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.


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


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


All of these photos were taken by Ariane. ❤


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

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.

Our Bodies, Our Selves.

Pop quiz! You are a sex worker living in a country that has adopted the Nordic model. Which of these forms of evidence-gathering would you prefer? You may pick one.

a. Condom-possession. Prepare to have your safer-sex precautions produced in court as evidence that a commercial sex act was on the cards. 

b. The police non-consensually video your sex life. Y’know, clandestinely. 

c. The police conduct an intimate physical examination. (Does this feel a bit like sexual assault? Shush there, you with your false consciousness. Your consensual sex life is rape; whereas this is for your own good.)

This is of course a trick question, because generally in jurisdictions that have adopted the Nordic model, all of these forms of evidence-gathering are used. (There’s a fun add-on to option (a) which is that, in Sweden, even distributing condoms can be seen as “encouraging prostitution”. Dodillet and Ostergren observe that this “makes it difficult for the authorities to utilise harm reduction strategies” [p4], which, well, yeah.)

If I raise these issues with someone who supports the Nordic model, I mostly get ignored, or accused of ‘scaremongering’. (Let word go forth: the new feminist response to a woman who is telling you about her fears of sexual assault, is to accuse her of ‘scaremongering’. #ibelieveher, unless she’s a sex worker or our politics differ, apparently.) So where’ve I got these preposterous ideas from?

Well, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland responded to Trish Godman’s 2010 Bill by expressing “concerns” over whether or not “intimate forensic medical examinations” (p1) would be justifiable. (I think it’s safe to say that the official ACPOS response to a parliamentary consultation is going to be the nicer, more moderate face of law enforcement – so much more friendly than the police officer who recently responded to a sex worker trying to report a rape by saying, “what you did was prostitution”, and logging “no crime”. Those are the people who’ll be translating ACPOS’ “concerns” about “justifiableness” into day-to-day conviction-hunting. I’d have concerns.)

Let’s see what happens where these laws are already in place.

Women who sell sex in Sweden are routinely filmed without their consent while engaging in sex acts (p4) – as if that’s somehow not massively fucked up a huge violation; more on this in a bit – while sex workers in Norway report that the new law makes them feel criminalised (subsection 3.3.2). In Chicago, the ‘end demand’ approach that claims to target clients sees the arrest of a disproportionately large number of transgender women of colourwho are then mis-gendered and accused of buying sex. (A particularly vile irony, given how frequently trans* women of colour are harassed in the street by law enforcement. “A report on Latin trans women in Los Angeles … found that two thirds of participants received verbal harassment from police officers. Twenty-one percent reported physical assault and twenty-three percent sexual assault“, and often this harassment is premised on the assumption that they must be selling sex. Racist trans*misogyny: where you really can’t fucking win.)

In this study, women and girls in the sex trade tell researchers that the police are the number one source of violence and abuse, which isn’t that surprising given that this comes from the same state (Illinois) where ‘end demand’ campaigners succeeded in increasing the penalties for the buyers … oh, and sellers – of sex. Victim-centred! Back in Europe, police forces in Sweden and Norway have reported that the laws against clients have made gathering evidence against abusers more difficult – possibly because the Swedish and Norwegian states are so keen to ‘rescue’ (migrant) sex workers, that when these victims of patriarchy are discovered, they’re deported so quickly that their clients haven’t even come to trial (p4). Meagan Morris, a researcher specialising in law enforcement and the sex industry, notes that even supposedly “victim-centred” approaches tend to disproportionately hurt women.

Yes, the police and feminist (ha) campaigners are two different entities, and women’s groups can’t control what the police will do. But since that’s the case, it might behove those who support the Nordic model to pause and think before arguing for legislation that bestows further police power over demographics that experience multiple forms of marginalisation – much of the sharp end of which is already at the hands of the police. Actually, though, I don’t think that arguing for these laws comes from a place of privileged ignorance – I think its worse than that, and here’s two examples of why coming up next.

Let Meagan Morris’ findings about the disproportionate hurt to women even in supposedly “victim-centred” contexts steep in your mind a little, as we refresh the content of the Skarhead report (Sweden’s assessment of the success of the law). Particularly the bit where sex workers reporting that the law has increased stigma against them is registered as a good thing (“for people who are still being exploited in prostitution, the above negative effects of the ban that they describe must be viewed as positive” [p23]) … because stigma might discourage people from entering the sex industry. (‘Stig-ma, noun. That thing which hurts us, by legitimising and perpetuating the view that we are less than human, degraded, or dirty. Strongly linked to violence’.) ‘Victim-centred’ approaches seem to really love stigma, actually, as this report from a ‘John School’ illustrates: “presenters cautioned participants that ‘drug addicted prostitutes… have stabbed their clients with AIDS infected needles‘”. Thanks, ‘end demand’ campaigners! That’s not problematic at all!

