More Than Bodies »« Natural Privilege

But Seriously, Prostitution Is Not Sex Slavery

As I mentioned a couple days ago, Taslima Nasreen has now joined Freethought Blogs, and I (and the rest of us) are well and truly honoured and excited to have her. I really do have an immense amount of respect for her.

But yesterday she wrote a post that I find I absolutely can’t leave unexamined. As much as Taslima may be a hero of mine, I can’t allow that to excuse what I consider to be deeply problematic (and potentially destructive) statements. One of the great beauties and strengths of atheism and skepticism is that we have no popes or saints. Our heroes are at all time available to be questioned, and their assertions always available to be critiqued. And sometimes those assertions demand such critiques. This is one of them.

The post in question is misleadingly entitled “Sex Slavery Must Be Abolished”. Misleading in that the subject of the post is not really sex slavery, it’s the equation of all forms of sex work with sex slavery. This rhetorical slight of hand puts us in the starting position of outrage, of anger at the obvious immorality of slavery (sexual or otherwise), and through that outrage leads us into far less self-evident claims that deserve considerably more critical thought, and demand considerably more evidence, than the assertion in the title. Evidence Taslima does not provide.

What she provides in its stead is an emotional argument, an appeal to a certain specific sexual morality and sexual politics that she assumes us to hold (or simply assumes we are sympathetic enough to to not question her uncited, unsourced, unargued assertions), and positions as a universal fact without considering the immense range of nuance, complexity, and possible alternative iterations, of the subject on which she is imposing this morality and political tilt. Without considering that circumstances in which sex work is an equitable exchange, and a freely made choice, can and do happen. Or at the very least hypothetically can.

And no, she doesn’t provide any argument as to why they can’t. She just asserts it.

While the presence of money always conditions consent by throwing a level of inequity into the power dynamics, that inequity is not always enough to meaningfully compromise consent. While no sexual consent is possible without the ability for all involved parties to say “no” if they wish, and requires that that “no” not be tied to serious negative consequences (like violence, imprisonment, loss of job, death, death of another), consent is still free consent even if the “yes” is tied to serious positive consequences (like money). After all, it usually is. Tied to pleasure at least. Unless you’re just robotically going through the motions (which I hardly consider the ideal form of sexual intimacy).

Taslima just goes ahead and without real argument positions ALL sex work as being necessarily a form of patriarchal oppression, and lacking true consent. While obviously many women end up, in varying degrees, forced or coerced (not necessarily by individuals, but often by circumstances or socio-cultural forces) into sex work, the truth is that this is also often not the case. Of the not insignificant number of sex workers and former sex workers I’ve known, not a one of them ever described themselves to me as having not had a choice. Almost none have expressed regretting the choice. Many described feeling empowered by it. Almost all at some point to described it to me as more or less being like any form of labour (“demeaning” or otherwise) one does with one’s body. And in all cases the negatives and risks were described as exasperated by moralistic attitudes attempting to eliminate the institution of prostitution, or “protect” them from their work, rather than ameliorated.

Of course, the sex trade as a whole is much more complex than these isolated occurrences, but that’s all that’s needed as evidence of circumstances that contradict Taslima’s statements of what is inherent to sex work. Just like it only takes one happy atheist to disprove the assertion that misery in inherent to atheism, or one butch lesbian trans woman to disprove the assertions that transition is all about “changing your body to conform to binary gender roles” or that we’re “just really really gay”.

If tomorrow I went back down to the Kingsway Stroll and stood on a corner until I was (as usual) solicited, then consented to that exchange for the purposes of proving my point, would that have also been a patriarchal oppression, not really my choice, something I was coerced into doing? Because I could do that. Granted, I don’t think ANY sex workers are doing it to prove an intellectual point on a blogging network, but the simple fact that I could upends Taslima’s sweeping statements about lack of consent and choice being universal to sex work.

Greta Christina has already done an excellent job of unpacking the fact that sex work is not universally sex slavery (and Ace of Sevens at Hypothetical Bus Stop also does a great job of working through the “lies” she attributes to those who support decriminalization of sex work), so there’s not much need for me to go any further with making that particular argument. There’s instead something else I’d like to focus on.

Early in her post, Taslima makes the rhetorical decision to, instead of referring to sex workers as, well, sex workers -or even prostitutes- she instead refers to them as “prostituted women”. In addition to the less subtle problem of overtly erasing the existence (and implications) of those sex workers who are not women, this act of conceptual framing belies one of the most disturbing and deeply problematic elements of Taslima’s argument.

Describing sex workers as “prostituted women” is to conceptually strip them of agency, have this status only positioned as something inflicted upon them, and rendering them definitively and wholly an object in the entire conceptual framework. It imagines that they can’t possibly be an active participant, but must be a blank object upon which prostitution is inscribed.

This idea of stripping women of their agency, of imagining that they couldn’t possibly be involved in whatever process you’re describing as informed, active, rational agents is NOT something new to me. I’m very familiar with it. In fact, I wrote a bit about it just yesterday.

We see this in the Republican war on women, the idea that no woman would ever really choose to terminate a pregnancy. This conceptual framing helps enable the numerous laws and bills being passed that insist that a woman has no real right to the choices she makes about her body unless she subjects herself to whatever invasion or emotional manipulation those questioning her agency demand as “proof” that she “really” wants to make this choice. We see it in the gatekeeping processes established as a barrier between trans people and treatment, based on the assumption that we can’t possibly be rational and sincere in our choices if this (!!!) is the choice we’ve arrived at. No, we’re certainly just delusional, or deceived, or self-hating, or crazy, or jumping to conclusions, or perverted, or trying to trick guys into sleeping with us, or being “gender rebels”, or trying to get attention, or trying to appropriate womanhood, or whatever stupid thing you’ll pick based on whatever flavour of transphobe you happen to be (HBSer, TERF/WBW, fundagelical, gay/lesbian separatist, alt-medder, MRA, “gender realist”, right-winger, plain-old ignorant, etc.). And so again we must provide “proof” that our choice really is a choice, that we’re really really sure we’re really sure we’re really really really sure.

We see it in the story of Alexis Kaminsky, considered by the German courts to have been “brainwashed” into her female self-identification, and therefore deserving of incarceration, torture and endocrine-based disfigurement “for her own good”, because they couldn’t understand her choice to have been her choice, or accept it as such.

I’m sorry, but being an advocate of social justice and feminism, defending freedom, defending autonomy, defending self-determination, defending the right for women (and all human beings) to make their own choices about their own bodies, requires defending those choices that we ourselves would not make, and also those choices that we ourselves do not understand.

Sometimes people are going to choose to do things that we don’t quite get. But what little we’re able to immediately understand is not the whole of human experience. There will always be bits that are apart from ourselves. Part of human experience is never knowing all of human experience. Accepting that what’s right for you is not necessarily a workable prescription for everyone else’s behaviours, and that sometimes people’s experiences and needs differ from one’s own, is a necessary aspect of empathy, compassion, and understanding as much as we can understand of human experience.

Allowing ourselves to believe, or convincing ourselves, that because someone’s choice differs from what we understand, or what we would feel comfortable with, that it therefore isn’t “really” a choice, and to consequently conceptually invalidate their agency, paternalistically casting them in the role of children who “don’t know any better” and need our “guidance”, is an immensely dangerous act. It enables violence, and the stripping of rights, and these almost inevitably follow from it. The first step towards forgiving oneself in robbing someone of their autonomy and rights is in convincing yourself they never had autonomy in the first place, or don’t deserve it, or are harmed by it, or that their autonomy is being misused and they need to be “protected” from their own choices, for their own good.

Colonialism. Evangelism. Gatekeeping. Lobotomization. So many atrocities have been committed in the name of “saving” a vulnerable Other “from themselves” or from their supposed inability to act in their own best interest when presented with options.

