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Just Don’t Call It Slut-Shaming: A Feminist Guide to Silencing Sex Workers

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The feminist movement really is in a pickle these days. It used to be a given that things like prostitution, pornography and stripping were bad, but nowadays there’s some resistance to these time-honoured notions. Women are increasingly coming out as sex workers and demanding rights. As feminists seek to shut down strip bars and criminalise clients, those women are complaining not just that they’ll lose their livelihood, but that they’ll be at increased risk of abuse and violence if their industries go underground! You can’t let such trivial concerns get in the way of your crusade, so below are some handy tips for discrediting these pesky meddlers. Remember: being an actual sex worker doesn’t entitle her to speak about sex work!

I don’t believe you; you don’t realise the harm you’re doing to yourself

This is generally your starting point. There you are, explaining that no woman really wants to work in the sex industry, and then some bint pops up claiming that her existence proves otherwise! Aim for the ‘false consciousness’ tactic here: citing statistics from research that the audience doesn’t need to know has been widely criticised by academics, you can imply that you know better than she does what’s good for her. Bonus points for using a strategy also employed by opponents of abortion rights!

a) You think the sex industry is the best thing ever!
b) What you said just proved that sex work is bad!

Keep her on her toes: if the sex worker claims any degree of autonomy or job satisfaction, paint her as a naïve fool who believes that the entire sex industry is a magical fairytale land of flowers, rainbows and sparkly dildos. Your own points about abuses in the industry should outweigh anything she has to say, rather than combining the two to give the audience a greater understanding of the diversity of human experience.

On the other hand, if the sex worker at any point mentions having a bad day at work, outlines the safety precautions she takes, or even jokes about clients with smelly feet, be sure to pounce on this straight away as evidence of the inherent harm of the sex industry. Don’t budge an inch if she tries to point out that none of these things are unique to sex work. It’s different, because it’s sex. Got that? Soon enough, she’ll stop publicly discussing any problems related to sex work, for fear that you’ll use them to call for complete eradication. And once she’s shut up about them, you can safely return to point a). Genius!

You’re only concerned about losing business

Goddammit, what is with these people? You’re only trying to send a message about equality between men and women, and they’re raising hell about disrupted support networks and a rise in violence! But that’s okay. As long as you make them out to be purely motivated by greed, you needn’t actually address the issues they’re highlighting, let alone the reasons why they might need money in the first place. Bonus points if you’re able to employ this one against, say, an escort who’s concerned about the increased vulnerability of street-based sex workers. Don’t for a moment entertain the idea that there might be solidarity across the sex industry.

You’re being paid off by pimps and traffickers

This is a great one. It’s a bit preposterous, but if your audience has already lapped up everything you have to say, you can possibly get away with the notion that the only reason people might disagree with you is that they’re the sockpuppets of shady criminal masterminds.

You’re letting all women down

If, despite your best efforts, the audience seems in danger of accepting that your opponent genuinely chose sex work, experiences it as a relatively worthwhile pastime and, furthermore, has some points that might be worth listening to, quickly play your trump card: it’s not about her, it’s about all women.

Although, once upon a time, feminism was concerned with questions such as “Does lesbianism discredit the movement?” or “If I like painting my nails, buying shoes and sucking cock (for free, of course) am I letting the side down?”, these issues have largely been cleared up in the name of freedom of choice. Luckily for you, though, feminism on the whole does not (yet) look so kindly upon women whose choices include sex work. Keep it black and white and don’t let any nuance get in there. Base your argument here on claiming that the sex industry promotes negative attitudes to women – for bonus points, use objectifying language to describe sex workers while explaining that objectification is bad. You’ve already established that consensual paid-for sex is wrong, so a woman who willingly provides it is clearly a traitor to your gender. Under the guise of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’, you can proceed to being as nasty as you like to those uppity sex workers: they didn’t listen to you when you warned they were making the wrong choice, so they’ve already forfeited their right to sisterhood.

You’re not representative

Feminism has fought long and hard to dispel stereotypes and push for more rights for all women. Cast that legacy aside for now and focus on the task at hand! You may be advocating a course of action that will affect everybody in the sex industry, but you can still get away with claiming that anyone who doesn’t like it simply doesn’t count. Plus, if you play your cards right, manage to keep the dissenters in their place, and get the law-makers to agree that your ideology is more important than women’s safety, eventually the sex industry really will become a wholly unpleasant place to be. Those who have the means to find other work will at long last understand that it’s time for them to do so, and the only people left will be the ones who were already having a hard time of it and have no alternatives. Then all sex workers really will meet your standards of ‘representative’! It’s a bit of a circuitous route, grinding down a diverse industry until it encompasses nothing more than a homogeneous group of abused victims of pimping and trafficking, with no agency of their own and uniformly miserable experiences. But by then, at least, everybody will be exploited and unhappy, just like you were saying they were all along. You’ll have proved your point. Congratulations, and thanks for your contribution!