To return briefly to the issue of Scandinavian police forces clandestinely filming sex acts, I think what really fucking grinds my gears about this one is that proponents of the Nordic model often think that all pornography is violence. But apparently filming sex workers – without their consent – is fine. It seems like a microcosm of their whole analysis: in their rush to label everything as abuse, they end up causing real abuse to be perpetrated in the pursuit of prosecuting consenting sex. And also sex workers don’t matter.

I think I’ve shown fairly clearly that there are lots of good reasons why sex workers don’t trust the police, even in jurisdictions that are ostensibly “victim-centred” or allegedly focused on “targeting the client”, and therefore why the onus needs to be on those who want to eradicate to the sex industry through the intervention of the state to show they’ve thought about these issues. Y’know. At all. (I’m not the only sex worker in the UK to not trust the police, either – the numbers from National Ugly Mugs show that while 99% of reportees are happy to have their report shared anonymously with other sex workers, only 27% allow their information to be passed on to the police. Prohibitionist campaigners in Scotland wouldn’t know this, of course, because none of them could be bothered to come to the UK NSWP meeting in Aberdeen for the Ugly Mugs training session. As I said on twitter, giving a fuck so much more is the slogan of the revolution.) And that being concerned that the police will abuse their power isn’t exactly ‘scaremongering’, since it happens everywhere, all. the. time.

In a sense, this is a slightly ancillary issue: most of the terrible things that the Nordic model does to sex workers are achieved by increasing our desperation and thus our vulnerability to those who pose as clients. I’m just very struck by how little meaningful response I get when I bring this stuff up. I almost kind of want someone to tell me to my face that they think this kind of police power, and these methods of evidence-gathering, are okay. Because at least that would entail acknowledging that this stuff happens, and I actually think that pretending it doesn’t – that it isn’t even a possibility – is more horrible to hear than that you sort-of deserve it (in a ‘collateral-damage-in-the-wider-battle against patriarchy’, kind-of way).

Like, be proud of your politics, and their effects, then. Go on. Defend them. I’m listening. I’ve been listening for a while, but apparently no one’s got anything to say on this.

Guest Post: ‘Who Loves The Sun?’

[This is a guest post by Nicola Carty on the “no more page three” campaign. You can follow Nicola on twitter via @NicolaParty. The author is smart and thoughtful and brilliant, as you’ll immediately be able to see from this piece; ‘Who Loves The Sun?’ was originally published under a different, less Lou Reedy title, here. Thank you, Nicola, for permission to guest-post!]

Like a UK-based Carrie Bradshaw, Lucy Anne Holmes knows good sex.  Or rather, she knows bad sex.  The kind of sex that is “ugly”, and that debases the good name of sex in general.  Holmes is on a mission, “valiantly trying to change the face of sex as we know it”.  And her sexual revolution will not end until “the men and women of this land are in smiling, bit twitching bliss.”  (One gets the impression, however, that unless the phrase “tender love making” is enough to get your bits quivering away, you’re just going to have change your idea of bliss.)

And so, from the bosom of this mission to change sexual activities and preferences, Holmes has moved on to establishing the “Take the Bare Boobs Out of The Sun” campaign (See what I did there?  Bosom?  Boobs?  Bahahahahah).  In an article in The Independent on 20th September 2012, Holmes explains that although she has “nothing against these beautiful glamour models”, she believes that they are “sex objects”, and that these images contribute to a culture of objectification of women which itself is related to a culture of sexual assault.  Page 3 is also to blame for Holmes’s negative body image as an adolescent, according to her blog, and I would very much doubt that she is the only woman who has experienced negative body image as a result of seeing page 3 images.  She concludes that all she wants is for women to be represented and treated with respect, just like men.

The campaign has so far been extremely successful. At the time of writing, almost 47,000 people have signed the petition and over 9,000 followers on Twitter. The @NoMorePage3 Twitter account frequently publishes comments left by supporters on the campaign’s page, as evidence of the public support and shared viewpoints behind the campaign.  An example of one such comment is that page 3 is “not a fair or just representation of women”, a statement echoing Holmes’s own take on the issue.

