We are advocates here for solid research on sex work, especially on working conditions across the many sectors of the sex industry. It is especially galling when bad research, often bad enough to be called "research"-in-quotes, gets passed off to support public policies that make working conditions more dangerous (e.g., driving sectors of sex work further under ground or making it harder to report crimes or workplace dangers).
Recently the UK has been taken by a storm of anti-prostitution "research" that is being used to support policies that would criminalize the purchase of sex. There was Melissa Farley in Scotland "studying" men who purchase sex (we debunked that here) and now there is the Poppy Project's "Big Brothel" investigation by Julie Bindel and Helen Atkins, purporting to look at the workings of establishments where women sell sex to men. I am glad that a growing number of well-organized feminist researchers are publicly challenging these projects. They clearly highlight the ethical and methodological flaws in the studies and the sensationalistic ways that they overgeneralize from flawed findings. It seems sometimes that the anti-prostitution "researchers" are so disgusted by their topic that they can't take it seriously. Below is a summary provided by the UK researchers who are most actively challenging this kind of work and who need the support of everyone who takes sex workers seriously.
I'm going to give a mixed response to Reneé at Womanist Musings today. On the one hand, props on her masterful, passionate analysis of the media coverage of the murder of Elizabeth Acevedo, a 38-year-old disabled woman who worked as a prostitute. Avecedo was fatally struck on the head in the hallway of her apartment building, possibly by a client. And like I say, I have to give props to Reneé for her post, but part of me is pissed at her for ruining my otherwise excellent mood. Acevedo's death is tragic enough in itself, but the coverage of her death is just damn ugly. In particular, the gossip site Bossip describes her death as "comedy gold." Acevedo lost a leg in a train accident several years ago; therein lies the humor of her too-early death, and it seems that newswriters can't use the phrase "one-legged hooker" quite enough, as though 38 years can be summed up in those three words.
As is true of a lot of people in the sex-positive community, I've been thinking a lot about Deborah Jean Palfrey's death this past week. I didn't know her personally, and never met her in person, so I can't speak of her death in terms of personal tragedy or grief. But grief and anger are what I'm feeling, because Deborah Jeane Palfrey's fate could have been written onto the lives of so many women and men. And the anger comes from the fact that it has, and it will be.
The real tragedy of her death, from where I'm standing, is not anything extraordinary about her story, but how common and familiar it is, to the point of being cliché. If the story of Deborah Jean Palfrey had been laid out in a novel or play or screenplay, I would be angry at having my time wasted by a writer who was unable or unwilling to rise above cheap hackery that was old and worn out in the days of the Victorian penny dreadfuls. But Palfrey was a real person, and it makes me sick and angry to think how often the lives of people who should live peaceful, untroubled lives are forced into old patterns.
Yesterday I'd intended to write a Labor Day post. It was going to be about the importance of workers organizing across all types of work, recognizing that we are all workers, and it was going to be the beginning of a conversation I want to have about why established unions need to support the organizing efforts of sex workers.
And then I read about Deborah Jeane Palfrey's death and all that went out the window for a while.
This morning I went back and looked for last year's May 1 post. I couldn't remember what I'd written about. My breath caught in my throat when I found that I'd written this, also about Deborah Jeane and about my speculation that perhaps the exposing of high profile clients would help in the effort to reduce the stigma attached to sex work.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey is dead, apparently by her own hand. She had been convicted on April 20, after a years-long investigation, of counts including racketeering related to her D. C. area escort service.
I am stunned, and too saddened to say very much right now, but I echo Amanda Brooks when she asks whether the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers counts those who kill themselves after prolonged harassment and persecution.
- Radical Vixen's interview with Deborah Jeane Palfrey, conducted last August.
- Bound, Not Gagged's coverage of Deborah Jeane Palfrey's prosecution.
- Huffington Post's coverage of Palfrey's suicide.
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.)
And another political sex scandal. When will this ridiculous, hypocritical, tittering at salacious stories, political backstabbing bullshit end? WHEN?? Two notable Democrats "smeared" by sex scandals (does ANYONE out there smell Karl Rove??? Hello, it's an election year w/ the Democrats primed to win big), two young women just trying to earn a few bucks harassed by law enforcement. Wow, people like sex. Wow, older men will pay outrageous prices for sex with young, cute, white girls. Wow, a young cute white girl can make in ten minutes what her friends w/ straight jobs make in a day, or a week. Wow, politicians will use law enforcement, the media, and sex to smear one another. This shit is just getting sadder & sadder. Legalize ALL adult sex work. Make a national mandate to promote healthy sexuality as part of a national health care plan. Stop using sex as a weapon, period. And, please, PLEASE, stop all the salacious crap about politicians' sex lives. Can it be THAT hard to do??? Really???
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.
Tonight, ABC's 20/20 hit the streets looking for hookers & intending to cash in on the salacious sides of sex work ~ with Diane Sawyer as lead pimp, making her paycheck just another one of the profits earned from the poor, down-trodden, girls she herself called exploited.
Diane let us know from the start, with her Good Friday biblical references, that this was not actual news coverage nor anything remotely close to impartial reporting; and from that moment on both Secondhand Rose and myself, Gracie Passette, began typing furiously to one another ~ and no, 'furiously' wasn't our typing speed.
Here are our notes.
The two hour 20/20 was titled Prostitution in America: Working Girls Speak; apparently no one thought this ironic as Diane often interrupted her interviewees to put words in their mouths.
I've always known that the New York Times is an elitist paper. Most national papers are pretty directed at the upper middle and upper classes. You can tell just by looking at their advertising. Million dollar studio apartments and thousand dollar watches are not for the masses, after all. And I learned from a beloved sociology instructor in college to recognize the significance of the fact that there is never a labor section but always a business section and that the Times has two "Style" sections a week where you can learn about the newest expensive trends. So it isn't like this is a revelation. But today's Metro Section really beats all: