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.
Sexarbeiter*innen und Unterstützer*innen protestieren vor dem südkoreanischen Verfassungsgericht. In der Mitte: Frau Kim Jeong Mi. © 2015 All Rights Reserved.
Due to time constraints, this article will not be translated into English. Please see a short summary at the bottom.
Kommentar zum Artikel „Debatte um Prostitution in Südkorea: Frau Kim kämpft um ihren Job“ von Fabian Kretschmer (taz, Politik/Asien, 1.8.2015).
Prostitution wird als „Job“ bezeichnet, damit also Sexarbeit als Arbeit anerkannt.
Gezeigt wird nicht etwa eins der üblichen Bilder von Bordellen, in denen in Südkorea nur noch vergleichsweise wenige Sexarbeiterinnen arbeiten, sondern ein Bild vom Protest südkoreanischer Sexarbeiterinnen im Jahr 2011. Noch besser wäre gewesen, es wäre ein Bild vom Protest im April diesen Jahres vor dem Verfassungsgericht verwendet worden. (siehe oben)
Ein direktes Zitat von Sexarbeiterin Kim Jeong Mi.
Es wird höchste Zeit, dass die taz endlich die Begriffe Sexarbeit und Sexarbeiter/Sexarbeiterin in ihr Stilbuch aufnimmt. Südkorea „exportiert“ auch keine Sexarbeiter*innen, sondern diese nehmen die vergleichsweise geringeren – aber nicht geringen – Risiken auf sich, im Ausland zu arbeiten, weil die Verdienstmöglichkeiten dort oft besser sind als in Südkorea, wo ihnen ohnehin Razzien, Verhaftungen und Strafen drohen. Der Ausdruck „exportiert“ ist also sowohl unzutreffend – weil Südkorea ja nicht direkt die Migration von Sexarbeiterinnen unterstützt, sondern die harsche Gesetzeslage und die damit einhergehenden Repressionen Sexarbeiterinnen zur Migration zwingen – als er auch unpassend ist, denn Sexarbeiterinnen sind Menschen, die migrieren, keine Ware, die exportiert wird. Auch von einem Marktwert einer Sexarbeiterin zu schreiben, zeugt nicht gerade von Fingerspitzengefühl.
1. Legalisierung vs. Entkriminalisierung
Was die Forderung von Sexarbeiterinnen angeht, ist der Artikel leider zu oberflächlich. Die Forderungen divergieren: wohingegen Frau Kim und die sie unterstützende Organisation Hanteo, Nationale Vereinigung für Sexarbeiterinen, für die Legalisierung regulierter Rotlichtbezirke eintritt, da Hanteo nämlich auch Betreiber*innen angehören, fordern unabhangige Sexarbeiter*innen und Giant Girls, Netzwerk für die Rechte von Sexarbeiterinnen, die generelle Entkriminalisierung der Sexarbeit. Die Unterscheidung zwischen diesen beiden Forderungen ist sehr wichtig und etwas, das man von Journalist*innen gerne erklärt sehen würde, damit Leser*innen die Thematik besser verstehen können.
2. „Kim … verklagte den südkoreanischen Staat“
Richtig ist: Frau Kim verteidigte sich gegen ihre Anklage mit den im Artikel erwähnten Argumenten und verlangte eine verfassungsrechtliche Überprüfung des Anti-Sexhandelsgesetzes, die Oh Won Chan, der Richter der Verhandlung beim Bezirksgerichts in Nord-Seoul, daraufhin einreichte. Dass ein Richter diese Überprüfung einreichte, macht sie so bedeutend, denn vorherige Anfragen zur verfassungsrechtlichen Überprüfung des Gesetzes wurden jeweils von Privatpersonen eingereicht.
3. Zahlen im Allgemeinen und im Speziellen
Die jüngsten Schätzungen – nichts anderes sind sie – sind nicht aus dem Jahr 2007, sondern von 2010. Sie wurden Anfang 2012 schließlich veröffentlicht. Der Bericht mit dem Titel “ Umfrage zum Sexhandel 2010” wurde vom Institut für Gender-Forschung an der Seoul National University angefertigt. Im Vergleich zum Bericht von 2007 hatte das Institut einen Anstieg der Rotlichtbezirke von 35 auf 45 und der Anzahl von dort beschäftigen Sexarbeiterinen von 3.644 auf 3.917 festgestellt. Dieser Anstieg passte natürlich dem auf die Utopie einer Abschaffung der Sexarbeit hinarbeitenden Ministerium nicht, weswegen er zunächst einmal in einer Schublade verschwand.
Nach eingehendem Vergleich mit dem Artikel Choe Sang-Huns in der New York Times – Suit Has South Korea Looking Anew at Its Hard Line on Prostitution – liegt der Verdacht nahe, dass hier schlicht eine gekürzte Version in deutscher Sprache veröffentlich wurde. So stammen die in Choes Artikel erwähnten 8.600 Fälle der Prostitution, in denen Südkoreas Polizei angeblich „derzeit“ ermittelt, vom Jahr 2013, und bei der Anzahl der Sexarbeiterinnen wurde offenbar auf glatte Summen aufgerundet. Das ist so ungenau wie es unnötig ist. Ebenso unnötig ist die Aussage, Prostitution sei in Südkorea „so allgegenwärtig wie in kaum einen anderen OECD-Staat“, denn es gibt keine verlässlichen Zahlen, auf die sich solche Behauptungen stützen ließen, auch in Südkorea nicht. Die sogenannten Regierungsschätzungen sind in Wahrheit zweifelhafte Schätzungen von Forschungsinstituten.
4. Todesfälle von Sexarbeiterinnen
Gut ist, dass das Feuer in Gunsan Erwähnung findet. Allerdings war dies kein isolierter Fall. Fünf Sexarbeiterinnen starben bereits bei einem ersten Feuer in Gunsan im Jahr 2000; 2001 kamen vier weitere Sexarbeiterinnen bei einem Feuer in Busan ums Leben; dann starben wie im Artikel erwähnt 14 weitere Sexarbeiterinnen bei einem zweiten Feuer in Gunsan. Durch diese Verkettung extremer Unglücksfälle gelang es Prostitutionsgegnerinnen danach, eine Verschärfung der Prostitutionsgesetzbegung durchzusetzen.
