Mob Morality Again 214


Nobody has more contempt than me for the House of Lords or for cronies of Tony Blair. But I shall not join in the pillorying of John Sewel over his private life. If he wants to take cocaine and spend time with prostitutes that is entirely his own business. Britain’s periodic outcries over private morality are contemptible. There is no legitimate reason why the activities of consenting adults in their own homes should be of concern to the rest of us. Not the least unpleasant aspect is that those journalists and politicians who whip up such witch hunts are for the most part hiding secrets about themselves. That in 2015 we still have not come to terms with the most ordinary sexual desire or formulated a more rational policy response to use of narcotics, is unfortunate.

I expect if I dug around I could find a lot of things to dislike Sewel for, in terms of the policies he has supported. But to attack political opponents over their private lives – assuming the necessary factors of adults and consent – is low.


214 thoughts on “Mob Morality Again

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  • technicolour

    What does ‘sex-negative’ mean, and what does it have to do with buying someone’s orifices for an hour, because you can afford to?

    What does tobacco and alcohol have to do with prostitution? Unless someone is paying you to smoke? Or drink? And you agree to smoke or drink because you want to feed your children?

  • OldMark

    My core proposition is that “the happy hooker” does exist, and he/she/other is not always a miserable, oppressed, woman.

    Jon;the sub group you refer to does exist- but almost always only at the top end of the market. Prostitutes there can to a large extent choose when they work and to whom they offer their services.That doesn’t apply in the ‘mass market’ as it were, and particularly at the bottom end, where the work usually entails a succession of ‘short times’. The sentiments expressed in ‘An Open Letter to the ‘Good’ Punter’ and quoted by Technicolour, probably more accurately depict the reality as experienced by the majority.

  • technicolour

    “Prostitutes there can to a large extent choose when they work and to whom they offer their services”

    Old Mark, thanks. And yet even so, their comments on their clients, behind their backs, are exactly the same, as you might expect. Incidentally, the person behind the open letter to the ‘Good Punter’ had worked ‘up’ from the streets to the fabled penthouse, and saw no difference, in essence.

  • Jon

    Thanks for engaging on the topic.

    (I used the phrases “sex negative” and “sex positive” without defining them, apologies – I thought they are commonplace. These are shorthand devices for explaining positions within feminism (and upon which feminists of various stripes will always disagree).

    The “positive” approach is one in which sexuality is seen as a source of female power, and that society’s attitudes to discourage female sexuality are sexist, and must be dismantled. It rejects religious or socially conservative ideas as a mechanism for political control of sexuality. Broadly, sex-positivists believe that paid sex work can be an expression of this power, and that this should be permitted for consenting adults.

    “Sex-negativity” views male sexuality as representative of patriarchal power structures, which in turn is worthy of legal repression and societal discouragement. Though feminism is traditionally linked to the political Left, sex-negativists arguably hold sex in the same poor regard as religious/Right groups do. This view endorses the role of female as fragile and amplifies her victim-hood, as evidence of men’s innate rapaciousness.

    I’d probably argue that if these definitions are useful, they form a sliding scale, rather than strict binary positions. Their definitions themselves is often the subject of debate.)

    So, quite a lot to respond to. I’ll try to roll it up into a few themes, rather than responding point by point, otherwise I’ll wind up with 65 paragraphs that no-one will read! I think we’re both agreed on the legalisation of the trade, and the reduction of harassment of sex workers by the state.

    I’d start off with the observation that if all exercising of sexuality is seen in a dim light, every sexual act involving a man can be rendered as a statement of power, every act perpetrated by a thug who “fucks” rather than as a complex individual who participates in mutual enjoyment. Every sexual encounter then, paid or otherwise, becomes coarsened:

    opening themselves up to uncaring strangers is the equivalent of running a loo brush round a toilet
    buying someone’s orifices for an hour

    I think this language is problematic, and is designed to invoke disgust. If someone can be diminished to “their orifices”, why stop at sex work? Do people in romantic relationships, or casual flings, or one-night stands, “use each other’s orifices?” This is precisely the kind of sex-negativity that endorses the religious position that sex is dirty and “sinful” and that people should be embarrassed for wanting it at all. It additionally moves towards slut-shaming territory, which perpetuates the discrepancy of sexual power.

    Thus, rather than the sensible position of asking a sex worker (SW) how he/she feels, one strand of feminism requires the SW to feel abused, humiliated and victimised. It invokes (often subconscious) traditional Victorian morality and religious ideology to heap shame – a corrosive psychological phenomenon – upon the SW deliberately. And the opinions of SWs, as varied as they are, are of little consequence in this world-view.

    On the topic of SWs “needing the money”, I think we are broadly in agreement, and here I failed to accurately convey my thoughts. I specifically acknowledged “the coercion of capitalism”, and I should have been more explicit. What I meant was that some SWs are forced to make sexual choices that they would not have made if it was not for the financial incentive, and I oppose that. (In addition to a strong welfare state to reduce the likelihood of this coercion, I would support having health professionals who reach out to SWs affected by poverty and help them out of the trade if that is their wish.)

    However, your post was intended to condemn all forms of sex work (all the way up to “the fabled penthouse”) and this is where we diverge. In the socialist analysis, money is a coercive device regardless of circumstances, and thus sex should always be unpaid. But why stop at sex work? Any work can be regarded as exploitation if people would cease to do it when the coercive mechanism is withdrawn, and there’s a lot of that about.

    Do we then respond to workers in general – especially if we suspect them to be exploited – by telling them to stop working? Well, perhaps some people on the Left do, but it’s not always a productive approach. We should start by asking those workers what practical help they need. If their response is that they like their work, but that they should be paid more (clothes retail) or would like greater health protection (consumer goods manufacturing) or are worried about the safety of night travel (shift nurses) then we should listen to them. (I don’t agree that sex work is just like any other job, but it is from the perspective of workers’ rights).

    You responded to my point about the freedom to make moral (adult) decisions with a paragraph about teenage prostitution. I dealt with that earlier:

    The underage component of [the writer’s] prostitution is a separate issue, and deserves great sympathy. However it muddies the water of whether legal, adult prostitution is morally acceptable, which is the question here.

    I am not sure what I can add to that to make the point clearer, other than to reiterate my earlier paragraph in this post about strengthening the welfare state. I think poverty is a modern barbarism and should be eradicated for the good of society, and that overt forms of sexual exploitation will disappear when poverty does. I would like to see a free health service, in every country, that can provide ongoing counselling for victims of exploitation.

    The statistics you cite about SWs with an abusive pimp, or who work in unsafe conditions, or who have complex psychological problems as a result of childhood sexual abuse, result from a mix of poverty and the criminalisation of the trade. Both the poverty and the criminalisation thus need to be removed.

    You seemed surprised when I raised the topic of tobacco and alcohol, in reply to a post about the health risks of sex work. My point was that in general people should have the freedom to choose risk, and that we don’t always need protecting from ourselves. People are free to smoke, despite lung cancer, and they’re free to drink, despite liver disease. People are free to bungy-jump, despite fatal falls, and people are free to ride on roller-coasters, despite the risk of injury. The drugs debate is shortly to go in that direction too – finally! I am in favour of giving people as much bias-free education as they need on all of these things, and for SWs too: take it up if you wish, and stop when you choose.

