Photos taken on April 9th, 2015, as sex workers and activists gathered in front of South Korea’s Constitutional Court in Seoul ahead of a public hearing, part of the ongoing review of the country’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws. The sex workers depicted in these photos consented to them being published online. All photos © 2015 Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
+++ Update Sept. 23rd, 2015 | Please read E. Tammy Kim’s article for Al Jazeera America, titled Korean sex workers demand decriminalization of their labor +++
Grace Period – Film Still © 2015 Caroline Key All Rights Reserved
Please support GRACE PERIOD, a documentary about sex worker life and collective resistance in a South Korean brothel district.
Korean-American filmmaker Caroline Key, together with Korean co-director KIM Kyung Mook, is about to complete GRACE PERIOD, a film about a community of Korean female sex workers. In her own words, GRACE PERIOD is “a documentary, essay filmmaking, video art hybrid that explores issues of gender, work, intimacy and precarity”. Key and Kim filmed at the Yeongdeungpo brothels for nearly a year, and then spent the next three years “editing, sorting, translating, transcribing, crafting, discussing, animating, arguing, debating, making up and then editing some more”. Now they are almost done but they need your support to make it to the end.
Please read the Caroline Key’s note on the fundraiser page.
Why is it important?
I was introduced to Caroline Key by my professor back in 2012, while we were both working on our respective projects with sex workers in Seoul. I fully support this excellent film, which I had already the chance to see a rough cut of. Its importance couldn’t be overstated, especially in light of the many distorting, insincere, and even racist media reports and films, which have surfaced over the last year and misrepresented the lived experiences of sex workers in South Korea, largely with impunity.* With the outcome of the ongoing constitutional review of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws still unknown, GRACE PERIOD directs some much-needed attention to the real life experiences of South Korean sex workers and the struggle for their rights.
Please click here to support the completion of GRACE PERIOD
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.
Neon sign of a motel in Daegu © 2015 Matt Lemon Photography All Rights Reserved
In early 2013, I published A Letter from a South Korean Sex Worker, written by Hyeri Lee [an alias to protect her anonymity]. Recently, I had the chance to meet her again in Daegu, South Korea’s third largest metropolitan area. After a few days of sightseeing and trying out the local cuisine, we sat down at a coffee shop near her home to talk about her experiences over the last few years. The following is a transcript of our conversation, which Ms Lee authorised me to publish.
Please note that the copyright for this transcript lies with Research Project Korea and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
While Korean police lament the lack of sufficient resources to clamp down on prostitution businesses, police crackdowns and undercover sting operations are actually more frequent than the public believes. During the five years that Ms Lee has worked in different cities across South Korea, she has never encountered anyone being forced to sell sex, which is not to say that working conditions or clients are always pleasant. While there are people under the age of 18 who sell sex in South Korea, all sex workers Ms Lee encountered were between their 20s and 50s. Migrant sex workers she met came from China and North Korea, as well as from Russia and Uzbekistan. Police crackdowns and unruly clients take a serious toll on sex workers’ mental health. In light of that, it’s unfortunate that Ms Lee is no longer involved in sex worker activism as she has lost trust in organisations advocating for sex workers’ rights.
Matthias: How long has it been now since you started to work as a sex worker and where did you work before moving to Daegu?
Hyeri: It’s been five years and apart from Seoul and Incheon, I’ve worked in Bucheon and Yangju in Gyeonggi Province, and in Cheonan and Taean County in South Chungcheon Province. I’ve also worked at other locations but only for a short time.
Matthias: Why did you move to Daegu?
Hyeri: I’ve moved here last July because of my boyfriend.
Matthias: How did you two meet?
Hyeri: We first met on Twitter and later got to know each other more over the phone. I thought he was quite cool and we often happened to agree on quite many things, including our personal relationships. Whenever either of us felt down, we called each other to cheer the other one up. Actually, I felt suicidal a number of times and he always happened to call then to check in on me, as if he knew. It felt like a miracle.
Matthias: What made you feel suicidal? You’ve never mentioned that to me before today.*
Hyeri: I was just so tired of terrible clients and of sting operations by the police in Incheon, Bucheon and Taean.
Matthias: I’ve come across quite many comments online where people expressed they didn’t believe the Korean police was doing anything. What would you respond if someone said that to you?
Hyeri: I would probably just laugh. They clearly don’t know what’s going on. Incheon and Bucheon were the worst. The police was around almost all the time, day and night. There were many crackdowns but I managed to escape them. I left before they could arrest me.
Matthias: How do those sting operations work?
Hyeri: At first, they just act like clients. They’d come into our shop and say, ‘I’ll decide and pay later once I’ve chosen a girl.’ So they enter the room, talk to a woman and pay her, which makes her think this is actually a client. But once she takes the man into a separate room and takes out a condom, he’d arrest her. Just the fact that we have condoms is enough for the police to arrest us.
Matthias: You said before that you sometimes have terrible clients. Could you explain more about that?
Hyeri: The worst ones I had in Taean. They have no manners at all. They’d ask me stuff like ‘Why do you use condoms?’ or ‘Why can’t I use my finger?’
Matthias: I remember you told me one day about a client who had penetrated you with his finger although you had explicitly told him that was off-limits. How often do you have such clients?
Hyeri: Maybe around two out of ten clients try that. When I tell them I don’t want it, some even have the nerve to ask me ‘Why not? What’s the matter?’ What the f***! In other cities, maybe one or two out of ten clients ask for unprotected sex. But in Taean, it was almost every single one of them, so I fought a lot with clients there. Another client I remember from that time was an elementary school teacher. He was really smelly but at least he wasn’t as bad as the others and he was actually a repeat client. But he always made some condescending remarks about how much he paid for my service, like I had to be grateful. Such a show-off.
Matthias: I can only guess but people like him might feel ashamed about buying sex so they perhaps say those things to feel better about themselves.
Hyeri: Exactly. They want to have sex but have no partner, so they come to us and pay us for it. But they still think we are beneath them, like they are somehow better than us. But we’re human, just like them, and have the same rights – no grades, no levels. In fact, some sex workers are smarter than those lowlife clients. Well, maybe not all of them. (laughs) By the way, in Taean, I’ve also had some police officers among my clients.
Matthias: How did they treat you?
Hyeri: They acted pretty normal. Actually, I was more comfortable with them than with some of my other clients. But one of them was bad. All women hated and avoided him but I didn’t care as long as he paid. One day he asked me, ‘Aren’t you afraid of me?’, and when I asked him why, he replied ‘All other girls are afraid of me.’ He then told me that he was a police officer and that his life was boring as his wife was working in another city. I guess he told me because he saw that I wasn’t afraid of him. But at other times, he would get angry, talk trash and yell at me. He was a really loud person. But I just felt kind of sorry for him. He wanted to appear really strong but he seemed quite unhappy and like he just needed someone to care about him.
Matthias: If you look back over the last five years, how would you rate your clients? How many were nice, how many were average, and how many did you have bad experiences with?
Hyeri: The nice ones were just ten percent, maybe a little below that. Half of them were so-so, not bad. The rest behaved badly or worse.
Matthias: So, the majority was average or good, but that’s quite many bad ones. Do you keep records of the bad clients?
Hyeri: Absolutely. I avoid them and tell them that I don’t want them as clients. Some ask me then ‘Why? I paid you, it’s your job.’ Dealing with those clients makes me feel depressed and gloomy. Sometimes, I just want to evaporate. It also burdens me to juggle my work and my family, so sometimes I cry a lot and feel suicidal.
Matthias: Does your mother know about your work?
Hyeri: No, she doesn’t. She does know I work in shops [brothels] but she thinks I am only taking care of the books and help the women with their make-up.
Matthias: And she doesn’t mind that?
Hyeri: No. It’s just one of the jobs out there and she doesn’t care. But if she knew I was a sex worker – she wouldn’t want that.
Matthias: How do you feel about living away from your children?
Hyeri: It’s my one and only regret. Actually, it’s not a regret. But I worry about them.
Matthias: Does your boyfriend have a problem with your work? And do you think you’ll move back to the north together?
Hyeri: No, he’s fine with my work. But Sung Woo [name changed] is a Daegu person through and through. He doesn’t like other cities and he certainly doesn’t like Seoul, so I don’t think we’ll move there. He’s been there for me every time I felt down, even when we were just friends. In Korea, usually just lovers hug each other, but whenever we met, we were hugging each other even when we still thought we were just friends. But then last year, I got unfairly fired from a shop in brothel…
Matthias: Oh, why was that?
