So that’s why all the morons think prostitution is an empowerfuling career choice

Thursday, September 13th, 2007 · 52 Comments »

I keep as much distance between myself and popular culture as possible, so I’ve only just now discovered that for the past few years HBO has been running some utterly unrealistic “reality” show about a brothel in Nevada, a happy place where happy people do happy things, just because they’re so darn happy. According to HBO’s website for this exercise in noxious bullshit, “The series sheds light not only on the numerous joys and challenges of working at a legal brothel, but on the therapeutic benefits that customers take with them after a stint at the Ranch.”

My first thought was that the guys who run HBO must have a serious stake in the Vegas mob, but then I remembered: it’s HBO! This is what they do. HBO is the brand pioneer of Porn n’ Patriarchy TV, where every new series is basically a soft-core variation of a BangBros video but with more intricate plotting and higher production values. And as we all know, the only reality today is what’s on TV, so if the TV says that prostitutes are happy empowerfuled gals who love their jobs, then by gum, it’s true.

Fuck that noise. Time for some blows against the empire! Buy this book for the real story: Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections.

Here’s a picture of it, which I’m going to make huge — a giant jpeg of righteous truth to cancel out the evil lying HBOshit:

giant jpeg of righteous truth

Giant jpeg of righteous truth.

The book is the result of a two-year investigation by Melissa Farley into the real conditions in Nevada’s legal brothels. Here’s what she found:

“The physical appearance of these buildings is shocking,” says Farley. “They look like wide trailers with barbed wire around them – little jails.” The rooms all have panic buttons, but many women told her that they had experienced violent and sexual abuse from the customers and pimps.

“I saw a grated iron door in one brothel,” says Farley. “The women’s food was shoved through the door’s steel bars between the kitchen and the brothel area. One pimp starved a woman he considered too fat. She made a friend outside the brothel who would throw food over the fence for her.” Another pimp told Farley matter-of-factly that many of the women working for him had histories of sexual abuse and mental ill-health. “Most,” he said, “have been sexually abused as kids. Some are bipolar, some are schizophrenic.”

*

The women are expected to live in the brothels and to work 12- to 14-hour shifts. Mary, a prostitute in a legal brothel for three years, outlines the restrictions. “You are not allowed to have your own car,” she notes. “It’s like [the pimp's] own little police state.” When a customer arrives, a bell rings, and the women immediately have to present themselves in a line-up, so he can choose who to buy.

*

So how did Farley gain access to her interviewees? Those in control of the women were confident that they would not be honest about the conditions, she says. “Pimps love to brag, and I know how to listen,” she adds. Although left alone with the women during interviews, Farley noted that they were all very nervous, constantly looking out for the brothel owners.

Investigating the sex industry – even the legal part – can be dangerous. During one visit to a brothel, Farley asked the owner what the women thought of their work. “I was polite,” she writes in her book, “as he condescendingly explained what a satisfying and lucrative business prostitution was for his ‘ladies’. I tried to keep my facial muscles expressionless, but I didn’t succeed. He whipped a revolver out of his waistband, aimed it at my head and said: ‘You don’t know nothing about Nevada prostitution, lady. You don’t even know whether I will kill you in the next five minutes.’”

Farley found that the brothel owners typically pocket half of the women’s earnings. Additionally, the women must pay tips and other fees to the staff of the brothel, as well as finders’ fees to the cab drivers who bring the customers. They are also expected to pay for their own condoms, wet wipes, and use of sheets and towels. It is rare, the women told Farley, to refuse a customer. One former Nevada brothel worker wrote on a website: “After your airline tickets, clothing, full-price drinks and other miscellaneous fees you leave with little. To top it off, you are … fined for just about everything. Fall asleep on your 14-hour shift and get $100 [£50] fine, late for a line-up, $100-500 in fines.” (The women generally negotiate directly with the men over the money; what they get depends on the quality of the brothel. It can be anything from $50 for oral sex to $1,000 for the night, but that doesn’t take account of the brothel’s cut.)

Farley found a “shocking” lack of services for women in Nevada wishing to leave prostitution. “When prostitution is considered a legal job instead of a human rights violation,” says Farley, “why should the state offer services for escape?” More than 80% of those interviewed told Farley they wanted to leave prostitution.

The effect of all this on the women in the brothels is “negative and profound,” according to Farley. “Many were suffering what I’d describe as the traumatic effects of ongoing sexual assaults, and those that had been in the brothels for some time were institutionalised. That is, they were passive, timid, compliant, and deeply resigned.”

“No one really enjoys getting sold,” says Angie, who Farley interviewed. “It’s like you sign a contract to be raped.”

And as if that weren’t enough:

Meanwhile, illegal brothels are on the increase in Nevada, as they are in other parts of the world where brothels are legalised. Nevada’s illegal prostitution industry is already nine times greater than the state’s legal brothels. “Legalising this industry does not result in the closing down of illegal sex establishments,” says Farley, “it merely gives them further permission to exist.”

Farley found evidence, for example, that the existence of state-sanctioned brothels can have a direct effect on attitudes to women and sexual violence. Her survey of 131 young men at the University of Nevada found the majority viewed prostitution as normal, assumed that it was not possible to rape a prostitute, and were more likely than young men in other states to use women in both legal and illegal prostitution.

You can order a copy through Lulu’s. Blows against the empire.

Filed under: Prostitution · Tags:

52 Responses to “So that’s why all the morons think prostitution is an empowerfuling career choice”

  1. Victoria says:

    I’m ordering my copy this week! I’m very glad for this original research being done. And Nevada was way overdue for this kind of examination. Good for Farley that this is out.

    Oh, and re: HBO, if I weren’t married to the Cable Guy, I wouldn’t have it (that, plus Showtime and Starz and all the rest is part of the benefits package), but I have to admit I’m a sucker for the great writing and ridiculous plot twists of Big Love.

