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Nov
9

Who votes against decriminalizing prostituted children?

By Sam Berg  //  Articles, Sam Berg  //  3 Comments

published at Feminist Current November 9, 2012


I am thrilled that California has just passed two laws addressing the harms of the sex industry. Measure B mandates condom use in porn among other sensible workplace safety preventions for the legal porn industry, and Prop 35 increases consequences for illegal pimps, child pornographers, and sex traffickers while decriminalizing victims of commercial sexual abuse. These laws are a done deal, hooray, yet my abolitionist work on the issue continues as long as the public debate does, and people are not done talking about Prop 35.

For over a decade I have actively tried to lessen the human losses of prostitution, and in that time I’ve heard an unbelievable number of excuses against strengthening sexual exploitation laws. Sometimes I shrug it off as the universal impetus behind Woodrow Wilson’s famous quote,  “If you want to make enemies, try to change something,” and sometimes I think less magnanimous thoughts about those who would thwart the passage of anti-rape laws.

Despite Prop 35’s predictable win – and more importantly despite my extensive history of reading specious sex industry position papers – I gave naysayers the benefit of the doubt that maybe this time they had a point. Let me share some of the excuses I’ve seen made for opposing Prop 35 (full text and summary here for reference.)

First, let’s zoom past the complaint about crowding the sex offender list because databases exist. Imagine if we set a limit on fingerprint collection because oy, ten from each person! If police truly must print out sex offender lists and scan them with biological eyes then they definitely need the extra money Prop 35 would take from pimps to upgrade past 1995 home computer technology.

Some No on Prop 35ers are very concerned about the families of convicted sex offenders. Similarly, right now in Kennebunk, Maine some prostitute-using men believe they should be exempt from having their crimes known publicly by begging mercy for what the community outcry will do to their children. Forgive me for slipping myself another easy one at the start, one where men are responsible for considering the impact of their decisions before choosing to break the law.

The flimsy boogeyman of sex workers’ families being labeled traffickers was raised in 1999 when Sweden passed its revolutionary law criminalization johns. No Swedish sex worker’s children have been charged as traffickers in Sweden after twelve years of much stronger anti-exploitation laws than Prop 35. Regardless of this reality, Feministing is sure thousands of innocent sex workers and their families will be jailed and bankrupted as they claim Prop 35 just criminalized the entire sex industry (and their families) in California.

The “locking up rapists overcrowds prisons” one has also been around since the early days of the Swedish model when naysayers predicted many nonviolent, merely ‘naughty’ men would be thrown in jail by the Swedish Gestapo. Turned out men don’t need hookers so much when there are negative consequences to their actions because soliciting reduced dramatically and few johns were jailed. Did the low jail rate vindicate Swedish model advocates? Heck no! They used the low number of jail sentences to suggest the law was unnecessary and ineffective. There’s no pleasing some people.

Melissa Gira Grant creatively made a new use for an old line that’s been shutting down discussions about porn for years when she suggested “sexual exploitation” can mean anything at all and no one can know if what goes on under that label is criminal or not. Postmodernists who say words have no distinct, shared meanings are blaspheming linguistics and manipulating language to their own ends like three-card Monte cheaters. Once upon a time there was no such thing as sexual harassment or domestic violence, now that time has passed and taken with it ignorance of how sexual exploitation harms people.

I saved the worst for last.

Behold the euphemism for child pornography that a pornsturbator at California’s Ventura County Star concocted against Prop 35, “Also, individuals could face severe penalties for very limited, indirect involvement with artistic or other creative works that later are found to have used minors illegally.”

Prostituted kids needs to be decriminalized at the very least, however sex worker groups who call decriminalization their goal have never put decriminalizing kids on their legislative agenda. It’s abolitionists who get laws passed erasing the criminal records of exploited children and giving prostituted women the right to sue pimps for damages.

Not only aren’t sex worker groups working for safe harbor laws, in addition to Prop 35 they tried to kill New York’s law from passing when it was proposed by a coalition of activists led by survivor Rachel Lloyd of GEMS. Sex industry advocates wanted the law, including the part decriminalizing kids, rejected because they didn’t like that youths could be placed in care facilities which didn’t allow them to come and go as they pleased. Variations on safe harbor laws have been passed in 13 states, leaving 37 states, leaving no time like the present for sex work advocates to get the jump on abolitionist lawmakers by pushing forth the first child decriminalizing laws they won’t protest.

