Ms R., a California sex worker was beaten and raped by a client in her apartment last year. When she applied to the state government for help with medical and mental health expenses, she was told that her status as a sex worker made her ineligible. A year later, she’s on the verge of changing that policy.
Last November, Ireland’s government, under pressure from anti-prostitution campaigners,announced a review of the country’s laws on sex work. (Ireland effectively decriminalized buying and selling sex in the 1980s, but soliciting and brothel-keeping remain illegal, accompanied by the usual sweeping laws against loitering.) The ultimate aim was to impose the so-called “Swedish model,” which criminalizes the purchaser of sex. The campaign to put the screws on the government offers interesting insight into how religious forces ensure their influence in the supposedly secular State. Ruhama was one of the main players. What a nice womany group, down to its ecumenical-lefty name (Hebrew for “renewing life”)! It says on its website that it
regards prostitution as violence against women and violations of women’s human rights. ‘Prostitution and the accompanying evil of trafficking for prostitution, is incompatible with the dignity and worth of every human being’ – UN Convention 1949. We see prostitution and the social and cultural attitudes which sustain it as being deeply rooted in gender inequality and social marginalisation.
This defense of “gender equality” is nice. But coming from Ruhama? Weird.
In fact, Ruhama is a project of the Catholic Church, not previously noted for its attachment to the idea. When it was founded in 1993, its registered office (legal headquarters, that is) was the Provincialate of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Dublin. In 1995, it changed digs (moving as often as Simon Dedalus!) to the Dublin address of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. In 1998 it moved again, relocating with the Sisters of Mercy. And in 2002 it found its final resting place, at least till today, at All Hallows College, a private Catholic school (directed by the Vincentians, a collection of orders that counts the Sisters of Charity in its family). They must feel nervous, typing UN language into their computers in these sacral locations; isn’t there some anti-Antichrist software on hand? But “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” That’s Luke 10:19.
Sr. Angela Fahy (Sisters of Our Lady of Charity), 1993-2000
Sr. Evelyn Fergus (Good Shepherd Sisters), 1993-1996
Sr. Jennifer McAleer (Good Shepherd Sisters), 1993-1995
Sr. Noreen O’Shea (Good Shepherd Sisters), 1993-1998, 2003-2008
Sr. Helena Farrell (Sisters of Our Lady of Charity), 1995-2000
Sr. Johanna Horgan (Good Shepherd Sisters), 1995-2005
Sr. Aileen D’Alton (Good Shepherd Sisters), 1996-2000
Sr. Margaret Burke (Sisters of Our Lady of Charity) 1996-2006
Sr. Ann Marie Ryan (Sisters of Our Lady of Charity), 2000-2004
Sr. Clare Kenny (Good Shepherd Sisters), 2008-2009
It’s like Sister Act! Ruhama, as a service organization, also gets tons of Irish government money, some of which it then uses to lobby the Irish government for anti-prostitution laws. The whole thing illustrates the easy way that religious mandates can be repackaged, to mesh with and support State power.
But it’s more than that. Both of these religious orders ran Magdalene Laundries for decades. Their hands are stained with the sweat of the women who worked there, and the blood of the women who died there. These God-fearing enforcers are the “fallen” people, and not even their own slave laundries could wash them clean. The orders’ offers of compensation to the survivors of abuse have been risibly inadequate, and they’ve continued to rake in money from the properties where the horrors happened. (In land sales in 2006 alone, the Sisters of Mercy “received €32m for a 16-acre tract in Killarney. And the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity sold the site adjoining its Magdalene Laundry in High Park Dublin for €55m.”) Now, with consummate sliminess, they are using a feminist-sounding front to campaign against sex work, on the grounds that it’s — get this — “slavery.” Or as they put it: Ruhama’s ”view is that trafficking for sexual exploitation,” into which they lump all prostitution, “is a contemporary form of slavery, with a distinctly gendered bias.” Really! (On its off days when it’s not oppressing sex workers, the Holy See doesn’t even like the word “gender.”) Ambrose Bierce called hypocrisy “prejudice with a halo,” and you can see why.
