Melissa Farley and her fringe research mill Prostitution Research and Education have teamed up with a Scottish anti-prostitution group to produce a new 'research' report with the problematic title "Challenging Men's Demand for Prostitution in Scotland: A research report based on interviews with 110 men who bought women in prostitution" (PDF here).
Readers of this site will understandably be rolling their eyes and groaning, "not again!" But it is important to remember, awful though it is, that other folks take Farley's research seriously and that it deserves serious attention to help mitigate the damage it can do to real efforts to advocate for women's safety and sex worker safety. Such 'studies' play to particular political positions, in this case pressure to export the Swedish 'solution' through Europe, but political expedience is not the same as sound policy. Check today's Daily Record (Scotland) for the most recent orchestrated flood of bad news coverage of a poor study to support wrongheaded policy.
It is important to stress, again and again, that Farley's research cannot be considered reliable and certainly doesn't approach even basic scientific standards. The problems with the current study are many but can be summed up in terms of ethical concerns, bias and inadequate attention to detail in the write up. The write up is problematic enough that it is hard to judge the quality of the research, but the very clear bias is enough to call the findings into question. The bias also leads to the making of recommendations that are not proportional to the findings. Below I address just a few of the major problems. (Watch this space for links to critiques by other feminist sex worker advocates and researchers.)
We have been following an interpersonal conflict at the University of New Mexico that centers on issues of due process, graduate student-faculty interaction, sexual freedom and the right of both students and faculty to private lives. (If you're new around here or you need to get caught up you can see all of our previous posts on the matter here.)
One of the things that made it difficult to appreciate all of the layers of the conflict was a lack of access to primary source documents. We have now received a copy of the March 10 letter from the Deputy Provost to those who had petitioned for a review, by the Faculty Senate Ethics and Advisory Committee, of the extramural activities of one of the professors. After carefully considering the content and implications of this we have determined that it is in the public interest to publish that letter here in its entirety. In doing so, we were aware that extracts had appeared in the media. (You can click here for a PDF of the scanned letter or click on the images below.)
When people have only partial information there is a tendency to fill in the blanks with rumor, speculation and misinformation. We are publishing this letter to ensure that people are aware of the facts relating to the two reviews undertaken by the university administration. We appreciate that a number of members of faculty remain deeply concerned about the acts they sought a review of, and we respect both their right to hold those views and to raise them under University policies on the reporting of suspected misconduct. Nevertheless this is the second review the University has conducted of this complaint, and absent new evidence, little can be gained and much lost by pursuing this line of action. As the letter states, the matter is now "concluded" from the Adminstration's point of view. The observations and conclusions reached by the Provost's Office are congruent with our own observations based on interviews of the people involved and the documents examined.
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.
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.
This is the third piece on Sex In The Public Square dealing with the University of New Mexico conflict over the investigation into Professor Lisa Chavez's work for a BDSM fantasy phone service. In the first piece I wrote about questions I thought the case raised based on very early media coverage of the story. In the second post, yesterday, Lisa Chavez herself took the time to answer questions about the story. It is important for her voice to be heard. The comments on that thread show what a serious discussion of the issues can look like.
Today we add another voice. Liz Derrington wrote to me yesterday sharing her part in the story. She is the graduate student referred to in yesterday's piece, and listening to her voice is as important as listening to Professor Chavez's. For one thing, their stories so clearly support one other that it seems all the more evidence that the initial university investigation produced the right outcome (though as Michael Goodyear points out here we can't know if they did so by following due process because as far as we know there have been no reports about the investigation released to the public). Liz Derrington's story is important for its own sake, too, of course. For one thing, it provides a window into a part of the sex industry that we often forget to look at. I am especially touched, though by the way that she clearly and openly explains just how damaging have been the actions of people who claimed to be concerned for her. It is a reminder of how harmful is the paternalism with which we often approach the issue of sex work, especially when combined with the stigma already attached to that work. I'm grateful to Liz for telling her story here:
Lisa Chavez is a tenured Associate professor in English at University of New Mexico, where she teaches creative writing--mostly poetry and nonfiction. She has two books of poetry published: Destruction Bay and In An Angry Season. She writes about issues of race, gender, class and sexuality.
On March 24 I wrote about the conflict that had erupted at UNM after some BDSM photos got Chavez into trouble with some of her colleagues. Yesterday I learned from the dankprofessor, who himself learned it from The Daily Lobo, UNM's student newspaper, that the head of the creative writing program is resigning over the matter. Sharon Warner submitted her resignation letter and is expected to step down at the end of next week. Her reason for resigning, according to the student newspaper report is that "her colleague has not been punished for posing in sexually explicit photos with students.” Those photos were advertisements for People Exchanging Power (PEP), a BDSM phone fantasy service and did not represent a sexual relationship. The students were graduate students already working for PEP. The Deputy Provost found no reason to sanction her.
Lisa Chavez has graciously agreed to talk to us about her work for PEP, the situation at UNM, about relationships between faculty and students, about misconceptions of BDSM and the difficulty some people have distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and about and the impact this is having on her life and the lives of some of the other gay, lesbian and bisexual faculty in the department. I am grateful that she agreed to talk with me about her story:
It's no wonder it's so hard to get a rational discussion going about sex workers. Even for genuinely interested, well-meaning people, it's hard to get any solid information. Before you can even start talking about solutions to the problems that sex workers face, you have to first have to correct the ideas of what sex workers are. Any conversation in the mainstream media about sex workers starts out with icons forged from sensationalism and half-truths, as we've seen from the coverage of the Spitzer scandal lately. The images of trafficked junkies who need to be rescued or decadent young women who have had their souls twisted by their lives of deception sell papers and television time better than a nuanced picture full of shades of gray does.
I wrote earlier about Sex Work Awareness, the new activist group founded by members of $pread, SWANK, and PONY to address this very sort of issue in the public consciousness. They've just launched a new blog called Sex Work 101 devoted to answering the questions that most people have when they're just starting to look past the surface. Audacia Ray writes that the idea of Sex Work 101 occurred to her at this year's Women Action and Media conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
I think I have a crush on Miss Victoria X. It's true that I don't patronize pro-dommes, partly because of a budget that, in a particularly profitable month, might allow me to purchase the privilege of a scornfully lifted eyebrow from one as she passes me in midtown Manhattan on the way to beat the hell out of some corporate lackey at the Plaza. However, were I in the market, I think that Miss Victoria X would be on my list.
A while back I was critical of the way that some of the influential feminist bloggers at Feministe and Feministing and Shakesville were proclaiming their love of Bob Herbert writings on sex work. I want to take just a moment to applaud Holly at Feministe for her interview with The Sex Workers Project's Sienna Baskin. The Sex Workers Project, part of the Urban Justice Institute, is an organization I think very highly of especially as a source for sex worker advocacy and solid research on the sex industry. It's a great resource for the press, for policy makers, and for the rest of us.