Tag Archives: abuse

If Romances Movies Were Feminist

Abusive relationships are romanticised and even fetishised in popular movies about love. If a man really loves you he’ll disrupt your life, cross clearly stated boundaries, stalk you, coerce you, and argue that he’s helpless in doing so because his overwhelming love for you just forces him to do all these things. He just loves you so much, so that must mean it is true love. Parents let their teenage children watch Twilight as if there’s nothing wrong with modelling such destructive and unhealthy relationships in movies. We get a warning if there’s any boobage to be seen, warningbut I wish there more awareness of the dangers of romanticising unhealthy ‘love’. How awesome would it be if Twilight started like this:

WARNING: The following show features abusive behaviour performed either by professionals or under the supervision of professionals, Accordingly MTV and the producers must insist that no one attempt to recreate of re-enact any activity performed on this show.

Remember the “tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?” lyric in Grease? It’s a classic, obviously. But even in more modern movies, some really creepy, rapey, stalky stuff comes out. Jealousy is framed as romance, possessiveness is framed as love, stalking is framed as caring. And yeah, movies about healthy everyday relationships would be boring, but the scary part is that all this abuse is never used as ‘bad stuff’. If a man hits a woman it’s “oh my heavens look what horrible things she’s going through” but if he watches her sleep… for months.. without her knowing.. that’s supposed to not freak us out?

Ireland: Protect your whores from the nuns!

The Magdalene Laundries might have closed, but sex workers are not safe from Irish Sisters at all. The nuns simply regrouped, renamed themselves and are still harming prostitutes. A little background information:

FMagdalen-asylumrom 1765 all the way to 1996, ‘fallen women‘ in Ireland were taken from their homes and incarcerated in so-called ‘Magdalene Laundries‘.  A fallen woman could be an unmarried pregnant woman, a girl who was considered too promiscuous or a prostitute who needed to be ‘saved’. In these prostitute-prisons they were horribly abused and had to perform forced labour.

“the institutions had little impact on prostitution over the period”, and yet they were continuing to multiply, expand and, most importantly, profit from the free labor. Since they were not paid, Raftery asserted, “it seems clear that these girls were used as a ready source of free labour for these laundry businesses”. Wikipedia

The 1993 discovery of a mass grave in Dublin opened up the conversation about the exploitation of prostitutes and led to a government inquiry. A formal state apology was issued in 2013, and a €60 million compensation scheme was set up. The four religious institutes that ran the Irish asylums have not as yet contributed to compensate the survivors of abuse. This is despite demands from the Irish government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture.

You think the exposure of all their crimes would have at least stopped the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, and Sisters of Charity from abusing sex workers, right? They refuse to acknowledge what they did or compensate their victims, but maybe they would be out of the whore-hurting business, right? Surely they’re not making money, right now, doing the exact same thing, right?

Yeah, right.

The Sisters continue their abuse

ruhamaRuhama, the largest anti-sex work organisation in Ireland, was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters“both of which had a long history of involvement with marginalised women, including those involved in prostitution“. They’re even funded by the Department of Health Department of Justice. They received over 14 million between 2006 and 2011.

We know that Ruhama is led in part by Magdalene Laundry nuns” said Kate McGrew, member of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland. Sex workers in Ireland have been fighting for human rights, labour rights and protection from (state) violence. But they have found a persistent and aggressive enemy in the Catholic sisters. Ruhama has not just been bothering prostitutes again, they also actively campaign against sex workers’ rights. They opposed Amnesty International’s proposal in favour of human rights for sex workers and are fighting against everything sex workers demand.

But still, the Irish government is allowing Ruhama , those same people who abused and exploited prostitutes, to advise them on laws that directly impact sex workers, while excluding sex workers themselves. Not only is the Irish government funding the same people that abused sex workers for all those years, they even consult them as ‘experts’ on prostitution.

How many more skeletons need to be found in closets or cesspools before the public wakes up to the evil of prohibitionism? How many more lies until the self-appointed saviors lose their credibility for good? And how many more women have to die? – Maggie McNeill

itssomethingRuhama does not offer any actual help to sex workers who need help. Rescue organisations and anti-prostitution NGO’s rarely do, they mostly make money by ‘raising awareness’, abusing prostitutes, receiving money from governments and providing ‘education’ to health professionals and policy makers. But it seems they haven’t killed any babies. yet. So, you know, that’s something…

You can read more about human rights for Irish sex workers here. You can read more about abuses in the anti-trafficking rescue industry here.

Consent Violations in BDSM scene

In Dutch, "geel" means yellow and "geil" means horny. Which means "yellow" as a safeword can be a bit confusing :P.

In Dutch, “geel” means yellow and “geil” means horny. Which means “yellow” as a safeword can be a bit confusing :P.

