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Additional comments on Farley’s Scottish research, 2008 vs. 2011 versions

Date: July 19, 2011

After Iamcuriousblue informed me that Melissa Farley’s 2008 “study” on men who purchase sex from prostitutes in Scotland had been accepted for publication in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, I spent a couple of hours comparing the 2008 report with the 2011 manuscript describing the same “study.” Below are some additional comments after reading both versions side by side.

Overall, the 2011 version removes many (but not all) unsupported editorializing and adds further statistical analysis. For example, a comment like this has been removed from the 2011 version (emphasis mine):

46% told us that going to a prostitute made a man a better lover. The opposite is likely the case. Women in prostitution train men to ejaculate quickly in order to decrease the men’s traumatic intrusion into their bodies.

The paragraph below (emphasis mine)

Another punter was a frequent prostitution tourist in Asia. He detailed the harsh conditions women were subject to in Thai and Cambodian prostitution. Exposing his narcissism and his sadism, he rationalised the commission of sexual violence against women and children. “I don’t get pleasure from other people’s suffering. I struggle with it but I can’t deny my own pleasures.”

is modified in the 2011 version as

Another study participant was a frequent prostitution tourist in Asia who spoke about the harsh conditions women were subject to in Thai and Cambodian prostitution. Rationalizing the commission of sexual violence against women and children, he told the interviewer, “I struggle with it but I can’t deny my own pleasures.”

Similarly, the following phragraph (emphasis mine)

Against common sense, the punters we interviewed insisted that the women they bought for sex were sexually satisfied by the punters’ sexual performances. Half (49%) of the men deluded themselves that the prostitutes they purchased were sexually satisfied 50%–100% of the time. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.

has been modified as follows:

Many of the interviewees stated that the women they bought for sex were often sexually satisfied by the men’s sexual perfor- mances. Approximately half of the men (49%) asserted that the women they purchased were sexually satisfied 50% or more of the time. On the other hand, 85% of the men also stated that prostitutes do not enter prostitution because they like sex.

There are several contradictions between the two versions. For example, the 2008 version states (emphasis mine)

They reasoned that if prostitution did not exist then some men would rape women who were not prostitutes. While none admitted that they themselves would rape, they were adamant that other men were incapable of controlling their impulse to sexual predation.

while the 2011 version claims (emphasis mine)

They reasoned that if prostitution did not exist then men would be more likely to rape women who were not prostitutes. Although few admitted that they themselves would rape, they asserted that other men were incapable of controlling an impulse to sexual aggression.

Iamcuriousblue suggests that the discrepancy can be a result of Farley’s “notorious lack of transparency in how she derives numbers from qualitative interviews.”

Another example of contradiction is the description of the newspaper ad Farley et al. used to solicit participants. In the 2008 version, participants are offered “an interview fee,” while the 2011 paper states that the ad promised an “honorarium.” While the discrepancy may appear to be inconsequential, they are both presented as the exact phrase used in the recruitment ad, and the fact that there is a contradiction between the two reports brings into question the authors’ handling of other materials such as men’s responses in the interview.

Also, there appears to be an internal contradiction in the 2011 paper when it states

Approximately one-third of the men justified prostitution simply as a means for men to satisfy their sexual desires. This was the most frequently offered justification for prostitution.

despite the fact more than one-third of the men agree with other justifications, for example:

Forty-one percent of the study participants subscribed to the belief that there is an inverse relationship between prostitution and rape. […] They reasoned that if prostitution did not exist then men would be more likely to rape women who were not prostitutes.

Finally, both versions (unsurprisingly) contain many logical fallacies such as this:

The men we interviewed often simultaneously held diametrically opposing attitudes about prostitution. Nearly all the men (96%) stated that to a significant extent (50% or greater extent of agreement) prostitution was a consenting act between two adults. Yet at the same time, 73% noted that women prostitute strictly out of economic necessity, and 85% acknowledged that women did not enjoy the sex of prostitution.

The notion that prostitution is usually a consensual act between adults does not contradict the belief that “women prostitute strictly out of economic necessity” (or perform any other kind of labour for that matter), or that they do not necessarily enjoy the sex (or any other task one has to do to get paid in any occupation). And yet, Farley seems to think that these beliefs are “diametrically” opposed.

