Educating Rhoda, consultation edition.

I’ve cut my introductory paragraph because it was a necessary yawn-fest. Re-reading this now, in the cold light of having had several proper nights sleep and a sensible break, I can think of approximately seven thousand things I should have said, and seven thousand more that I should have said better. This response is quite personal and idiosyncratic – I contributed to an official response in a different context, and witnessed the creation of several further badass official responses, and all of those were necessarily more measured, so I felt that those bases had been covered by people with exponentially more knowledge than me, and that the best thing I could do would be to take a different approach. Which is what this is.

Your consultation document has a section on terminology that could perhaps be generously described as postmodern, in the sense that it appears to be structured mainly by absences. For instance, ‘terminology’ fails to define either of the two words that are used incessantly throughout your text – namely, ‘exploitation’, and ‘demand’. (More on both of those later; I’m merely pointing out a rather striking gap at this stage.) One word you do discuss (thanks for that) is ‘prostitute’. Here’s a reminder of what you said:

“… Many words can be derogatory, some describe what is believed to be a chosen profession, and others promote stereotypical ideas. Throughout this consultation the word prostitute will be used to designate a person who is exploited sexually while recognising that a minority of individuals state that they have chosen to be a prostitute.”

There are a couple of items I’d like to unpick in this paragraph. “Many words can be derogatory”. Yes – ‘prostitute’ is widely considered to be one such word, but do go on[1]. “ … and others promote stereotypical ideas”. Goodness, well, I’m a little surprised you’re opposed to that, given that you’re pushing forward a piece of legislation that has been described by one academic as “based on […] sexist and paternalistic notions”, but that’s not yet my main point either. I’m very interested in your phrase, “describe what is believed to be a chosen profession”. This is written in the passive, rather than active voice, so we’re left in the dark about who is doing this ‘describing’. Could it, perhaps, be sex workers? Naming our own experiences? Did you consider that detail unimportant?

Your use of the passive voice here allows you to avoid the question of who is doing the describing – in such a way as to erase sex workers voices (we’re not describing ourselves thusly, oh no – an anonymous third party is doing so) – which rather neatly encapsulates your view of sex workers as objects to be acted upon (“saved”, maybe), instead of agents acting in our own lives, does it not? Apparently other people describe us. We might wonder where we were when this was occurring. Additionally, the passive voice here (plenty of active first person elsewhere, I notice – “I believe”, you firmly tell us at the start of paragraph 11) enables you to cast doubt on our ability to name our own experiences – without having to acknowledge this rather … impolite – disbelief as your own.

Let’s look more closely at what I mean by impolite disbelief. “What is believed to be”. I’ve already explained why the question of who believes so is quite important, at least for those of us who like to be seen as agents not objects (that would be: all of us). But why not “some describe what is a chosen profession”? After all, you quickly go on to describe these most brazen hussies as “a minority” (as ever, more on this to come), so you do seem to believe we exist (very kind). Are we not the experts on our own lives because of … false consciousness? Some kind of weird cosmic error? Are other women who live in compromise under “gender inequality” (so much more 21st century than ‘patriarchy’, I agree) – for instance, my married or make-up wearing sisters – are they also to be patronised in this manner? “…‘Happy marriage’ describes what some believe to be a chosen state”. Hm.

You do it again, of course, in the same paragraph. “… a minority of individuals state that they have chosen to be a prostitute.” Let’s try some other examples. ‘A minority of men state that they have experienced sexual harassment.’ ‘A minority of men have experienced sexual harassment’. Do you see the difference? Maybe when discussing a choice between the steak and the risotto, these nuances could pass unnoticed into the abyss. When discussing something as delicate as other people’s capacity to speak meaningfully of their own marginalised experiences, it might behove you to at least pretend to try to be polite, or risk looking needlessly inflammatory. Not the best bedrock for policy, eh?

The choice between the steak and the risotto brings me onto a further, er, quibble with your language. “A chosen profession”. Let me tell you about ‘choice’. I graduated into a recession; most of my cohort were either unemployed (a fairly horrible state these days; endless stupid hoops to jump through to prove you’re ‘looking’ for jobs which don’t exist), or being ground down in bars and cafes and pubs, being tired and – ooh, your favourite word – kind of exploited, actually. I’ve waitressed; I’ve worked in bars, and I’ve made coffee in fancypants supposedly-ethical artisan stores (living wage? Yeah right). Bar work was the only one which made me even nearly enough money to live on, but I got pretty sick of it because of that one time I was sexually assaulted by my manager. So when I graduated, and was faced with a ‘choice’ between two different jobs in the service industry, both of which were not prestigious, both of which came with a medium-high risk of sexual assault, neither of which were presented in a parcel labelled ‘Dream Job’ – when presented with that ‘choice’, I ‘choose’ the option with the higher hourly wage, which is how I ended up being a sex worker instead of doing bar work.

