An old-school radical anti-porn, anti-prostitution activist known for criminal antics is in the news again, portraying a heavily biased anti-sex-work survey as science, when in fact it’s the same message Melissa Farley has been screaming her entire career. Sadly, press outlets like Newsweek, Reuters, Jezebel and the Sydney Morning Herald are taking the bait, ignoring the fact that their information comes from a dubious report by a biased organization putting out a press release on PR Newswire…which is a for-pay distribution service that features relatively little other than self-promoting garbage.
News outlets are treating the information like it’s from a scientist, or a social sciences organization, an objective source, or is based on anything like a real study. It’s not any of those things.
The “report” is really a series of prejudicial interpretations of a prejudiced in-person survey made by an openly biased researcher who has spent her entire career pushing this same point, summarizing “research” funded by an organization that has no earthly purpose other than to eliminate prostitution by any means possible.
The first author on the “report,” which was presented on July 15 at the meeting of the Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Melissa Farley, is probably most famous for claiming that callgirls are no less damaged by their experiences of sex work than street prostitutes. Farley also got arrested 13 times in the ’80s for defacing bookstore copies of Penthouse, incidentally, and her account of that incident appeared in an article entitled “Fighting Femicide in the United States: The Rampage Against Penthouse.”
Farley’s new piece of activism is a “report” – a survey being incorrectly called a “study” – that recruited 202 men to answer survey questions in person. About half of of the men “buy sex,” and the rest do not. “Buying sex” means, in Farley’s parlance, to frequent prostitutes; the use of the term “buy” is insulting. It’s a transparent attempt by Farley to conflate human trafficking with prostitution, and she’s been doing it her whole career.
But that equation is garbage; it’s meant to differentiate between non-sex services and sex…as a way of taking the agency out of women’s hands and placing it squarely in the hands of…who? Farley? No, damn it — men. Not to get too ’70s about it…but wasn’t that why I became a sensitive new age guy to begin with? So the women I knew could stop having their power taken away?
For what I hope will be the last time…but I know will not…get it straight: If you can “buy” sex from a sex worker, then you can “buy” therapy from a clinical psychologist or “buy” accounting from an accountant.
Sex is not a “thing,” it is a behavior — or, rather, a series of behaviors, with endless gray area as to where one behavior ends and the other begins.
If you can agree with me on only one thing in this post, I hope it’s that sex is not a “thing.”
Women are not “notches” that we guys put in our bedposts (or on the dashboards of our Chevelles). One does not “acquire” sex from a woman, and the very idea that one can is equivalent to the idea that a woman’s “virtue” is a finite quantity that can be taken away.
Farley knows this, but she also knows that you get better soundbites by claiming, explicitly, that slavery and prostitution are not just related, but are literally the same thing.
Seriously. She claims there is no difference, in the same way that Farley has claimed that there is no difference in the experience of the streetwalker and the experience of the call girl or brothel worker. That very concept is, frankly, insulting to anyone who’s ever been friends with a woman who walked the street.
But Farley feels a need to equate the trafficked juvenile in Thailand with the $500-an-hour call girl. In so doing, she’s engaging in the inexplicable cognitive disconnect that alienates so many otherwise right-thinking women in my generation from Feminism with a capital F; she’s convinced herself that by speaking of concrete social issues as if they were cultural abstractions, she can achieve an inconceivably impossible social agenda, as Andrea Dworkin did when she said that “all intercourse is rape” “penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent.”
Therefore, Farley’s conclusions in the new “survey” should surprise no one. According to her highly biased claims, the men who “buy sex” have a greater predisposition to rape, less respect for women, and are more likely to have “committed crimes” than the men who do not buy sex.
Surveys, incidentally, are totally different than studies. Studies are formalized affairs that obtain concrete and measurable data, with steps taken to ensure that compared data sets are equivalent. In my opinion, social sciences surveys are worth nothing at all. They’re like marketing focus groups. They show a fantastic tendency to display interviewer bias.
