published at Feminist Current January 22, 2013
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.
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%) 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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