When you say “choice”, you’re either ignorant of the fact that people make the best ‘choice’ they can with the options they have, or you imagine that we all had a ‘choice’ to be, oooh, President of Harvard Law School, but we turned it down just so we could ruin your statistics by turning up in the hooker census, all mouthy with opinions you don’t like or want to hear. There’s not the clear bright line that you seem to imagine between those who ‘chose’ this and those who ‘didn’t’, because beyond the most appalling cases of coercion (c.f, the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers), ‘choice’ only ever means “these are all non-ideal, but what’s my best option?” Some people have fewer options. Migrants whose immigration status is in limbo are denied the right to either work, or to receive benefits. Where do you think this policy of forced destitution leaves people? Since you profess to be so concerned about those who are denied a ‘choice’, why not legislate in such a way as to offer migrants in limbo another choice to add to their current options of a) homelessness or b) working illegally? I shouldn’t need to spell out to you, of course, what working illegally does to one’s chances of being – that word again – exploited. Continue reading

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Thank you so much to everyone who attended the Glasgow event to mark the international day to end violence against sex workers. The number of people there was amazing.

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“The [photo] quality isn’t amazing, but the discourse is” – Luca.

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A still from the brilliant Kolkata documentary (directed by Claire Havell).

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All of these photos were taken by Ariane. ❤

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I actually still feel extremely drained. Here is some awesome stuff other people have written on the topic of Dec 17th.

  • “Nine years ago, I observed the first vigil of what would become the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Sex workers, friends, and family from Sex Workers Outreach Project invited us to gather outside San Francisco City Hall. Over the first few years, there were so few of us standing in that circle that we could all make eye contact across its diameter.” (By Melissa Gira Grant – read the full piece here.)
  • ” … last night I sat in a room filled with people in Glasgow to remember the victims of violence through sex work. We cried. We cried for our friends, for our colleagues and for the bloody injustice of it all. Don’t let me stop you, go right ahead and press for this law to be passed, but know that you will be placing real women in danger, women just like you and me. I hope you’re going to be immensely proud of yourself.” (By Laura Lee – read the full piece here.)
  • “Referring to the days we formally recognize these abuses as “Trans*/Sex Worker Days of Sad” is deliberately flippant. It is an acknowledgment that we need more than memorials; our communities need more than sadness to organize effectively. It is also a coping mechanism to deal with the intensity of the emotions that arise on these days in particular.” (By Jessie Nicole – read the full piece here.)
  • “Sex work is not inherently violent. There is no inherent violence in exchanging money for a service. What attracts violence to sex work is the position sex work holds in society and it holds that position because, primarily, of trans/misogyny, then heap racism and classism and cissexism and homophobia and ableism up on top of that and all mixed together it makes whorephobia and that whorephobia permeates every facet of society.” (By ‘just another angry separatist lesbian feminist misandrist working in the sex industry’ – read the full piece here.)
  • “We face violence from some social justice activists and feminists. If you campaign for laws that make it harder for us to work legally (or campaign to prevent sex work from being decriminalised) you are committing violence against sex workers. You are pushing the work underground, making it harder to access things such as health checks and safety equipment and making us less visible so that violence can go unnoticed.” (From Anarchist Whore – read the rest here.)

Again, thank you so much to everyone who attended. I know the sex working community in Glasgow was bowled over by the support we witnessed.

Letter from an Irish sex worker.

The only organisations that have been invited to give evidence at the Irish Justice Committee hearings are those organisations which are members of the anti-sex worker umbrella group Turn Off The Red Light. I can’t begin to imagine who thought that this approach to evidence was appropriate and okay. I can honestly say that, if the situations were reversed (and I was Queen of the World), and the only organisations that had been invited to the Justice committee hearings were ones that shared my analysis, I’d make a fuss about the exclusion of voices that disagreed – because I’m confident that, if both arguments are heard, the one that is correct will eventually prevail. (You can see this belief in action in a small way in my scrupulous linking to anti-sex work blogs – who never, of course, link back.) I think it says a lot about the politics of Turn Off The Red Light that they haven’t made such a fuss. Seemingly, they’re not so confident that they can win the argument on a level playing field.