Hyeri: The working conditions there weren’t good, so I argued a lot with the owner during the two months I worked there and eventually, he fired me. So I went on a short trip to Busan and Daegu. My plan was just to stay two days in Daegu, but then I met Sung Woo and felt really comfortable with him, so I stayed a day longer, and I visited him several times over the following months. Finally, in July, I started to live here. Actually, people in Daegu prefer a Seoul agashi [young lady; miss] so I have more clients here.
Matthias: Does that mean you can charge your clients more? How long are your sessions usually?
Hyeri: Yes. My sessions last between 60 and 90 minutes and clients have to pay between 100-150,000 Won (approx. £60-90 | US$ 90-140 | €80-120).
Matthias: How does it compare to your previous job in Yangju?
Hyeri: I worked at a room salon there and they had a system called jogeon mannam [lit. condition meeting], where the price depends on the duration as well as the service. What do I do and what don’t I do. There, sessions last for at least two hours or even longer, depending on what the client wants. The client then pays the owner and the owner pays me. Per hour, I earned 30-60,000 Won (approx. £18-36 | US$ 27-55 | €24-48). At the room salon, clients can choose which women they like. Most Korean men prefer thinner girls, so some clients rejected me. Sometimes, I would go a whole day without a single client.
Matthias: And you wouldn’t earn anything then?
Hyeri: That’s right. And whenever I told the owner that I wanted to take a rest, he would ask me, ‘How long?’ It felt more like dealing with a pimp, not with a manager.
Matthias: How about Daegu?
Hyeri: It’s much better here. I got more clients so I can more easily choose which clients I want. In Yangju, I worked pretty much every day but here, I only work 10-14 days per month. If I want to work, I work, and if I don’t, I don’t. (laughs)
Matthias: Very good. Where do you meet your clients here?
Hyeri: I first chat with them via one of two smartphone apps [names withheld] and then I meet them at a yeogwan [small hotel or inn].
Matthias: How much are the rooms there? Does the client have to pay for that?
Hyeri: Yes, sure. For two to three hours, they cost 20-30,000 Won (approx. £12-18 | US$ 18-28 | €16-24), but usually, 20,000 Won.
Matthias: Do you meet them in this neighbourhood?
Hyeri: Yes, I’m not travelling across the city. When clients call me, I tell them I’m from Seoul and don’t know my way around Daegu. (laughs) So, they have to come here and pick me up.
Matthias: What safety precautions do you take? Could they just drive you anywhere they want?
Hyeri: No, I never get into a car with a client. We just meet in front of a motel and then we go in. And they got to pay me first. I also screen my clients in advance. I test how patient they are. When I tell them I can only see them later or the next day, or that they have to come here if they want to see me, some swear at me, so of course I don’t meet them then.
Reflection of a motel in Daegu © 2015 Matt Lemon Photography All Rights Reserved
Matthias: Do you have many repeat clients?
Hyeri: Yes, about 60-70% of my clients are repeat clients. They like my Seoul accent and think I’m kind and sophisticated.
Matthias: Are the motel owners aware that sex workers use their premises? And how about the police? Do they check on the motels in the area?
Hyeri: The owners know, as does the police, but the police doesn’t do anything because we just look like normal couples.
Matthias: Do you have contact to other sex workers in Daegu?
Hyeri: At first, I worked at a noraebang [lit. singing room, Korean for karaoke bar] for a short time as a doumi [lit. helper; doumis sing and drink with customers, who then later also pay them for sexual services at nearby motels if they come to an agreement]. But I didn’t have much in common with the other doumis there. They didn’t think about the job like other sex workers I’ve met. They think of it just as a part-time job or a secondary job, and that they will only do it to earn more money within a shorter period of time and then stop it altogether. Some of them don’t care about using condoms or whether or not clients use their fingers.
Matthias: How old are the sex workers you’ve met over the years? Did you ever encounter any persons below 18 who sold sex?
Hyeri: No, those I’ve met where always in their 20s at least but I’ve also met sex workers who were in their 50s.
Matthias: At all the shops you’ve worked at over the last five years, did you ever come across any cases where you felt people were forced to work there?
Hyeri: No, not at all.
Matthias: Did you meet any sex workers from other countries?
Hyeri: Not here in Daegu but I’ve met Chinese sex workers in Bucheon, Incheon and Taean. There were also Russian und Uzbek sex workers in Bucheon, and I’ve met some from North Korea in Yangju.
Matthias: Do you know how those from North Korea got to work there?
Hyeri: One of them told me she married some older Chinese man who paid her 20-30 million Won (approx. £12-18,000 | US$ 18-27,000 | €16-24,000). She lived with him for almost two years, got pregnant and had a baby, but then she escaped alone via Thailand to South Korea.
Matthias: Did she choose to do all that?
Hyeri: Yes, she wanted to help her parents in North Korea so she got the money and gave it to them. I would call it ‘self-trafficking’. It’s very common for Chinese men to pay for a bride.
Matthias: Finally, I would like to ask you about sex worker activism. You told me before that you resigned as a member of Giant Girls [an organisation of sex workers and allies to support sex workers’ rights]. But I often notice that you post messages about other labour activists on Facebook and Twitter or join them for protests or vigils. Do you still engage in sex worker activism?
Hyeri: I resigned from GG last August and I want to stay independent. There were just too many disagreements. I love some of the members at GG. Some work at a hospital, some are lawyers, and they were really helpful. I don’t necessarily think that it’s a problem that there were more non-sex workers than sex workers at GG but their way of thinking was a problem.
Matthias: Maybe that is because they’re not sex workers? I feel that’s the same with many researchers, journalists or politicians I’ve encountered. Even among those who say they support sex workers’ rights, and let’s suppose they really mean it, there are still many who don’t fully accept sex work as work and hope sex workers would quit and do something else. If there would be a new sex worker-only organisation in South Korea, would you join?
Hyeri: Never. I hate organisations and frankly, I don’t want to meet with other sex workers anymore.
Matthias: Do you have anything else on your mind that you would like to say?
Hyeri: I still think that life is hell for sex workers in South Korea.
Matthias: Yes, it sure sounds tough. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with me and thanks for showing me Daegu. I had a great time.
* Since those who do not recognise sex work as work are often prone to use cherry-picked facts to support their arguments, I would like to point out that South Korea has the highest suicide rate among all OECD countries.  “Last year, data showed that 29.1 people per 100,000 took their own lives ― more than triple the OECD average.”  So, without meaning to trivialise in any way the impact of police crackdowns and mistreatment by clients on sex workers’ mental health, one needs to acknowledge that suicide is a broader problem in South Korean society, and not limited to its sex worker population.
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
Italian feminist blogger Eretica Whitebread recounts her conversation with an Italian sex worker living and working in Germany.
Originally posted on Research Project Germany
Clicca qui per la versione italiana di “Le abolizioniste della prostituzione violano i nostri diritti!”. Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Abbatto i Muri and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
By Eretica Whitebread
I wrote this article after a conversation I had with F., an Italian sex worker living in Germany. She works at a place that is perfectly legal and pays taxes. She has a son from a previous relationship and her current partner is a woman. A few years ago, she moved away from Italy, where she had been charged with abetting ‘exploitative prostitution’. At the time, she was sharing an apartment with another sex worker. They had intended to help each other in order to work more safely. But under Italian laws, merely living with a sex worker can put you in trouble and see you charged with ‘exploiting the prostitution of others’.
After she served her sentence, F. chose to relocate to Germany, but currently, she feels quite unsettled there. Having already suffered due to the unfair legal charge in Italy, which made her the victim of a law that criminalised her without reason, a law not intended to support her in any way, she now learnt from the news that fanatic feminists want to make sex work illegal, thus driving sex workers underground. F. is afraid that she might again face a law that will criminalise her job.
View original 729 more words
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.
Yes and no, and no again!
In recent weeks, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada have voted in favour of laws to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, a measure commonly referred to as the Swedish Model. In July, however, the Select Committee of the French Senate rejected such a move, as did a majority of members of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom last week. The latest decision against the Swedish Model was handed down on November 7, 2014, by the Justice and Electoral Committee of the New Zealand Parliament (Pāremata Aotearoa).
