Sex Work Research, “a repository of writing on sex work, including academic research, organizational reports, media reports, and independent research.”
March 4, 2014
March 4, 2014
Sex Work Research, “a repository of writing on sex work, including academic research, organizational reports, media reports, and independent research.”
March 1, 2014
Also, there’s a study of the erotic labor market (i.e. sex work) open to sex workers, clients, and advocates.
As always, you can keep up with sex work news here.
January 31, 2014
I deeply respect Gloria Steinem. But I am terribly disappointed by remarks she’s made regarding sex work during her recent tour of India.
This publicity tour promotes her latest book, The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader: As if Women Matter, which is said to contain a new essay by Steinem on sex trafficking. I’ve been wanting to read this new article, entitled The Third Way — An End of Trafficking and Prostitution: A Beginning of Mutual Sexuality, but apparently this book is currently only available in India. However, thanks to the wave of publicity Steinem is receiving for this tour, we can gain some insight into just what might be contained in that latest essay.
Those of us hoping for a more evolved way of thinking regarding the world’s oldest profession will join me in disappointment and dismay upon hearing / reading of this report which was published in many places:
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem today described prostitution as “commercial rape” and said it was wrong to term prostitutes as sex workers.
“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work. So how can you call it sex work? Prostitution is the only word you should use,” Steinem told reporters here. It is the circumstances and exploitation which force a woman to take up prostitution, and hence it should be decriminalised. The traffickers instead should be punished. “It is the equivalent of commercial rape and so instead of the prostitutes, the traffickers should be punished and the customers should be educated,” the feminist activist-author said while pointing out that in Sweden and France it has worked.
“When a girl is put into prostitution at the age of 12 or 14, does she have a choice after all” she said while remarking that prostitution was not a profession but oppression.
Never mind that many would vehemently disagree with how well the Nordic model has “worked”, let’s look at Steinem’s fundamental flaws in terms of language and definitions.
“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work.” By this definition, a sword swallower or food taster could be defined as a “prostitute” because that work involves an invasion of the human body; but phone sex operators and many BDSM dungeon workers would not.
There are other odd hairs to split in trying to apply Steinem’s definition of
sex work prostitution. For example, are male escorts who penetrate their clients ~ but who are not penetrated themselves ~ free of either label? For that matter, what of a female escort paid to peg a client? What about handjobs, Gloria?
Ms. Steinem, are you sure you aren’t one of those feminists who is confused about the commodification and/or industrialization of sex, as if sex is somehow different than most other things? The commodification and/or industrialization of sex is not “commercial rape.” We already have names for “commercial rape”; they are “rape” and “human trafficking”.
Sex work is not the same as trafficking. Clearly the ages of the girls and boys Steinem lists are not able to consent. Not to sex work, not to many other things. Children and others who do not consent to sex work are not to be included in under the sex work umbrella ~ and they should not be called prostitutes either. These persons should be called slaves.
Yes, there are “circumstances and exploitation” which force women into this type of work ~ as well as force women into all sort of work and situations, hence the need for feminism itself. But when you only make this argument, you are forgetting about the feminist fight for autonomy; a fight which includes the right for women (and men) to make the choice to become sex workers.
Like adults who opt to enter any profession, those who decide to enter sex work know their strengths, their talents, what they like to do, and, factoring in the money they can earn, simply opt for a career in sex work. For some, it is a short-lived occupation; much like professional athletes. For others, being a sex worker is just one of many jobs they have in a lifetime. Others make it a lifetime career. However long we are in it, what we all want is for this work to be as safe as possible. But attitudes and bad definitions like yours get in the way of that.
January 15, 2014
Certainly not all feminists embrace sex work, but the issue is very much one of feminism. Recently, I found this conversation at Tumblr which illustrates a classic feminist conversation about sex work. Because posts often go missing at Tumblr, I’m posting the entire thing (with links) for proper context.
i don´t agree with you when you put that porn and prostitution are women problem. nowadays, it is. but if we lived in a equal world (i believe someday we will) it would be a men/women problem. it´s, really, an ethical problem. we should make sex a commoditty? i don´t think so, but i think it´s better to sell your body than robbing. it´s a social problem too. but i think we shouldn´t involve religion our ideology in the discussion, but regulate. forbiding is not the right way. education is import
And Gynocraticgrrl replied:
I think what you’re making of the sex industry debate is you’re assessing feminism and ethics as mutually exclusive, as if feminist theory can in no way incorporate moral philosophy or ethical considerations, which is false. It can and some feminists have. For example, the issue of the commodification of sex is a feminist one, as is the industrialization of sex, i.e.: the porn industry. It’s also a male and female issue which is still a feminist issue because feminism analyzes male/female power-dynamics and how male dominance manifests itself throughout the different spheres of a social structure or within a system. Including a standpoint in activism that includes ethics is important because as with all movements, the ideology is riddled with ideals of right and wrong, such as the promotion of equality, equity and fairness as being right. Feminism is a movement embedded with ethics, one that advocates for the liberation of females from male dominance because the domination of women under men is deemed by feminism as wrong, and this trend continues throughout the sex industry.
