Dead Rentboys tell no tales

published at Feminist Current September 1, 2015

Philip Michael Peck picture
Philip Michael Peck, 1990


Philip Michael Peck was a gay boy and my best friend in high school. We met over Whoopie Goldberg in the back of the science room. We hadn’t ever spoken before and he had his usual gaggle of girls around him when one girl said Whoopie was ugly. Phil indignantly exhorted, “Whoopie Goldberg is beautiful!” and the girls scoffed for the half-moment it took me to lift my head and confirm, “Whoopie Goldberg is beautiful.” His eyes met mine and we fell in love.

Phil started prostituting at 14 when older men solicited him in New York City mall bathrooms. From there he went on to do gay pornography and live sex shows. He would send me pictures of him performing drag shows under the name Marissa (my middle name) and tell me how he got free drinks if he performed. I did not get pictures from the two times he drank so much vodka he coughed blood and spent weeks in the hospital.

Phil told me about stealing a bag of cocaine from a john and ended the story with, “Honey, this city better be big enough for the both of us because I can’t see him again.” He ran a small gay escort agency until he got arrested in a hotel overlooking Madison Square Garden.

Phil and his partner of six years, Darren, lived for years as male prostitutes in New York City. They were “rentboys” in the current euphemistic parlance. Once when I visited, Darren kept awkwardly standing around because he had gotten painful shots in the ass to cure the syphilis one of his regular johns had given him.

Phil and Darren both tested HIV positive. Darren got sick and died after a lightning fast three weeks in the hospital. AIDS can be a protracted illness, but the speed at which it took Darren shook me.

Phil kept turning tricks after learning he was HIV positive. No worried lecture from me could change his need for money, and none of my conscience-buckling at the thought of him spreading AIDS could change his reckless behavior so I supported him with the unconditional love of lifelong friends.

Philip died at the age of 32 because of men’s belief in their right to economically coerced sex on their own abusive, risky, deadly terms.

I used to brag to people with sex positive pride that I had sex worker friends who were living the good life. Doing this boosted my own sexy street cred and I consciously chose not to relay the ugly truths they told me about getting raped and getting various sexually transmitted diseases.

I don’t blame myself for the pains he went through living by prostitution and dying by AIDS, but I can’t help wondering if things might have been different if I didn’t encourage his and Darren’s prostituting all those years.

I think of Phil when I read about how legalizing prostitution is supposed to make prostituted people safer from rape and sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and syphilis. I think of how Phil worked in the legal porn industry that has had multiple decades to demonstrate how safe legalized prostitution can be, and I think of how very weak the case for legalized prostitution becomes when positioned next to the massive failures of corporate pornographers to protect the pornstitutes in their employment.

I consider the idea that legal prostitution would reduce sexually transmitted diseases not just anti-common sense and anti-science, but also demonstrably not the agenda of the already legalized pimps, called pornographers. Pornographers have fought hard against protecting sex workers from the obvious risks of industrialized sex-product production, but free market libertarians like Graeme Reid, Eric Sasson, and Tara Burns have convinced themselves this predictable result of capitalism will be different once prostitution without cameras is made legal.

I am glad Matthew Ebert is still alive to tell his tale, and I’m glad the anonymous man writing in the Guardian is still alive to tell his tale, but they can’t bring Phil and Darren back to life so that they can tell their tales too.

I last saw Phil in a coffee shop near Madison Square Garden. He had stopped prostituting, beat his addictions to hardcore drugs, and was struggling to overcome alcoholism as he volunteered with the Gay Men’s Health Clinic. He spoke about a former john who hired him to clean his massive Westchester house, but every time the man made a sexual advance Phil refused. “It’s not worth it anymore, not for all the money he has,” he told me that last time I would see him. He told me how proud he was of the anti-prostitution work I do.

I could spend every day of my life speaking for my dead best friend and it would not put back on this Earth what was taken away by johns who put their power-playing pleasure above other people’s lives. I will spend every day of my life fighting against the sexual commodification of human beings that took the life of my best friend.