Farley apparently believes that commercial sex is unconsensual and violent unless prostitutes engage in it purely because they enjoy the sex, which is a ridiculous standard that is not applied to any other forms of labour. That is, most of us do not engage in other forms of income-earning activities (i.e. work) purely and solely because of the joy of performing them, but that alone does not make all of us victims of involuntary servitude.

But this ridiculous assumption is the foundation for Farley’s incoherent position that prostitution is inherently exploitative and violent, and I am disappointed that Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy would extend her the academic legitimacy that she does not deserve.

Some thoughts on the Newsweek story on the new Farley “research”

Date: July 19, 2011

Leslie Bennetts who apparently drunk the prostitution-is-violence-against-women cool-aid wrote an article in Newsweek (07/18/2011) titled “The John Next Door,” which is based on anti-prostitution “researcher” Melissa Farley’s new “research” on men who purchases sexual services.

The “study” was made “exclusive to Newsweek,” so we can’t actually read the report itself. So my comments are preliminary but here are some quick (and not so quick) thoughts:

1) The report is made “exclusive to Newsweek,” so we don’t know what methodology they used beyond what is included in the story (which is very little). Melissa Farley, the author of the report, has produced multiple previous “researches” on johns in different countries and regions, none of which (as far as I know) has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The article does not refer to any other studies on the johns that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. (Edited to add: Apparently one of Farley’s articles have been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal. See comments for detail.)

2) In her previous “researches,” Farley recruited study participants (men who have purchased sexual services) via newspaper ads that read “Ever been a client of a prostitute? International research team would like to hear your views”, offering financial compensation. I don’t know how they recruited the participants this time around, but whether subjects who have been recruited this way are representative of all men who purchase sex is highly questionable. The new report seems to be different from the previous studies in that it includes the control group, but we do not know how the control was recruited either.

3) Much of the article consists of anecdotal statements that are supposedly illustrative of general tendencies among men who purchase sex and those who don’t, but there are no quantitative comparison between them. It is impossible to tell if the statements are actually representative of each group.

4) There are many unfounded editorializing and logical leaps. For example, one paragraph reads: “Many johns view their payment as giving them unfettered permission to degrade and assault women. ‘You get to treat a ho like a ho,’ one john said. ‘You can find a ho for any type of need–slapping, choking, aggressive sex beyond what your girlfriend will do.'” But the john’s statement (i.e. you can find a sex worker who would agree to participate in the enactment of violent fantasies like those described) does not indicate that he views his payment as giving him “unfettered permission to degrade and assault women.”

5) The story states “Farley’s findings suggest that the use of prostitution and pornography may cause men to become more aggressive.” She has made similar claims in her previous “researches” which have not been (and will probably not be) published in peer-reviewed journals, but has not provided the evidence that one causes another.

6) The story states that prostitutes “typically enter ‘the life’ between the ages of 12 and 14,” which is based on a demonstrably faulty interpretation of data. T.O.M.’s story is sad and infuriating, but its use as “a case in point” is questionable, as her experience (i.e. having been sold for the first time at age four) is very unusual.

7) The second half of the story slides the discussion on to sex trafficking rather than adult consensual commercial sex, as if they are the same thing. But it is the illegality of commercial sexual transaction itself that makes it more difficult to separate the two and confront the actual abuse and exploitation of children and women (and others).

8a) The article cites the 2004 study in American Journal of Epidemiology by Potterat et al. to indicate that “Prostitution has laways been risky for women; the average age of death is 34.” But this is misleading, because it does not mean that the average life expectancy for prostitutes is 34 or that the average prostitute dies at age 34. Potterat et al. are simply reporting that among the active prostitutes who died in the studied period, the average age at which they died was 34. If that is not clear, consider this analogy: average age at death for those who die while enrolling in college is probably somewhere near 20, but nobody would claim that the average college student dies at 20.