Prop 35 passed with a mandate-making 81% of the vote. Eyes are watching to see how California’s authorities wind up applying the new law, and there’s always some lag time between implementation and results, but there will be results eventually. When Prop 35 follows Sweden’s lead and doesn’t result in strippers’ children having to register as sex offenders, will any of the people who tried to roadblock Prop 35 find the grace to apologize?

Jan
17

Christine Stark’s “Nickels”, a tale of association

published at Radfem Hub Feb 3, 2012

 

Christine Stark has been a role model of mine since 2004. That was the year she co-edited Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, which immediately soared up my book chart and remains a Berg top five today.

Not For Sale contains my favorite essay on prostitution, but Stark’s direct confrontation with so-called ‘sex radicals’ in the essay “Girls to Boyz: Sex radical women promoting prostitution and pornography” has the most forthright chutzpah of the collection. My admiration for her anti-pornstitution work led me to take special note of her various creative works released through radical feminist and artistic media.

Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation is Stark’s debut novel and it’s a doozy. The freestyle narrative announces itself on the first page through two fairy tales as understood by a small child. Stark plays with linguistic forms to translate the thoughts in a child’s mind, and it’s a testament to her skill that the unconventional style comes off much more genuine than parlor tricky. The punctuation and odd sentence breaks lend a breathless air and the cadence is tricky to catch at first, but much like watching a Scottish film, the initial confusion of familiar words in an unfamiliar dialect soon resolves and you’re hooked into the storyteller’s groove.

The story follows Little Miss So and So from age four through twenty-six. Her stream of consciousness survival of incestuous rape makes the early pages rough reading, so don’t pack Nickels for the beach. Not that there isn’t an inherent entertainment in stories of terrified and tortured children — as the stratospheric popularity of Stephen King proves — it’s just that Nickels is a different kind of horror story.

My fear to face was being forced to remember the powerlessness of childhood. Great literature makes readers see the world through another person’s eyes in a way that connects to their soul. What I saw through Little Miss So and So’s eyes was my world as a child, my own fractured soul trying to make sense of the cowardly cruelty of child abusers. Little Miss So and So was five-years-old when the school nurses saw the bruises and filed a failed lawsuit to remove her from her abusive family. I was six when the same events happened to me. There’s even a scene involving a bite-size apple pie and tears of gratitude for a family member showing kindness that rather eerily echoes an apple pie anecdote from my past. I write a lot, often about violence against women, yet I don’t write about my childhood for reasons I’m still unpacking.

History kept interfering with my reading, a feeling exacerbated by starting the book right before the traditionally family-infected Thanksgiving holiday. I had to keep putting the book down the same way I frequently pause while reading Andrea Dworkin, because the gut-felt truths come fast and tap on spots so sensitive that pushing past the discomfort without consideration feels like a wasted opportunity.

The years in Nickels tick by in five year chunks of time, and in the process my intimate connection to Little Miss So and So faded enough that reading felt less like picking at scabs. Stark’s heroine becomes her own entity and less of the allegory the abstract name evokes. By the time she grows into a young woman I no longer recognized myself in her new pursuits but I liked her just the same. We could be friends, Little Miss So and So and me, though I don’t share her fervor for sports and I’m not a lesbian.

The last two lines of Chris’s biography in Not For Sale are,

“She is a member of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and completing her MFA in Writing from Minnesota State University. Christine is a survivor of incest and a racist prostitution and pornography ring.”

Knowing some pieces of Stark’s past inadvertently made reading a puzzle in which I tried to sort the facts of her life from the fictions of the story. It’s a pointless game and a little unfair to writers who necessarily draw upon what they know to create stories of unreal people. Stark took a formless, nameless girl called Little Miss So and So and fused the tragedy of her lived facts into a useful fiction. Women who can do this, who can write the indescribable violations of girls in authentic words that resonate with survivors, are treasures to feminism and womenkind.

There are more books inside Ms. Christine Stark, more people’s stories to tell. I look forward to meeting them and the pieces of myself I’ll see in them.

Dec
15

The Internet Swear Jar

By Sam Berg  //  Articles  //  2 Comments

published at Feminist Law Professors Dec 15, 2011

 

A few days ago I wrote a comment at the Reclusive Leftist blog about misogynistic verbal abuse being unacceptable whether the target is a blogger or a prostitute and whether they are paid or not. Since then I’ve been fleshing out what it means to be paid for sexual abuse in the context of the internet.

