RSS Feed

Author Archives: Wendy Lyon

So you don’t want to take Amnesty’s word for it? Okay.

Posted on

CN: stuff you might find by googling for low-quality cishet male porn 

Last week, Amnesty International finally published its full policy position on sex work. The reaction from anti-sex work feminists has been predictable: lots of vitriol, penis-shaped candles, and pimp smears, but little to no engagement with Amnesty’s actual arguments. The 101-page report into Amnesty’s research in Norway (Melissa Gira Grant has summarised it well here) has been, unsurprisingly, almost totally ignored, apart from a couple suggestions that Amnesty is too compromised for its research to be trusted anyway.

Well, great news, “Nordic model” advocates: you don’t have to take Amnesty’s word. Because Swedish super cop Simon Haggstrom – you’ll know him from his frequent visits to other countries to proselytise for the sex purchase ban – has now published his memoirs. Only in Swedish, alas, but that’s why God made Google Translate. Here are some of his views on how the law actually functions in practice. Let’s take them thematically, shall we?

On whether the law is “working” to end demand



On the law’s “normative effect” on young Swedish men


On whether sex workers are still hassled by police


Note the subtle threat in the above, made explicit in the next one:

On whether sex workers are de facto criminalised


Pro tip: ask anyone with a precarious immigration status in your country whether that sounds like a request to voluntarily assist with a police investigation. Or not.

On whether sex workers are treated respectfully and with dignity during raids

Confiscating their used tampons and displaying them as “evidence”? You decide.


Yes, this is an actual picture in the book

On whether the law is more concerned with preventing or punishing “exploitation”


In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking the “main reason” is something totally different. If the cops intervened before any sex took place, Simon would miss all the good parts:








And if all that wasn’t enough to answer one final question…

On who exactly benefits from this law


Well, there you go: it provides the cops with “excitement” and plenty of wank material, in which they themselves play a starring role in the action. Ironic, when you consider that Amnesty are the ones being accused of privileging men’s sexual desires.

So let’s recap. According to one of the law’s chief enforcers, it hasn’t changed men’s attitudes. It isn’t deterring them from paying for sex. It isn’t stopping women from selling sex (indeed, they have to engage in a sexual act before enforcement will take place at all). It is subjecting them to unwanted interactions with the police, up to and including detention, and deportation for those who refuse to accept the cops’ “help”. That … sounds an awful lot like what Amnesty found next door in Norway, doesn’t it?

But even Amnesty might be surprised at the clumsy, cringeworthy porn that Haggstrom illustrates his accounts with – more surprised than Swedish sex workers seem to be, which is possibly telling in itself. Is it any wonder he’s such an advocate for the law?  Without it, he’d have to get off with only his imagination again.

Credit to Lucy Smyth for translations and screenshots. 

On trigger warnings and double standards

Posted on

Content note: PTSD, anaphylaxis

I have an old friend who I’ll call Sarah. Sarah has a rare, fatal allergy to chicken. If she eats chicken she can literally go into anaphylactic shock and die in a matter of minutes. Her allergy is so severe it can even be triggered by the smell of chicken being cooked.  She’s never had a full-on anaphylactic episode from inhalation alone, but she does have a powerful and deeply unpleasant reaction to it, and she doesn’t want to take any chances.

When Sarah was in graduate school she lived in a student apartment on campus. Because of her allergy, she was given the one apartment in the building that had its own kitchen. The other students shared a kitchen on the floor. Unfortunately, the shared kitchen was between her apartment and the way out of the building, so she couldn’t help but walk by past it.  And if she was coming or going when someone was cooking chicken, she couldn’t avoid the smell. And the reaction.

Sarah knows her allergy is inconvenient for the people around her.  She feels bad about this, although she really shouldn’t. When she moved into the apartment, she went and spoke to every other student on her floor, individually. She explained her chicken allergy to them and asked that if they planned to cook chicken, could they please just let her know in advance so that she could make sure she did not have to walk past the kitchen until they were finished. She didn’t ask them not to cook it at all, just to give her a bit of notice when they were planning to.

Most of the students did. One refused to. She didn’t refuse to Sarah’s face; she simply went ahead and cooked her chicken when she wanted without giving Sarah any warning. At least once that Sarah knows of, one of the other students reminded her of Sarah’s request; her response was something along the lines of that she couldn’t be bothered, and Sarah would just have to deal with it.

Just have to deal with an extreme allergic reaction that may not actually kill her, but could trigger symptoms that make her feel like she is going to die. Just deal with it. Because this neighbour couldn’t be bothered to give Sarah a heads-up so she could do what she needed to protect herself. Too much trouble.

You can see where I’m going with this. Sarah’s neighbour was behaving very much like the people who simply refuse to use trigger warnings before sharing material that might adversely affect others. In fact, they are worse because in many cases they are actively trying to dissuade anyone from using them. As obnoxious as her behaviour was, Sarah’s neighbour wasn’t, as far as she knows, going around telling the other students they shouldn’t be letting her know about the danger their chicken cooking might pose to her.

