Posts tagged violence against women

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.

No, being ‘kinky’ does not grant you minority status 

You’ve likely heard about the ‘cannibal cop‘ by now. He was a New York police officer whose wife discovered a website open on his computer displaying a photograph of a dead girl. The officer, Gilberto Valle, had been visiting a ‘fetish sites’ (because murdering women is a ‘fetish’ donchaknow) which “show[ed] women in various stages of forced duress, including one that offered images of women who did not survive.“  There was a cannibalism element to his ‘fetish’ and “the FBI analysis of Valle’s laptop yielded a video of a naked woman hanging over an open flame and screaming in agony.”

The wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle, said that when she later delved into her husband’s electronic chat history, she found he had been communicating with others about plans to torture and kill women, including herself.

“I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit, and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me,” she said, sobbing repeatedly through her afternoon on the witness stand.

He has now been charged with “plotting on the Internet to kidnap, rape, kill and cannibalize female victims.”

The Times article asks an interesting question, similar to one I asked back when photos were discovered of an RCMP officer who had been involved in the Pickton investigation that simulated violence against women: “When does a fantasized crime become an actual crime?”

Valle didn’t actually go through with his plans. While the prosecutor argued that the officer was plotting real crimes, Valle’s lawyer claimed it was all just a fantasy. The ‘fantasy’ argument didn’t provide much comfort to Mangan-Valle, who also found conversations about elaborate plots to have friends “raped in front of each other” or burned alive or about “putting women on a spit, and cooking them for 30-minute shifts, so they could be tortured longer.”

These were pretty specific plans for something that was just an innocent fantasy. There is documented negotiation of specific details and a payment upon delivery to a co-conspirator: “Valle insisted upon a price no less than $5,000 and assured CC-2 that Victim-2 would be bound, gagged, and alive when he delivered her.”

There is no doubt that violence against women is sexualized in our culture. But when Ginia Bellefonte published a piece called “Remember Misogyny” in the Times wondering why there was so little concern from feminists about this fetishization of violence against women, Jessica Wakeman responded, in The Frisky, with derision:

“Focusing on the craziness of a couple of mentally ill folks instead of larger systemic injustices seems like a poor use of time,” she argues. “Maybe….cannibals eating women isn’t really feminism’s most pressing problem?” Why so defensive? Visiting fetish sites that feature women being tortured, sometimes to the point of death, seems fairly misogynist to me.

Bellefonte quotes Jane Manning, a former sex-crimes prosecutor and currently the legislative vice president for the National Organization for Women’s New York City chapter, who notes:

“There’s an odd confusion in the feminist movement,” she added. “We’ve all accepted the idea that speech is protected when it’s speech. But that seems to have extended to the notion that there shouldn’t even be social condemnation attached to incredibly horrifying misogynist speech.”

Violence against women continues to be one of the most urgent and pressing issues for the feminist movement today. And I would say that sites that fetishize mudering, raping, and eating women are, in fact, a little more serious than simply “a couple of mentally ill folks” who like to surf the internet and whatever everybody just relaaaax OK? So, a man who fantasizes about hanging his wife from her feet while him and his friends “take turns sexually assaulting her before slitting her throat and cooking her” isn’t misogyny? OK. Got it.

We’re at a place in feminism where we are so desperate to either not be perceived as ‘prudish’ or to defend any and every activity as simply an individual ‘choice’ or behaviour that calling what is clearly misogyny (is there any more literal manifestation of the sexualization of violence against women than fetish sites dedicated to torturing and murdering women?) has become off-limits because it counts as ‘kink’. The desperation to individualize, legitimize, and depoliticize absolutely everything is frightening. Particularly because it seems we are most intent on doing this with relation to anything that could possibly be connected to sexuality.

I get the feeling that we’re not calling this kind of thing out because we don’t want to admit that, sometimes, misogynist ‘fetishes’ aren’t simply ‘fantasy’. They’re actually misogyny.

Now, before the ‘don’t kink-shame me’ folks start railing on me, I will reiterate that, I really don’t much care about whether or not you want to dress up in latex costumes and play silly games in the bedroom. It isn’t particularly interesting. The only people who really care about ‘kink’ are people who care about ‘kink’. So get over the idea that you’re so bad and the rest of the world is just too ‘vanilla’ to get you. You like role-playing, other people don’t. So what. Move on.

