RSS Feed

Category Archives: Sex work

(Hoping that) Women Hurt: regret as a tool of advocacy

Two weeks ago, Irish parliamentarians were invited to a presentation on the subject of “abortion regret”. While the invitation didn’t explicitly advocate for the continued illegality of abortion, no one could fail to recognise its underlying agenda: firstly because it came from Senator Rónán Mullen, who’s barely known for anything else, and secondly because the featured speaker, Julia Holcomb, is a spokesperson for Silent No More, a self-described “project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life”. Holcomb was there not only to share her own unhappy story, but to convince Irish politicians of the need to maintain our near-absolute ban on abortion, in an attempt to prevent others from experiencing the same regret.

This campaign is one example of what Yale Law Professor Reva Siegel calls “woman-protective anti-abortion argument” – a strategic shift away from the foetus fetishism that has traditionally defined the right-to-life movement, to centring the pregnant woman in its message by portraying abortion as contrary to her best interests. We’ve seen this in Ireland before, with billboard campaigns by Youth Defence (“abortion tears her life apart”) and Women Hurt, a sort of home-grown version of Silent No More.

At the same time, we’re seeing the emergence of a new anti-sex work campaign led by women who describe themselves as “survivors of prostitution”. Like Julia Holcomb, they have the patronage of people whose stance is an ideological one, unrelated to any regret a woman who had that experience might feel. Her trauma is incidental to these people, and instrumentalised by them, but it’s no doubt very real to her and she has every entitlement to share it.

Regret can be a useful element in a cautionary tale, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with suggesting that a woman think carefully about how she might feel about a decision later on. But as an argument for prohibitory legislation, it’s extremely problematic. And I’m not just talking about the logical inconsistency of banning some things that women might regret but not others (marriage, tattoos, Tequila shots); or banning things that some women might regret but not others; or banning things that women do when they’re illegal anyway (the women of Women Hurt all evaded the prohibition by going to England; many self-described survivors of prostitution worked in a criminalised setting). The idea that regret is, in and of itself, a reason to legally constrain women’s actions is conceptually flawed, paternalistic and degrading. It’s grounded in age-old sexist nonsense about women needing choices to be made for us, as unreasonable, feeble-minded creatures who need protection from the dangers we pose to ourselves. If “to err is human”, what does that say about people who can’t be allowed to err?

There’s another thing that bothers me about it, and that’s how the traumatised-woman-as-poster-girl creates a need for more traumatised women. The women who don’t regret their abortion or sex work threaten to undermine the effectiveness, as an advocacy tool, of those who do; thus, they must be silenced, discredited, or worse still, recruited. I say “worse still” because recruiting them often involves persuading them that they were traumatised all along and didn’t know it. Real-life examples are the woman who speaks unapologetically about her abortion and is invited to receive “counselling” from an anti-abortion agency, the sex worker who takes advantage of “exiting” services when she decides it’s time to move on and finds herself subjected to re-education programmes that recast her experience as abusive when she didn’t see it that way.

Advocates of these methods insist that the woman has merely been in denial, that they’re helping her come to terms with her hidden trauma in order to heal her. But there’s something deeply troubling about taking a person who’s at ease with her past and turning her into a victim. It would be bad enough if this were done in the genuine albeit misguided belief that it would ultimately help her, but it isn’t. It’s done to advance an agenda, and that’s unconscionable.

The bottom line is this. When someone says they don’t regret their abortion or their sex work, or anything else that some people find traumatising, then, absent real (and individualised) evidence to the contrary, there’s really only one acceptable response. It’s along the lines of “That’s great, I’m glad that you’re OK with your experience.” Anything else amounts to wishing trauma on someone – and it’s a short hop from there to thinking they deserve trauma for making a choice you disapprove of. It’s a hateful, nasty, punitive approach, and it’s incompatible with any genuine concern for the welfare of the women in question.

 

 

 

Direct Provision: Sex Work Is Not The Problem

Posted on

This week here in Ireland, reports have come to light that women living in direct provision centres have been engaged in survival sex work.

Some context, for those of you unfamiliar with Ireland’s asylum processes:

When people come to Ireland seeking asylum, they are housed in what’s called “direct provision” until their cases are heard. Direct provision is a system where food and accommodation are provided to a person, and they are given a small allowance to live on. Doesn’t seem too terrible at first glance- who wouldn’t want to be given a place to live and 3 meals a day?

It turns out, though, that direct provision isn’t exactly what you’d call cushy. Having no control over the food you eat or when you eat it- and don’t forget, direct provision centres are run by private contractors looking to make a profit, and there is no profit in ensuring that people have access to decent food. If you can’t stomach the food, being barred from making or eating food in your own room. Add to that having no privacy- asylum seekers have to share rooms, either with complete strangers or with an entire family crowded into a single room. Throw in curfews, and being barred from working to support yourself, earn money, or simply pass the time. And doing it all with a measly €19.10 allowance, or €9.60 for children, for everything else that you might need. Imagine trying to live your life on that, or raise your kids and do your best to provide them with some sort of liveable existence.

The direct provision system was set up as a temporary measure, to house people for a few months at most while their asylum claims were being processed. As of this year, 59% of residents have been living in direct provision for over three years, and 9% for more than seven years. 

There are more people in direct provision in Ireland than in our prisons. Asylum seekers, unlike prisoners, have done nothing wrong. And asylum seekers, unlike prisoners, live with no certainty over how long it will be before their wait is over, or whether it will end in freedom or deportation.

It’s grim. So grim that residents have recently been hunger-striking to protest the conditions they’re forced to live in.

In the midst of all this, Ireland’s Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald claims to be “shocked” to hear that women in direct provision are engaging in sex work to make ends meet. Responding to these reports, she’s said that she “certainly [doesn’t] want to see any woman in Ireland feeling that the only option for her is prostitution in order to look after her family.” She then went on to discuss calls to criminalise clients of sex workers in Ireland, “watching how Scandinavian countries had handled the issue”, and that ” she would be bringing legislation to Cabinet in the near future”.

Can we talk about how profoundly backwards this is? Not just a little backwards. It’s not that the cart is before the horse here. It’s that the horse has never, in fact, even met the cart. The horse is hanging out in a field somewhere in the countryside and the cart is stuck in a stairwell in an apartment block in a city on a completely different continent to the horse.

Shocked?

Let’s start at the beginning: nothing shocking has happened here.

Aaaaand to read the rest, head on over to the original post at Consider the Tea Cosy. 

Journalists’ Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem

Guest post by Matthias Lehmann

More often than not, advocacy for sex workers’ rights and the acceptance of sex work as work puts one at odds with members of that part of the anti-human trafficking movement that rejects these ideas, considers prostitution as inherently harmful, and brands anyone disagreeing with them as a member of some imaginary pimp lobby. Another group one finds oneself at odds with are journalists who report about – and, like the former, conflate – human trafficking and prostitution, as their articles frequently include false, inaccurate or misrepresented information.

Chimpanzee Typing - Image by New York Zoological Society (1907)

As sex workers and their allies will confirm, one could easily spend all day writing rebuttals to counter the influence on public opinion of the many sensationalist reports, but one has to pick and choose. The following is a response to Kyla Ryan’s article “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem” in The Diplomat. Before I start, however, I would like to state that I am not an expert on the situation in Cambodia, although I previously conducted research and field work in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. I can read, however, and my rebuttal of Kyla Ryan’s article will for the most part analyse one of the very sources she used in writing her article.

Far, very far indeed, be it from me to deny that children are being sexually exploited and, as German politician and human rights activist Volker Beck once put it, “every trafficking victim is one too many”.

However, a quick glance at the source of Kyla Ryan’s alarming statements, a report by ECPAT-Cambodia, reveals that what she should have focused on is the rape of children in settings that are not related to human trafficking.

