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"Abolishing it [...] is no more feasible than eliminating agriculture or the auto industry."
December 11, 2011 9:29 AM   Subscribe

"A statistical summary of women in prostitution is a chronicle of human wreckage—economic, physical, and chemical." GQ magazine's three-part investigation into the global sex trade is fascinating, if horrifying, reading: Part 1 (on sex clubs in the Phillipines), Part 2 (on human trafficking in Moldova), Part 3 (on sex tourism in Costa Rica).
posted by Catseye (95 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
How coincidental; I just read an AskMeFi question that eventually led to preventing two Russian women from being victims of human trafficking, yesterday.
posted by Angel of Khaos at 9:41 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


A friend on mine works with this guy who's convinced, *convinced*, that the hooker he met in Thailand is in love with him. The level of gullibility required to believe something like that is truly stunning, but there you go. They're getting married in a few months. Of course members of her family needed money for medical treatment, to start small businesses, she had debts, now with the floods they need more money... Of course he's never met any of this family.

The South East Asian sex tourism industry is a finely engineered machine for using young girls not desired by their families to part foreigners from their money. It would be admirable if it wasn't so profoundly hideous. (Dear HBR: this is not an invitation for you to write a fawning article about it)
posted by atrazine at 9:56 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this is why Costa Rica has bypassed Peru as the popular hipster vacay destination.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2011


Just reading the first part made me not want to ever have sex again.

Also, All Hail the Free Market!.... [expletive deleted]
posted by facetious at 9:59 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this post. The international sex trade is a horror beyond horrors. We also have a lot going on domestically. I live in DTLA, and see men and women hooking night after night, right outside my building. I recognize a difference between someone trafficked and someone hooking, but the root demand is the same.

Something needs to be done, and some things are.

In response to increasing domestic trafficking, the State Department changed the rules for summer 2011[PDF]. They've also done some serious work to shut down the mafia bosses and club owners behind trafficking rings in the greater NYC area.

In another thread, Quiet Coyote pointed out that there is legislative work happening to protect women in these situations. This is a domestic effort, but it has to start somewhere.

dhartung pointed out a report which gives each American state a letter-grade for trafficking. Most did not score well. NPR did a great piece on it.
posted by fake at 10:06 AM on December 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


Youth Radio did a two-part report a year ago that was broadcast by NPR about child sex trafficking in Oakland, CA. Both parts made me want to throw up.
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


"a finely engineered machine for using young girls not desired by their families to part foreigners from their money." [emph mine]

I wonder if you could offer proof of that bit.
posted by docgonzo at 10:23 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


A friend on mine works with this guy who's convinced, *convinced*, that the hooker he met in Thailand is in love with him. The level of gullibility required to believe something like that is truly stunning, but there you go.

And yet, it happens. Everyone wants love and security. I did an FPP a long time ago about the sex trade in Thailand with an emphasis on the tourist's perspective, and the Stickman forums where the sex tourists go to talk about their adventures.

Something needs to be done, and some things are.

Nobody should be coerced or tricked into this kind of work, and people should not be economically exploited no matter what sort of work they do. Illegality is what allows the mamasans and pimps to exploit the women so brutally. You are never going to stop prostitution, because it is just one end of a long spectrum of the relationships between men and women looking for love and security.

It is not the sex part that is bad, it's the exploitation. Thai farmers picking blueberries in Sweden, Cambodian girls as slave labour in semiconductor plants in Malaysia, Russian teens in strip clubs in Brooklyn - the bad part is where they are lied to and ripped off.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:28 AM on December 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Domestic street prostitution is a mess, too--the documentary Very Young Girls is on Netflix. It follows young teenagers who are coerced into sex work. Many prostitutes, and probably most, start when they are underage and incapable of consent.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2011


“Hey, you!” he says. “Yeah, you. Dance!....”

I believe the only time I shouted anything like this I was shooting at someone's feet. A graying middle-aged guy in a floral-print shirt.

