Saturday, February 9, 2013

No war on sex workers?

Melissa Gira Grant wrote an excellent piece called The War on Sex Workers, which details how feminists and conservatives have teamed-up to come down hard on prostitution and essentially get a lot of sex workers into loads of trouble.

Meghan Murphy wrote a rebuttal, titled "There is no feminist war on sex workers".

How does Murphy intend to show there is no war on sex workers?

A quote:
This “war on women” is not imperceptible. In fact, one of the ways in which this ‘war’ is glaringly obvious, is in the fact that the sex industry is a gendered one. Women make up the vast majority of prostitutes (statistics say approximately 80 per cent) and, beyond that, women of colour are overrepresented. In Vancouver, B.C.’s notorious Downtown Eastside, Canada’s so-called ‘poorest postal code,’ where at least 60 women went missing over about 20 years, 70 per cent of prostitutes are First Nations women. Considering that First Nations people make up about 2 per cent of the total population in Vancouver and 10% of the population on the Downtown Eastside, this number is significant. 
It doesn’t take involvement in the sex trade to know that prostitution and violence against women in prostitution is the result of a very effective combination of racism, poverty, and patriarchy. 
Agustin muddies things further by stating that “there is nothing inherently male about exchanging money for sex,” as though this has been argued. “By whom?” one might ask. Indeed this is what feminists have been arguing for decades – that there is nothing ‘inherent’ or ‘natural’ about men buying sex from prostitutes, rather it is a product of our unequal culture and male power. 
By ignoring feminist perspectives on sex work and erasing the gendered nature of the industry; by focusing only on the ‘work’ aspect of sex work, women and the feminist movement are done a huge disservice, as is the reader, who is left with a completely confused and inaccurate understanding of the reality of the industry as well as the discourse. 
Maynard claims that this case is one led by marginalized women, in doing so, erasing the fact that First Nations women’s groups across Canada support the abolitionist movement and have made the point numerous times that the prostitution of Indigenous women is as a direct result of colonization
In her piece, Maynard conveniently ignores the fact that the Bedford case is not, in fact, a ‘sex worker-led’ case, but rather was initiated by a white man, Alan Young, whose interest in terms of winning this case is not to decriminalize street prostitution but rather to legalize brothels. With the knowledge that the most marginalized women tend to be the ones working in street prostitution and that these women would likely not be offered the ‘privilege’ of working inside any legal brothel, the argument that, somehow, this case is fighting for the rights of marginalized women is simply not true. 
Penny writes: “In reality, sex work isn’t stigmatised because it is dangerous. Sex work is dangerous because it is stigmatised.” But she’s wrong. Sex work is dangerous because of those who commit violent acts against prostitutes — that is, men. 
A Norwegian study looking at rates of violence against prostituted women under the Nordic model was recently released in English. It showed that, since 2008, reports of rape and other forms of physical violence against prostituted women has decreased. 
These women deserve more than inaccurate and meaningless labels like ‘anti-sex’ or ‘prohibitionist’. These feminists don’t hold prostituted women in judgment; they are women who want the abuse, the rapes, the beatings, and the murders to end. I believe those who call themselves ‘sex worker rights advocates’ or ‘sex worker allies’ want this as well. I have no interest in creating unnecessary or dishonest divisions.
In these snippets we see Murphy's arguments. There is no war on sex workers there is a war on women, apparently.

What arguments does she pose?
  1. Prostitution is bad because it is gendered
  2. Prostitution is bad because many prostitutes are ethnic minorities
  3. Prostitution is bad because many prostitutes are poor
  4. Prostitution is bad because many women die
None of these points address the argument that all of these ills are caused by the illegality of prostitution. But she really wants the reader to think merely the existence of Robert Pickton is an argument for her side, which it is not.

The fact that women suffer many of the ills of prostitution has no basis on whether or not it should be legal.

The holes in her logic surface when she says prostitution is a result of colonization. Really?

Assume for a moment that colonization is related to racism and discrepancies in wealth, which in turn causes poverty, which in turn forces many to participate in prostitution. (Thailand comes to mind)

This is fine except it puts the cart before the horse.

The textile industry is full of impoverished women. Is that a sufficient argument against the textile industry? Hardly.

One could make the argument that a legal, regulated market would be populated by healthy, wealthy sex workers.

Why does Murphy think legalization can't work?
  1. Legal brothels wouldn't accept dingy street workers and addicts
  2. Prostitution is dangerous because men (sex is somehow inherently violent)
  3. Rape would be hard to distinguish because of the legal transaction made (he "paid" for her)
She points at the Nordic model because of a decrease in reported rapes. (Nordic model = john is a criminal, prostitute is not)

What statistic does she leave out? Incarceration of problematic johns, which could have happened in either a legalization approach as well as the Nordic model.

She also doesn't explain how a Robert Pickton situation is impossible in the Nordic model.

Why would a client submit to be tracked in any way in the Nordic model? Sex work would remain dangerous, because dangerous clients are indistinguishable from everyone else - every client would want to remain as anonymous as possible.

Further, reported rape under the Nordic model is a bad metric because clients simply wouldn't buy the services of a prostitute that had a long history of bringing people to court.

Nordic model aside, let's address her point that a legal system wouldn't accommodate street workers and addicts.

It's absolutely correct - it won't, and it shouldn't. Street workers and addicts might find prostitution less profitable under a legal model, and would be forced into other jobs or the social safety net.

Murphy would essentially argue against textile-making robots, for they might not accommodate existing sweat shop employees. A bizarre argument.

Then on to the idea that sex work is dangerous because men. Do we really have to take that point seriously? Murphy essentially treats whatever segment of males willing to purchase sex as one monolithic block of psychopaths.

On the topic of rape - consent is definitely more easily proven when participants in sex have exchanged money.

But how is this any different than the complex issue of marital rape?

How does a wife prove that a husband has raped her?

He "paid" for her simply changes to he "married" her.

Maybe Murphy should be seeking to end demand for marriage.


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  5. My apologies for the deletions. I read over my comments again and it was tough to have to keep continuing the same message in a new post because of the character limit for each comment entry. I may repeat stuff or leave stuff out.

    Also, the thoughts I wrote at the time I prefer not to relieve right now. It was therapeutic to write about this, though at this point, I don't want these on the Internet and am ready to move forward. That may change in the future and if so, I'll post the thoughts again if I feel that writing about these is helpful, though I'll probably post someplace where I can post the whole message in one comment. Nonetheless, the character limit for individual posts is understandable.