Why Decriminalizing Sex Work is Good for All Women

In a landmark ruling for women, the Ontario (Canada) Superior Court struck down existing laws against prostitution. This is a win for all women–at least in Canada. Decriminalizing sex work is a step toward eradicating “whore stigma,”something that affects all women and not just sex workers.

Canadian sex workers brought forth a constitutional challenge arguing that anti-prostitution laws hurt them more than protect them. The Canadian court ruled that laws criminalizing aspects of prostitution violate principles of fundamental justice and workers’ right to security (PDF). In other words, the harms to sex workers and to communities that result from existing laws outweigh the (perceived) benefits of criminalization.

What is notable about the ruling is that the judge refuted ideological and unscientific arguments that prostitution, taken as a whole, victimizes women. The ruling cited study after study showing that indoor prostitution is less harmful than street work, and that the places and ways in which prostitution can be practiced can lower the risk of violence. Sweeping claims that prostitution harms women are not reflected in the research.

This case repudiates the dominant discourse around sex work today: that the majority of sex workers are coerced, that women are trafficked into the business and that selling sex is inherently violent. In sum, that whores are not capable of critical thought and informed decision-making.

Whore stigma is a particularly gnarly incarnation of misogyny marking women who dare to exercise economic independence or sexual independence. Think of the stereotype of a woman in a mid- or high-power position sleeping her way to the top. Think of prostitution in the media: news stories of women arrested for prostitution, or victims saved from trafficking; the popularity of HBO’s CatHouse: The Series reality show in a legal Nevada brothel; Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Basically, women exercising power in forms traditionally coded as masculine—with sexual independence, economic aspirations—are a challenge to the traditional gender model.

Whore stigma is one clue that anti-prostitution ideology is about more than just violence against women—it’s specifically about femininity. In this sense, arguments against transactional sex are a defense of both the gender binary and of heterosexuality. This is why men and transgender sex workers are invisible in prostitution debates. This is why changing laws is just the beginning, not the end, of a longtime struggle for basic human rights for sex workers.

Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to start paying attention to our neighbor to the north and other industrialized countries such as Germany and Australia (where prostitution has been legalized) and start questioning the ideological assumptions of our anti-prostitution legislation.

Crystal Jackson and Barbara Brents are co-authors of The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex, and Sin in the New American Heartland. Jackson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Brents is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Photo from Soho area of London by Flickr user Tom Coates under license from Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Go Canada! While I agree that striking down the existing laws against prostitution will certainly make life safer for sex workers (some of the streets in Toronto can get very rough throughout the night), I do think that the new laws need more clarification. Justice Himel pointed out that one of the consequences of this new ruling means that unlicensed brothels may be operated–now, I don't want to ride a slippery slope and say that this might open up more doors for sex trafficking but when this law does come into effect, the Ontario government should do its best to prevent that from happening.

    • Kyle

      Justice Himel simply meant that when an activity is removed from the criminal law it becomes subject to civil and administrative law. In the case of a brothel, that would be a commercial activity and would be subject to provincial and municipal laws regulating employment standards, health and safety, zoning, advertising, and taxation. When a law changes suddenly, it can become unclear what the exact legal status is.

      By delaying the effect of her decision she allowed provincial and municipal governments time to clarify how brothels would be regulated. There is no reason why they should be regulated in any way differently to other businesses, but it might be necessary to agree on a definition.

      For instance one to three women working independently but sharing a premise such as an apartment or private residence should probably not be considered a business.

      This has nothing to do with trafficking, but in a legal situation it is much easier to detect and report abuse, if that is what you mean.

  2. 86% of Prostitutes in the U.S. have pimps. If someone else is selling you- it's not a feminist activity.
    The average age of a first prostitution is 11-14. That's not a business transaction is survival.
    Legalization has increased both the legal *AND* illegal sex work in every country to see the change in past 60 years. If we want to make a change lets legalize prostitution and criminalize purchase.

    When I see evidence that women are actually "selling themselves" and can genuinely be protected by law and society (not just "allowed" as decriminalization permits) then you can tell me legalization is about empowerment. Until then, I'm going to view legalized prostitution the same way I view Communism. Perfectly reasonable- in theory.

    • That statistic is a good example of inaccurate, manipulative statistics based on surveys of very specific populations of sex workers, or misleading for other reasons.

      First of all it's clear that one can't accurately develop general statistics like that from an underground population.

      In addition, old abolitionist laws turn all our associates into "pimps" in the legal sense, as "living off the avails of prostitution" is defined as pimping. Pimping laws would make my grown children guilty of felony pimping if they resided with me.

      Many of my friends (and I) have been the victims of such studies, with questions designed to elicit specific negative responses, with reports on the results that don't match the actual results, and on and on. These misleading, propagandistic statistics are an important issue in sex worker rights. The Economist recently featured a debate which brought forth a great many responses about these sorts of statistics and the realities behind them.

      This is an excellent article. Thank you Ms., we have been waiting a very long time for recognition of sex worker rights in the context of feminism.

      Carol Leigh
      Prostitutes Education Network http://www.bayswan.org

  3. Dawn O'Connor says:

    "Prostitution, whether it's high-end or any other form, is really just an expression of men's beliefs that women are disposable sexual objects or men's property." Dr. Scott Hampton

    As feminists, why can't we all agree that we live in a patriarchal culture in which men feel entitled to use & exploit females? And that this same culture conditions females (from an early age) to serve males & to go along with their own objectification & sexual abuse? I understand that many women who advocate legalizing prostitution have good intentions – but complete decriminalization is Not the answer. Instead, we should all follow Sweden's lead – they've had enormous success in dealing with the problems associated with prostitution (including drastically reducing the number of women & children who are sex-trafficked into their country).

    In 1999, after years of research and study, Sweden passed legislation that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalizes the selling of sex. The novel rationale behind this legislation is clearly stated in the government's literature on the law:

    "In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem… gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them."
    http://www.justicewomen.com/cj_sweden.html

    • Dawn

      As feminists we can agree on many things but not this. Whatever your views on the relationship between patriarchy and sex work, to criminalise women is not consistent with feminist objectives, and simply victimises them further. There are many feminists (including Swedish feminists) who advocate decriminalisation, and support this decision, including FIRST and the Simone de Beauvoir Institute.

      While Sweden is touted as a model by a group of radical feminists the facts do not support this, nor do Swedish sex workers. Two Swedish feminist politicians writing in a daily newspaper recently described the Swedish law as pepetrating patriarchy by visualising women through a male lens as weak and helpless and merely the objects of male sexuality.

      Incidentally Sweden did not decriminalise anything, that is another myth. All that Sweden did was drive sex work underground and increase violence against women.

      • Women selling sexual services in Sweden are decriminalized; buyers are not.

        While some women state they are happy being abused for money, they often feel very differently after having exited.

        The pain of being prostituted lasts a lifetime. To stop women as living and dying as sex most certainly is a feminist goal.

        • Julie Bates says:

          Womononajourney, the pain of being stigmatized by whore bashing feminists like yourself is what lasts a lifetime and I will go to my grave fighting for sex work to be recognised as legitimate and valued work. Criminalising any aspect of sex work brings untold harms to us. And criminalising our clients but not the worker is the ultimate in paternalism gone overboard. In countries that adopt the so called “Swedish” model, the industry does not go away, it simply goes underground where violence and other harms are allowed to flourish.

  4. Fantastic article! So happy to see this here. The way society treats its sex workers is a direct reflection of how it treats its women. The US has a very long way to go.

    The hysteria and fear of sexual trafficking is way overrated. Give sex workers rights and the ability to report crime to police without fear of retaliation. Australia and New Zealand (especially NZ) have it right. The Swedes do not.

    @Jennifer — And just how do you actually know this? There are no conclusive studies on any of this. At best, the numbers you're spouting come from very limited and heavily-biased survey of street workers (usually those who have been arrested or enter drug treatment programs). Street work makes up no more than 20% of all prostitution in the US. Though they contend with the most problems of all sex workers, they are the minority.

  5. Jennifer- Where did you get your stats?

    • The figure on the number of prostitutes with pimps is assembled through a series of different studies conducted by universities across the U.S. The average age of a first prostitution is assembled though the U.S. Dept of State and is backed up by university level studies in Chicago. (Though if it makes for any sort of comparison in New York City the most frequent cause for prostitution is survival prostitution by the homeless). The increase in illegal sexual activity study was conducted by Shared Hope international. They've conducted two separate studies covering half a dozen different nations. Their figures are more or less confirmed by studies conducted through the governments involved.

      • I am afraid I strongly disagree with all of your conclusions. The bulk of university research does not support any of this. The first problem is that of defining the term 'pimp', by which I take it you imply some sort of exploitative control. Some statistics, which are extremely difficult to obtain in any reliable fashion, have included anyone in a financial relationship with the sex worker, which is very misleading. Again these sorts of relationships are largely associated with a small number of street workers. If you want numbers – a Miami study found only 7% of street workers knew pimps.

        As far as age goes, lets look at the data of Hester and Westmarland who found that 20 percent of their sample had begun to sell sex before age 16 while almost half (48 percent) had begun after age 19. There is no evidence to support claims of increased illegal activity, for instance we have well conducted Government studies in both New Zealand and the Netherlands that fail to find any evidence for this.

        Unfortunately the subject of prostitution attracts impassioned claims by people who have no evidence to support their statements, but which are designed to advance their point of view.

      • A pimp is defined as a person who lives off the earnings of sex workers, sometimes the criteria of being involved in the work itself is added.Since I sometimes take my boyfriend out to restaurants and pay for us both, and he acts as my security buddy when I have a booking, some "researchers" would categorize him as a pimp (even though he also sometimes takes me out). I also worked for an escort agency once- they provided me with various services like access to a work appartment, driving service, advertisement and customer contact. In turn I paid them a 30% comission of my fees. The owner of the agency would most certainly be categorised as a pimp in certain "studies".

  6. Dawn O'Connor says:

    "Prostitution, whether it's high-end or any other form, is really just an expression of men's beliefs that women are disposable sexual objects or men's property." Dr. Scott Hampton

    As feminists, why can't we all agree that we live in a patriarchal culture in which men feel entitled to use & exploit females? And that this same culture conditions females (from an early age) to serve males & to go along with their own objectification & sexual abuse? I understand that many women who advocate legalizing prostitution have good intentions – but complete decriminalization is Not the answer. Instead, we should all follow Sweden's lead – they've had enormous success in dealing with the problems associated with prostitution (including drastically reducing the number of women & children who are sex-trafficked into their country).

    In 1999, after years of research and study, Sweden passed legislation that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalizes the selling of sex. The novel rationale behind this legislation is clearly stated in the government's literature on the law:

    "In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem… gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them."

  7. sexandstudy says:

    Definitely check out the feminist/activist efforts of sex workers rights organizations like the Desiree Alliance (www.desireealliance.org) and the Sex Workers Outreach Project (www.swopusa.org) for U.S. based efforts. There are plenty of feminist sex workers and feminist sex worker rights activists and allies; and then many sex workers who are wary of feminists and feminism because of the prevalence of whore stigma within certain feminist lines of thought. -Crystal Jackson

  8. Jennifer — Your figures are all MYTHS. None of the figures is based on a random survey, so none of them can be taken as representative of anything. Your figures are based on small, unrepresentative samples of street prostitutes, not the larger population of indoor sex workers. It is a fallacy that almost all sex workers have pimps, that most entered prostitution between ages 11-14. This might apply to a segment of street workers, but even there it is not accurate to characterize street prostitution with such a broad brush. There is plenty of variation from city to city and country to country. Likewise, your claims about legal prostitution systems are equally misinformed. It is not inevitable that legalization leads to an increase in EITHER the legal market or the illegal sector. New Zealand's experience since decriminalization in 2003 shows that prostitution has not increased in either the legal or (tiny) illegal sector. Finally, your policy of criminalizing clients whlie decriminalizing sex workers is naively contradictory.