Samantha Berg is a radical feminist journalist, activist, and event organizer. Her articles have been published in progressive media for over a decade, and in recent years she has organized anti-prostitution political events in the United States and Canada. Samantha’s blog is JohnStompers.com and her website, Genderberg.com, is dedicated to Phil.

Dead Rentboys tell no tales

From Norway to New Zealand, pro-prostitution research is its own worst enemy

published at Feminist Current November 24, 2014

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that if you’re going to lie you should make it a whopper,

For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Permit me to show you a lie so grand its telling should cause alarm, but it doesn’t because the deception is in service of solidifying men’s ownership of women from the inside out and absolutely.

I triple check facts before stating them. Some is preparation for audience feedback and some is doubt about how well I know what I know, perhaps because I’m a woman in a culture that disregards women. Operating on the niggling thought that my political opponents might make a valid argument against my preferred prostitution solution of criminalizing johns, I have dived into every policy paper on prostitution I have gotten whiff of for thirteen years.

You may have encountered the results of my labors before when I wrote about Norwegian research that unintentionally affirmed the success of criminalizing johns.

The Prostitution Reform Act of 2003 (PRA) decriminalized prostitution in New Zealand. At the same time, the Prostitution Law Review Committee was established to report within 3 to 5 years on the number of New Zealand’s newly dubbed “sex workers.” Here is that 2008 report.

The summary concludes decriminalization did not increase street prostitution. The contents of Section 8 prove street prostitution went up and more than doubled between 2006 to 2007 in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

The official press release was based on these comments from the summary (bolds mine),

The numbers of street-based sex workers have remained stable since the enactment of the PRA, with comparable numbers on the streets to estimates done prior to decriminalization. The Committee endorses the findings of the CSOM (Christchurch School of Medicine) that the enactment of the PRA has had little impact on the numbers of people working in the sex industry.

Buried in Section 8 is evidence about increases in street prostitution since the law passed,

Research undertaken by the CSOM in February and March 2006 found 253 street-based sex workers in New Zealand…In Auckland 106 street workers…in Wellington 47 street workers…and in Christchurch 100 were recorded.

Between June and October 2007, CSOM carried out another estimation of street-based sex workers…In Christchurch 121 street-based workers were counted and in Wellington 44 street-based sex workers were counted. In Auckland, 230 street workers were known to be working.

Wellington 47, then 44
Christchurch 100, then 121
Auckland 106, then 230
New Zealand

Section 8 also documented,

Auckland outreach workers also reported an ‘influx of sex workers on the streets in the six to eight months prior to June 2007.’

Streetreach is a non-governmental organisation that provides support for street-based sex workers in Auckland and Manukau cities. Streetreach believes there has been an overall increase in the number of street-based sex workers in the Auckland region since decriminalization.

In Christchurch, some residents in and around the street prostitution area report an increase in the number of sex workers since the passage of the PRA (St Lukes Body Corporate, 2007).

Clearly, many people who live next to and work directly with street populations have reported increased street prostitution in New Zealand.

That Executive Summary once more to refresh your memory,

The numbers of street-based sex workers have remained stable since the enactment of the PRA, with comparable numbers on the streets to estimates done prior to decriminalization…the Committee endorses the findings of the CSOM that the enactment of the PRA has had little impact on the numbers of people working in the sex industry.

What a whopper.

Some fabrications announce themselves, and some rely on subtle sleights of hand. The summary continues:

A comparison between the number of sex workers in Christchurch in 1999 and 2006 shows that the total has stayed approximately the same over that period.

Why stop at 2006 when the research went through 2007? Christchurch had 100 street prostitutes in 2006 and 121 street prostitutes in 2007.

The 2006 is no slip, it is New Zealand’s Ministry of Justice deliberately hiding 2007’s statistics about significant growth in the most violent form of prostitution— street prostitution.