The girl next to me at the hair salon is talking about how she knows a lot of strippers and they all hate themselves and it must be even worse other places because at least strip clubs are classy here which like, lol, shut up Jon snow. What I need is more clueless rich white women ruining my day after they made my night unbearable.
She just said something about a “dancing horse, haha it sounds like whores.”
The first customer I sat with had made friends with the two women next to him.
“They’re nasty,” he told me.
“Well you know they come here often so they rate the girls as they dance and tell me who does what.”
That’s really great.
Three hours later, long after he left, they’re still here and haven’t tipped anyone.
There’s a man who’s been drinking water this whole time and told me cheerfully, “you’ll have better luck with anyone else, you’re pretty.” Patted my bum.
Four guys here relaxing after work, two hours now. They’re just here relaxing, thanks, they don’t want company and they don’t want to sit at the rack and they deeply resent the implication that a sports bar might be a better place for them.
The bar back is in here on his off day.
Six youngish women and two gay guys. Four dollars hit the stage in two hours, smiles and thumbs up when I asked if they knew we only make tips.
Gloria Steinem defines prostitution thus:
The truth seems to be that the invasion of the human body by another person – whether empowered by money or violence or authority — is de-humanising in itself. Yes, there are many other jobs in which people are exploited, but prostitution is the only one that by definition crosses boundary of our skin and invades our most central sense of self.
Later she speaks of prostitution as “body invasion.” This is true of rape, rape is a body invasion, it’s profoundly violating. Not all sex work is rape. I know people get caught up in the notion of privileged white escorts in the states and “not all sex workers are like that” and like duh. I absolutely agree.
However, when you have WOC in other countries also saying the same thing, women who’ve created unions to advocate for themselves—and for victims of trafficking because they know the difference between sex work and trafficking and they are against trafficking—to spread health information and safety tips, and when western feminists ignore them and paint them as pimps and traffickers themselves, there’s something wrong. It becomes hard to avoid the conclusion that white western feminists are more focused on saving the poor woc from themselves—whether they want to be saved or not! whether this saving is actually saving or just removing harm reduction skills and access to health care and basic things like condoms—than on actually listening to what they say they need and helping them.
I find this language of all prostitution-as-violation to be disingenuous and deliberately unhelpful. By defining all prostitution as rape they erase actual victims of rape as well as victims of trafficking.
I hate how the conversation has been hijacked by the trafficking framework, as if the sex industry has become the only place where men rape, abuse, and exploit women and children. As if all those things will stop once sex work has been made illegal.
As if they couldn’t be just as well (or better!) addressed by a concerted effort to make rape and assault illegal so that when these things happened anywhere, including within the sex industry, there would be legal protections for victims, and repercussions and punishment for the abusers. Like why is that so unrealistic? So a woman could be like “This john raped me/my boyfriend is abusive and is basically a pimp and he takes my money” or “I was raped on set” because the problem, RIGHT? is rape and assault? The two go hand in hand, like if as much energy was poured into ending rape culture as into ending trafficking, which after all isn’t it just an extension of rape culture? Women could seek redress for sexual exploitation without being criminalized for their work.
how do people expect to help sex workers if they won’t acknowledge that the problems in the sex industry didn’t begin with it, aren’t confined within its borders, and would continue if it was gone.
men rape, abuse, and murder women who aren’t sex workers. family members rape and abuse other family members.
in the feminist framework seems like the very fact of sex/sexualized services for money is the real assault. Trying to get politicians and legislators to focus on taking rape and sexual abuse seriously isn’t a realistic goal! A better goal is just making sex work illegal. And that suits politicians just fine, it leaves the actual issue of rape culture untouched.
I don’t understand how focusing on sex work as labour—how seeing that there is actually a difference between sex work (which is labour and sex workers deserve workers rights and human rights) and rape and exploitation. A woman who is being raped is being raped. That’s not sex work. Sex workers don’t want to protect people who are profiting off rape. Like am I saying it clear enough? You don’t need to criminalize sex work to punish people who rape women and or profit from the rape of women/children.
