RSS Feed

Author Archives: feministire

The 8th

Posted on

Guest Post by Lauren Foley

It was maybe the third time you’d done it. It took easier than the first (you vomited), no worse than the last (DVDs in bed). You’d completely forgotten all three times (and the fourth, then the fifth), but just now there was this article on your Twitter feed.

You remember the rush of sexiness, that floaty semi-arousing pre-menstrual flood. Alarm of hormones. Then blood after saccharine tugging just below your navel. There’s a taste to a chemically-induced period like NutraSweet® in your bloodstream, epidermis, sweat glands; and you do kind of want to lick your forearm the way cats do lick theirs thinking your skin might taste of Diet Coke. The blood is lighter, clearer, brighter – a pop of red cherry. Like how we’re made to think it would look if it was red on TV, and not the brilliant blue it’s made be. The pain is synthetic, manufactured and claws as if from behind a curtain (wherein lies a great and powerful Oz).

You never think on them as abortions.

The third was only twenty-eight hours into seventy-two.

You’d normally ‘double dutch’ it. Condoms and the pill.

But, you’d gained ten pounds on the progesterone injections and your boyfriend had been around a good long while …

You still used condoms, insisted—the Catholic in you—except that one night after the 1920s party when you were both too drunk to fuck but somehow managed to come. He took that as a future freedom like the American guy in Catastrophe who impregnates Sharon Horgan. You agree with her it was a bit bad of them.

And just like this article linked now on Twitter, your abortion did you no harm, you’d completely forgotten about it (the fourth, the fifth).

The eighth.

#

Lauren Foley is Irish, and Australian (enough). Her short story, ‘Squiggly Arse Crack’, appeared in the 2014 Margaret River Press Anthology. She was shortlisted for the Overland Story Wine Prize, and Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award, 2015. Lauren won the inaugural OverlandNeilma Sidney Short Story Prize 2016. She was also awarded a 2016 Varuna Residential Writer’s Fellowship for her short story cycle in progressPolluted Sex. She lives in Skerries. 

laurenfoleywriter.com

@AYearinSouthOz 

A pro-choice voter’s guide to the Stormont elections

We are happy to share this communication sent to us yesterday:

Just wanted to let you know that some NI pro-choicers have compiled a spreadsheet of MLA candidates and their stance on abortion in the run up to #AE16.

We’re keeping our names anonymous in the public sphere but there’s an email [in guidelines] if people want to get in touch.

Here’s the spreadsheet. And the spreadsheet guidelines are here.

Taking the Boat: A Short Film by Lisa Keogh

Guest post by Lisa Keogh

I don’t find it difficult making decisions, which is probably a good thing considering that a lot of writing and directing is about making decisions. How long should we linger on close-up? Is there really another world or is it all in her head? How the hell are we going to shoot this if it keeps raining?

Most of the time when we claim to agonise over a decision what we’re looking for is the permission to make the choice we feel is instinctively right.

For me, there is no drama in the decision of whether or not to abort an unplanned pregnancy, because drama suggests conflict between right and wrong. Instead, when it comes to abortion, each woman makes the choice that is best for her life – she just needs to give herself the permission to accept it. And society needs to support her to make that choice. Every child, whether planned or unplanned, should be a wanted child.

Too many women are imprisoned by the cloak of shame around abortion. The dramatic arts have played their part in adding to that cloak and in attempting to lift it. It all comes down to how writers handle the issue. Making films about “the dilemma” implies there are only certain circumstances where abortion is acceptable. It makes people believe they have the right to examine a woman’s choice about her own body and to make her justify why she does or doesn’t want to proceed with a pregnancy.

Instead, I believe we need to trust women. Instead of focusing on the dilemma of whether or not to have an abortion, exploiting the suspense of a “will she/won’t she” plot, what needs to be examined is that Ireland is exporting its abortions. 12 women a day are leaving our island to access services that should be free, safe, and legal on their doorsteps. How many other women are ordering pills over the Internet and facing prosecution? How many others are forced to continue with a pregnancy because they don’t have the means, knowledge, or support to make that trip?

That’s where the drama is for me – that’s where the story lies. So I made a short film.

25,000 women have left Ireland in the last five years to access abortions. That’s a lot of stories about taking the boat – about finding the cash, arranging childcare or time off work, booking flights or ferries, about lies told and secrets kept.

Taking the Boat is the story of just two of those women.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Revenge Porn: My Two Cents on #UCD200

Writings From Wymark

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 13.58.19

Sometimes, it is really difficult to believe in Ireland. A country where the woman’s special place in the home is enshrined in our constitution, alongside the eighth amendment, which disallows those capable of birth bodily autonomy. It is even harder to love Ireland when case after case of sexual abuse gets acquitted or a reduced sentence is sought out and achieved by perpetrators. It becomes impossible to endure when a crime is committed against you and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it; and no one to listen to you either.