    I prefer this approach from a feminist perspective because it understands women as arbiters of their own destiny, rather than inert figurines to whom no responsibility may be attached. (Whilst I try not to make gender assumptions within this topic in order not to erase male SWs, issues to do with gender do sometimes need addressing separately).

    You minimise the existence of SWs who wish to remain in sex work, and regard them as the exceptions. I think it’s hard to tell, to be honest – surely the SWs who are the least happy will be the ones most represented in government agency statistics? People do not go to the police to report being happy with their work. Instead, they write about it: another happy SW.

    I could search Twitter and the blogosphere to provide more evidence, but even when thousands of SWs are saying they want to remain in sex work, but this or that legal restriction or working condition needs to change, isn’t it easier to claim they’ve been duped? That they are lying, both to their readers and to their clients?

    If there’s one area in which I think that traditional feminist responses are lacking, it is about understanding men (either as a client, or in general). N_ helpfully asserts that male clients are “pathetic arseholes”, and thus implies they are not permitted to be complex individuals in their own right, with their own histories and vulnerabilities, and struggling to be happy too. It was a coincidence that yesterday I came across an interview with Camille Paglia, and she sets out what often gets missed here:

    What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive – but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era. They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.

    I hear you when you make a plea for those people caught in the cross-section of poverty and sex work. I really do, and nothing I have written is meant to sound, or be, dismissive. I am in favour of any supportive mechanisms (usually dispensed by councils or the health service) that alleviate poverty or coerced sex work. I think that under austerity, both things are set to get worse.

    However, my own plea is for policymakers – and pundits such as you and I! – to listen to the people we pontificate about. That specifically includes your author, who decided that all prostitution is abuse, and it specifically includes my author, who asserts the right to her own sexual agency. It thus makes sense for me to regard sex as a valid form of work for people who actively choose it, and to render assistance to people who feel trapped in it, so that they can transition promptly to another form of work.

    Written too much, as usual…

  • glenn

    Comrades Technicolor & Jon – thanks for an interesting discussion. During all this, however, I’ve not seen anyone weigh in on the issue of pornography. This (unless produced at home for personal viewing pleasure only, of course) will also involve not only having sex with people with whom the actors have no personal relationship, but an unknown number of third parties are involved too, as voyeurs. The later group will be an on-going participant, perhaps for a very long time after the act has concluded.

    It has surprised me to learn that friends and associates have engaged the services of SWs, even though they might have had relationships. I can’t say it made me think better of them. But vastly more people use or have at least regarded porn, and it doesn’t strike me as even comparable. Should it be?

    As far as the “happy hooker” is concerned with porn, one can literally find candidates queuing up for the work. It has led to a huge glut in the market. There is absolutely no shortage of volunteers, and plenty of positive testimony about it. This was not difficult to find, for instance:

    http://piersmorgan.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/06/duke-porn-star-belle-knox-to-have-that-sexual-autonomy-it-is-so-incredibly-freeing/

    Where is the line drawn here – glamour pictures? Page-3 models? I do not recall former models being wracked with remorse for their former careers. The only backlash appears to come from prudish employers (particularly of teachers, nurses etc. that had a porn-star past). Some have even gone on to become politicians, and straight actors.

    I am sure there are unfortunate cases too, involving STDs and so on. Whether this is much than the fate of clients at a standard pick-up joint is hard to say. The feminists’ line that “we don’t realise the porn-star actress had a gun pointed at her head, away from the camera’s view” is pretty hard to believe – both from the performance, and the lack of testimony to this effect.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

  • technicolour

    Right, so I clicked on your ‘happy SW’ link, Jon, and found, to my surprise, a quote from Madeleine Albright heading a violent bitter attack which, although understandable, did not make the writer sound happy in the slightest.

    I do not, would not, as I made quite clear, see any justification for attacking prostitution for ‘immorality’. I am not attacking the people involved in any way, in fact.

    “If someone can be diminished to “their orifices”, why stop at sex work?” That is what buying a person for sex is. That person, while working, is bought and used for the client’s sexual gratification. Their own has nothing to do with it. That is the job. It is not ‘to make love’ or to ‘have babies’ or ‘to regret in the morning’, or ‘to bond’; nor is it a brief and enjoyable distraction, or celebration, or whatever. It is the job. Part of the payment, by tacit agreement, is for the prostitute to disappear afterwards, to not be a person, to not enter the client’s ‘real’ life. It is transforming sex from many possible things into one thing: a depersonalised, dehumanised, deadened commercial transaction. It generally bears as much resemblance to the power of female sexuality, or any sexuality, as a McDonalds to a cow.

    “People are free to smoke, despite lung cancer, and they’re free to drink, despite liver disease. People are free to bungy-jump, despite fatal falls etc”.
    In all these cases, people are voluntarily paying their money to amuse/distract themselves with/use an inert object. They are not being paid to be used. I cannot see the correlation.

    “You responded to my point about the freedom to make moral (adult) decisions with a paragraph about teenage prostitution.”
    Indeed, because the adult prostitute is, as the stats show, most likely to have begun that life *as a child*.

    “I’d start off with the observation that if all exercising of sexuality is seen in a dim light, every sexual act involving a man can be rendered as a statement of power, every act perpetrated by a thug who “fucks” rather than as a complex individual who participates in mutual enjoyment. Every sexual encounter then, paid or otherwise, becomes coarsened”
    This is such an extreme view, mainly held, I believe, by people who have been extremely abused. It bears no relevance to the facts about the dangers, emotional and physical, inherent in prostitution. Nor, although I know you were not trying to, does it take into account the experiences of male prostitutes (see for example the Irish study linked to above) or the drivers which led them into those lives.

    “The statistics you cite about SWs with an abusive pimp, or who work in unsafe conditions, or who have complex psychological problems as a result of childhood sexual abuse, result from a mix of poverty and the criminalisation of the trade. Both the poverty and the criminalisation thus need to be removed.”

    Of course, to the last sentence. What I think you also need to address is that, as just about every study shows, poverty and abuse are overwhelmingly the driving factors behind people entering prostitution, not a side issue. This is nothing to do with presenting ‘women’ as ‘victims’. Far too often, people in prostitution have been victims, and go on to be victims. Users of prostitution are entering a dark world in which the conditions for most are not just ‘unsafe’ but violent, abusive and above-averagely lethal, a world which mimics and expands on the experiences of the person as a child, in fact.

    Of course, if users can afford to pay for an escort, rather than a street prostitute, they will get a satisfyingly shiny exterior as a result. What lies underneath is another matter. The nature of the job is to prevent the user from finding out, and for the user to ensure they do not have to find out.

    I agree with Paglia about the tender nature of male sexuality. I’m sure that there’s a cost, and not just a financial one, for the user too.

  • technicolour

    (NB: Jon – “complex psychological problems as a result of childhood sexual abuse” – of course not necessarily anything to do with poverty)

    Glenn: interesting, quickly
    a) do you think the word ‘star’ as in ‘porn star’ might have something to do with the role’s popularity? Ditto the perceivedly glamorous presence of cameras, film crews etc?
    b) Page 3: As far as I remember, Sam Fox was happily chatting on a radio show until a caller rang up and asked her how she felt about the fact that a million boys had wanked off over her tits. She seemed upset. She then said something like “that wasn’t really me”. Otherwise, it’s usually, again, perceived to be a ‘star’ position, with individual recognition, good money and no real bodily contact, which might help.

