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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Woodhull Freedom Foundation's newslist has sent me another example of blame-the-victim discourse about sex work, which you can read at My comment follows.

You identify Martha Rosenberg as "a columnist and cartoonist who writes about public health." Looks more to me like she writes about victim-blaming sensationalism -- or, rather, writes it herself.

Her article is identified as an op-ed rather than a news story, yet usually an op-ed piece advocates for a public policy of some sort. What policy is advocated here? Seemingly none, but what's implied is an endorsement of current laws against sex work, and the stigma that is used to justify them.

Her method is S.O.P. for prohibitionists: take the worst cases of what can go wrong, portray these not as worst cases but as the norm (without bothering to cite any sources -- it doesn't appear she's ever talked to a current sex worker, nor even a former one who wasn't "repentant"), and avoid any mention of how prohibition and stigma are largely responsible for these abuses.

No surprise, as she's doing her part to help perpetuate such stigma. How else to interpret a passage like:

"Because when a woman has an improvident one night stand and does the 'shame walk' home, when her 'friends' post or sext her moments of dissipation or compromise or she 'shares' them herself on her blog or webpage that's one thing."

Apparently Rosenberg regards bad sex as an occasion for "shame" -- for women though not men. And she presumes to know better what constitutes "dissipation" or "compromise" for any given woman than the woman herself, who presumably wouldn't post such moments if she saw them the same way. Such "slut-shaming" attitudes not only serve to maintain laws against sex workers, but also let some police, clients, and members of the general public feel entitled to commit all sorts of crimes and abuses against them, or look the other way when others do.

Finally there's this doozy of a head-scratcher:

"But when a nervous john or inappropriate john like a good looking medical student in his early twenties who has no reason to visit a sex worker appears, it may be the first time a woman realizes just how outside of the law and society's protection she has strayed."

Wha-?? After warning women to expect that all clients will be repulsive, she implies that anything else is necessarily scary. While one accused murderer may happen to be a good-looking medical student, this hardly means that such people have no reason to visit a sex worker. For one thing, med students often have no time for dating. Even more ridiculous is the suggestion that nervousness should be a warning sign. Hello? Does it not occur to her that many clients may be clients because they're shy? If I ever patronized a prostitute, as someone with social anxiety disorder I'm pretty sure I would be nervous. Interacting with the opposite sex is typically a big problem area for people with this condition.

But Rosenberg doesn't consider these possibilities. She's too preoccupied with her mission of convincing women involved in sex work that they've "strayed."

Since posting the above, I tried looking Rosenberg up on the Web in an effort to understand the apparent inconsistencies in her attitutde toward sex workers. It seems she regards herself as an ally, but can't help sometimes manifesting a feeling that sex work is essentially unhealthy. See for another example of this, with my comment.

Eric Hamell

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