Friday the Thirteenth

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. – Thomas Paine

Every Friday the 13th I ask my readers, especially those who are not themselves sex workers, to speak out for decriminalization of prostitution.  This is the third such occasion this year, but it’s also the last one for 14 months (until September 2013), so I want to make it a good one.

Though roughly 10% of modern women have taken money for sex at least once, the great majority of such cases are informal and  the payer an acquaintance; only about 1% of women actually work as hookers at some point in their lives, and less than a third of that (just under 0.3%) are thus employed at any given time.  That’s a pitifully small minority, smaller even than the fraction of the population who identify as homosexual (which is between 2-3%); in a more just world even the smallest minority would be treated fairly, but since that isn’t the case in this one it’s imperative we have help from outside our own group.  Gay rights activists drew bisexuals and transgender people into a coalition, but even that would have been too small a minority to matter without the help of friends, family, libertarians and others.

Sex workers, on the other hand, have allowed our already-small numbers to be divided by laws which make arbitrary distinctions between “legal” sex work (such as stripping, phone sex and in some places porn acting) and “illegal” sex work (such as some forms of prostitution; in most of the US it’s all prostitution).  But even if strippers, porn actresses and the various types of what I call “halfway whores” rallied together, I still can’t imagine that making up over 10% of the female population.  As with gay rights, we’re going to need the help of friends, family, libertarians and even true feminists (as opposed to the anti-sex crowd I refer to as “neofeminists”).

Perhaps the most important group whose support needs to be enlisted is men, who make up roughly half the population but much more than half of people in positions of power.  Kinsey found that 69% of men have directly paid for sex at least once in their lives; some recent studies have returned much lower numbers, but this probably has much more to do with increased social stigma in the past three decades and the construction of the questions (e.g. “have you ever procured a prostitute?” vs. “have you ever paid for sex?”) than with the material facts.  Since roughly 67% of men have cheated on their wives or girlfriends, the 69% figure seems highly credible to me; it also jibes with my experience and that of other working girls with whom I’ve discussed the issue.  Of those, fewer than half repeat the experience, and less than a tenth make a habit of it; roughly 20% of all men hire hookers occasionally (such as when they’re at conferences or on business trips) and 6% do so frequently.

Even if we assume that the 50% of men who never see a whore again after their first time were repelled by the experience, that still leaves a fifth of the male population who secretly support us (at least financially).  So why don’t they speak up?  Why are there so few prominent men who are willing to even support our rights as an abstract concept, much less actually admit to enjoying our company on occasion?  Obviously it’s mostly due to the deep-rooted moral hypocrisy of our culture, whose members are willing to crucify exposed “sinners” for “offenses” they themselves have committed many times in secret.  But there’s also the fact that a large fraction of the 90% of women who have not taken direct payment for sex labor under all sorts of illusions and delusions about harlotry, and even a dedicated contrarian who will enthusiastically fly in the face of social institutions may be (understandably) unwilling to risk the disapproval or even outright hostility of his wife, mother, sisters, daughters, etc.

These factors and others were mentioned in a comment by regular reader B.B. Wye on a column I wrote about the difficulties of “Coming Out”; he pointed out that as hard as it is for prostitutes to be “out”, it may be even harder for our clients, especially with “end demand” rhetoric in the ascendancy.  Wye is a musician who expressed his feelings about his favorite type of whore in the song “Midtown Asian Sex Spa”, and in his comment he wrote of his desire to admit authorship of the song and to openly speak out for the rights of women who have given him a great deal of happiness and pleasure.  Another reader who felt the same way wrote to ask me for suggestions on how he could find a middle path, speaking out for sex worker rights without admitting his personal interest in us; here are a few suggestions for him, for B.B., for other clients faced with the same quandary, for working girls who can’t come out themselves, and for men and women who have never bought or sold sex, but just care about human rights.