Petition by Freedom from Sexual Exploitation
In May 2013, Elizabeth Subritzky had submitted a petition on behalf of Freedom from Sexual Exploitation that the House of Representatives legislate for a national plan of action to combat street prostitution, including a law to make the purchase of sexual services illegal. At the time, Subritzky claimed that the Prostitution Reform Act of 2003, which decriminalised sex work, was to blame for women selling sex. According to Subritzky, the law had not only encouraged more men to buy sex, but also “transformed prostitution into an acceptable, even attractive job for young, poor women in New Zealand”. (Source: Stuff New Zealand)
The Prostitution Reform Act 2003
The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 decriminalises prostitution while not endorsing or morally sanctioning it or its use. The Act, administered by the Ministry of Justice, creates a framework that
- safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation
- promotes the welfare, occupational health and safety of sex workers
- is conducive to public health
- prohibits people under 18 years of age from working in prostitution.
The Act provides protections for all sex workers, whether they work indoors or on the streets, by making prostitution subject to the same laws and controls that regulate other businesses. No person in New Zealand on a visa may provide commercial sexual services, or act as an operator of or invest in a New Zealand prostitution business. (Source: Report of the Justice and Electoral Committee)
Report of the Justice and Electoral Committee
Based on the 2008 Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee (PLRC), established under the Prostitution Reform Act, the Justice and Electoral Committee stated that a perceived increase in street prostitution “may be due to an increase in visibility in some areas” which “may not necessarily represent greater numbers overall.” The committee also referred to a 2010 report from the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective which found that “the number of sex workers is relatively stable, and in some parts of the country, such as Wellington, is decreasing as sex workers have the means to shift indoors and to work from home or elsewhere”.1
With regards to the impact of street-based sex workers on the communities they work in, the committee found that while a small number of communities “have raised concerns about vehicle noise, disorderly behaviour, and the disposal of rubbish”, there are already laws in place to address them. A review of the issues associated with street-based sex work undertaken by the Ministry of Justice in 2009 recommended “a comprehensive local approach to improve community safety and minimise harm” and suggested that “banning and moving on street-based sex workers might drive activity further underground, impairing the health and safety of workers”.
Whereas Subritzky’s petition expressed concern that street-based sex workers were “particularly vulnerable to violence, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, and social marginalisation”, the committee stated that the aforementioned 2008 PLRC report had concluded that “on the whole the vast majority of those involved in the sex industry are better off than they were before the Prostitution Reform Act, and [that] the relationship between sex workers and the police has improved.” Acknowledging the vulnerability of street-based sex workers, the committee recommended to encourage them to move to indoor workplaces and support them “to work as safely as possible while causing minimal disruption to local residents”.
In response to the request in Subritzky’s petition to make the purchase of sexual services illegal, the committee stated: “The purpose of the Prostitution Reform Act is to give sex workers the same protections as other workers, recognising that sex workers are not necessarily victims. The 2008 PLRC report noted that Swedish sex workers have criticised the Swedish model, saying the need to protect their clients from the risk of prosecution disadvantages them and exposes them to risk. The committee considered that all forms of criminalisation increase workers’ vulnerability, producing negative health and safety outcomes.”
With regards to the suggestion in Subritzky’s petition that prosecuting brothel managers would enable authorities to control human trafficking, the committee pointed to existing trafficking legislation, which also punishes “a range of conduct associated with trafficking, including rape, engaging underage prostitutes, coercing prostitutes, and exploitation of labourers”. It added that New Zealand was meeting its “international obligations to prevent and combat people trafficking under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime” and had amended the law “to remove the cross-border requirement, ensuring domestic and transnational human trafficking can be prosecuted and punished”.
Whereas the Subritzky’s petition expressed concern “about the number of under-age street-based sex workers”, the committee referred to reports from the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, which indicated that “there are very few under-age workers in Christchurch and Wellington, and few in Auckland”, and that “the existence of the Act has made brothel operators more aware of the law on under-age workers”. In addition, the 2008 PLRC report had concluded that there had been “no increase in the number of under-age prostitutes since the Act came into force”.
On the subject of under age sex workers
Under 11.4 Media Influence on Public Perception, the 2008 PLRC report cited findings from Nicolas Pascoe (2007) that “the most common negative assumptions were that decriminalisation will increase the numbers of under age people involved in prostitution, and that there is or will be more crime associated with sex work” due to the Prostitution Reform Act. “The analysis concluded the way in which an issue is reported (whether negative or positive assumptions about it are made and reinforced), may prompt attention from other sectors of the media and from politicians whose involvement in turn adds weight to the perception that the matter is of grave concern. Thus, the perceived scale of a ‘problem’ in a community can be directly linked to the amount, and tone, of newspaper coverage it receives. The Committee considers that much of the reporting on matters such as the numbers of sex workers and under age involvement in prostitution has been exaggerated.” (p. 163)
Rejecting Subritzky’s petition, the Justice and Electoral Committee concluded: “We appreciate the petitioner’s concerns about street prostitution. However, we are aware that the eradication of street-based prostitution has not proved to be achievable in any jurisdiction, and simply banning it may have negative consequences for the health and safety of sex workers. We support the Prostitution Law Review Committee’s conclusion that local approaches are likely to be most effective in dealing with street prostitution.”
Reaction from Dr Calum Bennachie
“It may seem like a quiet, minor victory, but it is very important. After failing in 2003 to have it added to the Prostitution Reform Bill as it made its way through parliament and after their failed attempt at getting a Citizens Initiated Referendum to overturn the Prostitution Reform Act, abolitionists again attempted to overturn the rights of sex workers. The Select Committee considering their petition has thrown it out, ruling on the side of reason and evidence, rather than on the basis of ideology.
When other groups are finally given rights by society, they rarely have to keep returning to parliament to protect those rights. Yet, sex workers, who have been given their rights by Parliament in 2003 when sex work was decriminalised, continually have to defend themselves in parliament, fight the same battles, and time after time have to refute the same tired arguments based on invented figures. In this petition, there were claims that most people entering sex work do so under 18 years of age. This claim is blatantly untrue, and in another part of the petition, Freedom From Sexual Exploitation actually claims that 18.3% of sex workers start under 18 years of age. No matter how often they repeat their incorrect assertion, 18.3% do not represent the majority of sex workers, and they are still less than the 35.6% of sex workers who started work between 18 and 21, the age group in which most sex workers start. These abolitionists need to realise that the falsehoods, fictions, myths, and lies that they tell will not win, and will be exposed.”
Footnote + Further Reading
 This report is based on Abel, Fitzgerald, & Brunton’s (2009) paper “The impact of decriminalisation on the number of sex workers in New Zealand”. [J Soc Pol 38(3) 515-31]
I would like to thank Dr Calum Bennachie for allowing me to include his comments in this article. (Photo © New Zealand Prostitutes Collective)
Palace of Westminster, London (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In response to a call by the English Collective of Prostitutes, I sent the following letter to the chair and all members of the Modern Slavery Bill Committee at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.
+++ SEE UPDATE BELOW +++
Dear Mr Field, Dear Mr McDonnell,
and Dear Members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill,
Without a doubt, you will receive plenty of emails containing objections to clauses of the Modern Slavery Bill, and I’m afraid this is another one. I am a German doctoral researcher at Queen’s University Belfast, where my focus lies on prostitution regulation in my native Germany. Over the last years, I have conducted research into measures to prevent human trafficking in the Mekong Sub-region and human rights abuses against sex workers in South Korea, resulting from Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law.
Recently, I had to observe how the majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly blatantly disregarded scientific evidence (as well as sex workers’ testimony) against Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill. As you will well be aware, MLAs voted to criminalise the purchase of sexual services a mere three days after the Department of Justice published its first-ever comprehensive research report into prostitution in Northern Ireland, conducted by senior colleagues at Queen’s University. As your colleague, Justice Minister David Ford, stated, he saw no evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchase of sexual services would reduce the incidence of trafficking. However, he added that “the report contains evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchasing of sex … may create further risk and hardship for those individuals, particularly women involved in prostitution.”
