Sex Work and Human Rights


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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Regarding “Abandoned elderly turn to sex work”

Screenshot VICE UK Report

Screenshot from VICE report (see below)

In his article “Abandoned elderly turn to sex work” that’s currently being re-published by media outlets worldwide, journalist Kim Hyung-Jin quotes Lee Ho-sun, a professor at Korea Soongsil Cyber University, as saying:

“Is this really these elderly women’s dirty problem or is it a problem caused by the ordinary people who point their fingers at them? I think it’s our society’s problem.”

At the start of this year, VICE UK published a video report by Matt Shea about the South Korean Love Industry”, which wasn’t only nonsensical and factually incorrect on many occasions, but also a text book example of unethical journalism as well as of a sexualised orientalist gaze. In that report, Lee Ho-sun appeared as well, although at the time, she was affiliated with a different institution, called Seoul Venture University; the one she is apparently affiliated with now is a private Christian university. Not only did Lee Ho-sun state in the VICE report that “Bacchus Ladies are destroying the traditional sense of value in Korea” but she also didn’t object to – or allowed herself to get tricked into – Matt Shea filming secretly while she interviewed elderly sex workers.

Elderly poverty in Korea in general and the fact that poor elderly turn to sex work to survive are certainly issues that need to be addressed and deserve attention. However, due to the inclusion of statements by Lee Ho-sun, I recommend reading an overall better two-part report by Heo Seung instead, published in 2013 by Hankyoreh, a South Korean daily which has published several respectful pieces on sex work. Please note that this recommendation does not represent an endorsement of all terms used in both the English and the Korean version of the report.

[Special reportage] Elderly prostitution at Jongmyo Park Part I + Part II

할머니, 폐지 주울 바엔 할아버지와…

See also Poverty Porn – In Response to Lucy Williamson, BBC Seoul Correspondent

(Sex) Work Logic

(Sex) Work Logic - translated from the original by erzaehlmirnix

German original by Nadja Hermann. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Posted with kind permission.
See also
“Prostitutes Protection Law Logic”

Ministers from 4 states demand comprehensive overhaul of “Prostitutes Protection Law”

Matthias Lehmann:

The Prostitutes Protection Law “is a bill that continues the discrimination and stigmatisation of people engaging in prostitution and forces many of them into illegality. … The recent resolution by Amnesty International​ underscores yet again that the protection and human rights of prostitutes worldwide must be strengthened. The draft bill, however, considerably worsens the status quo for people engaged in prostitution. Instead of protecting them, it disproportionally puts pressure on prostitutes.”

Originally posted on Research Project Germany:

Ulle SchauwsUlle Schauws MdB (Member of the German Parliament), Green Party*

Wo Schutz drauf steht, muss Schutz drin sein*

*[lit. Where it says protection on the outside, protection must be included]

+++ Update: Clickhereto download the position paper as PDF. This resource is in German. +++

The Green Party believes that the “Prostitutes Protection Law”, submitted by Minister for Family Affairs Manuela Schwesig (Social Democrats), will be subject to approval by the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament. The reason for that is that the Länder (states) are supposed to carry out mandatory health consultations for sex workers and will thus shoulder the financial burden of the law. “Federal laws containing duties for Länder to carry out such services require the approval by the Bundesrat”, writes Ulle Schauws, parliamentary spokeswoman for women’s affairs, in a position paper.

Schauws receives support from ministers Barbara Steffens, Irene…

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Decriminalising sex work is necessary but not enough

Matthias Lehmann:

“Germany is not the role model for decriminalisation”, writes Theodora Becker, a PhD candidate at the Free University Berlin and an activist with Hydra e.V.

Originally posted on Research Project Germany:

Red Umbrellas Kosta CC2.0

“The demand to decriminalise sex work is a necessary step but it doesn’t go far enough.”

By Theodora Becker*

With its decision to issue a recommendation to governments on how to safeguard sex workers’ human rights, Amnesty International has caused outrage, because it includes the demand to decriminalise sex work. What this means is to abolish laws and regulations that either directly subject sex workers to prosecutions, arrests and fines, or criminalise the organisation, support and intermediation of sex work. [According to Amnesty’s draft policy on sex work,] third parties participating in transactional sex should only be penalised, if they exert force and pressure on or violence against sex workers. Clients, too, should not be penalised simply for being clients.

“Germany is not the role model for decriminalisation”

Among opponents of prostitution, this suggestion has caused outrage. They are of the opinion that it would promote pimps, human traffickers and…

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“Thank you, Amnesty, for having been so brave”

Statement by Lucien Lee read out on This Week in Blackness TWiB! AfterDARK #61 by Researchprojectkorea on Mixcloud

[Starts at 36:15] Statement by Lucien Lee, a trans* female sex worker activists from South Korea, in response to Amnesty International’s sex work policy decision,* read out by N’jaila Rhee on episode 61 of This Week in Blackness TWiB! AfterDARK.

