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)

Friday the Thirteenth

A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them.  –  P.J. O’Rourke

Today is the third Friday the Thirteenth since I’ve been writing The Honest Courtesan, and there will be three such days this year (today, April 13th and July 13th); as it so happens, three is the maximum number of such days in any given year, though each year has at least one.  In my very first column on the subject (Friday, August 13th, 2010) I explained how the superstition arose and why even superstitious whores should consider it lucky for us rather than unlucky:

Given the origin of beliefs about Friday the 13th…even the superstitious whore has nothing to worry about…since Friday is the day sacred to our patron goddess, and 13 the most feminine of numbers, Friday the 13th should be good luck for whores even if it really were bad luck for Christian men.  Now, I’m not really superstitious; I don’t believe that a day can bring either good luck or bad.  But considering that the reasons for fear of this day are so closely related to the reasons our profession is maligned and suppressed, perhaps whores and those who support our rights should make every Friday the Thirteenth a day to speak out in favor of full decriminalization and an end to the institutionalized persecution of prostitutes.

Nine months later (on Friday, May 13th, 2011) I explained why it’s especially important for my readers who aren’t sex workers to speak out:

A number of advocates are working to respond to the lies, propaganda and misinformation wherever we find them, but…we’re often accused of distorting facts to make ourselves look good, and no matter how assiduously we work to present a balanced view this is a natural and credible accusation against anyone who advocates for some issue which directly concerns her.  That’s why allies are so important; it’s much harder for the prohibitionists to shout down people who don’t have a dog in the fight, but merely support prostitutes’ rights on moral grounds.  Every Friday the Thirteenth I will ask my readers, especially those of you who aren’t yourselves sex workers, to speak up for us in some way; talk about the issue with someone who will listen, make a post on a discussion board, comment on a news story which spreads disinformation, or even just post a link to this column.  If you aren’t confident in your ability to debate, even a simple phrase like “I think adult women should have the right to decide why and with whom they want to have sex” or “everyone has the right to equal protection under the law” might have a tiny but important impact on those who overhear.  Because in the final analysis, they’re the ones we have to convince; rational people already support some type of prostitution-law reform and fanatics cannot be convinced by argument because their minds are already made up, but the silent majority – the fence-sitters and swing-voters, the ones who answer “unsure” or “no comment” on polls – are the ones who can and must be made to understand that we are not intrinsically different from other women and deserve the same freedoms and protections that non-harlots take for granted.

Last time around I also offered a synopsis of prohibitionist victories since the last such day, but since I already offered a similar list just two weeks ago I think that would be inexcusably repetitious.  And though there are several other days dedicated to fighting for sex worker rights (namely International Sex Workers’ Rights Day on March 3rd,  International Whores’ Day on June 2nd and International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17th), human rights are not something to be discussed only once a year; even six occasions to speak out on the subject are not enough.  For me and many others, every day is Friday the Thirteenth, and so it must remain until people wake up and understand that no collective, “authority” or government has the right to tell women what we can and cannot do with our own bodies.

(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan)

Decriminalization Petition

I’m not sure how much good online petitions do, but here’s one to the president for the decriminalization of prostitution.  Since that issue is handled state by state I don’t think the president can really do anything, but it doesn’t hurt to let him know that there are people who support the idea.

Village Voice vs. Demi & Ashton

Late Tuesday evening ( June 28th) a story entitled “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight” by Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin and Kristen Hinman, appeared on the Village Voice media website; it uses the widely and justly ridiculed Ashton Kutcher/Demi Moore anti-prostitution ad campaign as a springboard for examining the fantastically exaggerated claims of “child sex trafficking” fetishists.

First, the story compares the widely-touted “100,000-300,000 trafficked children” myth I debunked back in January with the police arrest records of the 37 largest American cities and found that in the past decade there were only 8263 juveniles arrested for prostitution among them, an average of 827 per year (roughly 22 per city per year).  Even if one assumes that these cities together have only half of the underage prostitutes in the U.S., that still gives us fewer than 1700 per year.  Ask yourself:  Even considering the incompetence of police departments, which is more believable: that police catch roughly 5% of underage prostitutes per year (by my estimate), or that they catch only 0.27% per year?

The article then moves on to the 2001 Estes & Weiner study, the original source of the fabulous number; as I reported in my column of April 2nd, the study “guesstimated (by questionable methodology) that ‘as many as 100,000-300,000 children and youth [of both sexes] are at risk for sexual exploitation’ of one kind or another…this guess is for BOTH sexes, for ‘children and youth’ (not just children), and most importantly represents those at risk of some form of ‘exploitation’, not currently involved in one specific form (sex trafficking).”  That “questionable methodology” (such as including all runaways, female gang members, transgender youth and those living within a short drive of the Mexican or Canadian borders as automatically “at risk”) was criticized in the Village Voice article by the University of New Hampshire’s Dr. David Finkelhor, who said “As far as I’m concerned, [the University of Pennsylvania study] has no scientific credibility to it…That figure was in a report that was never really subjected to any kind of peer review.  It wasn’t published in any scientific journal…Initially, [Estes and Weiner] claimed that [100,000 to 300,000] was the number of children [engaged in prostitution].  It took quite a bit of pressure to get them to add the qualifier [at risk].”  Professor Steve Doig of Arizona State said the “study cannot be relied upon as authoritative…I do not see the evidence necessary to confirm that there are hundreds of thousands of [child prostitutes].”  He also said, “Many of the numbers and assumptions in these charts are based on earlier, smaller-scale studies done by other researchers, studies which have their own methodological limitations.  I won’t call it ‘garbage in, garbage out.’  But combining various approximations and guesstimates done under a variety of conditions doesn’t magically produce a solid number.  The resulting number is no better than the fuzziest part of the equation.”  And when pressed by the reporters, Estes himself admitted, “Kids who are kidnapped and sold into slavery—that number would be very small…We’re talking about a few hundred people.”