But, as it happens, page 3 is not the only instance of unfair representations of women.   I carried out an analysis of The Sun on Sunday published on September 30th 2012. Although this is not representative of the content of The Sun on other days of the week, I chose the Sunday edition as this is the only one that does not feature a glamour model on page 3.  I felt that if this campaign was on the right track, the absence of a glamour photo would mean that men and women were treated more or less as equals in the paper.  I also looked at the edition of The Sun published on Wednesday October 3rd.  Overall, more articles were written by men, and more articles were about men. Those articles mostly dealt with men as actors in the public sphere, and women as victims. Articles about women were also heavily skewed to those commenting on their physical appearance. For example, an entire article was written about the fact that Cameron Diaz was appearing on the cover of Esquire.  Seriously.  It contained the following sentence: “Single Cameron – starring with Oscar winner Colin Firth…- also reveals what she looks for in a fella.”  Firth wins prizes.  Diaz fails to have relationships.

Alright, you say, that’s fine and all, but that’s TWO issues of The Sun, it’s hardly representative of anything.  So I looked elsewhere.  Even in the 1990s social scientists were arguing that the performances of female athletes were “presented as being of less interest than men’s”.  Robinson (1993, in Working Papers in Sport and Society ) argued that “the media are instrumental in the cultural process which trivializes and exploits women through the coverage of female athletes”.  Two studies published last year have found that most newspaper articles are written by men, and most articles are about men (the first was by The Guardian, the second by the organisation Women in Journalism). The Women in Journalism study found that The Independent, the paper in which Holmes published an article, had the lowest proportion of female reporters, at 22% (that’s right, even lower than The Sun!  But Holmes is happy to publish with them nonetheless!). Similar findings were reported in an article appearing online in The Guardian on October 14th: Women in Journalism again found that sexism was prevalent in 9 national newspapers over a four-week period  (Amelia Hill, article available here).  That study also found that when women were photographed, the images were predominantly unflattering, where women were portrayed as emotional or comical (Anita Sarkeesian has a great piece on image-based misogyny, which can be found here).

Sexism is ever-present in print and broadcast media. We’re seeing that the media present men as actors who deserve to be written about to a much greater extent than women.  We’re seeing that it’s not just readers of The Sun who are presented with sexist representations of women, it’s readers of most newspapers in this country.  And the most dangerous part of all of this is that we’re only really aware of it in this much detail because somebody has taken the time to do the research and point it out to us.  This is not obvious sexism.  This is latent, under the surface stuff.  And it’s going on in many more forums than one page of one newspaper.

So, if we’re going to be attempting to remove from the media images or ideas which lead to sexism, perhaps we should be demanding that newspapers and broadcasters employ more women, and ask for contributions from more women, as another petition does (“Major news organisations BBC,ITN and Sky: Ensure 30 percent of ‘experts’ used on tv & radio are women.”  Incidentally, this petition has only 1,542 supporters at the time of writing, despite the fact that it would probably go much further to address gender inequality in the media than removing a sexual image from page 3 of The Sun). In my own analysis of The Sun, I found only  one explicit mention of a non-Caucasian woman (Oprah, if you’re interested).  Surely the absence of women of colour from national newspapers is more of a cause for concern for women’s representation that the presence of women with tops off?

So let’s look at the big fact behind Holmes’s campaign, that page 3 is “the biggest single factor in encouraging casual sexism”: when this was presented to NoMorePage3’s Twitter followers almost 3 weeks ago, I replied asking the basis of this, but have, as yet, not had any response.  Returning to other comments that have been endorsed by the campaign, we find more and more problems. When I challenged a statement that page 3 encouraged the objectivity of women, on the basis that objectivity is surely a good thing, the account representative replied that they believed the supporter meant objectification.  To be honest, I believe so too.  But surely we should be concerned when a campaign’s supporters are not even correctly able to use the feminist terminology?

In the academic studies I cited above, such careless use of language and unsupported, wild claims would be entirely unacceptable.  While I appreciate that this campaign is not intended as an academic study, given its desired impact  and its drive for support from 1,000,000 people, including politicians, it is baffling that there appears to be no means of fact checking, or of defining key terms in the campaign.  This is not one of those times when “Ah, but you know what I meant” will suffice as justification for using polemical, undefined terms.  This is a massive, national campaign with far-reaching consequences.  And those it has the potential to effect deserve better than sensationalism and carelessness.