8b) The article also cites the same Potterat et al. study to say that “prostitutes suffer a ‘workplace homicide rate’ 51 times higher than that of the next most dangerous occupation, working in a liquor store.” But working in a liquor store is not “the next most dangerous occupation.” Potterat et al. state that taxicab drivers are much more likely to be murdered than liquor store clerks: the “workplace homicide rate” for prostitutes is seven times higher when compared to taxicab drivers. That is still pretty high, but why does Bennetts feel the need to exaggerate the already horrible figure?

8c) Further, “the overwhelming majority” of the “prostitutes” in this study were streetwalkers, and almost two-thirds were recruited at sexually transmitted infection clinic. Other participants were found at HIV testing sites or addiction treatment facilities, or identified by the police. Thus, the study systematically excludes prostitutes who are less visible to public health and law enforcement officers (e.g. escorts), who are likely to be much less prone to violence.

Anyway, it’s hard to say anything about the new Farley “study” until the actual report is made public and the research methodology is made transparent (and hopefully Farley would submit the paper for publication in peer-reviewed journal this time).

Also read: Melissa Farley in Scotland: Trivializing prostitution and trivializing violence against women by Elizabeth Wood

My 2008 presentation: Shelters as a Tool of Social Control?

Date: June 23, 2011

I found yet another slide from one of my past presentations… This one is titled “Shelter as a Tool of Social Control: Is there a Domestic Violence Industrial Complex?” and was given at Humboldt State University in April 2008.

The slide obviously doesn’t convey everything I had to say on the topic (if it did, I would not need to travel to Arcata to actually give the talk), but I thought it would be interesting to post it online… If this interests you at all, please try to get me invited to a university near you :-)

War on Terror & War on Trafficking – A New Zine Released!

Date: May 22, 2011

Just in time for my workshop at San Francisco Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival next Friday, I announce the publication of my new zine/booklet, War on Terror & War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement.

It is a product of my extensive research into the anti-trafficking movement over the last couple of years, in which I expose many premises of the U.S. domestic anti-sex trafficking movement to be false, and challenge how the movement itself has strayed away from feminist principles, and is increasingly aligning itself with the fundamentalist Christian right and contributing to the militarization of our society.

The zine is available for previewing as a PDF file and for purchase at my zine store.

Table of contents looks like this (some items are linked to a previous blog post on a related topic):

Introduction:
Why feminists must confront the anti-trafficking movement

Chapter 1 The Three Most Common Myths
1.0: Why “facts” presented by the anti-trafficking movement are wrong
1.1: Myth #1: Average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen
1.2: Myth #2: 300,000 children are at risk of being sexually exploited
1.3: Myth #3: 1/3 of 1.6 million annual runaways are sold within 48 hours

Chapter 2 Other Myths and Misinformations
2.0 “Pornland” and other problems with Operation Cross Country
2.1: World Cup, Super Bowl, and the Olympics: an international panic
2.2: The censorship of Craigslist: unintended consequences

Chapter 3 Examining Economic Arguments
3.0: “End Demand” approach harms women working in the sex trade
3.1: Does “economic coercion” equal human trafficking?

Chapter 4 War on Terror and War on Trafficking
4.0: Fiction, Lies, and the militarization of anti-trafficking movement

Conclusion:
How anti-trafficking movement distorts reality and harms women

Here is the full text of the introduction:

Human trafficking is “modern-day slavery,” and many of its victims are women and children. If so, why should a feminist have to “confront” the movement against human trafficking? Let me be clear that human trafficking is a serious problem in the United States, and we need to do something about it.

I first became aware of the issue in the early 2000s at a conference about domestic violence. What I learned at the time was that while Violence Against Women Act (1994) and Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000) had been enacted, domestically trafficked victims–many of whom are working in the sex industry–could not access services and protections under these laws. I joined the effort to raise awareness about the issue and to expand relief provided through these legislations.

“Human trafficking” was a new term then. While there have been earlier uses in some publication (the earliest mainstream use being a Christian Science Monitor article in 1996), it did not attain the meaning it has now until around 2000, when TVPA passed; when the term was used prior, it frequently meant the same thing as smuggling, which is often exploitative and can lead to trafficking, but is generally consensual).

A search on news article database shows that there were 3 total references to phrases “human trafficking” and “trafficking in humans” before 2000. It was mentioned 9 times in 2000, 41 times in 2001, and entered three digits for the first time in 2005. In 2010, as many as 501 articles found on the database referred to either phrases.

