Monthly Archives: February 2014

Sex workers are #notyourrescueproject: Rape by anti-trafficking NGOs & stigma by feminists

First published on my Cliterati column on 1/2/14.


“If we want anything from outside like sweets, chewing gum or magazines or phone credit we have to give hand job or blow job to security,” reveals Molli Desi Devadasi. But she’s not talking about a prison. Molli, now a UK-based sex worker, was “rescued” by an anti-prostitution NGO while employed as a sex worker in India. She tweets the truth of what happens in these NGO-run rescue centres, and her revelations inspired the Twitter hashtag #notyourrescueproject which gained publicity recently.

“[I]f you want telephone credit you must suck NGO worker…often the women NGO workers call us bad names and tell us we are bad,” says Molli. Molli was “rescued” while visiting friends; when the police raided, she was taken along with them. Raids can involve beatings and sex workers’ collectives are trying to protect the rights of sex working women. Molli cannot reveal which NGO detained her as the NGO could come and find her, which she says would be dangerous for her.

But how do the detained girls manage to escape? “You can escape by bribing security during festival times to let you out so you can disappear in puja crowds and because all NGO bosses have holidays so no one will know exactly when you escape. NGO will then say you did not escape but your family collected you. You can agree to pay someone to pretend to be your auntie to collect you from NGO for money but all money has to be paid back with interest from sex work. You can complete sewing training and agree to marry but really you agree with one boy to give his family the NGO sewing machine and then you run away. You can jump from window but this is dangerous. Sometimes NGO boss will sell you to miscreant and then you have to pay back even more money…Sometimes after foreign visit the NGO will let you go once they have the foreign money and if their is no court case or FIR registered about you.” Molli escaped by hiding her phone, getting phone credit by sex and calling friends who gave money to security so they would let her out.

So the NGOs rape the sex working women and extort money from anyone trying to rescue them from detention. This begs the question of just how these NGOs got their hands on the girls in the first place. “When you are under safe custody order they give you to a rescue centre or you go into the prison so you can be kept as witness, so the original reason for rescue centre is actually to keep you to be witness. Now rescue centre says it wants to give you moral life so it trains you to sew, except we all know how to sew already ! Sometimes they have sewing machine training but often the machines are broken. There are bars on all windows and often we are not allowed to go in garden in case we escape. We have no lawyers so the NGO has complete power over us. At night we are locked inside and sometimes the night watch is drunk so if there was fire we would all die.” The detainees of this Mumbai rescue centre were also raped, “terrorised” and kept in unhygienic conditions.

This problem of “rescue” is global. Dr Laura Agustin, author of Sex At The Margins: Migration, Labour Markets And The Rescue Industry (she also has this blog), coined the term ‘rescue industry’ to describe the issue. There’s a lot of money to be made with sex workers’ bodies. The Irish anti-prostitution org Ruhama Agency is funded 14.4 million euros per year by the taxpayer (not counting funding from two other Government departments and of course public donations) despite helping just 241 women in its busiest year. The fact that the Ruhama Agency ran the infamous Magdalen laundries in which ‘fallen women’ were abused for years is obviously just a minor detail when you’re, like, rescuing women from ‘exploitation’. The rescue industry is lucrative, especially for larger organisations with an international reach; many are funded by US conservative Christian organisations.

“People who want to ‘rescue’ sex workers don’t fully understand, or are even interested in understanding why someone would choose sexwork as work,” says MxLaudanum, a genderfluid sex worker in the UK who works as a woman. “They have a hard time even acknowledging sexwork AS work, and feel that for someone to be a sexworker, that they must have fallen on very hard times. Whilst that might well be the case for some of us, it isn’t for all of us. Even in the former, sexwork grants freedom to many, gives the opportunity to get people out of financial dire straits, and often once they’re established, give them a really healthy financial status…it’s an added bonus to a ‘vanilla’ job, and for some it’s a full time thing.” And that reason, says Laudanum, “is nobody’s business but a sexworker’s own.”

Just to be clear, sex workers are not arguing that there are no negative points to sex work. Supporting sex workers’ rights doesn’t mean supporting the sex industry. Soldiers aren’t against world peace, Snowden wasn’t in love with his job at the NSA, and the kid behind the counter in McDonald’s isn’t a cheerleader for the catering industry. Sex workers want to be safe. That’s pretty much it. They campaign not for legalisation, but for decriminalisation and specifically for the New Zealand model of decriminalisation to keep them safe.

