The War on Sex Workers

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The War on Sex Workers

Postby emceng » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:35 pm UTC

http://reason.com/archives/2013/01/21/t ... ex-workers

Ok, not going to copy and spoiler the whole thing, because it's three pages and very detailed. Basically, feminist, law enforement, and conservatives are all pushing to equate sex work with sex trafficking. This results in more arrests and violence against sex workers, and no impact on real sex trafficking. There are some very concerning quotes included there:

Steinem accompanied Peter and Jennifer Buffett on a tour of Sonagachi, Calcutta’s biggest red light district. Steinem came away from her visit with an astounding proposal: What would really benefit the women who worked there—whom she described to the Calcutta Telegraph as “prostituted,” characterizing their condition as “slavery”—would be to end sexual health services and peer education programs in brothels, programs that have been recognized by the United States Agency for International Development as best-practices HIV/AIDS interventions. Steinem described the women leading those health and education programs as “traffickers” and those who support them “the trafficking lobby.”


Yes, the best way to help women in sex work is to increase their chance to get AIDS or HIV. Bravo.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Ashlah » Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:23 pm UTC

Feminists want to strengthen punishment of sex work? I must be hanging out with the wrong feminists. I know there are varying opinions among feminists, but most I know (myself included) want to legalize and empower sex work.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby emceng » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:32 pm UTC

Yeah, that's covered in the article too. Some women's organizations are trying to help sex workers, while other(NOW was mentioned in the article) are demonizing them.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Heisenberg » Tue Jan 29, 2013 6:02 pm UTC

In Ohio there's been a movement to exempt workers from prostitution charges if they're victims of human trafficking. I don't know if that would be considered "equating" but since minor sex workers are often the victim of trafficking, I see it as a positive step to go after the ringleaders and get help to the victims.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby omgryebread » Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:52 pm UTC

So the article talks about how people oversimplify the issue, narrowly equating prostitution and trafficking.

Which is ironic, because the article outdoes its subjects on that. The article at least recognizes that prostitution is not great for all sex workers, but then blames that entirely on prohibition. The author never once acknowledges that legal prostitution often involves trafficked victims. She mentions Sonagachi: but not that children work there. She points out that it has been praised for its HIV/AIDS prevention program: but fails to mention that it's level of infection is on par with the rest of India.

She dumps all anti-trafficking people in the same anti-prostitution boat when that simply isn't true. Plenty of people (like myself) would prefer selling sex to be perfectly legal and for the purchase to be illegal.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby natraj » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:00 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:She dumps all anti-trafficking people in the same anti-prostitution boat when that simply isn't true. Plenty of people (like myself) would prefer selling sex to be perfectly legal and for the purchase to be illegal.


Which would still just, you know, screw over plenty of sex workers.

I'd like selling sex and purchasing sex to be perfectly legal, and forcing people into sexual slavery to be, you know, illegal, just like forcing people into any sort of slavery is illegal and raping people is illegal.

But saying "selling yourself should be legal but nobody should be allowed to buy" is still just screwing (haha!) lots of people out of their livelihood. Iiiiii'm pretty glad I managed to keep myself clothed and fed and sheltered through sex work. I'm glad if people with your view don't want me arrested for it, but in a actual practical impact-on-my-life way, there is not much substantive difference to me between HOW you want me to not be able to have a livelihood. Arrest me, arrest my clients, I'm still out of a job and, potentially, back on the streets at the end of the day.

Re: the article, though, man. Ending prohibition on sex work would be a gigantic enormous asset to sex workers. It'd also be an enormous asset to victims of sex trafficking, because as it is sex workers, both consensual and nonconsensual, are pretty terrified to go through legal avenues for help no matter what their problems are. Sex work isn't great for everyone! And it'd be SO MUCH EASIER to build support systems/recourse for people who want to get OUT of it, as well as for people who want to stay in it to stay in it safely and healthily, if it weren't both criminal and so highly stigmatized.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby dudiobugtron » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:10 pm UTC

natraj wrote:Re: the article, though, man. Ending prohibition on sex work would be a gigantic enormous asset to sex workers. It'd also be an enormous asset to victims of sex trafficking, because as it is sex workers, both consensual and nonconsensual, are pretty terrified to go through legal avenues for help no matter what their problems are. Sex work isn't great for everyone! And it'd be SO MUCH EASIER to build support systems/recourse for people who want to get OUT of it, as well as for people who want to stay in it to stay in it safely and healthily, if it weren't both criminal and so highly stigmatized.

In New Zealand, prostitution has been recently (in 2003) legalised:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostituti ... ew_Zealand
So far it doesn't seem like it has been an 'enormous asset' to sex workers, but apparently they do feel slightly better.

omgryebread wrote:Plenty of people (like myself) would prefer selling sex to be perfectly legal and for the purchase to be illegal.

You can't have a contractual obligation to do something illegal. I think that making sex purchasers legally required to pay if they have sex with someone that they agreed to pay for is important.

As far as I know, lying to someone to get them to have sex with you isn't illegal. And no, I don't think 'but the pimps will sort them out' is a sensible rebuttal - those sort of pimps are a big part of the problems that sex workers face.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:25 pm UTC

dudiobugtron wrote:You can't have a contractual obligation to do something illegal. I think that making sex purchasers legally required to pay if they have sex with someone that they agreed to pay for is important.