When the reports of #UCD200 came out, my heart sank but simultaneously, I felt like we had a chance at change. I hoped for justice – finally we could have a serious discussion about revenge porn and momentum to introduce legislation to combat online sexual abuse. But in fact, once again, women were shut down and no…

View original post 1,111 more words

Sex worker healthcare access in Ireland

Guest post by Georgina Burke, a recently retired sex worker

A couple of months ago, I found myself in probably the worst depressive episode I’ve had to date. One of those ones you can see coming for months, but you’re there trying to battle away at general life things and you don’t have the time to deal. It creeps up on you.

So, I needed to find a doctor and a counsellor. I needed antidepressants, therapy, and time off! I called someone who we shall call Sarah. I knew she worked with outdoor sex workers and understood the issues we face. She began to look for a doctor that could treat me. The healthcare system is even trickier to navigate for sex workers, than it is normally for others. I and close friends of mine made call outs for a doctor that would be able to treat me, in case Sarah came back with nothing. In the past, I had the experience of doctors tell me to ‘get a job’ when I explained my work, I didn’t want this to be the case again, especially in my vulnerable state.

I spent my days calling up different organisations and individuals trying to find a counsellor that wouldn’t have views on my work that would impact on my trust of them and the quality of therapy. Most replied to my questions with ‘this is a non-judgmental service’. I don’t know what it is about that phrase, but it turned me off them immediately. I was so worried that my occupation would be blamed for my depression due to negative opinions on the sex industry. I knew that my depression was creeping up on me a long time and I had a fair idea why, and it wasn’t to do with sex work.

“You could just not tell them what you do” This thought ran through my mind a lot. How can you properly receive counselling without mentioning your work? If you have any doubts or slightest mistrust in your therapist, it’s just not going to work, is it? Therapy is supposed to be a supportive environment. Lying to a therapist just seems ridiculous. I had also just moved to Dublin, and so I needed to find a doctor that I could use long term, not just for this particular episode. Again, It just seems largely unhelpful to have to lie to your doctor about your occupation.

After a couple of weeks of no luck, my friends were getting increasingly worried about my health. They called an ambulance for me one night. I couldn’t get in the ambulance. I couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t be stigmatized by hospital staff. I felt like the HSE was the last place on earth that would be the caring and supportive environment that I so badly needed. The day after, I agreed to attend a counselling session in a mental health charity, and when I disclosed my work, I was asked what my parents would think of me. I was asked about the danger in my work. Even when I stressed that I have several methods of keeping safe and nothing of note has ever happened to me, this woman could not accept my answer. I left with the feeling of stigma reinforced more than ever.

It was some time after this I heard from Sarah, who managed to find a really amazing doctor who wasn’t fazed by my work at all. She gave me a full screening, and prescribed me medication and was extremely helpful in finding a counsellor. The counsellor I had was amazing, I felt supported by her and I trusted her with my issues.

I think the issue that really arose from this, was the distrust of healthcare professionals not being able to dissect their personal opinions and their professional responsibility. But, of course this is all due to receiving mostly negative messages about sex work in the media and general society. I don’t believe that any healthcare professional purposely sets to stigmatize or further isolate any client of theirs. When they are hearing constantly of how awful the sex trade is and that the government are all set to criminalise the clients of sex workers, of course they are going to hold the view that it is inherently bad. The problem with this is that it affects sex workers incredibly.

It’s ironic that just before I fell ill, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation held a conference on the effects of prostitution on health, and I bet none of these issues were raised once.

 

 

Women’s Healthcare in Ireland

Guest post by Katherine O’Meara. We are sharing this not to endorse the US healthcare system, but to show how shocking the Irish culture of deference to medical professionals can be to someone who has never experienced it.

Two months ago I attended a women’s clinic in Dublin, which I have attended, on and off, since 2000. I was told there might be something wrong with me.  I was told there was no chance they would perform the exam I’d booked. I was told there was nothing they could do.  I was told all of this in an extremely demeaning, condescending way while simultaneously trying to scare me that there was something amiss.  They were wrong.

Let me start by giving my background.

I grew up in America and moved to Dublin in 1995.  In 1993, when I was 21, I was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on my cervix.  I subsequently had cryotherapy.  I was advised to attend my OB-Gyn for follow up smear tests every three months for one year, then every six months for the next two years, then every year (it is common for women in the US to seek a full pelvic exam every year, in fact it’s so normal it’s known as going for your ‘yearly’).  All the smear results were fine but I continued to be diligent in my appointments.  By 1995 I was living in Dublin so whenever I flew back to Seattle I would duly visit my OB-Gyn.