So rescue might be a waste of time, but is rescue really that bad for Western sex workers? “[A] sexworker’s life could be utterly destroyed…You’re taking away their money, their network of friends, family and clients, their self esteem, their status as a wage earning person, their ability to pay tax (yes, sexworkers pay tax, I do!), their ability to feed their family,” Laudanum alleges. And what would happen to her if she was rescued? “I would personally have no other income, because I am disabled in an invisible sense, and I am also a full time carer for a person who also cannot work. If someone were to ‘rescue’ me, they would take away my entire life’s stability.”

UK law defines people who migrate to the UK to find work in the sex industry as “trafficked” – even though they spent their own money to come here of their own free will. This wildly skews trafficking statistics as every migrant sex worker is classed as a trafficked person. As Laudanum says, “Many ‘rescuers’ like to assume that foreign sexworkers MUST have been abused and trafficked, and pay even less attention to them than white western sexworkers. The same can be said within other margins, for example transwomen, disabled people.” Just before the London Olympics, there was a spate of raids by police in the name of rescing victims of sex trafficking- despite the fact that police knew that there was little risk of sex trafficking, and as it happened sex trafficking did not explode because of the Olympics. Even the massive anti-trafficking operations Pentameter One and Two failed to find a single trafficking victim. But rescue in the UK is nothing compared to what happens elsewhere, where “rescued” women are detained against their will by rescue organisations and raped, as Molli reveals on Twitter. “I spoke on phone to rescue centre Girls in Kolkata and they say ‘Please let us go free’…the police finger all girls for best pussy,” she tweeted. Ms Laudanum’s view is that “when the people you’re supposed to be rescuing are raped, beaten and mentally tortured by the organisations you hired to strongarm them into submission, something is very wrong.”

But aren’t a lot of anti-prostitution women feminists? They feel that the sex and adult industries bolster the patriarchy by objectifying women. But Laudanum doesn’t think it’s as simple as that. “ANYONE who behaves the way anti-sexwork prohibitionists do towards sexworkers, is categorically NOT a feminist. The whole point of being a feminist (amongst MANY things), is to first and foremost defend and support a woman’s right to do what she pleases with her body, mind, and voice…If I want to sell sexual services, I will do so. If I want to fight for my right to sell my labour, I will…The anti-sexwork movement isn’t just non feminist, it’s MISOGYNISTIC.”

Sex working people of all genders face a lot of stigmatisation and marginalisation because of their careers. Molli reveals that “Sex work girls are treated different from orphan or other children as we are considered very bad influence.” Laudanum says “Our existence as happy, consensual and productive sexworkers, is denied…We highlight cases of abuse, harrassment and murder, and it is somehow our own fault because we are sexworkers…We have organisations who fight with us against the hatred of anti-sexwork prohibitionists, but you can be sure they’re not government funded.”

Outing is frequently used against sex workers. Journalist Eamon Dillon used covert surveillance equipment to secretly record a woman and outed her on YouTube as a sex worker, calling her “Scary Poppins”. Why? Because she had two other jobs as a babysitter and a cleaner, and he wanted to frame her as being dangerous to children just because one of her jobs happens to be sex work. Sex worker activist and editor of the Harlots Parlour blog Laura Lee was driven out of her town after being outed on social media. A child molester was accepted by the same community. Teacher Melissa Petro was fired for sex work in her past, while sex worker activist and designer Douglas Fox was outed in the press and found that the owner of the rag was on the panel when he complained. “One of the biggest fears many sexworkers have, is being outed if they’re working secretly,” explains Ms Laudanum. “We can lose everything, even our lives…Brianna Gardner, a twenty-two year old American woman of colour, was shot in the head in Chicago. Paige Clay, a twenty-three year old American transgender woman of colour, also shot in the head. Eva Maree, a twenty-seven year old Swedish woman, stabbed to death. Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Annette Nicholls, Paula Clennell.”

“It is heartbreaking to learn that one of the biggest issues sexworkers face, is white middle class feminism,” MxLaudanum claims. With some aspects of feminism endangering them (the European Women’s Lobby want the harmful Nordic Model to be made Europe-wide, and many feminists support and campaign for the Nordic model and criminalisation) it’s no wonder that some sex working women and sex worker allies don’t want to identify as feminist (though some do). “If a woman is working as a sexworker, she can’t POSSIBLY enjoy it, and must need someone to come and rescue her from it…when the world listens to white middle class feminism the most, of whom routinely ignore ALL NON sexworker feminist margins, just exactly where do you think that leaves sexworker feminist margins?”


So, fellow non-sex workers, what can we do to actually support sex workers, instead of endangering them with our “help”?

