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The customer isn't right: Criminalizing prostitution in Israel

The sex industry in Israel generates nearly NIS 2 billion a year. Thousands of women find themselves trapped in a cycle of prostitution due to factors ranging from sexual abuse in childhood to severe social and economic circumstances. A new draft law that would take legal action against clients of prostitution services passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset recently. Social organizations are now trying to push for final passage.

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    1. bob wisby

      I agree that the Scandinavian approach, taking out the ‘client’ end, makes most sense. But this will only work after Israel solves the problem of corruption in the police force. As it stands, they round up the girls, deport them and that’s it. The men who organize and run the businesses are never heard of.
      Interesting to note what the spokeswoman says at 3.22m. “What Israelis are doing in Thailand and South America-we have evidence that it borders on crimes against humanity.”

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      • BaladiAkka1948

        The “Scandinavian model” does not include Denmark though, and there’s been a huge influx of clients from Sweden since the ban on prostitution there.
        Many Swedes used to come to DK on week-ends, particularly Copenhagen to get drunk or buy shit in Christiania.
        The saying “Keep Denmark clean (alternatively: do society a favour), take a Swede to the ferry” (well, now there’s a bridge…) has one more reason to be applied.

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    2. bob wisby

      It’s all reminiscent of the Zwi Migdal organization.

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    3. goldmarx

      Israel should be following the lead of New Zealand. In NZ, the sex trade is decriminalized and sex worker collectives meet regularly with the government to negotiate and solve problems together. They work together to prevent sex trafficking (thus far successful).

      Many sex workers are in the sex trade voluntarily, and Israel has a tradition of honoring Rahab, indispensable to Joshua’s victory at Jericho.

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    4. bob wisby

      “…Israel has a tradition of honoring Rahab…”

      I wonder whether the women enslaved by Zwi Migdal Society would have considered themselves ‘honored’.

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    5. Ronete Cohen

      Where are the voices of sex workers here? Not all sex workers are victims of trafficking (the extent of this phenomenon is much exaggerated by the “rescue industry” – a very small minority of sex workers are trafficked) or are doing the work not of their free will. They are largely opposed to the Nordic model and want sex work to be decriminalised. Why is everyone treating sex workers like children who can’t speak for themselves and who need nice middle-class organisations to speak on their behalf and not really represent their views and their needs? Are you aware of sex workers’ organisations in other countries and how they are excluded from the debate when they point out that the Nordic model that criminalises sex work actually puts their lives in danger because it forces them out of their flats and onto the streets and into a life of illegality? Sex workers are human beings doing a job and they should be listened to. They have a voice.

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      • bob wisby

        Agreed. I don’t think anyone is objecting to people selling their asses out of their apartments of their own free will. What concerns these organizations are the kind of brothels run, for example, in Israel, where girls from Eastern Europe have their passports withheld by their pimps until they’ve worked off the debt they owe for travel tickets, rent, clothes etc. I’m sure you’d agree that’s a little naughty. See Zwi Migdal above for a brief historical overview of the business model.

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      • Firstly, the Nordic model doesn’t criminalise prostitutes. It criminalises punters and pimps. As for the ‘rescue industry’ that you speak of, its most passionate and vocal members are often former prostituted women like Rachel Moran and they aren’t exactly making a financial killing out of what they do. It’s the sex industry that’s profitable (for the pimps and for a handful of ‘high-class’ call girls, that is). No one is going to make much money out of advocating for abolition.

        Secondly, trafficking is not a minor phenomenon – and nor it is the only problem with prostitution. Homelessness, drug addiction, and child abuse are common issues (half of prostitutes in the UK entered the industry underage). In Australia, where this ‘industry’ is legal, the government’s own health and safety guidelines for women include such helpful tips of asking for a tour of the punter’s house first so as to be able to plot an escape route if necessary. A ‘job’ that requires health and safety guidelines like these isn’t a job.

        Many of the former prostitutes who advocate for the Nordic model were homeless and abusing substances when they were being prostituted, unlike the sex workers who support legalisation – highly privileged women like Dr Brook Magnanti, PhD, for whom selling sex was only a fun sideline. But for high-class escorts to exist, there have to be gutter girls – McDonald’s to give value to the gourmet food. This is how the industry works. The fact that a handful of women might well ‘choose’ to sell sex doesn’t make it right for them to clamber over the bodies of less-privileged women, all in the name of that super-empowerfulising choosy-choice.

        On the issue of choice, in the UK there is a website on which men can ‘review’ prostituted women in the manner that you review a restaurant. A Nordic campaign group has taken to publishing these reviews on their own site under the tagline, ‘What do you think of HIS choice?’ Unlike actual careers – gardening, jewellery-making, teaching – prostitution contributes to the objectification of women. Trying to frame that as a free choice doesn’t make it any less abhorrent: http://the-invisible-men.tumblr.com/

        I know that pimps are very well represented in organisations that purport to be promoting sex worker rights (the term ‘sex worker’, unlike prostitute, is fluid enough to cover a pimp) so their complaints of exclusion don’t count for much with me. Also excluded are the women you can find resting (only in the daytime) in a shelter in Neve Sha’anan, homeless and almost all on drugs, in pitiful physical health. Some shelter volunteers told me that they can’t stay open at night because they’re worried about retribution from brothel owners. Groups like the impressively named International Union of Sex Workers (which might perhaps be better known as the International Union of Pimps and Rapists) don’t seem to feature any of these women in their membership (what a surprise), so I’ll stick with the Nordic model.

