Important Enemies: Hating sex-work academics or hating research?

I once thought of adding a section to my cv called Important Enemies, in which two kinds of people could be included. The first make conventional academic critiques based on ideology; here, Sheila Jeffreys would be a good example, peppering as she did The Industrial Vagina with references to my work as a sterling example of what’s wrong with views that don’t jibe with her vision of prostitution. The second would be non-academic attacks that seem to question the right of other people to do research at all. One example here would be Melissa Farley’s characterisation of my work as the postmodern nadir in an essay called ‘Theory versus reality: Commentary on four articles about trafficking for prostitution’, in a journal called Women’s Studies International Forum. The occasion was an edition with several articles critical to violence-against-women rhetoric about trafficking. I hadn’t written any of them and couldn’t help feeling chuffed. The Postmodern Nadir has a certain ring.

Attacking what academics choose to research and how they do it seems slightly odd to me. I have no romantic ideas about freedom of academic thought but I do suppose people end up researching general areas in general ways because they are drawn to them. I think of research as an endless stream of fairly random coloured bits that sometimes come together to fill in part of a big picture we will never comprehend. Time passes and the shapes we thought we had figured out change, but new research brings new bits of understanding.

Julie Bindel feels different, though, recently complaining, according to a reporter, that there is a lot of terrible anthropological research concerning women in the sex industry, and that they should not be treated as an anthropological field research group; she went so far as to say that if she had one bullet in a gun, it would not go for the pimp, but for the academic who’s all into the sex industry. The occasion was a panel at a UK Feminista event.

Not so many who research the sex industry are technically anthropologists, so maybe the criticism is against people who do ethnography. Which usually means not using formal interviews or quantitative surveys but spending a lot of time with the people being researched: living with them, or visiting them frequently over a long time, watching and listening, recording what you see, hear, smell, taste, feel. These days, ethnographers don’t ordinarily claim their results to be final truths about large groups but rather suggestive small-scale pictures.

What does it mean to suggest any subject should not be researched? Is the implication that research harms some people, who are better served by those taking particular ideological stances towards them? That’s pretty extreme Rescue Industry ideology. Since I am probably one of the anthropologist types whose research makes Julie Bindel angry, I might now add her name to the list of Important Enemies on that cv I haven’t written yet.

66 thoughts on “Important Enemies: Hating sex-work academics or hating research?

  1. Matt

    Thanks for writing this Laura; I was gobsmacked when I saw Julie Bindel’s comment. Oddly she has done some research on sex work too… but like all research it should be evaluated based on its merits, not it’s conclusions!

  2. Quiet Riot Girl

    Brilliant post. So glad to see resistance to this kind of hateful position. And it is hateful-hate-filled. Bullets and guns are real. And she used those words for a reason.

    I think in general there is an anti-intellectual, anti-cultural theory/sociology attitude amongst feminists, and probably in the wider world at the moment.

    I know research takes many forms and there is brilliant evidence-based projects in sexual health that includes sex workers. I am sure Bindel hates it all. But as a wider issue, I find feminism currently seems threatened by ideas, deep thought, and anything that can show some aspects of feminism to be illogical, divisive and frankly unintelligent.

  3. Laura Agustín

    thanks to you, matt, for pointing me to the bindel post. i’d been thinking of writing about important enemies ever since the postmodern nadir event occurred.

    quiet riot, i agree with you, this is a general trend. ten years ago i said to myself, ok, it turns out there are different kinds of feminism. now it seems one kind of feminist would like to kill another sort. that the would-be bullet-wielders would be vaw people is an added touch i haven’t got my head around yet.

  4. Matt

    By the way I agree with you about “postmodern nadir”. I think it would be a great title for a blog!

  5. LH

    One striking example of the lack of logic with some feminists.

    I know of one academic, who claims, of course, that prostitution is an effect of the patriarchy. She also claims that all monotheistic religions are an expression of the selfsame patriarchy.

    Yet, as is common knowledge, monotheistic religions in no way take a very positive view of prostitution, to say the least. This remarkable contradiction nevertheless doesn’t seem to bother much.

  6. Julie Bindel

    Oh get a life and stop taking yourselves so seriously! Have you ever heard the expression ‘tongue in cheek’ or the word ‘humorous?

  7. Iamcuriousblue

    “Oh get a life and stop taking yourselves so seriously! Have you ever heard the expression ‘tongue in cheek’ or the word ‘humorous?”

    Oh, OK. Well in that case, if you have one bullet in a gun, why don’t you put it in your mouth and pull the trigger?

    Ha Ha Ha!

    Many more ‘jokes’ where that came from.

  8. Thaddeus Blanchette

    Dear Ms. Bindel,

    I find it odd that a self-proclaimed feminist would claim that a comment about violence was “just a joke”. I find it odder that an anti-prostitution feminist would say this, given that, in my fairly wide experience, anti-prostitution feminists are not renowned for their sterling senses of humor.

    I wonder how you would feel if the owner of a heterosexual sauna here in Brazil were to say that if they had one bullet in a gun, it wouldn’t go against the evangelical preachers but against the feminists who oppose pornography and sex work.

    Something tells me you wouldn’t see that as a humorous, tongue-in-cheek phrase.

  9. John Davies

    As someone who has been on the receiving end of Julie Bindel’s hostility I can definitely say there is nothing humourous or funny about being targeted because your research findings do not have a fit with her particular world view.

    I believe there is a deliberate strategy by some feminists to avoid proper consideration of some research by labelling the author of such research as “bad” rather than engaging to see if the research is possibly “wrong”.

    If someone is “bad” it is a lot easier to dismiss what they say rather than having a proper discussion about a complex and nuanced issue.