  2. Victoria says:

    Also, “giant jpeg of righteous truth” elicited a delighted snort. You do have a way with words, y’know.

  3. therealUK says:

    “It’s like you sign a contract to be raped.”

    Just about sums it up really

  4. therealUK says:

    I just follwed through to ginmar’s link and noticed that was the headline the Grauniad picked, which reminded me of this that was in the Observer a couple of weeks ago:

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2156499,00.html

    It’s about trafficked women, and should be a major headline in every paper scandal*, but because it’s mere females as victims and men as the users only doing what’s “normal”, then it gets an occasional mention in a low circulation lefty PC paper that the masses can happily ignore.

    *There was a big headline news special recently about bad working conditions for those under the control of criminal gang masters. But it involved men as exploited farm labourers, so obviously that’s not acceptable. Didn’t hear much bleating from the pro-exploiters about choice in reaction to that, and the conditions and vileness of said labourer’s lives were not remotely as bad as the prostituted women’s.

  5. therealUK says:

    Oh, and another one – the Morecambe bay disaster, a very well publicised and recognised tragedy – but when the equivalent happens to women traffiked for prostitution the wanker apologists are out in force to defend it.

  6. Flash says:

    I once made the mistake of getting involved with a discussion with a London call girl and some US prostitutes’ client after writing about the local women who were murdered in Ipswich not long ago. The reasons/excuses the men gave for their behaviour had me screaming at the monitor.
    http://theanswers42.blogspot.com/search?q=prostitute

    While researching sex trafficking, etc., I came across some information about the Swedish approach to prostitution – very interesting. http://www.justicewomen.com/cj_sweden.html

    I’ve seen the HBO programmes on UK TV – very depressing.

  7. The Ghost of Violet says:

    But it involved men as exploited farm labourers, so obviously that’s not acceptable. Didn’t hear much bleating from the pro-exploiters about choice in reaction to that, and the conditions and vileness of said labourer’s lives were not remotely as bad as the prostituted women’s.

    Exactly. There is a goodly list of occupations involving men which society will not tolerate because they incur too much harm, risk, and/or degradation:

    voluntary slavery
    gladiatorial combat
    buying/selling of bodily organs

    But when it comes to prostitution, suddenly talk turns to “consenting adults.” Which really means that our culture is so conditioned to think of women as sexual commodities to be bought and sold that people simply can’t see the harm. It’s what women are for, doncha know? Oldest profession in the world, doncha know?

  8. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Flash, I have high hopes for the Swedish model.

  9. Steve says:

    Nobody I know gets as appropriately enraged as you do. I can just hear some little prick responding “”Why can’t you see the fun here?” or “What consenting adults yada yada yada do in the yada yada?”

    This kind of slavery is “consent?” Bullshit.

    But the real kicker is HBO painting it as some scene out of “Pretty Baby.”

    I guess beating and abuse would ruin the fun and screw up the Moulin Rouge narrative.

  10. The Ghost of Violet says:

    My old friend Steve! You must have come back because Tergeist is here. You and Tim Shortell and Professor Zero and a couple of other people will have to all get together in a thread so we can have a virtual department meeting or something, with lots of posturing and undercurrents of resentment about who’s in with the Dean, etc., etc.

    Sorry, carry on.

  11. Victoria says:

    And can I just add: holy fucking shit how brave was Melissa Farley in taking on this thing? I’ve read the excerpt now several times over, and each time it raises the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s not the first story I’ve heard involving gun-toting Nevada pimps.

    Go, Melissa.

  12. Paul Tergeist says:

    “My old friend Steve! You must have come back because Tergeist is here. You and Tim Shortell and Professor Zero and a couple of other people will have to all get together in a thread so we can have a virtual department meeting or something, with lots of posturing and undercurrents of resentment about who’s in with the Dean, etc., etc.”
    -TGoV

    Those homers follow me all around the Interweb. I’m like the Britney of the intellectual class….except different.

    “And can I just add: holy fucking shit how brave was Melissa Farley in taking on this thing? I’ve read the excerpt now several times over, and each time it raises the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s not the first story I’ve heard involving gun-toting Nevada pimps.”

    I’m not a Nevada pimp, but I tote a gun and I insist that every woman get trained and carry one herself instead of being a potential victim.

    I happen to know that before Violet dematerialized, she bought a .40 Glock and carried it concealed on her person in case she had the opportunity to cap a would-be rapist or someone who tried to peddle a bad bottle of that nasty green wormwood extract which she was addicted to. I applaud that mindset. I’m not sure what the Bowie knife was for, but I didn’t hang around to find out.

  13. Paul Tergeist says:

    May we redux this please? I think a paternal obsession with virginity works out badly for the girls involved.

    http://landoverbaptist.net/showthread.php?t=4549

  14. Controversia says:

    This book by Farley is just astounding. It puts to rest any illusion that prostitution in Nevada is just good clean fun between consenting adults. The chapter on how pimps control women is chilling. You cannot read this book and think that things are fine for women in Nevada. Even the hateful pro-prostitution bloggers (who will probably be showing up here soon) will have to admit that the conditions in the legal brothels are harrowing. Unfortunately, even this in-depth book has only scratched the surface of the trafficking and abuses going on in the sex industry in the U.S.. I hope reporters will dig further into things like the massage parlor brothels, the legal brothel abuses, and the strip club prostitution. There’s plenty more horror stories that need to be uncovered and ended.

  15. anna says:

    You know what would be good? If people would stop saying “prostitution is the world’s oldest profession” as if it were actually true. Just imagine what you have to think of women to believe that. (I know you don’t believe it, Ghost of Violet. By the way, what is the meaning of life?)

  16. Victoria says:

    You know what would be good? If people would stop saying “prostitution is the world’s oldest profession” as if it were actually true.

    Hear, hear. And you know what would also be awesome? If, whenever the media does any reportage on prostitution, if they’d stop using this obnoxious phrase: “plied their trade.”

