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Memo: Twitter exchange with Stella about her (inaccurate) article on “pimps posing as sex worker activists”

Date: June 1, 2012

Below is the Twitter exchange with the account “Manhattan Call Girl” (@StellaMarr) about her blog article, which I commented a couple of days ago. I am archiving her comments here because she seems to have deleted many of them.

emikoyama 8:18 PM – 31 May 12
are you really certain that people you name as “pimps” actually are? http://eminism.org/blog/entry/311 @StellaMarr

emikoyama 8:19 PM – 31 May 12
bcz sex workers and even trafficking victims sometimes end up with “promoting prostitution” charge even though they aren’t pimps @StellaMarr

emikoyama 8:21 PM – 31 May 12
if they are actual pimps, then, yes i agree with you. i’m weary of criminal record as source knowing how abusive legal system is @StellaMarr

Stella responds the next day:

StellaMarr 12:35 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama Between being trafficked & pimping = #bigdifference. It’s not something easily confused #sexworker #feminism

StellaMarr 12:37 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama I used primary sources — the personal sites of parties in question. http://wp.me/p2bR3Y-6Z

She does cite sources, but her sources do not indicate that people she is mentioning are “pimps” in any way, with the possible exception of the man who is said to be a partner of someone who owns a male escort service (who is also a sex worker himself).

emikoyama 1:04 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr But you seem to be confused. Don’t you understand that “promoting prostitution” doesn’t mean pimping?

emikoyama 1:05 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Charge of “compeling prostitution” would mean pjmping. But “promoting” doesn’t. It can apply to lots of things beide pimping.

Stella seems annoyed, like I don’t know what I’m talking about.

StellaMarr (deleted and couldn’t recover time stamp)
@emikoyama you seem to have a lot of free time, read my article again http://wp.me/p2bR3Y-6Z #bullying #feminism #emperorsnewclothes

I did read the article more than once, but still wasn’t convinced.

emikoyama 1:10 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr For example, several working women sharing work space together for safety and to save expenses is “promoting.”

emikoyama 1:11 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr driving someone or providing security is “promoting” even if it’s just friend and isnt making any money.

emikoyama 1:11 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Further, consider this: pimp asks girl to introduce other girls to recruit. She complies. Is she now just a pimp?

emikoyama 1:12 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr I don’t know of any women you mention as pmps. I know them as sex workers. If they are in fact pimps, please give me more info.

emikoyama 1:13 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Because none of their criminal charges indicate that they are.

Now she is really getting irritated.

StellaMarr 1:15 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama everyone knows we hate m or f pimps. You are boring me with these silly posts most guys prefer you go to hotel or thr house

StellaMarr 1:15 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz bored

I was shocked that she would publicly display disrespect toward me rather than responding to my concern which was quite simple.

emikoyama 1:16 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr why do you need to insult me like this? i thought you were my sister. i dont like pimps any more than you do.

When I searched for her Twitter name, I found a lot of people calling her a liar and being rude toward her, so I could understand that she thought I was just one of them. I am not. I think I’ve kept everything pretty respectful. She changes her tone a little bit.

StellaMarr 1:20 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama then quit defending pimps darling, sorry I just get bored with these ridiculous hairsplittings — wish you well xo

Great, let’s go back to the actual content of our disagreement.

emikoyama 1:22 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr not defending pimps. i just think you are wrong to determine they wre pimps based on evidence we have.

emikoyama 1:24 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr because i can just imagine how horrifying it is to be falsely accused of being pimp. it would make me wanna die if it were me.

emikoyama 1:24 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr but otherwise i totally agree: pimps arent sexworkers and dont belong in sw groups.

Stella doesn’t contradict anything I say, or provide any further evidence.

StellaMarr 1:28 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama Lets agree to disagree —

StellaMarr 1:29 PM – 1 Jun 12
@emikoyama Based on evidence we have they should not be founding &leading sex worker unions/activist orgs — conflict of interest #feminism

We can’t just “agree to disagree” about whether or not someone is a pimp. That is a serious allegation and cannot be made lightly.

emikoyama 1:54 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr seriously, don’t we need to be more careful about calling people pimps? criminal charges you site don’t equal pimping.

emikoyama 1:59 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr pimps can be convicted of pandering or promoting prost but not everyone convicted of these are pimps. it’s that simple.

emikoyama 2:00 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr i am also concenrned and speaking out about conflict of interest within sw movement. i wrote about some examples in my blog.

emikoyama 2:02 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr to me, calling someone a pimp is among the worst thing you can say about someone. i dont want anyone to be called that wrongly.

Stella has not made any further responses since then, and appears to have deleted most of her replies toward me.

I understand that it is difficult to be speaking out as a survivor. I also understand that everyone says things on social media that they regret later. But her blog post is spreading extremely damaging information about sex workers’ movement that isn’t true, something that are being used to discredit and marginalize a whole movement that is fighting violence and exploitation of people in the sex trade.

If she regrets making any of the comments I quote above, I ask that she become transparent about it. Further, I ask that she retract the original blog post unless she can provide actual evidence that the people she name are “pimps.” I’m sure she understands how horrible it must feel when someone “expose” you as a pimp when you actually are not.


June 2, 2012 Update

At least one person who is mentioned as a “pimp posing as a sex worker activist” has responded, stating that she has never been a pimp. I don’t personally like her rhetoric (especially about Stella’s brain being damaged), but I can empathize: I would be pretty angry too if someone called me a pimp or flat-out negated authenticity of my experiences.


