Morality and Prop K

From LaLibertine’s Salon. While this concerns the proposition to decriminalize sex work in San Francisco, this possibly historical vote affects sex workers all over the country. That’s why I posted this here as well:

Whenever morals are trotted out within the public sphere, especially within politics, it is inevitably about controlling sexual behavior of adults. The very people who wring their hands in fear over the sexual expression of consenting adults for “morality’s sake” rarely seem to be the same people worrying over the prevalence of lying, cheating and hatred in our society. They’ll scream that gays are corrupting their children and encouraging them to adopt the “homosexual lifestyle” but they remain conspicuously silent about the examples of public figures caught lying about the causes of war or where all the funding for public schools went.

Isn’t lying, cheating and bald-faced hatred much more corrupting of morals than two adults consenting to sex, paid or not, straight or not? Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m much more impacted by a public official lying with regard to the spending of my hard-earned tax money than what is going on in the private bedrooms of consenting adults. I am much more concerned with how a public official views people based on their race or gender, than if Sally makes Steve pay $50 for a blow job.

The anti-Prop K argument that the ordinance will ignore abusive pimps and allow organized crime to gain a stronger hold on prostitution is absolutely ridiculous. The latter was used to try and keep the prohibition of alcohol going as well and similarly, this argument can be easily stripped. Legalizing the sale, production and consumption of alcohol didn’t put breweries, bars and saloons into the hands of the Mob; but the criminalization of alcohol most certainly did. Exactly where in the proposition does it say that offenses such as rape, kidnapping, slavery, coercion, theft, blackmail, murder or assault will be legal? Nowhere it does. In fact, because of the criminalization of prostitution, the law has implicitly made such actions legal by the simple fact that when a prostitute suffers violence the police and the courts look the other way. They do not investigate or prosecute violent offenders against prostitutes, therefore they essentially say to said offenders (and anyone thinking about it), “Oh, that’s okay. Carry on.”

This is where true morality comes in. Not the false morality that I described earlier. No, it is the morality that says, “It is WRONG to violate another person’s being simply because of their job or perceived sexuality”. The morality that says murder, rape, kidnapping, slavery, coercion, theft, assault and blackmail are simply wrong. The morality that says when violent offenses are reported (when possible) by the survivor, the offenders are tracked down and brought to justice. The morality that truly does worry about what examples we are setting for children: that some people can be mistreated by society and at best we all ignore it. The morality that is concerned with human rights.

The voter pamphlet Peridot Ash posted breaks down the ‘yes’ ‘no’ vote as such:

A “YES” VOTE MEANS: If you vote “yes,” you want the City to:

stop enforcing laws against prostitution,

stop funding or supporting the First Offender Prostitution Program or any similar anti-prostitution program,

enforce existing criminal laws that prohibit crimes such as battery, extortion and rape, regardless of the victim’s status as a sex worker, and

• fully disclose the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against sex workers.

A “NO” VOTE MEANS: If you vote “no,” you do not want to make these changes. [emphasis mine]

Oh yeah, the pimps and traffickers and violent johns are gonna LOVE that! Who can honestly vote “NO”, if they’re truly concerned about the health and safety of prostitutes?

The Price of Pleasure: Alrighty, then…

(I originally posted this on my blog but since I attended the screenings officially as a member of SWOP-Chicago, I am putting it here as well.)

To use Serpent’s phrase, the “SWOP posse” (hey, we can put that on a t-shirt, Serpent!) viewed “The Price of Pleasure” this weekend at two separate venues in Chicago: DePaul University and Columbia College. My review is obviously biased but it is not going to concentrate solely on criticizing the technical aspects of the documentary. I have comments about the audience as well.

The Audience:

The audience last night at DePaul seemed a lot more diverse and a little more genuinely intelligent. Perhaps I am being prejudice since I am a student there and since I have an enormous capacity for vanity since I know I am very intelligent then all other Demons (school mascot), by virtue of being fellow classmates are at least as equally intelligent. And I am definitely not saying this to hint that DPU students who screened the film had the same reaction I did. However, the comments from all sides of the aisle sounded well-thought out and mature.

At Columbia there were far too many pompous asses that were attempting to sound more learned than they were. No offense to other CC students (me mum went there!) but there was this one guy I could have gladly slapped the smirk off his little pinchy face.** Maybe it was the timbre of the voices of most of those students but it was so “Yes, I have almost completed my second quarter in college and I KNOW SO MUCH!!!” But…I could be projecting.

