Posts tagged abolition

An excellent and insightful comment left at Feminist Current today -- should be of interest to all those following the #twitterfeminism debate, the misleading and generally spurious #notyourrescueproject, as well as to radical feminists and abolitionists in general 

Comment by Maureen Master:

"Apologies in advance for the very long post.

I think there have been a lot of interesting and useful comments to this discussion. Since many of them seem to be in response to my response to the OP, I would like to clarify and expand a bit on my views. First, I do not think there is anything valuable or productive about baseless charges of racism leveled for the purpose of silencing a particular critique or political position. Quite the opposite, such attacks are counterproductive and do nothing to advance the interests of anyone, and certainly do nothing to advance the interests of women of color. As Martin pointed out such “critiques” are “often motivated by traditional misogyny and antifeminism.” This does not mean that there aren’t very legitimate critiques of racism or exclusion in feminism that deserve attention and careful consideration. I hope that the fact that there are those who are happy to use spurious charges of racism to silence feminists will not be used as an excuse not to listen to sincere criticisms, which are often based on genuine problems, an understanding of which can lead to a better, stronger, more inclusive feminism.

I was careful in my comment to state that we should listen to women of color when they criticize “white feminism.” I did not say, and I do not believe, that we need to listen to porn-loving dudes (white or otherwise) when they claim that their attacks on a radical feminist are being carried out in the interest of protecting, defending or speaking on behalf of women of color. To do so would be absurd. Many of Meghan’s attackers were those very dudes and they should be quickly dismissed along with their misogynistic ulterior motives. As far as the women of color who made this charge, I believe that had they brought forth an argument, it most certainly should have been considered. However, they proceeded from the very weak premise that any criticism of twitterfeminism was inherently racist because some women of color like twitter. This is a rather bizarre assumption that was never explained and must ultimately be dismissed for lack of substance. It is also quite relevant that most, if not all, of the women making this charge were pro-sex industry.

In the short time I have been following some of these exchanges on twitter, I have noticed that baseless charges of racism against radical feminists are part of a wider strategy to discount radical feminism’s critique of the sex industry by painting radical feminists as a homogenous group of pearl-clutching, bourgeois white women who want to both silence women of color and “rescue” non-white, non-Western women from prostitution. This narrative completely discounts and erases the critically important roles of radical women of color in the struggle against sexual exploitation. For example, in the midst of the frenzied (and mindless) twitter assault on Meghan, the radical feminist group Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) issued a press release condemning the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Bedford case. This press release expressed support for the Nordic model and urged “all those who seek justice, freedom, and equality to view prostitution as a colonial system and as a form of violence against women and girls that must be abolished.” The press release was also published on Feminist Current, but it does not fit with the pro-sex industry lobby that paints radical feminists as only privileged white women so it was ignored by them, as was the position of the Asian Women Coalition ending Prostitution, which also supports the Nordic model and has highlighted the sexualization of racism in prostitution.

When the sex industry lobby paints radical feminism as a bourgeois white women’s movement, they erase Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a woman of color and France’s Minister of Women’s Rights who fought tirelessly to ensure that France adopted the Nordic model; they erase Kamala Devi Harris, a woman of color and San Francisco, California district attorney who has done more than any other official in the United States to educate the public about the reality of prostitution and who passionately opposed efforts to legalize prostitution in San Francisco; they erase the women of Apne Aap, an NGO founded by Indian women in prostitution, which supports the Nordic model and has started a global campaign to oppose the move of some UN agencies’ to promote the decriminalization of pimping and buying sex. The list of women who are erased by the pro-sex industry narrative goes on and on.

Listen to what Alice Walker said in an interview in Ms. Magazine when asked about the resurgence of prostitution in Cuba:

“When I see older white men with these primarily young, educated women of color, it is hard on the spirit. The women are too naive and inexperienced to know that they are engaging in an ancient system that oppresses women. They think of what they’re doing as a lark because it enables them to get a new tube of lipstick or some shampoo. But it’s very dangerous for them.”