This letter has been written to the Justice Committee by an Irish sex worker. I’ve re-blogged it from sex work.ie

I am sending this same email to every single member of the Justice Committee and two relevant Ministers, because the total exclusion of real sex workers from the Justice Committee hearings on legislation that will directly affect them is totally unacceptable, and even unjustifiable under any circumstances, but under circumstances where you will be inviting several NGOs with an adversarial position towards them to make false claim to speak on their behalf this amounts to running a government committee like a kangaroo court, and each one of you who supports this decision should be ashamed.

There is no NGO currently speaking for sex workers in any real sense. All NGOs ruthlessly exclude them from decision making as if they were stray animals, or some kind of substandard, feral people in need of guidance and control from their “betters”. They even go so far as to abuse invalid statistics and distort facts to cultivate this as an image of sex workers in the public eye. The truth is, most sex workers are of above average intelligence, many of them are remarkably well read and/or well educated. They are intelligent people who can do their own thinking and speak for themselves far better than the NGOs who try to insist on being funded to do it for them against their will and sex workers are likely to base that thinking and self-representation on reality rather than the usual NGO basis of pursuit of agenda and funding that is mostly deployed on huge and superfluous salaries and expenses.

Sex workers did not ask for NGO or State assistance in the first place. Many sex workers have already been failed multiple times by the HSE and voluntary and community sector. They are often fully aware of the shortcoming of that system and have made a positive choice to reject further malign interference due to the limitations of unwanted poverty and use the high wages from sex work to take care of their own lives, families, and problems, in a fully autonomous way that no longer leaves them at the mercy of anyone. They are proud people who do not want to discuss, let alone whine on and on about their personal problems, they just want to get on with using the high wages from sex work to solve them.

Ruhama foisted themselves on sex workers in 1989, when sex work was street based by the simple ruse of parking the van so nobody could make any money until someone pretended to engage with them against their will. They omitted to mention that they were outreach for the Magdalene Laundries (that would not be exposed for another 4 years or shut down for another 7). Ruhama, and the orders behind them, have never apologised, even for this deception. Thankfully the women sensed something very wrong anyway and just humoured them without ever really engaging.

With one or two gullible exceptions who stayed around until all their hopes were shattered, the only women who have ever engaged with Ruhama since are a handful of opportunists with considerable expertise in playing the system. They are not remotely representative of sex workers. Some of them have never even been sex workers.

It had been my intention to send this as hard copy accompanied by a sworn affidavit I am in a position to make that states that I have never seen the individual who asks to be known as FreeIrishWoman selling sex on Waterloo and Burlington Road before April 1993 and as I was a full time street worker and it was a small area and community this would be impossible if she had worked there as she claimed. FreeIrishWoman is now making expenses paid trips to the USA to tap into the almost unlimited funding available to “abolitionist survivors” from the Hunt Foundation and similar in the USA. Unfortunately I am seriously ill and cannot organise that affidavit but I am happy to swear it at any time that I physically can. (I have informed Sarah Benson of Ruhama of this fraud and have yet to receive even a response, several weeks later. I am also willing to attest to this on oath.)

If you insist on listening to this particular Ruhama backed fraud rather than extend the same courtesy to any of the real autonomous sex workers who were willing to risk everything to speak to you as a committee, then let there be no room for any claim of ignorance after the fact, or ever.

Sex workers never asked for or wanted NGO assistance, they certainly do not want to be defined and misrepresented in their absence by NGOs and affiliated HSE services. In the early 80s, a sex worker called Dolores Lynch demanded to bring a group of sex workers to speak to the Minister for Justice. He refused to see her. Shortly afterwards she was murdered, literally by fire, as a direct result of her advocacy. Very few people have her kind of courage, yet she is forgotten, to the extent that the Justice Committee STILL refuses to see sex workers unless a self appointed, anti-sex work NGO has them on a tight leash that assures they will bear false witness to the current fad in propaganda.

I realise the Justice Committee have already made up their minds without ever seeking the facts at all. Apparently the simple fact that any attempt to “end the demand” will take away the income of women who are already desperate without offering any alternative is inadmissible. What is the point in being decriminalised if you cannot eat or keep a roof over your head?

The Committee took off to Sweden, at the expense of the State, to hear the same hard sell “sales pitch” you have already heard several times before, and did not even attempt to hear the other, more realistic, side. You wouldn’t even buy a car that way, but apparently that is good enough for sex workers as you do your best to destroy the only livelihood they have in a recession. (What ON EARTH do you THINK happens to people when they run out of ways to survive?), but the women who are willing to bite down all their fears to present the truth to you DESERVE that you give them the respect of a hearing instead of the ongoing mockery of encouraging their worst adversaries to lie against their best interests instead.