  • technicolour

    “the lack of testimony to this effect”

    er, quick look

    http://www.antipornography.org/harm_stories.html

    http://survivingprostitutionandaddiction.blogspot.ie/2012/05/damaged-lives-hidden-cost-of.html

    “There’s going to be a whole army of women out there who have had the experience of having their heads flushed down toilets as entertainment, being strangled as entertainment, being double penetrated and throat fucked ‘til they throw up as entertainment. These are women who found themselves caught up in something beyond their control, the sex industry, where the person who’s meant to be on their side, their ‘agent’ (best case scenario – or pimp), pushes and pushes and pushes them to ever more painful and degrading acts in the pursuit of money. Hard to see a human being when you have dollar signs in your eyes. These are vulnerable women, often women with histories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, psychological abuse, with mental health problems, financial problems.”

    http://purposefullyscarred.com/2012/12/10/porn-addiction-annes-story/

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10862915/Watching-pornography-damages-mens-brains.html

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tech-support/201407/what-porn-does-intimacy

    and more and more…

  • glenn

    Technicolor: Not wishing to invoke the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but I don’t regard the sort of thing you mention as legitimate porn at all. Curiously enough, the biggest market for that sort of abusive filth you mentioned is in the “Bible Belt” area of the US mid-west, strong Republican Bible-thumping evangelicals every one of them.

    It’s basically entertainment for men that hate women, and made by barely house-trained rapists. I’m talking only about the mainstream stuff, nothing abusive. There will always be extremes – just bring up the subject of films, and suggest they can be good fun and intellectually stimulating, and you might have someone counter with examples of the horrors produced by IS. That filth which glorifies itself with the term “porn” didn’t actually cross my mind in the discussion above.

  • me

    What is the moral difference between cooking someone a pizza and giving them an orgasm?

    Shallow question – sorry. What do you mean by “moral”? The customs of the time? Who’s said there is a “moral” diference anyway?

    The two activities always occur in contexts of specific social relations and individual interactions – and in the case of prostitution, one of the social relations is monetary.

    You might as well ask “what’s the difference between working in a library lending out books for people to enjoy (because it’s a job and you get paid for it and you need money to live) -and lying there while a paying client shags you up the arse (because it’s a job and you get paid for it and you need money to live)?” There are similarities, for sure, but there are big differences – and argument doesn’t need to be so cheap.

  • Jon

    Welcome comrade Glenn! Good to see you here. I’m fairly liberal on pornography – I think a feminist perspective can be had on this topic, and it runs similarly to my arguments about prostitution. There’s a balance to be had between being libertarian enough for producers and consumers to make their own choices, and to protect against the worst damage the industry does, and to recognise perhaps that a regulatory framework is better than pushing things underground.

    Technicolour, I’ll clear up some new misunderstandings, and then proceed to a main response. Firstly, in relation to my comparison about risky activities, you said “The [smokers and bungy jumpers] are not being paid to be used”. Let me leave aside the characterisation of “being used” (I object to this generalisation, and I’ll return to this later). I agree the smokers are not being paid but the comparison I +was+ making seems to have been missed, and it was this: the smoker smokes despite knowing about the risk of cancer, and the SW undertakes sex work despite the risk of PTSD. I’ve set out my belief that where people can make their own moral choices, we must let them. What is the alternative?

    Of course we’ve established in this debate – and agreed – that an SW may be coerced into sex work in a way that the smoker/drinker generally is not. I’ve already said I’m not in favour of this, but I wonder if this needs more treatment? I’ll return to this later also.

    When I found and read my “happy SW” link, I thought the Madeline Albright quotation – she who voiced approvals about the murderous effects of American sanctions on Iraqi civilians – was intended to be ironic. Having read it again, I am not so sure – but either way, I don’t think the writer is significantly tainted by it. But, you didn’t find her very happy, well, fine: we disagree. I thought she sounded angry, as she might well be – her understanding is that women who ought to be supporting her are either slut-shaming her or attempting to use the legal system to restrict her sexual liberty. I think she is within her rights to object, and she seems to be doing that very effectively. Anyway, whether she is happy in the sense of skipping slow-mo through the daisies is not really the point: she is proud of her “whore” history (her word) and she is fighting to keep that space open for other people. Thus, in my opinion, she fits a reasonable definition of “happy SW” for the purposes of this discussion.

    Now, to my main point, where I want to address this opinion:

    [The SW] while working, is bought and used for the client’s sexual gratification. Their own [gratification] has nothing to do with it. That is the job. It is not … a brief and enjoyable distraction, or celebration, or whatever. It is the job. Part of the payment, by tacit agreement, is for the prostitute to disappear afterwards, to not be a person, to not enter the client’s ‘real’ life. It is transforming sex from many possible things into one thing: a depersonalised, dehumanised, deadened commercial transaction. It generally bears as much resemblance to the power of female sexuality, or any sexuality, as a McDonalds to a cow.

    I specifically refer to this as an opinion because that’s what it is. It is as negative and depressing as your earlier statements were coarse and shaming, and I think this represents the core of our unavoidable disagreement. Of course, it goes without saying that prostitution is a temporary sexual arrangement, but then so are affairs and one-night stands. A commercial transaction occurs when someone buys food, or gets their hair cut, or receives a massage – and shopkeepers, hairdressers and masseurs do not feel rejected when the customer wishes to leave the premises without them. Money is the practical means by which a prostitute maintains his or her ability to conduct sex work without a separate form of income, but it does not necessarily acquire a magical ability to turn everything to dead and dust.

    Allow me here a small, but relevant, digression. I have sometimes privately wondered whether some modern approaches to sexual assault have the (entirely unintended) affect of making recovery longer, or less likely, for survivors. I don’t normally discuss this, since rape is a serious crime and must not in any way be diminished, and I fully acknowledge that men such as myself are significantly less at risk of it than women. Nevertheless, sex crime has acquired tones of almost religious significance in which victims can accidentally be stamped with social, legal and medical labels that robs them of a future life, or indeed the right to one.

    This phenomenon is exemplified by an old acquaintance who did some volunteer work with children with histories of serious sexual abuse. Years ago I was horrified to hear her say to me, in a confiding voice, that they would never recover from their ordeals. Perhaps that was a medical certainty, I don’t know – she certainly was not a doctor – but I wondered at the time whether the subsequent care those children received would always be guided by the principle that they’re beyond repair, and that all interactions they had encouraged a worsening of their PTSD or gave rise to more significant split personality disorders. They had certainly been through hell, but I wasn’t sure they weren’t being relegated to it either. She wanted to help, but it sounded like my friend wasn’t helping.

    The purpose of these minor asides is to illustrate my view that the approach you are taking is in danger of making the same mistakes. Now, I am not a psychologist, so it is within the realms of possibility that injecting hard and unforgiving sex-negative memes into our shared cultural space may not have a significant destructive mental impact upon people within it (sex workers in particular). However – and I say this whilst fully believing you mean well and are acting with the best of intentions – I would invite you to consider that the opposite may be true too. Indeed, how does our society escape from its historical Puritanical shame if more people – on the Left, even! – are mass-producing more of it?