As far as I know, lying to someone to get them to have sex with you isn't illegal. And no, I don't think 'but the pimps will sort them out' is a sensible rebuttal - those sort of pimps are a big part of the problems that sex workers face.
Make pimping illegal. EDIT: Or, at least, tightly regulate what pimps can and can't do.

This strikes me as very similar to the drug solution Panama proposed: Make drug use legal (or create an alternative system to provide a support network for those who are using drugs)--then do everything you can to create a circumstance where drugs are less likely to be used. Break the system by breaking the marketplace. Not by saying everyone participating in the market is breaking the law--but by moving laterally and making the market unnecessary in the first place.

We can hit problems like these from both ends: We can simultaneously work to make sure no one needs to work in the sex industry while also protecting the interests of those who work in the industry.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby omgryebread » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:32 pm UTC

natraj wrote:I'd like selling sex and purchasing sex to be perfectly legal, and forcing people into sexual slavery to be, you know, illegal, just like forcing people into any sort of slavery is illegal and raping people is illegal.
Because that works.

I'd be perfectly open to sex work being totally legal if there were an actually good model for that. There's not. You end up with shitty Nevada and Amsterdam style brothels. Amsterdam has plenty of trafficking, and it's no easier to get out of prostitution or seek help, because of either economic pressures or the threat of deportation. Nevada's brothels are pretty shitty places to work: arguably even worse than working in places where prostitution isn't legal.

I suppose I should clarify: if a government could set up a heavily regulated prostitution industry that's actually safe and comfortable for workers and customers, I'd be 100% behind it. There's very few governments I trust to do that correctly. Given that a well-regulated sex industry seems impossible; I feel a quasi-legal status is the least-shitty route. Legalizing the sale of prostitution gives sex workers more ways to access assistance, both for leaving the industry or working more safely in it. Keeping the purchase illegal gives law enforcement tools to go after the worst cases of abuse and shut down trafficking rings.

dudiobugtron wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Plenty of people (like myself) would prefer selling sex to be perfectly legal and for the purchase to be illegal.

You can't have a contractual obligation to do something illegal. I think that making sex purchasers legally required to pay if they have sex with someone that they agreed to pay for is important.

As far as I know, lying to someone to get them to have sex with you isn't illegal. And no, I don't think 'but the pimps will sort them out' is a sensible rebuttal - those sort of pimps are a big part of the problems that sex workers face.
Sex workers don't currently have a way to enforce payment now, though. Legalizing throughout certainly puts in place an actual enforcement mechanism, that might work if the police aren't jackasses. (Big if. Especially so in the places where forced prostitution and trafficking is at its worst.)

Legalizing the sale also provides at least a small advantage in enforcing payments, since the prostitutes could report the customer for buying sex. They're still soliciting, even if they didn't pay.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:43 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:I suppose I should clarify: if a government could set up a heavily regulated prostitution industry that's actually safe and comfortable for workers and customers, I'd be 100% behind it. There's very few governments I trust to do that correctly. Given that a well-regulated sex industry seems impossible; I feel a quasi-legal status is the least-shitty route. Legalizing the sale of prostitution gives sex workers more ways to access assistance, both for leaving the industry or working more safely in it. Keeping the purchase illegal gives law enforcement tools to go after the worst cases of abuse and shut down trafficking rings.
To be fair, a lot of this probably has to do with the stigma prostitution brings--if you're involved in the sex industry, I imagine most people will instinctively write you off. Neighbors, family, police, government officials--this is an attitude that's probably so deeply systematic and ingrained that it's nearly impossible to overcome, even with something as radical as legalizing prostitution. No matter how far you push this, a significant portion of the population will continue to assert that prostitutes--and anyone else associated with the sex industry--don't really count as people.

I don't know how to fix that. I don't know if anyone knows how to fix it. But I think that legalization is pretty much the first--and only--step in the right direction. Saying 'prostitution is a legally legitimate practice'--on a broad scale, rather than just in the margins--might go a long way to convincing people that being a prostitute doesn't reduce your worth as a human being. Hell, it's not even something you should be ashamed of.

I imagine that you're right in so much that government regulation will lead to some pretty nasty circumstances, but I'm skeptical that those circumstances are more nasty than what's already going on. Mostly, I'd prefer prostitution to be out in the open--something that's done publically, with regulations and health concerns addressed--than handled in the dark.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby emceng » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:50 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:
natraj wrote:I'd like selling sex and purchasing sex to be perfectly legal, and forcing people into sexual slavery to be, you know, illegal, just like forcing people into any sort of slavery is illegal and raping people is illegal.
Because that works.

I'd be perfectly open to sex work being totally legal if there were an actually good model for that. There's not. You end up with shitty Nevada and Amsterdam style brothels. Amsterdam has plenty of trafficking, and it's no easier to get out of prostitution or seek help, because of either economic pressures or the threat of deportation. Nevada's brothels are pretty shitty places to work: arguably even worse than working in places where prostitution isn't legal.



Can you provide some context or references for this? I'm interested in learning how Nevada ends up doing this so poorly.

Also, what about Germany? Don't they have regulated prostitution?
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:02 pm UTC

emceng wrote:Also, what about Germany? Don't they have regulated prostitution?
At a glance, it seems to be a relatively recent (within the past ten years) thing; I'm not familiar with Germany's model at all, but glancing through the article, I don't know if I would call it a model to follow.

