Sex Work and Human Rights

Posts tagged “Decriminalisation

Event: Asia-Pacific Sex Workers’ Rights Forum

Asia-Pacific Sex Workers’ Rights Forum

Giant Girls invites you to the Asia-Pacific Sex Workers’ Rights Forum

Date: Saturday, 28th November 2015
Location: Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), 6th Fl. Kyunghyang Daily News Bldg., 22 Jeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea 100-702
Entrance Fee: KRW 10,000

Programme

11.00 – 12.00 Film screening of ‘Grace Period’ by Caroline Key & KIM KyungMook (see trailer below)

12.00 – 16.30 Asia-Pacific Sex Workers’ Rights Forum with representatives of Scarlet Alliance (Australia), SWASH (Japan), COSWAS (Taiwan) and Giant Girls (Korea)

16.30 – 19.30 Film screening of ‘Red Maria 2’ by Kyung-soon (see interview with Kyung-soon here)

국제앰네스티 ‘성노동전면비범죄화’ 결정을 환영하며 <아시아태평양 성노동자 인권 포럼>을 마련했습니다. 이번 주 28일 토요일 오전 11시 민주노총 금속노조 사무실에서 참가비 1만원으로 진행됩니다. <유예기간>과 <레드 마리아2> 영화 상영과 함께, 스칼렛 얼라이언스(호주), 스와시(일본), 코스와스(대만), 그리고 지지(한국)에서 ‘아시아태평양 지역 성노동자의 인권과 성매매 정책’을 주제로 포럼을 열고자 하니 많은 관심 바랍니다.

 

 

 

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SWERFs discover Amnesty supports decriminalising sex work

#pledgedecrim - Photo by English Collective of Prostitutes#pledgedecrim (© English Collective of Prostitutes. Used with kind permission.)

Preface: Long live the humour!

“First and foremost, humour is a means to counter the seriousness of life and at best, to cope with it. The more serious the situation, the more important humour becomes. Humour creates a distance to depressing events, it allows to speak improperly about matters which are properly unbearable [and] for a moment, it disarms the seriousness. And that might well be the reason why fanatics despise humour. They contend a dead serious, eternal truth, and jokes – however clever or funny they may be – threaten this truth. Long live the humour. The clever one. The silly one. Anyone who finds enough people who laugh about it. And for all those who don’t like it, it should apply now more than ever: tolerate it or ignore it. You won’t be able to control humour!” – Tim Wolff, Chief Editor of German satire magazine TITANIC (Translated excerpt from his article “You won’t be able to control humour!”. Published with kind permission.)

Introduction

As the Twitter battle between supporters and opponents of Amnesty’s draft policy to decriminalise sex work heated up, a current sex worker from the UK published a Downfall meme titled “SWERFs discover Amnesty are supporting decrim”. (SWERF is an acronym for sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists.)

“The Downfall meme, also known as “Hitler Finds Out…” or “Hitler Reacts To…”, is a series of parody-subtitled videos based on a pinnacle scene from Der Untergang (2004), a German WWII drama revisiting the last ten days of Adolf Hitler’s life and eventual suicide in his Berlin underground bunker.”

The subtitles are excellent as they are not only funny but also list a number of figures from both sides of the divide. But while I agree with Tim Wolff‘s words above, Nazi analogies are problematic depending on one’s respective cultural context, which is why I requested the permission to publish the subtitles as text-only version along with links to the cited sources. The different characters in the video are listed as PAPA SWERF, BRAINY SWERF, and SWERFETTE.

“Laughing in the face of the awful”

[The following paragraphs were composed by the sex worker who created the video.]

What is humour? On one level it is always something that transgresses, in order to be funny, a rule somewhere, even if it is a rule of grammar, must be broken. As children, our first comedy is that of bodily functions, as we explore the taboos society insists we must comply to. Indeed, there is probably a good essay somewhere, or waiting to be written, on how all types of humour fit into Freud’s stages of development, from the scatalogical to the cerebral.

In a particular British context, the taboo has so often been one of class and status. The Lord of Misrule, the Fool, the Wife of Bath mocking the Knight – our comedy is rooted in laughing at those with power and authority over us. This tradition carried on through the prints of Hogarth and the pages of Punch. In recent years this has been described as punching up, not punching down.