Although all kinksters agree BDSM should only be practised with consenting adults, consent violations still happen. In 2013 the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom published a worrying statistic, showing that almost one in three SM-ers had a pre-negotiated limit violated, and 15% even experienced their safeword being ignored. There has been a growing focus on and development of consent culture within the BDSM scene, which has included a tense but fruitful discussion of different types of consent violations. In most simple terms bdsm without consent is simply abuse, but the reality is often more complex and nuanced. Are all consent violations bad?

Reading about the NCSF study I found myself looking back on my own experiences with consent violations. I remember a scene where I gagged my partner and then hurt him. We had the type of relationship where I felt comfortable pushing the boundaries a little, so I went a bit further than I usually did. And then I crossed his boundaries but he couldn’t safeword and I had no idea, because I’d gagged him and forgotten to give him a non-verbal safeword. He was emotional afterwards but not upset with me at all. And I think this exemplary of how consent violations in the scene often happen. I’ve had my own consent violated more than once, but I never considered it a ‘bad consent violation’. Just an honest mistake.

A group of Dutch kinksters decided to find out. They set up a big survey, which over 350 BDSM-ers finished. Their data was analysed by someone who knows what she was doing, so if you’re into statistics go download the paper because it’s good.

A quick look at the characteristics of kinksters
Over half of all subjects were female. This is interesting because there’s still this prevailing myth that perverts are usually men. Over half were submissive, a quarter dominant and another quarter switch (which means they like both roles). As usual they found that men prefer the dominant role and women are more often sub. The age group 18 to 30 was the largest in this sample, though there were kinksters older than 61 as well. People generally had one to ten years of experience, about 10% of people had more than 20 years experience.

Consent violations
Almost 65% of kinky people have experienced some consent violation, often more than once. In this study they asked about pre-negotiated limits being violated, safewords being ignored and scenes that went too far, and all of those things seem to happen regularly. All numbers were higher than in the NCSF study, for example over 20% of Dutch kinksters have had their safeword ignored (compared to 15% in NCSF).

But how bad is it?
One of the great aspects of this study is the nuanced picture it shows of the seriousness of consent violations. They asked respondents about their experiences, how bad they felt it was on a scale from 1 (not bad) to 10 (bad) and their answers were so diverse. There were peaks around 1 to 4, even for the occasions they describe as the worst consent violations. There was another peak at 8 to 10, which shows really horrible consent violations happen.

When asked if they considered the consent violation a form of abuse, the majority of people said they did not. About 15% of all kinky people have ever experienced a ‘bad’ consent violation, and about 20% have had at least one experience they consider abuse. These numbers are, sadly, similar to what we find outside of the BDSM scene. So it seems kinksters are, yet again, not different from non-kinksters.

Kinksters and the police
People how have experienced abuse in a BDSM setting usually do not file charges, even if they did consider doing so. When asked why they did not file charges against their abuser, fear of not being taken seriously by authorities was recurring theme.

Consent at parties
Consent violations usually happened inside someone’s home. Under 10% of consent violations happen at a party. The relationship between severity of the violation and location was not investigated, so we don’t know if consent violations at a party are usually mild or bad.

Around 30% of kinksters have at least once doubted the consent of a scene they saw. Doms report having these doubts most often, subs least often of all. When doubting the consent of a scene nearly all consider intervening, and nearly all do. Most people who worry about a scene notify a DM, which is arguably the best way of intervening since you don’t want people butting in on each others’ scenes the whole time. Many people also talk to the players they’re worried about afterwards. Only 8.7% do absolutely nothing and simply walk away, so there’s no evidence of a massive bystander effect in the scene.

About 60% believe a Party Safeword can help prevent consent violations. Almost nobody has ever needed one, but we believe it might help others. About 44% believe a Party Safeword is very important, and about 28% believe it’s not important at all, so people are quite opinionated about this :).

The study is packed with more facts and figures, so go read it if you’re interested.

End Demand for Music?

KeshaYou’ve probably heard of Kesha, she’s an American singer and songwriter with a wild and kind of ‘raunchy’ image. Her lyrics are usually about partying, getting drunk and sex (“don’t be a little bitch with your chit chat, just show me where your dick’s at”) and it’s obvious that her image is constructed for her by her management. Young sexy women singing about rough sex just sells very, very well.

Kesha has now sued her producer for sexual and physical abuse, you can read some of the horrible details of her allegations here. I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that young women in the music industry are vulnerable to abuse. Personally I believe fame is a damaging thing and would be worried if my child (or anyone I love) would become part of such an industry. But although many people are passionate about women in the media, and everyone knows that women in the music industry are more vulnerable to abuse from both management and customers, not a single person has proposed criminalising the industry.

Heavy-handed restrictions on women would hurt women, not protect them. To make it illegal for women to be musicians and pop stars would be abusive and unfair in itself” says Noah Berlatsky in this great article. “Reducing violence against women shouldn’t come at the expense of cutting women off from professional opportunities and potential income. But sustained prejudices and stigma against sex workers prevent us from seeing that the same is true when talking about sex work.

