Norma Jean Almodovar: The AGs vs. Backpage

Veteran sex worker rights activist Norma Jean Almodovar has written a passionate essay on the hypocrisy of the stance taken by 45 state attorneys general in demanding that Backpage discontinue all adult advertising, and I’m pleased to announce that she’s done me the honor of allowing me to publish it as a two-part guest blog on The Honest Courtesan:

Part One (September 16th, 2011)

Part Two (September 17th, 2011)

Both columns contain numerous links supporting Norma Jean’s position that if the “authorities” really want to protect “children” from sexual exploitation, that aim would be best served by forgetting about Backpage and cleaning up their own “disorderly house”.

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.

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.

A ‘course’ on trafficking with only one hurdle

Following up on the issue of misuse of academic status and questionable credentials, last year she included a piece of my writing in the syllabus of a course at the University of Rhode Island called Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery. Mine appears to be the only reading not taking an avidly ‘anti-trafficking’ stance. The goals for learning about the week’s topic, Analyses of Sex Trafficking & Prostitution, were:  ‘Read different analyses and perspectives on sex trafficking and prostitution from different philosophical and analytical perspectives: Christian, feminist, psychological, and economic migrant workers rights.’ This sounds good, but here is the list of readings:

Enslaved in America, Tina Frundt
A Christian Perspective on Sexual Trafficking, Lisa Thompson
Prostitution and Male Supremacy: A Feminist Analysis, Andrea Dworkin
Working in the European Sex Industry: Migrant Possibilities, Laura Agustín
The Swedish Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services, Gunilla Ekberg
Survivors of Trafficking and Prostitution Manifesto
Not Sex Work

I believe all the other pieces are fundamentally against prostitution per se and against the idea of sex work as work ever. In that case, students are not getting a rounded view of the varying ways to think about the issues. My piece is anthropological, an exposition of what I’d learned through spending years hanging out/doing research with migrants who sell sex. I wrote it at the request of the editor of a Madrid migration journal who asked for an article about migrants who sell sex that would be free of moralising. I agreed without for a moment imagining the enormous conflict that would arise when I turned in what to me seemed to be a harmless, purely descriptive piece. You can read more about that drama in this piece today on Harlot’s Parlour.

The following section is, I’m told, what totally winds up certain people – theory and background information apart. It’s from ‘Working in the European Sex Industry: Migrant Possibilities,’ Laura Agustín, translated from the original ‘Trabajar en la industria del sexo’, OFRIM/Suplementos, June 2000. This piece wins me endless emails from kids in Latin America looking for employment, by the way.

‘If we look at the description of what constitutes the industry, we find possible jobs as a telephone worker, in which the client is not even seen. Or as a striptease artist, which in many places involves dancing nude and nothing more. Even if we talk about ‘full sex’, it isn’t the same doing it for a pornographic film as in a brothel (or, for example, with clients of sexologists. Obviously, they are different jobs, some carried out in bars, others in houses, offices or examination rooms. In some the worker controls the situation and the hours more; in others he lacks control. Some are well paid, others not. Some services seem easy to perform to some people, while to others they seem difficult. The boss or owner of the place may be the most important element in some jobs. In short, everything depends on the specific situation. It’s the same if we look at the many forms of physical/sexual contact, of serving the client. [5] Obviously, performing oral sex on a client in a car or in an alley in the rain is not the same as spending a shift inside a club with heating, where you talk and have drinks as well as sex with clients. We can however point out some necessary abilities for carrying out these jobs well, that is, in the most efficient and less problematic manner. In general terms:

• The essence of the work is giving pleasure to others. The worker who doesn’t want to or can’t do this, no matter how good-looking, will fail. The client wants to feel some kind of pleasure.

• As in other service work, the ability to relate to others is very important. To know how to listen ‘actively’, negotiate, encourage, read the body language of the other, sense what is not said and the psychology of the other. To judge when the other is not all right (and not to confuse this with physical appearance). Capacity to smooth situations and calm violent people, confronting or manipulating them. Also necessary for those who work over the telephone.

• Ability to relate to and come to appreciate people from other cultures or ethnic groups or with values different from one’s own. Diplomacy. Clients may be rejected, but income is lost. Being able to imagine the situation of the other, as much through what he wants to hide as through what he reveals. Understanding more than one language.

