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OTI Cafe

Welcome to our Cafe at On The Issues Online Magazine.

We're deepening the conversations by continually adding the insights of progressive writers, thinkers and artists on the topics we address. Check back frequently for new commentary. If you wish to contribute to the Cafe, email [email protected].

"How you dress shouldn't be cause for arrest" by Penelope Saunders
Fighting Prostitution at the Expense of Slavery: The 2007 Federal Law by Melynda H. Barnhart
When Revolution in China Elevated Women and Took Prostitution off the Market by Mary Lou Greenberg
Affinity by Jaye Austin Williams
Safeguarding the Rights of Prostituted Women
Poetry: Broken box by Christine Stark
San Francisco Health Care Clinic Makes Sex Workers At Home by Carol Stuart
Let’s Change the Equation on Sex and Earning by Mahin Hassibi
Putting Together Pieces Of Sex Work, Gender Inequality, Deadly Consequences by Jane Roberts
Erotic Laborers Find Outlet in $pread by Nicole Witte Solomon

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"How you dress shouldn't be cause for arrest"
By Penelope Saunders

In late 2004 and early 2005, the Mayor of Washington, D.C. proposed several new laws to augment the city’s already stringent anti-prostitution policies. Draft legislation included measures that would allow the chief of police to designate areas of D.C. as “prostitution-free zones,” provide the police and other government agencies with greater powers to investigate venues such as massage parlors thought to be brothels, and criminalize the actual act of having sex for money (in addition to the already criminalized solicitation of sex for money).

Sex workers, transgenders, homeless, immigrants and allied community groups working with them, such as Different Avenues and HIPS, mobilized as the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C. The Alliance educated City Council Members and the public about the real needs of their communities and the harm that the new laws would inflict on marginalized people.

Despite these efforts in 2006 all initiatives proposed by the mayor passed into law.

One detail from the campaign about the legislation stayed with the community activists. City Council Members repeatedly asked, “What evidence do you have that the laws harm sex workers and other communities?”

Community-Based Research Answers Questions

In 2007, the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C. developed a community based research project to answer this question. Representatives of sex worker and allied communities trained themselves in research techniques and investigated the effect of anti-prostitution policing in the District of Columbia.

The resulting report, Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington D.C., released in May 2008, reveals the treatment of police of those they assume to be sex workers: the police confiscate condoms and other safe sex supplies from them; assault, strip search, and verbally abuse them; and, subject them to false arrest. Almost one in five people surveyed said that officers asked them for sex. An interviewee explained that, “[I was] made to perform sexual favors to avoid being charged with prostitution.”

The community researchers also found that “move along” policies utilized by police to “cleanse” certain neighborhoods of people presumed to be sex workers also have an effect on the community, forcing community members to go into areas where they feel less safe and are vulnerable to violence and robbery. The new laws in D.C., such as the prostitution-free zones, legitimize police profiling of community members on the basis of appearance. Community members interviewed clearly understand the injustice of this. “How you dress shouldn’t be cause for arrest,” noted a transgender woman during a community forum discussion about the report.

What the Campaign Says About the ‘Feminist Divide’

Since the release of the Move Along report, organizing efforts have intensified as the Alliance seeks to promote safety and justice for everyone in D.C. -- including sex workers and allied communities. Communities of sex workers, migrants, transgenders and others who are affected by the ham-fisted anti-prostitution policies in D.C. feel that change will come.

The campaigns in D.C., and similar efforts emerging all across the United States, should (and I hope do) provoke debate in activist circles about the “feminist divide” on prostitution/sex work.

The reality is that sex-worker organizing in the United States is one of the most vibrant social movements of our time. Today, sex-worker organizing is linked to, and embraced by, many other progressive movements for change such as campaigns against the prison industrial complex and actions for sexual and reproductive rights. Many third-wave feminists, younger feminists reacting to some of the limitations of previous forms of feminism, are part of these newer social movements and consider themselves allies to sex workers. Some of them are sex workers themselves.