    In my last post I wanted to return to something else from Paglia, and it’s relevant that I do that here. I’m in danger of over-using a single source, but her point about perpetual victim-hood is so apposite I think it’s important to quote it. She is referring to a Columbia University student who carried a mattress around for a whole year as an artistic representation of her claim that she was raped at the university:

    Perpetually lugging around your bad memories – never evolving or moving on! It’s like a parody of the worst aspects of that kind of grievance-oriented feminism. [In my feminism] you remain vigilant, learn how to defend yourself, and take responsibility for the choices you make. If something bad happens, you learn from it. You become stronger and move on. Columbia, one of the great Ivy League schools with a tremendous history of scholarship, utterly disgraced itself in how it handled that case. It enabled this protracted masochistic exercise where a young woman trapped herself in her own bad memories and publicly labeled herself as a victim, which will now be her identity forever. This isn’t feminism – which should empower women, not cripple them.

    Now, I’ve probably set out a stall which sounds inflexible – perhaps we both have! – but there are in fact areas I am not sure of. I referred to one earlier: if prostitution is to be legalised and regulated, how does one identify and rescue the SWs who are at risk of psychological damage? I think you and I would both regard victims of childhood sexual abuse as being in that category, so how can they be stopped from entering a trade that might complicate their mental health issues? I covered a few items in my previous post: a strong welfare state, a free health system, and a local intervention team that can reach out as necessary. Moreover, how can the state do this with kindness and not authoritarianism?

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Carelessness…That’s like saying if someone loses a chess game they must have played very weakly. But maybe the opponent played strongly? (N)

    I’d say a married man, ex-chair of the Lords privileges and standards committee, allowing himself to be filmed by commercial sex workers while inhaling white powder and wearing a bra, etc, etc, is displaying idiocy for which the rules of chess make no adequate allowance.

    He may have thought he was safe. This is a man who would convince himself Bb5 was g3.

  • John Spencer-Davis

    Jon
    12:20pm

    “Years ago I was horrified to hear her say to me, in a confiding voice, that they would never recover from their ordeals.”

    That may be what your acquaintance said to you, but if she had any sense at all it’s not what she will have said to them.

    “I wondered at the time whether the subsequent care those children received would always be guided by the principle that they’re beyond repair”

    I certainly hope not. The whole raison d’être of therapy is that no human being is beyond repair. The repair may only be partial, or fractional. You do what you can. Therapists are, or should be, very attentive to the dangers you suggest, such as dependence, or victimhood.

    “Get over it”, however, is not often a fruitful approach.

    Kind regards,

    John

  • Jon

    John Spencer-Davis, thanks.

    Yes, I didn’t mean that abuse survivors were literally being told they’re being written off – I just have a worry that the subconscious nudges that arise from legal, social, charitable and medical interventions run the risk of pushing vulnerable people into that assumption. It’s a broad worry, admittedly, and I’m not qualified to make a professional statement upon it.

    Of course, the alternative of dismissing the impact of abuse would be devastating. It must be very hard to know how to strike the right balance. The worry I had with my acquaintance was that she did not reflect the stubborn optimism you rightly state is part of the therapeutic approach.

  • John Spencer-Davis

    Jon
    10:37pm

    Your concerns are perfectly legitimate ones, and it is the responsibility of people professionally concerned with the welfare of the abused and the vulnerable to have them at the front of the mind.

    Kind regards,

    John

  • technicolour

    Jon: I’m baffled. I don’t see this as a moral issue. I don’t see this as a feminist issue. I see this as a human issue.

    “negative and depressing as your earlier statements were coarse and shaming”

    I see nothing shameful in choosing to work as a prostitute. I see nothing shameful in being forced, coerced or trapped into it, either. This is not about shame.

    It is about an industry which investigations and research over decades show is largely violent, dangerous and abusive. And which is built on previous violence and poverty and abuse. If you find that negative and depressing, it is.

    And it is a global picture, as well as the picture here in the UK. How it can be compared to hairdressing defeats me.

    As for ‘coarse’; come on. Orifices? That’s not coarse. Nor, even, is ‘someone shagging you up the arse’ – ‘Me’s’ phrase, above. They are common realities.

    “Of course, it goes without saying that prostitution is a temporary sexual arrangement, but then so are affairs and one-night stands”. No-one is officially entering a one-sided contract to perform to the other person’s sexual demands in either of those examples. Can you not see the difference?

    “A commercial transaction occurs when someone buys food, or gets their hair cut” Do you think that sex (orifices and all) is like buying food, or getting a haircut? Secondly, are people excessively at risk from abuse, rape, physical abuse and emotional trauma in those cases?

    You say you’d like to stop people who’ve been abused in childhood from going on to be ‘sex-workers’ – well, that’s nice, but it’s not going to happen. If, in an alternate reality, it did, who would fill in for them? They’d leave a huge gap in the market.

    So actually, we come back to the user. About whom there’s been very little in this discussion, except for the open letter I posted. And while I know there are anxious, needy, insecure, unfulfilled users who are prepared to pay anyone anything to be accepted sexually, even if it’s all a commercial fiction, the more you look at this industry the more you realise they must be monumentally self-obsessed (which is probably what’s blocking them from finding fulfillment with someone who isn’t actually looking at their watch and waiting for the next user.) Because who would take the chance that the person they’re imagining is the solution to their orgasm problem isn’t actually in a desperate situation sparked by a violent and abusive childhood, or poverty, or both, but actually wants to be there with them, doing whatever? Only someone who isn’t allowing themselves to care.

    Agree again with Paglia (and JSD above).

  • glenn

    Technicolour: Fascinating perspectives, as always. What do we do about it, though? We can analyse and tut about the base motives about the users of SWs. This isn’t called the oldest profession for nothing, though – tutting isn’t going to make it go away. Nor are harsh legal penalties. Like drugs, like porn, they are an omnipresent fact of society.

    Life, and professions employing large numbers of people, are not just about cutting hair or making pizzas, of course. Some professions actually employ people to kill, design weapons that kill, order people to kill, and train rigorously to that end. It’s a rather big industry in this country. One that is honoured, despite no actual survival necessity to do so on behalf of the rest of us – it’s just a profession in the most part – killing strangers who have never done you harm, nor made any threat. It’s just your chosen job to be in the armed forces, or the service industries providing them with weapons. Or advising how to kill and disable, and demoralise others, with the greatest efficiency.

    Such people are occasionally rewarded with honours, and riches. More often, they are forgotten and sometimes left to their own devices, and confusion and misery – sink or swim on Civvy Street. But Officially, they are all Heroes – every one. Having sex with some stranger, on the other hand, gets a collective frown from society – most particularly if material gain is involved. If it is for nothing _but_ immediate financial gain, an entirely up-front transaction, all parties involved garner very little general sympathy.

    Given this, should we not make sex workers’ occupation (for themselves and their clients) as legally non-challenging and as safe as possible?

    The ‘safe’ aspect needs no explanation. In terms of legality, why would having a bad legal rap improve matters? It certainly will not add to the future employment prospects of the SW. It will not make the punter want to do anything but employ services as anonymously as possible, and that increases the danger to the SW, because deviants always want anonymity. Make excessively furtive arrangements the standard, because of the law, and the deviants will melt in, instead of standing out.