I do agree that regulation and education are the most efficient options and tools sex work abolitionists and sex critical feminists have and should use.
Since you both agree that education is important, let me help educate you.
First of all, I find the hair-splitting between porn and prostitution more than annoying. Both are parts of sex work ~ even if many in the adult industry do not want it labeled as such (because that would make their acting equal to prostitution and therefore illegal). I find making class distinctions between the various forms of sex work an unnecessary evil. The only distinction that needs to be made is that of consent; i.e. real sex work vs. slavery. (And even when it comes to the latter, I don’t know why sex slavery is worse than any other kind of slavery; all slavery is horrific and Bad with a capital B.) This leads me to my second point.
When you point out that feminism and ethics are not mutually exclusive, you miss the fact that sex work and ethics are not mutually exclusive either. There are ethics involved in sex work ~ and I mean that in a positive way. Look at discussions of sex work and sex workers and you’ll see people fighting for the rights of sex workers, primarily in the areas of simple basic equality under the law (discrimination which puts sex workers at risk), and also battling against trafficking and slavery of any sort. Yes, sex work is ethical. Where you, and many others, seem to become confused or outraged by the of sex work as unethical is your own misunderstanding and, truthfully, of your own doing .
You complain about the commodification and/or industrialization of sex, as if sex is somehow different than most other things. Sex is a natural and basic human need., sure; but lots of natural and basic human needs are commodified. Food is commodified and industrialized; as is shelter or housing. But in treating sex as somehow “above” these other basic human needs and rights, you’re operating out of romantic notions.
These romantic notions are largely unnatural and culturally imposed. And, yes, you can read that to mean “part of the patriarchy”. The ideas of romantic love as institutionalized in our culture (and others) completely commodifies sex, love, and intimacy (along with housing, labor, property and other things). In marriage, we commodify relationships with promises, negotiated or standard, of sexual commitment, exclusivity, proximity and the like primarily for the production of children and the organized inheritance of property. We make legal agreements, sanction by the government (so long as they are heterosexual, at this time), which allow individuals to trade or barter the stability of sex for familial stability and property ownership under the guise of romantic love. These romantic and legal notions of marriage, sex, and relationships are far more riddled with gender-crippling inequality than sex work is. Marriages based on romantic love are not-so-different than arranged marriages. The only difference is that in romantic-love-based marriages, so-called autonomous marriages, the individuals find and select their own mates.
If you can accept the notion of autonomous marriages, the rights of legal adults to enjoy sex with or without marriage, and the fact that food and shelter are commodities, then why do you struggle so with the notion that these adults have the autonomous right to buy and sell sex?
December 10, 2013
There’s an interesting discussion about sex work at Cato Unbound: A Journal Of Debate. What makes it so special is that it is at Cato Unbound ~ because they know what a good debate is:
Each month, Cato Unbound will present an essay on a big-picture topic by an important thinker. The ideas in that essay will then be tested by the comments and criticism of equally eminent thinkers, each of whom will respond to the month’s lead essay and then to one another. The idea is to create a hub for wide-ranging, open-ended conversation, where ideas will be advanced, challenged, and refined in public view.
The sex work discussion is Cato‘s December Issue, Perverse Incentives: Sex Work & The Law. The issue began with a piece by former sex worker, Maggie McNeill: Treating Sex Work as Work. McNeill’s opening essay was followed by (at present) three response essays: Prostitution as a Legal Institution, by Ronald Weitzer; Prostitution Cannot Be Squared with Human Rights or the Equality of Women, by Dianne Post; and Prostitution is Exploitation by Steven Wagner.
No, you probably won’t like or agree with all the essays; but that’s rather the point in a good debate or discussion. A healthy discussion covers as many sides of the issue as possible. And a healthy debate, while opinionated, is rooted in respect. Since these traits are exhibited in Cato‘s coverage of sex work, all the essays are worthy of a read. A full read. No matter what side of the issue you are on. In fact, the stronger your stance, the more you should inform yourself on the subject. This is not only true of this subject either.
