by Furry Girl

08.26.11

WikiLeaks has released tens of thousands of new US embassy cables this week, and I spent almost every waking hour of Thursday looking at the results.  I don't have the time to read everything, but you might be interested in getting a peek at how diplomats talk about both sex workers and relevant policies in foreign countries.

See the results for sex work, whore, prostitut*, stripper, porn, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, LGBT, lesbian, bisexual, and homosexual.  (Most of the ho-related results are about the US Trafficking in Persons Report and horror stories that conflate all sex work with forced trafficking and slavery, or mention it alongside drug addiction as a social ill to fix.)

WikiLeaks' crowdsourcing effort invites you to post stories of interest to Twitter with the hashtag #wlfind.  Find something interesting?  Share it!

Some bits I found about sex work, plus one odd one about a trans woman:

* Out of 10 mentions of the word "whore," 6 are quotations of someone using it as an insult.  Two are mentions of a women's rights NGO called "Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissives)."  Two more uses the term to refer to stigma.

A report on people organizing against sex work criminalization in Rwanda from a January 2010 cable.  "Rwandan civil society is weak and neither its members nor the government fully understands its role.  These recent efforts may be an indicator of increasing strength and organization."

According to a January 2010 cable, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, "German government funds" have been used to establish "rehabilitation centers for women engaged in prostitution."  (I wonder if these centers are anything like the forced rehabs in Cambodiawhere sex workers report violence, sexual assault, and even rape at the hands of their "saviors"?)

In a report on "women's issues" from the Czech Republic in January of 2010, the author praises, without even a hint of irony, a government conference on reducing prostitution which had lectures on leadership from female entrepreneurs.  (As though prostitution and female entrepreneurship are opposing concepts!)

A December 2009 cable from Kenya is surprised by a survey's findings on gay/male prostitution.  "...a 2007 Kenya Aids Indicator Survey found that male prostitution occurs throughout the country and that eighty-one percent of the clients are Kenyan.  These findings run contrary to the perception that LGBT activity is concentrated in Coast province and initiated by tourists."  A 2009 cable from the Philippines reports something similar: "about 70% of prostitution clientele are local Filipinos, and only 30% are foreigners."  (Gasp!  You mean it's not just evil white Westerners, high on their internet porn "addictions," who buy sex in foreign countries?)

A December 2009 cable from Tanzania explains how anti-prostitution laws are selectively used to persecute homosexuals.  "Dr. Emmanuel Kandusi, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights Promotion, told Poloff that 39 individuals arrested on prostitution charges on October 7 were targeted for their membership in gay and lesbian support groups. [...] Gay rights activist and CPSS member Ali Semsella related to Poloff other incidents of harassment and arrest.  For example, a group of seven individuals arrested in January on charges of prostitution continue to be held in remand prison because they could not make the Tsh 500,000 bail (USD380)."

An October 2009 cable from the Philippines covers how a police officer moonlighting as a pimp got caught in an NGO sting and convicted under anti-trafficking laws.  The cop apparently said "that he was the club's manager and that he had four underage girls working for him that they could take out of the club for sex.  [He] told [the NGO workers] not to worry about any legal problems because he was a police officer and could protect them.  He even offered to escort them to a hotel to ensure there would be no problems."  At trial, though, one of the teenage girls in question said that she had never been forced to have sex with anyone.

An April 2009 cable from Vietnam posts some snark on the subject of how to prevent prostitution in karaoke bars.  It quotes an unnamed local blogger who suggests, "To prevent prostitution, all women entering a karaoke bar must be accompanied by boyfriend or husband; an official inspector will check her certificate of marriage or certificate proving girlfriend or boyfriend-ship."

A December 2008 cable from Turkey makes a rare mention of sex workers' rights activism, even going so far as concluding, "MEASURES TO CURTAIL LEGAL PROSTITUTION MAY EXPOSE PROSTITUTES TO GREATER ABUSE... While concerned about the plight of trafficked women in Turkey, these sex workers and advocates emphasized the need for protection, fair housing and respect for Turkey's prostitutes, who are often abused by residents, clients and police."