That said, there are a couple of issues surrounding ‘kink’ that do concern me. The first is the unwillingness of feminists to call out misogyny when they see it simply because we have to protect the sensitivities of the fetish folks. The second is the delusion that ‘kink’ is an identity that designates ‘kinky people’ as some kind of oppressed minority group. Kink and BDSM can certainly enter misogynist territory and it isn’t your right to force the world to pretend that it doesn’t in order to defend your sex life.

William Saletan pointed out, in an article for Slate, that :

Every article about BDSM now includes the obligatory professional woman who’s secure enough in her feminism to admit she likes to be flogged. It’s great that we’ve come that far, but the message is awkward. While reformers in India battle a culture of rape, Indian BDSM advocates extol the bliss of female masochism. While human rights activists denounce caning and waterboarding, BDSM lecturers teach the joys of caning and waterboarding. Abduction, slavery, humiliation, torture—everything we condemn outside the world of kink is celebrated within it.

Awkward, indeed. The real life rape and torture of real life people isn’t just a sexy game; but when presented as ‘kink’ it becomes innate part of our sexualities, completely divorced from larger culture.

The tricky part follows: “Political advocates for BDSM see themselves as successors to the gay rights movement. They cite Lawrence v. Texas. They call themselves “sexual minorities” and depict kink as a “sexual orientation,” Saletan writes. Get it? If being ‘kinky’ makes you part of some kind of minority group, anything that counts as fetish is off-limits in terms of critical discussion. It can’t be misogynist, I was born this way! It’s sex, not misogyny!

I mostly agree with Saletan’s assessment: “BDSM isn’t an orientation. It’s a lifestyle.” And, for the most part, whether or not you like to play out fantasies or wear leather or do fancy things with ropes or dress up as a sexy nun in order to rebel against your Catholic parents as part of your sex life isn’t something anyone else has a say over. But that really isn’t the point. There is misogyny and violence and abuse that happens as part of BDSM and we should be able to call it for what it is without being accused of attacking a person’s ‘sexual identity’.

The ludicrous notion that this lifestyle should qualify a person for protection under the law,on account of being a part of some kind of oppressed minority group defined by ‘kinkiness’ is an insult to actual minority groups.

This kind of hyperbolized, perverted use of identity politics as a means to stifle feminist discourse and critical thought is a serious detriment to the movement.

We are always asking ourselves “What happened to the momentum?” and “Where are all the young feminists?” Well, I think we’re finding the answer. In the final segment of the recently aired documentary, MAKERS: How Women Made America, a three-hour look at the history and evolution of the women’s movement in the United States, Letty Pogrebin said, of the “Why don’t young women care about feminism?” question: “If they lose their rights, then they will wake up.” And I don’t think she was talking about the right to be spanked.

I supposed once we’ve completely quelled our ability to discuss anything outside individual choice and identity and are forced to discuss all actions and behaviours as neutral and void of context, we’ll truly be free.

New research shows violence decreases under Nordic model: Why the radio silence? 

You probably haven’t heard about the newest prostitution research from Norway. It has been available in Norwegian since last summer when a tiny handful of pro-prostitution peeps wrote about it, but almost no one has noted the report’s English release. Now that I’ve read it I understand the silence from pro-sex work lobbyists and the liberal media that usually loves press releases that hate on anti-pornstitution activists.

“Dangerous Liaisons: A report on the violence women in prostitution are exposed to” was presented to me as proof that criminalizing johns has increased violence against prostitutes in Oslo. Norwegian newspaper The Local reported on the research and dutifully presented the results highlighted by the harm reduction researchers at ProSentret.

“Anniken Hauglie (Conservative Party) called for the law to be scrapped after the city’s official help centre for prostitutes, ProSentret, released a report on Friday detailing deteriorating conditions for sex workers in the capital.”

‘The reality is that the law has made it more difficult for women in prostitution,’ Hauglie said.”

The 2012 research is compared to 2008 research and the conclusion drawn is that in 2008 52% of prostitutes in Oslo said they had experienced violence compared to 59% in 2012. An increase of 7% isn’t a huge jump but any increase in violence against women should be taken seriously.

Fortunately, the increase in violence against prostituted women is a lie.

LIARS!