Alles in allem ist Fabian Kretschmers Artikel einer der besseren, aber insbesondere die teils sehr unpassende Wortwahl und der unnötige Fokus auf nicht belegte, nicht aktuelle und ungenau wiedergegebene Zahlen sind sehr zu bemängeln. Es gibt einige Anzeichen, die vermuten lassen, dass hier der Beitrag von Choe Sang Hun in der New York Times „recycled“ wurde, der im Vergleich sehr viel mehr Einblicke in die aktuelle Situation von Sexarbeiterinnen in Südkorea bot. So wäre besonders eine genauere Erklärung wünschenswert gewesen, für welche Rechte sich Sexarbeiterinnen in Südkorea engagieren, da dies auch in Hinsicht auf die aktuelle Debatte in Deutschland interessant ist. Zum anderen wäre es angebracht gewesen, das südkoreanische Prostitutionsgesetz genauer zu beleuchten, von dem Prostitutionsgegner*innen wiederholt behaupten, es ähnelte dem Schwedens, was eine glatte Lüge ist. In dem Zusammenhang hätten weitere Einzelheiten über Menschenrechtsverletzungen bei Polizeirazzien in Südkoreas Rotlichtbezirken erwähnt werden können. Positiv zu erwähnen ist die gute Wahl des Titels, des begleitenden Fotos und der Bildunterschrift, und dass überhaupt über dieses Thema berichtet wird. Angesichts der üblichen Berichterstattung über Sexarbeit bzw. über Südkorea ist dies nämlich durchaus keine Selbstverständlichkeit.
The above are a few quick comments about Fabian Kretschmer’s article “Debate about prostitution in South Korea: Miss Kim is fighting for her job”. While overall, the article is informative and provides some of the key points of the current debate in South Korea, the terminology used is inept and a quick fact check reveals several inaccuracies and crucial omissions. As is often the case, Mr Kretschmer (or his editor) seem to have felt the need to include statistics, although no reliable data about sex work in South Korea is available, not even in the reports commissioned by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Positive are the choice of title, photo and caption, all of which are by no means a matter of course, and the fact that a German newspaper reported at all about the ongoing constitutional review of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law.
Janice Raymond’s Ouija Board (Source: Wikipedia)
In an exclusive for OpEdNews, a US-based website for political and social analysis, radical feminist Janice Raymond responded to sociologist Julie Kaye’s opinion piece in the New York Times, titled “Canada’s Flawed Sex Trade Law”, in which Kaye criticised the Canadian government for having merely replaced one flawed policy with another by passing Bill C-36.  It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so serious an issue, that of all people, Raymond felt she was in a position to criticise Kaye for ignoring evidence. Responding to claims made by Raymond surely is not what gets me up in the morning but I decided to do so due to the sheer amount of misinformation put forward by her, including continuing to misrepresent South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws. The statements from reports and articles listed below will illustrate that ignoring evidence is in fact Raymond’s very own modus operandi.
Alleged increase of human trafficking during sport events
Raymond is indignant that someone could have the audacity to challenge “the numbers of women and girls sexually exploited during sports events”. In the report “What’s the cost of a rumour? A guide to sorting out the myths and the facts about sporting events and trafficking”, Julie Ham wrote:
“There is a very wide discrepancy between claims that are made prior to large sporting events and the actual number of trafficking cases found. There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.”
And in a study commissioned by the European Football Association (UEFA), Martina Schuster, Almut Sülzle, Agnieszka Zimowska wrote:
“As in our previous analysis of major football events, we suggest that the topic of human trafficking should not be brought up in connection with such events, since this is detrimental to efforts to help victims. Before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, for example, various campaigns predicted an increase in human trafficking, which did not materialise. As a result, the organisations concerned were no longer taken seriously by the public because their predictions had been so inaccurate.”
Finally, Ruth Krčmář, Coordinator of the International Organisation for Migration’s Counter Trafficking Programme in the Ukraine stated:
“NGO case data as well hotline responses show no evidence that human trafficking surged before or during the EURO 2012. The scare of increased human trafficking for sexual exploitation comes up every time there is a large sporting event on the horizon, although our experience only reinforces earlier findings in other countries. We hope that studies like ours will eventually put an end to the myth, which results in scarce counter-trafficking resources being spent on one-off campaigns rather than long-term solutions and victim assistance.”
You say ‘Nordic’, I say ‘Swedish’, let’s call the whole thing off
With regards to Raymond’s conflation of different countries’ prostitution laws as ‘Nordic Model’, May-Len Skilbrei and Charlotta Holmström wrote:
“We found that the differences not only between, but also within, the Nordic countries are too great for there to be anything like a shared ‘Nordic’ model – and that the case for their success is far more fraught than popular support would suggest. Only Sweden, Norway and Iceland have acts unilaterally criminalising the purchase of sex. Finland has a partial ban; Denmark has opted for decriminalisation. The ‘Nordic model’, then, is in fact confined to only three countries. … The Nordic countries also police prostitution using various other laws and by-laws. Some of these regulations do, in fact, assume that the women who sell sex are to be punished and blamed for prostitution. This goes to show that one should be careful in concluding that Nordic prostitution policies are guided by progressive feminist ideals, or that they necessarily seek to protect women involved in prostitution.”
Source: The Conversation
Raymond blames Kaye for ignoring the findings of the Swedish Institute’s evaluation of the Swedish Sex Purchase Act from 2010, claiming that “there is no evidence that the decrease in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere” and that “Sweden is one of two countries in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking is not increasing”. However, the one who is doing the ignoring here is Raymond.
A 2014 report by the Stockholm County Council, titled “Extent and development of prostitution in Sweden”, states that “the methods currently available are unable to estimate the exact extent in Sweden” and that “the size of the population” engaging in prostitution is unknown. What’s more, the report also states that there is a lack of “a single definition of prostitution and human trafficking, which makes it difficult to draw comparisons between and within countries over time”.
Whereas Raymond cites the 2010 report as stating there was no evidence that prostitution had moved elsewhere (from the streets), the 2014 report states that “the number of escort ads aimed for men who buy sexual services from women has increased markedly during the past eight years from 304 to 6,965 ads”. Apparently, prostitution did move elsewhere: online. One should also note that the claim of the Sex Purchase Act having halved street-based sex work is problematic, since it is based on guesstimates from as early as 1995 – 4 years before the adoption of the law. [Source: Stockholm County Council]
A recent research report from Malmö University, commissioned by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), also criticises the Sex Purchase Act, concluding that claims of the policy’s success have been greatly exaggerated. “There is no evidence that the demand has declined to the extent claimed by the state-led evaluation,” RFSU’s President Kristina Ljungros told the daily Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. “The law has instead led to increased vulnerability for sex workers.” [Source: Global Network of Sex Work Project (NSWP)/Dagens Nyheter]
Where Raymond’s statements about Germany are concerned, I shall give her credit for correctly stating that Germany decriminalized aspects of prostitution in 2002, as opposed to legalising sex work in 2002, as is commonly and incorrectly claimed. However, the number she mentions of persons engaged in prostitution is a mere figment of her imagination. The claim that they are 400,000 sex workers in Germany actually dates back to the 1980s – before Germany’s reunification – and was only an estimate by Hydra e.V., a meeting and counselling centre for sex workers.
At a symposium titled “10 Years Prostitution Law in Germany” in 2012, researcher Elfriede Steffan stated that Hydra’s estimate was continuously being cited for over two decades although it lacked any scientific basis. According to Steffan, another estimate from the 1990s put the number of sex workers in unified Germany between 60,000 and 200,000. She added, “Objectivity also means to admit what we don’t know. There is no new data.”