Honestly, I don't know if there are any models to follow. The decisions I'd want to make re: legalized prostitution all follow the same underlying arc: Protect the interests of prostitutes while working to create a context where no one needs to become one.

But in general, I don't like the proximity of money to sex--anymore than I like the proximity of money to medicine. People often behave terribly when it comes to money--they often also behave terribly when it comes to sex. Mixing the two freely leaves me agitated--because it seems to increase the likelihood of people doing terrible things.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Iceman » Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:28 pm UTC

I think the goal of any sex trade laws should be focused on 3 things:

1) Eliminating the use of involuntary sex workers

2) Ensuring safety and non-exploitation of current voluntary sex workers

3) Laws should not increase the active demand for or supply of sex workers

#1 I think should be Priority #1, but I think where we get into some debate is on 2 and 3 and which one takes precedence.

Essentially the safer the current sex workers are the more supply and demand there will be.

Currently it's not a desirable job, its unsafe, emotionally bad, potentialy abusive etc... and the good majority even if doing it voluntarily would hardly be doing it as their first choice.

Also in most places the demand is also curbed by factors...it being illegal, hidden from plain sight, risk of disease or being robbed or ripped off. The illegality and lack of transparency and stability lowers active demand.

But there's a lot of dormant supply and demand in the market. There's a large population that would begin using prostitutes if it were legal and/or if it were more transparent and less scary to begin doing. If men were assured they would neither get in trouble or get a disease demand would be considerably higher, your prostitution use rate would begin to approach your strip club visiting rate.

So this is where you kind of hit the liberty vs the 'right' direction debate.

I would have no problem with it being legal, I'd like current workers to be more safe and less exploited...but...
I would not trade those people being both legal and safe if it was going to result in a significant increase in the number of sex workers.

I don't want us to move towards a situation where pretty young girls looking to go through school or having a tough time just start being sex workers as a matter of course, knowing its a safe and lucrative thing to do. This currently happens, but it's secretive, there's a stigma, its unsafe, and is in many ways very discouraged. If we removed those barriers, it would become a much more normal thing to do, and I just don't really think that should be the normal thing to do.

It's hard to defend that purely rationally, but it is disproportionately affecting young women who may not be making great choices in the long run, with generally older men on the other side of the transaction. It may be mutually beneficial, and if its happening I don't think it needs to be ironclad stopped, but I'm very hesitant doing anything that essentially encourages it or makes it much more common.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:31 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:So the article talks about how people oversimplify the issue, narrowly equating prostitution and trafficking.

Which is ironic, because the article outdoes its subjects on that. The article at least recognizes that prostitution is not great for all sex workers, but then blames that entirely on prohibition. The author never once acknowledges that legal prostitution often involves trafficked victims. She mentions Sonagachi: but not that children work there. She points out that it has been praised for its HIV/AIDS prevention program: but fails to mention that it's level of infection is on par with the rest of India.

She dumps all anti-trafficking people in the same anti-prostitution boat when that simply isn't true. Plenty of people (like myself) would prefer selling sex to be perfectly legal and for the purchase to be illegal.


Prohibition is one part of the problem, sure. It makes it harder for people in bad situations to get help. Trafficking is also a problem, and will likely continue to be a problem even with legalization...but legalization does make it easier to uncover trafficking, and focusing resources on trafficking also seems pretty reasonable, as it's a very serious thing in comparison.

I mean, sure, human trafficking also happens in other areas, like for farm and factory workers...but it's less common there despite still being profitable, since it's easier for people to report it(though still hard in some areas). Banning farm or factory work is obviously ridiculous...we have no trouble there focusing on the slavery instead of the work.

Stigma is another problem. Legalization can somewhat affect stigma, but it ain't gonna be anything like instant.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby yurell » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:58 pm UTC

I've never understood the mentality of a country that bans prostitution (people being paid to have sex) but legalises pornography (people being paid to have sex). Fortunately, this country has both legalised.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Joeldi » Wed Jan 30, 2013 12:30 am UTC

On the other hand, Australia had that ridiculous 'small breasted women' porn ban. I'm not sure what happened with that, but I assume it was never repealed but never enforced...I should do some research into sex work in this country.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby yurell » Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:04 am UTC

Joeldi wrote:On the other hand, Australia had that ridiculous 'small breasted women' porn ban. I'm not sure what happened with that, but I assume it was never repealed but never enforced...I should do some research into sex work in this country.


You have no idea how much that law pissed me off — it's discrimination against people with small breasts, all under the guise of 'protecting children'. As if a) a person can't tell the difference between a woman with small breasts and a child, and b)it somehow hurts children if someone can't. But this is quite a sidetrack ...
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Spambot5546 » Wed Jan 30, 2013 2:00 am UTC

I did a paper on this a year or so ago. The general take-away I had from my research was that legalizing prostitution has been either neutral or detrimental to sex workers almost universally. Everywhere from Amsterdam to Nevada has created situations where sex workers either remain trafficked and exploited, or the traffickers and exploiters ended up more protected than the sex workers. The general problem seemed to be that police made no effort to enforce legal protection for the sex workers. "Hey, they're just hookers. Who cares?"