    • Most of my numbers are from the U.S. State Department and the International Labor Organization. The international studies were conducted by Shared Hope International and were accrued through the undercover infiltration of brothels and red light districts in four countries. As well as- yes- university conducted studies across America (particularly New York, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, San Fransisco, Houston, and Nevada).

      No offense, but if you’re going to say that number against legalization are exaggerated then where are the number *for* it? If you want to make a point, get me the stats, because until I see the studies that show women with no history of abuse and access to other career opportunities are secretly flocking to sex work in droves- I’m going to go with what my research has proven. That the majority of women in sex work are being treated- not as empowered women- but as objects.

      As my post said- the last thing I want to do is deny a woman her voice, but when the average porn star lasts three months and *thousands* of women flee from abusive pimps in the U.S. every year (again- a legitimate number provided through court records and safe house statistics)… the argument is coming down to theory vs. reality.

      I wish we lived in a culture and social structure where women who wanted to partake in this form of exchange could be protected, but we don’t. Again- Legalization does not magically create an protection and regulation devision of law enforcement.

      • I doubt your stats are correct because I have seen much state-ordered research that is completely biased. It would be nice if you could send me links to the studies (I mean with methodology and everything). It is known that much research conducted on prostitution is ideology-driven since it´s a subject that is so sensitive to many people.
        Here are some examples of unscientific research methods: <a href="http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:pJHXXbQuOccJ :www.worldaidscampaign.org/en/content/download/89138/878459/file/Flawed%2520Theory%2520%26%2520Method.pdf+bias+prostitution+research&hl=de&gl=de&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiT4oFHpW9fjFgrrUgSGmF_1zy2ZMZjbrJF_qCVETl7crXnC6JIlZw57N99GURUn2G-VPHSlLjg4PAKcuX7CqH728uY5mqb4rMckONWzonw181O2xEZSdvb4-JwhTB0qCrTtuGG&sig=AHIEtbT6tKV-gLHudAE4yh968HjxgZCypw” target=”_blank”>http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:pJH…” target=”_blank”>:www.worldaidscampaign.org/en/content/download/89138/878459/file/Flawed%2520Theory%2520%26%2520Method.pdf+bias+prostitution+research&hl=de&gl=de&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiT4oFHpW9fjFgrrUgSGmF_1zy2ZMZjbrJF_qCVETl7crXnC6JIlZw57N99GURUn2G-VPHSlLjg4PAKcuX7CqH728uY5mqb4rMckONWzonw181O2xEZSdvb4-JwhTB0qCrTtuGG&sig=AHIEtbT6tKV-gLHudAE4yh968HjxgZCypw

        But even if those numbers are true, they are just another reason why legislation, or better decriminalization, is so important.

        Legislation doesn´t wonderfully make all problems go away, that´s true. But it´s the only way it can even start to get better. For sex workers not to be exploited, there is need for decriminalization AND reduction of the stigma. Where I live, sex workers don´t have to be afraid of the police. That is the first step to stop exploitation. No one will report crimes if they are at risk of being arrested themselves.

        But even with decrim, many are still afraid of being exposed if they report crimes committed against them. To some, the possibility of losing ones social background is worse than being raped. Actually most force used against sex workers is not direct violence, but threatening to expose the profession to friends and family (at least I get that impression from my social work with less priviledged sex workers).

      • I am afraid you have been duped by 'resue' organisations like Shared Hope who of course get an enormous amount of money to support their efforts. You are up against a lot of university researchers on this website.

        It is not a question of exaggeration, your statements are simply untrue, but commonly advanced by those morally opposed to sex work (Weitzer: The Mythology of Prostitution: Advocacy Research
        and Public Policy. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, Vol. 7, No. 1. 1 March 2010). The law makes little difference to the extent of sex work, just the way it operates (Marcia Neave; Victorian Government Inquiry into Prostitution).

        Nobody is secretly flocking anywhere in droves, however throughout history women everywhere have made conscious decisions to enter this profession. I would however agree that women still face many barriers to equality in career opportunities, power and wealth, and sex work provides a relatively good income with flexible working hours and conditions.

        Yes some workers have been abused – but so have many other people, and comparisons of street prostitutes and nonprostitutes show mixed results; some find a statistically significant difference in experience of family abuse, while others find no difference.

        Studies done on indoor workers, for instance Sanders (Sex Work 2005) do demonstrate empowerment and control by the workers, and if anyone was being exploited it was the clients (Paying for Pleasure 2008).

        Can you produce your data on 'thousands of women fleeing"? If your argument were in fact true it would demonstrate the uselessnes sof the law. I am afraid it IS the reality we are talking amount not the emotions.

        I agree with your last statement. However that protection will not come from a law that criminalises them, but from returning them to the normal workforce. There is no magic, I agree, but in those jurisdictions like New Zealand, that decriminalised, police training and practice shifted from prosecution to protection, and now sex workers feel more secure (Abel: Taking the Crime out of Sex Work 2010)

      • christina says:

        Hi. I am a sex worker in australia and have been for 5 years. Some facts……
        1. At no point in both my childhood or as an adult was I ever abused either sexually or otherwise
        2. I made tbe decision to become a sex worker no one forced me into it
        3. Decriminalisation to me means I will be better protectef. More likely to report assault to the police without fear of being arrestert myself. Better access to health services. And less likely to keep being pushed underground into illegal activity
        4. I do not need to be saved or rescued from sex work I am not trafficked I am not here because I have a drug problem or any other reason why you think women go into sex work. I made this decision because its empowering because I have taken control of my sexuality and my life and made my own decisions

  9. Sheryl Zettner says:

    You would think from this article that prostitution is a covert form of feminism. LOL I didn't realize the struggle for "women to be on top" referred to the sexual position. Still, I don't think I will give up my day job.

    • Jennifer J Reed says:

      Actually it is an OVERT form of feminism. A woman owns her own body; she has the right to sell it if she wants without it being shrouded in the mystery and stigma of state interference. You don't have to give up your day job. The whole point is that we should have the choice to capitalize on men wanting access to female bodies on our terms. (And to make more money doing so in less time with more flexibility than in most of our other limited choices of work necessary for survival.)

      • I don´t agree that selling sexual services is feminist in itself. It´s no more or less feminist than being a nurse, which is a traditionally female occupation and by that is reinforcing a gendered job market. But one can certainly do it in a feminist way, as I´d like to think I do.

  10. There is no such thing as "whore stigma". Men think all women are gold-diggers who manipulate men's desire for sex to get access to men's wallets. Men's rights literature is choked with such sentiments. So-called "whore stigma" is just one end of a spectrum encompassing all women. Legitimizing prostitution as women's work legitimizes the negative stereotypes that men already have of women.

    If at the end of your workday your genitals are red and raw, you are not free.

    • Jennifer J Reed says:

      How free are most workers? We are all selling something for money. We must all be victims and whores!

    • What if it´s your back that aches after a workday? Or your tired and exhausted..? Actually my genitals always red and raw after long and intense sex..and it´s not a bad feeling, it´s comparable to the way the whole body feels raw after a good workout.

    • Well either you believe in whore stigma or you don't – which is it? If it is part of a spectrum, then you do believe in it. It is entrenched in the double sexual standard – men are studs and women are sluts. No division of men into 'good – who don't' and 'bad – who do' exists. 'Whore' has been a form of verbal and social abuse of women by men for centuries. Maybe you have never been called a whore.

      Maybe you could explain how legitimising women's rights to use their consciences and exercise a legitimate right to work on their terms reinforces male stereotypes? Aren't you simply projecting male stereotypes onto women – the Burkha syndrome. Men's problems are their's to deal with not to be imposed on women.

      Sorry – whose genitals are red and raw? And what does that have to do with freedom?

    • Riley Alwexander says:

      Who says that just because I’m a sex worker, I come home with damaged genitals???
      And, even if I did, how is that any different to an office worker, working a 10hr day and coming home with a crick in his/her neck from being slumped over a computer. Or carpal tunnel syndrome. A waiter with aching, blistered feet. The list goes on.
      And, as a non-whore, you can’t possibly claim that whore phobia does not exist….

  11. Great Job Crystal!

  12. Jennifer J Reed says:

    Great article! Whore stigma is real and damaging to ALL women. We need to develop a discourse of active feminine sexuality that begins with women being free to own their own bodies and sexuality – and feeling comfortable to do so as well as to support other women along the way. Decriminalizing prostitution is a step in this process. Decriminalization simply says that the state has no business in the sex lives of consenting adults! Period.

    According to Emma Goldman, "it is merely a matter of degree whether (a woman) sells herself to one man, in or out of marriage, or to many men." We need to put the cards on the table to advance gender relations with less hypocrisy. The embodiment of an active female sexuality that acknowledges her sexual knowledge, values her performance, and places it under her control is necessary for the subversion of male dominance. THAT is feminism.

  13. I can't help but feel there's a problem with the concept of a sex worker using hir sexuality to subvert the patriarchy/create equality/whatever you want to label it. If s/he is performing out of hir own well informed choice then hir world is empowered, but the individual who buys hir does not see it that way. Nor does the greater social structure. So it's arguable that this subversion is a fantasy.

    It's like a post modern painting. The artist knows how their art is subverting the structure of the system, but most of the people looking at it just see kitsch.

    Or a kid running away from home for a couple hours because they don't want to clean their room. They know they've run away, but lets face it, mom and dad won't have any clue.

    If people don't get the message then there's no statement being made.

    Maybe brothels should be wall papered in pictures of 60's feminists and symbols of fish on bicycles to help get the issue across?

    • Sex Worker says:

      "If s/he is performing out of hir own well informed choice then hir world is empowered, but the individual who buys hir does not see it that way."

      Once again, sex workers sell a service, not their bodies. But nonetheless, how do you know how the patron sees it?

      A great example of cracking gender paradigms can be found in SE Asia, where female sex workers have become some of the most wealthy members of their communities. When I studied this in 2000, over 8 million dollars per year was sent to the provinces from sex workers in Bangkok- more than all agricultural loans or government funding combined. The development that has happened in those provinces is largely due to sex workers.

  14. Jennifer J Reed says:

    Kagu – That is exactly why decriminalization of prostitution is a step in the right direction toward creating a positive inclusive feminine sexual discourse that impacts the greater social structure. When the law recognizes prostitution as a legitimate business transaction as in the decrim model, the police work with women to arrest and prosecute men that don't treat them with respect in their profession (rather than blaming and harassing the women with the attitude of, "what did you expect to be treated like as a whore?"), thus making the empowerment real in its consequences.

  15. kurukurushoujo says:

    I'm off to uni now in a short moment but I have to say something about the eradication of "whore stigma".
    I come from Germany where sex work is legal. Men have not become more respectful of women. There is nil evidence for this. I can also make broad declarations about legalisation benefitting women without any data whatsoever to back this up. Yeah, you actually have to show how it benefits all women, not only prostitutes. You even have to show how it benefits trafficked women and children. With empirical data. Then I will believe it. Until then, nope.