Is Alice Walker a moralizing “whorephobe” who is denying young women of color their agency by claiming they are the victims of “false consciousness”? Or is she engaging in a critical and radical analysis of racial and sexual oppression in the institution of prostitution? The sex industry says the former; radical feminism says the latter. But it is in the interest of the sex industry to ignore, erase, or misrepresent, Alice Walker and other radical women of color, because to acknowledge them is to acknowledge that the insights and contributions of radical women of color are vital in the fight against sexual exploitation and that radical women of color bring a critical analysis of racism and colonialism to the discussion that is often otherwise missed.

The fact that this narrative is oft repeated on many corners of the internet is, in my view, not coincidental, but quite intentional. It appeared in the attacks on #twitterfeminism and #sharedgirlhood and reared its ugly head again recently in the hashtag #notyourrescueproject . This narrative means to erase radical women of color. That is its purpose. If the sex industry can characterize feminist opposition to it as coming only from privileged white women who are on a rescue mission, it is much easier for them to claim to speak on behalf of those most affected by the sex industry – i.e., poor women of color.

As you have probably figured out by now I could go on and on, but I will stop here and simply say that for me the erasure of radical women of color is the central issue, as well as the erasure of the voices of survivors, which I have not touched on here but is also critical. I have great sympathy for those who have endured unjustified, defamatory, personal attacks, such as those launched against Meghan and Victoria Brownworth. They were entirely undeserved and both women handled them admirably. But rather than focus on those, I would suggest that radical feminists ensure that the voices of women of color are lifted up in this struggle and that attempts to silence them are called out for what they are – cynical, racist and sexist.”

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Is this journalism? A response to DiManno and The Toronto Star's falsification of the prostitution debates 

A piece published in the Toronto Star over the weekend may have led you to believe it would, as the headline: “Feminists take opposite stands on prostitution” alludes, explore different feminist positions on prostitution and prostitution law.

The author, Rosie DiManno (“one of the Star’s best and most prolific writers!“), immediately trips all over herself in an attempt to rile up some page views by framing feminist positions on prostitution as “completely oppositional,” following through with a 1300-word story she made up in her head about feminism. Cool story, Rosie! Oh wait, are we pretending this is journalism? Sweet.

As much as the prostitution debates in feminism are divisive, they aren’t “oppositional” (though, I don’t know how many more times I can point this out without feeling like no one really cares to cover these debates accurately). As DiManno may or may not know, the division among feminists (with regard to prostitution law, in any case), is centered around the criminalization of pimps and johns. It’s safe to say that the vast majority (if not all) of feminists advocate to decriminalize prostituted women. It’s also safe to say that all feminists want an end to violence against women, including women working in the sex industry. The value in pointing this out is both to find common ground, because there’s lots of it, but also to avoid falling back on tropes and nonexistant stereotypes. In terms of having this debate with some kind of integrity and with the goal of finding a real and viable path towards equality (which, one would like to presume is a goal of feminism), honesty is useful.

And with that point, the “honesty” one, let’s move back to DiManno. The headline suggests we can expect a fair shake of sorts — a piece that explores two sides of an argument. “Misleading” is a tepid word in this case, as it becomes immediately clear that DiManno’s goal is anything but exploratory, unbiased, or honest. Which isn’t to say I think we must be unbiased in our writing, but rather that it’s reasonable to expect, at very least, some level of truth. Particularly when we are trying to convince our readers we are, indeed, exploring two sides of a debate with integrity. DiManno’s goal, it’s clear, is not only to further divide, but to do so on deceptive ground.

Let’s start at the beginning (maybe take this opportunity to take some Gravol or grab a drink), with DiManno’s explanation of these “dual, completely oppositional feminist perspectives on prostitution”:

"The first operates from a premise that sex for money — the business of prostitutes — is inherently wrong and exploitive. These arguments cleave to a time immemorial moral disapproval, which is why its proponents, though often calling themselves feminists — and by many definitions they indeed are — have a great deal more in common with religious organizations and the family values mob."