Good surveys are transparent about what questions were asked and how they were asked. They don’t have foregone conclusions established by the obvious bias of the lead author. They are not funded by organizations that have a stated goal of eliminating the behavior that they are asking questions about. And even good surveys are still just surveys. In the case of qualitative data — for instance, how well or sick chemotherapy patients are feeling — steps are taken to eliminate interviewer bias. There’s no question at all that such steps have not been taken here.
But still, plenty of news agencies think there’s some “interesting results” here, as if there were any results at all, other than Melissa Farley repeating the same histrionic, man-hating, anti-sex-work screed that she’s been howling since the ’80s.
Nah, don’t worry about the fact that the results come from one of the most virulent anti-sex-work, anti-porn activists who displays a rampant tendency to show lack of transparency in her survey procedures; why should you, when Newsweek sure didn’t? Newsweek’s piece was entitled The Growing Demand for Prostitution when they posted it — which you can see in the URL. But apparently somebody objected…so they changed the title to “The John Next Door.” Smart move, since their smokescreen of terror is based on a report that does not address whether there’s a rising incidence of prostitution. Here’s the madness:
The John Next Door
The men who buy sex are your neighbors and colleagues. A new study reveals how the burgeoning demand for porn and prostitutes is warping personal relationships and endangering women and girls.
Men of all ages, races, religions, and backgrounds do it. Rich men do it, and poor men do it, in forms so varied and ubiquitous that they can be summoned at a moment’s notice.
And yet surprisingly little is known about the age-old practice of buying sex, long assumed to be inevitable. No one even knows what proportion of the male population does it; estimates range from 16 percent to 80 percent. “Ninety-nine percent of the research in this field has been done on prostitutes, and 1 percent has been done on johns,” says Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research and Education, a nonprofit organization that is a project of San Francisco Women’s Centers.
Does anyone else spot the disconnect there? “Men of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds do it,” “…in forms so varied and ubiquitous that they can be summoned in a moment’s notice,” (…) “And yet surprisingly little is known about the age-old practice of buying sex.” If it’s so common, how is it that “surprisingly little is known about it?” Or is it just that those who “know about it” aren’t important — because they’re not people?
But now Melissa Farley has talked to those inhuman monsters…and so “something is known.” It’s entered the great human mind: an understanding about what horrible misogynist thoughts these inhuman drooling beasts are experiencing when they buy sex. Previously, “nobody knew.”
That’s just one example of where Newsweek shows mind-boggling credulity. For instance, it underlines Farley’s dynamic in choosing two quotes from survey participants as the subtitle of the report:
One man in the study explained why he likes to buy prostitutes: “You can have a good time with the servitude,” he said.
A contrasting view was expressed by another man as the reason he doesn’t buy sex: “You’re supporting a system of degradation,” he said.
If this dualism seems familiar to you, it’s because it’s the same double standard women have been subjected to for the whole of human history. Are you the Madonna or the whore? Do you “buy sex,” or do you respect women?
If the implication that “most or nearly all men do this” but “nothing is known about it” also sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the Victorian split that feminism rightly objected to in social sciences, particularly in Freud and his followers. It’s just been turned around to face men. In one of his most egregiously sexist statements, Freud said:
The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”
Freud famously treated women as “other.” This was a way of shaming their desires and dehumanizing them. It was necessary for “someone” — Freud, or another male social scientist — to “understand these strange creatures” before that understanding could enter the body of human knowledge. That’s because, to Freud — as to many if not most male social scientists before feminism — women were not people.
And “men who buy sex” are not people to Farley…or, by extension, to Newsweek. Farley’s sold them a prize plucked from the jaws of woman-hating Victorian sexuality, having transposed the Madonna/whore and watcher/watched dichotomies onto the male experience.
Furthermore, that first sentence in the Newsweek piece is a whopper — the author has accidentally juxtaposed “do it,” meaning “buy sex,” and “they,” meaning “prostitutes.”
Newsweek‘s article calls prostitutes “it.”
Simple mistake? Sure. But it’s still pretty telling. By turning her outrage on men, Farley is silencing women, the way upper-middle-class white feminists, and particularly feminist social scientists, have long been accused of doing. This isn’t anything even remotely resembling science; it’s a vendetta against male sexuality, cherry-picking the very worst examples as “horror stories” to create a pathology that includes all men, and any women who don’t think and behave exactly the way Farley wants them to think and behave.