Image by Lucien Lee @spermicus All Rights Reserved“This is Lucien Lee from South Korea. I’m a trans woman and at work, I either put on a strap-on and get behind my male clients or receive their penises in me. I’ve been doing this since November 2012. Sex work has given me hope that one day, I will be able to pay for my sex reassignment surgery and lead a life like any other ordinary lesbian. But as it is in the US, sex work is still criminalised in South Korea. If I ever get caught by the police, the fine or bribe I would have to pay would be too much for me. Recently, somebody reported my website, where I advertise my services to potential sex buyers, to the authorities. I was terrified when I got a message from a police officer. The police have never been there for me, like when I was sexually assaulted by a teenager who couldn’t afford to pay for my services. After the incident, I couldn’t go to the police because he threatened to report me for being a prostitute.

I hate everyone who criminalises my work, lets me get raped, and cockblocks my efforts to be a part of the lesbian sisterhood. I’ve been donating monthly to Amnesty for years, and I was thrilled this organisation that has been advocating for all the people in jail who stood up against mandatory military conscription in both Koreas now speaks in favour of all sex workers. I must say, thank you, Amnesty, for having been so brave all these years. Thank you for helping me to help myself. Thank you for protecting me from being raped again. This is Lucien Lee, a godless Seoulite.”

* [1] Global movement votes to adopt policy to protect human rights of sex workers
[2] 국제앰네스티, 성노동자 인권 보호를 위한 정책 채택

“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” – or: Putting SWERFs’ abuse to better use

Peak-Meter 2015 - Image by Research Project KoreaClick image to enlarge

Sex work stigma

If you read any of the articles published in the days before and after Amnesty International’s decision to support decriminalising sex work, e.g. this one by Luca Stevenson and Agata Dziuban, you are now hopefully aware of the immense stigma sex workers are faced with in their everyday lives, affecting not only them but also their families and friends. To a much lesser degree, the stigma can also affect sex workers’ clients, although at worst, they might be faced with ridicule or ostracism, not violent attacks. However, the stigma might well play a role in why clients are rarely seen sacrificing their anonymity to stand up for the rights of sex workers whose services they enjoy. As a researcher, I don’t feel any tangible impact by the stigma attached to sex work research, but I certainly experience my fair share of verbal abuse. Following the Twitter battle before and after Amnesty’s decision, I’ve updated the above peak meter, which I created a couple of years ago, to include the latest labels others have attached to or hurled at me.

This blog post may appear somewhat self-referential but I would actually like to use the labels, good and bad, as vehicles to point readers to several interesting articles, some of which were written by sex workers, others by researchers, not that the two are mutually exclusive, and yet again others by sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs). Please note that the below is by no means intended to compare my experience to the stigma and its consequences faced by sex workers.

Red Labels

[-10] John / Pimp Apologist

Trying to shame sex workers or sex workers’ rights advocates by labelling them “johns” is very common, although it doesn’t really make much sense. After all, if someone believes that consenting adults should be allowed to buy and sell sexual services, being called a “john”, although buying sex carries its own stigma, is pretty much the same as being called a customer, which is hardly an insult.

Page 29 - John's VoiceClick image to read a report by Chris Atchison about sex buyers in Canada

A prostitution prohibitionist using the pseudonym Stella Marr once called me a “pimp apologist” before later deleting her comment. Although she set her own blog to “private” after she was outed, you can still read her libellous article “Pimps Posing as Sex Worker Activists” at the “Anti-Porn Feminists”-blog, in which she slanders veteran sex worker activists Maxine Doogan, Norma Jean Almodovar and the late Robyn Few, founders of the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project (ESPLER), the International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education (ISWFACE), and the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP-USA) respectively.

[-30] Pornstitutionist / Useless A**hole / Sexist Propagandist

Francois Tremblay, in his own words a “pessimistic feminazi, radical whackjob and antinatalist”, responded to a blog post of mine with one of his own, in which he labelled me a “pornstitutionist”, a term, as he explained, “for people who oppose abolitionism in prostitution and pornography”. His post “The strange connection between pornstitutionists and lying” is still online. He later added a postscript with the above mentioned expletive.

After I had posted a series of memes to mock the Hollywood celebrities who had gullibly believed the false claims by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and co-signed a letter to oppose Amnesty‘s draft policy, a self-declared radical feminist tweeted that my memes were “sexist propaganda” and that I should quit insulting women’s intelligence – although my post includes memes mocking male celebrities, too. I wouldn’t usually mock spelling mistakes, but, well…

2015 08 09 Kaera Wolf @Isis7wolf quit quite “sexist propaganda” [1]

[-50] Sleazeball etc.

