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Not so long ago the French would shrug and sigh about prudish societies where sex could still provoke scandal, scoffing at melodramas acted out in the USA by politicians caught doing something opposed to so-called family values. Dominique Strauss-Kahn used this tradition with his claim to be engaging in ‘libertine activity’ when he paid for sex at parties. Now this is changing, not only because of Strauss-Kahn’s continuing saga but because the French parliament is set to pass a law against buying sex that was previously associated with countries to the north.

A couple of years ago I wrote Europe’s anti-prostitution initiatives multiply, discussing France in the context of the European Women’s Lobby campaign for a Europe Free from Prostitution. UN Women National Committee Sweden recently called this ‘an issue that divides the world, and where the Northern European and the global women’s movement fight for recognition of fundamentally different values.’ Perhaps now France will feel more northern than southern Europe.

In networks of activism for sex workers’ rights and better commercial-sex laws, the bill set to pass in France has been a focus of campaigning for some time. Many unfamiliar with the subject cannot believe their ears when told about the contradictory law known as the Swedish or Nordic model, which prohibits the buying of sex while allowing it to be sold. In Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores I said:

Yes, it’s illogical. But the contradiction is not pointless; it is there because the goal of the law is to make prostitution disappear, by debilitating the market through absurd ignorance of how sex businesses work.

Although a lot of activism now takes place via social-media websites, sometimes an email is better. Thierry Schaffauser sent the following ideas in a message about the current situation in France to an activist list. I have added links he provided and edited so that outsiders to these conversations may understand. The full text of the proposed French law can be read here: Proposition de loi renforçant la lutte contre le système prostitutionnel.

Dear all,

I think what we fear is going to happen.

The Socialist party introduced the bill, which was co-signed by all other parties affiliated to the Socialists as well as the Communist and Left parties, so there is already a majority in favour of the law. The right wing might vote with them as well. Even MPs who are against the law will probably vote for it, out of party discipline and to avoid being labelled as sexist, pro-pimp and pro-prosti-killers by feminists (prosti-tueurs is the new name they give to men who buy sex).

In parliamentary hearings two former prostitutes were invited to speak, both affirming the shame, degradation and self-destruction of prostitution. Current sex workers were not asked to testify; one of us spoke along with the health organisations. We have held many demonstrations and shown all the evidence, but we are ignored. The sponsors use flawed evidence and anonymous testimonies; they don’t care about NGOs or research.

Sponsors of the bill claim all the time that 90% of prostitutes are victims of trafficking. This percentage may be their estimate for non-French sex workers, not trafficking victims, but abolitionists don’t distinguish between the two. No source is given for the figure. All migrants are defined as trafficked.

Sex workers who oppose the bill are accused of being a non-representative and privileged minority, so selfish that we defend our own interest and those of pimps and willing to sacrifice the majority of poor victims of trafficking and rape. They insist they will not pass a law on behalf of sex workers who claim to consent to prostitution. They say that our consent is flawed due to poverty and other constraints, and believe that if we were to leave prostitution and go into therapy we would recognise that we had lied to ourselves and that prostitution is, in fact, harmful.

Migrant sex workers from all parts of the world increasingly join the sexworker union STRASS, but they don’t participate in public debates because of the language barrier and the stigma. During our last demonstration there were many migrants, but they were ignored by mainstream media. The bill would make it possible for migrant sex workers to get a six months’ residence permit on condition they agree to stop prostitution.

Sponsors of the law don’t care that only 22% of the French population are in favour of fining clients 1500€, because they say in Sweden the law succeeded in changing people’s minds about prostitution. They share the same goal to educate people in France. The bill would mandate school programming to teach that buying sex is like rape and that prostitution is degrading.

The bill says street soliciting will be permitted, but local by-laws can be passed to maintain public order, so sex workers would not even be decriminalised.

The bill would instruct Internet Service Providers to alert authorities and give power to block access to websites suspected of profiting from prostitution, which means even escort advertising could be targeted. One MP said it would be possible for police to use our phone numbers, which we fear means they could listen to conversations in order to identify and arrest clients and lead to forced entry into our homes and workplaces.

Sponsors of the bill don’t even listen to police, who say criminalising clients would be too difficult to implement and would divert efforts to combat trafficking.