June 2, 2012 Update 2

Another woman told me that Stella called her a pimp, even though she wasn’t at all. She found the allegation particularly offensive because she has had a pimp herself. I wrote the following plea:

emikoyama 9:45 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr This is a personal and emotional plea. Please, please, stop calling people “pimps” when they aren’t.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Multiple people you named as pimps have now stated they aren’t pimps. One woman says she had a pimp too. You have no evidence.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Your “source” is criminal cases that don’t equal pimping. Pandering and promoting can and do apply to people who are not pimps.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr I’m sure you understand how offensive it is to call someone who was exploited by a pimp a “pimp.” If it were me I’d be suicidal.

emikoyama 9:46 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr This is beside politics. We can disagree about everything else, but this is one thing survivors don’t do to each other.

emikoyama 9:48 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr Okay, maybe I’m wrong and they are pimps, though evidences don’t seem to support that. Perhaps. I’d rather err on that side.

emikoyama 9:50 PM – 1 Jun 12
@StellaMarr …than taking the risk of erroneously labeling survivors “pimps.” It is extremely traumatic.

I don’t know what’s going on in her head now, but I really hope that she hears me.


June 9, 2012 Update

After posting above, Stella asked me to remove this page because it made her feel unsafe. I do not want to make her feel unsafe, so I agreed to unilaterally remove this page as a demonstration of good faith. But at the same time, she was making many women unsafe by falsely labeling them “pimps,” and I asked her to delete the false allegations. I told her that I would permanently remove this page altogether if she did.

Stella continue to insist that her allegations were supported by evidence, but did not provide any evidence beyond what she included in her blog post. She also asked me not to contact her again. I agree not to contact her unless she contacts or mentions me first, which unfortunately made it impossible to engage with her further. I have now reinstated all exchanges I removed once because while I do not want to make her feel unsafe, I cannot ignore how she is making many other women unsafe with her false allegations.

Below is a statement I posted to this blog while the content was temporarily removed.

June 4, 2012 Update

After posting this entry, @StellaMarr asked me to remove this page. Well that’s not entirely accurate: what happened was that she claimed that she had asked me to remove it, even though I did not receive any such request. But okay, so she wants this page taken down–and I am willing to comply with that, even though I was merely quoting the comments she posted to Twitter.

The reason I am honoring such request is because she is a survivor and that means she is my sister and I feel loyal to her. I do not want to publicly criticize or expose another survivor even when she sort of deserves it, considering the fact she is making outrageous false allegations against other women in the sex trade that they are pimps. These women she is hurting are also my sisters too, and I want to defend them as much as I want to defend Stella.

So here’s what I decided to do: I’m going to unilaterally remove all the comments she made on twitter from this page as a gesture of good faith. And as I do so, I ask that she takes down false allegations against other women, or provide evidences to support her claim. “Pandering” and “promoting prostitution” charges are not evidences of someone being a pimp for the reasons I explained before.

After removing her tweets from this page, I will wait for 24 hours. If she does not remove her false allegations against other women and stop making similar attacks against my sisters, I have no choice but to conclude that she is acting in bad faith and reinstate this page to the original state.

Stella says that it is not a personal attack to point out that someone is a pimp. Well, it is definitely a personal attack when the allegation is false. My blog post, on the other hand, is not a personal attack against her: I am simply quoting her actual words to point out why her allegations are false.

I wish I didn’t have to criticize another survivor. In fact, if she would remove the false allegations and keeps it off her blog and tweets for long enough to convince me that she won’t do the same thing again, I will remove this page altogether including this statement itself. That is how loyal I feel toward a fellow survivor.

But if she does not remove her false allegations, and continues to make similar allegations against other survivors and sex workers who are not pimps, I will have to stop letting my loyalty to her as a fellow survivor get in the way of honoring my loyalty to these women who are being hurt by her actions.

Please note that I never defended the owner of male escort service she mentions in her article. It is clear that he and his partner are owners/managers, and while some people disagree about the use of the word “pimp” to describe managers who, like employers in other industries, hire people to work for them without coercing or exploiting them, and even though they are sex workers themselves as well as managers, I think Stella has a valid point about challenging the conflict of interest. Plus, I don’t like bosses in any other industries so I have no reason to like bosses in the sex industry either. So I am not defending the two men she mentions in the beginning of her article.

Other people she attacks, however, are probably not pimps, under any definition. Pimps can be charged with pandering or promoting prostitution, but not everybody who is charged with these crimes are pimps, because people can be found guilty of these crimes even if they do not control anyone else and do not even profit from another person’s sexual labor. I don’t want Stella to feel unsafe because of what I write here, but I also can’t let her continue to threaten safety of other women who do not deserve to be hurt.

Finally: Stella wants me to stop communicating with her on Twitter, and I respect that. I am going to post a final tweet to let her know this URL to give her an opportunity to act in good faith. Her refusal to engage with me directly makes it difficult for me to defend other women who are hurt by her actions without posting it publicly, which might make her feel unsafe. I struggle with this dual loyalty, but in the end I will have to side with people who are at the receiving end of the undeserved attacks rather than the other side. Stella, I wish you would not put me in that position.

Not so quick to call sex worker activists “pimps”: criminal charges do not tell the full story

Date: May 30, 2012

Last week, sex trafficking survivor and activist Stella Marr wrote an interesting article exposing some of the leaders of sex worker’s rights groups as “pimps” who are “posing” as sex worker activists, ostensibly to silence survivors like herself and promote “policies that protect pimps.” I appreciate her effort to address the conflict of interest within sex worker organizing as it is something I’ve been speaking out about, but I am troubled by her use of criminal records to support her claim that many “sex worker activists” are actually “pimps.”