Earlier this year, the EU adopted a report by Mary Honeyball, MEP, as a resolution to endorse criminalising the purchase of sexual services in EU countries, despite evidence provided to counter her claims signed by numerous experts in the field and a statement by hundreds of organisations. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the matter, Ms Honeyball’s report was deeply flawed by any standards, and I must ask you: how is it that a sound research report as the one by the researchers at Queen’s can be dismissed so easily while a clearly biased report such as Ms Honeyball’s can be adopted as a EU resolution? The answer is simple: it just isn’t very easy for politicians such as yourselves to vote against human trafficking bills or bills to criminalise sex workers’ clients, because you must certainly be worried that the public might perceive it as promoting either a crime – human trafficking – or what some people may still consider as immoral – selling and buying sexual services.
Although I have submitted evidence to Rhoda Grant’s consultation in Scotland and, much the same, to Lord Morrow’s consultation in Northern Ireland, which you are certainly invited to explore, I would like to ask you to first look at the detailed evidence submitted by the English Collective of Prostitutes, titled Briefing against clauses to the Modern Slavery Bill to prohibit the purchase of sexual services.
Key points include:
- Support for the amendment which would remove the offence of loitering and soliciting for sex workers
- Strong opposition to the clauses criminalising clients, on the basis of sex workers’ safety
- Evidence to counter the claim that the Swedish anti-prostitution law has allegedly resulted in a reduction of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or a reduction of prostitution
- Evidence that the treatment of sex workers in Sweden has worsened since the adoption of the Swedish Model
- The fact that once again, like in Northern Ireland, the evidence submitted by sex workers is being ignored
You do not have to agree with people’s choices to sell or buy sexual services, but you need to accept these choices and must refrain from introducing laws that endanger people selling sex, even more so if there is no sufficient evidence that the measure would yield any success with regards to the declared aim to reduce human trafficking.
I therefore ask you to be show courage and represent sex workers in the same way you represent your other constituents. If you really want to protect sex workers, don’t give in to misguided bill proposals based on morality. As Justice Minister David Ford pointed out ahead of the vote in the assembly: “It’s not about morals. It’s about how to best address the issues.”
ps. My native Germany has taken a different approach to prostitution legislation, which is frequently misrepresented in the media and by anti-prostitution activists. Therefore, I would like to point you at a short article of mine looking at the Lies & Truths about the German Prostitution Act – An Introduction for the Uninitiated.
+++ UPDATE: The amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill put forward by Fiona Mactaggart MP, which would have criminalised sex workers’ clients, was dropped without even going to a vote. Another amendment put forward by Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, calling for a “review of the links between prostitution and human trafficking and sexual exploitation”, which was put forward as an alternative to Fiona Mactaggart’s, was defeated by 283 votes to 229. Please listen to the excellent speech by John McDonnell MP. Alternatively you can view the video or read the full transcript included in a statement by the English Collective of Prostitutes. +++
What is Clause 6?
Clause 6 is part of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill in Northern Ireland, proposed by Lord Morrow from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), currently the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. With Clause 6, the DUP aims to “create a new offence of purchasing sexual services to reduce demand for trafficked individuals and combat exploitation” and proposes to amend the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 to criminalise any and all purchases of sexual services, regardless of consent between the individuals involved.
On Monday, October 20, 2014, sex workers and allies protested against Clause 6 at the Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast where parliamentarians debated over the more than 60 amendments before a vote on the Bill scheduled for the same night. +++ UPDATE: Clause 6 passed the Northern Ireland Assembly with 81 votes in favour, 10 votes against. +++
Against Clause 6
Research commissioned by the Department of Justice and carried out by researchers at Queen’s University found that 98% of sex workers who responded to the survey were against criminalising the purchase of sexual services.
“Sex workers worry that criminalisation of clients will lead to a potential decrease in security, worsen working conditions and increase risks of violence and other abuse. Some are also concerned about the loss of what they determine as decent clients and an increase in the number of violent clients. Another common concern is that criminalisation of clients will lead to the increased involvement of organised crime groups and ‘pimps’ in the sex industry.
For sex workers criminalisation of clients may mean that they would be less inclined to report crimes to the police out of fear of incriminating themselves or becoming involved in legal procedures.” (Source: Research into Prostitution in Northern Ireland, Report prepared by Queen’s University Belfast)
Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford commented:
“My view is that the research report raises clear questions as to whether the objective that Lord Morrow and I share – that is to reduce the incidence of trafficking – will indeed be furthered by Clause 6. I also believe it provides sufficient evidence for anyone who has any concerns about the welfare of individuals involved in prostitution to oppose Clause 6 on the grounds that we need more time to understand this, virtually hidden, element of our society and more time to make decisions on the right course for future law and policy.” (Source: Department of Justice)
Ford said the issue of trafficking people and human slavery should be separated from the issue of prostitution. “The research has established that the framework of prostitution in Northern Ireland is more complex and diverse than the picture generally painted. I have, however, seen no evidence to suggest that the change proposed by Lord Morrow would reduce the incidence of trafficking. Indeed the report contains evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchasing of sex, as a single clause in a bill, may create further risk and hardship for those individuals, particularly women involved in prostitution,” the justice minister said. (Source: The Guardian)
In a press release, sex workers’ rights activist Laura Lee stated:
“Will sex workers in NI have to wait decades for an apology just as the Magdalene women did ? Or will that apology for bad law making come after the first murder, or fourth serious assault perhaps ? It remains to be seen, but they cannot for a moment pretend they didn’t have the evidence available to do right by an already marginalised and stigmatised group. Sex workers will suffer, and it could have been prevented by the courageous actions of a few. Instead we have been let down by the cowardice of many.” (Source: Laura Lee)
+++ Update: Statement by sex workers in Northern Ireland on passing of Clause 6 +++
“We, as sex workers are devastated to hear about the news that the purchase of sex will be criminalised in Northern Ireland under the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill. This new bill will only drive sex work further underground and make it more dangerous for the most marginalised sex workers.
The Northern Ireland Assembly are not listening to current sex workers who will be affected by this new legislation and the evidence released by the Department of Justice on Friday backs this up. 98% of sex workers surveyed are against this new law and 85% working in the industry said it would not reduce trafficking.
We ask the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconsider this law and look at the evidence. This law will not reduce trafficking and will make working conditions more unsafe.” (Source: Ugly Mugs Ireland)
Stormont Protest: Sex workers and allies protest against Clause 6
Photos: Sex workers and allies protest against Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s ill-informed Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services in Northern Ireland. © 2014 Matt Lemon Photography | Please read the copyright notice
(Includes appearances by “Andy”, an anonymous female sex worker; Dr Susann Huschke, lead author of the research report; and Justice Minister David Ford)
Interview with Heike Rabe, Policy Advisor at the German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte)
The UN calls for a global fight against human trafficking. In Germany, the focus lies on forced prostitution.* In an interview with tagesschau.de, lawyer Heike Rabe laments the lack of reliable data. She doesn’t think much of plans to tighten the prostitution law.
“The truths that are broadcast by the media aren’t empirically verifiable truths. There is no evidence that Germany is the biggest brothel of Europe. There is no evidence that prostitutes are also always victims of human trafficking. And there is also no evidence that the Prostitution Act of 2002 is to blame for that. Fact is, however: the measures that are discussed with regards to the pending revision of that law curtail the rights of prostitutes. They include, for example, mandatory health checks.”
Click here to continue reading at Research Project Germany.
Statement by Korean Sex Worker Organisation Giant Girls
We condemn the South Korean government for denying sex workers their human rights and criticise the government’s plan to pay rewards of up to one hundred million won to prostitution informants.
On May 20th 2014, the South Korean Government announced that they will pay rewards of up to one hundred million won (US$98,000 | £58,000 | €70,000) to informants who provide important leads to crime investigations, notably organised crime and prostitution. This announcement exhibits the government’s indifference, ignorance, and incompetency.
Since 2005, the government has successfully ignored the voices of sex workers, their cry against stigmatisation and discrimination, their fight for their right to survive, and the apparent link between sex work and women’s poverty. Instead of putting prostitution on the same level of criminal offences like organized crime, one should consider why people choose to enter and stay in prostitution.
What sex workers face is not limited to prostitution. Prostitution and sex work reflect the Korean society’s policies and attitudes towards minorities and workers, and also how strong the social safety net is. What people think of prostitution, how the sex industry is created and maintained, what the public opinion says about it, and how the government copes with it, all reflect the general problem of our society.
The government doesn’t think that prostitution is a result of inequalities in Korean society. Instead, it tries to blame prostitution for all sorts of social problems. Poverty and the failure to acknowledge the human rights of sex workers are key problems that sex workers face. It those problems remain unresolved, the controversy about prostitution will continue.