A few days ago a group of reactionary right-wing men started defending the right to buy sex in a very sexist manner. They are being widely reported in the media, and sex workers who oppose the bill are made to look as if we side with them, which is terrible for us.

I don’t know what to do now.

See La pénalisation contre-productive for more on the bill from Thierry Schaffauser.

Many of Thierry’s comments illustrate how certain social actors are disqualified from participating in debates, including when their own welfare is at stake. The most peculiar idea pushed by abolitionism is that there must be a single interpretation for the act of selling sex, that all who do it must agree about the experience. In the case of sex workers who do not want their clients penalised, crusaders give a range of excuses for why their opinions are not relevant, appropriate, serious or believable, allowing their exclusion from debate. Somehow prostitution has come to be a subject where disqualification and discrediting are major tactics for winning political campaigns, where crusaders aggressively dismiss women, men and transgender people from attempting to tell their experiences. The most extreme disqualification goes to the voice of anyone currently selling sex:

Aucune personne prostituée pendant qu’elle exerce la prostitution ne dira jamais qu’elle est contrainte, jamais. Tout le monde effectivement dit que ‘je le fais volontairement’. Ce n’est qu’au moment où la prostitution s’arrête que les personnes disent en fait ce n’était pas ce je disais. – Danielle Bosquet

This authoritarian trump card permits anyone claiming autonomy in selling sex to be dismissed on non-provable ‘brainwashing’ grounds. See Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores for more on how disqualification works.

The turning of all migrants who sell sex into victims of trafficking is what drove me into reading and research in the late 1990s. Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry is the result of that research, along with articles in academic journals that opened the door to a new field of study. Moral entrepreneurs disqualify this work, too, as exceptional and irrelevant.

The French legislation is highly repressive in many ways. That it is sold as morally righteous confirms my feeling that we have moved into a period of Social Purity, the name given to a movement in Anglo countries in the late 19th century, in which the pursuit of prostitutes and their clients was a principle activity. The difference now can be seen in clauses to the French bill that would increase police power by allowing more surveillance of telephones and possible blocking of Internet sites where sex is offered for sale. The Rescue Industry now propose to save us from even the sight of advertisements considered to foment prostitution; we are all to be re-educated and rehabilitated for our own good.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Award to Laura Agustín, Photo by Charlotte Cooper

In the evening’s opening act a woman emerges from a plastic Chinese bag – those big plaid ones, but still, not easy to fold oneself into. With her head only showing she expels a ping-pong ball from her mouth, a sex-tourism joke that gets a huge laugh. Fully emerged, she holds up a series of signs indicating she is Lilly from Thailand, looking for a husband, wanting a British passport. The audience love it.

What a pleasure, that these jokes could be the cheery opening to the night’s events, unaccompanied by politically correct disclaimers like Remember there is a lot of misery and oppression in this horrible patriarchal world of capitalism. Just hijinks from Lilly, who keeps grinning and bowing. Instead, the audience is assumed capable of appreciating ironies. The event was the Erotic Awards taking place at the Night of the Senses, the 26th year of a kinky charity ball held to benefit Outsiders, which raises awareness about sex and disability.

I have never once thought of myself as a campaigner: mostly I just talk and write about ideas that are considered shocking by a lot of people who are campaigning for something: tighter migration controls, the abolition of prostitution, criminal penalties for people who engage in sex-money transactions. Campaigns have a clearly stated goal, like the slogans in this photo, whereas my work can be described as encouraging critical thinking about sex, money and migration and public policies affecting them. I require people to think for themselves rather than swallow a neatly digestible slogan. Campaigns are assumed to be energetic, focussed and goal-oriented, whereas I’m more meditative and reflexive.

Nonetheless, as I watch Lilly onstage I do feel I’ve contributed to the possibility that her act could be appreciated in this place at this time. I understand my win of the 2013 Erotic Award for Campaigner as the win of a point of view: that anti-trafficking rhetoric and policymaking have strayed too far from what most ordinary people know about their own friends, neighbours and communities, wherever they live in the world. Marriages of convenience, sex shows with ping-pong balls, exchanging sex for benefits, ‘help’ needed to get visas and passports are now widely understood to be part of ordinary and undemonic everyday life – not narratives of horror or slavery.