That said, I want to state this first: regardless of what one’s views regarding prostitution and sex trade are–whether they are pro- or anti-prostitution, feminist or moralistic, libertarian or paternalistic, secular or religious–I feel a sense of connection to and camaraderie with everyone who has lived through abuse and exploitation in the sex trade. I hesitated responding to Ms. Marr because I fear that there are people out there who are not one of us, who would quote my words to attack her, as they would use her words to attack me and others like me. But this discussion is so important that I could not avoid it.

One of my first encounters with the national sex worker’s movement was in 2001, when I attended a series of workshops for sex workers held in conjunction with the Sex Worker’s Art Show in Olympia, Washington. I was naive about the racial/class/etc. division within the sex worker’s movement at the time, so I was really excited to be surrounded by sex workers who were proud, not ashamed, of what they did. I had never thought that it was possible to validate myself as a “sex worker,” rather than feeling ashamed or damaged about my experiences. (And this honeymoon period with the sex worker’s “community” and the sex worker identity lasted for less than a year.)

But even to my naive self, it felt very weird and offensive to hear one of the presenters chastise sex workers “who don’t enjoy their job” as being “sex-negative.” It was later that I found out that she had stripped behind a protective glass while she was a graduate student “as part of a research project,” and was managing a sex toy shop at the time. No wonder: as a manager, she had a vested interest in convincing her employees (which, I don’t consider sex toy shop workers to be “sex workers,” but that’s beside the point) that their jobs are fun and liberating: it’s cheaper than offering good pay and benefits.

Similarly in 2004, I was involved in the debate at/around St. James Infirmary, a free comprehensive health clinic specifically for sex workers in San Francisco. In order to make up about $80,000 budget shortfall after a funding cut from the city, SJI organized “Erotic Health Day,” on which “much of San Francisco’s adult entertainment community, including local exotic dancers, adult entertainment club owners, and sex workers” donate 10% of their proceeds to the clinic. The fundraiser was endorsed by the owners of the clubs (Hustler Club, New Century Theatre, Market St. Cinema, and others), but many sex workers were concerned that dancers would be forced or pressured by their bosses to give up their earnings.

In addition, there was a concern about St. James Infirmary, an institution that has to stand on the side of the vulnerable workers, becoming financially dependent on the bosses who exploit dancers every day. The controversy was further exacerbated after critics discovered that one of SJI’s board members (at the time) was a club owner, and that the board had contracted with his company to provide publicity for the fundraiser. (See my comments from November 2004 in “Pimps are not our friends: sex workers’ clinic should distance itself from managers.”)

In that sense, Ms. Marr is right: for a movement that purports to promote the notion that sex work should be treated just like any other work, its failure, in many instances, to actually treat sex workers’ interests and rights violations like any other workers’ is deeply troubling, even though there are also many sex worker activists with labor rights and other social justice analyses.

Where I become concerned about Ms. Marr’s article is her reliance on criminal records to label and dismiss someone as a “pimp.” Charges she conflates with “pimping,” such as promoting/facilitating prostitution, running a brothel, etc. do not necessarily mean that someone is controlling or taking advantage of another person, or even profiting from another person’s sexual labor. Under Oregon law, for example, promoting prostitution is defined as:

A person commits the crime of promoting prostitution if, with intent to promote prostitution, the person knowingly:

  • (a) Owns, controls, manages, supervises or otherwise maintains a place of prostitution or a prostitution enterprise; or
  • (b) Induces or causes a person to engage in prostitution or to remain in a place of prostitution; or
  • (c) Receives or agrees to receive money or other property, other than as a prostitute being compensated for personally rendered prostitution services, pursuant to an agreement or understanding that the money or other property is derived from a prostitution activity; or
  • (d) Engages in any conduct that institutes, aids or facilitates an act or enterprise of prostitution.

This statute, which is similar to many other jurisdictions’, is quite broad. For example, it can apply to sex workers who share a “work space” to save money and increase safety for themselves, or people (including friends) who provide transportation and other services for sex workers to work more safely, even if they are not controlling another person or profiting from their sexual labor. I am personally guilty (although I have never been charged with promoting prostitution), for example, of helping a friend who had just left a pimp learn to use Craigslist to post ads on her own, among other things, that might fall under this broad definition.

One reason it is so broad is that real pimps (i.e. those who control other people and pocket their earnings) are notoriously difficult to prosecute for what they do, which in Oregon law is called “compelling prostitution.” Prosecutors want to have the option to charge them with something that is easier to prove in court. But the same law can be and are used to target sex workers, survivors, and our associates–sometimes even as a threat to coerce us into “cooperating” with the prosecution against those they perceive to be “pimps.” In addition, while I don’t have any hard data, I would not be surprised if racial/class/gender/etc. stereotypes and prejudices sometimes influence what specific charges are brought against sex workers and victims of sex trafficking.

The distinction between people who “engages in any conduct that institutes, aids or facilitates an act or enterprise of prostitution” and those who actually perform the sexual labor (trafficked or otherwise) is not as clear as Ms. Marr suggests. Many of us who trade sex, regardless of why or how we do it, are also vulnerable to prosecution under “promoting prostitution” laws: it can apply when we exchange health and safety tips or are on the lookout for a friend who is getting into a strange vehicle. It will definitely apply when a pimp asks (or makes) us talk to and recruit other “girls.” That should not disqualify us from speaking as a sex worker or a survivor of abuse and exploitation for that matter; in fact, it is part of what it means to be a sex worker or survivor of abuse and exploitation in the sex trade.