About Nine

Writer, editor, traveller. Member of the redundancy club since 2009. @supernowoczesna

83 responses »

  1. Bravo!

    I’m a friend of Nine’s, and when we’ve discussed sex workers, I’ve often noticed the number of parallels between prejudice against sex workers and prejudice against people with disabilities. (I’m a disabled woman myself.) For instance:

    1. Multiple attempts at silencing.

    2. Telling sex workers/people with disabilities that they are “not representative”. The people doing this seem to think that the most representative sex workers/disabled folks are the ones they would also treat with the most contempt, whom they would put at the bottom of the food chain, and whom they pretty much hope aren’t capable of speaking up at all. This conveniently saves them the trouble of actually having to engage with any sex workers/disabled people at all. With sex workers, the representative ideal coming from outsiders seems to be drug-addicted street-based sex workers; with disabled folks, the equivalent is someone very visibly disabled, for instance an amputee, and/or someone with a learning disability or similar which makes them supposedly incapable of coherent communication.

    3. Assuming that anyone who isn’t this weird bottom-of-the-food-chain “representative” is too wealthy/middle-class/intelligent/educated etc., so that they *shouldn’t* be allowed to speak for others. The more empowered we are, the less they want us to speak. This, they think, gives them the right to speak up on our behalf instead.

    4. Trying to hide the supreme contempt and disgust that this attitude reveals by pretending that they are only trying to help sex workers/disabled people.

    5. Telling us that they know what is best for sex workers/disabled people.

    6. Coming up with legislation and so forth without making much, if any, effort to find out how it will actually benefit/harm sex workers/disabled people. And then going on to ignore protests from the very people concerned.

    7. Trying to normatise poverty in sex workers/disabled people, so that it’s no surprise if such people are impoverished and certainly nothing worth changing society for. Acting with suspicion towards anyone who isn’t suitably poor and meek.

    8. Making vague, occasional gestures towards acknowledging that such people are in fact human and have rights, but concentrating media focus instead on articles which are designed to shock and disgust: the weird obsessions with sex trafficking and benefits fraud, both of which the media make sound like the norm when they are actually very rare.

    9. Feeling horror at the lives such people lead, and thus deciding that no one could possibly choose to live a life like that, and that it is not, in fact, worth living. This tends to come out in quite insidious ways, since it’s too shocking for many people to say outright.

    10. Othering sex workers/disabled people. It’s always “them”, never “us”. Your average media article writes as if its audience is entirely composed of people who are neither disabled nor sex workers.

    Reply
    • As a disabled former sex worker, can I just “ditto” all the above. I often feel that the things I have to say about sex work and disability can more efficiently be said through the use of for pieces in which I can fill in key nouns.

      Though on point nine, I have to say every day brings me calmly and coldly closer to certainly that many disadvantaged people, as well as myself, live lives that are not worth living, and in some cases, (like mine) there may be little, or nothing anyone can do to help or avoid that…but what *CAN* be avoided, at the stroke of a pen, is the ongoing haemorrage of increasingly scarce funding into NGOs and service providers that thrive (and often draw stratosperic profits and/or salaries) on making that far worse than it needs to be.

      Reply
      • Absolutely. I’ve got a pretty horrendous quality of life myself at the moment. Society somehow manages the clever combination of portraying us all as pathetic and so forth, while showing no interest in actually helping us obtain a decent quality of life.

        Reply
        • aformersexworker

          Are you also subject to sudden bouts akin to “road rage” when you see YET ANOTHER org claiming they are delivering utopia to your door daily with a side order of your wildest dreams?

          SO MUCH MONEY going into the pockets of CEO’s and admin staff who find our real needs and natures irrelevant …

          I was worried by what I posted here, it looks so whiney and self interested, and that’s not me…but sooner or later there comes a day when you have to hold up one finger and say:

          Er…excuse me…over here…I have proof, because look, you are crucifying *ME*.

  2. I like this angle a lot! It made me smile! Thanks so much!

    Reply
  3. This is an amazing piece! A sex worker friend of mine was brought to tears thanks to these arguments lobbed against her by a group of feminists and she was most definitely silenced. Articles like this are essential to fight back.

    Reply
  4. oh, wow! thank you for this. Makes some good hard points in a very witty way.

    Reply
  5. I have witnessed every single one of these arguments, thank you for highlighting an issue many feminists refuse to countenance, that they are now oppressing women, purely because of their choice of work.

    Reply
  6. Go Nine! Excellent :) Finally got something to smile about today!