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        • bob wisby

          Well said.

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        • Ronete Cohen

          From your reply, which is the usual stuff you get to hear from those who don’t know sex workers (because then you’d know not to use the term ‘prostitute’…), I can see you are totally unfamiliar with grassroots sex-worker collectives who are not all Brooke Magnanti (who is entitled to her own opinion and who you have no right to dismiss the way you have). Yes, the Nordic model doesn’t criminalise sex-workers, but it takes their livelihood away and forces them to work in unsafe places where their punters have less of a chance of being caught and they have no protection. It stops them from being unionised and gives them no rights. It marginalises them. It might not criminalise them, but it does indirectly criminalises the work they do. I suggest you acquaint yourself with real sex worker activists before you spew out all these tired and unsubstantiated “facts” that you quote in your comment. Yes, of course there are women who are trafficked, but that criminal activity is already legislated against in separate laws and, if you know the rules of basic logic, you know you can’t conclude from that that all sex workers are the victims of trafficking. Both the Nordic Model and the more recent European vote were very much opposed by sex worker groups, but no one even took their objections and concerns on board. Is that really the attitude of those who claim to want to help sex workers? How? By not listening to them? Instead, the debate was hijacked by a coalition of anti-sex work feminists (which not all of us feminists are, because that is pure misogyny) and religious groups (including one of the main campaigners, that was formerly the Magadelene Laundries in Ireland – find out about their history of abusing girls and women, just to get an idea). There is a lot of research and evidence that contradicts what you say. Check out Dr Laura Augustin, for instance. Check out sex workers who have their own self-organised campaign groups. Educate yourself.

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          • I’ve met many former prostitutes who do not hesitate to use that word. Working in mental health care with an interest in women’s issues, it goes with the territory.

            I also know two women who would describe themselves as sex workers. One is eating disordered and a drug addict. The other can be said to have entered the industry by choice (meaning that if she wanted to exit, she could, easily), but she freely admits that she’s not typical. I am not about to airbrush out the experiences of abused women (I never said all prostitutes were trafficked, but I will say that almost all are abused and at incredible health risks) because one or two girls think it’s easy edgy money, or because pimps and brothel madams get outraged. Are ex-prostitutes who use the term ‘prostituted’ to describe what happened to them not real to you, just because you don’t happen to like the word they use for their experiences of violence? A ‘pro-sex work’ feminist is an oxymoron. It’s like talking about a vegan butcher. As a pro-feminist feminist, I privilege women’s rights and safety above appeasing those who want to turn buying a female body into a job like any other and who want to place the language that prostitution survivors use off-limits.

            I know some ‘sex worker groups’ opposed the Nordic model – and as I pointed out, those groups are often led by pimps. People who make their money by selling women’s bodies. Marvellous credibility there. Of course they’re going to oppose the Nordic model. Their lucrative careers depend on it. And no, I’m not going to ‘educate myself’ with the words of pimps and listen to madams in order to inform my view of prostitution’s realities, any more than I would listen to slave masters for an accurate take on slavery.

            It’s wrong to suggest that the Nordic laws have forced women onto the street and into unsafe situations – they haven’t. In Sweden, where punters and pimps are criminalised, only one prostituted woman has been killed since 1998. ONE. In Holland, where ‘sex work’ is legal, there have been 127 murders in the same time period. It makes sense – there have been several psychological studies that show some men go to prostitutes as a way to do what they couldn’t do to any other woman. In short, prostitution creates an underclass of women, women who can be raped, women who are unrapeable, women who can be beaten, hurt, and yes, sometimes killed (and even the ‘pro-sex work’ feminists know this on some level, which explains why the vast majority of them aren’t exactly falling over themselves to become ‘sex workers’ too – that’s for the other woman to do, the woman you want to think of as empowered and free, not as a heroin addict who’s half-dead on Levinski Street). Sweden has a very strong social safety nets for women who are exiting this precarious situation, and the Nordic model emphasises the need for these comprehensive and supportive exit strategies. No one is dying on the street because punters are being criminalised; in fact, all the stats in Sweden show that women now feel much more confident in reporting violent punters to the police, because they know they themselves won’t be penalised for coming forward.

            As for anti-trafficking laws constituting ‘separate legislation’, the sex trade is the mainstay of the trafficking industry. Not all prostituted women are trafficked, but how many trafficking victims end up being prostituted? It makes zero sense to claim to be fighting trafficking whilst simultaneously supporting an industry that creates a demand for female bodies (most disturbingly, very young female bodies – the most lucrative girls are the young girls). In Holland and Germany we saw that legalisation actually increased demand. That demand is mostly fed by the vulnerable. Illegal brothels still exist, street work still exists, organised crime around the sex trade still exists. Legalisation has stomped none of this out.

