Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wow! Some Good Sense on Prostitution in the MSM!

I'm always a bit reluctant to discuss forms of sex work other than porn on this blog for fear of creating the false nexus of "pornstitution" so dear to the hearts of APFs. But I think readers here will appreciate the straightforward rationality of this commentary that ran, of all places, on the op-ed page of today's LA times. I'm sure the incoming fire directed at the author for writing it and the editors for printing it will be withering, but truth stands up well under fire, and this author clearly speaketh the sooth:,0,7422832.story

I don't know how this one sneaked under the wire, but I'm grateful it did.


  1. Great find!

    It might be worth the money to buy Kelley's book.

    A question:

    If it is a well known fact that Farley's studies have been funded largely by some of the neocon groups, why can't the industry (either porn or the Nevada bordello owners) fund their own studies? I would think that taking some action would be preferable to languishing about, taking the abuse from the anti forces.


  2. Outis,

    That's a great idea, although such research would undoubtedly be dismissed as no better than the kind of "research" carried on by tobacco companies, even if it were done by totally respected professionals.

    I guess taking money from the Bush administration doesn't count as evidence of cherry-picking data for desired results, as opposed to accepting funds for industry-sponsored research, which most certainly would, but it's still worth a try.

    The problem I foresee lies in getting the business guys to pony up the cash for this, but I'll certainly use my X-Biz column to plant the seed.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. is the objective, nonpartisan firm that did the recent study that found that abstinence-only education doesn't work. How would we go about getting Mathematica or any similar company to do a completely objective study on sex work?

  4. Short answer: we would have to pay them. That's how research gets done. Either government, NGOs or the private sector funds research, which is not an inexpensive thing to do well, whether in the social sciences or more traditional scientific disciplines. It means substantial samplings, carefully constructed study methodologies, reliable, unbiased researchers and enough time to evaluate collected data before offering conclusions.

    Such research is the exception rather than the rule these days, as most funding sources are out to prove a point and tend to hire researchers likely to deliver the buyer's desired outcomes. Case in point being Farley's swill, subsidized by right-wing organizations and the Bush administration.

    The problem we face, and it's a real head-scratcher, is how we avoid falling into the same trap of getting what we pay for, as opposed to what's credible to anyone who applies the scientific method to the same data and replicates the same results. And that's going on the assumption that we can even get sex industry mighties to pay for the attempt.

    When I propose that we try in next month's X-Biz column, I fully expect to be greeted with a collective sigh of despondency from the guys whose money would be needed. What is the point, they will ask with some justification, when whatever our research team comes up with, however cleanly their work is done, will be automatically dismissed as "just more pro-porn propaganda," bought and paid for by The Pimps and The Pornographers, as we are all and always collectively identified by our opponents?

    My answer will be that if we play it straight and the research we fund holds up under the most rigorous examination, we can push back against such accusations on the strength of the work. The truth does have a way of confounding critics who have engaged in deliberate and determined lying for years.

    It's worth a try, and given the way in which I now see us losing the battle for public opinion to a Hitler-Stalin pact of sex-work-trashers from the right and from the left, we have little to lose by trying to get our own facts and statistics out there to at least compete with the cooked numbers the other side is hurling at us day and night from the blogosphere to the op-ed pages of major newspapers.

    Overall, this industry has done a piss-poor job of public relations from the gate, and recent attempts to pass it off as "just another part of mainstream media culture" have merely handed our critics more ammunition, opening us up to charges of "glamorizing" our sordid trade will deliberately concealing its more unsavory aspects.

    It doesn't help that there is some truth to that particular slam. The picture of sex work painted by Pornucopia, Cathouse and Family Business can't but ring a at least partially false to any viewer with a lick of common sense. No business can be as devoid of drawbacks as these shows make ours out to be, much less a business that's still got one foot on either side of the law.

    I believe that honest research will go a long way toward vindicating a generally positive view of sex work - if I didn't I wouldn't be working here - but we can't expect anyone to take anything we say on faith and we've got some heavy-lifting to do if we want to get out from under all the muck the opposition has heaped on our backs since the Ed Meese era.