If you don’t know why I might have won as Campaigner, here are a few links:
My book Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
Other publications of mine
Videos of some of my talks

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Recently I was accused of ‘academic grooming’ by someone disappointed that everyone who writes and talks about sex does not agree with her. The idea of grooming isn’t developed but interests me. It means preparing someone for a specific purpose, but in the world of concern about sexual abuse grooming is the process by which a victim is manipulated into a sexual relationship. To use the word about teachers or writers and students, university students have to be seen as so passive and gullible they unquestioningly accept everything they hear and read (only on the subject of sex?) and then become – what? practitioners of the perversion? This is puzzling, since no amount of narrow-mindedness can prevent students from hearing contradictory opinions about every topic all the time. Well, maybe it isn’t like that in some religious schools, I don’t know.

After I published Dear Students of Sex Work and Trafficking, one student wrote to me:

I was moved by your recent post regarding students. I am studying for a masters degree in sociology at the university of Copenhagen. For a couple of years i have followed your blog with great interest.

Last semester i did a project where we interviewed migrant women selling sexual services in Denmark. Your blog, articles and of course your book was a great inspiration as to how we approached the subject.
Because of your work, we were inspired to use feminist standpoint epistemology as a starting point. You also inspired us to be critical to our own positions.

If it was not for your expertise and work, we would probably have produced a boring paper repeating nasty stereotypes and neglecting the voices of women in marginalized positions. Actually, i really doubt we could have produced a paper without you. I doubt we would have been able to arrange interviews without being aware of various issues which you have highlighted in your book.

I am basically writing in order to thank you, and to let you know, that there are some students who do not expect you to do our work or anwer stupid questions.

So thank you Laura!

I wrote and thanked him for this message of support and got his permission to publish it here.

Remember those students in Basel that heard Catharine MacKinnon on prostitution one day and me the next? They may have felt quite disoriented or confused but then perhaps had to think for themselves and make up their own minds about the issues – a good thing, on my view. I’m optimistic about people’s ability to figure things out, including girls and young women like those a man is possibly observing closely in the Lewis Hine photo. I also take a conservative view about the power of my words to affect those who hear or read them. I remember, however, the gender-studies expert at Sussex who told me it was irresponsible of me to talk the way I do.

Anyway, the idea of academic grooming seems to be another example of psy concepts twisted and imposed to suit the needs of campaigners – like justifying resistance to rescue or rehabilitation as Stockholm syndrome or brainwashing.

The complaint ends I really do despair for young people today. Heavens, as long as amateur psychobabble is allowed, I’d like to suggest that such a statement is paranoid, seeing demons and dragons where only opinions exist – not to mention a failure to believe in university students to think and make judgements.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Last month I spoke at the Dublin Anarchist Bookfair, held in Liberty Tower on the Liffey. There was some resistance to my insistence on sticking to the programme from a couple of audience members during the Q&A, but I was firm. I had been invited to talk about sex work as work for 30 minutes, which isn’t long, and it isn’t a definitive presentation. But in my experience these conversations rarely get further than the affirmation sex work is work, and I was glad to have the opportunity to begin to talk about practical issues of different sorts, not feminist or moralist issues and not trafficking! This video comes from the Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland) and includes the Q&A session at the end.

A few people have complained the sound is bad. This must be an unfortunate conflict of softwares combined with Internet connections, because most people can’t hear any problem. Sorry if you are unlucky.

Other videos of me talking are on my Youtube channel.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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The other day someone asked if I believe what Nicholas Kristof wrote about sex slaves in Half the Sky or do I think he is lying. In the book he tells a story of being taken into Sonagachi, a red-light district in Kolkata, where he saw unhappy young women said to be under the control of exploiters. At least one of the women told him she wanted to get away. Do I believe he visited Sonagachi and talked to a couple of unwilling workers? Yes, because I am sure his guides to this very large area took him specifically to meet them.

Based on that one experience and what his guides said, he characterised the DMSC, an organisation that supports sex-worker rights in Sonagachi, as corrupt promoters of child prostitution. More than 10,000 people work in Sonagachi, so although DMSC try to prevent children and unwilling people working there through Self-Regulatory Boards, it would be impossible to know what is going on all the time.

Many of those worried about trafficking express special horror about children, by which they sometimes mean anyone under 18. You will recall how Kristof’s use of the tag seventh grader annoyed me, when he tweeted about accompanying a Somaly-Mam brothel raid in Cambodia. A campaigner harassing Craig of Craigslist flourished pictures of women in classifieds who are said to look too young.