And that’s exactly what we are talking about – danger. Not offence. Not discomfort. Real, genuine harm. The word “trigger” is in there for a reason. It reflects the language used by clinicians and researchers when talking about conditions that make the people who have them susceptible to sudden, acute reactions, set off by things that would be more or less benign to others. Anaphylaxis is one such condition. PTSD is another. In fact, the two conditions often share symptoms – hyperventilation, dizziness, a feeling of being suffocated. The suffocation may more readily lead to actual death in an anaphylactic, but when you’re suffering repeated spells of really feeling like you are going to die, I’m pretty confident in saying that’s going to have a negative effect on your health. And psychiatric conditions do kill people, sometimes, at least indirectly. It’s not the same risk as eating something you have a fatal allergy to, but it’s not incidental or negligible, either.

Anaphylaxis and PTSD have something else in common, too, and that’s that they’re both unpredictable: the triggers aren’t necessarily only where you expect to find them. Sarah once nearly died after eating a “vegetarian” pizza, probably due to cross-contamination in the restaurant kitchen. Other allergic people’s triggers may be even harder to avoid, like peanuts. And not every allergic reaction is an anaphylactic reaction, either, just as not every read of potentially triggering material will actually set off the symptoms in someone with PTSD. But just because you don’t know whether or how someone is going to react to something isn’t a reason not to warn them when you know it’s something they might react quite severely to.  Letting them know allows them to decide for themselves whether the risk is one they feel able to take. Not letting them know gives them no real choice in the matter – even if it’s a day when they’re feeling exceptionally vulnerable, or left their epi-pen at home.

Ultimately, where you stand on trigger warnings says a lot about where you stand on mental health. If you think Sarah’s request for a heads-up was reasonable, if “may contain nuts” doesn’t provoke you into writing awful New Statesmen columns about the threat to culinary freedom, but you think PTSD sufferers should just grow a thicker skin and certainly should not expect other people to have any regard to their condition, then what you’re basically saying is that mental health doesn’t matter in the way that physical health does. Not an uncommon view, of course, but one I suspect many of those in the “anti-trigger warning” camp would be loath to admit they hold.  Either they do hold it, or they’ve entirely missed the point of what trigger warnings are about. There really is no third option.

 

 

Quick note on the Belfast abortion rats

Posted on

Just when you thought the story couldn’t get worse about the 21-year-old Belfast woman who was given a suspended jail sentence for inducing her abortion, along come the people who shopped her to the police – her own housemates – to show the world how truly abhorrent it’s possible for humans to be. Here are some choice quotes from them in today’s Belfast Telegraph:

“This isn’t anything to do with the rights and wrongs of abortion. I’m not anti-abortion. I believe there are circumstances, like rape, where it should be a woman’s choice.

“This is about her attitude. It was as if she was getting rid of a piece of clothing,” she stated.

“There was absolutely no remorse. Even the way she was up and away out and doing her own thing a day after the abortion, while me and our other house-mate just walked around in shock.”

“It is just insane the way we are being portrayed as being the bad ones in this.”

 

So they didn’t report her out of some sense of civic duty, because she’d committed an offence. Abortion is illegal throughout Ireland in the case of rape, too, but apparently this housemate would have had no problem with that (even though the embryo would presumably look exactly like it did in this case). They reported her because she wasn’t sorry about her abortion. Because she had the absolute temerity to be able to get on with her own life after it. Because she didn’t feel the regret they think a woman should be obliged to feel after terminating an unwanted pregnancy. Because she didn’t hurt. So, they were going to make sure she did.

The housemates are clearly taking note of the reaction on social media, so allow me to add this one: Yes, you are the bad ones in this. You are awful. You are the worst people I have read or heard anything about today. I am disgusted to breathe the same air as you. I hope you step on a Lego for every remaining day of your terrible life.

The social media response is the one positive thing to come out of your despicable deed. For once, the people being shamed because of an abortion actually deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police: part 3

Posted on

This is the third in a series (previous parts here and here) of my analyses of Swedish police reports which, as you’ll see, depict the law against paying for sex in a less flattering light than you’d expect from all the propaganda about it. I’m not going to go into much depth with this one, first because it largely repeats the findings of the previous two and second because I felt sick to my stomach before I reached the end of it, for reasons that will become clear. What follows, then, is only a few particularly notable excerpts from the latest report (published in November 2015). The link is here and, like last year, I’ve had to run this through Google translate; it seems the practice of publishing these reports in both Swedish and English ceased after my first post in this series. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

So here goes:

In cases where the women used in prostitution in Sweden had been found the police or NGOs offered opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation into human trafficking or pimping, they could in some cases be rejected under the Aliens Act to the EU country where they have a residence permit. That women do not want or dare to cooperate in an investigation may be due to lack of confidence in the police, but also to the fear that they or their family will be punished. (p.16)

Supporters of the law often deny that this happens, but there it is in black and white from the Swedish police themselves. Non-EEA sex workers or women trafficked into prostitution (the report assumes they’re the latter) risk expulsion if they don’t help the police with their investigations – even though the police know that sometimes they refuse out of fear. What kind of “support and assistance” is that?

By the way, here’s the footnote to that paragraph:

According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph “an alien may be rejected if it can be assumed that during his or her stay in Sweden he or she will not earn a living in an honest way”.

Remember, these are women the law purportedly regards as “victims”.

Note also the procedural defect, which allows a person to be deported based on an assumption. In a country where discrimination against “Asian-looking” women is permitted as an anti-prostitution measure, without any actual evidence against the specific woman, you’d be forgiven for not putting much confidence in those “assumptions”.