  10. SF

    The reason Julie Bindel and other anti-sex work feminists oppose academic research which does not ‘authenticate’ their ideological position, with such venom, is because their own identity is so bound up with such ideology. The reason Bindel is so hostile towards academics (and probably lots of other people) is because her own sense of worth is so bound up in this ‘moral’, but increasingly marginalised, position. I don’t see anything changing because its actually about her, not sex workers. There is nothing more frustrating for someone whose arguments are emotive than having their position challenged by research which at least aims towards a (admittedly non-existent) objective, rational truth. (notwithstanding the feminist critique of rationality etc) – so her behaviour reflects that.

    I’m inclined to agree with Bindel on one matter – don’t take her so seriously! She is no different from Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail – they are paid lots of money to wind people up. Having said that, I have, unlike John and others, not been on the receiving end of her bile…

  11. FeministWhore

    These people prefer to think of feminist “theory” as the end all argument on sexuality, as well as victimology, and anyone who doesn’t agree with the theory put forth is branded as an anti-feminist and an enemy of women in general. It’s sickening what these people do in order to discredit their perceived enemies while they align themselves politically with people who actively fight against other human rights issues ( comprehensive sex ed, gay rights etc. ) It all boils down to the same old “harm reduction” vs. “abolition” thing, and the abolitionists are …. well, they’re somethin’ all right.

    I’m a member of a group of sex workers on youtube, only 13 members strong right now, but we’ve been producing content on youtube for only a few months and we have been attacked and harassed and accused of “bullying” other people since the day we decided to open our mouths. Unfortunately for the bullies, we have truth on our side, and we will keep telling it with every video we upload.

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  13. Paula Thomas

    I find it ironic that Ms Bindel is going for the ‘just a joke’ line. One can only assume that she finds violence funny.

  14. Douglas Fox

    I have been on the receiving end of Julie Bindels wrath more than once. I take it all with a large pinch of salt and I hope good grace and humour. The same sense of humour that I reserve for much of the research that she would refer to as “good” research.

    Feminism was once a great social movement but has now become a refuge for confused ideologues like Julie Bindel who have usurped the movement turning it into something that is now opposed to womens liberation and is instead a bolster for all that Feminism once stood against.

    This is not only a tragedy for feminism but for those who want to encourage a society that is accepting of diversity and of individual autonomy.

  15. camille

    i love the idea of a section in everyone’s non-existent CV with the title ‘important enemies’
    many years ago a very kind and lovely older activist took me aside and she explained that “if people dont hate you – you are not doing your job probably – at the time i was the women’s officer at my university.
    and btw those that hated me the most constantly told me i did not have a sense of humour – like the time they stuck a knife in a poster on my door about violence against women… funny ha ha… reminds me of some idiot making comments about shooting people who dont agree with them on prostitution.

    but really what i love most about the post and comments below is that bindle reads your blog – if only all of us could have enemies who cared so much… a true testament to you!

  16. Quiet Riot Girl

    I know what was a joke. That UK_feminista ‘summer school’ with its sectarianism, ‘support the girls’ team’ and ‘bullet’ jokes. If feminism wants to be taken seriously it really needs to stop behaving like St Trinians.

  17. laura agustin Post author

    some one told me they were not allowed to attend because of having the wrong views on the sex industry – do you know if it is true?

  18. Quiet Riot Girl

    I know people have been to UK feminist events and been very alienated because of their views on this subject. And I know that the UK_feminista organisation makes it very clear it has a ‘line’ on sex work/sex industry. As do OBJECT, Feminists in London and other feminist groups across the UK. I don’t know if anyone has been told they couldn’t attend an event though.

    Also when feminists who support sex workers organise events to discuss the issue, they often invite someone from these organisations and they invariably refuse to attend. They will not engage in discussion at all!

  19. Stephen Paterson

    Why “anthropological”? That’s what confuses me about Bindel’s comment. There’s a great number of psychologists, sociologists,, criminologists, social geographers and philosophers for a start among the ranks of academics implacably opposed to JB’s views on the sex industry, most of whom reached those views by conducting perfectly valid, methodologically rigorous, peer-reviewed, ethical reseach studies.

    Why’s she picking on anthropologists? What have they got that others haven’t, and where do we get some?

  20. Leela Neena

    Ah there’s that well known defence ‘only joking ‘. As any small time criminal lawyaer lawyer will tell you magistrates hear this all the time from violent thugs. Bindel is a offensive joke but she’s just struggling scrubber trying to scrape a living in the absence of talent. I save my anger for others – the people with power and resources that give space to Bindel’s violent , hateful and fantasy based musings without even a veneer of fact checking; those who turn a blind eye to the hate speeach and lies and those that make serious profit from anti-trafficking hysteria, like Emma Thompson and Melissa Farley. I am sure Bindel doesn’t haul in the kind of huge money Farley collects from the State Dept for her ravings. Hey there’s a solution – maybe Bindel could shoot ‘researcher’ Farley to give expression to her violent fanstasies. Only joking !

  21. payu pinn

    Ah there’s that well known defence ‘only joking ‘. As any small time criminal lawyer will tell you magistrates hear this all the time from violent thugs. Bindel is a offensive joke but she’s just struggling scrubber trying to scrape a living in the absence of talent. I am sickened by those with with power and resources that give space to Bindel’s hate speech and who who turn a blind eye to the hate speeach and lies and those that make serious profit from anti-trafficking hysteria, like Emma Thompson and Melissa Farley. I am sure Bindel doesn’t haul in the kind of huge money Farley collects from the State Dept for her ravings. Hey there’s a solution – maybe Bindel could shoot ‘researcher’ Farley to give expression to her violent fanstasies. Only joking !

