Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Blocking p0rn is not the answer - ending patriarchy is

Eating my breakfast yesterday, I heard the headline on BBC6 Music that Internet service providers were going to start blocking pornography. Tentatively I wondered whether this was good news – seeing as I am a pro-sex anti-pornography (and wider sex industry) feminist. I decided to reserve my judgement however until I had read a bit more on the subject, and, surprise surprise, my initial sense of good news was quickly wiped away.

For those of you who don’t know the story or the background, the government recently commissioned a report by the Mother’s Union – which by the way, is headed by a man – to look into the early sexualisation of children. One of the upshots of this report then has been to ask ISPs to give parents a service they can opt-in to, blocking ‘offensive material’ from their home computers and protecting their children from stumbling across porn.

Anyway, this kind of covers that side of the story:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/oct/11/pornography-internet-service-providers?intcmp=239

There are a number of issues I have with this proposal. Unlike some commentators (who perhaps don’t really understand the feminist argument against porn) who believe that this is feminism condoning censorship, or feminism getting into bed with the right, I believe that this is not a feminist move at all, and should be questioned and perhaps even condemned by feminists (although that is my view, don't expect people to do as I tell them!).

Lets start with the practical issue. How is this going to work? Will the block happen on a key word basis? I’m not sure how else it can be implemented. If so, will this have implications for young people looking for information about sex education, for LGBTQ teens looking for information, or even for young people doing projects on a certain sea bird? The Internet is a great resource for young people to educate themselves about their sexuality and again, for LGBTQ teens to search out online and real life communities and support. How will the opt-in block impact on teens seeking these services?

But my biggest concern is that this move (along with most of the Bailey Report) basically says that there is nothing wrong with the commercial sexual exploitation of women and men, there is nothing wrong with the violence and coercion that runs through the industry, nothing wrong with the racism, homophobia and transphobia that runs through porn, there is nothing wrong with the impact porn has on violence against women and girls (please see American Psych Association research), the only thing that is wrong with any of this is if you happen to see it before you hit your 18th birthday.

And this is not acceptable.

The average boy first sees Internet porn when he is 11. Of course I think that something needs to be done to ensure that young people aren’t getting the bulk of their sex education from porn that more often than not is violent, degrading and brutal towards women. And lets get this straight – that is most of it. A survey quoted in Banyard’s The Equality Illusion (which I don’t have to hand) found that nearly 90% of rented porn DVDs in the USA depicted violent acts or used violent language against women. Internet porn is no different.

But just shutting our eyes and pretending it doesn’t exist until children hit 18 is not the answer. Because that does nothing to tackle the actual issues and problems with porn, violence and ingrained sexism, or the wider world where sexism and violence against women and girls is endemic.

There is plenty of existing research from the APA, and research being done from the UK to New Zealand on the impact porn has on violence against women and girls. Of course there are issues with the ‘sexualisation’ of children, but hiding our heads in the sand and refusing to take a stand against the violence, coercion, trafficking and portrayal of unsafe sex that runs through the sex industry does nothing to protect children and refuses to engage with one of the many causes of rape culture.

Because, as I have written before, we are at a crisis point when it comes to violence against women and girls. 2 women a week are still being killed by their partners and ex partners, there are 94,000 rapes every year (http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2010/11/29/rape-statistics-what-can-we-rely-on/) and the conviction rate is still 6.5% (not 13.5% Guardian reader’s editor). Young women aged 16-19 are now at the greatest risk of being victims of intimate partner violence and 1 in 3 teen girls experience intimate partner violence, 1 in 4 for adult women (Home Office, Bristol Uni, NSPCC, BCS for all stats).

Hiding violence against women and girls, hiding the commercial sexual exploitation of women and hiding the degrading images of women from children does not stop these images, this violence from existing. 18 isn’t an age when it is ok to buy into an industry that harms women, because no age is. The Bailey Review is not focusing on tackling violence against girls, but in many cases is about a squeamishness about young people’s very real and very natural sexuality.

It’s not ok to say violence, degradation and sexism is fine once you’re an adult.

I believe that the problem isn’t the sexualisation of children (although this IS an issue), because the problem is with patriarchy. It’s patriarchy that allows the commercial sexual exploitation of women. It is patriarchy that makes profit out of violence against women. It is patriarchy that means women can never have equality whilst our bodies are for sale.

So long as patriarchy means violence against women and girls is allowed to happen (and with a conviction rate of 6.5% for rape and men murdering their wives and getting an 18-month sentence then don’t be deceived, this is allowed to happen) then blocking porn sites in family homes is not going to have any impact. So long as we say that commercial sexual exploitation is ok so long as you see it when you’re an adult, then we’re not moving forward.

I’m not stupid. I know that we can’t ban pornography or ban the sex industry. I know that we can’t just make it disappear. But I do believe this. When we no longer live under a patriarchy, we will no longer have violent and degrading pornography or an industry that treats women (and men) as objects to be used and abused for profit. Such a thing would seem utterly ridiculous to a society where all genders, all people, were held in equal esteem, and where people were not seen as disposable objects to be wanked over (or in to) for profit.

This is how we end the sexualisation of children. This is how we end violence against women and girls. This is how we end inequality in a society where women’s bodies are for sale, or judged against an impossible ideal of ‘hot’. Not through banning web keywords to under-18s. But by ending patriarchy.

And that’s why as a feminist I do not agree with this proposal.

For more info on the research looking at links between porn and sexual violence, please see this post:
http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/08/porn-sexual-violence-and-scientific.html

I've written it so many times it gets a bit wearing repeating it over and over!

Rape conviction and reporting rates: http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org/crime-prevention/latest-crime-statistics
False accusation stats: Fawcett Society report on 'Rape: The Facts'

Rape rate stats: Fawcett Society report on 'Rape: The Facts' and the BCS figures cited here: http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2010/11/29/rape-statistics-what-can-we-rely-on/

55 comments:

McDuff said...

But my biggest concern is that this move (along with most of the Bailey Report) basically says that there is nothing wrong with the commercial exploitation of women and men, there is nothing wrong with the violence and coercion that runs through all capitalist industry, nothing wrong with the racism, homophobia and transphobia that runs through society, there is nothing wrong with the impact every aspect of the culture has on violence against women and girls (please see the news), the only thing that is wrong with any of this is nothing whatsoever, unless it involves sex.

Fixed it for you.

On a slightly less facecious note, moves like this may not be feminist or of the kind that feminists such as yourself approve of, but they're the kind of moves that are enabled because feminists such as yourself *do* get into bed with right wing vested interests and align yourself against feminists who believe consent and economic justice is more important than demonising an industry just because it involves more bodily fluids than polite society normally deems acceptable.

Like it or not, the world is not run by feminists, but it is run by authoritarians who are perfectly willing to use feminists as a fig leaf. You can't "end patriarchy" by using your privilege as another class in the kyriarchy to enforce patriarchal authoritarianism on people.

As long as feminists cannot accept that it is possible for people to consensually engage in transactional sexual activity, people will continue to patriarchally dictate sexual mores and use their authority, with feminist consent, to enforce conservative morality rather than justice and equality. And in the end, it's only the sex workers who will really lose out on that bargain.

sian and crooked rib said...

'feminists who believe consent and economic justice is more important than demonising an industry just because it involves more bodily fluids than polite society normally deems acceptable.'

mcDuff you're rather putting words in my mouth there!

I don't 'demonise' the sex industry. That's really strong language to use. my objections to the sex industry have nothing to do with bodily fluids and everything to do with how it enacts and enables violence against women and girls for profit. the sex industry to me is the nadir of capitalist patriarchy, allowing women (and men) to be abused, and pushing the message that violence against women is fine so long as you get off on it for nothing else than filling a few people's wallets.

I do not get into bed with the right wing and i have yet to meet a feminist who thought the Bailey Review was anything other than ridiculous and exacerbating the issues.

I do not consent to the right wing using my name to justify policies that do nothing more than silence the violence done to women (and men) within the sex industry and outside of it.

in terms of authority using feminism as a fig leaf - i completely agree and would recommend nina power's one dimensional woman to see how problematic this is. that is why it is so vital and important to speak out against these kinds of proposals, to show that they are a smokescreen to detract attention and effort from some of the real and happening issues such as violence against women and girls.

In the end, i think we are both on the same side - we both want to end violence against women and girls. You believe that this happens through legalising the sex industry whilst i believe that de-criminalising the selling of sex and criminalising those who pay is one way to tackle the violence and trafficking that runs through the industry.

BookElf said...