Moving on to page 22:

In 2014, the police noted a change regarding the number of Internet sites with ads for the sale of sexual services where there was reason to suspect that the victims were under 18 years old. The ads were fewer and the police saw a change in the way to make contact from ads to the open pages of chat and social media applications such as Facebook.

It’s been pointed out time and time again that even where the sex industry is criminalised, it constantly adapts to new technologies and new methods of avoiding detection. Here’s a good example. Advertising on social media undoubtedly predates 2014, even if the cops weren’t aware of it. If police scrutiny begins to make that too inconvenient, something else will replace it – that’s an absolute certainty.

Oh and incidentally, if you’re imagining that it will only be people actually advertising sex whose social media accounts will be scrutinised, remember that the Swedish police have fairly strong surveillance powers. Anyone who spends time in, or talks to people in, Sweden can be pretty sure they’ll use this to justify even more snooping into your private communications.

Sex is still being sold by online advertisement, though, and on page 29 they give an example of it:

In the spring of 2014 the Stockholm police prostitution team came in contact with a 14-year-old girl sexually exploited by adult men for payment when she advertised sexual services via the Internet. The girl said that she was bought and sexually exploited by several men and the police managed to identify two of them.

The 14-year-old girl is, of course, an iconic figure in anti-prostitution campaigning. This image was all over the place in Ireland a few years ago:

Anna

The organisations behind this ad want us to believe that Anna’s sad story wouldn’t have happened if only there was a law here criminalising men who pay for sex. Yet here are the Swedish police confirming that 15 years after this law was introduced – a law older than she is – they have their own Anna, who’s been paid for sex by “several” adult men. And I’m guessing “she’s not the only one”, either.

On page 43, we find what may be the single most heinous thing I’ve ever read about this law. Discussing penalties (and why the doubling of them doesn’t seem to have worked as well as expected, although of course that’s not stated in so many words) the report says:

several proposals have been made that the crime of purchase of sexual services should be divided into severity and a felony introduced. The [2010 official] evaluation of the effects of the ban on the purchase of sex noted in its analysis of this question that a classification of the offence by several severity levels could bring more disadvantages for the fight against this and related offences. Police Regions agree with the commission’s fear that graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised.

Read that again, and let it sink in. Actually, let me repeat this bit:

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

Once more. Just in case.

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

I am nearly at a loss for words about this. One of the arguments that has been made against the introduction of this law in Ireland is that it would divert resources away from serious offences (like actual trafficking and exploitation) because the police would need to use those resources going after just any man who pays for sex. So, here the Swedish police are confirming that that’s exactly what they want it to do. As with the increase in stigma against sex workers, the reduced ability of the police to focus on “more reprehensible” crimes against them is a feature, not a bug of the law.

There are case study summaries at the end of the report, but I think I’ll leave it here. If there is anything more outrageous or despicable than the deliberate refusal to prioritise serious crimes against sex workers, I’m not sure I have the stomach to read them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to donate to National Ugly Mugs. Please consider doing the same if you can.

 

 

Criminalising purchase of sexual services is a daft idea, part infinity: enforcement issues

I wrote a bit about this here, but I’ve been having more thoughts about this lately and I think it’s worth a separate post about how problematic it’s going to be.

Not long ago, Swedish cop Kajsa Wahlberg visited Ireland on yet another PR junket to promote the law. In amongst the usual codswallop about trafficking reduction and sex workers not hating the law really, she made one interesting comment which was reported by Kitty Holland in the Irish Times but not, as far as I can tell, really noticed anywhere else:

She said it was resource intensive legislation, requiring many man-hours to track, locate and prosecute illegal trafficking and management of prostitution.

“It involves a lot of ‘listening in’ to conversations, translating. It is very resource intensive and very costly.”

Now the first problem with this ought to be obvious to anyone who’s followed the news in Ireland lately. Where exactly are we going to get all these “man-hours”? What crimes are we going to deprioritise so that the Gardaí have more time and money to peer into people’s bedrooms? True, there is provision in Budget 2016 for additional Garda resources, but the public seem pretty convinced there are nowhere near enough cops to deal with the things that are already illegal. It’s hard to imagine there’d be much support for giving them new – and “resource intensive” – offences to focus on, at the expense of their attention to burglaries and the like.

The reality, of course, is that our police won’t be spending a Swedish level of resources to enforce this law. They don’t have the power to do all the “listening in” the Swedes do (one of the reasons the PSNI told the Stormont Justice Committee the law would be pretty much unenforceable in the North, which, so far, it has been). And since the Minister sensibly didn’t accept the Oireachtas Justice Committee’s truly asinine proposal to treat people who visit escort sites the same as people who download child abuse images, they’re probably not going to be doing a lot more internet monitoring, either.

It strikes me that the most likely ways the law will be enforced are these:

Staking out known sex workers/“brothels”. This already happens to some extent; the Gardaí know – and keep an eye on – many of the premises regularly used for commercial sex, but don’t tend to disturb the occupants unless there are at least two sex workers there (bringing it within the common law definition of an illegal “brothel”). It’ll be a different story when the presence of even one person selling sex automatically means a crime is being committed.

Now since – and I know the law’s supporters have a tough time grasping this, but it’s really fairly obvious – sex workers like everyone else don’t want to lose income, which tends to happen when all their customers get arrested, a consequence of this is that many will feel they have to work in premises not known to the vice squad. As a practical matter, this usually means outcalls (in which they go to the client, rather than vice versa). It means they go to an unfamiliar location, where they don’t know who or what or how many people are waiting for them; where they can’t have an escape route mapped out in the event things go wrong. The Swedes admit that this has been an effect of the law, which is one of the reasons you know they’re lying when they claim it hasn’t made sex work more dangerous.