Yes, women in the sex industry are vulnerable to abuse. But just like marriage, the garment industry and the music industry, the answer is not to restrict women’s rights or criminalise marriage, buying clothes or listening to music. It’s actually stronger human rights and worker rights that combat abuse. The complete opposite of criminalisation.

Revolting Rescue Industry: StopLoverboysNu

It’s no news that people who say they want to help victims of forced prostitution often treat those they claim to help horribly, and actually often exploit victims for their own financial gain. The situation is most serious in countries where sex work is criminalised. In Cambodia sex workers are beaten to death after being abducted from brothels. In the United States prostitutes are manipulated into religious brainwashing camps and are threatened with incarceration. In Thailand the rescue industry poses a greater threat to the safety of sex workers than traffickers do.

AnitaLoverboys470_910505qThe Netherlands provides some protection from the rescue industry, but one of the more well-known anti-trafficking ‘rescue’ organisations StopLoverboysNu (‘stop loverboys now’) has been active for years despite clear signs of trouble. Loverboy is a racist Dutch term for a black boy who pretends to love a white girl and then lures her into the dark world of prostitution. StopLoverboysNu, like Somaly Mam, loves to parade those victims around and show them off in the media. It’s lucrative, there’s a book and donations and Anita de Wit loves her role as celebrity.

Like most rescue organisations it’s quite unclear where the money goes, and because they’re not an actual health care organisation they’re not under supervision to see if their care is any good. So as long as they’re not committing literal crimes, they can go on exploiting women for profit.

Helping Victims? Nope, Just Helping Themselves

Many anti-prostitution activists claim they are against prostitution because it victimises women. In their eyes decriminalised sex work would increase forced prostitution and human trafficking, so they feel that the whole sex trade should be stopped. Even women who say they choose sex work are seen as victims of an unjust system, and anti-prostitution activists feel that women who ‘choose’ sex work should be helped by getting them out of poverty, providing proper health care and making other employment options available to them. They’re about helping victims.

Or so they claim.

It’s good money, fighting sex work. Rescue organisations are amazingly well-funded, activists are flown all over the world to speak and it’s a great boost for your career when you were involved in a women’s rights organisation. The salaries are good. Very good.

But I don’t know of any other industry that is so hostile towards to people they claim to want to help. They out sex workers in countries where the sex worker can go to jail for what they did. They tell prostitutes to be silent and actively bully and threaten them when they’re not. They want rich white actresses to speak for whores because actual sex workers are too privileged (wish I made that one up..).

But the worst thing?

They refuse to help actual victims. We’re not sure where they are spending all that money, but it’s not on helping victims in the sex industry.

Sex workers have often contacted rescue organisations and anti-prostitution activists who claim to want to help victims for actual help, but never got any response. Instead, it’s often the sex worker community that actually helps those in need, arrange money, housing, legal aid and other necessities. While at the same time receiving threats, verbal violence and abuse from ‘rescuers’.

I think this is important to realise. Rescuers will often frame it as if they want to help victims while pro-sex work activists just care about themselves and their money, but the opposite is true. For sex workers, it’s their lives, their safety. It’s anti-prostitution activists who profit from the fight against whores.


Understanding Prohibitionists

Getting into discussions with people who oppose sex workers’ rights can be absolutely draining. Most of us on the pro-side are sex workers or are close to sex workers, so these topics concern our own lives, our safety, the wellbeing of our loved ones. It causes an emotional reaction when something that basic is being attacked.

But not all prohibitionists, or ‘anti’s’, are alike. When I was younger I thought it was quite intuitive that a person can consent to commercial sex, and people around me generally seemed to believe that if a person really wanted to be a prostitute, more power to her. But I also believed, like the people around me, that very few women would want to have sex with ugly strangers. Surely most got into the business because they had no other choice. Like many people in my social circle I used to believe most whores needed help, financial or health-wise. The image I had was that of a drug-addicted sad person in a little unkempt flat. Except the few glamorous high-class escorts of course, whom intrigued me to no end. I used to believe most sex workers were of lower social-economic status which meant ‘my class’ had responsibilities to protect them. I used to believe that most sex workers preferred to get out of the business and would accept a nice little job with a cute little salary in a factory or in a service position if it were offered to them. Based on all these ideas I believed in a help-based approach, those few happy hookers we should leave alone, but healthcare and exit-programmes needed to be our first priority. Prostitutes were vulnerable women who needed our help.

Contact with actual sex workers challenged those arrogant assumptions like a motherfucker, obviously.

The Neutrals

Most anti’s are not truly anti’s, but rather neutrals who base their opinions on wrong information. Just like I did. And I think that as activists these neutrals should be our primary audience, because when they are confronted with enough facts that conflict their beliefs, they change their minds. They become allies.