    Reply
  7. this was great. thanks so much. xo andi

    Reply
  8. Very hypocritical, biased, and uneducated.
    I know sex workers that live happy fullfilling lives, which women in ‘respectable’ industries feel tired, over worked and depressed.
    Every industry has dark corners, spotlights, health risks and benefits. Sex work is no different. It has as many benefits to society as it has detriments. A woman has a right to choose her preferred profession and choose to do it wisely and ethically or not, whether that be as a sex worker, a mother or an accountant. Any of those three can screw lives up given the person is doing something they hate. A person who loves sex, hates children and loves versatile schedules would probably order to be an escort than get knocked up and end up ignoring or abusing her kids and screwing them up for life.

    Reply
    • I’m rather confused by this comment. Your first line suggests that you disagree violently with the article, but everything else you say seems to be on its side. We absolutely agree that all professions have their pros and cons, both for the people engaged in them and the other people affected by them, and this is exactly why we are concerned that sex workers don’t have the same rights and protections when it comes to their employment.

      It’s also quite a stretch to call Nine “uneducated” when she spent so many years working with sex workers! Did you mean that the feminists who reject sex workers’ rights are the ones who are “hypocritical, biased and uneducated”?

      Reply
  9. Reblogged this on Diary of a VirginWhore and commented:
    BEST post ever on anti-sex work radfems’ tactics in silencing sex workers.

    Reply
  10. Wonderful! Reblogged this on Diaryofavirginwhore.

    Reply
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  12. Ah! Brilliant brilliant brilliant. Great post, feminism needs to continue to examine and question itself, it’s not second guessing – it’s keeping up!

    Reply
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  14. May I translate this into German and publish it on my blog on human trafficking (I actually believe that anti-trafficking policies and sex workers rights are compatible)? Of course, you will be mentioned and linked as author and can use the translation of your text.

    Reply
    • Hi Sonia,
      Yes, you are very welcome to! I wish more anti-trafficking discussions took a more nuanced approach, so I really applaud what you’re doing. Greetings from Leipzig!

      Reply
  15. I often notice these ‘sex-positive’ arguments are often rife with white privilege, where is the experience of POC, whose communities are disproportionately affected by sex-trafficking/prostitution/shaming, and why is that every time I run across these articles it embodies an ultra-libertarian wet dream of “I can do anything I want, I don’t care how it affects others, and shame on you for making me feel bad about it”?

    Reply
    • Actually, I don’t identify with the ‘sex-positive’ label, as I think it sets up a false binary, but thank you for engaging.

      The second link I posted within this article (Taking The Pledge) is a video featuring sex workers from around the world, and I recommend checking out the organisations referenced, but you’re right that this post does not specifically examine the experiences of people of colour. I’ve focused on arguments which are used against sex workers in general, and laws which negatively affect all sex workers, but which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including people in situations of trafficking and exploitation.

      In answer to your second question, I don’t know why this happens every time you run across ‘these’ articles, but it’s certainly not my own reading of this one. The cry of “I can do anything I want, I don’t care how it affects others, and shame on you for making me feel bad about it” might more appropriately be heard from feminists who campaign for laws that compromise sex workers’ safety.

      Reply
    • The Great Smell Of Brute

      Dear, oh dear – playing the tired, old ‘pri-vil-ege’ card? Have you never noticed that the vast majority of radfems who use the arguments parodied above are themselves white and middle class, with at least some of them coming from backgrounds which allow them to disengage from the world of paid work in order to become full-time activists?

      And raising the bogie of sex-trafficking? Laura Agustin has exploded many of the myths surrounding that particular phenomenon (including some spread by NGOs in order to stuff their coffers).

      I’m pleased that articles such as these are written from a libertarian POV: they provide a counterbalance to the authoritarian, doctrinaire attempts of the radfems to enforce a version of collectivism in which they get to define all terms and set all the rules.

      Reply
  16. so apparently ‘feminism’ is all about some bitter women telling other women how to live their lives and judging them through the prism of their own experiences and moral stance… how pathetic

    Reply
    • Not at all. It’s a large movement, and like any large movement, its members vary in their beliefs, and they’re not all perfect. Not all feminists are crap on the subject of sex workers. Unfortunately, some are, yes. But even so, a lot of the time that springs from a general desire to help women in general, hampered by a reluctance to learn about the complexities of the subject and engage with it fully. We can examine and critique the problems that exist within feminism without necessarily trashing feminism in its entirety!

      And quite frankly, your comment sounds like the usual misogynistic rhetoric of people who want to silence any women who speak up at all.

      Reply
      • Well, in the context of ‘feminism’ being a movement which empowers, it has fractured and devolved into warring tribes – in effect, groups of women trying to control other groups of women if they partake in activity they find disagreeable.

        Those feminists who throw off the chains of oppression, only to pick them up and shackle other women who don’t agree with them, are frankly a stain on an otherwise noble cause.

