NCFM International Coordinator Dr. Carl Augustsson PhD. “On the Notion that Legal Sex Work Leads to Trafficking”
The MenEngage Alliance website says the organization is working to transform masculinities and engage men and boys for gender justice, based on a feminist-informed approach. The alliance discussion group touts’ members from around the world.
There are two parts to this post concerning sex-trafficking and prostitution.
The first is a July 30, 2020 email from Chuck Derry from the Gender Violence Institute in Clearwater, Minnesota, who is involved with MenEngage and has been working to end men’s violence against women since 1983. In response to a post in support of sex-workers, he argued something like revenue from prostitution drives demand which in turn somehow supports human-trafficking. All of which, is apparently some sort of a patriarchal manifestation enveloping females in an inescapable debilitating social construct devoid of independent thought, free will and responsibility. Derry apparently supports the 1998 Swedish law “sexköpslagen”, wherein sex buying is illegal but not sex selling.
Carl Augustsson, PhD. is NCFM’s International Coordinator. He has a Swedish passport. In May 2011 Carl wrote a scathing article about the law basically arguing the it’s none of governments business who buys or sells sex among consenting adults, which you can read here: https://ncfm.org/2011/05/authors/carlaugustsson/sexkopslagen/
So, when I read Derry’s feminist-informed article, which is near the bottom of this post in full, I asked Carl to respond to it. You may wish to read Derry’s email before reading Carl’s response which is immediately below.
On the Notion that Legal Sex Work Leads to Trafficking, by Dr. Carl Augustsson
Nearly a decade ago I wrote an essay against the so called “Swedish Model” of prostitution, which bans the buying but not the selling of sex. I therefore do not wish to rehash the arguments made in that article. I will just say that while this model has sadly since spread to other countries such as Canada and Ireland, it has not spread as fast as the proponents would have liked. Indeed, it will hopefully be peaking soon.
Part of the reason that it may be peaking is because the case against sex work in general is such a weak one. Basically, if consenting adults wish to buy and sell sex from one another, why should they not be allowed to? The reason is that there are a number of moralists, both Christian conservatives on the right and feminists on the left (in what is truly one of the most unholy alliances ever), who are uncomfortable with sexuality in general.
However, many of those in both groups probably realize the inherent weakness in arguments based purely on sexual morality. They have therefore turned to what would be a stronger argument: sex trafficking. After all, those of us who believe that consenting adults should be allowed to buy and sell sex from each other will not be persuaded with moralistic arguments. However, some of us could be convinced to ban sex work if we could be convinced that it leads to human sex trafficking. This would therefore be the moralists’ strongest argument, even if their opposition is based mainly on their moral objections. It is therefore not surprising that many of them are making this claim.
This, however, begs the question: is it true? We have often seen in politics where a group of people are willing to make false arguments to bolster what is otherwise a weak case (and arguing that consenting adults should not be allowed to buy and sell sex from each other is indeed a very weak case). It is the purpose of this short article to explore whether this is the case.
It must be pointed out that hard figures can be a bit hard to come by. Likewise, a number of studies and articles on this topic have already been written. I will therefore merely provide a brief summary. For a fuller discussion, one can click these links and read the full studies.
‘End demand for prostitution’ approaches have been most heavily promoted by prostitution abolitionists, who claim that penalizing sex workers’ clients will help fight trafficking. Sex workers rights groups and some antitrafficking organizations (including GAATW) have strongly opposed criminal penalties against clients as this approach:
- Has not reduced trafficking or sex work;
- Threatens sex workers’ income security and working conditions, such as by increasing competition amongst sex workers, and increasing the vulnerability of sex workers who must negotiate with nervous and scared clients (i.e. less time for workers to determine whether a potential client is safe or not);
- Has not stopped violent or abusive clients who are more experienced at evading law enforcement, but has ended up impacting less experienced clients and ‘good’ clients;
- Dismisses and silences the concerns, priorities and knowledge of sex workers;
- Muddles anti-trafficking efforts by confusing trafficking with sex work;
- Increases police’s power over sex workers; and
- Increases stigma against women in sex work.
