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Borgen Season 3 Episode 25

At a conference on Sexual Citizenship and Human Rights the other week, I binned the talk I had prepared and instead gave a version of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. It turned out both the other speakers on the panel were to address trafficking, one as a straightforward Rescue-Industry member, and I’m not capable of watching an innocent audience listen to that stuff without speaking up.

My new talk was called Denial of Consent, because previously at this event consent was mentioned continuously as a key human-rights concept in European sexuality law. How telling, then, that European specialists declaim adolescents’ right to consent to have sex at the same time that other Europeans declaim ever more often that most adult women and trans who sell sex have not consented. In anti-trafficking campaigns the claim is very often that these victims cannot speak/have no voice giving an excuse for others to ‘speak for’ them.

In Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores I focussed on the mechanism by which Rescuers – feminists, social workers, politicians, police – discredit what adult women say about their experiences of selling sex, thus disqualifying them as subjects in a discussion about their own fates. What they say varies widely, of course, but rather than engage in seeking policy that would allow individual experiences to become central and rather than listening with interest to what sexworker activists say and finding migrants to talk to, they claim to Know Better how they should think and feel. The mainstream television series Borgen included a scene in which the non-sexworker experts on a Copenhagen panel discussion of prostitution interrupt and scoff at the sole sexworker participant, demonstrating how well-known the mechanism of disqualification has become (photo above from Season 3, Episode 25). Refusal to believe in the consent of women who sell sex also contradicts widespread anti-rape campaigning that puts consent at the core of sexual relationships.

The law to be voted in France’s Assemblée today (4 December 2013) is the product of years of process and politicking, not only in France but in certain feminist networks in Europe. In April 2011 I wrote Europe’s anti-prostitution initiatives multiply: EU itself and now France, linking developments to the European Women’s Lobby campaign for A Europe Free from Prostitution. Last month I wrote, with Thierry Schaffauser, about how the testimony of sexworker activists have been deliberately disqualified from consideration by politicians and certain feminists in France. This is accomplished by claiming these activists are a privileged elite selfishly putting their own interests above those victims of sex trafficking said to be ‘voiceless’ and requiring others to speak for them. Alice Schwarzer, currently campaigning against Germany’s law regulating prostitution, referred to them recently as ‘a few cheerful prostitutes’, of no consequence compared to the miserable 95%.

It’s now 20 years since I first wondered how this refusal to listen operates, at a time when I lived far from Europe amongst very poor women, many of whom were thinking about travelling to Europe. Some already sold sex at home, many were thinking of doing it abroad, others did not want to sell sex but work as live-in maids. This means that my first thoughts and feelings were attached to a specific real-life situation in which I had no axe to grind, no interest one way or the other. In terms of research on women who sell sex I even had what can be called a control group – women of the same cohort who didn’t sell sex. I was unaware a conflict existed within feminism on the topic, I hadn’t read books about prostitution. I was just as interested in what women said about being maids, and I still am. I’ve commented frequently on how my original research question, before I knew what research was, really, concerned the presumption by middle-class women that they Knew Better than sex workers what they should do with their lives. When I studied for a Master’s and then a doctoral degree my focus was never on migrants but on people wanting to rescue them, and after some six or seven years I felt I had answered my original question in several ways. Read Sex at the Margins for details.

I have followed events closely in Europe now for 15 years, living in several different countries and visiting many others, sometimes for extended stays. France is a country I have known since a first school trip from London to Calais, maybe in 1961, and since then I have spent a lot of time there. So i closely watched the action in France’s Assemblée last Friday – not the rhetoric, which I know by heart, but the tones and nuances of speech by the proponents of the law. The auditorium was nearly empty, but all politicking was over; what happened on the floor was not debate but the formal rhetoric of presenting a proposition. Any suggestion from the opposition that the law was sloppily conceived was rebutted with arch-seriousness about how long and carefully proponents had worked on it. The media were accused of missing the point, said to be not penalising clients but protecting women who sell sex.