“Your shame,” he says, “brings you here.”

Says it all.

There is human trafficking in the U.S. We've got the resources to fight it, our economy isn't that bad, etc. but those aren't the only reasons it's not as widespread in the states (although Atlanta...).
Shame. Yep. Go to another country and you think you can be someone else. Or think it won't hit you at some point. Or think they're not human or a different kind of human. All those rationalizations. But it comes down to what you would do in the dark.
And viscerally I might want to shoot all the pimps, the exploiters, might even be doing them a favor.
But practically - not enough bullets. And it wouldn't change the conceptual environment anyway (well, enough bullets would but I understand that sort of thing can get out of hand).

So, there are plenty of resources (and feel free to visit them) in/from the U.S. (there are other transnational resources, I'm not sure where the Bali process is now though, and there is some legislation/law enforcement (in the U.S. as well obviously) that is fixated on immigration law) as well as non-government organizations (like the International Justice Mission and CAST),

But the economic disparities that cause this needs to be addressed.

Again, practically speaking, attacking the demand is basically tilting at windmills even by the most efficient means possible (bullets ... well, ok, easier ways to kill people en masse, but it's just a metaphor).

From a security standpoint it astonishes me that this is tolerated at any level anywhere near close to state activity. There have been cases of high powered people getting the proverbial 12 year old hookers as perks, all that.
All human rights considerations aside, it's like people have never heard of Mata Hari.
'gosh, you think a transnational criminal syndicate might be interested in gleening information and selling it or actively recruiting or blackmailing by those means?'

F'ing idiots those people.

And so you have to change the economic incentives. The cab drivers, all folks surrounding and connected to all that, push that environment. And why wouldn't they if they make money off of it?
So, you want to kill the tiger you don't hunt the tiger you burn the tall grass.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:50 AM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh. I just spent 9 days in Costa Rica in October, and I didn't hear anything about an unsavory reputation before or during the trip. San Jose was an absolute shithole, though, and I only stayed there briefly.
posted by impishoptimist at 10:58 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the economic disparities that cause this needs to be addressed.

No discussion of the sex trade should elide the (primary) reason it exists: to turn men's sexual desire into money. As long as there is demand, there will be supply. Men, look to yourselves.
posted by jokeefe at 11:23 AM on December 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Thanks for posting, but that was a mighty depressing read. And it gets even worse with the first comment on part 3. Just after reading this depressing article, ending with a bit about child rape and how little really is being done about it, some guy decides to write:
Sean, you are such a squid. I get the impression that you were writing this to impress your feminist girl friends. Its all bullcrap. They guys who go to Costa Rica, go there and do what they do BECAUSE ITS FUN! To go to another country, pay a pittance and have sex with a beautiful girl is the most fun a guy can have. I thought your magazine was written for guys. Most guys, if they knew what this place was all about, would be on a plane and going to Costa Rica, post haste!
WTF?
posted by bjrn at 11:33 AM on December 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


That third part reads more like an Instructable than reporting.
posted by localroger at 11:40 AM on December 11, 2011


No discussion of the sex trade should elide the (primary) reason it exists: to turn men's sexual desire into money. As long as there is demand, there will be supply. Men, look to yourselves.

This is pretty much the "just say no" approach to fighting the drug war. It hasn't worked there either. There is a reason prostitution is called the oldest profession.
posted by Justinian at 11:41 AM on December 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


that second part has a bunch of Gypsy Panic in it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:54 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is pretty much the "just say no" approach to fighting the drug war.

No, it's not. The cognitive dissonance involved with using another human being (and we're not talking about the relatively tiny number of sex workers who work uncoerced and in more-or-less safe conditions, something I have little issue with, honestly) for one's own pleasure is morally completely different from taking drugs, something which primarily harms-- if it does-- only one's self.

There is a reason prostitution is called the oldest profession.