It is a delicate line between offending power and simply being offensive. Does the Downfall meme cross this line? I think in fact it is the archetype writ large, by mocking someone so terrible, with so much power we are following on from Hogarth, from the fool. We are asserting our power, that the power to show tyranny for what it is still remains. Sometimes laughter is the only power we have, and sometimes laughing in the face of the awful is, in itself, a radical act.

SWERFs discover Amnesty supports decriminalising sex work

BRAINY SWERF: “It’s true. Meghan Murphy has just called. Amnesty is supporting sex workers. Apparently, they travelled around the world actually speaking to sex workers.”

PAPA SWERF: “But I wrote at least four editorials. How can this be happening?”

BRAINY SWERF: “The Lancet has produced its own editorial supporting Amnesty.”

PAPA SWERF: “We can still win this. Get me Woman’s Hour on the phone.”

BRAINY SWERF:Woman’s Hour…they say if this is debated, a current sex worker has to be on the show. Even the Guardian printed a column by a current sex worker.”

PAPA SWERF: “Anyone who has read ‘Playing the Whore’ leave the room now. … How the f*** has this happened?! We called them pimps, we called them privileged, we outed them! The World Health Organisation I could understand. UNAIDS – who cares. But Amnesty? They’re supposed to be our kind of liberals. What the f*** are they doing collecting evidence? Get me Lena Dunham now. I need people who refuse listening to scientific research. Get me some Hollywood anti-vaxers. What is the point of feminism if people go around listening to oppressed women! Has no one read Germaine Greer? What’s the point in Julie Burchill threatening to shoot prostitutes if they aren’t scared into silence?”

BRAINY SWERF: “Don’t you mean prostituted women?”

PAPA SWERF: “I know what I mean. F***ing whores! Put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig. What happened to blaming the pimp lobby?”

BRAINY SWERF: “No one believes in the pimp lobby anymore.”

PAPA SWERF: “I told Bindel this. I f***ing told her! But no, she wanted to crowdfund her latest book. If people start listening to sex workers, who will publish us? I have tenure. Do you know how hard it is out there for an academic? Do you expect me to find a new professorship at my age? Get me Melissa Farley! … Distorted study after distorted study, for what? For Amnesty to commission their own! We have Sweden, Canada and Northern Ireland. We managed to convince Christian bigots to stand with us. Do you know how many anti-abortion fundraisers I had to go to? I even sat through a Christian rock concert. And for what? For people to collect their own f***ing evidence! … Do you know what Christian soft rock is like? But I did it, because with the fundamentalists we could make sure no one ever listened to the whores. And Amnesty went out and did their own research! The whole point was that no one was meant to ask sex workers what they wanted. Now they have gone and asked people who live under the Swedish Model how it harms them. No one is meant to know about that! We hid that by publishing it in Swedish and no one cares enough to translate Swedish. You can’t just go and ask the Rose Alliance how it harms them! What next? Will they ask migrant sex workers what they want? Next thing we know they will ask trans* sex workers what would protect them from abuse!

SWERFETTE: “It’s okay. The public hates trans people more than sex workers, even if they do ask.”

PAPA SWERF: “You know how this happened? What started this? F***ing Twitter! People started following sex workers, discovered they were human, had feelings, thoughts, opinions. They talked to sex workers and listened. Even some feminists followed sex work accounts. We called them orifices, pointed out that all penetrative intercourse is rape, mocked them for sucking dick, showed our disgust at every turn. For some reason, this made people think we are the bad guys. All we have left is the New Statesman. God have mercy on our souls.”


Over 10,000 people signed the petition to Amnesty by the Global Network for Sex Work Projects. The vote about the draft policy at Amnesty’s International Council Meeting in Dublin is scheduled for August 11th, 2015. As soon as the result will be known, this post will be updated.

+++ Update: Amnesty International delegates from around the world voted to adopt policy to protect human rights of sex workers | Click here for Amnesty’s official statement +++

I would like to thank Jane Doe for her permission to publish the text-only version of her video, for adding the paragraphs above, and for collaborating to publish this post.


Why do abolitionists have to lie or fantasise?

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

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


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

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

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

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

2.3.2 2007 Re-estimation

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

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

2.3.3 Auckland Results

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

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

Perhaps she should also have read the following.

2.6.4 Claims that Numbers Have Increased

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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

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

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

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


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