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  23. Quiet Riot Girl

    Bindel may not make a lot of money but she does wield power in UK feminism. Along with Bidisha, OBJECT, Kat Banyard who runs UK_Feminista, Natasha Walters, Melissa McEwan, Laurie Penny and others. It is fine reading these people’s ridiculous arguments and dismissing them. But they have influence in the national media, lobbying government to change laws on the sex industry, and, most depressingly, influencing the ideas of young women activists with a genuine interest in feminism and diversity campaigning. I take them seriously even though they are a joke.

  24. roger

    “The second would be non-academic attacks that seem to question the right of other people to do research at all.”

    That’s so true! The Mafia(s) is not a “free market”!

  25. Ian


    “that the would-be bullet-wielders would be vaw people is an added touch i haven’t got my head around yet.”

    You presumably missed the UK’s lesbian sex wars in the 1980s. This included some women complaining that BDSM was violence against women, and should therefore be banned, before going on to attack the women attending lesbian SM club Chain Reaction with crowbars.

    You could ask Sheila Jeffreys: “if she did not know the women who attacked the club with physical violence, one may assume that she knows a woman who does”…

  26. Laura Agustín

    hello ian

    there were sex wars in many places in the 80s, the difference is that the discourse of Violence Against Women hadn’t been invented yet. by identifying ‘violence’ as part of everyday life, feminists showed us how much routine, everyday, violent behaviour was accepted as unavoidable – not questioned.

    so now that we do know about vaw, it seems striking to me that an anti-vaw feminist would make a routine, everyday remark involving violence: ie, talking about having a gun and killing someone. and then say it was a joke, which, as other commenters have pointed out, is a well-known criminal refuge.

    that’s the contradiction.

  27. Teegan Fox

    An excellent post, and I am so glad this was written as it reflects many of my thoughts.
    I was very much a young, strong feminist in the 80s, and although believed in the strength and individuality of women, I never saw the need to reduce the man in the name of feminism.
    It now seems to me that this modern rad fem with political leverage is dancing an extremely dangerous game, with their own words on violence and use of guns against academics.
    JBs anti-prostitution stance has already angered many but bare in mind JB is so insensitive to even those in her own camp and makes enemies there – she is becoming a laughing stalk –

  28. Quiet Riot Girl

    I actually think the use of violent language by vaw feminists is quite logical. They immerse themselves in the language of violence, imagining we are all walking in fear through ‘rape culture’ where men are predators and women are victims, and heterosexual sex, especially that which occurs outside ‘safe’ relationships, is a form of violence in itself.

  29. Julie Bindel

    Hi everyone

    Of course I read this Blog – I am a journalist, and I read approximately 20 publications/websites every day.

    By the way, This comment is on Facebook today, written by Thierry Schaffausser of the IUSW (who, incidentally, I very much respect despite our obvious disagreements). Do you still think such language/sentiments is hate speak, even when out of the mouth of a comrade who you support and agree with?

    Best, Julie

    Thierry Schaffauser wonders if we should provide guns to sex workers so we can shoot the cops and all the people who bullshit us. It’s a bit radical but we need an army of angry hookers at that point I presume. Because then they’ll say ‘oh but if you’re angry I am not going to listen to you.. bla bla..’ like if they normally listen to us you know… grrr

  30. Quiet Riot Girl

    Personally speaking, yes I do, Julie. I am against this level of violence in language. i.e. suggesting it might be better to shoot/kill someone else than accept their different perspective to ours.

    But I don’t see how Schaffauser’s ‘hate speak’ makes yours any less hateful.

    Best to you too and in peace

    Quiet Riot Girl

  31. redpesto

    SF: I’m inclined to agree with Bindel on one matter – don’t take her so seriously! She is no different from Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail – they are paid lots of money to wind people up.

    That would be okay if: (a) Bindel didn’t keep switching hats between journalist, researcher and activist whenever she is challenged on the accuracy and veracity of what she writes; (b) she wasn’t part of a broader feminist attempt to shape government policy on sex work in favour of a prohibitionist/abolitionist strategy (aka ‘the Swedish model’…you know, the one where sex work would be decriminalised but the workers wouldn’t be able to earn a living because paying them would be a crime); (c) her work in the mainstream media wasn’t part of an attempt to act as ‘gatekeeper’ or ‘prefect’ regarding debates about women and/or sexuality. ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ is a lame excuse, whoever is using it (as is, for that matter, using Schaffauser in a classic ‘whatabout?’ manoeuvre). It’s the response of someone who’s been caught spouting nonsense.

  32. laura agustin Post author

    i don’t like thierry’s comment, either, but then i don’t like lots of comments people make all day long. it’s certainly true that throwing around kill-references is so common it’s banal and close to meaningless. not *totally* meaningless, though.

    i was more struck by anthropologists being the specific target of wrath, and the wish to disallow research about sex work/prostitution.

  33. Julie Bindel

    Dear Laura

    This is all rather childish isn’t it? You have leapt on what you thought was a valid example of how appalling I am and hope to somehow prove a point. I could offer to give every penny I earn away to sex work projects and you would manage to slate me, so this is a total waste of time.

    When I made that remark about shooting folk it was i exactly the same spirit as one would say, “I could kill him/her” when someone you love puts your whites in with a blue shirt and ruins the wash – I am sure you are way too perfect to use such speech but I was brought up working class in the north east of England and parlance of such nature is common.

    Why I singled out anthropologists studying sex workers is simple – I have been researching and writing about the IUSW and have discovered that a number of extremely privileged academics decided to ‘go native’ and dabble in ‘sex work’ in order to ‘get down’ with the dudes they were studying – and they were then pretending to understand what their lives were like simply because they had done a couple of shifts on a phone sex line. it would be like me calling myself homeless because I had experimented with sleeping rough one night.