I'm going to get a t-shirt saying 'You do not need to exploit people to have a good wank' I think.

rmott62 said...

I do not believe that blocking porn does anything to improves the safety of the women inside porn.
I am sick that most debates round porn, is always about the harms done to everyone but the women inside porn. They are viewed as too sub-human to be harmed, or if considered as human that they must of chosen to be inside porn. This make all violence done to them unimportant or invisible - as long as it viewed as adult entertainment.
Meanwhile, most mainstream porn is extremely body punishing, and leaves those lucky enough to exit with extreme trauma.

ARA said...

As long as the pornindustry humiliates women so extremely massive as they do now, you can forget all about ending the patriarchy.
Young boys (and girls) are growing up with the porn-image of how girls and women are treated - as utensils and commodities. Not really human beings.
This will not stop as long as they are being "brainwashed" by that image in every pornmovie wich is completely free and available on the internet. Not one of these pornmovies shows womens sexuality as an active - they are 3 holes and nothing else. And this is the image our youngest is growing up with.

sian and crooked rib said...

BookElf - i love it!

Rebecca - thank you for commenting. i agree. that's why i hate these ideas that hiding porn away, or that 'porn prevents vawg' a la anna arrowsmith's article. it dismisses and silences the reality of violence against women and girls in porn and prostitution. and this cannot, must not, be ignored or silenced.

ARA - thank you for your comment.

Mary Tracy said...

I agree with Rebecca. Arrowsmith's argument that porn prevents violence to women and girls amounts to "double speak" or "gaslighting". Because porn is evidently violence against women and girls. That is what it is. That is the essence of what it is.

Mary Tracy said...

McDuff, "conservative morality" is essentially "double speak". It is not "against" sexual mores. The Right is more than happy with the sex industry. For evidence, see the Daily Male: more than enough pics of scantily clad women amongst moralising cries of "think of the children!".

Conservative morality is precisely what fuels ponography. Which is why they have no interest in stopping it. They just want to appear as if they give two dumps about "children" and "family". But they don't.

sian and crooked rib said...

Mary tracy - i agree. the right don't want to tackle the sex industry or do anything to prevent vawg in the industry. the sex industry is a capitalist patriarchal venture that puts profit ahead of lives.

gherkingirl said...

I'm uncomfortable with this proposal because it shuts down the discourse around sex and porn and life.

If your family opts out, you have to sneak around to see anything to do with sex at someone else's house and as kids fear getting into trouble over things like that, they are even more likely to see stuff about sex without a context and be less likely to be able to ask anyone to explain it.

I am not a huge fan of porn. even some of the non industry home made couples stuff seems to reinforce the idea that only men are dominant sexually and women are simply receptive. I'm sure there's straightfoward equal porn out there, but the fact you have to search so hard worries me.

Opting out will make it even harder for kids to access the good informative stuff (like LGBQT or Rape Crisis info & sex ed) and even more likely to see stuff out of context.

I also worry that by 'prohibiting'even softcore porn, you encourage it all to become more extreme and intense. If you're going to have issue with The Joy of Sex, why not make more real money off donkey porn instead?

Agonising as it is, the only way to challenge the porn industry and its influence is to talk more to our kids about sex. I know it's embarrassing hearing mum or dad explain submission and domination or anal sex, but that's the answer. More communication, less knee-jerking...

McDuff said...

Because porn is evidently violence against women and girls. That is what it is. That is the essence of what it is.

No it isn't.

See, I can just assert my point of view too!

The question is, are people like Furrygirl and Violet Blue and Rain Degrey and Jiz Lee suffering from false consciousness at the hands of a brainwashing patriarchy, or do women have agency to decide what they want to do with their own sexuality?

Remember how the patriarchy set a whole load of rules about what you could do with your vaginas? Yeah, so, why's "don't use them to make money" any different?

McDuff said...

Rmott62:

Meanwhile, most mainstream porn is extremely body punishing, and leaves those lucky enough to exit with extreme trauma.

So, what you're saying is that sex work is work?

My grandad drove the busses for 30 years, and now he walks with a limp because of what it did to his back. Is the solution to ban busses or to create a healthy work environment for bus drivers and encourage workplace democracy that puts the decisions in the hands of those affected?

By the way, saying that those "lucky enough" to leave, implying everyone who has not left porn is an victim, is removing the agency of the women you're talking about. You're basically telling them that they don't know what they want because they simply must be victims.

You'll never get rid of the patriarchy unless you stop being so patriarchal about it.

sian and crooked rib said...

McDuff - RMott62 is talking about her experiences and that needs to be respected in this space. She has said previously on this blog and on her own that she doesn't believe sex work is just work.

Your example of your grandad reminds me of the people who go 'oh but working in mcdonalds is worse'. But other jobs don't carry the same threat of violence, the same levels of PTSD - rape is not an 'occupational hazard' of being a bus driver! My grandad worked in a steel works and saw someone he worked with die - so we now have H&S regulations to protect people. But the sex industry is a different kettle of fish, precisely because the performance and the reality of violence against women and girls is seen as pornography, as something to make money - not as something to avoid and prevent. 90% of porn portrays or is violence.

You give examples of women porn actors who you say are happy in their work. I have to take your word for that but we could play that game all day - as equally there are women and men who aren't happy or are coerced or abused.

I would recommend you read RMott62's blog and understand why she isn't victimising women and removing their agency. i don't want to put words in her mouth when her own words ring out so eloquently.

You say women commenting on this blog are removing women's agency to choose a career in the sex industry, but thatis a whole question about the nature of choice in an unequal society. Equally you need to listen and respect the lived experiences of women who may have experienced or recognise the impact porn and the industry has on violence against women and girls.

The important thing is to listen. Me to listen, you to listen - everyone to listen. Listen to the women you mention and listen to the women who have had a differnet experience of the industry - from both within and without.

helen said...

McDuff

I never worked in porn, but I did work in prostitution for years.

I never met a woman doing it who skipped off to work looking forward to her shift. Or who had dreamt of prostitution as her career as childhood, aiming toward it for years. No one ever said they'd keep it up even if they won the Lottery.

I did meet a lot of women who were resigned to encountering degradation, pain and rape on a daily basis. Every single one of them knew that they were risking murder every single time they went to work. They all started off positive and thinking they were worth more. They ended up jaded, cynical self medicating, traumatised and nihilistic. You just wouldn't see it under the ballbreaking exterior designed to make them seem less vulnerable than they really are.

The average age for starting prostitution in the UK is 15. The mortality rate for prostitutes of all ages is 12 times higher than for other women. 68% report PTSD. 90% of women wish to leave prostitution if they could.

Considering the overlap between prostitution and the porn industry, I'd be shocked if porn actresses were reporting huge differences. I know we hear how much women love working in porn, but how come they all seem to leave as they can? I think the whole happy hooker (or perfomer) thing is a myth.

When I was working, I would never have said I was forced into, I really thought I had a choice. But I needed that denial and disassociation to cope with doing the job. I look at it very differently now I know I will never ever have to sell myself again.

Perhaps (and my post is as guilty of this as other people are) we should be asking the women who have worked in porn instead of talking over them so much?

sian and crooked rib said...

Hi mcduff,
As an FYI, I didn't publish your last comment as some of your language contravened my mod policy. Am happy to publish comments that disagree with me so if you want to re post but without language that other readers might find triggering then go ahead.

Thanks, sian

McDuff said...

90% of porn portrays or is violence.

Where is that statistic from? It sounds rather like the kind of things people assert without investigating to me. What are we defining as violence here? If we're starting from the axiom that sex work is inherently degrading or violent then most of it probably is, but that's just circular.

But the sex industry is a different kettle of fish, precisely because the performance and the reality of violence against women and girls is seen as pornography, as something to make money - not as something to avoid and prevent.

Honestly, again, here we have a blanket assertion which is not true.

The internal politics of porn and sex work is complex and full of smart, intelligent women who disagree with you. Browse around Bound, not Gagged, SWAAY, SWOP or SAAFE. Nobody in these organisations denies any of the issues that face sex workers. They just strongly disagree that the visceral reaction which prompts people opposed to violence to reach for the nearest blunt instrument of law and vilification is correct or helpful.

I'd particularly draw people's attention to the work of Maggie McNeil and this interview with an ex-trafficked sex worker. I don't have any particular inclination to play oppression olympics, but I do think it's important to note the very real experiences of everyone involved in all aspects of sex work, and to note that the abolitionists by no means have the monopoly on women with real experiences of the downsides of the industry.

