How prostitution abolitionists defame sex workers’ rights activists
The following comment was left on my blog last night.
Are you actually interested in the suffering of women who were forced into prostitution and who are hard up? If yes, you could read the following: Your Justifications are Killing Us
Rather than replying in the comment section only, I chose to respond more publicly in this post, to highlight the defamation that proponents of sex workers’ rights frequently have to endure.
I do indeed take an interest in forced prostitution, though without your apparent limitation to women. I already knew the text you sent me. Even though I do not wish to deny the personal experiences of the author, I do take issue with the message she aims to convey with her text as well as with the blatant lies she spreads. In the following, I will respond to selected paragraphs of her post and thus, to your comment.
“Too much of the Left is made of male-thought, and in this thinking it not surprising that the Left has always justify the sex trade, and ignore the reality of life for the prostituted.” – Rebecca Mott
To give but one example to challenge her view, I shall name the German prostitution law (ProstG), which was an initiative by the female members of the German Green Party who by no means ignored the reality of sex workers. The ProstG abolished the statutory offence of the „promotion of prostitution” and made it possible to create better working conditions for sex workers without rendering oneself liable to prosecution.
Since the author mentions her view about which groups dominate the prostitution discourse, how about we take a look at the spectrum of prostitution abolitionists? In my view, those are predominantly radical feminists or members of faith-based organisations.
They are the ones who ignore the realities of sex workers, since their opinions often rest on their own concepts of morality and disproven research. I have no problem with anyone who doesn’t consider sex work as a desirable occupation or wishes to write about it and try to have others think about it, too. That falls under freedom of expression. That, however, is not what prostitution abolitionists are content with.
“If you scream and shout that you’re not a victim you are suffering from a false consciousness. And if you try to convince them that you’re not even suffering from a false consciousness, they will say: ‘Well you’re not representative'”.
– Pye Jacobsson, Swedish sex worker and activist URL
The term „prostituted“ supports the notion that sex workers lack agency and aren’t able to make informed decisions. “to be prostituted” is a passive term that supports the notion that one cannot actively choose to work as sex worker. Is a construction worker “constructed” then?
“I am tired of everyone letting the left off the hook – I tired of waiting for the Left to get on board with abolition – I tired of men who Leftist making their porn stash and their consumption of the prostituted is somehow better than right-wing men who do exactly the same.” – Rebecca Mott
I, on the other hand, am tired that forced prostitution and pornography are conflated time and again, and that those who oppose the criminalisation of sex work are branded as proponents of sexual exploitation.
“In this post, I will speak of the many leftist cliches that have said to me, or I have read, or had fed to me by the media.” – Rebecca Mott
I don’t know which media the author refers to here, but I cannot support her view that the media are currently engaged in a campaign for the rights of sex workers. Rather, prostitution abolitionists frequently dominate the discourse and silence any dissenters. (See my previous post about a German talk show in featuring prominent prostitution abolitionist Alice Schwarzer) URL
The following statement is a typical example for that.
“Much of the poison-speech by the Left is the language of pimps and punters – men who are not pimps and punters parrots their words without questioning. I was consumed by many Leftist punters who justify all their tortures – I had profiteers selling me who imagine they were on the Left, hell they were sexual outlaws, they were empowering women, they were model-day freedom fighters.” – Rebecca Mott
If you don’t agree with them, prostitution abolitionists will denounce you as pimp, punter, torturer or – here – will-less parrot.
“I write to the Left, for my heart is exploring with pain and grief – silence round the Left betraying the prostituted class is killing the prostituted every day.” – Rebecca Mott
Again, the author conveys that the left ignored the reality. I would like to know whom she is talking about, but that she fails to elaborate on. I suppose that according to current criteria, you can call me leftist, and where I am concerned, I did seek the dialogue with prostitution abolitionists several times, only to be faced with attempts to defame me, distort my views into the opposite, or shout me down.