Let’s look at the data and let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the research conducted is methodologically sound and all of the findings accurate.

Rape

The report by ECPAT-Cambodia states that in 2011, “658 cases of rape were referred to the 33 participating NGOs, involving 671 victims”, 483 of whom were minors (71.5%).  While about half of these 483 victims were teenagers, 169 were aged between 7-12 (35%) and 77 between 1-6 (16%).

The report continues to state that the next highest age group, those aged 18-25, which ECPAT labels as ”young people”, accounted for the majority of adult victims, meaning that grouped together, victims aged 0-25 accounted for 90.5%.

I am not going to dismiss the fact that such an overwhelming majority of rape victims was rather young or even very young, but one should not overlook the fact that ECPAT-Cambodia labels youth here as “children” and adults as “young people”. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that the organisation’s self-interest plays a role here, regardless of how honourable its goals might be. The report does emphasise that “the majority of victims (approximately 1 in 3) were in the 13-17 years age group”, but I’ll come back to that later.

The report found that, “consistent with all previous Database Annual Reports”, “rape offenders in Cambodia are generally not total strangers to the victims, and usually know the victim fairly well”. The report suggests “that police and judicial investigations, as well as authorities and NGOs, should consider parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from rape”.

In the year 2011, 98.8% of the offenders were Khmer, with 0.9% foreign and 0.2% Cham/Muslim. (No further details are provided.) The total number of offenders was 770, therefore, the 0.9% correspond to 7 foreign offenders (rounded up) in the cases referred to the participating NGOs.

Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation

Looking at the data about trafficking reveals that in 2011, “71 cases of sexual trafficking were referred to the participating NGOs, involving 88 victims”, 66 of whom were minors (75%). While 55 of these 66 were teenagers, 10 were aged between 7-12 (15.2%) and 1 was aged between 1-6 (1.5%).

The report continues to state that “the number of child victims in the very young age groups of 1-6 years and 7-12 years was relatively high, with nearly 17% of the total child victims belonging to these two age groups”. As above, the report also states that, when grouping victims aged 0-25 together, they accounted for 92%.

Once again, every trafficking victim is one too many and I am not going to dismiss the fact that 11 children under 12 years of age were trafficked for sexual exploitation. One should not overlook the fact, however, that in the text of the report, ECPAT-Cambodia uses percentages rather than the number of cases and again joins age groups together, since, obviously, 17% is a more useful number than 11 to raise awareness – and funds! – and the same goes for anything in the 90% range.

The report does not provide details on the offenders who exploited the trafficking victims as customers but only on the 76 recruiters involved in the 71 cases.

Again, the report found that, “consistent, in general terms, with all previous Database Annual Reports”, “recruiters of sexual trafficking in Cambodia are generally not total strangers to the victims, and usually knew the victim fairly well” and suggests that “police and judicial investigations, as well as authorities and NGOs, should consider parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from sexual trafficking”.

Listing percentages only, the report states 50% of the recruiters were Khmer, 10.5% Vietnamese, 7.9% Thai, Other Asian 5.3%, European 10.5%, and American 3.9%. The report states that “there is limited consistency across the years in regards to the nationality of recruiters” and that “it is too soon to determine whether the drastic increase in European/American recruiters in 2011 constitutes a new trend”.

Granted, a combined 14.4% for European and American recruiters is quite a marked increase from 0% the year before. Once again, the use of percentages is somewhat conspicuous, however. Converted into actual numbers, the 14.4% correspond to ten recruiters/traffickers. All foreign recruiters listed in the table accounted for 38.1% or 29 recruiters/traffickers.

It is interesting to note that in 2011, 51.6% (or 39) of the recruiters/traffickers were female, while 48.4% (or 37) were male.

Misrepresenting the Problems

Let’s look at Kyla Ryan’s article at The Diplomat then.

Ryan (or her editor) chose as the headline “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem”, when in fact, the ratio of rape to trafficking victims in Cambodia in 2011 was roughly 7.5:1 (671:88), at least according to the very source Ryan’s article is based on.

The byline states that “the country still sees a trade in girls as young as five years old”. While that may be true, the report this statement is based on lists a single victim aged 1-6 years old and doesn’t actually reveal the gender of the two-year-old victim.

Speaking of gender: nearly 20% of the overall trafficking victims in 2011 – the report doesn’t provide figures broken down by age groups – were male, and the report does state that the “data is a reminder that boys and men are also victims of sexual abuse and exploitation … although this may often be contrary to popular belief”. Articles such as Ryan’s are one of the main reasons why such popular beliefs exist.

Ryan is also guilty of perpetuating the common “male foreign perpetrator, female local victim” paradigm when she writes that Phnom Penh is “where foreign men come to seek sex with young girls”. While I cannot deny that men, foreign or local, may seek sex with young girls, the data on which Ryan bases her article says nothing at all about foreign men who bought sex from young girls. Instead, the report does say a lot about rape, but Ryan chooses to mention rape only in connection to brothels. The only foreigners mentioned in the report are the 29 recruiters/traffickers in 2011, eleven of which were European or American.

While Ryan does allude to the “complicated” situation where family members are involved in human trafficking, she curiously writes that “many young girls are not forced into the trade by criminals, but by family members”. I never knew that being a family member and being a criminal were mutually exclusive. One may disagree with me here, but it appears that Ryan prefers to blame “foreign men” for the crime, with family members merely being complicit in it.

Nobody should dismiss or trivialise sexual violence against children, youth, young adults, or adults in general. My issue with articles such as the one by Kyla Ryan is that they misrepresent the problems and fuel the rampant, and harmful, anti-trafficking panic while largely ignoring the actual problems.

Ryan fails to mention the fraudulent and exploitative activities of Somaly Mam – her organisation AFESIP was one of the NGOs contributing to the ECPAT-Cambodia report – and the underlying problem that more often than not, only lurid stories make for effective fundraising for anti-trafficking organisations, a problem which also seems to affect the way ECPAT-Cambodia wrote its report. Ryan also leaves out ECPAT-Cambodia’s recommendation to give greater consideration to “parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from sexual trafficking”. I must assume it didn’t fit into the narrative she wanted to engage in.

The report by ECPAT-Cambodia states that 1 in 3 rape victims and 2 in 3 trafficking victims were in the 13-17 years age group. Where rape was concerned, all offenders were male and nearly all were Khmer, but where trafficking was concerned, a slight majority was female and the majority was Khmer, though 38.1% (or 29 people) were foreign.

To summarise: according to ECPAT-Cambodia’s report, the bigger problem in Cambodia is rape, not trafficking; the main victims of both rape and trafficking are youth aged 13-17; and the offenders are overwhelmingly locals – where rape is concerned this is entirely the case, and where trafficking is concerned they comprise the majority.

Kyla Ryan’s article paints another picture. “Read The Diplomat, know the Asia-Pacific?” Hardly.

Epilogue

I said above that for argument’s sake, I would assume that the report by ECPAT-Cambodia is accurate, but I strongly recommend anyone truly interested in the subject to read further, because regardless of its wording or use of percentages, the report does provide a number of interesting facts, e.g. who was classified as recruiter/trafficker – included were owners or employees of brothels or massage parlours – or the reasons why “92% of victims agreed to go with the recruiter” – 29.2% stated they “wanted money to buy things” – or that “the majority knowingly entered sex work”. Admittedly, 42.1% said they were promised other occupations and then forced into sex work. One mustn’t discount, however, that some respondents might well have hesitated to admit they knowingly entered sex work, for fear of the stigmatisation they would face as a result of that. By suggesting that, I certainly do not mean to dismiss any actual cases of sexual exploitation. But equally, one must not ignore that due to the stigma attached to sex work, people selling sex frequently experience discrimination and violence, which even extends to their children and other family members, exacerbating their health risks and isolation and depriving them of their basic human rights.