Similarly, as far as "violent porn" and its inherently and unavoidable degrading and anti-woman material goes, this interview with Rain DeGrey should be read because the conception entertained by the feminist theorists is not reflective of the lived experience of one of the more prolific bondage/fetish performers out there.

I don't intend to discredit anyone else's experience. But the fact is that you simply cannot say "sex work/porn is this" when the experience of so many people actually in the industry says the exact opposite. By claiming that porn is this mythically horrible experience and that there's no way of avoiding it, you aren't listening to the people who work in the industry for whom that isn't true, and you're not protecting them from anything.

sian and crooked rib said...

Helen, thank you for your comment and for sharing your experiences.

Marina S said...

McDuff asserted:

"See, I can just assert my point of view too!"

Honey. Do you have eyes? Yes? OK. Here's what I want you to do.

Go find yourself some nice hard core porn. Maybe some DP/TP, machine fucking, giant anal dildo stuff...

Got some? Right. How watch it. Really, really watch it. Look at the woman on the screen in front of you. Listen to her. Keep Junior in your pants and watch her face, listen to her voice.

Do you see her face contorted in a grimace, lips pulled back, brows contracted?

Do you hear her grunting, "ugh, ugh, ow, ow, ow"?

Now, go and experience something really pleasurable in front of the mirror. Eat some chocolate. Or bacon, if that's more your thing. Scratch an insistent itch. Down a good pint. Listen to a song you love.

Did your face, at a time of pleasure, contort into a scrunched up grimace? Were you moved to arch your back as if trying to get away from what's hurting you, grit your teeth, clench your fists? Did you let an involuntary "ouch" escape your lips?

I would think not. You know what you look like when you are experiencing pleasure, and what you look like when you are in pain. We all do. And yet we all somehow manage to convince ourselves that these women who look and sound exactly like we do when we've just stubbed our toe are LOVING IT.

It's a colossal, and collective, deficit of empathy. Porn sex is not really sex, it is not focused on touch or texture; it's designed to get people off, and frankly it's not surprising (and doesn't make any of us a monster) that when we get close to orgasm, we just don't notice that the people in front of us are just not showing what we recognise as signs of pleasure or enjoyment. Not in ourselves.

You need to stop suspending your disbelief and start looking at what's actually in front of you. Voluntarily or not, you are looking at women who are being hurt. I mean in the most basic "ouch that hurts" sense, not in some lofty moral way.

Porn is violence against women - and that's just the bits you pay for. The violence that goes on off screen is yet another matter entirely. Ignore and deny it as much as you like, tell people who point out what their eyes are plainly telling them that "they're just asserting their opinion" as much as you like - you will not change that.

If you get off on images of women being hurt and humiliated, at least own it, you know?

rmott62 said...

I would never frame for women being inside porn as sex work, for that is the propaganda term of the sex trade profiteers to make their normalisation of violence invisible.
For me, it an issue of the stealing of basis human rights from women in porn and prostitution.
It is important to say that porn and prostitution is deeply interlinked, for many of the "actresses" inside mainstream porn have move from other aspects of the sex trade - move from all aspects of indoors prostitution and sex clubs.
I speak as an exited prostituted woman who did indoors prostitution, and was often made to do porn. The porn producer like to use prostituted women for they have deadened to sexual after constant rapes and sexual torturing, so are considered ideal or mainstream porn which is mainly body punishing.
When inside porn, the major way to survive is by cutting away your body from your mind. That is why I say those who are lucky enough to exit - for many died from suicide or murder, or may too ill physially or mentally after the hell of being inside porn - will often have extreme trauma. For the reality of living with sexual torture, only comes when the woman is safe enough by being well away from the porn industry, to feel what was done to her.

sian and crooked rib said...

McDuff

R Wosnitzer and A J Bridges published research called 'aggression and sexual behaviour in best-selling pornography' in 2007. This paper found that:

89.1% of the most popularly rented porn VHS and DVDs contained aggressive acts with the average scene containing 11.52 acts of verbal or physical violence. Physical was the most common, occurring in 88.2% of the scenes. 94% of the acts were directed towards women.

So according to the research on dvds and vhs, the majority of porn portrays violence against women and girls. Considering anecdotal evidence tells us porn online is more extreme, and considering that the gonzo nature of online porn makes it easier for coercion and trafficking, we can assume that the figures are similar.

You say:

'They just strongly disagree that the visceral reaction which prompts people opposed to violence to reach for the nearest blunt instrument of law and vilification is correct or helpful.'

Where have i said anywhere that i agree that the blunt instrument of the law is the answer? the ENTIRE point of this blogpost was to say how an unsubtle, un examined blanket key word ban, a knee jerk law, is a BAD idea. I also refuse to vilify anyone who works in the industry because that is not the point. The point is whether an industry that harms women and men (whether it harms all isn't the point) is something that should be considered as only bad for children, or as having wider implications for gender equality across our society.

McDuff said...

This is a re-edited version of the previous comment to remove some words which may be triggering. It does not include responses to the last 5 or so comments. Bear with me on those please.

Sian

I do not consent to the right wing using my name to justify policies that do nothing more than silence the violence done to women (and men) within the sex industry and outside of it.

That plus a dollar will buy you a cheeseburger. In the meantime, your lack of consent is not going to stop them taking your words and using them to justify what they were going to do anyway. The laws that you get aren't going to be nice shiny laws that only hurt bad people.

Making someone's job illegal and casting them in a permanent victim role will not empower them.

You believe that this happens through legalising the sex industry whilst i believe that de-criminalising the selling of sex and criminalising those who pay is one way to tackle the violence and trafficking that runs through the industry.

I believe that laws against using vaginas in non-proscribed manners have been around in some form or other since the year dot and they haven't done much to improve the lives of women. On the other hand, in places like Manchester the police have chosen to live and let live, provided that the brothels take steps to keep the drugs and guns out of the business. The result? Loads of empowered hookers who get to tell bad parlours they're off round the corner to the better one.

It's a case of a model that hasn't worked ever vs model that is imperfect and in need of improvement but which works, according to the sex workers most directly affected by it.

I do have the advantage of knowing a couple of prostitutes socially and having them chew my ear off about their crappy days at work, and "I'm so exploited by the system, I can't wait to escape" doesn't actually come up. Any work relationship where your "boss" has to compete for your employment and you can announce that you're not coming in because you can't be arsed today doesn't seem like a nadir of capitalist exploitation to me.

And, yes, I know that's not all prostitutes. But neither are these sex workers fictional and glamourised Belle du Jour types that anti-sex-work feminists like to use to belittle those whose experiences are not that of abuse or victimhood. They're £50 an hour parlour girls. While not all of them see it as the best job they'll ever do or something they'll do forever, "I'll leave in three or four years once I've saved up enough money" is hardly the cry of an unheard victim class. And you can say that "it's better than McDonalds" is wrong for some reason, but not to these women it's not. For a start, the option to leave your crappy job in three years once you've saved up enough is something you don't get at McDonalds, because the take home is about a third of the amount you'll get in a half decent parlour in a city with a lot of competition.

The problems of racism, poverty, abuse of power, capitalism and pure blatant inequality are not unique to sex work, nor are they unavoidable within porn or prostitution. Some prostitutes do indeed have terrible experiences, but extrapolating from that to say things like "porn=violence, always" is massively unjustified.

helen said...

McDuff

The fact that you can name pretty much every empowered porn actress on the fingers of two hands doesn't tell you something?

These women are a tiny tiny minority of performers, so comparatively rare as to really stand out. It's like trying to say that everyone who has a gym membership is a pro athlete.

The overwhelming majority of women in porn are not enjoying it, not desperate to stay in the job and not going round selling the career option to girls in schools. They are just surviving.

It's pretty bloody insulting to keep ignoring the majority of women in the sex industry only to focus on the tiny vocal minority who have been successful. But then again, I learned at a very young age that men think their right to an orgasm the way they want it trumps everything else. Even life and human rights.

We don't need sledgehammer laws, we need people to change their attitudes.

McDuff said...

Helen.

We only have anecdotes to go on. My experiences in the industry, including my brief personal foray into the world of bicurious hooking, are much more mixed than that. Some people I know hate it, hate men, hate the industry, hate everything except the money, hate themselves for not hating the money. Some take way too many drugs to be sure that they're not just loving the permahigh. Personally, I felt massively pressured and awkward and really didn't have a good time sexing up men I *really* didn't find attractive, so that got knocked on the head pretty quick.