A September 2008 cable from Turkey reports that a trans woman helped overthrow the previous government.  "Actress Nurseli Idiz, her manager Seyhan Soylu and lawyer Levent Temiz were taken into custody in Istanbul... Papers recall that Soylu, a transvestite, is believed to have organized a scheme which sparked a political scandal ahead of the 'February 28' process in 1997, and led to the collapse of the government of the Islamist Prime Minister  Necmettin Erbakan."  (When not plotting coups, Seyhan Soylu developed a reality TV show about pitting various faiths against each other in a competition to convert atheists.)

* An April 2007 cable from Korea reports that even though prostitution was criminalized in 2004, it still exists, and was only driven underground.  "As pressure against the prostitution industry mounted, brothel owners began to shift their work to alternate venues such as massage parlors, barber shops and singing rooms although a few traditional red-light districts continue to operate.  The Internet also became a popular method to arrange sexual encounters because it provided protection for business owners who wanted to keep a low profile."  Here's an interesting tactic in the quest to end demand: "A serious debate on the issue erupted late last year as MOGEF introduced a plan where men would be paid if they promised not to engage in prostitution as part of the traditional end-of-year parties hosted by their employers."

A September 2006 cable from Cambodia questions the effectiveness of arresting suspected prostitutes and forcing them into "rehab" centers.  "Targeting sex workers alone is not a viable solution to ridding Cambodia of prostitution nor is it particularly effective in addressing trafficking in persons. The fact that no pimps or brothel owners have been held responsible after the raids on nine brothels raises questions as to the government's motivations. Police could have done a better job identifying and arresting the pimps and closing down the brothels, instead of only rounding up the prostitutes and turning them over to AFESIP."  (AFESIP is an NGO founded by Somaly Mam, who has come under fire by sex workers in Cambodia for violence and abuse in her "rehabilitation centers.")

A July 2006 cable from Armenia reports disappointment at the unexciting realities of "trafficking" of Armenian women. "We went to Vanadzor expecting to hear stories of illicit smuggling across borders and of girls lured into prostitution under false pretenses. What we heard was significantly more pedestrian... And while the prostitutes and the NGO employees we met said sometimes women are abused in the brothels, or aren't paid in full, they said the greater part of women generally understand what they are getting themselves into, and may already have worked as prostitutes for years."  The cable concludes, "...fist-banging won't change the fact that many prostitutes work simply to get food on the table, and that they believe they will be paid better in Turkey or the UAE.  The Armenian government cannot improve a bad economy with stricter laws and harsher sentencing.  While both are needed here, Armenia has to offer these women an alternative to turning tricks if it is to eradicate trafficking."

* Three cables from June 2006 talk about the sex trafficking scare around the World Cup in Berlin.  One notes, "Over 20 NGOs throughout Germany have received government funds to conduct dozens of trafficking prevention and awareness campaigns."  It goes on to report on the raid of 48 Munich brothels in search of said trafficking victims, though it couldn't find any.  Another cable reports on raids in Hesse, where hundreds of police officers were involved in a massive sweep that saw 74 women detained.  A police officer "pointed out that many women do not initially see themselves as victims but come to that realization after counseling and assistance." [...] "Regarding the large-scale raids on May 10, [police chief] Thiel said police findings demonstrate there has been no substantial increase in TIP and that the oft-repeated figure of 40,000 prostitutes converging on Germany for the FIFA World Cup is a gross exaggeration."  A third cable declares that in spite of being unable to find trafficking victims, the whole mess is a victory anyway.  "Extensive pre-World Cup police raids of brothels and other venues around Germany (reported refs C through F) sent a clear message to traffickers that police are watching and likely dissuaded many traffickers from expanding their operations."