Not that any of this bothers Maggie Neilson, Ashton & Demi’s “celebrity charity consultant”; she told the reporter “I don’t frankly care if the number is 200,000, 500,000, or a million, or 100,000—it needs to be addressed.  While I absolutely agree there’s a need for better data, the people who want to spend all day bitching about the methodologies used I’m not very interested in.”  Presumably it would still “need to be addressed” if the number were 827, so why not just say 827?  Because, of course, that wouldn’t justify pouring millions down police department and NGO toilets instead of spending it on programs to help actual underage prostitutes (as opposed to phantom multitudes of “trafficked children”):  as the article explains, “…though Congress has spent hundreds of millions in tax-generated money to fight human trafficking, it has yet to spend a penny to shelter and counsel those boys and girls in America who are, in fact, underage prostitutes.  In March of this year…[two senators] introduced legislation to fund six shelters with $15 million in grants.  The shelters would provide beds, counseling, clothing, case work, and legal services.  If enacted, this legislation would be the first of its kind…[it] has yet to clear the Senate or the House.”

The article ends with a clear indictment of government attitudes in prohibitionist regimes and an equally-clear statement that sex work is work:  “The lack of shelter and counseling for underage prostitutes—while prohibitionists take in millions in government funding—is only one indication of the worldwide campaign of hostility directed at working women.”  Village Voice recently told a group of sex worker rights activists that they are behind us, and that this is only beginning of a campaign for decriminalization; this could at last be the public voice we’ve needed for so long, and I eagerly await the next salvo fired in defense of whores.

Legislators Urge Ban on Media Shown to Reduce Rape

Women’s groups have been in a state of hysteria lately over Republican efforts to restrict abortion rights, but they’ve been curiously silent about the efforts from BOTH sides of the aisle to restrict women’s other sexual rights.  For example, they’ve said nothing about the recent attempt by over 100 senators and congressmen to “crack down” on certain widely-available materials which have been demonstrated to decrease rape rates, namely porn.

Radley Balko of The Agitator isn’t a sex worker rights activist, but he’s a staunch defender of the rights of people to do what they like with their own bodies, including sex work.  In this article from April 7th, he demolishes the congressmen’s false claims about the “dangers” of porn with statistical proof of the social problems which have decreased as porn has become more widespread:

And in fact, every single one of these problems are trending in the opposite direction. And it isn’t even close:

  • Sex crimes against children: Down 53 percent between 1992 and 2006.
  • Abortion: The abortion rate has dropped by about 25 percent since 1993.
  • Teen pregnancy: In 2009, teen pregnancy hit its lowest rate in the 70 years that the federal government has been tracking the statistic.
  • Divorce: The U.S. divorce rate is at its lowest level since 1970.
  • Domestic violence: The rate of reported domestic violence in the U.S. dropped by more than half between 1993 and 2004.
  • Rape: The forcible rape rate in the U.S. has dropped from 41.1 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 28.7 in 2009. That latter figure is also an all-time low.

These numbers are overwhelming. What’s more, there are at least a couple of studies suggesting that the widespread availability of pornography is partially responsible for some of these trends, especially the drop in reported rapes.

Balko has recently been hired by Huffington Post, which means his eloquent voice for decriminalization will soon be heard by many more listeners than ever before.  I urge sex workers to read his column often; he’s definitely an ally.

Jill Brenneman Interviewed by Maggie McNeill

Regular readers of Bound, Not Gagged need no introduction to Jill Brenneman, a regular contributor to this blog with a unique perspective on sex worker rights.  You see, Jill is what many prohibitionists like to claim we all are:  a woman who was forced into prostitution in her teens by a brutal pimp.  But though she participated in the prohibitionist movement herself for several years (and really, who could blame her?) she was open-minded enough to see the truth and reason in the arguments for decriminalization and intellectually honest enough to be repulsed by the lies and misrepresentation rampant among the prohibitionists.  She thus became an outspoken advocate for sex worker rights, and the one person whose opinion on the “sex trafficking” issue I most respect.