“Listen to us, take us seriously, understand that we’re human beings, recognise that we are sexworkers for many reasons. Start here: 

Why We Need An NSA WikiLeaks: Transparency Should Mean No Guardian Monopoly

What really irritates me about the discourse on Snowden and the NSA is that whether you think Snowden is a hero or a traitor, whether you’re British or American, everyone seems agreed on the “fact” that the release of selected NSA files to a single multinational corporation is the ultimate freedom ever.

Let’s think about what The Guardian is. It is not a human rights organisation dedicated to protecting us and guaranteeing transparency. It’s a powerful corporation and it’s not exposing the NSA and GCHQ to protect us or benefit us. It’s doing so in pursuit of the almighty dollar. We’re trusting a corporation with an unknown agenda (and unknown research and data parsing skills) to look at thousands of files and accurately report back to us, the public. Its reporters were not elected by us and the Guardian may have allowed Glenn Greenwald’s partner to work on the files (when the police held David Miranda for 9 hours at Heathrow and questioned him about the files, he’d been visiting a film producer- at the Guardian’s expense- who’d also been working on the files.) The question I’m getting at is: why was this film maker chosen to get access? Why was Miranda so priveleged, just by virtue of being Greenwald’s partner? This looks less like a desire for transparency and more like a relationships-based in-group whose entitlement and qualifications to access the NSA files aren’t entirely clear.

The press use very similar tactics to GCHQ. I’m not just referring to the infamous NotW hacking scandals, but to the very many virtually unknown cases of press spying, stalking and covert surveillance. Using a covert camera to out a woman as a sex worker is not ethical. Neither is harassing Lucy Meadows until she killed herself. Like spy agencies, the press routinely act above the law- if any of us camped out on someone’s doorstep or harassed someone like Meadows was harassed, we’d be charged. But because they’re journalists, it’s not deemed criminal activity. The press also use similar tactics of infiltration, bugging and cyber surveillance to the police and government.

It’s in the Guardian’s interests to retain sole possession of the files (they are the sole posessors in the UK) because if other media corporations got hold of them, the Guardian would lose readers and therefore money. No longer would we be forced to go to The Guardian for the latest UK-based reporting on GCHQ and the NSA. If the Guardian really wants transparency, they should keep reporting but also let all of us see the files on the internet- a sort of Wikileaks 2.0.

But they won’t. Because if we can see the files ourselves on, why would be bother to read The Guardian? They’d lose money. The NSA scandal is great clickbait.

But even if they wanted to- which they don’t- how can they? GCHQ used the threat of criminal prosecution under the Official Secrets Act and civil litigation to coerce The Guardian into destroying its UK-held files in what the Guardian described as a “symbolic” act. GCHQ knew the Guardian holds copies in the USA and Brazil (in its US office and with Glenn Greenwald, though oddly neither is explicitly stated in the article, perhaps for legal reasons). GCHQ also would have no idea if what they saw being destroyed really were the files, or all of the files, or that there weren’t back-ups. While the lead-up to the destruction would be film-worthy in itself (journalists, lawyers and secret agents are some of the best game-players, so the debating and negotiating would’ve been epic) GCHQ knew it didn’t achieve anything and that its cover-up would be publicised. They were trying to intimidate journalists- and they don’t care if we all know about it.

An acquaintance of mine wrote an excellent article (with which I entirely disagree, but that doesn’t negate the points she made) that the rule of law means Snowden should be jailed- not because he’s a “traitor” but because nobody is above the law. Similarly GCHQ demanded the files on the basis that they’d been stolen by Snowden- never mind that spy agencies act above the law all the time and steal information as an existential purpose (not criticising- when declassified or leaked, the international game makes for great entertainment in the form of documentaries. Keep it up.)

That being said, the Guardian is also unreasonable not to acknowledge the (potential) risks to national security of them keeping the files. Their staff don’t have the security clearance normally required to even be contracted for mundane work by spy agencies, they don’t have the ability to defend or hide the files, and while GCHQ’s laser example is a bit paranoid, The Guardian could potentially be infiltrated. And then of course there’s all the journalists and other staff who have access to the files- will they refrain from publishing secrets to protect others when it means losing profits? Or even recognise which data could be harmful if it got out in casual conversations with their friends? I’m not saying it’s a good thing that the Guardian destroyed the files (assuming that they even did). A lot of issues have to be balanced here- democracy, transparency, freedom of the press, national security, the safety of NSA and GCHQ agents. And of course without seeing the files I can’t have an opinion on which way the scales tip. I’m just saying that this conundrum should be acknowledged. These risks are possibly a minor motivation in GCHQ wanting the files surrendered or destroyed, though we all know what their main concern is.

