Sex Work and Human Rights

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Pinned Post: Copyright Notice

“Receiving credit for an image we created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.” – Tony Wu, Photographer

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.Credit is also not a substitute for asking for permission to use an image. Unfortunately, there have been several cases of photos from this or my other blogs being used elsewhere without my express permission and at times without respecting the Creative Commons License. Unless credited otherwise, all photos on this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Any use, in particular any commercial use, requires my prior permission. The use of Yeoni Kim’s photos on this blog is prohibited. If you wish to use them, please contact me to facilitate communication with her.

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December 17th Video Campaign by Voice4Sexworkers

Originally posted on Research Project Germany:

December 17th – International Day To End Violence against Sex Workers

“This video is meant to symbolize and show the diversity in sex work. Talk TO us not just about us. #StigmaKills and thats why we are all fighting for more rights and against violence, criminalization and discrimination of sex workers all over the world.” –Voice4Sexworkers, a project by and for sex workers in Germany

“Originally conceptualized by Annie Sprinkle and initiated by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered workers from cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence. During the week of December 17th, sex worker rights organizations and their allies stage actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly…

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#IDEVASW – Messages from South Korea

Lucien Lee and Yeoni Kim - Photos by Lucien Lee. All Rights Reserved.

Lucien Lee (left), Yeoni Kim (right). Photos by Lucien Lee. All Rights Reserved.

Messages on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

“When the US go for a war, they say they want to liberate those who they are shooting at. Abolitionists say they want to liberate sex workers by ending demand, that is, their income source. Both of those freedom fighters should stop and look at the death count achieved by their violent operations.” – Lucien Lee (이류시연), South Korean MTF transgender sex worker activist

“Sex workers are placed in harsh environments due to social stigma and difficult legal situations. South Korea’s Constitutional Court must finally rule on the constitutionality of the Anti-Sex Trade Laws, which on November 25th, claimed yet another life when a 24-year-old sex worker and single mother in Tongyeong jumped from a motel and died while trying to escape a police crackdown. Sex workers are also human beings. Sex workers also have rights. Sex workers will no longer stay in the shadows. We will rise, we will move forward, we will fight to end violence against sex workers.” – Yeoni Kim, South Korean sex worker activist – Yeoni Kim, South Korean sex worker activist

“To help raising awareness of the regularity with which violence is committed against sex workers, I share nearly every report I come across dealing with attacks on and murders of sex workers, together with the #StigmaKills hashtag first used in the aftermath of the violent murders of Petite Jasmine and Dora Özer in July 2013. More often than not, these reports are written in manners that actually contribute to the stigmatisation of sex workers, which in turn contributes to the very violence they report about. Prostitution abolitionists talk endlessly about the violence they believe clients commit by the mere fact that they pay sex workers for their services, but you never hear a peep out of them about actual violence committed by law enforcement officers, whose operations they actually support, or about the negative impact of sensationalist and inaccurate media reports on sex workers’ safety. Instead, they call for taking away sex workers’ incomes by criminalising their clients, and they support forcing sex workers to register with the police, undergo mandatory health checks, or enter diversion programmes. To end violence against sex workers, it is vital to train police officers and journalists to treat sex workers with the respect they deserve.” – Matthias Lehmann, German researcher, currently in South Korea

IDEVASW - Image by Research Project Korea

December 17th – International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was created to call attention to crimes committed against sex workers all over the world.

“Originally conceptualized by Annie Sprinkle and initiated by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered workers from cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence. During the week of December 17th, sex worker rights organizations and their allies stage actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers.” – SWOP-USA – Click to continue reading.

June 29th – Korean Sex Workers’ Day

In South Korea, the key date for sex workers is June 29th. On this day, the National Solidarity of Sex Workers Day was organised, after the Special Anti-Sex Trade Laws were passed in 2004. Since then, the date is commemorated as Korean Sex Workers Day to honour all sex workers who have contributed to the struggle against discrimination over the years.

