Posts Tagged ‘sweatshops’

Only when human sorrows are turned into a toy with glaring colors will baby people become interested—for a while at least.  The people are a very fickle baby that must have new toys every day.  –  Emma Goldman

Schadenfreude is a German word which means “the act of taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others”.  Generally it’s used to mean an openly-sadistic enjoyment such as that derived from watching gladiatorial combats or contemplating the downfall of one’s enemies and (as Conan expressed it) hearing the lamentation of their women.  But I would argue that there is another, more subtle kind of schadenfreude, one which cloaks itself in empathy; it is the secret satisfaction felt by the haves while indulging themselves in Pharisean displays of pity for the have-nots or victims of disasters, sometimes while distributing petty largesse but usually while lugubriously expressing sympathy for them while shedding crocodile tears in their air-conditioned houses, wearing designer clothes and watching every possible moment of the spectacle on their big-screen plasma television sets.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as genuine, heartfelt sympathy, nor that all public appeals to charity are automatically insincere; in fact, I think it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.  When the speaker calls more attention to the people than to the plight, to facts over feelings and to the cause rather than to himself, one can be reasonably certain one is looking upon sincere empathy.  But when the speaker dwells lovingly upon lurid details, treats humans as passive objects to be done to (“rescued”, “saved”, kept from making their own choices, etc) instead of helped, arranges as many photo-ops with starving children/trafficking survivors/ disaster victims as possible and makes sure that his own name and image are always prominently associated with his crusade, one can be equally certain that one beholds a narcissistic “baby person” whose interest in tragedy is his own self-aggrandizement and a paternalistic satisfaction in controlling “lesser” (usually brown-skinned and/or female) people “for their own good”.

The “rescue” industry is stocked to the rafters with such people, middle-class white Westerners seeking to assuage their self-inflicted guilt by “getting involved”.  If these organizations were to limit themselves to disaster aid, famine relief and other such clear-cut issues, providing whatever aid was specifically requested by the victims rather than trying to run the show, assign blame and pass judgment on the lives and morality of others (not to mention abducting their children), I honestly wouldn’t give a damn if they were doing it for their own selfish purposes; after all, the fact that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs aggressively promoted personal computing for the purpose of making themselves rich does not change the fact that they helped to make the internet as we know it possible.  Motive is immaterial as long as the actions are wholly beneficent and remain that way, but when the self-appointed “rescuers” start to meddle in the lives of others, disrupting their cultures and governments, destroying the livelihoods of women and even abducting, confining and attempting to brainwash and enslave them in the name of “saving” them, that is another thing entirely.  In such cases the selfish motives of the “rescuers” are very much the point.

As Laura Agustín points out, the mildest form of this self-interest is mere tourism (much like the “disaster tourism” after Hurricane Katrina), “Rescue Industry  prurience rooted in racism and colonialism” designed to help comparatively-wealthy Westerners feel good about themselves.  But if the “rescuer’s” desire to build his own ego, to feel as though he is part of something bigger than himself or to experience the visceral excitement of “saving” people (without actually having to endanger himself by being a fireman or a disaster rescue worker, of course) becomes so powerful that his own emotional needs supersede any of the needs of those he supposedly “helps”, it’s very easy for him to lose sight of what people actually need or want or to convince himself that he knows better than they do.  Trafficking fanatics now claim that their campaign to deny agency to whores is the new civil rights movement, a conceit which would be hilarious if it weren’t so sick.  It’s as though white people in the 1960s had cast their denial of black people’s rights as a way to “protect” them from the control of other, “evil” white people who were smarter, emotionally stronger and more sophisticated than poor, stupid, childlike colored folks.

But the worst of the “rescuers” go far, far beyond merely ignoring the needs of others and/or unconsciously buying into self-serving mythology; they consciously and calculatedly blur the lines between consensual adult prostitution and slavery, deny that sex workers are capable of adult decision-making, inflate statistics, attempt to hide evidence which contradicts their claims and invent incredible justifications for their own outrageous behavior.  For some of them, this is done in order to win public and governmental support for their Christian or neofeminist religious crusade against all prostitution; for governments in East Asia, it’s done to secure funding from the United States, and for people like Somaly Mam, it’s done as a way to exorcise personal demons while controlling others and making themselves feel important.  Since it passed draconian anti-prostitute laws three years ago in order to please its masters in Washington, Cambodia has become a particularly nasty nexus for all three of these types:  Cambodian police, aided and abetted by Somaly Mam (who is herself financed by money from neofeminists, religious fanatics, trafficking alarmists and the garment industry), have conducted a series of high-profile brothel raids and streetwalker sweeps, often accompanied by Western journalists like Nicholas Kristof who are interested in advancing their careers and reputations by pandering to “trafficking” hysteria.