I do understand what Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s Minister for Women’s Rights, wants to do. I’ve studied in depth what this one kind of feminism wants to achieve, i see how marvellous it sounds – a world without prostitution, a France in which State Feminism takes a daring step towards Gender Equality. Vallaud-Belkacem herself is a very different face for abolitionism from the more embittered and older radical feminists we’ve become used to: Gunilla Eckberg, Melissa Farley, Janice Raymond, Alice Schwarzer and others in every country. She is younger, prettier and was born in a colony, Morocco. French campaigneers have not leant on anti-trafficking rhetoric but on the classic idea that prostitution is a patriarchal institution that must be abolished – the arguments I read when I first started my formal studies in the late 90s. Unfounded numbers of trafficking victims are thrown out, yes, but I read the French effort as being more serious than that. The thing is neither slapdash nor hysterical but part of a sober attempt to change the European panorama, to shift the gaze from small-population Nordic countries never seen as important European players to the continent, to France – to the heart of real Europe. I see this shift as game-changing.

On the other hand, the reason i wrote Sex at the Margins still holds; nothing has improved for sex workers or for people called trafficked or for undocumented migrants in Europe. The anti-trafficking movement has diverted attention and money into everything but benefiting the women pitied in the first place. Campaigners have yet to comprehend how migrants, and a lot of other women, feel about doing high-stigma, risky, better-paying jobs – especially when the other options are practically non-existent. Rescuers’ fundamental project insists on the need to force people into leading lives considered better. It would appear they are incapable of imagining that others are different from themselves, that migrants perceive their options on the basis of their own life experiences and goals. The question is much bigger than Do you like selling sex? rather it is how the range of an individual’s needs, from sleeping patterns to children’s school schedules and the desire for consumer goods may lead them to prefer selling sex to everything else Rescuers can offer. In fact they offer little, which victims and non-victims alike understand.

Few sex workers are attracted by ‘exit strategies’ or ‘diversion programmes’. They hate being low-paid, disparaged, disrespected cleaners, nannies and maids. They don’t want to return to their countries as failed migrants. They don’t want to be poorer again. The sex act may be something they adapt to, learn to enjoy or close their eyes and endure, but if doing it provides more freedom, autonomy, flexibility or hope then it can be preferred, whether people were born in France, China, Nigeria or Brazil. The majority have consented to sell sex, somehow or other, to some degree. Insisting that they leave the milieu when there is so little to offer them is the opposite of kind. In the Rescue Industry protagonists are those who appoint themselves to ‘accompany’ victims out of the life, not those being saved. The consent of adult women is denied en masse.

The French law, apart from the fine of 1500€ for clients arrested the first time, is all about Rescue. The frame is France does not welcome prostitution, meaning prostitution must cease to exist there. It’s estimated at least 80% of sex workers in France moved there from somewhere else, some with the right to remain and look for other jobs. Other migrants are offered 336€ a month for six months if they promise to stop selling sex; since this is far from enough to live on it’s obviously hoped they will leave more quickly, moving to someone else’s country, putting the proposition in the NIMBY tradition – Not in My Back Yard. Street soliciting, outlawed by Sarkozy in 2003 but for many years tolerated or enforced unevenly in different cities, would be permitted again. The law’s backers claim this to be a kind step, but street sex workers say clients will only insist on going to less accessible, more dangerous places to have sex. Besides, local ordinances against street soliciting can be and have been passed at the city level; Lyon is an example.

Logistically the law was informally voted on last Friday. Today is the formal vote. If it passes it is sent to the Sénat, where two scenarios are possible: It passes and goes into effect or it is rejected and sent back to the Assemblée with amendments. In the latter case, the Assemblée vote on a new version that goes back to the Sénat. If the Sénat reject that, a commission paritaire would be named, half from the Sénat, half from the l’Assemblée. The version produced by this commission would then be voted on by the Assemblée, who have the last word. (Thanks to Morgane Merteuil of STRASS for clarifying this process. See their website for other information).

I have loads of links to videos and articles I’ll try to put up soon.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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See this perfectly ordinary building? Most sex is sold here, out of conventional flats and apartments, anywhere in the world. The photos of women on the street beloved of dull editors teach that sex work is in the street, and the other photos editors use, of women sitting on barstools, teach that whatever’s not in the street is in brothels or sex clubs. On the contrary, of the many millions worldwide who sell sex of all kinds, most undoubtedly operate discreetly via telephone from their own residence or someone else’s, in the conventional housing we all live in. The photos here are European examples because a conference I’m speaking at speculates about Europe. From the website:

Sexual Citizenship and Human Rights: What Can the US Learn from the EU and European Law?