    These academics ‘studied’ such women as though they are an exotic breed of mice – and from a disingenuous position of being ‘one of them’.

    I don’t suppose for one minute you will understand what I am saying here and I don’t particularly care. Perhaps one day I will discover why you spend so much time and energy denying the abuse which is inherent in the sex industry.

  34. Sarah Brown

    I can attest to Bindel’s double standards having been on the receiving end of her bile too. When she evokes imagery of violence or resorts to legal threats, she is “just making a joke” or “not being serious”. When anyone else dares to question her, or protests against her attacks on marginalised groups, they are “bullies”, or she is the “victim of a campaign”.

    Thankfully feminists of my generation (I’m in my mid 30s), and especially those younger than me, increasingly find her brand of so-called feminism, the “end justifies the means” sort that is heavy on dogma and disregarding inconvenient facts, and light on compassion and basic humanity to be abhorrent (in the way it treats the women it tends to preach at, the ones who don’t share Bindel’s comfy middle class pseudo-celeb lifestyle, as acceptable collateral damage in some greater struggle) and irrelevant (in that it is devoid of merit or relevance). She is a dinosaur.

  35. Quiet Riot Girl

    Sarah Brown – I agree with your analysis of Ms Bindel. But not your conclusion. She is respected within feminism, she spoke at the UK Feminista summer school, she appears on woman’s hour, is published widely, and is influential on the younger women in the ‘movement’. If she was ‘irrelevant’ believe me we would ignore her!

  36. Michael Goodyear

    One problem here is the definition. or lack of definition of ‘feminist’. Whether Julie is influential or not is a moot point. People will respond to ideas that are congruent with their own. Thus her views will be propagated amongst those describing themselves as feminists and already sharing those views, but not by other groups. What concerns me more is the idea promoted, not necessarily by Bindel herself, that such views represent the ‘official’ voice of feminism and women in this country. This is blatantly misleading, although frankly we have no idea how many people identifying themselves as ‘feminists’ hold either view.

    I am not going to get into a discussion here as to where Bindel’s theories fit within feminist theory, although Camilla Lindberg and Marianne Berg have recently pointed out the fatal flaw in this in the Swedish media. (

    But these are views – just that. Which brings me back to the question of research. If I understand Bindel’s criticism correctly it is about the validity of anthropological research, and in particular ethnography. While it is true that there is considerable literature on the degree to which ethnography should or should not require one to completely adopt the lifestyle of the studied object, that is not really the point.

    The point is validity, which will depend on methodological rigour, and triangulation. I think many of us writing here have spent a lot of time in the company of sex workers, and have shared our views and writings with them, and included them in our research projects, so it is not unreasonable to state the findings have some face validity.

    The question of privilege and other objections raised here are of course of academic interest, but don’t change the findings. It seems that Bindel’s major objection is that researchers deny abuse. It is not a matter of denial, but of describing. Bindel is convinced abuse is widespread – it certainly is not non-existent. But where is the data that establishes that abuse is endemic? Nobody is finding this, despite the convictions held by some members of the media and public. If you want to find abuse you will of course limit your studies to certain populations and environments that are most likely to expose worker’s to abuse. These include the multiply-marginalised through poverty, addiction, language, and migration amongst other factors. Abuse is abuse and nobody is denying it. One trafficked victim is one too many. However discourses around sex work are notoriously prone to highly inappropriate generalisations.

    Where we differ is the approach to the problem of abuse. Such commonalities and divergence are not uncommon in public policy.

  37. Julie Bindel

    Good morning John

    Last year you sent me a legal threat to sue following an email I sent your former colleague in which I enquired about what I consider to be a culture of trafficking denial at the University you were at that time associated with. I gathered over 200 pages of evidence to (more than) substantiate my claims which I submitted to your lawyer. I heard nothing more. i am now considering what to do with the evidence.

    Best, Julie

  38. Laura Agustín

    several people have written to ask me about anthropological and ethnographic studies of the sex industry. in 2007 i proposed a new theoretical framework called the cultural study of commercial sex.

    a year later ken plummer, the founder and editor of the journal Sexualities, offered me the chance to do a special edition using that framework: here are the titles. one article, by kate frank, asks critical questions about participatory research.

    the process of getting each article peer-reviewed was highly intensive, taking place over a year. the reference lists for those articles can point the way to many other ethical and well-carried out studies, as can the lists at the end of lots of my publications (see tab on top menu).

    in all academic research there are opportunities for both lousy and great work, regardless of any researcher’s class, ethnic or any other kind of background. students’ supervisors and tutors are there to help ensure that
    ethical and methodological guidelines are complied with. sometimes the work is not inspired, but that happens in all fields. journalistic reports showing reporters’ superficial, voyeuristic flirtations with vulnerable people are published by the bucketload every day.

    the topic of this post was an imaginary cv with a section called Important Enemies. part of that was to report a comment from a meeting. this is a blog, i report on things i see that interest me, particularly about the Rescue Industry – one of my own fields of research. i write several times a week, there was no special emotion or meaning in this post compared with others on other days.

    thanks to everyone for really interesting, thoughtful comments.

  39. John Davies

    Dear Julie,

    Please hang onto the evidence, I have been outside the UK for several months and had to prioritise other things, but I will be back in the UK very soon and suing you for defamation/libel is pretty close to the top of my to-do list…

    I am really interested to see if the old scare stuff “evidence” that has been so well rebutted will stand up to proper scrutiny. As this particular exchange is subject to the legal proceeding I think we better leave the matter for when we get to court…

  40. Julie Bindel

    No John – your lawyer has had the evidence now since December 18th 2010. It stands up to scrutiny. Your further empty threats are simply nasty bully boy tactics.