Matthias Lehmann is a doctoral researcher at Queen’s University Belfast. His prior research and field work dealt with human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and human rights violations against sex workers in South Korea. His current research focuses on prostitution legislation in Germany. His blogs can be found here and here.

Sex workers are still targeted under the racist Swedish model

Posted on

Last week, an appeals court in Sweden upheld a decision in favour of a tavern owner and security staff who had denied entry on three separate occasions to Asian-looking women. The tavern admitted judging these women by their appearance, but said they had barred them in order to prevent prostitution from taking place on their premises. Police had told the tavern owner that this was going on, and that Asian women were involved. These particular Asian women weren’t though, and they brought a discrimination claim.

The women lost in the lower court, and then lost again on appeal. According to my best Google Translate, the appellate court found that preventing prostitution is an “inherently legitimate reason” which justifies the means that was taken by the tavern, even though the effect was to bar women from their premises who had done nothing more than appear to be Asian. That’s not unlawful discrimination, according to the Swedish courts.

There are a couple things going on here. First, of course, there’s the blatantly racist nature of the policy, now formally endorsed and legitimated by a Swedish judiciary which sees nothing wrong with singling out women of colour for whore stigma. It’s not particularly surprising that racialised women would bear the brunt of a policy aimed at a migrant-dominated industry, but the court’s seal of approval institutionalises racism within Official Sweden’s zero tolerance approach. Of such a priority is the Swedish state’s war against sex work that all else can be thrown by the wayside, even principles ordinarily regarded as pretty fucking basic in a supposedly advanced democracy.

The second thing is that this decision exposes the lie that the Swedish law is not about targeting sex workers. Of course it is. They may not be targeted for prosecution, but the Swedish authorities are more than happy to go after them with any other means at their disposal. They go after them with immigration laws, with the power to refuse them custody of their children; they stake out their homes. They have already involved non-state actors in their war, as when they train hotel staff to monitor the habits of female guests; now, it seems, other branches of the service sector are also being drafted into the Prohibitionist Army. Whose policy seems to be one of “shoot first, ask questions later”.

I don’t think there’s much risk of a similar court judgment in Ireland, even should the Swedish model be adopted here. Our Equal Status Act does allow for denial of services where it is believed that serving the person would give rise to a substantial risk of criminal activity, but “discriminatory grounds” are specifically excluded as a valid basis for that belief.  The reason for that exclusion is so that pubs and shops and hotels cannot cite criminality by some Irish Travellers as a reason to deny entry to all of them, so it’s rather unlikely that the courts would allow use of a similar justification to bar all women from ethnic backgrounds popularly associated with prostitution.

But what the Equal Status Act says and what actually happens in pubs and shops and hotels are two different things. And just as Travellers are, in fact, routinely denied entry on discriminatory grounds in spite of the law, women who are seen as being “high risk” for prostitution because of their racial appearance could well find themselves being subjected to a de facto discrimination door policy. This is particularly likely to happen if the law creates “an offence of recklessly permitting a premises to be used for the purposes of prostitution”, as recommended by the Oireachtas Justice Committee and supported by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and its member organisations, several of which operate in the migrant advocacy sector. If this law is passed and migrant women become collateral damage in the Irish war against sex work, as they have in the Swedish and Norwegian wars, will these groups also shrug it off as an “inherently legitimate reason”?

What the “sex buyers” survey found. And what it didn’t.

Posted on

There’s been much in the Irish media this week about a new report on sex workers’ clients, based on research conducted in five European countries (Ireland, Finland, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Lithuania). Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, the media coverage has ranged from bad to abysmal. For a prime example of the latter, see this piece in the Irish Examiner, which starts off with the claim that “Ireland’s sex trafficking trade is worth an estimated €250m a year, a new study shows” – despite the fact that no such claim is made anywhere in the report. The journalist appears to have mistaken a made-up stat cited by a speaker at the report’s launch for an actual research finding, which I suppose is an easy enough error to make when you just repeat things NGOs tell you without ever cracking open a report yourself.

As for most of the other coverage, in general its worst sin is making the report out to be somehow shocking or revealing or breaking new ground, when it actually tells us very little – at least where Irish clients are concerned. By the time I finished reading it, my reaction was such a big fat “meh” I actually wondered if I should write this piece at all, and risk drawing more attention to something deserving so little.

Having decided (with some reservations) to proceed, I’ll start at the beginning. The report is an effort by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the NGO behind the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, in partnership with like-minded groups from the other countries mentioned above. There is no attempt to hide the report’s agenda; Chapter 1.1 openly identifies it as part of an overall project that aims to

Reduce demand for the purchase of sexual services

and while this clearly gives the authors an incentive to find data that presents clients in the worst possible light, I don’t think they’ve actually achieved this – at least not when it comes to the Irish clients (whose responses I will limit this post to). The main reason for this is that their sample is so small as to be virtually meaningless: only 58 Irish clients took part in the survey, which was conducted entirely by means of an online questionnaire. (They actually did attempt to do face-to-face interviews but, as this excerpt relates, failed in almost comical fashion.) You’d need a pretty small population size for 58 to be remotely adequate enough to tell us anything about clients as a class – and the authors can hardly claim simultaneously that the population size is small enough, and that it spends €250m a year. After all, if the respondents amounted to even 10% of the sex-buying population of Ireland, that would still require them to pay an average of €431,034 per year for sex – something clearly impossible at the income levels reported (nearly three-quarters earn less than €40,000 per annum, and only 13% earn above €60,000). Add this to the finding that nearly half of respondents had paid for sex either “just once” or only “a few times”, and clearly the Irish sex industry is either a hell of a lot less lucrative than TORL advocates make it out to be, or those profits are coming from far too many clients to make this sample size sufficient. They can’t have it both ways.

While there are some disclaimers about the inferences that safely can be drawn from the report, they are both too little and too late. The “Research methodology” section (Chapter 1.2) explains that non-probability sampling was used, but suggests the only weakness of this approach is that it cannot

determine the percentage of the respective populations who had purchased sex

Nowhere does it explain that non-probability sampling cannot, by its nature, ensure a representative sample, and in fact at several points the report uses language that seems to assume the respondents are representative of Irish clients as a whole. Near the end, in Appendix 3, it concedes the risk of self-selection bias – where the sample is skewed by certain shared characteristics of those who choose to participate it – but then suggests this concern is unwarranted on the basis of

similarities between those who participated in this research and those who engaged in previous similar studies

Which previous similar studies they mean is unclear; looking through the report’s bibliography, I can’t find any previous research on clients in Ireland. This is a strange omission, in a report that everywhere else carefully references all the research it refers to.

To be clear, the report isn’t devalued by the use of non-probability sampling. Sometimes there isn’t any other way to study a particular group, and the information you get may still be useful even if it can’t be extrapolated to the group as a whole. For example, five Irish respondents said “a bar” was the location where they found the last person they paid for sex with; this is notable for indicating the need to study the poorly-researched phenomenon of bar-based prostitution, even if it can’t tell us what percentage of the industry that sector comprises. But in a report aimed at a non-academic audience, it’s important to make these limitations clear, and I don’t think this report adequately does this. Public pronouncements by the NGOs behind this report have certainly not done this – like this article from the Immigrant Council, which repeatedly equates “clients who completed this survey” with “men who pay for sex”.

The report also examines the meaning of “demand” in the relevant international law instruments, which require member states to reduce the demand that fuels human trafficking. The purpose of this chapter is to argue that “demand” in this context should be interpreted as demand for paid sex rather than demand for paid sex from a trafficked person. Obviously I disagree with them on this point: the current interpretation is in line with the requirement to reduce demand in non-sex sectors, and this is how it should be. Nobody suggests we need to reduce demand for agricultural workers just because some of them meet the indicators of trafficking.