But it’s not only GCHQ that journalists have to worry about. As Greenwald notes, the Mafia have rules about targetting families of their enemies. But the police questioned his partner for 9 hours when he changed flights at Heathrow. We’ll never know if it was the result of the UK’s torrid love affair with the USA, or if it was motivated by GCHQ’s desire for us not to be all using VPNs and therefore untrackable. But whether the USA was involved or not, it’s clear that our state tracks journalists and their families. Or how did police know Miranda had arrived at Heathrow? The UKBA must have notified them. And why would the UKBA do that? Because they’d previously been told to notify the police if Miranda ever passed through a UK airport. It’s surprising that the police would be so interested in a man who hasn’t committed a crime and who they didn’t think was a terrorist, which suggests that the government or GCHQ had given the orders to the police. So clearly it is the state that is surveillancing Guardian journalists and not GCHQ or the police acting alone. The controversial terrorism law simply made the police the best choice to go after Miranda, and using the police avoids the public reaction that would occur if other agencies had questioned Miranda. In reality, information is shared between intelligence agencies and the police work closely with the Security Service (previously known as MI5, still known by that name because authors and scriptwriters refuse to do two seconds of research). As this is a domestic issue, it falls within MI5’s remit, though perhaps the USA connection means some info is shared with the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6, ditto).

[Update: I was right about MI5 being behind this and just using the police to hide their involvement. In their defence, Miranda’s arrival at Heathrow was a golden opportunity to ascertain the extent of Snowden’s leak and find out who else had seen the files, so it’s understandable that they’d want to question him for national security. Which doesn’t negate the fact that the law was being abused or that this may have been about pleasing our American overlords as much as about protecting the UK. It’s understandable that the USA wants Snowden prosecuted as otherwise laws about revealing secrets would mean nothing, but there’s no reason we should help them unless the USA gives us something in return].

It’s worth mentioning that we tend to look at this in a top-down way: the government is spying on us and doesn’t want us to know. But by the very nature of blanket surveillance, GCHQ must also surveillance politicians, even if unintentionally. While Government servers are more secure, everyone is vulnerable once they’re on their own laptops- including police officers and agents of other spy agencies (assuming they don’t know the extent of GCHQ surveillance, which is likely if they don’t need to be told.) Parliament and the judiciary appear to have no authority over GCHQ and in fact are GCHQ’s targets along with the rest of us. No-one’s yet done a dystopic novel about what happens when a low-profile spy agency takes over the government, but if you’ve got an idea for one this might be a great time.

So I don’t think we’re going to see WikiLeaks 2.0 any time soon, unless Snowden is the one to create it. It’s not reasonable to expect journalists to risk their freedom by uploading the NSA files to the internet. The only way around the risk would be to get a child under the age of criminal responsibility to upload the files, and even then it’s likely that the adult who told the kid to do it would be prosecuted. But we’d do well to remember that the Guardian’s position is that its possession of the NSA files is not a threat to national security (or that the public interest outweighs such a risk). So why not release some of the files to other UK media outlets? If The Guardian wants to prove it cares more about transparency and the public interest than it does about profit, it should release at least some files to other media outlets to allow speedier reporting (it’ll take months or years to read all those files), better analysis of the data, and more perspectives.

Why We Should All Shut Up About So-Called “Teen Pregnancy”

First published on the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association blog on 27/12/13 as “Teen Pregnancy: Stop The Stigma”.

Teen mothers. They’re sluts. Benefits scroungers. They’re not good mothers. They’re all working class. And they’ll never, ever amount to anything. “Society expects the worst outcomes for pregnant teens & young parents, so it gets the worst – and young people suffer,” says Lucy V Hay, script editor, author and former teenage mother. “But by the same token, if we expect the BEST we empower pregnant teens and young parents and help them to help themselves.”

We’re all complicit in perpetuating this classist, misogynistic, slut shaming and (in the USA) racist stigma. Our politicians ‘combat teen pregnancy’ and openly try to destroy this family form- an annihilation which would be called genocide if it was perpetrated against any other minority group. Imagine what the public’s reaction would be if politicians were combatting post-teen pregnancy and reducing the numbers of nuclear families or even the numbers of same-sex families. Would we still keep our silence?

