Browsing articles by " Sam Berg"
Jun
12

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.

May
30

“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.”

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 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 women’s freedom of speech, 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, 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 angry men 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 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 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 “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 wrote the pre-event press release and I had to write this post-event summary.

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.

Oct
31

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.

Conclusion

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.

Jun
12

Rain & Thunder Activist Spotlight: Samantha Berg, United States

Published in feminist journal Rain & Thunder issue #56, Spring 2013

Laurel Long took the time to interview Samantha Berg, a generation X radical feminist and anti-pornstitution activist. Berg was a lead organizer for Radfem Reboot, an all-womyn gathering held in Portland, Oregon in July 2012.

 

Laurel Long (LL): How did you discover radical feminism?

Samantha Berg (SB): A woman once wrote that her feminist process was: liberal, feminist, pro-sex feminist, radical feminist. My radicalization process looks a lot like that, landing on radicalism in my mid 20s.

The first change was realizing that being feminist is believing in women’s liberation as per the femin- part, but it’s equally grounded in the suffix -ist marking someone who takes action. Usually there will be overlap in what serves all women and what serves me, but I’m speaking in the deepest philosophical sense of committing oneself to bettering the lives of all women.

Then I began reading and openly identified as a feminist. Soon I learned enough to realize my use of and support for pornography (strip clubs, other pornstitution) fit under pro-sex feminism, and I accepted that. The shift from pro-sex to radical took about two years beginning to end. Still a porn user, I moved from NYC to Portland, a city famous for its unconventional politics and booming sex industry. I continued my poverty-relief campaigning while honoring my feminism through pro-choice activism. These forces collided when I began to find myself turned off by the idea of using pornography from 1) a feminist viewpoint 2) an anti-corporate control over media viewpoint 3) a sexual health educator’s viewpoint.

In the longer version there are the people I’ve loved who suffered from and lost their lives to prostitution, but I’ll skip that personal portion of the narrative for now. This is the part where I find through the internet that there are other feminists who feel about pornstitution the same way I had come to feel about it. They also turned out to be anti-war and pro-environmentalism just like me. They called themselves radical feminists and after more reading I decided it was a fitting term.


LL: Some women have said that discovering radical feminism saved their lives. Would you say this is true for you?

SB: I wouldn’t say that’s accurate for me. Anti-pornstitution activism gives me purpose and pride and it makes me feel less crazy in a world where the insanity of male supremacy lords over us all, but it didn’t spark renewed life in me. The people in my life who have cared for and supported me are the ones who “saved my life,” radical feminism is the love that I’m able to give back now that I’m in a safe and trusting place.


LL: What do you think are the biggest obstacles facing women today?

SB: Media’s exploitation of women’s fears and insecurities. From movies to music to the internet, my generation of women consumes images produced by others (almost entirely men) at a greater rate than ever before. We’re drowning in a sea of woman-negative media that would be hard to stay afloat in with rafts, and we don’t have those. As we struggle uphill to procure basic tools like critical analysis and freedom from unwanted media intrusion, corporate psychologists work harder to worm into the subconscious minds of the most skeptical media consumers.


LL: One problem women with your politics face is finding other women with similar politics. How many other radical feminists do you know near where you’re located?

SB: There are about a dozen radfem acquaintances in the Portland area. I’ve worked with them on and off for years on specific protests and projects.

Lately there’s been a resurgence of anti-prostitution energy as housewives, businesswomen, and retirees are coming together to address the Pacific Northwest’s especially large problems with human trafficking. They are my friends and colleagues, but most wouldn’t call themselves radical feminists. No matter, they’re targeting johns and talking honestly about porn, which makes them more woman-centered than the poseurs of popular feminism.


LL: Are you active on the feminist blogosphere? Does this help keep you sane? In any case, what else do you do to maintain as much sanity as possible in this f-ed up world?

SB: Yes and yes. Fighting back is the healthiest thing a woman can do. I make no claims to having maintained my sanity.


LL: What is your vision for change in the next 5-10 years?

SB: Nordic model all the way, baby. Mandatory health protections for pornstitutes and strippers. Actual application of laws that are supposed to keep pornography away from kids.


LL: What do you wish you had known five years ago?

SB: The johns, the johns, the johns. Stay on target. Capitalists and apologists will do everything to talk about anything but the johns.


LL: This is your moment! What would you like to say to young women today?

SB: The situation is grim, but we have the solution. Susan B. Anthony watched as nation after nation passed women’s suffrage, and in my lifetime I’ve seen the same global sweep with the Swedish model of prostitution. We are living through an exciting and productive time to be a radical feminist.


LL: I’m curious to know more about the Radfem Reboot event held in July 2012. What were the successes?

SB: Feedback has been that Reboot was a particularly congenial event as such political gatherings go. I’m a veteran of anti-trafficking conferences, but I haven’t clocked as many years as some of the women who told me how pleased they were with the overall civility of the weekend. Personally, I’m most proud of the behind-the-scenes chaos being handled well enough that attendees were none the wiser.


LL:
What would you do differently if you held the event again?

SB: Honestly, it was the conference of my dreams and I wouldn’t make any big changes. This was my chance to do a radfem conference Bergstyle and I’m pleased as a peach with how it went. The speakers were women I wanted to learn from, the breadth of topics was impressive and favored my anti-pornstitution interests by design, and friends I’ve been collaborating with for years flew across the planet to give me hugs. Organizing Radfem Reboot made me feel so useful, respected, and loved that it would be greedy to ask for more.