If you’re generally libertarian or civil rights-oriented in your politics it’s easy; all you have to do is argue for decriminalization from a perspective of “people have the right to do what they like with their own bodies”.  As I’ve pointed out in the past, every court decision (including Roe vs. Wade) which upholds abortion rights also upholds the right to sex on one’s own terms, even if money is involved (abortion isn’t free, after all); ditto court decisions overturning sodomy laws like Lawrence vs. Texas.  And obviously, the arguments for drug decriminalization  also apply to prostitution.  If you’re an atheist or skeptic, that’s easy too; in addition to the arguments above you can make statements like “prostitution laws are based on religion and xenophobia, not facts” and “the sex trafficking hysteria is a moral panic like the Satanic Panic and the Red Scare”.

The harm reduction perspective is another good one, and is the approach generally favored by advocates who have a human rights background or strong religious affiliation (including some members of the Catholic clergy):  Prostitution has always been with us and we can’t make it go away with laws any more than the “Drug War” has made drugs go away.  All the Drug War has done is to subject innocent people to invasion of their privacy and make drug users vulnerable to impure drugs, not to mention all those caught in drug-related violence; similarly, anti-prostitution laws help nobody and force prostitutes into the shadows where they can be harmed and exploited.  Furthermore, many governments (including those of New Zealand, New South Wales  and Brazil) have recognized that illegal prostitution invariably leads to police corruption, just as alcohol Prohibition did and drug prohibition still does.

Finally, there’s the feminist approach:  why does society have the right to tell women they can’t make a living with their natural sex-based attributes when it allows men to do so with boxing, bodyguard work, etc?  Furthermore, laws against prostitution invariably subject women’s dress and mannerisms to police scrutiny; women are accused of prostitution for dressing sexily, acting sexily, carrying condoms in their purses, being in certain areas, not wearing underwear, etc.  This is “slut shaming” with criminal consequences.

Even if you are unable to speak out openly you can post anonymous comments on anti-whore articles online (with links to my site and those of other rights advocates), you can donate money to advocacy groups, and you can of course vote (though there are pitifully few chances to employ that strategy in the United States).  Even though any one person’s influence is small, lots of buckets eventually fill a pool.  Readers, we need your help and that of every good man and woman, and anything you can do will be gratefully appreciated.

(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan, where it appears as “The Last Thirteen for Fourteen”)

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48 Responses to “Friday the Thirteenth”

  1. #1 |  Mairead | 

    Finally, there’s the feminist approach: why does society have the right to tell women they can’t make a living with their natural sex-based attributes when it allows men to do so with boxing, bodyguard work, etc?

    Perhaps boxing should be disallowed too? (I can’t say anything about bodyguarding – as far as I know, women are just as capable of jumping in front of a bullet or knife as men are). I ask that almost-but-not-quite rhetorically.

    Back during the Second Wave 40-45 years ago, we used to half-joke that for some men, testosterone is toxic, causing, or at least contributing to, many destructive behaviors. In those men, and some women, it’s like alcohol in people for whom alcohol is toxic.

    Most ethical people would have a problem with some sharpie taking advantage of a physical adult who doesn’t function at an adult level. Men and women who get derailed by their “boy juice” aren’t functioning at an adult level any more than a alcohol-drunk is. Should women (or other men) have the legal right to exploit their disability? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s a real question.

    (I’ll point out that as a pro-social anarchist, I totally support the right of anyone to do anything they want to that doesn’t risk involving other living creatures involuntarily)

  2. #2 |  Gentry Semper Fi | 

    ok I’m a newb poster to this site and tend to have a Right Leaning Mentality, so I’m having a hard time following your line of logic, on what legalization of prostitution, abortion and the drug war have to do with Friday the 13th?? Firstly “People only have a right to do with their bodies, until it harms someone else” thus abortion should be illegal, “Every Soul, Embroyo, fetus or whatever you want to call it has a right to a birth / birthday!! and someone attempting to commit suicide that fails and harms someone else in the process has commtted a crime ie manslaughter, assault ect. even though its more likely a mental disorder (depression) that caused the action in the first place.. The war on drugs I’m not going to touch here at this time!! Now the heart of your issue instead of legalizing prostitution, would it not be better to first improve womens rights worldwide, get rid of the draconian islamic laws that keep women prisoners, let them dress the way they want, not be forced into sexual slave but rather chose that life style if they want.. I’m not sure many of the Korean Working Women I’ve known would have chosen that profession, but if they had rights they would have been able to keep more of their pay instead of paying a madam!!