            I have every right to dismiss Brook Magnanti’s views. She displayed her stellar command of women’s issues with, “I’ve tried to give a shit about maternity leave and who does the housework, and all I can come up with is, if your job doesn’t give you as much time off as you want, suck it up or get another job. If your partner doesn’t do the washing-up, same.” A woman who is able to say ‘suck it up and get another job’ in response to the very real problems and challenges facing other women is not a credible or compassionate voice when it comes to the issue of ‘choice’ and freedom. Unfortunately this seems to sum up the attitude of ‘pro-sex work feminists’, who ignore what it’s like to have no choice and who don’t seem to mind throwing vulnerable women under the bus providing they can do whatever the hell they like.

            And I’m familiar with Augustin’s work. Her argument is basically, “But some women choose to migrate planning to sell sex, this isn’t prostitution!” – as though a free choice is possible when you live in economic deprivation and are pickled in a patriarchal culture where women are taught to recognise their bodies as commodities to be plucked, shaved, made-up, even sold. I don’t buy into identity politics, where all that matters is whether you ‘identify’ as a victim or not. Many of the rape victims I’ve worked with wouldn’t ‘identify’ as victims, but self-identification doesn’t alter the reality of rape any more than self-identification alters the reality of an industry that treats women like meat.

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          • I Googled your name, thinking it sounded familiar from somewhere (a Telegraph article, it turns out), and found that you are a mental health professional too. A therapist who specialises in sex and sexuality-related issues, who has a private practice in Mayfair, and who charges £65.00 per individual session.

            Many of the prostituted women whom I knew in Soho would struggle to afford the Tube fare to Mayfair – one of London’s more exclusive districts, for commenters who aren’t familiar – let alone pay a £65 fee to see a therapist when they got there. Of course you’re going to mainly come into contact with highly privileged women. By contrast, I’ve never worked private and I’ve certainly never practised in the most affluent part of London. I worked all hours in less than lovely psychiatric wards, where people get warehoused when there’s nowhere suitable for them to go and where sometimes the most useful thing I could do was mop up bodily fluids and put the kettle on rather than provide talking therapy. Of course we’ve met women from opposite ends of the sex trade. You get women who can afford to shell out £65 for therapy and I got women who would never keep a fiver in their pockets for longer than it took to find a dealer. That about sums up the difference between our positions – which does nothing to allay my suspicion that defence of ‘sex work’ is a past-time for well-off women who are highly unlikely to enter the trade they champion as a job like any other. Also, it’s a bit much for someone who makes her money in Mayfair to sneeringly write off abolitionist organisations as ‘nice and middle-class’, especially if they’re survivor-led.

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          • Felix Reichert

            “In 2011, a research paper on the consequences of the Swedish legislation to sex workers concluded that the realisation of the desired outcomes of the legislation is hard to measure, whereas the law has clearly stigmatised the already vulnerable sex workers.” (Wikipedia)

            If even one women does prostitute herself voluntarily, it must be and remain legal to do so. For both sides. If you’re propagating women’s rights, why are you trying to take rights away from them?

            The nasty symptoms of the sex trade can and should be dealt with individually.
            The German approach has not worked well, not because prostitution was made completely legal, but because the framework and individual regulations of the law are lacking, and often not properly impemented or even controlled.

            Befor prostitution became legal (it was tolerated before) brothels faced more government scrutiny than after. This would be an easy way to improve the law (which the new German government plans to do):
            Widen government controls, expand police-taskforces dealing with traficking, etc.

            The problem isn’t the legality of prostitution (see the situation in most major US-cities, where prostitution is illegal almost everywhere), but the inactivity of agencies and the police to actually enforce the laws that are there.

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          • “If even one women does prostitute herself voluntarily, it must be and remain legal to do so. For both sides.”

            Interesting, the way some men are suddenly so terribly committed to women’s rights when those ‘rights’ have relevance to their penises. It is overwhelmingly women from poor and marginalised groups who are prostituted, but they must be thrown under the bus for the sake of ‘even one woman’ who chooses it? This is what happens when rights are reduced to a question of choice. Your use of the phrase ‘both sides’ is interesting too. Shades of liberal Zionism, which also does a wonderful job of blotting out massive power imbalances and structural violence for the benefit of the privileged group.

            P.S. The study that Wikipedia is referencing is a conference paper by a then-Master’s student that hasn’t been published or peer reviewed, and that begins by making the staggering claim that proponents of the Nordic model are influenced by the view of all heterosexual sex as rape, which predisposes them to deny sex workers’ agency. His methodology section (yes, it is a he) is a sight to behold – for example, he says that the paper is based on ‘participant observation’ in Sweden and ‘interviews’, but he doesn’t state how many people he interviewed, or give relevant demographic information, or provide any analysis on how he as a man was able to employ this anthropological method of research-by-immersion in a predominantly female community, or anything else of that kind. He also comments that sex worker groups (which often have pimps in their leadership, as I pointed out) are allying with drug user rights’ groups (colour me shocked) without unpacking the implications of that – another red flag. The rest of the paper is all about ‘constructing the discourse of sex work’, as though what we are dealing with is not misogyny and violence, but a badly built doll’s house that would look better with a refurb. But men who are keen to protect their ‘right’ to buy sex are unlikely to care. Any quotation from Wikipedia will do.

