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Elizabeth's picture

A new sex education center is born

Next weekend, on September 26th, I'll be speaking at the grand opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, a nonprofit resource center run by certified sex educator Megan Andelloux. I'll be on a panel with some of my role models in the world of sex education and research: Carol Queen, Becky Chalker, Barbara Carellas, Gina Ogden and Bill Taverner. I'm also very excited about the screenings of Tara Hurley's Happy Endings? and At Your Cervix by Amy Jo Goddard and Julie Carlson.

I admire Megan's work a great deal and was thrilled to be invited to participate in the grand opening of her center. Several times I've been struck by the courage she's shown in the simple act of including the word "Pleasure" in the name of her center. It shouldn't require courage to pair pleasure and health in talking about sex, doing sex education work, or naming sexuality resource centers, and yet it does. Sexual pleasure is a lightening rod in this culture. Pairing pleasure and health takes special courage because while we are willing - sometimes, grudgingly - as a society to spend money on sexual health education we are most unwilling as a society to spend money on sexual pleasure. Publicly recognizing that sexual health and pleasure go together could seem very threatening not only to those whose conservatism requires the public denial of most sexual pleasure in the first place, but also for those who depend on the health discourse to legitimize their sex-related work in the eyes of funders. Megan's insistance that sexual pleasure is an integral part of sexual health is admirable for its honesty in the face of tremendous pressure to disguise or hide the connection.

Anyway, I mention all of this because Megan recently published a piece on Carnal Nation (where Chris Hall, co-founder of Sex In The Public Square lives these days) that reflects on the challenges she's faced in getting her center born. I asked her if I could reprint it here, she said yes, and so here it is, below the fold.

Elizabeth's picture

Intersections

While I blog mostly about sex and society, my partner Will blogs mostly about New York Harbor, working waterfront issues, and takes fabulous pictures of tugboats, and in rare moments of synchronicity our interests blend in beautiful and unexpected ways.

One recent such blending occured when I chose the location of my Sex Blogger Calendar photo shoot. We shot it on Frying Pan, a beautiful yet decaying light ship that now serves as part of a floating bar and grille at Pier 66 on the Hudson River. I love exploring the artifacts of urban industrial history. I also think boats - workboats in particular - are pretty sexy. So when Will said he had connections and we got permission to shoot there I was thrilled. (To get a sneak peek at the shoot click here.)

Another unexpected intersection between our worlds occured last weekend when we spent Sunday at the Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition, the Working Harbor Committee's annual celebration of New York City's working waterfront. More than a dozen tugs participated and we ended up gathering afterwards with Will's sister, some of my friends from sex-blogger circles, and some of Will's friends from waterblogger circles. Several children rounded out the group and we all had a great time

But the most recent intersection between waterblogger and sexblogger worlds came just yesterday. We spent Friday and Saturday in Waterford, NY (a bit north of Albany where the Hudson River turns into the Erie canal headed west and Champlain canal headed north). We were there for the annual Tugboat Roundup. I was chatting with Don Sutherland, a prominent working harbor photographer and journalist, sipping wine, and waiting for the fireworks to start (best fireworks ever!) when the subject of my blog came up. He pointed to the tug attached to the fireworks barge. It was New York State Marine Highway's Mame Faye. He asked me if I knew who Mame Faye had been. I did not. So he told me.

Melissa Ditmore's picture

review of Siddarth Kara's Sex trafficking

Here is a short excerpt from my review of Siddarth Kara's book Sex Trafficking for the  Women's Review of Books.

Unfortunately, although Kara understands the variety of trafficking situations, he is stuck on sex trafficking. He meets trafficked workers in fields such as agriculture and construction, but pursues elusive sex slaves.  He never asks any of the people he seeks out—the poor women, sex workers, child carpet-weavers, or bonded-laborer families making bricks—what would actually help them. Although he is sensitive to their plights, he is insensitive and uninterested in their needs and desires. Rather than focus on structural issues, his book turns to salacious material and hero fantasies. A romantic outsider, he pushes ineffective remedies.
....