Beyond that, though, I think there is much to criticise in the way the “demand” argument is made. Exploring the understanding of that term in academic research, the report relies heavily on the work of Bridget Anderson and Julia O’Connell Davidson, which is absolutely essential reading. Unfortunately, it elides one of their central arguments: that sex work and trafficking are not purely demand-led, and that supply itself may create the demand. Here’s a direct quote from the Anderson and O’Connell Davidson article setting out this position, which is entirely contrary to the impression of it given by the report:

“There is certainly demand for cheap and vulnerable sex workers, but it is by no means clear that this kind of demand acts as a stimulus for trafficking. It could equally be that a supply of cheap workers stimulates demand.”

There are a number of other, similar sleights-of-hand in this study. It cites a 2013 report by a Council of Europe anti-trafficking body, GRETA, in a manner that would lead the reader to believe – wrongly – that GRETA endorsed the Oireachtas Justice Committee’s anti-sex work proposals. It mentions that the Finnish Ministry for Justice recommended criminalising payment for sex, but fails to mention that the Finnish Government rejected that recommendation (though in fairness, that was a very recent decision). And it acknowledges that the failure to recruit more Irish clients may have had something to do with the

ongoing, very public discussion on the future of prostitution legislation in Ireland

but conveniently omits the fact that there is an ongoing, very aggressive campaign to make the research subjects into criminals, which campaign is being led by the authors of the study themselves. It seems to me that the interests of full disclosure should have required some mention of this.

But the study’s biggest flaw is the way it deals with the question of potentially trafficked or exploited sex workers. The online survey, which is reproduced in full in an Appendix, asks the question:

16. Have you ever changed your mind and walked away because the person seemed:

and a list of options follows, including “scared”, “controlled”, “unwilling”, “unhappy” and “too young”. “Trafficked” is not one of the options, but we are told in the Appendix that the options were chosen because they are

physical manifestations of exploitation [and] indicators of trafficking

In other words, a client who admits to walking away from an appointment because the escort seemed “unhappy” is assumed to have walked away because he believed she was trafficked! Quite plainly, this is absurd.

But it gets worse, because in the main body of the report, the question itself is completely rephrased to reach the finding the authors want to reach. Instead of reporting Question 16 as it’s actually worded, it reports it as if a significantly different question had been asked:

Around one-quarter of Irish buyers said they had encountered sellers they believed were being exploited.

This leaves no room for doubt: a client who might have ticked the box for “unhappy” because he’d walked out of an appointment with an independent escort who was in a bad mood would now be recorded as having encountered a sex worker who he believed was exploited or trafficked. This is not a conclusion that follows logically from the research question. It is a gigantic leap that undermines whatever credibility this survey might otherwise have had.

Next, the survey asks:

17. Have you ever considered reporting your suspicions that someone was being trafficked or controlled?

The only options given are “No” or “Yes”. There is no “Not applicable”. This is a classic “Have you stopped beating your wife?” type of question: there is no way to answer without allowing an unpleasant conclusion to be drawn. Though it was possible to skip the question entirely, and about a third did, it’s not clear whether respondents were explicitly told they could do so; thus the possibility can’t be ignored that some who would have selected “n/a” picked the next best option instead.

If the survey was designed so that Question 17 only popped up once Question 16 was answered affirmatively, this wouldn’t be a problem. But there’s no indication that it was. The sequential numbering (rather than as, say, Q.16 and Q.16a) suggests that it wasn’t. The text of the report also suggests that it wasn’t, and that Q.17 was asked of all respondents:

Buyers were also asked whether they had ever reported suspicions that someone was being exploited or controlled.

This is where it becomes really important to distinguish the actual findings from the spin. In the Immigrant Council article linked to above, their spokesperson writes:

“As well as profiling buyers the Immigrant Council of Ireland examined if the men ever came across women they believed were being controlled by pimps, were frightened or were trafficked. The results are startling, with over one in four admitting they had come across women and girls they believed were in such situations. A significantly lesser number considered to report this to the authorities, dispelling the myth that buyers are helpful is [sic] tackling human trafficking.”

“A significantly lesser number”? The report found that around a quarter of respondents had ticked one of those so-called trafficking indicator boxes. In a sample size of 58, that’s 14.5. The article above says “over one in four”, so we’ll round up to 15. It also found that 21% of respondents had considered reporting such a situation to the authorities. In the same sample size, that’s 12. The difference between 15 and 12 in a sample size of 58 may or may not be statistically significant (I’ll let someone else do the math), but it is hardly significant in layperson’s terms. The Immigrant Council’s use of that word in that article seems to be designed to mislead. And of course, when you consider the rephrasing of Q.16 (so that some of those 15 who walked away may not have done so because they thought the sex worker was being exploited), the difference could actually be even lower.

It is shameful how readily the Irish media allow themselves to be used as a vehicle for what can only be described as propaganda masquerading as research.

Another part of the survey that has drawn attention is a question asking clients what would deter them from paying for sex. Interestingly (though again bearing in mind the non-representative nature of the sample), “a bad experience or a disease” ranks first. Criminal penalties and the publication of their photo are also ranked highly. Predictably, this is treated as “evidence” that these measures would be successful in ending demand.

The problem with questions like this is that the answers are necessarily speculative, and human beings do not always behave as they expect themselves to. How people say they would react to the abstract hypothetical possibility of something happening, and how they actually do react when that something finally occurs, may not line up as neatly as the authors want us to think they will. The report fails to consider the phenomenon that criminologists call “initial deterrence decay”, whereby the effectiveness of a measure drops significantly after first appearing successful, as those who were originally deterred by it learn not to fear the penalties or find ways to get around them.

There are also some issues of concern with how the study was conducted. We are assured:

At all times, the research teams were aware of the ethical sensitivity of the issues being looked at.

However, there is no indication that any institutional ethical approval was sought or given. We are told that “training” and “guidelines” were given for the face-to-face interviews in two of the countries and for the handling of research data, but it is not clear whether full disclosure was made to any of the respondents about the nature and purpose of the study – a key ethical consideration when working with human research subjects.

A few other things struck me while reading the report, but I’ll leave it at this for now. One final comment: as the report’s real purpose is to advocate for the Swedish law of criminalising sex workers’ clients, it would be interesting to see a similar study carried out in Sweden. Presumably if the authors are going to accept these findings as authentic, they would have to do the same for an equivalent study on Swedish clients. I suspect the answers might surprise them.

Comparing “trafficking” statistics: why it’s a waste of time

I thought it might be useful to make a simple chart to demonstrate why it’s meaningless to claim that one country has more trafficking than another, based on their official statistics. Seeing as this comes up all the time.

You can click on it to enlarge:

Trafficking definitions

There are a few explanations and disclaimers I need to get in:

  1. The chart is based on my own interpretation of each country’s laws. There is undoubtedly scope for disagreement in some of the details – but not, I believe, on the overall picture.
  2. The big centre column refers to adult trafficking only. I included an age qualifier for Germany because its law treats 18 to 21 year old adults as children.
  3. For “Elements of Trafficking”, I’ve used the three-part schema derived from Article 3(a) of the UN Trafficking Protocol. The headers are a common shorthand and are not to be interpreted literally (“control” doesn’t only mean actual control but can include deception, for example).
  4. Even within a single element, definitions can vary widely; eg, in the UK the “movement” element strictly requires travel, while the Irish definition adheres more closely to the broader Protocol criteria.
  5. Finally and most importantly, the chart reflects what the law actually says – not necessarily how it’s interpreted in practice. It’s theoretically possible that the reporting bodies in each country actually apply a more uniform definition in the process of collecting statistics. But that’s for the people who put faith in the official stats to demonstrate – and to my knowledge, not one of them has done so.

