First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. – Mahatma Gandhi
Tomorrow is International Whores’ Day, the 39th anniversary of a protest in which…
…over 100 French prostitutes occupied the Church of St. Nizier in Lyon. In a very real sense, today is the birthday of the sex worker rights movement; though Margo St. James had already founded COYOTE two years before, the French protests were the first ones large and vociferous enough to gain media attention, and led to the formation of the French Collective of Prostitutes (which in turn inspired the founding of the English Collective of Prostitutes and a number of other, similar organizations)…
Birthdays are a good time for taking stock, for looking at where one has been and where one is going. Like humans, movements have good birthdays and bad ones; the first few anniversaries of that historic protest were good, until mainstream feminism betrayed us in the early 1980s by selling out to the carceral anti-sex crowd and hopping into bed with the religious right. And though there were some dark days after that, the movement continued to grow throughout the ‘90s and early ‘00s despite every opposition. Of course the prohibitionists struck back; they revived the old “white slavery” hysteria under a new name, and for years now they’ve seemed to have the upper hand in the public’s imagination with their lurid masturbatory fantasies of gypsy whores, weeping teenage “sex slaves” and leering “pimps” with magical powers. At the same time, however, the internet has allowed sex workers to organize with each other and reach out to the public at a level we could only dream of when I first entered the business. While politicians, cops and the more ignorant and authoritarian members of the general public have subjected the rights of sex workers, our clients and our associates to unceasing attack, at the same time health officials, human rights groups, and the more well-informed and freedom-loving members of the public have increasingly sided with sex workers in calling for decriminalization.
In “Back and Forth” I provided a snapshot of how things stood last summer, and I think it’s safe to say they’ve shifted somewhat in our favor since then. Oh, one wouldn’t know it to look at the mainstream media; with a few rare exceptions the Fourth Estate has largely abdicated its role of exposing tyranny and instead dedicated itself to the worship of those in power. Every moronic assertion about “sex trafficking” is slavishly parroted without a whisper of skepticism, every asinine lie about sex workers a cop vomits out is presented as gospel, every ridiculous prohibitionist “study” is reverently cited as ironclad proof of the necessity of “rescuing” us by either locking us up or starving us to death. The horrible Swedish model has advanced in Ireland and France, was recently adopted as a “recommendation” by the European parliament, has been re-introduced in the UK after being sent packing once before, and is being touted by the Canadian government in a sleazy attempt to circumvent the court decision which struck down criminalization in Canada last December. The week doesn’t pass that some US jurisdiction doesn’t come out with a new draconian law designed to save nonexistent “trafficked children” by shredding the Constitution and scattering its remains to the four winds; and even countries which have previously taken a more liberal view such as Germany, the Netherlands and Australia are now infested with prohibitionists demanding state control over adult sexual behavior.
The ranks of our allies, however, increase every day. Over 560 organizations advised the Parliament to adopt decriminalization over the Swedish model, and over 300 academics gave the same advice to Canada. A few reporters are beginning to question “trafficking” mythology, and anti-criminalization articles by activists and allies are getting far more common not only in libertarian publications like Reason, but also others all across the political spectrum from Jacobin to Vice to Salon to The Economist to National Review. It won’t be long before prohibitionists recognize that they’re on the wrong side of history, and begin to adopt the sort of delaying tactics they’ve used for decades against gay rights and are using now against the erosion of the drug war. The fight won’t be over soon, not by a long shot. But I predict that every year on this day, I’ll have ever-increasing amounts of good news to report.
(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan)