Posts tagged violence against women

Actual evidence shows the Nordic model works 

A study commissioned by Norway’s government shows that criminalizing the purchase of sex has decreased trafficking and has not caused violence against women to increase, as some have claimed.

Johns have been criminalized in Norway since 2009, following in Sweden’s footsteps.

Reuters reports:

"The nearly 200-page report is based on six months of research, including interviews with male and female prostitutes, police and support organizations.

The Norwegian law applies to all its citizens anywhere, making it illegal for Norwegians to buy sex even in countries where the activity is accepted.

Penalties for breaking the law are set by local municipalities. In Oslo, Norway’s largest city, convicted sex buyers face a 25,000 crown ($4,000) fine.”

Since criminalizing the purchase of sex in 1999, the number of men who buy sex in Sweden went from one in eight to one in 13.

Opponents of the Nordic model tell us that criminalizing the purchase of sex will make it more dangerous and push the trade “underground.” Despite the fact that there is zero evidence to back up these claims and that, in truth, the “underground”/illegal sex trade thrives under legalization, this myth persists, thanks to this oft-repeated misinformation.

The truth is that criminalizing the purchase of sex makes countries that do so less desirable for pimps, johns, and traffickers. It is no real surprise that organized crime has taken over the trade in places that have legalized — it’s simply easier to buy and sell women in places where the practice is normalized and legal. Women and girls are trafficked because there just aren’t enough of them who enter the trade willingly — demand begets exploitation; reduce demand, reduce exploitation.

Meanwhile, claims that legalizing or decriminalizing the purchase of sex and the exploitation of women would make the trade safer, have not proven to be true. As a result, countries like Germany and New Zealand are reconsidering their laws.

In 2012, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that he didn’t think the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 had reduced street prostitution or underage prostitutes, stating:

“The argument was that it would eliminate all the street workers and underage people, particularly girls, and the reports that we see in places like South Auckland is that it hasn’t actually worked… I think it’s been marginally successful, if at all.”

The study is timely as the Canadian government has recently put forward a bill that, if passed (which it most-likely will), will target demand and criminalize pimps and johns.

Rather than take a moment to consider the larger picture Hornaday is trying to show us and look at the ways in which mass media and our culture at large excuse and perpetuate violence against women in perhaps less overt ways than men like Apatow and Rogen are prepared to accept, they strike back. Because defending your ego is clearly more important than having conversations about male entitlement and violence against women amirite?
The gender of the perpetrator is the single most important factor, and yet it’s not talked about in that way in most mainstream conversations.

I’ve watched my abusive ex continue to thrive in his community — join all the boards, the parent-teacher groups, spearhead community initiatives. What a guy! And hey, he didn’t abuse you, so WHO’S TO SAY. And who cares when there’s progressive work to be done! Real progressive work. Work that matters. Not just the girl shit. They’re all crazy anyway — the girls.

So keep starting your startups and having your protests and your meetings and keep writing your articles and having your very important discussions about climate change and poverty and union politics and Donald Sterling is such a racist, isn’t he. We’ll all support you, I guess, because we have no other choice. Because where do we go? Where is our community? Where is our Next Top Progressive Website? Where’s our Jacobin? When we launch it will we get profiled in The New York Times?

Oh. No. We don’t get one. We aren’t serious enough. It’s just women’s issues after all. Not Serious Politics. Oh. Because you still want your buddies and your porn and your class of women to fuck and ogle and to listen to your fucking baby-child emotions and to comfort you and support you and be there for you while you work through your fucking damage even though we had to work through ours all on our own. When is it our turn? When will you listen to us?

Supreme Court of Canada to make a decision on prostitution law Dec. 20 

On Friday, December 20th, the Supreme Court of Canada will make a decision on whether to throw out Canada’s current prostitution laws, keep them, or look to an alternative.

The decision is precipitated by Bedford v. Canada, a legal challenge arguing the current laws are unconstitutional.

It isn’t technically illegal to buy sex in Canada, but many of the laws surrounding prostitution criminalize it: communicating for the purposes of prostitution, operating a bawdy house (brothel), or living off the avails of prostitution (pimping).

Back in March 2012, Ontario’s Appeal Court ruled to strike down the law against bawdy houses but upheld the communication law. The court found that “living on the avails” of prostitution should apply only in “circumstances of exploitation.” The Federal Government appealed the decision and the rulings were put on hold pending a decision at the Supreme Court.