Reading book-length documents full of terrible testimonies makes me grind my jaw while my eyes absorb the pages. Sometimes I pause to cry. However, if you boil your blood long enough and with the right ingredients, it condenses to become more solid than liquid. After all the time I have spent pouring the collected knowledge about prostitution from multiple countries into myself and simmering, I am as solid as a bead of ancient amber that prostitution abolition is the future of humanity.


From Norway to New Zealand, pro-prostitution research is its own worst enemy

I want 140 characters which will end rape

published at Feminist Current June 12, 2014

So men, what do you want to hear?

Not all men are like that? You’re not like those other men?

Let’s say I tell you men that you are wonderful, kind, heroic and humble. Will these words of praise stop the girl enslavement called “child marriages”?

If women change tactics from demanding the return of girl children stolen in Africa, if instead we engulf men in a cascade of compliments assuring men that we know they are decent and devoted, will men return our generosity by raising the average age a girl enters prostitution out of the early teen years?

So men, if it is not flattery you want from women, what are the words you want to hear? What can women say that will cause you to finally stop what you have always had in your manly hands the power to end?

Women have been forgiving of what men have done to us. We have to if we want to leave our homes. We have to forget what pornography shows us men like to masturbate to if we want to go to work or buy food while looking into the porn-soaked eyes of the men around us. We have to forget what happened the last time we went out, and the time before that, and we need to remember the times nothing happened.

I’ll remember that you are the good ones and that most violence is really the fault of madness or money. I will forgive and forget whatever it is you want of me if you tell me what you want to hear women say. Then good men like you will stop telling us how we’re doing feminism wrong, because we’ll be doing it exactly as you command.

Then men will stop the violence your mentally ill brothers and financially destitute brothers commit against girls and women.

Men will stop the violence.

Not because women have always begged men to stop. Not because women have always acquiesced to silent invisibility in the hope that men would respond with civility. Not because men haven’t kept masculinity’s vaunted promise to protect women and children.

Men will stop the violence because women will finally have spoken the word sequence whose non-utterance has kept the dignity of full personhood out of women’s grasp.

So men, enough with telling women when we speak the wrong words. What would you have women say to get men to end the violence sinking humanity’s ship, the result when something naturally balanced is forcibly tipped for too long?

You can go over Twitter’s 140 characters if you need to, or whatever Facebook’s limit is, but do try to keep it from becoming a 141-page manifesto if you can.

Just say the words and I will work tirelessly getting women to repeat them, then men will stop the violence.

Men will stop the violence.

Women will say what men want to hear and men will stop the violence.

And that will work this time.

I want 140 characters which will end rape

“The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!”

Radfems Respond cropped screenshot

Let’s talk turf.

Portland has been my stomping ground for twelve years. In 2012 when I organized the Radfem Reboot conference, women came from Canada, Australia, France, and Scotland to meet women they had known online for years. There have been over a dozen regional radfem meetings around the world since then, most of them organized quietly to avoid the threats of male violence that public feminism seems to inevitably bring these dark days.

But Portland is my turf and I know the lay of the land. I’ve made connections with Portlanders and know it as well as any cat knows her territory. If an open radical feminist event were to happen, I felt most comfortable having it in the City of Roses.

When I approached the venue that hosted Radfem Reboot to rent the same space for Radfems Respond, I responsibly warned them of the maelstrom of harassment about to land in their lap from transgender activists. On March 14 I brought the Multnomah Friends (Quakers) a fat folder with articles and news stories about radfems all over the world being harassed at home and at work and being no-platformed on every issue. I optimistically gave them an article on how the sex industry lobby in Tasmania failed to force Tasmanian Friends to cancel a talk by radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys.

They asked to meet with me and I obliged, ultimately spending an hour speaking with two clerks. They asked for biographies and websites for the event’s five speakers and I provided them. On March 26th the Multnomah Friends confirmed,

“We received your list of websites for the speakers for the “RadFems Respond: A Day of Discussion” and have reviewed them. We find nothing in them that would cause us to ask you to find another place to meet.”