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          • Felix Reichert

            I have never been with a prostitute and don’t plan on doing so.
            I find the thought of paying for sex not arousing in the least.

            Just because I don’t like something, I don’t call for its ban though.

            There’s no actually credible study on the positive effects of the Nordic model. And the negative effects of the German legalization have nothing to do with legalization itself, but with the legal framework of the complex law and police and health administration not having enough ressources to actually control it.

            If prostitution were illegal in Germany, or if Germany started following the Nordic way, it would take away many rights from prostitutes.

            They couln’t sue their customers for compensation, they couldn’t get social insurances, etc.

            Another important aspect is actual police work involving trafficking, etc.

            If a (non-violent) customer is criminalized, he will not want to give any information to the police. If he isn’t, the police can ask him about his experiences, and he’ll likely answer truthfully, thus making police-work a lot easier and more effective in actually fighting those things, that are already illegal. Those apsects, that are not a symptom of legalized prostitution, but of prostitution in general.

            All the arguments made by proponents of the Nordic model are very weak. We simply don’t know if there was ANY reduction in prostitution in Sweden. All we know is that there’s less street prostitution.

            We also don’t know if the situation of prostitutes has improved in any way. Most likely the opposite is true. Cause if you’re already commiting a crime by frequenting a prostitute, why not commit another crime by becoming physically violent, or worse?

            In regards to street prostitution, the Nordic model can be fatal for women. On the street everything has to go quickly. The women have no time to actually evaluate a man and to assess if he might become violent.

            It is a lot more difficult to actually protect prostitutes, if prostitution is criminalized in any way. Because every form of prostitution will migrate even more to the fringes of society, where it can’t be properly controlled by law-enforcement.
            If prostitution can’t be practized in the open, it has to be practized in hidden and dangerous places.

            Here’s a very good (German) interview with a spokeswoman of the Zurich specialist department for women-trafficking and and women’s migration:

            http://www.woz.ch/1338/prostitution/ein-verbot-schadet-den-frauen

            The problems of prostitutes have nothing to do with prostitution being legal.

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          • This comment is full of contradictions. One minute you say that the Nordic model has reduced street prostitution, the next you say that the Nordic model is leaving women in danger of violence on the streets. Which is it? Again, I can only point to quantifiable data: Sweden has seen one single solitary murder of a prostitute since the introduction of the Nordic model, while Holland has seen 127 such killings in the same time period. This being so, how exactly is the Nordic model ‘fatal for women’? The statistics showing a reduction in rape and physical violence are also encouraging, as is the fact that Sweden is now regarded as a poor market by traffickers (this info was obtained by wiretapping). You were happy to quote a snippet from Wikipedia as accurate without even reading the conference paper it referred to, so it seems that you accept any statement that supports your argument quite uncritically while dismissing research that suggests the opposite, perhaps also without reading it. Ironically many of the knee-jerk criticisms against research into the efficacy of the Nordic model (e.g. that there is no reliable way to gauge how many women are being prostituted) could just as well be applied to research into the efficacy of legalisation, which has failed to halt the proliferation of illegal brothels. The idea that the Nordic model somehow makes prostitution even more difficult to detect is odd, because, as abolitionist campaigners in Sweden have pointed out, pimps still have to advertise. They are not hidden below the face of the earth.

            The fundamental problem with prostitution is that it commodifies women. In the past it was closely intertwined with slavery (concubinage) and it still perpetuates that idea of women as objects, if not property. You can’t just neatly detach violence from this by ‘assessing’ if the punter is likely to beat you up personally or not, because the situation is inherently violent in and of itself. Very few men seem to register how prostitution functions as part of a wider patriarchal system, which is exhibited by your own comments: you seem to think that it’s just an issue of whether prostitution turns you on or not and whether a woman ‘wants’ to sell – i.e. a matter of personal choice, like deciding to go out and buy a cheesecake. “I don’t like cheesecake, but that doesn’t mean I want to ban it.” Legalisation is harmful because in reducing prostitution a matter of personal taste and preference it sweeps the power issues under the carpet, such as the fact that is certain women of certain backgrounds who are likely to end up being prostituted. This is not a coincidence, a ‘nasty symptom’ that could be cured while still leaving the sex trade hale and hearty. You can’t guarantee workers’ rights in a trade that has at its crux the assumption that the workers aren’t quite people.

            As for the article you linked to, I don’t read German, but from the translate tool it seems that it is just a rehash of the arguments I’ve already addressed in other comments (i.e. whether or not the beauty industry has a more significant role in women’s objectification). The interview seems to talk primarily about the advantages of legalisation versus criminalising the women involved. I see that you copied and pasted the English translation of a paragraph dealing with the Nordic model (about studies purportedly showing that the model pushes women onto the streets and leaves them unable to ‘assess’ punters for violence), which at least answers my earlier query about where you got that info and how you evaluated it. Then the spokeswoman goes on to cheerfully promote the choosy-choice cheesecake view: sex work is a strong independent choice for some women she knows, which sits rather oddly with her prior comments on socioeconomic pressure and acknowledgement of structural violence re. the beauty industry. The whole article just seems to be a patchwork of inconsistent excuses and justifications, where sex work is a necessary evil the one minute and a free empowering choice the next. The abolitionist stance is at least consistent.

