Browsing articles tagged with " sex work"
Dec
17

Prostitution is not work: The crib sheet

published at Feminist Current December 17, 2018

 

Another research paper promoting the legalization of prostitution as beneficial has been released. Titled, “Associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies”, the report was funded by the staunchly pro-legalization Open Society Foundation in service of “tackling the structural drivers of HIV.”

Investigating the structural drivers of HIV transmission is a noble public health goal, however it is not a feminist goal. Feminism centers its advocacy and education on bettering the lives of women and girls. I have been writing feminist analyses of prostitution research for several years, which is to say I read prostitution research with the question, “How does this serve women and girls?” on the top of my mind.

Expecting people to pore through the daunting statistics and methodologies that sometimes spin even my academically-inclined head is unrealistic and also unnecessary. Statistics are useful to quantify the severe harms of prostitution, but I have found more success convincing people that legalization exacerbates prostitution’s harms when I lay off the numbers and lay into common sense rationale connecting my audience to recognizable elements in their own lives.

I wrote the “Genderberg Prostitution FAQ” in 2005 to emphasize reason over statistics and it remains the most popular page on my archived website Genderberg.com. Few emotions are more satisfying to me than occasionally seeing someone reiterate my point, “There is no other ‘job’ where a 13-year-old with zero experience can be sold for 100 times the price what a 23-year-old with ten years experience is sold.”

For December 17th’s International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, here are ten more pithy explanations for how prostitution is much more aligned with exploitation than with work.

1) No job title is threateningly flung in the faces of women and girls all over the world the way “whore” and its many synonyms in many languages are used to commit verbal abuse.

2) Prostitution is often compared to coal mining. Harms to coal miners are accidents that safety equipment aims to reduce; harms to prostituted women are intentionally inflicted on them. Pornography commonly portrays harming women as an attractive goal for consumers.

3) Prostitution is often compared to low-paid McJob work. Fast food employees don’t need specialized social services to “help” them quit the way prostitution survivors need protecting from pimps. When prostituted women escape they are more often in the same situation as domestic violence victims, fleeing from imminent harm with only the clothes on their back and the fear of being recaptured in their minds.

4) Prostitution is often compared to cleaning toilets. Being forced by economic necessity to clean toilets every day would be deeply unpleasant but it isn’t rape and it doesn’t leave people with PTSD, sexually transmitted diseases, or unwanted pregnancies. Anyone who has both cleaned a toilet and engaged in sex could explain the vast differences in these two activities.

5) Prostitution is not service work, it is bodily exploitation. The sex, race, and age of who provides a legitimate service doesn’t matter for cashiers, plumbers, accountants, cab drivers, etc. the way it matters to prostitute-using men who won’t accept sexual services from a man’s body when they want a woman’s body or from an elderly woman’s body when they want a young girl’s body.

6) There is no occupation that can be done while the worker is unconscious. Prostitutes are often drugged, passed out from unendurable pain, or have head trauma inflicted on them before and during being sexually assaulted.

7) Prostitution is not an entertainment media profession like modeling or acting. Actresses pretend to have sex, prostituted women are not pretending having sex and the harm to their bodies and minds is evidence of exploitation, not an occupation. There is no trafficking ring forcing teenage girls to perform Shakespeare for men’s leisure.

8) Basic work safety conditions are impossible to reconcile with prostitution. Laws about occupational exposure (“reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials”) mandate latex gloves, eye goggles, face masks, and aprons to protect employees. Prostitution can never be OSHA compliant.

9) Unionization is not possible. Pimps and pornographers call themselves sex workers because they are employed in the sex industry as they lobby for deregulation and exceptions to worker safety laws. You can’t negotiate your way out of being raped when enduring unwanted sex is the job.

10) “I’ll give you a dollar if you let me punch you in the face,” is not a freelance job offer and neither are prostitution solicitations. Men soliciting for prostitution in public are not magnanimously offering women jobs, no one approaches strangers in the street with offers of gainful employment.

 

Dec
22

Melania Trump, America’s first sex worker First Lady

published at Feminist Current December 17, 2016

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In late November I was in the Portland State University’s Women’s Resource Center listening to a teacher explain that sex work is feminist work. Where an evidenced explanation for the Nordic Model’s supposed failure should have been, she asked the students to postulate a reason for its failure and one young woman guessed, “Because sex is used transactionally all the time, police can’t know if transactions are professional or not.” The teacher agreed and moved on to how not all prostitutes were raped as children.

In that woman’s mind and to the teacher’s agreement, sex is perceived mainly as a means to acquire things. All women are prostitutes, but some go on to make careers of it and the transition is so seamless that onlookers can’t tell the difference between having sex for stuff as an amateur and having sex for stuff as a pro.

I bring up this recent anecdote because the assembled sex-positive liberals in that class were adamantly anti-Trump and aghast at his election without reflecting on how Trump is the most pro-sex work president the USA has ever had.