Pimps who control and abuse other people should never be allowed to speak as a sex worker or lead a sex worker organization. But people whose criminal histories include “promoting prostitution” and other similar charges are not necessarily guilty of controlling and abusing us, and some of them are actually not any different from us. Ms. Marr is correct to point out that sex worker’s movement often fails to address the inherent conflict of interest that exists within the sex industry as well as in the sex worker’s movement, but I don’t agree with her tactic of using people’s criminal history to reduce them to “pimps” just like her abusers.

(See “Pimping does not equal enslavement: thoughts on the resilience of youth and adults who have pimps” for more discussion about the problem with the label “pimps.”)

Constructing “domestic minor sex trafficking” as a “gang-related” issue: what I learned at a forum on “the other kind” of human trafficking

Date: May 18, 2012

On April 26th, I attended Portland Human Rights Commission’s public forum on human trafficking. Unlike many other “trafficking” events I’ve attended over the past several years, this one was specifically designed to address what the Commission called “transnational” human trafficking for labor exploitation. Speakers were mostly made up of law enforcement officers and immigration advocates, but the forum also featured a testimony from a Mexican man who had been trafficked at a small labor camp in Oregon. The only person on the panel I recognized was Detective Keith Bickford from Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, who heads Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force.

Detective Bickford explained that there were two parts to the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force. One of the areas is the domestic minor sex trafficking, which he thinks is doing pretty good in terms of public awareness and funding. The other part is those involving “foreign born” victims of labor trafficking, according to Bickford. The community often want to hear about domestic minor sex trafficking only, Bickford said, but the trafficking of “foreign born” labor trafficking must be addressed also.

Even as he stresses the importance of addressing all forms of human trafficking, I can’t help but think how his (and Oregon’s) formulation of human trafficking as domestic minor sex trafficking and transnational adult labor trafficking leave out many forms of human trafficking that actually take place in Oregon, such as domestic adult sex trafficking, sex trafficking of “foreign born” people, domestic labor trafficking, labor trafficking with sexual exploitation component, and labor trafficking of minors.

Bickford adds that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is doing a great job assisting foreign born victims of human trafficking, even though the actual victims of trafficking and exploitation often feel fearful of immigration officers. He explains: trafficking victims fear police and ICE because governments and law enforcement officers in their home countries are often corrupt and abusive, so they associate government agents with that impression, even though such fears are unwarranted in the U.S. Yeah right, that’s why American youth who engage in sex trade totally feel comfortable and safe with the police. Not.

Throughout the forum, I notice that panelists are using phrases “trafficking of foreign born victims” and “transnational trafficking” interchangeably, but that is not accurate. Those who entered into the U.S. consensually (either legally or illegally) and then were trafficked domestically tend to have less rights and protections than those who had been trafficked from the beginning. Because trafficking often involves deception, it is often difficult to tell the difference between the two.

Immigration advocates know how difficult it is to secure protections for victims of labor trafficking and exploitation unless there is a strong indication or evidence of inculpability, as explained by immigration attorney Stephen Manning from Immigrant Law Group PC. “The distinction between (consensual) migrant smuggling and human trafficking is clear legally, but it is very subtle in reality.”

An audience member asked Bickford about the magnitude of transnational human trafficking in Oregon. He responded that he was unaware of any figure, though Oregon’s farm labor camps are known among immigrants from South and Central America as a destination.

Next, Manning introduced one of his former clients, a Mexican man who has been abused and exploited in an Oregon labor camp. He spoke about circumstances that led to his arrival in Oregon, his experiences at the labor camp, and how a Christian pastor who visited him eventually made his captors afraid of being exposed and abandon him. I elect not to publish any further details of his story, but he quickly left the room after giving his testimony.

Another immigration attorney, Anna Ciesielski from Immigration Counseling Services spoke next. She works with Bickford on cases involving human trafficking, and discussed difficulty having her clients trust him. The law enforcement wants to arrest traffickers, she explained, but they can’t do so without cooperation from victims, she said. She also spoke about how Catholic Charities’ loss of a major federal grant for assisting immigrant victims of human trafficking has left a gaping hole of services for the victims.

Ciesielski’s office has worked with about ten immigrant victims of human trafficking so far this year, she said. Because resources are limited, they are able to take only the “strongest cases” that are likely to lead to a special trafficking victim visa.

Senior assistant attorney general Diane Schwartz Sykes came up next. Prior to joining the Oregon Department of Justice to lead its Civil Rights Unit, she has worked for Oregon Law Center and Legal Aid Services of Oregon, specializing in immigration and civil rights cases, during which she has visited many labor camps throughout the State. For every registered labor camps she visited, she observed a couple of small ones that aren’t registered (in Oregon, labor camps must be registered if they hire more than a certain number of workers).

Chris Killmer from Catholic Charities explained how funding cut had forced the organization to abandon some of its services for victims of trafficking, but it keeps receiving referrals from other organizations. In the two years that the organization was funded to provide services, Catholic Charities worked with about 60 victims, 65% of which came from Latin America. Portland is also a point of entry for Asian immigrants and trafficking victims. Real numbers are difficult to uncover because this is a hidden population.

Asked about outreach to labor camps, Sykes stated how it became more difficult for her to reach out since becoming a government officer. Government agencies such as BOLI (Bureau of Labor and Industries which handles discrimination cases), OSHA (occupational safety and health), Human Rights Task Force, and ICE have interest in finding out what goes on at labor camps, but are not welcomed. Religious communities and legal advocates have easier time accessing laborers.