Click here to find out more about other important dates of the sex workers‘ rights movement

#IDEVASW – Images from around the world

Click here to view many more images (and more details about them) tweeted and shared on December 17th.

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Kuosmanen: La loi contre l’achat de sexe crée un faux optimisme

Jari Kuosmanen - Photo by Åbo Underrättelser. All Rights Reserved.Questionnant la loi contre l’achat de sexe: Jari Kuosmanen, professeur associé au Département de Travail Social de l’Université de Göteborg, dit que l’offre et la demande pour des services sexuels en Suède n’a pas diminué depuis la fin des années 1990. Photo: Åbo Underrättelser.

A propos de cette traduction

En 2014, le Parlement Européen, l’Assemblée d’Irlande du Nord, et le Parlement Canadien ont vote en faveur de lois qui criminalisent l’achat de services sexuels, une mesure communément référée comme le Modèle Suédois. Pendant ce temps, la Commission Spéciale du Sénat français, la Chambre des Communes du Royaume Uni, et la Commission électorale de Justice du Parlement Néo-Zélandais ont rejeté une telle démarche.

Les défenseurs du Modèle Suédois prétendent que la loi a mené à une diminution du nombre d’acheteurs et de vendeurs de services sexuels. Cependant, selon Ann Jordan de l’Université Américaine Centre pour les Droits Humains et le Droit Humanitaire, le gouvernement suédois ne sait en fait pas “si la loi a causé une quelconque réduction du nombre d’acheteurs de services sexuels, de travailleurSEs du sexe, de victimes de traite, ou de travailleurSEs du sexe migrantEs”. Comme Jordan l’explique, les affirmations d’un ‘succès’ manquent de preuves fiables, et la source de ces affirmations “est principalement un court résumé en anglais d’un rapport du gouvernement”.

Tandis que le travail sexuel de rue a initialement chuté, Jay Levy et Pye Jakobsson soutiennent que la recherche suggère qu’il est depuis retourné à ses niveaux antérieurs, et qu’il reste difficile de savoir si le déclin initial a été causé par la loi ou d’autres facteurs. En ce qui concerne la baisse présumée des acheteurs de services sexuels, les chercheuses suédoises Susanne Dodillet et Petra Östergren soulignent que le résumé en anglais mentionné ci-dessus cite une enquête, qui suggère que moins d’hommes ont acheté des services sexuels en comparaison à une étude de 1996, mais il oublie cruellement de citer les réserves exprimées par la personne qui l’a elle-même conduite: Jari Kuosmanen. Alors que les défenseurs du Modèle Suédois et les activistes anti-prostitution continuent de citer ses résultats comme preuve soutenant leurs opinions, Kuosmanen explique dans cette interview le manque de preuves de l’efficacité de la loi.

S’il vous plait, notez que le droit d’auteur pour cet article réside avec Åbo Underrättelser et n’est pas sous license Creative Commons.

La loi contre l’achat de sexe crée un faux optimisme | Par Dan Lolax

Les politiciens Finlandais qui veulent suivre l’approche suédoise et introduire une interdiction totale d’acheter des services sexuels devraient réfléchir à deux fois. Il n’y a rien pour étayer l’allégation que la prostitution a diminué en Suède depuis que le pays a établi la loi en 1999, dit Jari Kuosmanen, professeur associé à l’Université de Göteborg, qui a été le premier à évaluer les effets de la loi. Selon lui, le problème est que les politiciens n’ont pas base le changement de législation sur la recherche. Read the rest of this page »

Response from the Wall Street Journal

Update to the previous post “Journalism that harms, not helps: A response to Yewon Kang”

Journalism that harms, not helps - Research Project KoreaAfter contacting the Wall Street Journal’s Asia Editor Paul Beckett to request a review of Yewon Kang’s article, I received an email from South Korea Bureau Chief Alastair Gale, from which he permitted me to quote here. With regards to the statements by Yeoni Kim, Mr Gale wrote:

“I have discussed this with Ms. Kang, who has notes of the comments made to her by Mr. [sic] Kim in the interview. It is not clear to me why Ms. Kim would’ve changed her story but it appears to me she has.”