If sex work was treated as work we could focus on the people exploiting us and stop it. If rape were taken seriously anyone who was assaulted could seek redress, whether they were a sex worker or a teenager running away from home. Those two goals aren’t incompatible and they seem a hell of a lot more reasonable and functional to me than banning sex work and punishing anyone who comes near the industry.
Other organizations have sought to alter or restrict programs dealing with sex worker communities: for example, an established NGO might cut resources for an affiliated sex worker health project. Or a small grassroots grantee might refrain from publicizing sex worker condom-distribution programs. Overall, researchers found, groups felt pressured to limit programs that might be viewed as supportive of sex work, even as sex workers continued to suffer some of the worst effects of the epidemic.
While the court ruling has spared U.S.-based groups from these restrictions, non-U.S. grassroots groups like SANGRAM are still subject to PEPFAR’s moralistic anti-prostitution dictates. Across the Global South, the politics of PEPFAR ironically feeds into the same structural barriers thatput sex workers at risk of AIDS and other social threats. By marginalizing an “underground” labor force, the humanitarian aid system perpetuates the social disenfranchisement of sex worker communities, exposing them not only to disease risks, but also a culture of discrimination and oppression.
Last week’s Sleepy Hollow, as Ichabod is called in to talk Middle English to the veiny little boy from Roanoke (& like how annoying was that plotline anyway, idk it just bugged me like there is no mystery, the colonists joined the locals, that’s it?) and like someone is all ‘blahblah the patient” and Sexibod was like “He has a name” and I started laughing wildly because it was so, so what Elif Batuman was talking about, ahem, sorry this is gonna get long:
The premium on conciseness and concreteness made proper names a great value—so they came flying at you as if out of a tennis ball machine: Julia, Juliet, Viola, Violet, Rusty, Lefty, Carl, Carla, Carlton, Mamie, Sharee, Sharon, Rose of Sharon (a Native American), Hassan. [Batuman has a footnote here worth transcribing also, since I’m giving in to my tangential impulses: The Best American anthologies of 2004 and 2005 each included one short story involving the Islamic world, each with a character called Hassan.] Each name betrayed a secret calculation, a weighing of plausibility against precision: on the one hand, John Briggs and John Hillman… on the other, Sybil Mildred Clemm Legrand Pascal, who invites the reader to call her Miss Sibby. On the one hand, the cat called King Spanky; on the other, the cat called Cat. In either case, the result somehow seemed false, contrived—unlike Tolstoy’s double Alexeis, and unlike Chekhov’s characters, many of whom didn’t have names at all. In “Lady with a Lapdog,” Gurov’s wife, Anna’s husband, Gurov’s crony at the club, even the lapdog, are all nameless. No contemporary American short-story writer would have had the stamina not to name that dog. They were too caught up trying to bootstrap from a proper name to a meaningful individual essence—like the “compassionate” TV doctor who informs her colleagues: “She has a name.” Batuman, 20
ok sorry sorry sorry I just love Elif.
COME ON ELEMENTARY STOP USING SEX WORKERS BODIES AS PROPS TO MAKE SHERLOCK SEEM EDGY OH MY FUCKING GOD I WILL KILL MYSELF
I love this show so much and like why! Why are you people doing this!
This episode started with Sherlock getting a call from a dominatrix, who greeted Sherlock andthe police in her sexy dom suit; apparently she navigates through the world in latex to save the bother of changing at clients houses or hotels. Nevermind the bother of navigating the world in latex and a corset.
Additionally, the whole dominatrix detail was so strained! Who lets themselves in to a new clients house when no one answers the door? Why was it necessary to call a dominatrix to discover the body, why wasn’t the effort of getting a very large man into a latex suit not humiliation enough? What about the dominatrix and the waste of her time for free? not to mention no one wants to deal with the police you tremendous jerk, even if her career is legal. Sherlock and Watson both made self-congratulatory/snide little comments that are escaping me at the present moment, nbd really but the equivalent of a vicious little hangnail that just won’t go away.
What did go away was the dominatrix once she’d served her purpose, to re-establish Sherlock’s edgy sexxii cred.