Several obfuscations and omissions were employed to concoct the lie, but the primary manipulation was accepting a definition of violence that equated each act of verbal abuse (up 17% from 2008) and hair pulling (up 167%) as the same as being struck with a fist (down 38%) and rape (down 48%).

Did I just write that since the Nordic model rapes of prostituted women were down BY HALF in Oslo? Oh yes I did.

ProSentret did not consider the halving of rape to be worth pointing out, but I think that’s terrific news. I also think that pimp violence being down BY HALF since 2008 should be shouted from the rooftops along with violence from regular clients going down 65% and violence from an unfamiliar man in a car declining 60%.

Visible injury has decreased from a third of the sample to a fourth.

One thing that has changed is that the number that experienced violence from someone unfamiliar in a car has declined from 27% to 11%.

We also see a decline in violence from regular clients from 20% to 7%, and 14% to 7% from boss/pimp.

With the dramatic reductions in serious violence within the research you might be wondering from whence came the claimed 7% rise. The answer is mostly verbal harassment and minor physical assaults because no distinction is made between nasty words and being punched.

Harm reductionists love to thump about how indoor prostitution is safer than streetwalking, and in some aspects it is, but the research paints a contrary picture about indoor violence. Feminists have been on a long mission to raise awareness that women are more often attacked in their homes by men they know than in public by strange men. Why would being in a brothel with a john suddenly become a place to expect less rape when inside is never safer for women?

The research supports the known feminist truth of how women are harmed when trapped indoors with men engorged on their perceived right to control women. The most violent men are “unfamiliar clients” and the women they inflict the worst sexual violence on are the indoor Thai women, also the only group to report violence from pimps (11%).

In this group we find the largest amount of respondents who say they have been threatened/forced into sex that was not agreed to. While 27% of the entire sample said they had been exposed to this form of violence, as many as 45% of this group have experienced it. In this group we also see the highest amount of robbery (30%) and threats with weapons (40%) Additionally 20% of this group said they had been raped.

Indoor prostitutes are being sexually assaulted by their clients more than streetwalkers, who are ultimately abused more frequently but not raped or robbed more.

The information about indoor versus outdoor violence also disproves the common refrain that because it’s now a “buyer’s market,” prostituted women are harmed by the lack of negotiation time. Streetwalkers mostly suffer verbal abuse and minor physical assaults that aren’t violations of sex act negotiations, whereas indoor prostitutes with the supposed luxuries of pre-screening and unlimited time to negotiate are much less capable of keeping their johns from robbing, raping, and threatening/forcing them into sex that was not agreed upon.

Placing all the focus on how prostituted women negotiate distracts us from questioning the varying motivations of negotiation-inducing men. It is common sense that a man who wants a quick blowjob from a streetwalker would be less invested financially and emotionally in his sexual entitlement to a prostitute than a man who pre-arranges to pay for an hour alone with a prostitute and brings a sixty minute gameplan of fantasy fulfillment with him.

BITERS!

Allow me to turn your attention to some freaky shit you might have missed in the statistics tsumani above:

Biting nearly tripled (6% to 15%)
Hair pulling nearly tripled (12% to 32%)

I’ve lived in New York City and San Jose, Costa Rica, which is to say I’ve been verbally harassed and suffered unwanted touching from unfamiliar male passerby more times than I can count. Never have I been bitten or had my hair pulled. That’s not passerby harasser behavior, it’s john behavior. Information originally reported in the 2008 study but repeated in the 2012 report provides a clue to why minor, sex act-specific violence jumped.

“Most of the women who said they would seek help to protect against violence said that they called or threatened to call the police when they found themselves in a dangerous or threatening situation. This would often scare the customers, or others, who were acting threatening/violent away.”

Pro-prostitution lobbyists say men are paying for the right to sex and not the right to abuse women. Johns don’t exhibit an understanding of that difference, which is why letting men pay for sex and then trying to draw a line at abuse is doomed to failure. Men paying for the right to abuse women have crossed that line, no takesees-backsees halfway through the series of abuses paid for, especially not when BDSM inflicted on women is culturally approved as sex and not abuse.

Radical feminists know prostitution is coerced sex, aka rape. We notice that most rape victims are teenage girls abused by older men and recognize the same demographic patterns in prostitution. As with rape, the sexual aspect of the crime triggers so many cultural prejudices that the core of the crime being male violence is often left on the cutting room floor. Oslo’s reduction in severe violence combined with the increase in more personal boundary violence like biting and hair pulling is a reminder that, as with other kinds of rape, sex is the preferred tool of violation but violation itself is the main point.

