Sex, Lies & Statistics is the title of the American edition of the book The Sex Myth originally published in 2012. The U.S edition published in 2017 couldn’t be more relevant in 2018 when FOSTA-SESTA is hurting the very people it’s supposed to help in the U.S, the British government wants to block internet porn to ‘protect children’ and just a few days ago British sex workers were protesting over numerous MPs in the British government apparently inspired by Trump’s FOSTA-SESTA now want something similar for Britain and U.K
Scientist and former sex worker Dr Brooke Magnanti takes a look at the data and research behind the headlines of recurring media narratives around sex work. Broken down into 10 chapters which focus on a different aspect. The results a combination of journalistic research and scientific analysis demonstrate that as far as much of the media and various anti-sex work campaigners are concerned evidence and research is irrelevant if it points to something that goes against an ideological aim.
The calls to ban or further restrict ‘sex work’, an umbrella catch all term for myriad different things, isn’t really anything to do with ‘evidence’ as much as it is to do with moral outrage and a puritanical backlash against both sexuality and sex work in general. One of the latest manifestations of this is developments concerning Patreon, a platform which has apparently decided to arbitrarily suspend the accounts of creators it deems to be creating ‘inappropriate’ content. This seems to be the result of pressure from payment processors essentially engaging in redlining against anyone associated with sex work. This is in itself is nothing new porn stars were complaining about banks closing or freezing their accounts several years ago. Elsewhere strip clubs that’ve been a city fixture for years with no problems are facing a backlash from irate activists insistent that strip clubs ‘normalise the commodification of women’s bodies’.
One of the most pertinent aspects of this book is that Magnanti as a scientist points out that regardless of your personal perspective on things if you’re incapable of actually engaging with the evidence if it contradicts your perspective, then you’re not interested in the evidence but rather just furthering your own agenda.
A major part of this ‘debate’ is the way sex work is acknowledged by governments and the law and it breaks down into several different manifestations globally,
Decriminalisation – The removal of all legal impediments to sex work, where sex workers can work in regulated premises for others or in private premises for themselves. Decriminalisation, often shortened to ‘Decrim’, is approved by various sex worker led organisations and Amnesty International amongst others. ‘DECRIM NOW’ placards are often seen at sex worker protests
Legalisation – Sex work is only allowed with regulated workers in licensed premises. A good example being the Bunny Ranch in Nevada in the U.S. This approach generally isn’t approved by sex worker organisations because it creates a situation where some sex workers are penalised by the law whilst others aren’t.
Partial criminalisation – Where customers of sex workers are criminalised. This isn’t favoured by sex worker organisations because it indirectly criminalises sex workers and makes for a more dangerous scenario as customers will avoid reporting anything to police for fear of prosecution.
Full criminalisation – Both buying and selling sex is illegal. This results in shunning and stigmatising sex workers being common place.
As Magnanti explains sex workers being shunned, ignored, stigmatised and demonised is by no means anything new. One of England’s most notorious serial killers, Peter Sutcliffe aka the Yorkshire Ripper, evaded capture for several years in the 70’s partly due to his victims being prostitutes, which the media, the police and the public didn’t really care about. Both in the news and in film and TV the sex worker is often the victim that nobody cares about or serves as the basis for an underlying moral message about the ‘evils’ of sex work.
What’s alarming is when Magnanti does some digging tracking down the origins of the various sources of statistics often paraded by anti-sex worker figures. This reveals that some of the NGOs and charities,often championed by well meaning but clueless celebrities, have links to distinctly dubious organisations that have their own agendas. Despite raking in vast amounts of money for ‘research’ and their causes this money rarely, if ever, actually goes towards helping actual victims of the ‘sex trafficking’ that always comes up when there’s any discussion about sex workers. This revelation was so explosive that Magnanti was threatened with legal action from one of the anti-sex work figures mentioned.
Another thing that becomes clear is how when it comes to sex work ‘feminism’ is utterly splintered. ‘Feminists’ approach to sex work falls into several groups. There are those that support women who choose to be sex workers and fight for sex worker rights because of the improved safety they will provide. There are those that think that all sex work should be outright banned altogether if not heavily penalised because sex work is ‘predicated on violence towards and exploitation of women’ and there are those that believe that no woman would ever willingly choose to be a sex worker in any circumstance and therefore they must be ‘brainwashed’ into thinking they’re acting independently by ‘choosing to be sex slaves’.
As comedian Avery Edison put it on Twitter ‘You will never end demand for sex work, the same way anti-abortion activists will never end demand for abortion. All you will do is push it underground, where more people will be hurt. Not only do the facts bear this out, it also makes obvious logical sense!’