But on the other hand I know girls who love it. Like, genuinely, and not just in a "look at this new house" sort of way. I got a text from one saying "I just got rogered by two Russian Opera Singers!!" a while back, which is not everyone's cup of tea but certainly wasn't intended to describe a negative experience on her part.

Certainly the general tenor of sex worker message boards like SAAFE is not one of unmitigated joy and bunnies, but neither is it a pit of horrifying despair and women desperate to be rescued.

I very much try not to talk over porn performers. Given my SWA leanings I obviously only have access to the words of performers and producers like furrygirl, Jiz Lee, Madison Young, Buck Angel, Dana Dearmond etc etc. To a certain extent there's going to be more self-selection in play. Those who stick with a career in porn are going to be those who enjoy it. Those who hate it are going to leave and either not mention it or write about how much they hated being in it. But, there's the voices of at least some of those who do currently work in the industry.

I've been on the outskirts of the pro sex work movement for nearly 10 years now (since my then-girlfriend told me she was going to try out at a strip club and I got to become the Stripper's Boyfriend), and know a fair few people from all over the scene, strippers, hookers, camgirls, fetish models, dominatrixes, and I know that it's not all victims and rapists, frankly. So presenting it as such always sits badly with me. It feels very much like people are playing a game of "my negative experiences beat your positive experiences" and I don't know who signed anyone up for that game, nor what it actually achieves.

McDuff said...

OK I saw that last comment after I posted this.

I can't name "every" porn actress on one hand. I picked a pretty representative bunch, out of the ones who both perform and write eloquently and who therefore can't be accused of not *really* enjoying what they do. But the next strategy, obviously, is to say "pfft, there's hardly any of them!"

You said:

Perhaps (and my post is as guilty of this as other people are) we should be asking the women who have worked in porn instead of talking over them so much?

My last comment had links to women (and a transman) who do porn talking about it. You can ignore it or claim that it's not everyone, but then that's "talking over", in my book. I could probably round up another dozen women talking about positive experiences in porn just off my twitter feed, but the problem that we will always encounter when we do this is that it is never enough. They're always going to be the minority, the "happy hookers", their experiences will always be sidelined and marginalised by those who want sex work to be a joyless process of victimisation and exploitation.

You could read the SAAFE forums (linked above), or SWAAY's Porn Info page. Or you could read the complex, intimate admissions of Jennie Ketcham, who used to be Penny Flame and now isn't. There isn't much polish and gloss in those places, there isn't the Public Face Of Porn necessity to not say bad shit because someone will take your words and go "ah-HA!" There's a hundred arguments about this and that and the other in the porn blogosphere, and pornographers are always pissed off about something, but they're not living in the caricature world that antis like to paint for them.

It's easy to find the excuses, the reasons to dismiss even when you said you wouldn't, the justifications to marginalise the voices. But maybe you shouldn't do that.

I've no interest in marginalising anyone. This is my voice, but I'm trying to include as many people as possible from as many places as possible, while not speaking for them. I'm not trying to sugar coat the industry, and neither will anyone else on the pro side. But it very much feels like that courtesy is rarely extended to us, and your last comments felt like more of the same. I'm sorry if they weren't intended to be, but there you are.

sian and crooked rib said...

But the flipside of that becomes 'my positive experience outweighs your negative experience'.

We also need to consider privilege. The privilege of having the choices and the voice that you mention above. What happens when you don't have that privilege?

Because it isn't wrong or inaccurate or unfair to say that with prostitution and porn comes violence, trafficking and coercion. Just as the experiences you cite aren't inaccurate, wrong or unfair.

I don't know the answers. Or the solution. But the problems are with capitalist patriarchy, a system that allows violence against women and girls, sells violence against women and girls, and profits from it.

And whether there are women who enjoy being within the industry or not, the allowance, the acceptability of vawg that is supported by an industry that portrays women as objects to be used and abused is not imo a good thing for encouraging equality.

helen said...

McDuff

You know sex workers are really just salespeople don't you? And do you trust salespeople to give you a true picture elsewhere in life?

I used to give the impression that I was far too tough to be affected by my job. I was hard drinking, hard partying, hard shagging off the clock, always cracking jokes, always telling people how ballsy I was. And I think I believed it. Only when I knew for sure that I would never ever work in the sex industry again did the cracks start appearing and I realised that ultimately I was a sex worker because my first experiences of sex as a teenager were abusive, not because they were so liberating I wanted to fuck everyone I met since.

Have you asked every single one of these women why they are sex workers? Do you know for a fact they haven't been frightened, belittled, degraded or abused in their pasts? Do you expect that they would tell you anyway, since the biggest risk factor for rape in adulthood is prior pre 16 abuse? Would you tell a man who seems to hang around with sex workers all the time about that vulnerability?

Have you consdidered the trap of sex work for many young women? It starts off as something they can do when they feel like with hands off while they are young and nubile and desirable, but as they age and become less malleable, they become less desirable. But by then, they've got huge gaps on their CV, lifestyles (and partners or pimps) used to above minimum wage pay, a reputation as a sex worker, possibly drug & alcohol problems, issues with trauma and PTSD and either can't give up the work at all or have to turn to more dangerous, more hands on work going from stripper to prostitute because they have no other work options.

Working in McDonalds can be shite, but it offers genuine work experience, training options, promotional opportunities and doesn't write you off the minute as you age/have kids/gain weight/grow less socially acceptably attractive.
It also doesn't prey on your past history, addiction issues and routinely threaten your life and safety. It doesn't isolate you from societal norms and rules. Who ever heard of a McDonalds' worker's murder not being investigated because they flipped burgers?

You'll notice pretty much every women you hold up as an example of the liberation and choice of the porn industry seems to be using an alias? Even the liberated women who choose this career over everything else have to protect themselves because of the danger and stigma they face in wider society. Many also do that because in order to do the job long term they need to separate their lives and take on a persona. See that in burger flippers much?

You don't have to be being beaten senseless everyday to be living a dangerous and abusive life that can fuck you right up. Sometimes you have to look a little bit harder and read the non verbal cues people are giving you too...

Forty Shades Of Grey said...

*sticks oar in*

McDuff - Someone left this comment on my blog, which I think, without wanting to speak for the other commenters, probably sums up what they're saying about the positive experiences of sex work you're talking about:

"Yeah, there's a certain confirmation bias with the Belle de Jours of the world. If someone has a blog and a book deal and a PhD student's command of English they're going to be listened to a lot more than, say, a trafficked teenager who doesn't have time for a blog and knows next to no English because she was whisked away from school at 15. The ability to speak and especially write about your experiences is a luxury, eloquence is a privilege and we shouldn't forget either."

sian and crooked rib said...

Mcduff no one wants anyone to be exploited and victimized. It isnt anti porn feminists who exploit and victimise women and men working in the so called sex industry.

sian and crooked rib said...

You say that the voices of the actors you link to are marginalised. But by who? They have a web presence, an online voice, social networks.the pro sex industry lobby isn't marginalised imo, its pretty vocal.

The marginalised voices surely are the voices that aren't heard, aren't given the freedom to be heard, like Nat says there's a lot of privilege going on.

Yes we shouldn't talk over other people's experiences but that works both ways.

McDuff said...

Marina S

I'm trying hard to work out what you think you're saying here, but I'm afraid it all just comes across as incredibly condescending.

Firstly, the face you pull when you orgasm is not the same face you pull when you eat bacon. But don't take my word for it, you can see for yourself by subscribing to the pornographic site Beautiful Agony, dedicated to the faces of people in the throes of orgasm. Both genders too! All the research you could ever want, frankly.

Secondly, those aren't the faces you see in mainstream porn either. You see, in the "mainstream", mostly people acting. Or sometimes not. But, performing, whatever. It doesn't mean it's "inherently violent." Those aren't real stab wounds in Sparta either.

Thirdly, if you want non-faked porn, there's a big wide internet out there. Try Abby Winters.com if you like real couples. Or cocksexual.com if you want strap on pairings of any gender combination takes your fancy. Or if you happen to get off on images of women being hurt and humiliated consensually, which anyone on fetlife would tell you was supercool and fun times and actually nothing to be ashamed of like you insinuate, you could go for Kink.com, which is known in the industry for being spectacularly ethical and good to work for, and you can ask all their models if you don't believe me. And their subdomains "Men in Pain" and "Divine Bitches" sort you out if you'd rather watch women consensually abuse submissive men (which I'm sure is probably still exploitative to women or something). Or you could see if Sequoia Redd is doing a camshow if you like that kind of earth goddess sexuality stuff. Or, I dunno, maybe just don't assume one thing is all there is.