The knee-jerk position of the American Left is to oppose anyone who goes through public life with an R in front of their name. However, liberal men are much more supportive of women as public sexual property than conservative men who prefer their women privately owned. So why are liberals who advocate for expanding the public harem deciding, against all his prior actions up to and including marrying a sex worker, that Donald Trump is anti-sex worker?

Jenni Kutner wrote for Mic about porn actress Jessica Drake, one of the dozens of women who have accused Trump of sexual abuse. She concluded:

“Trump has done more than imply how he feels about people in the sex industry. He’s demonstrated that he doesn’t view them as people at all.”

According to Drake, he treated her the same as he has numerous other women, “He grabbed each of us tightly, in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission.” That’s an ordinary day for the world’s most notorious pussy-grabber. Donald Trump treats women the same way he treats sex workers because he agrees with the Portland State teacher and student that all women prostitute, some are simply more organized about it than others.

Drake said Trump called her later and offered her $10,000 for sex plus the use of his private jet to get back home the next day.

I haven’t seen any of the people who want to legitimize prostitution as a profession acknowledge Trump’s generosity here. It’s very rare for a sex worker to make $10,000 in one night. A sum of that amount should be cause for sex-positive celebration and an example of a man honoring the work of sex they proclaim it is. The added offer of a private jet ride home afterwards surely makes him a gentleman john if ever there was one.

Robert Brannon of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism collected details of Trump’s financial dealings that support prostitution in his article, “Donald Trump and the Sex Industry.” Among his findings are such pro-sex worker facts as Trump’s Taj Mahal casino being the first casino in Atlantic City to have an in-house strip club and Trump’s numerous collaborations with Playboy:

“Donald Trump, himself, has appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine, and has proudly performed as an ‘actor’ in three different Playboy-produced ‘softcore’ pornography videos in 1999, 2001, and 2004 (Moye, 2016). He was always fully clothed, but in other scenes in these films, many women were naked. In the most recent film, young women are shown naked in sexual positions, dancing naked, rubbing honey on their breasts, taking a bath, and suggestively touching themselves and each other while naked (Moye, 2016).”

And still the mainstream liberal media keeps trying to paint Donald Trump as anti-sex work.

Rolling Stone ran a story on sex workers donating tips to Planned Parenthood in protest of Trump that included this rationale, “Whether their clients are Republicans or Democrats, they all spend the same money.“

AlterNet ran a story wondering if a Trump presidency will be bad for the porn industry.

What more could this avid client of erotic service providers possibly do to show he’s one hundred percent on the side of pimps, pornographers, and sex workers? Would marrying a sex worker, having her bear his son, and making her America’s first sex worker First Lady suffice?

Apparently not.

Even the most apologetic of commentators can’t bring themselves to claim Melania Trump as one of their own and congratulate her on her new position as First Lady. Self styled “dominatrix and sex worker” Margaret Corvid poses the oddly noncommittal question, “Who Cares If Melania Trump Was Maybe A Sex Worker?” as if it doesn’t matter that an alleged former sex worker will be America’s First Lady for the next four years.

Corvid avoids treating Melania Trump as an agent of her own destiny and turns the topic towards herself and the abuse liberal men continue to dish out to prostituted women, “When liberals aim at Melania for alleged sex work, they hit me with their bullets of shame.”

It would be a step forward for Corvid to stop being wishy-washy about Ms. Trump’s rumored past and embrace it. Perhaps then she could show concern for the woman whose naked image is being used by liberals as a cudgel to hit conservatives with instead of twisting it into an attack on herself by proxy.

Jill Filipovic, a former AlterNet editor and Guardian columnist who typifies the politics of third wave feminism, once wrote about begrudgingly allowing abusive men the legal right to purchase sex:

“I do think men who get off not just on sex but on exploitation are irredeemable shitholes, though. And yeah, they should have a legal right to access porn and to pay for sex (with people who are above the age of consent). But I still think they’re shitholes…”

By her own stated ethics, Filipovic should accept that not-convicted not-rapist Donald Trump offered a very agent-full sex worker a respectful sum of $10,000 for one night’s work. Drake considered the offer then refused, an ideal sex work scenario conjured by advocates for legal prostitution.

I disagree that the best people can do about paid-for sexual assault is make an informal complaint, heave a sigh, and walk away feeling superior to “shitholes.”

By third wave feminist standards, Donald Trump is a sexual freedom hero. He offers vast sums of money to sex workers, pioneered strip clubs in Atlantic City casinos, appeared on Playboy’s cover plus performed cameos for Playboy products, and his third wife is said to be a former sex worker he made the mother of his child before making her First Lady.

Today, on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I will toast America’s first sex worker First Lady and drink for the liberals who got the punter-in-chief they wanted. Donald Trump is well and truly the president of third wave feminism.

 

Sep
7

Dead Rentboys tell no tales

published at Feminist Current September 1, 2015

 

Philip Michael Peck picture

Philip Michael Peck, 1990

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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