Sykes also mentioned that many laborers speak indigenous languages, rather than English or Spanish, which makes it even more difficult to outreach. Their children, if any, may speak English through Head Start program and such, but are also vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

At that point, an audience member who is a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office was invited to make a statement, which she was completely unprepared for. She admitted that she had no experiences in advocating for, investigating, or litigating human trafficking cases, though her boss (U.S. Attorney S. Amanda Marshall) considers the issue “a high priority.” Everything she said came from trainings she received for her job, not from any actual experiences addressing human trafficking.

But it is then she slipped the information that confirmed what many activists knew was the case but most government experts were smart enough to conceal: that the U.S. Attorney’s Office views domestic minor sex trafficking as “primarily gang-related,” and has moved the issue to its “gang unit”; transnational human trafficking on the other hand was moved to the civil rights unit.

The admission that the U.S. Attorney’s Office views domestic minor sex trafficking as a “gang-related” problem is significant. While right-wing anti-trafficking groups such as Shared Hope International has always insinuated racial overtones to the issue (e.g. urban Black men kidnapping suburban white schoolgirls), government officials tended to be more careful in how they communicate the issue. With the admission, however, it should now be a public knowledge that human trafficking is becoming yet another way for young men of color to be criminalized and imprisoned, while leaving behind many economic and social circumstances that lead many youth to engage in the sex trade.

The rep from the U.S. Attorney’s Office continuously praises her boss to the point I get embarrassed for her. An audience member comments how the “turf war” between State and federal officers are often obstacles, to which she responds “it depends on the individual–call my boss if you have any issues.”

Someone in the audience commented that victims of human trafficking like the man who gave his testimony should be supported so that they can become leaders and educators in the battle against human trafficking, rather than simply having their stories used. Bickford and Sykes respond, but they don’t seem to get it: Bickford says how he appreciates victims because he learns a lot from talking with them, and Sykes talks about how victims can make good outreach workers because they speak indigenous languages being spoken by other laborers. They don’t get it.

Frustrated, Jeri Williams–a Portland city employee with background in environmental and labor activism who identifies herself as a survivor of sex trafficking–speaks out: when Human Trafficking Task Force and others ask survivors of trafficking to “tell their stories” without payment, they are continuing the exploitation rather than fighting it–especially when celebrity speakers are paid thousands of dollars to be keynote speakers for anti-trafficking conferences (Williams didn’t name the conference, but I believe she is referring to the 2011 Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking conference which paid actress Daryl Hannah to keynote). I disagree with Williams on many things (after all she supports “end demand” campaigns that I think are ineffective and harmful for women), but I totally respect her for speaking out on this and supported her unsuccessful bid for the City Council this year.

Williams further spoke about how New Options for Women which provides drug treatment and other services to adult women who have prostitution records is facing budget elimination and stresses how we must salvage it. Another audience member who works for Multnomah County spoke out against Secure Communities initiative which prevents immigrant communities from cooperating with the law enforcement because of the fear that such contacts would lead to immigration detention and deportation of their family and community members. In response, Bickford stated that he was just a lowly detective in the law enforcement but he has been educating himself about the issues, carefully avoiding any statement that can be perceived as too political.

Overall, the forum was informative in terms of the government’s perspective of human trafficking in Oregon: that they seem to only recognize two variations of human trafficking (domestic minor sex trafficking on one hand, and transnational adult labor trafficking in the other), and that domestic minor sex trafficking is now being treated as a “gang-related” issue. It was also interesting to observe that, other than Jeri Williams, none of the people who are involved in the movement against sex trafficking were in the audience (in fact, there was a leader of an anti-prostitution group in the audience at the beginning, but she left after finding out that the forum focused on transnational labor trafficking), further demonstrating how we perceive a clear division between the two officially recognized categories of human trafficking–which, to borrow Manning’s phrase, may be more subtle in reality.

The 250-word essay that got me a $300 travel scholarship to attend Fukushima symposium

Date: April 24, 2012

Here’s a 250-word essay I submitted to the scholarship committee of the upcoming Atomic Age II: Fukushima symposium at University of Chicago to explain why I wanted to attend it. Luckily I was one of the ten individuals (out of about 30 who applied for it) to receive the $300 travel scholarship. Apparently, I was the only person who mentioned anything about gender, race, and sexuality, which is kind of sad, but it was good for me because it made my essay unique and interesting. Here goes:

*****

I have a long history of involvement in various movements for social and economic justice such as those around domestic and sexual violence, queer and trans liberation, disability rights, and others, but I have largely avoided political movements dealing with larger national and international geopolitics like the war and the use of nuclear technology–those political issues considered “important” by the (white male) Left–notwithstanding my strong stance against both. It was partly because I was alienated by the (white male) leadership of these movements, but it was also because I was fortunate/privileged enough to feel that the threat of war and nuclear disasters were distant for me, compared to the more direct threat of everyday sexism, racism, homophobia, and ableism.

But the recent earthquake and the nuclear disaster that followed it have exposed how vulnerable we all are to this kind of threats, and activists and progressive journalists from Fukushima and beyond reminded me that harsh realities facing women, foreigners, queer people, and people with disabilities are exacerbated by the crisis, rather than existing in isolation from the larger political events. I am particularly interested in listening to Ms. Muto for the experiences of women in Fukushima, and Ms. Paul for how women in the U.S. are addressing the issue of nuclear energy and weaponry in the context of environmental racism and classism.

I also plan to share my experiences at Atomic Age with Tadaima, a radical Japanese-American group in Seattle whose members are planning to visit Japan this summer.

***

By the way, the symposium itself is free and open to the public. I also heard that they provide breakfast and lunch in some form. Plus, it’d be super incredible to hear Ms. Muto in person.