The Film:

Content aside, my personal pornified views aside, the film was not objective. Especially considering the fact that the two credited Senior Consultants were Gail Dines and Robert Jensen. I don’t have a problem with them voicing their views that they think are based on incontrovertible fact. But there needed to be a balance. Personally, the most obnoxious non-objective element was the music. Bethdeath and I were ragging on it during the DPU screening. Mainly it is the music at the end of the film that was so melodramatic. I felt like I was watching a war film and the scene being shown is when the hero(es) fell in battle. Anyone who pays attention to music in fictional or nonfictional film knows there are cues. Music is specifically chosen to underscore a point being made. Even in a fictional film, music being casually listened to by the characters is rarely, rarely accidental. I’m no film student but I love watching movies, especially scifi/fantasy movies, and I know that much.

There were many slow-motion or zoom in shots that were obviously chosen for pure shock value. The movie showed a testimony given by a woman in silhouette about her husband’s stash of porn pictures hidden in a dictionary. The dramatic re-enactment, which I felt was unnecessary, showed the pictures tumbling out of the book in slow-motion and this extremely dramatic music being played in the background. Honestly. I don’t have a problem with her testimony being included in the film; it would be necessary in a truly (attempted) objective film. But the presentation of her testimony was manipulative. It could have just been her describing her husband’s actions, her reaction to his actions and that’s it. It would have made the necessary impact. But the slow-motion and melodramatic music? No. Not needed.

There were several other shots, especially showing SM porn and the more aggressive porn, where the music served to underscore the opinion of the filmmakers that YOU SHOULD NOT LIKE THIS! PORN=BAD! Of course both Robert Wosnitzer (co-producer) and filmmaker Chyng Sun fervently declared their objective status but with evidence like this, I cannot believe it. At all.

In my opinion, most of the statements made by the anti-pornography side and the narrator, which predominated, should have been phrased differently for an “objective” look. For example, at the beginning the narrator asks, “How do these pornographic images shape our perceptions of sex and relationships?”, instead of “Can they…?” or “Should they…?” To me, this is a huge and importance difference. Pornographic images certainly can shape perceptions and for some people they do. This also begs the question of whether or not this is a negative thing. It is negative, definitely, if you take the default view that pornography is bad. The way the question is phrase does not consider the possibility that the consumption of pornography will not shape the viewers perception of sex. Should porn shape perceptions? Yes and no. I think it can be a good outlet to watch depictions of a sexual act the viewer may already have a burgeoning interest in or for people already participating in such acts, suggestions for variety but it the average porn is still not for educational purposes. But this doesn’t make it bad. For the no part to that answer, it shouldn’t be used as force to shape the perception of a person who is uninterested.

This lack of consideration is underscored by Gail Dines declaring later on that “Pornography leaks into the everyday world of your life,” and that one can’t just “zip up [their] pants then zip up [their] brains”. Why not? David Law made the comment at the DPU screening last night that the movie was a bit misanthropic at times and I think he was pretty much referring to this. The idea that people, specifically men, are just mindless automatons. You see it, you do it is Dines’ view when it comes to pornography. That statement and opinion should be insulting to every conscious human being. We’d all be suffering from multiple personality disorders if we adopted the behavior and persona of everyone we see in a film!

Continuing on this point of view, Pamela Paul stated later that some men she interviewed for her book told her that “porn images” come “unbidden” during sex. Okay. And I’m sure those aren’t the only images that come “unbidden” during sex but it is curious that there is an acknowledgment of consciousness during sex when the prevailing view of that side is that people are mindless when it comes to sex. As I was saying, I wonder if Ms. Paul asked what other images come unbidden during sex for these men? I doubt it is just those nasty porn images.

Other comments made could have been rephrased to still criticize pornographic depictions without condemning the entire genre were two others posed by, again, Gail Dines: 1) That porn is a way to understand relationships for people who watch porn. Not that it is a way some people who watch porn try to understand relationships, which would be accurate. But all porn users, period. (2.) That African-American women are depicted as animalistic whores that can’t get enough sex. First, her use of the word whore as an insult. Thanks a lot, Gail. Next, if she were really concerned with specific issues instead of an all-encompassing, naked hatred of porn what she or any other researcher would ask is, “Why does it seem as though sexually voracious (or adventurous or open, etc.) black women are depicted in a light that would shame them for being very sexual in porn?” And actually, this is a subject I will be tackling in a post within the next week. Probably by tomorrow night. She also made a statement about the depiction of black men in porn that, I have to agree, is very racist in content, but I really did not want to dissect that one. Mainly because I kinda agree on that count. The myth of the black man with the huge cock is just that, a myth, very racist in origin and that simply doesn’t exist in large numbers in real life. I say this as a woman who has banged many black men including the one I am with now. Their sizes are as average as any other Tom, Harry or hehe Dick. But I will say that I appreciate the porn films that do make a more obvious attempt to mock and subvert and satirize the myth.

