Tag Archives: sex trafficking

SESTA, FOSTA, the End of Craigslist Personals, and the War on Sex

I have long predicted that the porn panic – the war on sexual expression – would engulf content far beyond pornography. The takeover of the British anti-censorship movement by members of the fetish-porn scene has thus been frustrating, as it has suggested that the threat to free speech is about the needs of people with unusual sexual tastes. I have predicted, in particular, that dating sites like Craigslist would be hit hard, as they allow people to post adult images on their ads. Last week, Craigslist did indeed close its dating section, but in response to legal changes in the US, rather than the UK.

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While the UK’s attacks on Internet freedom have focused on the “need to protect children from pornography”, US attacks have focused on prostitution (labelled as “sex trafficking”). Using the latter excuse, the United States just approved a pair of laws, known as SESTA and FOSTA, which criminalise online services that enable “sex trafficking”. While this might seem a worthy effort, when one scratches the surface, we find the hand of anti-sex feminism at work, as usual, and the story is not as it seems.

The trafficking panic has been rising for a decade, and has long ago been exposed as largely mythical by tireless campaigners such as Brooke Magnanti and Laura Agustin. Magnanti’s book The Sex Myth outlines how the panic rose in the UK, leading to Parliament approving funds to tackle sex trafficking; but although anti-trafficking campaigners had claimed thousands of victims, the police could find hardly any. Agustin, in her book Sex in the Margins, outlines how illegal immigrant women enter the sex industry voluntarily as an alternative to lower paid (illegal) hotel work, but are dismissed as “victims” by campaigners.

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Illegal immigrants who sell sex are thus labelled “trafficked women”, and then rescued. Agustin refers to the anti-trafficking movement as the Rescue Industry. The Rescue industry is, in reality, a merger between the anti-prostitution movement and the anti-immigration movement. Now, when brothels are raided to “rescue” trafficked women, the women are often sent to asylum camps before being deported – hardly the rescue of helpless victims that people tend to imagine.

Despite the fact that genuine victims of sex-trafficking are more rare than one would assume from reading the headlines, politicians have been persuaded otherwise. The first American victim of the panic was Backpage.com, which last year was forced to drop its famous escort listings. SESTA / FOSTA is the latest example of this. American sex workers have strongly opposed the new law, arguing that without places to advertise, they will be forced underground, and inevitably face more dangers as a result. The police too say that street prostitution has increased since Backpage was closed. But the Rescue Industry is now a well-funded juggernaut with the power to shout far louder than sex workers.

Once escort ads were banned, US sex workers moved to classified ad platforms like Craigslist, which have never allowed blatant escort advertising. When SESTA / FESTA was approved last week, Craigslist had little choice but to close its dating section – a little corner of Internet freedom that has thrived for years.

Although SESTA / FOSTA doesn’t apply in the UK (where anyway, prostitution is legal), Craigslist is a US business – so the UK has lost one of its most vibrant dating and adult contact services.

What is the future for UK escort listing sites like Adultwork.com and Viva Street? On paper, there is no reason for them not to continue. But I predict that the Digital Economy Act, which already enables porn censorship, will inevitably be extended to block new categories of content, and that “trafficking” will feature in the next list of targets.

Keith Vaz, Brothel Clampdowns and Dark Clouds

When, a few weeks ago, a parliamentary committee – chaired by Keith Vaz MP – declared its support, in an interim report, for decriminalising sex workers, I was sceptical. My scepticism was based, not on inside knowledge of the committee, but on two main things:

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  1. The declared purpose of the inquiry was to determine whether clients should be criminalised for paying for sex. But this point was ignored in the interim report. So why was an interim report issued before even considering the most important issue? This remains unclear.
  2. Over recent years, I’ve documented a rising ultra-conservatism which is permeating society, and is prevalent across the entire political spectrum (see my book Porn Panic! for details). Could it be, just as the pendulum is so clearly swinging away from liberal values, that we are about to see sex work fully decriminalised? Much as I’d like to believe that, it seems unlikely.

In the mean time, a couple of things have happened. The sudden downfall of Keith Vaz, following a tabloid sting, has led to him stepping down from the committee. The sting (which involved recording his alleged encounter with two young Romanian men), exposes him as a potential hypocrite (MP IN HYPOCRITE SHOCKER!) and has led to him stepping down from the committee. This was immediately seized upon by abolitionists, who called for the entire review to be scrapped.

Whether it is, in fact, hypocritical to pay sex workers while chairing a committee on sex work, will be left for another discussion. Can one imagine “Hypocrite MP who chaired football enquiry discovered to be Arsenal fan!”? Me neither.

Even more creepy than the carefully planned sting on Vaz was yesterday’s call from the “anti-slavery commissioner” (ugh) for Londoners to shop suspected brothels to the Metropolitan Police. The “sex trafficking” narrative has been escalated to a “sex slavery” one. The new campaign has been accompanied by hysterical language: “…sex workers in the capital were being beaten, raped and sometimes starved by the men controlling them in a form of human slavery that was blighting the capital”.

The coverage neglected to mention the almost total failure of the police to find “sex slaves”. In fact, raids on brothels have been used to arrest and humiliate sex workers, bust them for drug possession, and identify (and then deport) illegal immigrants. In short, the sex slavery hysteria is yet another new cover for the recently merged anti-prostitution and anti-immigration movements. “Rescuing” has become code for “harassing, criminalising and deporting”.

This new, Stasi-type attempt at citizen spying also ignores the fact that Vaz’s parliamentary committee has recommended the decriminalisation of brothel keeping. The police are ramping up anti-brothel raids under a law that is now widely seen – including by parliamentarians – as outdated and redundant.