A 2005 evaluation report by the German government estimated that there were 200,000 sex workers in Germany, and on its website, the responsible ministry states that where the number of sex workers in Germany is concerned, there are no reliable statistics available. Thus, Raymond’s claim that “two years after the law was passed, the number of persons in prostitution rose from about 200,000 to over 400,000” is entirely fictional.
Raymond’s Reprise: Misrepresenting the ‘South Korean Model’
Finally, as I mentioned in my introduction, Raymond continues to misrepresent the nature and alleged success of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws, currently under review by the country’s constitutional court. Raymond states that the law prohibits “the purchase of sexual activities” but conveniently leaves out that sex workers are equally criminalised. In addition, as I have written previously, her claims about the existence of better victim protection and assistance and the alleged reduction of the sex industry in South Korea lack common sense as well as scientific evidence.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list of evidence to counter the wild claims made by Janice Raymond, and I shall leave the remaining ones to others, since there really isn’t enough time in a day to debunk articles such as Raymond’s. But at the very least, I hope that the above listed sources will suffice to illustrate that Raymond is in no position to blame others for “selecting certain examples at the expense of others” and that what Raymond laments, ignoring evidence, is in fact her very own modus operandi.
 Janice Raymond is an American radical feminist author and activist, and a professor emerita of Women’s Studies and Medical Ethics at the University of Massachusetts (UMass). Julie Kaye is the Director of Community Engaged Research and Assistant Professor of Sociology at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta.
 For the reason why I do not use the term ‘sex trafficking’ as Raymond does, please see Borislav Gerasimov’s article ‘Hey, mind your language’ and my own comment below.
Cover photo of Groove Korea’s January Issue © Groove Korea Magazine 2014. All Rights Reserved.
The January issue of Groove Korea, an English language magazine published in Seoul, featured an editorial and a cover story about the fight of sex workers for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Korea. Although overall, it is one of the better articles on the subject, it left a bitter taste in the mouths of the sex workers interviewed for the piece, as well as mine. Coming in the immediate aftermath of the negative experience with the Wall Street Journal, it left me wondering if journalistic ethics is in fact a contradiction in itself. The description of what happened behind the scenes is not intended as a hatchet job or to publicly cry over spilled milk but to illustrate which problems occurred and why, and how journalists could avoid misrepresenting and offending the very people who provide them with information for their articles.
“Every human deserves safety”
Sex workers defend their labor, health and civil rights
“I sell sex and I have rights, too”
Sex workers fight for a work environment that’s safe, decriminalized and free of trafficking
While I usually refrain from using the personal pronoun “we” when writing about matters that concern sex workers, on this occasion, Yeoni Kim, Lucien Lee and myself were all interviewed for the article in question and thus jointly affected by the treatment we received from Groove Korea. Although we criticise the latter, we do appreciate that by inviting Yeoni Kim to write the editorial and by featuring Anita McKay’s article as cover story, Groove Korea has directed much-needed attention to the struggle of sex workers in South Korea to have their rights respected and voices heard. However, we feel that on several occasions, we were treated unfairly and disrespectfully, both of which could and should have been avoided, especially in light of the lengthy run-up to the publication and the great amount of time invested by us.
Firstly, none of us were informed that the photographer for the photo shoot was not from Groove Korea but hired externally, with implications that will be outlined below. Secondly, we were given an extremely short time span in which to check the draft of Anita McKay’s article, which contained numerous problematic passages. Thirdly, the layout added an unnecessary sensationalising overtone to the article. (Please download the PDF above to view the article as it appeared in the print issue.) We also found the problem management of Groove Korea’s staff inadequate, and finally, a message by the editor, posted publicly on Facebook, grossly disrespectful.
Due to the stigma attached to sex work, it goes without saying that sex workers are not always comfortable to appear in the media, which is why they often use masks to hide part of all of their faces. Since Anita McKay appeared (and was made) well aware of the sensitivity of the subject matter of her article, it remains a mystery to us how Groove Korea could not consider it important to inform us that they would not use an in-house photographer. The fact that they hired someone externally caused two problems.
Firstly, it had been agreed that apart from taking photos to be used for the article, the photographer would also take photos, which could then be used for a video project by Voice4Sexworkers, scheduled to be published on December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Although the photos were taken, Ms Kim and Ms Lee were later informed that they could only use them if they would purchase them from the photographer, who, as they then learnt, was hired externally.
Needless to say that they had gladly taken time out of their days to meet Ms McKay for the interviews, and meet a second time for the photo shoot, and we certainly all appreciate that Ms Kim was invited to write the editorial. However, asking them to pay for the photos, which we had actually considered a nice gesture in return for the time spent, was less than discourteous. Not enough with that, we were also given the runaround in trying to obtain this information, as nobody from Groove Korea tried to address this issue proactively.
The more serious problem stems from the fact that said photographer now has a number of photos of Ms Kim and Ms Lee in his possession, and since the communication went as dissatisfactory as it did, there is no way of knowing if the files are stored securely or if they were destroyed to avoid their accidental dissemination.
Recommendation: When interviewing sex workers, journalists should be forthcoming in informing them who will be present during interviews or photo shoots, and any sensitive files should not be held by external third parties. If so, however, it is the responsibility of the journalists in question to ensure that they are stored securely or destroyed afterwards.
Proofreading (Part I)
Journalists frequently blame inaccuracies and other problems in their articles on time constraints due to tight deadlines. While Ms McKay did her best to accommodate the schedules of Ms Kim and Ms Lee, it was agreed from the onset that we would be permitted to review the entire article prior to publication. When I checked my emails on the last Sunday before Christmas, I found that Ms McKay had sent the draft at 5am that morning, requesting our feedback by “5pm Sunday”. Although I started reviewing the article immediately, I only managed to find out by noon if she in fact meant “5pm today” – and she did.
Anita McKay had first contacted me at the end of May 2014, and between then and December, we had exchanged nearly 70 long and short emails, had a Skype interview for over two hours, and engaged in chats filling over ten pages. Ms Kim and Ms Lee, on their part, had also spent several hours responding to her questions in writing, and met her for an interview and for the photo shoot.
Regardless of Ms Kim and Ms Lee’s command of the English language, it is simply an audacity to send the draft during the small hours and expecting feedback a mere twelve hours later, when it was previously agreed that we would be given time to review it. In addition, the article was only sent to Ms Kim and myself, although by comparison, Ms Lee has the superior command of the English language necessary to review an article of that length, which Ms McKay would have been well aware of, having met both of them. The only explanation we received was that Ms Lee had never requested to receive the article prior to publication. As I stated previously, writing about sex work requires going the extra mile to avoid misrepresentations that may negatively affect public opinion and subsequently policy makers. In our view, Ms McKay gave up after a few hundred yards.
