Browsing articles tagged with " prostitution research"

Prostitution is not work: The crib sheet

Published online at Feminist Current and printed in the April 2021 book Spinning and Weaving: Radical Feminism for the 21st Century edited by Elizabeth Miller.

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 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.


Stomping Johns: The Demand Side of Prostitution

Interview with Mickey Z published at World News Trust September 19, 2015

My Interview with Samantha Berg

Mickey Z. — World News Trust

“Marie Antoinette never actually said, ‘Let them eat cake’ when told the poor have no bread, but neoliberals really do callously say, ‘Let them have unions’ when told prostituted women are raped and murdered in strikingly high numbers.” (Samantha Berg)

Samantha Berg is a radical feminist journalist, activist, and event organizer. Since 2003, she has primarily worked against men’s demands for prostitution and pornography, and to those ends she created the abolitionist website and the blog

Samantha’s articles about the sex industry have been published in progressive media for more than a decade and in the past four years she has organized four radical feminist conferences in the United States and Canada.

I became aware of Samantha’s work through some mutual friends and quickly found badass commentary like this from her:

“The reasons a woman only has to make one porn film to be a ‘porn star’ are similar to the reasons a man has only to sign on the dotted government line to be a ‘war hero.’ The ‘war hero’ and ‘porn star’ are calculated lies told by exploiters to keep expendable flesh walking through their doors.”

Needless to say, I suggested we do an interview. She was kind enough to agree and our conversation went a little something like this… 

Samantha Berg

Samantha Berg

Mickey Z.: How did you get started in such work and why do you focus on johns?

Samantha Berg: I was for legalization in my early 20s when I was volunteering for women’s reproductive rights and started earnestly educating myself about prostitution. Soon I learned that no one has less reproductive rights than prostituted women, no one is raped more, no one gets more STDs, no one endures more unwanted pregnancies than prostituted women. 

The harms are obvious yet so hard for people to see because of the pretty girls being dangled to distract them. In conversations I would bring up men’s responsibility to not engage in the destructive behavior of paying for sex and people kept bringing it back to the pretty girls.

In Portland, Oregon, the john-to-prostitute ratio is estimated at 20:1 — 20 johns to every prostitute — yet our words for these men are limited to ‘john’ or business terms like client and customer. There are dozens of ways to call women prostitutes (escort, streetwalker, whore, harlot, hooker, ho, call girl, courtesan, etc.) but a distinct lack of terms for the far more numerous side of the equation. Blame is still largely placed on women, but the radical feminist goal to make the millions of men who pay for sex visible and accountable for the first time in history has been speeding along successfully.

MZ: What role does such high demand play in trafficking?

SB: Countries where men are permitted to pay for sex are countries where sex-based slavery increases. The usual johns just keep on, but they’re joined by hordes of more casual prostitute-using men and that means an increase in trafficking to meet the expansion.

MZ: With, is it safe to assume, a concurrent expansion of men’s violence?

SB: Research from Norway proves that johns will get away with as much violence as they think they can get away with. Common sense says no man who uses prostitutes has to assault the prostitutes they use. The Norwegian research is the latest in a fat pile of evidence proving violation itself often motivates johns (violation of women, violation of laws, violation of vows, etc).

In the Netherlands, johns seek out the most desperate women and children because their powerlessness and addictions make them more willing to do unsafe acts for less money, an obvious outcome when consumers demand the most “bang for their buck.”

If the wives and daughters whom men claim to love and can’t stop the sexual coercion their loved ones commit against them, surely it is unreasonable to expect prostituted women to stop sexually coercive men from committing violence against them. Raped wives and mothers are barely believed, prostituted rape victims are believed even less.

MZ: What else can you tell us about the demand side of prostitution?

SB: Johns are by far the largest demographic involved with prostitution, greater in numbers than all prostitutes and pimps combined. People quibble over what percentage of prostitutes choose it while ignoring that 100 percent of johns choose prostitution.

There are no johns rights organizations. This consumer block of anonymous millions remains adamantly silent because they already have what they want. Men never had to march on Washington to purchase porn DVDs in corner shop convenience stores or to get lap dances in strip clubs.

The phrase “red light district” refers those neighborhoods in every sizable city where men can go to sexually prey on girls with society’s permission. They are the rape neighborhoods, places where rape is a little more okay than elsewhere and everyone knows it.

When sex is “work,” rape is theft. Every time someone calls prostitution “sex work” they affirm for misogynists what misogynists already believe, that a man raping a woman is more akin to a man shoplifting than a man inflicting life-wrecking torture. A man’s agreement to pay $150 for sex makes the rape he commits a crime worth $150 in the public eye.

MZ: Do you feel your research and work has had an impact in educating the general public, countering the neo-liberal narrative, and naming the problem?

SB: I’m realistic about how much one freelance journalist can achieve, but feedback over the many years I’ve been doing this activism says I’ve been at least somewhat successful changing minds. I’m especially proud of my work analyzing prostitution research from Norway, those writings have been translated into several languages and used by abolitionist activists in Europe to press for the Nordic model of criminalizing demand.

As much as I would love to take more credit for the heightened awareness about sex trafficking in the past few years, I honestly think the problem itself has exploded at such a rate that citizens can no longer ignore it or pretend it isn’t happening in their own communities.

MZ: Is there such a thing as a “typical day” for you, doing this work, and what might like that be like?

SB: Because I have a full-time nonprofit day job, evenings and weekends are when the glamorous work of Skype meetings and note-taking, reading news, and writing happen. Most of the daily work lies in responding to emails and otherwise corresponding with people in a timely way. The weeks are punctuated with an educational event here or an activist action there, and these past few years I’ve been organizing one large conference each year, but mainly it’s the small interactions with others that are the real business of building a movement against prostitution.