As I responded to him, I have been in close contact with Ms Kim for several years, and in my view, it simply made no sense that she would suddenly turn around and tell a journalist she didn’t even know the complete opposite of what she’s told me on numerous occasions, i.e. that she exclusively works in establishments with managers, which is exactly what she said in her comments included in the critique.

With regards to the claim by Ms Kang that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family had refused to release the results from a 2010 report, Mr Gale explained that Ms Kang was apparently referring to particular results that weren’t included in the report when it was eventually published. I maintain that at the very least, her remarks are ambiguous, since they suggest that the ministry suppressed an entire report, which is untrue.

Finally, Mr Gale stated that he discussed with Ms Kang my criticism that the story lacked “additional information and background”, when I had actually explicitly referred to Ms Kang’s failure to draw any conclusions about what changes of the law might be necessary to improve the current situation and to mention anything about the frequent violations of sex workers’ rights and the dangers caused by police crackdowns. Both were among the motivations Ms Kang had stated when she first contacted me in June of this year. Mr Gale responded,

“I’ve talked with Ms. Kang about her reporting and research and I feel the story is a fair reflection of the reality of the sex industry in South Korea, including the risks for sex workers from crackdowns by the authorities.”

Where Mr Gale found these risks reflected in Ms Kang’s article continues to elude me, as the article only contains a reference to their economic impact but none about human rights violations.

Needless to say, Ms Kim and a colleague of hers whom I discussed Mr Gale’s response with were not amused with his complete refusal to acknowledge any of the problems in Ms Kang’s article. As for Ms Kang, she never bothered to respond to the critique, but judging from her article, it hardly came as a surprise.

Journalism that harms, not helps: A response to Yewon Kang

Response to Yewon Kang’s article “South Korea’s Sex Industry Thrives Underground a Decade After Crackdown” at the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time blog

Sex work is work. Don't silence us. - Sign by Giant Girls. Photo by Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.“Sex work is work. Don’t silence us.” Sign by Giant Girls.
Photo by Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Summary

In her article, Yewon Kang failed to mention anything about the repeated protests by sex workers against the Anti-Sex Trade Laws, about the frequent violations of sex workers’ rights, and about the dangers caused by police crackdowns and undercover sting operations. Instead of correctly conveying what a sex worker had told her about her work, she fabricated, misrepresented and misquoted her statements. Kang’s article adds to a public discourse already influenced by prejudices, misinformation and sensationalism, and in doing so, she harms sex workers who demand to have their rights protected, instead of having them further eroded by an increase in police crackdowns.

Foreword

When I recently wrote an email to a journalist in the Middle East, who had written about sex work and prostitution laws in his country, I was impressed by the positive and constructive exchange that developed. In his response, he thanked me for recognising that one certainly couldn’t expect journalists to be experts on every subject they write about, and added that he welcomed it when researchers and experts took the time to open up the dialogue. As a result of our exchange, he tried to convince his editor to change the photo that had accompanied his article, responded well to the points I had raised, and finally, he offered to introduce me to his contacts at local NGOs offering services to sex workers, should I wish to get in touch with them. By doing so, he singlehandedly restored some of the faith I had long lost in journalists writing about sex work.

With this article, however, Yewon Kang and her editors at the Wall Street Journal have tipped the scale back to where it was, and it adds insult to injury that it was published in the immediate aftermath of a 24-year old Korean single mother and sex worker jumping to her death to escape a police sting operation, leaving behind her baby and sick father. My response to Yewon Kang is motivated by my indignation that she deliberately chose to misrepresent and omit important facts. To make matters worse, she not only misrepresented a sex worker’s comment by taking it out of context, she even attributed a statement to her that she never made. Ms Kang had initially informed me that she wanted to convey the voices of different stakeholders to show the impact of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws on their lives and work and to explore what each of them thought would be the best model with regards to prostitution legislation. In her final email less than two weeks ago, she assured me that neither her nor her editors were trying to misrepresent anything, and that all her efforts in writing this article were to raise awareness for the ineffectiveness of the law and how it drives sex workers underground, exposing them to greater risks. Yet, she never replied after I pointed out numerous problems in her draft and explained to her why I wouldn’t want to be quoted in it.