Proofreading (Part II)
The following examples from the draft are not intended to discredit Ms McKay but to illustrate how necessary thorough reviews are and how easily errors can occur, even if journalists might have the best intentions, which Ms McKay definitely had.
1. Kim admits that her story isn’t representative of a typical sex worker.
Lucien Lee responded that, “even though it is correct that Yeoni is not representative, since nobody is, saying that she is not a representative sex worker takes away credibility from her story.” The idea that there is some ‘representative’ sex worker experience is widely criticised by sex workers and others as the experiences of sex workers are extremely diverse. To Ms McKay’s credit, the sentence was changed and then properly reflected what Ms Kim had expressed: “Kim admits that not all sex workers had the choices that she did to enter the industry. While she took the job for the economic stability and flexibility it can offer, others had few alternatives.”
2. When sex workers are victimized by violence, they are treated as suspects. Society doesn’t think of us as victims of a crime.
Ms Lee explained that “Yeoni did say that but the translator stopped her from talking and then she translated parts of sentences to [Ms McKay]. The context should have been that “criminalization and social stigma often lead to violence towards sex workers but it’s difficult to report it. Even if a report is made, we become the suspects.” While the published version of the article no longer highlighted the above quote in a larger font, the actual quote remained unchanged, i.e. without the addition of the necessary context. Since the article mentions that some believe sex work per se to represent violence against women, it is disappointing that Ms McKay did not acknowledge the need to change this passage to better reflect Ms Kim’s statement.
3. But to those who join the sex industry by choice, the real danger stems largely from laws that put all forms of sex work, including trafficking, under one umbrella.
When I first saw this sentence, I stared at it in disbelief. At no point had anyone suggested that ‘trafficking’ was a form of sex work. To the contrary. When Ms McKay sent additional questions to me in December, my responses included detailed information about the harms caused by the conflation of sex work and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. To see this in a final draft simply made me speechless.
As I learnt later, however, the sentence had not appeared in Ms McKay’s original draft but was inserted during the editing process, for which Elaine Ramirez was responsible, Groove Korea’s editorial director. Again to Ms McKay’s credit, the sentence was later removed, but it serves as a striking example of how editors, who in most cases will be less familiar with a given subject than the author who did the actual research, can obscure or misrepresent crucial information.
4. By fusing sex work with sex trafficking, [Matthias Lehmann] says, they are refusing to recognize sex work as work.
The term ‘sex trafficking’ originally appeared nine times in Ms McKay’s article, although I had explained in great detail, both in writing and during our interview, why I reject the term and instead always use the admittedly long-winded moniker ‘human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation’. Using it anyway was certainly Ms McKay’s prerogative, but I frankly do not understand why she chose to ignore my concerns. Putting the very term in my mouth, however, goes beyond mere negligence, and in addition, she also used the term when she cited the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW). When I contacted a colleague there to verify my belief that the term never appeared in any of the organisation’s publications, she sent me the following passage, which I subsequently forwarded to Ms McKay. It summarises my own objections perfectly.
“Some GAATW members and allies have also made a deliberate choice not to use the term ‘sex trafficking’ based on concerns that all human rights violations against trafficked persons across all occupational sectors should be addressed, not just the sexual aspects of trafficked persons’ experiences. There is also a worry that the term “sex trafficking’ encourages voyeurism by directing public attention to the sensationalistic aspects of what women were forced to do rather than the full range of human rights violations women experienced and the human rights protections they are entitled to. A sole focus on trafficking for the purposes of prostitution can also divert attention and urgently needed resources from human rights violations in other sectors, e.g. labour exploitation or the ‘trafficking-like’ effects of particular government overseas labour programs.” – Excerpt from the GAATW Working Paper “Exploring Links between Trafficking and Gender” by Julie Ham. See also “Hey, mind your language” by Borislav Gerasimov.
While Ms McKay eventually modified her article, she included the term once because, as she explained, it was a direct quote from a government website. What’s curious about that is that direct quotes are usually put in quotation marks, while paraphrased passages are not. But while she didn’t add quotation marks here, she added them in a passage where she paraphrased a statement by Yeoni Kim about “physical and emotional” services in exchange for money. I had pointed out to Ms McKay that adding quotation marks only to those three words actually added an air of scepticism, rather than indicating it as a quote, but it remained unchanged.
There were other problems in the draft, such as the definition of sex work as “any exchange of sex services for material compensation, whether voluntary or involuntary” – involuntary sex is rape, and thankfully, the passage was later changed – or the inclusion of the contentious US Trafficking in Persons Report, but there simple wasn’t enough time to address all of them. To her credit, Ms McKay corrected quite a few passages, but others she ignored. It is frustrating that after all the time invested by everyone involved, the final article still contains problematic passages, which could have easily been avoided.
Recommendation: Writing about sex work does require going the extra mile to avoid misrepresentations that may negatively affect public opinion and subsequently policy makers. Therefore, if sex workers or others grant interviews, journalists should allow sufficient time to discuss their drafts with them to ensure they appropriately relayed the information provided to them.
In addition to the problems detailed above, I was taken aback by the dark, and in my view, sensationalising layout of the article, which is why I discussed it with a colleague who is both a sex worker activist and a web designer. She commented,
“The layout makes the article look like an obituary, especially the first black-rimmed page and those pages that only feature text. It seems to paint a picture of sex work as a pit of eternal darkness from which there is no escape. Any graphic designer worth her or his salt knows which colour creates what kind of mood. There’s a reason why dramatic movies, for example, use big white letters on dark backgrounds – just as this articles does.”
I asked Ms McKay why such a dark colour scheme had been chosen, also pointing out that in the past, articles about South Korea’s LGBT community, for example, had not been featured in such a manner. Ms McKay didn’t answer my question but replied that she had requested for the layout to be altered. She was told, however, that it was too late for any changes, to which my colleague responded,
“That’s nothing. A graphic designer does that in a few minutes.”
The black layout remained, but changes were in fact made. My request to add a description to Yeoni Kim’s photo series ‘Working? Working!’ was accommodated, but interestingly, the highlighted quotes in the article were changed, too. As mentioned above, the quote by Yeoni Kim that lacked the proper context remained unchanged, but at least it was no longer emphasised. In addition, Lucien Lee’s quote was exchanged for another.
In both quotes Ms Lee calls for the decriminalisation of sex work but in the previously used one, she emphasised that the decriminalisation should extend to sex workers’ business partners and clients. This difference is important, as politicians and anti-prostitution activists continue to claim that the Swedish Model somehow ‘decriminalises’ sex workers. Exchanging the quote seems suspicious, but even if it were purely coincidental, questions remain why it was changed and why we were told that changes to the layout could no longer be made.
My own quote, previously featured prominently in the draft, was no longer highlighted in the published version. Frankly, I do not need to see my name in the papers, but I couldn’t help but wonder why the message was suddenly no longer considered noteworthy. Honi soit qui mal y pense – shamed be he who thinks ill of it.