    Do you have a solution, or a way for improvement? With respect, all I’m seeing at the moment is condemnation of the punters as being pathetic at best, and the portrayal of SWs as being mostly victims. This does not seem to be in the least bit helpful.

  • technicolour

    Glenn: as I’ve said several times, I think the urgent need is for decriminalisation. I quite agree with you about the inhumanity (and illogicality) of criminalising already vulnerable people. I’m not sure I’d trust the British state to control it through legalisation, personally, but could be wrong. Former workers, like the writer of the open letter, above, argue for the Nordic model: “a human rights and gender equality-based approach also known as the ‘Swedish model’. This set of laws and policies penalizes the demand for commercial sex while decriminalizing individuals in prostitution and providing them with support services, including help for those who wish to exit prostitution. The Nordic model has two main goals: to curb the demand for commercial sex that fuels sex trafficking, and promote equality between men and women. It is based on an approach first adopted in Sweden in 1999, and followed by Norway and Iceland.”

    I think, laws aside, it’s about understanding. I tried to understand why a normally humane person (male or female) would feel justified in paying someone, no matter how potentially vulnerable, for their own sexual gratification. Subsequently found an interesting piece in the New Statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2014/11/invisible-subjects-men-who-fuel-demand-prostitution

    “Tutting isn’t going to make it go away”. I’m not tutting. Nor am I touting it as some kind of pseudo-feminist empowerment kick. One can respect, or simply not judge, or support, people without doing either.

    The people who make me most concerned are actually the ones who sucker other people into this game; although they are generally men, the last two I met have both been women. One, unlike the women she lived off, was very rich, and doubtless went to the best parties; the other was a 17 year old schoolgirl who was running, by bullying, other boys and girls. She had massive problems of her own, of course. Meanwhile, the idea of any of the other young (or older) people I know, male or female, who have so far managed to avoid ‘sex work’ being in the position where a round with Sewell and his ilk would not only be a possibility but a positive (ie better paid) compared to street work is not a happy thought, for me.

    What do we do about it? Jon’s solutions – remove poverty, ensure equality of opportunity – are as always humane and sensible. But what do we do about it until that happens? Again, it’s a long haul. I think there’s nowhere near enough talk in our society – either in films, books, or families – about the potential joys and pleasure of mutually desired sex. So I end up agreeing with Jon, except from a different perspective. If people were encouraged to value and nurture themselves and their bodies and their warmest desires, and to extend the same consideration to others, the demand for paid sex would, I think, become an increasingly old-fashioned and curious one. It is, I think, largely a sad product of fear, shame and repression, on the part of the user, and inequality, poverty and desperation on the part of the people they’re paying.

    This looks like a good book:
    “Based on the assumption that one cannot understand prostitution without first understanding the role of women in society, this volume is the first comprehensive treatment of the historical, sociological, and anthropological background of prosititution. The authors expose the inextricable interweaving of scores of cultural dilemmas: women as property, pornography and the fear of sexuality, religion and promiscuity, sex and social class, and the control of venereal disease.
    Women and Prostitution conveys the tragedy and humor, the fortitude and cunning, the veniality and generosity, the real and counterfeit sensuality, and the hypocrisy and pathos that surround the lives of prostitutes. The beautiful, the powerful, the talented, and the most outrageous are here: Lais, Tamar, Pompadour, Du Barry, Emma Hamilton, Lola Montez and Calamity Jane. But in addition to these tales of the illustrious, these pages are filled with the experiences of the anonymous and the abused.” http://www.amazon.com/Women-Prostitution-Concepts-Human-Sexuality/dp/0879753722

    Btw your comparison with the army occurred to me too, although I left it out because I’m finding analogies largely confusing, rather than illuminating, in this case. I share your concerns about the death industries, of course, and the consequences for the people in them, and recognise the similarities.

    Right, I’m going to have to stop, before I write a book. Sorry for length.

  • Jon

    Thanks for your reply, Tech, and apologies for the delay – it takes me a while to formulate a reply in my head!

    We remain agreed on wanting to uphold human rights in the best fashion possible for as many people as possible, but disagree on the approach to get us there. I guessed from your earlier posts that you would be in favour of criminalising demand, and I think that may be counterproductive in practical as well as ethical terms. Amnesty is presently mulling support for decriminalisation of sex work as an official policy position, and in response a number of Hollywood celebrities have been trying to encourage Amnesty to back the Nordic model instead. The comments are worth a read – both for and against – and feature some SWs angry that non-SWs and ex-SWs are speaking on their behalf.

    You clearly mean well, but decriminalising sex work whilst criminalising demand is a contradiction in terms: it simply shifts the criminality from one side to the other. This is another way of moving it underground, or helping to keep it there, which I think we agree is a bad thing. Here is a relevant comment from the above link:

    As has been pointed out time and again, the so-called “Nordic model” described above is absolutely not a decriminalization model, and it is propagandistic to push it as such. It is simply an alternate criminalization model, one that indirectly rather than directly criminalizes sex workers, in effect, little different from existing laws in countries like the UK … that theoretically decriminalize sex workers, but in practice criminalize all other aspects of the enterprise they are engaged in. In Sweden and Norway, such laws have succeeded in doing little other than driving the trade even further underground and further compromised the safety of those actively working in the sex trade.

    From another comment:

    On the contrary, sex workers in both Sweden and Norway attest that it is difficult to turn to the police under the current legislation. This is in part because of increased stigma. But it is also because of the potential consequences of the police knowing that you are a sex worker. The police in Sweden are not shy to explain that their policing practices include seeking out sex workers – at home or elsewhere – in order to catch their clients. There are also reports from Sweden of the police forcing landlords to evict sex workers, or else face potential brothel-keeping charges.

    From a current sex-worker:

    Current sex workers – the people are are most impacted by criminalization, want decriminalization NOW! We make our incomes from clients, so of course we don’t want them charged criminally either.

    And yet another comment:

    [In the Dominican Republic, where sex work is fully decriminalised] all clients have to present their passport to be photocopied; there is an alarm button in all rooms to call security; and there is a driver to take and pick up workers from outcalls, which has its supervision purposes but also helps ensure worker safety. This is what full decriminalization can look like. The photocopying of the passport is a pretty key deterrent for abusive behavior, and that is something impossible under john criminalization schemes like the Nordic model. Not to mention removing police, the primary perpetrators of abuse and assault against sex workers, from the picture.

    I could cherry-pick replies all day, but you get the picture. I don’t know much about the impact of the schemes in Norway and Sweden, but I don’t think it’s a particularly wild guess that both sides of the debate will have compiled volumes of “evidence” from those countries that supports their opinion! It would certainly be interesting to look into it (and I’m open to links if you think they’re even-handed).

    Some replies to points you made:

    “Sex work can be violent, dangerous and abusive” – yes, I don’t think this is in contention. “Are people excessively at risk from abuse, rape, physical abuse and emotional trauma in [shopkeeping and hairdressing]?” Again, I acknowledge the dangers of sex work as it stands, but I see these harms to health as a side-effect of criminalisation, and not inherent in sex work. Really, we’re discussing how to minimise this, and in that regard we’re aiming for the same thing.