22-24 November 2013
University of Texas at Austin Law School
Eidman Courtroom, Room 2.306
727 East Dean Keeton Street
Map

The conference will focus on several difficult issues at the intersection of sexual self-determination and human rights, including same-sex marriage and family, the potential and limits of anti-discrimination laws, transgender rights, sex work and trafficking, youth sexuality, pornography as it affects minors, and the regulation of sex offenders. Individual papers will explore European and American attitudes and practices on each of these issues, with the goal of presenting new conceptual paradigms for future reform efforts. The conference brings together academics, practicing attorneys and therapists, state policy makers, and activists from various points of view.

Attendance is free but registration is required. Full programme

Saturday 23 November
5:15-7:00 p.m. Session Six: Sex Work, Migration and Trafficking

Laura Agustín

Contentious and Contradictory: Prostitution-law Campaigns in Europe (30 min)

Despite the sex-industry’s proliferation into areas where prostitution laws hardly apply, Europeans quarrel tirelessly over which law is correct. Notions of how to protect and serve women compete: 1-the Swedish/Nordic model, which prohibits buying sex whilst allowing its sale, holding that prostitution is violence against women and an absolute impediment to gender equality; 2- regulationism (partial legalisation), which favours allowing middle-class commercial establishments (clubs, bars, brothels) and prohibits street prostitution; 3-decriminalistion, which demands removal of all laws that penalise sex work and favours independent work. Ill-informed campaigns about sex trafficking obstruct pragmatic discussion of now dysfunctional migration laws. Essentialist notions of national sexualities compete with Europeanist proposals, and academic claims about ‘evidence of harm’ muddy the waters. The result is a constant barrage of contradictory messages.

I am not a habitual conference-goer. I do not like to sit passively all day or listen to short versions of deep topics and I have never found the kind of socialising that happens enjoyable. I also hate flying in, living in a hotel and flying out, seeing and feeling nothing of the location but university halls, hotel salons and predictable tourist sights. (I’m going to this thing because I can stay a week, so if you are in Austin…) And now that the law penalising men who buy sex is going to pass in France, I’ll have even more to say than I planned when I wrote that abstract.

I reject reductionist ideas about national cultures and have long thought of myself as a sort of anthropologist of Europe. I believe the move of the law to continental Europe changes the game. I personally am not surprised, perhaps because I’ve lived and spent lots of time in France, Spain and Italy and experienced the same feelings and arguments on the subject of prostitution everywhere. Particularly I’ve experienced the same feminist battles in the same tedious war for coming on to 20 years, so I don’t subscribe to the idea that a few Swedes caused all this client-hating. Once in Valencia I was asked by a renowned Socialist lawyer if I was in favour of torture and arms-trafficking, given my opposition to the present sex-trafficking crusade. I moved away from Madrid because the abolitionist feminists there not only drove me round the bend but made me nervous for my own safety at one event. That was the one where a French woman boomed out We don’t have to talk to prostitutes to know what prostitution is. When I was evaluating anti-violence projects for the European Commission, a Belgian at the European Women’s Lobby denounced me to the director as morally inappropriate, losing me the job. All these attacks took place ten or more years ago, long before Sex at the Margins came out.

After Italian media picked up last week’s story about France, an Italian abolitionist published an attack on me and Thierry Schaffauser entitled Negazioniste della tratta e attori porno smemorati because, as Mira Sorvino’s pals said, I am a Holocaust Denier. Someone seeing the recent attack wrote Questa Augustin è una criminale, in poche parole. [Other Italians responded with defence immediately, more on that another time.] Some educated, feministically-inclined women and men have deplored sexworker-rights ideas in every culture, and others oppose them everywhere as well.

Swedes developed this particular law, but other laws, other ordinances, other police rules have attempted to destroy prostitution before, and not only because it is a social nuisance in the eyes of some but because it is considered wrong. Women who sell sex are often now talked of as victims rather than criminals, increasingly even in the USA, where they are actually criminals by law. The whole premise of the Rescue Industry is to save innocent people from sex-exploiters, with actions that make sense inside all sorts of religious traditions. Schools to re-educate and intimidate clients, fines for kerb-crawling, posting of men’s photos on websites to shame them are descendants of late 19th-century campaigns that had activists running after prostitutes and their clients in the streets. The law can win in the Irelands and France as well as Norway, Iceland and Sweden because the concepts being promoted resonate amongst moral crusaders in all these societies. When the law doesn’t win somewhere in one parliamentary vote it may win on another occasion, because campaigners certainly do not give up just because they did not win the first time.