The path forward for feminism in addressing issues of sexual slavery, human trafficking and survival sex work, the circumstances in which sex workers are coerced into the sex trade is NOT through stripping human beings of the choices they’re able to make about their bodies, or through emotionally manipulative rhetoric, or through sweeping and unsubstantiated blanket statements on the nature of sex work, or through condescendingly denying human beings their agency. The path forward is through the expansion of the range of options and choices women have about their bodies. Making alternatives available, addressing the socio-economic conditions that lead to survival sex work, deconstructing misogyny and sexism, taking apart the rape culture, disabling the infrastructure of human trafficking, addressing the misogynistic and paternalistic attitudes towards women (that the narrative of “prostituted women” reinforces) that enables men to believe they can own and control them and deny their right to make their own choices…

And opposing, unequivocally, any and all attempts to impose external state control over what a woman (or anyone) does with her own body. We need to be fighting alongside sex workers, supporting them in the struggle for their rights and freedoms, as they define them, not fighting against them for our false sense of entitlement to dictate what their rights and freedoms are “supposed” to look like.

(after all, the achievement of sex workers’ rights and freedoms, as they defined them, has often prefigured our own)

There is one line that the state must not cross, under any circumstances, for any reason, no matter how strong our moralistic or political fervor, and it is the line that delineates the body. Bodily autonomy is essential. ANY violation of bodily autonomy, however well-intentioned, is an act of tyranny.

Any act of denying that a human being possesses agency over their own body, or that we know what’s best for that body better than they do, is a violence, a complaceny in and an enabling of tyranny, a step in the direction of denial of human rights, of women’s rights.

These are not our bodies on which to inscribe our morals and politics. They are the bodies of individual women (and men, and others), who have the right to enact their OWN concepts of sexual morality, sexual politics and sexual empowerment through them.

Comments

  1. says

    Ramen!

    If someone wants to pay money to look at my butt, I see no reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to choose to take the money. It’s my choice. You may disapprove if you like, but since it’s my choice, what the hell business is it of yours?

    Choice, it’s a beautiful ideal!

  2. Timid Atheist says

    I agree with you and Greta. What boggled me most about Taslima’s post was the bald assertions that all of prostitution is bad. That women who do it are all being taken advantage of. And she erases any men who do sex work by ignoring them completely.

    And worse, in the comments of her post she equates prostitutes to house slaves, not wanting slavery abolished because they had it better than field slaves. That threw me for a huge loop. I’m not sure she understands that some people really can choose to have sex as a job and be okay with it.

    This situation makes me sad in a way, I hate to see people not only disagree, but to not be willing to even see the other side’s argument as valid. And while I know you, Natalie, and Greta do agree that slavery and force prostitution are bad, I don’t see Taslima willing to see the other side as valid at all. At least not from the comments she’s made so far. Perhaps things will change and really the best way for that to happen is to have an open dialogue the way you and Greta are doing it.

    • says

      The “erasure of men” thing is something that bugs me on a lot of issues. There are many of these where it’s worthwhile to talk about without including men if only because men are a minority of the “subjects” – prostitution, rape, media objectification, and so on – but when your argument assumes that women are the ONLY people involved, you start out with a pretty serious flaw, and you commit the same kind of dehumanization you’re advocating AGAINST.

      It give the impression that it’s only important when it happens to a certain group of people.

  3. says

    I wanted to repost some of the links I left at Greta’s place. I’ve long felt very conflicted about this subject; I’m conversant with the feminist anti-sex-work arguments of scholar-activists like Catherine Mackinnon and Melissa Farley (who generally advocate a Swedish-style approach of criminalizing the buyers and the pimps but not the sex workers theselves), but I’ve also heard serious, evidence-based challenges to that point of view.

    In particular, I’ve seen evidence that suggests to me that many government policies aimed at banning and eradicating commercial sex work tend to harm, not help, the people who they’re meant to be “liberating”. Aziza Ahmed, for instance, is a feminist scholar and researcher who has written about the problems caused by policies that conflate sex work with sex trafficking and that try to eradicate both:

    First, anti-sex trafficking activism has an extremely negative impact on HIV programs. Sex workers are highly vulnerable to contracting HIV. A key victory for anti-sex trafficking organizations was the insertion of the anti-prostitution loyalty oath (APLO) into the US Leadership Act for HIV/Aids, TB, and malaria. This provision requires that organizations agree to oppose prostitution and sex trafficking. The APLO has the effect of disempowering sex worker organizations who refuse to sign on, shutting health services for sex workers, and alienating sex workers from public health programs.

    Further, implementation of the APLO alongside raids and “rescues” disrupts HIV projects that have sex workers as peer-educators and leaders. Attempts to provide necessary health services to sex workers may lead to accusations of aiding in trafficking. Despite these negative outcomes, anti-sex-trafficking organizations, including women’s rights groups, support the US government in their effort to implement the APLO to the detriment of women’s health.

    Second, when women and girls are “rescued” by the anti-trafficking organizations, they may be taken to state-run rehabilitation homes that have jail-like conditions. Human rights and sex worker organizations have long documented what rehabilitation might mean for a sex worker: overcrowded conditions, a lack of healthcare, and violence at the hands of the police and guards. The rehabilitation activities of some organizations are also often suspect – the staff of a rehabilitation home in Maharashtra, India that I visited last year told me that one of their rehabilitation activities includes getting the rescued women married.

    Finally, the ongoing attempt to shut down safe places where sex workers can advertise services, like the Village Voice and Craig’s List, drives sex work underground and makes sex workers less capable of screening clients. The cast of characters that feature in Kristof’s blogs and Twitter feed, who call for the closure of “adult advertising”, and who advocate for provisions like the anti-prostitution loyalty oath are often one and the same. Not being able to do business in the open means that sex workers are driven to dark and hidden places to conduct business. This makes sex work unsafe.

    More detail on Ahmed’s research can be found here at the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. (She was a guest speaker at a seminar I attended a few months ago, which is how I came across her work.) Also well worth reading is Noy Thrupkaew’s article in The Nation about the problematic consequences of the work of the charity International Justice Mission, supported by Nicholas Kristof, which enlists the aid of local police in developing countries in “rescuing” sex workers from brothels. Unfortunately, in some cases, their “rescue” has led to their being imprisoned, abused by police, and deported as undocumented immigrants.

    Also, from your post, I think this…

    This idea of stripping women of their agency, of imagining that they couldn’t possibly be involved in whatever process you’re describing as informed, active, rational agents is NOT something new to me. I’m very familiar with it. In fact, I wrote a bit about it just yesterday.

    We see this in the Republican war on women, the idea that no woman would ever really choose to terminate a pregnancy.

    …is a really interesting point. It’s worth noting that, along with certain feminists, the Christian Right has been very active in pushing for bans on commercial sex work, and for policies such as the US “anti-prostitution pledge” that organizations receiving federal aid for HIV prevention are required to accept. Of course, this doesn’t in itself show that those policies are wrong; but to me, it makes the prohibitionist approach somewhat suspect. And I think there is a degree of paternalism, and of denial of sex workers’ individual agency, in the prohibitionist approach – although, to be fair, I don’t think its advocates would see it that way.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble. I hope it’s at least vaguely relevant.

  4. Anders says

    Yep. And the results are often frightening. I have spoken with female sex workers on the net and they are unanimous – their line of work has become more dangerous since the ban on buying sex came into effect in Sweden in 1998. The pool of customers is more limited, so the sex workers has to take the dangerous customers they could elect not to meet before. Sex workers can’t go to the police if they’re abused because they’ll be evicted if people find out – the anti-pimp laws make it illegal for a landlord to take money if he knows it’s from sex work.