Not only have illegal immigrants been targeted in this way, but even legal migrants have been targeted for deportation. In May it was reported that Romanian sex workers – EU citizens – are facing deportation on the basis that they are criminals. And their crime? This is unclear, as prostitution is legal in the UK.

So while we appear to be looking at isolated incidents, these events take place in an atmosphere of rising authoritarianism, anti-sex prudery and xenophobia. While Keith Vaz is in no way a libertine, one can predict with confidence that he will be replaced (on the Home Affairs committee) by somebody more socially conservative.

As I document the rising fascism in British society, I frequently check myself: am I cherry-picking to fit my narrative? Have I been swayed by conspiracy theorists? I’d like to discover that my pessimism about the state of society is misplaced. But sadly, I don’t think it is (feel free to reassure me in the comments section below).

Prostitution: Fact & Fiction

The following is taken from a press release received today from the English Collective of Prostitutes. Increasingly, sex workers are being presented as victims who have no control over their lives, and thus the state is urged to step in and “rescue” them – which in practise, means arresting them and preventing them working, publishing their photos in the press to shame them, and deporting them if they are illegal immigrants.

PROSTITUTION: FACT AND FICTION

CLAIM #1: 80% of women in prostitution are controlled by traffickers.

FACT #1: This is a lie. Less than 6% of sex workers are trafficked. “Many migrants prefer working in the sex industry rather than the “unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs”.

CLAIM #2: The average age of entry into prostitution internationally is 13 years old.

FACT #2: This statistic is a lie. It comes from a survey of YOUNG PEOPLE under 18 years old.

CLAIM #3: 50% of women in prostitution in the UK started being paid for sex acts before they were 18 years old.

FACT #3: This statistic is misleading. It fosters the view that many sex workers started as children which is reinforced by the oft quoted erroneous statistic that the “average age of entry into prostitution is 13″. In fact, the same survey found 80% of female sex workers in the UK started working over the age of 16. A survey of adult sex workers in Stockton found that the average age of entry into prostitution was 20.

CLAIM #4: 95% of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users.

FACT #4: This figure is unreliable. It comes from Home Office funded “exiting and support projectsSex workers who don’t use drugs have little contact with these projects and are unlikely to be surveyed. There are no reliable figures of drug use among sex workers and therefore no evidence that the rate of drug use is higher than among journalists, politicians or celebrity chefs.

CLAIM #5:  The Swedish law that criminalised clients whilst decriminalising street workers is a successful model; there is a decrease in prostitution and trafficking.

FACT #5a: There no evidence that trafficking, rape and other violence has decreased in Sweden. However, recent research shows that sex workers face increased stigma and are more vulnerable to violence.

FACT #5b: There is no reliable evidence that the Swedish law has resulted in a reduction in prostitution.  One oft quoted statistic is from a survey that found the number of men saying they buy sexual services has decreased from 14% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. How can this be trusted when buying sex was not criminal in 1996 so there were less reasons for men to lie?  The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found it was “difficult to discern any clear trend” up or down.  Evidence of an increase in massage parlours in Stockholm is ignored.

CLAIM #6: Decriminalisation does not work.

FACT #6: This is not true. New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers’ health and safety. The law removed prostitution from the criminal law, allowed people to work together collectively, and distinguished between violence and consenting sex. It reinforced offences against compelling anyone into prostitution, stating a specific right for sex workers to refuse any client. A comprehensive five-year government review found: no increase in prostitution, no increase in trafficking; drug users treated as patients not criminals; sex workers were more able to report violence and leave prostitution if they choose.[x] Legalisation (like in Germany, Nevada and the Netherlands) is state-run prostitution which sets up a two-tier system where the most vulnerable workers remain illegal. It is opposed by most sex workers.

Decriminalisation has received vocal support from World Health organisation, UNAids, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women and 100s of other organisations worldwide.

CLAIM #7: 68% of women in prostitution experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

FACT #7: This figure is absurd! Researcher Melissa Farley and this research were reprimanded by Canadian Supreme Court Judge Himmel because Farley “failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.”

CLAIM #8: Once in prostitution, 9 out of 10 women report wanting to exit but feel unable to do so.

FACT #8: Another absurd statistic from the discredited Ms Farley. Even if it were true, it could as easily be claimed that once in factory, office, agricultural and domestic work: “9 out of 10 women report wanting to exit but feel unable to do so.” Financial alternatives and resources for women, not abolition of prostitution would better address this.

CLAIM #9: 70% of sex workers spent time in care.

FACT #9: This statistic is untrue. It is based on studies of YOUNG PEOPLE who were“more likely to have had a background of troubled family relations or the care system than adults involved in sex.

CLAIM #10: Over half of women involved in prostitution in the UK have been raped and/or sexually assaulted — the vast majority of these assaults perpetrated by sex buyers.

FACT #10: This figure may be true. It is a survey of women working on the STREET. Sex workers experience high levels of rape and other violence but this does not mean that prostitution is violence.

Using violence to justify the criminalisation of clients is deceitful as it ignores evidence that criminalisation forces sex workers to work in isolation at greater risk of attack. Women Against Rape report that 1 in 4 women have been raped and that only 6.5% of reported rapes result in convictions. Police time and resources are desperately needed to focus on the investigation of actual violence not the policing of consenting sex.

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FACT #11: Prostitution is about ….. money!

The majority of sex workers are women and men (including transgender women and men) who decided to sell sex in order to escape poverty or “achieve a better standard of living for themselves”. 74% of off-street sex workers “cited the need to pay household expenses and support their children”.