Feminists organizations, Aboriginal women’s groups, sexual assault centres, and transition houses hope the Court will consider the human rights of women in this ruling and that the government will look towards the Nordic model as an option. France recently approved a bill that would make it illegal to pay for sex, after considering the success of this law in Sweden and other progressive countries. A similar model could easily be adopted in Canada.

Canada has an opportunity to take a position on women’s rights and make marginalized women a priority with this ruling. We hope they do the right thing.

10 myths about prostitution, trafficking and the Nordic model 

By Meagan Tyler

When the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA) announced the release of our new report on the Nordic Model, supporters of the sex industry began targeting our Facebook page.

When I followed up with an opinion piece for The Conversation on the success of the Nordic Model, a handful of men, and one prominent Australian feminist , spent hours trading inaccuracies about the Nordic approach to prostitution policy and disparaging anyone stupid enough to think that a booming industry which trades in women’s bodies is anything but inevitable.

These falsities and fabrications will be familiar to anyone who has written or said anything that publicly criticizes the sex industry. The same claims, usually without reference to relevant evidence, are repeated so frequently in certain spheres that they have practically become mantras. If you say it often enough, it becomes true, right?

In the interests of being able to offer more than 140 character responses to these predictable criticisms, here’s a list of responses to the most common myths I’ve had thrown at me.

1. I’m a sex worker, I choose sex work and I love it

This is one of the most popular retorts de jour and is treated by many who use it as a sort of checkmate argument, as though any one person stating that they enjoy sex work makes all of the other evidence about violence, post-traumatic stress disorder and trafficking in prostitution, magically disappear.

Maud Olivier, the Socialist MP who recently introduced the Bill to prohibit the purchase of sexual services in France, slammed the “hypocrisy” of such criticisms: “So is it enough for one prostitute to say she is free for the enslavement of others to be respectable and acceptable?” she asked her fellow parliamentarians.

But the “I love sex work” refrain is put forward as a powerful argument because it is seen to counter a supposedly all-encompassing claim by radical feminists and others that systems of prostitution are harmful to women.

This relies on misunderstandings of radical politics, the concept of structural oppression and tired old debates about false consciousness. Just because you like something doesn’t mean that it can’t be harmful (just as liking something doesn’t automatically make it feminist). Radical feminists criticize beauty practices as harmful too, and saying you choose to wear high-heels doesn’t make that critique wrong. Nor does it mean these feminists hate you for wearing high heels (I’ve heard that one wheeled out in many an undergraduate tutorial) or being in prostitution.

Similarly, when anyone practicing radical politics points out that free choice is a fairytale, and that all our actions are constrained within certain material conditions, this does not equate to saying we’re all infantilized, little drones unable to make decisions for ourselves. It just means we’re not all floating around in a cultural vacuum making decisions completely unaffected by structural issues like systemic economic inequality, racism and sexism.

2. Only sex workers are qualified to comment on prostitution

This myth is often used in tandem with the first. And here’s the best/worst example I’ve had sent my way.

While such exchanges may be part of a wider problem of attempting to spuriously employ personal experience to trump research and disprove wider social trends (sexism doesn’t exist because I’ve never seen it!), there is more to these interactions in the context of prostitution. Repeating that only current sex workers are qualified to talk about the sex industry is an attempt to silence survivor’s voices and pretend that the consequences of prostitution apply only to those in prostitution.

It is true that much feminist opposition to prostitution has focused on the harms to women in prostitution, and rightly so, these harms are serious and endemic. But, as advocates of the Nordic Model point out, the existence of systems of prostitution is also a barrier to gender equality.

As long as women (and yes there are men in prostitution, but please, let’s be honest and admit that using “people” here would only obfuscate the fact that the vast majority of those in prostitution are women) can be bought and sold like commodities for sex is an issue for all women. The Swedes recognized this when they introduced the original ban on buying sex in 1999, and the French women’s rights minister is busy explaining it again at the moment.

3. All sex workers oppose the Nordic Model

Firstly, it is important to point out that for every sex worker rights organization that opposes the Nordic Model, there’s a survivor organization that advocates for it.