    God that grates on me.

  17. Paul Tergeist says:

    if they’d stop using this obnoxious phrase: “plied their trade.” God that grates on me.

    It grates on them, too. Grating IS their trade. But I am open to suggestions. What phrase would YOU like us all to use?

  18. The Ghost of Violet says:

    “Grating IS their trade?” What the hell?

    Has it escaped you that the topic of this post is that prostitution is not a joke?

  19. futurelady says:

    Dr. Melissa Farley’s book seems to be rocking the Nevada sex industry back on it’s heels. They are seriously worried because they know they are hanging by a very thin thread. The name of that thread is denial. As long as Nevada citizens deny what is happening with sex trafficking and prostitution in Nevada, the profits are safe. But if the citizens of Nevada really look at what is happening in the state, we will not put up with it! We are not a state of cruel and heartless people. We WILL change the law, arrest the johns, arrest the pimps, and put an end to this madness.

    The young women of Nevada are counting on us to stand up for a better future.

  20. Paul Tergeist says:

    Nope, it hasn’t escaped me any more than it has escaped me that the US is about to experience the most severe housing and stock market crash ever; that the fish stocks are depleted from the oceans; that instead of providing the citizenry with affordable health care we are destroying our military capability in Iraq and that the draft will have to be re-instated…but no one will go. It has not escaped me that the ice caps are melting, that the next extinction event is just around the corner, that the global political system has been completely compromised by greed and incompetence; that the educational system is in the midst of collapse; that the earth cannot support 9 billion humans; that 50 species are being driven extinct every day; that a climate suitable to human life has passed the tipping point; that political correctness has passed the point of absurdity and now borders on insanity; that of the potential sixteen billion year lifespan of our sun, fourteen billion have already passed and that, statistically, the human race is at the end of it’s viability to continue. I have not missed any of that. And it has not escaped me that instead of finding solutions to problems that will destroy life as we know it, your group of men-haters are so wound up in your obsessive attack on any meaningless word you don’t like that you fail to see the real problem. Because, you see, there are as many WOMEN trafficking in other women as there are men. Gender isn’t the problem. TRAFFICKING IN HUMAN BEINGS IS! But even if you require me not to offend anyone by being politically incorrect, you have not solved anything. You have merely taken the same tack used by President Dumbass when he hears something he doesn’t like. Are any of you standing outside the Goddamn Mustang ranch and taking down the license numbers of customers? Hell no. You are all sitting at home whining and complaining, which makes for great drama, but otherwise you are making not a whit of difference. I have offered on numerous occasions to attend any function, or escort, in the capacity of an armed bodyguard, any of you radfems, but none of you have the nerve to actually get off your whiny asses and do something.

  21. factcheck says:

    To answer Paul Tergeist, actually Melissa Farley and fellow researchers DID go to the Nevada brothels, talk to the owners, and interview staff and prostitutes. In fact Farley had a gun put to her head by one of the brothel owners when they didn’t like her questions.

    So before you trash the actual work of real researchers, maybe you want to learn the facts.

  22. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Because, you see, there are as many WOMEN trafficking in other women as there are men. Gender isn’t the problem.

    Flat out wrong, on both counts. Prostitution is a function of patriarchy, in fact it’s one of the pillars of patriarchy.

    your group of men-haters

    You know I don’t allow that kind of anti-feminist hate speech. You’re rusty!

    You are all sitting at home whining and complaining, which makes for great drama, but otherwise you are making not a whit of difference.

    I know, Paul; we’ve been through this before. You don’t want people to blog or write books or write newspapers and certainly not to read them; you don’t want groups to form to analyze oppression and raise consciousness or share information; you don’t want any kind of talking or reading or information sharing at all. You want ACTION! I suppose we’re all supposed to get our telepathic marching orders from the hive mind, thus rendering all communication unnecessary. No need to talk about anything or read a book or a newspaper ever in our lives; we’ll just silently tune into the Hive, absorb the necessary knowledge, and then race to our cars to go take ACTION. It’s an interesting model and we’ve been kicking it around here in the Spirit Lounge, but the problem is that many people’s meat brains don’t get the signal very well. So we have to keep using boring old words and crap like that in order to communicate and share knowledge. Bummer, I know.

  23. Theriomorph says:

    Thanks for this post, V.S..

  24. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Thank you, Theriomorph. (And good luck with your move!)

  25. flawedplan says:

    Dear Ghost,

    I don’t know what to say here, but I need to say something. I’m listening and I trust you and I have an open mind. I’m not a “sex positive” feminist or fan of kink or whatever.

    I don’t want to get into my sexual development too much other than to say the chronic sexual abuse I got growing up was formative in ways I don’t feel I need to look at if I don’t want to. But I know one thing that came out of all that was a romantic view of prostitution that’s been with me since I was 10 years old, and runs deep. It’s the reason I moved to Austin, the real Miss Kitty lived here, she ran the bordello in Gunsmoke, and she was happy, enough, and shrewd and glamorous, and was all I had to give an alternative to what I knew about sex and power.

    A few years ago I found that famous painting that recalls what Miss Kitty stood for and to this day it
    holds a place of pride in my trailer, but guess I’ll be looking at it with fresh perspective from now on.

    http://www.legendsofamerica.com/WE-Madams.html

    Until lately I’ve felt obliged to support COYOTE, sex workers and inyer face sex positive bloggers on feminist grounds, but I’m becoming aware of discord and internal battles. I’ve taken the controversial writers off my blogroll since I just don’t have the chops to internally justify something so many other women consider harmful and anti-feminist.

    I did think it was better in Nevada, based on network news shows and sex positive blogs and youtubes I’ve seen. I need to think more critically, I know how and I will, though it goes against my own comforting myths about how life could be if we were shrewd, glamorous and rich courtesans.

