On the importance of punishing pimps.

Nicholas Kristof on Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like US

Our system has failed girls like [one of those Lloyd discusses]. The police and prosecutors should focus less on punishing 12-year-old girls and more on their pimps — and, yes, their johns. I hope that Lloyd’s important and compelling book will be a reminder that homegrown American girls are also trafficked, and they deserve sympathy and social services — not handcuffs and juvenile detention. 

Censoring sexual services ads on Craigslist

J-Bro sends me this article, which argues that removing sexual services ads from Craigslist is exactly the wrong thing to do:

If you want to end human trafficking, if you want to combat nonconsensual prostitution, if you care about the victims of the sex-power industry, don’t cheer Craigslist’s censorship. This did nothing to combat the cycle of abuse. What we desperately need are more resources for law enforcement to leverage the visibility of the Internet to go after the scumbags who abuse. What we desperately need are for sites like Craigslist to be encouraged to work with law enforcement and help create channels to actually help victims. What we need are innovative citizens who leverage new opportunities to devise new ways of countering abusive industries. We need to take this moment of visibility and embrace it, leverage it to create change, leverage it to help those who are victimized and lack the infrastructure to get help. What you see online should haunt you. But it should drive you to address the core problem by finding and helping victims, not looking for new ways to blindfold yourself. Please, I beg you, don’t close your eyes. We need you.

Sex work and UK jobcentres

Jobcentres in the UK currently carry adverts from companies seeking people to work in the sex trade, including posts as strippers, topless barmaids, and sexy webcam performers. Staff at jobcentres have to ensure that the unemployed people receiving benefits are actively seeking work, and applying to appropriate jobs. People can be told to look at the job adverts to see if there is something suitable for which they could apply before being allowed to sign on. The Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling, has stated that it is wrong for jobcentres to be displaying adverts of this nature. “It’s absolutely wrong that the government advertises jobs that could support the exploitation of people. We’ve taken immediate action today to stop certain adult entertainment vacancies from being advertised through Jobcentre Plus. We shouldn’t put vulnerable people in an environment where they’re exposed to these types of jobs and could feel under pressure to work in the sex industry.” A temporary ban on such adverts has been put in place whilst ministers prepare more permanent legislation. I’m not entirely sure what to think about this. My gut reaction is that this is a good thing. But my more considered response is that the issue seems complicated. One might think that there are plenty of exploitative jobs around – minimum wage, temporary contracts with no security, no benefits such as a pension. Why should sex work be considered more exploitative than these forms of work? Moreover, the best way to improve conditions for sex workers is to make the work more, not less, legitimate. But what do you think? You can read more from Reuters here.

“I ran a brothel in a country village”

Claire Finch tells the story of her brothel— “a group of six older women selling sex”– in the Guardian’s Experience feature. The most important part of it is her discussion of British law, which forbids brothels:

Legally, one woman can sell sex, but not two or more working together. It’s crazy that you could have a row of 20 houses with one woman in each selling sex, but if you have two in one house, you’re breaking the law. I told the truth at court – technically, it could be thought I had broken the law, but the jury used their common sense and cleared me of brothel-keeping. I was elated. Now I’m campaigning with the English Collective of Prostitutes to get the law changed so that a small group of women can work together for safety reasons.

One thing that’s striking about her story is that she seems pretty happy with her life, and for reasons most of us can appreciate: she has friends, community, safety and economic security. And it’s very clear that the reason for that is that she is able to work safely with a group of other women. Which is of course precisely what the current laws strive to prevent.

State-run brothels

A passionate article in favour:

The women who were killed in Bradford — Suzanne Blamires, 36, Susan Rushworth, 43, and Shelley Armitage, 31 — all worked as streetwalkers…They sold sex at bargain-basement prices because they had heroin habits and a heroin habit isn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy….In Bradford last week Stephen Griffiths, 40, was charged with the murder of three….

We’re all glued to the news now that they’re dead and he’s been charged, but what I really don’t understand — what absolutely baffles me, and always has done — is why there has never been a national outcry about these women’s working conditions. Given that prostitution exists, has always existed and will continue to exist for all eternity — and yes, it would be nice if it didn’t and if all the prostitutes could be rescued and persuaded to go to Narcotics Anonymous and retrained as something impressive, but let’s not hold our breath — why is it not seen as imperative to ensure that at least they carry out their work in a safe environment? …It is simply not okay, in an otherwise civilised society, to leave these women to their fate. Murders are seldom sadder than when they are preventable. Blamires, Rushworth and Armitage might be alive today if they had worked in a big, clean, state-sanctioned brothel, with two giant bouncers on the door, panic buttons in the rooms and an in-house programme that weaned women off the class As.