OH ROSIE. Let’s try this again. The abolitionist position (is this what we’re talking about? You’ve yet to say exactly WHO it is you are pretending to characterize here) argues that women’s bodies are not things that exist for male use. We argue that women should not have to resort to selling sex in order to survive or to feed their kids. We argue that prostitution exists as a direct result of class, race, and gender inequality. “Moral disapproval” has no more to do with our approach and ideology than socialism is about “moralizing” against the exploitative nature of capitalism. It could be argued that advocating towards an equitable society is about morals, if you believe that equality is “right” and inequality is “wrong”; but I’m pretty sure that’s not where you were going with this. Case-in-point: This line, which claims feminists have “a great deal more in common with religious organizations and the family values mob.”

Well I don’t know, because as an atheist and as a person who rejects the nuclear family model, the institution of marriage, and traditional notions about women’s primary purpose in society as baby-maker, I’ve never felt I had much in common “with religious organizations and the family values mob.” The Christian right doesn’t think prostitution is “bad” because they want an end to male power and to elevate the status of women. They think it’s bad because they believe sex shouldn’t happen outside of marriage or without the purpose of baby-making/maintaining a traditional, heterosexual, patriarchal family. This position is actually “oppositional” (you know that word, right, Rosie?) to the feminist position on, well, everything.

Next paragraph!

At the most radical end of that spectrum, some might even subscribe to the infamous assertion by the late anarchist Andrea Dworkin that “all heterosexual sex is rape’’

It’s high time (and by “high time,” of course, I mean: Clearly none of you give any fucks about accuracy) people stopped misquoting Dworkin on this non-point. You could try actually reading her work, or you could do a quick Google search for: “Dworkin ‘all heterosexual sex is rape.’’’

Go on. I’ll wait.

Ok. Let’s compare notes. You likely came across a number of entries correcting this common (and intentionally, lazily manipulative) misrepresentation/myth. One of those places was likely a Wikipedia entry which clarifies that, while Dworkin was, yes, very critical of heterosexual sex as both the norm and as a potential space for female subordination within the context of a patriarchal society, there is actually no place in the history of ever where she is quoted as saying “all heterosexual sex is rape” (Quick tip for future reference: Quotations often imply that you are quoting someone). Dworkin herself corrected this misinterpretation a number of times over (for example, in this interview from 1995 — That’s over FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, folks! Think it might be time to put this one to rest?), saying things like: “I think both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality,” and “Since the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, I think many men believe they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme would be called rape. I do not think they need it.” (Again, this information is available via handy Wikipedia! You don’t even have to do any real reading or research to know what you’re talking about — That should please you immensely, Rosie).

So it’s not actually possible to subscribe to a notion that doesn’t exist, for starters and while, yes, there are some anti-PIV feminists, I nor any of the women I work with in the abolition movement believe that “all sex is rape”.

Now, you got the Nordic model mostly right, Rosie (nice one!) — It’s a feminist model that sees prostitution as a product of patriarchy (and capitalism) and, works towards a society where women have other options than to sell sex while simultaneously teaches men that it is not their right to use women’s bodies simply because they have an erection/cash. There is absolutely no argument that can be made to argue that prostitution is not a gendered industry when 80-90% of prostitutes are women. We are all, also, fully aware that the vast, vast majority of clients/johns are men (even when sex is being bought from other men and boys). The Nordic model targets male buyers rather than female prostitutes because of the gendered (and economic) power imbalance. That is also why we call this model a “feminist” one. Violence against sex workers happens at the hands of men, and therefore the focus should be on the perpetrators. You can call that “aggressive” if you like, provided that you admit that you think feminist ideology is somehow “aggressive” and then provide an argument that backs up the notion that working to end the oppression of, and subsequent violence against, women is, somehow “aggressive.”  Be sure to let us all know what you come up with.

Next up: the Bedford v. Canada case.

Bedford v. Canada was initiated by Alan Young. He brought on three women, two of which have aged out of prostitution and are looking to open and brothels, as part of his efforts to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws. Currently the laws in Canada criminalize living on the avails of prostitution (pimping), communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution, and running a bawdy house (brothel). On September 28, 2010, Justice Susan Himel ruled for the Ontario Superior Court that these three provisions were unconstitutional and struck them down. That decision was appealed and went on to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

On March 26, 2012, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the bawdy house law, upheld the law criminalizing communication (the law that, in essence, criminalizes women working the streets), and found the “living on the avails” law should apply only in “circumstances of exploitation” (so no real change there as that is, after all, the point of that law).