  3. #3 |  Over the River | 

    This is excellent and I will be sure to post comments that highlight these issues.

  4. #4 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    I think America is the only country that dresses cops up in high heels and daisy duke shorts and busts guys who pull over to chat with them about a good time, when it was the undercover cop who initiated the sexy situation on an otherwise boring city corner…
    What a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money. And what the hell
    are they proving, anyway? That Uncle Sam is Superpimp?

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I tend to think that there was a growing sympathy for the legalization of prostitution not that long ago (70s and 80s, maybe early 90s), but I think the convolution of prostitution with human “trafficking” has paid off for the anti-prostitution movement in the sense that people now think twice before voicing support for legalized prostitution. The rescue industry along with the mainstream media, which enthusiastically propagates their sensationalism and fear, have been very effective at alienating anyone who openly advocates in favor or legal prostitution. The sentiment is that no woman would “sell themselves” voluntarily, so they are all victims and, if you’re for legalized prostitution, you must hate women.

    In my opinion, you don’t have to study the prohibitionist movement long before you notice the utter single-mindedness of their agenda, their lack of ethics, and the ruthlessness of their strategy. People who were once open to the idea of legal prostitution are now keeping their mouths shut. All issues in the U.S. are framed in terms of left and right, republican or democrat. Prostitution is opposed by both sides of that equation, so, to advocate for it is to immediately isolate yourself. Libertarians (among others) are often used to such isolation, but the vast majority of the public is not. Many may still favor legalizing it, but they’re keeping silent.

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #2 Gentry Semper Fi

    Now the heart of your issue instead of legalizing prostitution, would it not be better to first improve womens rights worldwide…

    Ah, the irony of criminalizing what women do while simultaneously claiming to favor improving women’s rights. Reminds me of George Carlin’s “fucking for virginity” or “fighting for peace”.

  7. #7 |  Over the River | 

    Putting my money where my mouth is, I have posted this on some of the sites I visit regularly.

    “Just a second to remind all, that sex workers are branded criminals because countries in which they work feel that prostitution, while a victimless “crime”, needs to have guilty parties. These “crimes” often involve consensual acts in which two or more persons agree to commit a criminal offence in which no other person is involved.

    The International Union of Sex Workers ( and the Sex Work Activists, Allies, and You ( are just two of the many organizations who support sex workers and their clients by providing support to these workers to bring about a change in attitudes, laws, and conditions.

    I support these organizations because I feel these women’s rights are threatened by outdated laws that do nothing but penalize persons, while serving no real benefit to society. I support all causes that promote, enforce, and monitor women’s rights.

    Thank you”

  8. #8 |  Chris C. | 

    I am one of the minority who has never paid for sex, formally or informally, unless you count marriage. ;-) I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for nearly 40 years, I’m an atheist and libertarian now, I was agnostic and a laissez-faire conservative 40 years ago. In addition to being in favor of total drug legalization, I have always favored legalization of so-called prostitution. Some of that is from my perspective of not caring what others do on “their own time and their own dime”, some from reading Heinlein, and some from believing that everyone has a talent of some kind and should be able to make a living from it. I’ve had many interesting conversations with opponents of freedom over the years, almost all of which boil down to “I don’t like it, so no one else should do it” and various flimsy justifications for that. It’s hard to argue with pure belief untainted with reason, but it can be fun pointing out their internal contradictions and logical end-games.

  9. #9 |  KristenS | 

    Yeah, you know, we poor, addled-headed dumb adult women can’t possibly enter in adult business transactions. We need other, more edumacated and asexual women and big, stwong men to tell us what to do. Thank you, elites, for looking out for my best interests, since I couldn’t possibly do or decide anything on my own!

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #8 KristenS

    Yeah, you know, we poor, addled-headed dumb adult women can’t possibly enter in adult business transactions.

    I have trouble understanding how the concept that women are equal to men and should have equal rights can coexist inside the same brain with the concept that women are perpetually victimized (whether they know it or not), are too timid to have a will of their own, and need to be protected from making the wrong decisions with special legislation.

    The only explanation that I can come up with is that there is a political agenda at work that has little to do with either concept.