None of these people care one iota about the lives, needs and desires of women; “rescuing” whores is to them nothing but a means to their own personal ends, and after the cameras stop rolling or Kristof stops “tweeting”  they are no more interested in these women’s welfare than they would be in the container which held a portion of recently-consumed food.  The “rescued victims” are thrown into filthy, crowded cells at Somaly Mam’s “rehabilitation centers” where they are beaten, robbed, gang-raped and starved while their “savior” hobnobs with celebrities and receives accolades from anti-whore fanatics.  Young girls who submit to brainwashing become Somaly Mam’s “poster children” and older ones are sent as slaves to sweatshops, while those who refuse are simply left to rot unless they can escape.  Groups like Human Rights Watch have repeatedly protested this horrific abuse, and sex worker rights groups have released short documentaries like “Caught Between the Tiger and the Crocodile” or videos like “Somaly Uh Uh” in order to alert Westerners to the atrocities their ignorant and ill-considered jihad against harlotry has enabled.  But they’re shouting into a hurricane; the credulous masses refuse to listen while they’re eagerly licking up the lurid, near-pedophiliac accounts Kristof and others like him serve up for their schadenfreude.

One Year Ago Today

What a Week!” reported on a number of whore-related stories including police persecution of a severely-disabled man seeking a prostitute, a sex worker safety column on Jezebel, Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, cops admitting their total impotence in halting online hooker ads, the opening of a mega-brothel in Spain and the advent of new advertising restrictions on Backpage.

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Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.  –  Aldous Huxley

On several occasions I’ve described prohibitionism using the metaphor of a dam built to hold back liberty.  But in Western countries where most people look dimly upon restriction of basic freedoms (such as the right to choose one’s own sex partners, the right to engage in business and the right to bodily autonomy), governments must invent excuses with which to rationalize the prohibition; the dam must therefore also hold back the truth, which would erode prohibitionist lies and with them the support for anti-whore tyranny.  But truth, like water, tends to seek its own level, and no matter how solid the wall it eventually begins to seep out.  Take this October 28th article from the Evening Standard, which reports that a recent London study has found exactly what any prostitute could’ve told them they’d find:

Most foreign prostitutes in London are not trafficked and choose to sell sex because it earns more money than other jobs, a study has found.  The majority of sex workers questioned believe that working conditions were better than in other occupations and gave them more free time.  Other perceived advantages cited in the government-funded study include “the possibility of meeting interesting people”, travelling and the ability to help their families.  But six per cent of women questioned in the study, which was conducted among “off-street” prostitutes in central London, had been “deceived and forced” into selling sex without any control over their work.  Several of these are said to have voluntarily continued prostitution after being freed by police from their oppressors.  Other negative factors cited in the study include the stigma of working in prostitution, which forced them to lead a “double life”, and the risk of robbery, violence and sexually transmitted diseases.  The most contentious finding, which is likely to anger anti-trafficking campaigners, is that few prostitutes working in the capital are forced to sell sex.

The study, carried out by Dr Nick Mai of London Metropolitan University and funded by the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council, states:  “The large majority of migrant workers in the UK sex industry are not forced or trafficked.  Working in the sex industry is often a way for migrants to avoid the unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs.”  The research also covered men and nine transgendered people selling sex in London.  The women worked as escorts or strippers and the men were largely escorts.

And while the prohibitionists are continuing their campaign to destroy an effective and inexpensive method of sex work advertisement in Backpage, that website’s owners, Village Voice Media, have not remained silent; here’s the latest salvo in their war on prohibitionism, a November 3rd article explaining the methodology and results of the John Jay Study whose findings I first mentioned in “A Narrow View”:

[Meredith] Dank and [Ric] Curtis…interview[ed]…249 underage prostitutes.  From that data, they were able to put a number on the total population of New York’s teen sex workers:  3,946…Curtis and Dank’s findings thoroughly obliterated the long-held core assumptions about underage prostitution:

• Nearly half the kids — about 45 percent — were boys.
• Only 10 percent were involved with a “market facilitator” (e.g., a pimp).
• About 45 percent got into the “business” through friends.
• More than 90 percent were U.S.- born (56 percent were New York City natives).
• On average, they started hooking at age 15…
• Nearly all of the youths — 95 percent — said they exchanged sex for money because it was the surest way to support themselves.