The biggest problem when talking to neutrals is a process called cognitive dissonance reduction. We all want to believe we are reasonable people who base their opinions on good information. So when we’re told our actions were based on lies and myths and actually harmed the people we meant to help, that causes cognitive dissonance: it conflicts with what we believe about ourselves. To reduce this dissonance we can do three things. We can change our first belief (“seems I’m not such a good, reasonable person after all”), reject the conflicting belief (“Everyone knows most whores are unhappy, you’re wrong”) or find a way to reconcile the two beliefs (“Even good, reasonable people are sometimes mistaken. I guess I was wrong”). The last option is a bit of a blow to our ego, it’s a very vulnerable thing to do. A non-hostile enviroment where you don’t feel personally attacked makes it a lot easier to admit your mistakes.

We’re told a lot of lies about sex, women and sex work. The idea of sex workers’ agency itself challenges some of our culture’s most basic beliefs. So naturally it causes a lot of resistance when those beliefs are brought into question, nobody likes to change their opinion on what they had always believed to be true. But at the same time we do process new information, and we are capable of changing our minds.

In contrast to the name, some neutrals can sound convincingly anti. They’ll repeat the lies and myths and advocate for harmful and discriminatory laws, they might be in favour of the Nordic Model or write horrible articles. But beneath all of that are no real convictions, it’s just fluff.

Neutrals benefit from correct information and contact with actual sex workers. My partner was a pro-leaning neutral when I met him, he had never met a sex worker and didn’t know too much about the subject. All it took was a little bit of information and some socialising with the sex workers in my social circle to turn him into a full-blown sex workers’ rights supporter. I talked to a devout young Christian woman a couple of months ago whose church donated to a rescue organisation. I made sure not to make her feel attacked as I punched her in the brain with information about trafficking, the rescue industry, sex workers’ rights and problems around prostitution, and she changed her mind. The same people who think Jojanneke’s deceitful documentary was insightful will also consider what actual sex workers have to say. That’s why visibility is so important, and why PROUD and many other organisations are doing such a fucking great job. Neutrals can be reached, they change their minds and become allies.

The Bad Guys

But not all anti’s are honestly mistaken. Sex workers are a vulnerable group of people with very little protection, and it attracts bad guys like vulchers to a wounded animal. Amsterdam mayor v/d Laan isn’t closing workplaces for prostitutes because he believes it helps them, he knows perfectly well he’s sacrificing sex workers’ rights and safety for financial and political gains. He doesn’t care. I respected Felicia Anna for speaking to him, and I think her words will have an impact on some of the neutrals that saw the video. But the mayor doesn’t listen, because he already knows he’s harming whores. He believes he can get away with it. The rescue industry became a million-dollar business when people figured out they could freely abduct prostitutes and keep them as slaves if they call it ‘help’. People like Somaly Mam know perfectly well they are lying, and they make a profit off of the abuse of sex workers. They get way with it because neutrals don’t know better and believe the lies. The producers and host of the tv-show “8 Minutes” fully understand they contribute nothing of value to sex workers’ lives. They thought they could use prostitutes for free, abuse and humiliate them for their profit, and they did it because it’s good money. Bad Guys are against sex workers’ rights because they appreciate the opportunities to exploit the vulnerable.

(8 minutes didn’t get away with it though. Sex workers made noise and the show got cancelled! Here’s a picture of the awesome Mistress Matisse celebrating).

It’s no use trying to reason with Bad Guys, because they already understand. They know very well indeed that sex workers are harmed and only rights can stop the wrongs. They just don’t give a shit.

The Fetishists

Reading texts by certain anti-prostitution activists can become a bit awkward when you start to notice it reads like erotica. It’s common knowledge among psychologists and sexologists that many people get aroused by taboo subjects, sex isn’t just sweetness and light and roses. Some people find a healthy way to express these darker aspects of sexuality, kinksters for example are well-known for bringing these fantasies to the surface and acting on them in a consensual, conscious way. But when someone is taught not to recognise these urges, told sex should always be ‘making love’ and to deny any agressive, perverse sexual impulse they feel, it sometimes finds.. well, inappropriate ways of expression.

It’s important to note that all of us are a bit inappropriate when it comes to the suffering of others. There’s a reason why books and magazines so often describe rape, child abuse, assault and other forms of sexual violence in such a detailed and emotional way, readers seem to find it strangely pleasurable to feel horrified and want to know every dirty aspect of it. There’s a Dutch magazine called Panorama that intelligently combines horrific stories of abductions, murders and other shocking events with photo’s of sexy women, because they understand the physical excitement of reading about others’ misery is very much like physical arousal. I don’t necessarily believe this is wrong, but we need to draw the line when our perving becomes harmful to others.