Prostituted women in Oslo are effectively altering violent johns’ behaviors by threatening to call police, and johns are responding by lowering their violence to under the threshold that would trigger that response. Instead of rape and aggravated assault, johns have moved to getting more of their violation kicks though biting and hair pulling knowing these won’t result in a call to the cops.

On that note, let’s segue into what the report tells us about police and prostitutes.

COPPERS!

Police abuse of prostituted women is a problem. Some studies have found that as much as 30% of violence against prostituted women can come from police officers. Police abusiveness is frequently cited by harm reductioners as a reason to legalize men’s prostitution use. ProSentret makes a big deal of the fact that prostituted women are reporting less violence because they claim it as a consequence of prostitutes trusting police less, but it’s more accurately attributed to the large drop in severe violence.

“If we look at assistance from police, emergency care, Pro Sentret, and Nadheim, we see  approximately half the number that have received support in the 2012 study compared with the 2007/08  study.”

Approximately half the number receiving support matches up quite well with rape being down by half and pimp violence being down by half.

According to their own numbers, since adoption of the Nordic model prostitutes are 41% less likely to seek help from police, but they are 54% less likely to seek help from ProSentret! And apparently prostituted women are suddenly terrified of emergency care personnel because seeking help from them is down a whopping 79%.

If you don’t acknowledge the enormous reductions in severe violence then these changes are as alarming as ProSentret makes them out to be. Combined with street prostitution going down at least 50% from 2008 to 2009 and indoor prostitution going down by 16% in the same year, the sharp drop in prostituted women reporting violence is actually something to celebrate.

ProSentret’s ideological constipation won’t allow them to admit the enormous reduction in severe violence their data shows.

“Many of the women’s actions are probably due to a fear of prejudice from the police, the justice system, and health services. The double stigma as both victim of violence and prostitute can be a heavy burden to bear. Other reasons could be among other things a lack of knowledge of the police and reporting violence in Norway, fear that the police will enforce other laws against the prostitute, a lack of trust in the police, or that the women for some other reason does not wish to press charges.”

Persons who make police abuse of sex workers their bailiwick may find it instructional that none of the violence reported by the 123 prostituted women was pinned on Norwegian police, not so much as one instance of verbal abuse. Score yet another point for the Nordic model.

Rarely does a group of pro-prostitution activists make their choice to be ignorant so evident as to ignore the data from their own research. Mind you, it’s not unheard of; New Zealand research collected by the prostitution lobby claimed no changes to street prostitution in their official summary but buried in Section 8 one finds the truth that street prostitutes in Auckland more than doubled since legalization.

It is a bald lie to take the information presented in “Dangerous Liaisons” and come to this conclusion:

“Nothing in the studies we have conducted among the women and the support services suggests that the criminalization of the customers have protected the women from violence from their customers, rather the women are protecting the customers from the police.”

ENDERS!

The final words of the report declare:

This will be done by the Pro Sentret:

• Organize drop-in courses about violence in prostitution and violence in close relations with a  focus on knowledge about violence, practical tips and information about offers of aid. The  courses will be organized in cooperation with Oslo Crisis Center and a provider of self-defense courses.

• Work out and distribute information material adapted to the users of Pro Sentret about violence,  rights, and tips about maintaining their own safety.

In other words, ProSentret’s goal is to build better hookers. I prefer other solutions.

The Nordic model works and should keep on keeping on. If ProSentret and other sex worker rights groups refuse to get on board the abolition of sex-based slavery they’re fools, but they’re fools who can still be doing more for prostituted women from within their belief system.

The first thing they can do is actively track prostitution clients more effectively. Unfamiliar clients commit the most violence and passively relying on bad date reports from survivors of john violence is not enough. There’s room for both police and nonprofits to be collecting information about unfamiliar johns in their own way.

Next they can work to achieve reliable amnesty for foreign victims. I am unfamiliar with how Norway treats trafficked immigrants but I have no trouble believing more can be done to protect them from discrimination and deportation.

My third and final suggestion is for harm reduction organizations to teach prostituted women that any violence inflicted on them matters. Biting and hair pulling have almost tripled but reporting them hasn’t. Johns will be as violent as they can get away with so we need to keep pushing back the bar of acceptability.