Recently a scandal erupted in Singapore because some supposedly respectable men paid for sex with a female under 18. Whether she was or not, photos showed her dressing childishly. Kristof might look at the Thai sex worker and researcher who spoke at Don’t Talk to Me About Sewing Machines and think she is too young. Kristof is sentimental about children, romantic about women and comes from a culture where a lot of young people dress up convincingly to look older than they are. He is a total outsider to the sex industry, ignorant of the possibility that workers commonly try to look younger than they are (to attract clients).

Kristof is a colonialist; he imposes his own narrow cultural attitudes on people he looks at and interprets their lives according to his values. A thin body dressed in t-shirt and shorts says child to him. This mindset makes it impossible for him to read what’s going on in a bar he stumbles into – including, probably, in the United States. To see these people while invading a bar with armed police, where events move fast, many are frightened and impressions are fleeting, exacerbates the problem. I wouldn’t believe anyone’s assertion about other people’s age glimpsed in those conditions.

The Singapore situation illustrates another kind of confusion:

While the local age of consent is 16, the age for commercial sexual transactions – prostitution is legal in Singapore — was raised in 2007 by two additional years. The government acknowledged at the time that there was little need for the new law. “Although there is no evidence to suggest that we have a problem with 16- and 17-year-olds engaging in commercial sex in Singapore, we decided to set the age of protection at 18 years so as to protect a higher proportion of minors,” said senior home affairs minister Ho Peng Kee on the floor of Parliament when the bill was introduced. “Young persons, because they are immature and vulnerable and can be exploited, therefore should be protected from providing sexual services.”

Only when they get money for it, however. Sixteen-year olds can ‘provide sexual services’ for free in Singapore with no problem.

After my talks about migration, sex work, gender perspectives, culture and rights, someone in the audience usually brings up age. The  format goes like this: What about the 12-year-old girl sold by her parents to a pimp? Lately, I have taken to pointing out that this is a rhetorical ploy (maybe unconscious) aimed at pushing discussion of a complex topic to its extreme edge, to the case we can all deplore, the ‘obvious’ case of misery. The point is to expose the fallacy of the speaker’s (my) ideas.

The other day I said no one should be making decisions about other people’s degree of will or acceptance of their situations and then generalising to huge groups of people. One response was: No one should be making any assumptions about the degree of will for a 10- year-old girl or boy in the sex trades? After pointing out the rhetoric (used by abolitionists and anti-trafficking people all the time), I answered yes, no one should be making assumptions about 10-year-olds either. How do we know what led to her selling sex? What choices was she faced with? What might happen if she were suddenly extracted from her situation? It is easy to take heroic positions at the extreme of a continuum, but the vast majority of cases lie along its middle, whether people are young or old. To make the extreme the case all policy should be based on – as well as all emotion and compassion – is irresponsible, an infantilising Rescue Industry strategy to be avoided whether you like the idea of kids selling sex or not.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Now Mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella has long been a staunch member of the movement to abolish prostitution. Wife of former Prime Minister Aznar (Partido Popular, conservative), she promotes measures that discourage men from paying for sex, whether that means making it criminal or changing masculine culture - or mentality, as she put it recently. Botella suggests that this could come about if men who buy were to understand that women selling are not totally free. She means that they may be trafficked, but she also refers to many prostitutes’ general situation of debility and defends the idea that protection is the correct way to care for them.

Of course there are people selling sex who are in bad straits and would like some kind of help; the question is: What kind of help can they find? What is offered to them? I am tired of abolitionists speaking as though they had a monopoly on caring and the rest of us were cold and cruel. I would hardly spend my time writing about these issues if I thought there were no problems for the people involved. I am not paid by the sex industry, as silly attacks often allege.

The critical question is: Would penalising (criminalising) men who buy sex actually help women who sell, even if they are unhappy and want to get out? The answer to that depends on what else changes in sex workers’ lives, what new options they have in terms of economy and lifestyle. If the only alternative is moralistic rehabilitation, then many women who once had a way to make money now will not. So abolitionists need to show that they have had real conversations, uncoerced, with women they think should be rescued – not make ideological pronouncements about all of them – it is actually very rude to generalise like that.