I thought we were cool. Flights were booked, a house near the venue rented, and plans proceeded generally. Then a Quaker with a thing for licking machetes and calling radical feminists a “hate group” started a petition to exterminate Radfems Respond.
Holliss Proffitt machete

“Radical Feminists are often a bigger threat to the safety and dignity of trans women that [sic] society at large…The rate of suicice [sic] for trans people hovers around 50%. Many of these deaths were caused directly or indirectly by Radical Feminist attacks and rhetoric. Those who stand for non violence will agree that radfems have no place in a Quaker space.”

petition-starter Hollis Proffitt

Three weeks later, the Friends caved. When I reminded them of my fat folder and the predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns, three of the four Friends that Rachel Ivey and I met with admitted they didn’t read Hollis Proffitt’s petition. They were angry the petition went up and refused to look at it. My concern that their community’s response was distorted by the lies in the petition was met with this incredulous reply by a Friend who said he was a feminist and chose not to read Proffitt’s petition, “External pressures did not impact our decision.”

I took careful notes at the meeting and those were his exact words. When I asked why they changed their minds, I was told their decision-making was “a spirit-based process, not head-based,” made by “not individual facts or figures but as a matter of spiritual worship,” and that “It was a sense from our spirit about where we were led to move.”

Color me shocked that a religious order just sort of felt in their gut that women are untrustworthy and don’t deserve a public platform to speak. Rachel astutely observed that their intense de-politicizing and refusal to admit external pressures on their community aligns perfectly with liberal, third wave postmodernism in which societal systems assert no influence over the choicey choices every Friend who contacted the clerks apparently came to independently.

I hastily contacted the backup venue I had arranged (see above, “predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns”). The Multnomah County Central Library quickly confirmed Radfems Respond, and transgender activists quickly assailed them to shut down the event in the name of free speech. Some unhinged thug named “QuiddityQ” posted a call to arms on Portland Indymedia.

“We questioned the library administration about allowing a hate group who promotes discrimination and their response is that they cannot kick them out because of freedom of speech. So we also exercise our right to free speech in public space this Saturday to drive the TERFS and RadFems out of OUR library and OUR Portland!”

In the early oughties I self-published through Indymedia in addition to getting published in progressive newspapers because I believed in the potential for writer-activists to “become the media”. It wasn’t a total failure, but as has happened with Twitter and other online media, antagonistic bullies pushed out the genuine contributors. I don’t go to Portland Indymedia anymore because of their manarchist tendency to delete (called “composting”) even the mildest pro-feminism posts. A germane example from this week shows the site editors leaving up the incitement to disrupt Radfems Respond and another post titled “TERF: Cancer of the Leftist Movement”, yet rejecting to the compost bin a post respectfully criticizing the ethics of disrupting feminist events.

A library official responded in a comment to the Portland Indymedia article,

“You may participate in the meeting by expressing your views and allowing others to express their views. You may not disrupt the meeting.”

Enough accolades cannot be given to the responsive staff and security guards at the Multnomah County Central Library. As much as I would love to say they were entirely magnanimous about their commitment to not only women’s freedom of speech but our safety, in all truth I think they got righteously ticked off at being pushed around by a bunch of intimidating jerks who refuse to accept “No” for an answer.

With the room secure, I had to douse another fire started by the threats when trafficking survivor Dawn Schiller called to say she was considering cancelling. Dawn doesn’t know anything about trans-anything, but she knows too well the credible threat of male violence when she sees it. As so many of us before, at first she was rationally afraid of the danger posed, and then she got mad that anyone thinks they can frighten women out of public participation. After the feeling of remembered trauma eased its grip on her, Dawn decided to stand up for her right to speak her story with the caveat that her daughter would stay safely away. Sadly, several registered women also chose to cancel rather than face the threatening scene transgender activists were promising to produce.

Not one protestor showed up.

You can watch Lierre Keith’s and Rachel Ivey’s talks for yourself, but at Dawn’s request we stopped filming while she recounted her time in prostitution. I only had one box of tissues on hand and it had to be shared. Dawn finished with a commitment to helping other survivors rebuild their lives and received a standing ovation, but not before saying how much she regretted not having her daughter there with her.