    Laws do not social norms make. You see this with rape. There are laws against it but it's still considered acceptable no matter how many people whine about how they really want to castrate rapists. This is because under the surface of moral outrage the true norms lie. No matter how many false norms are built up the measurable reality shows that rapists are let off the hook- because men are worth more than women. In patriarchal hierarchal societies having power automatically means being worth more.
    And the prostitute is the sexual servant class. No matter what any prostitute might believe about what she's selling, she is looked upon as an consumable object by men. Unlike wives and lovers johns don't even need to pretend to regard prostitutes as human. Consuming a prostitute is like consuming something you buy at the supermarket, or how one john put it, "instant sex". Moreover, without economic deprivation and wide-spread sexual abuse the number of women voluntariy entering this trade would be so small that men's demands could not be satisfied. Therefore you have to make sure that it thrives. Basically, it is a mechanism to ensure that men can circumvent negotiation, compomise and consensus to get an orgasm (you do not go to a prostitute for emotional connection- it's a transaction). Now think about the men who go to prostitutes (in Germany ~50% of men have at least once visited a prostitutes): he is a man who strives to get as much benefit as possible with minimum effort. Because he goes to a prostitute, even the effort of talking to a woman in a bar is too much. Compromise is too much. Consensus (Does the man care if the woman enjoys it? Most probably not, otherwise unenthusiastic prostitutes would not be able to get clients.) is too much. Does this make you more enarmored of him? Hardly.

    When you want to talk about it in a anti-capitalist manner the prostitute is as enslaved as a factory worker- or even worse. The factory worker sells his working power and what he produces he doesn't have any connection to. The prostitute sells sexual services and what she produces she doesn't have any connection to because it has been robbed from its worth through commodification. Consequently, the prostitute lives in a state of being which must neccessarily lead to alienation from her sexuality.

    Short version: laws cannot change norms, only people can. Outlawing something that is nothing more than an expression of social inequality will positively sanction this inequality.

    • Changing laws won't eradicate stigma overnight, but it goes a LONG way to giving rights to marginalized people. Change the laws and we'll take it from there. Australia and New Zealand are examples of countries where the laws indeed help erase Whore Stigma.

      Criminalizing sex workers (as in the US) does not help us. The only thing it does it hurt us. We want the laws changed because we're tired of being as non-humans.

      Your last two paragraphs show a deep lack of understanding of sex work and how it affects the worker. Which is why when we say we want the laws to change, we do know what we're talking about and how it will affect us. Feminists and uni students can theorize all they want, sex workers are a very pragmatic bunch and decrim is the answer that will work best for us.

      • kurukurushoujo says:

        Australia and New Zealand are examples of countries where the laws indeed help erase Whore Stigma.

        Data, we need data. Prove it with something I can look at.

        Criminalizing sex workers (as in the US) does not help us.

        I agree. I'm for criminalizing the johns.

        Which is why when we say we want the laws to change, we do know what we're talking about and how it will affect us. Feminists and uni students can theorize all they want, sex workers are a very pragmatic bunch and decrim is the answer that will work best for us.

        There is no practice without theory. This is why social scientists are hired to experimentally change environmental influences to measure the success of certain initiatives. Legislation concerning prostitution is in and of itself a giant social experiment. Women will suffer. This is because johns will make sure that women suffer. If the privileged attractive prostitutes don't suffer because they can afford to discriminate the ugly disadvantaged street prostitute who has been sucked dry by years of walking the streets will suffer. IMHO, the privilged should suffer first because they have a nice cushion to fall back on, let's say, oh, I don't know, an university education and a second job opportunity?
        What is important to remember is that while I know that criminalization of johns leads to deprivation for prostitutes I also know that short-term damage might be outweighed by long-term profits. Prostitutes will be forced to search for an occupation that is not connected to huge amounts of sexual abuse, drug addiction and psychological disorders and traumas (and street walkers are much more at risk). Trafficking will most likely not be stopped by (il-)legalization. There is a demand and the traffickers deliver. There is testimony of johns bemoaning the fact that they had to listen to sob stories by trafficked women. There is testimony of johns feeling sorry for trafficked women but not doing anything against it because, well, I guess they weren't worth the effort, were they?

    • Sex Worker says:

      Kurukurushaujo: "Basically, it is a mechanism to ensure that men can circumvent negotiation, compomise and consensus to get an orgasm (you do not go to a prostitute for emotional connection- it's a transaction)."

      The experiences of sex work are as varied and diverse as sex workers themselves. Some sex workers do provide a quick service with little connection, and it is impossible to know the percentage of the market this includes. While stripping, I preferred a quick dance or two with many different men throughout the evening to being with just one man over several hours. As a professional companion, I feel differently: I prefer to spend many hours with one patron once a week, rather than see many patrons per day. I have friends who prefer to see many patrons in one day or week, and have as little connection with them as possible. And I have many friends in between.

      But research shows that "commercial sex also involves emotional exchange, and the development of relationships based on notions of love, intimacy and romance," (Sex in Cyberspace, p. 52*) and that "romance and intimacy play an important part of men’s pleasure in paying for sex." (ibid, p. 57)

      This has been true in my own experiences of sex work. And, I can say, in the experiences of most of my friends. This “intimacy and romance” necessarily only lasts the time of the engagement, but as most sex workers know, you both pick right up where you left off the next time you get together. Most of my friends see their patrons regularly, sometimes even over several years.

      Also in the experiences of myself and my friends (men and women), we know that our clients (both men and women, mind you) very much enjoy giving us gifts. Research bears this out: "Previous research has shown that indoor sex workers frequently report receiving gifts (Lever and Dolnick, 2000) and that this is one of the distinctions between indoor and outdoor sex work. These gifts often include perfume, flowers or champagne which, as Lever and Dolnick note are ‘the type of gifts a man might give to a girlfriend or wife’ (2000, p.94)." In my own personal experiences, I have received jewelry, shoes (Manolos, Choos, D&G), purses, lingerie, and much more. My patrons are very generous. They are also very thoughtful, and give me books that are relevant to conversations we've had, or to my own research and interests. I have been blown away by some of the books I have been given. They really pay attention to what you say.

      As a matter of fact, our patrons seem to almost worship us. They dote on us more than men we date in our personal lives do (often we will have these discussions about how we wished men in “real life” were as attentive as the men we dated professionally). As an example, I had one patron pay me for 4 hours of my time, and all he did was give me orgasms for 2 hours and an expensive box of chocolates, and then we parted ways. He wanted nothing for himself. You should read some of the letters we get- some of the most romantic, loving, and wonderful letters ever! But even my friends who work high-volume, seeing many patrons a day or a week, will tell you that they are for the most part treated with care and respect, and have formed caring and even loving relationships with their regulars. Ultimately, the experiences between providers and patrons are about far more than sex. I would guess it is about 15-20% sex, and the rest is about enjoying each other's company. And in many cases, there is no sex involved at all.
      (cont…)

    • Sex Worker says:

      (cont.) Also, the majority of the market is indoors, as was pointed out earlier, and the majority of that is internet-based. This phenomenon, which began in something like 1995 or 1997, has done more to improve the lives of sex workers than anything else. Firstly, many sex workers have moved indoors, where research shows it is much safer for us (access to this research is available in the documents linked to in this article), and secondly, we are now able to screen our potential patrons. We ask them all sorts of information that they readily give us: info such as their first and last names, where they work (with a number), who they’ve seen before (with contact info), and some go as far as to ask for driver license numbers, etc. This makes it easy for us to research them, to find out if they really are who they say they are, and makes us much safer. With information given to us, we can even find out if they are violent offenders. Men who have something to hide won’t bother giving us this info, and so we won’t bother seeing them. It’s a great system- both parties have a buy-in to discretion and integrity as far as carrying out each party’s side of the transaction.

      Kurukurushaujo: "Now think about the men who go to prostitutes (in Germany ~50% of men have at least once visited a prostitutes): he is a man who strives to get as much benefit as possible with minimum effort. Because he goes to a prostitute, even the effort of talking to a woman in a bar is too much. Compromise is too much. Consensus (Does the man care if the woman enjoys it? Most probably not, otherwise unenthusiastic prostitutes would not be able to get clients.)"

      I am not entirely familiar with Germany’s provider/patron market, but I do have a couple of friends who work there. Your statement above does not bear out their, nor my own experiences with our patrons. I am sure there is a segment of the market that can be described like that, but I don’t imagine it is very big. If it were like that, and truly 50% of men in Germany behaved like that, what an awful place Germany must be! And you have my sympathy. But I doubt many men are really like that. Men are just as interested in forming long-lasting, loving relationships as women. And those who aren’t should just be ignored by women who are interested in that.

      *Sex in Cyberspace: men who pay for sex, by Sarah Earle and Keith Sharp
      Another great resource: Paying for Pleasure: Men Who Buy Sex, by Teela Sanders

      • kurukurushoujo says:

        We all strive to get as much benefit with as little effort as possible. This is not inherently bad although it can lead to very unfortunate situations (Just think about the number of women who actively participated in the effort to get women the vote and contrast this number to the women who could potentially benefit from being able to vote but weren't fighting for this right because it seemed too risky). What is questionable is what makes an effort too much of an effort. You can have a "loving" relationship with a woman without paying for it. You can have incredible consensual sex with a woman without paying for it. You can give women gifts without paying for the privilege of giving them gifts. Payment just makes everything so much easier. Johns probably have a transactional approach to relationships anways otherwise they wouldn't even get the idea to pay for sex and intimacy.
        And if 50% of German will at least once in their life visit a prostitute then 50% of German men have a transactional approach to relationships, are probably very status conscious when it comes to how to treat which woman and will have at least once decided that paying for sex is less effort than chatting up women in bars or getting to know them in any other way. Those men are interested in forming long-lasting relationships, they most probably won't do this with prostitutes or any other women they deem to be unsuitable for this project. They will often opt for security instead of love. I don't take social actions at face value. A long-lasting relationship is not neccessarily characterised by romantic love in the truest sense of the word.

  16. Sex Worker says:

    Yay for Crystal and Barb!

  17. FormerSubscriber says:

    In the early 90's I saw Susie Bright speak at a local college. She said that the more normalized and everyday pornography became, and the more women like me bought and used porn, the more woman-friendly and less violent it would become. She was very, very wrong about the ends results of normalizing pornography.

    Over the past fifteen years I have witnessed the popular cultural ascendance of Jenna Jameson and Sasha Gray and "sex workers rights" and TV shows on HBO hailing prostitution as women's liberation. In that same time the average age of entry into prostitution has decreased from 14 to 13, sex trafficking has expanded more than I ever could have imagined, and the highest body counts of murdered prostitutes have been recorded in England, the USA and Canada. There has been no lessening of whore stigma as my culture embraced prostitution and rejected feminism more and more every time I check back on how progress is coming.

    Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Has Susie Bright ever owned up to her mistaken projections about porn?

    • As have been pointed out before, the whole "average age of entry into prostitution" stat is based on surveys of street workers (who include teenage runaways), and the numbers of sex trafficking victims are also unknown and largely made up in order for anti-trafficking orgs to get funding.