In other words, the typical kid who is commercially exploited for sex in New York City is not a tween girl, has not been sold into sexual slavery, and is not held captive by a pimp.  Nearly all the boys and girls involved in the city’s sex trade are going it alone.  [Curtis and Dank] were amazed by what their research had revealed.  But they were completely unprepared for the way law-enforcement officials and child-advocacy groups reacted to John Jay’s groundbreaking study.  “I remember going to a meeting in Manhattan where they had a lot of prosecutors there whose job was to prosecute pimps,” 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.”

There’s a lot more, and I think you’ll find it worth your time to read (and comment), including the story of how authorities in Atlanta rejected a scientific study patterned after the John Jay one in favor of the Schapiro Group’s wild and wholly fictional propaganda.

Of course, it would be easier to defeat trafficking hysteria if more American prostitutes would simply speak up about the lies the way sex professionals do in most countries.  A few years ago MTV, always looking for a fad it can exploit, started “MTV EXIT” (a sloppy acronym for “End Exploitation and Trafficking”); it’s a typical ignorant anti-sex worker charity spreading the same inane lies and misinformation as all of these groups do, except that it spreads its propaganda to young people through the medium of concerts.  In Southeast Asia, it has since 2009 conspired with USAID to impose American ideas of morality, to harass, persecute and destroy the livelihoods of sex workers, to expose them to torture and rape, and to traffic them into virtual slavery in the garment industry…all with the approval of the U.S. State Department.  This report from the Sex Worker’s Rights Advocacy  Network (SWAN) is two years old, but since MTV’s vile promotion of human rights abuses is still going on, it is still topical:

Cambodian sex work activists are outraged at the way MTV is advocating for fight against trafficking at the expense of safety and rights of local sex workers…In April 2008, the government of Cambodia passed an anti-trafficking bill which outlawed prostitution and classified all sex workers as a victim of trafficking.  This bill was sponsored by USAID.  The government’s motivation behind the bill was to avoid being considered a tier 3 trafficking country, which would bar it from receiving millions of dollars in financial aid from the US government.  Women accused of being prostitutes are illegally detained and sent to ‘rehabilitation’ centres where [they are subject to] gross human rights violations…such as…deprivation of medical care, rape, torture and starvation.  Detainees…are ‘taught’ to sew and become sweatshop/garment factory workers, where 72 hour work-weeks are the norm and salaries are equivalent to 36 USD a month.  Through its association with USAID, MTV EXIT has placed itself in the middle of a battle…for the right to work and…will be seen by audiences as reinforcing the Cambodian government’s anti-trafficking law and agenda….

Here’s a video they made in answer to MTV’s anti-whore propaganda; can you imagine this many American hookers making this kind of effort?  If Cambodian sex workers can unite against oppression, why can’t we?  Despite our vastly greater numbers, sex work activism here is marginal at best; I daresay few Americans realize that the sex worker rights movement even exists.  And it’s our own fault; we’re just too damned afraid to speak up for our own, too afraid of government-inflicted violence, too afraid of social and legal persecution, and too brainwashed by false notions of “sisterhood” to fight the twisted lies spread by neofeminists.  And if that doesn’t change, and soon, all of the scholarly studies and investigative reporting in the world won’t help us.

One Year Ago Today 

Ripper” is a different sort of fictional interlude, one told from the point of view of a future fanatic who longs for the “good old days” of commercial sex prohibition…and decides to take matters into his own hands.

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Today’s column is the second part of a guest blog by veteran sex worker rights activist Norma Jean Almodovar which addresses the ethical and flaws inherent in the authoritarian campaign against Backpage.com.

Says Jamie Fellner, senior counsel for the US Program at Human Rights Watch, “The widespread sexual abuse of children in juvenile facilities shows that public officials either aren’t paying attention or can’t be bothered to do the right thing.  The high rates of victimization are powerful testimony to the failure of governments to safeguard the boys and girls in their care.”  In none of the cases of more than 17,000 raped juveniles in 2008, did Backpage.com or any other adult classified ads website play any part in their abuse.  The government that claims to want to save them, however, did.  “More than 50 cases of trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors on Backpage.com have been filed in 22 states in the past three years…” according to the letter released by 45 state Attorneys General, but these numbers pale in comparison to the number of juveniles who are either raped while they are “placed under the protective custody of law enforcement,” or by their local cop, boy scout leader, priest, preacher,  or parent.