    Well, enough (or too much!), just had to get that off my chest.

  26. The Ghost of Violet says:

    FP, your insight about the appeal of the romanticized view of prostitution is amazing. Yes, it is a glamorized myth of female sexual power, and it’s still being peddled. (Cathouse as the 2007 version of Gunsmoke.) It justifies prostitution to men as well as to women, it conceals the grime and ugliness and horror. That myth of power is bound to appeal to females who have already been taught to see themselves as objects. And to a girl who’s already been sexually abused, I can imagine it would be intoxicating.

    I agree with giving aid and comfort to sex workers; that to me is a feminist mandate, regardless of whether we think prostitution itself should go or stay. And I think all feminists agree that prostitutes themselves are not doing anything “sinful,” nor are they morally depraved, nor should they be punished in any way. The problem (if we agree that there is a problem) is in the system which exploits women.

    But I do definitely believe that prostitution is a problem. It’s a systematized abuse of women with a shudderingly enormous cost. But I’ll break my thoughts up into a couple of comments so this one won’t be so huge.

  27. The Ghost of Violet says:

    First, a couple of notes about COYOTE.

    From the Primer on the Male Demand for Prostitution:

    Studies and interviews with women in prostitution show that they oppose legalization. Moreover, they do not want family members and friends to end up in prostitution. It is true that groups claiming to represent women in the sex industry support normalizing prostitution as work. However, in investigating many of these groups alleging to represent women in prostitution, such as the well-known U.S. organization, COYOTE, investigators found that COYOTE provides no services for women in prostitution, has been financed by the sex industry in California, and is often a public relations front for the sex industry.

    And from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women website:

    It is doubtful that COYOTE’s membership even includes many women in prostitution. For example, Priscilla Alexander, one of COYOTE’s founders, equates prostitution with her own promiscuous dating experiences at Bennington College in Vermont. Referring to this time, Alexander writes: “I never have literally worked as a prostitute…although I was stigmatized as a whore at one time” (Alexander, 1987, pp.14-18). Yet Alexander worked in the leadership of COYOTE for years building a career for herself as a prostitutes rights spokeswoman, even to the extent of being employed by the WHO (World Health Organization) as a consultant on AIDS/HIV) and prostitution. To all appearances, she has been accepted as speaking on behalf of women in prostitution because she has been there — but she was never in prostitution. The same is true for Margo St. James, another founder of COYOTE who recently ran for an elected seat on the San Francisco City Council. Furthermore, COYOTE does not reveal its membership or the percentage of its members who are prostitutes, thus making it seem as if COYOTE is an organization of women in prostitution. Even researchers who write in praise of COYOTE and agree with its positions have alluded to the “institutionalizing [of] an organizational myth” upon which COYOTE is built. For example, author Valerie Jenness states that “Contrary to COYOTE’s public image, only a small percentage of its members have worked as prostitutes, and an even smaller percentage are active prostitutes who are also active in the organization. On occasion, St. James has admitted that COYOTE is not an organization of and for prostitutes” (Jenness, 1993, p.114) (13). COYOTE capitalizes on this lie with its spokeswomen promoting the image of COYOTE as an organization by and for prostitutes (Jenness, 1993, p. 116).

  28. The Ghost of Violet says:

    I said something upthread which I’m going to repeat here because it pretty well encapsulates my view of prostitution:

    There is a goodly list of occupations involving men which society will not tolerate because they incur too much harm, risk, and/or degradation:

    voluntary slavery
    gladiatorial combat
    buying/selling of bodily organs

    But when it comes to prostitution, suddenly talk turns to “consenting adults.” Which really means that our culture is so conditioned to think of women as sexual commodities to be bought and sold that people simply can’t see the harm. It’s what women are for, doncha know? Oldest profession in the world, doncha know?

    People used to be able to sell themselves into slavery. This was actually a common occurrence in the late stages of the Roman Empire. People used to pay to watch gladiators fight to the death or endure torture or do any number of things that now we would never allow to be legal. These activities exploited the poor and disadvantaged. It was always the poor who became slaves, always the disadvantaged who became gladiators. Their misfortune became somebody else’s entertainment.

    For a few people, becoming a slave or a gladiator actually worked out well. We know, for example, that a few gladiators became rich, which could never have happened for them outside the circus. And if ancient Romans had suddenly realized that human slavery was horrible and that paying people to be tortured or fight to the death was an outrageous thing that no civilization should allow, I can guarantee you that the handful of happy gladiators and slaves would have opposed any attempt at abolition.

    They would have argued, “It’s my choice! Why shouldn’t I get to choose what I do with my body?”

    And there is no good answer to that question if the focus is simply on one person making his (or her) individual choice. But it’s never about one person, never about the tiny handful who actually do okay out of the deal. It’s about the system, the huge meat-grinding system that exploits the poor and the desperate and the powerless.

    If someone brought back gladiatorial games today, the men who would sign up would be the poorest men in the country, probably poor black men desperate at a chance to make money. And society would say: wait a minute. This is exploitation. And the argument would stand even if a couple of the guys did really well and made money and started proclaiming how wonderful a choice it had been for them personally. Their experience, real as it was, would not outweigh the pile of corpses on the floor of the arena, the bodies of all the poor black men whose desperation led them to that place. It would not outweigh the horrific insult to human rights that the system represented. It would not outweigh the brutality of a society that pays desperate people to be tortured for other people’s entertainment.

    Now ask yourself why prostitution is different.

  29. The Ghost of Violet says:

    The answer is that it seems different, seems “normal,” because we live in a patriarchy, and the reification of women as sexual commodities is one of the cornerstones of patriarchy. It’s woven into the very DNA of our culture. Women = sexual commodities.

    And in that respect, prostitution functions a little bit like race slavery, which unlike Roman slavery was never voluntary and didn’t represent an economic class so much as a category of human being, at least in the minds of the slave-owners. Even though Indians and some visibly white people were enslaved, nevertheless there was an extremely strong cultural correlation between black people and slavery. The slave-owners very much wanted it that way, and did everything they could to perpetuate it.

