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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

Oops.

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.

Starbucks gives away free male/masculine music

Date: June 25, 2011

So I go to Starbucks once a week or so, which is actually how frequently they give away promo codes which let customers download free “pick of the week” music through Apple iTunes. So I’ve been picking up the cards that contain these codes each week without actually downloading the music for the most part, and today I noticed that they have accumulated in a pocket of my purse. Here are the cards I’ve collected:

free song cards

Is it just me, or do you see the pattern as well? Week after week, Starbucks is picking male musicians and bands. In fact, the last female artist I remember on one of these cards is k.d. lang several months ago (which I downloaded), so perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Starbucks keeps picking artists who are masculine in their appearance (most of whom also happen to be men).

I don’t necessarily go to Starbucks every week, so perhaps they are featuring female and/or feminine-looking artists while I’m away from their stores. But that is unlikely. The question is, is the obvious male/masculine slant simply a reflection of the taste of whoever is picking the songs at Starbucks, or based on some sort of internal marketing data, or perhaps even a result of promotional strategies at record companies?

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 :-)

Apologies for Shipment Delay for my Buttons and Zines

Date: June 19, 2011

To everyone who placed an order for my buttons and zines since May:

I apologize for the shipment delay. I was planning a big batch of shipment on Monday, June 6th, but I became ill and had to go to hospital. My blood pressure went down to 50/20 at one point, which required me to stay in ICU for a couple of days, followed by several days of hospital stay and additional rest at home.

I’m feeling better now, and this Tuesday (21st) I plan to ship all orders placed on or before June 13th. U.S. customers should receive them by the end of the month (if not the week), and international customers during the first half of July. If you do not receive them by then, please email me at emi AT eminism DOT org.

Thanks!

Update 06/21/2011: As previously announced, I shipped all outstanding orders this afternoon except Canadian orders. Orders to Canada could not be shipped due to Canadian postal service workers’ strike.

Update 06/30/2011: US Postal Service began accepting shipments to Canada, and all outstanding orders to Canada have been shipped.

Remembering our history: Sex workers in Portland organize against draconian City ordinance, 1999-2000

Date: May 31, 2011

Below is an excerpt from my old (2002) zine, Instigations from the Whore Revolution: A Third Wave Feminist Response to the Sex Work “Controversy”. My thinking has evolved and shifted in some ways since I made that zine, but I thought it’d be interesting to share a history of sex workers organizing against the City government.

How Sex Workers Defeated Mayor Vera Katz: Information on Portland City Ordinance 14.44

In September 1999, Portland City Council passed a new ordinance (City Code 14.44) proposed by Mayor Vera Katz and the Portland Police Bureau regarding the personal escort/modeling industry. The ordinance mandated absurd requirements for anyone who worked as a personal escort or model, making her even more vulnerable to abusive customers, police abuse, and discrimination than she already was. It violated sex workers’ right to privacy, patronized their ability to make their own decisions, and seriously compromised their safety.

Local sex workers formed Scarlet Letter, a collective of workers and their supporters, to combat the city ordinance. “Workers need affordable housing, health care with dignity, and protection from mismanagement and harassing authorities,” instead of such a repressive regulation, says its press release. Scarlet Letter later submited “Sex Workers’ Wish List,” the counter-proposal to the City describing a better way to regulate escort/modeling industry.
Sex workers and their allies also waged a legal battle, arguing the City Code 14.44 to be unconstitutional. City modified the ordinance twice to increase the odds of withstanding the legal challenge, but the judge eventually sided with sex workers on March 8. Mayor Katz subsequently abandoned the ordinance.

Even though we were able to defeat this particular ordinance, we know that it could come back in a different form any time, plus sex workers across the country are fighting daily against similar legislation. The information about this ordinance is included here in order to preserve the history of sex workers’ successful organizing.

Absurd Requirements under the Ordinance

Under the City Code 14.44, anyone who works as an escort or a lingerie model must:

  • Pay $200 to get a personal escort/model permit that has her headshot.
  • Give police their finger prints. – Submit to a criminal background check–permit is denied if she has been convicted of “prostitution-related crimes” in the past five years.
  • Keep a telephone log of each customer who calls. – Show the escort/model permit to customers.
  • Sign a contract with customer before each appointment that describe specific services provided.
  • Make the phone log and contracts available to police inspection without search warrant.
  • If she works independently, she must obtain a $500 business license and comply with additional requirements.