Older debates centering on the morality of prostitution have no relevance in these struggles and prohibitionist/anti-prostitution feminists who espouse views that ultimately originate from such antiquated thinking have sidelined themselves. They have not been able to hear the voices of the people in these struggles, nor have they understood the perspectives of sex workers who come from varied life style, races, genders and cultures.

Yet, sex-worker-rights activists and their allies continue to hope that feminists who have not yet become fully aware about the debates over sex work will look at current campaigns with open minds. After all, policies that allow police to profile and target people because of the way they are dressed or because of their presumed sexual behavior, echo discriminatory policies that feminists in general have opposed for decades.

Penelope Saunders is a board member of the Desiree Alliance and the coordinator of the Best Practice Policy Project. She is the former executive director of Different Avenues and maintains a close working relationship with the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C.

Also See: Nothing About Us, Without Us by Ann Jordan in this edition of On The Issues Magazine

Also See: Divide, Conquer and Sell by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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Fighting Prostitution at the Expense of Slavery: The 2007 Federal Law
By Melynda H. Barnhart

Feminist debates about sex work, prostitution, and sex trafficking raged long before the debate was enshrined in federal law through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 -- referred to as TVPA.

When “trafficking” is at issue, feminists tend to fall into two camps. Anti-slavery feminists focus on the human rights abuses inherent when women are overwhelmingly targeted to perform labor or services against their will. Because traffickers only care about making the most money they can by exploiting a person, 21st century slavery laws have focused on methods rather than the end services someone is forced to perform.

Anti-prostitution feminists claim that all prostitution is trafficking because it involves the “buying and selling” of the victim’s body, and reject the legal or moral possibility that women could consent to commercial sexual activity. The transformation of prostitution into human trafficking sweeps victims of actual slavery under the rug in the rush to co-opt the first successful human rights movement of this century.

Forced Labor versus Prostitution

The TVPA created the first federal definition of trafficking, and contained a key compromise: all forms of forced or coerced labor and services, including forced commercial sexual activity, were criminalized, but voluntary activities were not. To placate the anti-prostitution activists, a dormant definition of “sex trafficking” was created, including all of the same activities of trafficking for commercial sexual purposes, but without any requirement of force, fraud or coercion.

This sex trafficking definition has remained as a wedge that anti-prostitution advocates have repeatedly used to expand the role of the federal government in their anti-prostitution crusade through subsequent reauthorizations of the TVPA. In the most recent reauthorization of 2005, these advocates won the inclusion of the End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act, specifically linking “sex trafficking” to the “demand” for commercial sex generally.

Anti-prostitution activists are now using their wedge to break apart the landmark anti-slavery laws. A recently-passed House bill would make the dormant clause fully active, essentially federalizing pimping and pandering crimes. This bill also would permanently divide slavery cases into different sections of the federal laws, based upon what labor or services the victims are forced to perform, even though the crimes are essentially the same. So far, the Senate version of the legislation has resisted this change, following outcry from federal, state and local law enforcement and anti-slavery advocates.

Doesn’t Help the Women

Watering down the definition of trafficking will do little to help abused women – whether they are abused by traffickers or in the sex industry. The federal government’s enforcement already focuses on sex trafficking – over 70 percent of all trafficking cases prosecuted by the Justice Department were sex trafficking, although the majority of trafficking involves labor trafficking. Women victimized by labor trafficking schemes will see their cases triaged right off the desk of federal prosecutors if the House version becomes law.

This definitional fight is really a fight over numbers and funding. The U.S. government rightly has been called to task for the lack of trafficking victims served since the TVPA went into effect. Redefining trafficking would alleviate the numbers problem, a far easier task than educating the nation’s law enforcement infrastructure to identify this crime. Recast the 100,000 annual arrests for prostitution as 100,000 trafficking cases, and suddenly increasing funding for anti-prostitution programs at the expense of trafficking services, becomes a no-brainer.