        Reply
        • That’s a fairer comment, and it definitely is a highly problematic issue. I’m curious as to whether you identify as a feminist yourself? You’re making me think of my friend J. She identifies as a feminist but not a Feminist, as she is all in favour of women’s rights, but sickened by the transphobia which is currently alarmingly common in mainstream feminism.

      • The Great Smell Of Brute

        “And quite frankly, your comment sounds like the usual misogynistic rhetoric of people who want to silence any women who speak up at all.”

        In my experience, it’s more the case nowadays that the radfems attempt to shut up any woman who questions their set-piece rhetoric, along with any man who dare to speak on the subject of gender politics at all.

        It’s a shame that you felt the need to include that remark in an otherwise valid and incisive post.

        Reply
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  19. Oh dear. So good. Thanks for this post! It’s funny cause it’s scary accurate. Radfems really do make these hurtful, hateful, so-absurd-they’re-laughable arguments. :(

    Reply
  20. aformersexworker

    Just when you thought it could not get any worse…all of the above racked up to the power of 10. Ruhama have a new director who claims:
    “Since graduating conducted research into how trauma changes behaviour which explained why victims of human trafficking exploited in the sex industry are unable to ask for or accept help and why they want to return to their abusive situation. In addition I have developed an interviewing technique that will assist victims in breaking down the barriers that keeps them in sexual servitude.”

    The common misnomer usually applied to this kind of technique is “brainwashing”.

    If Ruhama get away with applying this approach to sex workers, how long before it starts being applied to disabled people too..and, indeed, anyone who does not fit the most profitable and compliant profile?

    The more I think about it the more of my will to live ebbs away. Because I would rather die a thousand times than be subjected to brainwashing tachniques as practised by a fringe psyche weirdo with a Masters in Social Work.

    Reply
    • “Since graduating conducted research into how trauma changes behaviour which explained why victims of human trafficking exploited in the sex industry are unable to ask for or accept help and why they want to return to their abusive situation”

      Translation: since graduating, came up with a theory as to why sex workers refuse to define themselves the way I define them, which can be summed up as: false consciousness. I know, it’s not new, but it looks nice on my CV doesn’t it?

      Reply
      • aformersexworker

        Should have put something like that on mine :o) But what has me so rattled by this that it was hours before my head was ready for the penny to drop, is that, when you look closer it starts to look like as if they just hired themselves a false memory syndrome factory (including, but not limited to qualifications in hypnosis).

        Reply
      • The Great Smell Of Brute

        “…And having met a few more people who are equally self-important, and by our forming an organisation dedicated to telling other women how to think and act, we can apply for various grants and I can build a fake career for myself!”

        Reply
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  28. This tactics could even be used for a lot… too many… other discussions, unfortunately.

    Reply
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  30. Dr. Ginger Peterson

    I’m having a hard time believing this author wasn’t a sex worker herself. She’s too knowledgable about the subject and too passionate. The question, why doesn’t she just come forward and say so herself?

    Reply
  31. aspasialibertine

    Excellent, excellent post! Seen all of these and more used in arguments. Had personal experience with a couple of these arguments.

    Reply
  32. Interesting article.

    “Your own points about abuses in the industry should outweigh anything she has to say, rather than combining the two to give the audience a greater understanding of the diversity of human experience.”

    I acknowledge that there are women who feel empowered, liberated and have oodles of fun doing sex work. I also acknowledge there are prostituted girls and women who are horrifically abused doing the very same work. I am more interested in listening to and taking action towards the most oppressed, ignored, dismissed and harmed population of these women versus giving “the audience a greater understanding of the diversity of human experience.” I could give a shit about an “audience”, I care about the women trapped in and deadened by the sex trade, and those who have exited and are left trying to daily cope with the horrific trauma its caused them.

    “If, despite your best efforts, the audience seems in danger of accepting that your opponent genuinely chose sex work, experiences it as a relatively worthwhile pastime and, furthermore, has some points that might be worth listening to, quickly play your trump card: it’s not about her, it’s about all women.”

    It’s not about ALL women, my focus is on the women being harmed and want the hell out of the sex trade but have no safety net to catch them if/when they exit. In life we must prioritize, and I choose to prioritize the drowned out voices, the ones crying out for help and talking about how the sex trade ruined their souls, if they manage(d) to get out alive.

    I will not prioritize the privileged sex worker voices because obviously, they’re doing just fine.

    Reply
    • To be clear: this isn’t about privileging the privileged. Although I’m troubled by silencing tactics in general, my greatest concern is also for those who are trapped in vulnerable positions and are in need of a way out. But many campaigners do not take into account the actual needs of those women who are being harmed, and often advocate ‘solutions’ that will increase the harm they undergo while making it even harder for support to reach them. And yet these concerns are frequently brushed aside, often with the arguments outlined above.

