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Sex workers are not collaborators

2012/04/10

Taslima Nasrin has been getting a lot of pushback for her article that I wrote about last night. Natalie Reed put up a great piece this morning connecting the ideas of the anti-sex-work movement to all those others that try to protect people (mostly women) from themselves and explaining why letting people make decisions you don’t agree with is critical to the idea of freedom. Plenty of readers have objected in Nasrin’s own comment section as well and she weighed in to actually argue for her views instead of merely asserting them. Unfortunately, this has hardly improved anything as she went from implicitly denying sex workers’ agency to slut-shaming them. She also has cited some sources which are a bit suspect. I recommend you head over there and read the comments for the full story. I have placed a list of her sources and discussion of her argumentation tactics below the fold.

  • There’s this article from an Irish new site. It doesn’t have a lot of solid information. It has some quotes passed along uncritically from an anti-sex-work lobbyist group and some quotes from Swedish police that criminalizing purchase of sex has been effective at reducing prostitution. Of course, if you spoke to US police spokespeople, they’d say the war on drugs is working. A lot of Inspector Trolle’s (or possibly Tolle, they need proofreaders) claims are highly dubious, but go unquestioned. For instance, he claims that before Kvinnofrid law, which criminalized buying sex, but not selling it, one in eight Swedish men had purchased sex at some point in their lives. Now, it’s one in forty. The problem is that this law went into effect in 1999, approximately twelve years before the interview was conducted. Even if no one bought sex in the last twelve years, you wouldn’t expect that kind of drop. Unless almost all johns were really old and died soon after the law was passed, these figures are inaccurate. This could be because people are far more likely to cop to legal activities than illegal ones, even on anonymous surveys he’s comparing numbers for men who paid for sex ever to men who purchased sex in a much shorter period. Plus, he denies that the law has sent prostitution underground based on sheer speculation that it wouldn’t work because if customers can find prostitutes, so can the police. This ignores that customers are far more motivated. The police only need to keep prostitutes out of the public eye to satisfy the public, not really eliminate them. Also, this ignores every black market ever. There’s booming business in plenty of illegal things everywhere.
  • There’s this Swedish news article about a government report that says street prostitution has halved since the law passed, but that in itself isn’t positive unless you show that the situations of women who would have been street prostitutes have improved. I have further critiques, but I’m not sure if they are against the report itself or just the summary of it and I don’t read Swedish. The comments cite several studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence that Sweden si just juking the stats to make it look like they are doing something. This is a good article that makes an argument it’s all a propaganda job. Ian Cromwell at FTB published this guest post about the Swedish model and how it doesn’t really work.
  • She also cited this report from Melissa Farley. It’s mostly a list of assertions without sources cited. When she does give sources, they tend to be extremely vague, like an unnamed police officer. She also interprets her data far differently than I would. For instance, she implicitly takes the alleged fact that college-age men in Nevada are more likely to approve of their daughters becoming prostitutes than those elsewhere in the US to mean that normalization of prostitution promotes misogyny such that that men don’t even care about their female family members. This misses the obvious explanation that they don’t think of prostitution as degrading.

This isn’t everything she gave, but I think it’s a fair overview: Government interests with a vested interest in claiming their own effectiveness and anti-prostitution lobbyists suffering from confirmation bias. My major concern here isn’t so much that her sources aren’t good. Social issues are complex and difficult to study, so unimpeachable information is actually fairly hard to come by, which is exactly why we need to be careful about just believing anything that supports our view. My main concern is how she dealt with criticisms:

Iamcuriousblue says:

Um, Taslima, you do realize that Melissa Farley is not exactly a credible source, don’t you?:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_Farley

There are good reasons the Canadian Courts have not accepted her testimony as an “expert”:

http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2010/2010onsc4264/2010onsc4264.html#_Toc270411950 Sections 353-356

BBC “More or Less” on dubious numbers peddled by abolitionists and UK government:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00gdz3t

And if you can’t question the veracity of fringe scholars like Melissa Farley, then I have to really question just what you’re doing with a blog on Freethoughtblogs. These are primarily rationalist and *skeptic* forums, correct? So if the ideologically-motivated research claims of “creation scientists” and climate change denialists are something to be actively debunked, than why does the similarly shoddy scholarship of Farley and other “abolitionist” academics not receive similar scrutiny? Perhaps because this is a case where “skepticism” stops when you’re in political agreement with the source?

taslima says:

Free thinkers should believe in women’s human rights. Men and women who treat women as equal human beings do not want anyone to be sex slaves. You are talking like a promoter of sex industries.

So her response to having the reliability of her sources questioned is to accuse her reader of being a shill for sexual enslavement of women. The problem isn’t that this is mean, per se, but that she had no good basis on which to do this. It took another few rounds of back-and-forth before she attempted any kind of defense of her sources. When she did, she linked to other people citing Melissa Farley, not actual independent studies. It’s like she never considered the idea there might be good-faith reasons to question her, so she didn’t need to address the substance of the criticisms. If iamcuriousblue were making arguments for policies that do concrete harm, pointing this out would be justified. After all, the harm doesn’t depend of their intent. However, this is just poisoning the well to discredit them without addressing their point. My main problem was this exchange, though.