In 2009, almost three years after my daughter’s birth, I received a letter stating my recent smear test had shown cell dysplasia and they’d like to have me in for a colposcopy.  I rang my GP’s office to ask about the level / result of cell dysplasia (as I had been given this information in the US).  They referred me to a company they sent their smears through.  So I rang that company.  I was told that they didn’t have that information, that what they get from the US company (where all the lab work is done) they pass onto GPs and that I should ring my GP.  When I rang my GP’s office (again), they said they didn’t have any of that kind of information but I could contact the company they outsource to (again).

I booked the colposcopy for the following month.  Unfortunately, the timing of this hit me like a ton of bricks.  After 16 years of good results, it completely caught me unawares.  I was also under a huge amount of pressure at that time, working full time and being a single mum with my family 7,000 miles away.  I was so upset during the colposcopy that I started to cry.  All I could think about was, ‘If something happens to me, what will happen to my daughter?’ One of the attending nurses was not impressed that I was crying and suggested I stop.  “Its only a procedure.” she chided me.  She kept asking me, throughout the procedure, ‘Why are you crying? Why are you crying?’, until another nurse tried to intervene and get her to leave the room.

Afterwards I was just happy it was over.  Until a couple of weeks later I got a letter stating I was being referred to Holles Street hospital for another colposcopy.  The letter didn’t state why.  When I rang my GP’s office they didn’t give me any further information but reinforced that I was being referred.  I found this so frustrating, that nobody would tell me what was going on and that even asking was treated as somehow undermining their supreme omnipotence.

When my colposcopy appointment finally arrived I was not looking forward to it to say the least.  So imagine my surprise when the medical team far exceeded my expectations.  They spoke to me like I was used to doctors and nurses conducting interviews back home.  They were extremely knowledgeable and professional.  They also informed me of my original cell dysplasia level, which both my GP’s office and their outsourcing company had refused to give me when asked.  Not only that but they told me the reason I was at Holles Street was that the labs/results from my previous colposcopy had been compromised.  That’s why I needed another one.  Nothing to do with me.  I would have appreciated that information at the time.  The colposcopy proceeded without any issue, the results were good (negative) and the doctor confirmed that continuing to meet my regular smear appointments was the right approach.

The idea of getting a yearly smear is so ingrained in me that I happily pay for it during the years the free cervical check doesn’t kick in.  Because of the merry-go-round at my GP’s office (in fairness, they are brilliant in every other aspect but women’s health) I decided to go back to getting my women’s healthcare seen to by a well known women’s clinic in Dublin (which I had previously attended, very happily, in my 20s).

I put up with being spoken to condescendingly when making my appointments (yes, I actually do know they should ideally be booked mid-cycle). I put up with explaining that I’m happy to pay for the smear test this year as I have a history and just want to be on the safe side (no, I’m not happy to wait two years for my next free cervical check, although I’m very happy that exists, thank you very much).

This year, when I made my appointment I had information to give the clinician.  My cycle has changed over the last two years, in line with peri-menopause.  As such, my periods are now about every 21 days apart and sometimes I have spotting between periods.  This is not unusual coming up to menopause.  The clinician looked blankly at me when I told her this and asked me to get changed.  As she started to perform the exam she told me I was bleeding and therefore she couldn’t do it.  To illustrate this, she took the speculum out of my vagina and stuck it in my face so close that it took a couple of seconds for my eyes to focus on what I was supposed to be seeing (1 cm of blood).  I wasn’t hugely impressed with her manner but fair enough if the exam can’t be performed.  She told me the lab would not accept any blood contamination in a specimen and to come back when I was mid-cycle.  I explained (again) that as I was pre-menopausal and my cycle was all over the place (its now settled down to every 21 days), this was harder to time.

“What do you tell your patients who are peri-menopausal?” I asked. She wouldn’t answer that but did say if my cycles were that off that I’d ‘want to get checked out’ because ‘there was probably something wrong’.  At this I stressed that changes to one’s cycle aren’t uncommon in the years before menopause and I asked, again, what she suggested to patients who are pre-menopausal, whose cycles are changing but who still want to come in for regular smear tests.  Honest to god, it was like she’d never been asked this question before.

She replied by telling me there was no way an exam could be performed today or on any day if there is bleeding.  She told me I had better make an full pelvic exam appointment straight away as I could have fibroids.  When I said I’d never had fibroids she said I could have cysts.  When I responded that to my knowledge ovarian cysts don’t bleed she said I could have polyps.  And then she asked me, “Do you even live in this country”? (my medical records there go back to 2000, if she had bothered to check).  This is far, far below the quality of care I expect to receive.  It’s so insulting I can’t even laugh about it yet.