      One of the BIGGEST reasons for sex worker murders in both the US and Canada are the laws criminalizing sex work. All those laws do is put the worker at risk: obviously. England has had its share of issues as well, but the higher number of murders occur in the US and Canada (as well as other criminalized countries). If you really do care about murdered sex workers, please join us in on Dec 17 — The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

    • Thank you for posting this. I find the idea that women who are anti sexual abuse, which is what prostitution is, don’t know real sex-workers or have not been in prostitution themselves bizarre. I know many women who have been in prostitution who will argue against it–if they dare-but will NOT mention they have been involved in the industry.

  18. "I argue that the symbolic of prostitution is a cultural and political necessity deployed by nation-states to discipline women, regulate their bodies, and ensure they uphold reproductive normativity"
    Dianne Grant. The politics of prostitution regulation. New Proposals 2008 2(1) 61-74

  19. "We support this decision as feminists, and in particular as feminists who have taken a position of leadership with regards to sexuality."
    Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Montreal. A Feminist Position on Sex Work http://cybersolidaires.typepad.com/files/declarat

    • As a feminist and speaking on behalf of many other feminists I know we most definitely do not support our bodies being bought and sold. We see this as exploitation and dehumanisation of women, Your quote by no means speaks for feminists.

      • Well Louise there are feminists and then there are feminists. Can you explain how you speak 'on behalf of many other feminists'? If you believe sex work is really about bodies being bought and sold, then your conclusions follow. However that is not how sex workers see it. They sell services.

      • Riley Alwexander says:

        Neither does yours, Louise. It’s your personal viewpoint, and you just happen to claim to be a feminist at the same time. You try to speak for all of us, or speak to a topic you don’t fully understand, or appreciate, and quite frankly, it’s offensive. As an intelligent, well educated women, from a good family, who has worked in many different industries, and been in managerial roles since I was 24, I happily choose sex work over all of that, and it’s not for you to say I’m letting people sexually abuse me.

  20. Since the theme here seems to be whether it is a feminist position to support this court ruling that effectively decriminalises sex work, I am going to provide additional evidence of feminist support –

    1. A repudiation of the contrary position by the Council on the Status of Women by feminists from Quebec http://cybersolidaires.typepad.com/ameriques/2010

    2. A statement by young feminists in Nova Scotia http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/blog/kaley/5003

  21. jillbrenneman says:

    I'm a survivor of human trafficking in a brutal experience of coerced participation in the sex industry. Despite that difficult three years, I believe the solutions to problems such as those I experienced come in the form of decriminalization and in the advancement of human rights for sex workers. I am also a current part time sex worker, this time voluntarily. There is a world of difference between coerced participation and consenting adult sex work. Despite some advances in human rights for sex workers, I was recently brutally raped by a client. One that is quasi law enforcement and as such I would have zero chance legally trying to prosecute in a state that is very anti sex worker rights. Under decriminalization the police would be allies in stopping a brutal rapist. Instead I would have to confess to a crime to get any justice. And would likely be arrested myself. We only want the same rights to work safely as any other worker. Nothing special, we just want basic human rights for sex workers. The anti trafficking movement's actions and hype only make life harder for both trafficking victims and consenting sex workers. Please take some time to study the issue and investigate human rights for sex workers. You will find a perspective that offers solutions and human dignity.

  22. I have some questions about this theory of how to empower prostitutes. How is it sex can be sold as a service? Who does that benefit?

    Why would police working with women to arrest and prosecute abusive johns be dependent on law recognizing prostitution as a legitimate business transaction? Police will not help prostitutes because prostitutes are regarded as criminals, not because prostitution is not recognized as a legitimate business transaction.

    Jennifer Reed said, "The embodiment of an active female sexuality that acknowledges her sexual knowledge, values her performance, and places it under her control is necessary for the subversion of male dominance. THAT is feminism." I would tend to agree with that in general terms, but what does that have to do with prostitution, in which female sexuality is reduced to a commodity, a service for men in which the sexual knowledge, autonomy, and performance of the woman is wholly irrelevant?

    The authors state, "the places and ways in which prostitution can be practiced can lower the risk of violence…" No doubt, but how much can that risk realistically be lowered, given the nature of this activity, and what level of risk is acceptable?

    The authors also state, "Whore stigma is one clue that anti-prostitution ideology is about more than just violence against women—it’s specifically about femininity. In this sense, arguments against transactional sex are a defense of both the gender binary and of heterosexuality." This may be true of religiously based anti-prostitution ideology, but there is a feminist argument against prostitution to which none of that applies. This kind of generalization brings to my mind Democrats thinking they only have to pay attention to Republican arguments, as though criticism from independents, feminists, or leftists has no importance. There are more than two sides to this argument.

    Rico said, "your policy of criminalizing clients whlie decriminalizing sex workers is naively contradictory." In what sense? If this is so, why is it Sweden, supposedly one of the most feminist of nations, has not repealed its law?

    • Jennifer J Reed says:

      "Police will not help prostitutes because prostitutes are regarded as criminals, not because prostitution is not recognized as a legitimate business transaction." Um, how do these differ? Decriminalization means prostitutes are no longer regarded as criminals AND that prostitution is regarded as a legitimate business transaction. Our current U.S. policy does neither.

      I find the argument interesting that somehow accepting money for sex REDUCES one to a commodity. I think it may be an improvement over getting nothing in return. Are we not all resources to each other in different ways? What makes it more okay to have sex for pleasure (or any other reason) besides cash in exchange?

      • Sex Worker says:

        Accepting money for anything, in that case, "reduces" one to a commodity. A philosopher who is paid to think, and engineer and a CEO for the same thing, and a football player is paid to play. All of them reduced to a commodity. ;)

    • Sex Worker says:

      Aletha: “I have some questions about this theory of how to empower prostitutes. How is it sex can be sold as a service? Who does that benefit?”

      Sex can be sold as a service much like any other service can be sold. Even access to god is sold, as priests and preachers are paid. I contend that sex work is very similar to access to god (or goddess, as it were). :) It benefits many people. For sex workers, it gives us an above-average income and gives us tons more free time than almost any other occupation. For clients, it gives them a way to get intimacy they may be lacking in their own lives due to a disability, lack of a partner, a busy career, and many other factors.

      Aletha: “Why would police working with women to arrest and prosecute abusive johns be dependent on law recognizing prostitution as a legitimate business transaction? Police will not help prostitutes because prostitutes are regarded as criminals, not because prostitution is not recognized as a legitimate business transaction. “

      By “legitimate business transaction”, we mean something that is legitimate, rather than illegal. In NZ, the police and sex workers have worked very well together since decriminalization to solve crimes that happen to sex workers, such as robberies and murders. Now that police don’t arrest sex workers, they are much more willing to come forward when victims of or witnesses to a crime.

      Aletha: “[W]hat does that have to do with prostitution, in which female sexuality is reduced to a commodity, a service for men in which the sexual knowledge, autonomy, and performance of the woman is wholly irrelevant?”

      Ahhhh, but the “sexual knowledge, autonomy, and performance” are very relevant. While sex can be a small part of the engagement, the provider is still expected to know what she (or he) is doing. I have a dear friend who is a male companion for ladies, and I can tell you from the stories he has told me that a lot of ladies don’t know their way around a bedroom. That’s not surprising: knowledge comes from experience, and women are discouraged from pursuing that experience. And even if they did have the experience, many women may be loath to express it in bed lest they appear too knowledgeable (whore stigma). And in my personal life, men always seem taken aback by my sexual prowess, which leads me to believe that they too have a similar experience to my male companion friend.

      And in agreement with Jennifer R above, I would say that female (and male) sexuality is raised to a fine art, for which the premium is quite high. ;)

      Aletha: “Rico said, "your policy of criminalizing clients whlie decriminalizing sex workers is naively contradictory." In what sense? If this is so, why is it Sweden, supposedly one of the most feminist of nations, has not repealed its law?”

      The Swedish law is contradictory in the sense that it is illogical to decriminalize one half of a transaction but not the other half. That’s like making it legal to show films at a theater, but arresting anyone who goes inside to watch them. You see the contradiction? Not only is it contradictory, but it is patronizing and infantilizing. “Sure, honey- you go right ahead and sell your little services, but, sweetie, don’t worry- we won’t let any of those bad men pay for them!” Ugh.

      Many countries have contradictory laws and policies that play out hypocritically on the ground and destroy peoples’ lives. It’s a great question- why don’t countries repeal these inane laws? The sex workers rights movement is trying to bring attention to this and get these laws repealed globally.

  23. Jennifer J Reed says:

    Systematic, in-depth, long-term sexuality research – such as in Crystal's & Barb's book, "State of Sex" – demonstrates that prostitutes' clients often pay for much more than just access to a prostitute's body. Have you heard of paying for a "gfe" (girlfriend experience)? Very often there is an emotional component, companionship aspect, etc to the transaction. (The social construction of men just seeking a physical sexual experience turns out to be much more complex than that. Most have their own hand to use for free is that's all it was.)

    • Very often? I doubt it. If you were referring to clients such as Eliot Spitzer patronizing high-end prostitutes, I would not dispute your contention. For the average prostitute, I think it is far more likely the john just wants access to a sex object, and his hand is not so easy to construe as a sex object.

      • Sex Worker says:

        Aletha, how well do you know "average prostitutes"?

        As a sex worker who knows many other sex workers and all from various backgrounds, I can tell you Jennifer R is correct.

      • Additionally, and in agreement with Aletha, the "more complex" factors do not mitigate against the fact that the john is buying access to his sexual fantasy by means of access to a woman who fits that fantasy. So what if access to her performance of emotions and appearances and other "complexities" are involved? That doesn't take away from the fact that in prostitution a woman is a commodify made-to-order for men to appropriate.

      • Jenny Heineman says:

        Ditto, Sex Worker. I am also a sex worker and feminist and I assume, Aletha, that you have no experience with sex work or workers. It's very easy to generalize and make harsh assumptions about things we learn about from TV or other sensational sources.

  24. Really, it’s best to combine decriminalization of sex work with criminalizing the purchase of sex. Otherwise, a cheaper underground alternative, based on trafficking, tends to crop up. Sweden has combined these two measures and been very successful at reducing trafficking, unlike Amsterdam, where trafficking is strong with decriminalization. http://broadblogs.com/

  25. I left a comment the other day that isn't here, in which I gave information refuting the claim that the Swedish legislation has reduced trafficking. I have published on the poor quality of the government's evaluation of its law in several different Swedish media. The investigators did not know how to research anything but street prostitution and dishonestly compared lower Swedish numbers for that with inflated Danish figures denounced in parliament and removed from all Danish sources. Details on Swedish issues at http://www.lauraagustin.com

  26. There is much evidence to refute the claim that the Swedish legislation has reduced trafficking – which in any case the Swedes have never had much of and have no past data to compare with. I have published on the poor quality of the government's evaluation of its law in several different Swedish media. The investigators did not know how to research anything but street prostitution and dishonestly compared lower Swedish numbers for that with inflated Danish figures denounced in parliament and removed from all Danish sources. Details on Swedish issues from an evidence-based point of view at http://www.lauraagustin.com – check the sweden tag to the right.

    Best, Laura Agustin

  27. I do not know what I expected, but I have to say, these responses did not answer my questions. It appears we truly live in different worlds. I find it highly dubious for a "professional companion" to claim to speak for the majority of prostitutes. It is also dubious for Laura Agustin, whom I exposed in a different thread as being friendly with a men's rights activist blogger, to claim to provide an evidence-based point of view on the Swedish law.