Maggie Mayhem says:

As a sex worker activist and active sex worker, what I want to say the most is *please listen to our voices.* We want rights, not rescue. Those speaking for us have trampled our voices for far too long.

In the United States and around the globe, sex workers are forming collectives and unions to fight for our rights. Mainstream feminism and patronizing anti-trafficking orgs have continually propagated lies about sex work statistics and have actively shut down our organizing efforts. The sex worker led efforts to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco, CA were largely opposed by feminist organization and one of the biggest anti-decriminalization donations came from Gloria Steinhem herself.

Please listen to us. We don’t need to be saved, we need to be supported.

taslima says:

House slaves did not want the abolition of slavery because they were treated considerably better than field slaves. Would you say slavery should not have been abolished only because some privileged slaves wanted to remain as slaves?

I actually yelled “what the fuck?!” at my computer when I read that. Apparently, willing prostitutes aren’t just simple creatures who have been tricked into thinking they consented, but willing accomplices. A house slave?! Look at the link in Maggie Mayhem’s name. She’s not just some porn star trying to shovel in the sweet, sweet spank money. She’s actually done things to promote the dignity and safety of sex workers. Where else have you heard arguments that women who choose the “wrong” sexual behaviors are bad? That they are gender traitors who are making things hard on the “good” girls? This is the ideological underpinning of slut-shaming, one of the main tools of patriarchal oppression for basically all of living memory. This is precisely the reason that prostitutes have a degraded social position and are vulnerable to the kinds of abuse that Taslima is excoriating the industry for. She is part of the problem here. If prostitutes are social parasites contributing to the exploitation of women for a cookie and a leg up on the competition, why should society or the police go out of their way to help them? I frankly can’t blame Maggie and most other sex workers for not believing that Ms. Nasrin has their best interests at heart.

I’m not saying sex work is all puppies and limo rides. My best friend died indirectly of a cocaine addiction that she picked up while stripping. I’m saying that if you want to help people with bad options, you need to listen to them and give them good options, not take away the options they have. If you want to help sex workers, you need to listen to them and respect their dignity and bodily autonomy, not decide you know what’s best for everyone and ignore or demonize anyone who objects to being talked over.

From → politics

11 Comments
  1. willonyx permalink

    I didn’t read the comments on the first article but her second one made me pretty angry. She just basically says anyone who does enjoy having sex for money must be a pathological sex addict. My comment won’t escape moderation it seems so I am really just kind of irritated.

    • MichaelD permalink

      Yay I’m not alone in moderation hell. Hell for the company right? ;P

      You also missed that they could also be self hating masochist. Her argument seem to fall into argument from incredulity ie I can’t see how anyone could do this without being abused (consciously or not) or be some self hating masochist.

      I wasn’t really familiar with her before joining FtB but I can’t say this issue has really left me thinking well of ability to reason and argue a position. Hopefully it’s just a fluke and things will get better when this moves on.

    • And so amazing her 2nd post actually starts off with her saying how she hopes all the free-thought bloggers “believe in free expression”! Argh. I wish this weren’t so entirely typical! This is exactly the sort of crap these abolitionist feminists do all the time! btw – I’m going to be making a vid and blogpost about this and if you want to screencap any unapproved/censored comments and send me a link to the pic thru twitter @FemWho I’ll include them.

      • So far, all of mine seem to have stuck, but she hasn’t responded to them. She seems to like to stick to people that she can characterize as saying that no sexual commerce is problematic or as not caring that some of it is.

      • willonyx permalink

        I have an ancient computer which won’t let me download screen cap software without it complaining about a dll thing and won’t work. I decided to let it slide that she is moderating dissent because I can guess all I want at her motives but I can’t guarentee they are accurate so I am not going to push that aspect of my problems with what she says. I wollowed you on twitter to keep updated on the vlog stuff though and if you wish to know my words I will copy and paste but not as an attempt to slam someone for modding comments. She does have every right to mod as she sees necessary.

      • MichaelD permalink

        A large number of posts includeing mine (and I think I saw willonyx) have recently come out of moderation. Its unfortunate but I think this whole moderation snafu is more about the recent creation of her blog then an active attempt at censorship. At least that’s how I currently read the situation.

      • Yep. Plus she’s in a different time zone than most of her readers.

  2. willonyx permalink

    Followed. damn spelling.

  3. willonyx permalink

    The time zone thing probably wasn’t a factor. She posted replies to other comments after I typed mine and long before she released the moderated ones. As there were a ton of comments held back I am going to assume that she was probably flooded with new commenters and trying to vet them all at once or something else. Either way I am glad she released them and I made my last comment there just now.

  4. And now she posted another reality-denying post about porn.

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