            The final, most noteworthy feature of that article is that once again there is no mention of the fact that prostitution survivors are at the forefront of the fight for the Nordic model. Instead, the spokeswoman treats its adherents as left-wing feminists who are apparently prepared to hurt women for the sake of their ideology. Just a few months before that article was published, the prostitution survivor Natasha Falle was up before the UN with a group of other survivors on a panel called ‘Survivors Speak’, advocating for the Nordic model. Does Rebecca Angelini not know about survivor advocates, or does she not see them as important enough to mention? They don’t even get a footnote in many arguments for legalisation, which should be a large red flag to anyone who is committed to women’s justice.

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          • Ronete Cohen

            I found this post of yours many months after it was posted. You choose to dismiss me and make assumptions about me. It’s beneath me to sink that low, but let’s just say that some of us do give lower fees and even work for free with people who need therapy and can’t afford it. No need to be so smug and accuse others you know nothing about.

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    6. Philos

      I agree with Ronete. Listening to the weak and working with them is far better than legislating against them. Vicky, so you’ve taken away a sex-workers livelihood, now what? Where does she go and what does she do? Is the wonderfully beneficent state and society built on phoney bourgeois morality going to help her?

      No one will dispute that trafficking is evil and that pimping must be stamped out, however, I don’t think the blunt instrument of the state is the way to go about it. Perhaps you ought to read about the high-handed way the London Metropolitan Police “rescued” some women by bursting in with Daily Mail photographers, and chucking them out in the street. Yes, I can see it now. Police shutting down premises, telling the women to go home and leaving them with nothing. Maybe they’ll even confiscate any money on them as illegally acquired income. That’s what happens when you bring the state into these matters. Much better to listen to the women first, and build a special police from the ground-up specifically for the sex-workers, to protect them essentially, that’s independent of the reactionary misogynists and racists that make up the regular police forces.

      I’m surprised after reading previous posts of yours that you’d be in favour of police intervention

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      • I read about that incident when it happened. This isn’t remotely illustrative of what the Nordic model looks like in action. The UK doesn’t implement that model and its policy is currently punitive to prostituted women. The Nordic model is not designed to punish women; money wouldn’t be confiscated.

        As I said to Roenete, ex-prostitutes are among the Nordic model’s most vocal campaigners. How is listening to the likes of Rebecca Mott not ‘listening to the women’? Are they not real women, or something? Instead we are urged to listen to ‘sex worker organisations’, even though these organisations are often led by pimps – who happen to be men. In fact, one thing I have noticed in my activism in this area is that almost all feminist anti-prostitution and anti-porn campaigners are female. There are a couple of exceptions, like Robert Jensen, but it’s overwhelmingly women who are pushing for the Nordic model at the grassroots lobby. The sex worker lobby, by contrast, has no shortage of male faces.

        The Nordic model is backed unequivocally among radical feminists, and we aren’t exactly great lovers of the police. This has never stopped us from campaigning for better legislation around rape or domestic abuse. Why would it stop us from campaigning for better legislation around prostitution? Legalisation also involves state and police intervention; the question is in whose favour it will intervene, victims’ or profiteers’. The fact is that the police already do ‘intervene’ in the sex trade – mostly by turning a blind eye, sometimes by their gracious patronage, sometimes through arresting the victims. This is a trade that kills women and it’s built on rape, and I want the option that guarantees the most safety for the women who are stuck in it. The evidence from Sweden is compelling enough for me to think that this is the way to go.

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        • Ronete Cohen

          I can’t see the point of continuing a discussion with someone who dismisses sex-workers’ organisations as ‘led by pimps’. That’s a disgraceful accusation. It would be a good idea for you to get in touch with some facts instead of the lies peddled by the usual suspects. You are obviously a very narrow minded person who swallows dogma whole without a single independent thought. You don’t have a monopoly on feminism, nor do you have the right to tell me whether or not I qualify as a feminist. I have a lot more respect for the integrity, intellect and feminism of the many women I know who are sex workers. So you’re a real feminist because you reject, ignore and silence other women? Nice one. No sense of irony, I see.

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          • So the experiences of the prostituted women I mentioned are lies and the prostituted women themselves are the ‘usual suspects’? I see.

            Here is a list of several major ‘sex worker’ advocacy organisations that have pimps in leadership roles. Most prominent is the International Union of Sex Workers itself: http://prostitutionresearch.com/pre_blog/2012/05/23/pimps_will_be_pimps_whether_ma/

            Douglas Fox and John Dottery run an escort agency. Do you dispute that? They are men making money that the vast majority of prostituted women will never make, and they’re making it from selling said women. And they have an influential role in the IUSW and they purport to speak on behalf of prostitutes, who are bundled away behind the sanitised and gender-neutral term ‘sex work’. The IUSW isn’t an isolated case. A disgraceful situation, yes, but not a disgraceful accusation.