  11. #11 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    George Carlin’s other prostitution classic:

    “Buying is legal.
    Fucking is legal.
    Why is buying fucking illegal?”

  12. #12 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Another thing I find irritating is the idea that the appeal of the profession has some bearing on whether it should be legalized. I hear it repeatedly said that no woman would be a prostitute if they had better options available. Well, duh! The same could be said for every profession on the planet and no one is talking about making them illegal.

  13. #13 |  dad29 | 

    Quoting almost any “statistic” from Kinsey is a virtual credibility-dismantler.

    I’m not taking a position on your cause with that observation; I’m just warning you that Kinsey ‘stats’ are sorta like DNC (or RNC) ‘stats.’

  14. #14 |  Big A | 

    #11- Dave Krueger- Similar also to low paying jobs/ raising the minimum wage. I would never work for that pay = no one else gets to either.

  15. #15 |  MH | 

    Dave makes some salient points about the efficacy of victimhood arguments in swaying public opinion in favor of criminalization. Both in terms of arguing against the drug war and in arguing against prostitution laws, it will be essential to convince the public that it is criminalization (giving rise to black markets) that is the ultimate problem.

  16. #16 |  Aresen | 

    @ Gentry Semper Fi | July 13th, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Now the heart of your issue instead of legalizing prostitution, would it not be better to first improve womens rights worldwide…

    If the experience of the last 50 years teaches us anything, it is that we can do damned little to improve the rights of anyone in other countries.

    Far better to work on what we can do at home, and WRT women’s rights, the very best thing we can do is to accept that women have the right to decide for themselves what they do with their own body, mind and soul.

  17. #17 |  Fay | 

    For me, the black market argument is what resonates best. I’m personally quite… confused / repelled by the idea of prostitution, but believe that most of its danger stems from its illegality… just like drugs, just like abortion in places where it’s illegal, etc. I’ve used the argument quite successfully a few times about abortion: if you criminalize something that is part of human nature (and really, there’s almost nothing more natural than prostitution, whether I like it or not), then you create a black market for that thing that is a LOT more dangerous than the actual thing.

    I find the feminist / freedom / bodyguard-boxing comparison line of thinking really interesting, as well. Thanks!

  18. #18 |  Leland D. Davis | 

    The author assumes that the percentage of men who have used prostitutes must be the same, and any apparent decrease in the numbers is dues to “stigma”. Actually, one of the side effects of contraception and the “sexual revolution” is that there is not as much demand for prostitutes. When my father was a boy in Pocatello, there were known brothels in the seedy part of town. While it was illegal, there was an understanding that the law would not be rigorously enforced if they did not create problems for people. The same area now has bars, restaurants, and antique stores. Also, given the ability to obtain a willing girlfriend, among many men, there is a stigma, as in what kind of loser has to pay a woman to have sex?

  19. #19 |  Brandon | 

    Dave, Gentry Semper Fi is basically a right wing caricature who believes that his time in the Marines gives him the right to decide what rights other people should be allowed.

  20. #20 |  Sean L. | 

    Maggie, just so you know, we’re out there: I’m a man, married, never paid for sex, nor (probably) ever would, but I have argued very strongly in support of women’s right to choose their profession, even if others abhor it.

    My town has had a rash of ‘massage’ businesses, a few of which have been identified as fronts for prostitution. There is a Facebook page that some of our city council members read where I argued publicly about it. (I even got a few ‘likes’ for my posts, so I think at some level, people who understand logic and reason can get it.) Dave, I think you nailed it — being libertarian, I’m very used to arguing for extremely unpopular views, so standing up for this topic never bothered me.

    For others thinking about picking up the torch, taking woman’s rights and the ‘women aren’t stupid’ angles, along with agreeing that ANY type of force (trafficking, etc) is BAD helps make the case that you ACTUALLY care about women.

    But I think it’s just going to take a while to get over the puritanical culture in the US.

  21. #21 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The problem with the word “trafficking” is that everyone has a different definition of what it is. The rescue industry tends to define all prostitution as human trafficking (and thus, “slavery”), just like they define anyone who assists a prostitute (knowingly or not) as a pimp.

    I prefer to use the words coerced and voluntary. They aren’t problem-free, but it helps differentiate between an activity that is forced versus one that is consensual.

