Monday, December 10, 2007

New Federal anti-sex work legislation passes House

A new version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TPRVA 2007/11) just passed the House (as H.R. 3887) and is now on its way to the Senate. While it contains some laudable legislation combatting forced labor and child soldiering, it also, once again, targets voluntary sexual labor by conflating it with forced prostitution and sex trafficking. It contains a very sweeping section outlawing "sex tourism" (the section in question can be found on pages 69–72 of the text of the bill), which it basically defines as any movement over into or out of the United States for purposes of performing or purchasing "illicit sexual acts", which includes any and all commercial sexual services. Existing legislation prohibits traveling abroad to purchase sex with minors; the new legislation expands this to include sex with consenting adults, even in countries where this is legal. (For example, an American who buys sex in an Amsterdam brothel would be subject to Federal prosecution back in the US.) Notably, it also criminalizes travel to or from the US to sell sexual services as well. (For example, a Montreal escort who travels to an American city to sell sex would be further criminalized under Federal law, in addition to existing local law.) Basically, it resurrects the Mann Act and internationalizes it.

Maxine Doogan of the Erotic Service Providers Union posted about the legislation over Bay Area Indymedia. Lisa Roellig, also of ESPU, has this to say over at Bound, Not Gagged:
TVPRA 2007/11 passed the house Tuesday. Below is the link for anyone who has the time to read it in in its entirety. The sections relating to the sex industry clearly conflate all sex work with sex trafficking and the consequences for all workers in our industry I believe could be quite horrific. I believe the passage of the TVPRA 2007/11 through the house should be considered an emergency and all workers and allies should mobilize before the legislation gets to the Senate for a vote.

I want to know if the porn industry has had any concerns with this legislation. In reading the legislation, I believe sex workers who work on camera have every reason to be as concerned as the sex workers who work “off camera.”

The most troubling aspect of this legislation is that not only does it conflate all sex work with sex trafficking but also that for the way our industry operates, where workers are frequently crossing borders to work, be it national or international, the potential for massive arrests and long periods of prison time are very distressing. Note, up to 10 years for the worker and up to 30 years for the support staff.

Anybody else feeling this?
Roellig raises an interesting question about how this affects the porn industry and porn industry workers, since porn models often travel internationally for the purpose of having sex on camera. Under present American legal interpretation, hiring somebody to act in a porn movie is considered distinct from prostitution under the legal precedent established by California v. Freeman; however, this decision is not binding outside of California (even though porn is shot in quite a few other US States) and is not binding on the Federal government. Hence, the Federal government could very well use this legislation to come down on porn production involving an international cast. (I've also heard some suggestions about attempting to apply Lawrence v. Texas to commercial sexual encounters, but as of yet, this is an entirely untested approach.)

The area of international anti-trafficking legislation is an area where "porn lobby" groups like the Free Speech Coalition have been really asleep at the wheel and needs to be more on top of.

Writing one's Senators and asking them to remove the "sex tourism" section and similar sections of the bill as harmful toward sex workers and criminalizing legal, consensual behavior might be worthwhile, though considering the sexual conservatism of most politicians and the overwrought rhetoric of prostitution abolitionists, changing politicians minds on the subject is a long shot. But then again, hearing more "I support sex workers, oppose the criminalization of consensual adult behaviors, and, BTW, I vote" messages from their constituency might just plant a seed.

Oh, and one other thing struck me about this legislation – about a month ago, I was listening to a story about problems in Iraq with Blackwater mercenaries, about how they were guilty of outright war crimes, but nobody in the US government can figure out their legal status, that is, whether they're under jurisdiction of Iraqi or US military or civilian law. Yet, when it comes to the simple act of buying sex, something that's legal in much of the world, suddenly sweeping international jurisdiction is real easy to come up with!


  1. Went to the bill at 126 pages is more than I want to read at the moment.

    I did find the "Sex Tourism" Section beginning on page 69.

    Putting sex workers in prison for ten years makes the whole bill look like a sham.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Incidentally, the House vote belies any notion that Congressional Democrats are less susceptible to abolitionist ideas than Republicans. It was:

    Dem. 222 for, 0 against, 10 not voting
    Rep. 183 for, 2 against, 14 not voting

  3. I'm wondering if perhaps it's easier for this administration to figure out (or strictly define) the legal status of women than men. Something the feminists who have made Bush their ally should really think about.