At this point, the impact of this decision is nil (and would have only had immediate impact on Ontario’s prostitution law, as the laws are decided on a province-to-province basis) and the judgment was appealed and is going on to the Supreme Court of Canada (scheduled for hearing on June 12th, 2013).

DiManno claims that “neither side was happy” with the Court of Appeal’s decision (because it left the communication law intact), but that’s actual bullshit. Both Young and his clients were elated by the decision, calling it a “emancipation day for sex workers” and a “victory.” This is because the primary purpose for the case was not to decriminalize street prostitution, but to legalize brothels. Bedford herself is quoted as saying: “I was mainly concerned with winning the bawdy house law because of what happened to me at Thornhill” (Bedford’s “Bondage Bungalow” in Thornhill, Ontario was raided in 1994 and she was charged with keeping a common bawdy house, which is what lead her to get involved in this case).

DiManno goes on to quote “Jane Doe” who seems to be under the impression that she’s debating someone (evil, imaginary feminists, one might presume?), who says she “rejects outright the moralizing quotient and maintains that keeping solicitation on the books, in fact, furthers violence against women, particularly the most marginalized prostitutes who will continue to work on the streets.”

This statement manipulatively implies that, somehow, there is a “moralistic” faction of feminists who want to criminalize prostitutes, placing the Bedford claimants on the other end of this imagined spectrum which, as noted above, is a lie.

DiManno continues to quote this anonymous person in order to confirm and reinforce all the sweeping and untrue stereotypes she set out to “prove” in the first place — comparing the religious right and radical feminists, and making the mysterious claim that abolitionists believe “prostitution is responsible for all violence against women, but especially sexual assault.”

I will say this again, though I doubt it will stick and imagine I’ll be repeating this for the rest of my life so long as folks like DiManno feel comfortable ignoring facts, research, and ideology; publishing bold-faced lies in order to put forth their arguments (to what end, I have no idea, really, as that which women like DiManno might see as a successful outcome of these misrepresentations — the decriminalization of pimps and johns  — has been proven disastrous): Feminists don’t hate sex, they don’t think prostituted women are “bad,” and they aren’t “anti-sex worker.” Abolitionists are far more “pro-sex” (if you want to call it that), than those who believe sex is something that should happen under duress or out of desperation. You want “enthusiastic consent”? That’s not going to happen under a model that treats prostitution as a social safety net. If a woman needs to give blow jobs to pay her rent or feed her kids, that doesn’t count as “enthusiastic consent” — that counts as having no other choice.

And finally, we come to exit programs. An integral part of any system that wishes to help women leave the sex industry if they desire. Jane Doe says:

What the state offers right now are exit programs. The police arrest you and the woman is given a choice — get charged and go to jail or take this exit program. They’ll teach you how to use a computer, how to put your resumé together, and the ill of your ways. I know what I’d choose between those two. They’re completely ineffective and insulting to adult women. They encourage you to get the job at McDonald’s. Women can do that all by themselves, without exit programs.

So actually no. There are no real exiting programs in Canada. Nothing comprehensive or functional, in any case, if what we’re looking at is actually helping and supporting women who want to leave the industry. And the thing is that, if we legalize or completely decriminalize prostitution, we lose any and all leverage we might have in terms of lobbying the government to allocate money for these kinds of programs because prostitution becomes just a job like any other. Do we provide exiting programs for people who work as massage therapists? Or as waitresses? Do you need an exiting program and years of therapy, drug treatment, retraining, safe housing, and treatment for PTSD when you quit your job at the coffee shop? Nope. Think there might be a reason for that?

In Sweden, one of the progressive countries that’s adopted the Nordic model, when the police come across a john and a prostitute they offer the man the choice of admitting the offense and paying a fine, based on income, or going to court (but then risking publicity). The prostituted woman, “who hasn’t broken any law, is offered help from social services if she wants to leave prostitution. Otherwise, she’s allowed to go.”