It still infuriates me.  Because time and time again, when I ask questions in Ireland in regards to my own body and my own healthcare, the attitude I consistently get is ‘You don’t need to know unless we decide you need to know’ and ‘How DARE you question a medical professional’. The sheer nerve involved in daring to ask a question about your own body and the medical care you need or are receiving!  How DARE you. It’s like being patted on the head and told, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little head about these things you can’t understand.’ This attitude towards patients is grossly backward and ignorant.

I ended the conversation by telling the clinician that since I was visiting home in a couple months, I would get seen there.  This was not well received.

Fast forward two months to July and a trip back to Seattle that allows me to see the OB-Gyn I had started with over 20 years ago.  Inside one of the examination rooms was a information chart on peri-menopause, what to expect, etc.  For the first time in years I felt reassured and confident in the care I was going to receive.

My OB-Gyn (Dr. Bina Souri) and I had a good chat.  She told me that all the changes to my cycle aren’t uncommon to peri-menopause but no harm in having an ultrasound to be on the safe side.  She listened to me and was very knowledgeable and willing to talk about menopause and any question I could think of.  Importantly, because she didn’t feel threatened when I asked her questions, I felt more reassured and confident in her ability.  Taking full advantage of the opportunity I had a smear test, bloods, a full pelvic exam and pelvic ultrasound.  Dr. Souri did note I was bleeding slightly during the smear exam but said the lab might be able to use it anyway.  And they did! Not only was the specimen useable but I’ve no cells showing dysplasia! My ultrasound was fine (I have a small ovarian cyst that will probably go away on its own but I’ll have it checked in a couple months just to be sure), my bloods were great (my cholesterol is slightly up and my vitamin D slightly down but diet can fix that), my blood pressure very good (116/60) and I’ve no fibroids or polyps or thickened uterine lining.  As opposed to just telling me the results were fine, Dr. Souri spend time going over them with me, in detail, so I would understand them.  And that’s important – this is my body.  I want to understand what’s going on with it.

I am extremely lucky in that when visiting family back home, I can book into the medical system there.  Many don’t share that privilege.  I hate to think of other women, who have experienced the bad medical advice/professionals I have, but who aren’t able to seek care elsewhere and who are unable to challenge the bad advice they may receive.

Edited to change Mater to Holles Street.

Lies, damn lies, and TORL statistics

Posted on

Guest post by Laura Lee

Following Stormont’s passing into law of Lord Morrow’s prohibitionist measure not so cunningly disguised as saving the victims of trafficking, it’s not surprising that the various anti sex work groups in the Republic have jumped on the back of that. Why, less than twenty four hours after the law came in, the ICI are claiming that this has already resulted in a mass exodus of sex workers across the border. You’ll forgive my instant suspicion of any statistics coming from the ICI, but as they are members of Turn off the Red Light with such illustrious partners as Ruhama, they have a vested interest in creating unfounded moral panic.

On the 5th of December last year, an article appeared in the Connaught Tribune which stunned me into silence, a real feat indeed. That article claimed that in Galway, 87 women were advertised “for sale” [sic], 97% of whom were immigrants and therefore trafficked. Wow. A quick check on Escort Ireland of today’s figures shows 42 sex workers in total, and that includes men and people advertising as “transsexual/transvestite”. All trafficked ? I think not.

Yesterday saw the publication in the Belfast Telegraph of yet another festival of made up statistics from the ICI. To break them down, they claimed that –

  • Donegal has increased from 14 advertisements to 24 – there are 18 today.
  • Louth has increased from 18 advertisements to 25 – there are 21 today.
  • Leitrim has screeched from 2 ads to 9 – there are 2 today.

If we take a snapshot of the number of sex workers advertising in the border counties, the numbers change dramatically all the time. That’s because by its very nature, the sex industry is fluid, with sex workers moving from location to location. In the short period from 19/11/2014 to 3/12/2014,* the number of female sex workers advertising in the southern border counties varied each day between 45 and 67, with the numbers tending to increase in the run up to Christmas. And the same is true for the rest of Ireland, from Wexford to Belfast to Kerry and all points in between.

Looking at Galway during the period 19/11/2014 to 3/12/2014, the numbers fluctuated there too but not once did the total exceed 57. So where were those 87 sex workers, 97% of whom were trafficked, and why weren’t the Gardai helping them? ICI wouldn’t just be making statistics up, would they? Make your own mind up.

 

*stats available on request

An open letter to Tom Meagher, from St Kilda street-based sex workers

Posted on

In September 2012, Jill Meagher was abducted and murdered as she walked home on the streets of Melbourne, Australia. It later emerged that her killer had been released on parole after attacking a number of other women, some of them street-based sex workers in the St Kilda area of Melbourne. Jill’s husband Tom has now joined a campaign in Ireland to criminalise sex workers’ clients. Here, St Kilda street workers share their views on his participation in that campaign.