Elizabeth's picture

Labor Day 2009 - Some thoughts on the interdependence of work

Today, Labor Day, I'm thinking about work. I look around my apartment and am awed by the amount of work required to produce everything in it. The hours of labor represented by just the items sitting on my desk is astonishing. There are about a dozen books, an eye glass case, a tape dispenser, a roll of fishing line (why do I have fishing line on my desk?), a lamp, a bottle of ink, a couple of fountain pens, a wooden top, a few CDs, one DVD (Kill the Artist, by Andreas Troeger), a cup full of pens and pencils, two flash drives, an iPod, a pack of stationery, two notebooks, a date book, a New York Times magazine ("Why women's rights are the cause of our time", Aug. 23, 2009), and that is just the layer that is visible! When I add to that the service work involved in my day to day life. And it makes me think about the many paths that lead to all that work.

Michael's picture

Science and Responsibility: A response to Margaret Brooks and Donna Hughes

Margaret Brooks and Donna Hughes of Citizens Against Trafficking (CAT) criticise our lettter to the Rhode Island legislature of July 31st raising concerns about proposed criminalisation of sex work. . In their article "International Sex Radicals Campaign to Keep Prostitution Decriminalized in Rhode Island" they claim the presence of an international conspiracy.

Elizabeth's picture

Finding common ground for rational discussion

While I disagree with their basic premise that prostitution - indoor or outdoor - should be criminalized (I believe that criminalization will make things worse rather than better) I want to point to some very helpful observations made by RI Senators Paul V. Jabour and Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey in yesterday morning's Herald News.

1. We need to re-draw the now-blurred line between prostitution, human trafficking, and age of consent issues. It does not help victims of forced labor or coercive human trafficking when we distract ourselves from their issues by focusing on the sexual content of some of their work. Nor does it help when we make generalizations about prostitution.

Norma Jean Almodovar's picture

Letter from Norma Jean Almodovar to RI Lawmakers

Honorable Representatives and Senators,

As a retired sex worker and a long time sex worker rights activist, I’d like to address the Rhode Island bill which proposes to criminalize indoor prostitution. I am hoping that reason will prevail and you will not be pressured into signing a piece of legislation which will so negatively impact the lives of sex workers in your state. While I am a resident of California and not Rhode Island, I have been fighting against laws which criminalize consenting adult prostitution- wherever those laws exist- since I left my job with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1982.

I worked for ten years as a civilian traffic officer with the LAPD, primarily at night, and  I witnessed first hand what happens when laws are arbitrarily enforced and used against women to extort sex, money and information. I left the police department because corruption on all levels was so pervasive,  and I became a call girl and a sex worker rights activist so that I could expose the rampant abuses perpetrated by the cops against prostitutes and others. Simply put, bad laws make bad police officers.

I experienced being arrested and incarcerated and I have to tell you, it is far more traumatic than anything a prostitute might encounter at the hands of her clients. Being arrested has quite the opposite effect of being ‘rescued.’ It destroys your life. If indeed prostitutes suffer from PTSD as many anti- prostitution activists allege, this may be a direct result of being arrested and incarcerated, rather than giving pleasure for pay.

Elizabeth's picture

Don't let personal attacks distract us

 I woke this morning to find lots of support in the face of a personal attack by Donna Hughes against me and the other signers of a letter to the Rhode Island legislature arguing against the criminalization of prostitution there.

Thank you to all those who are being so supportive of me. I will respond to the attack myself later, but first I want to say that I am very worried that this could distract from the real issue at hand, which is our work to keep consensual adult sexual exchange from becoming criminalized in RI.

Both for the sake of those who are victimized by players in the sex industry and also for the sake of those who find meaningful careers there, and for all those in between, we need to keep our focus on the creation of sane and useful laws. Criminalizing prostitution will eliminate a source of livelihood for some and will drive harmful activity further underground. This must be avoided.

Some important points to keep in mind, and to keep in front of those who make the laws:

  1. Adults need to be free to make decisions about the kinds of consensual sex they do and do not want to engage in with other adults.
  2. Everybody deserves a right to earn a decent standard of living.
  3. Physical autonomy is a basic human right.
  4. Everybody, regardless of industry, ought to have safe working conditions and be free from violence. Laws to protect workers, and laws to prohibit violence, need not criminalize work in order to be effective.
  5. Just because lots of states have irrational laws doesn't mean that Rhode Island needs to follow suit. (Just because something is, doesn't mean it ought to be.)


Tara Hurley, director of "Happy Endings?", wrote a fantastic letter to the RI legislators. She calls for others to do the same. She got an encouraging response from one legislator who said he was being bombarded by Hughes supporters and really needed to hear from those who oppose criminalization.