    For the record, I have yet to bump into an advocate of legalized prostitution who has ever argued that it should be legal to force women to have sex for money, so the idea that anti-prostitution crusaders are battling the forces of people who want to enslave women is utter bullshit (which fits in real well with their ends-justifies-the-means strategy).

  22. #22 |  ClubMedSux | 

    With respect to guys “coming out” and admitting the frequent sex workers: you still have to be careful when you admit that you watch porn, despite the fact that EVERYBODY knows EVERYBODY ELSE is doing it too. I think we’ve got a while to go before men will feel comfortable admitting they’ve paid for sex.

  23. #23 |  Chris | 

    People do far worse things for money than giving pleasure.

  24. #24 |  Robert | 

    As a note, your posts are causing some interesting ads to pop up on the websites main page.

  25. #25 |  En Passant | 

    I recall a local incident some years ago that might provide the kernel or schematic for an effective protest method.

    There was a street location in a small city downtown which became a popular place for streetwalkers to flag down motorists for dates. The local constabulary decided to place an unmarked car or an undercover agent there to transmit the license numbers of cars which stopped and picked up women. Further down the road, uniformed police would stop the car and arrest the occupants.

    This location just happened to be near several upscale high tech businesses. A woman employee patiently awaited the arrival of her husband to pick her up at the location at the end of her workday. She was dressed in business suit and carrying a briefcase. Husband arrived in an expensive car and pulled over. She got in. Down the road, uniformed officers duly arrested and cited them for soliciting, engaging services, etc.

    The local press screamed headlines. Courts dismissed the criminal case. There was talk of lawsuits, followed by stumbling non-apologies and CYA from officialdom with veiled warnings that good citizens should not even be seen near that location. This, of course, raised considerable public cognitive dissonance, “But I work there in a perfectly legitimate business, should they move too? Do you want to drive away the economic engine that built the local economy?”

    That police operation stopped, and has not been repeated in that municipality AFAIK.

    Two entirely legally innocent people inadvertently gave the “vice squad” a black eye; informed whatever public was willing to listen that such laws and enforcement were highly likely to ensnare innocents; and ended an utterly foolish “undercover operation”.

    A couple possible variants on this scenario that two courageous people might find useful:

    — Wives might regularly borrow a prostitute’s cellphone (if believed to be tapped) to call their husbands and discuss plans for the evening, being sure to include locations and discuss any gifts to be exchanged. Then be at the previously discussed locations, prepared for arrest. Having acquaintance of some local news reporters and high profile attorneys would maximize effectiveness.

    — Similar teams might meet in restaurants or other public accommodations under “vice squad” surveillance.

    But sufficiently prepared and inventive couples can likely think of even better scenarios. Think of it as “talk like a whore day”, analogous to “talk like a pirate day”.

    Arrgh, Mateys! Shiver their timbers!

  26. #26 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “I think we’ve got a while to go before men will feel comfortable admitting they’ve paid for sex…”

    Also for *companionship.* In Rio de Janeiro they go to the beach with you, dance with you, go to dinner with you. Not just the skeezy BJ from the 72 pound crackhead looking over her shoulder you find in the States.

  27. #27 |  MH | 

    @ En Passant, interesting, but this seems like reverse entrapment, tricking the officers into making an arrest that ends up embarrassing them and undermining support for policy. But I think it is likely to backfire when it is learned the “victims” intended to be arrested. In your first example there was a genuine abuse of power that affected innocents; people are not likely to react the same way to a contrived scenario.

  28. #28 |  Roland | 

    “But sufficiently prepared and inventive couples can likely think of even better scenarios. Think of it as “talk like a whore day”, analogous to “talk like a pirate day”.

    Or a pirate whore. That would be hot, especially if she had a whip.

    Arrgh, Mateys! Shiver their timbers!

    That’s what she said.


    Well, I support legalization because I *have* paid for the services of a good number of independent escorts carefully selected and vetted by reviewers (thank you, Internet), so I guess it’s a selfish choice for me. I can’t have normal relationships because my mind just doesn’t work correctly on that front. I just don’t get it, and after four decades, I pretty sure I never will. Kudos to the support from the family guys, and be glad you don’t have my dysfunctional brain.