I know many of you who read here are, or have been, sex workers. Myself included, of course. We consider ourselves to be sex positive feminists who want sex work to be recognized and respected as work. Most of us believe it should be decriminalized, if not completely legal, even if we often disagree about how best to achieve those things. But often in our conversions on the subject of (and issues surrounding) sex work, it is clear that many hold onto their own experiences at the expense of seeing the larger picture. Just like those who were harmed come out swinging “against” sex work, we let our feelings color and even cloud our willingness to hear from others.
Our personal experiences sure do matter; I’d never say the don’t. But obviously my experiences as a well-educated, middle class, white woman who made the choice to become a pricey escort are vastly different from many other sex workers. And as tempting as it is to raise my voice loud and clear to drown-out tired stereotypes and out-and-out lies alike, I may be as guilty of silencing others as the anti-sex-work-attackers. Most importantly, if I am too busy talking to listen, I will miss hearing and learning from the experiences of others. That’s not right.
People are at their most attractive when there’s a symmetry; that should apply to knowledge as well.
Along with reading the coverage at Cato, there are several good books on the subject of sex work ~ including books by one of the essayists at Cato, Ronald Weitzer. Along with Katherine Frank, Weitzer edited Sex For Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry ~ which is now available for rental on your Kindle. Weitzer followed-up that seminal work with Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business. Also, due out in January, is Melinda Chateauvert‘s Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk. (Chateauvert also serves on the board of the Leather Archives and Museum and will be a speaker at the 2014 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival.)
Keep up with the news about sex work and information for sex workers that I curate here.
November 22, 2013
Well, that’s pretty much what Warner Todd Huston said at Wizbang:
The prostitutes of Nevada’s Bunny Ranch love Obamacare. But if a recent interview with them are any indication, they don’t seem to have a clue what it is all about.
The prostitutes appeared on Reno’s KRNV TV full of praise for Obamacare ladled on as thick as their makeup. At least two of the girls were gushing about how great Obamacare is and how they fully support it.
And then the article continues to make fun of everything from sex worker names to their preexisting conditions. Grrr.
Whatever his problem is, the truth is that Huston really is the ignorant one. Because while he is busy mocking those women and their work, his longest diatribe is on how these women won’t qualify for the insurance subsidies:
You see, you only get subsidies if you make much less than the average American income (which is just over $50,000 a year).
The official poverty rate for a single person is only $11,500 a year. For a family of four it is only $23,500. Now, Dennis Hoff, the owner of the Bunny Ranch, has said that the Bunny Prostitutes can make $50,000 in a month, much less a year. But even if they did only make the national average they make far too much to qualify for any subsidy as a single person.
So, for all the wonderfulness that is Obamacare, it will cost these girls many thousands more than they think.
Let’s see how great they think Obamacare is when they find out how much it’s going to cost them!
And what he’s stated is simply not true. Here are some facts:
1. Even if you want to believe that
Hoff Hof, the brothel owner, actually made that statement (Huston offers no link or source) and that the statement is accurate (and not just braggin’ for his own reasons), there’s that word “can” ~ as in workers at his brothel “can make” that amount. In reality, “can make” is not a statement of fact regarding what all of the women working at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch earn.
2. Huston’s numbers for government subsidies for Obama Care are wrong. According to the official website:
You could be eligible for lower costs on health coverage based on your income and household size. However, you generally won’t qualify if your estimated 2014 income is above:
- $45,960 for an individual
- $94,200 for a family of 4
Even if we accept the $50,000 as a ballpark for earnings, these women could still receive subsidies. Especially as we don’t know family size, total family income, etc.
3. One of the whole points of the Affordable Care Act, was to create a more fair insurance marketplace ~ not only by increasing competition and therefore lowering the premiums, but by addressing the sex discrimination. Before this legislation, women often had much higher premiums than men ~ that’s not allowed anymore. The Affordable Care Act is already lowering premiums.
Even if these women should fail to meet the criteria for subsidies, there now is more affordable coverage.
4. These women had no ~ as in zero, zip, nada ~ insurance before. Not only for any existing health conditions, not only for accidents and emergencies, but nothing to cover preventative health care, birth control medications, etc. Health insurance, especially affordable health insurance, beats no health insurance.
Those are the facts.