Reuters does an even more half-assed job “reporting” on Farley’s “research,” in an article that’s been reprinted in many news outlets and cut and pasted frequently, probably because it’s got such a catchy and easy-to-understand headline:
Men Who Buy Sex Commit More Crimes, Report Says
Men who pay for sex are more likely than men who do not pay for sex to commit a variety of offenses including violent crimes against women, according to research conducted in the Boston area.
…Men who paid for sex were more likely to report having committed felonies and misdemeanors, including crimes related to violence against women and those related to substance abuse, assault and weapons, the study found.
The study was designed, among other things, to test attitudes of men who buy sex. It found that as a group, they share certain attitudes and behavioral tendencies different from their non-buying peers.
Almost three in four of the sex buyers reported they learned about sex from pornography, whereas only 54 percent of the non-buyers did so.
The two groups also held significantly different attitudes regarding whether prostitution was consenting sex or exploitation. Men who bought sex were significantly less empathetic toward women working as prostitutes.
Two thirds of both groups concluded most women prostitutes had been lured, tricked or trafficked into the work.
But sex buyers “seemed to justify their involvement in the sex industry by stating their belief … that women in prostitution were intrinsically different from non-prostituting women,” the study’s authors said.
It hurts my brain to think that someone at Reuters could have written, with a straight face, this line, emphasis mine:
The study was designed, among other things, to test attitudes of men who buy sex. It found that as a group, they share certain attitudes and behavioral tendencies different from their non-buying peers.
No, no, no, no, no!!! The study was most explicitly not designed to “test attitudes of men who buy sex.” It was designed to prove that they have objectionable attitudes toward women. Period! Pure and simple. Farley has been trying to do that in every way she can imagine and act on for her entire career. Her nonprofit Prostitution Research and Education does not do research or promulgate education; it seeks to eliminate all sex work through any means necessary. And this survey, conducted in Boston, was funded by the Hunt Alternatives Fund, a group that started in the ’80s with the goal of nuclear disarmament, through Hunt’s pet project Demand Abolition, which states on this landing page at Hunt:
Demand Abolition supports the movement to end modern-day slavery by combating the demand for illegal commercial sex in the US. By conducting and disseminating research, educating policymakers, providing technical assistance to criminal justice professionals, and convening key stakeholders, Demand Abolition is catalyzing systemic social change that reflects the dignity of all people.
The page redirects you to the new Demand Abolition page, which says:
Until we eliminate demand, the sexual enslavement of our society’s most vulnerable children, women, and even men will continue unabated.
At the landing page for its FAQ, Demand Abolition states:
In simple “question and answer” format, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women has issued a clarion call to end prostitution and sex trafficking by criminalizing and penalizing buyers of sex.
Wait…Demand Abolition wants to “demand abolition”?
It wants to “criminalize” the buying of sex?
Are they joking? Buying sex is already illegal most places — and it also exists almost everywhere. But this group is actually claiming that it must be “criminalized”? How far out of the world we live in do you have to be before you can believe that prostitution hasn’t been criminalized?
The answer? You just have to be a radical anti-sex feminist, apparently…in which case male-dominated society looks like just one big blur…at least, that’s what I, as a man, take away. Equating a law enforcement structure that can’t manage to stamp out street prostitution with men who frequent call girls and politicians who don’t pass stronger laws is only possible if men aren’t people.
What’s more, places where sex work is most illegal (Saudi Arabia and other Sharia-governed states) are without exception where it’s most dysfunctional (e.g., trafficked women). The nations that have the harshest anti-prostitution laws are the places where there are the greatest social strictures against consensual sexual encounters between men and women. Those countries are also — and this isn’t an accident — the nations where there’s the greatest difference between rich and poor, and the places where women have the lowest status. Oppressive laws disproportionately affect the poor, women, and racial, ethnic and religious minorities, no matter what they’re passed to do.
But it gets way worse. The “hooker-free Utopia” Farley wants to see take root in the U.S. is even more extreme than she’d let you know. In the case of Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, those nations have a documented constancy of homosexual rape in both social and penal circumstances, as well as anti-gay murders for anyone who isn’t “discreet” about same-sex contacts.