EBSCO search result

I mention the origin of the term “human trafficking” because, as it became obvious after many years, the creation and proliferation of the new terminology was a deliberate rhetorical shift on the part of the U.S. government and its capitalist and imperialist interest to redefine forced migration and labor (sexual or otherwise) from a social and economic issue arising from poverty, economic disparities, globalism, and unreasonable restrictions on migration to an international criminal enterprise comparable to smuggling of drugs and weapons.

And as the U.S. fell deeper into the nightmarish “War on Terror” in the aftermath of 9/11, along with its continued failure in “War on Drugs,” the new “War on Trafficking” gained intensity while copying the simplistic “just say no” attitude of the War on Drugs and “either you are with us, or with the terrorist” mentality of the War on Terror. The anti-trafficking movement today does not resemble what I had supported in the early 2000s anymore.

The battle we as sex workers, feminists and human rights activists are facing is not a simple rehash of the “feminist sex wars” of the 1980s between radical feminists and sex radicals. With its increasingly sensationalistic focus on domestic minor sex trafficking, the anti-trafficking movement we see today in the U.S. is primarily a Christian fundamentalist movement with police, prison, immigration enforcement, counter-terrorism, and other “law and order” interests piggybacking on it. Radical feminists, with whom I have many disagreements over such issues as prostitution, transgender issues, and BDSM, are just as frustrated as we are that the current anti-trafficking movement measures the success of its own activities by the number of criminal convictions rather than the long-term health and well-being of women and children.

But many people do not realize this, either because they do not know enough about the forces behind the anti-trafficking movement or the dubious nature of many of its basic claims–which distorts our conversations about this important topic and misleads public policy. Others may not agree with everything that is happening in the name of ending human trafficking, but do not see any alternatives.

This booklet is a product of two years of research into the state of the anti-trafficking movement in the United States. I went to dozens of events, lectures, and conferences, and spoke with many wonderful but misguided people who take part in this movement. I have also had opportunities to hear many stories of surviving forced labor and prostitution, some of which were not so dissimilar to my own experiences in the sex trade in one point or another. I do not wish to negate their authority to speak about their own experiences and how they wished things were different, but I am deeply troubled by the cherry-picking of survivor stories and experiences that support the anti-trafficking trope equating all prostitution with trafficking and all trafficking with slavery, while all other voices are dismissed as “exceptions” (or “the top 2% elite,” as one anti-prostitution researcher said).

What I aim for in this booklet is to examine various questionable “facts” presented by the anti-trafficking movement, and address ways in which they distort our perceptions of sex trafficking and prostitution and mislead the public to support policies that are ineffectual or counter-productive. I will also show links between the War on Trafficking and the War on Terror, and how problematic aspects of the War on Terror permeates the War on Trafficking as well.

Chapter 1 of this booklet exposes the big three “factoids” that anti-prostitution groups use in order to influence people emotionally and to get their way with media, corporations, and the government, but are false. Chapter 2 continues on this direction, but focusing on other misinformation that influence public opinions. Chapter 3 scrutinizes “economic” arguments, including the “end demand” approach to end sex trafficking and the theory of “economic coercion.” In Chapter 4, I will use the movie Taken as a starting point to talk about the links between the War on Terror and the War on Trafficking. And finally in the conclusions, I will contrast anti-trafficking versus social and economic justice approaches, demonstrating how anti-trafficking movement is harming women and other vulnerable people.

I hope that this booklet contributes to building a more comprehensive and reality-based movement that challenges many facets of social and economic injustices. I hope that readers find the booklet informative, challenging, or affirming of their deep suspicion they have about the anti-trafficking movement. Thanks for reading, and I welcome reader feedbacks at emi@eminism.org.

War on Terror & War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement is available for preview as a PDF file and for purchase at my zine store.

A letter sent to a friend re community accountability

Date: April 29, 2011

Dear *****,

I understand that Olympia community has made efforts to hold this person accountable, and they have been unsuccessful. I understand that she may be dangerous and you want to protect members of your community. But I have doubts about banning her from social and activist spaces upon arrival in Eugene.