I know.

Shortly before displaying statistics that are highly questionable, they explained that the movies were chosen from Adult Video News’ best sellers list. The titles highlighted by way of sending them via cgi sailing toward the audience on the screen, were those with the titles that would shock and titillate those who don’t watch porn (or wouldn’t admit to it in public). I will not say that those movies should not have been considered or highlighted (because I love porn titles, they’re hilarious and kitsch if nothing else) but honestly, why not give the same treatment to titles like Pirates, Briana Loves Jenna, or Teradise among others? But they wanted to make sure to shock the audience into moral indigation with titles like Meat My Ass, which, speaking of, would serve the double purpose to disgust any PETAesque vegetarians or vegans viewing this (of course, ignoring that Jenna Jameson is vegetarian and a publicized PETA supporter).

These are the statistics given in the film upon serious analysis of its contents by people who know better than any of the consumers and definitely any of the performers or producers:

89.8% verbal or physical aggression
48% verbal aggression
82.2% physical aggression
94.4% directed at women

Now, all of this seems to obfuscate for the viewer of the documentary the fact that this is still scripted, often overdramatized fiction. Personally, I have a problem with people voicing misogynistic comments in public and having violent actions that reinforce said words. But that is referring solely to comments and actions IN REAL LIFE, not any sort of scripted fiction no matter how real it looks on film.

This flows into the later concern voiced by one of the academic researchers whose name I can’t recall. She complained about what she implicitly thought was a false enjoyment by a female performer during a gagging scene and the apparent callousness of the male performer not stopping as she gagged but continuing with the scene. Never mind, the gagging scene was the point (fetish, perhaps?) of the movie, it was a staged scene agreed to by both actor and actress in negotiations. I would venture a guess that some sort of safeword was established just in case it went too far for the actress at that time. Of course, she isn’t taking into account that like every other film, mainstream and popular porn alike, EDITING! A good editor can make a single scene shot twenty different times look seamless.

All of the academics were anti-pornography and not one of them was pro. I asked Chyng Sun about this lack of balance from the academic standpoint at the screening at Columbia College today. She and Wosnitzer danced around the question and never actually answered it. I asked if she tried to get in contact with Professor Nadine Strossen, Dr. Marty Klein or Dr. Annie Sprinkle among others. The response was everything except an answer to my question, though later Sun said that she talked to Prof. Strossen but most of her statements were about free speech and that wasn’t what the film was about. I would like to know what questions Chyng Sun asked Prof. Strossen because I cannot believe that the latter would have only talked about free speech if the questions had reflected those posed in the film.

The Price of Pleasure also made a casual but undeniable link between the United Nations definition of torture and the depiction of torture in SM porn. No, I misspoke. The link was not casual, it was obnoxious now that I think more on it. A drawing of a torture victim from the UN handbook on torture (I’m guessing from the way it looked) was shown immediately followed by a similar pose held by an actress in an SM porn film. To me, it said, THIS=THAT. That there is no difference between, oh, say, the torture in Abu Ghraib upon men who ARE NOT actors who did NOT sign a contract consenting to those actions and certainly DID NOT benefit from said actions…to an actress who DID sign a contract and DID benefit from said actions financially or sexually but hopefully and probably BOTH.

At this point another subjective question in an “objective” documentary was posed, “What makes torture/pain sexually arousing?” I feel a more objective question, while still critiquing, would have been, “Can these images be sexually arousing?” or “Are these images of abnormal behavior and what is considered abnormal in sexual activities?” But to ask questions like that one has to assume that they do not already have the answers. Again, this is where the melodramatic music makes its final and most wretching appearance.

The movie ends with a possibly traumatized but certainly morally indignant college student interviewed earlier who declared, “This is not sex. This is not how I wanted to experience sex.” Well, no, it is sex. It shouldn’t been considered sex ed and even some porn performers would agree on that. I think it is perfectly fine that pornography, especially the more “exotic” sex, is not how this young man wanted to experience sex. But that is how some people want to experience sex some of the time. The way he made the statement sounded as though he did not explore sex outside of pornography or that he was incapable of doing so. I wonder if he may consider himself a sex addict or something if that’s the case. I’ve noticed a link there.

I could say more, but honestly, I’m tired of typing. SerpentLibertine will have her own post up at some point and I’m sure she’ll talk about things that I did not. Naturally I’ll post a specific link when she does that. And that’s it folks. My opinion on watching The Price of Pleasure twice within twenty-four hours. I think I need a straitjacket.