All that said, I think this chart makes one thing crystal clear: when countries tally up their “trafficking” figures, they aren’t necessarily counting the same thing. And unless these distinctions are controlled for in comparative studies, which they haven’t been so far, the evidential value of those studies is pretty close to nil.

 

Sources:

Ireland – Criminal Law (Human Trafficking Act) 2008

UK – Sexual Offences Act 2003

Sweden – Chapter 4 § 1 a of the Penal Code (2010:371) as translated in this Swedish police report

Germany – §232 StGB Criminal Code (original German here; translations courtesy of Ralph in this comment, Sonja Dolinsek of Menschenhandel Heute and Google Translate)

Netherlands – Article 273f of the Criminal Code

Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police

I’ve commented several times that what the Swedes say internally about their sex industry is often very different to the impression they give abroad, when trying to export the sex purchase ban. This is a good recent(ish) example, a press statement from their police service website – only issued in Swedish – which, run through Google Translate, reveals something interesting about police knowledge of the sex trade:

Most of the sex trade [is] currently conducted via the internet. None of the inspecting authorities have a complete picture of the scope as they are not engaged in continuous or structured reconnaissance.*

It’s an interesting contrast with the claims we normally hear from the Swedes, which exude absolute confidence and certainty that their sex industry has declined since clients were criminalised. Self-evidently, if you aren’t monitoring something in a consistent and coherent fashion, you can’t reach a definitive conclusion as to whether or not it has declined.

The police do monitor the sex industry to some degree, of course, and their findings are included every year in a document titled Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes. The English version of the latest report was published last May, and covers the year 2011. While that makes it slightly out of date at this point, it’s still more than a decade after the sex purchase ban was introduced, and therefore useful in helping to determine whether the law’s objectives really have been met.

Section 3.1 covers “Trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes”, and it starts off by hedging the statistics with the following disclaimer:

 According to the Swedish National Police Board it is difficult to estimate how many people fell victim to human trafficking in Sweden during 2011. The number of victims of human trafficking identified in Sweden largely depends on the resources which the police put into detecting this crime and on the experience and competence that exists within the police organisation. The level of these initiatives varies between police authorities and can vary from one year to another. It is not possible to identify or even to locate all of the victims, mainly girls and women, mentioned in tapped telephone calls or observed during police surveillance.

There’d be nothing remarkable about this paragraph, were it not for the fact that it entirely contradicts one of the lines the Swedes often use when trying to sell the sex purchase ban abroad: “if the customers could find these persons, we could find them”. That line is intended to refute the suggestion that the sex industry has merely gone underground; but the text quoted above (and similar elsewhere in this report) is an open admission that some of it is underground and will probably remain there. And this, bear in mind, refers only to those believed to be victims of trafficking; if they admittedly can’t estimate those numbers, it’s hardly possible they could estimate the numbers of people selling sex through choice or circumstance, who (one hopes) they aren’t expending as much of their resources to find.

While the report quite rightly attributes some of the increase in numbers to better investigative work, it also indicates a belief that at least some of the increase represents more actual cases. For example, describing an apparent rise in the number of “women from Lithuania who are being exploited in prostitution in Sweden”, the report says:

Changes in the victims’ backgrounds and nationalities can be explained by a weakened national socio-economic climate which is hitting women and girls particularly badly. The economic crisis in southern Europe may also mean that human traffickers and pimps are directing their activities towards countries with more stable economies, such as Sweden.

These two statements may seem somewhat at odds with each other – the first suggests that the numbers are increasing because Sweden’s economy is getting worse [ETA – see comments below from Laura Agustín], while the second suggests that it’s because Sweden’s economy is relatively stable – but the important points are this: first, the tacit acknowledgment (made explicit later in the report) that there has been an increase at all; and second, the admission that Sweden remains attractive to “human traffickers and pimps”, which is totally contrary to the propaganda we hear about it all. the. time.

A genuine jaw-dropper follows a few paragraphs later:

In 2009, the National Bureau of Investigation estimated that there were about 90 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and vicinity, most of which were judged to be offering sexual services for sale. At the turn of 2011/2012, the number of Thai massage parlours in the Stockholm area was estimated to be about 250 and throughout the country about 450.

Now, what kind of “successful ban” leads to an almost threefold increase in one type of provider of the banned thing in less than three years? If the estimate is accurate, this statistic alone ought to put paid to any claim that the law is an effective deterrent. An industry that has lost a lot of its customers couldn’t possibly expand at a rate like that.  (See previous post on this topic here.)

The report goes on to shed an interesting light on the Swedish view of sex workers who choose their occupation – in particular, those who aren’t from Sweden. It states:

In February 2011, the police authority in the county of Halland decided to deport a Romanian woman … . Police authorities said that the woman, who made her living through prostitution, constituted a threat to public order and security. The woman appealed to the Swedish Migration Board who made the same assessment as the police authority in Halland: namely that prostitution is indeed legal in Sweden, but the purchase of sexual services is a criminal offence. This means in practice that a crime has to be committed under Swedish law to enable a person engaged in prostitution to support themselves.

This decision was ultimately thrown out in court as a breach of EU freedom of movement, but subsequently the Justice Ombudsman, considering the case of another EU sex worker, upheld the Migration Board’s position:

“…prostitution is to be regarded as a dishonest means of support according to the law. Prostitution – which can not occur without a crime having been committed – may also be considered as a prohibited occurrence in one principal element. Unlike the judgement in a previous determination by the Ombudsman for Justice, which related to begging, deportation in this case is considered to be compatible with the Aliens Act.”

This demonstrates a point which is well-made by Norwegian criminologist May-Len Skilbrei here: just because it isn’t a crime to sell sex doesn’t mean a person can do so without facing the strong arm of the law. If the State makes it a policy that sex work is something that cannot be tolerated, its officers will fight it with whatever means they have at their disposal: immigration laws, housing laws (as in Norway’s notorious “Operation Homeless”), public order laws (same link; see also the French bill which explicitly allows such laws to be used against street workers); Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (the reversal of which was deemed “frustrating” by a Swedish model-supporting Irish parliamentarian), custody laws (with tragic consequences last year) and probably anything else you can think of, short of actually prohibiting the sale of sexual services. And these have a similar effect as prohibiting the sale of sexual services, namely, giving sex workers an incentive to avoid state officials or anyone they think might rat them out to state officials (including the police and health and social services). In this context, the distinction between the Swedish model and one which directly criminalises the sale of sex is a distinction without all that much of a difference.

Getting back to the report, it goes on to describe in some detail the awful conditions and abuse that many migrant sex workers endure.  I won’t quote it here, but suffice to say it’s on a par with any of the tragedy porn regularly cited in support of the Swedish model. It describes the significant involvement of organised crime in the sex industry, another of the things we in Ireland are frequently told we need the Swedish model to address. And it also goes on to describe a Swedish “review” site which could easily have been used as a source on that Invisible Men tumblr (which, of course, also propagandises for the Swedish model). These are other ways in which the sex purchase ban seems to have fallen short of the grandiose claims made for it.

The report then confirms something sex workers themselves have complained of:

In 2011, the police Prostitution Team in Stockholm established that the sex-purchasers seemed to prefer to use “out-calls” to a greater extent than before. One reason for this is believed to be that the sex-purchasers consider that the risk of detection will be less if they order a woman to come to their home instead of exploiting her in a hotel room.

Here, the report directly contradicts one of the findings of the 2010 official evaluation, namely, that sex workers are not at greater risk of violence under the law.