  41. Quiet Riot Girl

    I find it interesting, coming to the subject late in my life as a feminist (and this subject is one of a few which has made me realise I can no longer call myself that, when people with views such as Bindel’s are influential in feminism), how incendiary it is.

    I know sex work is a controversial subject. But the way the issue leads to this level of hatred being expressed, language of violence, legal threats etc etc. I wonder what it is about women working as sex workers that gets to the heart of feminist dogma and really threatens the feminist establishment so much? It can’t just be the exploitation those women suffer. Women the world over suffer terrible exploitation and degredation in all sorts of industries. No, it is something to do with the ‘sex’ and the ‘work’ that are combined in sex work.

    The idea that sex is not automatically and inextricably linked to ‘love’ ? Is that what bothers them? Or the idea that women can use their sexuality for financial gain/subsistence? Does that say something about how we all use our sexuality every day? That we can’t ban ‘pornification’ of culture or ‘objectification’ of women, because women and men are objectified, and objectify themselves all the time regardless of where they work?

    I think the subject of the sex industry sends feminists such as Bindel into a kind of apoplexy, because it serves to highlight how redundant their version of feminism is, intellectually and ethically.

    It is like they want to remove the evidence of their own hypocrisy. But they can’t. It will always be there to remind them they are wrong.

  42. Lucy

    ‘Why I singled out anthropologists studying sex workers is simple – I have been researching and writing about the IUSW and have discovered that a number of extremely privileged academics decided to ‘go native’ and dabble in ’sex work’ in order to ‘get down’ with the dudes they were studying – and they were then pretending to understand what their lives were like simply because they had done a couple of shifts on a phone sex line. it would be like me calling myself homeless because I had experimented with sleeping rough one night.
    These academics ’studied’ such women as though they are an exotic breed of mice – and from a disingenuous position of being ‘one of them’.’
    Julie – I am interested in what you have said here.

    Why is it that you assume that an academic cannot legitimately also do sex work? Is it not possible for someone to be both a sex worker and an academic? If you are a sex worker are you not allowed to do research on sex work as an academic?

    I’m curious as to what the thought process is that leads you to become annoyed that someone might be a researcher AND a sex worker. Does it always have to be about their wish to (as you put it) ‘get down’ with the dudes they were studying’ or could it just be that some people have an interest in sex work AND research?

  43. Melissa Farley

    Here is my comment about the notion of the banality of trafficking for prostitution reaching its postmodern nadir in a comment by Laura Agustin made about trafficking in San Francisco.

    “Trafficking expands and markets women’s sexual exploitation and their subordination to men. When these facts are ignored, theory about prostitution gets derailed into strange territory. For example the important issue of immigration abuse, as discussed by Segrave in this issue, is elevated
    to a central position in the debate. Trafficking for prostitution is then addressed primarily as an issue of transportation or migration, rather than as an issue of women’s sexual exploitation, violence, and inequality. The notion that trafficking for prostitution is banal whereas immigration abuse is the essential harm – reaches its postmodern nadir in a comment by sociologist Laura Agustin about Proposition K (a 2008 initiative to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco):

    ‘My guess is that if K passes there will be no great impact
    either way for migrants who sell sex in San Francisco.
    Some of them might benefit from not being criminalized
    per se, but being undocumented workers would remain
    their principle problem (Yeung, 2008).’

    The people described by Agustin simply as “undocumented workers” are in fact desperately poor Asian women (Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean) transported by organized criminals to North America for men’s sexual use
    under slave-like conditions of captivity, violent control, and debt bondage.”

    The article can be downloaded at

  44. John Davies

    Dear Julie,

    Really this matter is not about threats and should not be about name calling, that is exactly why I want your comments to be subjected to independent scrutiny by the Courts. I am not willing to call your nasty names or make unfounded allegations about you because that is the sort of behaviour that undermines a proper reasoned discourse about what is a nuanced and difficult subject.

    You have 200+ pages of old and often repeated allegations that I am this or I am that… I have a succession of court judgements that clearly show those old allegations were not true. In your “evidence” you have even enclosed documents that clearly show that the allegations made against me when subjected to independent scrutiny were not true, but you recklessly repeated them regardlessly. I have repeatedly been subjected to false allegations over many years that have created suspicion and hostility and of course have been resorted to in attempts to deny my research a platform.

    I am more than happy to have my work subjected to proper peer review, but to try and discount research by demonising the researcher does not help anyone better understand the diversity or complexities that surround trafficking harm.

    We will settle this matter in the court where you will be given every opportunity to prove your allegations and so establish their truth or otherwise. i imagined you would welcome such an opportunity.

    Let’s save it for the court…



  45. Thaddeus Blanchette

    Dear Ms. Bindel,

    Seeing as how you are a journalist and seeing as how the anthropological studies you refer to must obviously be part of the public record, perhaps you’d like to name some names rather than engage in this sort of anonymous smearing of anthropology?

    I’m fully aware, as Laura points out, that there are some very poor praticioners of our profession – as is the case with any profession. However, to anonymously claim that there are “privileged” anthropologists who, on the basis of a few nights work on the sex line, make sweeping allegations regarding sex work and then use this as a basis for launching an attack on athropological research in general… well, it’s simply bullshit (to use a term made famous by moral philospher H. Frankfurt).

    If you were truly committed to understanding sex work, it seems to me that you’d want to see BETTER anthropological research, not an end to research. In that light – and given that you’re a person who seems to be unafraid of polemics – I invite you to let us know what work you think anthropologists have done that is below par and why.

    This is what scientific critique is all about, Ms. Bindel: peer review. Or perhaps you are one of those people, like creationists in the United States, who see science as evil for philosophical or moral reasons? If this is the case, then you at least owe us a clear enunciation of that position.