Anti-prostitution advocates are correct that women are exploited and victimized by the commercial sex industry every day. This does not mean that all women in the commercial sex industry are exploited, or that all prostitution is trafficking. The exploitation of women in the sex industry should be ended, but it should not occur on the backs of slaves.

September 18, 2008

Melynda Barnhart is an Abraham J. Freedman Fellow at Temple University's Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia.

Also See: Feminist Divisions Cause Real-World Repercussions in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: Nothing About Us, Without Us by Ann Jordan in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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When Revolution in China Elevated Women and Took Prostitution off the Market
By Mary Lou Greenberg

During the recent Beijing Olympics, the Washington Post reported that up to 10 million women in China earn income from prostitution, including those for whom it's the main source of income to others who sometimes exchange sex for money or rent. The Post quoted Jing Jun, a sociology and AIDS policy professor at Tsinghua University: "There was no open prostitution 25 years ago. Fifteen years ago you didn't find sex workers in remote areas and cities. But now it's prevalent in every city, every country."

What a change from when I visited China in 1971 during the Cultural Revolution. Women were making giant strides towards genuine liberation. Female crane operators, agricultural and hospital workers, political and military leaders alike held their heads high when they talked about "holding up half the sky," the revolutionary slogan that I heard everywhere and that increasingly described women's lives and Chinese society overall.

After the 1949 revolution, the government outlawed arranged marriages, female infanticide, bound feet (where a girl's feet were crushed and forced to grow into small stumps - considered "beautiful" in old China), and other relics of women's complete subjugation to men. Divorce was made easy for women - and there was a flood of women who came forward to rid themselves of abusing, loveless marriages. Most of all, the new government encouraged and unleashed the women themselves to step up, speak out and struggle against the old practices, customs and ideas that kept women in virtual slavery to men.

Prostitution was essentially eliminated a few years after 1949. Brothels were closed and the countless thousands of prostitutes - one estimate was 100,000 in Shanghai alone - were given new jobs that enabled them to take care of themselves and their families, good health care and medical treatment (venereal disease was rampant at the time.) Just as important, political and health workers gave the women a sense of new dignity and respect by explaining that they had been forced into prostitution by poverty and oppression, and that times had changed and women were no longer to be abused and treated as sex objects.

In pre-revolutionary China, women were bound by the Confucian values that females must obey their fathers when young, their husbands when married (or their mothers-in-law who acted as patriarchal surrogates) and their sons in old age. In 1971, I heard the new revolutionary slogan proclaimed everywhere: "Times have changed; whatever men can do, women can do," and during the Cultural Revolution, women stepped to the fore in many arenas.

There was intense political struggle around the role of women, as well as around the direction of society overall, and some shortcomings and problems. But overwhelmingly, socialist China concretely offered a glimpse of a future where there was no need, no desire, no compulsion for women to turn themselves - or to be turned by others - into commodities, and women were valued for their varied contributions, their intelligence, creativity and full participation in all of society.

Today's capitalist China has reversed all of that.

September 12, 2008

Mary Lou Greenberg is Associate Editor of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: Divide, Conquer and Sell by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: Nothing About Us, Without Us by Ann Jordan in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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By Jaye Austin Williams

It was a peculiar Christmas the year my Aunt Mickey told me of my unsavory beginnings. My birth father was a Black pimp in Pittsburgh; my birth mother, a Chinese hooker in his employ.

Seven years before learning of my … lineage, I lived in a residential hotel in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. I crossed paths with the “Broadway ladies,” whom I’d often witness being slapped around by their pimps on a very pre-Disneyified 42nd Street. I was struggling back then, hustling up acting work and temporary typing gigs to get by. But I understood the ladies’ struggles to be infinitely worse than mine and, guided by an affinity I was yet to learn about, I’d take them out for coffee, or slip them a couple of bucks on the “QT.”