My favorite example is related in Robert Lacey’s Inside the Kingdom, of a Saudi man sent to prison for marrying his Philippino houseboy in a country where same-sex contact is common. It’s so common because the sexes are so thoroughly segregated that, in a different case related in the same book, a Shi’ite woman living in the Shi’ite majority communities of the Gulf, who was abducted and gang-raped by Sunni youths was sent to prison because she had “asked for it” by meeting a man at the mall to demand the return of a (non-nude, fully clothed) photograph of her that a friend had given him. She wanted it back for fear that she would be considered “loose” if the word of the photo got out.
In Cairo, according to British journalist John R. Bradley’s excellent book Inside Egypt, male-male rape by police officers, often of male children who have at best committed minor offenses, has resulted in a terrorized young male populace. I have no idea if it’s changed since the revolution, but I doubt it. Those are the kind of societies that vigorously prosecute prostitution.
But let’s not blame the Muslims; in Thailand, India, Brazil, the Philippines, and many other nations, rampant sex trafficking occurs, including sex tourism from Western countries — despite prostitution being entirely illegal (Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, etc) or brothels and pimping being illegal (Brazil, India, Kazakhstan, etc). In the case of India and Thailand — and more recently Brazil — the governments of those countries are constantly trumpeting new legal measures to prevent sex trafficking, in order to court U.S. investment…and despite the fact that trafficking is rampant. Trafficking continues because of corruption and poverty, not because there are no laws against it.
The worst case scenario for sex trafficking and child exploitation is a corrupt society where laws are enforced not based on criminal activity, but on the divide between rich and poor — and manipulation of the media plays a strong role. Yet for trafficking and child exploitation, nothing seems to change in the long run (except that it gets worse). The countries with the most poverty, the greatest corruption and the greatest restrictions on personal behavior are the places where trafficking runs rampant, because the law is enforced with not just a double standard, but a predictably privilege-based standard. It’s based on the social position of the client and the amount of money that changes hands…not from john to sex worker, but from john to authorities, from pimp to authorities, from sex worker to authorities. The idea that in poor and corrupt countries such a situation will be solved if we “abolish” prostitution by putting the names of johns in the paper (as Farley claims) is utterly laughable. Corrupt nations mostly have strong anti-prostitution laws. It’s poverty and corruption that need to be “abolished.”
But that’s not Demand Abolition’s view. Want to know where they think the worst case scenario is for prostitution laws? Not Burma, not India, not Sudan, but Australia.
…a wave of sex trafficking and other ills always follows the legalization of prostitution. For instance, parts of Australia have experimented with decriminalization and witnessed skyrocketing illegal prostitution “because the buyers still want to purchase children, ‘exotic’ women from abroad, and sex acts that may be off limits in the legal venues.”
Farley and her cronies are actually going to tell me that the case study of where the circumstances for prostitutes are the very worst is…Australia? Because Australia, they claim, “witnessed skyrocketing illegal prostitution,” that means we should “abolish” prostitution…everywhere? Like, say… all the places where it’s already illegal? Because that hasn’t resulted in “skyrocketing” prostitution…oh, unless you believe the Newsweek article about Farley’s study — in case you forgot, it was headlined:
The Growing Demand for Prostitution
…until Newsweek chickened out and changed it, because neither they nor Farley can convincingly make a data-based case that there is a growing demand for prostitution. Better to call it “The John Next Door,” creating the impression that sex work patrons live right next to you, lurking, waiting for your innocent selves, wives and daughters to, I don’t know, not be there so you won’t see them drive off to go see a hooker.
But…does that mean Newsweek is talking only about countries where it’s legal (and those two eight counties in Nevada)? I mean…Newsweek is a U.S. magazine, and prostitution is mostly illegal here. Because if there’s a “growing demand for prostitution” in places where prostitution is illegal…gasp…could that mean…?
Or do Newsweek, and Demand Abolition, not have the faintest idea whether there’s a growing demand for prostitution, because they wouldn’t know actual data if it bit ‘em on the ass and then charged ‘em $5? Does Demand Abolition not know what they believe…other than that they object to the very fact of prostitution, and will make up social trends, statistics and “facts” at will?
