Bell, Hook and Kettle

Salvation Army standard, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Salvation Army standard, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The profession of a prostitute is the only career in which the maximum income is paid to the newest apprentice.  It is the one calling in which at the beginning the only exertion is that of self-indulgence; all the prizes are at the commencement.  It is the ever-new embodiment of the old fable of the sale of the soul to the Devil.  The tempter offers wealth, comfort, excitement, but in return the victim must sell her soul, nor does the other party forget to exact his due to the uttermost farthing.  –  William Booth

This coming Friday (December 6th) is Saint Nicholas’ Day, on which Dutch (and some German) children traditionally received presents from the Saint, who of course later became known as Santa Claus.  In my 2010 column for his day I discussed the many traditions surrounding him, and pointed out that beside archers, children, merchants,  sailors, students and repentant thieves, the jolly miracle-worker is also the patron saint of prostitutes.  But like perverts using candy to lure unsuspecting schoolchildren into vans, a certain anti-whore cult has co-opted the saint’s familiar and comforting image in order to lure unsuspecting good-hearted people into funding a campaign to hound and persecute hookers.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Salvation Army, which every Christmas employs Santa impersonators to ring bells beside hanging kettles into which passersby may deposit money.  Now, to be fair, I must point out that the great majority of the cash thus donated goes to helping the poor via various programs; that’s highly commendable and the SA deserves to be praised for it.  However, from the time of its founder William Booth, it has always agitated for the criminalization of prostitution.  Indeed, it was among the earliest groups to promote the “white slavery” hysteria; by 1884 Salvationists were composing lurid accounts of “child sex slavery” and soon launched a campaign to raise the age of consent in the UK from 13 to 16.  The moral panic they helped to create was the driving force behind most modern anti-prostitution law, especially in the United States.  Once these laws were in place the Salvationists’ efforts to persecute whores became much less energetic, and for most of the 20th century very few (including myself) knew of the SA’s pivotal role in engendering the official oppression of hookers so common in the modern world.  I used to put money into those kettles every time I passed one, though I can no longer do so in good conscience because of the organization’s history of hatred toward my profession and its recently-renewed efforts to persecute and impoverish us.

In 2003, the Salvation Army reclaimed its prominent place among crusaders against harlots by establishing its “National Anti-trafficking Council“, one of whose principles is “Prostitution and related activities are not forms of work, are inherently harmful and dehumanizing, and contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons.”  It was one of the instigators behind the “Anti-prostitution pledge“, a U.S. government policy which denies funds to any health or aid organization unless it refuses help to prostitutes:  “Supporters of the pledge requirement argue that prostitution is inherently harmful and needs to be abolished, reject harm reduction approaches, and hold that legalized prostitution increases demand for sex trafficking.”  Its propaganda calls all sex work “sexual slavery”, and its name is always found alongside that of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Polaris Project, the Hunt Alternatives Fund, Shared Hope International and other anti-sex worker organizations whenever they agitate for further criminalization in the United States, Canada, the U.K. and other countries, or recriminalization in places like Australia and New Zealand.

Though its ubiquitous bell-ringers make it very easy to donate to the Salvation Army, I strongly suggest y’all find other worthy charities this Christmas (such as my own favorite, Toys for Tots).  Though it did a great deal of good in the 20th century, the SA has returned to its anti-sex roots and has recently diverted large sums which should be going to the poor into efforts to persecute hookers instead.  I urge everyone who reads this to boycott them, and to spend your charity dollars on organizations that care more about helping the unfortunate than about fighting to rob millions of women of their  livelihoods and to suppress the sexual choices of consenting adults (including gay people) in the name of “saving” them.

(This essay previously appeared in The Honest Courtesan on December 6th, 2011; it has been slightly modified to fit the Cliterati format.)

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