trafficking

(Image by Scott Long, courtesy of Scott Long)

(Image by Scott Long, courtesy of Scott Long)

The Cambodian garment industry’s factories often serve as the canonical example of sweatshops. Women toil away in them for long hours with low pay and awful, unsafe working conditions. There are regular mass faintings due to poor ventilation, chemicals such as insecticides and shoe glue, long hours, and lack of access to health care.

There are about 650,000 Cambodian garment workers, and 90% of them are women. The current Cambodian minimum wage is US$80 per month, though the lower end of a living wage in Cambodia is twice that, at US$160. Many Cambodian garment workers have organized themselves and are working to institute change through collective bargaining and by pressuring companies looking to improve their brands’ image. Local unions have even secured support from a number of international corporations, and these corporations and unions (as part of IndustriALL Global Union) were able to meet peaceably with government officials on May 26th. At issue were a new trade union law, mechanisms for setting wages, a demand for a US$160 per month minimum wage, and the fates of 23 garment workers who were arrested in January for protesting working conditions and pay. Unfortunately, a strike that was planned for the previous month failed. Still, protests continued.

The 23 workers were arrested as part of a violent government crackdown on January 3rd that left at least four dead and 80 wounded. There were similar protests and crackdowns the previous November, when police shot and killed one protester and wounded nine. There was another protest the previous September over mass dismissals of workers on strike and intimidation measures including the presence of military police during inspections.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, however, practically idolizes Cambodian sweatshops. Kristof has recently come under fire for disseminating false stories about sex trafficking that were fed to him by the Somaly Mam Foundation and Mam’s “rehabilitation center” AFESIP in his columns, in the forward to her memoir, and in his 2012 “documentary” Half the Sky. Information about Mam’s fraud, however, had been published in the Cambodia Daily since 2010, and it is highly unlikely that Kristof was unaware of this fact. Her fraud and its horrific consequences for local sex workers were hardly a secret among sex worker rights activists in the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Work Projects.

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(Image via Melissa Gira Grant's twitter account)

(Image via Melissa Gira Grant’s twitter account)

You might recognize this sentiment: the sex workers’ rights movement is funded by “the industry.” We are “the pimp lobby,” whether we’ve ever been in any sort of management role ourselves or not, let alone whether we’ve abused or exploited other workers. You might think it’s pretty easy to laugh at that sort of thing, but if you’ve ever spent any time going through the e-mails that sex workers’ rights organizations receive, you’ll hear a lot of this, even from people and organizations who are sympathetic. They’ll make assumptions about “staff”—”we want to meet your staff”or they want to meet in “your office.”  There are people who try to chat you up about nonprofit careers at events, thinking you have jobs to offer them. And so on. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating, and if people with nasty motives didn’t use these assumptions against us.

It’s human to overestimate the resources of others and to underestimate one’s own. But let’s have some real talk.

Management doesn’t want to fund the sex workers rights movement. They do not have an interest in our vision for social change beyond issues of their own legality. Don’t believe me? This is management in action, or more specifically, strip club managers in action, allying themselves with anti-trafficking organizations. Management-directed organizations want to cover their own asses and reap benefits from the REAL money spigot, the anti-trafficking movement, of the “End Demand” variety, funded by former ambassador and current filthy rich lady Swanee Hunt. You’d see the same from escort agencies if they were legal, and you already do see the same from the legal Nevada brothel industry. As it is, some of the individuals in sex work management give us mild, conditional support, sort of the same way clients do. You know the storythey have many more demands than they do contributions. I have never seen any of them donate money.

Radfems, the “pimp lobby” is pretty firmly on YOUR side on this one.

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One of the images Red Umbrella Project used in their campaign against the use of condoms as evidence. (Art by kd diamond, image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

One of the images Red Umbrella Project used in their campaign against the use of condoms as evidence. (Art by kd diamond, image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

Go Audacia Ray and Red Umbrella Project!!! The big news this week is that the NYPD has finally ended the policy of confiscating condoms from suspected sex workers to use as evidence! The change still leaves a loophole, however: they can still seize and use condoms as evidence in sex trafficking and promotion of prostitution cases.

There were several really great pieces this week deconstructing the trafficking conversation and calling for labor and human rights for sex workers: Georgina Orellano, with the Argentine Sex Workers Association, “is adamant that women who choose the sector to make a living should be given the same labour [sic] rights as everybody else.” Orellano is consistently brilliant at shutting down the interviewer’s hand-wringing attempts to make sex work into some kind of metaphysical violation; especially gratifying is her distinction between men who pay to have sex with kidnapped women (criminals), and the clients of sex workers.