    “Do you think that sex … is like buying food, or getting a haircut?” and “Can you not see the difference [between sex work and non-paid temporary sexual arrangements]?”. I feel I’ve caused you some frustration here, which was not my intention. In the sense that two things are different, and thus have differences, of course sex work and affairs are different. I have made quite a few statements on how they are similar and how they are different. Here are some of my comments again:

    I don’t agree that sex work is just like any other job, but it is from the perspective of workers’ rights.

    A commercial transaction occurs when someone buys food, or gets their hair cut, or receives a massage – and shopkeepers, hairdressers and masseurs do not feel rejected when the customer wishes to leave the premises without them.

    The second point probably merits some expansion. The view I was responding to, which you’ve now reiterated, was that the sex work contract becomes “one-sided” because of the presence of payment. I have disagreed that money has a magical ability to create exploitation, and that remains my opinion. An exploitative situation in sex work is where the SW experiences coercion of some kind. The money +may+ be coercive but, since it is not +always+ coercive, it cannot be inherently so.

    I come back (again, and again, and again) to the SWs who choose sex work of their own free will: their service requires payment in order to allow them to carry on doing their work. As I have already said, if they were not paid, they would be forced to quit the work they enjoy and to take up something else which they resent. You’re focussing too much on “the client’s right to buy” – I don’t think that exists incidentally – and ignoring “the worker’s right to sell”. The core balance – which the author of the above article recognises – is whether people have a right over their own body:

    For those who care about bodily autonomy and choice, decriminalization recognizes that individuals deserve to make personal decisions about their own bodies without overbearing interference from the state.

    Now, you may be of the view that the harm of sex work (perhaps including psychological harm to all parties in the most consenting of situations) is of greater magnitude than the liberty afforded to sex workers who wish to keep working. In other words, you would be happy to state that the denial of liberty in one area (freedom over one’s body) is worthwhile in order to foster a creation of liberty elsewhere (freedom from harm to health). I would respect that as a consistent policy position, even if I think weighing up these particular impacts is so subject to guesswork that it will always be fruitless. But to take this road, you must explicitly acknowledge that some sex workers are not coerced, and that you are seeking to deny them a freedom they are presently using. I think you should seek out their feedback too, which Amnesty is actually doing.

    I was quite interested to read your implied condemnation of m’learned Lord here:

    Meanwhile, the idea of any of the other young (or older) people I know, male or female, who have so far managed to avoid ‘sex work’ being in the position where a round with Sewell and his ilk would not only be a possibility but a positive (ie better paid) compared to street work is not a happy thought, for me.

    I think you believe that street work is problematic, and if so, I agree. But why is someone having sex with this man, paid or otherwise, an negative thought for you? I am in a good position of never having heard of him before, so I have no reason to rush to reflexive judgement. Perhaps he is, or was, trapped in an unhappy marriage? I do not think it is good to be dishonest with one’s life partner, but I also think people have a biological need to feel loved, physically as well as emotionally. What part of that makes you unhappy? Indeed, what is the “ilk” of this particular client? Loneliness, possibly? I imagine this happens to wealthy and powerful people too (I am neither wealthy nor powerful, but I think it’s a good guess).

    Is he ugly? If so, we are in philosophical territory. If there is a biological need to experience touch and sexuality, but a particular person is regarded as physically unattractive, is the least harmful approach to let them suffer? (I accept the answer may be “yes”, but I do think the question should be asked).

    We are in agreement that the psychological health of the SW must be protected, but we disagree about the client. He – it is usually a man – is as worthy of human rights as the sex worker, but it’s difficult to hear you believe that quite as powerfully, when you write this:

    So actually, we come back to the user. About whom there’s been very little in this discussion, except for the open letter I posted. And while I know there are anxious, needy, insecure, unfulfilled users who are prepared to pay anyone anything to be accepted sexually, even if it’s all a commercial fiction, the more you look at this industry the more you realise they must be monumentally self-obsessed … Because who would take the chance that the person they’re imagining is the solution to their orgasm problem isn’t actually in a desperate situation sparked by a violent and abusive childhood, or poverty, or both, but actually wants to be there with them, doing whatever? Only someone who isn’t allowing themselves to care.

    Oh dear! The client, who I argue is experiencing the human condition just as much as anyone else, is “monumentally self-obsessed”, and “isn’t allowing themselves to care”. Are they stupid too, perhaps, fooled as they are by “commercial fiction”? For me to call these labels uncharitable would be stretching euphemism to its breaking point – and you want to slap a criminal record on top, with all the risk that might cause to exposure and family breakdown. I don’t know, Tech, I imagine clients come in all shapes and sizes, from the downright abusive to the downright lovely. I was on Twitter searching for some happy SWs for you last week, and found (another) happy SW who posted a note about a client who had to cancel, and by way of apology, the client had made a donation to her favourite sex-worker empowerment organisation. It was an “aww” moment for the SW – is that not nice? Are her choices just false consciousness, then?

    I appreciate the point of the Nordic model is to try to lead society to greater gender equality (for what it’s worth, I am in favour of gender equality as a guiding ideal in its own right). It is possible that in this promised land, there is no sex work since there is no demand for it, and there is no demand because everyone has found their own sexual path. But, for whatever reasons, society is not there yet, and the “sexual gap” that creates demand for sex work should be regarded a psychological malady in its own right. Banning the limited ameliorations for that health issue in furtherance of a gender equality ideal may make as much sense as banning the welfare state on the basis that it props up capitalism and delays the socialist revolution. Thus, it’s a good idea in theory, and a cruelty in practice.

    We’ve probably come full-circle in this discussion, which is that we (mostly) agree on the nature of the problem, but that we would tackle it in different ways. We have different influences: you’ve friends who need to leave sex work, and it is laudable that you’re helping them do that. My position is in having witnessed the corrosive power of shame in a religious context – and we at honest disagreement about how much shame is at large in these debates – and that leads me to believe that condemnatory perspectives are incompatible with society wending its way to a more sex-positive understanding.

    Thanks for your thoughts, again – my disagreement does not mean I am not chewing over it, and sparking new ponderings and considerations. And now, again, having wanted to write five paragraphs, I have responded with 30. Sorry!

  • technicolour

    Thanks Jon – been thinking about this too.

    Just a few points (!) – I need to go out for a bit:

    1) I’m not necessarily in favour of criminalising demand. I specifically said that the writer of the open letter I posted was campaigning for the Nordic model.

    2) Did you read the New Statesman piece about punters? Of course there are some ‘good’ punters out there, which is why I posted the open letter. The point is that even the ‘good’ punter has no idea how the person whose body they are buying (renting?) is actually feeling.

    3) Sewel’s attitude, words and tone of voice revealed him to be ugly *inside*, which is where it matters. (One example: he asks if there will be any “nice little young Asian women” at a party he’s discussing, before adding, “they sort of look innocent but you know they are whores.”) His general attitude towards women is repulsively insulting, patronising, and dismissive. It is not surprising, given that he is prepared to use them as play things.

    Nor is it surprising that his inner self has become like that. You say “I also think people have a biological need to feel loved, physically as well as emotionally” – exactly. So what does it do to you, to know that you are buying, at its best, a copy of that?

    4) “the “sexual gap” that creates demand for sex work should be regarded a psychological malady in its own right” – yep!