“The major one is that if you unionise the sex trade, then it will be fine and dandy. I agree with unions for workers – but there we the major flaw – being embedded in the sex trade is not work, the prostituted class are not workers. They are in the conditions of slavery, of having their human rights stripped from them – they are not workers. To frame it as work, where all that need to be done putting in basic health and safety regulations, all that need to be done is to get a shop steward who go to the sex trade profiteer and speak of working rights for the prostituted. Think a little, and you will see this is nonsense.” – Rebecca Mott
Sex worker unions are indeed no cure-all. However, the notion that sustainable improvements could be achieved without them is a misconception. The interests of sex workers are best represented by sex workers themselves. Those include fighting forced prostitution and violence, by the way. But for as long as prostitution abolitionists fight against sex work itself, a collaboration with sex workers is hardly in the cards. Sex work is work. Forced prostitution is forced sexual labour.
“When there are unions for the prostituted – they always are dominated by the profiteers, punters and those who support painting the myth that the sex trade is safe.” – Rebecca Mott
That is a blatant lie. Information about sex worker organisations can be easily obtained. I recommend the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) as a starting point.
“Unions that exist do not include the prostitute who is trapped in a brothel, do not include women in the porn that is daily torture, do not include the under-aged prostitute trapped in a room with lines of men consuming her.” – Rebecca Mott
While it is true that those forced into prostitution usually have no access to sex worker organisations, it is also true that forced prostitutes represent the minority of sex workers. So what is the answer? To defame sex workers, who like any other working person work on their own accord, and defame their organisations, including the services and assistance they offer? Among others, those include assistance to exit sex work, counselling (e.g. when suffering from sex worker burnout), or the opportunity to report suspected cases of forced prostitution. Does doing away with those sound like a good plan?
“No, unions are not for the ordinary and average woman or girl – for those unions have no intention to stop the routine rapes, the routine beating ups, the routine throwing away of the prostituted. No, the purpose of these unions is to whitewash away all the normal male hate and violence that underpins all aspects of the sex trade.” – Rebecca Mott
See above. One can easily learn about the objectives of sex worker organisations. The supposed “intentions” that the author describes are brazen defamations.
“Do not back any sex trade union – they do not give a damn about the prostituted, they care about pimps and punters.” – Rebecca Mott
This statement demonstrates that the author is not in the least interested in the rights of sex workers.
“It is a union run and controlled by managers, but more by managers who view the prostituted as goods and never as humans. Your belief in unions is killing the prostituted every day.” – Rebecca Mott
The author fails again to disclose what union(s) she is talking about. Her statement is a general condemnation of all sex worker organisations that aims to defame their members and work. Therefore, I will not respond to all further paragraphs, but only to a few additional points.
Sex workers protest against police crackdowns in Seoul [Photo: AP/Lee Jin-man]
“I would see punters who had brutalise me and other prostitutes on marches, in meetings or part of liberal religions – fighting with all the might for rights and dignity of all humans.” – Rebecca Mott
I heard people raise suspicions that sex workers in South Korea were forced to participate in demonstrations. I discussed this with Korean sex workers who I suppose the author would claim belong to this “leftist riff-raff”. None of them was able to confirm this suspicion.
“That when I learnt the lesson I have never lost – these men did not fight for the dignity and rights of the prostituted foe we were not and cannot be classed as humans – we were just goods for them to use to consume and throw away.” – Rebecca Mott
I believe that the information that I published on this blog and via Facebook speak for themselves and refute the author’s portrayal of “these men” as a homogeneous group.
“We were not given access to human rights” – Rebecca Mott
Here I agree. The rights of sex workers are indeed frequently violated and only unagitated discussions about possible countermeasures will lead to a sustainable reduction of such violations. Not only should sex worker participate in these discussions – they should be the protagonists in them.
“Please question your Leftist views if they discard the prostituted class.” – Rebecca Mott
Please question your views if they undermine the rights of sex workers. Failing to safeguard sex workers’ rights, will prevent fighting forced prostitution and violence in sex work effectively.
Sex Workers’ Freedom Rally in Kolkata, India [Photo by Matt Lemon Photography]
Pon Pon, Japanese sex worker/activist, performing at the Red Light, Red Carpet party at the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Pon Pon is a member of SWASH (Sex Work and Sexual Health), a group founded in 1999 aiming to improve the health and safety of sex workers. SWASH consists of women working in the sex industry and their supporters. Click here for the English content on their website and follow them via Facebook or Twitter.
View full post at Matt Lemon Photography.
“A collaborative art project by sex workers, highlighting some of the positive things sex work has brought to our lives.”