While it's true that the mainstream dabblers don't move beyond blondes with fake tits faking orgasms in reverse cowgirl. But then I'm told people like America's Next Top Model too, so what we're looking at here is porn reflecting the depths of depravity in society rather than the other way round. To the extent that there are non-fucked-up sex-havers who want porn that reflects shit they like and who get off on consent and real sweaty orgasms, there are also people trying to make porn like that. And these people are often more frequent and more dedicated consumers of porn than the guys who download a gonzo blowjob mp4 on their iphone.

None of this proves it's inherently violent or even proves it isn't, especially all that kinky shit, (although I'd advise against trying to make BDSM prove anything unless you're willing to examine that in depth too, because you can head down a seriously bottomless rabbit hole of smackdown if you try to explain a kinkster's sexuality to them from a vanilla perspective - fetishists are pretty overrepresented in the echelons of literate and articulate sex-havers) but at least it's a step towards you actually understanding what it is you're trying to explain to me. Especially if you buy that subscription to Beautiful Agony next to your mirror and chocolate experiment.

By the way, you know what your comment was, don't you? The slightly patronising honey at the beginning? The explaining something at length to me even though you didn't actually understand it?

I'm afraid you just got caught mansplaining.

McDuff said...

Helen.

You asked:

Have you asked every single one of these women why they are sex workers? Do you know for a fact they haven't been frightened, belittled, degraded or abused in their pasts? Do you expect that they would tell you anyway, since the biggest risk factor for rape in adulthood is prior pre 16 abuse? Would you tell a man who seems to hang around with sex workers all the time about that vulnerability?

I'm not going to answer this. I'm going to let a sex worker answer it, since she does so better than me, here.

"Well, fuck you to anyone who thinks that accusing sex workers of being rape/violence survivors is a clever zinger of a debate point. I have seen self-proclaimed feminists do this more times than I care to count. They paternalize up their argument a bit, but at the core is a self-satisfied, "Haha! I bet you've been raped! You're a victim with no power to make your own decisions, ever! I totally win the porn debate!""

McDuff said...

Sian

(this is going to have to be 2 posts, since the 4096 character limit can't post. I am aware that I am posting a lot. On the other hand, I'm also aware that I'm the only voice on one side of this argument)

It isnt anti porn feminists who exploit and victimise women and men working in the so called sex industry.

Sure they do. They wheel them out in front of crowds and say "look at this victim! Isn't she victimised!? Don't you feel sorry for her lack of agency!?"

At least, that's the story of trafficking victim Jill Brenneman, who I've linked to once already, who was kidnapped and enslaved at 16, and is not only pro-sex-work but quite emphatically against the "Rescue Industry". Again, I'd suggest reading the rest of the interview. Also this article where she talks about the difference between sex work and straight work.

This is what I mean by marginalisation: Streetwalkers and £10 a trick survival hookers are not the majority of the industry, although firm figures are impossible to properly track because workers move between strata depending on their circumstances, and even "street walkers" covers a pretty broad spectrum of prostitution. Trafficked women who are kept in slavery likewise. And, further, nobody in the pro-sex-work camp says that these women don’t exist, or shouldn't be helped, or that violence never takes place in the rest of the industry. Nobody in the pro side says there is no violence against women or against sex workers. What we say is that reducing them to one-dimensional victim status and lying about the statistics, or other tricks of the abolitionist trade, do not help these women. It is a complex issue, and saying we know what's best for you even if you disagree is not a good plan.

I've linked to her a couple of times in this post, but if you're concerned that all the voices I've linked to are too white and western, you could do a lot worse than spending a day reading Laura Agustin's blog, since she has spent a lot of time researching the phenomenon of Commercial Sex, trafficking/migration, The Rescue Industry and the the sex workers rights movement as a global phenomenon.

(continued...)

McDuff said...

(...continued to Sian)

You say that the voices of the actors you link to are marginalised. But by who? They have a web presence, an online voice, social networks.the pro sex industry lobby isn't marginalised imo, its pretty vocal.

Where are the pro sex work Parliamentarians? Where are the pro sex work UN bodies? Where are the pro sex work Presidents, Prime Ministers, celebrity endorsements?

$pread Magazine had to shut down because it couldn't get the funds. Sex Workers unions like the DMSC are numerous, but lack the political sway and financial clout that comes with having western governments flock to your sexy, fashionable cause. This, too, is marginalisation. You may not like it when right wing authoritarians take your ideas, but nonetheless they give you the space to be heard and utilised to their own ends that we don't get. Within the sex industry we have a voice. Out there in media land? You're by far the most funded, the most supported, the most privileged. You got Operation Pentameter. We got new regulations against "controlling for gain" that fucked up the mechanisms many prostitutes used to protect themselves. No contest, really.

Concentrating on sex work as the cause of exploitation is not just putting the cart before the horse, it's kicking the wheels off the cart and then getting angry at the horse because it doesn't want to push it for you.

You can abolish exploitation in the sex work industry when you also abolish exploitation in every industry, because they all stem from the same system of power imbalance that kills factory workers, farmhands and miners every year. Until then, and not to be withdrawn one second before, sex workers need the same rights, respect and capacity for self autonomy and freedom of expression that everyone else doing a shitty job because it's the best job available gets - including the right to use that autonomy to make it less shitty. Anything else is paternalism and plays right into the hands of right wing authoritarians who prey on the weak, whatever industry they end up in.

sian and crooked rib said...

'Those arent real stab wounds in sparta either'

No. But in some porn? That really is rape.

I really disagree with a lot of your arguments. Where are the pro sex industry parliamentarians? It isnt like parliament is full of ppl advocating women's right t be free from violence either. You're giving feminists a lot more credit for power than we have.

You are also putting words in my mouth, and marina's mouth. No one is talking about denying women in the industry rights. I believe prostitution shd be de criminalised precisely because the women should not be marginalised. Marina isn't saying ppl can't have bdsm sex! She's saying a lot of mainstream porn depicts vawg and women in pain as a good thing. And the impact of this, as the apa research shows, is huge.

I think your characterisation of the work orgs like the poppy project, one25, rape crisis etc do to work with and support women who have been prostituted and want to leave quite insulting. If I can accept that you know women who are happy in the industry, then you should accept that there are plenty of women who also want and need support to exit.

Go and tell the women at one25 they're exploiting women.

sian and crooked rib said...

Decriminalisation as in nordic model, so those selling are decriminalised and can therefore access support, but buyers are criminalised and demand is reduced.

helen said...

McDuff

I have constantly acknowledged that there are willing women in porn. I'm also just saying that it might be more nuanced than you're suggesting. Of course not all women involved are rape victims, but I'm also pointing out that you wouldn't actually know because no matter how upfront and relaxed a sex worker is, they protect themselves from occupational hazards by putting on a persona.

I actually have no issue with consensual sex work and believe that sex workers need to be less stigmatised and supported more. I have no issue whatsoever with consensual porn and worked in a non sexual capacity in the fetish industry for years, where no one knew my past.

I enjoyed it hugely but also saw a shit ton of privilege and a lot of people who were in a position to abuse their power talking over those who had experienced things first hand. It was pretty patriarchal itself. A little bit like you using the indirect quotes of other women to ignore the direct experiences of two ex sex workers on this thread...

Little Ershin said...

I don't have trouble believing there are some women who are happy to be in the porn industry. Good luck to them.

What worries me, though, is that while 'happy hookers' exist, so do those women who are desperately unhappy, or being abused, or being coerced and mistreated. I'm pleased that there are women who are happy to work in porn. But I worry that those who take their assertions as a sign that porn doesn't need changing, or reforming, or legislating will only perpetuate an industry where abuse and mistreatment is rife.

Blocking porn won't help, but neither will sitting here pretending that the testimony of a few happy porn workers means that there are no glaring problems within the industry.

sian and crooked rib said...

I once went to a talk from the manager of our local rape crisis. Few ppl understand the causes and impact of vawg then rape crisis workers. She told me that the vast, vast majority of women she spoke to had had porn used against them as part of the violence. Either as a grooming tool, or being forced into porn inspired acts they didn't consent too etc, as mentioned by Rebecca above.

Even if every woman working in porn was happy with her job, or working freely (which we know isn't true) surely part of the problem that we haven't talked about on this thread is the harm and violence and impact on those outside of the industry, all of which is very real. And attested to both by academic research and the work done by survivor and victim support services.

Just because some people like watching violence against women on a screen, or because some people like working in porn doesn't mean we should shrug and write off the experiences of women in and outside of the industry who have had violence committed against them. The only reason ppl do so, as far as I can see, is because they don't want to face up to the fact that they are supporting and defending an industry where, whether they like it or not, women are routinely raped, trafficked and coerced.