The sole shining exception was New Zealand, which seems to have done a pretty good job of making sure sex workers are locals, are of legal age, are in the field willingly, have access to protection, and have the means to pursue other work if they choose. If you're going to ask me why New Zealand succeeded and everyone else failed, I have no idea. I couldn't find anything about the specific laws or the culture in New Zealand that made them more likely to protect sex workers. I certainly hope smarter people than I can come up with a way to imitate it, because there are a lot of people out there that could use the help.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Joeldi » Wed Jan 30, 2013 3:22 am UTC

If New Zealand is anything like Australia, it would be physical isolation combined with stronger immigration policies. It would not be cheap or easy to traffic someone across the 'border' without a really legitimate looking reason for them to be there.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Thesh » Wed Jan 30, 2013 6:22 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:Nevada's brothels are pretty shitty places to work: arguably even worse than working in places where prostitution isn't legal.


Can you provide more clarification on that? I haven't really heard anyone say it's worse than any other system, and it seems like it would at least be the safest for the workers.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Nordic Einar » Wed Jan 30, 2013 6:57 am UTC

Can we try to remember, as we have these conversations, that not all sex workers are women - that not all managers hurt their girls - and that "pretty white girls" are the poster children of the anti-trafficking movement despite the fact that it is almost universally brown bodies who bear the brunt of the harm from both consensual sex work and trafficking.

You also can't have a conversation about sex wok without having a conversation about transphobia and anti-trans violence, which itself also can't be talked about without talking about racism.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:27 am UTC

Nordic Einar wrote:Can we try to remember, as we have these conversations, that not all sex workers are women - that not all managers hurt their girls
Or guys!
Nordic Einar wrote: - and that "pretty white girls" are the poster children of the anti-trafficking movement despite the fact that it is almost universally brown bodies who bear the brunt of the harm from both consensual sex work and trafficking.
I'm reminded of Patrice O'Neal's bit, in which he mentions that next time he goes out to sea, he's going to strap a white baby to his chest so that if he disappears, he knows they won't stop looking.

But, yes--I couldn't imagine this wouldn't be a thing (and it immediately reminds me of Victorian England's whole 'white girl sex trafficking' scandals); people tend to prioritize the value of someone based on a rather depressing metric. We tend to only care about prostitutes when they're women--when they're pretty--when they're white--when they're young--when they're cisgendered--etc. I imagine one of the bizarre ironies is that a lot of these attributes make it easier to avoid being forced into prostitution in the first place (though I do not wish to imply that there are no pretty, white, young, cisgendered women who have been forced into prostitution!), so you end up with a catch-22--the people we're prone to care less about also happen to be the people most at risk!

There's this bizarre mentality in the US re: prostitution that I've noticed--on television, at least, and a bit in the news media--where we go back and forth between the image of prostitutes as vulnerable victims (in which cases, they are usually presented as white, pretty, young, cisgendered, heterosexual, women, etc) and as worthless human beings (in which cases, they are usually presented as defying one or more of these particular attributes). I suspect this is part of the problem of dealing with prostitution in a mature fashion--you're either a victim or a criminal. In neither case are you simply a human being.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby shvedsky » Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:31 am UTC

Thesh wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Nevada's brothels are pretty shitty places to work: arguably even worse than working in places where prostitution isn't legal.

Can you provide more clarification on that? I haven't really heard anyone say it's worse than any other system

What about this reddit comment... oh, nevermind.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:38 am UTC

shvedsky wrote:What about this reddit comment... oh, nevermind.
That's interesting, but kind of an off-the-cuff thing. I'd be really curious to read some more stuff about professional prostitutes operating in Nevada/how they feel about the job/how it's working for them, though.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Iulus Cofield » Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:46 am UTC

shvedsky wrote:
Thesh wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Nevada's brothels are pretty shitty places to work: arguably even worse than working in places where prostitution isn't legal.

Can you provide more clarification on that? I haven't really heard anyone say it's worse than any other system

What about this reddit comment... oh, nevermind.


Well, duh. I'm not sure how that's really relevant though.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Jan 30, 2013 9:39 am UTC

The problems with Nevada's brothel system seem to come down to socio-cultural issues that unfortunately appear pretty deeply rooted in what passes for America's collective psyche.
The regulation itself is not completely terrible, it could use some work here and there, but it seems to be doing a pretty good job at least keeping everybody 'clean' and health.

The issue is that the sex-workers themselves are still stigmatized (because America is a country just jam packed with big-ole prudes*) and discriminated against outside the brothels, which is a situation ripe for exploitation since the workers can't (or at least feel that they can't) seek aid or support.


*The Supreme Court has had to rule on the issue of pornography multiple times, and though generally in favor, those rulings have not been without reservation. Early deliberations on the subject famously spawned the phrase "I know it when I see it" when an actual, sitting Supreme Court Justice attempted to describe forms of pornography that might constitute unprotected speech. The California Supreme Court has also specifically ruled that only the production and distribution of 'non-obscene' pornography (whatever that is) is legal.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Jan 30, 2013 12:09 pm UTC

shvedsky wrote:
Thesh wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Nevada's brothels are pretty shitty places to work: arguably even worse than working in places where prostitution isn't legal.

Can you provide more clarification on that? I haven't really heard anyone say it's worse than any other system

What about this reddit comment... oh, nevermind.