Flash forward a quarter century. Disney’s glory days on Broadway are now tinged with the return of the inevitable “element” marking the beginnings of America’s 21st century fall from worldly omnipotence. It’s a Monday morning, and I’ve been summoned to jury duty. To my delight, so has a friend of mine. We trade jury duty stories. Mine are uneventful. My friend’s -- I’ll call her “Carla” -- are not.

Carla served on a criminal trial involving a prostitute who’d been slashed 40 times, survived and had the guts to press charges. When deliberations began, the jury was sequestered to a fleabag hotel in an outer borough. At about 4:30 one morning, Carla -- one of three women on the jury -- awoke to an ominous phone call: “How are you gonna vote?” She immediately called the authorities. The other two women had gotten similar calls. Astonishingly, no mistrial was declared. As it pressed on, much was revealed about the prostitute, while virtually nothing was disclosed about her alleged attacker. In the end, the jury deadlocked, pretty much down the gender line. But it was the victim who’d been tried by the system, and lost. Carla, understandably, never reconciled her feelings about the experience.

No longer mystified by my affinity with the ladies of the evening, having learned of the “blood knot” innately tying me to an acute awareness of them and their plight, I was incredulous at the story and the way in which women continue to be -- to this day, some ten years after that prostitute was so egregiously wronged -- systematically disdained for satisfying the sexual demands of men who are rarely held up to society’s scrutiny unless they are exposed by the media.

Human beings appear to have difficulty transcending our shame at both our primordial instincts and our conditioning. We are a culture stratified by race, class and gender for generations, yet we still disdain the open admission of that fact. Likewise, men have demanded the sexual services of women (and men, lest we forget) since time began. Yet, they reflexively abhor staring into the proverbial mirror their service providers represent. As I scan articles about crimes against prostitutes, I discover an inordinate number of them have been slashed, as well as raped and murdered. The memory of an exercise from my training in the Japanese martial art, Aikido, comes disconcertingly to mind. It involved making repeated sword cuts in the air with a bokken (wooden sword), symbolizing the paring away of one’s imperfections. . .

The arrival of a new millennium has not pared away some men’s denial of their clandestine sexual appetites, nor decreased the compulsion of others to violently deface, eliminate or otherwise vehemently deny agency to the women who professionally satisfy them. Is it any wonder, in these times of reckoning with the underbelly of human proclivity on all levels, that sex workers remain in the stranglehold of bottom-feeding pimps who should at least know by now they don’t really hold the power in the grand scheme of things? Or that the indignation of duplicitous bigwigs at having to admit they demand furtive gratification, prompts them to slash away -- metaphorically or otherwise -- at the all-too-vivid mirrors to their souls?

In the meantime, if the world’s “oldest profession” must march on (though it is my fervent and perpetual wish that alternatives present themselves), then it’s time it came into the light of day and be acknowledged for what it is -- the sale of a commodity in perpetual demand -- and that it be administered on the terms of those who provide it at no small cost, especially to themselves.

Jaye Austin Williams is a theatre professional, 4th degree black belt in Aikido, writer, teacher and Ph.D. student at the University of California Irvine and San Diego.

Also See: Pimping, The World’s Oldest Profession by Kathleen Barry in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: Putting Together Pieces of Sex Work, Gender Inequality, Deadly Consequences by Jane Roberts in The Café of this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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Safeguarding the Rights of Prostituted Women
On the Frontlines of a Global Grassroots Movement

By Lakshmi Anantnarayan

The great divide in the women’s movement on the subject of prostitution has been well-documented and even sensationalized by the media. What we seldom hear about is the common ground we all share - a deep understanding of the abuse and discrimination that women in prostitution face everyday by the law enforcement system and by society. Although we hold differing ideologies about the methods used to address prostitution, our goal to secure a life free of violence for women is the same.