  • Paul

    George Monbiot made a very good argument that cocaine use should remain illegal some years back. His argument is essentially that, while a narcotic export is an illegal export in the country of origin, its production is going to cause a great deal of harm in that country – irrespective of the product’s legality where it is consumed. In fact, making consumption legal may make things worse: “Decriminalisation of the products of crime expands the market for this criminal trade.”

    Full article here:
    http://www.monbiot.com/2009/06/30/help-addicts-but-lock-up-the-casual-users-of-cocaine/

    I can’t currently see a fault in this particular argument.

  • Paul

    To clarify, I should have said “remain illegal in the UK given the current international regime re narcotics”. The rest of the article is even more interesting if you keep reading.

  • technicolour

    Jon – good comment in the Guardian, currently debating this

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/03/prostitution-sex-workers-amnesty-meryl-streep-lena-dunham

    “Gosh English people and sex … oil and water .. sorry to be flippant but being half German half English I have that cheeky side. In Germany the Sex trade is legal and we have male prostitutes (I prefer sex-workers) as well as women. And no not all of the are gay … they are called “Cavaliers” and they advertise for female patrons, there are women who want to pay for sex …
    Our sex industry is above board and open, we don’t see the sex trade as seedy with pimps and street lights (except by the Hauptbahnhof ) … there are many self-employed sex workers of both sexes some do it for fun and a bit of cash on the side . They have websites to swap sex for holidays, washing machines … They might want to explore a fantasy many young men advertise to sexually relieve older women and might want an IPAD … Im reading these comments about depraved men and women victims and Im sure it happens in the UK. It happens because you are sexually repressed and can only think through your Victorian sexual lens… ”

    And she continues

    “I have friends girls who get a kick out of being weekend escorts – they make money and have sex they see no problem, sometimes a poor client will have to be masturbated as they do not ‘click’ but really what is wrong with letting an older man see you naked touch you ? He may be a widower or very lonely … What is wrong with an older lady wanting a night of fun with a younger man ??
    Pay for sex has been described as the oldest profession – it can never be stopped by legislation. It is a human need to have sex and some people are not able to satisfy that need either inside a relationship or outside. We have couples who hire sex-workers .. I think all sex-work should be legal take it away from criminals …. I know in Germany we still have them but they are the minority in the UK it appears they are the majority … and Sweden .. well what the feck is wrong with buying sex if you are a 58 year old widow and want to feel flesh instead of plastic ??? go figure … And feminists .. well you can rent a girl if you want or take plastic …. prostitution is not a “man” thing – we all have the right if the price is right and the partner is willing …. take it away from criminals and put where it belongs like “Wellness” ….”

    Which, to be fair, sounds pretty reasonable. And, in contrast, there’s this:

    “And yet the argument that decriminalisation will make prostitution safe persists – in the UK, it’s policy for both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. What this “safety” for women would look like in practice is less discussed, but there is an example we can learn from just a few hundred miles away. Germany legalised prostitution in 2002, with the reasoning (as Nisha Lilia Diu reported for the Telegraph) that this would make prostitution “a job like any other”. Sex work as work, with contracts, benefits, workplace protections and none of the stigma that supporters of legalisation often claim is the ultimate source of harm to women in prostitution.

    The German experiment didn’t go as planned: women (often migrants looking to score fast profits and get out of the country again) didn’t register for benefits, and the brothels that sprang up didn’t want to offer any contracts or risk any liability. Instead, brothel owners function more like landlords, charging the same cover fee for men to enter their premises and for women to work there, meaning a woman in prostitution won’t even start to make money till her second or third punter of the night. And what does she have to do to make that money? This week, Channel 4 documentary The Mega Brothel went inside the Stuttgart branch of the Paradise chain (yes, brothels in Germany have chains, like fast food joints or high street clothes shops) and interviewed the women, the punters and the brothel owner.

    If you have any hopes that Paradise might be an Edenic scene of liberated sexuality, you should surrender them now. Early on, one of the punters explains his philosophy to the programme makers. “Sex is a service,” he says. “If you want to have good sex, you must pay good money for this service.” (The idea that “good sex” might involve respect, intimacy or mutuality has apparently not occurred to him: it is just a service, a thing performed by women for men, like doing the laundry or cleaning the house.) The interviewer asks a question: “What effect does that have on the girls themselves?” And the punter seems genuinely stumped. After a moment’s silence, he volunteers: “I don’t know, I never thought about it.”

    It seems that a lot of the men don’t think about what they’re doing to the women they pay to have sex with. When Josie, who works as a prostitute at Paradise, shares the contents of her bag with the camera, she’s offering a dreary inventory of pain – experienced, anticipated and avoided. “I have a vibrator… a small one because sometimes men can be a little bit too aggressive, a little rough,” she explains. A medicinal-looking tube turns out to contain genital anaesthetic: “It’s like a small insurance if the pain is getting too big,” she says.

    What kind of “work” can this be, where women have to numb their vaginas to tolerate penetration by men who don’t even think of the person penetrated as capable of feelings? Certainly not the kind of work that women are respected for doing. Michael Beretin, Paradise’s head of marketing, describes the women he lives off with maximal contempt: “These people are a totally fucked up, dysfunctional bunch of people. Very few of them have any soul left … It’s very sad but it’s what they are.”

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/if-you-think-decriminalisation-will-make-prostitution-safe-look-germanys-mega

  • John Spencer-Davis

    Paul
    6:35pm
    6:43pm

    Unless I am reading the article wrongly, Monbiot is arguing not that manufacture, possession and consumption should remain illegal but that it should be made legal on a global basis. He is arguing against a specific proposal for the legalisation of cocaine on a consumer basis while it remains illegal on a manufacturing basis. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    “We have a choice of two consistent policies. The first is to sustain global prohibition, while helping addicts and prosecuting casual users. This means that the drugs trade will remain the preserve of criminal gangs. It will keep spreading crime and instability around the world, and ensure that narcotics are still cut with contaminants. As Nick Davies argued during his investigation of drugs policy for the Guardian, major seizures raise the price of drugs(7). Demand among addicts is inelastic, so higher prices mean that they must find more money to buy them. The more drugs the police capture and destroy, the more robberies and muggings addicts will commit.

    The other possible policy is to legalise and regulate the global trade. This would undercut the criminal networks and guarantee unadulterated supplies to consumers. There might even be a market for certified fairtrade cocaine.”

    I strongly disagree with Monbiot, where he is appearing to argue for legalisation of manufacture and supply, if it remains in private hands. I desperately do not want to see the equivalent of Marlboro or Budweiser being created for cannabis, cocaine, heroin, et cetera. The reason for that, is that it is in the interest of Marlboro to get as many people smoking as possible, and in the interest of Budweiser to get as many people drinking as possible. I would like to see decriminalisation – internationally, certainly – coupled with a huge investment in harm minimisation. I see no alternative to state control of manufacture and supply.

    Kind regards,

    John

  • Jon

    Thanks for your thoughts Tech, all good – no time to read/digest/response now. Quickie though – I regret using the phrase “psychological malady” – that makes it sound like I am consigning clients to the madhouse, and I’ve been arguing consistently in the other direction. I meant here that whilst the “sexual gap” is not an ideal situation, the loneliness/isolation or whatever that gives rise to it must be considered with sensitivity, like depression. I read recently that loneliness is a killer phenomenon, quite literally, for a certain age group in the UK, and of course we treat people so affected with kindness, not condemnation. That was the approach I had in mind.