**A Star Wars reference was made in relation to people not separating fantasy from reality (dude asked if I knew any SW nerds and I was like, I am one) and I really didn’t get a chance to really shut him down the way I would have if I didn’t think the moderators, if you will, would have used that as an excuse to cut me off. They were already looking for one. I am a huge Star Wars geek. So much so that upon viewing Viva Zapata! for a history class, I noticed that the villanious General Huerta (true historical figure and bad guy in La Revolution) said the line, “Wipe them out. All of them.” In The Phantom Menace, the future Emperor Palpatine, in his “true face” (according to him in Revenge of the Sith) as Darth Sidious gave the EXACT SAME command to his Separatist cronies to wipe out the joined Naboo and Gungan forces. I told the girl sitting next to me, “ZOMG! GL totally used that in TPM when Sidious wanted to wipe out the Naboo!!!!111!eleven!” (she gave me a blank look in response). I just geeked all over her that day. I know George Lucas MUST HAVE seen this movie and borrowed that line because I know The Flanneled One is a Mexican Revolution aficionado, used that as an inspiration for the Rebel Alliance as well as for Princess Leia’s cinnamon bun hairstyle, which was a real hairstyle popular among women in certain socio-economic classes at that time in Mexico. THAT is how much of a Star Wars geek I am.**

Sex Worker Rights Are Human Rights

This is a good representation of what Human Rights should look like in my humble opinion. I believe this is what we should all be fighting for and insisting on.
XOXOX- Pussy Willow

Sex Worker Rights Are Human Rights

By Juhu Thukral, On The Issues Magazine
Posted on August 28, 2008, Printed on August 30, 2021

Link-View this story online

The idea of sex workers fighting for their human rights is a foreign concept to most people, even those who identify politically as progressives or feminists. Sex workers have lived on the margins of society through most of human history, and despite the prevalence of this work all over the world, sex workers are often treated as less than human, both in cultural attitudes and public policy. In fact, it cannot be said enough: sex workers are people — friends, neighbors, family members, wage earners, and parents — and they deserve the same human rights as everyone else.

What Human Rights?

Feminists and advocates of all stripes have argued that they want to work for the human rights of sex workers, often without an analysis of what human rights for sex workers might look like.

While many people would agree that access to human rights includes the right to be free from harm, to have access to health care and housing, and to seek safe employment that pays a living wage, there is fierce debate as to what any of this actually means. Some feminists argue that sex work is inherently harmful and that the very act of trading sex for money is a violation of a person’s sanctity or dignity, and is, in and of itself, an act of violence. For these feminists, the story ends there, even when sex workers all over the world speak out, not to ask to be pulled out of sex work, but to demand that their rights be protected as they work.

Others, like the Sex Workers Project, believe that a human rights framework includes active participation of sex workers from different backgrounds and experiences; efforts to combat violence, whether it is at the hands of customers or of the police; advocate for public health programs that promote the autonomy of sex workers, and work to empower sex workers so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families, assessing their life circumstances as best as they can. These elements are key to any effort to respect the human rights and health needs of sex workers; to properly assist those who want to leave sex work for other work, and to protect the rights and safety of those who continue in sex work.

Another key issue that gets less attention is the fight over the role of the criminal justice system. Some feminists view prosecution and punishment through the criminal justice system as the cornerstone for helping victims of violence. Others view rule of law as one of many important keys toward guaranteeing human rights, but argue that an excessive focus on the criminal justice system is detrimental to many marginalized groups, including sex workers, who have been victimized by the police. There are fundamental clashes between the needs of a criminal justice prosecution, and the needs of a human being who would most benefit from a rights-based approach.

Feminists Line Up Differently on Law Revision

These debates, often centered on agency and autonomy, might seem theoretical and unimportant in the realm of people’s daily lives. However, the debate often plays itself out in concrete policy terms, especially around the issue of human trafficking.

While human trafficking involves the experience of force, fraud, or coercion in any type of labor, such as domestic work, agricultural labor or sex work, it has been salaciously painted as being synonymous with prostitution. The idea that prostitution equals trafficking has been burned into the public mind by lurid headlines that scream of victims rescued from their captors, often without follow-up news items that might explain that the reality is more complicated, and that any number of prostitutes decided to go into that work because it was a way to make enough money to live on and also support their families, who are often in other countries.

Feminists who wish to abolish prostitution entirely have found strong allies in the Christian right and in the Bush administration. The efforts to incorrectly equate prostitution and trafficking as the same have culminated in recent efforts around the federal anti-trafficking law that Congress has been considering for reauthorization in 2008 (final vote still pending in early July).

The House version of the legislation includes a dangerous and unnecessary change to the Mann Act, a federal law that prohibits interstate travel for the purpose of prostitution. This change has nothing to do with human trafficking, and thus far, the Senate has bravely withstood pressure from some feminists and have not included this expansion in their version of the bill, SB 3061.