Last week I mentioned feeling we were moving into a period of Social Purity, which some objected to. A week later I still feel that way and have gone back to re-reading some texts on the subject I first read more than ten years ago. Will report back.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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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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As everyone knows, I don’t play around with isms. I thought in the 60s that feminism might work but by the early 70s had already realised there were multiple versions – feminisms – which perhaps negates the whole point of an ism, which is a doctrine, theory or philosophy that Explains Things. It turned out that feminism(s), while useful and fascinating, could not provide a whole thought-system to explain how all women feel – or What Women Want, as Freud complained.

I didn’t even think about feminism and prostitution as a ‘problem’ until decades later, when I went back to school. And after reading dozens of books and hundreds of articles and essays on the subject, I realised that this ‘problem’ would never be solved. Many people find it endlessly interesting to hammer at each other about the meaning of prostitution and/or sex work, with the goal of winning, but I don’t. So I began trying to avoid talking about feminisms just to keep things interesting for me, but it is very hard, as some kind of tidal force relentlessly pulls conversations back to that argument. None of which means I don’t think of myself as a feminist – I obviously am one.

I did write Sex as Work and Sex Work in a marxian way for The Commoner, whose editors requested I depart from a post-argument position – as though we’d already accepted that sex can be work, paid or unpaid. It’s been republished several times, by Jacobin and libcom.org, which both can encompass both marxist and anarchist ideas, at least sometimes (and also by Arts & Opinion). I used the term marxian rather than marxist for my own contribution precisely because it doesn’t address all the key factors in marxism.  There’s no such thing as marxianism.

Now, I’m doing two talks in Dublin a few days apart in April. At the first, at University College Dublin I’ll take an hour and describe how migration, trafficking, sex work and the Rescue Industry are related. This is the time needed to join these ideas up so that people aren’t confused and frustrated when I stop talking. Then we’ll have a half hour for questions – not for statements of protest and ideology. Then we’ll have respondents – abolitionists and sex workers among them.

At the Anarchist Bookfair I’ve got 30 minutes to talk, followed by 30 minutes of discussion, so I won’t be talking about all that. I was asked to talk about Feminism and Sex Work, so I’m going to talk about how feminism(s) are interesting but perhaps not essential to a discussion of sex work, or at least don’t have to be granted determining status of outcomes. I’ll expect questions afterwards not  to try to pull the topic back to the classic, closed-circle debate. I know – Good luck with that. I also won’t be modelling a perfectly coherent view according to marxism, anarchism or any other ism. Ha! someone on the facebook page for the Bookfair has accused me of liberalism, after reading approximately 25 words of my work.

All I ask for is a moderator – and if there isn’t one, I’ll get tough.

6 April 2013, 1220-1320

Thinking about Sex Work as Work with Laura Agustín

at the 8th Anarchist Dublin Bookfair

Doors open at 10am and first meetings start at 1130. The venue is Liberty Hall, Eden Quay, next to the River Liffey, shown here on a map. Enter on the ground floor and go up one flight for the talk. The bookfair itself – the books – are underground!

Other events in the Bookfair include an evening in The Pint pub, Eden Quay, on Saturday and a walking tour on Sunday at 1400 focussing on the Irish Banking industry (catalysers of economic collapse). These events are organised by Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland).

For those who cannot conceive of a sex-work conversation without nattering endlessly about feminisms, try Sex as Work and Sex Work. It can be done.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

 

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I’ll be doing two talks in Dublin the first week of April, one at University College Dublin and another at the Anarchist Bookfair. Since Ireland is currently the scene of a lamentable government investigation into prostitution for the purpose of making a new law, I’m glad to be part of two events that will resist the general victimising of women who sell sex, particularly since I had to formally object to a report the Justice Department produced last year that lifted many of my statements without attributing them. After time-consuming backs and forths with them, the report was re-released with attributions in place. And then when they held an event last October they pointedly excluded me.