  29. #29 |  The Late Andy Rooney | 

    Leland D. Davis (18): I think you’ve made an excellent point here; my impression has always been that in the good old days, any good-sized city in the U.S. had a de facto legal brothel; maybe the cops got kickbacks (or a freebie), but the place of business was allowed to operate with relatively little interference.

    It’s become class-based now; not so much in an economic sense, but in a “what kind of person has to pay for sex?” sense. The enthusiastic college football players paying a visit to the Chicken Ranch in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” have been replaced by the stutterring, socially awkward Pruitt Taylor Vince paying for a handjob in “Monster.” I obviously rely too heavily on movies for historical information, but it seems that at one time, engaging the services of a prostitute was something many respectable men were expected to do once in a while (or at least once in their lives). Now, like smoking, it’s become more associated with stigmatized groups, and people are far more comfortable coming down hard on it.

  30. #30 |  Personanongrata | 

    Let free and consenting adults be free and consenting adults.

  31. #31 |  Mairead | 

    @TLAR: It seems that at one time, engaging the services of a prostitute was something many respectable men were expected to do once in a while

    During that same period, the opportunities for women to have a life of our own choosing were few. All except marriage and prostitution required the appearance of chastity. Marriages required children, and the only acceptable marital sex was straight missionary position for procreation only. Men were presumed to have animal “needs” that no decent woman would consider trying to cater for. Women were expected to have no needs at all other than a responsible husband and a lot of children.

    Which is how brothels and prostitutes came into it: priest-driven societal lunacy.

    I’m old enough to remember, as a then-married woman with three kids, going into a pharmacy in the US to buy contraception and being told, with a hostile sneer, that they didn’t sell “anything like that”. Lunacy.

  32. #32 |  B.B. Wye | 

    Well, anyone check out the song?

  33. #33 |  Deoxy | 

    Funny thing: the 13th falls more often on Friday than any other day of the week – 1 extra time per thousand years, due to the specific way leap years, etc, fall.

    Nothing useful to add, just a funny bit of particularly trivial trivia.

  34. #34 |  Brandon | 

    “Let free and consenting adults be free and consenting adults.”

    This sums it up well enough that it deserved to be repeated.

  35. #35 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    The reason fewer men see whores now than in previous centuries is simple: many modern women are willing to give it away. However, that can involve all sorts of social and emotional entanglements a sensible man might wish to avoid. To those who said most clients of whores are members of stigmatized groups: You couldn’t possibly be more wrong. Escorts make up about 60% of hookers in Western nations, and the clients of the typical escort are a very typical subset of the male population. If I had to pick the four most common professions among my own clientele I would say lawyers, salesmen, engineers and medical doctors, in that order. Obviously more expensive girls would have a narrower client base and less expensive ones a far broader one, but I doubt you could name any profession (including clergyman) that I didn’t see as a client from time to time, money permitting of course.

    #28 – You asked for a pirate whore; voila!

  36. #36 |  Rojo | 

    Not that I have an audience beyond my friends and acquaintances down at the local bar, but you always had a vocal ally in the form of this particular left-libertarian (we exist!) atheist.

    Excellent post Maggie.

  37. #37 |  John Spragge | 

    No law should prevent consenting adults from having sex on terms they choose, whether or not those terms include an exchange of money or other items of value.

    I see no contradiction between that short and sweet statement of principle and the equally short,sweet and valid statement that anyone who forces another person to provide any services for money, including sexual services, has committed a grave crime and deserves to suffer the full weight of the law. Nor do I see any contradiction between the statement that consenting adults should face no impediments to their purchase or sale of sexual services, if they decide to do that, and the statement that anyone who has sex with people under the age of consent for money has committed a serious offence.

    In fact, it seems obvious to me that trying to outlaw sex work provides the best way to discourage sex workers from reporting coercion or other crimes of violence against them. Likewise, criminalizing the purchase of sexual services discourages people who might notice or know something about a crime against a sex worker from coming forward. So repealing laws against the purchase and sale of sexual services by consenting adults not only does not contradict the goal of protecting sex workers from crimes of violence, it actually serves that goal.

