So, to continue my rant about prostitution and the similarities between the anti-sex work and anti-LGBT discourses...
Out of sight - out of mind
As I mentioned in part 1, in Bulgaria (for example) there are a lot of tolerant, compassionate and progressive people, who don't want to see all LGBT people dead or in a mental institution. Or anywhere else, for that matter. A typical statement you can read in message boards and comments under news articles is "I have nothing against gay people but I don't understand why they have to parade their sexuality" or "I don't discriminate against anyone, let them do whatever they want in their bedrooms but not go out on the streets and demonstrate their sexual orientation". (And believe me, this IS a tolerant attitude over there!) These sentiments are repeated at the highest political and social levels. In 2008, before the first organised and largely promoted Sofia gay pride, the then Prime Minister, now chair of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Party of European Socialists, Sergei Stanishev, when asked about the pride parade, said that the Bulgarian government fights discrimination and protects the rights of all its citizens but "personally, I don't like the demonstration and manifestation of such orientations". [On an irrelevant but related note: rumour is that Stanishev himself is gay and has (had?) a relationship with the current Foreign MInister Vigenin...] Under pressure from united nazis and Christians, the then mayor Boyko Borisov moved the pride march from the city centre to a more invisible place outside the centre (and later moved it again back to the city centre...). A couple of years later, when Borisov was Prime Minister, he stated that "in GERB [his party] men love women and women love men". Yes, in his party, there are no LGBT people.
The anti-sex work debate usually focuses on street prostitution and the abuses that street workers face. Even though some estimate that street prostitution accounts for not more than 20% of all prostitution, the anti's love focusing on this 20% to make their point, disregarding the other 80%, which includes call girls, escorts, webcam workers, etc. who are far more high-level, protected and well paid and where trafficking, abuse and exploitation occur much less often. So it seems the main goal of the anti's is to see street prostitution disappear, i.e. to simply not see any sex workers. But the main way in which sex workers are made invisible is by ignoring their voices. When it comes to policies around sex work, real, actual, active, present- or past-day sex workers are largely ignored, in favour of fake "survivors of prostitution". The Council of Europe Rapporteur I mentioned in the previous part is a perfect example.
By making any group invisible and ignoring it as small or unrepresentative, governments, policy makers and society find it easier to ignore the group's demands, rights and needs, instead of improving laws and policies that actually protect them.
When they say your sister is a whore...
There's a saying in Bulgarian that goes along the lines of "When they say your sister is a whore, you can't prove anymore that you don't have a sister". It sounds a lot wittier actually but the idea is that once a claim/rumour is out there, it's really difficult to disprove it as false, even if it's something as simple as the fact that you don't have a sister.
In any debate it's easy to spread rumours and unfounded and unprovable claims but it gets worse when you employ rheological fallacies, which make it seem like your claim is or can be true. In the anti-LGBT (or rather, anti-gay) discourse there are plenty of unprovable claims like "God hates fags" or "75% of gay men have had sex with more than 1500 men" or "Gay prides are not about rights but pure pornography" but I will mention here a few recent and very absurd ones designed purely to create a moral panic, which on the outside, to the dumb reader, may appear to be substantiated.
- The EU wants to legalise incest seems to be another legitimate sounding rumour. The EU and US and their human rights are, of course, the worst enemies of Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, etc. law-abiding orthodox Christians and it follows that after legalising same-sex marriages, the next logical step is legalising incest, peadophilia and zoophilia. Just last year I heard at an unfortunate encounter in Bulgaria that "The European Parliament is now discussing measures to legalise incest because the Nordic countries, especially Norway and Iceland, are pushing for it". The idea that the EU will have a say in incest and even "legalise" it may sound legit to some but that Norway and Iceland are in the EU is simple ignorance with which you just can't argue (or next you'll find yourself trying to convince someone that Africa is a continent or that the Earth is round..) The rumour itself was started by a crazy Russian woman who claimed that her Norwegian husband and his family molested their son and the social workers and the whole state actually encouraged paedophilia and incest and then spread like wildfire in all Putinesque media and circles. So someone heard a fake story about incest in Norway and decided that the EU will legalise incest and that incest and paedophilia are "Western values".
|Jamie and Cersei at a hearing in the EP...|
I would probably find it more believable if someone told me that Jamie and Cersei Lannister are lobbying the EU to legalise incest than Norway and Iceland :-)
- The Netherlands is a country of gays and paedophiles. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriages and is also popular for its liberal stance on marijuana use and, of course, prostitution. The Dutch government, its embassies and Dutch foundations fund a lot of LGBT initiatives around the world, including contributions to all gay prides in Sofia. In the narrow minds of extreme conservatives and Christians this makes the whole country worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. But my example - in 2013 the Bulgarian judiciary organised a seminar with Dutch experts on improving the workload of magistrates. A recently leaked letter from a high-level magistrate quotes his reasons to decline the invitation: "I see that there will be a Dutch expert. As you know, this country is ruled by gays and they also have a paedophile party, which is making its way to Parliament"... While there are open LGBT people in Dutch politics, none are in the government and you can hardly claim that the country is ruled by gays (of course the claim itself is preposterous enough). The mere existence of Association Martijn, however, allows all anti's to use it as "proof" that the country is infested with paedophiles (and by extension - gays). In reality, the association is not a political party, has hardly any support, let alone trying to make it to Parliament or have any sort of power. It's been banned and unbanned a few times and in April 2014 it was banned for good. But once the claim is out there - no one cares about these "details". The magistrate who refused to allow a Dutch expert to teach the "Orthodox, traditional-value" and completely rotten Bulgarian judiciary was awarded 40 monthly salaries upon his retirement in 2014.