    I’ll get back to you in a couple of days when I’ve chomped on this.

  • Jon

    Also, didn’t know about Sewell’s attitudes about Asian women; yes, those comments are most unpleasant. I’ve not read anything on the web connected to this story, as I’m keen not to be part of various online publishers’ strategies to connect prurient curtain-twitchers to sex-scandal stories for the benefit of their advertisers.

  • Jon

    I’ll set out to write a shorter piece here, since I think I’ve said quite a lot already. Incidentally, apologies Tech for my misreading last week – I thought you were advocating for the Nordic model, whereas you were actually just wanting to introduce it into the conversation. Thanks for doing so; I do think it’s right that all views are considered.

    Whilst wondering what issues to mop up here, I found from the comments on your Guardian article a ding-dong on Twitter about the Amnesty issue – Laurie Penny on the one side, for sex work, and Julie Bindel and Rachel Moran against. And what a surprise, the Left finds itself in self-destruct mode again! The depressing exchange reminds me of my theory about the use of passive-aggressive language whilst pretending to be open to debate: make it highly emotionally damaging to interact, wait for your “cowardly” opponent to leave, and then claim a hollow win. (I don’t know whether this technique is always consciously deployed, but it is part of the reason why reading the comments at Craig’s site is so frequently frustrating – lots of petty point-scoring and rarely anything of substance).

    I have a couple of loosely connected thoughts about this topic, and they’ve not fitted into the general flow in prior posts, so I’ll pop them in here. By coincidence the above exchange touched upon it: Laurie Penny wanted to know whether her opponent was in favour of abortion. The implication for the reader, I think, is that her opponent is opposed to abortion rights, and thus it can be said that she is a feminist who is opposed to women having bodily autonomy in not one but two key areas. This idea occured to me before, though I don’t know how much the comparison holds: if we are pro-abortion on the basis that a woman is the sole arbiter of what happens to her body, is denying female agency in sex work compatible in policy terms? I’m minded to think it is not, but am interested in other views here.

    My other theme is not really connected to anything, probably because it is an idea that hasn’t fully germinated yet. But hey, anyone is welcome to sprinkle Miracle-Gro upon it, or throw it on the compost heap, as they so choose. On 27th July, in the comments here, a male commenter had this to say:

    A major part of the fun [of sex from a male perspective] is the ritual of conquest.

    I’ve been intrigued by this concept of masculine behaviour in the past; I’m not concentrating on the speaker here, but I do think the attitude is worth analysis. A feminist critique of sex work is that it represents the apotheosis of capitalist corruption, and that there is nothing too delicate that will not be rudely infected by the open market. But I can’t help feel the nature of competition (and its associated sexist objectification) has infected the proudly non-paid transaction above. Flattery and drinks and overcoming her sexual objections are the price, and getting laid is the product. I don’t know if the point here is that sexism affects things independently, and that we should oppose it wherever it occurs, or that the commodification of everything within capitalism is so endemic that men employ its seductive logic even when we’re consciously trying to be progressive.

    Perhaps related to my earlier post about the potency of religious shame, the Amnesty issue has got the Catholics generating another batch for true believers (or, well, for anyone who can be hooked in, really). Bless ’em, etc.

    I share the author’s worry about corporate commercialisation in your New Statesmen article, and Michael Beretin – the marketing manager of Paradise – sounds like a dreadful individual. I wonder if this is an argument for decriminalisation rather than legalisation? That way, large “conveyor belt” industries will not emerge. Or, if our increasingly corporate legislation permits it these days, it could be specifically set out in law that prostitution must be based on workers’ co-operatives, on the basis that excessive pimping creates a new source of exploitation. (The article covers this well, in relation to the sex workers who make a loss until they’ve seen three clients).

    I have to say I didn’t follow the writer’s logic when she asserts that “the regulars are the problem”, and then points out that a killer of prostitutes was a regular customer. She can’t mean that being a client gives one a taste for murder, can she? I think that analysis is hugely over-reaching, and needs a lot more justification.

    Summarising, I think the objections to Amnesty’s policy paper paper make some good points, but are not sufficient to discourage me from the view that two things are being ignored: (a) current sex workers’ views and (b) the practical difficulties created the Nordic model. Whilst considering these themes, I’ve also pondered on my source of potential bias: (a) my views on religious shame and how it promulgates in secular society, and (b) my gender. Trying to fit all the pieces of this brain puzzle together is satisfying, but still confusing!

  • technicolour

    Jon, almost (almost) as an aside, but moving things laterally a little: are you in favour of the right to *buy* sex? Do you think people have a right to buy sex?

    I’m not, I hasten to add, trying to pull a guilt one: would be interested and open-minded about your answer.

  • Jon

    Ooh hello Tech, was just about to sign off for the night. It’s a good question; I think I touched upon that in one of my pieces (detail can rather get lost in their length, I do admit). I said this:

    You’re focussing too much on “the client’s right to buy” – I don’t think that exists incidentally – and ignoring “the worker’s right to sell”

    What I had in mind here was that the sex worker (of either gender) has a right to sell, and ergo they have a right not to sell too. That was one of the things that struck me about the German conveyor-belt brothel – there’s an implicit expectation to have sex with every client that knocks on the door, and no easy way to turn them down (I guess they just drive up?). And the economic model adds another layer of pressure too, as I mentioned in my last post.

    The right to sell or not to sell, to my mind, is that the sex worker makes a decision as to whether he or she wishes to sell sexual services to the client, both when the client books – for those that do not see clients on demand – and also when they turn up. A client may be refused for being rude, drunk, under the influence of drugs, and so forth, or if they cannot string words together on the telephone.

    So from this view, I think it is sensible to assert that there is no right to buy, since a client can be turned down for any number of reasons. However, as with all the other things we’ve discussed, it probably varies along the scale – there are SWs who can afford to be choosy, and there are SWs who cannot. The job of progressives is to reduce the latter figure. (Last week I found a story about a SW who encountered a client who admitted to her he had an addiction to buying sex, and she sent him packing as a kindness).

    I do recognise that there are likely to be clients who insist on “the right to buy”, and I think that sort of excessively consumerist approach is problematic, and needs addressing. I wonder: if misogyny in this context can be cast as a masculine cognitive dissonance caused by the need for sexuality from an “inferior” gender to which such men feel sexually beholden, would removing the right to buy – an abolionist approach – help or hinder? One can argue it both ways, since the purchase of sexual services is either the cause of objectification, or the cure for sexual isolation, or perhaps both.

    (I might pop a couple of new thoughts soon, that are related to the broader theme, but that’ll do for now, and sleep very much calls. Relatively brief – not bad!)

  • katharine

    I have just had this box open. Have had no luck before in getting copies of this great blog sent to facebook. I agree with just about everything Craig writes. I was a former NATO/SACLANT wife back in the 1990s and became a bit of a whistleblower back then when I began to see some of the dreadful things our country was doing “abroad” under certain people in the State Department ( Armitage/ Negroponte and that crowd. Don’t think that Reagan had any idea about Gladio and the duo teams with the Sayeret Matkal in Special Operations, etc. Not a great way to “win friends and influence people” me thinks. I am a Virginian and feel as if Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson and even Nancy Langhorne Astor ( born in Virginia ) would be shocked, to say the least.

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