And that reason is based on a single idea of the relationship between men and women which does neither credit (and which is, essentially, a lie).
posted by jokeefe at 11:59 AM on December 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


I wonder if you could offer proof of that bit.

Probably not so much in individual cases, but there's a lot of backing to the preference for male children in labor-intensive societies. The dowry is the way that the father used to PAY someone to take his daughter off his hands.

The idea of children being a protected class is largely new in human history.

This is not to say those daughters aren't loved; it's simply different cultural expectations.
posted by dhartung at 12:04 PM on December 11, 2011


You can intellectualize the whole business of prostitution as much as you want, but your attitudes will change if either know a prostitute personally, or have spent some time around the business. I'll never forget some sketchball older substitute teacher looking Midwesterner openly working with a tout to procure kids at an outdoor restaurant in Nicaragua, or the time I followed the Rough Guide's dated advice and walked through the entrance of a scummy expat bar in Cambodia. There's exploitation involved in nearly all economic transactions, but very little of it gives one the particular kind of heebie jeebies that prostitution brings up. The reasons we may get the heebie jeebies may be silly, but it's hard to deny that many of us get them and that most of us realize that there's something seriously creepy about those of us who do not get them.
posted by shushufindi at 12:16 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's true, but it's also true that some of us have learned that heebie jeebies are not a good way to make policy.

Lumping sex tourism in underdeveloped countries with prostitution in developed countries is a mistake, though. Like talking about workers at Wal*Mart not getting health benefits along side child slave labor in Indonesia.
posted by Justinian at 12:31 PM on December 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


The articles read like the author did some research, (maybe) talked to some sex workers, and then just made shit up. How many times did he say that accurate statistics were impossible to come by and then spend a few paragraphs reporting statistics and then say it didn't matter how many or how much or how often? I guess that helped make it possible to turn a re-hash of oft-reported information into a 3-part series notable for its banality.
posted by layceepee at 12:33 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The sex trade used to be called white slavery. I'm not sure why this fell out of favor -- perhaps because it sounds like its something that only happens to white people, which is not what the word was supposed to evoke.

'But I think we need to reclaim the use of the word slavery in describing this. The international sex trade is absolutely one of people being bought and sold as chattel.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:40 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


They guys who go to Costa Rica, go there and do what they do BECAUSE ITS FUN! To go to another country, pay a pittance and have sex with a beautiful girl is the most fun a guy can have.

'It's fun' is a pretty common defense of the indefensible, these days.
posted by box at 12:51 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I found the articles interesting, definitely. But I've known sex workers in several countries, and I'm not on board with a lot of the easy moralizing I'm reading in this thread. It's hard and dangerous work, but so are a lot of the other options; the illegality and covertness adds enormously to that danger.
posted by Forktine at 1:01 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


why doesnt anyone ever write about the gypsies who don't sell children into slavery :(
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:05 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"sex worker" is a nearly useless term in this context because it is overly broad; it includes the independent dominatrix who never takes her clothes off and is selective about her clientele as well as the underage addict whose pimp has her essentially imprisoned.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:07 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


box 'It's fun' is a pretty common defense of the indefensible, these days.
Also "it makes me money".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:09 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


No discussion of the sex trade should elide the (primary) reason it exists: to turn men's sexual desire into money. As long as there is demand, there will be supply. Men, look to yourselves.

I agree with everything up to your last sentence. The vast majority of men act on their desires in a perfectly healthy way. Shaming men about having sexual desire isn't the answer. It's not the desire that's wrong, it's the exploitation.
posted by twirlypen at 1:16 PM on December 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


'It's fun' is a pretty common defense of the indefensible, these days.
Also "it makes me money".


And "we're taking our country back from socialism!" ;)
posted by Mokusatsu at 1:18 PM on December 11, 2011


"sex worker" is a nearly useless term in this context because it is overly broad; it includes the independent dominatrix who never takes her clothes off and is selective about her clientele as well as the underage addict whose pimp has her essentially imprisoned.

