Archive for July 13th, 2011

The proper study of mankind is Man.  –  Alexander Pope

I began my column of June 29th with a discussion of how most 19th-century “research” into prostitution was “nothing more than Christian anti-whore propaganda dressed up in scientific garb so as to support the dominant sociological view that normal women were pure and asexual, and therefore any woman who was sexual had to be some sort of monster.”  It was, in other words, merely a pseudoscientific rationalization of the old Madonna-whore duality, whose origins I examined in my column of one year ago today.  To “prove” this popular prejudice, educated men with impeccable credentials used the time-honored method of beginning with a theory, determining which “facts” would support that theory, examining a group most likely to generate the desired results and then discarding or explaining away any evidence which tended to disprove it. Unfortunately for the reputations of these scholars, scientific investigation was all the rage in the latter half of the 19th century, and before too long other, more honest investigators began to realize that the evidence was not as it had been represented and that the truth about prostitution was far more complex than they had initially thought.  Of course, by that point nobody was listening; the racket from the social purity bandwagon was drowning out any contrary voice, and before too long it became politically incorrect to dare question the notion that prostitution was a pernicious evil which could be stamped out by a combination of ambitious brainwashing and violent suppression.

For almost half a century after the social purity movement ebbed, sociologists and psychologists largely ignored prostitution; most were content to accept the party line and to direct their attention elsewhere.  But once Alfred Kinsey had published his groundbreaking study of human sexuality, a few researchers again began to turn their interest to the subject and soon discovered that due to the trade’s suppression it was not so easy to study as it had been in the days before criminalization made whores reluctant to speak to anyone they perceived as an authority figure.  The only prostitutes readily available were therefore those who were currently incarcerated, which due to their higher visibility and comparatively lower income (thus no money for bail) were mostly destitute streetwalkers.  By the 1960s any sociologists old enough to have personally visited legally-tolerated brothels (outside of Honolulu or the Far East) were already retired, and the 20th-century vice of overspecialization had led to most experts in any given field being shockingly ignorant in others (such as history); most of them were therefore content to accept the now-popular stereotype that prostitute=streetwalker, and to arrive at the erroneous conclusion that data collected on incarcerated streetwalkers could be held valid for all streetwalkers, and therefore all prostitutes.  Furthermore, most of the research grants then (as now) came from governments who were not particularly interested in having the basis of their prohibition laws challenged by studies demonstrating that prostitutes were not degenerate criminals, pathetic drug addicts, etc.

The ‘70s saw the rise of tailor-made “studies” designed to “prove” whatever the sponsors wanted proved; they first appeared in advertising, were seized upon by politicians and then spread like a cancer among those with motives for manipulating the public’s perceptions.  And so it should come as no surprise that governments fighting moves to decriminalize prostitution hired anti-sex activists like Melissa Farley to craft bogus “research” which would support their conclusions.  As in the 19th century they began with a theory, devised a means of proving that theory, examined a group most likely to generate the desired results (incarcerated streetwalkers) and then discarded or explained away any evidence which tended to disprove it.  And as in the 19th century, most people accepted their conclusions because they didn’t know any better.  But just as before, more honest investigators have in recent years began to study our trade, and as before these proper studies completely refute the false ones promoted by those with an agenda.

I’ve already mentioned the work of Ronald Weitzer of George Washington University on numerous occasions, and quoted from a number of other studies in my column of April 3rd.  I mentioned a recent study which debunked the idea that most underage prostitution is forced and one which demonstrated that sex crime rates are lower in countries with legal prostitution, and my columns of May 22nd, May 25th, June 9th and June 15th all covered recent studies which found exactly what we’ve been saying all along:  that the great majority of prostitutes are women who choose the work for valid reasons, that most of us work indoors, that we enjoy our work and are not coerced, etc.  And now here’s a new one from Wales, called to my attention by Brandy Devereaux.

I have to admit I find the attitude of the interviewed researchers amusing; they seem to have been surprised by their findings, which is to be expected since they were criminologists rather than sociologists and were therefore proceeding from a biased viewpoint revealed in their use of phrases like “sell their bodies”, “dangerous game” and “complacent about the risks of the job”, and acceptance of myths like the high incidence of venereal disease among prostitutes and the existence of large numbers of “trafficked women” (despite the fact that their study found neither).  But to their credit, they accepted their own findings rather than discarding them and even concluded in their report that “These women definitely don’t want to be saved – they have made a choice and we have to respect that choice – Government policy needs to recognise that the sex industry has been around forever and it’s not going to go anywhere.”  As studies like this accumulate, even the staunchest proponents of prohibition will no longer be able to hide behind bogus studies; they will eventually be forced to admit that their laws have nothing to do with “protecting” or “saving” anyone and are based on nothing other than a desire to impose a specific morality on society.

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