Well-informed readers will find none of the following surprising, but since there is too little credible information available about the situation of sex workers in South Korea and since Ms Kang claimed she cares about the dangers the current laws cause for them, I take this opportunity to illustrate that regardless of whatever good intentions she claims to have had, the result is a rather hellish article.

The positives

The photos by Man Chul Kim that are used in Yewon Kang’s article show Cheongnyangni 588, a well-known red light district in Seoul. They depict clean and orderly facilities and the photographer avoided showing anyone’s face. Together with the image descriptions, which explain how the Anti-Sex Trade Laws have forced most brothels to close, and the statement by ‘Choi Min Seo’, a sex worker who is said to prefer the safety of a brothel to offering sexual services online, the overall impression is that the author indeed wanted to highlight that legalising or decriminalising sex work would lead to safer working conditions. If that is in fact her opinion, it is all the more puzzling why she chose to misrepresent so many aspects in her article.

Police crackdowns and human rights abuses

Kang mentions “crackdowns” both in the title and four more times in her article. Titles need to be catchy and “crackdown” probably seemed catchier than “adoption of Anti-Sex Trade Laws”; but titles should also be accurate and so “a decade after crackdowns intensified” would have been more appropriate, since they are ongoing and at times intensifying.

Kang writes that the “free-wheeling red-light districts that once dotted many of South Korea’s major cities have been mostly tamed” and that the few which remained “face the threat of police raids”, which she describes as “the law’s successes”. But citing “people who follow the industry”, she states that “the country’s sex trade continues to flourish underground”, and an officer from the National Police Agency knows why: “we just don’t have the manpower” to broaden the crackdowns.

Kang then cites Kim Kang Ja, a former senior police officer in Seoul, who confirms that “money and manpower allocated for tackling the sex trade has never been sufficient for a systematic approach to the issue”. Kim is also quoted as saying that “the current approach only pushes the industry further underground and makes business owners more guileful”.

What Kang omits here, however, is that in 2012, Kim Kang Ja caused quite a stir when she proposed to amend the law to allow brothels to operate in designated areas.

“No matter how hard we try to regulate prostitution and get rid of it, it will always exist. There will always be women who work in the industry and it is virtually impossible not only to crack down on all of them, but also to have a sufficient budget that will help them get out of the business. … That is why we need to allow them to continue to make a living. … Having prostitution out in the open will benefit the women who work in the industry as the government will make efforts to prevent the exploitation of them and violations of their rights, which are now rampant.” – Kim Kang Ja in September 2012

“It is a serious issue that the human rights of prostitutes are infringed upon while their most basic right to make a living is not guaranteed.” – Kim Kang Ja in October 2012

Although some of the other views Kim expressed were questionable, the fact that Kang omits her widely discussed proposal seems odd, at the very least, since she had wanted to shed a light on that very aspect.

Other than Kim’s ambiguous statement that brothel owners have become more “guileful”, Kang only refers to the economic impact of police raids, when she quotes sex worker ‘Choi Min Seo’ who states that she has to work twice as much as before to earn the same amount of money. Kang makes no mention whatsoever of human rights abuses against sex workers during police crackdowns, although she later refers to physical and verbal abuse by clients. And so I sent her the following comment.

“At no point do you mention any abuse by the police, although all sex workers I’ve ever talked to have mentioned it to me, and it was also included in my response to you. I understand that no article can include everything, but by mentioning abuse by clients and omitting abuse by the police, you perpetuate the idea that sex workers experience abuse only by clients, which is untrue.” Excerpt from an email to Yewon Kang, 22/11/2014

Kang deliberately ignored my objections and instead quoted two police sources calling for more resources for crackdowns, which she labelled a success of the Anti-Sex Trade Laws. Given the information she was given (see also next paragraph), this isn’t a mere oversight, it’s a deliberate misrepresentation, supporting the call for more resources for the police to conduct more crackdowns. And given the tragic death of a sex worker this week, who tried desperately to escape a police crackdown, it is cynical beyond belief.