Penalties

If a worker is caught in violation of Code:

  • It is a Class B misdemeanor ($500 fine/ 6 months in jail) to work without a permit.
  • Civil penalties of $100 (for first offense) and $500 (the second) are assessed for each “minor” violation.
  • Permit is revoked for any “major” violation, such as failure to pay civil penalty within ten days and accumulating three offense in a single year.
    Other Consequences of the Ordinance
  • Those with the history of prostitution-related convictions will be ineligible for the permit, putting them further “underground” and at the greater risk of being abused or exploited.
  • Those with fewer opportunities to become self-reliant outside of the sex industry will be trapped in poverty and government assistance.
  • When uneligible worker is abused, assaulted or exploited on the job, they will be less likely to seek police assistance.
  • The existence of public registry of workers’ personal information will make it easier for the customer to harass or stalk her.
  • Public record of escort/model permit makes it more difficult for workers to leave sex industry in the future, effectively trapping those who may wish to leave.

Sex Workers’ Wish List

The following is excerpted from Scarlet Letter’s counter-proposal to the city council as to a better way to regulate escort/modeling industry. Of course the City ignored everything we said in this, but it felt good to have a concrete counter-proposal: we aren’t saying that escort/modeling businesses don’t need regulation, but that the regulation proposed by the City was harmful to us.

  • Change the title of the permit from “Personal Escort/ Modeling Permit” to “Worker Permit” so that workers can leave the industry without the scarlet letter.
  • Use the OLCC beverage/food server application as a model of what a work permit application should look like, including the fees.
  • Have escort/models obtain the permit from the Bureau of Licenses and Multonomah County Health Department, instead of Portland Police Bureau.
  • Require escort/modeling business management to have a working relationship with Health Department. Raise the standard of awareness of how to decrease one’s risk at the job site. Require job training that addresses disease prevention, safety issues, and current laws that pertain to sex work.
  • Hold the management accountable for proper security measures at the job site.
  • Remove any unnecessary personal information from the permit application.
  • Issue a certificate instead of a photo ID as the permit.
  • Remove the automatic rejection of a permit if individual was convicted of a misdemeanor (i.e. prostitution) so that they can engage in sex work legally.
  • Police should not be allowed to enter one’s residence without a search warrant.
  • Change the punishment of working without a permit to a fine, rather than a misdemeanor.
  • Remove unreasonable requirements that escort/models keep the customer’s phone numbers in a log for Police to inspect, and sign a written contract with the customer before each appointment.

Timeline of Our Struggles

September 22, 1999 – City Code 14.44 is introduced by Mayor Katz and the Portland Police Bureau. No sex workers are informed of the proposal.
September 29, 1999 – City code 14.44 passes the City Council with no objections.
November 1, 1999 – First meeting of Scarlet Letter. Open only to workers.
November 8, 1999 – Second meeting of Scarlet Letter. Open to all supporters.
November 14, 1999 – Sex Workers’ Masquerade, a fundraiser for Danzine and Scarlet Letter campaign.
November 15, 1999 – Third meeting of Scarlet Letter, to which a Willamette Week reporter showed up to write an article.
November 17, 1999 – Scarlet Letter speaks out at the City Council.
November 23, 1999 – Emi hosts a panel discussion on sex work at Portland State University, which turned into a pep rally for Scarlet Letter.
December 15, 1999 – Lawsuit is filed to block enforcement of the ordinance.
January 26, 2000 – Scarlet Letter presents the “Sex Workers’ Wish List” to the City Council. Emi was almost arrested for holding up a sign in the Chamber. City Council makes a minor modification to the ordinance, but ignores us for the most part. Willamette Week runs a story that is somewhat favorable to sex workers.
February 4, 2000 – First hearing of the lawsuit against the ordinance.
February 22, 2000 – Judge declares the ordinance invalid under Oregon constitution.
March 8, 2000 – Mayor Katz abandons the ordinance. WE WON!!!!

Emi’s Final Comments

1. It is frustrating that the only thing that stopped the ordinance from being enforced was the constitution. I mean, we worked with the media, tried to educate the City Council, went to City Hall many times, called up people, and even worked with the Multnomah County Health Department to come up with an effective alternative to the ordinance so that the escort/modeling industry is regulated just like all other industries–and the only thing that actually worked was a judge’s order. I guess that’s how the system works in this lawsuit-obsessed country, but I’m really sad that City Council absolutely refused to think, even for a second, that perhaps the Vice Unit of the Portland Police Bureau may not be the expert when it comes to the sex industry.