“But didn’t you hear about this girl in Berlin the other day? She had been trafficked when she was only 11 years old, in her first year alone she was raped by up to 12 men a day. She was rarely allowed to shower and would have sperm in and on her as she slept. They raped her with huge objects too, sometimes even..”
“Look I understand, but criminalisation of adult sex work would not have helped her. Sex workers’ rights actually….”
“Did you not hear me? Three penisses! At the same time! They’d rape her as she was crying just imagine the sperm and…”

Not okay. Fetishists are hard to reach because they are so caught up in their perverted fantasies of powerful men, global gangs and white, young, innocent women who are shipped around and abused daily. When confronted with facts they simply start repeating their detailed fictional sex stories. They stalk the Red Lights District and ask prostitutes inappropriate questions about their sex life. You can often see them become a bit flushed, red moist lips slightly parted, a feverish look in their eyes. It freaks me out. Don’t involve me in your sexuality without my consent please. And don’t deny sex workers their rights because the idea that they are forced turns you on.

The Fantasist

The Fantasist is the less pervy version of the fetishists. It’s those people who will tell such obviously falls stories that you have to wonder if they believe it. They get something out of their myths of bad men and powerless girls, and seem to have somewhat lost touch with reality. They ‘cherry pick’ research to find upsetting details, repeat the most gruesome stories, get angry when confronted with more nuanced views, ignore actual sex workers and quote statistics that logically cannot be true. But even after you’ve explained that it’s not possible that three million young girls are trafficked each year, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 and average age of death 32, even after you show them the basic math, they go “lalalala” and continue repeating it. The myth means too much to them.

They are different from the fetishist in that they don’t seem to be creaming their panties as they’re talking, but they often do get that feverish look in their eyes. It’s like talking to someone who has lost themselves in fearful extremist religion, or with some other very strange belief like thinking they can move objects with their mind. The fact that nothing is moving just does not register. Facts do not come through.

I was a bit shocked to see Renate v/d Zee embarrass herself on television by quoting obviously false statistics, but even more shocked when I realised that she had indeed read these reports, read all these findings that contradict her beliefs, and then managed to not let it sink in but instead completely reverse the findings in her head, and then quote those on national television as if she didn’t realise she had twisted it all around. That’s scary.

The Fundie Anti’s

The Fundie Anti opposes sex work because of an understanding of how the sex industry works. They are different from the Neutrals in that they sometimes know quite a lot about prostitution, but interpret this information within a theoretical framework in which sex work is wrong by definition.

The Sexist Fundie believes that no woman could possibly want to do sex work, that male sexuality in inherently aggressive and that we need laws to restrict this violence. More often than not the reasoning is quite childish (“I’m a woman and don’t want to do sex work so no woman would want to do sex work”) and contains hateful assumptions about men (“you know how they are, they just want a hole to dump their seed in, they don’t care“). These are the Anti’s who will claim that there is in fact a big market for crying malnourished sex slaves, because obviously men don’t care about the women they fuck as long as they get to fuck her.

The Religious Fundie believes that sex work goes against God’s devine will. Prostitution is not how God intended sexuality to be like. A woman should value her sexual ‘purity’ and only give away her sex to a man who will pay her in the desired currency: love and commitment, not money. Religious Fundies usually seem to mean somewhat well – they truly believe it is naturally harmful for a woman to have sex outside of a committed relationship and socially harmful in that no man would want a ‘used’ woman so what will her future be like without a husband and kids, and isn’t that what every woman desires? Other Religious Fundies become vile and wish to punish those dirty, disobedient whores. Punish them until they submit to my, I mean God’s will! The male Religious Fundie Anti will sometimes let truly medieval statements slip: “do we wish to allow our women to prostitute themselves? Is that what we want for our daughters and wives?”.

The Marxist/RadFem Fundie believes prostitution must be understood within a context of various forms of oppression. I actually find this line of thinking quite interesting, although I have to admit that I don’t know enough to give a good summary of their beliefs and would urge readers to research more before judging. I’m discussing the two together because they have many similarities, but I understand there are differences. According to the Marxist/RadFem the practice of the selling of sex is a result of the systematic oppression of women within a capitalist society, intersecting with other forms of opression. According to them, in an egalitarian society sex work would not exist. These Anti’s are often in favour of the Swedish/Nordic Model (criminalising the clients of sex workers). The oppressed should not be punished for their oppression, they say, instead the oppressor must be stopped from oppressing: men should be stopped from exploiting women by buying sex from them.

I don’t disagree with Maxist theories entirely. But my intuition tells me your reasoning must be wrong when the ruling class tells the oppressed to be silent. Rich white men telling poor coloured women they know what’s good for them is icky. Something’s off when the ruling class tells the oppressed “you think you want labour rights, but you don’t. It’s part of a bigger picture that you don’t understand, only I as an educated rich person do. Trust me. You want us to make your job more dangerous by criminalising clients. It will be better in the long run, you don’t understand, so shush now, no need to organise or speak for yourselves, we’ve got it covered.” Oppression should not be fought by taking away the labour rights and human rights of the opressed. If sex workers are really the victim of an unjust system of oppression, we should give them the power back. Listen to them. Respect they might know best what they need.