Prostitution is already illegal in Korea. That is why sex workers cannot ask for protection during their work. Rather than protecting sex workers, the police violate their human rights during crackdowns. Amidst all this, this new policy will pose a new threat to the survival of sex workers. With bounty hunters at large, sex workers will have to hide in the shadows where there is neither safety nor a regular income. This policy is also dangerous as it may direct public frustration at the Park administration’s incompetency, incapacity and dishonesty towards sex workers by defining sex workers as the delinquent “others”. Stigmatising minorities as criminals and putting them into dangerous circumstances represents nothing short of a witch hunt.
To most of male, female and transgender sex workers, sex work is a matter of survival. Before asking sex workers why would they go into this business, the government should reflect on the circumstances that renders sex work inevitable. A weak social safety net, prejudices within Korean society, and the attitude of Korean society towards poverty should be held accountable. Sex workers constantly have to be afraid and will have no access to workers’ rights and human rights as long as prostitution is deemed a crime and “prostitutes” as filthy.
We, the members of Giant Girls, the Network for Sex Workers’ Rights, express our outrage over this incompetent and irresponsible government announcement and declare that we will take every measure against the situation.
May 20th, 2014
Giant Girls, the Network for Sex Workers’ Rights
Author: Giant Girls, Network for Sex Workers’ Rights (성노동자권리모임 지지)
Translation: Research Project Korea, with kind permission by Giant Girls
Please click here for the Korean version.
In April, the Upper House of the German Parliament, the Bundesrat, passed a resolution calling for an objective debate and differentiated measures amid plans by the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats to reform the German Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG). With kind permission of the author, Research Project Germany published an English translation of the response by the Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD), a German sex worker organisation founded in October 2013.
Click here to continue reading at Research Project Germany.
Parliamentary Enquiry about Prostitution and Police Powers
The response contradicts claims made by anti-prostitution activists and some police representatives that the Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG) was hindering police investigations related to combating human trafficking. According to the Berlin Police, no such hindrance exists since the ProstG came into force.
Continue reading at Research Project Germany
In May 2013, leading German news magazine DER SPIEGEL published a cover story on the alleged failure of the German prostitution law which, according to DER SPIEGEL, rendered the State complicit in human trafficking. Contrary to South Korea, prostitution is legal in Germany, though it is heavily regulated in most municipalities.
Since its publication, the SPIEGEL article has been quoted by campaigners for the criminalisation of prostitution in many parts of the world. Most recently, Mary Honeyball, a member of the European Parliament for the British Labour Party, cited the article as evidence in her “Report on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality”. The Honeyball Report was subsequently voted upon in the European Parliament, despite strong opposition from 560 NGOs as well as 94 academics and researchers who published a counter-report exposing the inaccurate and misrepresentative data used by Mary Honeyball.
Notwithstanding, a majority of MEPs backed the report, which was adopted as a non-binding resolution, thus formally establishing the EU’s stance on prostitution as being in support of the ‘Swedish Model’ that criminalises the buyers of sexual services.
Back in June 2013, Sonja Dolinsek and Matthias Lehmann had published a critique of the SPIEGEL article, which they found to be deeply flawed and failing to address numerous relevant aspects of human trafficking prevention and prosecution, including victim protection.
Noticing that the SPIEGEL article had found its way into the Korean news media, Research Project Korea launched a small fundraiser to have the critique translated into Korean. Nearly 90% of the funding target were reached quickly and the translation was completed at the end of June. The real challenge, however, was just beginning.
The plan to place the translated article in a Korean newspaper proved to be extremely difficult. Many editorial staff didn’t even bother to reply, but eventually, one of the biggest dailies expressed interest. The editorial department even planned to expand the article to include comments from sex workers and feminist academics. After protracted correspondence – months would literally pass by until the research team received new responses – it then suddenly transpired via a contact that the article wouldn’t be published after all. A journalist from the newspaper later confirmed this, without giving any reasons.
Although a lot of time has passed, we have now decided to self-publish the article, since the constitutional review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law in South Korea has still not concluded; a second reason is the significance the SPIEGEL article appears to retain for prostitution law discourses, especially outside Germany, where, long after the print edition has been recycled, it finds acceptance as unrefuted truth and continues to be utilised by anti-prostitution activists. It is currently disseminated on Korean online forums to insert some much-needed factual evidence into prostitution discourses in South Korea.
To view the Korean version of our article, please click here.
The research team would like to express its deepest gratitude to the generous donors who helped fund the translation as well as to the translators, Miss CHO Woori, Miss SONG Byol and [Anonymous].
End Violence Against Sex Workers
This video chronicles the efforts of sex worker communities and their allies to memorialise Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine. Dora was a 24-year-old trans sex worker in Turkey, Jasmine was a 27-year-old sex worker in Sweden. Both were murdered in a matter of days in July 2013.
This video is launched at a time when the European Parliament debates about and votes on whether to recommend EU member states to criminalise the clients of sex workers and the buying of sexual services. This system is known as the Swedish Model, which numerous studies, e.g. by member organisations of the United Nations or the World Health Organisation, have found to have serious consequences for the health and safety of sex workers.
“Laws that criminalize sex work and the sex industry should be reviewed, taking into account the adverse impact of these laws on public health and the human rights of sex workers. To enable sex workers to fully enjoy legal rights to health and safety at work requires decriminalization. Decriminalization of sex work requires the repeal of: a. laws explicitly criminalizing sex work or clients of sex workers…” – UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA. “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” (UNDP, 2012)
The “criminalization of sex work contributes to an environment, in which violence against sex workers is tolerated, leaving them less likely to be protected from it”. – WHO “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” Information Bulletin Series, Number 3 (2005)
In the aftermath of the murders of Dora and Jasmine, sex workers and allies organised protests in front of Swedish and Turkish embassies in 36 cities on 4 continents. The video includes impressions from these protests as well as an interview with Petite Jasmine by Carol Leigh and Pye Jakobsson during the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington.
“Often when I talk about what I think is important, that people who sell sex should be accepted and have a place in society like everybody else, there are many that say that it would never be accepted by society. But it wasn’t long ago that people said the same thing about unwed mothers, gays, transsexuals – pretty much everyone that was outside this frame of normality. I think, if we all tried real hard not to discriminate, like we have done with other minorities, things will develop pretty fast, like it has with other groups. That’s what I believe in.” – Eva Marree Smith Kullander (Petite Jasmine)
For further information, please click here to visit the official website for the “International Day of Protest to End Violence Against Sex Workers – In memoriam of Jasmine and Dora”. The protests were coordinated by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE).
To view a photo album about the global protests for Jasmine and Dora, please click here.
This video was posted with kind permission from Carol Leigh. For further details, please click here to view the video and a statement by Carol Leigh on Vimeo.
560 NGOs and 94 academics reject report by Mary Honeyball
560 NGOs, including 472 based in Europe, have asked the members of the European Parliament to reject a “Report on Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation and its Impact on Gender Equality”, written by Mary Honeyball, MEP for London. They were joined by 94 academics and researchers from Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific, who published a letter and a critical review of Mary Honeyball’s report, which will be voted upon during a plenary session on the 26th of February 2014 at the European Parliament. The report recommends member states to adopt the so-called “Swedish Model”, which criminalises buying sexual services, whereas selling them remains legal (but very often criminalised in practice).
+++ Update! In an email to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), dated February 24th, 2014, Mary Honeyball has slandered the above NGOs as being “comprised of pimps”. Click here to view a screenshot of the email. +++
Academics criticise use of biased, inaccurate and disproven data
Responding to an initiative by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), the letter and critical review, signed by 94 academics and researchers, contradicts Mary Honeyball’s claim, made in a recent interview on LBC Radio, that her report had “a good basis of evidence and facts”.
The letter states, “We are concerned that this report is not of an acceptable standard on which to base a vote that would have such a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on already marginalised populations.” It continues, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data. We believe that policies should be based on sound evidence and thus hope that you will vote against the motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients.”
The critical review attests to Mary Honeyball’s “selection biases and crude misassumptions” and finds that she “substantively misinterpreted” two of her sources, namely a report commissioned by the City of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice and another by the German Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
The letter concludes, “To base any policy on such a methodologically flawed document, particularly one which would have such a detrimental impact on the human rights and wellbeing of a large number of marginalised individuals, would be setting a dangerous precedent.”