    Jennifer Reed says, "I find the argument interesting that somehow accepting money for sex REDUCES one to a commodity. I think it may be an improvement over getting nothing in return. Are we not all resources to each other in different ways? What makes it more okay to have sex for pleasure (or any other reason) besides cash in exchange?"

    In other words, sex in the context of a relationship has no value or meaning. This may be true in many, if not most, heterosexual relationships, but not a feminist one. I happen to think deep, genuine sexual intimacy is priceless, one of many things I value more than money.

    This argument that the Swedish law is contradictory depends on the assumption of symmetry in power relations between men and women, as if prostitutes exploit johns in a comparable way to johns exploiting prostitutes. No such symmetry exists. For one thing, a prostitute, unless she is well skilled in self-defense, is at the mercy of a john. She can lay down all the rules she wants, but she has to trust him to abide by their agreement. This is why I say her sexual autonomy goes out the window. She sells it under certain conditions, but if the john has his own ideas, he will ignore those conditions.

    I thought it was obvious I was drawing a distinction between decriminalizing prostitution and not treating prostitutes as criminals. From my information, the vast majority of prostitutes would jump at a way out. That is in stark contrast to the rosy picture being presented here. Those who do want out need various forms of assistance, and arresting them is the last thing they need. A john, unless he is shelling out big bucks for a high-end prostitute, has no idea how a woman became a prostitute or whether she is happy with her circumstances, and he has no reason to care. Until such time as every prostitute who wants to get out is provided every form of assistance she may require for that purpose, the argument that buying a prostitute is a victimless crime, or a legitimate business transaction, overlooks serious issues, at least from a feminist perspective.

    By the way, Rebecca Mott was an indoor prostitute. Her experiences do not sound anything like the picture being painted here.

    • Aletha

      you are certainly right about the perception of different planets in discussions about sex work amongst feminists. It is a deeply divisive issue, and arguments tend to be very polarised. However if we can be objective we can find common ground such as concern for the welfare of women in sex work.

      You are also correct that nobody can speak for all sex workers, since the experience is highly diverse. On the other hand I challenge your marginalising Laura Agustin, who is generaly accepted in academic circles as an expert on migration and sex work. Whether your statement about being friendly with someone is correct or not, it hardly constitutes a rationale for setting aside their conclusions. Agustin's critique of the Swedish system is aligned with many academic investigations of Swedish claims. The evidence simply is not there, and vastly out of proportion to the claims.

      I think you and Jennifer are not that far apart. She does not argue that physical intimacy within a loving relationship has no value, only that we do not place a formal economic value on it. Yet all relationships involve an element of exchange. The viewpoint of those who contrast marriage and sex work (which goes back as far as Mary Wollstonecraft at least) is that there is a feeling that males claim entitlement to sex from a woman, and that sex workers are at least placing a value on what is expected for free. See for instance the work of Viviana Zelizer. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8023.html

      I disagree with your statements about symmetry – but again it depends on the context. Ethnographic work suggests that many sex workers are very much in control and that clients may feel exploited because they are prepared to pay a high price for what the worker is offering, a vendor's market. Again th evidence from sociological research does not support the image of a sex worker at the mercy of a client, however oppressive laws considerably erode her ability to negotiate working conditions which should concern all of us.

      Again, it is incorrect to state that "the vast majority of prostitutes would jump at a way out". – despite the claims that are made to this end. Many find it considerably preferrable to working for a minimum wage in a service industry. I think it is just as misleading to paint a rosy picture as a horrific one. What is most impressive is the sex worker's resilience and resisatance to the situation imposed on her by the State and social stigma.

      The reality is that feminisms is a diverse credo, and many feminists see the issues quite differently from you. To go further they would see laws like those in Sweden as merely reinscribing patriarchal views of sexuality as being composed of uncontrollable male lust and helpless female acquiescence. I see this as a major barrier to achieving equality. For one Swedish feminist perspective see this essay by Camilla Lindberg and Marianne Berg.: http://www.expressen.se/debatt/1.2071323/debatt-s

      • Mr. Goodyear,

        I suppose I should respond to your comment, though I must bear in mind that the moderators have already censored, toned down, or held in moderation for several days several of my comments on related topics. Are you saying feminists should give the benefit of the doubt to a professed expert on prostitution who is friendly with at least one blatant men's rights activist? Laura Agustin left the following comment this July on the blog of a certain piece of work lo tekk, after approving a pingback from him on her post Behind the happy face of the Swedish anti-prostitution law.

        "laura agustin says:
        July 29, 2010 at 10:46 am

        hello, after publishing an editorial at svenska dagbladet on the problems of the swedish government’s evaluation of its sex-buying law, the editor of the local (an english-writing swedish media site) invited me to expand a little. that article is here, hope you enjoy it: Big claims, little evidence: Sweden’s law against buying sex
        http://www.thelocal.se/27962/20100723/?utm_source

        She did not have to approve his pingback, let alone leave a friendly comment on the blog of such a man, who has no use for feminism, and believes such tripe as women batter men as often as men batter women. This by itself is not sufficient grounds to invalidate her argument, since she may not have bothered to check out his blog, but I have other reasons to question her analysis, and I have to wonder about her choice of allies. There is no doubt that many who see no problem with prostitution besides the laws against it have very low regard for feminism in general.

        Prostitution is for me much more than an academic issue. It is a political issue. Treating prostitutes as criminals is one political issue. Whitewashing prostitution is another. Two sides of the same coin?

        Jennifer Reed stated, "I think it may be an improvement over getting nothing in return." Perhaps you have a different interpretation of nothing? I know all about the male sense of entitlement to sex, one reason I drew that distinction between feminist and traditional relationships.

        Of course you disagree with my statements about symmetry. You have a conflict of interest, being a man who doubts the reality of the horrors of the daily lives of many, if not most, prostitutes. If you wonder where I got that impression, it was not from television or sensational stories, unless one wants to dismiss the work of exited prostitutes, such as Rebecca Mott, as mere sensationalism.

        You have your opinions on how the majority of prostitutes feel. You like to throw around words like incorrect, evidence, reality. When speaking of something as diverse as the various forms of prostitution, those words necessarily reflect only part of the picture. My issue is with those who focus on the high end and characterize that as representative of the majority. Probably many prostitutes do see their only alternative as a mindless low wage job. This is a reflection of the lack of opportunities for women, not the inevitable reality. Everyone ought to have an opportunity to a job that employs their best skills and talents. You cannot tell me prostitution is such a job.

        Those who distort the Swedish law as "merely reinscribing patriarchal views of sexuality as being composed of uncontrollable male lust and helpless female acquiescence" have an agenda. That is not what that law is about, and I think everyone knows it. I could say the existence of prostitution, and pornography, is a major barrier to achieving equality. I say that because I see reinforcing the concept of woman as sex object as anathema to equality. The Swedish law makes paying a woman to be a sex object a crime. The US law generally makes the prostitute the criminal, the fallen woman, as opposed to the virtuous woman, perpetuating the ancient Madonna/Whore dichotomy.

        When a john has his mind set on what he wants from a prostitute regardless of what conditions she sets, she is at his mercy. Regardless of how common that may be, it happens. It happened to Renegade Evolution. It happened to Jill Brenneman. Violence happens in relationships as well. It even happened to me. In any given sexual encounter between a man and a woman, her risk of being abused, beaten, or raped may be relatively small, but given the nature of prostitution, those risks are bigger to begin with, and they multiply.

        • Aletha

          well that's a complex and thoughtful reply and I do resprct your opinions even though I disagree with them.

          I think we can agree then that Laura's views should not be set aside on the basis of association, but examined on their merits. Laura's opinion is similar to those of liberal Swedish feminists, as you must be aware since you provide a number of links.

          A lot of radical feminist theory is based on the entitlement axiom – and by challenging its symmetry I refer to the need to recognise female sexuality as not merely a passive entity, and that such theories are not beneficial to women as a whole.

          Being male does not constitute a conflict of interest. I don't question the violent realities of the lives of some – I am just pointing out that they are not representative. Strictly speaking nothing in this area is representative, but should be set in context. I also challenge the essentialism of your comments about violence – it is the stigma and criminalisation that shape the environment in which sex workers operate and endangers them. These are not my opinions as you state but those of a feminist researcher and based on close contact with women and men in sex work. The empirical evidence is far from the mythology that is put about. That does not negate the realities of the lived lives of those who have experienced violence, but equally nor does claims that violence (you say "most") is inherent reflect the daily lives of most women in sex work.

          I was not sure what you mean by 'high end' given the huge range of activities and contexts in which transactional sex occurs. The majority – about 20% but increasing – of sex work occurs indoors which is much safer and many of those have never experienced violence.

          I believe we agree on the need to improve opportunities, but on the other hand many sex workers do see their work as skilful.

          Now why do you say 'distort' the Swedish laws? We know what the Swedish laws say, we disagree ontheir effect and the rationality of their promotion. The laws are mainly symbolic as even the most ardent supporters claim, but the symbolism appears to be lost and as a number of Swedish writers have pointed out may contain very harmful messages.

          We agree on the need for a continuing struggle for equality but not on the barriers. I don't see how sex work in any way objectifies women any more than hairdressing or other personal service professions. That's a conceptual belief – but where is the evidence? We both reject the Madonna/Whore dichotomy imposed on women, but I see the continuing stigmatisation of the sex worker as entrenching that harm. Actually US law equally criminalises provider and purchaser – the enforcement may be a little different though, which is another issue. However we also know enforcement in Sweden is equally problematically gendered.

          Now since I know both Jill and Renegade, I can't see how they could possibly agree with you. Sex workers are not at the mercy of their clients but we do know that in countries that have removed criminal sanctions sex workers are able to control clients much more easily. I would broaden your statement to 'any encounter' not just sexual, and not necessarily between men and women. Its about power. I am truly sorry to hear of your experience.

          Sex work is risky – riskier for some than others, but not for the majority. Nor is it the nature of sex work. Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law – but it does not happen.

          thanks again for sharing your thoughts
          michael

          • I suppose it is my turn to be puzzled by some of your references. I am well aware that the opinions of Ms. Agustin on the Swedish experiment are widely shared, and not just in Sweden. Some of the bloggers and moderators here also appear to share her opinions, at least to some extent. My point was that her opinions are also shared by a large number of liberal antifeminists, which does not seem to trouble her at all. Why would that be?

            Are you saying radical feminists view female sexuality as "a passive entity?" The whole point of the entitlement "axiom" as it pertains to sex (there are other aspects) is that men have traditionally viewed sex as a prerogative their lovers are obligated to provide, as opposed to a privilege to be earned, not that there is anything inherently passive about female sexuality. That many women have internalized this concept of female sexual duty speaks to the insidious power of cultural conditioning, not the nature of sexuality. The sexual revolution made a dent in traditional notions of sexuality in Western nations, but by no means are those extinct.

            I do not think the Swedish authorities characterized prostitution as a form of violence against women meaning the violence is exclusively physical. Even in rape the violence is not exclusively physical. Johns have many ways of abusing prostitutes, only some of which entail actual physical violence. I did not speak of the "violence" in the daily lives of most prostitutes. I used the word horrors, which would include any form of abuse. You seem to be implying the majority of johns treat prostitutes with respect. Since I think it is highly dubious that the majority of men regard women with genuine respect, to draw that conclusion about johns seems to me to give far too much credence to what men say, as opposed to how they really feel.