Women in prostitution face high levels of violence and harassment perpetuated by several third-party actors: brothel owners, buyers, pimps and procurers, and even by law enforcement. Reports indicate that many prostituted women have been abused as children, and have endured grave psychological trauma. Vulnerable women are particularly at risk of being sold or enticed into the sex trade, including women of color, or women who are generally disenfranchised economically, socially and emotionally. Many women end up in prostitution because of a lack of life skills, education, and opportunities for employment. Once in the trade, in addition to violence, these women face heightened health risks such as HIV/AIDS and STDs.

Many women’s groups -- abolitionists and “pro-sex work” organizations alike -- are calling for the decriminalization of women in prostitution. Governments and law enforcement must recognize the vulnerability of prostituted women and must not treat them as criminals. Where we don’t agree, however, is on the decriminalization of the entire industry of prostitution, which we abolitionists believe increases the exploitation of women in the commercial sex industry.

So what do we need to protect women in prostitution? Strong laws that prosecute the chain of demand for prostitution, including traffickers, pimps and “johns” (or buyers), sensitization of law enforcement; education and development of alternative income opportunities for prostituted women, and greater support of grassroots groups that safeguard the civil, political, economic and health rights of prostituted women.

Apne Aap Women Worldwide and Prajwala in India, for example, provide legal protection for prostituted women, most of whom come from the “lower” caste. The groups are currently lobbying for the end of criminalization of prostituted women under India’s anti-trafficking law and for penalization of the “buyers” of commercial sex. In South Korea, the Center for Women’s Human Rights advocated for the Act on Prevention of Prostitution and Protection of Victims, which provides for the reintegration of survivors of the commercial sex trade into mainstream society.

Buklod Center in the Philippines and “Marta,” a group from Latvia, conducts sensitization trainings for police and local government to educate them in identifying survivors. Grassroots organizations often reach out to law enforcement to address societal stigma and deep-seated biases about prostituted women as “offenders” or “immoral,” even in countries like South Korea where the law has decriminalized women in prostitution.

Groups as diverse as AFESIP in Cambodia, Maiti Nepal, Movimiento El Pozo in Peru and Prajwala in India provide psycho-social counseling, legal aid, shelters and transition homes to women who have been trafficked into prostitution. Stigamot, an Icelandic group, provides an emergency unit for victims, while “Marta” from Latvia runs a hotline.

Many women in prostitution seek a way out by pursuing alternative means of employment. Organizations like Buklod Center clarify that through their economic empowerment program they “do not force women to exit prostitution, but give education to the women and their children so that they have more options in life.” Maiti Nepal has an innovative program to train survivors of sex trafficking to work with border police in identifying women and girls who are being trafficked.

While all sides promote the use of condoms in brothels, abolitionists’ condom distribution campaigns are rooted in a framework of gender-based discrimination and violence. HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns must recognize the difficult reality that prostituted women are often vulnerable in their ability to negotiate condom use with their “clients.” Consequently, many grassroots groups working to end commercial sexual exploitation, such as AFESIP and Prajwala, also raise awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention within a framework of harm elimination, not just harm reduction. Maiti Nepal has its own hospital to treat sex-trafficked women and girls with HIV/AIDS.

So yes, we have our differences. But the central concern for all of us is to safeguard the rights of women, whether in prostitution or not. We need to step back and refocus our work on ending gender-based violence and discrimination wherever it exists, even in the darkest corners of red light districts.

Lakshmi Anantnarayan, an activist in the women’s movement in India and the U.S. is the Communications Director of Equality Now, an international human rights organization working to end violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. All the organizations mentioned in this article are grantees of Equality Now’s Fund for Grassroots Activism to End Sex Trafficking.

Also See: Of Victims and Vixens: The Feminist Clash Over Prostitution by Angela Bonavoglia in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: Feminist Divisions Call Real World Repercussions by Juhu Thukral.