      Reply
    • Interesting points. The thing is, any time the majority of a group are told they don’t exist and general silencing tactics are used, then the majority of that group are unlikely to be getting approached appropriately either. You do need to be looking at the entire picture, if for no other reason than to identify correctly the ones most in need of help. I can’t remember the reference, Nine probably knows where it is, but there were a couple of occasions where the police spent a fortune on operations to help victims of trafficking, and found zero victims with one operation and 1-2 with the other. That’s money that could have gone into providing a lot of sex workers with support that they had actually said that they wanted.

      As for not prioritising the more privileged sex workers, that doesn’t mean they should be shut up and ignored. They may not be in the same situation as the ones who are worse off, but they know a damn sight more about it than those of us with no personal experience of the sex industry do. They may also have more of a chance to talk openly than people who are worse off, and the more discourse on this subject from sex workers, the better. You need sex workers from all backgrounds to be speaking up and to be heard. Anyway, it’s a relatively risky profession no matter what side of it you’re in, and there’s always a relatively high risk of rape or other assault. I know that when Nine was working with sex workers, she was helping people in brothels as well as street-based sex workers. They all need to be heard, and they are all deserving of help. Choosing your own job, getting satisfaction from it and/or having a better time of it than other people in different versions of the same job does not mean that everything is perfect, nor that any problems with that job should be swept under the rug.

      Reply
  33. But it is privileging the privileged when you discount arguments that (anti-prostitution) prostituted women themselves give, some of which you’ve listed. Does this not throw these women under the bus and continue to silence their voices?

    What do you feel are the actual needs of harmed prostituted women? And which solutions do you think increase the harm?

    What do you think of prostituted women who say they themselves were cheerleaders for the sex trade & said it was their free ‘choice’, empowering, etc. when they were in it, and that massive dissociation/denial was the only way to endure it?

    Reply
    • [Edited to close a HTML tag, sorry if that spammed anyone's inbox]

      What I see in most feminist spaces is that sex workers in general – the only exception being those who toe the prohibitionist party line – are routinely silenced and harassed. They also rarely get a say in sex work legislation/policy regardless of whether that legislation/policy comes from a feminist-identified source or not. And given that even those who meet the criteria of ‘relatively empowered/privileged’ are still criminalised, stigmatised, and facing violence, I think it’s highly problematic that they are prevented from speaking. But, okay, let’s forget about them for a minute and focus on those who are in the worst positions: the thing is, even members of that group do not have a unanimous view. Most notable for me is that, although some former sex workers who found sex work harmful subsequently turn to the perceived solution of (for example) criminalising clients as a means to prevent abuse of other women, I have never met a single sex worker who found that helpful. When clients have been criminalised, the counterparts of those former sex workers, the most disempowered ones, discover that an already bad situation has become worse. So I don’t want to silence any voices, but I would like to see multiple sex workers, from multiple sectors and with multiple experiences, being allowed to speak about their perspectives, given that all of them are the ones with the insider knowledge.

      Finding a way out of the sex industry – which is of course the overarching need for someone who’s experiencing it as harmful – doesn’t happen overnight. With criminalisation and police clampdowns (whether these things are aimed at sex workers, clients, or both) come a whole new range of negative conditions, starting with the fairly obvious repercussion that the industry becomes more clandestine, breaking up peer support networks and becoming more closed to outreach workers (whether it’s because brothel access is restricted or because street-based sex workers have moved to more secluded areas). Focusing on indoor sex work: those who suspect that someone is in an exploitative situation are less likely to raise the alarm if, as a sex worker, brothel manager, or client, they face criminalisation themselves – and if few other types of people are liable to have contact with a victim of trafficking, this leaves very few escape routes open to them. Focusing on the streets: if there are fewer clients around, sex workers have less choice in terms of who they’ll agree to do business with versus who they would normally reject – all the more so if they’re in a hurry to feed a drug habit. They’re also liable to have to drop their prices, which means that if they have a specific amount of money they need to make, they need to stay out longer, seeing more clients than they would have in the past, for less money, in more precarious circumstances, with fewer people around who might notice if anything goes wrong, and less opportunity to warn one another if they do encounter abusive clients. For those in homeless accommodation, it’s not uncommon to miss curfew and have to stay out all night. This is just a snapshot, not an exhaustive list.

      What do you think of prostituted women who say they themselves were cheerleaders for the sex trade & said it was their free ‘choice’, empowering, etc. when they were in it, and that massive dissociation/denial was the only way to endure it?

      I don’t know quite what kind of an answer you’re looking for here: I think it’s sad and I believe that they are the experts on their own lives, just as those who experience sex work in any way that differs from this are also the experts on theirs. But if you’re implying that all who claim that they freely choose sex work are victims of false consciousness, I would disagree.