The idea that every woman with any experience in the sex industry detests the Nordic Model is tactical claim by a number of sex worker rights’ organizations around the world and it relies heavily on myth number two. This claim is, more often than not, followed by a link to Petra Ostergren’s blog which proves (we’re told) that all women in prostitution hate the Nordic Model and would prefer legalization.

It is clear that there are a number of very vocal opponents of the Nordic Model within the sex industry who have a significant platform. But it can hardly be said that these organizations represent all women in prostitution around the world, or that the odd blog post (light on references or other evidence) proves that the Nordic Model is a failure.

4. The Nordic Model denies sex workers’ agency

One of the things that critics seem to find so difficult to comprehend about the Nordic Model is that it is actually about restricting buyers, not about restricting those in prostitution. That is why it decriminalizes prostituted persons. The Model doesn’t discount the possibility of prostitution by “choice” but rather establishes that the buying of women in systems of prostitution is something that the state should actively discourage.

It’s pretty simple really. The Nordic Model acknowledges that less demand for prostitution and less demand for trafficking = less prostitution and less trafficking ∴ reducing the number of women exposed to these particular types of abuse and creating a better chance of achieving gender equality.

If you think that the state should encourage the growth of the prostitution industry and treat it as a form of gainful employment for women, then you’re bound to disagree, but that doesn’t mean the Model denies anybody’s agency.

5. The Nordic Model conflates prostitution and trafficking.

Many proponents of the Nordic Model adopt the understanding of trafficking advanced by the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children [http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ProtocolTraffickingInPersons.aspx] (see Article 3a). This is a more nuanced understanding of trafficking than the “people moved across international borders at gun point” version that is popular in much of the mainstream press. Perhaps this is where the confusion sets in.

But even in employing this more realistic, UN-supported understanding of the mechanics of coercion and trafficking, the Nordic Model does not assume that every woman in prostitution is necessarily trafficked.

What the Nordic Model does do is recognize that there is a connection between the market for prostitution and sex trafficking, specifically that the demand for sexual services fuels sex trafficking. So, if you want less sex trafficking, then you need to shrink the market for prostitution.

This logic was further supported by a recent study of 150 countries, conducted by economists in the UK and Germany, showing that “the scale effect of legalized prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market, increasing human trafficking.”

6. The Nordic Model doesn’t work / pushes prostitution “underground”.

The contention that the Nordic Model has not reduced demand for prostitution is one often repeated without evidence, but occasionally it is claimed that the Swedish government’s own review of their legislation showed the failure of the Model. As legal scholar Max Waltman has demonstrated, it did no such thing. Research commissioned by the Swedish government for its official review showed that street prostitution had halved.

“Ha!” The critics say, “That study employed a flawed methodology and prostitution has just gone underground.” Perhaps, but that overlooks other sources, including research indicating the number of people in Sweden buying sex has fallen and that police report having intercepted communications from traffickers declaring that Sweden is a “bad market.”

It’s also worth considering what “underground” is supposed to mean in this context, as in legalized and decriminalized systems, like some in Australia, “underground” is taken to mean street prostitution. So if prostitution has moved off the streets, where has it gone? Online and indoors, is the assertion of critics, which is quite odd given that advocates of legalization frequently tout the benefits of indoor prostitution.

7. The Nordic Model deprives women of a living.

This myth is the most intriguing because it is actually an admission that the Nordic Model works, directly contradicting myth six. The Model can only deprive women of a living if it does, in fact, reduce the demand for prostitution. What’s more, comprehensive exit programs are a critical part of the Model, involving access to a wide variety of services including retraining and employment support.

Hashtags like #nothingaboutuswithoutus (used by a number of groups, not just sex industry organizations) regularly appear alongside this claim as though the only satisfactory option available is for everyone to accept a flourishing prostitution market because some people want it that way.

Not just any people though, of course – workers – if you buy the “sex work is work” line. Leaving aside the problems with the concept that prostitution is a job like any other, if we accept this premise, then the argument doesn’t follow, as workers in any given industry don’t get to determine whether or not that industry continues.

Take the brown coal or forestry industries in Australia, for example. These are sectors that have been deemed by governments to be harmful in a number of ways and that, as a result – while they are still potentially profitable – they no longer have a social license to continue operating uninhibited. Workers in these industries are often outraged at seeing their jobs threatened, which is why unions advocate for “just transitions,” providing retraining and facilitated access to social and employment services for those workers affected (sound familiar?). For the most part, these unions have given up arguing that the harmful industry in question should continue simply to avoid employment disruption for workers.

