sex work

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.

Michael's picture

Rhode Island: The next step

In writing our letter to the Rhode Island legislature in July of this year, we were forced to depart from our usual position of building and bridging communities by the political realities. Nor was it easy for us to explain to the politicians how the bills` supporters conflated and generalised information from one sector of a highly diversified activity without appearing to privilege the indoor market.

As it so happened, our decision to send a letter from the academic community was reasonably effective. Predictably we were attacked by the extreme right wing as perverts and pedophiles.  We now need to move on to the planned second stage, a letter from the rest of the community involved in sex work, and also an opportunity for those who were unable to sign the first letter.

Elizabeth's picture

50 academics spoke up. Can you amplify their voices?

Last week 50 academics signed on to a letter written by Ron Weitzer and myself. It was a collaborative effort and required compromise and you can read the letter here. Today there have been several news stories about this letter. If you support the overall mission of keeping prostitution in RI from being criminalized please comment on the stories listed below, or blog about the same. Here are some links:

Academics oppose banning indoor prostitution in Rhode Island

     Boston Herald - Boston,MA,USA

Academics urge RI to keep indoor prostitution legal

     Providence Journal - Providence,RI,USA

Professors Oppose Rhode Island Banning Indoor Prostitution

     FOXNews - USA

Rhode Islands Future: Politics & Culture:: 50 Academics Sign ...

     By BrianHull 

Press release: Prostitution law reform bills

     RIRepbulican.com

 Update: More news coverage! Please comment on these stories if you can!

Providence Daily Dose: (author is a state rep)
http://providencedailydose.com/2009/08/03/50-academics-oppose-prostitution-bill/

Boston Herald:
http://news.bostonherald.com/news/national/northeast/view/20090803academics_oppose_banning_indoor_prostitution_in__rhode_island/srvc=news&position=recent_bullet

WJAR 10 Providence:
http://www2.turnto10.com/jar/news/local/article/academics_oppose_ri_banning_indoor_prostitution/20964/

US BRK:
http://www.usbrk.info/court/professors-oppose-rhode-island-banning-indoor-prostitution-143.html

WBZ Radio (Boston):
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/R/RI_HOOKER_LOOPHOLE_RIOL-?SITE=WBZAM&SECTION=SPORTS&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

News on Feeds:
http://www.newsonfeeds.com/article/9625277/Academics%20oppose%20RI%20banning%20indoor%20prostitution

Newstin:
http://www.newstin.com/tag/us/136879572

USA Today:
http://content.usatoday.com/topics/article/Places,+Geography/States,+Territories,+Provinces,+Islands/U.S.+States/Nevada/0dH13jL9I8fiL/1

Breakingnews.com:
http://www.breakingnews.com/story/professors-oppose-ri-banning-indoor-prostitution


Laura Agustín's picture

Cultural studies and commercial sex: a form of liberation

Much of what is said about the sex industry revolves around a single question: Is it okay or not? This question can be phrased in many ways: Is it okay that prostitution exists? Can street hooking ever be a real job? Is everyone who sells sex exploited or free? To address this question, most people talk about their own experience or that of the people they know personally or did research with, after which they extrapolate to a bigger group. But in the end it’s a question with different answers for different people in different places and moments in their lives.

Elizabeth's picture

An academic response to criminalizing prostitution in Rhode Island

Several weeks ago, first in the Providence Journal and then here, Ron Weitzer, a professor of criminology at George Washington University, debunked myths about prostitution that were being circulated during testimony and press coverage of Rhode Island's attempts to recriminalize the private exchange of sex for money. Donna Hughes, a Women's Studies professor at University of Rhode Island, wrote a commentary piece for the Providence Journal in which she continued to promote those myths and the moral panic they fuel, and in the process also ridiculed sex educator a Megan Andelloux and $pread, a magazine by sex workers for sex workers.

It has been easier for a small but vocal group of academics to ridicule the sex industry and condemn it with deeply flawed research and tired stereotypes than it has been for a larger more reasoned group to publish honest examinations and advocate for evidence-based policy. In light of the steps that Rhode Island's legislature is taking to criminalize legal sex work, Ron Weitzer and I, with organizing help and feedback from a Michael Goodyear (Dalhousie University) and Melissa Ditmore (Editor of the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, and research consultant at the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center) decided to coordinate an academic response to the irresponsible attempts to promote moral panic and bad policy under the guise of protecting women and communities.