    So far, I suspect most of us agree, but that leads to a question: why spend time of efforts to attack concern about human trafficking as a so-called “moral panic”. If anyone uses a legitimate concern about crimes of violence as an excuse to try to criminalize the nonviolent sale or purchase of sexual services, surely it should suffice to point out that criminalizing sex work has not made the workers any safer. Arguing that estimates of violent crimes involving sex work may contain exaggerations has no relevance: any crime of violence against anyone, anywhere, calls for exposure and justice.

  38. #38 |  Mairead | 

    @JS :anyone who forces another person to provide any services for money, including sexual services, has committed a grave crime and deserves to suffer the full weight of the law

    How do you factor in the reality that certain people have less control over their own lives than other people have? And that “force” need not be brute force?

    As I noted in my previous post, it wasn’t all that long ago that opportunities for women were heavily restricted by law and custom, and a whole array of societal forces were brought to bear on women to ensure that we conformed.

    For many women, the highest-paying work available was prostitution. The other paying jobs that women could get -teaching, nursing, retail clerking, light factory work, etc- paid very poorly, often not even enough to live on. Of course, the lower ranks of the prostitution trade –populated by the older women, the less-attractive, the less-skilled– also paid poorly, so the choice was not an easy one even for those women who didn’t feel terrorised by the thought of losing social acceptance.

    Yet the other major option, marriage, imposed its own restrictions: a married woman became a cross between property and a non-adult. A married woman couldn’t refuse her husband sex, and if he took her by force, she couldn’t charge him with rape: it was her duty to give in to him whenever he wanted her to.

    There was a lot of coercive force involved in that setup, but none of it was personal or actionable, or even very visible. It was “just the way things are”. And women were the ones who paid the price. Much the same coercion goes on today, just a little more diffuse and obfuscated.

  39. #39 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Mairead, of coarse there are other kinds of force besides brute force. No one is arguing that a woman must necessarily be chained to the floor to be considered a victim of force.

    But, the person committing the crime in that case is not the hooker and it’s not the customer. It’s the person using the force. Their is no virtue in making criminals out of everyone who sells or buys sex in order to save (or rescue) those who are forced into it.

    Your contention that some women are forced into prostitution by circumstances not under their control is just another attempt to portray all prostitution as coerced. It’s a bogus argument for a number of reasons. As I already said, it’s idiocy to criminalize someone for engaging in an act that you contend they are being forced into. Secondly, for women who have so few options that they turn to prostitution, what good are you doing by removing that option from them as well? Finally, who gets to decide whether they are being coerced and need to be saved? Shouldn’t that be the choice of the woman involved?

    Of course, as it is now, we will never know how many women are really coerced because, by criminalizing it, we give women a huge incentive to claim they were forced into it even if they weren’t, so as to get more lenient treatment (“Give us the name of your pimp and we’ll let you go”).

    There are virtually no arguments for criminalizing prostitution that don’t collapse on even the most superficial examination. This tells me that the real motives for outlawing prostitution have nothing to do with the reasons we keep hearing.

  40. #40 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Maggie, do you come across some women who sell sex (probably more as a sideline income than as a profession) who tend to align with the liberal perspective in the sense that they agree that most prostitution should be illegal, but not what they do? An example might be a woman who occasionally sells sex on, but who also believes that most prostitution should still be illegal to protect women? A variation on the “freedom for me, but not for thee” theme.

  41. #41 |  Jinnayah | 

    Maggie, your link on the phrase “roughly 10% of modern women have taken money for sex” goes to a post of yours which, as far as I can see, does not make that claim. Did you mean to link to another source than your “Sales Pitch” post? “Sales Pitch” says only, “Almost 10% of young Swedish girls admit to having taken money for sex at least once,” and doesn’t provide a source for that statistic.

    10% sounds huge to my (admittedly very uninformed) ears, so I’d be very interested in seeing where the figure comes from.

  42. #42 |  Mairead | 

    @DK: But, the person committing the crime in that case is not the hooker and it’s not the customer. It’s the person using the force. Their is no virtue in making criminals out of everyone who sells or buys sex in order to save (or rescue) those who are forced into it.

    Your contention that some women are forced into prostitution by circumstances not under their control is just another attempt to portray all prostitution as coerced.