These are caricatures, I understand. But I think it helps to know who you’re arguing with. The Idealists and Bad Guys are often lost causes, but the Neutrals can be reasoned with. Information and visibility help with that. Sex workers and their allies are winning the fight for prostitutes’ rights and safety, not even Anti’s can stop that.

I Loved 50 Shades of Grey

50shadesWhen you go to the cinema in the Netherlands there’s usually an intermission halfway through the movie. As we were standing in the queue to get some popcorn and soft drinks I realised that up till then, Ana and Christian had done almost nothing except negotiate about consent. Half of the movie was about making sure the other person was okay with doing what they were going to do!

I loved this movie.

I’m not saying 50 Shades of Grey is an exquisite piece of art or an intelligent critique of some cultural relevant whatever. It was just a sweet movie, the standard romantic plot where the powerful man falls for the average girl, mixed with some sexy kink. I loved the fuzzy hairs on her legs, the details of her biting her lip or playing with her coffee cup, how awkward and non-perfect their communication was. The part where they had their ‘business meeting’ about the BDSM contract was lovely. It really showed how much fun negotiation often is, that talking about sex is sexy, how power dynamics (she was in charge) can be electric.

People call it 50 shades of abuse, and I get that. He puts pressure on her, prevents her from talking about their relationship with other people, is jealous and possessive, tends to overstep boundaries, gives her gifts when she tells him not to. People oppose 50 shades because they believe it normalises unhealthy behaviour. But I actually think that consent is relatively well negotiated in this movie. Have you ever noticed how Rick and Shane treat Lori in The Walking Dead? How, in fact, women are treated by their partners in almost every movie and television show? In 50 Shades, consent is continually checked, verbalised, negotiated, so much better than in any other mainstream movie.

The only part that I considered almost-abusive and that actually upset me a little was at the end (spoiler alert). In the BDSM culture, aftercare is a big thing. After a session you can feel a little raw, you’ve been completely vulnerable with each other and can need some emotional support from your partner. So Anastasia asks Christian to show her what it really is that he desires, that she needs to experience it so that she can understand, to punish her as he wants. He ties her down, tells her exactly what he intends to do, he hits her six times, shares that part of himself that he keeps hidden from almost everyone, and then she freaks the fuck out. Because it was more than she wanted, but she didn’t safeword, and he didn’t know (could not know) he went too far.

“Is this really how you want to see me?!” she cries and my heart just breaks for him. Of course that’s not what he wants, he doesn’t desire her stepping over her hard limits! She shuts him out completely, tells him to go away and dumps him the next day. That was just so horrible, so unkind. Not safewording when you should is something that can happen, and it’s emotionally upsetting, but own your emotions and don’t dump them on him. It’s fine if you find out your tastes are incompatible and you need to break up, but not like that. Not after explicitly asking someone to do something, and then freaking out because they do what you ask them to do. I missed support, some understanding and kindness. She was just horrible to him and that was not okay.

But even feel-good movies need some drama, and all in all I loved this sweet, kinky story.

Problems with Prostitution

Sex workers’ rights activists are often accused of denying problems that exist within the sex industry. The media, rescue industry and anti-prostitution activists emphasise cases of abuse, exploitation and coercion to support their idea that sex work is not just work and regulation is needed. Sex workers and their allies then stress that most prostitutes work because they want to, that cases of abuse and exploitation are the exception and that actually, many sex workers like their job. But this does not mean that sex workers and their allies deny that victims exist or that human trafficking is a problem. Instead, sex workers’ rights activists believe that policies concerning sex work should be based on facts, human rights and respect for adults’ agency and autonomy. We don’t deny problems – we are trying to solve them.

Blatant lies
Anti-prostitution activists assert that exaggerating problems, inflating numbers and making up statistics are acceptable when it’s done to call attention to abuses in the sex industry. For example, the Dutch public prosecutor’s department has stated that an estimated 70% of sex workers are forced, even though they know of no research to supports this, and justify that by saying that it doesn’t really matter if it’s 10% or 70% because forced prostitution is always horrible. Female tourists and sex workers who enjoy their work are included in registrations by CoMensha, the Dutch coordination centre for human trafficking, as possible victims of human trafficking. These numbers are then multiplied by fourteen (!) in the 2012 report on sexual exploitation and presented as the number of actual victims. This is justified by assuming that most of the victims must be hidden and that it’s a horrible crime no matter the prevalence so numbers don’t matter. Activists have actually been criticised by Dutch politician Gert-Jan Segers for arguing against the lies.

But numbers do matter. We need to know what is going on in order to make rational and informed decisions. Incorrect understanding of sex work and trafficking have been leading to misguided laws and policies, which have resulted in an increase in abuse and exploitation. We cannot discard research in favour of wild assumptions.