Yes, though I still like the term because of its non-judgmental connotations and its emphasis on the word "work". Of the people I've known, about half did something on the spectrum of "romance tourism" -- sex with tourists for money, not always with much romance involved -- and the other half worked in the kind of clubs where you can negotiate a price with the waitresses and dancers to go upstairs. And I've known many, many men who talk about their experiences paying for sex.

I'm not pretending that hanging out with sex workers, or drinking in a place where sex work is happening, gives me even a fraction of the insight that would come with the experiences of selling sex, or even of buying sex for that matter. But whenever I read an article like this or a discussion here about sex work, those are the conversations and people I think about.

(Also, a lot of prostitution articles, like the story in the beginning of the first link, make it sound like underaged girls are a open part of the industry; my totally anecdotal experience from being in places where transactional sex was happening is that people keep the underaged stuff way out of sight, or in separate venues where people only go if they are looking for it; I'm sure it's never more than a phone call away, but in the countries I've lived in the stigmatization is enough to keep it totally out of view of the casual observer.)
posted by Forktine at 1:44 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree with everything up to your last sentence. The vast majority of men act on their desires in a perfectly healthy way. Shaming men about having sexual desire isn't the answer. It's not the desire that's wrong, it's the exploitation.

I never said that there was anything wrong with men's desires: when I wrote "men, look to yourselves" I could have as equally written "men, look to your brothers" or something similar. Men's desires drive the sex industry: that's not equivalent to shaming individuals, or it shouldn't be. There are many men of integrity who are working against sex trafficking, just as there are women involved in recruiting (or however you want to phrase it) young women into sex slavery, and acting as enforcers, as well. But, overwhelmingly, paid sex is something men do to women. I don't think there's much room for argument there.
posted by jokeefe at 1:50 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


layceepee: ...and then just made shit up

This. There are a number of statements, particularly in the summary at the end of part 3, which strike me as coming out of nowhere.

TFA: To believe she did is to ignore a basic truth of human nature: No one really wants to be a whore.

O RLY? See, phrasing it that way makes it trivially easy to disprove, especially when multiple persons have bothered to write books about how positive their experiences were.

Hint to Sean Flynn: If you're going to wrap it up with moral panic, it would have worked better if you profiled Costa Rica, the least onerous and offensive location, first and ended up with Thailand.

TFA source: “Your shame,” he says, “brings you here.”

Or maybe the fact that it's legal and isn't underground and there's no risk of propositioning an undercover cop or getting caught in a raid and, you know, the whole being cheaper thing in your fine country?

The trafficking definitely needs to be fought but most places that bother to criminalize the trade treat the victims as criminals and go after them because they're easier to catch and convict and the traffickers have more resources to defend themselves. That's one of the reasons prostitution itself needs to be legal. Note that as lurid as he tried to make Costa Rica appear, there was much less mention there of pimps and traffickers; that just might be because the girls have the freedom to work wherever they want without "protection."

And conflating trafficking and slavery with sex work where the workers are free to leave and work wherever they want is dishonest. This is really two articles about trafficking and one about second-world discount sex work, and even through the writer's bias there is a world of difference.

(P.S. I have never myself hired a prostitute nor been tempted to. But if you're going to make broad statements about human nature it's best if there are no human examples publishing bestsellers that contradict you.)
posted by localroger at 1:57 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


localroger, I think he was making the very good point that most women who are prostitutes are there by circumstance, rather by choice, especially in underdeveloped countries where trafficking is rampant and jobs scarce.

