Michael's blog

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"It's Wrong to Pay for Sex"

"It's Wrong to Pay for Sex", or is it? This is the title of a debate scheduled in NYC on April 21  by Intelligence Squared. It is actually the second debate on this topic that they have held, the first one being in London, UK on November 11 2008. The motion was soundly defeated, 449: 203. While we don't know how the speakers were chosen, the gendering is of interest. In the UK, each team consisted of one male and two females. The US debate will feature three women for the motion and one woman and two men against the motion. Is this significant? Maybe. While paying for or selling sex is not the sole property of any gender, it is the frame into which the dominant discourse has been forced that is highly gendered. 

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Conventions, Suffrage and Equality

On August 26th 1920, the Nineteeth Amendment to the United States Constitution became law, allowing women to vote in Presidential elections. In 1971 Congress enshrined this date in the following resolution;

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Moving forward in New Mexico

The announcement of the appointment of a new Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of New Mexico is very welcome. Now it will be up to members of the English Department to rally round her and rebuild the program after so much public scrutiny over the last year.

We trust that good will and a recognition of the importance of placing the program, teaching and the students first will prevail over past differences . The University is to be commended for appointing a facilitator to try to bring the factions within the Department together and to overcome personal differences.  Strong leadership from within the Department and the College of Arts and Sciences will be needed to support her in this role.

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More on Trafficking: The axes of evil and the search for mass destruction

John R Miller, former Bush Anti-Trafficking Czar at the State Department (2002-2006) has written a colourful Op-Ed in the New York Times, with the provocative title The Justice Department, Blind to Slavery.  The article stated that the US Department of Justice was subverting the course of justice by blocking passage of the highly controversial human trafficking legislation which would expand federal jurisdiction over prostitution, based on conflationary theory that the two are synonymous.  However Miller framed it in a way that portrayed Justice as being pro-slavery. Presumably his intention was to oil the Bill in the Senate and boost Republican votes in the forthcoming elections. Presumably his former boss would also smile favourably upon this effort. 

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When is trafficking not trafficking - or how to lie with statistics

Americans will be familiar with the hunt-the-needle-in-the-haystack approach of the State and Justice Departments in looking for victims of human trafficking. Jerry Markon exposed the hiatus between the actual evidence and the claims in an article in the Washington Post. The resources utilised for the yield obtained resembled the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

The equivalent in the United Kingdom is the Police and UK Human Trafficking Centre operations known as Pentameter. This week's release of figures from the second operation triggered off the predictable moral panic and demand for more funding to combat this terrible menace. When Benjamin Disraeli decried the mesmerising effects of numbers "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics" he may have been considering this sort of agenda driven political spin. 

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In, Out, or on the fence?

Ellie (Lumpesse) has recently written about the frustration of combining being a sex worker with having another career (doctoral student) and the difficulties of keeping these apart and the internal pressures to come out. There is nothing unique in Ellie's dilemma, it is actually one of the most difficult things that indoor sex workers have to deal with. This is well described by Teela Sanders in her paper 'It's just acting' dealing with the emotional labour involved in keeping two lives separate. This in itself, is partly the result of the external violence of stigma, and partly the internal pressures of the 'management of feeling to create a publicity observable facial and bodily display' as described by Arlie Hochschild.

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Decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand: Review shows no evidence of predicted social harms

Opponents of the decriminalisation of sex work initially hailed the review of the first five years, published on May 23, as a vindication of their position that New Zealand's Prostitution Reform Act has been a failure in terms of its objectives and that sex work should be eradicated because decriminalisation has little impact on violence in sex work. This is disingenuous at best, but is likely to be something we will continue to hear about.

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Conflict or Collaboration?

We continue to analyse and comment on the distressing conflict within the English Department at the University of New Mexico (UNM) because of two recent events. The first involves the resignation, effective April 15th , of the Director of the Creative Writing Program, and the second the follow up to our decision not to publish an anonymous commentary on this matter.

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Conflict and responsibility

The debate on extra-curricular activities by University of New Mexico staff and postgraduate students continues in the Blogosphere. Of particular interest are those from within UNM, and those associated with Professor Chavez’ writing and teaching (English and Women’s Studies ), such as Samantha Anne Scott.

Yet there is little evidence of any public statements on managing the conflict within the English Department, a conflict that reports suggest threatens the careers of faculty, the integrity of teaching, and is inappropriately dragging students into the debate.

Constructive debate on issues in the academy is productive, unmanaged conflict is not. What then are the issues at stake, that must be of concern to all academics, authorities and students? These can be dissected on a number of levels from the micro-environment, the conduct of individuals to the macro level, the responsibility of the organisation.

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UK Government backs down on sex work legislation

The House of Lords has been debating the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. This is a government Bill that proposed amongst other measures to replace the words 'common prostitute' with 'every person', create a new offence of persistent loitering, and provide for mandatory 'rehabilitation', with a penalty of 72 hours detention. These provisions (except the first) were vigorously opposed by sex workers and their allies as well as many affected groups like probabtion officers.


When this was sent to committee, a number of private member's amendments were tabled.


1. To remove all provisions except the 'common prostitute' one.


2. To insert a new clause exempting two women with or without a maid from the definition of Brothel.


3. To make the purchase of sexual services a criminal offence as in Sweden.


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