    It won't be easy or fun, but we need to get started on it yesterday. In case nobody has noticed, the whole Switzergate scandal has been a boon to the anti-sex-work industry and all its self-serving practitioners, who are out in force on the Web, in print and on the airwaves spinning a story about a rich politician who spent $5K an hour for blow-jobs from an independent sex worker into a horror show about the evils of prostitution and the vile men who support it.

    We better put 'em up, because the other side is throwing left hooks and right crosses 24/7 at this point.

  5. And speaking thereof.....guess who made the weekend edition of CounterPunch today??

    Gail Dines: It's All About The John: Prostitution and Male Power (CounterPunch)

    Never mind the outing of "Kristen" by the very same media; or the fact that this was a consensual act; or the fact that Spitzer was busted more for his financial shenanigans in laundering his sexcapade than for anything Dines, it's the same old story of men using their penises to attack women.

    And, of course, there is the all-too-typical memes about the "Pretty Woman" image versus the Dines "reality" of virtual rape, with no middle ground allowed in between.

    Perhaps it's time to fire off some emails to Alex Cockburn again..if only to remind him that there is another side that exists.


  6. Spitzergate does present a bit of a conundrum for Professor Dines and her pals, doesn't it? I mean, until last week, Spitzer was one of theirs. He proudly proclaimed himself an enemy of sex work at all levels, justifying his ferocious attacks on it when he was N.Y.A.G. in language straight out of the APF list of approved talking points, and they celebrated him for it.

    Even now, Dines' camp is divided between those who repudiate him at this point as just another patriarchal swine and those still in shock about their inability to spot something much more like a wolf in the fold.

    Check out this piece in the NYT if you want to see how deep the ambivalence toward Spitzer runs:

    Hardly surprising that Dines and many of her allies are doing their best to distract public attention from their fallen televangelist to the sins of others far more wicked. If they play this thing just right, it could eventually work to their advantage.

    Odd thing, The Times running the above so close to a column by noted neo-con hack and Iraq War cheerleader Nicholas Kristof essentially using this episode to build a spurious case against the decriminalization of prostitution using stats from Melissa Farley's new book, of which you can read a nice shredding here if you haven't already:

    Stranger still when Farley herself puts in an appearance on the same august pages:

    (I think you have to register for that one, but it's free)

    And strangest of all when you realize none of this has anything to do with the central story in question, which is that a legendary bloodhound on the trail of pimps and human traffickers and a stalwart of Hillary Clinton's phalanx of high-profile backers had decided the Mann Act didn't apply to him.

    Now this might be mere petty opportunism on the part of a small group of nominally leftist academics otherwise invisible and inconsequential outside their campus cults. It certainly hasn't done their careers any harm, any more than the repetition of the same lies by Bob Herbert seems to have done his with with a certain following. Or Don Hazen his.

    But watching the press stir-fry Obama tonight over an association with one extremist preacher (McCain is chasing those all over the country) and one crooked fund-raiser (we're talking about Chicago here, folks), I can't help but wonder why none of the taint of l'Affaire Spitzer seems to have rubbed off on Hillary.

    Today, in the same NYT, I got a clue. Check this out:

    So, Kate Zernike lets out of the bag a yowling cat that calls our attention to the obvious connection. There would appear to be a group of older feminists, ranging from Gloria Steinem to Erica Jong, who think of any woman who suspects Obama might actually make a better president is a traitor to her own gender. Gee, where have we heard that charge before?

    Their resentments toward a younger group of women who consider themselves no less feminist bristles in this item from Saturday's LAT:,0,6849050.column

    Even Meagan Daum, who is no friend to us but is usually at least civil, plays dirty in that one, accusing the culture of sexualizing children and citing the odious Ariel Levy as her pet expert.

    Zernike is definitely onto something here. If you also read HuffPo (I don't know where or why I find the time for all this stuff), you'll see the edifying spectacle of Jong duking it out with Eve Ensler over whether a woman can fail to fight for Hillary's triumph and still claim to have ovaries.

    There's also this favorite of mine from Lynda Obst:

    And if that's not enough mud wrestling for your taste, try this friendly exchange between Roseanne Barr:

    And Erin Kotecki:

    Not since seventh grade have I witnessed such elevating discourse.