I think bringing up the "Sex work can be fun and positive! YAY :D" argument in an article about sex trafficking and the clear exploitation and sexual slavery of women does a great disservice to the victims of the practice.
posted by schroedinger at 2:54 PM on December 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Not to mention perpetuation of the few experiences of happy sex workers (who yes, do indeed exist) in a thread like this only serves to further the delusion of sex-buyers that the women they're essentially raping enjoy what they're doing.
posted by schroedinger at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


The sooner we invent AIs with passable pseudovaginas/pseudoanuses, the sooner the exploitation of human females and children ends
posted by Renoroc at 3:13 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I wrote "men, look to yourselves" I could have as equally written "men, look to your brothers" or something similar

Sorry, Jokeefe, I completely misinterpreted where you were coming from. I hope I didn't offend.
posted by twirlypen at 3:31 PM on December 11, 2011


Probably not so much in individual cases, but there's a lot of backing to the preference for male children in labor-intensive societies. The dowry is the way that the father used to PAY someone to take his daughter off his hands.

Maybe true in a very general sense, but not in Thailand. With so-called sin sod, the groom's family pays the bride's family.
posted by docgonzo at 4:10 PM on December 11, 2011


This of course, I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed the sensationalist use of the word "Gypsy." It's a dated word and continually referring to these particular traffickers by their ethnic group suggests a correlation that isn't there.
posted by chaiminda at 5:39 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jokeefe: i'm sure there are very few people who wash dishes in a restaurant or cut hair simply because they love doing it. they are there also because of their shitty economic circumstances. does that prevent you from paying someone to cut your hair or wash your dishes when you eat at a restaurant?

i'm not saying those are equivalent to prostitution, but i am saying they are on the same spectrum. like others have said, it's about the exploitation. a person could also be exploited and treated poorly in the job as a dishwasher or hair cutter.

for you, it seems that trading sex for money in this way is something you are morally against, and that is fine. you don't have to do it. but instead of framing your argument in moral terms, trying to force your morality on others, i suggest you focus on the EXPLOITATION aspect of it. presumably you don't appreciate it when republicans force their morality on gay people who want to marry, right?

disclosure: i have visited prostitutes in thailand. i can only report what i've personally seen. like i said above, i see it on a spectrum. you can be a jerk to the person cutting your hair, or you can be nice to them. i'd like to think i treated all of the women i was with like human beings, and was kind to them. all insisted on showers before sex, and insisted on condoms. when they clearly didn't want to do a particular act i respected those boundaries. i paid them what was probably the going rate, if not more (i didn't bother to negotiate too much). yea, they wouldn't have had sex with me if i didn't pay them (and how do you think that make me feel?) but there's a huge difference between that and forcibly raping someone.

i'm totally on board with changing fundamental aspects of the global economy. i'm also on board with ways to make prostitution less exploitative and safer. however, i'm not morally opposed to the idea of prostitution no more than i'm opposed to paying someone to cut my hair. i'm sure all of the women would have preferred that i pay them for sex than ignore them.

... anyway, i thought i'd give a different perspective. it may not be popular, but there you go.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:44 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


No, the hairdressing and dishwashing are not a good comparison at all, because hairdressing and dishwashing to not carry the potential for physical and sexual abuse, do not generally attract predators, and do not have the potential to ruin a women's reputation in her society based on her participation in them. Oh yes, we can have a discussion about how a woman's reputation shouldn't be ruined because she chooses to be a prostitute, but the fact remains that in many of these countries it is, which represents the deep desperation and lack of choices driving the act.


disclosure: i have visited prostitutes in thailand. i can only report what i've personally seen. like i said above, i see it on a spectrum. you can be a jerk to the person cutting your hair, or you can be nice to them. i'd like to think i treated all of the women i was with like human beings, and was kind to them. all insisted on showers before sex, and insisted on condoms. when they clearly didn't want to do a particular act i respected those boundaries. i paid them what was probably the going rate, if not more (i didn't bother to negotiate too much). yea, they wouldn't have had sex with me if i didn't pay them (and how do you think that make me feel?) but there's a huge difference between that and forcibly raping someone.