Click here to view or download the letter and counter-report.
NGOs denounce conflation of sex work and human trafficking
The letter endorsed by 560 NGOs, among them many organisations working with victims of human trafficking and migrant sex workers, denounces Mary Honeyball’s report for its conflation of sex work and trafficking. Citing a 2013 report by the Dutch National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking in Human Beings, the authors remind the MEPs that “there is no evidence that legalised prostitution increases trafficking”.
The letter continues, “A large number of HIV and health organisations have warned policy makers of the dangers of criminalising either sex workers or their clients. Worryingly, the question of public health is largely ignored in this report. We quote UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work in their 2011 report to accompany the UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work (2009): ‘States should move away from criminalising sex work or activities associated with it . Decriminalisation of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work.’”
Click here to view or download the letter.
Click here to view a separate statement by the La Strada International NGO Platform – ‘united against trafficking in human beings’ – which consists of NGOs from Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, and Ukraine.
What can you do?
Click here to sign the petition and tell members of the European Parliament to say NO to the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients.
Write to your MEP. If you live in one off the 28 members country of the European Union, you can directly write to your MEP. ICRSE has put together a guide to action for individuals and organisations. It includes versions in italiano, deutsch, español, român, português, polski, suomalainen, and francais.
Highlights from a symposium about the German Prostitution Act at the Urania Berlin on December 9th, 2013. The event was organised by Felicitas Schirow who had invited experts from the fields of justice, criminology, social work, sociology, and social sciences, as well as an expert from the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) and two women’s rights spokeswomen from the Left Party and the Greens.
Facts and Figures about the German Prostitution Act
“The Swedish Model has led to bizarre outcomes. Firstly, prostitution in Sweden has not decreased. Secondly, in order to prosecute punters, the police can only conduct investigations under degrading conditions. In my view, if you want to create a law, as the coalition agreement suggests, then you should first do proper research about legal facts, before you conclude some backroom deal without rhyme or reason that only serves to make matters worse.”
– Percy MacLean, Chief judge at the Berlin Administrative Court (ret.), former director of the German Institute for Human Rights, recipient of the 2004 Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR) which honours citizens or initiatives that promote basic human rights
“We say that the prostitution law needs to be updated. The interior ministers have demanded (a reform) in 2010, but it still hasn’t been implemented. What is now being demanded in the media is in fact the long overdue implementation of this resolution. I believe it’s justified to say that prostitution isn’t a job like any other but to automatically equate prostitution with human trafficking isn’t fair, isn’t appropriate, and doesn’t contribute to the discourse. I’ve met enough women that prostituted themselves voluntarily, that were neither forced nor went into that line of work due to economic necessities, and I believe the state should acknowledge that. We witness it in our daily work, and that is why I always ask for a factual and differentiated view, maybe with a few uncomfortable comments by the police.”
– Heike Rudat, Director of the unit dealing with organised crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA)
“If there is no majority for a sensible law, then I believe we don’t necessarily need a (new) law. Article 180a of the Criminal Code – that is one of the four laws that were adopted in 2002, at least one, that’s a significant share – prohibits brothel owners to offer prostitution in a fashion that limits the personal and economic liberties of those employed there. If extortionate rents and fees are charged, if no receipts are given for the payment of provided services etc. – those aren’t findings of the department for organised crime but from female police officers that work in the milieu – then those would be concrete facts that would raise the suspicion of exploitative prostitution being offered there, and existing laws already allow for such a brothel to be controlled. I would have no objections if legislation would further clarify these matters but then one must no longer view them from the human trafficking angle but talk about price controls through the Trade Supervisory Office, about the prevention of exploitative prostitution, and about the implementation – at long last – of the Prostitution Act, and one would have to completely change the jargon. The Prostitution Act was torpedoed. Let us finally put the Prostitution Act into effect. And, dear women, if you believe you need to be dominated by an old woman named Alice Schwarzer, oh my…”
– Prof. Dr. emer. Monika Frommel Criminologist, former director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel
“Since there are repeated calls again for controls, controls, and more controls, let’s take a look at the subject of health. I can honestly say that Berlin’s outreach clinics seldom report the outbreak of diseases where the general public is concerned, and the women (in prostitution) are also free to visit a doctor. Their bodies are their assets. They have to be fit. They can’t say, all right, nothing to worry about, I might spread some diseases a little. It’s been suggested time and again that prostitutes are guilty of spreading venereal diseases. It’s wrong. That occurs on different levels.”
– Ilona Hengst, Social worker with 25 years of experience working with sex workers, previously held positions at several district offices in Berlin
“There has to be collaboration with sex workers, women’s projects and all stakeholders to pull together in one direction, to get this discourse into the right direction, because currently, it goes into the wrong one.”
– Evrim Sommer, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the Berlin parliament for the Left Party (Linkspartei)
“Others have already mentioned the right of direction (Weisungsrecht) here today. I believe it’s very important to emphasise this subject, since the idea of further restrictions on the right of direction was also discussed among the Greens. Some suggest that brothel owners should no longer be allowed to assign the workplace or schedule, which to my knowledge are the only aspects the (already restricted) right of direction permits them to control. I believe this is the wrong debate. One should better come out and admit that one’s actual goal is to prohibit prostitution than trying to further restrict the right of direction, just to make it impossible to work in prostitution.”
– Gesine Agena, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the federal board of the German Greens
“What actually happens in the setting of prostitution, when a client comes to a prostitute or talks to her? When the client goes to the prostitute, assuming they’re both adults, then it’s usually the prostitute who specifies and determines things relatively clearly, because most men, at least in my experience, are not necessarily in a position to clearly express what they actually like or want, and so she is the one making suggestions. Then they negotiate, about the price, too, and once they come to an agreement, the door closes, or the car door closes, or wherever they go together, and then a sexual service is performed. It’s a sexual and proactive act. The woman neither sells her body, nor does she sell her soul. Some people, and our society is no exception, apparently cannot imagine that women can actively offer and negotiate those services, and that they are basically in charge of these situations. I believe this is something that is very difficult to communicate and where we always get stuck at the client/prostitute level, e.g. where the criminalisation of clients is concerned. And where physical or sexualised violence does occur, we enter an area, also where criminal proceedings are concerned, of bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, rape etc. That is one level.”
– Christiane Howe, Sociologist at the Institute for Social Studies at Humboldt University Berlin
“Over the last few years, sex workers have told me time and time again about the physical and verbal abuse sex workers experience at the hands of police officers, including rape and the demand of “freebies”, i.e. sexual services in exchange for not being arrested, and there is ample documentation of this happening. Licensing or registration models have proven ineffective, or rather, where there’s a positive impact, it benefits only a small number of sex workers, since it was shown that in places where such models were introduced, the vast majority of sex workers worked outside of those legal frameworks. In addition, the measures that are involved often represent human rights violations, such as the forced outing of sex workers through compulsory registration schemes or mandatory health checks, which were both suggested by the editorial staff of the EMMA magazine and Mr Sporer from the criminal investigation department in Augsburg.”
– Matthias Lehmann, PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Law, Queens University Belfast
“I organised this event so that politicians, who will someday, maybe soon, create laws affecting us, cannot say they would have made different decisions if they had known about the contents of this event.”
– Felicitas Schirow, Since 1997 Owner of the brothel “Cafe Pssst!” in Berlin Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. The decision by the Berlin Administrative Court on December 1st, 2000, to declare the withdrawal of her pub license as unlawful is widely seen as precedent that triggered the adoption of the Prostitution Act of 2002.
Since several guests approached me after the event with the request for a copy of my lecture manuscript, I subsequently made it available. Please click here to retrieve the manuscript in English translation as a PDF file.
Please note: This manuscript must not be cited or otherwise publicised without express permission by the author. Although several authors as well as titles of cited sources are mentioned in the text, it contains no links or a bibliography as customary for academic articles. In addition, not all quotes are highlighted as such.
The text includes passages from press releases by the English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Worker Open University. Should you wish to cite this transcript or encounter difficulties to locate the respective sources, please send an email to Matthias Lehmann at yongsagisa[at]gmail[punkt]com.