It seems self-evident to me that lying is wrong. Furthermore, these statements aren’t just an exaggeration, they are fundamentally incorrect, and policies based on these false claims are hurting sex workers ánd victims. We need to base policies on facts, not mythology,

Some facts on Dutch sex workers:
–  90% don’t even know anyone who is being forced
–  93% like or are neutral about their colleagues
–  92% have never experienced violence at work
–  86% is happy or even very happy with their job
– they see 10 to 30 customers per week
–  84% like their customers
–  80% never experienced any trouble with a customer ever
–  90% feel unrepresented in politics
–  90% feel government does not protect their interests
–  95% claim politicians have no idea what is going on in the sex industry

Actual problems
Since the brothel ban was lifted in 2000, about one third of the licensed workplaces have disappeared. Cities are not obligated to give out new brothel permits, which has resulted in a growing shortage of licensed workplaces. Workplaces behind windows are being closed, brothels have their permits taken when there is even the slightest sign of trafficking and no new brothels are opened. Although a brothel permit for escorts is not yet mandatory, escorts without a permit are harassed by police, refused from hotels and legislation is being proposed to ban escorts from working in hotels at all. There is no way a sex worker can arrange to work independently, get their own workplace, obtain a permit or start their own business. Because there are so few options to work, many sex workers are now working in the unlicensed sector.

Because unlicensed is often (deliberately?) confused with forced, sex workers in the unlicensed sector are the target of legislations aimed at tackling trafficking and involuntary sex work. There is an interesting contradiction when it comes to fighting unlicensed prostitution: while there’s a thick ‘rescue’ sauce smeared all over it, the ‘punish the dirty whores’ attitude is still obvious. Unlicensed sex workers are subjected to violent police raids, financial penalties, their belongings are confiscated, their money is taken from them, and anybody working for them or with them is arrested. Sex workers in the unlicensed sector who have children are usually reported to child protective services, and because unlicensed means criminally coerced in the minds of many health care professionals, children are assumed to be at risk and are often put in custody.

Licensed workers on the other hand are forced, by the government, to place themselves in a dependant working relationship with a proprietor who has a brothel license. Because of the permit-shortage, proprietors find themselves in a extraordinary position of power which almost begs for abuse. Sex workers are refrained from starting their own brothel, are not allowed to work independently, are refused by banks, get kicked out of their houses if the landlord finds out what work they do, are refused mortgages and are subjected to random police raids and interrogations. And when they have the misfortune of being suspected of being a victim (for example because they placed an adbought new things or even had a threesome) they go through the same misery as unlicensed sex workers.

Sex workers who want to report abuse and coercion are prohibited from working in the sex industry. They cannot persecute abusers if they do not intend to stop working, because it is assumed that abused or coerced sex workers are involuntary sex workers who would stop working if the abuse stopped. Voluntary sex workers are not regarded as ‘real’ victims. Furthermore, proprietors are not allowed to provide a workplace for sex workers who reported abuse. Again the assumption is that real victims would never want to work as prostitutes, so providing them with a workplace would mean involvement in human trafficking and forced prostitution, which will cost you your brothel licence. Understandably this has prevented many sex workers from reporting abuse.

The most horrible consequence of this war on unlicensed sex workers is the reduced time and money for victims of coercion and trafficking. Vice squads spend disproportionate resources hunting down unlicensed workers, police teams short on staff spend extraordinary amounts of time on interviewing the huge majority of voluntary prostitutes and there is proposed legislation making it mandatory for sex workers to have regular meetings with health care professionals, leaving less time and money for people in need. We do not have an excess of resources available, neither in law enforcement nor health care. Careless allocation of these resources is immoral and should not be accepted.

Disrespect, ignored and silenced
Because of the stigma associated with prostitution, sex workers are often the target of abuse. Many people feel that those ‘dirty whores’ deserve to be degraded, that they are so sub-human that common courtesy should not apply for them. Sex workers are spat on, called names, peed on, harassed. Drunk tourist assholes think it is funny to treat these women, who they cannot see as actual people, in a degrading manner. In movies sex workers are rarely anything but a prop. A dead hooker isn’t worth investigating. Running over a prostitute gives you bonus points in your video game. Sex workers are rarely depicted or experienced as actual human beings, persons with personal lives and loved ones, workers with ambitions and multi-faceted personalities. Instead they are seen as ‘other’, people not like us at all, and there is good evidence that this stigmatisation leads to an increase in violence directed at sex workers.