  4. To speak of "consensual sex work" is, for the most part, absurd. Whether it's interviews in Nevada's legal brothels or studies of prostitutes from around the world, 80-90% of these "workers" say they want to get out. Poverty, addiction, isolation, past abuse, social prejudice, and sheer violence from pimps and madams are among the factors holding them back.

    I agree, however, that prostitutes should not be punished--the pimps and johns should. That's how they do it now in Sweden, and it works well.

  5. To speak of "consensual sex work" is, for the most part, absurd. Whether it's interviews in Nevada's legal brothels or studies of prostitutes from around the world, 80-90% of these "workers" say they want to get out. Poverty, addiction, isolation, past abuse, social prejudice, and sheer violence from pimps and madams are among the factors holding them back.

    I agree, however, that prostitutes should not be punished--the pimps and johns should. That's how they do it now in Sweden, and it works well.

    Ahhh, Adam, are you off your meds again??

    We've been through this countless times about the "Swedish model": how it DOES punish sex workers by deny them their right to existence; how it reinforces the most negative sexual ideologies and common assumptions about sex workers and their clients; and how it funnels resources away from much more effective harm prevention methods and labor protections for sex workers and their clients.

    And no, Adam, quoting Melissa Fairley's trumpted up stats of "85% of 'prostituted women' say they want to get out" won't work here, either; we've been there and rejected that a long time ago.

    Consensual sex work does exist, in spite of your efforts to deny it. Better to legalize it and work to protect both client and worker with decent labor and health protections, than to continue this game of denial.


  6. What Anthony said.

    Still trying to win arguments with that string of boilerplate, eh Adam?

    No such thing as consensual sex work? That's a pretty tall statement – what about the statements by many sex workers that they're doing sex work consensually and without duress? You can debate what percentage of the sex industry that is (though, for the record, I don't consider Melissa Farley to be a credible researcher and think her oft-repeated "90%" doesn't hold much water), but you don't get to write off the entire existence of consensual sex work just because it doesn't happen to agree with your ideology.

    And I challenge you to prove that Swedish criminalization of johns has had any practical effect that's any different from American criminalization of johns and sex workers. Both have simply driven prostitution off the streets and indoors. Google 'escort and stockholm' sometime and you'll see how easy it is to find a prostitute in Sweden's capital if one were looking for one.

    Criminalization in both countries has gone a long way toward impeding practical efforts at harm reduction, however. I'd hardly call that "working".

  7. While we may reject arguments such as those of Adam and his friends (as the town of Northampton itself did recently (, clearly the so-called "Swedish Solution" is a bad idea that has gained some traction in parts of Europe, most recently including the U.K. ( Of course, like all other attempts at sex work prohibition, this "solution" solves nothing. It merely drives the trade underground and creates greater risk for sex workers.

    And no, it doesn't work. But don't take my word for it. Check out what happened when this really, really bad concept was given a try down under:,22884,22952777-5007221,00.html

    Of course, those who advocate such things really don't care at all about sex-workers, though they delight in wringing their hands over the misery and degradation that must ever and always accompany such activities, regardless of the circumstances.

    What they do care about is pursuing a fanatical anti-sex-work and anti-porn agenda at all costs, including the lives of women. In fact, any harm-reduction model that makes things better for sex workers disrupts that agenda, which is why APFs willingly get in bed with the most heinous of reactionaries (while dismissing any such affiliation as a red herring or a straw man or whatever) to support this kind of reactionary legislation.

    While Adam claims he doesn't want to see sex workers punished, his proposed alternative to this ugly piece of legislation is just as punitive by different means.

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  9. Greetings, so late to comment on this post. My apologies for being late but the discourse of the "Swedish Model," the use of M. Farley research statistics etc. I can not resist to comment. First some history.
    The concept of the "Swedish Model" (arrest the men/our clients)actually originated here in San Francisco as "The John's School." For the City and County of San Francisco this is a “fundraiser." The fundraiser is the First Offenders Prostitution Program (FOPP)and is initiated by San Francisco Police vice department who earn time and half to operate at least 8 sting operations a year on workers and customers to make sure there are enough participants that qualify to attend the FOPP. The San Francisco District Attorney’s office contracts with the The SAGE Project, Inc to run the shame based, sex negitive program where all three organizations receive proceeds from the participants as well as federal funding from the United States Department of Justice and United States Department of Health and Human Services. This is how the fundraising works.