There are two components of the stigma: age-related discrimination (perhaps understandably we want our kids to have great social and sex lives before settling down. We worry that kids will affect this. Hint: nationalised childcare would fix this and allow low-income lone parents to work full time and allow low income couples to have both parents working.) The gender related component is like the sexting moral panics- slut shaming and horror over the bad things that can taint our pure virgin daughters. Pure misogyny disguised as concern.

The patriarchy glorifies motherhood- but not teen (or single) motherhood. The Candies Foundation’s campaign encourages stigmatisation of young parents and tries to enforce abstinence but not abortion. And feminists, you’re not exempt. Yes, patriarchy causes the gender-related component. But- you know when you advocate for sex ed/PSHE, contraception and abortion? Well, it’d be great if you didn’t stigmatise teen pregnancy to further your agenda. Not every teen pregnancy is unplanned and they’re not all lone parents or ignorant of contraception. The hashtag #FeminismIsForTeenMomsToo is really important reading for anyone who identifies as a feminist.

But are the tabloids and the government right? Well, no- because it’s never moral or right to discriminate against anybody, especially adolescents and children, who are the most vulnerable people in society. And no, the anti- young pregnancy arguments aren’t factually correct either. Ann Phoenix’s 1991 qualitative study of young unmarried mothers found that waiting a few more years to start a family would not have improved the mothers’ material well-being in any significant way. Contemporary studies show that teenagers are managing their sex lives responsibly and using contraception at much higher rates than in the past. Solinger cites recent findings that teenage pregnancy declined 17% in the 1990s and in the US it is at its lowest rate since 1973.  U.S. teen pregnancy rates decreased 38% between 1990 and 2004 (Ventura, Abma, Mosher, & Henshaw, 2008), and teen birth rates declined by 34% between 1991 and 2005.  In 2005, the US teenage pregnancy rate reached its lowest point in 30 years. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001a), teenage pregnancy rates steadily declined from 1990 to 1997. The declines occurred across racial-ethnic groups. Teenage birth rates declined from 1993 to 2000, and in 2000 the rate for young teens reached the lowest point since 1976 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001b).  Mcintosh claims that 16-19 year olds constitute just 3 percent of lone mothers in the UK. Teenage pregnancy has fallen during the last few decades; data from the General Household Surveys shows that in 1980 67% of nonmarital births were to women aged under 25 but this had declined to 50% by 1995. The decade with the highest teen pregnancy was the 1950s and in 1957 the average bride in America was a teenager. Kiernan, Land and Lewis report that data from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NSSAL) 1991 shows that 18% of women born in the 1930s reported having sex at age 18 or younger. In the 1950s teenage pregnancy was far more common than it is now, but was not seen as a social problem if the parents married before the baby was born. Even teenage marriage was rife and even accepted. So we can see that teenage pregnancy was more prevalent in previous generations; it is a traditional way of life that is in decline and teenage pregnancy today is a remnant of that tradition. And let’s not forget that teen pregnancy was the norm throughout history all the way back to the Stone Age.

And despite the teen pregancy discourse being confused with the lone mother discourse, most teen mothers aren’t single. Coley & Chase-Lansdale’s (1998) review of the literature suggests that 50% of all teenage fathers in America live with their children for some time. UK birth registration statistics for 1995 show that a majority of teenage births (67%) are jointly registered to both the father and the mother and that 59% of these jointly registered births were registered to the same address (Brook 2002). This means that most teenage parents are in committed relationships, especially taking into account the fact that under 16s are not allowed by law to live by themselves and so are very unlikely to register births to the same address.

Media and governmental discrimination has had very serious consequences in the USA, where the PRWORA prohibits states from spending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds on minor, unmarried, custodial parents who do not live in an adult supervised setting, thereby forcing teenage parents to live with their own parents which may lead to family tensions, overcrowding and lower quality of life for all concerned. The PRWORA legislation states that ‘‘the negative consequences of an out-of-wedlock birth on the mother, the child, the family, and society are well documented,’’ and that ‘‘prevention of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and reduction in out-of-wedlock birth are very important Government interests’’ (see H.R.3734, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996). It also allows states to deny additional benefits to mothers of any age who have a second child while they’re receiving benefits, to reinforce the disapproval of nonmarital births. (No, really.) Luckily we’ve avoided such harmful discrimination in the UK, but the proposed Marriage Tax Allowance does use money to privelege married parents over nonmarried ones in the same way as PRWORA and just like PRWORA it is transparent, overt social engineering and will increase stigma of cohabiting, lone and teen parents.