4 April 2013, 1600-1830

Sex at the Margins: A talk by Dr Laura Agustín on Migration, Trafficking and the Rescue Industry

After my talk, questions and a break there will be a panel of 5-6 respondents, including sex workers. There has been bitterness about government hearings that have refused to allow any active sex workers to testify – while they have listened to some self-identified victims.

The event will take place at the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies Centre, in the Clinton Auditorium, pictured above and on this map. This is near Stillorgan Road in Belfield, Dublin 4.

The Clinton Auditorium is located near the main entrance to the campus, five minutes from a bus stop used by several buses. The 39a bus actually terminates within the Belfield campus at a stop near the Auditorium and can be boarded in the City Centre from Bachelor’s Walk or College Street. The bus runs every 10-15 minutes. Bachelor’s Walk is on the North Quays, facing the River Liffey, just to the right of the top of O’Connell Street if facing the river. College Street is to the right of the main entrance to Trinity College if facing the main entrance. For more details see the campus website. Questions may be addressed to Anne Mulhall (anne.mulhall[a]ucd.ie).

then

6 April 2013, 1220-1320

Thinking about Sex Work as Work with Laura Agustín

at the 8th Anarchist Dublin Bookfair

Doors open at 10am and first meetings start at 1130. The venue is Liberty Hall, Eden Quay, next to the River Liffey, shown here on a map. Enter on the ground floor and go up one flight for the talk. The bookfair itself – the books – are underground!

Other events in the Bookfair include an evening in The Pint pub, Eden Quay, on Saturday and a walking tour on Sunday at 1400 focussing on the Irish Banking industry (catalysers of economic collapse). These events are organised by Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland).

For those who cannot conceive of a sex-work conversation without nattering endlessly about feminisms, try Sex as Work and Sex Work. It can be done.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Alas. Ordinarily I would quickly click away or delete nonsense-news like this of a ‘consultation’ on prostitution law run by politicians. But since I am assured that its results will indeed be taken seriously by mainstream government, I have to suggest people especially in the UK and especially those who can claim to be a ‘group’ do respond. So-called consultations are going on left and right in the this area of the world, in both Irelands and Scotland, so this adds England and Wales. They are all started by people who want to bring in criminalisation of clients, and in such a conflict-ridden field it’s better to claim to be non-partisan.

You may look at the official registry page for this group called the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (APPG for short); their names unsurprisingly include Fiona Mactaggart. The group have launched an online Call for Evidence, a misnomer as they are just asking for opinions and feelings – no evidence at all. The stated goal of the group is

To raise awareness of the impact of the sale of sexual services on those involved and to develop proposals for government action to tackle individuals who create demand for sexual services as well as those who control prostitutes; to protect prostituted women by helping them to exit prostitution and to prevent girls from entering prostitution.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade is launching an inquiry to assess the current UK legal settlement surrounding prostitution, and to identify how legislation to tackle demand could safeguard those in danger of sexual exploitation and abuse.

I hardly need point out that this is not the way to make a serious inquiry or hold a consultation.

The online questionnaire is not long. Skip if you want to from the introductory palaver to where the questions begin. You may answer anonymously. You may answer as an individual. You may be anywhere in the world.

The deadline for response is Monday 4 February at 16:00. No responses considered after that.

Please note that despite sounding like a government group, this whole project is financed by CARE (Christian Action Research and Education): a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives, according to themselves.

Note that the addition of Global Sex Trade in their name indicates an anti-trafficking agenda. They don’t address it in this questionnaire, but the door is obviously open.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Rose Alliance in Stockholm Pride Parade

A few weeks ago a flurry of Swedish media articles purported to ‘reveal’ that the national development agency, Sida, gives money (3,611,092 euros) to Mama Cash, a Dutch foundation that, among many women’s causes, supports sex workers’ rights and has funded Rose Alliance, a sex-worker group in Sweden. This wasn’t even new news, but some anti-prostitution folks tried to whip up indignation and manufacture a scandal.