© 2013-2014 Felicitas Schirow
℗ 2013-2014 blumlein records – Andrew Levine
The following is a brief introduction of the Soho Raids and an excerpt from a letter I sent to London’s Metropolitan Police in support of the Action Alert to Stop Attacks, Arrests & Evictions Against Sex Workers by the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP).
Last December, 200 officers in riot gear with dogs raided sex workers’ flats in Soho. Some women were handcuffed and dragged out in their underwear in front of the media. Closure Notices were issued against 18 flats and Closure Orders were then confirmed by a district judge in subsequent court cases. Soho is one of the safest places for women to work as they have a maid or receptionist with them and the support of the local community.
Police claimed in court that women were controlled because they were “required to work certain days of the week, between certain times and charge a specified amount of money for each service”. No “controller” was named or identified. District Judge Susan Williams found sex workers’ evidence “truthful”, admitted that “no evidence has been put before me of force and coercion” and acknowledged that a maid “is considered essential for safety”.
Click here to continue reading.
I was appalled to learn about the actions of the police in Soho on December 4th, 2013. In my opinion, these actions in no way reflected the Metropolitan Police’s concept of ‘total policing’, apart from maybe the ‘total professionalism’ with which your officers mistreated sex workers during the raid. Adding insult to injury, you invited the media to witness and document the actions, enabling them to publicly humiliate sex workers present at the scene.
- A ‘total war on crime’ this was not, but a war on sex workers earning a livelihood in Soho.
- If you were looking for victims of human trafficking, then how come your staff lacked the ‘total care for victims’?
- If you were aiming to ‘cut crime’, then why did you choose to attack, harass and evict women selling sex, which is not a crime in England?
- If you wanted to ‘cut costs’, then why did you send 200 of your officers to conduct a major raid in Soho?
- What kind of ‘culture of the organisation’ do you aim to develop by evicting, detaining and harassing sex workers, by kicking down doors, closing working flats, confiscating money and personal belongings as well as manhandling women in the street in front of the media?
- Where’s the humility, integrity and transparency with which you aim to achieve this ‘culture’?
If you genuinely aim for the Met to become ‘the best police service in the world’, you might want to take a moment to listen to Chris Armitt, Assistant Chief Constable for People Development at Merseyside Police.
“I genuinely think that enforcement is short-term. It doesn’t have a long-lasting effect, and sadly, there were a number of case studies who would say that where very robust and overt police enforcement is taking place, shortly after that, the incidents of violent attacks on sex workers increased, and that is possibly because those who would target sex workers become emboldened by what they say as an intolerance to the actual activity taking place.” – Chris Armitt [See Video below]
I believe the two recent murders of Mariana Popa and Maria Duque-Tunjano should give you more than enough reason to rethink your ‘culture’. Both women were sex workers, one working on the street and one working indoors but alone.
I ask you not only to genuinely change the nature of your operations and the culture of your officers, but to have the closure orders against sex workers’ flats revoked with immediate effect. Throwing women out on the street, as your officers literally did on December 4th, demonstrates a complete and utter disregard for their lives and safety, a safety they enjoy when working together and inside.
The claims that the raids were somehow needed to investigate suspected trafficking and abuse have been shown to be without foundation. No victims were found and there have been no prosecutions for trafficking. Instead, several migrant sex workers were taken into custody and shanghaied to a detention centre of the UK Border Authority, despite having reassured officers that they had not been trafficked into the UK and were working voluntarily.
During a recent visit in Soho, I could well see the changes the community is under. By coincidence, I actually witnessed how well-dressed staff of Soho Estates wandered about the area in which the closed brothel apartments are located, discussing the plans they have for area – a stark reminder of what is actually at stake in Soho, an area that has always been famous among locals and tourists for its diversity. The writing surely is on the wall. Whatever property developers have in mind, however, does not give the police the right to harass sex workers and evict them from their premises.
I firmly oppose the closures and urge you to reverse them, apologise to the women you harassed and caused distress, reimburse them for their losses, and ensure that sex workers’ safety will be given a priority in all future actions by the Metropolitan Police. If you manage to establish links and trust with sex workers and local outreach organisations, as ACC Chris Armitt suggests, you are likely to see an increase in collaboration with sex workers and a decrease in criminal activity. If you continue down the same path, however, you will shoulder a big part of the responsibility of violence against sex workers. As Valerie Scott, one of the plaintiffs in the Bedford v. Canada case asked recently: “How many bodies have to pile up?”
Stop the closures!
Women are appealing against the evictions on 10, 17 and 24 February at Isleworth Crown Court. Please join them in demanding that these closures be stopped. Please write urgently addressing your letters to:
Borough Commander Alison Newcomb alison.newcomb[at]met.police.uk
Westminster Cllr. Nickie Aitkin in charge of community safety naiken[at]westminster.gov.uk
cc: English Collective of Prostitutes ecp[at]prostitutescollective.net
For a model letter click here.
The following is a statement in support of the petition by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) ahead of a vote at the European Parliament at the end of this month. Please sign and share it widely.
Dear Members of the European Parliament,
I am well aware that the matter you have been asked to vote upon is for many a complicated or uncomfortable one. However, regardless of your moral or religious beliefs, I would like to ask you to look at the abundance of evidence that counters the claims made by your colleague Mary Honeyball and vote against the criminalisation of clients of sex workers.
There is sufficient evidence that the Swedish Model to criminalise the purchase of sexual services has not only failed to curb human trafficking, it has also created an environment that increases the stigma attached to sex work and puts sex workers at greater risk of violence, at times with disastrous consequences, including murder. For those unfamiliar with the subject, I have written a little introduction which includes references to relevant studies.  In addition, you may look at studies and reports by the UN , the WHO , the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women , and others , incl. the Swedish Police , which is exactly what Mary Honeyball did obviously not do. Instead, she chose sources to back up her arguments drawn from a thoroughly discredited researcher (Melissa Farley, see Bedford v. Canada, 353-356) , an equally thoroughly debunked article by German news magazine Der Spiegel  and other questionable sources.
Apart from being firmly opposed to Ms Honeyball’s views, I find it disgraceful that a member of your assembly displays such poor work ethics that could be described as ill-informed at best, though deceptive might be the more appropriate term here. It is disappointing that time, efforts and taxes are being spent to form a proposal that fails to address problems that do exist in the sex industry and instead aims to add to them.
Please let reason prevail, listen to sex workers, and vote against the criminalisation of their clients.
PhD Candidate in Law, Queens University Belfast
 Lehmann “Criminalising the payment for sexual services – An introduction for the uninitiated” http://wp.me/p294H2-NM
 UNDP “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/hivaids/English/HIV-2012-SexWorkAndLaw.pdf
 WHO “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” http://www.who.int/gender/documents/sexworkers.pdf
 GAATW “Collateral Damage – The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World” http://www.gaatw.org/Collateral%20Damage_Final/singlefile_CollateralDamagefinal.pdf
 Dodillet, Östergren “The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects“ http://gup.ub.gu.se/records/fulltext/140671.pdf
 Swedish National Police board “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” https://www.polisen.se/Global/www%20och%20Intrapolis/Informationsmaterial/01%20Polisen%20nationellt/Engelskt%20informationsmaterial/Trafficking_1998_/Trafficking_report_13_20130530.pdf
 See Judge Himel’s comments in Bedford v. Canada [353-356] www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2010/2010onsc4264/2010onsc4264.html
 Dolinsek, Lehmann “Does legal prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany?” http://wp.me/p1NLSO-eb
“The biggest contributor to pushing sex work underground are the authorities.” A banner – previously used at the press conference by the Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers – hangs forlorn between two brothels in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul, as the red light district is closed on Korean Sex Workers’ Day 2012. (Photo by Matthias Lehmann)
Report on Public Opinion of Anti-Trade Sex Law
In 2011, the Hyundai Research Institute published the findings of a survey commissioned by the Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers. It examined “the changes in public opinions on sex trade after the enactment of the Anti-Trade Sex Law” in South Korea based on interviews with 1,000 adults from different age groups and all walks of life in a nationwide telephone survey.
Yeon Ju OH is a co-editor of Cyberfeminism 2.0 and has been researching women in technology, the relationship between gender and new media technologies, and feminist knowledge production. Her interests include the transnationalisation of feminist knowledge.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Ms Oh who volunteered to translate the report to make it accessible to a wider audience and help to further a better knowledge exchange between the global south and north.