    But any resistance to the law is framed in terms of giving pedophiles and unscrupulous slave masters free reign. The rhetorical advantage is on the side of a ban for the moment. *sigh*

    It’s amazing how much I commit myself to when I set body autonomy as one of my principles. Sex work, the war on drugs, abortion, trans rights… it all comes back to that principle. And if you weaken it in one place there’s a good chance that it weakens in other places as well.

    • Anders says

      Although I have to dock you 1 point for missing a perfect opportunity to say “I love Taslima, but I love the truth more.”

  5. TNT says

    Unfortunately this author again creates the strawfish of ALL. The issue is of course not ALL. But most studies have determined that less than 10% of females work in the sex trades because “they like it”. They are forced into it, by unfair economic duress. Slavery does not require and slave master on the doorstep.

      • HumanisticJones says

        The Strawfish Falacy: Setting up a version of your opponent’s positions that your opponent does not actually hold and that is easily refuted so that you may refute it and thereby claim to have refuted your opponent, but done as a Red Herring.

    • Anders says

      What does this mean,exactly? Should we ban sex work because only 10% ‘really’ want to do it?

      The economic duress argument is also strange. Presumably the women who do sex work have considered alternative means of getting money. If you ban sex work they’ll have to do something they consider less desirable. How is that the right thing to do?

      • TNT says

        @Anders. Again, creating false arguments. We’re absolutely not talking about a complete “ban”. We’re simply asking that the language not state BS like “working in sex trades is fine and represents choice”. If sex trades represented “choice” if would be equally represented by males and females me thinks. It isn’t, because only the very most desperate women get into it, at risk for their life. We speak of how the crab fishing industry is one of the riskiest jobs, but we forget the females killed working in sex trades, for the poorest wages.

        • Anders says

          So do you have a proposal? You don’t want to ban it, but regulate? I can agree with certain regulations – we don’t want children for instance.

          • TNT says

            rather, I suggest making sure it becomes obsolete, by getting to those who profit from it out of business, and making sure the johns get caught. The females need security. But that for here, in Western civilisation. I don’t think such practices are possible in India, the location sore spot for the author. Girls, even pre-pubescent, are sold into sex trades in that country, as in areas with high levels of sex tourism. These countries do not have the public resources to ensure the safety of the females. The problem is when the law outlaws the female, instead of outlawing the perps and profiteers. But no amount of “perks” can ever make sex trades respectable, not for a majority of these people. We did ban slavery based on skin colour Western civilisation. How is this different? Would it be the same if we said black people “choose” to work and dangerous crappy conditions… because they always have? Any ban needs to not be on the act itself but on the money and dishonesty.

          • Anders says

            How is “getting the johns caught” not the Ban-Buying strategy that has been tried and failed in Sweden? How is “getting rid of those who profit from it” not the Anti-Pimp that has been tried and failed in Sweden? Read my first post – you’ll get the consequences of your policies from people who have tried it.

        • says

          If sex trades represented “choice” if would be equally represented by males and females me thinks.

          That’s BS. For one, there’s a lot more demand for female sex workers than male. I think lots of guys would like to be sex professionals, but there just isn’t enough market for them to make any money at it.

          Also, dental assistants have about the same female to male ratio as prostitutes. This isn’t a matter of women being forced into community college dental assistant programs. It’s because there’s a cultural idea that dental assistants are women, so fewer men want to do with it, along with discriminatory hiring practices that open up other jobs to men and shut them out of dental assisting. These things are problematic, but they don’t mean that women in dental assisting didn’t choose that career.

          • TNT says

            And you fail to recognise why! Males in our society have power, the power to refuse really crappy underpaid jobs. I’ve known a few dental hygienists, it’s a crap job that they get into out of desperation. The difference is they are not compromising their body integrity to do it. They wear gloves, and body protection, and face shields and goggles, to separate themselves from the disgust of their underpaid job. A prostitute has to internalise her disgust, because she IS the product AND the service.

            Now maybe if prostitutes were able to dress and protect themselves like dental hygienists, gloves, heavy duty condoms, coveralls, all paid for by the work place, a sanitised well light workplace. Only operating during the safe hours of the day, with a gentle secretary at the front desk, a sterile horizontal platform, from which to work. And guarantee that johns who do not behave properly are never again let into the office and have the police sicked after them. Yes maybe we’re getting somewhere here… oh wait, we’re not. Because the price would be 10x higher, and johns are only interested in cheap power trips!

        • anat says

          Hey, TNT, my aunt was a career dental assistant until she retired. She thought it was a swell job and tried to encourage her daughter to enter the profession too. (The daughter preferred banking, then various assorted business gigs.) That *you* don’t like a certain profession and wouldn’t choose it doesn’t mean nobody likes that career path. It is possible though, that the number of people who actually prefer said career is much smaller than the demand.

          • Sas says

            When I went to college I worked reception at the medical department, and dental assistant was one of the more prized programs. It wasn’t full of desperate people training for a miserable job, it was almost all privileged young women from wealthy backgrounds.

        • zooey says

          It’s not a false argument, it’s simple logic. If the original piece (the one Natalie is commenting on) asserted that no sex work involves agency or choice (therefore making it slavery), then in order to refute that argument, one only needs to provide a single instance to the contrary. How is this a false argument?

          You yourself admitted that less than 10% of sex workers claimed a desire to be in their line of work. That for me says case closed; any further claim that all sex work is slavery is therefore fallacious (even if the percentage were 0.1%).

      • says

        I find it amusing (in a deeply tragic way) that people think that the way to help people with very few options is to reduce their options even further.

          • anat says

            What those with some first hand knowledge in these threads are saying is that there are apparently even worse options than sex work, at least for some. Which makes it at least one-but-last-resort. Taking away that option forces them into the even worse ones out there.

          • leftwingfox says

            I think that’s James K’s point: It’s a far more effective and humane strategy to ensure there are better choices for the desperate than prostitution, rather than cracking down on prostitution, and ignoring the social issues driving people to it.

          • says

            leftwingfox is correct, the more desperate a person’s circumstances, the more you hurt them by taking away the few options that are left to them. Take the extreme case of a very desperate person whose only choices are prostitution and death. How would stopping them from being a prostitute be of help to them?

            Yo make people better off by widening their choice set, not by narrowing it.

    • says

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6l_9gBhyCWw

      As anyone can see from the video (uploaded by my bud Divinity33372); edited for brevity, Representative Maggart appears to know very little about what she is asking for in this bill. In fact, her response to every question she is given is to repeat herself ad nauseum. I find it not as surprising as it should be that when she is asked what the current penalty for “promoting prostitution” is she doesn’t know.

      At 12:40, Rep. Floyd seems to get his information on trafficking in persons from tabloids he reads at the barber shop. But hey, it was four pages long. Who votes for these people and do they know they vote on laws based on such things?

      I also have to grind my teeth at how sloppy everyone in the U.S. is about their terms.
      Definitions for trafficking in persons:
      http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/7102

      (8) Severe forms of trafficking in persons
      The term “severe forms of trafficking in persons” means—
      (A) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
      (B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

      (9) Sex trafficking
      The term “sex trafficking” means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Watching this video it is easy to see how the conflation of consensual and non-consensual solicitation of sex is easily exploited. Rep. Maggart can’t even seem to answer whether someone would be considered “promoting prostitution” if they are promoting themselves. In fact, “promoting prostitution” is never clearly defined.

      I also have a HUGE problem putting someone not guilty of any violence on a list of violent sex offenders. Two counts of something do not equal a violent offense. It equals a repeat offense. If only we had legislators with the courage to vote in ways that reflect the misgivings many obviously had in the video.

      This is yet another example of sloppily worded legislation being passed by those who don’t fully understand the issue of trafficking in persons. Who knows how many will suffer for this.

      I don’t know what can be done about this but I believe this bill will be going to the TN Senate. You can find a list of TN Senators here if you wish to write them about this. http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/members/

      Thank you for watching and thank you to alowlyapprentice for his help with this video.