Section 3.1 concludes with a couple pages on “Payment for sexual services”. Here, the report briefly discusses the law against buying sex, the statistics on the offence and the (positive) conclusions of the official evaluation (which it quotes without comment). Notably absent is a claim that appeared in previous years’ reports that the law deters traffickers from setting up business in Sweden. Perhaps the Swedish police no longer believe they can stand over this claim. It’s not hard to see why.

**

Last month, I took part in a debate with Sarah Benson from Ruhama and Nusha Yunkova from the Immigrant Council of Ireland – the two NGOs leading the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. (Kathryn McGarry, a researcher from NUI Maynooth, made up the balance on the panel.) In response to my citing this report, Sarah Benson said that the Swedes “never said” they would eliminate prostitution entirely. I don’t think this is strictly true; the Swedish Women’s Lobby, for example, has described the law as “a model to end prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation”.

But it’s certainly the case that the law has been promoted outside of Sweden – not least in Ireland – as one that has been a hell of a lot more effective than this report shows it to be. In fact, when interviewed by the Irish community TV programme The Live Register, Nusha Yunkova made the amazing claim that “there is no prostitution in Sweden”.  While this would stretch credulity of even the most gullible Irish politician, I think it’s fair to say that most of those who’ve declared their support for the Swedish model would be surprised by the contents of this report. They’ve been sold a law that has been “proven” to reduce the size of the sex industry, not one that isn’t actually being measured in this respect. A law that “reduces” sex trafficking from other countries, not one under which the number of women from certain countries “who are being exploited in prostitution in Sweden” has increased. A law that “deters” men from purchasing sex, not one that is such a useless deterrent the number of massage parlours in the capital has almost trebled in recent years. And so on.

Of course, knowing the considerably less rosy reality of the Swedish model probably wouldn’t make a difference to the average politician or those leading the TORL campaign; facts and evidence aren’t really their main concern. But at least they couldn’t cloak their moral, ideological and populist stances under a veneer of empiricism. For those whose support for the law stems from a sincere belief that it’s actually had a significant effect on deterring clients and reducing the extent of sex work and trafficking, they’re entitled to hear the evidence that it hasn’t. And we’re all entitled to an honest debate – something that’s been sorely lacking in Ireland so far.

*ETA: The statement has now been removed from the Swedish police website. The original Swedish text was: “Merparten av sexhandeln bedrivs numera via internet. Ingen av de inspekterade myndigheterna har dock någon fullständig bild av omfattningen eftersom de inte bedriver någon kontinuerlig eller strukturerad spaning på nätet”.

BFN response to human trafficking bill

Belfast Feminist Network

Today we submitted a response to the Justice Committee’s consultation on a private member’s bill on human trafficking and exploitation. We were specifically commenting on the implications of a clause that would criminalise the purchase of sex. Let us know what you think.

 

 

Belfast Feminist Network

Response to the proposed Trafficking & Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill

Belfast Feminist Network is a community collective representing the views of over 900 people. Established in April 2010, the group is committed to providing an open and inclusive space for discussions of gender inequality in Northern Ireland. Belfast Feminist Network has been responsible for organising a range of public events on issues affecting women’s lives such as rape and sexual violence, political participation, reproductive justice and human trafficking. We have engaged a number of MLAs and Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive at these events, most recently welcoming…

View original post 2,602 more words

Does legal prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany?

Posted on
Does legal prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany?

Guest post by Matthias Lehmann and Sonja Dolinsek

[In the Irish campaign to criminalise sex workers’ clients, supporters of this proposal have regularly pointed to the German experience as “proof” of the failure of legalisation – despite the fact that Germany’s model is not actually advocated by anyone in the Irish debate. A recent article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel appeared to provide support for the view that legalisation has failed, and this has been picked up on and quoted by campaigners for criminalisation in Ireland. In this post, translated by the authors from the original German, two Berlin-based researchers explain what Der Spiegel got wrong.]

Last week, leading German news magazine DER SPIEGEL published a cover story – now published in English – on the alleged failure of the German prostitution law (ProstG) which rendered the State complicit in human trafficking. The deeply flawed report fails, however, to address numerous relevant aspects of human trafficking prevention and prosecution, including victim protection. It also fails to insert much needed factual evidence into the broader global debate on human trafficking, which is also about labor rights, migration, sustainable supply chains and human rights. DER SPIEGEL thus contributes to a very narrow debate on human trafficking and to the wrong debate around sex work.

Our blog post is based on a longer critique published in German on the blog “menschenhandel heute”. In this shorter version, we would like to critically engage with the international community on the difficult relationship between trafficking and sex work.

The myth of legalization

Prostitution, understood as the selling of sexual services, has been legal in Germany since 1927. In addition, Germany’s sex workers have been obliged to pay taxes since 1964. The new prostitution law of 2002 changed some aspects pertaining to the legal relationship between sex workers and clients and some criminal law provisions. It recognized the contract between sex workers and clients as legal and introduced the rights of sex workers to sue clients unwilling to pay for sexual services already provided. In addition, sex workers received the right to health insurance and social security. The law also forbids the right of direction (Weisungsrecht) by the employer in cases where a sex worker is employed at a brothel, for instance. In this way, a sex worker would always be able to determine to which sexual practices she or he would agree or not. What is misleadingly called the ”legalization“ of prostitution is actually the recognition of sex work as labor.

However, the law has encountered opposition in the implementation process. Rather than the law itself, as DER SPIEGEL claims, it is the unwillingness of some German states to correctly implement the law. Germany’s federal structure requires every state to issue its own implementation directives, which, as political science professor Rebecca Pates explains, did not happen in states like Bavaria or Saxony. Pates argues that some states actually never implemented the new law due to moral reservations with regard to prostitution. “The ProstG might in fact have the distinction of being the only federal law intentionally not implemented by Germany’s public administration”, she states in her paper “Liberal Laws juxtaposed with rigid control: an analysis of the logics of governing sex work in Germany” (2012). Other researchers presented similar findings. Her claims are supported by an official government report of 2007 (a shorter English version can be found here), which identifies the political unwillingness to implement the law as a reason for its failure. DER SPIEGEL’s analysis ignores this fact.

Technically speaking, prostitution is not legal everywhere in Germany. Most states prohibit prostitution in areas close to schools, churches, hospitals or residential areas, and most cities have defined restricted areas (Sperrbezirke) and times, where and when prostitution is not allowed. Some cities declare the whole city a restricted area, mostly with the exception of dark and dangerous outskirts, or allow prostitution only during the night. Furthermore, most states prohibit prostitution in cities with less than 30,000 inhabitants. This makes prostitution de facto illegal in most places and at most times, and sex workers receive fines or jail sentences if they violate the restrictions. In addition, sex work is not allowed for non-EU nationals (third country nationals), who would breach their residency requirements, if they engaged in prostitution. Non-EU nationals engaging in sex work are thus criminalized and made vulnerable not by the law, but because they are excluded from the law. Therefore, the incomplete legalization of prostitution may be the actual reason why the German prostitution law is failing its purpose to protect sex workers on the one hand, and why, on the other hand, most victims of human trafficking are from third countries.

“Pimping” in Germany and the war with numbers

New criminal law provisions were introduced with the reform. As DER SPIEGEL correctly points out, the criminal offence “promotion of prostitution” was replaced with “exploitation of prostitutes”. In his response to the Spiegel’s cover story, Thomas Stadler, attorney at law, explains:

‘The claim that procuration would only then be a criminal offence if it was “exploitative” or “organized in a dirigiste manner”, which is hardly verifiable, is tendentious, at the very least. According to prevailing legal norms, those activities are deemed as procuration (“pimping”) where someone exploits a person that works as a prostitute, controls this person’s work to gain pecuniary advantages, dictates the place, time, degree or other circumstances of this work or takes measures to prevent this person from exiting prostitution that go beyond an isolated incidence. Insofar, there might be individual cases, just as in other criminal proceedings, where evidence is hard to come by. One has to ask, however, what procuration actually is and how the legislator is supposed to define it. According to previous legal norms, cases could be built on the establishment of a pleasant atmosphere, which rendered virtually anyone a “pimp” that had some sort of function in a prostitute’s orbit. The decrease in convictions might therefore result from the removal of juridical measures that were questionable in the first place. And that surely wouldn’t be a step backwards.’