The other likely enforcement method is the sting operation: cops place fake ads, arrest people who answer them. The first consequence of this is that it will enormously strengthen the hand of sites like Escort Ireland, which clients will rely on to ensure the booking they make is legit. It will also make it harder for escorts to opt out of reviews – something I find particularly ironic in light of that odious Invisible Choice campaign (no, I’m not linking to it) which has nonsensically utilised the review as an argument for the Swedish model. And if they do this on a regular/sustained basis, it means that the women of An Garda Síochána (and there aren’t that many of them) will be disproportionately delegated to this particular line of duty. Not that I’d rather they were out bashing the heads of water protesters, you understand, but are these stings really the most appropriate use of their abilities? I mean, no little girl thinks “When I grow up I want to be a cop pretending to be a prostitute.”

Of course, the sting is already in use at street level – where buying sex has been effectively criminalised for 22 years under the soliciting law – and it hasn’t had any lasting deterrent effect there, so you’d wonder why people expect so much from the new law. A curious thing about which is that it will actually provide for a lower penalty than the existing soliciting law: the latter can you get you a Class D fine (€1,000) or four weeks in prison for a third offence, but under the new bill a Class D fine is as bad as it gets. So what the government’s doing is trying to “end demand” by introducing a less punitive variation of a law that’s already proven ineffective in ending demand. This is a notable and probably significant difference in context between Ireland and Sweden, where there was no criminalisation of clients until paying for sex was outlawed.

A few days ago, but after I wrote the above paragraphs, this article appeared in the Indo. It’s about the next report due out from the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is expected to recommend limited decriminalisation of drugs. The different approach shown in these comments by Committee Chair David Stanton is striking:

Mr Stanton said he believed the model would free up garda and court resources to tackle drug dealers and traffickers rather than those using drugs recreationally.

“What we are talking about is radical and I don’t think we could have had this discussion 10 years ago, but I think it is definitely a system we should seriously consider,” he said.

“We should be targeting the serious dealers and traffickers and not spending our time and resources with some kid in the court system because they were caught with a joint,” he added.

Of course some of us were having this discussion 10 years ago, but he’s right that Irish parliamentarians couldn’t have been among them. Not because decriminalising drugs was any less worth considering then; not because there was any less evidence then of the harms of criminalisation nor, of course, because it wasn’t any less harmful. No, the discussion couldn’t be had 10 years ago because Irish society was still too mired in a drugs panic to think about the subject rationally. Sound familiar?

There’s one important difference, though. The crackdown on drug use, for all its serious flaws, did spring from a legitimately grassroots, community-based campaign. It happened because the Gardaí were (eventually) prodded into action by people who’d been seeing their families and neighbourhoods torn apart by drug addiction. The inevitable consequence of that action, that “fighting drugs” would become just another way to criminalise the working class, was assuredly not what they wanted; but they did, understandably, want some action to be taken against what was a genuine blight on their lives. There is no such grassroots call to criminalise sex workers’ clients: it’s a top-down, libfem NGO and convent-driven campaign against something that offends the campaigners’ moral and/or ideological sensibilities. When the ordinary people of County Louth have Adrian Crevan Mackins and things like this to worry about, do you think they want their local Gardaí spending time snooping around hotel rooms to arrest people having the wrong kind of sex? Has anyone bothered to ask them?

End demand for marriage

Earlier this week, provisions of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 came into effect which, essentially, turn marriage registrars into immigration agents. Henceforth, non-EU nationals who wish to marry in Ireland must give the registrar evidence of their immigration status. If the registrar suspects that it is to be a marriage of convenience – defined in the statute as where at least one of the parties enters it “solely for the purpose of securing an immigration advantage” (I’ll come back to this later) – then the registrar now has the power to demand all sorts of personal information from the parties. If you want to see the full list of factors deemed relevant to this consideration, scroll about halfway down this page. If the registrar and their superintendent decide that yes, this would be a marriage of convenience, then they are obliged to refuse to register the marriage, and report the couple to the Minister for Justice.

The Minister issued a press statement in which she welcomed the new rules, presenting so-called “sham marriage” as a violence against women issue:

A non EEA national coming to the end of his immigration permission or without any immigration permission can contract a sham marriage with an EU national to extend their permission. Women are exploited in such arrangements and even if money changes hands there is obviously scope for coercion and intimidation.

I am also deeply concerned that in some instances women may be trafficked to Ireland with a view to being forced into sham marriages.

Continuing this theme the next day, the Irish Examiner reported:

In 2013 the Council of Europe asked Ireland to amend the law to include sham marriages as a form of exploitation and give gardaí powers to intervene in such cases.

It was estimated that 400 women were being trafficked into Ireland to take part in such ceremonies. Many of these came from Latvia, which complained about the situation under Irish law.

That statistic was patent BS, but even so, I wondered where it originally came from. Googling only threw up an earlier Examiner article with the even more ludicrous claim of 400 trafficked per year. Needless to say, the actual Council of Europe reports said nothing of the sort, so I took to Twitter to see if anyone had any clue:

Sure enough, the Twitter hivemind soon came to the rescue:

And to my complete non-surprise, what the 400 figure at the source link actually comes from is this line:

Latvian police estimate that last year up to 400 Latvian women took part in sham marriages with Asian men in Ireland.