The campaign endorses ideas “girls cannot expect to get anywhere in life just by showing their bodies off”, and Holmes herself refers to glamour models as sex objects.  Another supporter of the campaign argues “Thinking about it honestly, Page 3 is nothing more than the objectification of women”, once again, overlooking and effectively denying the agency of the women involved.  But you know what?  Telling models that they are sex objects doesn’t really suggest a lot of respect. Why does Holmes think it is acceptable to promote some women’s rights, but not others?  Working for the only the rights of women who choose not to be especially revealing about their bodies  doesn’t sound like feminism to me.  It sounds like the same old misogynistic bullshit that’s been going around for years.  It sounds like women, once again, are being told that they need to behave in a certain way if they want to be treated with respect.

Even outwith this campaign, plenty of people do have something against glamour models, claiming that women who choose to work in the sex industry only do so because they have been brought up to believe that their only value lies in being sexually attractive, or that they are just sluts. Plenty of people do have something against any woman who is vocal about sexual desire.    Plenty of people consistently use a woman’s desire to express herself sexually, or to wear short skirts as justification for verbal, physical, or emotional abuse.

Is this about just boobs not being news?  Or is it in part about disapproving of the choices of certain women?  It certainly seems like the latter to me, and it calls in to question the objectivity (or is that objectification?  I can’t really remember, but I guess it doesn’t matter, coz you guys know what I mean) of the campaign.

Look: I’m unlikely to do a page 3 photoshoot.  (Actually, the idea of me being a page 3 model is so hilarious that I might actually try to do it, just for lolz.  Did you see that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is doing the boudoir photo shoot?  It’d be like that, except that while the photographer smears vaseline on the camera lens, I’d be arguing with the set designer about the day-to-day impracticality of satin sheets: “But they’re so slippery!  And you can’t put them on a boil wash!”).  But this campaign affects me too.  It affects me because it’s not tackling underlying sexism in the media.  It’s not tackling the culture that still exists that tells women what is and isn’t ok to do with their bodies.  It’s contributing to slut-shaming.  It’s marginalising sex workers, and although I’m not one, plenty of women are, and what hurts other women hurts me because we are all in this together.

How is a quick fix of telling people “Looking at women’s bodies is not ok” going to solve any problems?  There are much, much more effective ways of tackling the underlying sexism in our society.  But actually, it’s much, much harder to tackle latent sexism than it is to find an obvious example of something in popular culture that you don’t agree with.  To tackle latent sexism, we need things like Ladyfest; we need campaigns like Women for Independence in Scotland, a movement designed to make sure that women’s opinions are not yet again overlooked in a national debate; we need feminist organisations to have, and actively implement, policies on intersectionality, that have been developed in collaboration with marginalised groups within women; we need campaigns like Oxfam’s Female Food Hero, which not only celebrates the hugely important role women play in food production all over the world (the project has been run in Tanzania, and is soon to be run in Ireland – see here for more), but also provides women with training and further resources to enhance their skills in food production.  Issues around women and negative body image would be more adequately addressed by working with girls and women who suffer from body image problems, rather than censoring those women whose insecurities are not so great that they are uncomfortable with revealing their bodies.  A better way to dissociate pornographic images and sexual assault (if indeed such a link does exist), would be to educate people that there is a difference between women who consent to sexual activity (including participation in pornography and engaging in sex) and women who do not.  All of these activities require a lot more effort and commitment than simply signing a petition, but furthermore, they do not have the knock-on negative affect of stigmatising and criticising women who work in the sex industry.

Not only do I believe that this campaign is ill thought-out, and utterly careless with regards to its social context and potential consequences, but, given the attitudes and beliefs of its founder in relation to sex and sexual expression, I find it difficult to believe that the campaign is even well-meaning.  This campaign is taking place in a context where female nudity and sexuality is heavily criticised.  It is taking place in a context where the media does not represent women adequately.   It is the brainchild of a woman who makes value judgements about other people’s sexual preferences.  And crucially, it ignores all of these contexts.  Take the bare boobs out of The Sun is an ostentatious, lazy attempt at feminist activism, which will not have a large direct impact on women’s rights, and fits very neatly into a misogynistic culture of slut-shaming and dictating to women what we can and should do with our bodies.  And as a feminist who believes in improving rights for all women, not just those who share my particular attitudes, I cannot put my name to it.