Note that Botella’s mentality-changing proposal fits the End Demand mould, the one that is not simply about passing a law against buying sex. The End Demand movement under that name originated in the US, where both selling and buying are already illegal, so instituting the so-called Nordic model would actually be progressive there, since immediately women who sell sex would be decriminalised. Changing masculine culture – unfortunately construed here as monolithic, as though all men were alike, too – is obviously a much more ambitious project. This is what poor Ashton Kutcher was trying with his ill-fated Real Men Don’t Buy Sex videos.

Botella aboga por cambiar la mentalidad a los clientes de prostitución antes que multarlos

18 enero 2012, ABC.es

La regidora de la capital apuesta por hacer saber al cliente que posiblemente esas mujeres «no son totalmente libres»

La alcaldesa de Madrid, Ana Botella, ha abogado este miércoles por “cambiar la mentalidad” de los clientes de la prostitución antes que sancionarlos añadiendo, no obstante, que el modelo sueco, en el que los clientes son penalizados, “es adecuado y está teniendo resultado”, como ha expuesto en una entrevista en Telemadrid.

“No hace falta penalizar sino pensar que las mentalidades cambian, por lo que hay que hacer saber al cliente que posiblemente esas mujeres no son totalmente libres”, ha afirmado la primera edil, que cree que así podría darse un cambio de actitud para que no se empleasen esos servicios.

También ha defendido que las administraciones deben “proteger” a las víctimas, en este caso las mujeres que, por regla general, han caído en las redes de bandas dedicadas al tráfico de personas. La prostitución, como ha señalado, atenta “contra la dignidad del ser humano, en este caso de la mujer, que normalmente se encuentra en una situación de debilidad”.

Insiders in the sex worker rights movement may find it amusing that Botella was carrying a red umbrella the other day.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Fundamentalist feminists ordinarily avoid sharing a platform with people like me, but it does happen occasionally. These photos were taken in 2004 at UC Berkeley in a debate on Measure Q (Prostitution Enforcement in Alameda County). On the blackboard are two lists: on the left Robyn Few, Laura Agustín and Veronica Monet (on the right Norma Hotaling, Melissa Farley and Davida, whose surname I cannot make out.

Farley’s team were accompanied by people dressed in skeleton costumes. Skeletons adorned one of her polemical books – I guess to suggest that prostitution is death. The groupies sat quietly enough at first; the debate was timed with a stopwatch so each person had only a minute or two to speak. But when a well-known Bay Area activist in the audience started crying and went over her time, the whole Farley team were up in arms, claiming the debate was biased. It was quite embarrassing. She also flung out her arm at one point and called us pimps. Robyn, Veronica and I were polite about it; after all, who looks bad in that situation?

But there was a very funny incident involving me and Melissa. I was staying in San Francisco with an old friend who, by coincidence, was in a reading group with Farley. Nothing to do with prostitution or violence; my friend knew nothing about her. After the debate, my friend went to say hello to Farley, who assumed she was there to support her and was asking for confirmation about how terrible we were. At that moment, my pal caught my eye and waved me over, and smiling charmingly (and mischievously) said, Melissa, I want you to meet my friend Laura. I put out my hand, and Farley, looking appalled, shook it – a pimp’s hand! I got a huge kick out of it.

Farley did leave a restrained comment on this blog once, when I recounted how she called me the Postmodern Nadir. What larks, worthy of a (brief) Monty Python sketch.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

 

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December 2010, Luxor

I have found Ashton Kutcher’s behaviour towards the Village Voice tediously adolescent, but I did finally comment on a blog post I doubt Kutcher wrote himself, despite his claim that he only played stupid as an actor. He won’t read the comment himself, either, and, if he did read all the material he boasts about here, why didn’t he run into long-published warnings about the misuse of data on children and trafficking?

Jul 03, 2011
Laura Agustin said…
And in Luxor, did you listen to me on the BBC panel? Or did you pull faces and groan every time I spoke, along with others from Hollywood? Were you interested in any of the issues I brought up, or did you simply ignore them and stand up to repeat the wrong statistic that the average age of entry into prostitution is 13? In order to get big applause? I had been talking about diversity amongst people who travel and sell sex, you changed the topic to bring up the erroneous figure of 13, which, if you have done the research you say you have, you know is simply taken from a single study and being misused horribly. You can’t claim to be knowledgeable about a field if you haven’t read a wide range of research – not emotional stories, not ideological rhetoric. Will you take a look at my book, Sex at the Margins? my blog, which has loads of resources your government agencies will never tell you about?