A December 2005 cable from Turkey expresses concern about the growing popularity of trans prostitutes, giving a very detailed rundown on where trans prostitutes can be found.  "Transvestites have taken over the streets.  In recent years the rate of transvestite prostitution has increased, in particular on Istanbul streets.  Until ten years ago, they were seen only on the Cevizlibag-Merter portion of the D-100 highway; now they are everywhere... On weekends there is a transvestite prostitute every five meters from Tarlabasi Boulevard to Harbiye."

A November 2005 cable from Thailand paints popular vacation spot Pattaya as filled with prostitutes, fugitives, crazies, drunk Americans wandering into traffic, and "heartbroken loners".  "Thailand has one of the highest rates in the world of death by non-natural causes for Amcits.  After Bangkok itself, most Amcit deaths in Thailand occur in Pattaya: this year 21 of the 106 non-natural Amcit deaths in Thailand have occurred there.  The leading causes of death are traffic accidents (usually involving alcohol), drug overdoses (ranging from laced cocaine to using Viagra without a prescription), suicides (from heartbroken loners) and homicides... Many American fugitives have taken up residence in Pattaya over the years, along with people who should be getting treatment for mental illness, but are not."  The cable's conclusion: "As Pattaya continues to grow, so will the numbers of American citizens that go there to work, play, retire, and die."  (Best tourism slogan I've ever read!)

A November 2005 cable from the Czech Republic is pleased that left- and right-wing members of the Czech Parliament came together to reject a bill taking steps towards legalized prostitution.  "Though clearly a positive development, the defeat of legalized prostitution still leaves the sex trade in a highly ambiguous position in a country where trafficking in persons remains a problem.  Although the Czechs are clearly unwilling to legalize prostitution, there is also little will to adopt more stringent steps to criminalize the practice."  (Another 2005 cable on the subject mentions MPs being lectured by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, an international feminist anti-sex worker group, which also lobbied against San Francisco's Proposition K.)

A bizarre August 2004 cable from Nigeria details the case of "juju men" (shamans/witch doctors) convicted of sex trafficking.  "The two juju men, Prince Omoruyi of Ehengbuda shrine and Goddy Akhimeon of Uromi, were brought into the press conference and asked by NAPTIP's head of investigation to describe the items on display, which had been confiscated from their shrines.  Clippings of women's pubic hair and fingernails would be kept in the shrine until the 'curse' was lifted.  The juju men explained that they 'blessed' the semen of male customers of prostitutes in order to prevent the transmission of AIDS; a pile of semen-stained tissues was displayed among the evidence."

An April 2004 cable from the Netherlands expresses annoyance at the country's legalized prostitution, but notes we need their troops for our wars.  "We don't like their social policies, but even G/TIP admits the causal link between legalization of prostitution and trafficking has not been proven."  The cable author begs its reader to not downgrade the Netherlands' ranking in the Traffickings in Persons index.  Doing so would "undermine the forceful public outreach we have been making to strengthen the alliance.  The Dutch are extremely valuable allies to us, providing troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and supporting us on transatlantic and global issues.  In the next month, the government faces a delicate vote in parliament over extending Iraq troop deployment and the MFA Political Director told me Friday that a decision to put the Netherlands in Tier 2 would be damaging and could not come at a worse time."

A February 2003 cable from Canada tries to clumsily quantify the amount of local prostitution and sex trafficking.  Their methodology?  Noting that there are 20 pages of escort ads in the phone book.  "THESE ADS, UP FROM 17 PAGES IN 2002 AND 2 IN 1998, HIGHLIGHT WHAT A BIG BUSINESS THE SEX TRADE HAS BECOME IN QUEBEC."  The report concludes that motorcycle gangs are the kingpins running the sex industry in Quebec.  The guesses in the cable reads like a 1970s sexploitation novel: "IN THE OPINION OF POST'S POLICE CONTACT, ONCE GIRLS ARE BROUGHT INTO A TRAFFICKING RING, THEY FACE A SLIPPERY SLOPE.  VULNERABLE GIRLS, DRAWN TO OFFERS OF PROTECTION AND CARE, OFTEN THINK THEY ARE IN LOVE WITH THEIR "PROTECTOR."  COERCED INTO NUDE DANCING, THEN PROSTITUTION, THE GIRLS QUICKLY BECOME PART OF A SEAMY WORLD..."