As for the Teen Pregnancy Ruins Your Life myth- it’s nonsensical, at least in the UK. If you’re under 16 it is the law that you have to go to school so even if a young parent wants to stay home with their child, they can’t. No university will ban you from matriculation because you are a mother or father. Student loans companies take whether students have dependents into account when calculating the loans and grants they’re entitled to. Universities have Childcare funds for student parents and university creches. It’s the norm for mature students to be parents. If older students are often parents why are younger students assumed to be unable to cope? Many students work while studying. We take it for granted that young actors manage to star in movies while continuing their University education, but act like it’s impossible to fulfil the age-old, natural role of parent while studying. We evolved to be parents and have done it for millennia; acting (and studying) are not things we evolved to do. Telling teens that their futures will be limited if they start families creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

An issue that doesn’t get mentioned is what if a boy or girl actually plans to try for a baby? Respecting sovereign choice doesn’t just stop at not forcing an abortion on a teen. It also means respecting and valuing the decisions of teens and preteens to plan to start families. If a teen understands the descision, what gives us the right to stop them? 12 year olds can by law consent to medical treatment without parental knowledge and even if the parents are against it, including abortion and contraception, as long as they understand the decision. This is why doctors don’t have to notify parents that their kids have had abortions. A 12 year old having a baby he or she has wanted and planned for is a good thing, and certainly better than a thirtysomething who doen’t want children or is a bad parent. The media have created the myth of schoolgirls getting pregnant to get council flats and benefits. The media made young parenthood into an issue, and politicians talk about the issue mainly in terms of these parents’ relative youth, as if it’s somehow, for some bizarre reason, actually wrong for a younger citizen to want children but perfectly fine for an older citizen to want children. Age discrimination much?

What are we saying when we stigmatise young families? That we want all young people who get pregnant to have abortions? That teens have no right to try for babies? Are we saying that starting a family early means you won’t earn as much money (which doesn’t have to be true unless the mother believes the myth that she can’t go to uni, as we just saw)? So basically we’re saying that material goods are of the utmost value in human life and that money matters more than having children?

Teen pregnancy is an illogical concept. It is completely arbitrary, relying as it does on the “teen” suffix; hence it only works in English. The phrase also excludes preteen pregnancy and lumps together the very different experiences of 13 year old and 19 year old mothers. Yet, 20 year olds are magically okay because “twenty” isn’t called “tenteen”. In most regions of the world especially states with a lower average age of first birth the term is meaningless; the Scandinavian countries don’t stigmatise young parenthood and in Estonia teen pregnancy was encouraged in the Noughties because the birth rate was low. The label “teen pregnancy”does not fit with reality because young twentrysomethings who have kids and preteens who have kids are also stigmatised, so the label should actually be ‘preteenteenandearlytwenties pregnancy’. The label is focused only on the female parent which is sexist. It might actually be more helpful to distinguish pregnancies on the basis of consent to the pregnancy (whether choice to continue or terminate was available to the mother and whether the mother became pregnant through rape). Or we could distinguish pregnancies based on intention of adoption, keeping or abortion, or any other random distinction. Age is such a silly thing to discriminate on, especially since mature mothers are also criticised. I’d vote for dropping age and instead having discrimination based on the sexual position the child was concieved in, because it’d make political discourse on the family much more interesting.

But how could we stigmatise teens having families if we didn’t stigmatise teen sex? We need to ask ourselves: “Have we, as parents, as role models, as older siblings, now made it unacceptable for our adolescents to have a great sex life?” Because, tragically, I think we have. It used to be acceptable. In fact, people used to get married as teens. Even Pope Francis – going one step further than teen dads – told a same-age girl he wanted to marry her at the age of 12. In keeping with the Catholic teen sex theme, the Virgin Mary was an unwed teen mother. Evidence that teenage sex is beneficial to adolescent development has been documented (Levine 2002; Perito 2008) and evidence that it is not harmful is overwhelming; a few recent publications include: Gross, 2009; Omar, Greydanus, Tsitsika, Patel, & Merrick, 2010; Rosenthal, 2006; Rosenthal, 2006; Steinberg, 2005; Monahan and Lee, 2008; Meier 2007.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to stop hurting young people, adolescents and their babies and children. We can stop any time we want.

Interview: How Feminism Exploits Sex Workers

This is the full text of the interview with feminist genderqueer sex worker @MxLaudanum, which was quoted in this article on the rescue industry I wrote for Cliterati (published 1/02/14). The interview itself makes a very powerful post in its own right. Written in just a couple of hours, it’s a stunning critique of contemporary feminism and how all of us on this planet tend to view the world in black and white.


How does the ‘rescue’ mentality harm sex workers?