Further thoughts on the economics of “end demand” campaigns against sex trafficking

Date: March 14, 2012

In an article I posted a year ago, I explained why “end demand” approach to prostitution is harmful to women in the sex trade. But since “end demand” approach is just as popular as it was back then, I thought I’d provide a little bit more detail on the economic logic behind this argument. I’m not an economist, and besides I don’t have any actual data to back up my theory, so I’d appreciate feedback from people who know more about economics than I do.

“End demand” approach is often promoted as the application of simple economic principle of supply and demand, even though there is not a single credible economist who supports the idea. Siddharth Kara, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker turned anti-trafficking activist and author of poorly written Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, is frequently referred to as the “economist” who is in favor of “end demand” policy, but his training is in business management, not economics.

In “supply and demand” model, we expect the market to automatically arbitrate constantly updating levels of supply and demand through price. An increase in supply in excess of demand results in price drops, which would stimulate more demand to match the supply. A decrease in supply raises the price, which in turn reduces the demand for whatever is being sold. Similarly, an increase or decrease in demand can raise or drop the price, which encourage or discourage supply.

It is unquestionably true that there would be no sex trafficking (or consensual sex trade for that matter) if there weren’t any market for commercial sex, because market transactions require both buyers and sellers (whether the sellers are people engaging in sex trade, or pimps and traffickers who are selling another person’s sexual labor). But the total elimination of the market altogether is unrealistic and probably involve some sort of totalitarian government control over people’s lives that most of us are not willing to accept. We must, therefore, think about the impact of “end demand” approach on the assumption that prostitution would remain as an underground economy, rather than that it would be completely eliminated.

Let us first think about the market for an ordinary commodity, like wheat. Imagine that the government passed some policy–whether it’s a restriction or new taxation or whatever–designed to artificially discourage the demand for wheat. The price of wheat goes down, which would simultaneously encourage 1) farmers and producers of wheat to switch to producing other crops that are more profitable, and 2) consumers to buy more wheat and wheat-based products instead of some other crops because it’s now cheaper than before. In a free, competitive market, this whole process occurs smoothly and transparently until the market adjusts to the new equilibrium at different levels of transaction amount and price point.

The question we have to consider is what that equilibrium would look like if we artificially reduced the demand for commercial sex through increased penalty and public education. The price would likely fall, as the sellers are forced to compete for the business of a smaller pool of buyers. But a modest drop in the price will not deter vast majority of the sellers, because many of them do not have other, comparable means for generating income. Even pimps and traffickers have little reason to change career (investment banker maybe?) until and unless the price of commercial sex goes down quite a bit, especially if pimping is as profitable as anti-trafficking groups claim.

In other words, a decrease in demand reduces the price, but that is not likely to lead to a comparable decline in supply: in economics, this is called inelasticity of supply. And because supply is inelastic, the market must compensate that by reducing the price further in order to reach the new equilibrium at the price point at which enough of the lost demand would return, either through more buyers entering the market or existing buyers purchasing more frequently.

From the buyers’ point of view, the cost of purchasing commercial sex is not just the money they pay to the seller (be it individuals who trade sex or their pimps/traffickers). “End demand” approach increases the overall cost of buying sex by increasing the legal, financial, and social risks of arrests and/or public humiliation as well as the transaction cost (cost of finding the seller and negotiating the transaction). Assuming that each buyer is willing to incur up to a fixed amount of cost in their pursuit of sexual exchange, they will be unwilling to hand over the same amount of cash as before if non-monetary costs (risks and transaction cost) are increased.

“End demand” policies are thus unlikely to reduce the actual amount of commercial sexual exchanges, but it shifts the distribution of cost buyers incur from the direct payment toward the non-monetary costs of risks and transaction costs. It means that while buyers are incurring an equivalent level of cost overall, sellers are receiving less of it for each transaction. To put it differently, sellers must engage in more transactions than before in order to maintain the same level of income, which pimps and traffickers are sure to insist–and even then, it becomes more and more difficult as other sellers also try to sustain their profitability, further driving down the price through competition.

In addition, “end demand” policies will have two other consequences for the sellers beyond the loss of income, both of which are harmful to the people who either consensually or unconsensually engage in the sex trade. First, they lower the seller’s bargaining power, which is the ability of each side of the transaction to “take the business elsewhere.” When the number of buyers decreases, it leaves sellers with a smaller number of potential buyers to negotiate with, and buyers with a larger number of potential sellers. In a market environment like this, buyers can easily find other potential sellers who might agree to a more beneficial (to the buyer) deal, they have a greater bargaining power that they can take advantage of. Sellers on the other hand cannot afford to lose the business by insisting on a favorable deal, and are pushed into arrangements that are less safe or comfortable, such as engaging in unprotected sex or performing acts they consider degrading.

Second, “end demand” policies change the profile of buyers in the market. Because not all potential buyers assign equal values to the increased risks of arrest and its various consequences or potential loss of reputation, “end demand” policies do not discourage all potential buyers equally: they discourage buyers who are generally more afraid of the risks (or risk-averse), while doing little to deter those who are impulsive and thrill-seeking (or risk-seeking). It seems reasonable to assume that members of the latter group are more interested in having unprotected sex and more likely to assault the person engaging in the sex trade than do those in the former group who are afraid of potential health, legal, and physical risks.

If I were an academic economist, I could not get away with hypothesizing the potential consequences of “end demand” approach, as I am doing now, without testing it against the actual data. But I am not an economist and I am concerned that proponents of “end demand” approach never even address what might happen when the demand actually begins to fall as a result of the policies they advocate: they seem to be operating under a vague sense that reducing demand means less prostitution and therefore less sex trafficking. I might not have an econometric proof of my model, but they do not even have a model that is worth testing.