It's not about whether you, personally, are nice to them. It's about whether they have other options. Whether they were actually adults. Whether they are there because they want to be there, or because they were forced to be there, whether physically or by economic circumstances. It's about if their pimp, and the guy running the brothel, and the guy in charge of him is nice to her. Do you know if she racked up debts for working ("makeup", "clothing", etc), forcing her to work longer hours to pay them off? Do you know if her mamasan forced to do acts she didn't want to? Because the money you pay her? It's going to those people too. It's feeding the system.

You can couch it in "But I was so respectful" however you like--but the point is I'm betting you chose sex trade in Thailand because it's cheap and widely available, and you are fooling yourself if you don't believe the reasons for that is because the women are desperate and the trade is poorly regulated. Do you know what it's called when you take advantage of someone's services because you know they don't have other choices? Yeah, that would be exploitation.
posted by schroedinger at 8:28 PM on December 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


schroedinger, I would suggest that you dig deeper regarding the sex trade in Thailand. There are cultural aspects at play ("What is love?" "What does it mean to have a boyfriend?" "What is success in life?") that are very different for Thais than for Westerners. The reason there is a huge sex industry there is because it is something that is a deep and lasting part of Thai culture.

Yeah, there are not a lot of choices, but the girls coming down to Bangkok from Issan are usually going with a pretty clear idea of what they are getting into, and are following in the footsteps of their economically successful older sisters, aunts, etc.

I don't deny that exploitation exists in the sex industry. There is rape and abuse. But it is not in any way a necessary outcome. There are plenty of victims on the other side of the equation too. Honestly! Go read the Stickman forums to hear about lovesick idiot men going bankrupt sending every penny to their "girlfriend" in Thailand, who also has a German, Australian, and American boyfriend sending a cheque every month.

disclosure: in previous incarnations I have enjoyed the services of prostitutes, never in Thailand.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:04 PM on December 11, 2011


Meatbomb: If prostitution is so amazing and culturally acceptable and such a positive profession in Thailand, then why does the country remain a primary focus of human rights organizations because of the record of sexual exploitation and trafficking? Even if it is more culturally acceptable to sell your body there, that does not mean the conditions in which women are doing it are not abusive and exploitative. And that's not even touching on the issue of child prostitution.
posted by schroedinger at 9:35 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


sex work is different from cutting hair or washing dishes because sex is different. For many (most?) people, sex is a very private and intimate activity and one which can create a very strong emotional bond. To carry out those activities with a stranger whom you may not know and/or respect, let alone care for, can be a very difficult thing to do, even if you believe that sex work is moral and should bring no stigma. It's still psychologically difficult.

I'm in favor of legalizing sex work - or rather, I'm in favor of doing whatever it is that sex workers think will help them have better and safer working conditions. But I'm also aware of the fact that even where sex work is legal (such as in Nevada or the Netherlands), it's still often a last resort and many people engaged in sex work resort to drugs and/or alcohol to cope with their sex work.

it's not the same as other work at all.
posted by jb at 9:46 PM on December 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Meatbomb: If prostitution is so amazing and culturally acceptable and such a positive profession in Thailand, then why does the country remain a primary focus of human rights organizations because of the record of sexual exploitation and trafficking?"

i can give a partial answer: NGO entrepreneurship. this prospect magazine article is a few years old, but seems pretty balanced about the topic. basically, there's a lot of money in it, which is not to say that there isn't a problem. but there is really no quantitative information about it.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:48 PM on December 11, 2011


"yea, they wouldn't have had sex with me if i didn't pay them (and how do you think that make me feel?) but there's a huge difference between that and forcibly raping someone. "

I have no idea how that would feel because when people don't want to have sex with me, I don't have sex with them. Are you seriously pitying yourself because a huge power differential allows you to have sex with people who have no desire for you? Come on.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:12 PM on December 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


Cupcake, your argument seems to be:

1) Sex workers like their job
2) I'm helping them pay for college
3) That Western media makes it overblown
4) Guys, it hurts me too

To which I reply:
1) You have no idea if this is the case, and given the statistics, it's likely not
2) If you were interested in their welfare, you'd be investing the money in things that don't support an unregulated industry with a deep exploitative and criminal ties, or at the very least finding the best, most humane, supportive brothel in town (which, from your comment, you did not)
3) You have provided one article, who's sole argument is "But how can we knooooow" (citing incidents of media tabloidism is not data--media tabloids go after everything)
4) Seriously, what the hell, you are the one going to a poor country to get sex from desperate women and we should feel sorry for you?
posted by schroedinger at 10:41 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


for you, it seems that trading sex for money in this way is something you are morally against, and that is fine. you don't have to do it. but instead of framing your argument in moral terms, trying to force your morality on others, i suggest you focus on the EXPLOITATION aspect of it. presumably you don't appreciate it when republicans force their morality on gay people who want to marry, right?

cupcake, if you read my second (I think) comment, you'll see that I specifically said I had few problems with sex work if it is uncoerced. The overwhelming majority of sex workers, however, are not in that category. As for framing my argument in moral terms, let's see: I think rape is immoral, and those those who engage in it are also acting immorally. That's not "forcing" my morality on anyone, unless you think rape is okay. Note: I am not suggesting that you are a rapist. But was your experience in Thailand a harmless one? Let's look at a quote from the article again, shall we?
A statistical summary of women in prostitution is a chronicle of human wreckage—economic, physical, and chemical. A 2003 survey of prostitutes in nine countries—Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and Zambia—headed up by a clinical psychologist named Melissa Farley revealed women who’d suffered astonishing rates of childhood sexual abuse (from 34 percent in Turkey to 84 percent in Canada and Zambia) or physical abuse (39 percent of Thais to 73 percent of Canadians); current or past homelessness (84 percent in the United States); and current drug problems (75 percent in the United States and 95 percent in Canada). [...] And the most telling statistic from Farley’s survey? Almost every prostitute she talked to wanted out, from 68 percent in Mexico to 92 percent in, of all places, Thailand, the world’s premier sex destination.
As for the mental gymnastics famously required in using (I choose the word carefully) prostitutes, your comment is an example. This is how the industry perpetuates itself: with men thinking that they're acting decently when they are not. Let's review another quote, one that should be printed in 24-type font and in bright colours:

“I tell you what,” says Franzblau. “If these guys knew how many of these girls are thinking about sticking a knife in their back while they’re having sex with them, they’d be amazed. Forget amazed. They’d be staying home.”
posted by jokeefe at 10:52 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry, Jokeefe, I completely misinterpreted where you were coming from. I hope I didn't offend.

Not in the least, twirlypen. :)
posted by jokeefe at 10:53 PM on December 11, 2011


mm, that's not really what i'm saying. i'll try to go point by point:

1) in general, excluding cases of forced labor/slavery, i think that, to them, it's the best they can do. i mean, given what they want out of life, they are choosing that line of work over others. of course, in the case of forced labor/slavery, it doesn't matter what they are doing, it is bad.

2) i was coming at it from the perspective of a conscientious consumer, not as a charity. i'd think that the dance bar system is bangkok is relatively functional, but i don't really know. i say that because i think the incentives are aligned well. the bars pay the police to let them do business, and keep general order. the women ear the bars a "bar fee". in exchange the women get a venue and protection. the bars have an interest in the safety of the women because they need attractive women to earn the bar fee and they have no loyalty to the deadbeat, abusive westerner who will be gone next week. also, the police have an interest in making sure there are few to no underage prostitutes in the "regulated" areas because if it ever got out the whole party would be over.

3) as someone mentioned above, there are different issues all jumbled into one.