In the photos, Ashton is playing a role the UN wrote for him and other celebrities: pretending to be an expert. Above, he occupies main stage at an event I’ve described as a revival meeting in Luxor, Egypt, last December. I did not take this picture or witness this particular moment, but I was in Luxor at the same time because the BBC World Service flew me there. Also to play a role, no doubt about that, but is it too much to argue that nearly 20 years of reading, field work, publishing in peer-reviewed journals and successfully defending a phd thesis actually do constitute expertise?

Those are the reasons the BBC invited me to be the lone measured voice on the television debate Can Human Trafficking Be Stopped? which you can view on their website. There you will see the film stars heroically standing up for their cause, but the editors have manipulated the footage, changing the order of events, so you can’t see how Mira Sorvino attacked me personally, or understand that Kutcher stood  to declaim about the average age of entry into prostitution being 13 in response to my remarks about diversity amongst people who sell sex. Sex, lies and videotaping tells more of the story.

Now, because I support the Village Voice in its attempt to put facts in the foreground, I am holding them to the same standard they hold Kutcher to. In their Real Men article, the VV claims The thinly veiled fraud behind the shocking “100,000 to 300,000 child prostitutes” estimate has never been questioned, and that is also not true and a bit arrogant. I exposed the slip about trafficked children versus children at risk almost a year ago in a story about CraigsList, but then I suppose the VV means no Big Players questioned it. Or it means that when the authors googled for sources they didn’t bother to go further than the dozens of repetitive items that come up first simply because they sit on Big Players’ websites: media factories of one sort or another. No amount of seo tweaking can change Google’s inherent bias towards the Big Boys; you won’t find an independent like me at the top.

Kutcher writes

I’ve spent the last 2 years meeting with every expert on the issue of Human Trafficking that I can find, reading countless books, meeting with victims and former traffickers, and studying effective international models to combat trafficking.  We are working with the State Dept, the Department of Homeland security, and multiple NGO’s.

Isn’t it interesting that both Kutcher and Sorvino (the no-goodwill ambassador for the UN drugs and crime people, on the right in the second photo) place so much faith in the Big Boys – government and police? Kutcher has never spoken to anyone I know, and I know a lot of experts. As for his claim about countless books, maybe that’s because he can’t count.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Recently I wrote about a man-licking-women video that supposedly depicts a man who does sex for money and feels oppressed by the job. The only sex we are shown, though, is oral, with the man kneeling on a floor between the outspread knees of women on their backs on a bed. The video, part of a campaign by the non-democratic European Women’s Lobby, has provoked interesting comments on my blog, not least from men who say the video’s message is not easy to grasp.

It seems the actual subtext of the video is that older and fat woman are disgusting and undeserving of sexual pleasure. matt

He seems more bored than disgusted. Alex

What the creator of this video did not realize was that clients love to lick women including the mature providers. Pohaku

It is a big boost for a man’s ego if so many women want to have sex with him, even if they are older women. Kris

The depiction of women who are older or a little bit curvy as disgusting? Talk about misogynistic. Erik

Oh, please. A job described as Help Wanted: male to lick anonymous pussies for $xx per hour, supply your own toothpaste and kneepads would have applicants lined up out the door. There would be plenty of candidates if it was a volunteer gig. ewaffle

Okay, bizarre choice of ad. That turned me on. Randy

These are just extracts; go to the comments directly if you are interested. The point is, the video itself, as opposed to the propaganda surrounding it, is open to a myriad of interpretations – some of them quite the opposite of what the EWL intended. Which is good.

The European sex worker rights movement objects to the characterisation of their lives in this way, of course, calling it anti-sex, woman-hating, sexist, discriminatory. But even more importantly, everyone asks how a campaign can be called Together for a Europe Free From Prostitution when several EU member states permit some sorts of sex work and prostitution (see this example from Italy’s Comitato per il Diritti Civili delle Prostitute). The issue is that the EWL receives public money – your taxes – from an EU programme called Progress, established to support financially the implementation of the objectives of the European Union in employment, social affairs and equal opportunities. I first questioned this use of public funds in April, so I am glad to see that the following question was submitted to the European Parliament on 1 July (note the EU’s executive body is called the European Commission):