The Sex Worker Quilt Project was a project by VIXEN, a group set up by current and former sex workers from all areas of the sex industry in Victoria, Australia. Their mission is to empower all sex workers through the provision of community and peer support, and promoting the cultural, legal, human, occupational and civil rights of all sex workers. VIXEN aims to overcome divisions between workers and is committed to promoting the wellbeing and rights of sex workers from all unique backgrounds. If you wish to show your support, you can join VIXEN’s Facebook group or alternatively, you can visit their MySpace page.
The quilts were hung up in the Rangmanch hall of Swabhumi, venue of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival. I apologise that due to lighting inside the venue, the quilts’ colours aren’t brought out as beautiful as they actually are. The collection is not complete but represents my personal favourites. The quilts were first displayed at the Festival of Sex Work in Melbourne, Australia. Please visit the Sex Worker Quilt Project on Facebook for further images and information.
“I wanted it to be happy, with lots of love, as that’s how i view my life as a sex worker Layers of hearts on hearts! The words pride, hope, inner strength and love, these are all things that sex work has brought me. I am not ashamed of who I am, in fact, I am grateful and thankful for it. I had a few little pics of cats and dog bones and a glass of wine to make it a bit fun and to also represent my family (I’m an animal kind of person). Oh, and the stars – because all of us are one! STARS!”
Comment by Holly, who created the quilt above.
Unforgettable MC Khartini Slamah,
Malaysian transgender sex worker (APNSW)
There are further quotes and photos to come from the final days of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, but for now, I would just like to share with you the final moments of this unprecedented conference.
I would like to take this occasion to express my sincere gratitude to those who have supported my participation in Kolkata, both financially and – equally important – in spirit. I also like to thank the participants at the SWFF for sharing their views and experiences with everyone, and congratulate the organisers from the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects for the great success of all their hard work.
Kolkata Platform for Action
Please click here for the Kolkata Platform for Action, published on July 26, 2012, at the conclusion of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, the official hub of the International AIDS Conference 2012, that became necessary as the US government continues to prevent sex workers from entering the United States, thus barring them from attending the conference in Washington D.C.
Collection of photos from the DMSC Media Team. Reposted with kind permission. Please visit this page again for further updates throughout the festival. To view these photos with their respective explanations, please view the photo album on Facebook. These photos are also published India Civil Society website. Further updates throughout the festival.
The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) is a collectivisation of 65,000 sex workers, which functions as an exclusive forum of female, male and transgender sex workers in West Bengal, India.
Pegged as the Freedom Festival, the central theme will be the “seven freedoms” that sex workers are entitled to including freedom of movement and to migrate, to access quality health services, to work and choose occupation, to associate and unionise, to be protected by the law; freedom from abuse and violence, from stigma and stigma and discrimination.
The sessions will begin in the morning and will run through till 10.30 at night to provide an overlap of 5 hours with the Washington conference sessions and Global Village activities. A video link has been arranged every evening starting 6.30pm between Kolkata and the Washington conference sessions and the Global Village activities.
The conference hub at Kolkata has been organised to hold a plenary and several small group sessions. In addition, arrangements have been made for a global village to facilitate informal exchanges between sex worker groups from India and other nations. Entry and participation for the community is free of cost. The Hub will act as a true space for community exchange, cultural performance and sharing.
National: 300 representatives from about 20 organizations from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Nagaland, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
International: 120 representatives from 66 organizations from 47 countries of Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, North America and Caribbean.