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Poetry: Broken box
By Christine Stark

I can’t write nothing
Beautiful. I am expected to be that way because I am a girl writer and we are supposed to have some sort of lock on pretty things. I don’t own no box and I ain’t got no lock.

was picked a long time ago and no way can I be Beautiful now. I am what everyone hates.

makes me silent. Like I don’t want to talk. Why should I talk when all I hear is negative?

whore is what I hear. It picks my lock and breaks my box. I got a broken box.

is what I feel. To be pretty wear dresses write forgiveness. I don’t forgive nobody for breaking my box.

mother. Not father. Not father’s friends. Not the people in the world who won’t let me talk real in my voice who say I got to talk this way about these things and not my way about what I know: broken boxes.

write Beautiful. Stupid people shove language rules down my throat like father and his friends. Stupid people try to make me shut up.

say trust. Talk. They act like a flower all beautiful and soft say they’ll listen. But they lie.

is stupid. See a music box with a dancing girl on top? Spins in a circle on its tip toes. I step on it. Broken box.

Christine Stark is a writer, artist, speaker, and activist of European and American Indian ancestry. She is also a survivor of prostitution and pornography. She lives in Minnesota.

Also See: Pimping: The World’s Oldest Profession by Kathleen Barry in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: The Poet's Eye
Two Views by Minnie Bruce Pratt and Erin Whifield in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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San Francisco Health Care Clinic Makes Sex Workers At Home
By Carol Stuart

The St.James Infirmary is one of the first of its kind -- an occupational health clinic for sex industry workers.

What makes the St. James Infirmary different is that it is entirely peer based. When we began the St. James Infirmary ten years ago, we had no idea if our social experiment would work. Drawing from a model developed by Priscilla Alexander while she worked in Nairobi with the World Health Organization, I worked with Margo St. James, founder of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE) and Johanna Bryer, co-founder Exotic Dancers Alliance (EDA), to build a place where community could flourish. Our priority was not only to improve the health outcomes of our participants, but also to dispel certain myths about sex industry workers. We focused on providing services and developing harm reduction models for the same population that constructed the programs themselves.

Our experiment has worked: we have provided free, nonjudgmental general medical care to over 16,000 sex industry workers and their families in the San Francisco Bay Area. This has included primary care for adults and adolescents, health maintenance screening, evaluation and treatment of acute and chronic asthma, respiratory infections, abdominal pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and anemia.

We provide gynecological and urological care such as: confidential testing for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), tuberculosis and hepatitis; STI treatments; pap smears; breast exams; referrals for ultrasound and mammograms; colonoscopies; testicular and prostate exams; contraceptive counseling; prescriptions for all genders; free birth control and hepatitis A & B immunizations. patients can also acquire condoms and lube, food and clothing, legal and social service referrals and occupational injury and illness screening.

And, what have we learned? That before coming to St. James, 70 percent of our participants had never disclosed their sex work status to their medical provider for fear of discrimination or diminished services. We found that sex workers who work collectively have lower rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and that sex workers who have a history of arrest of more likely to test positive for HIV and STIs.

These conditions make it crystal clear that the same medical expertise that influences both health care and public policy is, in fact, woefully misinformed about the true health status of sex industry workers. Only by insisting on a seat at the table can we demystify the long held views that sex workers are the source of disease. The politics of division, born of fear, keeps any population of “other” discriminated against and dispossessed.

Carol Stuart is a member of the board of the St. James Infirmary in San Francisco and worked in the offices of California legislators Senator Milton Marks and then Assemblymember John Burton at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic.

Also See: Divide, Conquer and Sell by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: On The Frontline of Sex Wars by Carol Leigh in this Edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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Let’s Change the Equation on Sex and Earning
By Mahin Hassibi

I have come to the conclusion -- albeit reluctantly -- that selling sex for money or a dollar-substitute, cannot be posed as an “either/or” question.

There are women who are forced, sold into slavery, deceived by promises, threatened by addicted husbands, low-life pimps or organized crime groups. There are war refugees who need to feed a family, little girls fleeing incest, or college graduates, calculating the cost-benefit of being a 9-5 seceretary or earning the same amount in fewer hours.