            What do you mean by "the essentialism of your comments about violence?" Do you agree with lo tekk that women batter men as often as men batter women? Do you really think the law and stigma against prostitution have so much influence over male behavior that they create the atmosphere in which johns abuse prostitutes? What then creates the atmosphere in which men harass, batter, and rape women? Do you deny these phenomena are linked? At least you did not deny that prostitution objectifies women, and I would agree that the culture is responsible for that objectification, not prostitution or pornography specifically, though I assert both heavily reinforce the concept of women as sex objects, and in no way weaken that concept.

            I think the prostitutes who commented here to snicker I have no idea what I am talking about know exactly what I meant by high end. They represent that, not the majority of prostitutes whose lives are nothing like what has been described here. Was that 20% a typo? Since when is 20% a majority of anything? You say indoor work is far safer. It may be safer, depending on the attitudes of whoever is running the establishment and its clientele, but still is very far from safe. Of course Renegade Evolution and Jill Brenneman would not agree with my standpoint, but would they deny that when their clients breached the boundaries, they were at the mercy of those men? I doubt it. You ignored the context of my statement. In general, a prostitute has to trust a man to abide by the conditions she sets. If he does not, she is at his mercy, regardless of the law.

            I called the interpretation you cited of the effect of the Swedish law and its intent a distortion because that is not what it says or intends. Laws often have unintended consequences, but I think the laws that treat prostitutes as criminals are the ones that reinforce traditional views of sexuality. There is nothing traditional about the Swedish law. The enforcement of laws against prostitution in other nations is more than a little unbalanced; the emphasis has always been on punishing the prostitute. Yet you see the enforcement of the Swedish law as "equally problematically gendered?" Why, because the shoe is on the other foot for once?

            You say sex work is risky, but not for the majority? Why then concede that it is risky, if that is the exception rather than the rule?

          • Aletha

            Part II!

            I think being at someone's mercy is definitely a statement that needs to be placed in context. Any of us alone with another person is at risk, and we place a lot of emphasis on trust and intuition. Sex workers use a high degree of risk minimisation procedures, but the laws and policing erode those making them more vulnerable.

            I think we may be confusing the letter of laws and their stated intent with consequences. My reading of numerous reports and research on the law, as well as talking to people involved is that it has done nothing to protect women or reduce male violence, quite the opposite. Similar conclusions were reached in Norway. You are quite correct about laws in general. Intuitively the Swedish law is appealing to feminists, in fact Swedish feminists started talking about it in the 1880s. It is certainly gendered, obviously by its very wording. However I was referring to what happens in practice. For instance men who sell sex to women, or to men or any other combination are ignored. Men generally get off, and women are still punished. Two recent examples are a female police cadet who was dismissed for selling sex while a judge merely quietly paid a fine.

            Risk is very subjective, for instance that 2004 paper I discussed above. Sex work is risky, but so are a lot of other things. (Sanders T. Sex Work: A risky business 2005) Risk is also manageable. What we need to do is find ways of minimising those risks if we care about the lives of sex workers, which I believe you do.

          • Dear Aletha,

            I will try and respond to your comments a second time, since my original response does not appear, or only the last three paragraphs. If you prefer to continue this "offline" my email is:
            mgoodyear@dal.ca

            You ask why someone should not be troubled by finding that their views are shared by people whom one would not normally associate. I don't beleive that that is an argument that has any cogency. It is rare to find someone whose views would coincide with one's own on all matters. There is a wide range of views on many matters, particularly the more controversial, such as war, abortion or sex work. There are undoubtedly people who are supportive of sex work but aginst abortion and vice versa. I am sure there are many people who might share my views on sex work, but we would disagree on every other matter. I therefore find no validity in the argument that a viewpoint is weakened by the nature of others who might share it.

            I think we agree on more things than we disagree on. I completely accept your depiction of patriarchy, entitlement, gaze and in aparticular internalisation. My point was that by continuing to describe heterosexual relationships including sex work in terms of active males imposing themselves on vulnerable females, one merely, even if unintentionally, re-inscribes patriarchy by emphasising this particular masculine gaze, rather than emphasising the positive aspects of female sexuality.

            Let me cite you part of the Lindberg-Berg editorial in case you don't read Swedish:

            "Patriarchal ideas about promiscuous women still dominate Swedish lawmakers.
            Expressen July 21 2010

            The basis for [the law] is the patriarchal discourse, in which sex is depicted as either "evil" or "good". … In the patriarchy female 'promiscuity' is depicted as shameful. Even today, men are far freer than women to pursue sex without feeling ashamed or belittled by others. Women must be clean and spotless. Even rape victims feel ashamed and blame themselves. Many never reveal this because of what they have experienced. The problem is the stigma of illicit penetration.

            "Would you want your daughter to sell sex?" is the commonest question asked by proponents of the law, but the question itself helps to strengthen the female whore stigma. Their son's possible adultery does not seem to worry them as much, and this despite the fact that there is evidence that amongst the young more men than women are selling sexual services.

            The day that we can tolerate and respect the "whore" we will have come a long way. When we respect the woman, her body and her right to her body, we are freed from the culture of honor that stamps female "promiscuity" as something negative.

            The buying-sex Act states that "in an equal society it is undignified and unacceptable for men to acquire casual sexual relations with women for remuneration". This is equated with male violence against women, and now it is proposed to provide for up to one year in prison. This disqualifies women's subjective experiences. It infantilizes them and deprives them of their responsibility for their actions and decisions. Is this a step towards gender equality? Or is it in fact merely a facet of the traditional patriarchal view of women?

            CAMILLA LINDBERG, Member of Parliament (Liberal) and member of the Culture Committee.
            MARIANNE BERG, Member of Parliament (Left) and member of the Constitutional Committee."

            Best wishes,

            michael
            [To be continued]

          • Aletha

            You are correct that violence takes many forms other than merely physical. Furthermore we know that women sex workers prioritise emotional violence over the physical (Sanders T. A continuum of risk? The management of health, physical and emotional risks by female sex workers. Sociology of Health and Illness 26(5) 557, 2004).

            Whatever we may think about how much respect men show women, research on sex workers' clients suggests they show no difference in this respect to the rest of the population, and this is confirmed by the women. (Sanders T. Paying for pleasure: Men who buy sex. Willan 2008). However as with all sex work research one must exercise caution regarding the context in which the research was done. So yes I do believe that clients in general respect the workers.

            My comments on essentialism refer to certain radical literature that defines sex work as violence. That is an essentialist statement rather than empiricism or rationalism. I would not want in any way to belittle violence against women (or anyone) but we live in a society where at least some people seem to find this acceptable. There is no evidence to suggest that such attitudes have anything to do with the existence or prevalence or legal status of sex work. Women in sex work are liable to become victims of male violence like other women. What is different is the way we have constructed them as disposable and the realities of a justice system in which the probability (like rape) of being apprehended and convicted is very low. My views come from studies of the records of men who asault sex workers and who justify their actions in terms of social cleansing. Hillary Kinnell's research shows that violence against sex workers is correlated with media publicity or comments from authorities that are prejudicial to the workers and are interpreted as 'permission' to abuse them.

            I don't think that sex work specifically objectifies women – that is already engrained in social attitudes and pervades advertising and the way women are portrayed. What is related though is the continuing perpetration of the whore/madonna dichotomy which further reinforces the whore stigma, and hence 'justifies' violence. Interestingly Andrea Dworkin taught that pornography would lead to rampant male sexual agresion, whereas as Naomi Wolff points out, the opposite appears to be true. (Naomi Wolff. The Porn Myth. NY Magazine Oct 20 2003). Objectification is not linked to violence which is more related to power inequality.

            Am I correct that you interpret "high end" as indoor workers? I for one would never say that you don't know what you are talking about. Well then, what does "represent..the majority of prostitutes"? If you say the people you are thinking of are "nothing like what has been described here", then who do you mean – street workers, or survival sex workers? Thank you for picking up on that inadvertent error. Aproximately 80% of sex work occurs indoors and 20% outside, but the latter seems to be declining.

            Many indoor workers have never experienced violence, but nowhere is completely safe for any of us. (Tamara O'Doherty: Off-street commercial sex: an exploratory study. MA Thesis Dept Criminology, Simon Fraser University 2007). I didn't ignore your context, (or anything else) but I may not have placed sufficient emphasis on it.
            michael

          • A few things jump out at me. "My point was that by continuing to describe heterosexual relationships including sex work in terms of active males imposing themselves on vulnerable females, one merely, even if unintentionally, re-inscribes patriarchy by emphasising this particular masculine gaze, rather than emphasising the positive aspects of female sexuality." How can you call "sex work" a relationship? They are not comparable, though some men may flatter themselves to think they are in a relationship with a prostitute. Feminists describe heterosexual relationships in this way to protest traditional values, not to reinscribe them. This is not an unintentional oversight, it is a deliberate protest. If women had equal power in relationships and society, there would be no need to object to men imposing their will on women.

            I do not interpret high-end prostitution as indoor prostitution. As I observed above, Rebecca Mott was an indoor prostitute. I use the term to refer to high-class high-priced prostitutes, such as the escort service patronized by Eliot Spitzer. They make lots of money and have lots of leisure time, and are somewhat protected by the fact their relatively wealthy clients are not anonymous and have something to lose if blackmailed. These clients often do want companionship as well as sex. None of this applies to the average prostitute, indoors or not.

            You are evading my issue with the favor Ms. Agustin did for lo tekk. This is not a matter of her sharing an opinion with antifeminists. She went out of her way to leave a friendly comment on his blog, as if he were a valued ally. Perhaps she did not bother to check out his blog, but since there were only seven comments on that post, why not? I have commented on hostile blogs, but I did that to confront people. I also allow hostile comments on my blog, but I confront them. I do not believe in guilt by association, and in fact took someone you may know, Sheldon Ranz, to task for attempting to discredit Gail Dines on the grounds the ex-web designer for Stop Porn Culture turned out to be a religious fundamentalist. A web designer is a business associate, not an ally, but they got a new web designer after reading an article by Violet Blue gloating about uncovering yet another connection between anti-pornography feminists and anti-pornography fundamentalists. Sheldon claimed the web designer was funding Stop Porn Culture, but he had no evidence for that. The new web designer chose an objectionable web host, so Sheldon was arguing this was evidence that Gail Dines is in league with antifeminists. Guilt by association is a slippery slope. Perhaps Stop Porn Culture is guilty of lack of due diligence, but how much research into the associations of a web designer is one expected to do?

            I also took issue with the substance of that article I cited on the Laura Agustin blog, which was written by a guest author, libertarian activist Louise Persson. One statement I found particularly telling was to belittle the anecdote of an unhappy prostitute in the study of the Swedish law Ms. Persson was critiquing. ""But this strategy won’t hold up, because Swedes know that all sex workers are not miserable." I wondered on this blog, Is that the point? Do Swedes "know" that most prostitutes are not miserable? If not, is the experience of a few contented prostitutes to outweigh the misery of most?

            You contend it is the other way around, that most prostitutes are relatively content? I wonder if unhappy prostitutes would be talking to the researchers you find credible.