Credit where due, the researchers sincerely attempted to honor prostituted women’s psychological defenses by distinguishing the categories of “rape” and “threatened/forced into sex that was not agreed upon” in recognition that many don’t call it rape if there’s no assault accompanying the sexual violence. They include this comment about cultural differences in defining violence.

“Pro Sentret have experienced that in general many foreign women express both physical and psychological pain differently than Norwegian women. It is possible that some did not recognize their way to express pain in the options in the study.”

It’s obvious the researchers at ProSentret care about the women they serve, I just wish they could project that concern to the millions of women they will never see and the generations of prostitutes that will come after the current one if we don’t take a stand now.

Like I said in the beginning, the Oslo research has barely made a blip in pro-prostitution media channels. The usual loudmouthed prostitution lobbyists have seen it and kept their lips zipped. You better believe if the report contained solid proof that the Nordic model leads to more violence then it would be as popularized as that bunk study purporting career pornstitutes are happier than the average woman. Now you know about it, and now you know why the prostitution lobby prefers to pretend it doesn’t exist.

It exists and it proves abolitionists right. Now don’t let them forget it.

Samantha Berg can be read at Genderberg, Johnstompers, and in comment threads everywhere.

We ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger: On Kasi Perkins as “the catalyst” to her own death & holding the media accountable 

Coverage of the murder of Kasandra (Kasi) Perkins by NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher has been incredibly brutal over the past few days as we bear witness to mainstream news sources rushing to defend Belcher’s character and erase any whiff of ‘male violence’ or ‘domestic abuse’ from the conversation. Most media that covered the story over the weekend barely mentioned her, headlines reading” “Chiefs LB Belcher kills self”, “NFL tragedy: Chiefs chairman says Jovan Belcher murder-suicide ‘incredibly difficult’”, “Jovan Belcher murder-suicide leaves Chiefs in shock”, “Kansas City Chiefs’ Belcher in fatal double shooting"… You get the picture. Something about a football player. The NFL is taking it pretty hard.

Fox Sports went out of it’s way to find people to defend Belcher’s honour:

"He was a good, good person … a family man. A loving guy," said family friend Ruben Marshall, who said he coached Belcher in youth football. "You couldn’t be around a better person."

"He was someone who took genuine pleasure in bringing happiness to others," [Dwayne] Wilmot said."

CTV News quoted Kansas City Mayor, Sly James, who urged people not to ‘judge’ Belcher:

"I hope people will look at the situation and try not to judge the person. There are a lot of people hurting. There’s a young baby right now without parents,"

The New York Times stacked their piece with quotes assuring us that Belcher was a good man:

"I had every reason to believe he was a well-spoken, articulate man who exhibited a lot of genuineness"

"I didn’t want to believe it. He was a good man. A good, loving father, a family man."

Numerous mainstream news outlets who covered the events framed the whole thing as a baffling tragedy.

 ”It feels like an infinite number of lives directly impacted by the decision of one person. And for now, no one knows how or why he came to that decision. All anyone knows is that he did.” (Aol Sporting News)

"There’s going to be unanswered questions, the why’s of this tragedy. It’ll never be truly known to us." (Fox Sports)

And indeed, it was a tragedy. But while the media obsesses over the death of a young athlete, wondering how such a crazy, crazy thing could happen, they miss the most obvious thing. That is male violence against women.

What this situation isn’t, in fact, is baffling. Because violence against women is a global epidemic. In Canada alone, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days. Global research “suggests that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.” In England and Wales, two women per week, on average,  are killed by a partner or ex-partner. In the U.S.,  between 1980 and 2008 the percentage of women killed by intimate partners went from 43 percent to 45 percent. For men it went from 10 percent to 5 percent. A blog post over at What About Our Daughters points out that “black women ages 25-29 are about 11 times more likely as white women in that age group to be murdered while pregnant or in the year after childbirth.”

And we are baffled when it happens again? This ‘double shooting’, this ‘murder-suicide’, this ‘unthinkable tragedy’? We don’t know how this could have happened? Really? Take a guess.

Instead of stating the obvious — that this was yet another case of male violence against women, we feign confusion.