Men call prostituted women a creative litany of slurs that women bloggers are only now learning. Radical feminists have long known the hate speech of pornography is itself sexual abuse that perpetuates further abuse against prostituted women and all women, and for our accurate assessment we have had that hate hurled at us faster and more aggressively.

Many women bloggers have shared complaints through the #mencallmethings Twitter hashtag, but few solutions have been offered by liberal feminists more worried about being perceived as pro-censorship than in stopping men’s verbal harassments.

In the name of harm reduction, I propose the Internet Swear Jar.

Sex workers are paid to be called misogynistic names and people consider it a fair transaction. Most high-profile feminist bloggers – ones who ask for donations to support their feminism – agree with that status quo situation. By the usual rationales for accepting prostitution and pornography, why shouldn’t men be allowed to pay any woman willing to take money in exchange for having some control over the verbal abuse she must endure?

Bloggers could post a menu of prices, and of course they would have the final choice on whether or not to accept twenty dollars to be publicly called a cocksucking cunt, but if your political ethic encompasses Yes Means Yes and Sex Work Is Work beliefs then men should be able to ask you ‘yes or no’ sex work questions. People who reject prostitution as employment wouldn’t participate, but there’s no reason for pro-sexwork bloggers to reject hearing out sincere “sass for cash” offers they would expect other women to accept. The sex work declared so rife with diversity that “not a monolith!” has become its mantra can’t be considered 100% monolithically terrible when the question becomes one of pro-sex work women considering freelance job offers.

Men are going to threaten and call women bloggers horrifically violent names anyway. Like the common belief in prostitution’s inevitability, it can’t be stopped. However, the extra harm reduction money can make blogging a little easier for women who have to deal with verbal sexism.

Grievances taken through the legal system commonly result in financial compensation. A system of direct payment would be a less time-consuming and economical way of achieving an already established form of justice.

Maybe disabled men with no other emotional outlet than anonymously spitting invective at women bloggers need that catharthic emoting to be healthy, and the conscientious women who consent to provide that service should be financially compensated.

By now I hope you’ve figured out I’m speaking hypothetically. There is no logical and humane answer to the question, “When is it all right to call a woman a flea-bitten whore who deserves to be raped?” that kicks off the start of payment negotiations.

But pro-sex work bloggers are not being philosophically cheeky about women arranging their own sexualized abuse in exchange for money. They really support the status quo of prostitution that permits payment for sexist humiliation. A key difference is that bloggers aren’t physically assaulted after getting called dehumanizing names, whereas no one in the world is more raped than prostituted women.

With credit to Stephen Roberts for amending his famous quote about atheism, “I contend that we are both abolitionists. I just believe in fewer sex workers than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all sex work jobs for yourself, you will understand why I dismiss all sex work jobs for women.”

 

Oct
25

Three days of radical feminist SCUM

By Sam Berg  //  Articles, Sam Berg  //  6 Comments

published at SistersUnderground, Oct 25, 2011

 

“THRILL SEEKING FEMALES UNITE”

The SCUM conference announcement dared me.

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore, this
THREE DAY RADICAL FEMINIST CONFERENCE
is for civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females who want to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation…….and destroy male supremacy!
 

Sold and sold! I was ready to go. Then I saw it.

“Perth, Western Australia”

Damn.

So I left a wistful comment wishing them the best of luck then prayed to gods I don’t believe in for the miracle it would take to get me there. The miracle turned out to be feminist sisterhood.

The organizers met my tossed off hope of attending with hundreds of dollars for airfare, a place to stay, and a spot discussing my radical activism. Once these two generous women gave form to my sojourn, women’s donations filled in the gaps and built a matriarchal microcosm of gift-giving economy.

SCUM came on the heels of Amazon Mancrusher  and Allecto’s success organizing a shadow conference to the tragic Feminist Futures conference (details here and worth reading if this is new news to you.)

That ad hoc radical feminist meeting exceeded expectations, and thus began a thirst to see just how far they could take the radfem resurgence they had stoked.

A core of thirty women spent three radfemtastic days in Perth, a city infamous for its relative isolation from civilization. About five of the women were under 35 and at least ten were over 60, making for quite a multi-generational meeting if you disregard that no teens attended. Younger women were prominently dressed in black and the elders were a living homage to varying shades of purple.