The federal anti-trafficking law, enacted in 2000, already defines anyone under 18 who is involved in commercial sex acts, and anyone in prostitution who experiences force, fraud or coercion as a victim of human trafficking. Changing the definition of trafficking so that law enforcement does not need to look at a person’s age or experience of coercion (the heart of the trafficking crime) will put the focus squarely on prostitution, rather than on labor and prostitution situations in which people are living under a climate of fear and experiencing genuine human rights abuses.

Are We Listening?

As law enforcement look for more victims, they will inevitably arrest more sex workers, and will lessen their focus on people who are trafficked into sectors other than prostitution. This will lead to untold harms to people who have been trafficked into other labor sectors and who cannot receive the help and attention they deserve; and to those who work in prostitution for reasons as diverse and complicated as any that go into deciding how to make money and build a life. At the Sex Workers Project, we find that most of our clients go into sex work because they can make more money and work more flexible hours than in other industries. In our 2005 study, 67 percent of the sex workers we interviewed did not make a living wage in other jobs such as waitressing, administrative work, or retail. For many, sex work was not their only form of work — 46 percent supplemented their income from mainstream jobs with sex work.

The people we see every day at the Sex Workers Project are just like everyone else — they want to know that if they are a victim of a crime, that they will receive the same attention as anyone else. What they do not want is to be classified as a victim of human trafficking as they go about the complicated business of living their lives and supporting their families as best as they can.

All feminists need to agree that when we hear the voices of sex workers advocating for their human rights, we need to really listen, rather than impose our own views of what life decisions we might deem acceptable.

Juhu Thukral, Esq., is the director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City. She has been an advocate for the rights of immigrant women in the areas of health, work, and sexuality for fifteen years.

© 2008 On The Issues Magazine All rights reserved.
Link-View this story online

Spare Us Paternalism Say Organizing Chicago Sex Workers

Spare Us Paternalism Say Organizing Chicago Sex Workers

by Martha Rosenberg

Nicholas Kristof was baffled.

A year after the New York Times columnist rescued teenaged Cambodian prostitute Srey Mom from a Poipet brothel by purchasing her freedom for $203, she was back in the brothel.Voluntarily.

In fact, she wouldn’t even be rescued initially without her cell phone and jewelry which Kristof had to buy back for her.

Didn’t she want to be saved?

Not necessary said organizers from Sex Worker Outreach Project-Chicago (SWOP) at a Chicago presentation in June, sponsored by the Open University of the Left and the Chicago Socialist Party

The right wing-backed human trafficking movement, part of the “anti-prostitution industrial complex,” deliberately blurs the line between sex work and sex slavery to further its moralistic agenda and line its pockets said Jasmine, a SWOP organizer at the presentation called Sex Workers, Criminalization and Human Rights.

It has duped many, including the media, into seeing “sex slavery” where labor, immigration, gender and human rights abuses exist and occluded the plight of both consensual sex workers and women trafficked into household, farm and sweatshop work which is more common, charged Jasmine.

Sorry Nick.

The flip side of the missionary imperative to save-the zeal to glorify the downtrodden- also infects sex work perspectives said SWOP spokespeople.

Regardless of Heidi Fleiss’ escapades, movies like Pretty Woman and college boys’ tales of their Cool Trip to Nevada, sex work is not noble, salt of the earth employment that just needs legalization.

As long as sex workers are morally quarantined by illegality and stigma, they risk being robbed, cheated, raped, knifed, shot, beaten up, strangled, abducted, arrested and given diseases said “out” sex worker and SWOP organizer Pussy Willow, 47.

Not only are sex workers devoid of human rights, they can’t even recruit community advocates because of the opprobrium, Willow added.

“How many of you admit to having bought the services of a sex worker,” she asked the audience to a show of two timid hands. “When you’re a sex worker, everyone wants to be your friend-until it jeopardizes their family or standing in the community.”

While SWOP-Chicago is only a year and a half old, it inherits a bloody sex worker history.

Thirty nine sex workers were killed during the 1990’s in Chicago by four different mass murderers.

Sex workers in Chicago’s marginal neighborhoods were terrorized by Gregory Clepper- alleged to have confessed to killing 40 more prostitutes- Geoffrey Griffin aka the Roseland Killer, Hubert Geralds and Andrew Crawford but often had to keep working because of pimps and addictions.