The morning sessions at the Hub, will involve technical presenters but will be dominated community presenters from India and other countries sharing their experiences, learning and discussing the way forward. The sessions will be on the topics that will feature later in the evening in the satellite links with the Washington conference. Sessions for Sex Workers Sessions on the Pre conference day (21 July) are sharing by male and transgender sex worker, sex workers living with HIV; which will then be followed by the live link with Washington which will feature sharing by male and transgender sex workers and sex workers living with HIV and AIDS. The morning session of the second day (22 July) has an interesting debate on Media’s response to the sex workers rights agenda. This will be followed by the opening ceremony and community cultural performances. The keynote address and plenary session will focus on the theme “Sex Workers Rights are Human Rights” and followed by a community discussion on the seven freedoms. This will be followed by a Sex worker Session in Washington which is a Call to Action, with Global Sex Workers recommending policy changes for better HIV prevention and treatment. Speakers from the Kolkata will also present and exchange their views through the satellite link. From 23 to 27 July each of the seven freedoms will feature as topics of presentation and community discussion at the Hub. These include
- Legal protection required for sex workers and promoting access to social protection schemes (23 July morning and satellite link with Washington session)
- Strengthening an enabling environment to protect sex workers
(24 July morning session only)
- Ensuring financial security and sex worker led responses to migration and trafficking
(25 July, morning and satellite link with Washington session)
- Seeking social justice and livelihoods
(26 July morning and satellite link with Washington session)
On 25th July an interesting discussions is scheduled on Rights, Governance and Accountability in the Sex Work movement (by AINSW and DMSC) which will be followed by the live webcast link to the Washington session on using the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of UN to ensure accountability for the rights of sex workers and LGBT communities.
Sessions for People Using Drugs
The program has three sessions for communities of drug users including messages from the Drug users hub in Kiev (23 July afternoon); Messages from Kolkata (24 July afternoon) and a plenary session presentation via satellite from Washington, Dynamics of the epidemic in context (26 July evening).
Sessions on the HIV Response
Sessions focused on the HIV epidemic, response and treatment include a symposium of sex workers interventions in NACP IV (24 July morning); treatment knowledge (24, 25, 26 July morning); HIV, STI testing and treatment (25 July early evening). The conference will be interspersed with cultural performances, rallies (24 July), an India evening (25th July).
The Global Village is a diverse and vibrant space where community gathers from all over the world to meet, share and learn from each other. It is a space for community to demonstrate the Rights based approach to health and development. It is also a space that invites conference participants to see how sex workers across the globe facilitated and headed the community actions and interventions. This would be first of its kind where DMSC, the largest sex workers collective will be the host of the Global village. The Global Village is a community-driven and community– focused space designed to promote dialogue, support networking, build solidarity, and promote inclusion in the global community. The Global Village facilitated the exchange of knowledge and information related to all facets of the human feelings, experience, expressions and response to HIV. The Global Village promotes networking between north and south, east and west and provides a space for displays, discussions and performances from throughout the world. The Global Village is open to conference delegates.
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a community based organization of the sex workers of West Bengal, which for the last two decades has been running eleven HIV/AIDS targeted intervention program in 51 sex worker sites. Durbar run SHIP (Sonagachi HIV Intervention Programme) programme has been awarded as model project by World Health Organization. The Global Network of Sex Workers Project (NSWP) which was established as an informal alliance in 1990 by a group of sex worker rights activists working within sex work projects around the world. Over the years, NSWP has conducted activities in partnership with other organizations, and the principle of the participation of sex workers in policy and programme development has been accepted at many levels.
The conference will be held in Swabhumi, on the Eastern fringe of Kolkata and sessions will run parallel in four auditoriums.
Watch this video to learn about the Alternative AIDS Conference in Kolkata
The Sex Worker Freedom Festival is an Official International AIDS Conference 2012 Hub. Supported by Open Society Foundation – Sexual Health and Rights Program, UNAIDS, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNFPA, HIVOS, AIDS Fonds and AIDS 2012 conference secretariat.
21 to 26 July 2012 | Swabhumi, Kolkata, India
US government travel restrictions for sex workers mean that many of them will not be able, or will not want to go to the IAC in Washington this year. The Sex Worker Freedom Festival is an alternative event for sex workers and their allies to protest their exclusion and ensure the voices of those excluded are heard in Washington.
The festival programme will focus on freedoms that everyone is entitled to
- Freedom of movement and to migrate;
- Freedom to access quality health services;
- Freedom to work and choose occupation;
- Freedom to associate and unionise;
- Freedom to be protected by the law;
- Freedom from abuse and violence; and
- Freedom from stigma and discrimination.
Working with 9.5 hour time difference between Kolkata & Washington
Kolkata programming will start at 12.30 and run through to 22.30 to provide a 5 hour overlap with conference sessions and Global Village activities in Washington. We will have video linking between Kolkata and Washington conference sessions and the Global Village.
Registration for the Sex Worker Freedom Festival will close on 30 June 2012.
Registration forms are available on the website of the Global Network Of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). Alternatively, you can click below and download the application form in the language of your choice.