rhetoric; perhaps no class of people has been so much abused, and alternatively sentimentalized over as prostitutes have been but one thing they have never yet had, and that is simple legal justice.  –  Alison Neilans

Today is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, which started in 2001 as a huge sex worker festival (with an estimated 25,000 attendees) organized in Calcutta by the Indian sex worker rights group Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee.  Prohibitionist groups tried to pressure the government to revoke their permit, but DMSC prevailed and the following year decided to celebrate their victory by establishing the event as an annual one.  As I wrote in my column of one year ago today,

Perhaps its Asian origin has slowed the day’s “catching on” in Europe and the Americas, but in the light of the current trafficking hysteria and the growing problem of American “rescue” organizations in Asia, I think it’s time to remedy that.  Whores and regular readers of this column are acutely aware of the paternalistic attitude taken toward prostitutes by governments, soi-disant feminists and many others, and it’s no secret that many Westerners still have very colonial, “white man’s burden” ideas about Asia; imagine then the incredible paternalism to which Asian sex workers are subjected by American busybodies!  I therefore think it’s a FANTASTIC idea to popularize a sex worker rights day which began in India; its very existence is a repudiation of much of the propaganda which trafficking fetishists foist upon the ignorant public.

As I’ve written in the past, American cultural imperialism in Asia is still very much a fact; despite our loathsome record on civil rights the US State Department presumes to judge other countries on their response to so-called “human trafficking”, based on secret criteria which obviously include classifying all foreign sex workers in a given country as “trafficked persons”.  The annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” results in cuts in foreign aid to countries which don’t suppress their prostitutes brutally enough to please their American overlords, and therefore provokes mass arrests and mass deportations in the countries so targeted.  Nor are these operations instigated only by governments; wealthy NGOs, enabled by money from big corporations looking for a tax dodge, from empty-headed celebrities in search of good publicity, and from clueless Americans desperate to “do something”, invade Asian countries and abduct prostitutes, forcing them into “rehabilitation”  which consists largely of imprisonment under inhumane conditions and brainwashing them to perform menial labor for grueling 72-hour weeks at one-tenth of their former income.  When the women escape from “rescue centers” or protest, they are said to be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome” and their children are abducted and given away.

Nor is this sort of violence restricted to Asia; local US police agencies, often financed by wealthy prohibitionists like Swanee Hunt, routinely use prostitution as an excuse for mass arrests, robbery and grotesque intimidation tactics:

Tania Ouaknine is convinced the police are watching her.  She’s not paranoid — it says as much on the red sign painted along the side on the hulking armored truck that’s been parked in front of her eight-room Parisian Motel for several days:  “Warning:  You are under video surveillance”…From the front bumper of the menacing vehicle, another sign taunts:  “Whatcha gonna do when we come for you?”…[it’s loaded with] surveillance equipment…and [decorated]…with [Fort Lauderdale, Florida] police emblems…[which they] leave…parked in front of trouble spots…”They say I am running a whorehouse,” said the 60-year-old innkeeper…[who has] been the subject of an undercover operation targeting prostitution starting in September.  Ouaknine was arrested on Oct. 28 on three counts of renting rooms to prostitutes for $20 an hour…She says she’s doing nothing illegal.  “They’ve tried everything to shut me down and have failed,” she said.  “Now they bring this truck to intimidate me and my customers.”  Some neighbors surrounding the Parisian Motel say the truck is another form of constant police harassment.  On a recent afternoon, Leo Cooper watched as two undercover…[cops molested] a group of men gathered at the corner.  Within minutes, one of the men ran away.  A second man was charged with loitering.  “This is what happens here every day.  We can’t sit outside without being harassed,” said Cooper…

This is why sex worker rights should concern everyone, even those who aren’t prostitutes, don’t know any prostitutes, have never hired a prostitute and don’t give a damn about the human rights of strangers:  prostitution, especially as it’s viewed through the lens of “human trafficking” mythology and “end demand” propaganda, is simply the latest excuse employed by governments in their campaign to control everything and everyone.  The 2005 re-authorization of the so-called “Violence Against Women Act”…

…permitted the collection and indefinite retention of DNA from, as the Center for Constitutional Rights understood at the time, “anyone arrested for any crime whether or not they are convicted, any non-U.S. citizen detained or stopped by federal authorities for any reason, and everyone in federal prison.”

Using this, Swanee Hunt (through her “Demand Abolition” organization) is now pushing for collection and retention of DNA from every man cops can accuse of patronizing a sex worker…which given the low standards of “suspicion” favored by police, means essentially any male found by cops in certain neighborhoods or in the company of a woman to whom he isn’t married.  While fanaticism-blinded neofeminists cheer, the war on “violence against women” (and by extension prostitution, which is defined as exactly that by neofeminists) is used to justify the same kind of egregious civil rights violations as those resulting from the “wars” on drugs and terrorism.