    A man drives down O’Farrell Street looking for a date. The man pulls his car over and arranges for a forty dollar date with a woman he obviously doesn’t know is a decoy cop and the next thing he knows he is being arrested for soliciting prostitution. The man is now told by the San Francisco Police that he can make a deal with District Attorney’s office. By waving his right to due process, the charges will not be persued if he will now pay one thousand dollars to attend the First Offenders Prostitution Program, also known as the “John’s School.”

    If he pays the money, attends the “John’s School” and promises never to solicit a prostitute again, the charge will be taken off his record, his wife won’t find out and I assume neither will his next employer, when he applies for a job. He is told that the money will go to a program “to help prostituted women.” The money really gets split up between the San Francisco District Attorney, the San Francisco Police Department and the SAGE Project, Inc. The SAGE Project, Inc. is the program claiming to “help the prostituted women” with job training and education for women leaving prostitution but really it doesn’t do any of that. The SAGE Project, Inc. is also host of the “John’s School” which the man has just been coerced to paying a thousand dollars to attend. It’s really more of a shake down.

    The San Francisco Police Department spends somewhere around fifteen million dollars a year enforcing prostitution laws. The FOPP was the so-called “progressive” brainchild of City and County officials and nonprofits who were kind of in a pickle. How could they continue getting their desperately needed funding off the criminalization of prostitution when most citizens were getting sympathetic to the prostitutes right not to be arrested? Arrest the men and make it a big public relations campaign (hoax) and because you really need the money, continue to arrest the women but call it “rescue” instead of arrest. Now the City and County of San Francisco can qualify for all that federal “anti-trafficking” money.

    Criminalizing prostitution and clients of prostitution makes prostitutes less safe. Criminalized workers are not only more vulnerable to violence they are not likely to report violence after it happens. Arresting men for soliciting prostitution and forcing them to come up with one thousand dollars is having a severe impact on both the prostitutes and clients ability to pay their rent and feed their children.

    San Francisco is home to many of the largest war profiteers, who get away with profiting off of an illegal war each and every day. Meanwhile the City and County of San Francisco are arresting men and women for adult consensual sex. The City and County of San Francisco should be arresting men for making bombs not buying blowjobs.
    Melissa Farley is the so-called researcher/police state collaborator, who provides the lies/fodder to keep us all criminalized. Her research has been disputed not only by actual sex workers but also from actual research scientists. She along with other anti-prostitution/anti-pornography agents have hijacked the sex trafficking issue and have joined forces with the religious right. Most disturbing is that they are creating this hysteria around forced labor in the sex industry to really further their abolishionist agenda by fooling well intentioned folks, who may have had little or no problem with adult consentual sex for money, into thinking we are all just all one big ball of wax sex slaves.
    Further, their focus on the Asain Massage Parlor Worker here in San Francisco is partically racist. That Asian Sex Workers are waiting for their rescue furthers a stereotype of Asian Women as submissive and having no agency. Most important, the rescue of Asian massage Parlor Workers is really the raids, arrests,detention and deportation Of Asain Massage Parlor Workers. The Erotic Service Providers Union, Sex Workers Outreach Project and Californians for Privacy had the oppurtunity to confront Melissa Farley and Norma Hotaling (SAGE Founder) on the steps of San Francisco City Hall at an anti-sex, anti-worker, anti-immigrant rally last week billed as a "vigil to build awareness of sex trafficking and sex traffic victims."
    This week we will be filing the petition for decriminalization of All Sex Work in the City and County of San Francisco. Our goal is to collect enough signatures to make the November election. I am very hopeful that the good people of San Francisco believe that it is about time. Any and all support from my Brothers and Sisters in the Porn Industry will be appreciated.
    In Solidarity,
    Lisa Roellig
    Erotic Service Providers Union

  10. One last thing. Mr. Greene, I am always willing to take your word on it because you are from the industry. The "outsiders" who claim to know but don't have got to go. And thank you for your insight and activism through the years!