    Finally, it still seems to me that you owe us an explanation of your “shooting” remarks, given that such remarks in other contexts are famously labeled by the abolitionist movement as instigating violence.

    “I was just joking” is not an adequate response here, Ms. Bindel.

  46. Pingback: Laura Agustin on Important Enemies « Jessica Land

  47. troublet

    “Thierry Schaffauser wonders if we should provide guns to sex workers so we can shoot the cops and all the people who bullshit us. It’s a bit radical but we need an army of angry hookers at that point I presume. Because then they’ll say ‘oh but if you’re angry I am not going to listen to you.. bla bla..’ like if they normally listen to us you know… grrr

    17 August 2010 at 19:23

    Quiet Riot Girl

    Personally speaking, yes I do, Julie. I am against this level of violence in language. i.e. suggesting it might be better to shoot/kill someone else than accept their different perspective to ours.”

    Cops are not “someone with a different perspective” who need to be protected from the anger of sex workers who they abuse and arrest. They are tools of a violent, patriarchal state. Anyone who sees this kind of comment as on par with state violence is living in the theoretical clouds.

  48. Julie Bindel

    I am still wondering where the letter from your lawyer is John Davies? Surely you can’t still be away? Am just sorting out the bundle to send on to the University.

    Look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter.

    Does everyone know about this by the way? Am happy to provide detail.


  49. John Davies

    Dear Julie,

    Actually I am still away and will not return to the UK until next month. This is a problem because I really should have pursued the matter more vigorously but real life rather got in the way…

    Now the problem is that your contested correspondence to the University was untruthful and probably intended to damage me in the eyes of the University… however the truth is that it didn’t damage me because they realised it wasn’t true and rebuffed your assertions. So I would be hard pushed to show your lies actually caused me any damage…

    So as I am calling you a liar in public on a UK website so maybe you could sue me… and specifically I say you sent an email to my University that contained lies about me and so I say you are a liar.

    This is getting boring… I don’t like you, you don’t like me… who cares?

    I don’t really care as much as I used to… I have had decades of hysterical lies directed at me… and people who don’t like me believe them, and those who know me well know they are not true…

  50. Julie Bindel

    Dear John

    You may fool the others but not me. You didn’t sue because you had absolutely no grounds. I proved conclusively that you had been arrested in Croatia, banned from countries, and suspected of serious crime. I will be making the documentation public.


  51. John Davies

    This is very simple, I couldn’t sue because your allegations didn’t cause me a harm. However now you are changing your allegations to repeat tired old nonsense that is already in the public domain.

    No one is fooled by me… everyone knows I have a history of controversy and that I have been subjected to many strange allegations in the media etc… This is a matter of public record. However in spite of all these strange and serious allegations nothing has ever been proved and whenever I have been able to get the allegations tested in court… I have won or been found innocent every time.

    So you told some nasty lies that you couldn’t prove, but instead of putting those lies into the public domain you have changed your story. My challenge to you is to republish in the public domain what you originally sent to the University.

    I have never denied I was arrested in Croatia, and after 13 days all the charges were dropped as the court ruled no crime had been committed and that I was the victim of vicious gossip with no basis in truth. So nothing new there. I have also been accused of other VERY serious crimes but always found completely innocent on every occasion. Being accused does not mean guilt, it just means that a lot of silly and nasty people get worked about my work and decide to throw allegations at me rather than engage in any meaningful discourse. People like you have created a hysteria around me that has no basis in reality, ever time I have managed to get the allegations before a court I have won. I am the person with the European Ombudsman judgement that shows my civil rights were abuse by all of this nonsense.

    You accused me of being banned from six countries… so name them. I have been banned from countries, but I have certainly not been banned from six countries !

    You are a politically motivated liar…

    I am a victim of contrived controversy that is based on ignorance, fear and deliberate lies. So I have had 20 years of bizarre allegations about my work and my life… but after 20 years what is there to show… nothing… I have been the centre of some bizarre circus of histrionics… So tell everyone I am a strange person who has attracted a lot of bizarre news stories and been accused of many things etc… etc… none of that is new…

  52. Julie Bindel

    I have not changed my story John, not one bit! As you know, aside from being unable to prove the exact number of countries from which you have been banned, I proved all of the other allegations and sent your lawyer evidence of them, which is why you did not pursue it further.

    I would imagine it did cause you harm, although that was not my intention. My intention was and still is to ask why a University department seems to be so biased towards denying the harms in trafficking and prostitution.

    You must have been disappointed when I did not cave in after receiving the bully-boy letter from your crappy little high-street solicitor firm. Did you honestly think I would write letters of apology to you and your former head of department, for you to make public? And the idea that I would give you £5,000!!!!!!

    Rest assured I will never cave in to you. It would have been my pleasure to see you in court. When I write about you in the future, after I have completed my research, you may try again. But you will fail again.


  53. Jane Fae


    This IS getting old. I am not exactly a sheerleader for Julie, since on two major issues i suspect her and my views are diametrically opposed.

    At the same time, i do get, very well, what she is about, since i, too, tend to straddle the various divides between research, journalism and activism. That is a difficult trick and sometimes, i fear i may not have got it right: but i do my best.

    As activist, i do threaten people (legally) and i do take people to court.

    Rule One of activism, though is: do not make threats you are not intending to follow thru. Quite apart from under-mining your stance, it makes life a whole load harder for the rest of us.

    My rule is this. I don’t threaten legal action unless i plan to go for it. When i do, i work to a timetable: usually action follows two weeks after the threat. Period.

    I get that you feel seriously pilloried, undercut, travestied…whatever…by Julie: and you may be correct. Or you may be talking a load of bollocks. I haven’t the faintest.