            "I don't think that sex work specifically objectifies women – that is already engrained in social attitudes and pervades advertising and the way women are portrayed." It has been argued here that decriminalizing prostitution would specifically counter the objectification of women. I see no evidence for that. If the conception of woman as sex object was foreign to human consciousness, could prostitution exist? I think not.

            "Objectification is not linked to violence which is more related to power inequality." Does objectification not go hand in hand with power inequality? What is the purpose of objectification, if not to maintain power inequality? Do you believe male sexual aggression has become less of a problem, and that the mainstreaming of pornography deserves credit for that? I do not understand how Naomi Wolf could make that argument, which is a staple of men's rights propaganda, as if pornography provides an outlet for men who otherwise would be harassing and raping women, but I would like to see how you would defend it. The risk of violence is a matter of degree. I never expected what happened to me. I thought it could not happen to me. I was naive. The reason prostitutes are at greater risk is that they have to deal with so many men they cannot trust, and the risks multiply. The law may not help matters, but it is not the cause of male violence against women in general, or prostitutes in particular.

          • In the real world, how do we distinguish between business associates and allies?? If you have a business associate who is enabling a poltical website, then that associate IS an ally in all but name only. Money talks!

            Bemoaning the 'effort' needed to check out a web design company is just plain silly. Ever hear of Google? The telephone? Duh! As if Gail Dines and her friends couldn't take time out from their busy schedule of viewing all that shocking gonzo porn to do some real research!

            If a Mormon-affiliated company is paid to establish an anti-abortion web site, it's a no-brainer among feminists that these Mormons are allies of the anti-abortion webbers, not just "business associates". But when a Mormon outfit is in touch with Lierre Keith to set up a 'feminist' anti-porn web site, then Aletha steps in to urge us from drawing the analogous conclusion.

          • If 'guilt by association' is legitimate for making judgments on the abortion issue, then it is equally valid for sex work issues as well. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

            "The reason prostitutes are at greater risk is that they have to deal with so many men they cannot trust, and the risks multiply." Sounds like an argument against female 'promiscuity', but if the sex is for free (so that it’s not sex work), I guess that decreases the risk, eh?

          • Ah, Sheldon. I was wondering when you would show up. Once again you draw fallacious analogies. A business associate is not necessarily an ally, and especially not a web hosting company. Should I be responsible for checking out every web site hosted by my ISP? The new web designer was not bluehost, and I doubt there was any contact between Lierre Keith and bluehost, which was paid to host the site, not to establish it or set it up. Stop Porn Culture was one of probably millions of web sites hosted by bluehost. Not only that, the website is no longer hosted by bluehost, possibly because I informed them you were making a stink about it! I was informed the new host is Pair Networks, and the current website was designed by radical environmental activist Aric McBay. At the time I do not think Pair Networks had Stop Porn Culture on their own server, but they do now. If Stop Porn Culture was so bent on being allied with these people, why did they bother to make these changes?

            Sorry for the off-topic diversion. I had a second part to my response, part of which dealt with the issue of promiscuity, but surprise surprise, that comment is not here. Many women engage in casual sex, but it would be a rare woman who has as anywhere near as many encounters as a prostitute, and besides, that is done for fun, not money or necessity. The atmosphere is not comparable, and neither is the risk.

            My primary point is that many, if not most, prostitutes feel compelled to engage in prostitution, not because they like it, but because they see no better alternative. That is tantamount to being trapped. That, and the abuse that happens to prostitutes from johns and law enforcement, is primarily what concerns me.

          • Aletha

            you raise many issues covering a wide range. It is not a matter of flattering themselves. Sex workers and clients do form genuine relationships, known as regulars. However since actors are involved in illusion, there is an element of both self and other-deception. However whether temporary or extended, provider and purchaser are still in a relationship, though perhaps not strictly in the sense you are using the word. I was using it much more broadly.

            I think we need to unpack theoretical constructs like patriarchy from real world relationships. Patriarchy is a useful construct to describe how societal attitudes and expectations shaped the world women found themselves in, and the opportunities they had. However it would be wrong to generalise from that and apply it to all relationships that exist in the real world. Inequalities, large inequalities, persist in terms of wealth, power and opportunity, and protest is justified. However this does not necessarily dictate the nature of all heterosexual relationships, in which there is room for negotiation and opting out, and resource to external sources of power. However I believe your central argument was the application of patriarchy to understanding relationships between providers and purchasers of sexual services.

            I was a little bit confused by your conclusion about not protesting the imposition of will. Were you stating that in a situation of true equality, there would be no imposition and hence no reason to protest? I think there might still be cultural attitudes to protest independently of power.

            Thank you for clarifying your use of "high-end". Then we are dealing with a small minority at one end of a spectrum, and certinly not 'average'. You are correct that companionship is frequently a component – sometimes the only component of the exchange, however you are incotrrect to imply that that is the exclusive domain of "high-end". Sex workers at all levels of income report companionship as a need they service.

            I assure you I am not trying to evade any of your arguments. Personally I suspect you are reading far too much into that exchange. However Laura will need to respond to that. People leave comments on websites for all sorts of reasons including traffic, and promotion of their viewpoint and publications. I don't think we have any direct evidence that invalidates her views or statements. She is a sociologist that has been involved in research into sex work over a lifetime. In the meantime she has stated that she did not know lo tekk .

            Now I also happen to know Louise Persson, a Swedish feminist and author of "Classical Feminism". Frankly I have no idea what Swedes think about in relation to how many sex workers are miserable. One would need to do a formal survey. However you seem convinced the majority are miserable, which I cannot accept – the evidence simply does not support this. Undoubtedly there are miserable sex workers and miserable winkle pickers. I think you are building arguments on unjustied assumptions.

            Which having said, you are correct that we have to interpret research in terms of who talked to who, where and how. But so far nobody has uncovered these large numbers of unhappy sex workers. There are a few well known examples, usually those who have exited or been the victims of violent crimes. I think most researchers I know, know most of the sex workers in their area, and their findings are quite consistent.

            (to be continued)

          • (continued)

            Maybe I missed something, but I don’t recall the authors or myself claiming that decriminalisation would counter objectification. If in the long run it reduces stigma, then it will go some way to help, but I would not make any more sweeping statement than that. You are entitled to think that in the absence of objectification there would be no sex work, but I don’t see any evidence to support that. It has also been argued that in the absence of inequality it would not exist. To believe that misses what sex work is about. I think there would be less, given that economic inequality is a major driver, and that feminisation of poverty is a major concern. However sex work is far more complex than that, it has to do with resistance to capitalist structures and the fact that people have needs and others have resources that meet those needs, which is the glue that ties us together as a society. Commerce is not necessarily about inequality at all. Both purchasers and providers possess power and agree to exchange them for mutual benefit.

            You raise some interesting perspectives on power, inequality and objectification, but I think that is a simplistic model. Power inequality facilitates violence. Objectification is inherent in inequality. But that does not mean that objectification in itself causes violence, without many other factors, which I have outlined earlier. It is not my purpose to defend Naomi Wolff, I merely pointed to at least one feminist writer who does not think that relaxing state controls over sexuality inevitably leads to violence against women. We can both share outrage against violence. I agree with you about risk – but risk can be managed and many sex workers do that extraordinarily well in a way that other women could learn from. Again let me say how sorry I am to hear that you have been a victim of violence.

            I have to disagree with you about the effects of law and violence with respect to sex workers, the evidence is very clear on that. (Shannon K. Prevalence and structural correlates of gender based violence among a prospective cohort of female sex workers. British Medical Jounal August 22 2009).

          • I am sorry, Mr. Goodyear. I thought this might actually be going somewhere, but I think I was hoping against hope. I am tired of having to say, that is not what I said. This happens all too often in this kind of argument. I do not know if the misunderstandings are unintentional or willful. I do not know why comments I consider pertinent are held up in moderation. The moderators consider them too divisive, I suppose. This last one also dealt with selective use of evidence. I feel like I am arguing with one hand tied behind my back. I saw a response from Sheldon in the RSS feed which is not here. That is not the first time that has happened with one of his comments. Not to worry, Sheldon, I will post your overwrought insults on my blog so I can say what I really feel about them. I do not feel at liberty to say what I really feel here, for many reasons. I do not wish to continue this discussion in private, but perhaps it would make more sense to continue it on my blog, where I, and anyone else who wishes to contribute something meaningful, can speak freely.

            I will say, once again, if I mean to say all, I will use the word all. I never generalize about all relationships or all men. I know how diverse both are.

            "I was a little bit confused by your conclusion about not protesting the imposition of will. Were you stating that in a situation of true equality, there would be no imposition and hence no reason to protest? I think there might still be cultural attitudes to protest independently of power. "

            This is an example of you implying I said something I did not say. What I said was quite specific. I did not imply equality is utopia. What I did mean to say is that if there were no power differential between men and women, men could not impose their will on women, therefore there would be no need to object to that imposition. I think your portrayal of the sex trade as ordinary commerce downplays the consequences of that power differential, which is not quite as stark as historically, but still very much in play. I think you are also downplaying the experiences of exited prostitutes who have documented their horror stories. We will have to agree to disagree on how representative they are. Do you think it should be easy to uncover large numbers of unhappy prostitutes, if they did in fact exist? Why would they take the risk of talking to anyone about their lives?

            I did not bring up my experience of violence for sympathy, only to point out that male violence against women is all too common, and it is a mistake for any woman to think it cannot happen to her, regardless of how careful she is. What do you mean, risk can be managed? It can be lessened, certainly, but to what extent? I had good solid reasons to believe that man would never do anything like what he did to me. Those reasons all went out the window, just like that. I will never know what stopped him from finishing me off.

            I see prostitution as a prime example of the objectification of women. I see the objectification of women as a form of violence. It does not have to extend to, or directly cause, physical forms of assault. You called my comments essentialist. I still do not understand what you meant by that. Essentialism is a charge often leveled at radical feminists in response to criticism of men. Some do believe men are inherently oppressive, but I think all that is learned behavior, and can be unlearned. In other words, it is a choice for a man to be sexist or not.

            I never said Ms. Agustin knew lo tekk personally. If one follows my link, one can find his pingback in the comments. Perhaps she had no reason to remember him, or to check out his blog, but she did approve the pingback and leave that comment on his blog. If she has any concern about his antifeminist beliefs, she could make that known.

            Sex work "has to do with resistance to capitalist structures?" In what way? Are you referring to marriage, perhaps?

            The title of this entry is, Why Decriminalizing Sex Work is Good for All Women. You said in your first comment on this entry, "I am glad you can see the potential of empowerment through decriminalisation." Are you implying empowerment does not necessarily counter objectification? If so, what do you mean by empowerment?

          • Aletha

            I thought this was going somewhere too, now I am not so sure. But as a clarification are you talking about our dialogue or the whole comment section on this article? Was your comment about being misquoted directed at me, or others? I am not trying to misquote you but I am asking questions so that we can both better understand this subject, even though we come from different perspectives. However, if you say not all of your responses are posted, that would be a bit confusing, because we can't have a conversation if we only hear half the words.

            However although you address this post to me initially you address others like Sheldon within it – so you can see why I am unclear just who all your remarks are directed to. If you want to continue this on your blog, that's fine but you will need to tell me and others where it is.

            Perhaps the moderators can address the issue here of why people can't speak freely, so we can all be quite clear about the rules. I did have one of mine edited too – which said that everyone here knows who I am – someone on one of the websites you refer to used a real name with reference to you, and I am assuming for now that that is who you are.