China, a cousin of Kizzy Macon,17, who was murdered by Gregory Clepper, told the Chicago Tribune in 1996, “Kizzy would get high with anybody,” and admitted she too had partied with the killer before he was arrested. “I didn’t know he would kill her,” she added. Street prostitute Pam Bolton, killed in 1995, told the Chicago Sun-Times days before her death, “This street life is more addictive than cocaine. More addictive than heroin.”

Like other johns, Clepper, Griffin, Geralds and Crawford knew they could gain access to a sex worker for a few dollars, harm her with no police intervention and dispose of her body with impunity because no one would miss her.

A 2007 study by bestselling Freakonomics author and University of Chicago economics professor Steven D. Levitt with Alladi Venkatesh, found Chicago sex workers were victims of violence from pimps or clients once a month and forced into extorted sex with law enforcement officers or gang members in one out of 20 transactions.

“Condom use is shocking low,” says Levitt in “An Empirical Analysis of Street Level Prostitution” and sex workers “absorb enormous risk for a small pecuniary reward.”

Nor are public health programs working, said SWOP members.

“They train workers to train workers to train workers to then go out and try to find ‘victims,'” said Willow. “Meanwhile who is handing out a bag of condoms to the outdoor sex workers on Belmont avenue? Who is protecting women who are getting beat up?”

The true needs of the sex worker community are subverted by asinine “studies” full of social scientist babble said Willow, citing a recent, highly publicized report which “didn’t even interview sex workers, just occasional johns called ‘hobbyists.’ Hello?”

Especially ridiculous said Willow is a $1000 “john school” where arrested clients of sex workers are remanded in California to “learn how to not buy sex.”

“I’ll teach them that for $250.”

Martha Rosenberg is staff cartoonist for the Evanston Roundtable.

Harm Reduction Training Collaborative on; *Women, Drug Use and Trauma:*

Please distribute widely… Harm Reduction Training Collaborative on; *Women, Drug Use and Trauma:* *Successfully Addressing Women’s Issues in Recovery*

Date: *Friday, 06/06/08*

Time: *10am – 1pm*

Location: MATEC 1640 W. Roosevelt Rd , Chicago , IL

Trainer: Maureen Rule, CMHC, Program Coordinator, Tierra del Sol: Women’s Residential Recovery Program Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Albuquerque , NM

Workshop participants will: Explore new ways of addressing women’s stability in housing and program involvement, including:

- Discussion of and appreciation for how focusing on drug use as a prerequisite for addressing other issues (such as housing or mental health, for e.g.) may actually discourage positive changes around drug use-and other behaviors that may have become problematic.

- Explore language around drug use and new ways of looking at “relapse”.

- Address the role of 12-step programs as one of many choices for addressing women’s addiction and other health issues within the context of women’s experiences of trauma.

- Understand at least two harm reduction-based interventions that encourage development of self-care and constructive communication of needs/goals/ decision- making.

- Resources for further exploration.

Ms. Rule comments, “We are not dealing with problem people, but rather people with problems. The brain changes that occur with trauma and with constant bombardment of use are very real. Harm reduction…reduces the burden on providers …The basis is care, respect…Women need to be given a voice, and taught how to do that in a constructive way, to learn how to be validated, how to get others to be open to hearing them, so that they can feel that they matter.”

Youth Services Director

Chicago Recovery Alliance 

Sex Work vs. Trafficking: Understanding the Difference


Sex Work vs. Trafficking: Understanding the Difference

By Melissa Ditmore, RH Reality Check

Originally posted at RH Reality Check.

Even those who mean well sometimes confuse the human rights abuse of trafficking in persons with the human occupation of prostitution, or sex work. It’s understandable because of the history of the two fields, but it creates rather than solves problems. Let me try to sort it out here.

The tendency to treat trafficking and prostitution as if they were the same thing has a long and problematic history. Legislation and social discussion have often blurred or denied any difference, but that has always made things worse rather than better for those involved.

The trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery is undeniably a gross abuse of human rights. Like all trafficking, it involves coercion or trickery or both. Sex trafficking is an odious forms of trafficking, but it is far from the only one. Men, women and children are also — and more commonly — trafficked routinely for purposes of household and farm labor as well as sweatshop manufacturing. Their lives may be less media-genic than those of sex trafficking victims, but they are no less brutal, dangerous and degraded.

A narrow focus on the single aspect of sex trafficking is often fueled by sensationalist and sometimes salacious accounts of sexual abuse. It leads us to ignore these other forms of trafficking, and so denies help and protection to all the men, women and children forced into and trapped in abusive working situations in other industries.

By the same token, treating sex work as if it is the same as sex trafficking both ignores the realities of sex work and endangers those engaged in it. Sex workers include men and women and transgender persons who offer sexual services in exchange for money. The services may include prostitution (sexual intercourse) and other services such as phone sex. Sex workers engage in this for many reasons, but the key distinction here is that they do it voluntarily. They are not coerced or tricked into staying in the business but have chosen this from among the options available to them.