If this sounds tediously familiar, it’s because exactly the same process is responsible for some of the more absurd “sex trafficking” claims, such as the one about Finland having 40,000 victims per year (the source for which is an Interpol report, not online, which estimated that around that many women visit Finland each year to voluntarily sell sex). But such wild numbers are even dafter for this alleged form of trafficking, because there’s a really key difference: the women are coming to Ireland to take part in a regulated activity, one that already has a substantial degree of government oversight.

You wouldn’t know this from the Minister’s press statement, or pretty much any of its media coverage. The ordinary reader would assume that Inga and Ali can just fly into Dublin Airport, go straight to the Civil Registration Office, and then head for GNIB to register his Irish green card. And, furthermore, that there’s nothing anyone can do about it (or could do about it, until these new measures saved the day).

The truth is there’s actually a lot more involved in getting Irish residency as the spouse of an EU citizen. Leaving aside the issue of having to get to Ireland in the first place, first they have to go through Irish marriage registration procedures. This means booking an appointment with a registrar (usually at some delay), gathering all the documentation the registrar will ask for (if Ali doesn’t already have a PPS number, he’s in for a lot of fun trying to get one) – and even once all these preliminaries are done, they still have to wait three months to actually get married. Only then can Ali apply for EU-Fam residency, and only if Inga is actually exercising her EU Treaty rights in Ireland (which usually means working). They have to complete and jointly sign the application form, submit their original passports and a pile of other documents to INIS, and then wait up to six months for a decision. Just before the final decision is made, INIS will usually ask them to submit up-to-date evidence of their cohabitation and Inga’s employment. So all told, we’re looking at probably around a minimum nine months – after the agreement to get married – before Ali’s residency is secured. And even then, it’s not really secure: he’ll lose it if Inga leaves the State, stops working or goes for a quickie divorce in Latvia before three years are up.

It’s a procedure that just doesn’t easily lend itself to human trafficking. It takes too long, and the “victim” would have too many opportunities to raise the alarm. That’s not to say it doesn’t ever happen, but it really doesn’t seem like it would pass the “worth the hassle” test for many people. Especially if it’s true, as is alleged, that there are thousands of EU national women all too willing to pocket the cash and keep up the façade voluntarily.

What’s also being missed is that the registrars and INIS already have powers to deal with any such cases that arise. While it is not, as far as I can tell, specifically set out in legislation, both the Health Service Executive and the Department of Social Protection – the two bodies that oversee the registration process – regard the free consent of the parties as a mandatory ingredient in a lawful marriage. If the registrar had genuine grounds to believe Inga was not consenting, s/he would therefore have reasonable cause not to issue the marriage registration form. And the Free Movement Regulations already specifically exclude parties to a “marriage of convenience”. Immigration officers can already carry out investigations into couples applying for EU Treaty rights, and at least in some cases, they do: I’ve seen an FOI file with a record of telephone calls made to the EU national’s workplace to verify her employment. It may be the case that our civil servants aren’t actually doing enough to prevent trafficking for marriage, but they don’t need new laws to be able to do it.

Now as I noted in my series of tweets above, in 2013 the Irish government stated that it had not found any cases of trafficking for forced marriage. The 2013 Annual Report of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit doesn’t mention any either, while a subsequent analysis of potential and suspected trafficking cases in 2013-2014 only notes about half a dozen cases of “other” forms of trafficking, a category which includes forced begging and criminality as well as marriage, without any further breakdown. Unless her department is even more dysfunctional than we realise, the Minister for Justice is aware of these statistics, so what is she on about when she says she’s “deeply concerned”? I think there’s two possibilities here. One is that she thinks women* are such delicate little flowers that we are not capable of giving real consent to what she calls a “sham marriage”, and therefore they’re all human trafficking cases. The other is that she knows full well that they aren’t, and is cynically exploiting the moral panic around human trafficking in order to make these rules look more like an anti-VAW measure, and less like the racist immigration controls that they actually are.

* Eastern European and Portuguese women, anyway. No concern seems to have been expressed for the Irish women getting married in other countries.

It’s also telling that the only kind of “marriage of convenience” these new rules apply to is one aimed at deriving a benefit in terms of immigration status. It is still perfectly ok to marry someone just for a financial benefit, whether that accrues to yourself or to your family.

smith_marshall180Not a “marriage of convenience”

NGI 6315Also not a “marriage of convenience”

What the new law actually does, then, is create a principle that two people may lawfully consent to marriage for any reason whatsoever except to gain an immigration advantage. There is only one category of people whose reasons for getting married can be lawfully (and, it must be said, quite intrusively) interrogated and – well, what do you know! – they happen to be non-EU nationals. In practice, of course, they are likely to only be certain types of non-EU nationals, specifically the brown ones.

So whatever about the intention behind these rules, they will inevitably be racist in their application. Registrars, who are already overworked if the waiting lists are anything to go by, are certainly not going to be in a hurry to play 20 Questions with every EU/non-EU couple who makes an appointment. They’ll make the same assumptions the Minister has, that is, that Eastern European and Asian relationships are so “statistically improbable” that at least some of them have to be fake. I’m not inclined to blame the registrars who do racially profile these couples, incidentally; there is still uncertainty as to whether they’ll face any consequences if a marriage they let go ahead is later determined to be a “sham”.