It’s interesting, however, that on the same page, featuring a photo of Yeoni Kim, later a statement by Kang Ja Kim was highlighted. Kang Ja Kim is a former senior police officer who played a key role in the creation of the Anti-Sex Trade Laws and in abolishing red-light districts. While it is important to note that she has in the meantime spoken out in favour of allowing brothels to operate in designated areas, she remains a proponent of doing so only in limited areas and under strict regulations, which research has shown does not benefit the rights of sex workers.
“Licensing or registration of the sex industry has been of limited benefit in terms of public health and human rights outcomes for sex workers. … Licensing or registration systems are usually accompanied by criminal penalties for sex industry businesses and individual sex workers who operate outside of the legal framework. Licensing or registration models may provide some health benefits to the small part of the sex industry that is regulated, but do not improve health outcomes for the broader population of sex workers.” – Excerpt from “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” by UNDP
And while it’s commendable that Kang Ja Kim at least acknowledges now that a different legal approach is necessary, the reasons for her shift in opinion misrepresent the diversity of sex workers’ clients, who, in her view, are “the disabled, illegal immigrants and widowers” as well as “men who are incapable of controlling their [sex] drives”. It certainly would have been more appropriate to feature a quote from Yeoni Kim together with the photo of her than one of a former “anti-prostitution crusader”.
Recommendation: Regardless of how good the content of any given article may be, a poorly chosen title, layout, or image can easily diminish its value. More often than not, journalists have no say in these matters. Editors should ensure that their choices do not undermine the voices of sex workers, who should be given the opportunity to review not only the content but also the layout of articles they were interviewed for.
Conclusion: Journalistic ethics – A contradiction in itself?
“I have no obligation to send a copy of the article to the sources before it gets published. In fact, it’s against the policy of many news organisations.” – Statement by a journalist
Writing about sex work certainly is a minefield and making everybody happy is a difficult task to accomplish for both journalists and academic researchers. However, if the above statement a journalist once made in an email to me is anything to go by, then one must wonder why journalists think their sources should oblige their interview requests. Time constraints and a lack of influence over the layout are one thing, but misrepresentations that can negatively affect and offend the very people they interview is another.
As I wrote to Anita McKay, one should certainly not mistake journalists for minute takers who will merely document verbatim what was said in their presence or expect journalistic articles to be advocacy pieces. But the fact that Anita McKay’s article is overall one of the better ones still doesn’t mean that the end justified the means. And it certainly didn’t justify this status update by Groove Korea’s editorial director Elaine Ramirez.
Note that Ms Ramirez didn’t celebrate that she had managed to prominently feature a story about sex worker’s rights but that she “put a prostitute on the cover of a magazine”. As illustrated above, Ms Ramirez doesn’t appear to pay much attention to using appropriate terms, or else she would have been aware that – both in English and Korean – Yeoni Kim always refers to herself as ‘sex worker’, rather than using the stigma-laden term ‘prostitute’.
“The term ‘prostitute’ does not simply mean a person who sells her or his sexual labour (although rarely used to describe men in sex work), but brings with it layers of ‘knowledge’ about her worth, drug status, childhood, integrity, personal hygiene and sexual health. When the media refers to a woman as a prostitute, or when such a story remains on the news cycle for only a day, it is not done in isolation, but in the context of this complex history.” – Excerpt from “Dehumanising sex workers: what’s ‘prostitute’ got to do with it?” by Lizzie Smith, Research Officer at La Trobe University. See also “The P-Word: A 101” by Caty Simon
Upon seeing Ms Ramirez status update, Yeoni Kim wrote to me:
“That sentence makes me feel used by her and as if I am some second class citizen, not worthy of the same respect as other human beings.”
Yeoni Kim thus summed up the root problem of most media reports about sex work. As long as journalists refuse to treat sex workers with the respect they deserve, they frankly do not deserve to be given the time of day.
In light of the avalanche of sensationalising media reports that spread myths about sex work as well as human trafficking, I consider it very necessary for sex workers and researchers to engage with journalists in order to refute these frequent misrepresentations. It is impossible to do so all the time, since it is both unpaid and tiring, but over the last year, I invested a great deal of time in assisting journalists with their research. Looking back, I cannot help but to feel that it wasn’t worth it.
In my view, the fundamental difference between journalists and researchers who write about sex work is that researchers have a vested interest in establishing a trusting relationship with sex workers for the long term, while journalists can (and do) simply move on to the next story and worry less about that.
Whenever I write media critiques or leave comments on journalistic articles, some people respond by accusing me of being vindictive or trying to promote myself. These people never know, however, what happened behind the scenes, which is why I choose to illustrate that from time to time. Addressed to anyone feeling the need to question my motives for writing the above, I’ll just say: let’s see how you will like it when, after investing countless hours of unpaid work, you see facts misrepresented, words twisted, and people you care about as well as yourself treated with disrespect.
A guide to respectful reporting and writing on sex work
By Marlise Richter, Ntokozo Yingwana, Lesego Tlhwale and Ruvimbo Tenga
Update to the previous post “Journalism that harms, not helps: A response to Yewon Kang”
After 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.
A guide to respectful reporting and writing on sex work
By Marlise Richter, Ntokozo Yingwana, Lesego Tlhwale and Ruvimbo Tenga
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Liebe Journalisten, überlaßt meine Selbstdarstellung doch mir selbst! Wenn, dann berichtet bitte über meine Arbeit oder deren Rechtslage!—
Carmen Amicitiae (@courtisane_de) May 21, 2013
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.
A guide to respectful reporting and writing on sex work
By Marlise Richter, Ntokozo Yingwana, Lesego Tlhwale and Ruvimbo Tenga
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).
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?
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.
The myths that circulate about German prostitution legislation are a perfect example of how lies and misconceptions become accepted as “truths” if only they are repeated often enough. Since political actors and anti-prostitution activists in many countries frequently cite Germany as an example where the legalisation of sex work has allegedly failed, the following list will look at some of the common claims made about the German Prostitution Act of 2002. The list is by no means exhaustive and well-informed readers will find nothing new in it. Its sole purpose is to reiterate evidence to contradict the common misconceptions, which sadly find their way into countless media reports time and time again.
Lie: Sex work was legalised in Germany in 2002.
Truth: Sex work was legal in Germany for most of the 20th century. The goal of the Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG) was to…
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Coming soon: Questionable documentary about “sex trafficking”
Please note: This article is from September 2014. The film was released online in July 2017. The “facts” presented below still remain on the updated website of the filmmakers. Several links have been added to the below which readers are encouraged to follow.
Not a day goes by without another lurid news report, blog article, petition, or film project about “sex trafficking” surfacing. Last week, Jason and Eddie Lee, two Korean-American brothers who founded the Jubilee Project, and Jean Rheem, a native Korean living in the US, published a trailer for their upcoming documentary “Save My Seoul”, which aims to uncover “prostitution and sex trafficking in Seoul”.