In addition, the new criminal offence of “human trafficking for sexual exploitation“ was introduced. As Stadler points out:

Human trafficking is certainly a criminal offence. In §232 StGB, the criminal code even contains its own article that deals with human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The level of the penalty ranges between six months and 10 years. Introduced in 2005, this article is a considerable increase from the previous regulation, §180b StGB, both with regards to content and the penalty range. Since this article includes the so-called “forced prostitution”, the actual topic of the SPIEGEL article, the message of DER SPIEGEL’s cover is entirely incorrect. A sincere report should rather have pointed out that the legislator introduced considerably tougher laws to penalize “forced prostitution” in 2005. Therefore, to claim that the State promotes trafficking in women and prostitution is absurd. The opposite is true. The legislator increased penalties for “forced prostitution” and human trafficking.

Thus, with a strengthening of labor rights for sex workers came a stronger criminal law, making the exploitation of sex workers as well as human trafficking for sexual exploitation criminal offences.

DER SPIEGEL suggests that the case of 16-year old Sina, forced to work in a flat-rate brothel, is a typical example illustrating the failure of the German prostitution law, since the law would not protect her. However, employing a person less than 18 years of age at a brothel is a criminal offence under German law. Thus, Sina’s situation is not one that the prostitution law aims to address, and therefore, the law does not fail her in this regard. The failure of the legal system towards her situation and towards other victims of exploitation must lie somewhere else.

Contrary to DER SPIEGEL, the number of convictions for “pimping” did neither decrease nor increase in statistically significant ways with the new law. DER SPIEGEL claims 32 identified “pimps” were convicted in 2011, as opposed to 151 in 2000. An official government reply to a parliamentary enquiry from 1997, however, shows that low convictions for “pimping” were actually a trend: in 1994, there were only 39 convictions for “pimping”. Numbers from the federal statistics bureau suggest similar developments.

According to official statistics, the number of officially identified victims of human trafficking decreased significantly in the past fifteen to twenty years. The same government reply from 1997 mentioned 1,196 victims of human trafficking in 1995 and 1,473 victims in 1996, while the statistics of the past four years on record show steady figures of an annual 610 to 710 victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, i.e. 640 victims in 2011.

Human trafficking for labor exploitation is also a criminal offence, which so far has failed, however, to attract much interest by the German public. Recent research has shown that, until recently, even counseling centers for victims of human trafficking were mostly unaware of the possibility of labor trafficking and unprepared to provide adequate support. The general lack of interest towards labor trafficking is reflected in the low number of identified victims: only 32 individuals in 2011.

So, where is the real problem?

DER SPIEGEL’s greatest omissions are victim protection and victims’ rights when it comes to human trafficking. A narrow focus on the prostitution law and sex work prevents the authors from dwelling into the more complex web of legal regulations that make the prosecution of cases of human trafficking difficult in Germany.

First, human trafficking cases are dependent upon the testimony of victims. If they are for some reason unwilling to cooperate with the police and do not wish to testify, their cases will most likely fall apart. Furthermore, psychological support for victims of human trafficking is very limited. In many cases police officers and investigators expect linear and consistent narratives from victims from the very beginning, and utterly fail taking into account any traumas they may have endured just moments before. Victims are therefore not only forced to narrate their experiences over and over again, while their traumas are well and alive, but will also have their credibility judged and refuted as potential witnesses, if for some reason their stories show inconsistencies.

Before we talk about the prostitution law, let’s talk about how (potential) victims of human trafficking are treated once encountered by the police, and let’s talk about how those practices may in fact reduce to a minimum the willingness to testify.

Second, most victims of human trafficking who are third country nationals or from Romania or Bulgaria are repatriated to their home countries after their testimony. If they do not testify or cooperate with the authorities at all, they will be deported immediately after a reflection period of three months. Many decry the unwillingness of victims to testify as one central reason for the failure of trafficking prosecution. So far, however, little has been done to encourage testimony and cooperation by strengthening victims’ rights. What DER SPIEGEL fails to understand is that a reform of the prostitution law would have no impact on this aspect whatsoever. By focusing on the victims, the authors risk tapping into a dangerous rhetoric of victim blaming, and thus miss how not the prostitution law but the German immigration law actually contributes to much of the vulnerability of migrant women who are victimized. Germany should rather look towards Italy, where victims of human trafficking are unconditionally granted a residency permit and can begin re-building their lives.

Last but not least, Germany and the German media have so far missed the opportunity to broaden the public debate on human trafficking and modern slavery to include labor trafficking, organ trafficking as well as labor exploitation in supply chains of large corporations. Instead, the term human trafficking is often equated with prostitution by the media, politicians and even activists, thus perpetuating a selection bias towards women in the sex industry. Victims of other genders or in other sectors run not only a very high risk of never being detected but also of not even being believed. In this sense, we believe DER SPIEGEL has failed its declared commitment towards human trafficking victims – as the majority are conveniently left out, while others, like self-determined (migrant) sex workers, simply are not victims of trafficking.

The story and representation of Carmen, a sex worker from Berlin

The German print version of DER SPIEGEL’s cover story also featured an inset profile about Carmen, a sex worker from Berlin. Carmen works as an escort as well as a sex workers’ rights activist, a role she also fulfills as member of the German Pirate Party. She reacted to the profile by publishing a counterstatement, in which she quoted the email exchange with DER SPIEGEL’s journalist prior to the interview and publication. Contrary to the agreed terms, Carmen writes, the profile dealt only marginally with her “thoughts about prostitution policies, the sex workers’ rights movement, the discrimination of sex workers” or other relevant subjects. Whereas Carmen had agreed to the interview to introduce “arguments instead of prejudices into the public debate about prostitution and allow insights into an occupation that most people have no access to”, 80 per cent of the eventual profile contained stereotypical descriptions of Carmen’s appearance and her escort website

“I am not prepared to be made a projection screen of any clichés. I will not answer any personal questions that concern aspects outside my work in prostitution/politics”, Carmen had written prior to the interview.

In addition, DER SPIEGEL had altered the photo that Carmen had provided to be featured. While blackening her face without her consent anonymized her, the color corrections effectively highlighted her décolleté, further adding to the overall tone of the article.

After Carmen’s statement had gone viral, the journalist published his own counterstatement on DER SPIEGEL’s blog, only to draw more criticism. Under the headline “An Escort Lady makes Politics: Be truthful”, he admitted the non-consensual alteration of the image but claimed it was done to protect Carmen’s privacy, even though she had not explicitly asked for any such changes. Where the article’s focus and tone were concerned, he invoked the freedom of the press.

Interestingly, DER SPIEGEL also tried to do damage control by sending customized tweets to those who had twittered Carmen’s statement, and for its international online publication, DER SPIEGEL then chose to omit Carmen’s profile entirely, thus removing the one voice, if poorly presented, opposing the cover story’s narrative that legalizing prostitution in Germany had failed.

DER SPIEGEL also published a photo series to support the article’s narrative, which included voyeuristic images, a photo of Christine Bergmann, Federal Minister of Family Affairs when the German prostitution law was passed (of whom no other picture seemed available as that in front of a sign about child abuse), an angelic picture of Swedish anti-prostitution activist Kajsa Ekis Ekman, and to counter that, an unflattering photo of Volker Beck, human rights spokesperson of the German Greens and a staunch supporter of sex workers’ rights.