    What i do know is: you seem to be continuing, 18 months after the original event, to be blustering and threatening. It is seriously unbecoming!

    Sorry if this sounds very Harry Hill-ish: my lining the two of you up to fight. But you’ve done this. You’ve threatened and not followed thru and as result, Julie has rather pwned you on this one.

    Julie 1: John 0.


  54. Jane Fae


    “sheerleader”: interesting typo in my last post.

    I like typos that create new words…now wondering exactly what a “sheerleader” might be. Perhaps a skilful Aussie sheep farmer?

    or something to do with rock climbing.

    (I did, of course, mean “cheerleader”).


  55. Gorbachev


    I have a few questions for you. I’ve worked on a few projects involved with this subject, in an international perspective. But my questions emerge from personal experiences and contacts, and I’d like to know what you think.

    First –

    I worked on several media projects in which we did surveys and interviewed sex-workers. Of dozens of women we interviewed, we only found one who was working in this industry because of oppressed desperation: and most of the reasons she’d arrived there were self-inflicted (drug problems she’d engaged voluntarily, and before she arrived at her occupation; she was unable to hold any kind of normal job and had horrible life skills, generally; without prostitution, it was unlikely anything but public support would be available to her, even with education or retraining).

    It’s possible our samples were highly biased – but it’s notable that this woman was one of only 4 street-level sex workers we interviewed. The rest were among the majority that we found: escorts working independently.

    In any case, this was not in a Western country – it was in Asia. I’m not personally clear on how the industry in the West is structured. But when done at all, show that the vast majority of sex-workers in Korea, Japan and China are “independent contractors” or escorts who voluntarily choose their line of work.

    And this brings me to my larger question. It’s partly personal.

    – What would you do with women who *want* to do sex work? What about their customers, given that these women don’t want their customers disturbed or discouraged?

    – What if, even when offered help out of this industry, women still with to pursue it?

    * What equally profitable alternative employment would you be willing to establish for these women – work that they’re willing to do?

    Compensated Dating:

    – How is paying for sex (in any form) – and objectification – qualitatively different from the “compensated dating” culture currently emerging in force in many Asian and European countries? Young women seem to be engaging in this culture with enthusiasm and in very large numbers. This is certainly true in Korea and China, where I’ve spent considerable amounts of time. It’s also a profound force in Japan, where it’s seen as young women taking power into their own hands – and they do seem to wield a great degree of personal sexual power over otherwise rather hapless men, if reports are to be believed. They certainly enter into their arrangements wholly voluntarily, almost enthusiastically – as a means to profit from their youth and sexuality.

    – How about the Er Nai of China and their equivalents elsewhere – essentially, versions of “kept women” that range from “lovers who are heavily compensated and who often have several patrons” to “regular female companions who make themselves available to busy and wealthy men?” They’re prostitutes in every possible way.

    While I understand that the commodification of human sexuality may seem both crass and opportunistic, I have been given the one-two by one actual actor. She claimed to speak for many women. Here’s the spiel she gave me.

    While I’ve never paid for sex, I did “date” a woman who was, in effect, a high-class escort. I have immense difficulty with her line of work, such that it took remarkable conditions for me to have a relationship with her. But despite my severe objections, her positions were difficult to dispute:

    – She chose her work wholly voluntarily. She felt herself free to leave at any time.

    – She was, in almost all cases, the one with the power because
    a) she was being paid; he was obliged to enrich her. She felt this very empowering.
    b) he face deep moral risk in seeing her; much more than she did. Social judgment would have been harsh.
    c) she was able to decline a client if she desired. She often did.

    Risk: She pointed out that both men and women were at risk in many jobs. She was, in fact, assaulted in one encounter, when foreign businessmen (from another Asian country), drunk and obnoxious, gave her an evening to remember in nightmares, and which she was glad to have survived without injury. Every other incident was not only violence-free, but generally not at all objectionable- uninteresting at time, given that she was, in effect, an actor – but not fundamentally risky or objectionable.

    She viewed her job as about as risky as working in mining; and much, much more financially rewarding.

    – She maintained that she was much less oppressed than she would have been in any office job, working 10-12 hours a day with odious supervision and tight social rules.

    – She was angry that while other women were allowed to be publicly promiscuous, privately promiscuous, to cheat on husbands or boyfriends, and to flaunt their sexuality – but that I presumed to judge her or consider her oppressed when she chose her work she found the height of hypocrisy.

    – Many women she worked alongside had few choices. But she pointed out that many men who worked, as well as women in other industries, had few choices: Office workers had few choices in how, where, and when they worked. And she said, her job was many times better than what any (male) taxi driver was obliged to endure. She had great sympathy for average men – she viewed her work as infinitely superior to almost all lower-middle class jobs.

    All this to say: She did not, in any way, see herself as oppressed. Not only that, she viewed herself, with some justification, as being empowered through the intelligent use of her advantages: Youth, beauty, charm and sexuality.

    – She said this was no different that an actor or model selling themselves in public. Again, I found this, on balance, difficult to contradict.

    She was charming, quite intelligent, fascinating, and at 23, a full 11 years younger than I was at the time, profoundly well-balanced.

    Not all the women she knew were as well-balanced, but she said many were.

    She also said that it was no-one’s business what she and any man got up to: If we wanted to have a relationship, no element of that relationship should be subject to legislation of any kind. Certainly, women engaged their sexuality with men all the time;

    and she also pointed out that in Korea, where she lived, most women treated their menfolk as “wallets” in any case; indeed, marriages seemed to be little more than cash – for – breeding exchanges, with women active participants, because few women wanted to live the brutalizing and punishing work lives that Korean men are obliged to live. Indeed, the few female friends who weren’t in the industry and who knew what she was doing were – frankly – envious of her, when it came down to it.