Dear Tom Meagher,

As street based sex workers from St Kilda we have come together to urge you to reconsider your position endorsing the campaign “We Don’t Buy It” and to share with you some of the implications it has for us as sex workers.

All of us have different experiences in our lives including our experiences of work.

One commonality we share as street based sex workers in St Kilda is being subject to laws and policing operations that target us and our clients. And this really makes it harder for us to best look after our safety. One thing we thought we shared with you is an understanding of our justice system, and the way it discriminates against sex workers. For us it is more of an injustice system, and as you pointed out so well, this tragically not only affects us, but our whole society. To report crimes committed against us we risk being charged ourselves and being known to police for further profiling and harassment. Even if we take on this risk and report crimes we know it’s unlikely our cases will be treated fairly and with the same seriousness they would be if we were not a sex worker.

It was such a powerful and meaningful moment when you also recognised the injustice sex workers receive in our legal system, and what this means for our society. So in seeing your passion for justice and respect be given to all, including sex workers, co-opted into a campaign which does just the opposite of this is hugely disappointing and upsetting. We decided to write this letter to you because we want you to be able to support us and our safety. We aim to have you see things through our eyes. It’s imperative that everyone understands what we need and what we don’t need, because too often others talk for us and they get it wrong. We want to be safe in our work place and we want to stop violence against sex workers and to stop men’s violence against women. We have attended rallies representing women who we knew personally that have been verbally, physically or financially abused, hurt very badly or even killed while offering paid services in St Kilda Victoria.

Any campaign which calls to end sex work or stigmatises our clients ends up further stigmatising and dehumanising us as well, and ultimately serves to take away our agency and increases violence towards us. Sex work itself is not inherently violent or exploitative or dangerous. But the laws and social attitudes and stigma around sex work as a whole has an impact on our ability to look after our safety. Maybe it can seem confusing, feminists are often saying all kinds of things and it is important men listen to women when it comes to ending violence against women. But unfortunately not all women listen to sex workers, or some only listen to some of us, and only when we say what they want us to.

“We Don’t Buy It” has argued that paying a sex worker means paying for “temporary suspension of [her] desire not to consent and that’s coercion.” For this to be selectively applied to sex work and not other industries is problematic for us especially when sex workers already experience high levels of patronisation, including assumptions that we are not capable of making our own decisions. Arguing that paying someone equals coercion could be said about any worker under capitalism if you wish to term it that way. Would office workers really turn up 9 to 5, 5 days a week and do overtime if there was no incentive for it and no consequence if they instead spent their days with their family, their lover, or doing whatever they felt like? Probably not, yet the question is selectively and repeatedly asked of sex workers. The implication is that we are being specially exploited if we wouldn’t do our job for free.

Exploitation (for example being forced to do something we do not consent to) is very different, and it is not something that should be conflated with any work.

The problem with targeting clients in all of this is that clients are not the problem. By virtue of being a client, they must agree to paying the price mutually agreed upon for the services we wish to offer. No matter if its sex work or any other job, paying a person should never mean you have “bought” them or can do whatever you want with them, that would be violence and/exploitation, not work.

One big problem we face working in St Kilda is that our clients are targeted by police, and the conversations between sex workers and our clients are criminalised. This means it’s harder to negotiate, it’s harder for us to be upfront and check with each other if we are happy to do a business deal, or if it’s not actually a client, but rather someone who may be disrespectful or violent. This is not helped by campaigns which tell us that sex workers are “prostituted women” who don’t have any ability to properly consent anyway.

It also doesn’t help us to campaign for men to stop buying our services. Sex Work is our livelihood, it’s how we make our money and support ourselves. Some feminists claim that shifting the focus on to stopping men buying sex is the way forward, but people need to consider how that pans out in reality. Our colleagues in Sweden have clearly explained to us what happens when the police focus “only” on stopping the client. As one sex worker explained to us “how do you think they find the client? the

police don’t follow a man around, waiting for that moment he might buy sex, no they follow the sex worker, camp outside the sex worker’s house, knock down the sex worker’s door.” Sex workers working in St Kilda already work under laws similar to the Swedish laws, our clients are already criminalised and harassed and we have been vocal about their negative effects for years. Bringing the “Swedish Model” to Victoria would only potentially serve to increase our chances of losing our homes and further isolate us from our peers and other support systems. In contrast, full decriminalisation would enable us to use the safety mechanisms which are criminalised and attract police harassment under our current laws and the Swedish model.

Decriminalisation is the only legal model that would also meaningfully reduce some of the barriers in reporting to police when we are victims of crime.