            Feminism actually has meaning as a political philosophy. By your logic, Ayn Rand could have called herself a socialist and everyone would have had to accept her statement because ‘no one has a monopoly on socialism’ and all that matters is self-definition. In that context we would see how ludicrous that sounds, but personal identity/individual choice have become so central to post-modern feminism that the idea of feminism *as a class struggle* is often lost. If someone’s politics are harmful to women *as a class*, I don’t call them feminist. But I wouldn’t get too worked up over a lack of recognition from one woman on the Internet if I were you – with views like the ones you hold, you’ll never be short of praise from far more influential supporters than me.

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          • bob wisby

            “with views like the ones you hold, you’ll never be short of praise from far more influential supporters than me”
            True enough, Vicky. There’s a lot of money to be made and a lot of people are on that gravy train. Morality? They don’t need any stinking ‘morality!’
            Philos asks:
            “Is the wonderfully beneficent state and society built on phoney bourgeois morality going to help her?”
            No, Philos, it’s much better to allow a lot of fat, stinking losers to use her as a sexual plaything for money. That’s much more ‘authentic’.
            Next they’ll be arguing for the recognition of pedophila as a valid ‘sexual orientation’. Oh wait, they already are.

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          • guy hassid

            Ronete, you seem to understand exactly where I’m coming from. Have we met?

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        • Philos

          You’re making a lot of big claims Vicky. Capitalism is the main impetus to human trafficking. Many people are trafficked to work as slave labourers primary in agriculture. Many others are trafficked of their own volition to get into Europe or USA to try and escape the grinding inequality of their homes.

          Can you legitimately claim that all groups speaking on behalf of sex workers rights are run by their pimps? I suppose then that all left-wing groups in Israel are actually agents of foreign governments… It’s too hyperbolic to be true but no doubt some groups are compromised.

          I also know for a fact that the Nordic model isn’t as great as it’s hyped up to be, just like its welfare state. Sweden has the fastest growing rate of inequality in Europe, let’s see how that effects prostitution.

          Indeed, prostitution is wound up in a whole lot of social problems largely to do with socio-economic inequalities. It isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a class issue. And the women pushing these laws in the legislature are middle class and the women speaking against them come from nothing. It’s an unseemly sight. Indeed, it’s reminiscent of the hard attitude of well to do women of the Victorian and Edwardian periods to the female underclass.

          And there isn’t going to be an end to it until the problems of poverty are resolved. You just have to look at how the massive increase in university fees in the UK led to concurrent growth in working class girls turning to different kinds of sex work.

          As for objectification of women – you’re looking at the wrong end of the problem. The trillion dollar industry built on attacking women’s sense of self and beauty from the moment they realise they’re different to boys is more to blame than porn or prostitution. Skimpily clad women adorn posters on every conceivable surface to sell products to women. That’s where objectification begins and ends. Prostitution and porn is a symptom of that

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          • Did you follow the link to the list of sex worker organisations that are led by pimps or at least have pimps in senior roles? They just won’t use the word ‘pimp’. In the IUSW it’s two senior men who run an escort agency (which they openly advertise and proudly presented in a TV documentary, so it’s not some conspiracy theory I’ve pulled from nowhere – they don’t see anything wrong with it, they call themselves ‘managers’). When Laura Lee/Antoinette Cosgrave from IUSW was questioned on sex worker views in the Northern Irish Assembly, on 9 January 2014, she claimed not to be aware that these men were profiteering like this, despite the fact that they’re her close associates. She also did not know how many members the IUSW had, let alone how many members actually sell sex. She ended up backtracking in front of the questioning panel and went from saying that she represented ‘the vast majority’ of sex workers to saying she was only there to speak for herself (despite being invited to represent the views of IUSW’s membership). This is not a credible organisation.

            Other ‘sex worker’ organisations are similar (again, the list I linked to features simple proof – groups that talk on their websites about how they ‘reach out to madams’, groups led by people who hold convictions for interstate pimping in the USA and who again use the term ‘manager). They try to collapse the categories of prostitute, pimp, and madam in order to obfuscate the fact that this is an industry in which (mostly) men buy (mostly) women. They also won’t touch the trafficking issue with a ten-foot pole; visit the websites of all the major groups and there will be a bullet point or two arguing that it’s wrong to conflate sex work with ‘migration’, but there’s rarely a mention of trafficking, or any analysis of the idea that economic migrants perhaps aren’t in the best position to make an unfettered job choice, especially if they come with limited language skills. I have also don’t see many migrant women speaking prominently in these organisations. It’s overwhelmingly white women and fairly well-to-do women who seem to speak up in favour of ‘sex work’, like Brook Magnanti with her PhD and her tell-all book deal and now private sex therapists from Mayfair, which begs the question: if ‘sex work’ is just work like any other, why do you so rarely find girls of nice Ashkenazi background in that shelter on Neve Sha’anan? It’s overwhelmingly women of colour. The white girls come from the Caucasus mainly. It’s a heavily racialised industry and it is closely linked with poverty and addiction (and these links are well-documented, it’s hardly a grand claim to make).

            I became active in the campaign for the Nordic model after listening to a group of former prostituted women speaking. Among them, Rachel Moran talked of how, in her years on the game, she has never met the mythical ‘happy hooker’. Two indigenous women from Canada spoke of the disproportionate number of First Nations women in the industry. These women aren’t from comfortable middle-class backgrounds, and they were fighting for abolition for years before some women in the legislature took up their cause. How is it that a survivor-led campaign for abolition is discredited as middle-class the moment that Mary Honeyball steps in?