All of these are comments left about me underneath a post at the “Anti-Porn Feminists”-blog. To get an idea about the barrage of abuse that sex workers are regularly faced with, please read the Storify entry #whenantisattack, gathered by a group of current and former sex workers to highlight the silencing, shaming, abuse and insults by those who oppose sex work.

[-70] Pimp / Trafficker

In 2013, an Irish-based tabloid re-posted a video that YouTube had previously removed since it violated its terms and conditions. In the video, an undercover reporter of the tabloid filmed and outed a sex worker without her consent. In the comment thread underneath the video, a troll called me both a pimp and a trafficker.A Guide to respectful reporting and writing on sex work While that video was a particularly extreme example, media reports regularly add to the stigma attached to sex work, which is why in December 2014, four South African organisations jointly published “A guide to respectful reporting and writing on sex work”. An article about the guide was published in Open Democracy‘s excellent series Beyond Trafficking and Slavery. To download the complete guide as PDF please click here.

The term “pimp lobby” is frequently used by sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs) to slander “anyone who advocates anything but the full criminalization of sex work”. Apart from watching the video below, I recommend reading “Hanging out in the Pimp Lobby” by Jemima, “Everything You Need To Know About The Pimp Lobby” by Charlotte Shane, and “I Am the Pimp Lobby” by Jes Richardson. 

Perhaps the worst insult I’ve experienced was one during the Amnesty #ICM2015 twitter battle, when a Canadian anti-prostitution activist accused me of using the murder of Swedish sex worker activist Petite Jasmine to further my alleged agenda to legalise “sexual slavery”.

2015 08 10 Jem Kim @Im2old4thisship “personal agenda”

Black + Green Labels

[0] Diplomat

A French sex worker activist once told me I wrote even “more politely than English people”. I believe that any movement needs different types of activism and writing. Some of it needs to be fierce; at other times, it’s better to be diplomatic. I’m always up for creating satirical memes, but in my writing, I prefer to be very diplomatic, although when faced with ideologues like Rhoda Grant or Mary Honeyball, that’s not always possible.

[+10] Researcher

What I do.

[+30] Idealist / Activist

What an American and a Turkish friend in South Korea called me. Justice Himel from the Ontario Court of Justice found that anti-prostitution activist Melissa Farley had allowed her advocacy to permeate her opinions. Although Farley’s work has been frequently discredited, anti-prostitution activists continue to cite her in support of sweeping claims about sex work, just as the notorious Cho/Dreher/Neumayer study is constantly rolled out to back up the argument that legalising sex work leads to greater human trafficking inflows, despite the seriously flawed data used to make that argument. I believe on both sides of the divide, it’s sometimes difficult to remain detached when people close to oneself experience violent abuse. When it comes to activism for the rights of sex workers, I believe it’s important to acknowledge what you don’t know and stay clear of problematic arguments. And that’s true regardless of whether you are a sex worker, a researcher, a journalist, an artist, a writer, or any combination of these.

[+50] Sex Worker Ally / Great Partner

What sex workers have called me. Recommended reading on the subject: How to be an ally to sex workers by SWOP Chicago + Want to be a hero for sex workers? Try listening by Tilly Lawless.

[+70] Fabulous / Friend

What the above mentioned French and a South Korean sex worker activist have called me.


My preferred way of dealing with SWERF attacks is to create memes and share them with the #sexwork community or respond with counter evidence to the most ludicrous claims, like the one about sex workers’ rights advocates allegedly living in a land of milk and honey, when actually, it’s faux anti-trafficking organisations who rake in the dough.

2015 08 09 @NoAmnesty4Pimps Claim about funding

Should you experience verbal abuse because you publicly stated your support for policies to safeguard sex workers’ human rights, try not to let it get to you. As American comedian W.C. Fields once put it, “it ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to”.

“Sex workers have the same rights as everyone else” – Press Release by Voice4Sexworkers

Originally posted on Research Project Germany:

Voice4Sexworkers Header

Amnesty International supports the human rights of sex workers and calls for the decriminalisation of sex work

Please click here to view the German original.

At the conclusion of its International Council Meeting in Dublin on August 11th, 2015, Amnesty International voted to henceforward support sex workers’ human rights and call for the decriminalisation of sex work.

Voice4Sexworkers, an NGO by and for sex workers, welcomes the long overdue decision by Amnesty International, as the global sex workers’ rights movement has demanded the very same since decades already.

In Germany, for instance, abolishing the pimping law [§181a of the German Criminal Code] was already suggested in 1973, since labour exploitation and taking advantage of the plight of third parties are already prohibited in accordance with the human trafficking law [§233 of the Criminal Code].*

People who work in the sex trade are not helped by destroying its logistics and…

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