Browsing articles tagged with " featured"
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. I hadn’t been applying my feminism to pornography for all the usual reasons like acceptance from my porn-using partner, the thrill of being a baddie bad girl who used a boy thing, all those twirly emotions that collide around sexuality.

I was becoming more radical in other areas of my life. Still a porn user, I moved from NYC to Portland, a city famous for its unconventional politics and booming prostitution industry. I continued my poverty-relief campaigning while honoring my feminism through pro-choice activism. These forces came together in actualized practice 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-corporate, anti-war, pro-environmentalism and pro-alternative politics, 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: Corporate media 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 dubious, 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 rape slavery. 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 shit-upon 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 and pro-women 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 in every way 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 one can only be told in person so you’ll have to get yourself to the next radfem gathering and ask me or another woman who participated about it. I promise it’s worth the travel and lodging costs.

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.

Jan
22

New research shows violence decreases under Nordic model: Why the radio silence?

By Sam Berg  //  Sam Berg  //  1 Comment

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.

LIARS!

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.

BITERS!

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.

COPPERS!

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.”

ENDERS!

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.

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.

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