Although the documentary has not yet been released, the details that have already emerged raise serious concerns over the three film makers’ grasp of the subject in general, and the harms caused by the conflation of sex work and human trafficking in particular. The following will examine the “facts” they present on their website and in the trailer, in order to highlight the problems that arise when presumably well-intended do-gooders choose to create ostensibly objective accounts about “sex trafficking”.
Apart from the fact that, ranging from 500,000 to more than double that number, it doesn’t even qualify as a guesstimate, this figure, which the film makers attribute to the Korean Feminist Association, was first spread more than ten years ago and before the adoption of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws in 2004. It has since been quoted in news reports time and time again, which is par for the course for such figures, but considering that even the South Korean government isn’t able to produce any reliable research on the subject (see next paragraph), the figure is highly questionable. It doesn’t bode well that the film makers label an outdated and inaccurate figure as a “fact”, and without providing a link to the actual report, but their other claims are no less problematic.
Eddie Byun is a Chicago-born pastor at Onnuri Community Church in Seoul. He “fights against modern-day slavery” through HOPE Be Restored, an extension of Onnuri’s English Ministry “that seeks to bring freedom for the oppressed and restoration to lives that have been effected by human trafficking in Korea and around the world”. His book, “Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking”, includes tips how to “teach and preach sermons on human trafficking” and “rally men’s and women’s ministries to educate and actively engage in the fight against trafficking by helping anti-trafficking and after-care programs”. It doesn’t come as a surprise that among those praising his book is Gary Haugen, president and CEO of the International Justice Mission, an organisation “whose reliance on headline-grabbing brothel raids conducted with police to “rescue” sex workers have drawn criticism from human rights advocates around the world.” (Continue reading: Melissa Gira Grant – U.S. Policy and the Unjust Approach to Human Trafficking of the International Justice Mission)
While it is perhaps understandable that the Christian film makers felt they could trust the words of a pastor, Eddie Byun supports his claim by citing a report from November 2007 that was published by the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) but produced by the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI).
The report, which is only available in Korean, is titled: “National Survey on the current conditions of the Sex Trade in Korea” (전국성매매실태조사). KWDI chose altogether 8 business types from government registries of businesses they suspected as most likely to facilitate transactional sex. Those were: serviced pubs, clubs, smaller pubs, tea and coffee houses, noraebangs (karaoke places), barber shops, massage parlours, and beauty shops/wellness places. People living or working in red light districts were interviewed and the findings were based on their impressions (emphasis added).
The numbers in the KWDI report don’t always add up either. The 2007 figures in the report list 39 red light districts, 1,443 brothels, 3,644 sex workers, 2,510,000 clients per year, and an average of 5.8 clients per brothel and day. However, if one multiplies 5.8 x 1443 x 365 (clients per brothel and day x brothels x 1 year), one arrives at 3,054,831 client visits, a discrepancy of 544,831. It probably explains why MOGEF stated they wouldn’t take any responsibility for the figures in the report. (Continue reading: Janice Raymond and the South Korean Model)
The report’s research methodology is questionable at best, and while Byun and the film makers take the figures therein at face value, the authors actually admit that their estimates are based on conjecture.
For this claim, the film makers provide as source a “Korean Municipal Government” and the accompanying link leads to an article by Jennifer Chang on Al Jazeera, where the news channel deemed it necessary to inform its readers that some of the NGO figures Chang quoted “are not supported by any official data and are impossible to verify”, which casts doubts on the article’s overall credibility.
An extraordinary disclaimer by Al Jazeera, added on top of Chang‘s article
According to Chang, the report (by the Seoul Metropolitan Government) cited figures from the police estimating that 200,000 youths run away from home each year, and “a survey of 175 female teen runaways by the municipal government found half had been led into the sex industry.”
Chang’s article, which focuses entirely on female runaways selling sex, appears to be based on this survey, which engaged with less than 0.1% of the total estimate of teenage runaways, and on interviews she conducted with female youths she met with the help of Hansorihoe (United Voice). Hansorihoe is an umbrella organisation of NGOs working towards the “eradication of sex trafficking in a society where all human rights are met”, promoting “anti-sex trafficking campaigns”, and “advocating for polices”. These campaigns – click here for a selection of them – not only frequently objectify women but regularly conflate sex work and human trafficking, which leads not only to “harm to sex workers on the ground, but also to conflicts that undermine HIV prevention”. (Continue reading: Richard Steen et al – Trafficking, sex work, and HIV: efforts to resolve conflicts)
If Chang’s report were an academic paper, it wouldn’t get past any peer-review. But in a news story, one can easily make claims that remain largely unchallenged and are subsequently cited as evidence by others.
The same applies to this claim in the trailer. No source is given and the statement does not appear on the “Save My Seoul” website.
Eddie Byun, the pastor the film makers cited above, writes in his book that “up to thirty million people are in slavery around the world” (page 12). Later, he writes that there are “more than thirty million slaves” (page 58), before he states “there are between 20 and 30 million people who are enslaved throughout the world” (page 155), and finally, that there are “approximately 20 million people are victims of human trafficking” (page 166; emphases added). The final figure is based on the Global Estimate of Forced Labour 2012 by the International Labour Organisation, which stated that “20.9 million people are victims of forced labour at any point in time”, 4.5 million (22 per cent) of which are said to be victims of forced sexual exploitation. The film makers, however, chose to stick with the oft-quoted figure of 27 million human trafficking victims, which dates back to 1999.
“That number was developed was developed by a “trafficking” fanatic named Kevin Bales using media reports multiplied by arbitrary numbers of his own devising; the more the hysteria, the higher the number of articles and thus the higher Bales’ number grows. … Bales starts with an “estimate” of unknown derivation, “adjusts” it by a factor based on media reports (which often repeat each other and obviously increase dramatically during a moral panic), presumes without evidence that the proportion of reports to actual incidents is low, multiplies the result by guesses from prohibitionists with an anti-whore agenda, then rounds up.” (Continue reading: Maggie McNeill – Held Together With Lies. See also: Dr Ron Weitzer – Miscounting human trafficking and slavery)
Rights not rescue – and no voyeurism either!
The above explanations are by no means exhaustive but they illustrate the use of flawed data and misrepresentations to promote the upcoming documentary “Save My Seoul”. There are two possibilities: either the film makers lack the necessary understanding of the very subject matter they hope to shed light on, or they deliberately cherry-picked statistics that fit into their sensationalist agenda. A quick glance at the comments underneath their trailer shows that they certainly know their audience. The most common response smacks of voyeurism: “Can’t wait (to see it)”.
Screenshot from Save My Seoul’s Facebook page
In 2012, three UN agencies compiled a comprehensive report in collaboration with numerous sex worker organisations in the Asia-Pacific region about laws, HIV and human rights in the context of sex work. The report examined laws, policies and law enforcement practices in 48 countries of the region with regards to their impact on the human rights of sex workers and the effectiveness of HIV responses.