• Knowing oneself well is extremely important in sex work. Knowing how to use the body sexually and how to take care of oneself, minimising infections, strains and exhaustion, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. It’s necessary to know when one is tired or with little desire to work, because states of neglect often lead to danger. Self-esteem is essential.

• The worker needs a lack of shame about bodies. To be able to talk about sex and show sexual things. A good sense of humour helps.

• As with the jobs of nurses and stewardesses, it is essential to give the client the sensation that he really is desired, that giving him pleasure or taking care of him matters. This is also necessary for cultivating a loyal clientele, one that comes back.

• Often the client wants to talk about his life: problems in his marriage, with his children or at his job. He may have lost his wife or need counseling. The ability to satisfy this type of desire or to want to help to resolve the problems of others is part of sex work. Sometimes this kind of attention matters even more than sex to the client.

• Knowing how to put limits, control what happens and protect oneself from excessive demands. Being able to maintain boundaries with client, who may have many emotional needs.

• Knowing how to sell is key, including over the telephone and in written messages (electronic mail, chat, mobile phones). Seduction is an art that few command, which helps explain the high status of courtesans and geishas in the past. Nowadays transsexuals are often most famous for knowing how to seduce.

• For people who work on their own or have a business it is fundamental to know how to manage funds: accounting, taxes and investments. Knowing how to negotiate, decide on prices.

• The ability to manage, organise and oversee a business is necessary in whatever level the worker works. Working freelance can be done successfully only by someone with the self-discipline to evaluate his efforts and manage his time.

• When employed in someone else’s business, workers need the talent of being able to please the boss or owner as well as the client, who often demand contrary things (for example, to the boss it matters that the work is done rapidly, while the client wants more personal attention).

• If one dances or performs, it’s essential to stay in good shape and act with confidence. Knowing how to take advantage of one’s own good points. Knowing how to dress and make up according to the situation.

• Much of sex work is performance: it’s necessary to know how to present oneself, project oneself and play roles. An example: the stereotype exists of ‘passive’ Asian women, so, for an Asian woman, knowing how to play the passive role may be a key talent. If one works in domination or submission, one needs to know how to create scenes, act, involve and convince the client. Knowing how to flirt.

• The client is not necessarily of the same gender or ‘sexual orientation’ that the worker wants for his or her own partner. Thought of another way, the worker’s personal taste does not have to match what he does at work: a lesbian can work with men, a heterosexual with gays, a transsexual with heterosexuals, a homosexual man with women and so on. In the world of the sex industry, flexibility and ambiguity in tastes and desires are the norm; binary visions (like masculinity/feminity or passivity/activity cease to be very useful.

• Since it’s a market, one needs the ability to compete, create new services and change with the times. Inventing new ways to make money, using new technologies and trying to match services to desires.

• Sexual knowledge is fundamental to carrying out the work. Knowing how to stimulate bodies to produce pleasure, delay or precipitate orgasms and judge the sexual capacity of the other. Moreover there are many tricks that make the job easier for the person who knows them: putting condoms on without clients’ knowing, feigning penetration and many others. Often it’s necessary to teach principles of sexual health to improve the client’s experience: masturbatory techniques, self-control or permitting oneself ‘forbidden’ acts. It’s important to point out that not every client is the confident man of the machista stereotype; many feel shy, ashamed or incapable. There are prostitutes who specialise in therapeutic srvices with disabled people. As for education to avoid sexual illnesses, being able to convince clients that they can enjoy sex with condoms is an important talent.

• One can choose the services one wants to offer, whether oral or manual sex or vaginal or anal penetration. Moreover, in times of ‘safer sex’, less ‘classical’ forms are being accepted, such as mutual masturbation.

• Being able to offer massage, reflexology and other therapies offer more possibilities to make money.

• Working in the production of pornography, it’s possible to learn techniques of photography, video, etc.

• If one works via the Internet, one needs knowledge of computers, email, chat, databases and the construction of webpages.

• If one becomes a supervisor or even owner of a sex club or escort agency, one learns to deal with the necessities of the personnel, encouraging them to work well.’

The whole piece can be read here.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Did you know women were involved in technology in the 1800’s? Ada Lovelace passed away in 1852, and was very instrumental in Charles Babbage’s analytical engine. Most of us here on BnG and within the Sex Worker community in general are Female Identified, so I think it’s important that we recognize our amazingness!