The strangest thing about this whole business is that the NGO who you’d expect to be objecting loudest to this, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, has actually endorsed* both the concept of “sham marriage” and the “need” for state intervention. I don’t know if they’ve responded to the new law; their social media pages have been silent on it. But certainly, their advocacy in favour of keeping out certain immigrants would not have gone unnoticed by the Department of Justice. If there is anything about this issue that should give rise to “deep concern”, the collaboration of migrant sector NGOs with unavoidably racist methods of border control surely has to be at the top of the list.

*Link has been edited to provide screenshot, as the original post was subsequently deleted from their Facebook page.

On Amnesty and that open letter

Posted on

As most readers of this blog will probably be aware, Amnesty International recently proposed adopting a policy in favour of sex work decriminalisation. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – a radical feminist organisation for whom “trafficking” means, simply, prostitution – had kittens, and got a whole bunch of celebrity women (and others) to sign an open letter calling on Amnesty to reject this proposal. You can read the proposal here and the CATW letter here. (There’s also a counter-letter from the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, an actual sex worker-led organisation, which you can read and sign here. And please do.)

Much has already been written about the CATW letter, so I’ll limit my own critique to two points:

1. Any anti-sex work argument that cites Germany and/or the Netherlands without even mentioning New Zealand is either ill-informed or simply dishonest. The celebrities may fall into the former category, but CATW and many of the ordinary signatories know full well that New Zealand, and not those other countries, is the preferred model of “the HIV/AIDS sector, including UNAIDS” – which CATW’s own letter describes as the main inspiration for Amnesty’s proposal. Their failure to mention it can only be deliberate, presumably in an effort to prevent the ill-informed – the people who do think Germany and the Netherlands are what decriminalisation means in practice – from learning of the existence of the New Zealand model, and deciding to find out more about it.

2. It is equally dishonest to portray the policy proposal as one that “sides with buyers of sex, pimps and other exploiters rather than with the exploited”. This is what the draft policy actually says:

Amnesty

It is patently clear from this paragraph – the only one in the draft policy addressing client and third party criminalisation – that it is precisely “the exploited” (by which CATW mean all sex workers) whose rights Amnesty is aiming to protect. CATW are free to disagree that decriminalisation would protect them, of course, but an honest response to this paragraph would require at least acknowledging that as Amnesty’s aim.

On top of that, the policy has an appendix – the summary of research findings Amnesty undertook with sex workers in four different countries (Argentina, China, Norway and Papua New Guinea). This runs to four pages, and includes a number of direct quotations from the sex workers Amnesty spoke to. I’ve read and reread and reread the four pages, and I can’t find any direct quotes by clients or third parties.

Here’s a sample of the quotes from Norway:

Amnesty 2Amnesty 3Amnesty 4

One would almost have to wonder what CATW think it means to “side with” a person, if not to support abolishing a law that that person says puts them in danger.

Now it could be argued that we don’t know how many sex workers told Amnesty that actually they think criminalising their clients is in their interests. This is true; we don’t. But the fact is that every research study I have ever seen from anywhere on the impacts of client criminalisation has found that sex workers consider it to put them more at risk. Every last one. Even the official reports used by the Swedish and Norwegian governments to justify their laws. Even the City of Oslo report used by statistically illiterate radfems to justify the laws. So to make that argument would be disingenuous. But to not even acknowledge the existence of the research findings, while simultaneously claiming that Amnesty is siding against sex workers? That’s worse than disingenuous. It’s bad faith.

And if you are a journalist who reported on the CATW letter without reading and referring to what the Amnesty document actually says? Shame on you.

 

What TORL aren’t telling you about those “trafficking” stats

Posted on

Earlier this week, the Central Statistics Office published its latest reported crime data, which included a figure of 33 “human trafficking offences” – up from 22 in the last report.

Predictably, this was seized on by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to bolster its call for the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients:

Now as I’ve noted a number of times, Irish “trafficking offences” can encompass quite a number of things that have nothing to do with sex work – including unlawful sexual activity with a minor and helping a person enter the State to seek asylum. So, quite apart from the obvious point that we don’t know whether the increase relates to sex trafficking or labour trafficking, we don’t even know if it relates to trafficking in the Palermo Protocol sense at all.

So, I decided to do something I’m pretty sure never occurred to TORL to do: I emailed the CSO’s crime data section to ask for further detail on these offences. Within a few hours, I had a reply inviting me to telephone them to discuss my query (see how easy that was, TORL?).

Unfortunately, the very helpful person who answered the phone was unable to provide any detail, because the CSO don’t have it: the figures were reported exactly as they came to them from the Gardaí. I asked if they could even be broken down into which statutory offence was reportedly committed, but the answer was no: literally all the CSO were told was “33 human trafficking offences”.

Furthermore, the CSO told me, this doesn’t necessarily even represent things that are legally defined as human trafficking: “It’s a Garda definition, not a legal definition.” So anything the reporting Garda considers trafficking would go into that figure. The lack of any kind of standard renders the statistic wholly unreliable evidence of anything at all.

And, finally, I was told that the figure may include inchoate offences, such as conspiracy. So there is no need that any actual trafficking had taken place – it is enough that there was an agreement in place to do so. Presumably, the figure may also include complicity offences, such as aiding and abetting.