After Jill commented extensively on my February 7th column Amanda Brooks suggested I interview her, and I thought that was a fantastic idea so I contacted Jill and she generously agreed.  The interview was conducted mostly via email on February 11th-13th and completed by telephone on the 13th, and though Jill suggested I edit it down I have done this as little as possible because I wanted her to be free to tell her story in her own words.  Jill has read over the completed interview twice and has approved it for presentation in The Honest Courtesan in four parts, from February 21st to February 24th.  I feel I must warn you that it is not light reading; the first two parts are the most graphic, disturbing narrative I have yet published or am likely to publish again, and I must caution sensitive readers to consider carefully before proceeding.  The interview is quite long, but Jill and I both feel that it’s important to show the ugly side of the world of prostitution as well as its attractive side; our opponents are liars, but we are not.  If we hide facts which might make us look bad we are no better than the prohibitionists, and the suppressed information would then become a weapon in their hands.  The truth shines light into dark places inhabited by filth who exploit women and Jill understands, as we hope most people will one day, that only decriminalization will grant free whores the power to help the law to uncover these monsters and liberate the girls they victimize.

Trafficking Numerology

A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers. –  Plato

The Western mind adores numbers; it finds them impressive and magical, and the less an individual understands about math the more numbers impress him (especially if they’re large numbers).  The quickest way to win the typical modern dullard’s respect is to throw some very large figure at him; in most cases he’ll simply accept it without even thinking about what it really means in terms of human experience.  On my own blog yesterday I mentioned that the trafficking fetishists call their propaganda of “100,000 trafficked girls” in the United States (or “100,000 trafficked children” depending on the writer) a conservative estimate, and claim that 300,000 is closer to the mark.  These numbers are repeated endlessly (including in CNN’s “special report” Selling the Girl Next Door which aired last night) despite the fact that they have no basis in fact whatsoever, and nobody ever bothers to think about what 300,000 girls really means.

The only places in which any hard facts about prostitution can be uncovered are those in which our profession is entirely decriminalized, and there aren’t many of those; luckily, New Zealand took the trouble to study prostitution in depth in order to answer fanatics who predicted disaster when decriminalization was implemented there in 2003.  In a survey done in 2005, researchers found that there were a total of 5932 prostitutes of all levels in New Zealand, of which 210 were underage.  Furthermore, 75% of underage girls were working only on the street, which leaves only about 53 wh0 could be advertising on the internet (but also may not).  In other words, 5722 of New Zealand’s prostitutes – 96.46% – are legal adults.  And given that this is the ONLY methodologically sound study available for any portion of the English-speaking world, it’s the best estimate we have for the United States or ever will have until and unless prostitution is fully decriminalized here and whores can therefore feel safe in answering such surveys.

According to the 2006 census the population of New Zealand was 4,143,279, of whom approximately 2,082,049 were female; active, declared prostitutes (excluding part-timers, party girls, strippers, gold-diggers etc) were 5932 of those women or 0.285%.  Since this jibes very closely with the standard 1% estimate of all women who prostitute themselves to one degree or another it seems very reasonable and we can therefore apply it to the American population as the best estimate we’re likely to get in the lifetime of anyone reading this.  According to the most recent estimates (2009) there are about 155,600,000 women in the United States, which after applying the New Zealand estimate gives us a figure of 443,323 active, declared prostitutes in this country – of which trafficking fetishists wish us to believe about two-thirds are involuntary, “trafficked” underage girls.  In truth, the number (again, by application of the New Zealand estimate) is 15,694, of which 75% (11,770) are only working on the street.  That gives us a rough estimate of 3924 who might be advertised on the internet…a far cry from the “Wal-Mart of sex trafficking” declared by CNN.  Furthermore, not all of these girls are involuntarily involved, which makes the number of “internet sex-slave children” still lower even if we allow the equation of “legal minor” with “child” and “pimped hooker” with “slave”.

I’m sure anyone with half a brain can look at these figures and recognize them as far more realistic than the “300,000” figure touted by the fetishists.  The reason their wild exaggerations aren’t discarded out of hand is that, as I said in the first paragraph, most Americans are unable to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the claims. Of the 155,600,000 American women I mentioned earlier, 17.4% are older than 4 but younger than 18; that’s a total of roughly 27,074,400 school-age girls in the US, of which the media wants you to believe 300,000 – in other words, 1.11% – are held in sexual bondage. According to trafficking fanatics, the percentage of underage girls in “sex slavery” is almost FOUR TIMES the best estimate we have for the total percentage of women of ALL ages involved in any kind of formal prostitution.  And if we only consider the ages most trafficking “authorities” claim as the majority of underage prostitutes (namely 13-17) it’s more like ten times the percentage.

Nobody in his right mind could believe these figures, yet the mainstream media irresponsibly parrots them without question.  I wrote this article, research and all, in about ninety minutes; any reporter could have found the same figures I did from the same online sources, but they don’t bother because inflammatory lies are more interesting to the lowest common denominator than mundane truth.  Ignorance is one thing and willful misrepresentation another; since Amber Lyon of CNN and her cronies on other networks could find the same information I did, I can only conclude they don’t want to find it.  And that places their actions beyond the bounds of mere ratings-seeking hype and into the realm of pure criminal negligence.