LL: Is there anything that came out of the event that would be good for Rain & Thunder readers to know about?

SB: Preliminary plans for more conferences would probably be of most practical interest to readers and I’m sure the details of those are forthcoming, so I’d like to share a more spiritual anecdote.

There was one woman who participated not because she was a radfem or knew anyone there, but because she lived down the street from the venue and stepped inside to use the bathroom Saturday morning. Seeing our large gathering of only women, she took a seat and wound up staying through Sunday night. The Portland sisterhood grew by one and once again I felt vindicated about radical feminism because our advanced theory workshops spoke to the soul of a woman simply passing through. At our most philosophical we don’t stray from the axis of real women’s lives and truths.

That’s the first story I tell non-radical feminist friends when they ask how my conference went, but my favorite story came out of Saturday night’s group activism. Alas, that can only be told in person so you’ll have to get yourself to the next radfem gathering and ask me or someone else who participated about it. I promise it will be worth it.

Laurel Long is a 26-year-old radical feminist activist who first “met” Sam Berg through her fantastic online website www.genderberg.com When not engaging in radical feminist activism, Long works as a sexual assault and mental health crisis counselor.

Feb
8

Norwegian prostitution research solid like iceberg

published at Feminist Current February 8, 2013


Samantha Berg elaborates on Pro Sentret’s research into violence against prostituted women under the Nordic model.


The third page of Pro Sentret’s Dangerous Liaisons report lays out the mission statement for the 2012 investigation:

“The purpose is to evaluate whether the women are more exposed to violence after the introduction of the law.”

The methodology of choice was a comparison of 2007/08 numbers with new 20012 numbers:

“The design of the questionnaire was approximately the same as the questionnaire that was used in 2007/2008, albeit perhaps somewhat shorter.”

Comparable numbers were compared. Murder attempts weren’t asked about in 2007/08 so those numbers are broken down for race and indoor/outdoor but left off the graph comparing dates.

When I noticed the potential discrepancy between years in prostitution before and after the law change I played the responsible journalist and emailed Pro Sentret. The unspeakably high mortality rate in prostitution reduces “career” longevity by a fair degree (aka women don’t last long), and the notorious influx of young foreigners from poverty-stricken countries made me suspect the pre-2007/08 average time in prostitution wouldn’t have been many years.

Pro Sentret’s senior officer Camilla Hammergren’s replied that the data hasn’t been translated into English and added, “The women were asked how long they had been in prostitution. The data/results were not given room in the report must mean they gave no significant findings regarding vulnerability.” She also suggested author Ulla Bjorndahl might offer more information when she returns from personal leave in late February.

Provide me with the translated raw data and I’ll read every speck. Berg blood is valkyrie blood and I’m a linguist with training in Germanic languages, so if anyone wants to pay for the educational materials and give me a few weeks I’ll read it in Norwegian. Until then, I’m taking the Dangerous Liaisons report on its own terms. Pro Sentret set the board, they put down the pieces, and they explained the rules according to them. The Nordic model won the game.

If you consider the methodology too sketchy to trust, all right. The report is dead to you, you can stop reading now, goodbye.

For the rest I have another game, still on Pro Sentret’s board and using their pieces, but played by the rules of those who are trying to discredit the research.

Imagine that the average time in prostitution before 2007/08 is triple the three year research window since, nine years prior to three years post. As intended, that generous hypothetical would lessen the impact of the very dramatic reductions in rape, pimp violence, and client violence currently reported.

Here’s the home viewer participation portion of the game; how does that hypothetical affect the 150% leap in biting and 167% increase in hair pulling since 2007/08?

Pardon the intemperance, but I believe my theory explaining the already formidable rise in biting and hair pulling was perfect. Add up an imaginary nine years of pre-2007/08 biting and hair pulling and set them next to what men did in the last three years to see a downright unholy rise in these very specific violations.

Why?

Contemplate your answer while we advance to the second level: quotes! No numbers allowed, this is the round where proof that criminalizing punters is effective scores big points on the strength of words and common sense.

Meghan Murphy recently wrote, “The sad truth is that, if buying sex is legal, the police aren’t likely to start going after or charging johns who rape and abuse prostitutes on their own accord. We know this. We know the police have been ignoring violence against prostituted women, particularly those who are poor and racialized, for years.”

We do know, and thanks to Pro Sentret’s report we also know:

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.”

Remember my email to Camilla Hammergren? I had included a request for clarification on ‘most’ and ‘often’ in numbers because I’m thorough like that, but honestly it doesn’t matter. Putting the power of police in prostituted women’s hands is the theory behind the Nordic model and it works.

We also know there were no reports of police committing any kind of violence whatsoever against prostituted women in the 2012 research, which is a card I can play this round because “nothing” isn’t a number.

My final hand from Pro Sentret’s deck:

“A fairly large amount of the women said that there was little they could do to protect themselves against violence. The reason they gave for this was usually that they already did what they could, and that prostitution was so risky that it was impossible to protect yourself against violence. Some of the women who said there was little they could do, also said the only thing they might be able to do was quit prostitution.”

Let’s play again soon.

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 Abolitionist Feminism” with Ernesto Aguilar for Pacifica Radio, originally aired on Houston, Texas channel 90.1 FM KPFT, June 25, 2014

Articles