 

[A few more items in my post on 1970s diplomatic cables.]





by Furry Girl

07.28.11

Unlike some other people in the sex blogger world, I am totally appalled by No Man's Land, a self-published book of photos of supposed sex workers taken from Google's Street View.  The seller of this self-published book has no way of knowing whether or not the women in the photos are actual sex workers or not, although some of them do look more "hooker-y" than others.  The point is, none of the subjects of this photo book gave their permission to have photos of them appear in a book of "women soliciting sex."  If these women are not sex workers, they would probably be horribly offended at having their photos in a book about rural and urban prostitutes.  If these women are sex workers, they probably don't want to be outed as such by a British hipster artist who wants to make money off of them.

Violet Blue is one of the people defending and promoting this book, and rather than rehash what I already posted in her comments, I'll just repost both sides of our disagreement, and you can decide for yourself whether No Man's Land is in the right for selling these images.

Furry Girl:

I hope that if any of the women unwillingly appearing in this book find out about it, they sue the shit out of the guy selling it. While some of the images do look more “hookery” than others, I imagine that many of the women in these photos merely happen to be outdoors when the Google car was passing. This is no different than when police publish mugshots of sex workers against their will. Both involve outsiders sensationalizing and preying upon vulnerable and unwilling photo subjects. There’s nothing hip or arty about some dude selling an expensive collection of photos (which he didn’t even take) where he accuses the subjects (whom he has never met) of being sex workers. It’s a collection of stolen material where the author tries to out women as whores. Barf.

Violet Blue:

I see it very differently, but thanks for your constructive criticism. I find all the cultural dilemmas interesting – in addition to seeing it as raising awareness, however you slice it. I’m sure Google isn’t pleased. I think it’s very different than mug shot publishing for a lot of reasons – Smoking Gun, for example. But were they unwilling? I don’t feel comfortable in assuming how these women would feel about anything, let alone their blurred images in this book – fwiw Google did not ask them, either, and these images are globally publicly available. I don’t see labeling someone as a sex worker as being an ‘accusation’ but I am not a sex worker, nor do I see it as a bad thing. I do agree it’s expensive.

Furry Girl:

I personally know no sex workers from Eastern Europe, where these images originated. You are right in that I cannot know for certain that these women would not want their images put in a hipster art book about rural prostitutes. But is it better to assume that all women *would* want to be featured in the book, whether or not they are prostitutes? When faced with a decision about how to err when you don’t know a person’s wishes, I think it’s best to err on the side of not exploiting them or labeling them as prostitutes. It’s an issue of consent. Lack of saying “no” does not mean “yes.” While Google Streetview also did not ask these women for their permission to photograph them, Google isn’t the one saying that they are probably hookers, either.

What do you think?  Is it best to err on the side of collecting photos of women you find online, labeling them as hookers, and selling those photos in an "art" book?  Or am I the one being paternalistic and oppressing the women in this book by assuming that they don't want some strange guy calling them hookers and profiting off of their images?

Since no real book publisher is going to publish a book of images lifted from Google's copyrighted Street View collection, No Man's Land is for sale on a print-on-demand web site called Blurb.com.  I've already sent a complaint, but I hope more people will join me.  Please email Blurb here and ask for them to cease production and hosting of No Man's Land.  (The "book" is also hosted by Blurb and available for free online in its entirety.)  I imagine Blurb cares more about someone publishing copyrighted images that belong to Google than they do about sex workers' right to privacy or civilian women's right to not be called hookers by some hipster "artist," so take which argument angle you think works best.  Here's an update, an email from Blurb:

Thank you for your message and for raising your concern about potential copyright issues with the book titled 'No Man's Land".  As you know, Blurb takes copyright issues very seriously. Being in the business of user-generated content, we rely on our community to spot potential copyright violations (we do not edit, monitor or review the content of our authors, as we are not a publisher). 