    So whereas in ancient Rome, slavery was something that could conceivably happen to anyone below a certain social level, in America slavery was something that happened to a particular category of human being, a category that was thought to be utterly distinct from white people. In the mythos of ante-bellum America, African people were practically born to be slaves.

    This is why an abolitionist could argue that as long as black people were slaves anywhere in the U.S., then all black people were stigmatized as a “slave” category of human.

    I use this example not because it’s a perfect analogy, because it’s obviously not, but to show what I mean when I say that as long as prostitution flourishes, then the category of women = sexual commodities still holds.

  30. Victoria says:

    It is doubtful that COYOTE’s membership even includes many women in prostitution.

    Reminds me of when “WWW” (stood for “willing women workers”), a so-called union for sex workers, was recruiting members at gay pride marches and the like in Minneapolis (this was in the late ’80s). WWW was the brainchild of convicted pimp Rebecca Rand, and I personally know of at least one minor – a 16 year old – who not only “worked” in one of the Rand brothels, but she was personally delivered there every day by her own pimp, who had negotiated the deal with Rand.

    But anyway, back to WWW. The vast majority of their membership, absolutely, consisted of people who were not in prostitution. And I know why they were trolling queer events for dues-paying members who would make them seem bigger than they were – they were exploiting the (understandable) sympathies of persons with stigmatized sexualities.

    Re: the romanticized image – Violet has already addressed this to some degree (“giving aid and comfort to sex workers; that to me is a feminist mandate”), but I’ll just add that you can love – deeply care about, have mad respect for – the women who have survived this and/or are still in it; to condemn the institution of prostitution is not at all the same thing as condemning women in the sex trade.

    (Now, if only every anti-prostitution feminist understood that…)

  31. The Ghost of Violet says:

    to condemn the institution of prostitution is not at all the same thing as condemning women in the sex trade

    Exactly. It would be like condemning sweat shop employees or slave-gladiators or poor people who sell a kidney on the black market. Christ, they’re not creating the problem. They’re just doing what they can to get along. They’re the ones getting eaten up by the system.

  32. Sum guy says:

    Today’s version of gladiatorial games is the UFC or any of the other similar setups. These are basically controlled fist fights in which the goal is to pummel the opponent until he stops responding. It’s the fastest growing “sport” in the world.

  33. flawedplan says:

    Thanks for the info on COYOTE. I have to work it all out. Growing up it was around, my mom’s best friend lived in the projects, raising 3 kids and supplemented her income sometimes with it, and told her daughter there was no shame in taking money from men for sex, and she could do it too when she grew up. My own sister got into it and it was a bad scene, massage parlors and dangerous situations, poor women like her supporting drug habits.

    But back when we were still in touch if I even made gentle inquiries or said “I just don’t want you to get hurt” my sister would go off on me and say it was girl scouts like me holding them down and that I was a part of the problem, and she had enough problems etc. She also described her relationship with johns to me as her being in control and getting over on them and she was tough and cutthroat enough to handle her own business so why don’t I mind my own? She basically stopped talking to me because of my “disapproval.”

    My anti-prostitution inclinations have also been challenged by celebrity sex workers as oppressive, and more than one feminist has called me unenlightened so I just want the truth. I do admire Annie Sprinkle because she’s honest about the pain and degradation she got while prostituting, but she still sticks up for it. I read Renegade Evolution with respect and end up feeling guilty for my maternalism, so, it’s not cut and dried. I also look at porn, I can’t identify with the actresses much anymore, because I no longer take it at face value and wonder if they’re having such a good time before and afterwards.

  34. Steve says:

    Yes, Tergeist, I tried living the Vi-Free life and, to tell you the truth, it has sucked.

    And now I come back for a peak and find that she is gone.

    Which of you mysoginistic bastards killed her?

  35. KMTBERRY says:

    Thank you for this post. I KNOW that prostitution is BAD, but now I can argue that point intelligently, rather than simply stating that it is bad.

  36. Infidel says:

    I just wanted to hear someone acknowledge that our good president said if we left Iraq it would result in killing fields just like when we left VietNam. Then her head started to get really big and BOOM! it exploded right next to a canvas creating this wild Dali like Ionescu picture, I never meant to hurt her. Anywho, she seems to like the afterlife. It sounds like it has no patriarchy there.

  37. The Ghost of Violet says:

    FlawedPlan:

    You touch on some of the core problems with working on this. The notion that prostitution is bad because it’s “shameful” (for the woman) and that those of us who want to stop it are motivated by “disapproval” or prudishness — that’s a legacy of patriarchy. That’s how patriarchy wants us to think.

    The thing about patriarchy is that it always tries to conceal what it’s doing as the women’s own fault. Hence, men rule the world because women are fundamentally inferior, not because anybody’s keeping them down — according to patriarchy. And some women become prostitutes because of their own sexual nature, not because of some huge global system of exploitation — according to patriarchy.

    It would be as if sweatshop owners said, “Sweatshop? There IS no sweatshop! We’re not doing anything! It’s just these workers — they keep gathering in these tiny rooms and sewing hundreds of T-shirts for 75c a day, you can’t stop them. We keep trying to educate them not to get drawn into that life but they keep doing it, congregating in little rooms with their sewing machines. Really bad for the neighborhood.”

    The designation of prostitutes as “bad” women is part of the game, and enlisting the “good” women as moral police who enforce those rules — that’s patriarchy’s weapon of choice. Control the women by a) dividing them into marriageable and fuckable, and b) brainwashing them into helping to enforce the rules themselves.