McDuff said...

Man, I feel like I’m breaking Chrome in two, the number of tabs I’ve got running on the go trying to break all these points open.

Firstly, there are two response posts up at my old and underused, not because I wanted to take the conversation away but because my specific responses to the "Swedish Model” and the links between porn and violence were too long to fit properly in 4096 characters. Reciprocal comments are welcome but not expected - if people would rather keep the conversation on this thread I have no particular need to draw traffic over there or anything.

Secondly, Helen. The girl who sent me the text message about the opera singer was my girlfriend of six years. I am pretty sure that the truth wasn’t varnished over to protect my delicate sensibilities. She wasn’t a hooker when we started going out, so I even had a good basis for before/after comparisons. She’s still a sex worker now, and unless she is a sensational liar I'm going to stick to my belief that our many conversations about her work were the truth. One anecdote proves exactly fuck all, it’s true, but frankly even though you acknowledge that people can have positive experiences of sex work, you also keep suggesting that there’s no way in hell that any sex worker's specific views, expressed to a mere man, could be really real or truthful if she says she prefers the work, and keep looking for outs to dismiss their views and back up the universalisation of your own experiences. That's exactly the kind of treatment that sex workers see day in, day out from the abolitionist crowd, and it doesn't half grind a lot of gears.

You’re right about the stigma, though. I’d fucking love to see the stigma against women who work in the sex industry massively reduced. To that end, I support the work of people like Our Porn, Ourselves who work to expose the ethical, female-positive side of the porn industry and to stop discriminatory campaigns which try to paint all pornographers as being both damaged and damaging.

Thirdly, I’m not silencing anybody by quoting somebody else, for Christ’s sake. Everyone has the right to have their experiences acknowledged and not belittled, and I have not tried to say that people do not have negative experiences, that violence doesn’t exist, or that everyone in the sex industry is there of their own free will. Sex Worker’s Rights organisations don’t claim that there aren’t problems with the industry. They campaign to end rapes, to end abuse, to end stigmatisation, to end abuse by people in authority, to end violence. The only thing they don’t campaign to end is their jobs. Personally, I’m inclined to see that as somewhat meaningful.

What I object to is the notion that people can take their negative experiences and universalise them, dismissing contrary experience as unimportant to the legislative and policy approach. A broad generalisation about the wider industry, like “Porn is violence against women,” demands interrogation because political response necessarily hangs on the truth of such statements. “Many women in porn are abused” demands an entirely different response, because it is an entirely different thing.

Linking to positive, ethical pornographers was not intended to dispute that abuse exists within the broader industry. How would that even work? Anecdotes don’t trump other anecdotes. It was evidence to specifically rebut the overgeneralised assertion that “porn is violence”. “Not necessarily so” modifies the facts of the matter and so therefore modifies the response to those facts.

Is porn necessarily violent and abusive, or not? To my view, pointing to a large and growing ethical porn scene is a pretty reasonable datapoint to answer that question.

sian and crooked rib said...

But if their jobs are causing harm to others? If their jobs cause harm to other women? To me, part of being a feminist is looking at how my choices impact on and harm other women. And of course some of my choices do, I am not perfect and I live in a patriarchal society.

But we don't shrug at the CEO of bae and go 'well, he likes his job, flexible hours, good pay, so if he makes missiles that kill civilians so what?'

The research and the anecdotes are there to show the impact porn and prostitution has on entrenching misogyny and violence against women and girls. And that's before you get to violence within the industry. That is a problem.

sian and crooked rib said...

McDuff, you said earlier that violence is not the norm in sex work, yet in 2009 one25 reported 134 separate incidences of sexual violence against street workers in Bristol ALONE. That's more than 2 a week in one average sized city. And the conviction rate for rapes of women in the industry is less than 1%.

McDuff said...

But if their jobs are causing harm to others? If their jobs cause harm to other women?

yet in 2009 one25 reported 134 separate incidences of sexual violence against street workers in Bristol ALONE.

Now hold on there. You don't get to switch horses like this. On the one hand, the violence against them is evilbadwrong, on the other hand, well, they're causing harm to women with their choices and decisions, so if they suffer in the process of us eradicating the sex-missiles to throw at other women… well, what?

Personally, I am not of the opinion that the harm done by the existence of prostitution is so bad that sex workers' lives need to be sacrificed so that other women may be saved from their malignant influence. The stigma around sex work particularly damages sex workers, but it also feeds into the general stigma about female sexual availability. Blaming whores for spoiling it for everyone else is to significantly misplace one’s ire.

As for what I said was the norm, are you referring to this paragraph?

Streetwalkers and £10 a trick survival hookers are not the majority of the industry, although firm figures are impossible to properly track because workers move between strata depending on their circumstances, and even "street walkers" covers a pretty broad spectrum of prostitution. Trafficked women who are kept in slavery likewise. And, further, nobody in the pro-sex-work camp says that these women don’t exist, or shouldn't be helped, or that violence never takes place in the rest of the industry. Nobody in the pro side says there is no violence against women or against sex workers. What we say is that reducing them to one-dimensional victim status and lying about the statistics, or other tricks of the abolitionist trade, do not help these women.

134 instances of sexual violence against street prostitutes is a terrible thing. In itself it proves nothing about whether it is “the norm”, so I’m not sure what you think you’re saying with those numbers, but that’s not the point. At risk groups like that, who represent the most vulnerable of sex workers, are those who need the majority of help and support. Thankfully, the majority of sex work in the UK is the indoor freelance/parlour/agency sector, and while the risk of violence in these sectors is not as low as it should be, it is much lower because sex workers can take steps to protect themselves from bad clients. The police also have less capacity to coerce or entrap indoor workers, which reduces the risk of rape from that vector.

Violence in the industry is precisely the reason I support policies which have been shown to reduce violence against sex workers, increase the chances of convictions for those who do perpetrate such acts, and enable sex workers at all levels, including those who work on the street, to seek appropriate redress.

Now if violence and personal autonomy were mutually opposed this would a conundrum, but luckily it isn't. As is the case with most issues of violence affecting marginalised groups, decreasing stigma and increasing agency and autonomy goes hand in hand with decreasing violence.

"It is not a simple dichotomy of legal and illegal or indoor and outdoor but a question of how the illegality of outdoor work increases its danger and how legalisation approaches increase or decrease the ability of sex workers to control the encounter and to disclose their experiences. Most significantly, it is the stigmatisation of sex workers, the misinformation and stereotypes about who they are, why they are sex workers and what a paid sexual transaction is about that really fuels and tacitly legitimises sexual violence against them. Effective prevention and service delivery cannot only take account of the ‘particular circumstances’ of sex workers but must also take into account the prejudices and assumptions that may affect therapeutic and criminal justice responses.

sian and crooked rib said...

Ouf. I'm tired.

I think perhaps i wasn't clear before, it isn't about blaming sex workers for violence (that wouldn't make any sense) but was trying to illustrate that the issue isn't just about violence committed against women within the sex industry but about how the normalisation of the sex industry impacts on women outside of it too. It wasn't switching horses, or blaming women, but saying look, even if there was no violence in the sex industry (which isn't true) then the fact that the impact of the industry still results in violence against women needs to be looked at and considered.

The two issues are interlinked. Normally in this discussion, the violence committed against women within the industry is ignored and silenced.

'Personally, I am not of the opinion that the harm done by the existence of prostitution is so bad that sex workers' lives need to be sacrificed so that other women may be saved from their malignant influence. The stigma around sex work particularly damages sex workers, but it also feeds into the general stigma about female sexual availability. Blaming whores for spoiling it for everyone else is to significantly misplace one’s ire.'

I think you are really twisting my words here and using words like 'blame' 'malignant' etc really suggests I am putting forward a position which i find abhorrent. I wasn't blaming women but saying that a culture that says women's bodies are for sale, and that women's bodies are only and always sexual has an impact on women everywhere.

I feel like this conversation is going round and round and round. You keep coming back with claims that violence in the sex industry is lessened with legalisation/indoor prostitution. I keep coming back with refutations.

And we don't get anywhere.