A key goal of sex worker activists is to improve sex-working conditions, but self-organization is impossible when sex work is regarded as merely another form of slavery. Then authorities and laws trying to stop true slavery — trafficking — get misapplied to sex workers, clients and others involved in the sex industry. Law enforcement raids in the U.S. and abroad, for example, have led to little success identifying trafficked persons but instead have driven sex work underground. This exposes sex workers to an increased risk of violence and denies them any protection of laws against assault or access to medical, legal and educational services. It denies them their human rights.

A national anti-trafficking law enacted in 2000 recognizes “severe forms of trafficking” as a modern form of slavery that involves a broad spectrum of workers and industries. In this interpretation, trafficking is clearly distinguished from voluntary sex work and thus avoids the absurdity of equating the fear and suffering of a trafficked person with the typical working conditions of voluntary sex workers. These conditions are often far from ideal, but nevertheless they are far removed from debt bondage or enslavement.

It is regrettable that despite the obvious reality of this perspective, the popular imagination of sex work tends to return to images of young girls forced into sexual slavery. Perhaps people would rather read such stories than hear about more prosaic struggles for workers’ rights — to organize, to be free from harassment, to get decent health care. But their preferences should not be allowed to dictate policy about either human trafficking or sex work.

Traditional standards of morality have been a major influence on legislation aimed at trafficking, and on the ways that trafficking legislation changes the legal treatment of prostitution. But the ‘moral’ position opposing sex work is actually a specific political and ideological position, and its net effect is typically to limit women’s autonomy.

Sex law is often a front for ideology that constrains rather than liberates women. What most appalls me about the recent conflation of trafficking and sex work in law and policy is that some feminists support the confusion. These women would normally never dream of telling other women how to behave, because they have fought against imposed constraints in their own lives. Yet they seem to think it is acceptable to tell sex workers what is best for them, and they are prepared to use dubious political alliances to advance their moral agenda.

Women’s studies professor Donna Hughes even told the National Review that George W. Bush is the president who has done the most for women on the strength of his policies aimed against sex work. The fact that these policies do nothing to halt human trafficking and in fact may be counter-productive seems to be irrelevant. So does the worse fact that President Bush has presided over a deliberate reduction in access to reproductive health care for women in the United States and around the world.

Women are not the only victims when trafficking is conflated with sex work. The confusion squanders opportunities to address real victimization and to assist people in real situations of abuse. Resources, time and energy that might actually help trafficking victims are wasted in sensational “rescues” that are also ineffective and often counterproductive.

There is a clear need to formulate public policy that is less emotionally driven and better able to recognize the real causes, nature and effects of trafficking in persons. People concerned about the health and rights of migrants should choose to talk in terms of migration and mobility and workers’ rights — including sex workers’ rights — rather than confusing matters by using the term “trafficking” with all its attendant baggage. That should help clear the debating field for useful and separate discussions of both.

Melissa Ditmore, Ph.D., was the inaugural Chair of the Advisory Board of the Sex Workers Project and is a research consultant on issues of sex work, mobility and migration, HIV and sexual health. She edited the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work (Greenwood Press, 2006) and edits Research for Sex Work, the journal of the Network of Sex Work Projects.

© 2008 RH Reality Check All rights reserved.
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Satisfied Sex Worker or Domestic Trafficking Victim?


By Kari Lydersen, AlterNet
Posted on May 8, 2008, Printed on May 18, 2022

A teenage girl from Chicago is being sexually abused by her mother’s string of boyfriends. So she flees home with a boyfriend of her own. They hit the road but run out of money, so the boyfriend shows her how to work the truck stops, and she becomes a prostitute. Several years later, she is working for a pimp who forces her to serve 10 or more customers a night, driving her to different locations in the city and suburbs, and keeps almost all the money himself. She wants to leave prostitution, but is emotionally and financially dependent on the pimp and afraid he will physically harm her if she tries to leave.

This story is a composite of very common situations, according to a groundbreaking study of 100 young prostitutes and their relationships with pimps released by DePaul University’s College of Law and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority on May 7.

Public and governmental attention has been increasingly focused on victims of international sex trafficking over the past few years, with immigration visas and social services offered to victims. By current legal and social definitions, the girl described above has not been trafficked. But advocates argue the DePaul study shows U.S.-born prostitutes working in the United States should, in many cases, be defined as trafficking victims, exploited and trapped in situations beyond their control. The House version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA, also HR 3887), passed overwhelming in December 2007, redefines trafficking to include many domestic prostitutes. If a similar bill is passed in the Senate and becomes law, it will mean that women — and some men — in this situation would be treated as crime victims deserving of resources and institutional support, rather than as criminals. And their pimps and traffickers would face increased criminal penalties.