It should also be noted that in the news story at KRNV, the owner of the Nevada brothel discusses (bemoans) the fact that he may well have to start providing health insurance ~ perhaps not for the sex workers, who are considered independent contractors, but for all of his employees:
But raves for the Affordable Care Act stops with the girls. Brothel owner Dennis Hof is not a fan. He thinks coverage for the girls is good, but he is less than thrilled the new law lumps his seven small and separete businesses together that may require him to provide health care coverage. Hof said; “I have mixed feelings. I’m glad the girls are going to be able to get affordable healthcare coverage but as a businessman, I’m really concerned.” Hof owns seven brothels, a strip club, restuarants and a truck stop. He says each has about 15 employees adding; “There’s one common thread. I’m the sole stockholder but because I’m the owner for all these different businesses, they lump them together.” He said; “What am I going to do? I’m either going to have to spend a lot of money on health insurance because the rates are going up or I’m going to have to face severe penalties, so I’m really perplexed about all of this.”
If Hof would just pay attention, he might note that, because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance rates are not going up. And he should know that unhealthy, stressed, employees hurt his business and cost money.
Know the facts. Get educated; get insured.
November 22, 2013
There’s a condom shortage in Nairobi ~ and that doesn’t bode well for the anticipated the “crazy month of December with all its decadence and debauchery”. According to the BBC, many sex workers are already having unprotected sex and taking antiretroviral drugs afterwards to cut the infection risk; will there be enough meds to assist?
July 26, 2013
My friend Serpent Libertine, aka The Libertine, aka Libby, has a new project to uncover some truths about the erotic industry, “as opposed to much of the biased research about the industry that comes from outsiders”.
Our first AIT research project, The Erotic Labor Market Survey, or “ELMS” focuses on human trafficking in the various erotic labor/sex industries and was launched last week. With this survey, we hope to gain more accurate stats on how often trafficking occurs in the industry and whether or not workers, clients, and staff of industry establishments are properly educated on how to respond to trafficking situations when they are confronted with them. This project was our own direct response to the trafficking PSA that we created in 2012. One of the conversations that came out the the writing process of that video was that we create a survey for not just sex workers, but for clients and other industry personnel (staff at strip clubs/escort services/porn companies, etc.) on whether or not the can identify a trafficking victim and how they would respond if they did come across one. As we stated in that video, WE are the ones most likely to come into contact with individuals in coercive situations, yet because of the wall between us and most anti-trafficking organizations and efforts, there is little knowledge and education being done about what to do about it. Additionally, as we know many trafficking statistics are likely to be overinflated, but the only way we can get good accurate data of our own is to do our own research from inside the industry. We are working with the Social Science Research Center at DePaul university on this project who helped us re-write some of the language to get us approved by the Institutional Review Board there. For those not in academia, IRB’s monitor research projects involving human subjects to protect them from physical or psychological harm.
July 24, 2013
The following is a call for papers (links added by yours truly).
We (Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Kari Lerum, University of Washington, Bothell) are guest editors for a special cluster (half issue) of Sociological Perspectives on “Sex Work and Human Trafficking. Sociological Perspectives is the journal of the Pacific Sociological Association (Editors: James Elliot and Robert O’Brien, University of Oregon).
The idea for a special issue with both a sociological and a regional focus came out of two recent sociology meetings: 1) the “Sex Work and Trafficking” workgroup at American Sociological Association Sexualities section pre-conference (Denver 2012) which produced a working paper describing the state of the field and the need for more empirical research (see attached PDF), and 2) the Pacific Sociological Association meetings in Reno, Nevada (2013), which featured several sex work and human trafficking scholars and generated interest from audience members for more sociologically driven analyses of sex work and human trafficking.
Because Sociological Perspectives is the official journal of the Pacific Sociological Association, we are particularly interested in empirical and theoretical articles focusing on questions, data and analysis of issues located and grounded within the Pacific Sociology Association region. [The PSA region includes: Arizona, Alaska, British Columbia, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Mexico (Pacific region), Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington]. High quality articles with a focus outside the PSA region will also be considered.
While the issues of both sex work and human trafficking have captured the attention of policy makers, film makers, journalists, activists, and increasingly also many researchers, until recently the prevalent public discourse on sex work and human trafficking has virtually ignored contributions and insights from sociologists, particularly those with expertise in issues related to sex work and labor studies.
We seek articles to help to reverse this trend. In particular, as stated in a recent Sex Work and Trafficking position paper (see attached PDF), we are most interested in articles that “do not simply query ‘why’ people engage in sexual commerce, but rather advances our understanding of how sexual commerce can be understood as a key part of larger historical, institutional, (and global economic trends) and social processes.”