That effort resulted in a letter to be delivered to the Rhode Island State Legislature and to Rhode Island media outlets. It is a letter that involves compromises, as all collective efforts do. The letter does three important things:

Letter to Members of the Rhode Island State Legislature

July 2009

LETTER TO MEMBERS OF THE RHODE ISLAND STATE LEGISLATURE

RE: PROSTITUTION LAW REFORM PROPOSAL, 2009

BY: Ronald Weitzer & Elizabeth Anne Wood, and signatories listed below

Rhode Island is currently the only state in the U.S. without a statute expressly prohibiting prostitution. State law bans loitering in public places, which is used to arrest street prostitutes, but does not ban solicitation itself, which leaves the indoor trade untouched because no loitering is involved. This may change soon. The state legislature recently passed a bill criminalizing prostitution, although the House and Senate versions differ and will require changes before the bill can be forwarded to the governor. 

In the past few weeks, advocates of criminalizing prostitution have lobbied Rhode Island’s legislators and made frequent appearances in the media. Many of their assertions about prostitution are myths. Research shows that there is a world of difference between those who work the streets and those who sell sex indoors (in massage parlors, brothels, for escort agencies, or are independent workers).

Regarding street prostitution, the problems often associated with it are best understood as outcomes of poverty, addiction, homelessness, and runaway youth – suggesting that the best way to deal with street prostitution is to tackle these precursors rather than simply arresting the sellers.

Compared to street workers, women and men who work indoors generally are much safer and less at risk of being assaulted, raped, or robbed. They also have lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, enter prostitution at an older age, have more education, and are less likely to be drug-dependent or have a history of childhood abuse. Indoor workers also tend to enjoy better working conditions, although this is naturally not the case everywhere.

Despite what some activists claim, most of those working indoors in the U.S. have not been trafficked against their will. We oppose coercive trafficking whether for sexual labor, agricultural labor, or any other type of work. But when trafficking is conflated with prostitution, as is so often done now, it confounds law enforcement’s ability to target their efforts to fighting human rights abuses in the trafficking sphere.

Many indoor workers made conscious decisions to enter the trade, and several studies also find that indoor workers have moderate-to-high job satisfaction and believe they provide a valuable service. One Australian study found that half of the call girls and brothel workers interviewed felt that their work was a “major source of satisfaction” in their lives, and more than two-thirds said they would “definitely choose this work” if they had it to do over again. (This study was conducted in the state of Queensland, where indoor prostitution has been decriminalized.) In other studies, a significant percentage of escorts report an increase in self-esteem after they began selling sex. These findings may surprise some people, because they are not the kinds of stories reported in the media, which usually focus instead on instances of abuse and exploitation.

This is not to romanticize indoor prostitution. Some indoor workers work under oppressive conditions or dislike their work for other reasons. We believe that worker safety should be a high priority in all industries. At the same time, there is plenty of evidence to challenge the myths that most prostitutes are coerced into the sex trade, experience frequent abuse, and want to be rescued. This syndrome is more characteristic of street workers, and is associated with the vulnerabilities of poverty, addiction and abuse. While these are issues that need to be addressed, it is important to point out that the vast majority of American sex providers work indoors.

Since street and indoor sex workers differ markedly in their working conditions, experiences and impact on the surrounding community, public policies should be cognizant of these differences rather than a monolithic, broad brush approach. Policy makers would also do well to listen to those doing the work; all too often, the views of the sex workers themselves are marginalized in public debates. Because street-based prostitution has negative impacts on neighbors, policies should address those impacts separately from indoor prostitution. Moreover, the opportunity to work indoors, in itself, helps to reduce the problems associated with street-based prostitution. Rhode Island’s current system of treating indoor and street prostitution differently is a step in the right direction. Criminalizing indoor sexual services is not the answer.