Are these State Attorneys General all completely ignorant of the findings and statistics from reports that our own government compiles and issues?  If they are ignorant of the facts, they are dangerous people and they really ought not be overseeing the prosecution of anyone for anything.  If they are aware of the facts and are ignoring them, what exactly is the motive for that?  As I stated earlier, this isn’t about the children and never was.  As one of the letter’s signatories, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna would like nothing more than to see Backpage shut down its “escorts” section, just as Craigslist did last year.  He commented, “Legal wranglings aside, it will take a cultural shift to change attitudes about prostitution…People look at prostitution and think it’s a choice, but there are very few, if any, volunteers”.  What has that to do with “protecting children”?  It is already against the law for adults to have sex with minors regardless of payment.  It’s called statutory rape.  If it is wrong for adults to have sex with minors because it is sexual exploitation, why on earth are we arresting them and subjecting them to worse horrors in jail?  Would we arrest underage persons who are raped by priests?  Or teachers?  Would we arrest the teenage Explorer Scout victims of police officers who can’t keep their hands off the underage females in the scouting program?  “Volunteers”?  These State Attorneys General want to shut down adult ads to “protect” women because they may or may not “volunteer” to engage in prostitution?  Why are we arresting them and putting them in harms’ way in jail where they are all too often forced to engage in sex with the corrections officers and jail guards?  I don’t think they ‘volunteer’ to be the sex slaves of their captors!

What kind of precedent are we setting that our government officials would attempt to ban any labor that, in someone else’s opinion, is not done “voluntarily”?  Are we now defining “forced labor” as any work that someone would not “choose” to do?  How many women “volunteer” to be housekeepers in low end hotels where they must clean up the vomit, feces and urine on the floor left by untidy guests?  Even maids at high end hotels have to deal with unruly guests who may rape them – high powered guests like Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  How many women “volunteer” to work as domestic servants, cleaning up after households in which the adult males may force their unwanted sexual attentions on them when the wives are not home?  Are these States Attorneys General not aware of how many victims of human trafficking are forced into domestic service – in the US and around the world?  According to some international reports on human trafficking, the number of women and girls who are forced into domestic service far outnumber those who are “trafficked” into prostitution.  Most child domestic workers are between 12 and 17 but some are as young as five or six.  Does anyone believe that these children “choose” to become domestic servants?  Or the adults who also find themselves trafficked for the purpose of being a domestic slave?  Why don’t these politicians care as much about the “forced labor” of those who are so desperate for money that they must work long hours in factories, sewing garments (sweat shops), picking fruits or vegetables or flipping burgers at McDonalds – as they “care” about supposed victims of “sex trafficking”?  We arrest women whose only “crime” is that they may not have “volunteered” to work as escorts making $200 an hour or more but we don’t arrest their poor sisters who do not “volunteer” to do menial labor earning minimum wage or less?

If these politicians were to be consistent in their crusade to save victims of human trafficking, they would demand that all classified sites, newspapers, magazines and other media outlets discontinue advertising help wanted for any type of labor (such as domestic service, garment manufacturing, agriculture) into which someone, somewhere in the world is trafficked.  Truth be told, many if not most of those who champion for the arrest of prostitutes or their clients on the grounds that all sex work is modern day slavery, hire domestic help so that they can spend their time saving the poor exploited women and children trafficked into the sex trade.  Do you think that Demi Moore and her boy toy spouse Ashton Kutcher scrub their own toilets and clean their own home?  Are they not aware that in many countries around the world, domestic servitude is the primary destination for victims of human trafficking?  Or do they just not care?

Unfortunately for sex workers, the US Government is only concerned about the humans trafficked into prostitutionIt is the US Government’s official position that all prostitution must be eliminated, at whatever the cost to those who, for whatever reason and in whatever manner that people make choices, are prostitutes.  Regardless of the absurdity of their methods and the harm to those whom they say they want to protect, the US Government has decided that the next multi-billion dollar war against its own citizens is the war against commercial sex.  It will not be a pretty war, and just as in the other “wars” against its “immoral” citizens, it will come at the cost of more of our liberties.  In their view, what is the value of the first amendment when “women are selling their bodies”?  Better that we let cops have laws which allow them to rape and extort the hussies!  So let’s chuck the first amendment.  Force newspapers and websites to kowtow to “our way of thinking” or be put out of business.  That amendment is a nuisance and in the way of all the other government programs to protect us from ourselves anyway.