            Yes, prostitution is basically capitalism in microcosm. The whole ugly system is summed up by the location of one legal brothel in Melbourne, which is right next to a McDonald’s: a choice of where to buy meat and billboards advertising the different varieties. The fact that prostitution is part of a wider phenomenon doesn’t mean that a campaign dedicated to abolishing it is faulty – this is a typical excuse used to relegate problems facing women to second place in the name of class struggle.

            The trillion dollar beauty industry isn’t inseparable from porn and prostitution (although a lot of men who otherwise profess to be feminist allies would like to think so, because excusing their own porn use takes precedence over their feminism). It is interconnected. A women’s magazine offers you a free mascara sample one week and a discount voucher to have your pubic hair ripped out the next; the idea that women ideally need to look prepubescent didn’t come from nowhere. Equally, there is a conceptual link between being able to buy a mainstream newspaper that contains bare-breasted women as a staple and being able to stroll down the street and buy access to a woman’s body. These connections are at their most vivid in a study published by the University of Surrey in 2011: they found that the general public is typically unable to distinguish between statements made about women in popular top-selling men’s magazines – FHM, Nuts, Zoo, etc – and statements made by convicted rapists. A sense of ownership and entitlement come across very strongly in both sets of statements. Prostitution, porn (including ‘soft’ publications like the above), the beauty industry – they all reinforce the idea that women have limited right to their own bodies (which is why the idea of a ‘free choice’ to be a sex worker is somewhat odd in any circumstance) but of all of them, prostitution presents the most immediate danger. This is why I am not prepared to wait for the beauty industry to be toppled or for poverty to be eradicated before I start shouting objections to a system where it’s legal for a woman’s body to be sold next door to a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

            The Nordic model explicitly recognises the link between prostitution and poverty, which is why the provision of social support networks is integral to the model, not an optional extra. It’s also not enough to protect women’s rights on its own. No feminist has ever suggested that it is. But it’s a measure that has seen the number of murders of prostituted women fall dramatically in Sweden, with only one murder since the model’s implementation; while in Norway, rapes of prostituted women have fallen by 48%. That’s not something to sneeze at and it by far outstrips the supposed benefits of legalisation.

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          • Philos

            Persuasively argued Vicky but do you really see conservative governments in the UK and Israel including the rehabilitation aspect of the Nordic model in their final legislation? I don’t. I just see women being victimized further by sanctimonious politicians who really won’t care what happens to these women, just so long as they can flash their credentials on this issue to the electorate. Depriving someone of a meager income so that they then starve is hardly a solution. (We’re also overlooking in this discussion gay men and transgender people who are exploited for prostitution; usually as teenagers)

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          • I don’t understand why you are worried that poor implementation of the Nordic model would lead to further victimisation of vulnerable women, but you don’t seem to have the same worry about legalisation? By framing prostitution as a simple career choice, the proponents of legalisation are camouflaging the structural inequalities and injustices that push certain women into this industry. That is victimisation. This false notion of ‘choice’ may also make it tougher for women to exit: after all, so the cliche goes, doesn’t everybody hate their job? The support group is called the bar. As I already said, to make their point that prostitution is just one job among many, the most vocal and visible sex worker groups are trying to make out that there is so little difference between the woman who is sold and the man who sells her that they can be covered by the same working title and represented in the same union. What are the power dynamics in that little trade union going to be like? Victimisation again. Then there is the fact that prostitution is inherently violent, even when legalised. The Australian government’s health and safety guidelines for sex workers would be redundant if it weren’t. Guidelines like, “Leave your clothes by the door, so you can grab them quickly if you need to run out.” Either we’re accepting this as a normal working condition, which is pure misogyny, or we’re saying to prostituted women, “Sorry, but this is the best you can hope for.” That contributes to their victimisation too.

            I dislike the suggestion that they can’t hope for better simply because a Conservative government stands in the way. This fatalism has crept into many feminist struggles. I first became aware of it as a teenager, in the aftermath of rape. It opened my eyes to the fact that the ‘advice’ given to women – don’t wear this, don’t drink that, don’t walk alone at night – is all predicated on the assumption that violence against women (nameless, faceless, epitomised by the shadow in the alleyway) is just inevitable and the best we can ever expect is to hold it at bay. I saw similar assumptions at work when I began to study psychotherapy: so many therapeutic approaches for women who have experienced sexual violence have them going on this Orphean ‘inner quest’ to wholeness and healing, culminating with the discovery of a nice man whom they’re not afraid to sleep with. Rape becomes an individual trauma that necessitates healing and catharsis on an individual level; outside your own mind and life, you have no real power to make changes. (Ironically, the handful of highly privileged sex workers who talk about ’empowerment’ rely on the same logic when they deny that their choice to sell sex will not impact negatively on other women.) It was only when I fell in with some radical feminist women that I started to recognise that I was buying into a myth of my own powerlessness and isolation. It’s not the woman who is broken, it’s the society, and rape (also pimping/soliciting) can be understood not just as an individual crime but as an act of political violence. How could it not be, when the shadow in the alley does have a face and that face is almost always male, and the other half the world’s population is terrorised by the mere possibility of it? Having recognised this, I can hardly throw up my hands and say, “Oh well, the government would prevent any real change, so we’d better just make the best of a bad job.” That is not pragmatism, that is collusion. I don’t view it as a stark choice between relying on a government to stop women from starving in the streets and relying on a brothel to do it. Women are perhaps capable of organising something a little better, and we should at least try.