If sex work is work, and prostitution is just another industry, then it is open for wider public discussion and policy changes like other industry, including the possibility that governments will no longer want it to function.

8. The Nordic Model has made prostitution unsafe.

First things first, prostitution is unsafe. To suggest that the Nordic Model is what makes it dangerous is disingenuous. Such declarations also ignore research showing that traditional forms of legalization and decriminalization do virtually nothing to protect women in prostitution from very high odds of physical and sexual violence as well as psychological trauma.

Systems of legalization foster greater demand and create an expanding illegal industry surrounding them, so it is a fallacy to pretend that in localities where prostitution is legalized, all women are actually in legal forms of prostitution. In addition, rates of trauma are similar across legalized, decriminalized and criminalized systems of prostitution.

Sadly, even the Nordic Model is not capable of fully protecting women still in prostitution from many of these conditions – as long as there is prostitution there will be harm – but the idea that it makes conditions worse is spurious.

The “more violence” claims mostly relate to a widely cited ProSentret study which found that women in prostitution had reported an increase in certain forms of violent acts from johns, including hair pulling and biting, after the introduction of the Nordic Model in Norway. What is often left out from these accounts, however, is that the study also found women reported a sharp decline in other forms of violence, including punching and rape.

As for women in prostitution not being able to access adequate social services, this may well be a problem on the ground. If so, it absolutely needs to be addressed. But this is an issue of implementation rather than a flaw in the Model itself.

The original version of the Nordic Model, introduced in Sweden, was part of the Kvinnofrid reforms to funnel more government money and support to a variety of services tackling violence against women, including specifically in prostitution. We’ve seen this again in France, with laws decriminalizing those in prostitution brought in alongside measures to curb other forms of violence against women.

9. The Nordic Model is really a moral crusade in disguise.

Despite the evidence-based policy of the Nordic Model being introduced by progressive and socialist governments, the notion persists that this is some kind of underhanded religious or conservative attempt to curtail sexual expression, rather than an effective way of tackling trafficking and violence against women.

But perhaps this all depends on how you define “moral crusade.” If you view the movement for women’s equality as a “moral crusade”, then I suppose it is. It you are determined to dismiss all of the evidence in support of the Nordic Model and instead want to debate this on a “moral” level, then by all means do. Those who think violence against women is a bad thing are bound to win that argument.

10. Academics who research prostitution make money off the backs of women in prostitution.

This is a relatively new addition to the list of silencing techniques used against those feminists who challenge the sex industry. The first time I came across such an accusation was via the comment section here and then in the follow up emails helpfully advising me that I was just like men who rape women in prostitution because I was using the experiences of sex workers without paying.

So let me be very clear: academics conduct research. For many, like me, this often involves collating existing research and, using that evidence, creating an argument that can be defended. That is our job. And it is our job, regardless of the topic or area that we’re researching.

Engaging in public debates about the Nordic Model, and citing relevant research, is in no way an attempt to speak for women in prostitution. It is an attempt to bring the findings of that research to a broader audience. If this is perceived as threatening by the sex industry, then surely that suggests the Nordic Model is effective?

 

Meagan Tyler is a lecturer in Sociology at Victoria University, Australia. Her research interests are based mainly around the social construction of gender and sexuality. Her work in this area has been published in Women’s Studies International Forum and Women and Therapy as well as several edited collections including ‘Everyday Pornography’ (Boyle ed., 2010) and ‘Prostitution, Harm and Gender Inequality’ (Coy ed., 2012). Meagan’s first book, ‘Selling Sex Short: The pornographic and sexological construction of women’s sexuality in the West’, was released in July, 2011.

On 'gendered violence' and remembering the Montreal Massacre 

Today is December 6. Twenty four years ago, 14 women were murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal by a man who shouted: “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”

Today is also the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Though some have been commenting on “gendered violence” today, I prefer a more specific description. This is about male violence against women.

Indeed, this violence is gendered, but to talk about “gendered violence” is too vague. What this term signifies is fear — and, indeed, that fear exists with good reason. Feminists are targeted because they name the problem. We target patriarchy, male dominance, female oppression, and male violence against women. Men are threatened by feminism because we refuse to mask the problem with ambiguous words, tepid critique, and polite requests.