Fabricating, misrepresenting, and misquoting statements

Kang writes that ‘Kim Yeo-ni’ sells sex over “over the Internet, connecting with clients through websites that are disguised as social meetup sites” and that she “prefers to work on her own, instead of in a brothel”.

When I discussed Kang’s article with Yeoni Kim, she stated the following:

“I am very angry. Yewon Kang lies in her article. I never met customers over the Internet. I don’t like it and I told her that. It is very dangerous so I never do that. I only work in shops with managers, and I told her that, too. The person she describes is not me.” – Yeoni Kim, quoted with her kind permission

In the passage already mentioned above, Kang also writes that Kim “experienced physical violence and verbal abuse by some of her clients”.

“This was taken out of context. I got beaten in an environment where there was no manager around at the time to watch out. I explicitly told her that I am worrying about the entire industry going underground and that it has become so dangerous due to all the police raids. But she didn’t mention that at all!” – Yeoni Kim, quoted with her kind permission

The fact alone that Kang deliberately fabricated, misrepresented and misquoted Yeoni Kim should suffice to raise serious doubts over her journalistic integrity. But there is more.

More factual errors

Kang quotes statistics from a “2007 report into the industry by the government’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family” (which I already discussed here) and writes that “the ministry conducted another report in 2010 but refused to release the results, saying it had grown difficult to collect reliable data because of the evolving nature of the sex trade.”

While it is certainly true that the reports are unreliable, neither report was conducted by the ministry but got commissioned to the Korea Women’s Development Institute and Seoul National University’s Institute for Gender Research respectively. The 2010 report has indeed been published, even if with a delay, and I sent her the link where she could download it from the ministry’s website. Finally, I had cautioned her that the data in both reports and in the “high-profile media report in 2012”, an article in the Joong Ang Daily, were limited to red light districts only and represented mere guesstimates.

Arguing over “conducted by” and “commissioned by” might seem nit-picky, although why she didn’t correct it eludes me. But deliberately stating that a government ministry suppressed a report despite better knowledge is a clear fabrication on Kang’s part.

Gender bias

As is common for articles about sex work, Kang focuses exclusively on women and leaves out men as well as transgender people, whether they be men, women or non-binary people, all of which are often ignored and erased in articles and debates about sex work, a fact I had raised in our email exchange. With her insistence to focus on women and her abovementioned narrow focus on abusive clients, Kang clearly throws her support behind the common female victim/male perpetrator narrative.

Exit programmes

Kang had wanted to quote my statement that “the exit programmes offered by the government, if you can call them that, are a joke”, and I had also pointed out that the Park administration’s plan “to pay rewards of up to one hundred million won for tip-offs about prostitution activities” but only 400,000 Won as an incentive to exit prostitution “would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.”

As I wrote here, the bare minimum sufficient to survive in South Korea is approx. 600,000 Korean Won for a 1-person household. For a 3-person household, e.g. a single parent with two children, it is approx. 1,300,000 Korean Won. As a comparison, a person working at minimum wage would earn 1,080,000 Won in South Korea (before taxes).

To be fair, perhaps Kang didn’t have any other source who made a critical comment about the government’s exit programmes, after I withdrew my permission to be quoted, and the fact that she provides the equivalent of the monthly stipend in US dollars should allow readers to grasp that it’s nowhere nearly enough to survive. Kang also mentions that the director of the Women’s Rights Support Division at the ministry “declined to elaborate on how effective the exit programs have been” and that the number of people making use of support centres has more than halved between 2005 and 2013. Yet, she states that “the government provides an array of assistance”.

Earlier, Kang falsely states that the ministry suppressed a report, but here, where the facts she gathered suggest that the assistance offered by the government doesn’t fit the needs of those who might otherwise make use of it, she remains silent. A glaring omission, considering we had discussed the very issue.