2. I’m annoyed by the “sex radicals” who celebrate sex workers as strong independent women (or men, or whatever) while neglecting the real suffering of people who are being exploited or abused within the sex industry. And I’m also annoyed by the radical feminist I spoke with who told me how much money sex industry is costing tax payers and how many abortions are taking place as a result of the sex industry as a way to demonize it.

My goal is to empower everyone working in the sex industry, whether they are engaged in commercial or survival sex so that people who wish to leave can have other realistic options and people who wish to stay can have safer, better working environment. So all sex radicals and radical feminists–stop arguing and do something already.

3. Initially, I thought that this ordinance is about inhibited sex moralists versus us freakish folks. In fact, that’s how all the media reported it. But it was not. The reality is that this is not about morality, but is about business owners versus workers. I realized this as I was talking with the City officials.

In fact, it is not true that the City did not consider the legitimate needs of the industry while drafting this ordinance: they talked with people who run the businesses although not the people who work for them, which makes me think that the interests of the owners and managers–but not those of workers–are reflected in the ordinance.

The ordinance would have made it much more difficult for women to work independently without a pimp–which is exactly what the owners and managers want, because it would wipe out the competition for their businesses. The ordinance was never intended to hurt these businesses; the City was trying to enact a system in which workers are under the control of pimps and pimps are under the control of the Police Bureau.

4. Escorts and models still do not have the protection they deserve within the industry. Now that the ordinance is struck down, City of Portland should join Multnomah County in working with us to develop a real regulation that would protect safety and rights of workers. If they don’t–well, everyone who has ever consumed adult entertainment (which is pretty large number of people) should refuse to vote for the current City Council members when they come up for re-election!

European Court case over reproductive rights in Poland deals with the selective abortion of a fetus with Turner’s syndrome

Date: May 27, 2011

On May 26th, European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of a woman in Poland who was systematically denied the opportunity to receive and find out the result of diagnostic test for her fetus in time to selectively abort the fetus. Pro-choice activists celebrate the ruling as a victory for the women’s right to choose.

But the fetus’ condition in question is Turner’s syndrome, which is hardly a deadly disease or totally debilitating condition. According to Turtle Bay and Beyond, a international law blog (from the Religious Right perspective, which I disagree with–but I’m just citing them for factual information) :

The applicant, Mrs R. R. gave birth to a girl suffering from “Turner Syndrome”, a chromosomal abnormality affecting girls, whose symptoms are generally a short stature and sterility. She unsuccessfully requested the prosecuting authorities to institute criminal proceedings against the physician involved in handling her case. Mrs R. R. claims that she has been subject to degrading treatment (art. 3) since she was unaware of the health of her pre-born child and was denied the genetic tests in a timely manner.

I am preparing to travel to San Francisco in four hours so I don’t have the time to fully analyze or respond to the case, but I just want to point out that there is a complicated history of dialogues between reproductive rights movement and disability movement over cases like this, which appears to be completely ignored in the celebratory tone of the pro-choice groups’ responses.

Without going into whether or not a woman’s right to choose extends to the right to selectively abort fetuses on the basis of its real or perceived disabilities (or sexual orientation, etc.), pro-choice activists need to recognize that this is a complicated matter and take special care not to imply that people with Turner’s syndrome or other conditions and disabilities do not deserve to live.

Further, if we truly believe in women’s right to choose, we need to work toward eliminating societal barriers to raising children with various conditions and disabilities or to living with such conditions. The birth of a child with Turner’s syndrome does not need to be a tragedy to be avoided at all cost.

Three new updates to “Interchange” on prostitution, intersex, and trans issues

Date: May 26, 2011

I don’t usually report site updates on this blog, but I’m making an exception because 1) there are three new documents, and 2) people who are reading this blog these days might be interested.

The additions are in the “Interchange” section, which archives my contributions to mailing lists and message boards. It should have been a blog, but I started it long before “blog” was a common word or concept (remember “weblog”?), and content management systems were primitive. Anyway:

Enjoy!

An Open Letter to Oregon Commentator, a UO publication that called me an advocate for sex trafficking

Date: May 23, 2011

I knew that something like this was bound to happen, but here it goes: Oregon Commentator, a conservative student publication of University of Oregon, alleges that I “advocated sex trafficking” in my May 19 presentation at the Eugene campus. Criticizing The Student Insurgent, which hosted my presentation, Oregon Commentator Editor-in-Chief Lyzi Diamond writes:

The Student Insurgent, in a surprising turn of events, is actually doing something. I would be proud, if their actions weren’t entirely asinine.

First, they hosted a guest speaker last week who advocated sex trafficking. No joke.