If we can all agree, which it seems we can, that “the violence is the problem,’’ then we should also be able to agree that it is the source of that violence that needs to be addressed. There’s some common ground for you.

And to DiManno: Lying and manipulating readers via misguided, misinformed, misrepresentative, anti-feminist diatribes is almost as bad as liberally quoting an anonymous source’s misguided and misinformed lies. I don’t know what the Toronto Star thinks it’s publishing, but it isn’t journalism. It isn’t even an informed opinion. Shame.

There is no feminist war on sex workers 

I’ve become increasingly frustrated by what feels like a barrage of articles coming from self-described progressives claiming that feminists are the real enemy of sex workers. It seems as though some of those who position themselves as ‘sex worker rights activists’ are intent on creating rigid divisions among women, placing the prostituted woman in a category of her own and placing feminists in some illusory moralistic war against sex.

A key factor is that many writers on the left either misunderstand or misrepresent the abolitionist approach as a moralistic one, leading them to draw unfounded conclusions based on what could easily be resolved by having a simple conversation.

I’m disappointed that journalism, the left and the feminist movement has come to manipulating ideology in order to further a rather self-defeating cause, but here we are.

There are a number of recent examples of this distortion. Reason, a libertarian print and online magazine, recently published an article called “The War on Sex Workers.” The author, Melissa Gira Grant, criticizes the criminalization of prostituted women in the U.S. — a righteous endeavor, no doubt. But rather than challenge an unequal and oppressive system that offers marginalized women few viable options outside the sex industry and then criminalizes them for doing what they have to in order to survive (essentially criminalizing poverty) and a porn culture that positions stripping and pornography as empowering professions for women, Grant blames feminists.

She writes:

Not all people who do sex work are women, but women disproportionately suffer the stigma, discrimination, and violence against sex workers. The result is a war on women that is nearly imperceptible, unless you are involved in the sex trade yourself. This war is spearheaded and defended largely by other women: a coalition of feminists, conservatives, and even some human rights activists who subject sex workers to poverty, violence, and imprisonment—all in the name of defending women’s rights.

This “war on women” is not imperceptible. In fact, one of the ways in which this ‘war’ is glaringly obvious, is in the fact that the sex industry is a gendered one. Women make up the vast majority of prostitutes (statistics say approximately 80 per cent) and, beyond that, women of colour are overrepresented. In Vancouver, B.C.’s notorious Downtown Eastside, Canada’s so-called ‘poorest postal code,’ where at least 60 women went missing over about 20 years, 70 per cent of prostitutes are First Nations women. Considering that First Nations people make up about 2 per cent of the total population in Vancouver and 10% of the population on the Downtown Eastside, this number is significant.

It doesn’t take involvement in the sex trade to know that prostitution and violence against women in prostitution is the result of a very effective combination of racism, poverty, and patriarchy.

Feminists have been working against these intersecting oppressions for decades; so why are progressive writers so unwilling to cover the prostitution debates accurately?

Jacobin, a magazine which is being credited with ‘mainstreaming Marx’ has taken up the topic of sex work a number of times. Seemingly invested in ‘sex as work’ line so many leftist publications favour, discussions of the issue either erase the abolitionist perspective completely or simply misrepresent the arguments.

Laura Augustin, for example, writes: “Most of the moral uproar surrounding prostitution and other forms of commercial sex asserts that the difference between good or virtuous sex and bad or harmful sex is obvious.” She frames dissenting perspectives as repressive and prudish – people who have limited their understanding of sex to the marriage bed — a sentiment that is the antithesis to decades of feminist work that deconstructed notions of romance and monogamy and placed sex firmly within a political context.

Augustin muddies things further by stating that “there is nothing inherently male about exchanging money for sex,” as though this has been argued. “By whom?” one might ask. Indeed this is what feminists have been arguing for decades – that there is nothing ‘inherent’ or ‘natural’ about men buying sex from prostitutes, rather it is a product of our unequal culture and male power.

By ignoring feminist perspectives on sex work and erasing the gendered nature of the industry; by focusing only on the ‘work’ aspect of sex work, women and the feminist movement are done a huge disservice, as is the reader, who is left with a completely confused and inaccurate understanding of the reality of the industry as well as the discourse.