This special cluster of articles in Sociological Perspectives will help to highlight sociological angles onto these important regional and global political concerns.
Interested? Email Kari Lerum (email@example.com) and Barb Brents (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your proposed titles and abstracts by October 1, 2013. If selected, your full manuscripts will be due on January 31, 2014 and will go through standard peer review processes prior to being accepted for publication.
Very best regards,
Kari Lerum, University of Washington, Bothell & Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
May 11, 2013
There’s been quite a lot of coverage surrounding the release of the young women, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus, abducted and held in Cleveland. Some of it has been excellent ~ most notably that on The Rachel Maddow Show on May 7, 2013.
Rachel Maddow began by discussing the Cleveland abduction cases in terms of the facts on missing persons. Of the more than 660,000 missing persons each year, roughly 75% are children ~ and of those missing children, only about 2% are non-family abductions. That makes the story of these abductions, as Maddow says, “objectively so rare” despite how prevalent with may think them to be. In fact, along with the horrors involved in the lives of these three young women (and a six year-old girl), it is this rarity of abduction by stranger which holds such power to transfix us. However justifiable our fascination, we shouldn’t overlook the facts that children and women are more likely to be abducted, assaulted, abused, raped, etc. by someone they know than they are to be by a stranger.
But Maddow didn’t stop there. No, she had more facts to discuss.
Maddow brought on guest Dr. Todd R. Clear, Dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, and together they discussed some of the as-of-yet undercurrents of fear about the abductions:
MADDOW: And I think part of the reason that their cases were publicized was
because of the implicit or in some cases explicitly positing that that they
had part of human trafficking, that they had been stolen to be forced into
some sort of forced prostitution environment.
How common is that sort of thing?
CLEAR: Well, so there`s a debate in criminology about this because
the number of people who turned up missing for whom we never find any
evidence of their whereabouts, every one of them theoretically could`ve
disappeared into some form of human trafficking. And so, people who are
alarmed by this point to those numbers, those large unknown numbers and
they say, wow, this problem is immense.
On the other hand, criminologist who specialize in this problem who
have gone to other countries to study human trafficking in Asian countries,
who go underground and look at prostitution by underage youth, they find
the numbers are not small, but they are really not the size that would
alarm us. And many criminologists think that the politicization of the
human trafficking around children has distracted attention from many of the
harms that happened to adult women and adults who get involved in the
prostitution trade, around which society imposes lots of penalties.
It`s not to say this is not a problem and it clearly is. But the
debate about how big it is, one would say that mostly evidence is on the
side of the people who claim that alarming about it being alarmed about it
overblows the numbers.
MADDOW: And it would seem — I mean, I think what we`ve seen in the
reaction to this case in Cleveland is the emotional extrapolation from this
extreme and horrible case. The more we learn about it, the more horrible
it is, to those numbers, hundreds of thousands of people going missing, and
we automatically imagine the worst that everybody missing has been put into
some sort of circumstances.
CLEAR: Well, anyone who has children, you don`t know where that child
is, you imagine the worst, and for family members.
But it`s also important to say in this case this wasn`t a human
trafficking case. These –
CLEAR: — these girls weren`t taken off the streets and forced into
sex trade. They were taken off the streets and kept bound. It was more
like a slavery kind of an event.
But — and so concern about a widespread human trafficking underground
network — this story is not a story about that.
MADDOW: Right. There are stories about that. That is not what this
story is. It`s worth being specific even as we are so horrified by these
It begins at about the 5 minute mark in this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show:
(Full transcript can be found here.)
It’s important to note that the horrors of the Cleveland abductions had nothing to do with sex trafficking; Ariel Castro’s atrocities were his, the acts of single criminal male.
[This is also something folks would be equally wise to remember when it comes to the use of the word "sadist" in description of his acts; this has nothing to do with BDSM, neither in porn nor practice. Just as whatever religion Castro professes to prescribe to has nothing to do with that faith's real practice, any other associations, assumed or claimed, should not be accepted. Castro's inhumanity is his; to lay it at the feet of some other group, to misrepresent its origins or associations, to pretend it came from some "other" or otherwise purport false dangers, these things create panic and other actions which do not serve public safety or justice. Castro, and those like him, should be held accountable for their actions.]
Sadly, other than the short post mentioning the upcoming guests, this segment was not discussed at the official TRMS blog. But dare we hope for more sane coverage of trafficking and sex work from Maddow, the arbitrator of sanity in culture and politics?