Conclusion

Kang claims she wanted to show the impact of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws and explore which measures would be useful to improve the current situation. However, she failed to mention anything about the repeated protests by sex workers against the laws, about the frequent violations of sex workers’ rights, and about the dangers caused by police crackdowns and undercover sting operations. Instead of correctly conveying what sex workers had told her about their work, she described them and fabricated, misrepresented and misquoted them. As Laura Agustín, an expert on sex work and migration, accurately summed it up: “Although journalists may ask to speak to ‘real sex workers’, they often just create a general identity to attribute quotations to. Ms Kim could be ‘Korea Sex Worker Everywoman’.”

Kang drew no conclusions whatsoever about what changes might be necessary to improve an untenable situation, although she had ample access to interview partners who could have, and in fact did tell her about it. The only suggestion that appears in her article is to bolster the resources of the police to increase crackdowns.

“Writing about sex work certainly is a minefield. Different people will find different issues important and making everybody happy is quite a difficult task. … Sensitive subject matters, such as the situation of sex workers or other marginalised populations, do require anyone writing about them to go the extra mile to avoid misrepresentations that can negatively affect public opinion and subsequently policy makers.” – Excerpt from emails to Yewon Kang, 17+22/11/2014

In my view, Kang has failed on almost every account. The last thing sex workers in South Korea or anywhere need are articles like hers, as it adds to a public discourse already influenced by prejudices, misinformation and sensationalism. In doing so, she harms sex workers who demand to have their rights protected, instead of having them further eroded by an increase in police crackdowns.


Epilogue

One positive is that Kang consistently uses the term ‘sex worker’, by no means a given in articles in Korean newspapers. (The only time she uses the term ‘prostitute’ is when she quotes a brothel owner.)

Besides that, however, she reverts to a narrative style that is sadly common in articles about sex workers. And while one could think that she perhaps did so unconsciously, it was in fact one of the key points when I explained my reasons for declining to be quoted in her article. In the following, I will highlight just a few examples.

“wearing only lingerie”; “Neon red and blue lights flicker in the narrow alley”; “scantily-clad women”

Police officers wear uniforms; politicians wear formal attire; sex workers wear sexy outfits, and red light districts have neon lights. Yet, you won’t find interviews with police officers or politicians where journalists first describe what they are wearing or describe the lighting at their offices. You might be unaware of it, but this paragraph is sensationalising, and “scantily-clad” is actually a term that tries to evoke pity. – Excerpt from an email to Yewon Kang, 22/11/2014

“women seeking a way out of a life of prostitution”

“a life of prostitution” suggests that if you are a sex worker, your entire life revolves around your work, and the underlying suggestion here is that anyone needs to get out of that life. Just compare it to other professions. Would one also write “life of selling insurances” or “life of politics”? No, one would write, “he wanted to get out of politics” or “she wanted to leave the insurance sector”. ‘Sex worker’ is not an identity but an occupation. – Excerpt from an email to Yewon Kang, 22/11/2014

In 2013, a journalist from German news magazine DER SPIEGEL interviewed sex worker activist Carmen Amicitiae. Although she had made it clear prior to the interview that she was not going to answer any personal questions but only those pertaining to her work and political activism, he went on to describe her as “petite woman, wearing a turtle-neck sweater and baggy trousers” in an article titled “Dark Fantasies”, of which only one fifth dealt with her political work. Amicitiae responded with a counterstatement on her blog and tweeted: “Dear Journalists, please leave my self-portrayal to me! If you want to report about me, then please write about my work or its legal status.”

Just as that SPIEGEL journalist, Kang was made aware of this, but as with everything else, she deliberately chose to ignore it.

Update | December 8th, 2014

“I feel the story is a fair reflection of the reality of the sex industry in South Korea, including the risks for sex workers from crackdowns by the authorities.” – Alastair Gale, the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Bureau Chief.

Find out more in Response from the Wall Street Journal.

“Why are you interested in sex workers’ rights?”