From the The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, February 2005, Volume 8, Number 1:

Combating sex trafficking, then, is a complicated matter.  The moral imperative to rescue women from brothels is compelling when young girls are involved or there is clear evidence of duress, but “rescuing” adult women from brothels against their will can mean an end to their health care and economic survival.  In countries and situations in which basic survival is a daily struggle, the distinction between free agency and oppression may be more a gray area than a bright line.  Indeed, the Center for Health and Gender Equity observes that sex workers who resist rescues may not do so because they would prefer commercial sex as a lifestyle, other things being equal, but because there are no “viable economic alternatives to feed and clothe themselves and their families.”  Conservative U.S. groups that have entered the larger discussion around trafficking through the issue of sex trafficking, such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America (CWA) and The Salvation Army, dismiss these complexities.  Prostitution, as CWA asserts, is by definition “a form of slavery” and, as such, must be abolished.  According to Jennifer Block, writing in Conscience, U.S. Ambassador John Miller, director of the State Department’s Office of Monitoring and Combating Trafficking in Persons, credits conservative organizations’ activism for the political momentum that led to the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in the final year of the Clinton administration.  It is no surprise, then, that the Bush administration is interpreting and implementing the TVPA by placing a priority on combating sex trafficking and, by extension, abolishing prostitution.

Oddly though, despite the fact that many radical feminists would like to skewer and pillory the customers of prostitutes, prohibitionists with a moral agenda do not seem to care at all about punishing the men who hire prostitutes – despite their claims to the contrary.  There is clearly some other motive at work when a man like Eliot Spitzer can commit a federal felony of interstate trafficking and not only NOT go to prison for decades as you or I would if charged with that crime – but not even get arrested.  Or when a man like Republican Senator David Vitter can confess to bizarre fantasies of dressing in diapers, and be re-elected by his conservative constituency – and Randall Tobias, the man in charge of doling out money to international AIDS organizations so long as they signed a pledge to not support decriminalization of prostitution, gets to retire at full pension while Deborah Jeanne Palfrey, the madam who supplied him with women for his happy endings, was convicted and faced 55 years in prison. And then there is former adviser to President Clinton, Dick Morris, who, after his prostitution scandal, became a commentary on Fox News.

I’ve already covered the kid glove treatment of Federal Judge Jack Camp and the Albuquerque Judge who sentenced to probation former Albuquerque cop David Maes who raped a prostitute. Heidi Fleiss client Charlie Sheen admitted to hiring prostitutes AND using drugs – as well as committing domestic violence on his spouses – on a regular basis and continued to be the top grossing television actor on CBS (until he annoyed the writer and producer of the hit show), while Heidi went to prison.  Previously unknown actor Hugh Grant had a momentary lapse of judgment and his indiscretion rocketed him to stardom, while his prostitute Divine Brown went to jail.  High profile Christian ministers Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, George Rekers, Eddie Long and other members of the clergy get caught hiring prostitutes, either deny their sexual indiscretions or exhibit sufficient remorse, and go on preaching the word of the Lord and continuing to rake in the dough from their understanding and tolerant parishioners.  But when teacher and former sex worker Melissa Petro outed herself in an article she wrote about her previous profession, a journalist who decided that Melissa didn’t have a right to be proud of her “shady” past and still be a teacher, took matters in her own hands and forced the school board to “reassign” the “ho”.  Melissa is currently unemployed and unemployable.  All the sentimental claptrap about “prostitutes having no choices” as a reason to abolish our profession apparently means that if you are a sex worker who puts yourself through college to “better yourself”, and you don’t express remorse about your sordid past when it is exposed, society is going to make certain that you lose that job and then you won’t have any choices at all.  As Melissa discovered, once you are branded a prostitute, no one wants to hire you.

We are also told that prostitution should remain illegal because it is a dangerous profession and there are unhinged outcasts of society out there who murder them, but when a woman gets arrested for prostitution, the local newspaper often prints or posts online the woman’s name, photo and in many cases, home address.  News sources such as Charleston, South Carolina’s WCIV, Shreveport, Louisiana’s KSLA, and Massachusetts’ Lexington Patch, Wayland Patch and Metrowest Daily News  defend this practice because, they say, they print the names and photos of all persons arrested for crimes, except they do not publish the names and addresses of cops who rape prostitutes or who have sex with minors.  But the prostitute is supposed to be the victim of sexual exploitation and while some prostitutes may welcome the free advertising to find new customers, it is disingenuous to say the least to assert that prostitution is dangerous on the one hand and post a photo of the home of a “suspected prostitute” for a serial killer to find her without having to troll the streets looking for victims.