      Video original here: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2853

  6. says

    Well said.

    I’ll be honest: I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with what is called “sex-positivity,” because so often what is considered “sex-positive” glibly props up existing ideals of female attractiveness and the “men as buyers, women as sellers” paradigm, and because so much sex-positive rhetoric does actually elide issues of privilege and power. (An example of the latter, pertinent to prostitution: The idea that prostitutes “selling their bodies” is no different from office workers “selling their souls,” or food prep work, although the latter two jobs do not entail risks of disease or violence.)

    That said,

    And let me add:

    Colonialism. Evangelism. Gatekeeping. Lobotomization. So many atrocities have been committed in the name of “saving” a vulnerable Other “from themselves” or from their supposed inability to act in their own best interest when presented with options.

    Telling them what they may and may not wear would fit into that category as well.

    • John Horstman says

      An example of the latter, pertinent to prostitution: The idea that prostitutes “selling their bodies” is no different from office workers “selling their souls,” or food prep work, although the latter two jobs do not entail risks of disease or violence.

      Hmm, okay, how about managing garbage or sewage, which carry increased risks of disease, or coal mining or construction work, which carry seriously increased risks of bodily injury? I think anyone arguing that prostitution in the present cultural context is not inflected by specific risks or dynamics of power or privilege (male sexual privilege, rape culture) is flatly wrong, but I also assert that there is nothing intrinsic to any sex work that makes it necessarily different than, say, working at a fast food restaurant or office work were prostitution to take place in a more functional context (possibly provided by legalized brothels in some areas).

      • TNT says

        These people earn pretty darned good… to great salaries, salaries commensurate with the risk taken, have strong unions, earn employment insurance when not working, and have daily safe working environments, and great healthcare plans that take care of them. Sex trades workers don’t have any of this, because it is not a “respectable” activity, not in the mind of the buyers nor in the minds of the sellers. It seems to only acceptable in the minds of people wishing to perpetuate the enslavement of females.

        And as far as danger goes… garbage collectors and not dying daily, nor are the miners. Miners do die at catastrophes, catastrophes due to corporate greed, and society supports them fully when this happens.

        • says

          The idea that prostitution isn’t respectable is reason that prostitutes are vulnerable to exploitation. If you want protect prostitutes, work to get them accepted as members of the workforce and get their problems taken serious. Also, work to eliminate the poverty trap that sticks people in all kinds of exploitative jobs. Trying to marginalize prostitutes further doesn’t do anyone any favors except the police state.

          • TNT says

            yes the word respectability is a double edge sword. Some attempts have been made to “regulate” in order to make prostitutes safer, but the fact is that when you selling your body for a few bucks will never be respectable. When Hollywood actors prostitute themselves (metaphorically) it is for millions of dollars and glory. Sex trades will never have that, it would be too expensive for the Johns, who are dishonest, lazy, creeps.

            I used to be prostitute positive too, but I’ve seen its failures. Humans learn, and we must learn. There is no way of making sex trades “respectable” because it is an oxymoron, when the people performing it are slaves, for all intents and purposes.

          • Anders says

            Crap. There have been several examples of prostitutes being respectably throughout history. The temple prostitutes of the Queen of Heaven in the Middle East and the Geishas of Japan are perhaps the most well known examples.

          • Megan says

            I know that TNT has been banhammered, but can I take this opportunity to say how much I loathe the “selling one’s body” description of prostitution? I sold my time and my skill. Just like any other line of work I’ve ever engaged in. Even though I was having sex for money, my body still remained fully under my own control, thank you very much.

            “Selling one’s body” isn’t a terrible description just for people who engage in prostitution of their own volition, either. Sex slavery and forced prostitution is just that: slavery. No need to beat around the bush in that case, either.

        • Brett says

          (I’ll keep this short, posted a big reply already)
          You don’t need a respectable job for unemployment benefits, you just need a legal one you pay taxes on. (at least in Washington state in the U.S.

        • says

          I just wanted to chip in here on the “dangerous jobs” thing. For me, the last resort was an industrial lab where I got $12 per hour to work with numerous chemicals that supposedly had a negative effect on the human digestive system when breathed, and every safety sheet said “we cannot be responsible for what happens if you mix with other chemicals and/or heat”.

          One of the guys at the lab had to have surgery to repair his esophagus because it was essentially melting away, and I KNOW he was paid less than I was.

          And again – that’s just in this country. I know that’s generally what we’re talking about, but I should remind folks, since we’re talking about last resorts that there are still people who work in truly horrific conditions without fair pay all the time, and yes, dying every day, without coming near prostitution.

          That’s not to discount the problems with prostitution, but the notion that other dangerous professions come with good pay is, quite frankly, absurd.

    • Brett says

      I’ve never had a job I would have been willing to do if I wasn’t getting paid for it, and it nearly every case I needed to be getting paid to afford food and shelter. It’s been generally low pay, low respect jobs so far. You’re absolutely right about one thing though, they were all safer from disease (or other work related injury) and malicious clients than prostitution. Where you seem confused is the idea that you seem to think they are inherently safer jobs. They’re not. They’re safer because they’re legal.

      I worked in pizza delivery, where I would regularly travel to poorly lit areas that I wasn’t always familiar with carrying cash by myself. We were save because we had the protection of the local police, and none of my coworkers ever told me they feared for their safety.

      I also worked in a factory that processed frozen fish into imitation crab meat. If we weren’t following state imposed safety procedures and the factory didn’t fear government intervention in the case of negligent injuries, I suspect the rate of serious accidents would have gone up significantly.

      The same applies to prostitution. It’s a job. It has (and always will have) risks. What people who favor legalization want isn’t for the government to accept the current level of risks, we want them to dramatically lower the risks by offering police protection and safety regulations. If it is a job that is distasteful to you, I encourage you to never take that job.

      • says

        I’ve never had a job I would have been willing to do if I wasn’t getting paid for it, and it nearly every case I needed to be getting paid to afford food and shelter.

        I did. it was stripping, which is generally considered a form of sex work. It was downright pleasant compared to conducting phone surveys, selling phone service, taking catalog orders and explaining bills to customers who had apparently forgotten all post-elementary math.

        • Brett says

          Cool! I hope I’m lucky enough to get a job I don’t feel is something I have to be paid to do, I’m currently being considered for a few software jobs that are like that. Ironically, I’m also applying for the highest paying jobs I’ve ever tried for.

    • says

      (An example of the latter, pertinent to prostitution: The idea that prostitutes “selling their bodies” is no different from office workers “selling their souls,” or food prep work, although the latter two jobs do not entail risks of disease or violence.)

      Take a tangent from this and ask:

      Why is sex work so much more dangerous than an office job, or working in a restaurant or a bar, or even working in a mine?

      What is it, exactly, that causes the danger?

      Isn’t it unsafe, unregulated practices with no supervision?

      Isn’t it that sex workers cannot take their claims to the police?

      Isn’t it a sex negative attitude that treats providing sex as “selling your body”, as though someone else could legitimately own it?

      Isn’t it overt and severe restrictions on where and how one can operate a business, forcing it to stay out of sight (and out of mind)? So as to not offend anyone?

      I want to ask, specifically, what job — what business — would be the least bit safe in the state of chaos that surrounds sex work?

  7. says

    She did start providing sources in the comments, but isn’t taking criticism well. Her source for everything is Melissa Farley and her treatment of some commenters is abusive and frankly misogynistic. I’m working on a follow-up piece.

  8. says

    Once you start treating people like criminals, they will respond by acting like criminals.

    There is a demand for sex work, and that isn’t going to go away as long as the default state of humans is to want sex. The most reasonable approach to adopt is one of harm minimisation.