Kathleen Barry was her usual erudite self explaining the latest developments in prostitution laws and detailing some of her policy-setting activities both old and new. Near the end of her presentation she pointed to some empty chairs and defiantly exclaimed that they represented the women who cancelled because of the threats,

This is about this conference, and about the fact that Dawn Schiller almost didn’t come. And the fact that she’s been traumatized, and she had to deal with that trauma in order to come. Not just in telling her story here, but in order to come she has been traumatized. You know who the people are that caused that trauma. They’re the people who put up the call for taking on this conference, bringing in violence, all the aggression. As if we’re not all survivors of their patriarchy! I want us […] to keep this really clear, we sit here today, you and all of us, as victims of those people who called for that violence this morning. Look at these empty seats! They are victims, they couldn’t come because of fear.

Heath Atom Russell gave the final presentation of the day. She began with the jaw-dropping revelation about the Santa Barbara murders the prior night, news that was just breaking around the world. Sometimes threats of male violence turn out to be nothing as in Radfems Respond’s case, and sometimes they become terrifyingly realized. Heath continued with how she grew up in an oppressive family and saw transitioning to a man as the best way to escape the emotional pain. She changed her mind after a few years and now works to warn others about predatory medical industry doctors who promise to bring peace to minds with pills and surgery done to bodies.

The next day, while a woman-only group of radfems listened to Swedish author Kajsa Ekis Ekman speak via Skype about prostitution, the cowardly and monumentally ineffective transactivist “QuiddityQ” dropped a final word on Portland Indymedia,

“The Anti-TERF/SWERF Action Team strongly and unequivocally condemns TERF hate groups WOLF (Womyn’s Liberation Front) and DGR (Deep Green Resistance) holding their propaganda rally at one of our finest public institutions, Multnomah County Central Library. Given its stellar history, we strongly condemn the Library Administration for allowing hate groups to abuse our cherished Constitutional Rights.

We are indeed at war with TERF for our very own survival.

The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!”

I wrote the above recap in a mindset of recording the timeline accurately, but when I read it over I see something akin to a bad Hollywood script that I can’t doctor into sanity. The film industry’s collective creativity couldn’t conceive a plot with antiporn radical feminists, machete-licking Quakers, transgendered threat-makers, and half a dozen library security staff, but I had to write the press release and I had to write this event wrap up.

Stephen King said writers write either for truth or for an audience, and I have no doubt which kind of writer I am, but what to do when the truth reads so much stranger than fiction that it beggars belief? It’s difficult for me to believe for myself just how far women’s human rights have devolved in the time I’ve been a frontline witness, so I understand if my reporting from the trenches comes off as far-fetched. I didn’t sign up to be a war correspondent, and yet a war correspondent I seem to have become.

“The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!”

Ghosts of Prostitution Debates Past

published at Feminist Current October 31, 2013


Halloween is my Christmas. Even if I wasn’t born on November 1st and named after a witch, the Samhain season would still be holiday numero uno for me due to the candy, costumes, and supernatural spookies celebrated in the absence of religious, nationalist or familial obligations.

Since autumn reaps harvests of nostalgia, I thought it might be festive to brush aromatic leaves off the headstones of pro-prostitution arguments put in the ground years ago. Not the dippy slogan “sex work is work”, not comparisons to Prohibition regularly karate chopped with reminders that women are people and not beverages, I’m talking the doozies that haven’t horrified me with their lazy logic in a long time.

Only flyby commenters and paid-by-the-pageview writers pull out the “world’s oldest profession” artifact anymore because there’s no winning reply to the retort that slavery is historical but shouldn’t be legal. However, it pokes its victim-blaming head into the media enough to be disqualified from my criteria that these moans haven’t been heard by me in the last year. Progress!