How much more evidence does society need to realize that neither the Federal Government or the State Attorneys General are in the least bit concerned for the well being of prostitutes of whatever age?  And tell me again why these politicians are demanding that Backpage.com close down its adult ads?

One Year Ago Today

Please don’t eat or drink anything while reading “BDSM (Part Three)”.  Trust me on this.

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What ever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called.  –  John Stuart Mill

Imagine this scenario:  you’re at work one day; maybe it’s a job you really like, maybe it’s one you just tolerate because it’s better than the alternatives, and maybe it’s one you hate but keep working at because the money is good and you’ve got bills to pay.  So you’re just minding your own business, dealing with customers or whatever, when suddenly a bunch of armed police thugs smash the door down, start pointing guns at everybody, arrest your customers and boss, handcuff you and your fellow co-workers and shove you into a van.  While this is going on you notice that there are some people with the police who are dressed in plain clothes and appear to be foreign.  The police eventually lock you and your co-workers in a cell and one of the foreigners then tells you all that you’ve been “rescued” from your job because the business owner was “exploiting” you.  Now, if you hate your job in the first place you might even agree about the exploitation bit, but you’d probably still be pretty angry about being arrested and scared half to death by the goon squad’s commando tactics.  And even if you did hate the job, how do you think you’d feel when the foreigner told you that they didn’t have any comparable work lined up for you, but that you would soon be transferred to a “rescue home” for an indefinite period of time and while you were there you would be taught to sew so you can be forced to work in a sweatshop at less than a tenth of your previous salary?

Don’t answer yet; now imagine that some of your coworkers who liked the job begin to protest, and are told that they don’t know what they’re talking about, that you’ve all been “programmed” to think you were working voluntarily but you “really” weren’t no matter what you remember.  You are informed that your “exploiters”, meaning every customer and member of management (including the cool manager who buys pizza for everyone on Fridays and the nice old man who always tells you about his grandchildren) are evil monsters who are going to prison for decades and that you are expected to testify against them in a kangaroo court; if you refuse you will be sent to a “deprogramming” facility where you will be psychologically tortured until you agree to say whatever your “rescuers” want.  In the meantime, nobody is allowed to call friends or family to let them know where you are, because the “rescuers” have no way of knowing which of you are “brainwashed” and you might call gangsters or something.  Finally, sometime in the next few days, you find out the whole thing was cooked up as a publicity stunt to please a foreign government (the one the foreign “rescuers” came from) in order to seal some kind of political deal.  How do you think you’d react?  Obviously you’d be angry, probably furious.  You’d probably join with the others in demanding a lawyer, transportation back to work and an apology, and if a reporter or social worker was sent in to talk to you you’d probably give her an earful in hopes of raising a public outcry.  You might even join in a riot to overpower your guards and escape.

Well, for many women in a number of countries (including The Philippines, India, the Republic of the Congo and the United Kingdom) this isn’t just a theoretical question because it’s happening quite often, and as you might suspect these women are pretty angry about it – often angry enough to become violent, just as you or I might be in their situation.  I’ve mentioned before that the rescue industry has become a major social problem in many developing countries, especially in the Far East; if you think I’m exaggerating with the above scenario take a look at this protest video from the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers, then read on to the following examples which, as happens so often, came to my attention through Laura Agustín’s blog of July 12th.

The first of the cases is from the Philippines, May of 2009 and is unusual in that the “rescued” women were not actually prostitutes but operators for a paid “cybersex” service; apparently the reporter thought this sounded a bit too benign, so he referred to it as a “cybersex den”:

Fifteen girls, rescued by police and National Bureau of Agency (NBI) men [on April 23rd] from a cybersex den operated by two Swedish nationals, have escaped from the Department of Social Welfare Development office in Cagayan de Oro City…after mauling the duty security guard.  The girls then flagged down a passenger jeepney and forced its driver to bring them away from the DSWD office…Senior Superintendent Noel Armilla…of the…Police Office, said the girls would not be charged or arrested because they are not facing any charges.  Armilla, however, said they would have to locate the girls because they would need them to testify against two Swedish nationals and four Filipinos, who have been arrested for allegedly operating the cybersex den…

It takes some serious doublethink to be able to use the word “rescued” in conjunction with arresting and confining non-criminal adult women against their will.  Nor is their violent reaction unusual, as we can see in this story from India, last October:

…sex workers rescued on Wednesday and sent to a shelter in the city began a violent clamour last morning…At 9 am, all 21 sex workers stomped out and created a ruckus.  They broke off the grill and engaged in a fight with the management.  “The rescued sex workers began insisting on going back…” [the shelter manager] said…”In major raids, initially such things happen…In an earlier raid, when 46 girls were brought, the same thing had happened…They are programmed to lie, so we don’t have correct information about them…They even lie about their origin.”