Originally posted on Photogroffee:

JusticeToday, news reached me that yet another sex worker died as a result of laws criminalising sex work. A 24-year old woman in South Korea jumped out of a hotel room on the 6th floor to escape arrest by an undercover police officer who had posed as a client. She suffered severe injuries and died in the early morning hours at a nearby hospital. Although I suppose I am somewhat hardened by the many deaths of sex workers I have read or been told about over the last years, this one hit closer to home, maybe because I’ve lived in South Korea and can therefore imagine the environment in which this tragedy happened better than in most other parts of the world.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered the countless times people have asked me why I am interested in the cause of sex workers’ rights, and on…

View original 228 more words

Why do abolitionists have to lie or fantasise?

Mock version of the Feminist Current logoMock version of the Feminist Current’s “dandelying” logo

Guest post by Dr Calum Bennachie in response to Samantha Berg’s article “From Norway to New Zealand, pro-prostitution research is its own worst enemy” on Feminist Current, a Canadian blog created by Meghan Murphy.


In her article, Berg claims the number of street-based sex workers in Auckland had increased following the decriminalisation of sex work. In the following, I respond to her claims.

Berg, like Melissa Farley and others, deliberately read the information out of context. In her introduction, she cites Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf:

“For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

Yet, this is exactly what she is doing. Or perhaps it’s because she did not know how to read a report. The report clearly states:

2.3.2 2007 Re-estimation

A second estimate of the size of the sex industry in the five locations was carried out in 2007. For most centres, the same techniques as those used in 2006 were again employed. However, as noted above, in 2006 Auckland outreach workers did not include street-based workers known to be working but not seen on the nights counts were done. In 2007, the count in Auckland was conducted in the same manner as the Wellington and Christchurch counts in 2006 (and again in 2007).

Table 3 - Re-estimation of Numbers of Sex Workers in Five Areas of New Zealand in June to October 2007

2.3.3 Auckland Results

The increase in numbers of street-based workers in Auckland in 2007 can be partially explained by the different methodologies used to estimate numbers of street-based workers in 2006 and 2007. However, the CSOM study also notes that the Auckland outreach workers had seen an increase in the number of sex workers on the street in the six to eight months prior to June 2007. The Auckland NGO ‘Streetreach’ report an increase in street-based sex workers in Auckland between August and November 2007 (Streetreach, 2007).

In the 2006 count, outreach workers in Auckland only included those who were working on the street during that period. In the 2007 count, they included all people who had worked on the streets in the preceding 12 months. Furthermore, the Committee continually asked Streetreach to provide evidence of their claims of an increase, yet they could not.

Perhaps she should also have read the following.

2.6.4 Claims that Numbers Have Increased

The Committee is aware of reports claiming the numbers of sex workers, and in particular street-based sex workers, have increased as a result of decriminalisation. Addressing these claims forms a substantial part of this chapter. Often, the increases have been reported in general terms, based on impressions, rather than citing actual numbers. One exception is the claim that the numbers of street-based sex workers in Auckland increased by 400% as a result of decriminalisation. This claim cannot be substantiated, and was not based on systematic or robust research.

The figure of a 400% increase has been re-reported several times, demonstrating the ease with which opinion can be perceived as ‘fact’. In his speech to the House during the second reading of the Manukau City Council (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill, Gordon Copeland MP attributed the report of a 400% increase to the Maori Wardens’ submission on the Bill in 2006. The Maori Wardens may have been influenced by an article in the NZ Herald in 2005 in which Mama Tere Strickland was reported to say, ‘Numbers have quadrupled since that Bill [Prostitution Reform Act]’ (New Zealand Herald, 2005).

A 400% increase in the numbers of sex workers was predicted prior to the passage of the PRA, and was also claimed in relation to the law reform in New South Wales. This may be the original source of the idea that numbers of sex workers will, or have, increased by such a margin as a result of law reform. Officials advising the Select Committee were unable to find any statistical evidence to support the claim. In addition, the Select Committee noted that ‘there may appear to be a growth in the industry because it becomes less hidden in nature’ (Select Committee, 2002).