As part of Ada Lovelace Day, I want to take a minute to share some of the amazing things Sex Workers have done with technology.

  • Some Sex Workers have day jobs in technology!
  • Sex Work has turned safer by our use of technology, for example our screening process has become much safer by use of email, cell phones, etc.
  • We’ve been adopting technology before the mainstream, think twitter, myspace, facebook, etc..
  • We are building blogs, websites, forums and discussion lists for our organizing.
  • Some of us are building our own Video’s, making movies, podcasts, etc.
  • We are finding new creative uses for twitter, etc.
  • One of our own has helped found their own Web 2.0 technology Company!
  • We have our very own Film and Art festival, where our own self-made videos have a chance to be seen by the world at large!

I’m sure there are many many things I’m forgetting, so please chime in below with links, stories and thoughts on the cool amazing things we are all doing! I haven’t given any names, or links to people, because of privacy concerns for those present.

Sex industry cultures: Photos on facebook

phone_box_prostitute_calling_cards_1

escort ads London

I finally joined facebook and have started a photo album called Sex Industry. This is a public link, you don’t have to be a member of facebook to see the photos. Sometimes I worry that cultural interests, rather than overtly, campaigning, political ones are not so interesting to people here, but then I think that I must be wrong. And anyway, cultural work is just another kind of politics.

Here are a few other cultural landmarks in the past month or so:

Do you know whether or not you are a prostitute? which I published on Susie Bright’s Journal first.

Will a famous prostitute be allowed to rest beside Calvin in Geneva?

I’m a girlfriend, they’re my friends

I am also partial to satire when it comes to miserable topics. Here’s a marvellous piece on Norway’s new dreadful law

If anyone has photos to add to my collection, let me know!

Best, Laura

Desiree Alliance 2008- Day one

Here are some impressions from the first full day of the 2008 Desiree Alliance conference.

It is so goddamned hot here in Chicago but luckily sex workers know how to strip. Half way through the first day Stacey Swimme set the precedent by filling ice water spritzer bottles and peeling down to her comely skivvies. Many moans arose from those confined to their clothes because they arrived at the conference sans coulottes. Says ‘David’: “I never seen so many people in this industry take their clothes off with no money exchanged.”

The keynote anti-oppression workshop kicked things off and it also kicked my ass, emotionally. One of my favorite parts was the presenter’s metaphor of the house of ‘isms’; where adultism lay at the foundation since it is a cross-cultural experience for babies/children and youth, and mental health oppression as the roof as all deviations from socially established norms (emphasis on sex workers here) are pigeonholed as crazy and easily written off or persecuted for mental health instability. Other ism’s such as racism, sexism, anti-semitism, etc. are the pillars that hold the house up. Talking in small groups about our personal definitions of super loaded terms and creating lists of terms and phrases associated left a lot of us thoughtful, riled up and raw.

After lunch we split into different workshops, I went to “Transgender Intra-Community Relations”. It really felt like we didn’t have nearly enough time to hear the panel of eight or so women from Chicago and DC talk about their organizations, experiences, and the issues facing their communities. One thing that was mentioned several times were strategies to unite and unify young transwomen of color, the problems of transwomen sex workers who are harassed and incarcerated by police with complete lack of respect for their gender and are placed in men’s jails, and the idea of an accessible conference specifically for transwomen with emphasis on women of color.

We ended the first day with a plenary on Challenging Discrimination among Sex Workers where a wallop of topics were introduced including: accessing the porn community as allies and bridges, the horrible phenomenon of partners, friends and colleagues with a grudge turning sex workers into the police, and division and judgment between workers in different fields of the sex industry.

But I was fried, my brain was a weepy puddle of lust and attraction, fear of rejection, new ideas, old pains, empathy, self-reflection and the desire to be accepted. A conference full of gorgeous sweltering hos tackling topics like institutional oppression will do that to me. There is so much information and so many perspectives and so many people who have been marginalized and misunderstood by much of society trying to find their common ground. So as my act of harm-reductionist self care, I went to Bleeding Heart Bakery and drowned my intense sensitivity in delicious organic sugar….stay tuned for more Desiree updates!