“Lie” in this context obviously means “tell us things we don’t want to hear.”  Then there was this report from January 1st of this year:

Police from China flew to the Democratic Republic of Congo in November…They found 11 Chinese women who had been promised decent jobs in Paris by traffickers but ended up working in a Chinese-owned karaoke bar in…Kinshasa…After a joint raid by Chinese and Congolese police…the women decided to stay…saying it was easier to make good money there than in China…”They make 100 US dollars for receiving one guest – half of the money goes to their boss and they keep the other half”…the women…were [also] able to take cheap goods from China to Africa after visits home and sell them for big profits…

Yes, you read that correctly:  the “trafficked sex slaves” made more per client than German brothel girls, could go home at will and were allowed to conduct side-business as well.  The horror!  The most recent episode was again from the Philippines, reported June 29th:

A hundred female sex workers…and five foreigners were arrested, in  raids on three night clubs in Angeles City Tuesday night…“The women don’t really consider it a rescue,” said [the NGO manager] who led the raids.  “They kept cursing us, and tried their best to escape”…She said she assumed that some of the rescued women were below 18.  “Or they were taught to say they’re 18,” she said…the successive raids in Angeles City’s red light district bolstered the US government’s recognition of the Philippines’ commitment to combating human trafficking.  The Philippines has been taken off a watch list of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report and elevated to Tier 2, a category of countries that do not fully comply with anti-trafficking standards but are making efforts to do so…

The total disregard for these women’s autonomy is deplorable; the few underage ones (if there were any) are said to be so stupid that they can’t even think of passing themselves off for 18 without being “taught” to say it, even though every teenager in the West can think that up all by himself.  This story is at least honest about the real motives of the Filipinos, though; these women were “trafficked” from their workplaces into jail due to U.S. pressure; their wishes were ignored and they were treated like commodities, handed over as gifts to the U.S. State Department like slave-girls given by a local king to the Roman governor.

One Year Ago Today

The Numbers Game” is a column about why women in general and escorts in particular lie about our ages and weights, and the effect this has on both the business and the male brain.

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To depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father.  –  Virginia Woolf

The neofeminist prohibitionists claim that all prostitutes are helpless victims of male dominance, slaves to “patriarchal oppressors”, and even many Americans who are rational but ill-informed have come to believe enough of the propaganda that they think “most” of us are coerced; even some escorts have bought into this notion sufficiently that they believe there are two and only two kinds of prostitutes, free-willed high-dollar independent escorts and pimped, coerced slaves.  This, of course, is pure poppycock; human relationships and even free will itself are never as cut-and-dried as either the neofeminists or the dualists want to pretend.  The notion that all prostitutes (or all workers, or all humans) must be either free or enslaved is a false duality which ignores both the realities of the human condition and the necessities of material existence.

The only people who can truly claim to have made an absolutely free choice to do any kind of work are the Paris Hiltons of the world, those who have a guaranteed inheritance, income and secured future no matter what they choose to do with the present.  Every other person has no choice but to work in some fashion; the choice not to work at all simply doesn’t exist unless one considers starvation an option.  At that point, then, the choice boils down to what kind of work one is able and willing to do.  I’d just love to be paid to do what I’m doing right now – namely, writing about whatever I want to write whenever I want to write it, without answering to anybody – but in the real world very few people who aren’t already bestselling authors get that opportunity.  Conversely, there are lots of things I’m quite able to do, but wouldn’t be willing to do regularly for pay.  As I’ve described before, I eventually settled on sex work as the best way to get everything I wanted career-wise (high income, flexibility, freedom from arbitrary schedules and rules and no confiscatory “withholding”)  while doing something I was already good at.  In other words, escorting provided the greatest advantages for the least compromise.  Eventually I made a slightly different choice, namely housewifery, when I came to a point in my life where it provided an even better fit than escorting had; the money was less and the responsibility greater, but the work was lighter and IMHO even more pleasant.