We have initiated an investigation as to whether the book you reference violates Blurb's End User License Agreement. Since the copyright in question is not yours, we will not follow up with you with regard to the outcome of the investigation -- but we do sincerely appreciate you flagging the potential issue.

Also, there's a hosting platform called Issuu that is providing free hosting for this photo collection as well.  Since they have a convoluted help ticket system, the easiest way to reach them might be on Twitter.  Tweet @issuu and ask them why they're hosting a collection of stolen photos that could be considered libel.

We can't stop people from creating offensive and exploitative representations of sex workers, or of women in general.  But we can make complaints to companies that provide free hosting services for such materials.

Update: I am no longer going to be publishing comments from people who want to smugly pontificate about whether this counts as "art."  That's utterly irrelevant, and I'm tired of men telling me that the issue here is that I "just don't understand art."





by Furry Girl

07.16.11

A favorite photo of mine from when I was in Buenos Aires.  That city has sex work ad cards all over the place, like you would see in Las Vegas.

Yesterday, Argentina's president Cristina Fernandez banned sex work ads in print, supposedly to combat sex trafficking.  Fernandez is Argentina's former first lady who succeeded her husband to the presidency, and is the country's first elected female president.  She drew criticism as a senator for having unfair influence through her husband's office as the president, and her most commonly mentioned personality traits are her love of fashion and being unable to handle criticism.

With an election coming up in October, people are asking questions about whether her true motive on banning the adult ads is simply to take advertising dollars away from newspapers who don't favor her.  This could be another sad case of sex workers getting caught in the middle, and bearing the dangerous fallout, of other people's political ambitions.

Highlights from the Rueter's article for those of you short on time:

Argentina's government is banning prostitution ads in newspapers and other mass media as of Friday, saying it is combatting violence against women.

[...]

But some of the president's opponents fear it may be used to punish opposition media this election year by removing an independent source of revenue for an industry that in many cases depends on official advertising, a flow of revenue that press freedom groups say has been unequally directed toward the government's supporters.

[...]

Fernandez specifically took aim at the newspaper Clarin, a frequent antagonist. She cited the opposition paper's Area 59 section as particularly unethical. Area 59 has included columns of ads for escorts, "gym teachers" ''massage therapists" and "underwear models" offering "pleasures without limits." Until now.

[...]

In Argentina, most media organizations are aligned either with the Fernandez government or its opposition. Many on both sides have run solicitations for sexual encounters. But Grupo Clarin's conglomerate of newspapers, magazines, broadcast stations, internet providers and web sites may have the most to lose.

Marketing director Emiliano Szlaien of the LectorGlobal media research firm estimated the ban could cost the Grupo Clarin $5 million.





by Furry Girl

03.11.11

I haven't had much time to write on the ho revolution lately, so I wanted to draw my readers' attention to Egypt again.  (See an earlier post on the intersections of how society treats both sex workers and Muslim women here.)

Focus on the country is waning, and I'm now only following one Egyptian tweeter/organizer myself: @Sandmonkey, who is now known to be 29-year-old Mahmoud Salem.  He posts tons of stuff - from coordinating protests as they happen, to thoughts on the economy, to how to talk to average people about politics - and it's been interesting to keep following the very-much-not-complete revolution going on in the country through his eyes.  Sure, Egyptians ousted president Hosni Mubarak, but now what?  With the country under temporary military rule, people are trying to sort out "which way forward?"