Signed by the following members of the academic community:

Ronald Weitzer, George Washington University

Elizabeth Wood, Nassau Community College, a unit of the State University of New York

Michael Goodyear, Dalhousie University, Canada

Barbara Brents, University of Nevada

Lisa Wade, Occidental College

Janet Lever, California State University, Los Angeles

Elaine Mossman, Victoria University, New Zealand

Susan Dewey, DePauw University

Christine Milrod, Institute for the Advanced Study of Sexuality

Mindy Bradley-Engen, University of Arkansas

Molly Dragiewicz, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada

Ann Lucas, San Jose State University

Frances Shaver, Concordia University, Canada

Ariel Eisenberg, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Juline Koken, National Development and Research Institutes, Public Health Solutions

Larry Ashley, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Barry Dank, California State University, Long Beach

Richard Lotspeich, Indiana State University

Tamara O’Doherty, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver Canada

Lauren Joseph, Stony Brook University

Crystal Jackson, University of Nevada

Gayle MacDonald, St. Thomas University, Canada

Daniel Sander, New York University

Gert Hekma, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

John Betts, New York University

Wendy Chapkis, University of Southern Maine

Suzanne Jenkins, Keele University, UK

Benjamin Reed, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Anna Kontula, University of Tampere, Finland

Janell Tryon, New York University

Mindy Chateauvert, University of Maryland

Jessie Daniels, City University of New York - Hunter College

Rachel Hsiung, New York University

Gillian Abel, University of Otago, New Zealand

Deborah Brock, York University, Toronto, Canada

Elizabeth Nanas, Wayne State University

Charles Watson, Curtin University, Australia

Ilona Margiotta, New York University

Jennifer Manion, Connecticut College

Lyle Hallowell, Nassau Community College

Emily van der Meulen, York University, Toronto, Canada

Rebecca Chalker, Pace University

Gilbert Geis, University of California, Irvine

Rachael Stern, New York University

Lynn Comella, University of Nevada

Alessandro De Giorgi, San Jose State University

Martin Schwartz, Ohio University

William Chambliss, George Washington University

Kelley Moult, American University

 

Michael's picture

Coordinating research and informing policy in sex work

We have previously written about the need for the sex work research community to influence the overall research agenda to ensure that resources are directed to research that is responsible, responsive to need and that informs public and social policy.

Caroline's picture

Sex workers and the media

Here's an interesting blog I've found via Dolly. Rebecca Dakin, author of The Girlfriend Experience, is blogging about getting "back into 'normal life' after a whirlwind exciting 9 years of escorting". She wrote it, in her words, "to educate people about the infamous 'girlfriend experience' and challenge peoples views on escorting". So, what's interesting - she's been writing about how the media have portrayed her and her book. She writes,
I was trying to understand why I have been so upset about newspapers printing stuff that's in the book. The thing is I wrote the book to try and show people that there was so much more to escorting than what people think, which is that men only pay for sex. Since the press want to just discuss and print all the graphic sex making me out to be a convent girl and sex crazed loon that became a hooker, it's a little frustrating to say the least. Because the things they printed are taken out of context it doesn't really achieve what I wanted it to achieve. I'm trying my best to think that any publicity is good publicity but I'm having second thoughts (no good now I know!) now as to whether I have done the right thing by putting my face and name to it.
Check out the "I went from convent girl to to hooker" story in the News of the World and file under typical. It's a new blog, so you can catch up very quickly. Do be sure to read her posts News of the World... and More Press.

Michael's picture

Fundamental freedoms or moral soapbox?

There are essentially two ways to change unjust laws, by appealing to the legislature, or by referring the statutes to an independent judiciary for a  determination of whether they transgress fundamental freedoms protected by the constitution. Both approaches have been tried in Canada with respect to sex work legislation. 

The last judicial review ocurred in 1990, and was lost in an interesting split of the Supreme Court along gender lines. It nearly succceeded however. It passed the first test, in that of two sections of the Criminal Code that were being challenged, the majority of the court held that;

Section 195.1(1)(c) of the Code is inconsistent with s. 2(b of the Charter but is justifiable under s. 1 of the Charter

Section 195.11(1)(c), as it was then, dates from 1972 and prohibits solicitation in public. Specifically it states that;

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