    She may have been remarkable, but she was by no means unique. And elements of her story were replicated among many of the other women my employers interviewed.

    It took me months to overcome my aversion to her occupation, though we remained friends, and I never really did come to terms with my own prejudices, even when we ended up having a shockingly normal relationship, much to my surprise and consternation at the time: it’s not something I would have chosen, and I had immense difficulty throughout.

    At 27, she was a landlord in a city renowned for being difficult for young people to enter the housing market.

    I say all of this to point out that your impression of this industry, as mine was, may not be entirely accurate.

    As she pointed out to me one day:

    “I have no problem being objectified. I’m young and pretty right now, and that makes me desirable: I want to cash in. Men objectify women, it’s the nature of being male. But I’d like to point out that women absolutely objectify men. When people stop objectifying each other, sex stops. Sex is objectification, for men and women, even if they do it in different ways.”

    When I tried to explain feminist theory to her, and tell her how she was oppressed – she thought I must have been an idiot. Relative to almost all the other people she knew, she was hardly oppressed – indeed, she thought her father, the patriarch of her family, was far more oppressed in his work.

    Just some food for thought.

    Unless you can address these realities for many of the women who do this kind of work – who see no demeaning of women in what they do, and nothing more personally demeaning than they’d find in other lines of work – and unless you then address the denial of civil rights these women experience when they or their clients are harassed by authorities, it seems to women like her that this is what you’re doing:

    – You’re in danger of being moral busybodies judging others.

    (Personally, I think people being taken advantage of should be protected – but there are far more disadvantaged and oppressed people than the majority of sex workers; and in every industry, there’s often a segment of the population that is treated terribly).

  56. Gorbachev

    BTW, this woman – let’s call her “Mina” for convenience – earned at least 4x my salary for doing almost no work, if you measured hours invested. I assume it was about this much: it might have been more. And I was well-paid relative to others in my field (in media).

    I’m commenting anonymously because, given my field, it would devastate me professionally to discuss any of these subjects – employers dislike the idea that I might have opinions at variance with perceived wisdom. Perceived wisdom is that all commodification of sexuality is oppressive to women and tantamount to abuse.

    But if you need background, I’m American, not yet 40, and college-educated. I’ve never paid for sex, can’t see myself doing it, and yet am no longer as sure of my convictions on this subject.

    Oh – one more thing.

    I was given a talking-to just before I started seeing “mina”; the 12-hour long rather loud discussion we had involved, in the end, her telling me that the only people who had serious problems with her work were

    1) middle-class women who resented men having sexual options with other women, as they tended to use sex as a power bargaining chip in their marriages and sex-workers were the equivalent of “strikebreakers” (and questions given to many women, which I tested, seemed to alarmingly back up her opinion) and

    2) Women who had no interest in men at all and generally found male sexuality, and heterosexual female sexuality, demeaning for women; by this she meant

    a) middle-aged women who were uninvolved in the sexual marketplace at all and weren’t interested, but nevertheless had strong opinions on what others should do;

    b) Angry wives or ex-wives who were bitter and generally disliked men, or were angry at men in general,

    c) Political or actual lesbians: there were few open lesbians in Korea, but she personally had contact with two and what she found remarkable was that they thought that any sex with men especially having to do it for money, to be both disgusting and abusive – because she was obliged to do it for money. She questioned why such women would even care what heterosexual women were up to – she had no interest in sleeping with women, as she found it mildly repulsive, and thought that male sexuality was incredibly sexy; and she reveled in the power that male desire gave her.

    d) Less attractive older women: she felt that her sexual market value was both higher than other women she knew, and higher than older women, especially: it was older women who objected to her profession most. Not men or younger women, for whom she wasn’t much competition. In essence: Jealousy. Indeed, on many occasions (such as one when she was recounting the reaction of a woman my age – mid-30’s), she seemed to suggest that other women seemed to resent not just her job, but her existence.

    She pointed out that she felt she was smarter than other women: Whereas her young friends were having sex with BFs and expecting presents and commitments for relationships (which rarely worked out, often because the women found other men), she was getting what she needed most: Money, and this gave her her own time and left her beholden to no-one.

    Given that you seem to embody the prohibitionist approach to sex-work, generally, I’m just wondering what your general response is the arguments I was exposed to in Asia.

    I had much the same discussion with a lover in France, when I lived there for a year: I have no idea if she did this kind of work, and I highly doubt it, though you never know, but her views were similar: What people do on their own is no-one else’s business, and were this industry legal, it would be possible to prosecute offenders when violence or abuse occurred. She wasn’t prone to judging what others got up to – which makes sense, given that she was married (to someone else) when we were seeing each other.

    Which makes another point, as well.

  57. laura agustin Post author

    gorbachev: you address your remarks to julie bindel, and i guess you realise that this isn’t her website and i don’t know whether she will see what you wrote. i don’t know what brought you to this particular post – about hating – but suppose you know that most of the issues you bring up in these interesting comments are also addressed somewhere in the hundreds of posts i have published. if not, you can search in the tag cloud, or the search engine or look at the titles in All Posts.

    best wishes, laura

  58. Gorbachev

    I was just thinking bindell might come along. I’m certain any post I put up on her website would be deleted.

    And as for you – yes, obviously, your other posts more than provide the rational side to the equation.

  59. Pingback: “There Can’t Be Numbers:” An Interview With Laura Agustín, Part 1 | Tits and Sass


  61. Pingback: The shocking tale of John Davies, pro-prostitution academic and trafficking denier, jailed last month for 12 years - Feminist Current

  62. Pingback: The shocking tale of John Davies, pro-prostitution academic & trafficking denier, recently jailed for fraud – The John Davies Story

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