Can the Commission explain if EU funds have been used directly or indirectly to finance an abolitionist “Campaign to put an end to prostitution in Europe” and “Together for a Europe Free from Prostitution”, promoting a “Europe free from prostitution” and calling on “individuals, national governments and the European Union to take concrete actions”, substantially on the basis of the Swedish model of legislation on the issue and with the aim of abolishing prostitution, which is presented as a form of violence against women? Have notably Progress funds been used for this? If so, can it explain how EU funds can be used to promote a certain legislative model, notably on a matter where Member States have different policies and sensitivities on the matter? If EU funds have been directly or indirectly used, if a campaign is launched to legalize prostitution and sex work or to promote a different legislative model, would the same EU funds be eligible for it? If not, why? Will the Commission request that EU funds are given back, if the campaign is funded without the Commission knowledge?

I edited a couple of words to make the English more understandable to an international audience; see the original form submitted at the bottom of this entry.

The current commissioner for Home Affairs is Cecilia Malmström (Swedish), and although she has not said anything publicly so far about the EWL campaign, she is getting close with recent pronouncements on sexual exploitation of children and modern slavery (where she mentions someone who was forced to have sex with 65-70 men a day, every day during five years, just as though it was the most typical story). I will keep my eye on her, both as an anthropologist of Europe and an anthropologist of Bureaucracy. Speaking of which, here is the original form submitted to parliament.


–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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CNN is calling it the Slavery Report, unhelpfully muddying all possible distinctions between different sorts of human experience. The ever-questionable Trafficking in Persons Report has come out again, complete with photos of Hillary Clinton cuddling brown girls and other colonialist preening. Before anyone says anything, I don’t believe it makes a whit of difference that the US now includes itself in the rankings. I first wrote about this in an editorial for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007 and haven’t changed my mind since then (see Well-meaning Interference.)

The TIP bureaucracy is big now: 52 people are mentioned as employees of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, including, of course, Luis CdeBaca, whose excesses I commented not long ago. However, office staff are just the tip of the human involvement in producing these reports, which brings me to a discussion of what the report pitifully calls methodology.

When I read reports on ‘research’, I first turn to the section where methodology is explained. It doesn’t have to be the first section of a report, but it is what I check first. Methodology means the methods used to find information that you present to readers as results – the facts, testimonies and other data your research uncovered. That means everything about how you do the research, whether you are doing a high school paper, a Guardian investigative report, ethnographic fieldwork or a community survey. In 2009 I called the TIP the No-Methodology Report, saying

I want to know how the data was gathered, which sources were consulted, who was allowed to give information, whose estimates were deemed authoritative and how data were confirmed. I want to know precisely how researchers handled the considerable international muddle over definitions, since the fact that people mean different things when they say the word trafficking is a notorious source of conflict and confusion, not to mention that a lot of the English keywords cannot be reliably translated into all other languages (for example, abuse, exploitation, force, coercion).

Methodology also covers how you chose your research questions, how you located sources of information (human and non-human), how you presented what you were doing to people you talked to and how you worded the questions you asked, as well as how much of everything you did and for how long and where, and how you analysed it all after gathering information  (computer software for data analysis? mathematical calculations?). If, like the TIP, you are doing international research, I want to know how language issues were handled (interpreters? translation machines?). And not least I want to hear what sort of ethics guidelines and protections were in place, since the framework for all this is about law, crime, criminals and victims.

Yet this is the entirety of the TIP’s Methodology section:

The Department of State prepared this report using information from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, research trips to every region, and information submitted to tipreport@state.gov. This email address provides a means by which organizations and individuals can share information with the Department of State on government progress in addressing trafficking. U.S. diplomatic posts and domestic agencies reported on the trafficking situation and governmental action to fight trafficking based on thorough research that included meetings with a wide variety of government officials, local and international NGO representatives, officials of international organizations, journalists, academics, and survivors. U.S. missions overseas are dedicated to covering human trafficking issues.

In other words, no information at all. It’s nice that people are invited to ‘share’ information, only how do recipients of these emails know that the information is any good? They are awfully paranoid about loads of other people making Internet contacts – those they call pimps, pedophiles, traffickers, groomers and all the rest. The TIP office apparently wants us to believe the whole business is covert, a sort of spy operation. One is simply meant to feel awe that they are Doing So Much.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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