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Followup on Amnesty International's Call for Decriminalization


quoththeraven
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Representatives from the Dallas chapter of SWOP and the NJ's sex worker advocacy organization, the NJ Red Umbrella Alliance, attended Amnesty International's 2016 annual general meeting to find out what AI's call for decriminalization of sex work actually means in terms of policy and advocacy.

 

It's nice to have AI on record, but if it doesn't translate to policy and advocacy, it becomes so much window dressing and leaves it up to sex workers, who are still a marginalized community, to do all the work of changing public policy.

 

Here's a link to a short (3:20 minute) podcast on the subject:

 

https://m.soundcloud.com/njrua/sex-workers-at-amnesty-internationals-2016-agm

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this general topic since last August. Since then, I have noticed many law enforcement actions against those who allegedly promote or engage in prostitution. These actions are usually focused on the male/female side of the industry and result in little or no discussion here. For example, there is apparently a significant government crackdown going on right now around “spas” in NYC, which I posted about recently in this thread: http://www.companyofmen.org/threads/unusual-topic-massage-parlors-fronting-as-hetero-brothels-but-an-observation.112204/#post-1084625. These actions also seem to increasingly involve the federal government and to be targeting advertising websites. http://www.companyofmen.org/threads/crackdown-continues.110695/. Of course, there also continue to be local “vice” operations that attempt to stop or curtail sex work. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/seattle-police-unit-at-work-clamping-down-on-sex-trade/ Sometimes there are allegations involving minors or a level of coercion, but other cases involve only or mainly consenting adults.

 

What I find interesting about all this is that a huge number of people are negatively affected, but there is virtually no outcry or backlash. While the anonymous online comments to these articles reflect some derision about police priorities and ambivalence about the legal status of sex work, there is really no questioning of the policy from official or institutional voices. If a government official is forced to defend these actions in terms of consenting adults, he usually comes back to simply saying “but it’s illegal, and if you disagree with the law, get the state legislature to change it.” And that is the crux of the problem. How do you organize to change a criminal law if doing so will make people suspect you are guilty of the crime involved? This seems to me to be a real shortcoming in our political system, where disagreement with a law is significantly underrepresented in official policy because the people most affected are scared to speak out against it publicly. http://www.companyofmen.org/threads/do-more-escorts-need-to-come-out.111597/

 

There are several analogous cases that may be useful to think about for those working on decriminalization of sex work. Almost every state used to make having gay sex a crime; how was this overcome? A combination of changes to public opinion, political advocacy, and court actions. Infidelity is still "technically" a crime in some states, but there are no prosecutions so it has effectively been decriminalized, presumably because public opinion would be so strongly against enforcing what are now widely regarded as silly, archaic laws. Marijuana is another example where there is some movement, again driven by changes in public opinion. All these changes took decades and a lot of work by a lot of people.

 

Here, I suspect public opinion is fairly skeptical of decriminalization at this point—probably because people are thinking more about stereotypes and abusive situations than about all the consenting adults involved. Perhaps more media stories about clients and providers that defy stereotypes would begin to change things…Still, at this point, it seems like a long hard slog.

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It is an unfortunate way that the laws are written. One cannot engage in breaking a law prior to getting it changed. For example, the brave souls who sat in the "wrong" seats in the non-segregated buses in the South even though they knew that it was against the law to do so we're liable to arrest. And they were arrested. But eventually the laws were changed.

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There are several analogous cases that may be useful to think about for those working on decriminalization of sex work. Almost every state used to make having gay sex a crime; how was this overcome? A combination of changes to public opinion, political advocacy, and court actions. Infidelity is still "technically" a crime in some states, but there are no prosecutions so it has effectively been decriminalized, presumably because public opinion would be so strongly against enforcing what are now widely regarded as silly, archaic laws. Marijuana is another example where there is some movement, again driven by changes in public opinion. All these changes took decades and a lot of work by a lot of people.

 

Here, I suspect public opinion is fairly skeptical of decriminalization at this point—probably because people are thinking more about stereotypes and abusive situations than about all the consenting adults involved. Perhaps more media stories about clients and providers that defy stereotypes would begin to change things…Still, at this point, it seems like a long hard slog.