Oh yeah, LOTS of jobs are soul crushing and dehumanizing. In different ways, of course, but food service in the US, while not a great job, is probably pretty far from the bottom of the pile.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Spambot5546 » Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:23 pm UTC

that reddit comment wrote:I'm not going to bend over backwards for them.

Is she really gonna just softball it in like that?
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby hawkinsssable » Wed Jan 30, 2013 3:52 pm UTC

Joeldi wrote:If New Zealand is anything like Australia, it would be physical isolation combined with stronger immigration policies. It would not be cheap or easy to traffic someone across the 'border' without a really legitimate looking reason for them to be there.

By all accounts I've come across, international sex trafficking is a huge problem here in Victoria, Australia.

Illegal brothel prostitution is 4-5 times larger than the legal industry. Only the line is blurry, and most of the 'legal' industry is pretty closely connected to the 'illegal' one; sex entrepreneurs, often associated with traffickers, own and operate legal and illegal brothels indiscriminately, and women and girls swap between the two sectors (voluntarily and not), and street prostitution - all illegal - increased in line with the overall industry.

Estimates for the number of women trafficked into Australia for prostitution are wildly inconsistent, completely uncertain, but generally pretty small. Still, there have been more than a handful of cases against alleged sex traffickers, and part of the problem is that we're not really actively looking for . Sex industry bodies like the Scarlett Alliance are pretty forward about the massive numbers of non-English speaking sex workers working in brothels and massage parlours (I think about 25% in NSW?), but naturally assume that only those that come forward, say they're trafficked and request assistance (a tiny proportion - 10 at a time) are actually trafficked. Pretty much nobody else believes the figures are so low. Project Respect - an NGO that provides support to women in the sex industry - has documented way more cases, and estimates the number at something closer to 1,000 at any time.

And, of course, based on the little evidence available, our prostitutes are pretty damn miserable on the whole; 64% in Victoria want to leave the industry.




I can't be fucked with reason.com atm, but it's hilariously wrong about exactly what the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children actually defines trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution as. Also:

Reason.com wrote:Two months before the demonstration outside the Voice, feminist icon Gloria Steinem held court in the brothels of India as part of a humanitarian junket sponsored by the NoVo Foundation, one of the largest private women’s charities in the United States. NoVo’s money is Warren Buffett’s money: $1 billion, transferred by the second wealthiest American to his son Peter, who chairs the effort along with his wife, Jennifer. Steinem accompanied Peter and Jennifer Buffett on a tour of Sonagachi, Calcutta’s biggest red light district. Steinem came away from her visit with an astounding proposal: What would really benefit the women who worked there—whom she described to the Calcutta Telegraph as “prostituted,”characterizing their condition as “slavery”—would be to end sexual health services and peer education programs in brothels, programs that have been recognized by the United States Agency for International Development as best-practices HIV/AIDS interventions. Steinem described the women leading those health and education programs as “traffickers” and those who support them “the trafficking lobby.”


And the article they're basing this complete bullshit on:

Gloria Steinam wrote:It’s very hard to look at women — or men — treated as if they were objects, as if they have no feelings, no will of their own. Their phrase in many countries is “survival sex”. It’s very painful to watch. I feel guilty as an American because I know the Gates Foundation has been paying huge sums — at least $500 million so far — to AIDS control programmes in India that pay salaries to brothel owners and pimps and traffickers in Sonagachhi and Sangli to become “peer educators” and distribute condoms, though there’s no proof that women have the power to make men use condoms, and there is proof that men pay more to have sex without a condom.

I know there is an academic position that all this should be legalised, and it’s tempting to believe from a distance it would somehow protect the women — especially since now, they are way more likely to be arrested than the pimps and traffickers. Certainly, legalisation is what the sex-trafficking industry, which is now close to the profits of drugs or arms worldwide, lobbies for in both our countries. But in real life, legalisation has tended to bring huge and tragic problems.

If prostitution is a job like any other, then women can be forced into it. Holland pioneered legalisation, but the mayor of Amsterdam now regrets it because there’s no way to keep out organised crime. The more customers, the more need for illegal trafficking because there aren’t enough women who want to do this by choice; an understatement.

Experience now reveals that what works — and has worked in Nordic countries, where trafficking has actually diminished — is to de-criminalise the women or men who are prostitutes, offer them services and practical alternatives, and prosecute the pimps, traffickers and brothel owners to the full extent of national and international law. After all, there is a greater percentage of the world’s population in slavery now than there was at the peak of the slave trade — with sex slavery about 80% and labour slavery about 20%, according to the UN, though the line between the two is sometimes academic.

The point is: you may have a right to sell your own body, but you have no right to sell the bodies of others. We must stop arresting the victim. In Nordic countries, they fine and educate the customer, not just to embarrass him, but to give them the facts of human trafficking for which he is part of the market.

The good news is that though the trafficking lobby and a few academics tell us there are only two alternatives, legalisation or criminalisation, we now know this Third Way actually works. It’s not about being moralistic and anti-sex — on the contrary. It’s pro-sex and mutual pleasure. We have a T-shirt that says, Eroticize Equality.