Eugene has an organised radical and activist spaces in which enough people take sexual assault seriously. I think it’s perfectly reasonable and sensible to warn people about this individual so that people in your community don’t get hurt. But if she is banned from social spaces where people take sexual assault seriously, she would only move on to spaces that do not take similar precautions, where people will not have been warned about her history and are likely to get hurt. And if she cannot enter the Eugene activist scene where people could be warned about her history at all, she would move on to the less organised, less informed cities and communities.

I feel that community accountability is an ongoing process, and even if she has failed to make improvements in Olympia, I don’t think that she cannot be rehabilitated. By banning her from social and activist spaces, we also fail at continuing the gruesome process of community accountability. I don’t fault Olympia community for giving up on her, because they have made efforts and couldn’t continue to let her hurt members of their community. But the Eugene community hasn’t made efforts yet.

Without a commitment to taking risks and making at least some efforts to engage with the offender, believing in her humanity and capacity for change, we are no better than the prison system. Besides, banning her from every social and activist spaces in the entire world is clearly not a viable strategy, as it is impossible and she will eventually find an unsuspecting community in which she can continue to hurt many more people.

We should definitely warn members of our communities about this individual and her violent history, but we need to also give her a chance to be part of the Eugene community–not necessarily because she deserves it, but because excluding her is not the solution. As I said I do not fault the Olympia community for having to exclude her after making serious efforts to hold her accountable, but I worry that excluding her upon arrival would only push her to other cities where nobody knows her history. Community accountability can fail but we cannot fail ourselves before we even try.

Best,

Emi

fuck survivor poems

Date: February 1, 2011

fuck survivor poems

i don’t write survivor poems
i don’t write about the journey
from a survivor to a thriver
from a wounded child to a
bad-ass feminist revolutionary
that is not me most of the time

i don’t write about healing
about forgiveness
about grief and letting go

i don’t write about strength
i don’t write about the courage to heal
and i never want to hear again
oh you are so courageous to speak out
about your story
that i haven’t even began to tell

i don’t write to inspire

i don’t write about finding purpose
about finding jesus
about finding self-love

i don’t write about the truth
because truth is too fragile
like a particle whose location and velocity
cannot be simultaneously observed

i write instead
about the lack of counseling
that is actually competent and affordable

i write about the fake sympathy
and the lynch mob that robs me of my rage
and repurposes it to build more prisons

i write about the need for validation
even if our survival involves slashing on the wrist
not eating overeating and purging alcohol drugs
avoiding sex having too much sex

i write, in fact, about survival
through not just the abuse from the past
but survival in the society that doesn’t give a fuck

i don’t write survivor poems
because my story is not for your consumption
i don’t write a coherent and compelling narrative
and i don’t exist to demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit

i write survival poems
i survive

31 january 2011

Anti-abortion brochure blames women who had abortion for domestic violence

Date: November 8, 2010

For the last couple of days I attended the conference of Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans at University of Portland, which I plan to write about later. But there’s something else I feel so disturbed about right now.

At the conference, there was a table full of anti-abortion materials. Perhaps telling, since the anti-abortion movement and the anti-prostitution movement (which, the anti-trafficking movement in the United States generally is) share the same attitude about women: the anti-abortion/prostitution activists know better than the women themselves what is good for them, and women’s right to control their own bodies and sexualities must be suppressed for their own good–although I’m pretty sure that OATH had nothing to do with the anti-abortion display itself.

Anyway, there were tons of offensive materials there, but one particular brochure really caught my eyes, which was the one titled “Abortion & Domestic Violence: A Deadly Connection.” It starts out inoffensively enough, pointing out that pregnant women as well as women who have just had abortion can be victims of domestic violence, and also that the abuser may be forcing a woman to have an abortion that she doesn’t want (although it would have been better if it mentioned that an abuser can also force a woman *not* to have an abortion when she wants to).

The most offensive part is the section titled “Violence Begets Violence,” which reads:

Not every case of domestic violence is caused by the trauma of abortion; nor does every abortion lead to domestic violence. However, it’s no coincidence that the number of abortions and the number of domestic violence cases have risen together over the last 25 years.