It is this complete lack of concern and care for the well-being of the people they are ostensibly trying to protect that frustrates me. From where I stand, “end demand” is bad for all sex workers and others who are consensually engaging in the sex trade, and probably for most people who are forced and/or coerced into the trade as well, possibly even worse (as they are under greater pressure to maintain the same level of revenue after the market crashes). We must demand politicians, celebrities and anti-trafficking organizations that promote “end demand” approach to explain what they are hoping to accomplish and how these policies actually bring about desired changes.

I feel silly, but I made a facebook author page for myself

Date: March 6, 2012

Here it is:
http://www.facebook.com/emigrl2

I’ve been getting lots of friend requests from people I don’t know, and most of them come without any message or introduction. I’m not a “purist” who wants to limit facebook connections to people I know elsewhere, but I also don’t want to add any people, so I’ve ignored these requests.

With the author page, anyone who is interested in following my work can do so without the need for me to approve them. This is not to discourage anyone who wants to make a more personal connection with me from sending friend requests, but please tell me who you are a little.

The author page will mostly have posts related to my activism, presentations, and writings. I’ve already started an album containing artifacts I’ve created in connection to my activism in the past, such as the flier I distributed as part of Sluts Against Rape contingency for Take Back the Night march in 2001, ten years prior to SlutWalk. More stuff to be added…

So anyway: if you are interested in my work and use facebook, do subscribe to the page :-)

Prostitution should not be treated like “any other job”

Date: February 25, 2012

Over the weekend, Feminist Philosophers blog revised an old hoax (from 2005) that a young German woman was told that she must start working as a prostitute or her unemployment benefit would be cut. Just so I don’t unintentionally spread the story further, IT IS NOT TRUE.

This hoax is part of the anti-prostitution campaign of lies that link all sorts of bad outcomes to the legalization of prostitution in Germany, most notably the thoroughly discredited claim that tens if not hundreds of thousands of women and girls were trafficked into the country as sex slaves during the World Cup 2006 which took place soon after the legalization.

This story does raise a legitimate concern many feminists have, though: if prostitution were to be treated “just like any other job,” as some advocates for sex workers argue, government would begin forcing prostitution as work on unemployed women seeking job or benefits. What’s missing from this analysis is the fact that women at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder are already being forced to accept jobs that dehumanize and demoralize them.

I find it hypocritical for feminists to tolerate this ongoing dehumanization of poor and working-class women, while categorically opposing prostitution. If we find so objectionable that women may be forced to “work as prostitutes,” why do we allow women to be forced to work in other fields that the person may find equally distressing and dehumanizing?

I don’t agree that sex work should be treated “like any other job” because “any other job” that is available to women facing multiple oppressions tend to be horrible. Sex work needs to be treated like how any job should be treated, which is with respect, dignity, and self-determination. Nobody should be forced (either by force or by economic necessity) to work in jobs that she feels is deeply dehumanizing–which for many women, though not all, include prostitution, and may include many other forms of labor.

New button for college instructors

Date: February 4, 2012

RTF Syllabus Button

Masculinist leftie news site and rad-fem blogger? The strange bedfellows that sexualize and oversimplify the anti-trafficking discourse

Date: December 20, 2011

A couple of days ago, leftist news site AlterNet.org re-published my Bitch magazine article about the anti-trafficking movement through some sort of syndication agreement between the two outlets (I’m sure), but with a twist: AlterNet has chosen to change the title, and to include a different image to go along with the article.

Here’s the Bitch version, which was published with the title “Trade Secrets: The tough talk of the new anti-trafficking movement” (which isn’t a particularly good title, but it’s not offensive in any way):

Bitch article

The AlterNet version looks like this, with the new, salacious title, “Christian Fundamentalists and Private Military Contractors? The Strange Bedfellows of the Sex Slavery Anti-Trafficking Movement”:

AlterNet article

As the user antipropagandamachine points out,

Ironic that an article warning against sensationalizing rape slavery for partisan politicking should be renamed to front AlterNet’s #1 and #2 enemies, add the word “sex”, and toss in an unnecessarily salacious reference to “bedfellows.”

I would also add AlterNet’s decision to use a picture of a woman walking on the sidewalk taken from behind resembles just about every mainstream media outlet’s behavior when they publish stories about prostitution or sex trafficking. I’m so sick of this, as I am of the salacious expression chosen by AlterNet editors for the title. Oh well, at least the woman appears to be dressed warm.

In the meantime, the radical feminist blogger womononajourney left a comment dismissive of my work, characterizing my position as simply “in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution” and suggesting that I am working to preserve men’s access to women’s sexuality and “women’s rape-ability,” hence “women’s subordination.” She wrote:

I am not in favor of the military apparatus or racial profiling, but I have to notice that it is issues pertaining to women’s rape-ability that get this sort of attention. Could it be that since women’s sexuality is the ground zero of women’s subordination, this is the one area where men MUST keep access at all costs?

I find that most people who take this “hands off” stance on sex trafficking are really in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution, which if you check out Emi’s website, she is. It makes little sense to me to avoid taking an anti-prostitution stance just because the Christian Right also takes one. A feminist stance against prostitution is for entirely different reasons than a conservative christian one.

I posted a response to her, which goes like this:

For someone who claims to have read my blog, you seem to be conveniently neglecting that I have been publicly criticizing sex worker’s rights movement and its (feminist and non-feminist) supporters for their over-emphasis on promoting decriminalization and destigmatization of prostitution. In fact, I specifically wrote in this very article you are responding to that decriminalization/legalization of prostitution (or any other legal classification) is not the answer.