And I’m not remotely alone; millions of women all over the world and throughout history have chosen prostitution for similar reasons to mine.  Each of them took stock of her assets, needs and preferences and decided that whoring was the best way to accomplish her goals. The neofeminists claim that only women with no other choice decide to become prostitutes, but that’s as ridiculous an assertion as it is simplistic; there are many, many poor, unskilled women in this world who would never choose whoredom, and many, many educated, talented women who do.  Harlotry is not right for everyone, but then neither is teaching, nursing, motherhood, secretarial work or any other career.  All but a very small number of us must work, and everyone who isn’t actually compelled by force to do some particular form of work has some choice, however limited it may be.

But what about those who are literally compelled?  Obviously there are cases like the “comfort women”, but in modern times such forcible enslavement is comparatively rare, as our friend Jill Brenneman can tell you.  Some of what the rescue industry calls “slavery” is actually debt bondage (a condition with which I daresay much of the American middle class is intimately familiar), but some of it isn’t even that; as Laura Agustín has discussed on numerous occasions, a great deal of the “trafficking” mythology is rooted in the racist assumption that people (especially women) from undeveloped countries are childlike simpletons who can easily be manipulated by oh-so-superior Westerners, and so they are “enslaved” by the evil white men and can only be “rescued” by the good white men.  The “rescuers” presume that any foreign woman selling sex in Europe or the US is “trafficked”, when in reality the majority of them come of their own free will and the people who are labeled as “traffickers” are usually simply those who transported them and/or arranged for false papers.  Not to be outdone, the fanatics are now trying to claim that the reason migrants deny being enslaved is not because it’s the truth, but rather because they’re suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”!  They simply cannot accept that some people really do prefer doing sex work to being virtual slaves in a sweatshop, and that they migrate not because they’re passively “trafficked” but because they’re actively looking for a better life than they could find in their own countries.

Of course, pointing any of this out to a trafficking fanatic will merely trigger an avalanche of “enslaved children” rhetoric.  But even that isn’t as it’s represented; as I’ve pointed out before, fewer than 250 underage prostitutes in America report having been coerced into the trade, and their average age at the time they become prostitutes is 16 rather than the 13 claimed by trafficking fetishists.  Considering that 16 is of legal age to consent to sex in 39 American states, I hardly think that qualifies as a “child”.  And in the developing world, 16 is in many cases an adult no matter what the UN may declare; even in the West the concept of 18 as a “magic number” of adulthood is a relatively recent one, and in most of the world such a distinction simply doesn’t exist.  Despite the efforts of ivory-tower idealists to declare adolescents “innocent children”, the fact is that legal minors often do leave home, sometimes with good reason, and many of them survive by selling sex…with nary a pimp nor “trafficker” in sight.

And what of the pimps?  Even though they’re pretty rare, certainly we can all agree that for a man to force a woman into prostitution and then take her money is wrong, can’t we?  Well…sort of.  I’d agree that for a man to use force and intimidation to control a woman is wrong, but the percentage of prostitutes with abusive, controlling pimps is very similar to the percentage of women with abusive, controlling husbands or boyfriends; some men are just bastards and some women are (for whatever reason) willing to put up with it, and whores are no exception.  At the most basic level, what is a pimp but a man who is supported by a woman’s work?  Sex work is work like any other, so a prostitute supporting a pimp who lacks a literal hold on her is no morally different from any other woman supporting her husband or boyfriend with any other kind of work.  Personally, I think for a wife to support an able-bodied man who isn’t a full-time student is pretty creepy, but I wouldn’t want it to be illegal because people have the right to make their own decisions, even if I or others think those decisions are bad, stupid or self-destructive.  Besides, so-called “anti-pimping” laws do much more harm than good; under many legalization regimes it is illegal (usually felonious) to “live off the avails” (i.e. derive a large portion of one’s support from someone else’s prostitution), which means that a prostitute is barred from being married, supporting adult family members such as university-age children or invalid parents, or even hiring employees such as secretaries or bodyguards.  Such laws are so obviously discriminatory that they were struck down last September in Ontario and Indian sex workers are fighting them, too.

Real life is not like a silent melodrama; the baddies do not all wear black hats and sport waxed moustaches, and many of the women who are tied to the railroad tracks are there because they consented to be and will not appreciate ham-fisted attempts at “rescue”.  There is a whole spectrum between the party girl whoring herself for thrills and the chained sex slave, and the number of prostitutes at the one end is no higher than that at the other.  The vast majority of us, like the vast majority of the human race, exist in the murky grey area between absolute freedom and abject slavery, trying our best to balance the pursuit of happiness with the toil necessary for survival.

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