Archive for March 7th, 2012

Whilst we want cities as the centres where the best things are found, cities degrade us by magnifying trifles.  –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

People from large cities often imagine themselves to be more cosmopolitan and well-informed than those from rural areas, and in the days before mass communication it was almost certainly true; even our word “urbane” reflects that perception.  But radio began to undermine the distinction, television killed it and the internet buried it, and nowadays I sometimes find that the opposite is true; people from small towns and rural areas, perhaps believing to some degree in the stereotype themselves, are often less certain about their prejudices and preconceptions than those secure in their big-city sophistication.  In other words, disinformation and myths are believed everywhere equally, but people from big cities are sometimes more sure of those beliefs while those from less “urbane” locales are often more prepared to concede their ignorance.

I realize that this will be a controversial premise, and indeed I have no evidence for it other than my own observations formed from living in both rural and urban areas and from dealing online with people who live in all sorts of places all over the world.  But I certainly see it in the way “authorities” in American cities, particularly those in New York, have seized on “human trafficking” mythology, combined it with the tired old “pimps and hos” narrative, and held onto it with all the dogged disregard for facts of a backwoods preacher.  Here’s a recent example from the New York Daily News; note the lurid, masturbatory detail and the obligatory “prostitution is not a victimless crime”, which prohibitionist “authorities” now repeat like some kind of Nicene Creed:

…state senator…Jose Peralta – with the strong backing of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and women’s advocates – has introduced legislation to re-classify sex trafficking as a violent felony and increase the minimum jail sentence to 5 years.  “We have to attack prostitution at all levels,” said Peralta, a Democrat whose district includes a prostitution-laden stretch of Roosevelt Avenue in western Queens.  Currently, most sex trafficking offenses are considered non-violent felonies with minimum sentences of 1-3 years.  “People think that prostitution is a victimless crime – it is not,” Peralta said.  “The mental torture and physical abuse that these women go through, being forced to have sex with someone, is definitely a violent crime,” Peralta said…“We see [this] as an important step in going after the predators who prey on troubled young women and force them to perform numerous sexual acts for money and to turn over all the cash proceeds to them,” Brown said…

It’s not like these people don’t have access to the truth; not only are there a number of prominent sex worker rights organizations and individual advocates in New York, but also a recent study by the city’s own John Jay College of Criminal Justice which disproved every assumption upon which these politicians’ statements rest.  Nor can they claim ignorance of the study’s contents:

“I remember going to a meeting in Manhattan where they had a lot of prosecutors there whose job was to prosecute pimps,” [study author Ric] Curtis recalls.  ”They were sort of complaining about the fact that their offices were very well staffed but their workload was — not very daunting, let’s say.  They had a couple cases, and at every meeting you go to, they’d pull out the cherry-picked case of this pimp they had busted, and they’d tell the same story at every meeting.  They too were bothered by the fact that they couldn’t find any pimps, any girls.  So I come along and say, ‘I found 300 kids’ — they’re all perky — but then I say, ‘I’m sorry, but only 10 percent had pimps.’  It was like a fart in church.  Because basically I was saying their office was a waste of time and money.”

And the “Fourth Estate”, whose social function is, in part, to keep politicians honest?  They’re just as bad:

…Amid all the successes in New York City’s lengthy fight to drive down crime, street prostitution represents a stubborn exception.  Though the police deploy various stings and strategies to clean up neighborhoods, prostitution-related arrests in the city continue to be logged at a fairly steady clip…Market forces and the Internet have pushed some sex work off the street, to where clients with more time and more money go…Into this breach — and others like it — have come police officers, targeting spots where local precinct commanders and other officers have seen or heard of prostitution building up…over three days last month, [NYPD] made 195 arrests and seized 55 vehicles in what police officials called Operation Losing Proposition…officers [now] focus not on supply but on demand, by arresting the clients…This [started] after [police commissioner Raymond] Kelly took part in a series of meetings, beginning last year, with advocates from Europe and others aiming “for a fairer approach to prostitution”… Mr. Kelly eventually met with prostitutes, listening to their accounts, and then created a Human Trafficking Squad to target johns.  Some advocates for prostitutes noted that 10 prostitutes were included in the mid-January arrests, which sends a mixed message.  Others, including one former call girl, said it was wrong to focus on johns because it could make those clients more nervous and less likely to share the kind of personal information prostitutes rely on to ensure their safety.  “It is not a sound policy,” said Audacia Ray, 31, director of the Red Umbrella Project, a nonprofit group that assists prostitutes, who believes the street trade will never fade.  “I don’t think we’ll see a big drop in prostitution because of these arrests”…

Does the reporter bother to examine police claims, to question the motive behind stealing men’s cars, or to challenge the statement that arresting one party to an illegal transaction but not the other is somehow “fair”?  Does he consider for one moment that the reason prostitution hasn’t decreased along with “other” crimes is that it isn’t actually a crime in the sense of a transgression against others?  Of course not, and if Audacia told him the “prostitutes” to whose accounts the police commissioner listened were hand-picked by the Swedish Model proponents he still doesn’t get it; she told me he even asked her when she’d been a streetwalker, as though it were a stage we all go through or something.  This last seems like an article of faith for many New York “authorities”; journalists, cops and even academics often behave as though they’re absolutely convinced that prior to the advent of the internet, nearly all prostitution was street-based, and that escort services and brothels were invented in the Big Apple less than two decades ago.  This isn’t to say that idea isn’t prevalent elsewhere; as we’ve frequently discussed it most certainly is, often with ludicrous results.   It’s just that the prominence of New York City, and the fact that many of the largest media establishments are based there, allows the appalling ignorance of its officials and journalists to be prominently displayed to the entire world.

One Year Ago Today

In “Actual Working Knowledge”, another New York Times reporter displays his appalling ignorance about a different area of sex work.

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