“Australia’s anti-trafficking laws have resulted in thousands of raids, resources devoted to surveillance and investigations, but have found very little evidence of trafficking,” Elena Jeffreys, President of Scarlet Alliance said today. “The Police found what sex workers always knew; trafficking-like work conditions in Australia are rare. All evidence and research backs up this conclusion.” (http://www.scarletalliance.org.au/media/News_Item.2011-10-10.4626/view?fbclid=IwAR10IlgQAy-dOCOB951l7W0UUk0xlrUiUT1y8V6OrL1jcWmq4n6uRMZFyD0)
Other articles have been written about instances where the police in other countries such as Britain, hearing about sex-trafficking being out of control, searched brothels across the country and could not find a single woman who was there against her will or who had been brought into the country under false pretenses.
In short, research has shown that criminalizing sex work does not lead to a decrease in sex trafficking. Instead, if it has any effect, it merely creates more problems.
Above of, it is important to remember that even if legal sex work leads to sex trafficking, that does not mean that it should be illegal:
It would be nonsensical to abolish all forms of garment manufacturing in which people are trafficked; rather, states must monitor recruitment practices, protect labour rights of garment workers, ensure occupational health and safety and like measures. (https://www.gaatw.org/publications/MovingBeyond_SupplyandDemand_GAATW2011.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2Jkg1oR0VFOSTnU5hw-2XCvoZ4sxcJorJxTXV-w1aKoFoWYChqBBLv5rw, p23)
Even more importantly, we must remember that even if it were 100% proven that legal sex work does not lead to any trafficking whatsoever, the prostitution prohibitionists would not be persuaded, as this is not the source of their opposition anyway. In the end, probably the most important point in all of this is the fact that the prohibitionists have routinely ignored and dismissed what the organizations representing sex workers think. If there is anyone we should be listening to, it is them.
One final note about the absurdity of criminalizing consensual sex work that appeared as a Facebook meme in 4 frames, with a man talking to a woman with a police officer behind them. In the first frame:
Man: Can I give you money?
Woman: Of course!
In the second frame:
Man: Can we have sex?
Woman: I guess
In the third frame
Man: Ok, I will give you the money for the sex
Police Officer: Hold on: that’s illegal!
In the fourth frame:
Man: To make a movie, which I will sell and keep the profits for myself
Police Officer: Oh sure, you can do that. Why didn’t you say so?!
I would like to Thank the Rose Alliance, the organization which represents Sweden’s sex workers, for helping me with this article.
From: Chuck Derry – Gender Violence Institute
Sent: Thursday, July 30, 2020 2:41 PM
Subject: RE: Unpacking the Man Box – report, webinar recording, and Aug 3 webinar
I felt compelled to respond briefly to your support of “sex workers” and the assertion that they do so by free choice. I agree that law and order policies alone cannot change the social norms that support the sexual exploitation/trafficking of women and children. However, the implementation of those laws has been shown to be effective. In particular, the partial decriminalization laws which decriminalizes those who are victims of sex trafficking/prostitution, provides increased penalties for buyers and third-party facilitators (“johns and pimps”), and provides the services needed for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
In my review of multiple research studies, it is clear that the legalization and/or full decriminalization of prostitution/sex work dramatically increases the levels of sex trafficking and violence against those who are “in the life”, regardless of how they define themselves. It instantly increases the demand. So… if you see this as a business, and people as objects to utilize for profit, the trafficking explodes.
Also, within the social structure of patriarchal, racist, classist, and other oppressive systems of control, experienced worldwide, the matter of “choice” and “consent” becomes very contextual. “Free” choice becomes extremely limited, and most often absent. So, the large majority of women who are being prostituted and exploited are not there by choice. They are coerced, threatened, and manipulated by individuals and social constructs that force them into the life, and keep them there.
And, lastly, the normalization of sexual exploitation/prostitution/sex work increases the sense of entitlement and privilege men throughout the world have, to do as they please with women’s bodies. This supports and sustains the patriarchal violence and harassment men routinely impose upon women, and the subsequent threat and reality of male violence all women live with every day.
While I appreciate the framing of your message around the reduction of harm for those trafficked, I am concerned how that framing can obscure the realities that the very very large majority of women being prostituted live with… the violence, coercion, threats and abuse… and how referring to sexual exploitation/prostitution as normal “work”, further supports and aggravates those realities. Not only for women “in the life” but all women and children throughout the world.
Gender Violence Institute
Clearwater, MN 55320