    Now, some interesting edge cases will be raised if sex work is legal. For instance, does a sex worker have the right to refuse service to entire groups of people in ways that would be illegal for anybody else in any other line of business? Have Jobcentres the right to force an unemployed person to become a sex worker or lose their benefit, as they can currently do with almost any other job e.g. burger-flipping, floor-sweeping, shelf-stacking?

    These are all questions that are going to need asking.

    • TNT says

      You hit the nail on the head with your last paragraph, and made the correct argument. Gainful, respectable employment, needs to respect your physical integrity… as someone said here elsewhere, protect the body at all costs. Sex workers are at the opposite end, and it will never be considered respectable “work”, because selling your body will never be acceptable in a society which seeks respectful work.
      All regulating this traffic can do is minimise harm. Is that really what we want? for the prostitute murder rate to drop a few notches, for the death by disease rate drop a few notches. Will a few extra percentages points make it all ok?

    • says

      Now, some interesting edge cases will be raised if sex work is legal. For instance, does a sex worker have the right to refuse service to entire groups of people in ways that would be illegal for anybody else in any other line of business? Have Jobcentres the right to force an unemployed person to become a sex worker or lose their benefit, as they can currently do with almost any other job e.g. burger-flipping, floor-sweeping, shelf-stacking?

      My experience with the law is largely limited to the United States, but you seem to misunderstand how the regulations work. It is illegal for most businesses open to the public to refuse to serve someone on the basis of race and several other categories, but this does not imply that any particular employee has to perform any particular act. Employees can and often do continue to be racist dirt bags. They can go as far as to completely sabotage or refuse service. The customer can make demands, obviously, and the employer could reassign or fire their intransigent employee. However, that’s as far as it goes. Customers cannot sue employees or service workers individually no matter how prejudicial their attitudes or behavior are, with the obvious exception of the commission of a crime.

      There are loopholes around the non-discrimination clauses of the Civil Rights (and subsequent) acts, by the way. One is that they do not apply to private clubs or organizations which do not accept individuals from the public; or in other words, invitation only. Another is that the law does not require businesses to arbitrarily accept customers. A business may refuse service for a very long list of arbitrary reasons, and it’s up to the customer to prove it was really discrimination against a protected class. This nearly always requires a lawsuit, and without a history or trail of evidence, one that is not likely to be won.

      In any case, where sex work is wholly legal it is typically also legal to refuse service for any reason — and that reason doesn’t even need to be specified. There are no “civil rights” protections in that context, and they aren’t relevant or necessary. You won’t want to be involved with someone who has discriminated against your race, sex, gender identity, orientation, appearance, or so forth to begin with. Indeed, it might be dangerous to your personal safety to try to force the issue.

      As to “job centres”, I don’t know what you mean. Employment agencies? Government services like unemployment compensation/insurance? Different countries work differently, and every program has its own rules. As far as I understand it, people are not forced to take jobs burger flipping or lose unemployment benefits in the United States. Benefits run for a fixed period and typically require you to be looking for work. They don’t require you to take any particular job, no matter what it is or what it pays. Indeed, if you actually take a job, it will typically cause you to lose any further payments due to exceeding the minimum income threshold. Some countries work differently, of course, but I wonder which one you are speaking of…

      There’s also the issue that a bunch of different socioeconomic programs get conflated together even though they’re all independent. In the United States, food stamps, child welfare, childhood health insurance, unemployment insurance, state and federal tax exemptions, and others are all different. They’re not directly linked.

      The TL;DR is yes to the first question and no to the second.

  9. Anders says

    Is there anyone on this blog who actually has any real-life experience of sex work? Who knows what they talk about? We need Transactivisty dammit.

    • Megan says

      I have some experience escorting. I don’t really feel that I can speak for anyone but myself when it comes to the topic of sex work, though…

      • Anders says

        Ok. Do you think that doing sex work has altered your view on regulations and bans? How? I’m not expecting a sociological essay here, I’m perfectly satisfied with a few random thoughts.

        • Megan says

          Well, I was in favor of decriminalization even before I started doing it, so if anything, my experience with prostitution strengthened that opinion. I worked independently and never had any really bad experiences (none of the rape and battery that Ms. Nasreen suggests all sex workers experience) and for the most part, my clients were very respectful of me. The worst I ever had to deal with were the time wasters and guys looking for free phone sex calling my ad number. However, I was well aware that had I been raped, battered, or robbed, there would be no recourse for me under the law, as I live in a country that criminalizes prostitution. (Never mind the fact that I still wouldn’t feel comfortable going to the cops even after mostly retiring from escorting due to law enforcement’s terrible record when it comes to their interactions with trans women.) Just knowing that I wasn’t protected under the law made me feel extremely vulnerable, and that feeling of vulnerability was one of the things that made me stop advertising as an escort. So I suppose you could say that I stopped advertising (partially) as a result of prostitution being criminalized, but I also had enough income from other work to be able to not depend solely on escorting. For sex workers who don’t have other options, though, I can’t think that that feeling of vulnerability will do much toward getting them out of the trade. Criminalization really doesn’t do much good for anybody other than law enforcement, shady pimps, and the well-to-do people running the rescue industry. It certainly doesn’t help sex workers one bit.

    • Dalillama says

      Yo. I’ve done only peripheral sex work myself, but my partner was a sex worker for the better part of two years (before he started his hormone therapy). we are both entirely in favor of it being legalized and treated as a profession like any other, and he has been known to bemoan the fact that he can’t go back to that job, due to his current body (There’s not a lot of work out there for trans men prostitutes).

      • TNT says

        People who live out confused body images due to the gender stereotyping of females end up at a high frequency on the streets. I, as a female having briefly touched on the trade, cannot understand that heterosexual males are so desperate to pay to put their penis into something that they’re willing to do it with a fake vagina. Transexual sex trade is an entirely different topic.
        The sore spot that started this discussion is India, where little girls are sold into sex slavery by their families, as is the case with countries active in sex tourism.

        • says

          Are you a transphobe who didn’t realize what blog you were on or a troll? You seem to be seriously arguing that trans women aren’t real women and no one could actually be attracted to them. I don’t think you have any room to accuse anyone else of not carrying about women.

        • Dalillama says

          It takes all of my willpower to respond to this post in a civil manner, but I will attempt to do so. First, apologize to all trans people everywhere, and make sure you grovel. After that, Please re read my prior post, and tell me where in that post any trans women were mentioned. When you have failed to do this, stop and examine your assumptions. Please do the latter two of these things elsewhere, though.

        • says

          “Confused body issues” due to “gender stereotypes”? You have to be “desperate” to sleep with a “fake” vagina?

          Congratulations, you ignorant, bigoted asshole! You’re banned!

          • says

            Whew. I’m glad you’re willing to ban people like that. They make me avoid comments sections just because I don’t want to deal with seeing that stuff.

          • Anders says

            What’s the correct term? In most cases it won’t be necessary to differentiate, but if it is? I’ve heard “neovagina” – is that the word?

    • says

      I actually tried sex work myself — but only once.

      Halfway through administering a hand job to a man on whom I had taken pity but who was by now increasingly showing himself up as an old creep with each passing second, I lost my nerve. I told him to close his eyes and wait — then I slipped out the front door, leaving him unfulfilled and me unpaid but nonetheless slightly relieved.

      The job I had at the time wasn’t good, but I wasn’t quite ready to trade it for that just then.

  10. says

    I’ve been out of words lately. Used to have lots of them, but I’ve said them over and over so many times that sometimes they just decide to stay inside. But your words here were wonderful. ♥

  11. John Horstman says

    There is one line that the state must not cross, under any circumstances, for any reason, no matter how strong our moralistic or political fervor, and it is the line that delineates the body. Bodily autonomy is essential. ANY violation of bodily autonomy, however well-intentioned, is an act of tyranny.