I think I can safely speak for virtually all sex workers when I say that we don’t want to be passive tools used by governments and NGOs as the excuse for tyranny; we simply want to be left alone to live our lives like anyone else, with the same rights, privileges, duties and legal protections as people in every other profession.  We are not children, moral imbeciles or victims (except of governments, cops and NGOs), and we do not require “rescue”, “rehabilitation” or special laws to “protect” us from our clients, boyfriends, employers or families to a greater degree than other citizens.  And we certainly don’t need others to speak for us no matter how much they insist we do.  Almost a year ago, Elena Jeffreys published an article entitled “It’s Time to Fund Sex Worker NGOs” and I wholeheartedly agree; furthermore, I would argue that it’s long past time to defund “rescue” organizations and all the others who presume to speak for sex workers while excluding us from the discussion.  How can someone who hates a given group and opposes everything its members want be considered a valid representative of that group?  It would be like allowing MADD and Carrie Nation’s Anti-Saloon League to represent distilleries and bar owners.  The very idea is absurd; yet that’s exactly what governments do, even in some countries where our trade isn’t criminal.  Millions of people claim to care about the welfare of prostitutes, yet contribute to groups who advocate that we be marginalized, criminalized, censored, hounded, persecuted, registered, confined, stripped of our rights, robbed of our livelihoods and enslaved…all because they don’t like what we do for a living.  It’s a lot like contributing to the KKK because you claim to be concerned about minorities.

If you actually care about the rights of women, or want to look like you do; if you’re opposed to imperialism and police brutality; if you support the right of people to earn a living in the jobs of their choice, and to organize for better work conditions; or even if you just want to protect yourself from yet another head of the ever-growing hydra of government surveillance, you should consider supporting the cause of sex worker rights.  Fight prohibitionist propaganda, speak out for decriminalization, contribute to sex worker organizations, vote against candidates who espouse prohibitionist rhetoric, and oppose local efforts to increase criminal penalties against whores and/or our clients.  And if anyone asks why you care, please feel free to quote from this essay or just hand them a copy.  Sex worker rights are human rights, and laws or procedures that harm sex workers harm everyone.

(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan)

Melissa Farley sends someone to the Naked Anthropologist to rant

I am keeping up with the tendency to change language again, so that what people were calling prostitution and then trafficking now becomes, increasingly, slavery. The other day I critiqued a review of a film set in a 19th-century Paris brothel and wondered if there may be a desire for slavery to come back. Melissa Farley seems to have sent someone to rant at me just there, but perhaps the post was chosen at random. I wonder if anyone from here would like to reply to the commenter, who is called Stella Marr? Her comment includes

Ms. Agustin, you describe yourself as a feminist. I feel compelled to tell you how horrifying it is to me to read work like yours. Because, perhaps unintentionally, you are pumping for the pimps and massive organized criminal and economic interests that sexually exploit women.

You are making women like me invisible.

I can take care of myself regarding such accusations, but there is a lot more there to reply to: a real Farleyesque assortment, and as if I speak for all feminists and she for all sex workers.

She also quotes from an angry anti-prostitution book I was forced to reply to because the publisher did not fact-check and allowed many errors to be published: Note to anti-prostitutionists: Sex worker movements are nothing to sneer at. There is a long translation from the Swedish original, so perhaps that book is slated to be published in English, in which case the publisher had better do that fact-checking!

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Protest Against BackPage Harms Sex Workers AND Trafficking Victims

The coming November 16, 2011 protest against Backpage by CATW, NOW-NYC and Prostitution Research and Education is another example of harmful actions and campaigns by elitist feminist academics against both consenting sex workers and trafficking victims.  These alleged feminist activists claim they are fighting human trafficking by protesting Backpage  to force the closure of its adult advertising, but his is theatrical garbage activism that is toxic to the very people they purport to be trying to help.

 

I am a consenting sex worker.  I was, at one time, a human trafficking victim.  I am still doing sex work in my 40′s because I need the money to pay bills, including medical needs related to multiple blood clots in my lungs; without sex work I could not afford the medical care that I need to survive.  It is not the right of alleged feminists to take my income or that of so many of those like me.  We work to live and to pay our bills, just like you high and mighty CATW, PRE and NOW-NY activists…well, most of you anyway; many of your ranks are college students that know little about the issues faced by those of us who did not get high school or college options.