Victory for Claire Finch

Press release from the English Collective of Prostitutes
On Thursday 29 April, in Luton Crown Court, Claire Finch was found NOT GUILTY of a criminal charge of keeping a brothel. The jury, in line with public opinion, refused to criminalise Ms Finch for working together with friends from her own home for safety. Ms Finch, her friends and colleagues, her legal team and the English Collective of Prostitutes which co-ordinated the case, celebrated this victory for rights and safety.

This case is a precedent – it forges a way for sex workers to work together from premises. Thousands of women who want to protect their safety now have the possibility of a legal defence against criminal charges. Sex workers are 10 times more likely to be attacked on the street than indoors, and it is much safer to work with someone else than to work alone. Yet the law expressly forbids this – two or more women working together are classified as a brothel. Following the decision of the court, all pending prosecutions of women working together without force or coercion must now be dropped. Parliament must now look to decriminalise as New Zealand did successfully nearly seven years ago, improving women’s safety without increasing prostitution.
Read More »

Let’s All Move to Iceland!

The “World’s Most Feminist Country” apparently – discuss!

I wonder why there is such a strong consensus behind the country’s decision to ban all strip clubs – even among men. Or are there good reasons to be suspicious about the accuracy of the 2007 poll results? Can any Icelandic readers help the rest of us understand the secret of your country’s success?

It would also be interesting to hear from those mentioned in the article who believe that strip clubs are ’empowering’. Is there anything to this argument?

Is it ok to treat a person like a plate?

That’s not a question I had ever envisaged contemplating, despite philosophers’ well-known penchant for pondering strange topics such as the number of angels that can fit onto the head of a pin, and so forth. But I was recently prompted to consider that very issue (people as plates, not angels on pins) when I came across the practice of Nyotaimori – eating sushi/sashimi off a naked woman. As one might guess from the sushi reference, the practice originated in Japan. A brief trawl of the net revealed that it wasn’t (isn’t?) widely popular in Japan, and was (is?) instead the preserve of the Japanese elite, and according to one site, Japanese gangsters. But enterprising restaurant owners in other parts of the world are now offering Nyotaimori for those who can pay the typically high fees.

So, what’s one to think? Is it ok to treat a person like a plate? Read More »

Pole Fitness Classes?

Reader Seagull has sent us this very interesting query:

A group of academics sent a letter to their university’s vice chancellor objecting to the presence of “pole fitness” classes being offered to staff and students in the campus sports centre. Our argument was that a university campus is not an appropriate place for a “fitness” activity which is an offshoot of the sex industry and a manifestation of the mainstreaming of raunch culture which objectifies women. We argued that we had a right to a working environment which enshrined respect for women, and we felt the university’s reputation could be damaged if the press got wind of the fact that we offer courses in pole dancing.

We received a reply from the university’s management which argued that there is nothing remotely sexual about “pole fitness” which is an entirely legitimate and beneficial exercise activity. This was accompanied by considerable documentation from various national fitness and exercise organisations which sang the praises of this wholesome health-benefitting activity which was so far removed from its sleazy pole-dancing roots that our suggestion that it might not be appropriate caused much hurt and incredulity among its practitioners. The most disturbing aspect of the response was the utter inability of the university management and the fitness organisations to understand our concerns about the promotion of raunch culture on campus.

We would therefore be really interested in this blog’s readership’s views on this, specifically,

1. How widespread is “pole-fitness” and other manifestations of raunch culture on university campuses, and how widely does it receive such strong endorsement from management, sporting bodies and fitness organisations?

2. Has anyone else tried to raise concerns about this, and if so, what was the outcome?

3. Does anyone have any strategies for how we could effectively challenge the mainstreaming of raunch culture?

4. Can anyone point us to academic studies or data that could help us show our university why raunch culture of this kind is harmful to women?

5. Finally, is there any point in fighting this fight? Perhaps “pole fitness” has become so mainstream that challenging it is futile and harms the feminist movement/s my making us look like strident old-fashioned harridans out of touch with the modern world?