I can only provide opinion with this question, for the reason that I’ve never actually faced ‘rescue’ as a sex worker. I often find that people who want to ‘rescue’ sex workers, don’t fully understand, or are even interested in understanding why someone would choose sexwork as work. They have a hard time even acknowledging sexwork AS work, and feel that for someone to be a sexworker, that they must have fallen on very hard times. Whilst that might well be the case for some of us, it isn’t for all of us. Even in the former, sexwork grants freedom to many, gives the opportunity to get people out of financial dire straits, and often once they’re established, give them a really healthy finiancial status. It depends very much where you choose to work under the sexwork umbrella. For some people it’s an added bonus to a ‘vanilla’ job, and for some it’s a full time thing for whatever reason. That reason is nobody’s business but a sexworker’s own.

Failure to grasp that someone might be happy and well established in doing sexwork, means that if someone or an organisation comes forward to ‘rescue’ them without even bothering to ask if they WANT or NEED help, means that the foundations of a sexworker’s life could be utterly destroyed. When ‘rescuing’ someone without their consent or desire for it, you’re potentially ruining their life. You’re taking away their money, their network of friends, family and clients, their empowerment, their self esteem, their status as a wage earning person, their ability to pay tax (yes, sexworkers pay tax, I do!), their ability to feed, clothe and support themselves and family, their personal safety, and more that would likely make this list endless. I would personally have no other income, because I am disabled in an invisible sense, and I am also a full time carer for a person who also cannot work. If someone were to ‘rescue’ me, they would take away my entire life’s stability.

People also like to assume that everyone has family to fall back on. This isn’t always the case, and furthermore even if someone DOES have family, who’s to say that they would be open enough to helping a family member once they discover they’re a sexworker? ‘Rescuers’ can literally take everything away from a sexworker. Every single time an anti-sexwork person speaks out, they have the potential to ruin a sexworker’s life. The constant battles that we see online and offline, are neverending and extremely frustrating. ‘Rescuers refuse to listen, we are seen as subhuman and foolish, and are an affront to their particularly offensive brand of radical feminism. ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’ and ‘Sexwork Exclusionary Radical Feminists’, are amongst the most offensive type of ‘rescuers’ out there. When you are seen as subhuman by an oppressive group of prohibitionists, you aren’t supposed to survive their onslaught. It’s almost as if they want us to die, as if we’re a blight on the face of their lives.


How does actual physical rescue harm sex workers?

I would refer you to the answer to the previous question, with the caveat that I haven’t actually been rescued, so I cannot tell you personally how it affects other sexworkers. I could provide examples learned from other sexworkers, and perhaps point you in their direction, but I would not feel comfortable speaking for another sexworker in that way. I have heard many accounts of physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of people who are so called ‘rescuers’ and the organisations that assist in the so called ‘rescues’, but I have not experienced them first hand. When the people you’re supposed to be rescuing are raped, beaten and mentally tortured by the organisations you hired to strongarm them into submission, something is very wrong. Many ‘rescuers’ like to assume that foreign sexworkers MUST have been abused and trafficked, and pay even less attention to them than white western sexworkers. The same can be said within other margins, for example transwomen, disabled people, and the crossovers within each of those margins and more. It is extremely complex.

There is also the assumption that sexworkers are all brainless airheads.

I think I articulate myself rather well for a brainless airhead.


Rescue and anti-prostitution positions are sold as ‘feminist’ ideals. Do you think they are feminist?

Not even REMOTELY. ANYONE who behaves the way anti-sexwork prohibitionists do towards sexworkers, is categorically NOT a feminist. The whole point of being a feminist (amongst MANY things), is to first and foremost defend and support a woman’s right to do what she pleases with her body, mind, and voice. It is to fight against oppressive patriarchy, and any anti-feminist organisation. When a group of anti-sexwork people (especially women) gather together to erase sexwork and sexworkers, they are about as anti-feminist as it gets, without being part of patriarchy. If I want to sell my body for sex, I will do so. If I want to fight for my right to sell my body for sex, I will do. If I want to fight for everyone else’s right to do the same, I will do so. You don’t want to sell your body for sex? Then don’t do it, it’s as simple as that. The moment you tell me I can’t do it, you can bugger right off up into outer space, and freeze to death for all I care. The moment you deny a woman her RIGHT to sell herself for sex in ANY adult industry medium, you are a misogynist. The anti-sexwork movement isn’t just non feminist, it’s MISOGYNISTIC. It degrades us, is oppresses us, it makes us, and treats us as less than subhuman. We aren’t even second class citizens, we are scum, ergo anti-sexwork prohibitionists who sell themselves as feminists, are in fact, misogynists. It doesn’t end there, not only are they misogynists, they are racist, transphobic, ableist, homophobic, sexists, bigots and downright horrible people. For every single sexworker you seek to oppress and ‘rescue’ there are intersectional aspects about them that you seek to erase with your crusade. There is so much more to this, that many other people can probably better convey than I ever could, and I sincerely hope that others come forward and speak up. If someone says they want to, but feel they can’t, well that alone speaks volumes.