On December 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered because a man was afraid to lose the power and privilege he believed he was entitled to. He was so angered by the notion that women might usurp that power and privilege, that he resorted to violence.

He is no anomaly.

Male violence happens to women on a daily basis, throughout the world. Depending on our various locations, economic status, class, and race, we may be more vulnerable. Our Indigenous sisters, for example, are prostituted, abused, and incarcerated at disproportionate rates. Indigenous women are five times to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. Poor women are trafficked daily to satisfy the desires of Western men. Here in Vancouver, on the Downtown Eastside, women with few to no other options are forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive and are subjected to abuse and inhumane conditions as a daily reality.

To be sure, all women are vulnerable to male violence. We know this, as women. We feel it every day when we walk down the street at night, listening for footsteps behind us, assessing the men walking towards us, planning our defense. We feel it when we take public transit and wonder whether we will be harassed or assaulted, trying to plan our response should the man next to us turn out to be a perpetrator. We guard our drinks at the bar, we avoid eye contact on the street, we wonder whether someone will crawl in our windows at night, we fear the cab drivers who we rely on to get us home safely at night. Many of us fear of the very men we live with — our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, our boyfriends.

The feminist movement is our response. The feminist movement names men as our attackers and our oppressors. Perhaps not all individual men, but many individual men, and certainly men as a class.

“Gendered violence” is polite. It doesn’t offend. It doesn’t point fingers. It isn’t enough. Male violence against women is the truth.

Solidarity.

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.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about unionizing arms manufacturers? On the idea of sex worker unions 

No one proposes ending war by unionizing arms manufacturers. Proposing to end violence against women in the sex trade by unionizing them is likewise untenable. The best way to end violence against women in the sex trade is still to end the sex trade. The unionization strategy is a reformist position – and the position that we would like to live in a world where there is no such thing as prostitution, strip clubs, pornography, while it might seem fantastical, is a revolutionary position and the correct line to have for a leftist who calls herself a feminist. It’s not moralistic hand-wringing to criticize the base assumptions of the military industrial complex; why then, is it just my “personal baggage” speaking when I criticize the sex trade?

First, we should look at the conditions in which women in the sex trade live, and ask ourselves if these conditions could be alleviated by unionization:

Seventy percent of women in prostitution in San Francisco, California were raped (Silbert & Pines, 1982). A study in Portland, Oregon found that prostituted women were raped on average once a week (Hunter, 1994). Eighty-five percent of women in Minneapolis, Minnesota had been raped in prostitution (Parriott, 1994). Ninety-four percent of those in street prostitution experienced sexual assault and 75% were raped by one or more johns (Miller, 1995). In the Netherlands (where prostitution is legal) 60% of prostituted women suffered physical assaults, 70% experienced verbal threats of assault, 40% experienced sexual violence and 40% were forced into prostitution and/or sexual abuse by acquaintances (Vanwesenbeeck, et al. 1995, 1994)… The prevalence of PTSD among prostituted women from 5 countries was 67% (Farley et. al. 1998), which is the same range as that of combat veterans (Weathers et. al. 1993).

From Farley et. al.  (2003) “Prostitution in Nine Countries”

Is this staggering violence a result of lack of unionization? Let’s see what the International Union of Sex Workers is fighting for:

All workers including sex workers have the right to:

  • full protection of all existing laws, regardless of the context and without discrimination. These include all laws relating to harassment, violence, threats, intimidation, health and safety and theft.

  • access the full range of employment, contract and property laws.

  • participate in and leave the sex industry without stigma

  • full and voluntary access to non-discriminatory health checks and medical advice

Here is where we begin to be mired in questions, a case by case judgment of “good” vs. “bad” prostitution. What defines coercion? What defines trafficking? What defines abuse? What defines empowerment? Certainly, the assumption of the IUSW is that the sex industry is a normal, neutral industry wherein women happen to be subject to incredible amounts of violence and poverty, where nearly half (47%) are under the age of 18 when they begin working. The idea of the IUSW and other unionists is that the trade is not the focus – the focus, as we so often find it when discussing sex work, is on the women themselves.