    That’s our patriarchal legacy. So it’s no wonder that some prostitutes interpret any movement at reform from other women as “disapproval.” And it’s no wonder that on both sides of the issue — pro-prostitution people and anti-prostitution feminists — the discussion keeps returning to personal choice and the woman’s own sexuality. That’s the patriarchal frame. Patriarchy wants it to be all about women’s individual sexuality; that way nobody notices that it’s a huge exploitation system.

    Instead we need to step back and look at prostitution as a system, which is what it is, in the same way we look at slavery past and present, organ buying/selling, and other systems of exploitation which society has deemed too harmful to allow. It’s a greater good thing, weighing individual choice versus the large-scale harm created by an exploitative system.

    It’s true, for example, that when we don’t allow people to sell their kidneys, we are limiting their individual choice. Yes, we are. But we (society) do that because the result of allowing the buying and selling of organs would be a world with millions of poor people walking around with one kidney, one eye, or not walking around at all because they’d been murdered for their body parts. We already have enough trouble with the illegal black market; you can just imagine what the world would look like if it were legal.

  38. Victoria says:

    It would be as if sweatshop owners said, “Sweatshop? There IS no sweatshop! We’re not doing anything! It’s just these workers — they keep gathering in these tiny rooms and sewing hundreds of T-shirts for 75c a day, you can’t stop them. We keep trying to educate them not to get drawn into that life but they keep doing it, congregating in little rooms with their sewing machines.

    To take your analogy a step further, I would say it’s also ridiculous to base one’s understanding of sweat shop workers’ experiences on, say, the published accounts of their overseers (even if they once truly were sweatshop workers).

  39. therealuk says:

    Control the women by a) dividing them into marriageable and fuckable,

    That is, privately or publicly fuckable.

    Remember the old saying ? Conservatives think women are private property (ie defend marriage and “family values) Liberals think women are public property (ie defend pr0nstitution).

  40. Jody says:

    Melissa’s book is very accurate about what’s going on in prostitution in Nevada – both on the illegal and legal side of the fence. It’s about time people know that the HBO “documentary” was bogus. There was a newsclipping that came out revealing the johns that have appeared on the show were actors. The women who appeared were porn stars he talked into coming to appear at the ranch – they are not regular employees. The regular employees are the ones with horror stories that Melissa tells us about. For example – the johns are not screened for weapons, drug tested nor given health tests. If the woman gets a bad vibe about a guy – she’s fined for not accepting him. One closer look at the HBO special shows the women not wearing condoms. The real johns come in with weapons and it is dangerous to the women. One woman at the ranch was shot recently by a john who was high. The so called “panic” buttons are often disconnected by the brothel owners. Crimes against the women aren’t reported to the police because it’s bad for business and could make renewing their license difficult. The women are not protected against not only HIV – but other communicable diseases like TB, hepatitus, mono, HPV, etc. The photos the brothels use to promote the women can come up years from now to get them fired from jobs, destroy marriages, even get their children taken away as has happened. And worse – there’s no “after” services offered for these women once they’ve been trashed by this work. You can get disability insurance for this kind of work and there are no services offered by the government. People also think that women in legal brothels don’t have pimps and aren’t trafficking victims. In reality most do have pimps, are under age and trafficking victims are used in brothels. Any woman who needs help getting out of prostitution can contact http://www.sexworkersanonymous.com

  41. cicely says:

    it’s no wonder that some prostitutes interpret any movement at reform from other women as “disapproval.”

    Sometimes – often even – it’s actual disapproval from feminists though. (and my perception is that this may be becoming more common…) I’ve seen recently where a feminist wrote to a sex worker : “I don’t know you, but I hate you.” This was because of the harm the feminist perceived the sex worker was doing to all women. And it’s no wonder that on both sides of the issue — pro-prostitution people and anti-prostitution feminists — the discussion keeps returning to personal choice and the woman’s own sexuality. That’s the patriarchal frame. Patriarchy wants it to be all about women’s individual sexuality; that way nobody notices that it’s a huge exploitation system.

    Is there anyone at all who doesn’t know there’s a huge exploitation system in place? Isn’t it patronising though to insist that a woman’s choice, when it’s to do sex work, can only possibly be informed by what the patriarchy wants? As I’ve argued previously, when poor and disadvantaged women choose sex work over other available but – for them – even less attractive options, who has the right to deny them that choice? (And the same goes for men and transgender people – any adult in fact.) It really doesn’t matter what else we do – if we don’t address the economic realities we’re often just meddling where we’re not wanted, as feminists. (Speaking as if feminists were ‘at one’.) Absolutely, it’s crucial to provide a means of escape for sex workers who don’t feel they have or actually haven’t made a choice at any level, or just want out, however they came to be involved, but that’s not everyone. And surely, with a will, there’s no insurmountable obstacle to feminists with different ideological positions working together to help where help is wanted.

    Beyond that, I think the position the abolitionists have to defend is why they believe that the only appropriate context for active human sexuality is non-commercial, forever and a day, and then why they think laws arising from that belief ought to be imposed on people who don’t share it.

    As to the situation in Nevada, I’ll reserve my judgement for now since I haven’t read anything about it yet, except what’s been written here. I certainly hope the whole truth comes out and that the women there are heard – with regard to what they actually want – and that they are looked after. I’ve read some of Melissa Farley’s views on sexuality, and I’m afraid I don’t trust her not to be indulging in a bit of spin, but that’s not to say she hasn’t also got to some truths.

  42. Victoria says:

    cicely:

    I’ve seen recently where a feminist wrote to a sex worker : “I don’t know you, but I hate you.”

    Where did you see that? I would really, really like to know.
    And I would venture to suggest that if this person actually said this, then, well, she couldn’t be a feminist. That shit is explicitly anti-feminist – I don’t care how many so-called “feminists” engage in that kind of hating on women in the sex trade – it’s straight-up bullshit.

    (Ahem. Yes, I am expressing myself with all my usual restraint and tact…)

  43. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Isn’t it patronising though to insist that a woman’s choice, when it’s to do sex work, can only possibly be informed by what the patriarchy wants?