Whilst it is important for men to ally with feminists to achieve gender equality, it is important that the groups of women who are supposedly being campaigned for are consulted with about what we need to stay safe. In this case, as street based sex workers, we want to make it clear to you: this is not what anti-sex work groups such as the Reach Project in Ireland or Project Respect in Victoria are campaigning for. For street workers in St Kilda to be safe, we need to live free from stigma and criminalisation based on what we do for a living. This means recognising sex work as work, and it means full decriminalisation of sex work, our clients, our workplaces. We want to be seen as equal and not seen as an easy, stigmatised target that will not be taken seriously. For this to happen we need to be treated fairly and with respect, not only in the courts, but also when it comes to campaigns and policies that are about us.

Please stand with us for our right to health and safety.

Halo, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Rory, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Skout, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Holly, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Signed in support:

Ruby Soho, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

Dee, former St Kilda street based sex worker

Veronica Hum, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

Christian, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

Pj, former St Kilda street based sex worker

Rahni Belle, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

Mayweather v Pacquiao: Don’t Watch the Fight

Posted on

Guest post: The author of this piece has chosen to duck SEO. She doesn’t mind if you know who she is, but please show the respect of not including her name, tagging her, or leaving comments that identify her by name. You are free to post this on your own blog or website, provided that you don’t change anything, or identify any of the individuals in it who have not already been named. If you get a lot of traffic from it, do please make a donation to the local women’s charity of your choice.

Yesterday I learned what a ‘rabbit punch’ is. In case you didn’t know, it’s a punch to the base of the skull, and is banned in the sport of professional boxing because it can cause spinal damage. Since most instances of punching someone in the head are illegal, it’s pretty much a no-no generally, but it’s also what Floyd Mayweather did to at least one of his former girlfriends. Or, well, allegedly did, since there are ‘no pictures’.

I also know what a rabbit punch feels like, and unlike Mayweather’s ex, I do have pictures. But you’re not going to get them. You’re not even going to get my name, not because you can’t easily figure out who I am, but because of the impact of SEO on my career, and how badly it’s been damaged by outing myself in the past.

It was, weirdly, three years to the date of this fight, and I’m only now starting to reclaim the first page of my search results for things other than what happened to me. Like it or not, people do think less of you once you’ve taken a few nonconsensual punches to the skull.

But also because if you need photographic evidence, or if you need the kind of evidence that’s needed to secure a criminal conviction that actually sticks, you’ll never grasp the size, scale, and depth of the problem of violence against women.

So, no pictures.

Yesterday I also found myself in a conversation on my friend and editor’s Facebook wall. My friend had written a piece about not giving Mayweather your money, and some complete tool argued that Mayweather has ‘served his time’ and that it’s a problem with the justice system, and not much concern to fans of professional sports. That, in fact, as a sports fan, he would be a hypocrite if he didn’t watch the fight. After all, if we held every man in sports accountable for every incident of violence against women, wouldn’t we run out of sports to watch? I told him I hope he gets his free will back.

But in a way, that guy was right. If you actually held every man in the world accountable for his violence against women, what would actually happen? We know that the extreme cases are just the tip of a very ugly patriarchal violence iceberg, which means that the stability of the world we live in relies in part on minimizing, denying, and enabling violence against women.

So what happens if you watch the fight, even if you don’t pay for it? Nothing. Mayweather gets richer, thinkpieces get written, and people call for radical action while others lash out at them for dragging us into some kind of PC nightmarehole where it’s Godwin’s Law everywhere you look. What happens if you watch the fight, even pay for it? The same thing.

What’s the point of not watching?

The point is what you do to make the world less of a misogynist shithole when nobody is looking, when there are no prizes. Because violence against women, the worst of it, the things that lay the conditions for it, those all happen when nobody is looking.

Sometimes radical actions are needed to draw attention, but real change is a new set of habits, a whole new pathway that lays out a very different outcome, both for women who are victims of violence, and the men who commit it. It’s in deleting someone’s phone number because he hit his girlfriend. It’s in not inviting a rapist to a party. It’s in choosing the respect for and humanity of victims, and of all women — not just the immediate safety — over the comfort of men who may or may not be remorseful or reformed. It’s in challenging male entitlement and patriarchal violence and in listening to women when they say ‘no’.

My ex received a two-and-a-half-year sentence for one of his assaults on me. His sentence was suspended entirely, and is up officially in less than two weeks. I guess you could argue that he ‘served his time’, despite never serving more than a few hours in a cell at our local police station.