Among other things, the legislation widens the U.S. Department of Justice’s definition of trafficking, which currently hinges on the presence of “force, fraud or coercion.” The House bill designates trafficking involving force, fraud or coercion as “aggravated trafficking” and expands simple trafficking to include other forms of deceit, manipulation and control including threats, verbal abuse and withholding of support. It also makes sexual tourism to foreign countries a crime akin to importing people to the U.S. for sexual servitude.

In coming weeks, Sen. Joe Biden is expected to introduce the Senate version of the TVPRA, which also includes provisions on slavery and child soldiers. Some advocates of HR 3887 are afraid the Senate version will be introduced without the expanded definition of trafficking, based on internal conversations with politicians. (Policy staff for Biden’s office were not available to comment for this story.)

Samir Goswami, outreach and policy director of the legal advocacy firm Justice Partners Against Sexual Harm, said the DOJ is likely loathe to expand the trafficking definition because it would give them the responsibility to investigate and prosecute many more trafficking situations in the U.S. And it would bring more attention to the extent of commercial sexual exploitation in the U.S. even as the country is gaining accolades for its fight against global sex trafficking. Goswami said HR 3887 mirrors the treatment of trafficking in the United Nations’ Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, which was ratified by the United States.

“This federal bill just catches us up with the rest of the world,” he said.

The federal Mann Act of 1910, which received attention during the Eliot Spitzer scandal, does criminalize interstate trafficking. But it is rarely used; it was left out of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA); and it is associated with politically and racially motivated prosecutions such as that of boxer Jack Johnson for “transporting” his white girlfriend across state lines.

In Illinois, state legislation addressing domestic trafficking passed in 2005 but has not resulted in any prosecutions. If the language in HR 3887 becomes law, prostitutes arrested on city streets or in Internet sting operations would be questioned by law enforcement to determine whether they are trafficked or being forced to work against their will. “That’s what they do for cases of international trafficking now,” said Goswami. “Say someone goes to a Greyhound station, sees a 14-year old girl who has been abused and run away, he offers her a ride, shelter, affection and attention and she falls for him. He then sometimes uses force and the threat of rape to prostitute her, and even transports her to clients — that’s trafficking.”

The DePaul study found that, in general, the vast majority of young women in prostitution are controlled by pimps and suffer worse conditions in terms of violence, number of clients and lack of autonomy the longer they stay in the trade. Sixty-four percent of women reported wanting to leave sex work, but 43 percent reported they could not leave without physical harm. Sixty-four percent of women also have a romantic relationship (usually an abusive one) with their pimp, adding extra layers of emotional vulnerability and manipulation to the situation.

The study found that 58 percent of women were transported to different locations for prostitution (26 percent out of state), 53 percent could not keep any of the money they made, and many were watched or guarded when not working — hallmarks of trafficking situations.

“This is a highly organized sex trade,” said Jody Raphael, co-author of the DePaul study. “They take these women to where they know there is demand” — including Las Vegas or the state capitol when the legislature is in session. “To me, transportation and control equals trafficking.”

The study also confirmed that a majority (57 percent) of women were deceived as to the conditions or terms of their work when they were recruited into prostitution.

For example: “He told me I would never get hurt. I get hurt on a regular basis.” And, “He promised we would get rich, and we didn’t. He promised no violence; there is violence.”

Some sex workers and women’s rights groups do not support the expanded legal definition of trafficking. Though the new definition does decriminalize prostitution for many women, since it increases criminalization of the pimps involved, it signifies that prostitution itself is a crime, even if the woman is not treated as the criminal.

The Young Women’s Empowerment Project, a Chicago group of youth in sex work, said their experiences with police — who often demand sexual favors — and the court system give them no faith that abuses can be addressed through the justice system.

“Making more laws and hoops to jump through will not change this situation,” the group said in a collective statement. “If adults really want to support young women who trade sex for money, they will keep us away from the criminal legal system — away from cops and courts and social workers. They will ensure that we have the documentation and the skills that we need to achieve our goals, and they will offer us concrete assistance (jobs, housing, transportation — where we set the terms of the assistance) rather than roping us in to a larger system that hurts us.”

Raphael said that while she supports the expanded legislation, she doesn’t think law enforcement is the key to ending domestic trafficking.

“Communities themselves have to say this is not acceptable,” she said. “This has been normalized in many communities; that needs to change. Change has to come from the bottom up.”

Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, In These Times and ColorLines, and is the author of two

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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