South Korean Model: The Anti-Trade Sex Law
In September 2000, the notorious Gunsan Brothel Fire killed five women who had been held captive. Their tragic deaths exposed the conditions in Korea’s sex industry and triggered a campaign by women’s rights activists to reform the country’s prostitution laws. Their proposals became the blueprint for the Special Laws on Sex Trade (성매매 특별법, Seongmaemae tteukbyeol beob), enacted in 2004, which include a Protection and Prevention Act and a Punishment Act, which penalises both buyers and sellers of sexual acts with up to one year in prison or fines up to 3 million won (approx. £1,715/€2,075/$2,825), except for those who were coerced into selling sex. Those who force others to sell sex are subject to up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to 100 million won (approx. £57,000/€70,000/$94,000).
The Anti-Sex Trade Law of 2004 replaced the Law Against Morally Depraved Behaviours (Prostitution) of 1961 (윤락행위등방지법, Yullak haengui deung bangji beob). Interestingly, the new law replaced the term “prostitution” (윤락) with “sex trade/sex trafficking” (성매매) as the former was found to imply the “moral corruption of the engaged women” while the latter was deemed to be neutral in value. What this illustrates, however, is the law’s disregard of sex work as an act of self-determination and the definition of transactional sex, i.e. the receipt of monetary or other material benefits in exchange for sexual acts, as inherently exploitative.
By passing the Anti-Sex Trade Law, the government vowed to eliminate prostitution and protect victims of exploitation and violence in the sex industry, drawing inspiration from the so-called Swedish Model that criminalises the buyers of sexual acts. Although representatives of the Swedish government continue to claim that the law successfully reduced prostitution and human trafficking, a 2011 report by the Swedish police found that between 2008 and 2010, all those criminal offences the Sex Purchase Act from 1999 was supposed to tackle had actually increased, including a number of human trafficking offences, the purchase of sexual services and even the purchase of sex acts with children. In November 2013, Equality Minister Maria Arnholm voiced her concern that “prostitution in Sweden today is more affected by trafficking, compared to seven years ago” and announced to further examine the effects of Sweden’s prostitution law.
The Ministry of Gender Equality celebrated the Anti-Sex Trade Law legislation as a milestone achievement that would “vigorously strengthen the protection of the human rights of women in prostitution”. However, others criticised the legislation’s discriminatory attitude towards sex workers, who remain criminalised unless they claim to be victims. This “distinction between victims and those who [voluntarily] sell sex is actually one between protection and punishment” and categorises women into “good women who are worthy of help” and “bad ones who need to be punished”, thus continuing the stigmatisation of women who sell sex.
Challenges of the Anti-Sex Trade Law
In June 2006, the Korean Constitutional Court ruled 8:1 to uphold the law in the “So-called Brothel Building Provider Case”. A complainant who owned buildings in a red light district had argued that since his properties could not be leased out for any purpose other than brothels, regulating and punishing the leasing out as thus excessively infringed upon his right to property. The judges dismissed his complaint arguing that “the public good that may be achieved by preventing the deep-seated abuse and infringement of human rights of sexual traffic in the brothel area, and ultimately closing down the brothel area itself” was of greater importance “than the short term private losses suffered by the complainant”.
In January 2013, Criminal Law Judge OH Won Chan from the District Court in Northern Seoul accepted the request of a 41-year-old sex worker, surnamed Kim, for the legal examination of the Anti-Sex Trade Law and referred the case to the Constitutional Court for judgement. Kim had been fined 500,000 won (approx. £285/€345/$470) for selling sex in violation of the laws. The request is based on the premise that in the absence of coercion or exploitation, sex work should fall within an individual’s right to self-determination and that adults have the right to engage in consensual sexual acts without the state’s interference.
Korean legal experts appear to agree with that notion. According to HAN Sang Hee, professor at Konkuk University Law School in Seoul, “the policy approach to sex work in South Korea has centred on regulation [punishment], viewing it simply as an ‘evil’. The significance of this constitutionality review request is that it positions sex work as a matter of women’s rights and provides a starting point for a debate on expanding women’s rights to self-determination.” And according to HOH Il Tae, professor at Dong-A University Law School in Seoul, “criminal punishment should be a last resort. The state needs to refrain from interfering in personal matters that do not involve sexual acts with minors. The responsibility of the state is to monitor, protect, and/or provide appropriate education for the women who engage in sex work to earn money and the men who purchase their services.”
Public Opinion: An ineffective law in dire need of reform
The survey by the Hyundai Research Institute revealed that 23.2% of respondents believed sex trade* had increased since the enactment of Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 8.9% thought it had declined. The highest percentage (49.9%) thought the law had made “no difference”. While 29.3% of the respondents thought, the abolition of red-light districts had a positive impact on efforts to eradicate sex trade, in most respondent groups, the percentage of those who felt it had neither a positive nor a negative impact was higher. In addition, 58.8% believed that covert sex trade had increased since the enactment of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 7.4% said it had decreased (No difference: 24.9%). 46.1% of respondents answered that the number of sex workers travelling to work abroad had increased since the enactment of law, while 3.3% said the number had decreased. (No difference: 21.3%, Do not know/Unanswered: 29.3%)
These answers clearly indicate that the majority of respondents did not view the implementation of the Anti-Sex Trade Law as effective in reducing sex trade. It comes as no surprise then that 39.6% of the respondents did not agree that the law had been implemented in accordance with its original purpose and that 73.3% said the law should be reformed, mirroring what sex workers in South Korea have been campaigning for ever since the law was introduced. The constitutionality review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law was scheduled to conclude six months after the submission of the request. A year on, however, no decision has been announced and the persecution of sex workers continues.
*These passages are quoted and paraphrased from the English translation of the report. As mentioned above, the term “성매매 (seongmaemae)” can be translated as either “sex trade” or “sex trafficking”. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family uses the translation “sexual traffic”.
1. Jordan, Ann “The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A failed experiment in social engineering”
2. Dodillet; Östergren “The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects”
3. Swedish National Police Board – “Trafficking in humanbeings for sexual andother purposes”
4. Lyon, Wendy “Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police”
5. Lehmann, Matthias “Criminalising the payment for sexual services”
6. The Hankyoreh – “Judge seeks constitutional review of law that criminalizes prostitution”
“Facts and Figures about Prostitution that might surprise you”
To view this post in German, please click here.
On December 9th, 2013, an event was held at the Urania Berlin with the title “I thought it was all different! – Facts and Figures instead of Black-And-White-Thinking”. Its goal was to allow politicians, the general public and those affected by potential changes to the German Prostitution Act a comprehensive insight into the subject matter. The event was organised by Felicitas Schirow, since 1997 owner of the brothel “Café Pssst!” in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Berlin. The decision by the Berlin Administrative Court on December 1st, 2000, to declare the withdrawal of her pub license as unlawful is widely seen as precedent that triggered the adoption of the German Prostitution Act that came into effect on January 1st, 2002.
Among the panellists were Percy MacLean, retired Chief Judge at the Berlin Administrative Court and recipient of the 2004 Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR); Heike Rudat, Director of the unit dealing with organised crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA); criminologist Prof. emer. Dr. Monika Frommel, former director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel; Ilona Hengst, a social worker with 25 years of experience working with sex workers, who previously held positions at several district offices in Berlin; Gesine Agena, newly appointed spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the federal board of the German Greens; Evrim Sommer, spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the Berlin parliament for the Left Party (Linkspartei); and sociologist Christiane Howe from the Institute for Social Studies at Humboldt University Berlin.
I had the honour to join this impressive panel to speak about the effects of prostitution and anti-trafficking laws on sex workers’ human rights, with a focus on Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Among other topics, my presentation dealt with the recent raids in Soho, Central London, the findings of the UN report “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” and the demonstrated negative effects of the much-discussed sex purchase ban in Sweden.
Since several guests approached me after the event with the request for a copy of my lecture manuscript, I subsequently made it available. Please click here to retrieve the manuscript in English translation as a PDF file.
Please note: This manuscript must not be cited or otherwise publicised without express permission by the author. Although several authors as well as titles of cited sources are mentioned in the text, it contains no links or a bibliography as customary for academic articles. In addition, not all quotes are highlighted as such.
The text includes passages from press releases by the English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Worker Open University. Should you wish to cite this transcript or encounter difficulties to locate the respective sources, please send an email to Matthias Lehmann at yongsagisa[at]gmail[punkt]com.