No-one knows how far this recession will go before it turns. There is no money to meet everybody’s needs.

Next week’s budget will leave a few more people with no survivable alternative to sex work, god knows why you feel it will be *a good thing* to make that harder still on them, by taking away the market on which their last resort depends. You are all comfortably off, and get enough even in expenses to provide for at least any of those women without her having to sell sex.

What could you possibly know about the terrifying and dire consequences of taking that last option income away? Yet you are not even willing to try and learn about it from the people who do.

Because of the recession and cutbacks in essential resources that cannot be avoided, there are ALREADY too many sex workers competing for demand that is dwindling because of the recession. The women have to offer more invasive services, more cheaply, to compete, because they still need the money just as badly to survive and keep their homes and families together because their lives have fallen through the ever widening gaps in the welfare net.

(The impression of the majority of sex workers as addicts or similar who are prevented from rehabilitation by deriving an income from sex work is yet another outright lie used as propaganda by the NGOs. The majority of sex workers are mothers, paying the same kind of essential bills as anyone else. We never had a welfare net that took care of everybody, there were always some people left out, and now we can’t even to sustain the welfare net we have.)

If you “reduce the demand” you will not reduce sex workers real need for the money, you will just make their lives impossible.

“Turn Off the Red Light” core orgs are fully aware of this, but do not want to tell the truth about it, because they would rather abuse that situation to force enough of the women to engage with them *against their will* out of sheer desperation so that they can justify continued and even increased funding, the women who do not engage with them are designated collateral damage in their race to the bottom for funding allocation.

To claim that supports are, or will be, available goes beyond mockery. The “Turn Off the Red Light” orgs have never had any real help to offer apart from ongoing indoctrination in the alternate reality they have cultivated in support of their agenda that has become a cult like ideology that is as far removed from the reality of sex workers lives, and as unhealthy as handing over their lives to a dysfunctional religious cult.

In addition I have always been lead to believe that telling another person what they think and feel is abusive, harmful and destructive, but apparently if it is a “Turn Off the Red Light” member org, treating a sex worker that way it suddenly becomes helpful and supportive…to everyone but the sex worker on the receiving end, who is likely to suffer severe PTSD from the cognitive dissonance alone.

Would you place your life, and family, at the mercy of a weird cult who treat you as a child, regularly lie to you and about you and demand you pretend that black is white. Because that is what Ruhama and affiliated orgs want laws to force and state funding to pursue.

(I have absolutely no idea how anyone can justify sanctioning the Immigrant Council of Ireland to deploy the majority of their funding on salaries and administration costs, not related to immigrants, but to a propaganda initiative to abolish sex work. To me that seems to meet the criteria for criminal fraud.)

I could not live with watching the terrible harm the legislation proposed by “Turn of the Red Light” will do, unless I knew I had done my utmost to stop it.

That effort will never make me fit to wash Dolores Lynch’s feet, but I suspect it makes me far better than every one of you deciding to refuse to even listen to real sex workers, before deciding to destroy their lives and pretend it is for their own good.

I have no illusions left for anyone to play on now. I dreaded coming before the committee because I am too angry, for too many reasons and have deep issues that mean I may not be able to guarantee to contain that. But I honestly do not see why you must deny all the people you are determined to make life impossible for even a fair hearing. For some sex workers you will literally be writing their death warrants (that would have been the case for me at several times in my life and may be so again soon enough) yet you will not let them plead their own case, preferring to listen instead to their adversaries lying about them.

In a decade or so “Turn Off the Red Light” and “The Swedish Model” and the REAL consequences will be as big a scandal as the Magdalene Laundries – the only real advantage is the vote catching potential through appeasing a bloc of corrupt, self serving, NGOs.

That is truth.

As the “Information Age” has quietly become the “Propaganda Age”, truth is the one thing nobody wants to care about any more.

It wouldn’t kill any of you to treat a few free sex workers who are independent of the NGOs like fully paid up members of the human race and listen to them for a couple of hours before you do your best to destroy their world without a court of appeal.

Think on it.

So, you want to cite Farley.

Melissa Farley (best known for her “work” on post traumatic stress disorder, though you can also detect her malign influence wherever you encounter the number 89%)  is everywhere in feminist critiques of the sex industry; from Newsweek to Facebook arguments, in campaigning groups, and in practically any interview Kat Banyard has ever given to the Guardian (1. “astronomical rates of post-traumatic stress disorder“, 2. “68% of women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder“) – with more in Kat’s best-selling yawnfest book The Equality Illusion (out of the fifty-five references in the ‘booty myth’ chapter, seven are Farley) – and feminist blogs galore (one, two, three, four, five). That’s great! It’s great that you’ve done some reading and want to give us a source for your opinions. I just have a couple of questions.