1. Men will use prostituted children less if legal, adult prostitutes are made available.

Anyone with the slightest sociological curiosity could have debunked the catharsis theory where men can ejaculate the will to rape children out of their systems. Note the twisted appeal to “think of the children!” while offering up young women’s bodies as collateral damage.

As ruthlessly libertarian as the champions of swapping gals for girls imagine themselves, the precedent hasn’t been set in any marketplace because men who want to rape little girls don’t do so in the absence of adult women owned by the same pimp. Libertarians have gone apoplectic when I propose the precedent they’re actually operating from is the misogynistic, homophobic Bible story of Lot giving gay rapists his daughters so they wouldn’t sodomize male angels:

“Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof,” (Gen. 19:8).

The oxymoronic variant, “Men will rape some women less if allowed to rape some women more” remains popular but the specific appeal to reduce pedophilia with prostitution hasn’t made me want to punch someone for about a decade.

2. Legal prostitution will lead women to pay for sex in nearly the numbers men pay for sex.

Here’s one that used to ride with the equally addlebrained, “More porn for women will improve the porn industry” some morbidly optimistic yahoos still believe. Folks, even Susie Bright has stopped repeating that mainstay of her repertoire, give it a rest.

The last time I encountered this ghost was 2009 when convicted pimp Heidi Fleiss opened the Shady Lady Ranch for women despite the Nevada law forbidding convicted pimps from running brothels. After two months and less than ten paying customers, Nevada’s first legal male prostitute Markus quit and the brothel went kaput soon after. I think women are a statistically insignificant number of prostitute-users for the same reason 80-85% of men don’t use prostitutes, because the idea of being intimate with a stranger faking desire for you is repugnant.

Every feminist has met the Women-Do-It-Too dude who insists women are inherently just as violent as men. Many women believe that too, unfortunately, and they show off their use of pornstituted women (mainly through porn and strippers) as a performance of how aspirationally masculine their sexuality is. I’ll never forget the woman who beamed to me with pride that her lover said she fucked like a man.

Men’s sadistic sexuality, including prostitutes used in the flesh and via the canned cunt of porn, is the default norm in our culture. It takes a whole lot of capitalistic indoctrination to come to the conclusion that women NOT paying for sex is a misogynistic aberration that will be fixed when women have enough economic and social power to comfortably consume sex workers.

I hope this argument is vanishing because we have evolved from wishing women could be as exploitative as men are to considering that men can be as bad as women and rape as infrequently as women do.

3. Making condoms 100% mandatory, as was done in Thailand in the 1990s, saves sex worker lives.

In 1991, Thailand put concerted effort into reducing the spread of HIV by adopting a goal of 100% condom usage in the illegal brothels. It was a successful campaign with some reports stating new infections had decreased 75% in five years, and Thailand’s safer sex example was held up as an international model. Disease rates have since risen and research from 2009 reports that Thailand has the highest prevalence of HIV in all of Asia.

Prostitution defenders praised the mandatory condom policy as a lifesaver. Abolitionists and sex capitalists alike agreed that mandatory health regulations were necessary, so what happened to this seemingly rational policy to push it out of favor with sex capitalists?

The proverbial poop flew when healthcare professionals in California decided to import Thailand’s model to the porn industry which had gotten used to getting away with ignoring workplace safety laws. Suddenly the same pro-prostitution mouthpieces who praised the Thai model and supported an ACLU lawsuit premised on selling condoms cheaply in Asian brothels began trashing condoms as more dangerous to sex workers than unprotected sex.

Pornographers like Nina Hartley and pornstitution profiteers like Charlie Glickman and  Hugo Schwyzer writing for Jezebel.com declared themselves more knowledgeable about condoms than the venerable Alan Guttmacher Institute. They told stories of potential death by latex allergies, condom friction increasing disease transmission, and threats to move porn production into dangerous underground lairs if forced to protect employee health. I can’t think of a reason why they would say mandating condoms will push Californian sex workers underground when they had lauded mandatory condoms for Thai sex workers as a means to bring brothels ‘above ground’ where transparency provides safety. Oh wait, I forgot racism, greed, and sexsationalistic clickbaiting.