But there’s nothing confusing about the situation. We can even, simply, look to the way in which media has framed this incident, to see why this continues; to see why women continue to be abused and murdered by their partners. Domestic violence is prevalent because we clearly don’t take it seriously. We are more concerned about the loss of an NFL player than we are about the fact that this was a violent man who took the life of his partner.

Oh. And as pointed out by Jason Whitlock, the Kansas City Chiefs decided not to cancel their game the very next day. A woman is murdered by one of their players, but god-forbid they postpone their Sunday celebration of masculinity and violence. And let’s please not pretend that the male-centric culture of professional sports like football and hockey don’t centre around violence and aggression. That it isn’t a blind celebration of patriarchal capitalism. Let’s not pretend like the NFL gives a shit about women.

"The Chiefs issued a statement that said their game Sunday afternoon against the Carolina Panthers would go on as scheduled, even as the franchise tried to come to grips with the awfulness of Belcher’s death." (Fox Sports)

And then, of course, almost on cue, there’s the victim blaming.

While the New York Times was bad, including leading quotes like: “What could have caused him to make him do that?” “You never know what would trigger that.” “We had heard that they had been arguing in the past,” Deadspin managed to post the most disturbing coverage of them all, quoting from an email sent to them by an anonymous friend of Belcher’s.

The relationship had “soured” this friend said. The couple had been “arguing”. We shouldn’t focus on this “isolated incident”, the friend stressed, this had been building for some time. Oh. And did we forget to mention the obvious? That Perkins was after Belcher’s money?

"…she made it clear that she was leaving and [would] contact a lawyer to "get as much money as possible."

And as if this ‘friend’ had not gone far enough, here’s the kicker: Perkins was, according to this source, “the catalyst to this incident.”

The friend (as well as other sources) mentioned that Belcher had substance abuse issues and had suffered a number of concussions. So looks like Belcher was the real victim here.

I have no idea what could have inspired the folks at Deadspin to print this (seemingly libelous) garbage. It seems unnecessary. Detrimental even. Why contribute to a culture that is clearly so desperate to avoid holding men accountable for incidences of domestic violence? Maybe Belcher had problems. In fact, I’m sure Belcher had problems. And one of those problems was patriarchy and a culture that feeds, encourages, and understands masculinity to centre around aggression and power. Belcher’s problems are real. But so is patriarchy. And men aren’t the primary victims of that system.

None of those quotes Deadspin featured will sound new to anyone who’s ever come out about abuse or to anyone who’s known a woman who’s gone public with her experiences of male violence. Not one. I myself have been at the receiving end of all of them and more. The “Oh, but you two were fighting, weren’t you?”, the “She pushed him to do it. You know… she’s kind of a bitch…”, the “She’s just trying to get revenge/money/attention/whatever”. I’ve heard the same said about my friends. I’ve heard the “Well you went back to him…”, the “He was drunk”, the “She’s crazy.” I could go on.

The point is that this has to stop. We pay lip service to domestic violence or ‘family violence’ (the newest in terms the state uses in order avoid describing the truth of the matter), removing gender from the discussion and presenting violence against women as a private matter (a ‘family’ matter) — ‘they had problems’, ‘oh, it’s none of our business’ — yet we are so clearly committed to doing nothing. We are unwilling to admit that this is a systemic issue and that this is about gender. Because we don’t give a shit. We care more, as a society, about sports than we do about violence against women. We are still representing women as conniving gold diggers who ‘ask for it’. Who push men to violence. Who are the ‘catalysts’ in their own murders.

The media is not innocent in this. They aren’t simply ‘reporting the facts’. The media is shaping the conversation and they are shaping it in a way that excuses and erases male violence against women.

The media and journalists make choices. They can say 'bullying' or they can say 'misogyny'. They can say ‘sexting up kids!' or they can say porn culture. They can say cyber harassment or they can say sexual harassment. They can say 'murder-suicide' or they can say 'domestic violence'. They can say 'family violence' or they can say 'male violence against women'. They can choose to quote people who accuse Perkins of being a gold digger or they can quote people who are critical of an unequal and oppressive society (but that probably won't be quite as popular) and of a male-centric culture that celebrates and idolizes violent men. Certainly they can choose not print quotes that reinforce that which so many already want to believe — that women deserve the violence they are subjected to. That somehow there is no one to blame. Just another isolated incident wherein a woman happens to die at the hands of a man. “What can we do??” We ring our hands. It's all just so baffling, isn't it.