In the Committee’s first report, the number of street-based sex workers in Auckland was estimated to be 360 (PLRC, 2005). An increase of 400% would mean there would now be 1,440 sex workers on Auckland’s streets. The Committee considers that the research undertaken by the CSOM conclusively refutes an increase of this magnitude, with the 2007 figures estimating the number of Auckland street-based sex workers at 230.

The figure of 360 for central Auckland that was published in the 2005 report comes from police records and counts, not merely arrests or anecdotal evidence. There were also 150 recorded in South Auckland, in the Counties Manukau policing District. That gives a total of 510 street based sex workers in the Auckland region prior to decriminalisation in 2003. Sometimes abolitionists say that the drop from 360 to 230 is an impossible reduction in street based sex work (let alone a drop from 510 to 230). Firstly, as the report admits, the police figures were cumulative, and so included people who may have moved to another city, or who may have left sex work (yet somehow the police deemed it necessary to continue to keep their name and link it with sex work). Secondly, with decriminalisation, the register the police insisted on keeping was no longer required, and as a result, a large number of street based sex workers began to work indoors as there was no fear that the police would be holding their details.

There does appear to have been a trend of movement from the managed sector to the private sector post-decriminalisation. In 1999, the managed sector comprised 62 per cent of the sex worker population in Christchurch and the private sector 10 per cent. The proportions in 2006 were 51 per cent and 23 per cent respectively. These differences were significant, with workers in Christchurch less likely to be working in the managed sector in 2006 (RR: 0.82; 95 per cent CI: 0.72–0.93) and more likely to be working in the private sector (RR: 2.36; 95 per cent CI: 1.64–3.38) than in 1999. (Abel, Fitzgerald & Brunton, 2009: 524).

There are claims that the Committee was biased because of who was on it. While it did contain three nominees from NZPC – one of who was a noted criminologist from Victoria University of Wellington – and two representative of operators, the Chair was a former Police Commissioner who had worked on the vice squad, and other members included representatives from ECPAT and Streetreach, a Catholic nun working with the homeless and vulnerable, as well as members from the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Local Government who were not necessarily supportive of decriminalisation. Yet abolitionists fantasise that all members supported decriminalisation, and specifically tailored the report to reflect this. This is clearly not true. What is true is that some of the committee members, after reviewing the fact based evidence changed their opinions from being against decriminalisation to being in favour of decriminalisation.

But of course, whatever is said to prove them wrong, the abolitionists, who never talk with sex workers on a daily basis, don’t know their lives, don’t know why they work, or why they work in a particular area of sex work, who don’t accept that for some people sex work is a stabilising influence on what may be an unsettled and chaotic life, will point a finger and go “Ahah! but the report must be wrong because …”, and prefer to continue their own fantasy rather than be struck in the face by reality.

So I ask Samantha Berg, why do anti-sex work campaigners have to lie? Why do they ignore evidence based research, and instead have to fantasise about non-existent issues or make things up that just don’t exist? And how did the abolitionists come up with the often repeated figure “40,000 people trafficked” to **[name of sporting event]**? What evidence do they have to back up their claims? Where is the evidence to support the claims of the abolitionists?


References

Abel, G., (2010). Decriminalisation: A harm minimisation and human rights approach to regulating sex work. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Christchurch: Author.

Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L., & Brunton, C., (2007). The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers: Report to the Prostitution Law Review Committee. Christchurch: Christchurch School of Medicine.

Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L., & Brunton, C., (2009). The Impact of Decriminalisation on the Number of Sex Workers in New Zealand, Journal of Social Policy, 38, 3, 515–531.

Prostitution Law Review Committee, (2005). The Nature and Extent of the Sex industry in New Zealand: An Estimation. Wellington: Ministry of Justice.

Prostitution Law Review Committee, (2008). Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. Wellington: Ministry of Justice.


Dr Calum Bennachie is the Coordinator of PUMP (Pride and Unity among Male Prostitutes), the male sex worker project of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collectives.

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