You can use these email addresses to write to the lawmakers in Rhode Island. If you live in Rhode Island your voice is even more important right now.

With her permission I am reprinting Tara's letter below. Please feel free to use it as inspiration for your own:

Honorable Representatives and Senators,

First let me offer condolences on the recent passing of Representative Slater.  I think a lot can be learned from his career. It was difficult to pass a medical marijuana law, but Rep. Slater remained the forceful voice for its passage, and I know he gained the respect of many of his fellow Assembly Members. 

One of the lessons I hope that was learned during the debate and ultimate passage of the “Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act” is that for the benefit of the citizens of Rhode Island debates should be based in reason and fact, not emotion and propaganda.  I wish the atmosphere in which the medical marijuana was debated could return for the debate on prostitution.

I know many women who work in spas from when I made my film.   I want what is best for these women.  I want what is best for Rhode Island.  I know that these two things are not mutually exclusive. 

As a woman and Rhode Islander, I am offended at the tactics of Donna Hughes and Citizens Against Trafficking.  It seems like Hughes and CAT do not care about the women, all they want is a "moral victory".   They have no basis for their attacks on me, the spas, the people who have been writing to you, and basically anyone who does not accept or promote their agenda, including RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  I have been following this a long time, and it is bad enough to attack me, fellow academics, or even the women they claim to be trying to help, but to attack a RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking is beyond the barrel.  It is horrible that this radical fringe group could drive out the coalition that seemed to actually care about the women.

To use an analogy, I would say that Hughes and CAT are to Rhode Island and sex workers as Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church are to homosexuals.  They are both radical fringe groups that use fear and hate mongering. I am an artist, so I believe in freedom of speech, so even though I do not agree with Hughes or CAT, I believe they have the same right to freedom of speech as everyone else.  I just hope that people don’t confuse the propaganda and fear mongering for fact. If you would like to save yourself some time, just delete anything that comes from Hughes or CAT, unless you enjoy reading fiction and extremist propaganda.

Sincerely,
Tara Hurley
Director "Happy Endings?"

 

Elizabeth's picture

Taking a lesson from Southern Poverty Law Center

 US National Archives photo of women posing for safety promotionIn my mail today from Southern Poverty Law Center:
 

"No woman should be forced to sacrifice her personal dignity and human rights for a paycheck ... These women -- some of the most vulnerable people in our society -- are being raped, violently assaulted, and otherwise exploited .... "


No, this isn't a story about sex trafficking. This is a story about immigrant women working in factories in fields all across the country. And SPLC's response is not to criminalize their work, thus penalizing the victims, but rather to help them file lawsuits against their employers and attackers. You can read about one such case, U.S. EEOC, et al. vs. Tuscarora Yarns, here.

It struck me as a stark and important contrast to the antiprostitution activists who claim to be working to help victims of exploitation but who are really further victimizing them by criminalizing their livelihood instead of prosecuting abusers. SPLC's strategy makes it clear that they understand the issues: All people have a right to earn a living. No person should be subject to abuse, violence, or exploitation at work. Workers in many industries put their bodies at risk to do their work, but those risks should be minimized and worker safety is everybody's concern.

This is a lesson that feminists who claim they want to protect women in the sex industry ought to learn.

Elizabeth's picture

Letter to the Editor of National Review Online

On August 12, 2009 I submitted this to the editors of National Review Online. I got the standard automated response and will certanly post here to let you know if the letter is published there. Meanwhile, here is what I sent them.

RE: "Not a victimless crime" by D. Hughes and R. P. George

"Not a victimless crime," (Hughes & George, Aug. 10, 2009) is misleading from the start in that what it describes (prostitution in Rhode Island) is not a crime in the first place. In addition, the article contains several logical flaws and much misinformation. It gives the impression that decriminalization of prostitution is associated with more violence against prostitutes and that criminalization of prostitution is associated with more effective policing of human trafficking and better protection of public health. None of this is accurate.

First, violence against prostitutes is associated with misogyny and the stigmatization of sexually active women, not with the legal status of prostitution. People suspected of being prostitutes are assaulted and killed in places where prostitution is criminal and in places where it is not. While there is violence against women, and against sex workers everywhere there is stigma against sexually active women interestingly, in places like New Zealand where prostitution was decriminalized in 2003, there has not been an increase in violence against workers.

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