Since there is no crime called ‘domestic violence’ in the place this all happened, each assault is treated individually. This meant that on the day of his sentencing, I wasn’t allowed to talk about how he hounded me while I was pregnant until I was suicidal, then told everyone he knew that I was threatening to kill our baby. I wasn’t allowed to talk about how he refused to call me an ambulance when my miscarriage turned dangerous, how he opened the door to a charity canvasser and stood there talking to him for 45 minutes while I tried to convince him I needed a doctor. (I eventually got one, and in retrospect, the hospital should have done a little more digging around instead of letting me leave with him the next day.)

I wasn’t allowed to talk about how he put his hands around my neck two days after I lost the baby. I wasn’t allowed to talk about the times he smacked me, punched me, told the neighbours I made him do it because, legally speaking, none of those things had anything to do with the one and only thing he was being sentenced for. I wasn’t even supposed to say very much about the actual incident because anything I said could be used by his defense barrister as a segue to talking about what a terrible person I was.

When you push a violent man’s actions back onto the legal system, you’re also pushing it back into a context where there really is no way, legally speaking, to acknowledge the depth, breadth, and absolute terror that comes with living in these kinds of conditions. The things that become normal would horrify you, and you would ask why I didn’t just go to the police, despite the fact that I did, and that, legally speaking, there wasn’t a whole lot they could — or were willing to — do.

There is, legally speaking, no comprehensive or holistic way to account for the realities of domestic violence in the legal system, partly because it’s a problem of an abusive dynamic that often has nothing to do with the law, which means it’s also a social problem, a public health crisis, and a totally preventable epidemic.

Three years ago, after my rabbit punches, the black eyes, and the permanent marks he left on my face, I was laying on a trolley instead of the slab it could have been, getting spinal x-rays and bleeding all over myself. I guess he’ll have, like Mayweather, done his time, and he’ll always have his version, where I made him do it. He’ll always have people who excuse him and believe him, and I’ll always have this scar on my face and this PTSD that fucks my life up.

But legally speaking, there isn’t much left to be done. So, now what?

Try not watching the Mayweather fight, not as something you do in isolation, but as one step of many present and future occasions where you build small habits into your life that make it harder for men to be rewarded for violence against women. Make it such a regular habit not to enable, deny, rationalize or minimize the impact that male entitlement and patriarchal violence have on the wider world that dropping your habitual actions into conversation would be like telling people how often you pee or brush your teeth or pick your toes.

Make it as boring and unremarkable as anything you do when nobody’s looking.

A favourite piece of research for Swedish model advocates throws up a few surprises

Guest post by @pastachips

Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking?“, a 2012 study by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer, is cited everywhere as evidence that ‘legalised prostitution’ increases trafficking into the sex industry. This article from last month is a recent example. The study’s conclusions have already been called into question, basically because the paper doesn’t distinguish between different meanings of the word trafficking, either in terms of taking account different countries’ laws – are we comparing like with like? – nor in terms of making a distinction between something-that-might-be-legally-trafficking-but is-essentially-undocumented-migration, and something more like cross-border kidnapping. Making that kind of distinction is pretty important if you’re trying to say something coherent! As is comparing like with like! The papers’ authors caution against treating its conclusions with too much weight, noting that “the quality of data is relatively low”, and that more research “will require the collection of more reliable data to establish firmer conclusions” (p26), but I think their data is actually way worse that they’re letting on.

They focus in on comparing Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and tell us: “in terms of human trafficking victims, the ILO estimated the stock of victims in Germany in 2004 to be approximately 32,800 – about 62 times more than in Sweden” (p25). I looked up their reference for that 32,800 figure, and found that the ILO paper cited as the source – Danailova-Trainor & Belser, 2006doesn’t even mention Germany. I discovered that by reading it, but you can also test it by clicking through and doing a command-f search for the words “German” or “Germany”, which you might reasonably expect to occur in a document that mentioned Germany.

The same 2006 paper is also cited as the source for the numbers on Denmark, where the claim is made that “… the ILO estimates the stock of human trafficking victims in Denmark in 2004 at approximately 2,250, while the estimated number in Sweden is about 500”, and the bracketed reference reads: “Global report data used in Danailova-Trainor and Belser, 2006” (p24). Again, I looked for those numbers (or any mention of Denmark) in vain in the Danailova-Trainor & Belser 2006 paper. I also checked out the “Global Report” mentioned as the source for Danailova-Trainor and Belser’s data, which I figured was probably a reference to the ILO’s 2005 report titled ‘A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour’ – there’s nothing else published that it plausibly could be; I checked. The 2005 Global Report doesn’t contain any country estimates, let alone numbers like those cited by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer.