The first story appeared on a news site hosted by Sida itself on 4 December. The same day, another article repeated the news, with a headline saying the money goes to lobbyists for commercial sex. Still on the same day one of Sweden’s delegates to the European Parliament, and a member of the abolitionist European Women’s Lobbydemanded excitedly that Sida stop giving the money (she’s holding up the Say No to Prostitution sign in her photo). The next day saw replies from RFSU (Sweden’s big sex-education organisation) and Louise Persson, defending the financing of groups supporting vulnerable women/prostitutes/sex workers. Then there was another piece from the parliamentarian, followed by another on the Sida site. Neither Mama Cash nor Sida made any reply.

At Rose Alliance we decided to write a short statement acknowledging the flurry and, instead of defending or counter-attacking, presenting the basic facts about the organisation on a news site called Newsmill. It got delayed in the pre-Christmas rush and was published 23 December as Vi sexarbetare kan föra vår egen talan. Here is the English version, just as dry and unexcited as the original Swedish.

Sex Workers Can Speak for Ourselves

Annelie Eriksson, Pye Jakobsson and Laura Agustín

Rose Alliance was recently in the news when it was reported at OmVärlden that Sida gives money to a foundation that has given us two grants. Rose Alliance (Riksorganisationen för sex- och erotikarbetare i Sverige) is an organisation for current and former sex workers in Sweden. We began in 2001 but started expanding about three years ago.

The most important things to know about Rose Alliance are:

We promote economic, labour and individual rights for people of any gender identity who sell sex.

  • We recognise that sex workers have a wide variety of experiences and value all of them.
  • We believe in the theory and practice of harm reduction.
  • We assist and advise each other on legal and self-employment issues and dealing with social and police authorities, on a voluntary basis.

Rose Alliance works on health-promotion projects with HIV-Sweden financed by Smittskyddsinstitutet, and participated in a project funded by the European Commission’s Leonardo da Vinci programme. We are members of the European Harm Reduction Network, an RFSL-coordinated network on male and trans sex work and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (these do not involve receiving money). Last week we took part in the World Conference of ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) in Stockholm, and we have had our own float in Stockholm Pride for the past two years (video clips here).

We received our first core funding in 2011, from Mama Cash, to strengthen our internal organisation. We now have funding for two more years, which we will use to

Some Rose Alliance members blog and publish articles as individuals: Greta Svammel, Petite Jasmine, the Naked Anthropologist are examples. Some members receive invitations to visit, speak and consult both inside and outside Sweden. Host organisations reimburse the usual expenses for this travel.

Political lobbying is not our main focus. But for the record, we advocate self-determination and rights for sex workers – the right to sell sex as well as the right to stop selling sex. The law criminalising the purchase of sex aims to deprive sex workers of the right to run their own lives, so we oppose it.

Here’s the original Swedish

Vi sexarbetare kan föra vår egen talan

Annelie Eriksson, Pye Jakobsson och Laura Agustín för Rose Alliance

23 Dec 2012, Newsmill

Rose Alliance var nyligen uppmärksammade i media när det rapporterades på OmVärlden att Sida ger pengar till en stiftelse som har gett oss två verksamhetsbidrag. Riksorganisationen för sex- och erotikarbetare i Sverige (Rose Alliance) är en intresseorganisation för nuvarande och före detta sexarbetare i Sverige. Vi startade 2001 men började växa som organisation för ungefär tre år sedan.

De viktigaste att veta om Rose Alliance är:

  • Vi arbetar för att främja ekonomiska, arbetsrättsliga och individuella rättigheter för alla sexarbetare, oavsett könsidentitet.
  • Vi inser att sexarbetare har en stor variation av erfarenheter och värderar alla lika mycket.
  • Vi tror på skadereduktion, både i teori och praktik.
  • Vi stödjer och rådgör med varandra i juridiska frågor, frågor kring egenföretagande och hur man hanterar kontakt med sociala- och polisiära myndigheter. Allt på en volontär basis.

Rose Alliance arbetar med ett projekt om sexuell hälsa i samarbete med HIV-Sverige finansierat av Smittskyddsinstitutet, och deltar i ett projekt finansierat av Europeiska Kommissionens  Leonardo da Vinci programme. Vi är medlemmar i European Harm Reduction Network, i ett RFSL Stockholm koordinerat nätverk om manlig och transsexarbete och i Global Network of Sex Work Projects (dessa projekt ger inte organisationen något ekonomiskt bidrag utöver ersättning för eventuella kostnader).