Lastly, I want to share my frustration with the campaign for EP elections in Bulgaria - if you listen to some of the candidates and their messages you'll get the impression that next year the EU will force every Bulgarian to marry someone of the same gender and then have sex with animals in front of kindergartens every morning...
In the anti-prostitution discourse there are even more ridiculous but legit-sounding claims that seem founded in "carefully selected" research. Maggie McNeill has a long list of them in her blog and in the Washington Post and Dr. Ronald Weitzer more here.
But to mention a few for my readers:
- The average age for entry into prostitution is 12-14 years
As Maggie points out, this is first of all a mathematical impossibility because it suggests that for every sex worker who started at 20, there's one who started at 6 to 8... Or for every one who started at 24 there's one who started at ... 0 to 4. It took me five seconds to do the math but the myth is more important than the math... Anyway, it seems the myth refers to a study of the first sexual experience of minors. And minors are always below the age of 18 but myth or math - who cares, let's create a moral panic..
- In The Netherlands 50-90% of sex workers are forced.
This is another commonly repeated lie because (apart from "the Dutch are always to blame":) it came from an Amsterdam city official in 2009 which was not based on anything but a simple guesstimate. In reality, a 2007 official evaluation on the lifting of the ban on brothels found out that around 8% of the interviewed sex workers said they had started under some form of coercion. Sex workers in the Red Light District will tell you that the forced prostitutes are even fewer than this.
- More than half of Amsterdam brothel owners have criminal records. This is not one that's particularly pervasive internationally but I'm including it because of its utter distortion and absurdity. It was used in the reasoning behind the European Parliament resolution on prostitution from the end of February 2014. When real researchers actually bothered to trace this claim they found that: it wasn't about Amsterdam but only part of the Red Light District; it wasn't more than half but less than one-third; and the most spectacular one - it wasn't about brothel owners but about coffee shop (where they sell marijuana) owners... But when you start your sentence with "A 2009 study found out that..." and don't provide proper references, you can get away with it, even if you're a Member of the European Parliament.
The anti's will always find rumours, hear-say or unfounded claims to further their agenda. Luckily, there are also always diligent researchers and activists who are ready to refute these claims, but like I said in the beginning, once it's out there - most people react to the scandalous, the morally outrageous claim and can hardly ever be convinced that the reality is different. But of course - no victory comes easily...
Tempters, homewreckers and sinners!
Now this part came a bit unexpectedly, I hadn't thought about it until I got into a sort of an argument in the comments of the blog post "Does legalised prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany" on FeministIre. A certain georgefinnegan was one of few very vocal commenters against sex work. At first I thought the guy was just conservative or religious but from several different comments, something here, something there, I was left with the impression that he objects to prostitution because prostitutes sleep with married men, therefore they ruin marriages, therefore their job is a disgrace to society and traditions, therefore it shouldn't exist, let alone be legal (in a way it's a refreshing attitude not rooted in the "victims of human trafficking" or "violence against women" paradigm). In another comment, george had admitted to talking to a prostitute once, even flirting with her. All of this made me assume, whether correctly or not, that he actually wanted to visit a sex worker and use her services but didn't because of moral considerations (and I admire his level of restraint in the name of fidelity and marriage!). We also know, although I can't quote sources now, that the people who most vehemently oppose LGBT rights are often people who themselves have homosexual desires. I'm sure that, like me, a lot of gays and lesbians have had sex with married men and women but to shift the responsibility only to gays, lesbians or sex workers for people's infidelity is simply not serious - it's a two-way consensual and conscious interaction. People who want to cheat will cheat, be it with sex workers, people of the same sex, or their secretary or possibly anyone they come in contact with. Obviously we can't ban interpersonal communication to prevent cheating. And while with gays and lesbians these outside-marriage activities have the potential to cause romantic complications, with sex workers it's actually just a business transaction. But some straight and bi men and women prefer to have an easy scapegoat, which they can blame for their failed marriages/relationships instead of making an effort to understand what's wrong and work it out or leave and try to be happy with someone else... Someone had told me that this is why so few men actually support sex workers rights - because they are scared that they will appear to want to use sex workers' services (whether they actually do or not). Needless to say, in the same way in backward countries like Bulgaria, so few straight people defend LGBT rights, again out of fear of being perceived as gay/lesbian themselves.