A common alternative to the ‘dirty whores’ approach is to consider sex workers as broken goods and unfit adults. There exists a strong stereotype that the average prostitute is of below average intelligence, has very few options available to them and ‘found herself’ in sex work because circumstances forced her into the profession. Former sex workers are shunned from jobs that involve any type of real responsibility, are fired if their former job is ever discovered and former sex workers carry the stigma forever. A whore is a whore and cannot be treated as an equal. I’ve been at multiple meetings where the attendees insisted on calling sex workers ‘girls’ or even ‘little girls’. I’ve regularly been warned that prostitutes are scared and easily startled, so I should approach them with care and slowly gain their trust. Slurs are common, sex workers are called ‘prostituted women’, cum-dumps, compared to animals on display or even called ‘meat carrousel’. Absence of sex workers at meetings on sex work is explained by stating that prostitutes are hard to reach and unwilling to talk.

The truth is that most sex workers are not ideological hippies trying to change the world, but instead are hard workers who want to make money. They have very little incentive to tolerate the belittling and bullshit, and would rather work a few extra hours than educate professionals who use their baby-voices when talking to them and offer cookies. Another truth is that sex workers want to be heard. Since I’ve started talking openly about my support of sex workers’ rights, around 2009, sex workers have all but imposed their trust and stories on me. I’ve been invited to join their communities, be part of a movement, meet for coffee, these people are not hard to reach.

But very few politicians and health care professionals seem to want to listen. They invite rescue organisations as professionals on prostitution. Sex workers who claim to work out of their own free will are told they are confused, their histories are examined and any trauma or negative experience offered as proof that they are unfit to make their own decisions or judge their own motivations. Instead, rescuers will tell them that they too are victims, they just don’t know it yet. And when finally a sex worker with no trauma, a good education and a promising future who truly chose to do sex work from a privileged position with plenty of options available to them speaks up, they are told they are not representative and they should give more priority to the experiences of people less fortunate, and to be silent so the professionals who claim to speak for the voiceless can talk.

Lack of information
It is virtually impossible for sex workers to protect themselves from police violence and institutional discrimination, because there is no clear information available on what is expected from a sex worker, what rights they do and do not have or how to adequately appease those in power so they do not punish or prosecute you. The government only provides information on forced sex work, trafficking and how to get out of prostitution, but not on how to work as a licensed sex worker. Although Soa-Aids is a really good organisation with a respectful attitude towards sex workers they have not succeeded in providing a clear overview of laws and regulations relevant to sex workers. Even politicians and other professionals often haven’t a clue what is and is not allowed, and although I would not go so far as to say the chaos and contradicting information is intentional, cleaning up that mess does not seem to be a priority for anyone. Instead, more laws and legislations are added and confusion grows.

Members of the European Union are allowed to work as a prostitute in the Netherlands, but thanks to the ‘barrier model’ they are hindered in doing so. The government provides no information for women who want to come to the Netherlands to work, there are no organisations to help them set up their life here or find housing, nobody offering them information on their rights and responsibilities as a sex worker. Because of this, sex workers from Eastern Europe are dependent on people who have made an illegal profession out of assisting foreign sex workers. For a big fee they arrange transport, the necessary papers, guide you through the bureaucratic jungle and help with housing. Helping sex workers is by definition human trafficking (273f lid 1 aanhef sub 3) but sex workers are offered no alternative and are forced to work with criminals.

A board member of Sekswerk Nederland recently attended an event aimed at sex workers, there were organisations and professionals there that were supposed to help sex workers in a professional manner. As a woman with years’ experience in the sex industry she wanted information on how to professionalise her work, perhaps arrange a different workspace and so forth. The people of the UWV, who were there to assist sex workers in becoming more independent and provide exactly that type of information, were not even aware brothel licences were needed and had no idea to how to help her. But they could totally offer her information on how to get out of prostitution and train to become a nail stylist if she wanted! I’m not sure how she stopped herself from smacking them over the head with her university degree.

How to solve problems in prostitution
The most important step in combating problems and abuses within the sex industry is full legalisation and deregulation. Almost all of the problems within the industry are the result of laws, legislation and stigma, by treating sex work as anything but work the industry is made vulnerable to exploitation.

Sex workers need to be treated as professionals in their field. Funding should go to organisations run by sex workers for sex workers, not to rescue organisations set on getting people out of prostitution. All parties involved in policies concerning sex work must emphasise respectful use of language and respectful attitudes towards adults in the sex industry, and adopt a zero-tolerance policy on slurs and belittlement.

Time and money should be invested in combating coercion, trafficking and abuse within the sex industry. Organisations must be held accountable when they fail to direct their resources responsibly and government funding must stop when organisations lie, continue to confuse sex work and trafficking or use money to bother and harass voluntary sex workers. Government should stop all funding of rescue industry, as they are currently one of the major human traffickers in the world and one of the leading causes of violence against sex workers.

Want to help victims of trafficking? La Strada International is a prostitution-neutral anti-trafficking organisation that actually aims to stop trafficking, not stop sex work.

Want to help sex workers? Please do so.

Want to listen to sex workers? They are a loud bunch indeed, so go right ahead! The Dutch are especially vocal.