It might seem like overthrowing an Arab dictator, and American sex workers fighting criminalization and stigma, are about as different as two causes could be, but I've found a lot of commonality reading Sandmonkey's tweets.  (Pardon me if I sound like a fangirl.  Full disclosure: this chick will always melt for smart political dudes.)  I wish I'd saved or re-tweeted more of my favorites so I could find them now, but here's a sampling of things I've liked, which cover the three big points that I want to highlight:

Public outreach

One of the overall themes I've found both with Sandmonkey's tweets, and other things I've read about Egypt's revolution, is the importance of young people reaching out and talking to older generations and people who disagree with you.  Sandmonkey is regularly urging his followers to talk to their families, their neighbors, anyone they encounter, and debunk myths and explain what the January 25th revolution is really about.  Sex workers badly need to do this sort of thing, and better facilitating public outreach is my goal with my upcoming not-for-profit project, SWAAY.  You can't change the world without being bold enough to start talking to lots and lots of normal people and explaining why they ought to get on board with your ideas.

Mutual aid

Another issue, not at all new to sex workers, is of the importance of taking care of your own communities when the state and police fail to help you.  Even though the specifics are different, the point is very much the same: we must look out for each other.  In the last 6 weeks, I've seen Egyptians on Twitter posting about things like neighborhood watch patrols to protect themselves from government thugs, warning systems at the Tahrir Square camp to alert other protesters if police were coming, the construction of physical barriers for protection, medical volunteers treating injuries, supporters making food and bringing it to those on the streets, women leading protests during the day after men protected them during the night, and later, people popping up to sweep and repair damage to their city after the massive protests.  (Sandmonkey was arrested and beaten while delivering medical supplies to a makeshift clinic for protesters.)  We will take care of ourselves because no one else is going to do it for us is the kind of vital empowerment from within that all types of outliers require.

There's room for everyone

Not everyone is going to be at the front lines.  Not everyone can be a full-timer.  We all have things of value to contribute, and if we can all spare just a bit of our energy, we can make a big impact.  I don't think I'd be good at trying to reach out to the police in an effort to get them to be less violent, rape-y, and discriminatory against street-based sex workers.  I don't think I'd be good at policy and lobbying stuff, I don't want to be on TV as a spokesperson, and I lack the skills to help people with medical issues.  Thankfully, other people are good at those things.  I think I'm pretty good at explaining complex issues in accessible terms, debating anti- sex worker myths, and I know how to operate clean, easy-to-navigate web sites.  Diversity of skills and interests is an asset, not a weakness.





by Furry Girl

02.04.11

(A sampling of images of covered women in the midst of Egypt's revolution during the last week.  More photos of women in this gallery and this one and here, too - not all of whom are Muslims or wearing headscarfs, niqabs, or chadors.  There's also an album for Facebook users, requires login.)

Before reading my post, you should know a bit about the situation on Egypt.  If you have not been closely following international news, I made a comic/infographic explaining the January 25h revolution through Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, so at the very least, go read that for the basic context.  If you want more information, here are three short videos that I liked, with totally different tones - the first has upbeat scenes from Egypt and Tunisia (which ousted their dictator recently), the second is a heartwarming look at Egyptians taking care of each other and the city of Cairo, and the third is a serious vlog made by a brave young woman who helped start this revolution.  For stuff specifically about women taking part in the Egyptian revolution, see pieces from Slate, Matt Cornell, Newsweek, Global Voices, Democracy Now, and The New York Times.  Lastly, you can watch ongoing events on Al Jazeera English's web stream - this is still unfolding!

I made my most controversial and widely re-posted tweet on Twitter a week ago.  Here's a sentence that proved even more polarizing than I expected:

I hope that western feminists who infantilize Muslim women see photos of Egyptian women in burqas rioting against a dictatorship.

Aside from some angry stupids, my statement received good responses from both cool Western folks and residents of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  (As an aside, for those calling me out for using the term "burqa" when the photos from Egypt show women wearing scarves and chador/niqabs/hijabs: yes, I knew that.  Accessible language is important to me, and everyone American has an idea of what "burqa" means.  And, Twitter only allows for so many characters.)

For most people, the idea of a sex worker supporting covered Muslim women sounds absurd.  What could we possibly have in common?