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          • goldmarx

            ‘ProstitutionResearch’ is a website in league with Melissa Farley, whose work was criticized and discredited by Canadian Supreme Court Justice Susan Himel. Anything from that website about pimps running sex worker organizations is suspect.

            Later, Canada decriminalized prostitution entirely.

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          • If you had actually read the material posted (written by a survivor of prostitution), you would have seen that it links to the websites of the sex worker groups themselves, where they explicitly talk about recruiting madams and acknowledge the role of pimps in their organisations. As Douglas Fox once said in an interview, “Where you would say pimp, we say manager.” The fact that he has a big escort agency is not a secret. He talks about it in the press. He just doesn’t see anything wrong with it.

            Interestingly the fact that two pro-prostitution people on this thread have tried to deny pimp involvement in sex worker rights group suggests that you DO see something wrong with it. This begs the question: why? If sex work really is just a job like any other, then why wouldn’t it have ‘managers’ like any other?

            Melissa Farley was not ‘discredited’; she made a political assertion in court that prostitution is inherently violent, and the judge ruled that this could not be proved through psychological evidence, especially as Farley’s report stated that women on the streets faced more violence than women indoors. The fact that some women face more violence than others does not stop prostitution from being inherently violent. It depends how you are defining violence – whether it’s beatings and rapes, or whether it’s something more pervasive (i.e. poverty and lack of educational opportunity that means your body is your only asset in the system as it stands, or the simple objectification and commodification of women that makes prostitution seem like a transaction like any other). It can be hard to make this argument in court – not because the argument is wrong, but because it deals with the very definition of violence, which courts prefer to take as read. It should be remembered that courts do not always promote justice, judges are not always right, and the legal system does not exist outside patriarchy. The fact that the judge objected to Farley stating “Men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” as ‘inflammatory’ serves as a reminder that judges may carry cognitive biases of their own, because I don’t think many psychologists who analysed the material on PunterNet could come to different conclusions from Farley. It is clear from her statement that the judge was predisposed to treat prostitution as a neutral transaction, therefore in need of no internal justification.

            And yes, I’m well aware that prostitution was decriminalised in Canada. I don’t need a man to tell me news that I heard first from a devastated collective of Indigenous women who were fighting tooth and nail to stop it, the kind of ‘sex worker’ nobody seems to mean when they castigate me for not ‘listening to the sex workers’. Again, the fact that the legal system ruled in favour of legalisation doesn’t make that ruling right.

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    7. bob wisby

      “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” Wilde.

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    8. jacob golan

      The girl in the clubs I run in Tel Aviv wouldn’t last two minutes without my protection. I keep their passports safe for them and buy them food to eat. Back in their own countries they would never get to wear the sexy clothes I buy for them here. I’m a feminist all the way. I love my girls to look feminine.

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    9. Devorah Richman

      Guys, what are you talking about? I think Vicky needs to take a step back and understand that the world of adult entertainment isn’t about oppression, it’s about freedom of expression. Hasn’t Vicky ever seen ‘Pretty Woman’? Cindy Crawford’s character in that movie is a winner. She ends up shopping in Beverly Hills and driving a Mercedes. You go, girls!

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    10. Piotr Berman

      “… the proponents of legalisation are camouflaging the structural inequalities and injustices that push certain women into this industry.”

      Doesn’t it describe a vast pool of workers? Domestic workers all-over Asia (including Israel) are abused, sometimes sexually, other legal and illegal foreign workers also all too often suffer from conditions that are basically term indentured bondage and so on. If you concentrate at the abusive low end of an industry, you should outlaw live-in maids who suffer their litany of horrors too.

      One problem with eradicating vice through law enforcement is that it often amounts to a subsidy for the workers of police departments, e.g. in the form of free sex with prostitutes.

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    11. Piotr Berman

      http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/still-dirty-dangerous-and-demeaning/

      According to that article, Israel is getting closer to Gulf countries in the legal and actual (mis)treatment of domestic help.

      I think that abuses of both industries, sex and domestic help, should be addressed in the same way, concentrating on prosecuting abusers and help to the victim. From what I have read, it is actually quite related. For example, agencies that collect enormous fees from the migrant women and employees keep them in debt bondage, and young women are recruited with promises of more attractive work. These types of abuses should not be hard to track and prosecute. And there are more abuses common to both occupations, including involuntary sex.

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    12. jason

      a lot of ignorance going on here…Seems what is totally ignored are the actual university students and others for their own personal and varied reasons that join the sex trade as independents.

      Intelligent, independent and quite capable of making their own decisions concerning their own bodies.

      They have no pimps, do not require them, do not require someone else telling them what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. In fact i would even say for them, there is little difference between the pimp and the “nice” interfering “do gooder”…both are busy telling them what they can anc cannot do….

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