    Two of many things in which I don't believe are utopias and conspiracies. Ocham's razor is my religion. What you see is what you get. I don't believe there's going to be a worker's paradise here on earth after the revolution and I don't believe there's a martyr's paradise full of eager (if clumsy) virgins waiting for suicide bombers in the next world. I don't believe in the next world for that matter.

    I do believe that Oswald acted alone, we really did go to the moon, those lights in the sky probably are weather balloons ... you get the idea.

    But I also believe there are coincidences that look an awful lot like conspiracies and might as well be when opportunists get hold of them. Right now, there are a bunch of different identity-politics constituencies who have been out of power and far removed from political influence for a long, long time. Geraldine Ferraro is one face of that group. Donna Brazile is another.

    The country is in the worst mess it's seen in a very, very long time. A hated president leaves an untenable legacy to an elderly gentleman not much liked by his own party. It would seem impossible for even the Democrats to snatch defeat from the yawning jaws of such a lazy victory.

    Unfortunately for them, however, the Dems can't win without a few key constituencies setting aside their differences and agreeing to accept someone who tells enough of them what they need to hear to justify a vote, sometimes against all reason, as when so many African-American welfare mothers supported Bubba in 1996.

    Only this time, it isn't happening. Nobody wants to go to the back of the bus. Obama leads in delegates, states and the popular vote and can't think of any good reason why he shouldn't be the nominee. Hillary feels after what she's been through, they ought to just cancel the election and move her right into the White House now.

    And their respective constituencies show signs of a frightening eagerness for hand-to-hand combat. With insinuations about race and gender flying from both camps, the atmosphere is too toxic to even discuss some kind of grand coalition in which a candidate takes one for the team and agrees to a VP nom while leaving the top job to a despised rival.

    It might not even work if such a thing were tried. If all the black voters who think the nomination was stolen end up sitting home, or if all the women over forty who think they were denied a chance to see a woman president elected in their lifetimes stay home, the Dems lose, period.

    Enter the tiny faction of white leftists, who usually couldn't care less about squabbles among liberals, with a whiff of tear-gas from 1968 in their nostrils. They could really cause a lot of mischief in such a powder-keg environment if they chose to by, for instance, pressing harder on either candidate about what, exactly, is going to happen in Iraq starting next January. Neither candidate has a good answer to that one.

    On the other hand, they could be useful to a candidate who might later be useful to them by providing cover for what should be a monster scandal on the order of Jack Abromoff's troubles.

    Forget what you think about prostitution for a minute (like that's going to happen around here). There are dozens, hundreds, of photographs of HRC standing next to ex-Gov. Spitzer with a big, dumb grin on her face. How can she not look at those images and cringe, thinking: "Fuck, not again!"

    Yep, again. Hillary stands by, or fails to denounce, her philandering man one more time. In this case, it's Spitzer, someone who raised a shit-ton of money for her and was prominently placed to help deliver her own state for her, a man who did not hesitate to lecture others on their morals and to use the power of his office to make those lectures stick.

    Let's call it straight here. Spitzer is a rat-prick, one step, if that, above a vice cop who shakes down hookers for BJs in lieu of a trip downtown. Okay, so he left out the handcuffs part (at least as far as we know yet - this deal is just getting started). We don't even know that he used public money to pay for the company of women indistinguishable from those who his investigators threatened with long jail terms if they didn't roll over on their booking agencies.

    Make no mistake about how Spitzer’s office made those celebrated cases against “prostitution rings” that, in turn, made his career. They all started out with some escort set up for a soliciting bust and then arm-twisted by the prospect of being “papered” with additional charges or dragged in front of a grand jury if they didn’t give up the outfits that booked for them. Some of those agencies may indeed have been run by brutal mobsters, which meant that forcing one of their girls to turn state’s merely put the girl’s life in danger. But in most cases, the people they were required to hand over were essentially partners, handling the screening and billing while the escort did the physical labor. Since testifying against the “office” crowd was often a matter of testifying against friends, and frequently former escorts themselves, this put the witness’s ability to look herself in the mirror every morning for the rest of her days at risk.

    Some people may regard a guy who constructs his political career on this kind of thing as a hero, but I can think of several other words more accurately descriptive. However, even if, for whatever reason, you celebrated the Elliot Spitzer of a month ago, you have to damn the Elliot Spitzer of today the more for doing a Larry Craig and then some. Talk about a buzz-kill.