The community hall Allecto and Amazon Mancrusher (I could happily type that name a hundred times) selected was perfect beyond expectation. The pink adobe-like venue sat cheerfully among permaculture gardens and hosted environmentalist standards like a solar powered fountain and art made from recycled materials. Inside was a well supplied kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a meeting room for fifty people scented with what I’m almost sure was a jasmine tree near the front entrance.

For the three nights of conference I could choose to either sleep in a proper bed back at the house or at the hippie paradise of the Earthwise center with other overnighters, which wasn’t so much a choice as a gift from goddesses I don’t believe in. I would have slept on what turned out to be a very comfortable mat just for the jasmine, but the assembled women were as charming and hilarious a sleepover crew as ever did play Balderdash.

We began the first morning’s business by listening to Nyungah elder Doolan Leisha Eatts speak about Indigenous Australia’s infamous stolen children. Families ripped apart by racism isn’t a new story, but what shook me was how recent and raw the crimes felt when sharing the air with a woman telling breathless truths. Carbon footprint guilt aside, sacrifices were made to bring me to the other side of the planet and I had considered Skype as an alternative, but there really is something magical about women gathering in a space together.

Later, Iranian-born activist Noushin Aref-Adib gave a solemn lecture about women’s especial vulnerabilities in war and in refugee situations. Sadly, Ms. Aref-Adib was crunched for time and skipped out of work to barely attend her own session before bolting back to her responsibilities.

Lyn Ariel dipped into feminism’s plentiful herstory with a recap of the bumper stickers, buttons, and protest signs that consolidated the conscience of the women’s liberation movement. We talked about the original meanings of phrases like “the personal is political” and “sisterhood is powerful” while contemplating how interpretations have changed. Then Betty McLellan upped the ante a few notches by focusing on the biggest one word feminist motto of all, “revolution.” read more

Oct
9

On the Feminists-in-Underwear Walks

Revolution welcomes comments/responses to articles in our newspaper. The following was written by Samantha Berg in response to Sunsara Taylor’s article, “The Thing About Slutwalks…and a World Without Rape” posted at revcom.us Oct 9, 2011

 

I tried to avoid writing an essay on SlutWalks. I’ve left pieces around the never-ending party that is the internet, but I’d rather be stomping out johns than criticizing essentially well-intentioned women.

The initial trigger shot off when Sunsara Taylor wrote an essay for Revolution titled, “The Thing About Slutwalks… and a World Without Rape” and requested my opinion. My respect for her diligence has only grown since we got to know each other at the Stop Porn Culture event in July and she deserves a thorough response.

The anecdotes she offers of women gathering and speaking with each other are potent, and I believe when she says it was an overall inspiring occasion for the women involved. What I question is if that’s enough to mitigate all the other stuff. Anti-woman traditions are often ameliorated with “Well at least women are befriending each other.” For example, polyamorists focus on what good friends multiple wives become and women point out the friendships of the Sex & the City gals when confronted with the show’s misogyny. Personal connections are good, but are they good enough to exact necessary political change?

While I accept Sunsara’s recounting of how crucial camaraderie and baby step introductions to feminism are, I have to deny that SlutWalk represents a new surge of feminist energy. In 2004 I reported on the March For Women’s Lives for The Portland Alliance newspaper, and since then I’ve not just participated but planned other public actions. Thanks to Facebook, I know of half a dozen feminist protest marches this summer. A few, like Take Back the Night and Reclaim the Night, are annual events on some campuses around the world. Others dwelling in my Events folder are the Freedom Walk, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes (men walk in women’s shoes), and the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence Walk in honor of Maria Aguilar.

None of these, and more I’ll never hear about, will be covered by the mainstream media with a droplet of the fervor given to SlutWalks and we all know why.

Declarations of supposedly watershed moments in women’s liberation are frequent, and they usually revolve around women acting more publicly sexual. How many times have we been told that the public presence of libertines like Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, Madonna, Lil Kim, Britney Spears, Jenna Jameson, “Samantha Jones” and the entirety of fuckme feminism’s twenty year rule would usher in less sexual oppression for women? The theory has not become reality because men have women where they want them and not Mae nor Marilyn nor Madonna have managed to change that despite delusions of pussy power grandeur.

I have seen the word ‘slut’ so many times in the past few months that despite my overt rejection it has seeped into my brain. When I think and write, the word interjects. I recognize the effect from researching pornography, though porn’s images intrude far more aggressively than news-safe pictures of SlutWalk.