Unions often define themselves by their relationship with management – with the “boss” -  but for sex worker unions this is hardly ever the case. As the women are primarily seen as independent contractors for the sake of analysis, the john and pimps are left out of the picture. The culture surrounding the sex trade is not up for analysis, either. It is a neutral, unchanging constant.

The boss is the john, and to take action against the john or the culture that encourages him is to shut down business. Instead, the union is supposed to either challenge the state (to legalize prostitution) or to perform the functions of the state (provide protection, legal counseling, health services). Yet, these are reformist measures that simplyserve to react to the conditions women live in, rather than challenging the very conditions themselves. Lest we forget: women are not raped and abused because of a lack of state regulation (or too much state regulation), they are raped and abused because the john, pimp and cop decide to do so, and exist within a system that shelters them from consequence.

Within the realm of the normalized sex trade, rape and abuse are no longer crimes against the person, but rather occupational hazards. In the blog, “Tits and Sass”, two articles underscore this quite well. The first, about rape, is written from the perspective that “unwanted sex” is still consensual when the woman sees material gain from the process. This agrees with studies of john behavior and attitudes, wherein a full quarter believe that the very concept of raping a prostitute is “ridiculous.”

 It’s rare that I give authentic “enthusiastic consent” while I’m working. And that’s how I prefer it.

“Enthusiastic consent” was conceived in an effort to eradicate the so-called gray areas of sexual assault, so it’s hard to talk about without also talking about rape. While I appreciate the centering of desire and consent, it wouldn’t hold that every sexual encounter taking place without the enthusiastic consent of both parties is rape… But I still turn over plenty of work-related questions in my head: what does it mean for a man to keep paying to have sex with a woman who doesn’t give signs of enjoying it?

Another article, entitled “On Stripper Burnout” advises women who are tired of the verbal abuse that goes with stripping to buy new clothes, look at photos of money to boost morale, eat sweets, or work for a cruel booking agent as “fear can be a great motivator.” There is no advice here on leaving the sex trade – emotional, verbal and physical abuse in the normalized world of pro-sex work advocates becomes a grey zone, where the woman’s personal attitude is what determines the difference between occupational hazards and something that might contribute to PTSD – putting the onus of responsibility on the woman rather than on the john.

The practical side of unionization brings us back to the current, atomized-view of sex work in general. It is a localized solutionwhich does nothing to address a global problem.Questions arise: Who do you bargain with? How do we unionize all women? If a woman was in the sex trade and did not belong to a union, would this be her choice? Are johns supposed to solicit union prostitutes out of a sense of guilt, a la consumer activism (fair trade hooking?). Do we really expect johns to spontaneously grow a conscience when they are told women are for sale and it’s okay to buy them? When it comes to women in pornography, the average career tenure is quoted in several sources at being between five months and three and a half years – how then, to unionize these women?  Same with prostitutes, who on average enter the trade when they are underage – how to unionize these women? What about pimps and madams, pornographers and mobsters – are they allowed in these unions?

Any leftist worth their red will agree that punishing women is the most counter-productive way to handle prostitution or sex work. Yet unions stop short at criticizing johns who, on the whole, generally acknowledge that women in prostitution experience homelessness, substance abuse and physical and emotional degradation. Johns know, on average, that women enter into it when they are underage and against their will. They buy sex anyway. Unionizing women will not end trafficking, will not end violent deaths – it simply turns what is a societal problem into an organizational problem. Like most unions as they exist under capitalism, a sex-worker’s union’s primary purpose is to keep the more politically-minded in line with the management. We should look elsewhere for solutions that liberate women.


Taryn Fivek is a writer in New York City.

The Steubenville rape case: This is masculinity 

Two high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio were found guilty of raping a 16 year old girl on Sunday. They were both convicted of digitally penetrating the victim, and one was found guilty of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

The allegations against the young men, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, came after a series of photos, videos, texts, and social media posts were brought to light last August. One photo showed the victim “lying naked on the floor at a party, with semen from one of the defendants on her chest.” Another, widely circulated, showed the two young men carrying the passed-out girl by her arms and legs. Mays and Richmond have been sentenced to at least one year in juvenile jail, but can be held until they are 21.

These young men have been both pitied and vilified (but mostly pitied). Anyone who followed the reaction online after the verdict was announced on Sunday will have likely witnessed some of the horrific victim blaming that went on (and continues). Matt Binder documented some of the many Tweets arguing that the victim should be charged for underage drinking, that if “you don’t want to get raped, don’t get blackout drunk,” or that “of course the girl is going to cry rape once her parents find out after videos go viral.” It got much worse than that. Two girls were arrested today after sending death threats to the victim.