What is apparent then is that the “33 human trafficking offences” need not relate to 33 separate incidents of (whatever kind of) human trafficking, i.e., 33 victims. And since the same was true of the previous report’s 22, we can’t judge the significance of the 50% increase in any meaningful sense. It’s a number on a page that tells us nothing about anything – except, of course, the willingness of crusaders to manipulate data for their own ends.

On trafficking stats and Irish media fail

It’s a source of constant frustration for me that Irish journalists take such a wholly uncritical approach to the spin coming out of the TORL camp. Statistics are blandly repeated as if there was no reason not to believe them, their logical connection to the TORL argument taken for granted; there is never any questioning as to whether they would really support that argument even if they were true. I’m not suggesting this type of “churnalism” is unique to Ireland, of course, but it’s too widespread here to attribute only to individual reporters or specific news organisations. Whether due to editorial direction or sheer laziness, the Irish media have essentially acted as the PR wing of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, doing their work for them by treating their every press statement, every stunt as it was the result of some real journalist’s investigative work.

The latest example of this was the media coverage of this Ruhama statement. The headline, of course, is no different to what Ruhama have been saying for a few years now, and I’m not quite sure why RTÉ thought it merited a whole video report. (Contrast with their total failure to cover a genuinely newsworthy event – the launch of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland’s policy paper a few days earlier.) I suppose the “hook”, if they needed one, was the claim that if the Oireachtas doesn’t hurry up and introduce a ban on paying for sex, there will be an influx of clients from up north in June when the Six County ban comes in. Ruhama spokesperson Sarah Benson says she knows this by reading online forums, where the clients are supposedly discussing their plans to become cross-border sex tourists once that law comes into effect. And this right here is a perfect example of how an unquestioning media becomes a propaganda delivery machine – because if they’d gone on those forums themselves they’d have seen plenty of clients discussing their intention to continue visiting escorts after the law is brought in, and even sharing tips on how to get around the law. Some do say they won’t risk it, of course, but the full picture is considerably more complex than the “pimps and punters will come south” rhetoric we’ve been hearing since Stormont passed the bill – and our journalists would find this out pretty quickly if they would just do the barest bit of research now and again instead of letting themselves be spoon-fed all the time.

But what really needed interrogating in that article is the assertion that the 82 victims of trafficking assisted by Ruhama last year were “mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa”. In itself, there’s nothing remarkable about that statement – there are certainly plenty of African women in Ireland, and most of them would have required visas to come here (a trafficking risk factor) and most of them would have no entitlement to work here on arrival (also a trafficking risk factor). So in that sense, it’s perfectly believable that they would be overrepresented in trafficking statistics.

But to state the obvious, a large number of African trafficking victims in the Irish sex industry would mean a large number of African women in the Irish sex industry – and this is where questions start to arise. Using the advanced search function on Escort Ireland, I come up with a grand total of three Sub-Saharan African women advertising tonight. Even accounting for the fact that some might have given a false nationality, there’s still a loooong way to go to reach “mostly” out of 82. Africans are not known to be over-represented in street prostitution here, and while we know some direct provision residents are forced to sell sex, the indications are this is mostly because of our appalling government policy of not letting them do any other work and forcing them to live on €19 per week – not because they have been trafficked here for prostitution.

So if we assume that 82 figure is accurate (or if it’s only the “tip of the iceberg”), then this conclusion logically follows: there is a lot of sex trafficking going on that has nothing to do with the online escort sector, nothing to do with street prostitution. It could be, as a 2012 report on sex work and trafficking in London suggested, that the market for African women operates through word-of-mouth community networks – making such cases particularly difficult to detect.

But that leaves us with another question, which is: why is it that these women are so much more likely than women of other nationalities to seek the assistance of Ruhama? Are trafficked African women somehow more likely than other trafficked women to escape their predicament and make their way to All Hallows? Are trafficked women of other nationalities drawn to different services, or to none at all? Or could it be that there just really isn’t much trafficking in the more visible sectors, so there aren’t as many non-African victims who need these services?

These are questions that need to be asked, particularly in light of the looming law change. If most sex trafficking really is taking place in a closed migrant community setting – or by other means that don’t require an Escort Ireland profile – then criminalising Escort Ireland customers won’t do much of anything to stop it. It would be the legislative equivalent of looking for a lost item in a room you didn’t lose it in just because the light is better there.

And even if that’s not the case, the fact remains that there’s a striking discrepancy between the nationalities of most of Ruhama’s clientele and the nationalities of most visible women in the Irish sex industry – a discrepancy that surely has practical significance in terms of what kind of services and prevention measures are needed. It’s worth interrogating regardless of what it means for the usefulness of the proposed law. Irish journalism really needs to start unpacking these TORL soundbites, instead of just swallowing them whole.

More on sex trafficking in Sweden, from the Swedish police

Just over a year ago I wrote this post, analysing the Swedish police’s annual human trafficking report for 2011. A few months later, the 2012 report was published in Swedish; I didn’t have the time to Google Translate it so I figured I’d wait until the English version came out. Unusually, though, it never did. And now, I see the 2013 report is available – but again, only in Swedish. Perhaps the powers-that-be in Sweden have realised these reports aren’t exactly helpful to their international propaganda campaign.