My perspective is that, while yes I do support decriminalization because I don’t think my friends and I deserve to be arrested and prosecuted for surviving and supporting families through sex trade (what feminist does?), I don’t think that this is the most important issue affecting people in the sex trade. I think that the privileging of decriminalization as a core demand of the sex workers’ movement and its allies reflects the interest of white middle-class sex workers and their clients, much like the over-emphasis on same-sex marriage reflects the interest of certain kind of queers over others, or on abortion rights reflects the interest of certain kind of women.

You may also find, if you are actually paying attention, that I only mentioned the term “sex work” or “sex worker” in the context of referring to the sex worker’s movement or sex work “controversy,” or in a quote. I intentionally avoided the term (instead using a more value-neutral “sex trade”) because I wanted to move away from the simplistic “is sex work oppressive violence or liberating choice?” debate, and talk substance about forces that harm women in the sex trade and how we are fighting back.

I find it disturbing that someone who claims to be a feminist and to have actually read my blog thinks that she can distort and dismiss another woman’s point of view, mislabeling it as simply “in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution” when I am explicitly criticizing that as a false emphasis. I wrote this article precisely because the sort of over-simplification and dumbing down of our conversations about sex trafficking and sex trade that your comment exemplifies harm women and others who are engaged in the sex trade.

Indeed, I actually pointed out in the article itself that rad-fem critics of the institution of prostitution are at odds with the Christian fundamentalists in the anti-trafficking movement, and argued that feminists of all persuasions have a chance to work together. It’s one thing if womononajourney disagreed with this sentiment, but she appears to be confirming what I wrote about the differences between radical feminist and Christian fundamentalist opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking, all the while accusing me of failing to recognize the difference.


12/20/2011 update

User womononajourney responded to my comment, once again trying to paint me as a pro-porn, pro-prostitution sex libertarian. My response to her is below:

I think this is important to make readers aware of since decriminalization and trafficking are interlinked.

You have no basis for this claim. No legal jurisdiction in which prostitution was decriminalized allow trafficking of women and others for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and in fact it reduces the ability of traffickers to control their victims and increases the victims’ ability to seek help.

So I was correct in asserting that you support decriminalization.

Are you saying that my friends and I deserve to be arrested and imprisoned for surviving and supporting our families through prostitution? I am shocked. I thought that radical feminists supported decriminalizing at least the selling of sex acts…

Furthermore, I do not endorse “hands off” approach which you associate with the decriminalization/legalization camp. I just don’t believe that the capitalist, patriarchal state with its prison and military industrial complexes has women’s best interest at heart. That does not mean that there isn’t a need for feminist intervention.

You point out correctly, as I also explained in the article, that feminist and fundamentalist Christian opposition to prostitution are not the same. Why is it so difficult for you to recognize also that feminist and libertarian support for decriminalization are different?

Have you not also started the Portland State University’s Porn Club? Let’s get real about your position in this debate, emi.

Indeed, I along with a couple of friends at Portland State University started Porn Club, whose goal was to appreciate and make feminist alternatives to the misogynistic and racist mainstream porn. What’s so scandalous about it?

How did you find out about Porn Club? We only met once or twice at a cafe to discuss what we wanted to do, and it fizzled away. As someone who had to deal with a stalker who followed me across the continent and showed up in front of my apartment, I find it creepy that you went back so far in my past to uncover something I had long forgotten about.

Why do you continue to rely on ad hominem attack on me (which aren’t even accurate–I don’t fit the description of the prototypical pro-porn, pro-prostitution feminist that you are trying to paint me as), rather than engaging in the content of what I actually wrote? It’s very disappointing and depressing that someone who claims to be a feminist does nothing but attacking women.

I Heart Google Ngram Viewer.

Date: December 14, 2011

I just discovered Google books Ngram Viewer, which lets users find out historical changes in usage frequencies of particular words or phrases in its vast catalogue of scanned books. It’s not perfect, but a very good tool to analyze how our vocabularies have changed over time. Just as an example, here’s the comparison of terms “transgender,” “transsexual,” and “transvestite” (click for larger graph).

Google Ngram: transgender, transsexual, transvestite

As you can see, both “transsexual” and “transvestite” were used commonly in the literature until the 1990s, when “transgender” started to become more popular. Just to give you the perspective: Kate Bornstein’s “Gender Outlaw” was published in 1994; Leslie Feinberg’s “Transgender Warriors” came out in 1996.

In my zine, “War on Terror & War on Trafficking,” I pointed out that the term “human trafficking” came into popular usage since around 2000. The chart below, which compares frequencies of “human trafficking,” “involuntary migration,” and “forced prostitution” confirms this.

Google Ngram: human trafficking, involuntary migration, forced prostitution

Here’s another interesting graph, comparing the usages of “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” “bisexual,” and “queer.”

Google Ngram: homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, queer

You can see that the word “queer” was commonly used before the 1970s, but probably for different meaning: in the 1970s and 1980s when the word was increasingly recognized as a slur against LGBT+ people, its usage dropped. However in the 1990s the word “queer” makes a comeback as a self-identified label for LGBT+ people, surpassing clinically-sounding “homosexual.”

Chart below shows how current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s middle name was dropped from popular usage after she went from the First Lady to a politician on her own light. I know that during the 2008 primary election pollsters were showing different polling results depending on whether or not “Rodham” was mentioned, so it makes sense that she strategically dropped the middle name and became Hillary Clinton.

Google Ngram graph

Finally, here’s a fun comparison between “womyn,” “womon,” and “wimmin” as to which one is the most popular alternative spelling of “women”:

Google Ngram: womyn,womon,wimmin

Isn’t this fun?

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