This is a good piece on why the Nordic Model has been judged successful, and how legalising prostitution does not decrease violence and trafficking:

http://action.web.ca/home/catw/readingroom.shtml?x=130078&AA_EX_Session=7c4f455047e37cf63442a3dd50ee4d0c

You say:
'Violence in the industry is precisely the reason I support policies which have been shown to reduce violence against sex workers, increase the chances of convictions for those who do perpetrate such acts, and enable sex workers at all levels, including those who work on the street, to seek appropriate redress.'

exactly. that is what we both want. end the stigma, end the violence. But you believe this happens through legalisation and i believe this happens through criminalising the johns. I believe that research shows that legalisation does fuck all frankly to reduce the violence and that the Nordic model does.

McDuff said...

Sex Workers in Sweden do not support the Swedish Model.

This is the post on the Swedish Model which I separated out because it was too long to be a comment here. If you want to say you have refuted it, feel free to read and address it - it's quite long, unfortunately. But, I wouldn't use Janice Raymond (or Melissa Farley, for that matter) Raymond is well known for being one of the proponents of the model, but she relies on Swedish government statistics that are unsupportable claims about sex work which far exceeded the scope of the evidence, and Raymond's "ten reasons for not legalising prostitution" has been effectively refuted by the Scarlet Alliance in Australia, who specifically and directly oppose the introduction of the Swedish Model:

It is often the laws made with our "protection" in mind, that have the most devastating impacts on our work, safety and personal lives. An example of one such model is the Swedish Model of sex industry regulation which is promoted by anti-sex work feminists globally, yet which Swedish sex workers themselves experience as contributing to unsafe workplaces and work practices, and diminished empowerment.

Also, if you'll read the long-form response linked at the top, you'll note that the opinion that sex workers can be sacrificed on the altar of gender equality is not just something that I have plucked out of the air: it is an expressed opinion of Swedish anti-sex-work feminists. The unfortunate reality of the matter is that when it comes down to it, when there is a perceived conflict between protecting the health and safety of women in the sex industry and "sending a message", the Swedish Authorities will send the message every time. Good example (although far from the only one): police stopping women on the street have used the possession of multiple prophylactics as evidence of prostitution. This obviously means that sex workers are less likely to carry condoms, and are thus at increased risk of exposure to STDs. Despite the fact that the selling of sex is not supposed to be illegal, in practice the fact that their clientele is illegal means that they can still be detained, questioned, harassed and extorted by the authorities. Further, this has not been regarded as necessarily bad in the Swedish Government's literature, with increased stress on sex workers caused by the legislation being cited as extra incentives to leave.

So, you'll excuse me if I don't take it as read that a supporter of the Swedish Model, given the same conflict, wouldn't fall the same way, particularly if they believe that there is an inherent conflict between consensual sex-transactions and female liberation in general. It certainly wouldn't be the first time: indeed, it's a rather standard rhetorical practice from that side of the aisle, to regard certain classes of sex worker as disposable for the greater good. It sounds rather as if you spoke a shibboleth without intending to, so I apologise for assuming something apparently untrue. But please do be aware that that kind of rhetoric does come from proponents of the Swedish Model, we've heard it many times, and it is expected now. This is not my first ride on this particular merry go round.

If you'd like to come back with refutations, can I ask that you read the larger post and look at the body of evidence and academic work I refer to there. Liv Jessen, in particular, is someone who bears attention being paid, but Petra Östergren and Laura Agustin, also, provide a much better set of analytic tools than Raymond, Ekberg, Skarhed or Farley have been known to do.

McDuff said...

Also, I would just like to take a little issue with your characterisation of the conversation here.

I feel like this conversation is going round and round and round. You keep coming back with claims that violence in the sex industry is lessened with legalisation/indoor prostitution. I keep coming back with refutations.

My "claim" here is backed up by research by the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, which specifically says "Perhaps the most significant factor rendering workers vulnerable to sexual assault is
working outdoors," although it does take steps to put that into context.

Now, maybe I've missed something, but I didn't see the part where you refuted that research, or linked to anyone who did. I don't think the characterisation, therefore, is really that accurate.

sian and crooked rib said...

But equally, the voices of sex workers are 'sacrificed at the altar' of the advocates of the sex industry.

As I said earlier, I would recommend reading rmott62 blog to see another view, and to see how indoor prostitution is still violent.

sian and crooked rib said...

This report found that 26% of women in indoor prostitution had experienced violence:

http://www.eaves4women.co.uk/Documents/Recent_Reports/Men%20Who%20Buy%20Sex.pdf

Church, Henderson, Barnard and Settings.

You say to ignore the Farley research but why? She reports that 68% of women in prostitution have PTSD. Her research is pretty significant.

This list is also a good resource of articles when it comes to the impact of the sex industry and violence within it:

http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/01/some-resources-re-sex-industry-links-to.html

rmott62 said...

I think it important to question the sex work unions, and women who named themselves as sex workers, for it is the language of kepping the status quo of the sex trade.
It is normal when inside prostitution especially when it long-term and full-time to cope by believing and stating loudly that you are ok with the lie. For the vast majority o women and girls inside the sex trade, whether porn or prostitution - this is the language of survival, and the language of refusal to know the reality. This is because to know that you are being continually raped, that it more than rape, it is consistent sexual torturing - to know that your life is seen as disposable - that is impossible to know without utter self-hate. That is why so many exited women have extreme trauma, for it only when you have left all traces of that life you can feel and know the truth of being made so sub-human.
A great many of the so-called sex workers unions or porganisations are run by or have many members of those profiteers from the sex trade - or even worse has punters as part of their movement. They are all a very tiny few prostituted women in these movements - usually only those who are highly privileged so they only do it part-time and have the luxury to be fussy about which punters they have.
They do know the reality or over 90% of prostituted women and girls - the reality of having no control whether punters or profiteers make the choice to use mental, physical and sexual violence on the prostituted. The reality of being disoriented by being moved round many aspects of the sex trade. The reality of the fear of being beaten up or getting a serious STD. The reality that prostituted women and girls are highly likely to be threatened with murder or actually murdered.
I refuse the label of sex worker, for it the language of those who promote the sex trade as harm-free, or at least safe enough - and make the normalisation of violence in all aspects of the sex trade invisible. That throws away over 90% of the prostituted class.

McDuff said...

But equally, the voices of sex workers are 'sacrificed at the altar' of the advocates of the sex industry.

Equally *how*?

We are talking about actual safety of actual women here. If actual lives of actual sex workers are considered expendable, I do not consider that *equal* to the voices of some who want only their opinions to be heard having to put up with losing their exclusive right to speak for all sex workers.

Here is a sex worker's voice, again

Do not assume anything about the sex workers you meet on Facebook, who you see in the media, who you see doing advocacy.

Do not assume we have not been victims of assault, discrimination, family breakdown, abuse, violence, bad work conditions, domestic violence, poverty, police corruption or crime. We are people, just like you, who have faced everything in a life that any human being faces.

But as sex workers we also face deep-seated stigmas which mean that if we don’t disclose to you our stories of tragedy and the demeaning experiences we have faced we run the risk of not being believed by you.

This is what we call “tragedy porn”: A desire in the feminist movement to hear tragic stories of hardship from sex workers, and when we don’t tell them, we face the accusation that we are covering up the “truth” about sex work.


Saying something is violent is not establishing a causal mechanism as to what causes that violence.

Further, to repeat (for the third time), Swedish Sex Workers do not support the law.

Whose opinion on the law designed to save Sex Workers in Sweden counts more than Sex Workers in Sweden, please? Anyone? How? (1/2)

McDuff said...

(2/2)

This report found that 26% of women in indoor prostitution had experienced violence

Actually it didn't, a completely different report cited in that one found those results.

Regardless, how does this compare to outdoor sex work? Did they draw a causal link between the legal or social status of the sex workers and the violence or not? What mechanisms did they recommend for the reduction of said violence? We don't know, the citing report didn't contextualise the number at all.

I've never said there is no violence. In fact you said:

You keep coming back with claims that violence in the sex industry is lessened with legalisation/indoor prostitution. I keep coming back with refutations.

Now it seems that you would like to change and claim that a "refutation" of "violence decreases" is "violence is not eliminated". This is not only goalpost-shifting, it is applying a standard which you do not hold your own side to, because the Swedish Model is reported to increase violence, specifically against the most vulnerable sex workers as well as moving sex work from the outdoor to indoor sectors. You say you want to reduce the stigma, but Sex workers in Sweden complain that the Swedish Model increases the stigma against them. In what possible sense am I the one guilty of silencing the voices of sex workers here?

The report I linked to specifically looked at violence against sex workers and the contributory factors to it, including location, legal and social status, and made recommendations based on the data. It, also, never said that indoor work eliminates violence, but that it is one factor which reduces it and that attempts to conflate all sex work into a homogenous group are misleading. I consider it a better resource than a single figure cited in another report without any context.