    That’s not what I said. I said that the framing of prostitution as an individual choice is a legacy of patriarchy, and continues to suit patriarchy’s purposes. Patriarchy always frames prostitution as a matter of a woman’s sexuality, rather than as an oppressive system which both relies on and perpetuates the exploitation of women.

    As I’ve argued previously, when poor and disadvantaged women choose sex work over other available but – for them – even less attractive options, who has the right to deny them that choice?

    Who has the right to deny anyone the choice to sell their body organs? Or to sell themselves into slavery?

    Beyond that, I think the position the abolitionists have to defend is why they believe that the only appropriate context for active human sexuality is non-commercial, forever and a day, and then why they think laws arising from that belief ought to be imposed on people who don’t share it.

    For me it’s based entirely on the empirical evidence (which is vast) that prostitution overall causes immense harm, and that it is fundamentally interlinked with the patriarchal exploitation of women. It’s a pragamatic assessment, ultimately, not based on some theoretical stance. It’s based on the evidence before our eyes of how prostitution actually works in the real world.

  44. cicely says:

    Not Ok said…
    Renegade Evolution:

    There’s no other way for me to say this. I hate you. I don’t even know you and I hate you.
    I keep coming back here hoping you’ve changed some how, that something’s clicked in
    that Machiavellian head of yours and you’ve figured out that so much of what you stand
    for, defend, do, and make light of is built on the broken souls and bodies of other humans
    and instead, you get more and more vicious every time. No, it can’t all be blamed on you,
    that’s not the point. You do however propagate real harm to other humans, and not even
    for something that is necessary for people to survive. People don’t need porn. They don’t
    need strippers. These are not needs, they are destructive diversions both to those who
    make and consume them. You just flat out don’t care.

    You can find the rest

    here

    Hope this clickable version thing works – this is the first time I’ve tried it – via your instructions a little while ago, thanks, Violet.

    Victoria – looking at all Not Ok’s comment – this is definitely a woman, and she is certainly arguing from an anti-porn feminist perspective. I recalled this slightly incorrectly as she was talking about porn and stripping and not prostitution – but I feel pretty safe in assuming her feelings and words would be the same. Octagalore would agree with you that these are not the words of a feminist (she says it in the thread) but Not Ok would no doubt feel she is more feminist than any one of us. Others do this sort of thing too. It seems to be a tactic…? Present an arguement that women who aren’t abolitionists re sex work are not proper feminists and don’t care about exploited and abused women. And for those who don’t know, renegade evolution is a sex worker.

  45. cicely says:

    cicely: As I’ve argued previously, when poor and disadvantaged women choose sex work over other available but – for them – even less attractive options, who has the right to deny them that choice?

    Violet: Who has the right to deny anyone the choice to sell their body organs? Or to sell themselves into slavery?

    Selling body organs causes permanent physical damage. Sex workers don’t actually lose bits of their bodies as an automatic result of what they’re doing.

    People sell themselves into virtual slavery every day of the week, all over the world in all kinds of industries. I’ve recently read a very harrowing account of the lives and working conditions of Chinese women doing legal work in toy factories. Among other things their bodies *are* being permanently damaged by constant and unavoidable contact with toxins. They live in employer owned premises (dormitories), work horrendous hours for not enough money to move with and on and on and fucking on. (and who’s to say some of them don’t get sexually abused as well!!??) Of course this isn’t right. It isn’t right that anyone has to live this way. Maybe it would be a good idea to have a much closer look at the range of options available for people, mainly women, who choose to do sex work though, and put ourselves in their position. When it comes to trafficking – or otherwise physically – even emotionally – forcing people into prostitution, that is, and obviously should be, actual crime. That’s something we can all agree on and work towards ridding the world of.

    I know you’re looking at the issue pragmatically, Violet, but so am I. Harm is harm, but there are all kinds of harm. Who gets to say which is worse? Or which harms to choose between? What can the abolition position offer, practically, in place of what it takes (or tries to take) away?

    You wrote above that you have high hopes for the Swedish model. As you know, I have high hopes for the New Zealand model. (Complete decriminalisation, for anyone who doesn’t know.) And you know, prostitution hasn’t gone away in Sweden. It’s gone mostly off the streets and onto the net – advertised from other countries as well as still from in Sweden. It doesn’t matter what restrictive legal regime is in place, it goes on.

    As to sex work being fundamentally interlinked with the patriarchal exploitation of women – obviously I wouldn’t disagree with that blanketly – but maybe you don’t believe it can ever be de-linked, and that’s where we differ. For me, it’s not the activity but how it’s culturally viewed and legally framed that’s the problem. Every approach except decriminalisation takes power away from the people actually doing the work and, imo, stands in the way of both workers rights and opportunities and positive cultural progress. Of course you have to be able to envision a positive place for commercial sexual activity to agree with me about that! As I understand it – back to the actual topic of this thread – sex work is not decriminalised, but legalised in Nevada, and maybe some of the problems stem from that fact too. Who has the control? What are the restrictions? I’ll follow this up when I get a chance.

    Oh, and btw, the 5 year assessment of the NZ model is now underway. There is a group of 11 people, I think, doing the assessing – 3 of whom are representatives of the NZ Prostitutes Collective. The results will be made public – maybe later this year or in 2008.

  46. Victoria says:

    Thanks for the link Cicely, I sincerely appreciate it. (Had I been aware of it earlier, I probably would have discussed it in this lengthy thread at my site where I’ve been discussing how this kind of shit is completely antithetical to feminism.) And… what a surprise that this “Not Ok” person is pseudonymous with no link to any blog, etc. (I know not everyone has a blog, I just mean the anonymity factor here is extraordinarily cowardly.)

    Re: this –

    Selling body organs causes permanent physical damage. Sex workers don’t actually lose bits of their bodies as an automatic result of what they’re doing.