    You misunderstand me, Dave. I’m a fang-and-claw feminist; I don’t object to prostitution, I object to coercion. I object just as much to a woman being coerced into becoming a physics professor or orchestra conductor as a prostitute. I object to contrived filtering, especially the class-based kind that permeates our culture.

    My point is that all too often there is no “person using the force”. The force is inbuilt to the system: the filtering process itself is the force, and those of us who profit by the system are the ones using it. But the fact that it’s diffuse and invisible doesn’t make it okay.

    Women from privileged backgrounds rarely get coerced into prostitution. They often get coerced into dynastic marriages, or professional careers, but if they go into prostitution, it’s rarely because they’d no real alternatives.

    The same is not true of working-class women. Such women rarely have the opportunity of a privileged marriage or of professional training. They might “choose” prostitution faute de mieux, but that’s coercion even if we call it a choice.

  43. #43 |  Fascist Nation | 

    The sex industry has foolishly divided itself with kinds of sex workers who want it clear they are not ‘those kind’ of sex workers. When your enemy is government — and whose isn’t — you cannot allow them to divide and conquer.

    Everyone must stand up for everyone else’s Right to do as they please so long as they are not trespassing upon another’s Right to do as they please, and their Right to agreeably interact with one another. Or you will be divided and enslaved—even if you believe yourself free.

  44. #44 |  John Spragge | 

    @Mairead: I agree we need to address the variety of forms of coercion in the current social structures. I still believe violent coercion belongs to a special category, for three reasons. First, and by a long way most important, the experience of responding to social cues or price signals differs from the experience of overt threats and violence. A person doing sex work because it pays $500 a night versus $280 a week at Walmart, has a different experience from someone doing sex work because of a locked door and an armed guard. Second, in many cases the systemic force has the backing of actual illegal violence. The smirks and stares and rolled eyes and “lost” applications in many cases only carry a message that those who push past them will suffer real violence. And, least important but still valid, we can’t identify and punish diffuse social forces, although we can and should change the structure of our society. But we can uncover and punish crimes against people, and we should.

  45. #45 |  Gentry Semper Fi | 

    #19 Brandon: My time in the Marine Corps doesn’t have a damn thing to do with, what rigths people should or should not have.. No its straight common sense!!

  46. #46 |  Deoxy | 

    The same is not true of working-class women. Such women rarely have the opportunity of a privileged marriage or of professional training. They might “choose” prostitution faute de mieux, but that’s coercion even if we call it a choice.

    That’s not a useful definition of “coercion” – I am “coerced” to do any work at all because I have to eat.

    The one thing I have to laugh about all of this that seldom gets brought up (and I especially thought of it after Maggie’s post about women and emotions on her blog) – look at how much men will SPEND on sex!

    How many men can make a living of any kind, much less a really GOOD living, offering sex for sale? That woman CAN sell sex to men for such high prices tells a lot of things about the natural “coercion” applied to men.

    No, that doesn’t usefully fit the definition of “coercion” either – that was kind of the point.

    But that analogy about men on the raft and women in the ocean? Yeah, it leaves out the tremendous sexual driven-ness in the vast majority of men. Who’s taking advantage of whom in the prostitute/john scenario?

  47. #47 |  Goober | 

    If what you’re doing doesn’t harm another unconsenting third party, then it shouldn’t be illegal.

    That is essentially the gist of what we are talking about and applies to a lot more than just prostitution. And, by God, it makes sense. If you aren’t hurting anyone, why should what you’re doing be illegal, and why does it benefit society to make that thing illegal?

    Chances are pretty good that you’ll find a net detrminet to society in a lot of cases – for example, the criminalization of prostitution has made a lot of girls who are being coerced, etc, afraid to go to the authorities for help. I fail to see how this benefits society. Another example – how many good, productive individuals who could be working and producing and making something of themselves have essentially become drains on society because they are in prison for smoking some weed?

  48. #48 |  Mark F. | 

    “How many men can make a living of any kind, much less a really GOOD living, offering sex for sale?”

    A few, but only if they are exceptionally goodlooking, and only if they sell themselves to gay men. Women almost never will pay for sex.