Following this, Diamond quotes the description for my UO lecture from The Student Insurgent blog:

War on Terror & War on Trafficking:
Why Irrational Panic over ‘Modern Day Slavery’ Harms Women

Thursday May 19th, from 6-730pm in Condon 104, University of Oregon.

Presented by Emi Koyama, War on Terror & War on Trafficking examines “facts” promoted by the anti-trafficking groups and “experts,” and exposes how they have distorted our conversations about sex trafficking and prostitution and harmed women, sex workers, immigrants, and others.

The presentation also explores many ways in which the new War on Trafficking resembles the so-called War on Terror in its worldview, approach, and devastating impact on vulnerable communities. [...]

Come to find out why:

  • Average age of entry into prostitution is not 12-14 year old
  • 300,000 children are not at risk of being trafficked
  • A third of runaway youth are not trafficked within first 48 hours
  • Super Bowl and World Cup did not contribute to human trafficking
  • Portland is not “Pornland, Oregon”
  • “End Demand” approach targeting “johns” harms women
  • Anti-trafficking “experts” should not be trusted (remember Bill Hillar?)
  • Trafficking is often the State’s excuse to raid immigrants and communities of color
  • Anti-trafficking movement distorts reality and misleads public policy

Diamond’s inaccurate and highly offensive (and libelous) characterization of me actually proves a point I made in my presentation: The “you are with us or with the terrorists” mentality from the War on Terror has permeated the anti-trafficking movement, making it difficult to have a rational conversations about what to do about the issue. But perhaps it’s irrelevant what I said in the presentation, because as far as I know Lyzi Diamond or anyone else affiliated with Oregon Commentator actually did not come and listen to my presentation.

That said, I am sending them the following message as an open letter to Oregon Commentator:

Lyzi Diamond, the Editor-in-Chief
Oregon Commentator

May 23, 2011

I am writing in response to your May 22 blog post, in which you describe me as an advocate of sex trafficking. Such characterization is false and highly offensive, especially since you did not attend my presentation to hear what I actually have to say, and I request that you formally retract it.

Your mission statement states that you “believe that the University should be a forum for rational and informed debate.” Further, it states that you “believe that it is important for the University community to view the world realistically, intelligently, and above all, rationally.” I believe that you have failed to live up to these commitments when you describe me as an advocate for sex trafficking.

The main point of my presentation was precisely that our conversations about sex trafficking had been based on false premises, which precluded our ability to view the world realistically and to enact rational policies and responses to combat human trafficking. For you to suggest that raising such criticism amounts to advocacy of sex trafficking does not help contribute to the rational and informed debate; in fact, it is reminiscent of the same political climate of ideological dogma and mob mentality that you so despise.

Even though I am a feminist and a liberal, one of the things I respect about the tradition of conservative political philosophy from Edmund Burke on is its healthy skepticism toward human perfectibility. Liberals and progressives too often propose laws and regulations to resolve real or perceived social problems without fully recognizing or understanding the long chain of unintended consequences that might prove more harmful than the original problem the policy is designed to solve. My critiques of the anti-trafficking movement are made in the same vein: many policies that are intended to combat sex trafficking are actually counter-productive, despite their good intentions.

In “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles,” prominent conservative thinker Thomas Sowell argues that liberals tend to associate good intentions with good results, and therefore they attribute negative intentions for those who do not agree with them. Conservative on the other hand do not automatically associate good intentions with good results, so they are more capable of criticizing others’ positions and ideas without accusing them of having ill intentions. I find your assault on my intent (i.e. alleging that I advocate for sex trafficking) rather than my ideas to be characteristically liberal in Sowell’s sense, and uncharacteristic for someone who espouses to be a conservative.

Even though I consider myself a feminist and a liberal, I make a point to try to treat my opponents with basic human respect and dignity, as you will see if you read my blog posts about two conservative rallies that I attended (see below for URLs). I hope that you agree with me that partisan name-calling has no place in a rational and intelligent debate over important social and political issues such as human trafficking, and begin your part by retracting the libelous claim that I somehow advocate for sex trafficking. Once that is out of the way, I would be happy to continue the dialogue over how we should combat sex trafficking in the United States. The University community deserves to hear more than just one side that is advocated by the anti-trafficking campus group.

A report on the Tea Party tax day rally:

http://eminism.org/blog/entry/148

A report on the Oregon Right to Life rally:

http://eminism.org/blog/entry/47

Best,

Emi Koyama
Activist and Writer

http://eminism.org/

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.

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