(1) Do you generally cite researchers who use the n-word? (“… call girls, escorts and massage parlor workers are the house ni****s of this system.” That’s from midway through the second paragraph, if you want to check it out.) As a subset of that, do you generally cite researchers who use this particular racial slur (or any other) about the population that they’re studying? Do you think that using the n-word improves their academic credibility with regards to their population of interest?

(1a) Directed specifically towards Glasgow’s Women’s Support Project: clearly you’re proud of the research that Farley conducted with you. Is this kind of language acceptable for your staff in their day-to-day work, or do you reserve its acceptability for special circumstances? Opening this question out to all Farley-fans (still including the WSP), could we see a list of when exactly the circumstances are special enough to justify using the n-word – either at all, or specifically about the women that you’re supposed to be supporting?

(2) Do you generally cite researchers who mock those who have experienced sexual violence? (Difficult to pick just one example here, but let’s start with: “I realized that gang rape could be a transcendental experience.” Hilarious, see! It’s a short piece, but there’s plenty more like that if you click through.) Do you generally cite researchers who specialise in the study of gendered violence as it pertains to the sex industry, and yet treat the subject of the rape of sex workers as an opportunity for a nasty ‘joke’? Do you think that treating rape and child sexual abuse as a hilarious way to insult women in the sex industry (“I saw Pretty Baby and it reminded me of my stepfather and I thought I could get paid for it”) improves their academic credibility with regards to their research on gendered violence?

(2a) As before, WSP – since you keep citing your joint research with Farley, could you clarify whether this confluence of topic and tone is acceptable for you staff in their day-to-day work, or do you reserve joking about the rape of sex workers for special occasions? And to everyone who uses Farley’s research – I presume that as self-identified feminists, you generally avoid endorsing the thoughts of those who think rape and child abuse is an opportunity to laugh at and undermine survivors. Could you tell me on what grounds you made an exception for Farley?

Now that we’ve had a look at some of Farley’s thoughts, let’s pause to remind ourselves of the ubiquity of Farley’s work in the prohibitionist movement. Have another look at my first paragraph. Those were merely the first and most obvious fruits that tumbled from the tree. Nice, huh?

Serious, substantial critiques of Farley’s methodology and conclusions are almost too innumerable to catalogue – off the actual top of my head, there’s the complaint pending against her to the APA, Teela Saunders’ (and others’) commentary on her WSP co-authored research (I love the brusque tone of this commentary), another methodology-based commentary on that Scottish research, Wendy Lyon’s peek at the “89%”, Charlotte Shane’s great overview of the Newsweek debacle (the comments on this are also excellent), Weitzer’s Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution, and that time a Canadian judge threw Farley’s evidence out on the grounds of its unreliability (hard to pick a favourite, but this comes in near the top).

Those are important if you’re interested in good research methods, which everybody should be as that’s the main thing separating us from blundering blindly around in the snake-filled pit of our own ignorance. However, from the perspective of doing ‘progressive’ (feminist, lefty, whatever the hell you call your Farley-quoting blog-presences, I don’t care) activism, I actually think that answering the questions that I’ve set out is kinda really fucking important too, and I don’t think I have to apologise for thinking that the use of That Racial Slur, and a “joke” based on “har har, sex workers get raped and were all abused as children, which is funny because they’re stupid” is something that you should have to be ready to defend – or stop doing.

Oh, you didn’t know? Diddums. This might constitute what we could call privilege, because as a non-sex worker you were able to not-notice some things that are really kinda obvious to actual sex workers (however much we might like to be oblivious), such as the fact that Melissa Farley hates us – which she takes no pains to conceal if you’re on the receiving end. Anyway, brushing aside the temptation to emphatically note that this moment of learning should perhaps serve in the future to indicate to you that you might have other things to learn from listening to sex workers (we tend to know things) – since you didn’t know, could you perhaps undertake to educate others who don’t know in your “progressive” prohibitionist communities (maybe show them this?).

I assume you’re going to ignore this, because ignoring hookers is what you do all the time anyway, so why change the habit of a lifetime, but other people in the progressive blogosphere – not just sex workers and our allies – will in that case probably think you’re pretty racist, and into laughing at rape jokes. Just a thought.