One of these things is not like the other one - it's pretty fucking telling that they couldn't even find anybody expressing anything remotely similar to the attitudes they're attributing to "anti-sex work feminists" as a group.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jan 30, 2013 5:03 pm UTC

That's (obviously) a considerably more nuanced position than what the article presented it as; I'd now be deeply curious to see a quotation from Steinman along the lines of what the article claims Steinman's position is (and in the absence of such a quotation, would be prone to assume the article doesn't actually know what Steinman's position is).

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby LaSargenta » Wed Jan 30, 2013 5:27 pm UTC

Slightly OT: There's a book I read a few years ago called Trick and Treats. [I'm not posting a link 'cause I'm at work and don't want to go searching for it through our server, 'kay?] In it are short prose pieces by people in the sex trade. Interestingly, what the writers see as "The Sex Trade" is pretty broad. Also interesting is the variety of voices. Worth a look.

Right. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Diadem » Wed Jan 30, 2013 5:41 pm UTC

Spambot5546 wrote:I did a paper on this a year or so ago. The general take-away I had from my research was that legalizing prostitution has been either neutral or detrimental to sex workers almost universally. Everywhere from Amsterdam to Nevada has created situations where sex workers either remain trafficked and exploited, or the traffickers and exploiters ended up more protected than the sex workers. The general problem seemed to be that police made no effort to enforce legal protection for the sex workers. "Hey, they're just hookers. Who cares?"

I think this is the problem. I can't speak for other nations, but here in The Netherlands prostitution was legalized in 2000. However it was already tolerated long before that. Sex workers weren't arrested, brothels were mostly tolerated, customers were left alone. You could say it was already de facto legal. The problems surrounding prostitution were for the most part ignored. Nobody gave a fuck. Then they legalized it, but still nobody gave a fuck. Now people are saying "legalization didn't help". Big surprise there.

The only difference between the situation before 2000 and after 2000 seems to be that sex workers now have to pay taxes.

Prostitution related crimes (human trafficking, abuse, etc) seem to be on the rise. I could be wrong, and I'm open to being corrected, but I don't think that has anything to do with legalization. I think it has more to do with our borders now being open to Eastern Europeans - women who are for obvious reasons much more vulnerable. Also our society seems to be slowing becoming more sex-negative, unfortunately.


hawkinsssable wrote:
Gloria Steinam wrote:The point is: you may have a right to sell your own body, but you have no right to sell the bodies of others. We must stop arresting the victim. In Nordic countries, they fine and educate the customer, not just to embarrass him, but to give them the facts of human trafficking for which he is part of the market.

I've always hated this position. It's just sex negativism in a new jacket. In the past prostitutes were evil, and prostitution was banned. Now they are victims, and it's still effectively banned. How can you say that selling something is legal if buying it is not legal? That don't make sense. And the idea is still that sex is so bad that no-one in their right mind would voluntarily have it.

The second part of the argument is equally ridiculous. How is the complete failure of the state to protect women against slavery the fault of the customer? If I go to the supermarket and buy mushrooms, and it turns out those mushrooms were cultivated by a farmer who ignored all regulations, abusing Eastern European workers in what was effectively slavery (and yes, that really happens), how is that my fault? The shifting of blame that is happening here is just another lame attempt of politicians and law enforcement to not have to take responsibility for their own failings.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jan 30, 2013 6:01 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:The second part of the argument is equally ridiculous. How is the complete failure of the state to protect women against slavery the fault of the customer? If I go to the supermarket and buy mushrooms, and it turns out those mushrooms were cultivated by a farmer who ignored all regulations, abusing Eastern European workers in what was effectively slavery (and yes, that really happens), how is that my fault? The shifting of blame that is happening here is just another lame attempt of politicians and law enforcement to not have to take responsibility for their own failings.
I certainly don't like the language which proposes that all prostitutes are victims (I would rather ask the prostitutes what they think); I also don't like the perpetual assumption that women are the only class of prostitutes at risk (or that men are the only people who put them at risk!). That being said, it's very reasonable to inform clients as to the nature of what they're buying and in what context it's being sold. I don't see the quote you used as intending to shift fault or blame (I parsed 'not just to embarrass him' as being equivalent to 'not to embarrass him' -- as in causing embarrassment is not a goal), but rather encourage openness and ensure everyone knows what's going on here--because while you might not be to 'blame' for purchasing mushrooms produced through slave labor, you are probably less likely to buy mushrooms if you know they're produced through slave labor.

I also agree that while you have a right to sell your own body, no one else has a right to sell your body for you. This is part of the reason I get agitated about the sex industry--because I keep getting worried about people selling other people's bodies. In a sense, that's what all management level work is (what is a manager but someone who determines how you will spend your time with your consent?), but the sex industry worries me in particular because people are very 'weird' about sex -- they aren't prone to treating it as a simple, pleasurable interaction between two consenting adults. Which leads to terrible things -- like managers exploiting their workers or workers who find themselves in a very hostile work environment -- one that is aligned both against their sense of autonomy and their sense of self worth.

If we could treat sex responsibly, intelligently, and maturely, I'd probably feel a lot better about this sort of thing--but until we can, I think a certain measure of caution is merited.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Iceman » Wed Jan 30, 2013 6:15 pm UTC

I don't think that's necessarily sex negativism though.

Not all sex workers are victims, but a very large majority are hardly doing this as a first choice. Whether they're actually slaves or under the hand of someone else or if its purely financial need that pushed them into it, a very small portion are doing it just because that's their actual career aspiration.
It's not about voluntarily having sex...it's about having sex for money, sex the person would not have voluntarily had if not paid. So it's not voluntary sex she wanted which is required for sex positivism.