Another piece at Jacobin follows this progressive effort to look at the issue of prostitution through the lens of ‘work.’ In his article ‘The Problem With (Sex) Work,’ Peter Frause argues that “the issue with sex work is not the sex, it’s the work.”

This is a mistake many socialists make while trying to approach the subject, as they assume that using a labour analysis will necessarily translate into a leftist one. While Frause notes that there are problems with the end of the debate “that revels in sex work as a source of independence and self-expression while glossing over its less glamorous aspects” because it “can neglect the coercive and violent parts of the sex,” he glazes over the abolitionist position (that is, feminists who want to work towards an eventual end to prostitution) as though it were irrelevant. In this effort to make prostitution just a job like any other (possibly crappy) job (as Frause writes: “it’s work, and work is often terrible”), the left abandons women to the whims of men and of the market, something you’d think we who desire a more equal world would want to move beyond.

Grant also published a piece in Jacobin discussing her frustration at those “who have made saving women from themselves their pet issue and vocation, [who] are so fixated on the notion that almost no one would ever choose to sell sex that they miss the dull and daily choices that all working people face in the course of making a living.” But this argument fails to understand both that choice exists on a spectrum and within a context of inequality and that the sex industry is part of a larger system that sexualizes the oppression of women.

The argument that feminists are trying to “save women from themselves” is a dangerous one that can easily be applied to, for example, feminist activism around domestic abuse (what if she wants to stay with her abusive husband?) and extended into an overzealous defense of individual women’s ‘choice’ to objectify themselves. We want so desperately not to be victims that we try to turn oppression into empowerment.

Misunderstandings about feminist perspectives on prostitution are perpetuated explicitly by articles like Grant’s but further reinforced when other writers aren’t willing to do the work of fairly representing the arguments.

Fuse magazine published an article in their Abolition issue by Robyn Maynard, criticizing what she calls ‘carceral feminism’. She cites the Bedford case, which challenged Canadian prostitution laws as unconstitutional, as an example of ‘sex worker-led’ opposition to ‘prohibition’, as she mistakenly calls it.

Maynard claims that this case is one led by marginalized women, in doing so, erasing the fact that First Nations women’s groups across Canada support the abolitionist movement and have made the point numerous times that the prostitution of Indigenous women is as a direct result of colonization.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) recently passed a resolution that supports the abolition of prostitution, stating that: “prostitution exploits and increases the inequality of Aboriginal women and girls on the basis of their gender, race, age, disability and poverty.”

NWAC goes on to state:

Aboriginal women are grossly overrepresented in prostitution and among the women who have been murdered in prostitution. It is not helpful to divide women in prostitution into those who “choose” and those who are “forced” into prostitution.  In most cases, Aboriginal women are recruited for prostitution as girls and/or feel they have no other option due to poverty and abuse.  It is the sex industry that encourages women to view prostitution as their chosen identity.

Another organization, Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) states that they recognize the sex industry “as a continued source of colonialism and harm for Indigenous women and girls worldwide” and stand against “the total decriminalization, legalization, or normalization of the sex industry.”

In her piece, Maynard conveniently ignores the fact that the Bedford case is not, in fact, a ‘sex worker-led’ case, but rather was initiated by a white man, Alan Young, whose interest in terms of winning this case is not to decriminalize street prostitution but rather to legalize brothels. With the knowledge that the most marginalized women tend to be the ones working in street prostitution and that these women would likely not be offered the ‘privilege’ of working inside any legal brothel, the argument that, somehow, this case is fighting for the rights of marginalized women is simply not true. It’s worth noting that the legalization of brothels in places like Amsterdam has been a complete disaster and has only worked to increase trafficking and organized crime.

For some reason, even some feminists have begun to participate in these wrongheaded portrayals.

Laurie Penny, whose progressive, feminist analysis is generally spot on, seems to have lost the plot when she wrote for the New Statesman that feminists who were critical of the sex industry were simply anti-sex, opposing prostitution and trafficking on moral grounds:

“This is because it’s the “sex” part of those activities that really causes knickers to be twisted in the icy corridors of bourgeois moral opprobrium.”