      Reply
  34. Pro-sex trade voices are all over the place, they have no trouble having a platform in other spaces, whereas the anti-sex trade voices seem to only be heard in feminist spaces (and even then, sometimes get hijacked and trampled over by academic/non-expert voices). Since the anti sex trade voices (specifically, exited women) are the ones speaking the most ignored/dismissed Truths, they get my full attention. But besides that, what they say just makes the most sense to me. I have just not heard any sensical pro-prostitution arguments other than not to criminalize the prostituted, which I think most everyone agrees on.

    Re. the kind of answer I was looking for with my Q’s: No specific kind, was just curious about your thoughts.

    Re. (trauma-driven) ‘false consciousness': Certainly one cannnot speak for others, most especially ALL others, but we can be allies while taking care not to speak for or over prostituted women’s voices. Based on what I’ve learned from these voices as well as the PTSD, rape and murder stats, then I think it’s safe to say this (trauma-informed false consciousness) is the case for many, many sex trade ‘workers’. (I’d also say that ALL our minds are mined to different degrees by the predatory, dehumanizing colonist culture which creates a “debate” about the sex trade in the first place).

    Laws are one starting point, but the framework of law and the colonist cultures that The Law is embedded in makes laws always short-sighted. It’s the culture and mentalities that need to change…

    I completely agree with you that prostituted women and girls are the real experts and the ones who lead the apparently deeply divided Movement(s?). I’m also a woman who knows that if my luck runs out, I could be forced to “choose” prostitution, which will certainly be no genuine choice. So yeah I listen to all voices and what they have to say, which makes it very clear and easy to decide who gets my full attention.

    I would like to see conversations between those in the sex trade and no one else infiltrating, and I don’t think the internet is the place for it because anonymity makes it easy for liars, sex trade profiteers and buyers to lie about their identity, thereby derailing any important conversation that could otherwise be had between those doing the sex trade “supplying”. I have seen a conversation between an exited woman and a (mentally & emotionally checked out) “liberated sex worker”, and it was amazing to see how the exited woman’s words reached through the younger woman’s detached exterior and straight into her heart. It was obvious there was a common, known Truth between them — the fundamental harm of the “work” — even though the younger one wasn’t at a place to fully acknowledge, let alone speak about it yet.

    I am equally interested in figuring out how to heal & prevent dis-eased male minds who think it’s okay to rent, exploit and abuse girls & women. Criminalizing them is one small step in the right direction.

    Reply
    • If you want to be an ally for sex workers, then why do you want to criminalise the purchasers of sex, when sex workers agree, loudly, that this will make their lives far more difficult and dangerous? And could I ask why you feel that “the prostituted” is a more empowering term than “sex workers”?

      Reply
      • Sex workers are loudly agreeing while prostituted women are loudly disagreeing, and those disagreeing are the ones making the most compelling arguments (to me). That’s why I’m an ally to prostituted women, not sex workers, because a) they reject the term ‘sex work’ because it waters down the fundamentally exploitative reality that is the majority of the sex trade and b) there is no empowerment in being exploited, objectified and consumed, no matter how much consumer colonist cultures try to normalize it.

        Dealing with problems legally is never my first choice, but it’s sometimes the most accessible or immediate. Criminalizing buyers can’t be a standalone; the Nordic model which criminalizes buyers, decriminalizes sellers, and helps women exit sounds like it’s having some success.

        It’s unfortunate that the issue is so deeply divided. It’s also unfortunate that the issue mostly focuses on the prostituted rather than on the porn-sick minds who think it’s okay to rent bodies to violate, often violently. Criminalizing these men is a first step, but it doesn’t prevent their creation.

        Do you think working in brothels/escorting/massage parlors/call girl/stripping/street prostitution/porn etc. is empowering for females? If so, how so?

        Reply
        • FR, do you mind explaining what distinction you’re making between “prostituted women” and “sex workers”? At times, you seem to use the first phrase to mean all women in prostitution; at others, you seem to be using it tautologically to mean all women in prostitution who agree with you. Which makes it rather difficult to respond to your claim that sex workers have one view and prostituted women have another. However, if you’re arguing that criminalisation of clients is opposed only by the privileged middle class women who chose sex work over a plethora of other options, I would have to ask you to back up that assertion with evidence. Even the laughable Swedish government “evaluation” of the law acknowledged that it’s opposed by what they call “women still being exploited in prostitution”, which sounds a lot like your “prostituted women”.

          On the claim that the Nordic model is having some success, I’d invite you to look through the posts on this blog tagged “Norway” and “Sweden” which cite a number of official Norwegian and Swedish sources suggesting the opposite. There appears to be a significant difference between what the Swedes, in particular, say to foreigners to whom they’re trying to sell their policies, and what they say to each other for domestic consumption only.