As for how it's your fault, if you're a consumer of sex worker services you're helping increase the demand for sex workers. It's less padded than your mushroom example too, since in this case you're not just using a product generated from origins you aren't aware of, you're actually using the girl directly.

Physical enforcement of laws is not your only obligation, you can't buy a TV you know someone stole and say 'Oh well, the Police should have stopped him from stealing it, not my problem'

If you knew most mushrooms were slave grown and you kept buying them, yes, there's blame on you, and you'd have to be a sociopath not to acknowledge it.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Spambot5546 » Wed Jan 30, 2013 6:27 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:The second part of the argument is equally ridiculous. How is the complete failure of the state to protect women against slavery the fault of the customer? If I go to the supermarket and buy mushrooms, and it turns out those mushrooms were cultivated by a farmer who ignored all regulations, abusing Eastern European workers in what was effectively slavery (and yes, that really happens), how is that my fault? The shifting of blame that is happening here is just another lame attempt of politicians and law enforcement to not have to take responsibility for their own failings.

It might be hard to justify blaming you, but I would be more than happy to lay blame on your supermarket. You had no real way to no better, but they did.

Applying that to our situation, if you hire a prostitute, you have an obligation to make sure things are on the up and up because there are ways to recognize trafficked persons. We had to go through training about that when I was in the Air Force. They taught us to look for things like marks where the person may have been struck, a building with excessive security, poor working conditions, ads offering "multiple ethnicities", or the presence of intrusive "managers". The Girlfriend Treatment should also be seen as a big red flag.
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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jan 30, 2013 6:54 pm UTC

Iceman wrote:Not all sex workers are victims, but a very large majority are hardly doing this as a first choice. Whether they're actually slaves or under the hand of someone else or if its purely financial need that pushed them into it, a very small portion are doing it just because that's their actual career aspiration.
It's not about voluntarily having sex...it's about having sex for money, sex the person would not have voluntarily had if not paid. So it's not voluntary sex she wanted which is required for sex positivism.
I don't like to look at prostitution through the sex positivism/negativism lens, because it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense--sex positivism is about viewing sex as a pleasurable transaction between consenting adults where the goal is to have fun; prostitution is about a type of commodity--in this case, a person's time and energy--being sold.

There might be prostitutes who are prostitutes because they find being a prostitute to be very fun and engaging work--they might be doing it just to try it (they don't plan it as a career), or they might be doing it to pay some bills, or they might be doing it because they're really good at it and want to do it professionally. Maybe some combination of all the above! And if anyone falls into those subheadings, I want to protect their right to engage in this sort of thing safely.

I think the whole 'sex negativism' re: anti-prostitution stances comes from opposing the people who are in the above groups--treating them as if they are necessarily victims, merely because they have a particular desire to engage in a particular profession for a particular period of time. But I agree that 'sex negativism' is probably the wrong phrase to describe what makes this stance problematic--I think it's more of a rejection of the idea that people can 'sell their bodies' (thinking on it now, I don't even like that particular phrasing--prostitutes don't 'sell their bodies' anymore than any standard laborer does) voluntarily--that they can be happy, well-adjusted, emotionally secure people who are also prostitutes.
Iceman wrote:As for how it's your fault, if you're a consumer of sex worker services you're helping increase the demand for sex workers. It's less padded than your mushroom example too, since in this case you're not just using a product generated from origins you aren't aware of, you're actually using the girl directly.

Physical enforcement of laws is not your only obligation, you can't buy a TV you know someone stole and say 'Oh well, the Police should have stopped him from stealing it, not my problem'

If you knew most mushrooms were slave grown and you kept buying them, yes, there's blame on you, and you'd have to be a sociopath not to acknowledge it.
I don't think 'blame' does us much good here (I also hasten to remind you that it's not only women who are prostitutes!)--I also don't think you have to be a sociopath to fail to acknowledge the reality of where your mushrooms came from.

The clothes you're wearing right now--and the electronic device you're using right now--were likely produced from slave labor. Are you acknowledging that? Does it make you a monster not to do so? I think it is good to acknowledge it; I think it is better to encourage people to know about these things. But I don't think that knowing the things you enjoy came from terribleness means you are not allowed to enjoy those things.

Though prostitution might be a special case--since we're talking about people, not products. I don't think I'd like to imagine the sort of person who would feel no moral compunction about sleeping with a prostitute who was essentially a slave.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Iceman » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:04 pm UTC

Well, I think you're largely attacking the terminology that Diadem introduced, I was just responding in his own terms.

But no, it's not actually very likely that these things were produced through slave labour, and when we do find out things are produced through slave labour, those things are very commonly boycotted.