One day the word jumped out of my head deployed as an ‘ironic’ adjective to achieve sarcasm, possibly the purest form of Freudian slip. A linguist, I know something of how language works, and I know people can’t look at a word without reading it and recalling its dense social content instantaneously. I can’t see ‘slut’ frequently put before me without unconsciously referring to everything I’ve learned about it, and neither can you.

When feminists hold signs declaring “sluts say yes” and “call me a slut too”, they are making a public statement for womankind. Unfortunately, men are not taking up the sign-holders’ offers with only the sign-holders. SlutWalkers tell men it’s okay to call me a slut and to call my sisters sluts from now until they bore of it, and men desensitize to desiring harsher words quickly. The explosion of porn-inspired words made to hurt women is a lesson in never underestimating men’s creativity when it comes to destruction, and women had better learn the lesson because Future Sam will not write about why I can’t support CumguzzlerWalks or CocksocketWalks.

In 2008 frat pledges at Yale held signs declaring “We Love Yale Sluts” in front of the campus Women’s Center and in 2010 another frat’s pledges chanted, “No means yes. Yes means anal!” Young pornfed men have been giving women proof long before Slutwalks that positively sexy feminist tactics aren’t working. “Yes Means Yes” is a useless strategy for stopping men who are turned on by the thought of violating a woman’s ‘no’. Such men view women enthusiastically wanting sex as a challenge to find something more degrading than they believe merely poking a woman vaginally already is (in this case anal sex is the next level) and will never be happy with hordes of lovely ladies begging for it. Like the global appeal of sex with virgins, the whole point is to break something irreplaceable.

The final incident spurring me to write was encountering a young survivor of prostitution who was not beaten into The Life by a pimp or forced by her impoverished family. The most common of reasons compelled her, the need for money, and she met a woman who told her about the big bucks to be made in pornstitution. She said she was a feminist.

I have heard this tale before, and if you speak with enough prostitution survivors you’ll hear it too. If you’re able to read about porn-caused trauma, I recommend radfem blogger Lost Clown’s testimony:

“Desperate for money (for food) and sold down the river by women I trusted. Now I’m not saying that I am a moron and do whatever someone tells me to do, what I am saying is that women who I respected, who were older then me, more experienced then me, and in every way I could see amazing feminists sold me on the idea that it was an ok thing to do for money.”

Being recruited—maliciously or not—by other women into professional sluthood is how most of the prostituted women I personally know were coaxed in the door.

Tied into SlutWalk is the confusion of sex-focused feminists telling men they can use women as prostitutes in an “I’m rubber and you’re glue” way that bounces off the not-for-saleable proclaimers and, once again, sticks to me and my sisters. They could be telling men about a revolution sweeping the world from Scandinavia since 1999, a woman-centered movement the mainstream media has actually given a huge amount of attention to under the generalized name of trafficking. However, the Nordic feminist revolution has been declared not just unsexy by these sexiest of feminists, but worthy of active resistance and called a menace to sexual freedom.

The organizer-acknowledged truth of SlutWalks is the same tragic “make feminism sexy” edict that has failed us since that ship set sail. I certainly don’t lay all the blame for labiaplasty, ass-to-mouth porn, and the growing use of the phrase “child sex worker” on misguided feminists, not in this male supremacist world. Right now I’m looking at the contemporary phenomena of Slutwalks and taking in the positives of women organizing under a ‘slut’ banner while keeping an eye on relevant negatives.

Feminists who pressure women into accepting themselves as sluts and prostitution as a beneficial form of work have the good intention to lessen the damages these nasty manifestations of sexism inflict. This particular road to Hell is not a paved path but the roof of a tall building with young, questioning girls ringing the edges and Full Frontal Feminists standing behind them. They look over the side scared and wondering if they should take the plunge when from behind a trusted voice chirps, “You can fly, sexy bitch!” So like Lost Clown they try, and they drop, but it’s too far down for the Rosie WeCanDoIts to hear the wet thuds on the street from the center of the roof.

The pornographic pushback of recent years is the expected response of misogynistic men to women hitting their stride. Less expected was liberal feminists accepting men’s abusive insults on faulty premises of reclamation. Radical feminists will continue to have our unsexy marches against sexual violence and they will continue to be mostly ignored. Young women on the edges will still be vulnerable, but if they scream “I’m a slut!” and jump off our roof, we have a rope of bedsheets tied together and a team of radfems ready to pull her up.

 

Samantha Berg is National Coordinator for the feminist organization Stop Porn Culture and founder of www.Genderberg.com, an anti-prostitution activist community and resource center since 2005.

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

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