    In this you and I are in complete and total agreement. All ethics in a Liberal framework come back to bodily autonomy. It is the underpinning of every right: protections from violence, freedom of thought, due process, “pursuit of happiness” all come back to bodily autonomy. It’s also why I support repealing drug laws and sex laws (including prohibition of sex work), guaranteeing people a right to die, and extending full legal rights and protections to trans, intersexed, or otherwise sex/gender-binary-nonconforming persons (even if I frequently disagree with people about the theoretical frameworks that best explain or represent underlying trans ontologies).

    Prostitution is problematic because of a combination of patriarchy, rape culture, and a market capitalist economic system that fosters widespread poverty that can coerce women (and men, and others) into survival sex work (and even in that context, prohibiting prostitution, if effective at ending the practice, would render the people forced into it for survival unable to survive, which is frankly worse; if ineffective, as it presently is, it further punishes people who have no other recourse for survival).

  12. says

    Very well said, and thank you. I didn’t look at it from a very comprehensive view because I wanted to focus on the idea of yet another one of us “godless” ones who nevertheless feels hooked into a higher trooth that is beyond question.

    You knocked this one out of the park.

  13. says

    That was extremely well written and the point of respecting self-determination, even when it is not understood, is important. I honestly don’t get why some people do some things with their bodies, like branding, but it is their choice.

  14. says

    I am pleased you approached this from this angle. I have read Greta argue eloquently on the topic of prostitution several times. I had not fully considered the implication of Taslima’s choice of words as a means to strip a person of their agency. I have to say that you and Greta have done a wonderful job challenging the notion that sex work is inherently exploitative and without full accepting consent.

    People should have the right to do stuff with their bodies. Even if those things are exploitative, or stupid, or silly, or unwise in your eyes. It is a choice that we ought to be able to make as adult men and women alike whether our sexual services are to be given as gifts and/or paid services to other adult men and women who consent to either recieve them as gifts and/or pay for them.

  15. says

    What I find stunning about these arguments, is they almost always come from someone who has never done sex work or never been put in a position where they were pressured to do it by socioeconomic circumstance.

    I never see this as an issue of “sex-negativity” or “sex-positivity” or anything along those lines. I see it as a body autonomy issue. Just as I see the fact that I inject hormones into my body and have for more than a decade as an act of exercising my own autonomy I see the sex work I’ve done in the past as the same. My body, my right.

    I will make this clear: the only way to end “survival” sex work, and trafficking, (of which trans women are a surprisingly high number of victims [The numbers are really poor since they only recently started collecting data, but it ranges anywhere from 5%-36% of all trafficking victims are trans women worldwide.]) the only way to end these things is to improve the standing and agency of women, including our financial freedom.

    Obviously this effects women of colour at much greater rates, but ultimately, we need to make it easier for women to find food in any number of ways, and give them the choices and options to DO it.

    Trans women are often a perfect example of this complex system at work. Trans women are pushed out of the employment and housing pool in many ways. Through denying us access to education, healthcare and agency we are eliminated from the employment pool before we even get to the resume. And thanks to legal hoops, document troubles, cisnormative concepts of appearance, and “normative standards” trans women are often pushed out of employment at the interview. In addition to that but the often astronomically high cost of medicine placed onto trans women places our minimum living wage at much higher than many other women.

    Many of us are then pressured by ALL of society to make the “easy” choice of sex work. It’s so foreign to most people that they can’t even fathom this realm of “survival” sex work.

    But I’ll tell you, doing sex work when I did it was a lot less degrading than being probed with personal, sexual, and invasive questions at a job interview on the basis of my sex and still being denied the position out of some feigned concern for their customers well being. It was the only job I could get that could reasonably support me. And it was just that, a job. and the idea of haughtily proclaiming “you can’t call it sex work, because sex isn’t work” is patently absurd and seems a lot putting your fingers in your ear and ignoring the facts. Because the response to “sex isn’t work” will always be, “sometimes it is.”

    So, that’s it. The solution is to give us the agency to make those choices, but also allow us the agency to NOT make them. Yes this means, shocker, going into the poor neighborhoods and helping the most vulnerable populations BEFORE they “resort” to sex work, and offering resources for current sex workers if they want them.

    But if you outlawed sex work even more than it already was? You’d be cutting off the only lifeline many women (and men) have. You’d be cutting off our only chance at a happy life.

    It’s not about exchanging one agency for another, it’s about opening up choice and option so we can make those decisions for ourselves. And no matter what, I’ll always resent someone who has never been in that position telling me what it is/was, and how I should feel about it.

    And I will always resent someone who tells me that exercising my own autonomy over my self and body in order to find a way to live and survive somehow made me a tool of the patriarchy because, frankly, I’ve had just about ENOUGH of feminists telling me that I’m a tool of the patriarchy…

    • says

      I will make this clear: the only way to end “survival” sex work, and trafficking, (of which trans women are a surprisingly high number of victims [The numbers are really poor since they only recently started collecting data, but it ranges anywhere from 5%-36% of all trafficking victims are trans women worldwide.]) the only way to end these things is to improve the standing and agency of women, including our financial freedom.

      Absolutely. To summarize a comment I left on Greta’s post, this issue is basically a microcosm which reflects larger issues in society with regards to poverty, job opportunity, and women. Only very significant and coordinated activity to address the economic issues that underlie it will fix this.

      There are many proposals for ways forward, but some variant of a basic minimum income, guaranteed health insurance, and government job programs seem to cover the most ground. This ideas are typically considered too “radical”, but I think they are only genuinely radical from the perspective of the already rich and powerful.

      • karmakin says

        This is exactly where I stand. I have sympathy with the concept that due to economic and social conditions that it can be not a real choice, however the solution isn’t to ban it, it’s to change the economic and social conditions to ensure that it IS a real choice.

  16. says

    I’m glad to see you speaking out against this too. I checked out Talisma’s post on sex slavery just to get an impression of her and.. ugh. Very bad first impression, and the way she’s acting in the comments doesn’t help.

    I hate how it’s being assumed over there that anyone voicing support for legalizing prostitution is just a creepy man that wants to objectify women. I’m voicing my support for it because I support every person’s right to choose what they do with their body, because I’m tired of being TOLD what women really think/choose/want/etc and that they don’t know what they want, because I hate how sex is being treated as dirty/degrading/special/sacred/something only men like/what have you, and because of all of the instances of men and women who do legitimately enjoy prostitution whose bodily autonomy is being hurt by people who want to tell them what they can and can’t do with their own. goddamned. bodies, because they think that they can’t possibly enjoy prostitution. Hell, I could make a list of fetishes and fetishists that specifically, if not exclusively, benefit from legal sex work. Of course, those people probably just aren’t “sane” to her. Brainwashed, or something.

    …/vent

    Anyways, on the subject of this post specifically, it really helped me understand specifically why her post annoyed me so much (aside from the rampant sex-negativity). Namely, bodily autonomy. As I read her post I was definitely getting notes of “women don’t know what they want!”, but you likening it to the similar issues that trans* folk and pro-choice people face really cleared up what made it seem so awful. I bet that there are very similar “Lies and Truths” lists out there for transgenderism and abortion, right down to the lack of citations and unsubstantiated “truths”.

      • says

        In Taslima’s defence?

        I would suggest tempering your stance at her by realising that she isn’t from the west. She follows a stance based on her own cultural upbringing and is just as guilty of bias as you are based on your culture.

        She comes from a fairly conservative muslim background. You are a product of the sexual revolution. So to her she only sees the abuse and cannot see the alternative. It’s a very very common viewpoint in the subcontinent to the sex workers.

        I also feel her grasp of English may be confusing people, it’s not her first language and god knows I butcher it even though it’s mine, so I fear there may be some loss in translation.

        She appears to be writing in response to a post in The Hindu (a Newspaper in India) about Prostitution and in that article, Gloria Steinem appears to make similar comments. She may also be discussing prostitution in India (she mentions it at the start of the article).