I'm also referring to a situation where you do actually know the origin or likely origin. While it's possible shoes or something were made by slave labour, it isn't the norm, and you wouldn't expect them to be. It's more common that they're just made by people being paid low wages and/or in poor conditions, but not actually slaves.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:13 pm UTC

Iceman wrote:Well, I think you're largely attacking the terminology that Diadem introduced, I was just responding in his own terms.
Right; I was expanding on your thoughts--I think you are right to say this isn't sex negativism, but I would go one step further and say the terms sex negativism/positivism don't serve us well when addressing prostitution!
Iceman wrote:But no, it's not actually very likely that these things were produced through slave labour, and when we do find out things are produced through slave labour, those things are very commonly boycotted.
Well--I don't want to quibble over semantics, but as an example, do you own an ipad? Such devices are sometimes produced in China, and while you might not describe the circumstances under which they're produced as literally slavery, they (on some occasions) seem to approximate it--close enough that I think that if we were to 'reconstruct' their working conditions in the sex trade, we would not hesitate to call them victims of sex trafficking and forced prostitution!
Iceman wrote:I'm also referring to a situation where you do actually know the origin or likely origin. While it's possible shoes or something were made by slave labour, it isn't the norm, and you wouldn't expect them to be. It's more common that they're just made by people being paid low wages and/or in poor conditions, but not actually slaves.
That's the thing that strikes me about sex trafficking--there's a really fine line between 'slavery' and 'paid low wages/placed in poor conditions'. Particularly when the conditions make it essentially impossible (outside of near-miraculous events) to escape those conditions.

I mean, what's the difference between someone who gets shot when they disobey me and someone who starves when they disobey me? Does the distinction really matter to the person in question? They're still functionally a slave--it's just that in one case, I don't have to waste a bullet if they try to escape.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby Iceman » Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:30 pm UTC

I think there is a fairly large distinction between actual kidnap, slavery and sale of humans vs. someone being forced to work at low wages.

If someone is say in Town X and they can't make a living in that poor place, and then Factory Y opens up, you can say that the person if forced to work in Factory Y for very low wages because if he doesn't he'll starve.
But that would also be the case if Factory Y didn't exist.

If better opportunities existed, the person could pursue those, it's the absence of those opportunities that make the person want to work at Factory Y because its preferable to the state they would otherwise be in. While the conditions are worse for that person, this is why most of us work, he's just doing harder work in worse conditions for less, but he may not be any worse off than a chemical miner in 1880 England or something.
It would be preferable if Factory Y had better conditions and pay, but its likely in his country that if Factory Y was required to have better conditions and pay then it wouldn't exist because no one would find it profitable to open it.

But if a girl in the Czech Repulic is lied to, kidnapped, transported, told she has to pay back the money for the transportation by doing sex work or her family will be killed or any variation of her life where Liam Neeson does not come and save her, that's not her choice and its not a pre-existing reality. If the syndicate or whatever doing this to her did not exist she would not have necessarily starved or otherwise died.

That's why I don't think the starvation really is like the bullet. The bullet won't hit you anyway.

So I do think there's a big qualitative difference between 'forced by people' an 'forced by circumstance' and I do think there's a big difference between 'has to work in poor conditions to live' and 'must work because I own you and you can't leave'

And No ,I'd never own an Apple product, not for humanitarian reasons though.

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Re: The War on Sex Workers

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jan 30, 2013 9:33 pm UTC

Iceman wrote:I think there is a fairly large distinction between actual kidnap, slavery and sale of humans vs. someone being forced to work at low wages.
But what about in cases where the only fundamental difference is what we call it?

Take the case in Dubai: Workers are lured into a foreign country with the promise of a steady paycheck. Upon arrival, their passports are revoked; they are left in a country where they don't speak the language and their pay is so trivial that they can't support themselves (and are forced to go into debt to the people they're working for just to continue working for them).

Now, these workers weren't kidnapped; they came of their own volition (they were merely misled). They aren't being held by 'force'; rather, their passports have been (sometimes legally!) taken from them. And they aren't being 'sold' in the purest sense--although the people managing them certainly might decide to ship them elsewhere if another employer offers good money for them. Of course, they are now deeply in debt to their employers--in a country they cannot leave--and at the mercy of laws which allow said employers to send them to prison for reneging on their debts (which is funny, because the last thing you can do while you're in prison is make enough money to pay your debts--so guess what happens at the end of your prison term? "Still haven't paid your debts? RE-PROSECUTE, SEND BACK TO PRISON!").

How is any of this fundamentally different from slavery? Sure, we've taken out all the nasty bits and replaced them with more subtly nasty bits--but that doesn't make the workers' situation any less hopeless. If anything, it might be better had they been kidnapped by force--that way, we could say an actual law was broken and therefore help them! As it is, we end up with a perfectly legal form of slavery--because it doesn't qualify as slavery. And the only reason it doesn't qualify as slavery is because we're hung up on what slavery is supposed to look like.
Iceman wrote:So I do think there's a big qualitative difference between 'forced by people' an 'forced by circumstance' and I do think there's a big difference between 'has to work in poor conditions to live' and 'must work because I own you and you can't leave'
In the cases I'm talking about, the circumstances were created by people who wanted slaves, but realized they couldn't have them, so created circumstances where they could have slaves that didn't actually count as slaves (because we have this silly notion in our head that you can't be a slave if someone isn't holding a gun to your head).

To be a slave is to have no reasonable choice but to obey another. It is to be at the mercy of someone else's whims. If, on a whim, I can cause you to starve--and I use this power to control you--you are, in some sense, a slave. Whether or not I've got a gun to your head is irrelevant: Your future is in my hands, and I'm threatening to destroy it if you don't do precisely as I say.

If that isn't slavery, I don't know what is.


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