[…]

Women who become more rage-filled after abortion are more likely to become the victims of further violence. While such women are more likely to initiate the violence, it’s the men who cause more physical injury because they have greater physical strength.

[…]

Guild-ridden, post-abortive women may be more likely to use their partners as means of self-punishment. Those who are suicidal but afraid to deliberately harm themselves are more likely to become involved with violent men and provoke attacks upon themselves.

Wow. Where do I begin? Not only does the brochure suggest that domestic violence is (to a certain degree) caused by experiences of abortion, it also portrays victims of abuse as actively seeking and provoking abusive men in order to punish themselves. And they do so by initiating violence themselves. Abusers are merely “used” by the women, provoked into violence only after being attacked first; the only reason many more women get hurt seriously is because men are physically stronger.

This is vile. It’s sickening to me to think that someone somewhere thought it made sense to write and widely distribute this stuff on a brochure. I really can’t discuss this or think about this anymore because it’s sickening.

New zine about trauma and self-cutting available at Portland Zine Symposium

Date: August 27, 2010

Cutting: A Diary is a brand new zine about trauma and self-cutting. It is released at Portland Zine Symposium this weekend, and is only available in person (with some exceptions–contact me) unlike my other zines. I don’t want any random person to download or order it online because it is very personal.

Cutting: A Diary

Note: Reading this zine can be extremely triggering if you have a history of sexual abuse, PTSD and/or self-injury. Please take care of yourself.

Also: See Andrea Gittleman’s review of my other new zine (published a month ago), “Surviving the Witch-Hunt: Battle Notes from Portland’s 82nd Avenue, 2007-2010” in Feminist Review. In many ways, Surviving the Witch-Hunt and Cutting: A Diary go together: the former is analytical and political while the latter is personal, but they address the overlapping realities of the 82nd Avenue.

We need to abolish, not “re-evalute,” domestic violence shelters

Date: May 20, 2009

In a post titled “Are Domestic Violence Programs Still Meeting the Needs of Survivors?,” Advocating Ethics, which provides “latest news & information for domestic violence/crime victim advocates, both paid and volunteer, in the state of Michigan” cites my paper pointing out structural problems inherent within our domestic violence shelter system.” Or rather, it cites portions of my paper that quotes other people, whose positions I actually critique.

The post starts by discussing changes that have taken place since the first domestic violence shelter in the U.S. was founded in the 1960s:

Domestic violence programs have a rich and inspiring history of selfless volunteers sacrificing time, resources and money to help battered women find safety and support. Early on, some women just opened their homes to victims The first shelter for women in the United States was started in California in 1964. […] Out of this grassroots era of advocacy there have evolved structured organizations sanctioned by national and state associations. […] A great deal of energy is put into compliance with many different grantors, coalitions and commissions. Less and less energy is directed to survivor’s daily needs and practical, ground level victim advocacy.

Then, as an example of others who have realised this, it quotes paragraphs in which I quote Patricia Gaddis’ and Nancy Meyer’s comments.

“…Only a short time after the Feminists had fallen asleep, mainstream professionalism infiltrated battered women’s programs, bringing forth a new and unpleasant hierarchy within the movement, a hierarchy that undermined the Feminists’ effort to eradicate the root causes of domestic violence. Shared power among employees was quickly discarded and ethical practices that included the voices of battered women, basic training on the dynamics of domestic violence, and the power of shared experience among women was frowned upon… Unqualified executive directors were brought in from the mainstream to tell shelter staff and court advocates that they were not as important to the program as the licensed professionals… Battered women seeking refuge were held captive by the never-ending shelter rules that were put into place by the mainstream professionals who thumbed their noses at the original founders. Many safe houses now seemed more like prisons, or ‘social’ bed and breakfasts, that prevented the disabled and women of all races, ages, classes, and religions and ethnic groups from entering. Victims were referred to as ‘crazy’ and whips were cracked upon the backs of advocates or victims who dared question the professional task master’s authority… Shelter programs were no longer a safe place for all battered women.” (Gaddis 2001, p. 16)

Nancy J. Meyer of the Washington, D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines “de-politicization” as “a reframing process that directs attention away from (and recreates knowledge about) sexism, male dominance, patriarchy, and female subjugation.” “There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to improve the conditions in which battered women live,” Meyer argues, “but when putative efforts to just ‘make it better’ become the end goal, the political vision and motivation to address the real exegesis of male violence becomes sublimated… The political disappears and domestic violence becomes a naturalized part of what appears to be an unchanging or unchangeable social landscape.” (Meyer 2001, p. 23).