    Well, not to be crass here, but I personally know one survivor who had a prolapsed uterus at the age of 16 after having been traded around from pimp to pimp… let’s see, uterus falling out of one’s body – that counts, yes?

  47. cicely says:

    Well, not be crass here, but I personally know one survivor who had a prolapsed uterus at the age of 16 after having been traded around from pimp to pimp… let’s see, uterus falling out of one’s body – that counts, yes?

    Absolutely, it bloodywell counts. Just not as something that inevitably happens to every sex worker *because* they’re a sex worker, the way organ loss inevitably happens to every person who sells an organ.

    Yes, I see how you would have mentioned Not ok’s comments in your post had you known about them. I appreciate your perspective on that kind of carry-on that helps no-one.

  48. lucky says:

    There’s reported to be a high rate of cervical cancer in the legal brothels of Nevada. Does that count?

    The thing people forget about prostitution is that there are huge numbers here. The poorer and more vulnerable the prostitute, the more men she has to service to make money (think 20 or 30 a day) AND they are likely to be able to insist on sex without a condom. When that woman gets sick and tossed to the side, she doesn’t immediately go out and start a righteous blog about her experiences and start writing letters to the editor demanding redress. She goes away and dies which is exactly what the johns and pimps want.

    Public health professionals could do a better job of documenting what is happening to these throw away women, but it’s expensive and what politician wants to argue for spending more tax dollars finding and helping sick poverty stricken prostitutes?

    We don’t know what’s happening to these women because they are deliberately kept invisible and moved around frequently. Instead we get blowhards like Jill Brenneman and Robin Few who purport to speak for prostitutes, and who ALSO are interested in pretending the vast majority of prostitutes (who are poor and desperate) don’t exist.

    And the john continues to get his cheap pussy. Yahoo.

  49. cicely says:

    It all counts, lucky. Part of my arguement for decriminalisation is that sex workers will have a better platform to have their health, safety and working conditions issues taken as seriously as everybody elses. The women will do the work regardless of the legal framework though, so wherever they’re working and under whatever regime, these are the things that need to be addressed. I am utterly confident that all feminists, however opposed our overall ideological positions, can agree on that much. The most important voices in any case are those of the women currently doing sex work.

  50. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Cicely, congratulations on doing the link thing! You’re going to be a techno-wizard yet.

    The most important voices in any case are those of the women currently doing sex work.

    Yes. That’s why Farley’s book should be read. Nobody else is interviewing those women behind barbed wire.

    Part of my argument for decriminalisation is that sex workers will have a better platform to have their health, safety and working conditions issues taken as seriously as everybody elses.

    I think maybe the opposite is happening. When prostitution is seen as just another career, then services to help women who want to get out of it disappear — which is what’s happened in Nevada.

    The women will do the work regardless of the legal framework though, so wherever they’re working and under whatever regime, these are the things that need to be addressed.

    But there’s also the fact (well-documented) that legal prostitution creates a magnet for illegal prostitution and trafficking. That’s happened in Nevada and, apparently, everywhere else in the world that has made prostitution legal.

    The problem is DEMAND — as long as men feel entitled to treat women as sexual commodities, then they aren’t going to stop with legal adults who have unions and so forth. They’re going to insist on the trafficked 13-year-olds in secret rooms that they can beat, rape, etc.

    I actually think it would be easier to abolish prostitution entirely than to make it “nice” and “safe.” The whole point of prostitution is that the woman surrenders her bodily integrity. She is a thing. It’s like saying, “okay, we’ll still have race slavery, but from now on all the slave owners will treat their black people with respect.”

    There’s a myth floating around that prostitution existed before patriarchy, when it was all nice and empowering, and then patriarchy changed it into something awful. That reminds me of the famous school essay where the kid wrote, “Before Jesus was born, Christianity was just another mystery cult.”

    Patriarchy invented prostitution. The first evidence of prostitution, which is an explictly commercial enterprise in which any man (more or less) can purchase sexual access to a woman’s body, comes with state-level patriarchal society in the Near East. It was part of the process of transferring virtually all economic power to men, and making women fuck for their supper one way or another. As therealuk said above, either privately or publicly fuckable.

    The fact that this is still how men see prostitutes (and no surprise, since prostitutes have been defined as public property since the whole thing started) is borne out by surveys of johns. “I own her that time,” says one, and “she doesn’t get to say no,” says another. And we all know that prostitutes are raped and beaten and murdered in horrifying numbers.

    Cicely, I know you believe that in that future Star Trek world we talk about sometimes, sexual transactions could be free of any taint of patriarchy or discrimination, but we’re not in that world. And as I’ve said before, I don’t think we can get there from here. I think we need to destroy this whole prostitution mess first, this whole idea of women as commodities, before we can even get to the kind of gender equality where that Star Trek world could even happen.

  51. Victoria says:

    Just a quick FYI for anyone subscribed to this thread – Melissa Farley’s book is now available also on Powells.com – can be ordered here. (Disclosure: That link has my partner ID in it. Doesn’t cost you as the reader anything more, but gives me I think a 10% credit which I’ll just eventually spend on more books.)

    From selling a bunch of my own books @ Powells (they have a buyback program where they pay the postage, which is awesome), I actually had an accumulated credit there so I just blew the whole amount on this book as well as Farley’s previous one, Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress.

    I’d meant to order it earlier through the Lulu’s link Violet provided, but everything got away from me, and then I was getting ready for the conference, etc. Now I’m back in Virginia and playing catch-up. Looking forward to digging into the two books – should arrive within 10 days or so (I went with the “free shipping for orders of $50 or more” option).

    Also, for those of you to whom such things matter, Powells.com is not only an indie outlet, but it’s unionized. If you’re ever in Portland, Oregon, you absolutely must visit. It’s, like, Mecca or something for book nerds like me.

  52. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Welcome back, Victoria!