 

Legal advocacy has the advantage over political advocacy and attempts to affect public opinion that it looks more disinterested. In the US, there is caselaw out there that could be used to attack laws against prostitution (and defend Rentboy/Jeffrey Hurant) as overbroad limits on 14th Amendment liberty given that laws exist against trafficking, solicitation, and pimping.

 

As much as I think some countries have struck a balance that's too far the other way by legalizing sex work rather than decriminalizing it, that there are countries with a similar cultural and religious tradition to ours that allow adults to pay for sex suggests it's not the moral issue -- or even the feminist issue -- people think it is. But I don't know if this is something on which an institution like the Supreme Court might feel it would be too far out in front of public opinion to address or which it will tackle.

 

I agree that political advocacy is going to be a much longer slog. But there are signs that groups like the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, which represents porn models/actors, are having some effect.

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  • 3 weeks later...
As much as I think some countries have struck a balance that's too far the other way by legalizing sex work rather than decriminalizing it, that there are countries with a similar cultural and religious tradition than ours that allow adults to pay for sex suggests it's not the moral issue -- or even the feminist issue -- people think it is.

 

Emily Bazelon, a favorite of mine, has a great article today in The New York Times Magazine that reviews some of the different approaches that countries are taking and the complex issues involved. It’s focused only on the female side of the industry, but well worth reading I think:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/should-prostitution-be-a-crime.html?_r=0

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Emily Bazelon, a favorite of mine, has a great article today in The New York Times Magazine that reviews some of the different approaches that countries are taking and the complex issues involved. It’s focused only on the female side of the industry, but well worth reading I think:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/should-prostitution-be-a-crime.html?_r=0

 

Thanks. I saw it and think it might be worth starting a thread about if no one has already.

 

I suspect the focus on the female side of the industry has to do with it being larger and with trafficking being less of a concern on the male side of the industry. While I realize that gender inequality affects female sex work, the idea that the choices of women who would not otherwise do it but find it a better choice than other work are invalid, but the choice of men to participate in sex work is fully voluntary, is demeaning, condescending and wrong. That's not my idea of feminism.

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Representatives from the Dallas chapter of SWOP and the NJ's sex worker advocacy organization, the NJ Red Umbrella Alliance, attended Amnesty International's 2016 annual general meeting to find out what AI's call for decriminalization of sex work actually means in terms of policy and advocacy.

 

It's nice to have AI on record, but if it doesn't translate to policy and advocacy, it becomes so much window dressing and leaves it up to sex workers, who are still a marginalized community, to do all the work of changing public policy.

 

Here's a link to a short (3:20 minute) podcast on the subject:

 

https://m.soundcloud.com/njrua/sex-workers-at-amnesty-internationals-2016-agm

Wish some of the sex workers we heard were male. I only heard female comments.

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Wish some of the sex workers we heard were male. I only heard female comments.

 

Pretty sure some of the sex workers photographed were male.

 

It seems like an oversight, but the female side of the equation is what drives the moral outrage and keeps these laws in place. Also, there's no way to know if the writer preemptively focused on female sex workers, had difficulty working in quotes from male sex workers, or had the piece edited (or was told to edit it) to focus only on female sex workers.

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Pretty sure some of the sex workers photographed were male.

 

It seems like an oversight, but the female side of the equation is what drives the moral outrage and keeps these laws in place. Also, there's no way to know if the writer preemptively focused on female sex workers, had difficulty working in quotes from male sex workers, or had the piece edited (or was told to edit it) to focus only on female sex workers.

Partly the focus on women rather than men concerns the lingering assumption, common among the more conservative religions and moralists among us, that women are property. Without agency, a woman has no "right" to sell her sexual services. When she does, she, rather than the client, has broken the socially mandated law.

 

(Next thing you know women will want the vote and to run for the presidency.)

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Partly the focus on women rather than men concerns the lingering assumption, common among the more conservative religions and moralists among us, that women are property. Without agency, a woman has no "right" to sell her sexual services. When she does, she, rather than the client, has broken the socially mandated law.

And at the risk of going outside my lane, the fact that some progressive feminists take this attitude, denying agency to women who choose sex work, in effect asserting that such women don't really know what they are doing, is problematic.

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