I assumed that the 32,800 figure regarding Germany must have come from somewhere, so I dug around for ages on the ILO site, and found that the ILO seems to mostly resist giving country-specific numerical estimates (cf this 2005 report on trafficking in Germany, which really won’t be drawn on numbers). The only figures I could find for trafficking in Germany in 2004 were these official lists of identified victims that put the 2004 number at 972 (for all officially identified trafficking victims, not just sex trafficking victims). Obviously a list of ‘officially identified’ victims is unreliable – for instance, surely everyone knows these lists massively under-represent the number of men trafficked into agricultural work. But I feel like at least that list has an available methodology, which you could for instance replicate to see if you would get a similar number, or critique or challenge (as I would). How do you assess the validity of the process which produced an unreferenced 32,800, that appears to have come from nowhere?

It’s probably worth noting that I’m not invested in “defending” Germany’s record on ‘sex trafficking’ (scare-quoted because I think a lot of what is referred to in that phrase is more complicated that is generally allowed). I’ve focused in a bit on Germany because the study does. I don’t support Germany’s legal model in terms of sex work, and nor do any sex worker-led organisations in Ireland or the UK that I’m aware of; sex workers are perfectly capable of articulating why and how laws like those in Germany harm us, and disproportionately harm the more marginalised of us. I just feel like having references that go somewhere is quite a low bar in terms of the social sciences – especially when you’re citing very large numbers that apparently don’t appear anywhere else! – and I’m pretty surprised that the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer study seems not to clear that bar.

I also noticed that the study’s info on sex work laws around the world (167 countries! such big study wow!) is from, uh, 1995. (See p46.) The authors of the study are aware of some potential problems with this, noting: “for some countries, prostitution law changed during the 1996-2003 period: … Germany (2002), Denmark (1999) … Netherlands (2000), New Zealand (2003), and Sweden (1999). Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries” [emphasis mine; some countries removed because if you want to see the full list you can follow up my reference] (p37). Norway implemented the sex purchase law in 2009; Iceland in 2007. In short, the effects of the ‘Nordic model’ are not actually included in the data of this study, and nor is the effect of the New Zealand model. “Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries”. This might arguably make the study a not-totally-solid citation for you, if you’re looking to argue that the Swedish model is great and the New Zealand model is 💩. Here’s maybe the most interesting surprise. Cho, Dreher and Neumayer include a handy list of all the countries they’ve “looked at” (scare-quotes because hmmm), sorted into categories according to whether those countries have “very high”, “high”, “medium”, “low” or “very low” trafficking ‘inflows’. (See p44.) Sweden is listed in the “medium” category, along with … New Zealand.

Now, I don’t think that’s actually meaningful! Because I think that the data used to produce the conclusions of this study was 🌸 garbage 🌸. In general I think you get information that’s meaningful about sex work, trafficking, migration and exploitation by asking migrants who sell sex about their experiences and their policy suggestions. This study is a good example of that. But if you do think the conclusions of the study are meaningful – for example, if you’ve cited this paper as part of your argument in favour of laws like Sweden’s – then it should probably concern you that a study-you-apparently-consider-reliable ‘reveals’ Sweden is actually no ‘better’ at tackling trafficking than New Zealand. Whoops!

I know “the point” of this study is that it’s not “just about” individual countries; it’s trying to see patterns on a macro scale. But – that’s kind of a design problem with the study? In order to have relevance to policy debates, you have to organise your data in a way that is coherent with the terms of the debate – or at least, not egregiously incoherent. The global sex worker rights movement isn’t arguing for the (massively varied!) laws that this paper puts in the pile it calls “legalisation”; we’re not campaigning for “oh, laws that look something like the ones they have in Nevada, or Amsterdam, or Germany, or New Zealand; the details don’t matter, we don’t really mind”. We do mind! We’re trying to work towards (and improve on) the sex work laws they have in New Zealand. Sorry if this idea is complicated, but: aggregate data from Germany, Denmark, New Zealand and the Netherlands doesn’t make sense if no one is arguing in favour of the legal system in Germany, Denmark or the Netherlands, and when people who are pro-criminalisation refuse to understand this, they don’t derail us so much as make it obvious that they don’t care about the detail of the laws because they won’t be affected by them. Which isn’t that great an advocacy look, tbh. My focus on comparing New Zealand to Sweden in this study’s (broken and out-of-date) data isn’t because I’m scared of what will be ‘revealed’ by the aggregated global data (except in the sense that I’m finding this study scarily incompetent); but because I think it makes sense to talk about legal systems in a way that’s precise enough to be coherent.

Plenty of people have cited the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer paper as if it closes the argument, or as if it has some kind of weight or meaning. People who have been using it (presumably without reading it) probably need to decide whether the study – once read beyond the abstract – shows that New Zealand and Sweden have pretty much the same outcomes in terms of ‘sex trafficking’, or whether it’s actually so unreliable and badly put together as to be functionally useless (ding ding ding). While they decide which angle to take, I’m gonna write to the journal that published this paper and raise a few concerns.