I don’t pity these boys. For once, men are being held accountable for their behaviour. It’s abnormal, for sure. No wonder people are shocked. After all, we’re used to dicks reigning with impunity. We’re used to hearing stories, whether in the media or in our own lives, about rapes going unpunished. What’s shocking is not that this happened in the first place, but that these young men were found delinquent (the juvenile court equivalent of being found guilty).

But I’m also not interested in vilifying these individuals. What I think we need to understand is that, yes, this behaviour was absolutely disgusting and horrific and that absolutely this must be treated as a crime, these young men are not monsters. They are just regular guys. Regular guys who play football, go to high school, and go to parties with their friends and who have learned, growing up male in a rape and porn culture, that women aren’t real, full, human beings. They’ve learned, as many boys and men learn, that women exist for the entertainment of men; whether on stage at a strip club, on screen in porn, or blackout drunk at a party.

The transcript of the text messages which led to the convictions in the Steubenville rape trial has been posted online (warning — the transcript is graphic). The conversation between these young men is very difficult to read. They ‘lol’ about raping the girl before realizing that sharing the photos of the assault could be incriminating. Their primary concern is not the well being of the victim; far from it. She is mostly irrelevant. A toy to be played with and mocked. The real concern is getting caught. They knew full well that what they were doing was wrong:

Sean McGee to Trent Mays: U shouldn’t have did it if she was that hammered

Trent Mays: Only a hand-job

Sean McGee: I saw the pics, bro. Don’t lie.

Trent Mays: She was naked the whole time but she was like dead

Sean McGee: If she tells someone, it could get back to her parents and then back on u

Trent Mays: She knows what happened

Sean McGee: No, she don’t

The conversation continues:

Multi-media picture message from Trent Mays sent to Anthony Craig and Mark Cole: (picture is that of a naked Jane Doe; has a caption) Bitches is bitches. Fuck ‘em.

The boys try to plan a cover-up:

Trent Mays to Evan Westlake: Deleate[sic] that off You-tube. Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously delete it.

Evan Westlake: Deny to the grave.

Trent Mays: Her dad knows, and if our names get brought up, if asked, she was just really drunk.

Trent Mays: They knew she stayed at Mark’s. You just gotta say she was asleep by the time you got there.

Trent Mays to Cody Saltsman: Nodi’s running his mouth saying how dead she was. If anyone asks, we just took her to Mark’s, and she fell asleep.

Trent Mays to Mark Cole: Just say she passed out at your house if anyone asks.

Mark Cole: IDK she was fucked up. It was her fault she was fucked up.

Cody Saltsman to Trent Mays: I got you, man. I’ll say that you all were just taking care of her.

They’ve learned the art of victim-blaming well.

My point in sharing this conversation is, again, not to vilify. These boys aren’t monsters. These are men I’ve known. Men I went to high school with. Men I went to parties with. Men who raped my friends. These young men are no anomaly. This is masculinity. This is male culture. Regular, “normal”, every day male culture.

By no means do I intend to say that all individual men and boys behave in this way. They don’t. All men are not rapists. All individual men don’t literally see and treat women as fuck-toys. I know many men, in my life, who I love deeply and who are men who treat women like human beings. But these young men from Steubenville are also not abnormal men. There’s nothing “wrong” with them. They aren’t mentally ill. This is the culture we live in. Where life is a porn movie. Where rape is punishment for getting too drunk. Where sex acts are filmed and posted online so the world can see what women are really for. So women can be mocked and blamed and assaulted simply for existing in a rape culture.

These are men I have known. These conversations documented in the transcript, are conversations that have happened many times over. What happened to this girl has happened many times over. To women we know. If you’ve managed to avoid witnessing masculinity and male culture manifested in this form, count yourself lucky. I can only assume you’ve never been to a frat party, to a strip club, or watched porn. That you’ve never been to high school. Or, if you have, you were somehow protected from this behaviour and these conversations. You’re lucky if this conversation shocks you. It isn’t shocking. This is no seedy underground. This is our life, our world, our men and boys.

Next page Something went wrong, try loading again? Loading more posts