If the film makers would have read this report, they would have been aware that “police crackdowns from 2004-2009 resulted in arrest of approximately 28,000 sex workers” in South Korea alone, and that the conflation of sex work and human trafficking often results in migrant sex workers living “with the constant threat of being reported, arrested and deported”, creating “a real barrier to accessing health and welfare services”. (Continue reading: UNDP – Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific)
Sex worker organisations and human rights groups, such as the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) or the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), have long since denounced the harms caused by anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws, and sex workers around the world demand rights, not rescue. But even in the absence of rights: the last thing sex workers or any people in exploitative labour situations need are voyeurs or do-gooders grandstanding as saviours. Not without reason do sex workers frequently declare: save us from saviours!
Photo: Sex worker collective Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP)
Guest post by Matthias Lehmann
More often than not, advocacy for sex workers’ rights and the acceptance of sex work as work puts one at odds with members of that part of the anti-human trafficking movement that rejects these ideas, considers prostitution as inherently harmful, and brands anyone disagreeing with them as a member of some imaginary pimp lobby. Another group one finds oneself at odds with are journalists who report about – and, like the former, conflate – human trafficking and prostitution, as their articles frequently include false, inaccurate or misrepresented information.
As sex workers and their allies will confirm, one could easily spend all day writing rebuttals to counter the influence on public opinion of the many sensationalist reports, but one has to pick and choose. The following is a response to Kyla Ryan’s article “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem” in The Diplomat. Before I start, however, I…
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In Response to Lucy Williamson, BBC Seoul Correspondent
On June 10th, 2014, the BBC published a report by its Seoul correspondent Lucy Williamson about elderly prostitution in South Korea. The report, which quickly went viral, is titled “The Korean grandmothers who sell sex” and deals with “women in their 50s, 60, even their 70s” who sell sex to elderly male clients in the area around Jongmyo Park, a popular hangout for Korean seniors located right in front of the Jongmyo Royal Ancenstral Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On Age, Dignity and the Police
In April 2013, Korean daily The Hankyoreh had published a 2-part report about the same subject and titled it matter-of-factly “Elderly prostitution at Jongmyo Park”. Lucy Williamson – or her editor – instead chose a more sensationalist title to fit the tone of the report. While it’s conceivable that all women Williamson interviewed had in fact grandchildren, the underlying implication is quite obvious: grandmothers shouldn’t sell sex but grow old with dignity. And Williamson quickly confirms that suspicion, as she writes: “At an age when Korean grandmothers are supposed to be venerated as matriarchs, some are selling sex.” In her opinion, being venerated and selling sex are obviously mutually exclusive.
One of the interviewees Williamson quotes is a 71-year-old woman selling energy drinks on the steps of a subway station near Jongmyo Park, but she doesn’t “go out with the grandpas and earn money from them” like others she points at. Nevertheless, she worries about the police who are always watching her, as “they don’t differentiate” between her and those selling sex.
Williamson seems less worried because her report leaves out the police almost entirely, apart from mentioning that some officers “privately say this problem will never be solved by crackdowns” and that “policy needs to change”. Important views, but they fade into the background of Williamson’s narrative. “Law-enforcement isn’t the only problem”, she simply concludes, as if the frequent police crackdowns had no impact on sex workers – or their clients, for that matter. She also fails to mention the recent announcement by the government to pay informants rewards of up to one hundred million won (US$98,000) for tip-offs about prostitution activities, a plan which drew strong criticism from Korean sex workers.
It doesn’t come as a surprise then that in a report about prostitution in Seoul, Williamson also omits that for the last year and a half, South Korea’s constitutional court is mulling over the constitutionality of the country’s anti-prostitution law, ever since a Seoul court asked to review it back in January 2013. The review was supposed to be completed within 6 months, but to this day, no decision has been announced.
Sex Work and Sexual Health
Instead, Williamson writes about “one local survey, which found that almost 40% of the men tested had a sexually transmitted disease”. While she correctly points at the problem that sex education is mainly “aimed at teenagers” and that local governments have begun to respond by offering “sex education clinics especially for seniors”, it remains unclear who conducted the local study and whether or not the participants were drawn from among the men buying sex at Jongmyo Park or from the general population. But the underlying implication is once again quite obvious: apparently, selling and buying sex inevitably results in contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
The United Nations report Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific tells a different story. The study found that the criminalisation of sex work increased the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV by fuelling stigma and discrimination, by limiting access to sexual health services, condoms and harm reduction services, and by adversely affecting the self esteem of sex workers and their ability to make informed choices about their health. South Korea’s anti-prostitution law, which criminalises the selling and buying of sex, is therefore detrimental to public health, not the selling or buying sex per se.
Williamson then turns her attention to love hotels, “hidden in a dingy warren of alleyways in central Seoul”. Jongno, the district where Jongmyo Park is located, is right in the middle of downtown Seoul, an area that has undergone rapid modernisation over the last ten-odd years, and while some alleyways are indeed narrow and dark, it doesn’t make them any dingier than any littered street in the UK.
But then again, everything related to selling and buying sex apparently must be described in such a way, just as love motels must be put between inverted commas and described as having “narrow corridors” and “grey rooms”, like there are no sky-high property prices that make business owners cram as many rooms as possible into their hotels, and as if there aren’t lavishly decorated love hotels all over South Korea.
Of course the cheaper ones, which might be the only ones the elderly buying and selling sex around Jongmyo Park can afford, may well be less pleasant. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are as unsavoury as Williamson’s report insinuates.
If you cannot afford one of the more expensive guest houses or hotels in South Korea, love hotels are an affordable option to stay, whether one needs some privacy for sex or simply a roof over one’s head. An article published in Korean newspaper Joong Ang Daily from as early as 2005 states that love hotels’ main customers are young or married couples who want privacy, but sometimes also “students use the place to study together, relax or watch a movie”. As Lee Gil-won, a motel consultant, explains: “The recent remodeling boom by love hotels is due to a realization that to survive they have to upgrade their services and eliminate the kinds of stigmas they are associated with.” **
Williamson’s report, however, perpetuates stigmas, not just those of love hotels but, more importantly, those associated with selling and buying sex, too. And she doesn’t stop there.
Williamson writes of “many young people” in South Korea as saying that “they can’t afford to support themselves and their parents in Korea’s fast-paced, highly competitive society”. How many young people she has spoken to or where else she obtained this information remains unknown.
What is known, however, is that according to 2012 data from the National Tax Service, nearly ten million South Koreans earn “less than 1.55 million won (US$1,530) a month, chiefly from labor or their own small businesses” and that “the actual median income is predicted to be even lower if individuals with relatively low earnings who were not subject to taxation – such as farmers, fisherman, and day laborers – are factored in.” In addition, youth unemployment surpassed 10 percent as of February 2014, and “for those aged 15 to 29, the employment rate is barely above 40 percent”.