We all know that both hunger and desire for luxury may be motivating factors; therefore, the blanket judgment sounds superficial and irrelevant.

In some societies prostitution, legal or tolerated, used to be considered necessary in order to protect the sanctity of the family and the virtue of married women. At the same time, it was severely condemned by the respectable women and even some men.

I think perhaps a new chapter should be opened in this debate by asking the men why they are interested in buying sex, rather than earning it through hard work?

How could they earn it? They could earn it by giving women pleasure, discovering what makes women want to have sex with them. They could consider sex as a two-way communication, rather than an exercise of power over another person.

Without the demand for sex in exchange-for-money, there will be a decrease in women selling their bodies. Then, maybe women will learn to demand money for all the different ways that their labor contributes to society.

Mahin Hassibi is a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry (Ret.) at New York Medical College.

Also See: Talking Shop in the Medical Field: The Unfolding of A Strange New Disease by Mahin Hassibi

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Putting Together Pieces Of Sex Work, Gender Inequality, Deadly Consequences
By Jane Roberts

I look at the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and cringe. I don’t give a damn about those protruding heads, those slightly wavy indentations, those straight edges, those subtle color nuances. Who cares what it will all look like in the end? No thanks.

But in my head, I have put together all the pieces of an enormous jigsaw puzzle. I have had my aha! moment. My brain has made a whole out of a million pieces. All the pieces fit into a puzzle where the picture of gender inequality shouts out to me. Everything fits.

Sex trafficking and prostitution are two pieces of the puzzle. The root causes are gender inequality, poverty and illiteracy. Seventy percent of the world’s poor and illiterate are women and girls. Not many prostitutes are the bored housewives of the 1968 Luis Buñuel’s film, Belle de Jour. No, she is not after afternoon eroticism. She is after something to eat, her children’s school tuition, a transistor radio to hear a little music, to stay a little in touch. And really she has too many children, six maybe. She had never heard of family planning or abstinence-only. And her man is off in the city, drinking away his meager salary, taking his pleasure with, yeah right, another prostitute wanting to feed her children. See how it all fits?

And then of course she tests positive for HIV or doesn’t test at all for fear of knowing what she already knows. Or there is no “testing” place anywhere close. And then her 15- year-old daughter, to help her mother, sells herself a few times, just to ease the burden, just to help the family.

And then she is pregnant, and oh my god HIV-positive and selling herself has really been no solution at all. But she is an ever growing statistic of the young women who are leading the HIV- positive demographic because of the poverty piece of the puzzle.

There are 210 million pregnancies worldwide every year. Forty-two million end in induced abortion. Half of these abortions are risky, unsafe, illegal. Seventy thousand women die and millions more suffer temporary or permanent disability. In the 21st century this is a crime against humanity. Family planning exists. It is a very low world priority.

Thoraya Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, laments that in the last ten years the “family planning” component of the world’s reproductive health budget has fallen from 55 percent to nine percent mainly because of increased funding for HIV/AIDS. I would say mainly because of gender inequality. Resources exist for both. Women’s health is peripheral.

Stephen Lewis, of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and a crusader for the orphans and grannies of victims of AIDS said these words at the 16th International AIDS conference in August 2006: “I challenge you to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honorable or productive calling. There is nothing of great import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change.”

As I write this, we are raising the money to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a major motion picture documentary to be called The Stories Women Tell. In 90 minutes we will put all the pieces of the puzzle together. As Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change, our film will do for gender inequality. The world will have its aha! moment.

When the world takes care of women, women take care of the world. We are going to put gender inequality on the world’s agenda.