        • So you’re admitting that you don’t want to support any sex workers, only “the prostituted”? Have you any idea of how offensive and dehumanising it is to call someone “the prostituted”? It’s right up there with “the disabled” as a term which denies agency to the group in question, putting them into the passive and speaking for them while silencing them. I recommend reading Sofie Buckland’s Call Things By Their Proper Names.

          Your repeated refusal to allow sex workers to call themselves what they choose, and your insistence that you will not listen to most of them, only to the ones who you claim support you (and whom I cannot find commenting here, let alone “loudly”), shows only that you hate sex work and anyone involved in it. I don’t know why you focus on sex work in particular. There are lots of hard, dangerous or just plain grotty jobs out there, plenty that I would never choose to do (I could never work in a slaughterhouse, both for ethical reasons and because it’s a horrible job with a sky-high risk of injury), but I don’t hate the people doing them or deny them the power to speak up about their lives.

          Criminalisation of the clients has long been shown, both by studies and reports from sex workers, to cause further violence and harm to sex workers.

          Sex workers’ Critique of the Swedish Model. Key quotation: “The more vulnerable sexworkers seem to be the ones most negatively affected by the law.”

          A Swedish sex worker, Pye Jakobssen, on the criminalisation of clients

          Sex Trafficking: The Abolitionist Fallacy

  35. “You hate sex work and anyone involved in it” – WHOA Hermia, that is way off base and nowhere near what I’ve been saying. I do indeed hate that sexual slavery exists (and broader capitalism which I feel is modern day slavery, though sexual slavery is much more psychologically harmful, what other jobs other than the military, is PTSD a common effect of the work?). I also hate that porn-sick male minds have such astounding levels of entitlement — THEY are the dehumanized, offending ones, not the women they pay to rape. That is VERY different than “hating the women” doing this work! I have great empathy and respect for these women, especially those who have the courage to stand up and speak out against the sex trade after having survived it.

    You have it backwards that I only listen to the voices that support me — quite the opposite, it is by carefully listening to prostituted women that I choose who to support. I’ve never been in the sex trade, so the experts that HAVE are the voices that shape my stance, and as I’ve said, exited, abolitionist women who have been prostituted are the ones that make the most sense to me. So it is them that I support, not them that support me. And it is these exited women *themselves* who say they refuse to use the term ‘sex work’ and that it’s offensive and inaccurate, and that the term ‘prostituted women and girls’ is more reflective of the abusive reality of the sex trade. What is dehumanizing is the *role* of the prostitute as holes and hands for men to use as toilets, not the name! Also, “prostituted woman” is different from “prostitute” because it separates the female from her role in that she’s not reduced to it, she’s a human being who is doing sexual slavery ‘work’. One exited woman explains it here: http://www.xlondoncallgirl.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/sex-work-there-is-no-such-thing.html Rebecca Mott is also an exited woman who so brilliantly explains what she says is the very simple and basic dehumanizing reality that is porn and prostitution: http://rmott62.wordpress.com/

    In what world is the term “disabled people” dehumanizing? What would you rather call them? Disabled people — and I’m thinking of those with severe physical disabilities — are literally unable and DIS-abled from living as fully *physically* functioning people, so let’s call things what they really are. I should know, my wife is part of this population and I am a bystander to her severely physically restricted life. Doesn’t mean she’s not fully human (and fully awesome, but I’m very biased lol), but she sure as hell can’t do many, many things that she wants to do.

    I do agree that criminalization is not enough, as I’ve said, The Law is a very short-sighted way to change society and people’s behaviors. I think targeting men mentally, not legally, and how their sexuality is so harmfully distorted through porn, which they then enact on prostituted bodies, is where real Change will happen. And there is so, so much work to do here.

    Reply
  36. I’m also hoping/waiting for someone to answer my earlier question:

    Do you think working in brothels/escorting/massage parlors/call girl/stripping/street prostitution/porn etc. is empowering for females? If so, how so?

    Reply
    • What are you talking about? “Females”? Female WHAT? If you mean female humans, we already have a word for that – women. “Female” modifies a noun: female musician, female stick-insects, female deep-sea divers. Anyway. I DEMAND THAT SOMEBODY ANSWER MY VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION. Is working in the olive-oil industry friendly for kittens? Is sleeping in the haystack degrading for jealousy? Is verb in the noun RANDOM WORD for SOMEONE?! This is VERY IMPORTANT, and your failure to answer TELLS ME ALL I NEED TO KNOW, PEOPLE.

      (Hint: Feminist Rag, I’m saying your ‘question’ is idiotic. “Females” are not a monolithic group with just the one experience, “brothels/escorting/massage parlors/call girl/stripping/street prostitution/porn” are, as your long sentence itself suggests, all quite different from each other and within themselves contain very many different experiences (see above: not a monolithic group); “empowerment” is a bullshit neoliberal word that has no meaning. I’m not interested in empowerment; I’m interested in labour rights. Also, your language is shitty.)