        But apart from that you are pretty much spot on. Just keep those things in mind as to why her opinion is being tarnished.

        Oh and I am unaware of where she is living at this point. If she is like me then she is also living on the sub-continent and therefore on my Crazy O Clock rather than most posters who are american so her approving comments will take some time due to the fact she may be asleep or out doing stuff and the like.

        (Just thought you should have a heads up. I do like the work!)

  17. Sally Strange says

    Amazing post, Natalie. I admire your ability to keep your focus trained (yes, like a laser!) on that central issue of bodily autonomy.

  18. carolw says

    Wow, this is an amazing post, and the comments are illuminating. And you’re down one finger! Natalie, you’re one of my favorite bloggers, and posts like this are why. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  19. Sophia says

    I think of makeup and high-heels.

    Overwhelmingly, it is women who learn to wear these uncomfortable shoes and go through the inconvenience of painting their faces. Men rarely touch these things. Why? Because women are judged on their looks more than men are.

    Makeup is just stuff you put on your face. High-heels are just things you put on your feet. There’s no moral aspect to it. The problem is the patriarchal culture which designates these things as feminine and what that signifies about women’s place in the culture. Would we ever ban the practice of wearing them? No. The problem isn’t the make-up or the individual women who wear it. It’s patriarchy, as usual.

    Sex work is in that position. Having sex for money has no inherent moral qualities, as long as choices are being made freely and safely by all involved. But, because of the patriarchy, it’s women who are most often forced into these positions for the pleasure of men.

    Legally, I can’t see any logical reason for banning sex work. The government is in the business of protecting its citizens and their rights. Objectification doesn’t demand government action unless rights are being violated.

    Only poor woman do it out of desperation? You’re treating a symptom, not a cause. Fight poverty first. If a woman is choosing prostitution to survive, then you’ve cut out her only means of support and left her worse off.

    Women are forced into prostitution? If young women are kidnapped and forced to do hard manual labor against their will, we don’t make hard manual labor illegal. That’s silly. It’s the kidnapping, coercion, force, etc. that is the issue. Fight those things.

    Lots of things objectify women. Hell, just about EVERYTHING objectifies women. Yah make a blog dedicated to ranting about it if it bothers you; you don’t pass legislation. It’s only hurting those who you want to protect.

    Women aren’t babies. They can make choices. The point is to give them freedom to make those choices without the patriarchy pressuring them to do one thing or another, whether through outright violence and blatant misogyny or subtle disapproval.

    • echidna says

      It’s the kidnapping, coercion, force, etc. that is the issue. Fight those things.

      As someone who was kidnapped by a well-coordinated ring (I was lucky – you could call it a foiled attempt, or an prompt rescue), I couldn’t agree more.

      The thing is, I was not even ten years old. I know from other incidents at the time that it’s not too hard to convince someone that they have made choices that they need to stick by. Distinguishing coercion from free-choice is not that easy.

      • Anders says

        There’s certainly a grey area, because life is like that. I think we should err on the side of choice rather than coercion but life is messy.

          • Anders says

            That’s such a broad question… children of what age? 3-year olds? 15-year olds? What kind of jobs? Chimney sweep? Selling ice cream on the beach? It can’t be answered in one go.

            But I don’t like regulations, no. I think as much as possible should be left up to the individual (in this case the legal guardians).

          • Dalillama says

            The problem with that tack is that it can and does routinely lead to horrific abuses, both intentional and non. These abuses include of course the child labor issues that existed before the laws were in place, but also the horrific child rearing methods advocated by the Pearls and their ilk homeschoolers mis educating their children with creationism (See Libby Anne’s blog among others for more on those) antivaxxers and christian scientists, etc. , Simply being fertile does not make a person the best arbiter of any child’s welfare.

          • Anders says

            And there should be a mechanism for taking away children from careless or negligent parents.

  20. says

    Well of course she gives emotional arguments. She wrote that she’s seen some of the worst of what the sex trade can do. I think if that’s your reality, then it’s hard to talk to someone about decriminalization and dealing with the causes and problems of sex work, unless they make a clear, and more than just passing, acknowledgment of how bad sex work can get.

    • says

      I’ve seen the worst of what drug use can do, but that doesn’t mean I’m unable to think reasonably about the issue and what is and isn’t going to actually help the victims.

      • Anders says

        I think the problem is that she’s seen only the bad sides of sex work. And if you argue from that point, you argue from a pretty skewed view of reality.

      • Bia says

        I’ve lost not one, but two very dear friends to heroin addiction. In both cases I can see the choices they made, and the external / internal pressure that influenced those decisions. As horrible as it is to watch someone you love be so completely devoured by a drug, I still don’t see how criminalizing it is going to help.

        Note, I’m not equating sex work and drug addiction, there are for certain overlaps, but at the end of the day there are positives that come from drug use, just as there are positives to sex work.

        Some people can do drugs in moderation, and it never leads to the horrible outcomes you see in films like trainspotting. Some people enjoy sex work and are fortunate enough to pursue that as a means to support themselves without ever being victims of violence or contracting diseases.

        Long story short, we shouldn’t tell people what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

    • says

      I think it’s simpler than that. The first reaction most people have to something they don’t like is to ban it. It seldom does any good, but there it is.

      • says

        No, it’s even simpler than that. Blatant transphobia is not permitted on my blog. My platform is not going to be used for the promotion of concepts it was constructed to oppose.

        • says

          I realize it was ambiguous, but I interpreted James K’s comment as referring to the (often misguided) impulse of governments to address actual or perceived social problems by banning them, as with the criminalization of drugs and of the sex industry. I didn’t think he was talking about you banning people from your blog. (Of course I could be wrong.)

          • says

            Yes, I was speaking of Taslima’s desire to ban prostitution, not Natalie’s banning of TNT. Booting a disruptive and irritating person off a blog is a wholly different thing from the government prohibiting something, and as a policy analyst I spend most of my time thinking about the latter, not the former.

  21. says

    I left several comments at Taslima Nasreen’s blog which, a day later, are still in moderation. (She linked Nicholas Kristof approvingly, so I provided the links from my post above, illustrating why I find Kristof and International Justice Mission problematic.)

    • says

      Walton wrote:”I left several comments at Taslima Nasreen’s blog which, a day later, are still in moderation.”
      Are you sure they are in moderation? The reason I ask is that yesterday evening I posted a comment at Taslima Nasreen’s blog and saw it show up. Then a few hours later it was not there. So I thought perhaps I had made a mistake or there had been a software glitch. So I reposted my comment and on a different computer checked that it had posted and even took a screenshot of it. This morning it was missing again. What is going on?

      • says

        1) It’s a new blog, so almost everything is going to be held in moderation, as are all comments from first-time moderators.

        2) She might still just be trying to get used to the system and figure out how to work it.

        • says

          Yep. I know my posts are in moderation, because, when logged in, I can see them on the thread, with “Your comment is awaiting moderation” next to my name. I also know that they were caught automatically in the moderation filter because I haven’t commented on her blog before, and/or because I posted too many links at once.

          So there’s certainly nothing deliberate here. I’m just being grouchy about the FTB auto-moderation filter, which I find generally annoying. (I like to include a lot of links to relevant evidence in my posts, in general, and I often get caught in moderation. I’ve noticed that Pharyngula allows more links per post than other blogs do, and am not sure why this is.)

          • says

            Yeah. I run a far less popular WordPress site and get a couple spams a day. Something with a decent Google rank like FTB would get swarmed. A lot of the bots are pretty sophisticated now and will do this like quote parts of your post in the body, or just say they really liked what you had to say, then include the spam link as their personal website, so their name links to it.

          • says

            The most clever one I saw managed to act like an outraged internet dude, referenced a controversial item that was in the news (Trayvon Martin), and randomly name-checked another commenter from the thread calling him an asshole.