In reality, abolitionists make a case against prostitution based on a combined class, race and gender analysis, as well as, of course, on the basis of defending women’s human rights.  This has nothing to do with either ‘liking’ or ‘not liking’ sex. That feminists are buying into and perpetuating an anti-feminist stereotype invented by sexist men — that feminists either just need to get laid or that they hate all men/sex/fun — shows the strength of the backlash. Now we are fighting ourselves. We’re buying what the patriarchy is selling.

Penny writes: “In reality,sex work isn’t stigmatised because it is dangerous. Sex work is dangerous because it is stigmatised.” But she’s wrong. Sex work is dangerous because of those who commit violent acts against prostitutes — that is, men.

A key success of the feminist movement has been to name the perpetrator. Andrea Dworkin was one of the first to do this; to say that the problem is men. In doing this, she created a foundation for legal approaches to domestic abuse, for activism against cat-calling, sexual assualt and victim-blaming. We don’t pretend as though we don’t know who sexually harasses women or that it’s a mystery who is, in large part, raping women. We know better than to blame women for their own assaults – regardless of what they wear or how much they flirt or drink. Why are we so uncomfortable naming the real cause of violence when it comes to prostitution? Why are we blaming women?

The goal of feminism is to end patriarchy. The goal of socialism is to create an egalitarian alternative to capitalism. Prostitution is a product of patriarchy and capitalism. With that in mind, abolitionists have been advocating for a model based on true equity. Sometimes described as ‘the Swedish approach’ or ‘the Nordic model’, Sweden, Norway, and Finland have all adopted versions of this feminist approach to prostitution that decriminalizes prostitutes and criminalizes those who commit the violence: the pimps and johns. The model combines exiting services with an already strong welfare system and education programs for the police that teach them that prostituted women are not criminals. It isn’t simply a change in law, it’s a political vision that has gender and economic equality as a goal. As feminist lawyer Janine Benedet told me, it’s “a state commitment to offer something better and not to use prostitution as a social safety net.”

A Norwegian study looking at rates of violence against prostituted women under the Nordic model was recently released in English. It showed that, since 2008, reports of rape and other forms of physical violence against prostituted women has decreased.

The sad truth is that, if buying sex is legal, the police aren’t likely to start going after or charging johns who rape and abuse prostitutes on their own accord. We know this. We know the police have been ignoring violence against prostituted women, particularly those who are poor and racialized, for years. We know that the criminal justice system often blames the victim, particularly if they can argue: “Well, he paid for her.” The most feasible way to address this violence is to decriminalize prostituted women, criminalize johns, and educate the police to this regard. If pimps and johns are criminalized, sex workers will at least be able to go to the police if they are raped or assaulted and the police will be able act easily.

We know that it isn’t feminists who are perpetrating violence against sex workers. We also know that feminists don’t blame the victim, meaning that this is not a debate about the morals of women in the industry. Why are progressives obfuscating the perpetrator by blaming feminists and misrepresenting the abolitionist movement?

Feminists are not the enemy. Rather, it’s men who treat women as disposable objects who are to blame. It is both unproductive and dishonest to claim that feminists advocate to criminalize prostituted women, as one of the few things feminists and those who advocate to end violence against prostitutes can agree on is that decriminalizing prostituted women is key.

The women who I call my friends and allies are women who have worked in the sex industry; they are women who work tirelessly in shelters, as outreach workers, as lawyers, as academics, and as activists. The women I admire and have learned from — women who have shaped the movement — women like Robin Morgan, Gloria Steinem, and Andrea Dworkin — are being positioned as being on the other end of some kind of ‘war’ against women.

These women deserve more than inaccurate and meaningless labels like ‘anti-sex’ or ‘prohibitionist’. These feminists don’t hold prostituted women in judgment; they are women who want the abuse, the rapes, the beatings, and the murders to end. I believe those who call themselves ‘sex worker rights advocates’ or ‘sex worker allies’ want this as well. I have no interest in creating unnecessary or dishonest divisions.

This is a movement, not a war.