    But where is Hillary in all this? Where is the outrage? Where is the accountability for failure to properly vet an important ally? Where is the common sense that would seem to dictate nothing less than putting maximum distance between the candidate and this albatross ASAP?

    Even a numbskull like W. had the brains (or at least he had Karl Rove) to know that Bernie Kerik had to go under the bus in a hurry when the gruesome details began to emerge, but Hillary seems to feel no need to do more than return a few token bucks and offer a mild expression of disapproval to successfully cleanse herself of the stench left by the sudden exit a particularly odious bent cop from her inner circle. We’re talking about a disgraced ex-governor who paraded his own wife in front of the cameras in an act of callously-orchestrated political theater worthy of, well, Bill Clinton. You’d think Hillary of all people would be eager to express her indignation over such conduct and make it clear that had she been given the slightest hint such shenanigans were going on beneath her tent, she would have thrashed the scoundrel herself. But no, the candidate seems weirdly, serenely detached from this whole controversy and quite confident it won’t get in her way, no matter what other ugliness emerges from the double-life of Elliot Spitzer.

    Now why is that? Could it be that Hillary, ever the fixer, already has the fix in on this one? Could she have some very special friends willing to deflect all those awkward queries concerning what Hillary and her staff did or did not know about Spitzer prior to last week?

    Could it be that some previously-marginalized second-wavers, scorned since the eighties by bright, young things enjoying all the advantages bought by years of feminist struggle and a previously unimaginable sense of sexual entitlement, can at last rehabilitate themselves by swiveling the focus of media attention away from Elliot Spiizer's misdeeds and onto the much more lurid topic of the horrors of "real prostitution'? You know, that evil stuff that these younger fools who might vote for someone they liked regardless of race or gender, have dared to call "empowering."

    It doesn't matter than no one I know, here or elsewhere, has ever called prostitution per se empowering. In all fairness, Andrea Dworkin never said that sex was rape either. There's been plenty of low blows traded among sisters in the past two decades, and this latest exchange is merely more obvious because of the stakes involved.

    If HRC does somehow squeak through this potentially candidacy-wrecking disaster, then gets the nod by way of a brokered convention millions of Americans who might have voted for a candidate they actually chose will regard as a direct insult, then dodges the fleet of swift boats the GOP pros are hammering together in five-star hotel suites all over the country at the moment, she'll owe a piece of her presidency to a fringe group that acted as a diversionary force when she most needed one. With their help, the party can just blame the whole nasty Spitzer mess on the work of evil pimps and move on.

    Hillary gets to play the Madonna and guess who gets to play the whore? Somehow, whether in Hollywood or D.C., it’s the whore who takes the rap.

    Will Hillary be allowed to forget this good service from a bunch of radfems who have spent the past five years reviling her as a warmonger for her Iraq vote and had to swallow hard to do this thing for her?

    Yeah, sure. Like George Bush was allowed to forget the helping hand of the religious right. He may not have given them constitutional amendments against abortion and same-sex marriage, but he did hand them a generation of control over SCOTUS, ending its fifty-year tradition as the people's tribunal of last resort. Had 2004 gone the other way, Miller v. California might be headed for the same junkyard as Dred Scott. Now I wouldn't be surprised to see the Roberts court revisit the latter.

    So what will those unregenerate Second Wavers want for their reward? Plenty. While more moderate feminists will want the usual stuff - important appointments, pet programs - there will be those whose agenda will have getting-our-asses-but good somewhere near the top. Hillary will have to prove herself just as tough on sex commerce to them as she’ll have to prove herself tough on defense to those effing Reagan Democrats.

    It will all be done for humanitarian purposes, of course, to help out unfortunate victims of the culture of "Pornstitution" like - you know, what was her name? - that prostituted woman in the Spitzer thing? Of course, it will have nothing to do with individual rights, individual freedom or, goddess forbid, individual choices and the rest of that libertarian bullshit. It will be about protecting women and children.

    Not since Elizabeth Cady Stanton made her devil's bargain with Carrie Nation will the cause of women's rights have clutched a more venomous serpent to its bosom. A generation after the repeal of prohibition, the seemingly inevitable ERA went down to defeat in part out of secret, voting-booth vengeance over the Volstead Act, behind which the suffragists and the WCTU had thrown their combined weight.