Also satisfying: Anne Elizabeth Moore takes apart the racism and imperialism of the anti-trafficking movement and Christian “anti-trafficking” organizations (shady as always). Like many of us recently, she needs clarification about the concept of women “trafficking themselves.” THANK YOU FOR ASKING ABOUT THIS! Also: “Arguing that, in an ideal world, no woman would willingly sell sex, abolitionists aim to eliminate the industry entirely. Sex workers, when asked, note the absence of this illusory world.” High five! [READ MORE]

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Mexican sex workers march on May Day to tell people what they should already know—work is work. (Photo via Vice Magazine)

Mexican sex workers march on May Day to tell people what they should already know—work is work. (Photo via VICE Magazine)

I just want them to stop fucking with us.” VICE  talks to Mexican sex workers participating in a May Day march for labor rights in a piece acknowledging the economic appeal of sex work: “Inflation has caused Mexico’s minimum wage to decrease over the years, and many of the country’s citizens have turned to the streetwalking sector to make ends meet.”

Remember how Prince George’s County was going to live-tweet a prostitution sting? That didn’t happen! Whew! Apparently, the police officers got concerned that their identities would be compromised. I know, right? What a bummer that would be. Additionally, no arrests were made. How much do you think the threat to match every live-tweet with a donation to sex workers’ rights organization HIPS had to do with this decision?

Opposition to the Swedish model got even more pointed this week: interviews with Nordic charities, women’s rights activists, and sex workers themselves all indicate that the effects of the law actually make sex workers’ lives more dangerous. Whomp whomp.

A former Portland State University student who also worked in bondage porn is suing PSU for more than a million dollars after some blatantly inappropriate and unethical behavior on the part of her former advisor, associate professor Marcia Klotz. Klotz displayed a boundary violating interest in the student’s sex work career and history of sexual trauma while overseeing her work  in the McNair Scholars program. When the student began working with another advisor, Klotz accused her of plagiarism. It reminds us of a few different episodes of Elementary, but like, way more painful.

The ACLU is investigating Project ROSE. Thank goodness someone is! We can’t really tell what’s up with this article though: “Not only is there an apparent problem with organizing busts to send people to a church-backed charity program…” Is this snark or sincerity?

Italy’s scariest serial killer, the Monster of Florence, is probably not back (despite the sensational headline), which just means yet another serial killer is murdering sex workers. Local residents often hear screams coming from the area where the murdered women are found. Calls concerning the noise saved one woman’s life, but no one called about Andrea Cristina Zamir, who was murdered on Monday.

Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, came out in support of sex workers and of decriminalization.

Confronted with clients who will pay double for unprotected sex Kenyan sex workers are accessing post-exposure prophylactic treatment for HIV.

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War_on_the_White_Slave_Trade_01Despite ample warnings about the prevalence of con men seeking to prey on easily malleable puppets like me, it is indeed a sad truth that I almost became the victim of a murky, seedy, dark, sex trafficking ring operated by equally murky, seedy, dark (-skinned) men. Eww! As we all know, prostitution—er, sex trafficking?— is never a victimless crime. Physical violence against prostituted women is underreported, which can only be true because…feminism! Indeed, all fact-based evidence to the contrary should be deeply scrutinized using right-wing silencing tactics and progressive rhetoric, ie: “You can’t possibly speak to your own experiences because your experiences perpetuate violence against women.” Furthermore, prostitution and sex trafficking are synonyms because if you disagree with that statement, you’re a pedophile! So, if you want to end modern day slavery worldwide, don’t talk about structural constraints like poverty or growing discrepancies in wealth. Instead, let the logical fallacy of “appealing to emotion” be your guide and, please, listen to my super sad story.

As a woman who dabbles in psychotropic drugs like cannabis and occasionally listens to rap music—both of which, mind you, glamorize “The Game”—I should have taken heed of cultural mouthpieces’ contentions that even consensual sex for girls like me is not consensual at all. That’s why academics, the state, and philanthropists must define consent for me. Of course, being the rebel that I am, I ignored all this socially inflicted self-doubt and left the house alone, anyway. Full disclosure: I was wearing a short skirt and was slightly tipsy off a glass of wine, so I alone am responsible for any and all violence encountered. But since I clearly suffer from false consciousness—I would have worn pants, after all, had I not suffered this insufferable condition—I am certainly incapable of being held accountable for any of my actions, ever. [READ MORE]

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