I do feel a sense of solidarity with Muslim women who are belittled for choosing to wear an abaya, chador, niqab, burqa, or what-have-you.  As a sex worker and a devout atheist, I am hardly what you could consider an apologist for the injustices women suffer in the MENA region and how Islam views women/sexuality in general.  But, that doesn't mean Muslim women are feeble-minded weaklings.  I know what it feels like to have other women decide that you're too stupid to be allowed to make your own decisions.  Western feminists, by and large, claim that I have been brainwashed by the patriarchy, and must be "saved" from my decision to work in porn.  Likewise, the same people tend to impose their judgments on Muslim women, arguing that they need to be "saved" from the religious brainwashing forcing them to adhere to Islam.

It's easy to feel paternalistic towards Muslim women - the more covered, the more pitied - and they are definitely a caricature in the West for what "oppressed" and "sexism" looks like - just like sex workers.  The same people who say it's hypocritical for covered Muslim women to demand freedom in Egypt will also scoff at sex workers demanding respect in the states.

One of the things I often remind people is to remain conscious of is whether their desire to "help" others is rooted more in solidarity, or in paternalism.  It's a troubling dynamic to me, and not only because I'm in a group of people greatly affected by it.  It's a very slippery slope to start deciding that other adults are incapable of deciding what they want to do with their lives.  Would you have any interest in building bridges with someone who condescendingly believes you can't be trusted to decide what to do with your life and what clothing (not lack thereof) to wear?

When dealing with social issues like Egypt's revolution, you have to look at things first not through the lens of feminist gender analysis, you have to get basic and consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  (For those unfamiliar, it's a pyramid setting up human needs, starting from food/water/shelter, and being topped out with self-actualization.)  Think of it also as a "social change hierarchy of needs": you can't lecture people about how they should focus on pondering whether wearing head coverings are sexist, when paying for food is a daily struggle for them.  This might come as a surprise to some, but when people don't have money for bare necessities, live in daily fear of the police, and have no hope for their futures, they're not laying in wait for middle and upper-class liberals in America try and dictate a political agenda to them.  I would love to see full gender equality in the MENA region, but I'm sick of seeing people doing the "let them eat cake" thing in regards to Egypt.

The situation in Egypt is exciting to me not only because the revolutionary spirit started in Tunisia is spreading, but because so many of the protesters seem to be young and less conservative than previous generations.  This gives me hope that this is a win for women - both in the long and short term.  American conservatives are busy fear-mongering about radical Islam, arguing hyperbolic nonsense that if Egypt's president leaves, sharia law will be instituted and women will be beheaded in the streets of Cairo.  After seeing so many women boldly rising up, screaming at male police, demanding the present leave, organizing a revolution, and getting involved in changing their country at the grassroots level, I don't think the women of Egypt would stand for it.  We Enlightened Western Liberals don't need to save them.  They're saving themselves.

(I don't want the comments on this post to turn into a debate abut Islam or religion in general, so save it for one of my posts that specifically address religion and sexuality, okay?  PS: Tracy Quan has also written about covered Muslim women.  See her 2006 piece here.)





by Furry Girl

09.23.10

Oh, violent forced sex trafficking - how you give liberals a raging concern boner!  Since nothing excites a do-gooder quite like the chance to blare their uninformed "down with bad stuff!" opinion on a topic as exciting as forced sex trafficking, the latest Craigslist restrictions have prompted a month-long circle jerk for the self-righteous.

I haven't read all of what's been in the press in the last few weeks, but it's the same script that gets dusted off every few months when there's a "new" sex trafficking panic.  And, because anti-sex worker activists aim to turn all issues into a sex trafficking panic, those types are lined up to regurgitate their morbid sound bites about how all exchanges of sexual energy for cash are basicallythesamething as raping trafficked underage sex slaves.  (And, my side is plenty practiced with our less-heard replies, such as, "Do you have any evidence of any of your claims and statistics?", or "How is it that imprisoning/deporting abused sex workers makes their lives magically all better?", or "Have you ever actually asked these communities of people you claim to be saving what they want?")