How can non-sex workers support sex workers in a way that would actually benefit sex working women, men, genderfluid, intersex and trans people?

Erase the stereotypes in your head. I can’t personally speak for all people within the margins of sexwork, or what would make things easier and be helpful to them, but I CAN say the following:

Listen to us, take us seriously, understand that we’re human beings, recognise that we are sexworkers for many reasons, but ultimately those reasons are OUR business, and not used to lessen our eligability for respect. ASK us what we want, value our opinions, don’t take us for granted, recognise that we MATTER. Don’t just SAY you’re an ally, BE an ally. If you’re not sure how to be one, ASK us for help. There are lots of resources online for people to learn from. Start here: – leave your morals at the door, if you genuinely want to HELP. Be silent for a while until you’ve listened. Learn what NOT to say, you can learn what you CAN say later. If you’re not sure, BE QUIET, READ AND LISTEN UNTIL YOU’RE SURE.


Do you face any intersectional stigmas or issues as a genderfluid sex worker (understand if this is too personal)

To be entirely honest, no. It might be worth asking me this question again in a year. For clarity, I was born female. My sexwork is conducted AS a female, because it was only very recently that I came out as feeling Gender Fluid or Bi Gender. I still really haven’t gotten my head around the labels for these things, mainly because I find things a bit confusing and feel better off saying, I’m just ME. Isn’t that enough? I don’t know. Is it enough? See I’m still confused 😉


Is it hard being a sex working feminist when other women are endangering you in the name of feminism?

It’s hard from the point of view that it’s a giant pain in my arse. It pisses me off no end. OK so here’s an example. You’ll get a lot of anti-sexwork people who are claiming to be feminists under the VERY thin veil of bigotry and misogyny. So they say “DOWN WITH WHORES, DOWN WITH SLAGS, DOWN WITH PROZZIES!” and you can usually TELL they’re misogynists because they’re using negative slang and hatespeech. They say they’re all about looking after women, and furthering the feminist agenda, but that same help doesn’t extend to those who don’t conform to their vision of feminism, and that they really don’t give a shit about us any further than the fact that they’re using us to further their anti-sexwork agenda. Their brand of ‘feminism’ isn’t really feminism. It’s misogynist hatespeech.


Do you think rescuing sex workers is similar to any other kinds of elitism or oppression, whether contemporary or historical?

Well look at it this way. Google the term ‘fallen women’, and what does it throw out? The ‘rescue’ of sexworkers has existed for as long as sexwork has existed as work. However, the feminist movement hasn’t always existed (stating the obvious here), and so life as a woman selling sex just to afford a very basic meal, in comparison to selling sex NOW in order to keep paying the bills on a flat, however plain or elaborate, is vastly different. At one point perhaps the ‘rescue’ movement might have actually been well meaning and a welcome. Now it’s simply a joke, and that’s largely because sexworkers (mostly) have the ability to stand up and say NO, to people who seek to oppress us, unless they happen to be in a marginalised area, in which case the oppression still very much exists, and will continue to exist, as long as people have their heads stuck up their rear ends.

It is heartbreaking to learn that one of the biggest issues sexworkers face, is white middle class feminism. Anyone who isn’t working the perfect feminist career with a perfect boyfriend (yes boyfriend, because heaven forfend if you’re anything other than a straight, white cis female), must be oppressed in some way, and must need rescuing. If a woman is working as a sexworker, she can’t POSSIBLY enjoy it, and must need someone to come and rescue her from it, armed with a bottle of Waitrose’ bestest Rioja and a punnet of giant olives. If you then couple that sexwork with a woman of colour, or a disabled sexworker, or a transwoman sexworker, the middle class white feminist begins to foam at the mouth so FURIOUSLY, that they could easily be mistaken for a rabid dog. That’s unfair to rabid dogs, but the fact of the matter is that when the world listens to white middle class feminism the most, of whom routinely ignore ALL NON sexworker feminist margins, just exactly where do you think that leaves sexworker feminist margins?

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