Förra veckan deltog vi i World Conference of ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) i Stockholm, och vi har haft en egen lastbil i Stockholms prideparad under de senaste två åren.

Vi fick vårt första verksamhetsbidrag 2011, från Mama Cash, för att stärka vår interna organisation. Vi har sedan juli 2012 verksamhetsbidrag för ytterligare två år, som kommer att användas till att:

Vissa Rose Alliance medlemmar bloggar och publicerar artiklar som individer:Greta SvammelPetite Jasmine, the Naked Anthropologist är några exempel. Vissa medlemmar blir inbjudna att besöka, föreläsa och konsultera såväl inom som utanför Sverige. Värdorganisationerna ersätter då kostnader i samband med dessa resor.

Politisk lobbyverksamhet är inte vårt främsta fokus. Men för tydlighetens skull: vi förespråkar självbestämmande och rättigheter för sexarbetare – rätten att sälja sex såväl som rätten att sluta sälja sex. Sexköpslagen bidrar till beröva sexarbetare rätten att styra över sina egna liv, därför är vi emot den.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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A German sex box: passenger side provides space for escape

Sex boxes are not boxes. And they are not Dutch-style prostitution windows, either, as a lazy reporter at Spain’s ABC egregiously wrote. In English these are called booths or boxes and even garages, but they are parking spaces with walls on three sides. Germany and the Netherlands have used these for sex-money transactions for years: This is not Big News.

The announcement from Switzerland was Zurich regulates sex industry: this is a story about regulation, city planning and social welfare. In the announcement on a new policy, Michael Herzig, whom I met when giving talks in Zurich, said:

We want to regulate prostitution because until now it was the law of the jungle. . . It was the pimps who decided the prices for instance. We want to as much as possible the city to regulate prostitution, the city to define what we have in Zurich. . .  but we are trying to go to a situation which is better for the prostitutes themselves, for their health and security and also for the population which lives in Zurich.

The purpose is to screen the sight of people having sex in cars; the pictures here show examples of boxes in other places; we haven’t seen the design for Zurich. The spaces will be located in an industrial area of the city. Herzig said

The big difference is that until now prostitution has been in the public space. Now we are going to change this, move it from the street to a private space in an old industrial area, which belongs to the city. This gives us the possibility to define the rules of prostitution in this area.

The policy is also about harm reduction, as the spaces/boxes include features intended to increase safety for sex workers and avoid condom rubbish in the street. Sex workers will be required to buy medical insurance and a licence to use them, and put five Swiss francs into a roadside ticket machine each night when they clock on.  This is pragmatism at the highest level; thus the absence of moral outrage on anyone’s part in the announcement – not about AIDS, trafficking, crime or victims.

What isn’t mentioned however is that, whenever this sort of plan arises, anywhere, numerous street workers simply refuse to transfer their activities to the regulated zones, which are always far away from bustling areas if not in downright deserted ones. Instead, they move into some other commercial/residential neighbourhood, where the cycle begins again. Clients in cars may well be willing to drive to the new zones; it’s the sex workers that don’t like them.

The other side of this regulation means prohibition of street walking on the Sihlquai, where residents have long been complaining for the usual reasons: too much noise and mess, too close to children. In this report from swissinfo.ch, an increase in numbers of sex workers is attributed to migrants from eastern Europe; in Zurich they have largely come from Hungary.

Note on the legality of selling sex in Switzerland: The official line is that only completely independent sex work is permitted (windows that look like this on ordinary houses are common). There are, of course, scads of businesses providing workplaces for workers, but the owners call the workers sub-contractors, which supposedly means the owners are not employers and thus not capable of ‘exploiting’ anyone. Typical city-father contradictoriness where commercial sex is concerned.

For anyone interested in the background to this policy-change, I published the following news story a couple of years ago, when sex boxes were also in the news.

Zurich ponders use of ‘sex boxes’ to control prostitution

by Marta Falconi, 3 September 2010, Swisster

After encouraging results in Germany, Zurich city officials are considering the installation of “sex boxes”, fenced parking areas, where prostitutes and their clients can conduct business away from the public eye. In a city where prostitution is on the rise, the measure could help protect residents and prostitutes alike. The drive-in “sex boxes” resemble makeshift parking spaces, surrounded by three tall metal fences to provide more privacy for prostitutes and their clients.