So, Google Translate it is.  As it turns out, much of the 2013 report just repeats more-or-less-verbatim what I already quoted in my summary of the 2011 report (and I really do encourage you to read that, particularly if you still buy the TORL disinformation). But a few things jumped out at me from Section 3.1 of the current report, the section on “Human trafficking for sexual purposes”:

sex trafficking is not just an urban phenomenon but … these crimes also occur in small towns throughout Sweden (p.15)

They probably said that in the last report too, but it strikes me now how similar it is to Diarmuid Martin’s widely-reported New Year’s Mass, in which the Archbishop of Dublin solemnly informed us that trafficking is happening in every nook and cranny in Ireland. Hype about the spatial distribution of sex trafficking is an interesting subject in and of itself, though not one I’m going to spend any time on here.

In 2013 the police established a total of 41 complaints concerning trafficking for sexual purposes. … The above statistics can be compared with the situation in 2012, when 21 reports of human trafficking for sexual purposes were established. (p.15)

I’ve said repeatedly that I think trafficking statistics are pretty much meaningless, because they only measure what officials detect and identify as trafficking, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with the actual amount of activity taking place that fits the legal definition of “trafficking”. But let’s be honest – if this was a Dutch or German study showing a 95% increase in sex trafficking in a single year, don’t you think we’d be hearing all about it from the Mary Honeyballs and Rhoda Grants and Equality Nows of this world?

As in 2012, there was also in 2013 a return to more brutal methods in trafficking cases. (p.16)

Hmmm. Is this the “normative effect” Minister Fitzgerald tells us she expects from the law?

According to Europol … the victims of sex trafficking brought into the EU from third countries particularly come from Nigeria. This is the case even in Sweden. (p.16)

TORL supporters in Ireland have repeatedly claimed that this is the case in Ireland, too, which again undermines the argument that a country’s prostitution laws make the difference.

In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden and able to be contacted by the police or NGOs they are offered the opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation of human trafficking/pimping, they may in some cases be inadmissible under the Aliens Act. [Footnote: According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph of the Aliens Act, “an alien is inadmissible if it can be assumed that during their stay in Sweden they will not earn a living in an honest way.”] (p.17)

Let’s condense that a bit: “In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden but not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement, they may be deported, because we don’t want their kind here.” Such a caring compassionate approach to “women exploited in prostitution”, isn’t it?

Some victims told police that were they exploited in prostitution by sex-buying men, pimps and traffickers in several other EU countries before they were transferred to Sweden. According to Europol, it is common for criminal networks engaged in human trafficking to move victims from country to country and often within countries. This is how traffickers regularly offer men the sex-purchase of new women and maximize their profits. (p.19)

I think this is quite noteworthy, in light of previous claims that traffickers avoid Sweden because they can’t make any money there. 15 years of the sex purchase ban, and police say that traffickers are still moving victims to Sweden in order to “maximize their profits”. What does that tell you about how effective they think their law really is?

Another subsection looks at the online sector, and the last paragraph merits quoting in full:

National Police can confirm that subjects relating to the purchase of various sexual acts, escort services and prostitution activities still, despite a ban on the purchase of sexual services, engage men in Sweden. On the site Sexwork.net and on the discussion board Flashback are hundreds of pages with thousands of discussion threads about these topics. Some of the threads contain reviews, written by sex-buying men, of women who are exploited for prostitution purposes. The reviews related inter alia whether the woman corresponds to the man’s expectations of the sex purchase, her appearance, physical attributes and her willingness to perform the “services” as promised on the website. That the woman ordered is actually offered is also important information for the sex-buying man. Moreover they exchange male sex-buying experiences such as how they can avoid detection by the police or family members, or avoid being exposed to robbery or extortion. The language used by these men in reviews is often highly sexualised, derogatory and abusive towards women. The threads on the web forum Sexwork.net are divided into different regions; Sweden, other Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Europe and Thailand. (p.21)

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Now, a couple points on what’s not here. One of the most striking revelations of the report I reviewed last year was the near-trebling of Thai “massage parlour” brothels in Stockholm between 2009 and 2011-2012. There are no up-to-date figures in this report, but it does confirm those findings. So, for any pro-criminalisation people who were hoping the 2013 report would say “er that was wrong and actually there really are no brothels posing as massage parlours in Stockholm”: sorry to disappoint.

And finally, there’s a whole subsection – 3.1.3 – devoted to “Support for voluntary return and reintegration of persons trafficked for sexual exploitation or prostitution”. It takes up approximately one page of the overall five-and-a-half page section on sex trafficking. Curiously, there is no section on integrating trafficking victims into Swedish society. But then, we’ve already seen why that is: because their only value to Sweden is as a law-enforcement tool. It seems the Swedish state uses them for its own purposes, and then discards them like unwanted goods.

I’d call that exploitation.  Wouldn’t you?

ETA: The Swedish police have now released a press statement on this report, which can be read (in Swedish) here. This part of the statement is notable:

Human trafficking for sexual purposes makes most people think of foreign girls and women who are lured into sex slavery, something that the progress report also describes. But there is also a domestic problem in which minors, mostly girls, living in Sweden sell their bodies on the net. …

There are many who do not understand this explosion of girls who sell their bodies on line, says [Detective Inspector] Kajsa Wahlberg. These young girls have a need to be seen and get confirmation, while there is a great demand for young bodies.

This law is an abject failure. How can anyone claim otherwise?