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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

Oops. Serious typo in “War on Terror & War on Trafficking” zine

Date: July 12, 2011


On page 33 of my zine, “War on Terror & War on Trafficking, I made a pretty bad typo. Under “Social and Economic Justice Model” on that page, I meant to say that the model demands “voluntary services” including medical care, instead I typed “involuntary services.” I’m sure that most people understand this is a typo, as I’m contrasting it with the “anti-trafficking model” which prescribes court-mandated “services.” But nonetheless, I apologize for the confusion.

The PDF version of the zine has been modified, and all future printings will be fixed as well. If you have already purchased the zine, please get your pen and cross out “in” in “involuntary.” Sowwee.