            I think we can agree about the need for caution in generalisations – and I believe I have stressed that.

            I didn't imply you said anything – I merely asked you a question. Perhaps from now on I should use quotes, to ensure there is no misunderstanding. You said "This is not an unintentional oversight, it is a deliberate protest. If women had equal power in relationships and society, there would be no need to object to men imposing their will on women. " And I replied "I was a little bit confused by your conclusion about not protesting the imposition of will." I can't see how that can be construed as me implying you said something you didn't – I was merely seeking clarification, which you provided.

            No, I am not saying transactional sex is 'ordinary commerce', it is quite unique but it represents work in the lives of the people who sell. I don't wish to downplay power differentials, but I think you are seeing all transactional sex in terms of that power differential, which is incorrect. Do you see all heterosexual interactions as characteised by power differentials? To put it very plainly, when a person possesses something another person desires, they hold power over that person, who has to sacrifice something to achieve the realisation of that desire. Historically women have used their intelligence and skills to diminish those differentials by making men exchange something else if they want something.

            I am not downplaying the lived lives of anyone. If someone has an experience to relate that is real to them. What I was contesting was any suggesting that this characterises the nature of exchange. We have had many murders and life-threatening assaults here, and this is very real. The issue of representativeness has been much discussed. Everyone acknowledges the abuse of sex workers – you and I differ as to its cause, and to its extent. We both wish to see it diminished. You cannot assume something exists because you believe it to be true. The picture you portray is not what sex workers tell us. Are they truthful? That has also been discussed at length. I believe they are because they are consistent, and the evidence triangulates. If the experiences you suggest were universal, most people would leave. In our lives we assess risks, and gains and make judgements as to their relativity.
            (Continued below)

          • (continued)
            I didn't mean to imply you were looking for sympathy, but it does not stop me as a human being feeling the pain of others when they they relate their narratives. That is empathy not sympathy. We agree violence against women is too common – one case is one too many. I mean that sex workers, like other people faced with the possibility of violence such as bouncers, have developed elaborate ways of secreening and diminishing the risks in their lives till they become acceptable to them in relation to the benefits. However none of us can eliminate all risks from our lives, and violence in the workplace occurs in many settings. We can help them diminish this risk further.

            We obviously see the issue of objectification quite differently which suggests we might be using the word differently. I could equally argue that the sex worker objectifies men. Perhaps you can elaborate on objectification as a form of violence. Do you apply that to advertising, and media, and stereotypes in literature, film and television? That is a cultural issue that needs addressing.
            You object to my use of essentialism – I said "I also challenge the essentialism of your comments about violence ". That is not a charge, it is a philosophical description which I compared to other philosophical forms of thought such as empiricism, like John Locke or Karl Popper. If you believe that something is inherent in an activity, that is essentialism, as opposed to trying to determine its nature through proof, which is essentialism. That does not mean that all essentialism should be rejected. Are you characterising yourself as a radical feminist? I hope you are right about unlearning behaviour, or even better preventing the learning of unproductive attitudes and traits. That is a redemptory trajectory. (Iglesias, E. Rape, race and representation: The power of discourse and the reconstruction of heterosexuality. (1996) Vand Law Rev 49(4) 869-992)

            I don't think I said you said Agustin knew this person personally. Interesting that you bring up marriage, another institution some believe was designed entirely to supply male needs. No, actually I was referring to their role in relation to menial minimal paid jobs, and being wage slaves.

            By empowerment in this context, I mean respecting someone's legitimate choices, not treating them as either criminals or victims, and ensuruing they have access to all the resources and protections afforded to citizens.
            michael

          • (Continued)
            "I could equally argue that the sex worker objectifies men." Yes, and you could also argue the power differential between men and women is a double-edged sword. Perhaps in a way it is, but this does not mean there is symmetry or equity between men in general, and women in general.

            "Perhaps you can elaborate on objectification as a form of violence. Do you apply that to advertising, and media, and stereotypes in literature, film and television?" Yes. Objectification is othering, deriving from the not quite yet obsolete conception of women as less than human. This does violence to women by inducing self-contempt, and all sorts of behaviors women have learned to think we must act out to attract men. It is psychological warfare. The battle of the sexes is not a meaningless metaphor, or without harmful consequences.

            I think there is very little that is inherent in human behavior. Inherency is properly the province of instincts, and people have the capacity to override their instincts. Even the hunger and survival instincts can be overridden, at least temporarily. I would not call any aspect of human behavior inherent unless it is completely and absolutely inescapable. What qualifies? Consciousness is inescapable, except through death, though some would argue not even death is an escape.

          • “Should I be responsible for checking out every web site hosted by my ISP?”

            You better, if you claim to be such a high-falutin’ “revolutionary feminist political philosopher” whose website features the presidential candidate of the Free Soil ticket! You put yourself on such a high pedestal, there are standards that have to be met.

            “If Stop Porn Culture was so bent on being allied with these people, why did they bother to make these changes?”

            Because they got CAUGHT!!

            SPC was equally bent on doing so surreptitiously, so their followers would not be aware. But Violet Blue and I made sure to shine a flashlight on those dealings (thank you, Ms. Blogs!), so what choice did they have but to clean up that mess, lest their membership rolls hemorrhage?

  28. I don't see how this article can say this is a win for all women. As a human being and not a commodity I Object to my body being made into a product that can be bought and sold and as a woman I will speak for myself. Legalising prostitution is only a win for pimp and perverts. There should be a stigma attached to prostitution as it is probably one of the worst forms of self harm and more psychologically damaging than rape or domestic violence. The individual woman should not be stigmatised but if a woman was cutting herself or in a violent relationship we would be giving out the message that this what is happenning to her is wrong and we should be doing the same with prostitution not encouraging it. Canada has now made it easier for people who exploit and abuse women to continue to do so with less police intervention. This is so wrong on so many levels.

    • That is exactly the thinking that leads police and justice to dismiss rape and violence against sex workers. After all, if you´re already a prostitute, being raped must seem like a piece of cake compared to the everyday harm. So, we can easily ignore it.
      I can´t explain how disgusted I am by that attitude. You don´t know how every other woman feels. I am a sex worker and I have never been raped so I can´t know from experience, but I know it can´t be anything like the consensual sex I have. And if I´m raped, it will be just as traumatising as for any other woman. There are ways of doing sex work as a fulfilling job, it´s nothing like cutting yourself or being battered. Please stop claiming such vile things just because you can´t imagine how most of us feel.

    • That's a viewpoint Louise, and you are entitled to it, and I respect your opinions. However it is a belief, not based on evidence. All too often debates on sex work are based on convictions not investigation.

    • Criminalization of prostitution is preciely what keeps pimps in business – after all, a sex worker needs a pimp precisely to pay her bail money after being arrested simpy for being a prostitute. Decriminalizing prostitution removes the institutional need for pimps – not a win for pimps but a historic defeat.

      "There should be a stigma attached to prostitution.." There already is, Louise. Where have you been?

  29. nothing like the middle classes intellectualizing over what they will never have to encounter

  30. "The ruling cited study after study showing that indoor prostitution is less harmful than street work,."

    don't mistake steps to reduce harm with an argument for prostitution – women will still be raped, beaten and murdered. why? because while men still create a market in women's bodies they will ALWAYS believe they own us. full stop.

    sexual independence and economic freedom should be broader based for women than entering the sex trade! please give us more choice than that please – if that's all feminism has won for women, the right to be prostituted then it is no wonder the moment is deemed irrelevant by the vast majority of women.

    i want my daughter to have the same economic and sexual freedoms as a man. that liberation does not come through legitimizing a market in sex, it is capitalism in hyper-drive, markets dictating aspiration and quality of life measured by the bank balance.

    as feminists is this as good as our thinking gets? can we not envision a time when we are not enslaved by market forces? where we DONT have to collude with male demand to feel free? where our liberation means more than being free of our knickers?

    We are women – we can demand more than this! better schooling, better housing, better relationships, better opportunities!

    When one woman is sold – they will still believe they own us all.

    • Jenny Heineman says:

      What if a woman buys sex from another woman?

    • Freedom is something that goes in both ways, it includes choices you may not approve of. Of course every woman should have as many opportunities as possible. OF COURSE sexual independence and economic freedom shoud be broader based than entering the sex trade. But it includes it, like it or not.

      I also find your Idea that selling sex is selling oneself very disturbing. I am a multi-faceted human being, sex is not the only thing that defines me. How come a person can sell everything; compassion, thinking, ideas, access to god, risking ones life, risking ones health, bodily work…and it´s a service, but as soon as it involves providing sexual pleasure to others, it´s selling oneself? If you have sex with someone for free, does that person own you since you "donated" yourself to them?
      The reason some men hate sex workers is that they can never fully "own" us sexually, since there will be other men.

    • Alex

      again that is a viewpoint. There are other ways of looking at this than as a capitalist phenomenon. All criminalising has done is make conditions for women in sex work worse and we have a moral duty to address that. I don't believe that either the existance of sex work or its decriminalisation affect men's attitudes towards women and there are better ways of addressing that than passing laws, which have never made men 'moral'. I am not sure why you insist on using words like 'prostituted' and 'sold' which don't have a basis in reality. Indeed they infantilise women by denying them agency.

      The real question is whether the State has an interest in regulating consenting sexual behaviour between adults. Sex work appears to be the last remnant of such control over women's bodies.

  31. Jennifer J Reed says:

    Thank you, Sally. The ideology of privileged people who have never been in the position to make decisions from limited choices is obvious, and then think they know better for others.

    Great read correcting some facts on "Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex" blog: http://www.lauraagustin.com/sex-worker-movements-

  32. Very interesting article, thanks for sharing and highlighting the rights of sex workers, like my favorite star, beautiful Sasha Gray!

  33. What has never been mentioned in any of the articles regarding the matter is that a woman can be a sex worker's client. Speking personally, I hired a sex worker and really enjoyed myself as well as regard what she and I were doing as absolutely legal. It is the fact that a woman can also use the services of a sex worker that nobody mentions. Moreover, there has not been any research regarding the matter. If any of you are interested, I would be more than willing to make a post about my experience. In addition to this, there is no attempt being made to hear the voices of women who use the sex industry as purchasers and trying to see the importance of decrminalization of prostitution from their point of view as well as safe conditions being created in order to insure the safety of women as clients.

    • Dasha

      there is certainly interest in all the various combinations you mention, but they are under represented in the literature. Anybody (and that of course includes transfolk) can and does sell or purchase sex and intimacy to anyone in singles or groups. These are sometimes left out as 'inconvenient truths' in discourses that depict male purchasers and female providers. More attention to other varieties of exchange might provide a better overall understanding of the process instead of always framing it in one dimension.

      The fact that many sex workers include whether they provide to both genders or groups or not, suggests it is more prevalent than usually thought of.
      michael

  34. snobographer says:

    Men who view women as commodities to be bought will be thrilled with this decision. When are feminists going to stop deluding themselves on this issue?

  35. Tim Wright says:

    Hi,

    I have two lovely daughters and they have so much more to offer than the ability to be purchased for sex. I find it hard to believe that this magazine actually endorses careers that no one on their staff would hope for their children. Shameful.

  36. I support the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ for the military, but i don’t hope for that career for my children.

    So, if that’s not shameful, then there should be no problem with Ms magazine’s stance on sex work.

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