About the authors:

Sonja Dolinsek is a graduate student in Contemporary History and Philosophy at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her research project focuses on the history of prostitution in the German Federal Republic since 1949, with a particular interest in the gendered construction of sex workers. She is also the founder and editor of the German news blog on human trafficking “menschenhandel heute”, where she critically engages with anti-trafficking discourses and practices. She also volunteers as a translator for PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Migrants). She lives in Berlin, Germany.

Matthias Lehmann is an independent German researcher currently based in Berlin after extensive stays in East Asia. A graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Kyung Hee University, he has conducted research and fieldwork in Thailand and South Korea. In 2012, he participated in the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata, official hub of the 2012 International AIDS Conference. His research focus lies on the collateral damage caused by anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution legislation, in particular where the rights of sex workers and migrants are concerned. With his on-going research project, he aims to add to the knowledge about the experiences of sex workers in South Korea.

The latest on Norway’s sex purchase ban

Posted on

I happened to notice today that the 2012 annual report by Pro-Sentret, Oslo’s official “help centre” for sex workers, is now online. This is the organisation whose Dangerous Liaisons report was so badly misrepresented by prohibitionists recently, so I thought it would be interesting to see what they’ve had to say in the wake of that report.

Unfortunately it’s only available in Norwegian, so I had to run it through Google Translate. I don’t really have the time to, or think I can, add much to what the report itself says so I’m just going to C&P below some of the report’s more notable findings. Anyone who thinks I’m cherry-picking is welcome to do the same exercise themselves, but one thing I’ll tell you now: in absolutely no way does it provide support for those prohibitionist claims. Not that I think that’ll stop them from trying to twist it to say that it does.

Excerpts below, still in pristine Google Translate state. I did fix a couple words that would have rendered the translation incomprehensible, but I’ve left the grammatical errors intact.

INTRODUCTION

…there is no reason to believe that there has been a reduction in the prostitution market in the past year. On the contrary. Much suggests that the Norwegian prostitution market remains fairly stable in terms of the number of people who sell sex, nationality and how prostitution is organized.

TRONDHEIM

More recently, it revealed new venues for prostitution in Trondheim by bars and restaurants are increasingly being used. Police have had an advisory role in relation to the establishments that have been most affected. In an extended period of supervised police downtown tanning salons. They found that these frequently used as a venue for prostitution. Police went out with warnings to holders and noted that it was put into action to impede prostitution on tanning salons (staffing, warnings monitoring and so on).

Police in Trondheim has marked a change in relation to the nationality of the the prostitute. They reported that several women from economically distressed countries Greece and Spain, and frequent prostitution market in Trondheim. There is also a large increase in terms of Romanian prostitute. Police believe that these activities can be organized.

Nigerian

The Nigerian women prostituting themselves mostly on the streets. In 2009 we had an expectation that the proportion of Nigerians on the streets would reduced when buying sex ban was a reality, as Nigerians basically have few rights in Norway and thus would make it harder. However, we have seen an increase in the Nigerian contingent in total during the last three years, while the number who have availed themselves of outpatient follow-up, decreased. This is still the largest group that uses the outpatient services.

In 2012 there were 80 people from Nigeria who received long-term social care support. We believe that the reason why women do not leave the country depends on the (lack of) opportunities they have elsewhere in Europe. There is rarely an option to return to poor Nigeria, and in Italy and Spain where they have resided for several years, is no other than prostitution due to the financial crisis. And prostitution pays enough more Norway than in the south of the continent.

Norwegian

Many women have found other ways to establish contact with customers after the ban on purchase of sex was introduced as well as due to increased competition from overseas on the street. Many have gained regular customers as they make arrangements with the phone or online instead of establishing contact with them in prostitution district. Some have found it necessary to finance its drug use through crime, such as theft and sale of illegal drugs.

Eastern Europe

Pro Centre still has contact with a large group of women from East European countries. In the early 2000’s, these were the largest foreign deployment Until the Nigerian women took the prostitution market a few years later. Many predicted that the Eastern European women would flood the market when the first EU eastward enlargement was a fact. This did not happen. EU enlargement created opportunities for regular employment for many. When the EU included Bulgaria and Romania we thought the same would happen to the women there. This has not been the same degree, and one of the reasons may be that many of women in prostitution from these two countries is Rom-women who are not in the same degree eligible for our regular labor market.

A large proportion of the Pro Centre users have come to Norway by a third party and pay a backer / pimp / agent to work here. Some of the women have been in Norway while working independently.

Unfortunately, we see great motivation and desire to work does not compensate for the lack of work experience, reading and writing skills and knowledge of Norwegian. It is therefore many become discouraged and end to continue in prostitution when job hunting is not results.

Sexual Health

We still get a lot of feedback from users that condom use declines. We hear that there are many women who perform oral sex on men without a condom, so that it difficult for those who want to use a condom to negotiate this with the customer. The customer is often willing to pay more for sex without, so that in a market that has greater supply than demand, so more and more of our users report that they take “trips” without a condom.

Violence and trauma

We started in 2010 to record separately the cases where violence was the reason for inquiry to the health by Pro Centre. In 2011 we had fourteen women who came to us for help after being exposed to violence and / or rape, compared with six in 2010. In 2012 we had 33 such incidents recorded. There is a strong increase.

The women who have been victims of violence come from nine different countries, but 22 of the 33’s Nigerian women. Four are ethnic Norwegian. Ten of the women have been raped. Some of these must be characterized as very serious as some involving serious violence and several perpetrators. Three of the women have been stabbed so severely that they have had to get immediate medical attention in hospital. Eight of the thirty-three have been hospital / emergency room before they came to us. In eleven of the cases police have been involved, but we have no idea of how many that ends with review and any judgment. Women in prostitution are afraid to report violence and abuse.

In six of the cases, the offender is a woman, whether a “madam” or Another woman in prostitution. Eleven of the women stated that the violence / rape is performed by a prostitution client. Some have been assaulted in prostitution district by a unknown man, some have found that the abuser has penetrated into the apartment they live.

Our message through the report Dangerous Liaisons is that women in prostitution is still very vulnerable to violence. They frequently exposed to crime in the form of violence, intimidation and harassment. The report shows that prostitution has become more individualized and fewer report that they seek relief services after they have been violence. In addition a number of women that they lack legal protection as part of legislation – which basically should cherish and protect women – also entails that they do not contact the police when exposed to criminal acts. They fear that they may lose their apartment (Operation homeless) and / or earnings base their if they call the police attention. Customers must now “protected” from being fined, and his role goes from being “business partner” to an ally parallel to the Police goes from being an ally that women can obtain protection from a party they must protect customers against.

Women in prostitution are reminded constantly of the environment that they act undesirable. Be it through police actions, media coverage of the field or Also passers. When exposed to violence takes in many cases even responsibility. Shame and guilt prevents them from asking for help. Our experience is that the more focus as we help measures on violence and violence against, the more women will share their experiences with us and we will better position to assist them. This recognition we take seriously. It is incumbent upon the support system a great responsibility in adding ensure that vulnerable people receive the care, support and any redress they have entitled. We must be present for women who sell sex on their terms: we must be “here and now”.

Pro Centre would like to focus on the protection of victims of violence rather than a political tug of war or a rematch of the law. The challenge for governments is to provide police guidelines are clear: how should the seller of sexual services position as the “weak” and the individual’s right to protection and protection proportionate to the pursuit of pimps and traffickers? Is the legislator’s intention that the individual prostitute rights should be subordinated to the large market reduction project? How to
police and judicial system could emerge as credible allies when individuals are exposed to violence, whenever any police activity suggests that their situation from day to day is not Important?