 

Backpage adult advertisers are nearly all independent sex workers who are neither pimped nor trafficked, and shutting down Backpage would eliminate a major advertising venue that we use to stay independent.  You would know this if you asked us rather than feigning expertise.  We need our jobs and will keep them, but the closure of advertising spaces makes us vulnerable to the very pimps and traffickers that this garbage activism claims to be fighting.  When our independence is taken away we become vulnerable to predators that will exploit our labor because we lack options.  When I was a teenage trafficking victim and advertising venues closed for whatever reason, I wasn’t freed from prostitution.  My sadist pimp didn’t suddenly end my captivity and free me; he just put me on the street instead, which was far more dangerous to my safety and exposed me to the harsh elements.  I would truly like to see these supposed experts work the street for weeks in the winter in a northern city and come back and tell me that I was better off because advertising failed and I was out in the cold.  Still a slave, just a much colder and much more vulnerable one getting into cars alone.

 

You high and mighty abolitionist activists disgust me; if you knew anything about this issue you wouldn’t be taking this rubbish approach.  Yes, you can trot out your “survivor” activists who were harmed in the sex industry to advance your position, but these survivors are allowing their pain to misguide them into promoting a criminalization model in order to ostensibly end harm to prostitutes by ending prostitution.   I, too worked to advance that garbage until I woke up and realized the harm I was causing as an abolitionist filled with the bullshit lies of abolitionist feminism, a movement led by vacuous intellectuals who were never prostitutes and choose to assuage their pain by tearing away the rights of those in the sex industry.

 

Let me tell you what your efforts to “eliminate” prostitution actually accomplish:  You team with law enforcement officers who disingenuously claim to care about trafficking victims but are actually seeking to arrest more prostitutes.  We suffer as a result of your alleged “concern”; the risk of arrest keeps us from having access to law enforcement when we are the victims of crime while doing our jobs.  Pimps and violent clients know that we can’t go to the police and won’t because we fear the police, getting arrested and all the consequences that come with arrest.  We can’t be honest with our doctors when we suffer brutal rapes and assaults because we can’t explain our injuries without exposing ourselves to legal risk.  You think that’s a positive?  Try having a violent LEO client brutally rape you, suffocate you with a trash bag and hit you in the head so many times that you are taken via ambulance to the ER, incoherent with a major concussion, and are not even able to honestly explain how you were injured.

 

You think it’s worthwhile abolitionists?  Try meeting with a “reputable” businessman who realizes you are legally defenseless and so feels safe in overpowering you, tying you to a bed and beating and sodomizing you with a bamboo cane while forcing you to count the strokes.  You take 493 violent blows all over your body as I did; the bastard shoved my underwear and fee into my mouth and left me blindfolded, bleeding and tied to a bed.  Please….  Come tell me feminist anti prostitution activists protesting Backpage how I benefit from your activism.  Tell the other sex workers who saw me immediately following these assaults if I was better off with your criminalization.  And now you wish to further criminalize prostitution AND close our advertising venues.  Great.  So I and others like me can be criminalized and shoved into the hands of pimps and traffickers.  You and your activism disgust me.

 

Tell me how your efforts helped me or the “submissive girlfriend” of a man who wished to beat her so hard before my eyes that I truly doubted that “girlfriend” actually consented.  I’ve seen these people first hand.  I’ve been harmed by them.  I’ve been absolutely vulnerable to them, and this man was one of them.  I could do nothing but reject his offer to hire me; I had no way to report my suspicions to the police without risking arrest myself, and as a prostitute I had zero social credibility even if I did go to the police.  Likewise, the “girlfriend” had no protection from being arrested if she was ever found.  I went to a friend who is also a police officer and asked for advice, and was told to leave it alone:  there wasn’t enough evidence and as a sex worker I wouldn’t be deemed credible enough for law enforcement to take action, yet I would expose myself without helping her.  Maybe she will get lucky like I did and get away through a fluke, but it sure as hell won’t be because Backpage was shut down or because we are all made criminals; instead, there will be far more like her.  Perhaps some who are independent escorts now will end up like her, brutally harmed because their options for safety were taken away by grandstanding activists and their clueless and self advancing politician and law enforcement allies.

 

Feminist anti-prostitution activists protesting Backpage:  you are harming both consenting sex workers and trafficking victims.  You can write all the pretty press releases about fighting trafficking, sexual slavery and pimps that you want to, but I have lived the reality of your “work”.  Someone has to expose your lies and self-serving career advancement tactics that harm the rest of us.  I have been hurt in the sex industry – a lot – and the hurt continued because I was and am a criminal, deprived of rights.  I can call you on your BS from the perspective of someone who has been harmed because of you, and I am happy to do it because you are toxic, harmful frauds.  Preach to your choir and get your support there because those of us that are hurt by you know who you are; we know what you are doing and we are paying the price for your toxic activism.  Now come tell me how I benefit from your “work”.