      Reply
      • Sorry my wording offended you glasgow. Re. shitty language: I care more about what people say than how they say it, and I have yet to hear a compelling pro-prostitution argument. You’re throwing around non-comparables — no other industry has torture, rape, murder and PTSD as the norm for its workers, other than the military.

        You may not be interested in empowerment but someone else above used ‘sex work’ and ‘empowerment’ in the same sentence, hence my question. Though I don’t expect an answer because there isn’t one.

        Well, its been a slice everyone. I don’t want to harsh your pro sex trade buzz anymore so I’ll go back to the spaces I am more interested in (some of which I linked above if you care to check them out). I know this is a minefield of a topic that is so deeply divided between both those in and out of the sex trade, so I thank you all for your respectful engagement with me. I wish you all well. Be safe.

        Reply
    • Is sex work empowering?

      Ultimately, yes. Another option is always empowering. Choosing between X (sex work) & Y (other job option) versus only having Y as an option gives someone the power to also choose X, not just Y. Thus, the existence of X as an option empowers people.

      Choosing X (sex work) only becomes disempowering because of the stigma an criminalization of X. If choosing X did not reduce the ability of a person to later choose Y, or reduce a person’s ability to access other human rights (family, community, acceptance, relationships) it would not be disempowering.

      Feminists operate on an illogical premise: getting rid of X (sex work) will create options Z, Q, P, and so on for women who only have X or Y as an option. This makes no sense.

      Create options Z, Q, P first. Then reduce things (stigma, criminalization) that make X a possibly dis-empowering option. Then the existence of X is no longer disempowering.

      Doesn’t this make sense?

      Reply
  37. “What is dehumanizing is the *role* of the prostitute as holes and hands for men to use as toilets, not the name!”

    And you really wonder why so many sex workers/prostitutes find the utterings of some abolitionists offensive? By claiming we assume the role of toilets not just for some fetishists, but just through regular sex, you once again paint sex as something inherently degrading for women, and devalue our work. I find that deeply offensive. Right now your in a space where most women with actual experience in sex work don’t agree with your kind of language- so why do you insist on using it?

    Reply
    • S/he (fairly sure it’s a man who wants to tell us how to be feminists, and I found their blog to be quite, hmm, revealing. Apparently we’ve missed out on a chance to have our names written in blood across a maxi pad by disagreeing here!) won’t even admit that s/he is using such language: apparently there is no difference between “the prostituted” and “prostitute”, and when I tried to compare such usage to “the disabled”, s/he rephrased that as “what’s wrong with saying ‘disabled people’?” with a nice variant on the one-of-my-best-friends-is-gay spiel. Funny how some people insist that different phrasing doesn’t matter, yet insist on using notably different terminology from everyone else, even after it’s been painstakingly explained to them why the terms are offensive. There’s been quite a lot of this in the Guardian comments on the Caitlin Moran scandal, where some people were saying, “Why can’t we say ‘coloured people’ instead of ‘people of colour’?” Breaking news, folks: rearranging words into a different order DOES change the meaning! And simply knowing someone in the group in question does not give you the right to rewrite the language they have chosen to describe themselves!

      Reply
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  40. I’ve actually noticed more hostility from those representing the sex industry than from feminists. It sounds like those representing the sex industry are conducting a massive PR campaign in response to a lot of investigative journalist reports in documentaries, TV and the print media on the subject of sex slavery and trafficking. This is a common theme in journalism now – investigative journalism is now under threat due to an aggressive PR industry. This is a war between PR and journalism, the PR does its spin, and the media does its investigative reporting,and the endless cycle continues.

    Reply
    • I can only speculate as we may have seen different reports, but much media coverage of trafficking is both sensationalist and simplistic, and trafficking is wrongly conflated with consensual sex work – so of course sex workers are going to have complaints about that. When big-name journalists like Nicholas Kristof put forward ‘solutions’ which are harmful to both sex workers and victims of trafficking, I’m glad to see people stepping forward to challenge them. However, I don’t think that sex workers and allies have anywhere near the influence or audience that he does, otherwise we might be seeing more realistic coverage more frequently. I don’t see investigative journalism as being under threat; rather, I applaud the call for higher standards in it.

      Reply
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  51. I am a blogger. But I write about sexy stuff like stockings/lingerie and I have male admirers as a result.

    Imagine, I had women also snap at me and be like “what the hell are you thinking” and even had one upset wife who found that her hubby visited my blog threaten me and say all that similar stuff how I am also sending women to the dark ages.

    Thanks for the awesome post.

    Reply

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