The contradictions and fake science coming from the porn lobby were bad public relations that inhibited a slick retreat to their prior “yay condoms!” stance. This particular specter is one I wouldn’t mind seeing sex worker rights groups reincarnate.

4. Under the Nordic Model, women (not necessarily sex workers) will make fake accusations of prostitution solicitation to blackmail men.

When the Swedish law passed in 1999, a flurry of blogs, articles, and position papers were published decrying the injustice to men. Professor Don Kulick wrote a paper implying that women with the ability to accuse men of commercial sexual predation will abuse it to hurt innocent men because women are conniving gold-diggers like that:

“The only positive thing for sexworkers that perhaps can to be said to have emerged from this law is that it seems that some of them have used it to rob clients or blackmail them, telling them that if they didn’t cough up more money, they would turn them into the police.”

Kulick doesn’t provide examples or sources to verify if any femme fatale extortions happened and he offers a mild counter argument:

“Of course, both robbery and blackmail are much more serious crimes than purchasing sexual services, so if a client goes to the police, the sexworker risks much harsher penalties than the client she robbed or attempted to blackmail.”

Because Kulick is a man incapable of empathizing with prostituted women, he neglects what women know about the kinds of “harsher penalties” men inflict on disobedient prostitutes.

While it’s theoretically possible women might pretend to be prostitutes (who don’t fear men’s insane amount of violence towards hookers for some reason) to extort money from men, women have been able to “cry rape” against any man, punter or not, for many years and that hasn’t been occurring.

5. The worst harm of prostitution is the shame/stigma.

Some “professional erotic technicians” have said the weight of the shame should their families and friends discover their criminal secret is their biggest problem. Frankly, as someone who had a loved one suffer and die from prostitution, I find that declaration a relief because I believe sex workers when they say they haven’t dealt with violent johns or pimps and I’m grateful for their good luck.

The tightest argument against stigma causing the bulk of damage to sex workers is that the men most likely to seriously harm them are precisely the pimps and johns most likely to accept prostitution as a natural, necessary business transaction. By the stigma rationale, paying johns should be the least likely to harm prostituted women, yet the evidence overwhelmingly shows otherwise. The oft-repeated description of men’s experiences with prostitutes being “emotionless” sex doesn’t translate into “stigmaless” sex, but someone intent on attributing rape to criminalization instead of toxic masculinity has to detach the rapist from his motivation to rape somehow.

On the sex worker side of things I agree that feeling ashamed sucks, but I can provide a very long list of prostitution-related harms that suck a whole lot more. Thanks to trafficking awareness campaigns plus the eternally creative imaginations of pimpographers, the average citizen can also whip up a hefty list of brutal nasties faced by the average prostituted woman which transcend shame. Consequently, I more commonly see stigma listed among prostitution’s many problems or as a thematic connection between a group of problems than as The Problem.


Industry lobbyists think they can replace the well-known threat pimps and johns pose to prostitutes with the specious assertion that feminists and police officers are worse. Fortunately that’s not been working well for them.

I tried to think of a new pro-prostitution argument encountered in the past year and the only one that comes to mind declares Sweden a sexually repressive, totalitarian gender dystopia disguised as a socialist democracy. Iceland also got some slander slapped on it in 2013 when they stopped pretending that the women in pornography can be sex workers without consumers of pornography being sex worker clients, aka johns.

Such weak lobs play well to the Julian Assange fanclub but I’m quite sure, “Scandinavia hates sexual freedom” has fresh dirt under its nails from digging a grave in the cemetery of pointless pro-prostitution polemics.

Ghosts of Prostitution Debates Past

Prostitution FAQ

In 2005, I endeavored to write the best prostitution FAQ on the web and it still is.

prostitution faq

Radio Interview

“Interview with Samantha Berg: A Primer on Radical Feminism” with Ernesto Aguilar for Pacifica Radio, originally aired on Houston, Texas channel 90.1 FM KPFT, June 25, 2014