MZ: What can someone reading this article do to help? 

SB: There’s a role for everyone to do something about sex-based slavery. For some that means joining and supporting abolitionist groups locally and online, for others it begins with ending their own personal consumption of sex industry products like pornography. Start small and reject any impulse to rush in and “rescue” women or girls in prostitution because that’s best left to people trained to deal with violent, organized criminals. 

Feminists are seeing pushback from their success with reframing prostitution as a human rights violation. The better we are at what we do, the stronger the pimps and traffickers have to work to convince men that paying for sex is a safe and ethical use of their money and bodies.

MZ: Is there a question you’ve always wished someone would ask about your work but so far, no one has? If so, please tell us and answer that question now!

SB: It has come up in private conversations, but most people don’t ask me to delve into the emotional risks that come with constantly thinking about and working against organized rape for profit. Secondary trauma from doing this activism needs to be taken seriously if we’re not going to burn ourselves out. 

I’ve gotten better at handling the empathy I feel for survivors as I learn the details of what they endured. These are horrific injuries no one wants to listen to but someone has to, and I have committed myself to listening. If I want to serve women, then I need to take good care of the resource that is my life. Thankfully, the international community of radical feminists I’m a part of sustains me when I’m overwhelmed and want to give up.  Days when I can give back that gift of hope to other women who are slipping into despair are my brightest days.

MZ: How can folks get in touch with you, get involved, and help with this essential work?

SB: I can be reached at my blog or my email ( to connect you with people who can make the most of the skills you have to offer this critically necessary political movement.


From Norway to New Zealand, pro-prostitution research is its own worst enemy

published at Feminist Current November 24, 2014

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that if you’re going to lie you should make it a whopper,

For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Permit me to show you a lie so grand its telling should cause alarm, but it doesn’t because the deception is in service of solidifying men’s absolute ownership of women.

I triple check facts before stating them. Operating on the niggling thought that my political opponents might make a valid argument against my preferred prostitution solution of criminalizing johns, I have dived into every policy paper on prostitution I have gotten whiff of for thirteen years.

You may have encountered the results of my labors before when I wrote about Norwegian research that unintentionally affirmed the success of criminalizing johns.

The Prostitution Reform Act of 2003 (PRA) decriminalized prostitution in New Zealand. At the same time, the Prostitution Law Review Committee was established to report within 3 to 5 years on the number of New Zealand’s newly dubbed “sex workers.” Here is that 2008 report.

The summary concludes decriminalization did not increase street prostitution. The contents of Section 8 prove street prostitution went up and more than doubled between 2006 to 2007 in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

The official press release was based on these comments from the summary (bolds mine),

The numbers of street-based sex workers have remained stable since the enactment of the PRA, with comparable numbers on the streets to estimates done prior to decriminalization. The Committee endorses the findings of the CSOM (Christchurch School of Medicine) that the enactment of the PRA has had little impact on the numbers of people working in the sex industry.

Buried in Section 8 is evidence about increases in street prostitution since the law passed,

Research undertaken by the CSOM in February and March 2006 found 253 street-based sex workers in New Zealand…In Auckland 106 street workers…in Wellington 47 street workers…and in Christchurch 100 were recorded.

Between June and October 2007, CSOM carried out another estimation of street-based sex workers…In Christchurch 121 street-based workers were counted and in Wellington 44 street-based sex workers were counted. In Auckland, 230 street workers were known to be working.

Wellington 47, then 44
Christchurch 100, then 121
Auckland 106, then 230
New Zealand

Section 8 also documented,

Auckland outreach workers also reported an ‘influx of sex workers on the streets in the six to eight months prior to June 2007.’

Streetreach is a non-governmental organisation that provides support for street-based sex workers in Auckland and Manukau cities. Streetreach believes there has been an overall increase in the number of street-based sex workers in the Auckland region since decriminalization.

In Christchurch, some residents in and around the street prostitution area report an increase in the number of sex workers since the passage of the PRA (St Lukes Body Corporate, 2007).

Clearly, many people who live next to and work directly with street populations have reported increased street prostitution in New Zealand.

That Executive Summary once more to refresh your memory,

The numbers of street-based sex workers have remained stable since the enactment of the PRA, with comparable numbers on the streets to estimates done prior to decriminalization…the Committee endorses the findings of the CSOM that the enactment of the PRA has had little impact on the numbers of people working in the sex industry.

What a whopper.

Some fabrications announce themselves, and some rely on subtle sleights of hand. The summary continues:

A comparison between the number of sex workers in Christchurch in 1999 and 2006 shows that the total has stayed approximately the same over that period.

Why stop at 2006 when the research went through 2007? Christchurch had 100 street prostitutes in 2006 and 121 street prostitutes in 2007.

The 2006 is no slip, it is New Zealand’s Ministry of Justice deliberately hiding 2007’s statistics about significant growth in the most violent form of prostitution—street prostitution.

Reading book-length documents full of terrible testimonies makes me grind my jaw while my eyes absorb the pages. Sometimes I pause to cry. However, if you boil your blood long enough and with the right ingredients, it condenses to become more solid than liquid. After all the time I have spent pouring the collected knowledge about prostitution from multiple countries into myself and simmering, I am as solid as a bead of ancient amber that prostitution abolition is the future of humanity.


Prostitution FAQ

In 2005, I endeavored to write the best prostitution FAQ on the web and it still is.

prostitution faq