Already in use in some German cities, such as Cologne and Essen, the “sex boxes” are the latest idea suggested by Zurich city authorities after receiving thousands of complaints over the hordes of scantily clad prostitutes (and their actions) who patrol the main financial hub of Switzerland’s largest city.

Prostitution in Zurich increased by some 20 percent last year, according to some reports, which said that police had recorded more than 3,700 sex workers, mostly operating in the former red-light district in Zurich West, around Langstrasse, known as a busy multicultural melting pot and for occasional petty crime. The women generally gather on the artery of Sihlquai – a busy road along the river, behind Zurich’s main station – and wait in small groups for drivers to stop at pretty much any time of the day. The district is heavily populated and the area around the Sihlquai is also a common meeting point for students and families.

Reto Casanova, a spokesman for the Zurich police, told Swisster that the situation was “tolerable, but not as we want it”. He said the sex boxes have proved successful in Germany and could be an option for Zurich as well. “We are looking for an acceptable solution for everybody, with the goal of maintaining people’s safety and dignity,” he explained. Casanova said the ultimate decision on whether to adopt the boxes remains with the city council. However, he added, a police delegation is planning to travel to Germany in the fall to gather more first-hand details about the practice. In Cologne, social workers have reported encouraging results from the installation of the boxes. “In the past, the street girls were often chased by police. Now the officers are even protecting this legal street sex activity,” Sabine Reichard told Deutsche Press.

Further protection for sex workers is also built into the boxes’ design, which provides a handy alarm for the passenger within easy reach, while the parking set-up allows the prostitute an easy escape but blocks the driver’s door. So far it’s unclear whether using the enclosures will require a “parking” fee .

The rise of prostitution, with most women coming from Eastern European countries, is a worrisome problem for the city and its authorities who try to control the trafficking of women behind it, especially when individuals of 16 can legally sell their services in some parts of the country. Politician Luc Barthassat has called for the legal age to be raised to 18 and told Swissinfo recently that “Switzerland risks becoming a major sex tourism destination.” Zurich resident, Giuseppe Spina told Swisster he did not understand how big the phenomenon was until he found himself driving along the Sihlquai one recent night. ”It is a different world, somehow connected to ours, but still hidden in obscurity,” he said. “I had a problem with the car and had to stop one metre away from two prostitutes who were waiting there. I couldn’t help but pity them.”

Don’t ask me what his pity has to do with anything.

– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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As everyone now knows, speculation about the relationship between big sports events and sex trafficking continues despite evidence that no such relationship exists. Seemingly endless reports before the Olympics began in late July worried about what might happen, justifying all manner of awareness-raising and misleading rhetoric (from the EWL, from Stop the Traffik and of course from the police).

We at x:talk have made a questionnaire for those who worked in London during the games (including the Paralympics). The purpose is to find out from those directly involved: Was business better or worse? Did people travel to London to do business? Did they see anyone forced to do sex work? What experience with the police did they have if any? The survey, called Did the Olympics affect London’s sex industry? can be found right here: Do please disseminate far and wide, but don’t participate unless you actually worked in London during the Olympics. Here’s the description at the start of the survey:

Help give a voice to London’s sex workers and adult-entertainment businesses

Xtalk Project Limited, a co-operative led by sex workers in London, would like to know if and how the Olympics affected your business. If you worked in the sex industry - in any kind of adult-entertainment business – in any capacity, whether as employee, independent, owner or manager from 27 July to 10 September 2012, please take 10 minutes to answer some brief questions.

* We are not asking your name, address, age, gender or any other personal details.

* We will not record your ISP in order to track your computer or where you were when you filled out this questionnaire.

We will be reporting how many respondents answered questions and what they said, in order to contribute to ongoing debates about sex work and adult entertainment in the UK and abroad.

Everyone who worked is invited to complete this questionnaire: people who sell sex or erotic services, people who have support roles in or provide professional services to adult-entertainment businesses, managers and owners. If you had any of these roles in London during the Olympics you are eligible to do this questionnaire.

Please do not answer this questionnaire if you did not work in London’s sex industry during the Olympics. We want to provide unbiased information about what happened.

If you have any questions, please contact us at xtalk.olympics [at] yahoo.co.uk or visit xtalkproject.net

Click here to take the xtalk Olympics survey

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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