But those facts wouldn’t fit into Williamson’s narrative of young Koreans who apparently care more about themselves than the elderly, a message the report hammers home with an image of an elderly woman passing by an advertisement for expensive consumer electronics.
In an earlier piece about American radical feminist Janice Raymond spreading misinformation about South Korea’s prostitution law, I wrote: “If you want reliable information about the current conditions in South Korea’s sex industry, sex workers are the people to go to.” And BBC Assignment, where you can listen to Williamson’s audio report, claims to tell “the world’s stories from the point of view of those most affected by them – the victims, the witnesses – and the perpetrators”.
I’m afraid, however, that despite Williamson’s efforts to talk with people selling and buying sex at Jongmyo Park, a few interspersed quotes fail to disguise that her report mainly reflects her own view: the title, the tone, the omission of sources on the one hand and crucial information on the other – they all add up to a quite superficial and biased view on a complex situation. And while elderly poverty and youth unemployment in South Korea are real concerns that deserve much attention, this piece of poverty porn does not.
In 2003, when Jongno’s modernisation wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now, I spent one month living at a love motel in Jongno for lack of better options – and survived.
*To avoid using images used by the BBC to which I do not own the copyright, this post features a photo of a light fixture outside a love motel in Sinchon dictrict, Seoul. Photo: “Love” – Matt Lemon Photography (All Rights Reserved)
Articles mentioned above
The following is my letter to the editor of the Japanese Times that was published on November 27th in response to the article “Germany is having second thoughts on legalized prostitution“.
The fact that many guests at the event didn’t seem to mind when Schwarzer, a privileged woman in a powerful position, dismissed critical comments by a Bulgarian sex worker as grotesque and implausible, illustrates how little Schwarzer and her followers understand about the diversity of experiences made by sex workers.
Schwarzer’s book and her appeal against prostitution have been widely criticized for using entirely unreliable data. The counter-appeal, launched by the German sex workers’ union, has been signed by numerous experts, including counseling centers for sex workers and victims of human trafficking as well as social scientists, social workers and sex workers themselves.
In opinion polls, a majority of the German public has consistently shown not to support a move to roll back the German prostitution law. Suggesting otherwise and believing Schwarzer’s and Louis’ unscientific claims is, pardon me, sloppy investigative journalism. Schwarzer’s press conference for foreign journalists has certainly been noticed by her opponents. Thankfully, there’s a currently a more diverse discourse in the German media than your article provides.
You can read a more detailed and more accurate description of the event in the news section of the International Committee for the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE).
You can read the appeal to strengthen the rights and improve the living and working conditions of sex workers here.
The following is a comment I left on the article “Germany rethinks its liberal ways on sex workers“ in the Observer, written by Philip Oltermann, the Guardian and Observer’s Berlin correspondent. I am glad to report that Mr Oltermann acknowledged that his unintended choice of words could have been misinterpreted. The passages in question have now been revised.
All in all not a bad summary of the current discourses in Germany but a couple of things should be noted. It is not “Germany” that rethinks its liberal ways on sex workers. In opinion polls, a majority of the German public has consistently shown not to support a move to roll back the German prostitution law. (See recent polls by infratest or ZDF login, or even an older one conducted by SOLWODI – Solidarity with Women in Distress, whose chairwoman is one of the fiercest anti-prostitution activists around). Reports suggesting otherwise are based on Alice Schwarzer’s press conference for foreign journalists, which provided them with more of the same unscientific claims from her book.
Speaking of “claims”: call me a nitpicker but I find it odd that Philip Oltermann let’s Alice Schwarzer and her fellow campaigners “argue” but Alexa Müller “claim” (in regards to the ’44 sex workers [who] are registered for the public health scheme’ and the fact that she regularly meets and talks to Romanian and Bulgarian prostitutes). It appears the author doubts Müller’s accounts.
Where the ’44’ are concerned, a report by the German government from as early as 2005 outlined some of the reasons. As the main obstacle, sex workers named the uncertainty whether or not labour contracts would actually provide any social and material benefits for them, and to what extent they might be faced with unexpected disadvantages. The most common answer was that they simply could not imagine how such contracts should work.
“I think that labour contracts wouldn’t really be helpful for any prostitute. You have to be very careful with labour contracts, because through contracts, there could also arise possibilities of a very different type of exploitation. Okay, you get a labour contract, but then you have to do [oral sex] or have to offer any service, that the customer wants. If that’s price that women are offered to pay for social insurance, then I would advise each and every woman not to do that.” [p.55, Translated from the German version; the English version (which doesn’t include this quote) can be found here.]
And where Eastern European sex workers are concerned, let’s hear it directly from them then.
Following an account by social worker Sabine Constabel at the book launch of Alice Schwarzer about young women from Eastern Europe who, as she claimed, are predominantly uneducated as well as diseased due to insufficient health care in their home countries, a Bulgarian sex worker commented:
„For 3 years, I worked at a brothel in Berlin, before that, 4 years at Artemis, 6 years at another business. I have never met a Bulgarian woman as you described them, who were sick. … 2 women sought protection, they [contacted the police]. Where do you meet these women?” [Video and transcript can be found here.]
A word about reliable figures. While it is true that there are no reliable figures, there are some important facts to be known.
The German Prostitution Act of 2002 has in no way impacted the powers of law enforcement. In several states (‘Bundesländer’), the police can and does control brothels and brothel-like businesses at any time. The fact of the matter is that the Prostitution Act, even 11 years after it was adopted, is still not being implemented in all of Germany, and the powers of law enforcement are interpreted differently between different states.
A recent report by the criminal office in North-Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state of Germany, stated that despite an increasing number of controls, the number of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has decreased. The report also stated that the Prostitution Act has had no visible impact on human trafficking.
And finally, there is sufficient evidence that laws banning prostitution, including those that claim to punish sex workers’ clients only, are harmful, not “only” where sex workers’ rights are concerned but also where efforts to combat actual human trafficking are concerned. (See “Criminalising the payment for sexual services – An introduction for the uninitiated”)
Germany, for all its needs to improve on the existing law, is at least on the right track.
Matthias Lehmann, Berlin
In late May, leading German news magazine DER SPIEGEL published a cover story – now published in English – on the alleged failure of the German prostitution law, which rendered the State complicit in human trafficking. The deeply flawed report failed, however, to address numerous relevant aspects of human trafficking prevention and prosecution, including victim protection. It also failed to insert much needed factual evidence into the broader global debate on human trafficking, which is also about labor rights, migration, sustainable supply chains and human rights. DER SPIEGEL thus contributed to a very narrow debate on human trafficking and to the wrong debate around sex work.
Feminist Ire, “Not your fluffy feminism”, kindly published an article by Sonja Dolinsek and myself, which critically engages with the international community on the difficult relationship between trafficking and sex work. Please click here to read the article.
The above image (click to enlarge) is not an actual SPIEGEL cover. The red umbrella is the symbol of the sex workers’ rights movement. Click here for more information. Image: Matthias Lehmann