Jane Roberts is the cofounder of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund, a grassroots effort to raise $34 million from 34 million Americans because of the Bush administration’s refusal to release $34 million to United National Population Fund (UNFPA). She is the is the author of 34 Million Friends of the Women of the World, Ladybug Press

Also See: Break the Silence, End the Sitgma by Mary Lou Greenberg in On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: Global Gag Rule Poses Moral Challenge for U.S. HIV/AIDS Funding by Marjorie Signer in On The Issues Magazine

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Erotic Laborers Find Outlet in $pread
By Nicole Witte Solomon

In 2004, Rachel Aimee, Rebecca Lynn and Raven Strega hit upon a radical notion. The media sensationalizes sex work -- services such as prostitution, stripping, porn acting and modelling, phone sex, massage or other forms of erotic labor, whether legal or criminalized. But, in the process, it erases the experience of the actual sex workers unless they fit into a narrow, generally titillating or cautionary narrative. Shouldn't sex workers themselves be creating media?

Spread Magazine
$pread Magazine

And, thus, $pread Magazine was born in New York City, using the tag line: "Illuminating the Sex Industry." Despite their lack of publishing experience, Aimee, Lynn and Strega quickly learned the basics of layout, recruited a volunteer staff, and threw benefit parties to fund the printing of their first issue in March 2005. By the end of the year they had won The Utne Independent Press Award for "Best New Title." Aimee, who taught English in Bangkok and bored herself silly as a receptionist in New Jersey before moving to Brooklyn and starting $pread, has stayed on as Editor-in-Chief, while Lynn and Strega have moved on.

Learning from Feminist Activism

$pread has face the challenges of all small press publications in an increasingly print-adverse age, with the additional burden of covering consistently controversial subject matter. Despite the lack of major funders and the volunteer status of the staff, $pread has become a crucial resource for an underserved community.

The magazine features material specifically by current or former sex workers and is aimed at an audience of the same ($pread has a privacy policy regarding the particulars of staff experiences with sex work.) Any given issue of $pread contains a range of material -- international news stories; personal reflections, rants and anecdotes; art and poetry; practical advice; reviews of books and films, and interviews with notable current or former sex workers, such as author Tracy Quan or the late "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

Shakti Ziller, $pread's director of communications, says that the magazine is part of a broader movement for sex workers’ rights. Ziller, who works as a rape crisis and domestic violence advocate and volunteers with SWANK (Sex Worker Action New York), explains that this movement owes a debt to the work done by by feminist, LGBTQ and labor activists. "By creating a public forum for sex workers to choose the issues which concern them and then discuss them without the threat of moral backlash, $pread has taken a big step towards destigmatizing sex work and creating a broad sex worker community," she says.

Collaborating with groups like The Sex Worker's Outreach Project NYC (SWOP-NYC), 15 percent of an issue's press run is donated to organizations and workplaces used by sex workers.

Telling Their Own Stories

While sex workers across the globe have been organizing, public forums are often hard to come by.

$pread's editorial mission is to provide a forum for the articulation of sex workers' diverse opinions and experiences, including those with which the editors may personally disagree. Human and labor rights for sex workers are consistantly prioritized in the writing, but the magazine resists taking an editorial position on major issues such as trafficking, effects of pornography or whether prostitution should be decrimnalized or legalized. Similarly, the magazine neither promotes nor condemns any form or sex work, choosing instead to encourage sex workers to "tell their own stories and define their own experiences."

Sex workers experience different challenges depending on location, sector of the industry that they work in, and background in terms of class, race and gender. All too often, they share an absence from the debates that constantly rage around and about them. But who is better informed than those on the front lines? As Ziller says, "$pread is part of the demand that sex workers are making on the public and the media, saying ’We exist. We are not stereotypes. We deserve justice and fair treatment. And we hold you accountable!’"

Nicole Witte Solomon is a writer and videographer living in Brooklyn. She blogs at

Also See: Nothing About Us, Without Us by Ann Jordan in this issue of On The Issues Magazine.

Also See: "It's Not TV; It's Sexploitation" by Norma Ramos, in this issues of ON THE ISSUES MAGAZINE.

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