Complaint Filed Against Melissa Farley

Dr. Callum Bennachie, from the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, filed a complaint with the American Psychology Association asking that they rescind the membership of Melissa Farley.

In the introduction to the complaint, Dr. Bennachie writes:

Over the years, Dr Farley has published a number of papers and documents about sex work, making claims that all sex work is a form of violence against women.  She has used several of her studies to back this up.

In 2008 Dr Farley published the paper What Really Happened in New Zealand after Prostitution was Decriminalized in 2003? on her website critiquing the Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee.  This critique contains several errors of fact that appear to be deliberately designed to mislead people.  Many of the false allegations made by Dr. Farley in this paper have been repeated by her in her efforts to stigmatise sex workers and keep them criminal.  Dr. Farley appears to have read the complete report, but has only reported or critiqued those parts that match her ideology.  In investigating her comments on this paper further, it was discovered that Dr Farley had completed research in New Zealand in 2003 without seeking ethical approval from the New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPsS).  It was also discovered that during the course of this research, she claimed to be able to diagnose sex workers as having post-traumatic stress disorder, despite using a flawed questionnaire, and not doing in depth interviews.

It is noted that Dr Farley has also completed other studies overseas, and investigations this year indicate that she never sought ethical approval, and sought to deliberately deceive the groups who facilitated the research for her.  She has also been cited as an expert witness, yet the testimony given is false or misleading.  Finally, the Canadian courts have found Dr Farley to be a less than reliable witness, finding her evidence “to be problematic”.  For the reasons in the text below, I believe her work is unethical, unbecoming of a psychologist, and is in breach of at least sections 5.01 and 8.10 of the APA’s Code of Ethics, perhaps more.  I believe that because of these breaches, Dr Farley should be removed from the membership of the APA.

You can read the full text of the complaint here.

I applaud Dr. Bennachie for taking this action. I hope something comes from his complaint, and that other medical professionals are finally ready to open their eyes to the sham research Melissa Farley has paraded around for far too long. Furthermore, please let the impressionable future scholars who look up to her see that she offers a solid lesson in what not to do, and does not represent a figure that any respectable academic should aspire to become.

Newsweek Article Bashing Sex Work Clients

I’m surprised this hasn’t been brought up on BNG yet, but many of you may be aware of the Newsweek article titled “The John Next Door” bashing our clients and focused on Melissa Farley’s input.
Though several pages of comments were posted (many of which very critical of the article), only the most recent page of comments now appears, so many excellent comments are no longer visible.
Considering that, I provided a forum on my blog where people can comment along with at link to the article: http://veganvixen1.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/newsweek-article-bashing-sex-work-clients/ .

Looking at the Schapiro Group “Scientific” Survey

This survey was done in the fall of 2009, several months after CraigsList changed the Erotic Services section to Adult Services so that it could begin charging for ads and handing over the information to authorities if requested. Remember, this was in response to a huge national campaign accusing CraigsList of being a haven for underage prostitutes. It stands to reason that men who want the simplicity of paying for sex with an underage girl would look to CraigsList. The media did all the advertising work necessary for both sides of the possible exploitation equation (pimps and clients). Not to mention that since CraigsList was getting a lot of media attention, lots of people were perusing the Adult Services section, regardless of age preferences.

Their study finds that 23% of men in Georgia have tried to buy sex in one month. This is probably true. The usual self-reporting surveys in the US yield numbers of 6-15%, which any sex worker can tell you is artificially low. Quite honestly, the vast majority of clients are not on CraigsList, which means the percentage of clients could be even higher than 23%. They have to be to support the number of sex workers out there. The vast majority of these unnoticed interactions are between adults, not teens.

Continue reading

CraigsList: Future Thinking

Assuming that CraigsList Adult Services stay down, where will everyone go? Granted, the majority of those in the business in the US aren’t advertising on CL anymore. But now civilians are enjoying the thrill of discovering what’s been online for the past 10-15 years and are publicly speculating what sites advertisers will flock to.

On the one hand, other advertising sites have been obvious all this time if you know how to use Google. The current public attention might help some girls get a little extra business in what I know is a sagging economy and a seasonally slow time of year (beginning of school). On the other hand, I’m very worried by the attention thrown at other sites. The motivation for this current state of affairs goes far beyond the usual cat-and-mouse game played by local cops. The anti-trafficking Nazis have one possible victory with CraigsList and probably feel ready to go stomping on any other site adult sex workers use.

Because it’s about ending prostitution. It’s not about helping victims.

Continue reading