Incidentally, if Australia is Demand Abolition’s worst case scenario, what’s their best case? Sweden:
The primer also takes note of promising results coming out of Sweden, where a 1999 law decriminalized the sale of sex but rigorously enforced a ban on purchasing it. Since passage, the number of women forced into street prostitution has fallen by 50 percent.
So it’s legal to sell, but illegal to buy? How does that work, exactly, like…in logical terms. In terms of teaching your kids what’s legal to do and not to do? Or is it already assumed that nobody of value would ever let their son or daughter buy or sell sex?
The exceptions are, as I alluded to above, poor women and rich men. Rich men enlisting the services of poor women usually gets a blind eye, no matter what country and what aeon they’re in. That equation is sacrosanct and will remain so until we eliminate economics entirely. That’s why any enforcement activity against sex work always disproportionately impacts poor sex workers, and any enforcement activity against clients always disproportionately affects those who frequent poorer sex workers…especially, but not exclusively, lower-middle-class, working class and poor men who can’t afford to pay $200 or $300 for sex.
Rich men are never going to lose their options for hiring sex workers. In the Victorian era, just like in Saudi Arabia, just like in Washington, D.C. all you have to do is this: Be male, have plenty of money and exercise a culturally “appropriate” amount of discretion, and you can always find a woman who’ll fuck you. That is not going to change, no matter what country you’re in, what era you’re in or what law enforcement actions are taken. But what can change is how many poor sex workers face arrest, rape and prison time because of hysterical prohibitionist panic based on bad science.
Farley’s campaign is aimed at wealthy Western nations, and that’s where the rub lies. She seems willing to haul the trafficked Cambodian children out of their rail container and parade them around in the White People’s Tragedy Tourism Dance whenever it helps her argue for stronger anti-prostitution laws in Nevada. Farley is happy to equate third-world human trafficking with heroin-addicted women in Los Angeles with high-class hookers and strippers who occasionally give a blowjob in the back room for $300. But she has yet to establish that any parallel can be drawn between these things, using any weapon other than the anti-male, anti-sex, and ultimately anti-female tools of helpless-woman feminism that was rejected by the vast majority of American women twenty years ago. In doing so, Farley is snug in bed with the most right-wing, reactionary elements in America who, if they could have their way, would like her and her fellow feminists in the kitchen baking casseroles.
I beg of you, as a person of conscience, to forever reject Farley’s bankrupt and transparently sexist claim that sex is a thing that women own that men take away, either by purchasing it or by stealing it or by pressuring them into giving it up or by marrying them.
Sex is not a thing.
It’s not women’s job to “keep” it so that people like Melissa Farley will approve of them. And it’s not the habit of men with hard dicks to follow anybody’s idea of morality except their own. And, for the record, plenty of us do manage to make it through life without violating our own codes of morality, which are apparently far more complex than Farley’s, since they allow for female personal agency. That’s why it’s so reprehensible that Farley’s claims attempt to create a single and extraordinarily restrictive moral behavior for men…despite the agonizingly clear evidence that poverty is what creates despair, that drugs, abuse, and lack of opportunity go where poverty goes, and that drugs, poverty, abuse and lack of opportunity together create the most dysfunctional sex work environments. Those dysfunctions would not be eliminated by decriminalization of prostitution — certainly not street prostitution — but they sure as fuck aren’t going to be eliminated by Farley’s unsupportable ivory-tower sex-hating hysteria.
Why should I care? The result, in the end, will be nothing more than a few hysterical articles in the press, some dumb ideas out there and the slow erosion and discrediting of the social sciences — nothing we haven’t seen before, right?
But Farley’s unsupported claims and the ease with which the press picked them up represent the building feedback loop of anti-sex hysteria.
More importantly, it’s exactly this kind of histrionic, crazy doublethink that alienated women in my generation from the very idea of Feminism, capital F, or feminism, small f, as something they could see in themselves. I’m tired of seeing women my age be afraid to call themselves feminists.
Every time I hear a woman my age or younger say, “I’m not a feminist, but…”
…I thank Melissa Farley.