    Oh, and did I mention that Prohibition was considered a key cause for progressives in its day?

    If you've stayed up reading this late, you know what I'm getting at.

    America, meet the Swedish Solution.

    And porn, meet the HHSD. They'll take over where the DOJ left off.

    Thus endedth my seemingly interminable disquisition on Elliot Spitzer's hobby and our future.

    Don't take my word for it. Ask Nicholas Kristof and Bob Herbert. They'll never agree on Iraq, but when it comes to sex work, they'll be behind those HRC administration "initiatives" all the way.

    Reading the NYT this week has been like a stint of community service for drunk driving in the Media Studies Dept. at Wheelock College, simultaneously ludicrous and sobering.

  7. Oh, great....just when I'm about to rip CounterPunch a new one for pandering to Dines, they had to go and post a contrarian view on Spitzergate:

    Dr. Susan Block: Advice for Eliot Spitzer: Amsterdamize New York! (CounterPunch)

    (Snipped from original post at Doc Suzy's "Bloggamy", located here)


  8. ...and don't forget the new piece in Counterpunch by Jill Nagle, "Open Memo to Sex Workers", which urges decriminalization and has some comradely criticism for sex workers who advertise in newspapers with a sex-negative editorial slant.

  9. Re: research and Farley's studies –

    The fact is, there actually is some good prostitution research going on, it just doesn't get the same degree of attention. There's actually been some good work done on brothel prostitution in Nevada, for example, sociological studies by Barbara Brents and Kate Hausbeck and others, and in-depth journalism by Alexa Albert.

    This, of course, was largely ignored by the mainstream media, which was later all over Melissa Farley's sensationalistic "report". (Though the Las Vegas Sun later ran this critical piece, at least.) But, of course, Melissa Farley has a strong publicity machine behind her – powerful media and government figures who support her views, and a very distinct internet attack brigade (that I have some suspicion she actually coordinates, at least to some degree) that I've fought some skirmishes with before. Contrast that with most academic studies, that tend not to get a lot of publicity (at least, not unless its a particularly media-savvy academic who's good at blowing their own horn) and that often tend to have rather nuanced findings that no "side" in a debate is particularly anxious to hitch their cart to.

  10. I just checked out Nicholas Kristoff's blog:

    He has several posts on sex work, with extensive comments in response. His most recent column on the subject claims that all sex workers, even the most well-paid and voluntary ones, are ultimately victims based on the old "every one of them was sexually abused" line of psychobabble.

    In the commentary on another thread, this post stood out:

    "Reading through these comments I see you have become the target of the pimp lobby.

    There are a very well-funded and relentless group of people who make it their business to make sure no discussion of prostitution happens on the Internet without them taking over the conversation. They are mostly pimps, porn producers, strip club conglomerates, and few johns.

    Their arguments go like this:
    - all bad things about prostitution are caused by the illegality
    - anyone against prostitution is a prude in a moral panic
    - all studies of prostitution are wrong unless they find that pimps and prostitutes are healthy and happy
    - Melissa Farley is evil incarnate and must be smeared at all costs

    If all these arguments don’t get you to stop writing about the issue, then the violent threats will start.

    You have no idea the lengths the sex industry will go to to keep the money flowing. We are talking about a multi-billion-dollar, tax-free, cash-based industry here. They have deep tentacles in the banking, business, and law enforcement worlds.

    If you want to know the truth about prostitution, take a look at the men who make the big money in the sex industry.

    IF you dare.

    — Posted by Fredfriendly"

    Ah yes, the evil "pimp" lobby that we're evidently part of, generously bankrolled by the sex industry, that's apparently profoundly and deeply powerful. Never mind that I have yet to see a free porn DVD, much less an income, for all my pro-porn "industry apologist" blogging.

  11. IACB, terrific letter you posted. Considering the other anti-worker commentary, I am pleased you got in there and that the Bound Not Gagged link is up. Good work.
    Yeah, the "pimp lobby." Whatever that is. If there was such a thing, I would take my chances with the pimp and porn lobby over the DOJ any day of the fricking week.

  12. Ren, could you please remove the above post. Sorry about the hassle.