            But yeah… I get somewhere around 500 a day.

          • says

            Oh, I understand entirely why the spam filter exists (my own poor little blog, with its five or so readers, still gets linkspammed by bots on a daily basis). Apologies… I’m just being grumpy today.

            (But perhaps you could do what PZ does: restrict commenting to registered users only, but allow more links per post? Though there may be some technical reason why this isn’t possible; or I might be misunderstanding PZ’s policy, which I know only through trial and error.)

        • moulton says

          Thanks for info about the moderation. I guess what confused me was after I put the comment in for the second time in the Taslima blog I went to a totally different computer and went to the blog and saw my comment with all of the other comments; I even took a screen shot of it. And now it has vanished and I am not even getting any “in moderation” message.

          It seems to me that the Natalie and Greta blogs are the best Freethought blogs for discussing these issues. So Natalie thanks again for the information and thanks for your interesting posts.

          • says

            My comments on her blog are in moderation too, and I don’t think she’d have any reason not to let them through. Let’s assume she is busy with life (quite a life!), and hope that more discussion on her blog will happen soon enough.

    • says

      I should add that I certainly don’t deny that the sex industry is often horribly exploitative and abusive. I just don’t think, based on the evidence, that banning the trade and forcibly “rescuing” sex workers is a good idea; in reality, this approach is harming those it’s meant to help. In the same way that I don’t deny the terrible consequences of hard drug addiction, but I also think, based on the evidence, that the “War on Drugs” has been a disaster and that decriminalizing drugs would be the best way to help addicts (for reasons Natalie has explained in previous posts far more eloquently than I could).

      I wish that, as a society, we could stop jumping from “X is bad” to “X should be a crime”. Criminalization is generally a very bad means of dealing with social problems; it’s usually ineffective, and it always has harmful consequences.

  22. says

    I’m really appalled at how quickly the “Dear Muslima…” argument has been raised in this debate. I thought we were past that ’round these parts. It’s as if any argument in favor of sex-positivity, the reality of sex-work in the first world, just about anything Greta brings up can be dismissed because the world is a really messed up place and don’t you silly feminists have something better to argue about?
    an analogy, I partially dislocated my hip the other day. It hurts like hell. The fact that other people may have a completely fractured pelvis may provide perspective, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

  23. Chirico says

    It’s really hard for me to respect Ms.Nasreen’s views when she makes a post like this, then another the next day, completely ignoring all the feedback that her colleagues and readers gave, going right back to arguments from emotion and loaded language. Then she makes a post about the evils of pornography, using similarly emotionally charged language such as linking pornography as a whole to pedophilia and characterizing it as existing “exclusively for men’s pleasure.” This betrays an amazingly dated view of pornography that in no way reflects the current reality. Women watch and enjoy porn, women make porn, completely on their own volition, completely free and for it’s own sake. I think it’s incredibly dishonest of her to try to lump together consenting adults doing perfectly legal activities and the very real problem of child rape and sexual abuse, and frankly it’s quite offensive. I don’t doubt that she has seen and experienced first-hand horrors which I could not even begin to imagine, or that she has contributed much to the empowerment and freedom of women, and I can certainly respect her for those accomplishments, but that doesn’t mean she gets a free pass to be intellectually or emotionally dishonest. It’s really a shame that she’s starting her run on FtB like this.

  24. godless says

    Blog post: Oh but IS prostitution “sex slavery”?

    “As you can see, the form of trafficking in persons that involves force, fraud, coercion or anything involving a minor is officially defined as “SEVERE sex trafficking”. “Sex trafficking” as defined by the OFFICIAL definitions in the U.S. CODE does not involved any force, fraud or coercion AT ALL!

    This OFFICIAL definition for “sex trafficking” may seem like a small issue to some. Many may say “oh, but we know what it actually means.” I can not stress this enough to those of you out there wanting to be knowledgeable about this issue.

    This official conflation between forced and not forced IS the issue!
    This IS their victory! It’s one think for such conflations to happen in the media and in propaganda but it is quite another for them to become law. This seems to validate the conflations and blanket statements prohibitionists like Nasreen make in many people’s eyes. Unfortunately, many Americans tend not to decide what is right by what is true but rather by what the law says. I explain how this official conflations came to be in the video below.

    http://agodlessstrumpet.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/oh-but-is-prostitution-sex-slavery/

    • says

      I think you have an important point there. The official legal definitions are critical; they’re not some mere triviality. When the government assigns a definition in a way that has a clear political or ideological slant, they can then abuse this poor definition in the citation of any official statistics. This has the precursor markings of propaganda.

      Following your link, certainly it is also the case that this entire debate is a mere subset of vast and growing labor abuses. It is absolutely essential we not overlook attacks on labor rights, the ability to make a living wage, or fundamental standards in the amount and type of work that people are being asked to do.

      Likewise, there is something very bizarre about any feminist even temporarily allying themselves with figures closely linked to theocrats and authoritarians among the right wing. Those people do not and have never wanted what is best for women. Anything they desire in that context should be seen with suspicion.

      I know it sounds trite, but an attack on any worker is an attack on all workers. Exploiting the weakest and most vulnerable people in society is always where ideological campaigns begin, but it’s rarely where they end.

      • godless says

        Yes and TN’s opening quote couldn’t have made it any clearer that she denies or at least minimizes the seriousness of LABOR trafficking:

        ‘We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.’

        —VICTOR HUGO, Les Misérables

        As if people who are trafficked for other forms of labor are not raped. People tend to forget that sex worker rights is largely a LABOR rights movement.

        An alliance of convenience with the mainstream right is also what keeps them away from the role the U.S. failed immigration policy plays in human trafficking putting many sex worker rights advocates in a position to be immigrants rights advocates as well. This is something I talk about extensively in this video on trafficking & immigration
        http://youtu.be/RbxMTLBpp2w

        and supported by this interview I did with a stripper who fell through the cracks of this immigration policy and got trapped in the sex industry.

  25. says

    Quick question asked because, not being massively into two-person sex, I honestly don’t know the answer:

    Is it possible for a man to be horny specifically for two-person sex, in such a way as he cannot satisfy himself by means of one-person sex alone?

    (Obviously this sample size will be small, so beware of hasty generalisations …..)

    • says

      I’m not entirely sure whether you’re specifically referring to multiple partners, one-on-one, masturbation, phone sex, or whatnot. There are notable psychological and social differences between all of them, though, so whichever the answer would still be yes.

      There is an extreme degree of variation in sexual desire. Chances are, if you can imagine someone wanting that and only that, you can probably also find a real person with that orientation.

    • Anders says

      It’s the same as being hungry for chocolate, or onions, or whatever. Other fare fills but does not satisfy.

  26. Luna_the_cat says

    Slightly off topic, but a woman I knew as an undergraduate worked as an escort to help pay her tuition. Her favourite client was an old guy who paid her to tie him to a chair and throw oranges at his balls from across the room, $10/hit. Go figure.

    More on topic, thank you for a discussion which hit on a lot of points that had been niggling at the back of my mind but which I had never managed to clarify on my own. You’ve helped me put some of my own thoughts into words, now, and given me a lot more besides to chew over.

    I would say more, but I’m still chewing.

  27. Maude LL says

    Thank you. I just read your post (late), and I appreciated your eloquent voice in this debate. I was troubled by Talisma’s posts on the sex industry for that very reason of agency; I feel like this infantilization of women who don’t belong to one’s narrative is destructive. Particularly when delivered as self-evident statement, without a shred of empirical evidence (this is freethougth blogs after all). You, Greta and Richard responded with class.

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  1. […] has been getting a lot of pushback for her article that I wrote about last night. Natalie Reed put up a great piece this morning connecting the ideas of the anti-sex-work movement to all those others that try to […]

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