While I sympathise with Gaddis’ and Meyer’s disdain for the state of anti-domestic violence movement as it has come to be, I actually disagree with much of their analyses, as I made it clear in the same article. In Gaddis’ and Meyer’s world, the early anti-domestic violence movement was egalitarian, and women united through acknowledgment of their “shared experiences” to fight patriarchy; the anti-domestic violence movement has become problematic only as a result of institutionalisation and professionalisation.

What I argue is the opposite: the early anti-domestic violence movement was not as egalitarian as Gaddis and Meyer claim, since there are many ways some women can have power over other women without formal structures; if it appeared egalitarian to Gaddis and Meyer, that only means that they were oblivious to their own privileged positionality. In fact, I argue that it was precisely this feminist myth of presumed egalitarianism among women that perpetuated abusive structures of power and control within the anti-domestic violence movement: as feminists, we failed to recognise our own capacity for abusing power, which led to inadequate or non-existant structures of accountability and ethics.

Gaddis and Meyer recommend that our movement must once again focus on “power of shared experiences among women” to address the “root cause” of domestic violence, which they believe to be the patriarchy. My opinion is almost opposite: I believe that we must start from a true acknowledgment of the vast diversity of women’s experiences within many intersecting systems of oppression.

That said, the author of “Advocating Ethics” was apparently not interested in my view, or at least unconvinced by it, as it becomes evident from her comment following the above quote:

[…] there is a growing and very vocal community of survivors who feel re-victimized or at least dissatisfied by the domestic violence services they attempted to access. […] The reasons are varied from blatant mistreatment to the lack of resources to accommodate family pets. […] The current economic climate exacerbates the problem. Resources have diminished. There are less training opportunities. New technology for both staff and survivors is critical but costly.

Battered women have less need for temporary shelter due to improvements in the court system in the area of personal protection orders, domestic violence arrest policies and pretrial release conditions but greater need for support services. Survivors are now more desperate for real economic assistance, something that is not possible in the current structure of most programs and funding sources.

I do agree that “real economic assistance” is extremely important, but that is not a new development resulting from the current economic crisis: survivors, and lots of other people too for that matter, always needed more assistance with housing, healthcare, etc. than are available. But it concerns me that the author is uncritically applauding the positive outcomes of harsher law enforcement approach as the primary vehicle to protect survivors of domestic violence (a commenter goes further to advocate for “tougher sentencing to keep [abusers] in prison) without addressing how such expansion of state power exacerbates state and police violence against women, especially women of color, poor women, immigrant women, and queer people.

Then the blog concludes:

The time has come for domestic violence programs to assess which services are effective advocacy and which are simply based on time-worn tradition rather than current needs of women and children. Domestic violence agencies still save lives every day. There will always be a primary need for a safe haven. The majority of advocates are selfless and hardworking and in it for all the right reasons but are confined to the policies of their agencies. A successful program will continually evaluate, update and re-evaluate to ensure the best quality services and safety of those who come to them for help.

There will always be a need for safe haven, but I don’t feel that our domestic violence shelters provide it. I think that we need to be deeply suspicious of the coupling of housing, supervision, and emotional support: while social services in general tend to be paternalistic, the concentration of various competing interests and roles into one entity (the agency) as we often see in domestic violence shelters breeds abuse.

In my opinion, the best solution to this problem is to decouple housing: employ housing first approach to help survivors find an apartment in the community first, with long-term rent assistance of course, and then deal with other issues. People might argue that some women desperately need support and supervision to be available 24/7, but anyone who have worked at our shelters know that such women are first to be evicted from shelters because of the difficulty of complying with all the rules and living in a crowded shared housing setting, because shelters are not designed to adequately support women with such needs. Perhaps we could adopt disability rights movement’s principle of independent living here: survivors should be assisted in the least restrictive environment each individual can handle, which to most survivors and their children would be their own apartment.

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