Whether it's a conservative news source or a feminist/lefty one, the same cliches and hysteria get repeated without fact-check.  In a year when people on my end of the political spectrum are talking a whole lot about the importance of citing primary source materials in journalism, where's the outcry when the media just completely makes shit up about sex work?

I haven't really written about trafficking and "rescue", and it's not because I'm lazy or trying to avoid unpleasant subjects.  I have the sense to know that if something isn't my area of expertise, I ought to hush and listen to people who are in the know.  I know a bit on the subject, but other people are better teachers.

If you would like to educate yourself about trafficking, I have two homework assignments for you, which can be completed in a weekend.

First, read Laura Agustín's Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets, and the Rescue Industry.  We all have our golden books about a given topic that we recommend on a regular basis, and there's nothing that cuts through the bullshit with a sober, researched, post-colonialist mentality like Sex at the Margins.  I'll let the book's back cover summarize its contents:

This groundbreaking book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims, and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest.

Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' disempowers them.  Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radical analysis.  Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry.  Although they are treated as a marginalised group, they form part of the dynamic of the global economy.

Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire of social justice.

You can read this book over the course of one day - it's weighty subject material, but it's not a huge volume at 194 pages (plus citations/sources/index).  It's worth buying, as you'll probably want to lend it out to your friends.

Secondly, the people impacted by the rescue industry are not lawn chairs - they actually can and do speak out for themselves.  A fair bit of video material has been produced by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (primarily about sex workers in Cambodia), and is available for free on the Sex Workers Present Blip.tv station.  Spend a day watching those videos.  Most are not specifically about trafficking, but they will give you a dose of reality with the struggles faced by aggrieved sex workers in the developing world, including protesting being "rescued" and sent to what are tacitly prisons where they may face violence and rape at the hands of those who are supposedly rehabilitating them.  Most of these videos are not light watching, but it's material worth seeing.

If anyone has links to independent accounts (not quotes from anti-sex worker/anti-trafficking groups' own donation-soliciting literature) from people "rescued" while working in the United States, please post them.  I'd appreciate hearing their experiences and learning about what happens when migrant sex workers get "saved" in my country.

Agustín's academic work gives you a good foundation of research and informed theory, and the videos in the Sex Workers Present collection give you real first hand accounts directly from sex workers from developing countries who've faced the brutal end of "rescue" and meddling from outside organizations who claim to be "helping" them.  I consider this to be the your homework if you'd like to have a decent grasp of the issue.

One of the gems I've taken from Mistress Matisse's blog over the years has been her repeated admonishment (though not said in the context of politics) to be wary of how often the word help is just a nice way of saying control.  I think there's no more applicable place than in the world of anti-sex worker activists.  Sure, the line is, "We want to help women escape the sex industry", but what's really being said (and done) is, "We want to control other people's choices about their own bodies and dictate politically correct employment options to people whose complex situations we don't care to understand."

We already have too many do-gooders who presume to know what's best for sex workers, especially poor sex workers, migrant sex workers, and those in developing countries. What sex workers need are allies capable of listening.  So, go read up on the research, and then listen to what sex workers are actually agitating for on their own behalf.  I assure you, it's not that they wish more liberals, NGOs, and celebrities would barge into their lives and dictate how they ought to live.





by Furry Girl

07.01.10

"See, the problem with raids is that you have the people who want to rescue women and children who are in prostitution, using the oppressive arms of the state - the most oppressive arm of the state, which is the police - to conduct this 'rescue operation' through a raid.  [...]  The community is never ever going to respond to anybody who is bringing in the police to rescue them, because they do not view that as a 'rescue'.  They view that as another oppressive thing that's done to them."

-- Meena Seshu, founder of SANGRAM in India, in Caught between the tiger and the crocodile on sexworkerspresent.blip.tv





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