Further in my other post I specifically linked through to other academic work which studied the links between the legal situation and violence, which reject the position of the Swedish model as unproven at best and wrong at worst, including some by Sex Workers' Unions in developing countries who are strongly resisting efforts to impose the Swedish Model on them by foreign activist agencies.

Let me just repeat the important question here though. Whose opinion of the impact of the Swedish Model on Sex Workers in Sweden matters more than that of Sex Workers in Sweden?

sian and crooked rib said...

Rebecca, thank you for your comment and sharing your experiences here.

sian and crooked rib said...

Of course the important view is the women working in the sex industry. But that is all the women, including the women who might not have a voice, women who are trafficked, who are harmed. They're voices matter too. And we need to listen to them too.

The average age of entering prostitution is 15, so children. What does this say about choice and having a voice?

The reason I say that the voices of women are silenced or 'sacrficed at the altar' of the pro sex industry lobby is because they have a lot more power and a much louder voice than the women who are anti. From Douglas Fox, to Hefner to Desmond etc etc, these are men with economic and celeb clout and they don't leave much room for the anti voice.

When women speak out about their experiences we need to listen, even if those experiences contradict or don't support our view.

I think we both agree on a lot of things. We agree that the stigma needs to go. We agree that the violence needs to end. But I get the feeling that you believe that ending the stigma will end the violence. And I don't see this happening.

Because one of the big problems is the contempt that many men who go to brothels et al have for the women. And this contempt doesn't end with ending the stigma. The reason they had to introduce a law to make it illegal to pay for sex from someone who was exploited was because that was pretty low down on th list of reasons for why men wouldn't go to a brothel (the biggest was being caught by partners and resulting embarrassment). They simply didn't care. If you ever have the misfortune of reading the comments on punternet you'll read stories of violence, contempt and misogyny. This doesn't stop with ending the stigma, this stops with ending (some) men's sense of entitlement to women's bodies - i.e. ending patriarchy and challenging the entitlement, challenging the idea that women's bodies are objects. Ending the stigma may well increase the conviction rate for rape of women in prostitution over a long long period of time (currently lower than 1%) but i don't think it would stop the crime happening in the first place.

There are some interesting studies that i don't have to hand (am at work) on men's attitudes towards women in prostitution - both in Leeds and Scotland. The studies found that the men had a lot of contempt for women, and higher tolerance of misogyny and violence against women and girls.

Legalisation may reduce the stigma, e.g. in France, Holland, but it doesn't reduce violence, corruption and trafficking. Because legalising doesn't change the attitudes of some men towards women.

McDuff said...

I don't think a survey of 103 self-selected men is an incredibly rigorous study, but whatever, let's say you're right.

Your policy response is wrong.

You said:

i believe that de-criminalising the selling of sex and criminalising those who pay is one way to tackle the violence and trafficking that runs through the industry.

This is unproven in the first case and absolutely incorrect in the second.

You said:

that is what we both want. end the stigma, end the violence. But you believe this happens through legalisation and i believe this happens through criminalising the johns.

This is the exact opposite of the experiences of sex workers under the Swedish model.

You can claim that you believe it works until you're blue in the face, but the people whose lives are most directly affected by it put the lie to your belief.

Importantly, those receiving funding for implementing the law and selling it to you — and be under no illusion, the Swedish Model is a product with a well-funded marketing team — do not deny any of this: they either don't care because they consider the ideology more important than any mere scientific results tied to this ephemeral mortal plane, or else consider the reduced safety of marginalised sex workers to be a positive because, well, they're supposed to be ending prostitution, right, so if sex workers are more uncomfortable then that means they'll leave.

So it's not even as if there are two sets of figures here. The pro Swedish Model team don't have evidence on their side. They just don't care that they don't have evidence on their side.

Then let's say, OK, fine, all these voiceless trafficked underage abused sex workers. They aren't spoken for.

How does the Swedish Model purport to help them?

Well, in the case of trafficking victims, it, uh...

Oh. It wants the people abusing them to find Sweden "less attractive" and to therefore go somewhere else. Great!! That is the perfect solution to the problems of women forced into sex by their poverty, because they don't have to do it in Sweden, which is just like not having to do it at all, except the exact opposite. It does absolutely nothing whatsoever to help women forced into cross-border sex work against their will, it just puts it somewhere else.

As for how to tackle underage sex work, here's a good idea from the Coordinator for Trafficked Minors at Safe Horizon Streetwork Project in New York (famous for, among other things, not being Douglas Fox):

There are real demands out there that are forcing people (of all ages and genders) into the sex trade and if these demands weren’t there the people would be free to make other choices, and studies show that many people in the commercial sex trade say that if not for these demands they would leave the sex trade tomorrow. The three biggest demands that coerce people unwillingly into trading sex are the demand for safe shelters, affordable housing, and living wage jobs. Also low-threshold and supportive substance abuse treatment, but I’m not aware of that one being included in studies. Almost everyone I know who has participated in any way in the commercial sex trade has listed at least one of these things as the force that pressured them into the sex trade. The whole men demanding sex thing seems like a red herring to me. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it certainly doesn’t happen at the same rate as poverty and homelessness. Why aren’t we trying to impact those demands since they have a much larger influence?

Doesn't it bother you even slightly, as someone opposed to the anti-human machine of capitalism, that you've set up your stall in opposition to unionisation?

McDuff said...

Rmott62.

It's very difficult to answer any of your arguments, because they are constructed in such a way as to make response almost impossible.

The claim that Sex Workers don't even know their own minds, if they are unknowingly victimised, is basically unfalsifiable. They either agree with you or are wrong. This is a troubling argument because it brooks no disagreement, as well as being both paternalistic and, I feel, dehumanising.

I do not want to dismiss your own experiences, but I find it very hard to think of a way in which your arguments are not dismissive of others.

One of the complaints sex workers make about feminist rescue campaigns is that they are only allowed to express a particular set of opinions or be told that they are wrong about their lives. Elena Jeffreys of the Scarlet Alliance says in the speech I linked to above, "We are expected to ‘perform’ stereotypical tragedy porn for feminist audiences and when we don’t we are disbelieved." Liv Jessen of the Pro Centre in Norway rejects the idea that “These prostitutes ‘do not know what’s good for them’”, and says "All our efforts and achievements in the field of prostitution in the coming years should be based on the best of our humanistic tradition— solidarity and empowerment—rather than on condemnation, expulsion, or suffocating pity."

Worth noting is that the Scarlet Alliance is a sex worker or ex sex worker only organisation - sex industry business owners and operators are specifically excluded from joining. Pro Sentret is a sex worker resource organisation which does outreach, therapy and exit support, and Liv Jessen has received a Human Rights Award from Amnesty International.

(1/2 - does anybody know the formula blogger uses to determine character numbers, by the way, because it seems to reject well below its stated 4,096 limit)

McDuff said...

(2/2 to rmott62)

Similarly, it's hard to see how organisations like St James Infirmary in San Francisco or the PLRI benefit in the way you accuse, yet these organisations reject your language and conception of sex workers as agency-lacking victims in need of rescue. "This is not to underplay their acute experiences of disadvantage, but to foreground them as politically astute citizens and decision-makers in policies that concern and affect them. Their aim is to replace the compassion-driven traditional 3Rs of raid, rescue, rehabilitation with 3 counter-Rs: resilience, reworking and resistance." It's very hard to square that as denying violence for a profit motive.

In the developing world, particularly, the way you categorise of Sex Workers unions and organisations seems not only wrong but verging on the harmful. Accusing grassroots voluntary organisations like SANGRAM/VAMP, which works with women in the Sangli district of Maharashtra, India, or DMSC, which is a collective of 65,000 sex workers in West Bengal, of disingenuousness for profit motives undermines the work they have put in to improving their own lives, and if taken seriously could be used as a weapon to dismantle years of hard work. When 1,000 sex workers show up on the streets of Seoul, I think we should listen to them.

Further, the organisations who have produced the most gains for the rights of sex workers in developing countries have not been the highly funded anti-trafficking organisations which use agency-stripping language, and if anything the undiscriminating approach of anti-trafficking campaigners has contributed to the removal of gains won by ad hoc, grassroots sex workers collectives in developing nations.

I appreciate that your opinions are rooted in a deep conviction, but I do not believe that those of us who do not reject sex workers voices as false or mistaken are profiteers or patsies, and I do not believe that your picture of the sex workers rights movement is accurate or fair, particularly to the sex workers who form and maintain collectives and unions.