4) if i could have sex without having to pay someone, don't you think i would? (previously).
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:18 PM on December 11, 2011


"The cognitive dissonance involved with using another human being (and we're not talking about the relatively tiny number of sex workers who work uncoerced and in more-or-less safe conditions, something I have little issue with, honestly) for one's own pleasure is morally completely different from taking drugs, something which primarily harms-- if it does-- only one's self."

To morally quibble with this point, if you buy drugs, you're not just doing harm to yourself per se; you are creating demand for, and putting money into, a market that fights to create the supply for that product; it just happens to be going to fund the activities of illicit gangs that have led to the deaths of 40,000 mexicans in recent years; or led to domestic policies that have led to indefensible non-violent incarceration rates for black men.

Or you could make the same argument with meat if you find the killing of animals reprehensible. Or Apple products. Or Chocolate. I often think that its this reductio ad absurdem of the things we want, and the way those things are produced that leads people to the often facile condemnation of capitalism.

And yet, the worst thing you do is prohibit outright. The illegality of the market that drives the worst outcomes. Not the moral rectitude of the users. (See here for how the drop in price of cocaine has led to decreases in crime rates). Renorac's sexbots, indeed.

Prostitution strikes us as viscerally different morally, because the transactional and personal elements of the exchange are so tied together. And the issue of true consent is muddled by that exchange. (Can we issue certificates for fair trade prostitution, people deemed truly free of coercion, raised in a good happy home?). Would it feel or be more moral if it was a high priced exchange with an american college student, instead of a thai? Do we all have the right to sex?

Interesting discussion though, thanks everyone.
posted by stratastar at 11:25 PM on December 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


"cupcake, if you read my second (I think) comment, you'll see that I specifically said I had few problems with sex work if it is uncoerced."

ok, but what is "coerced"? surely, no one would choose to wash dishes, therefor they must be coerced? ok, that's meant to be facetious, but you get the idea. what exactly coercion is is an interesting question.

as for your quote, i have two reactions:

1. i'm pretty sure no one abuses children to prepare them for a career in the sex trade

2. doesn't everyone in the dish washing business want out? it's much harder to ask if the reason they do not choose or are not able to go into another line of work is because of some perceived violence, or if there are no other opportunities in the job market.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:36 PM on December 11, 2011


If prostitution is so amazing and culturally acceptable and such a positive profession in Thailand

I am just trying to show that things aren't all black and white, but you would rather sarcastically beat at a strawman. Go for it.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:42 PM on December 11, 2011


To morally quibble with this point, if you buy drugs, you're not just doing harm to yourself per se; you are creating demand for, and putting money into, a market that fights to create the supply for that product; it just happens to be going to fund the activities of illicit gangs that have led to the deaths of 40,000 mexicans in recent years; or led to domestic policies that have led to indefensible non-violent incarceration rates for black men.

Yeah, you're right, point acknowledged.

cupcake, washing dishes is not the same as sexual servicing. It just isn't. And you also ask, "what is coerced?"; the linked articles do a pretty good job of explaining it.
posted by jokeefe at 12:02 AM on December 12, 2011


Sean Flynn does not know what the word "monger" means.
posted by telstar at 12:03 AM on December 12, 2011


If you dont like the comparison to dishwashers, how about if he has said coal miners? And not 1st world miners who use remotes and good safety equipment, miners like those in Chile or China.
Silicosis and cave ins.
posted by Iax at 12:10 AM on December 12, 2011


I am just trying to show that things aren't all black and white, but you would rather sarcastically beat at a strawman. Go for it.

OK, I will seriously address your remark. You state in Thailand there are deep cultural reasons why prostitution is a-OK. Fine--I do not know enough about Thailand to know whether or not that is the case. What I do know is that the statistics indicate many women in the situation of being prostitutes in underdeveloped countries are abused and mistreated, often feel trapped into their positions, and are threatened with violence if they try to leave, and this is the case in Thailand even if they don't suffer similar social repercussions. It is also the case that Thailand is one country out of many countries involving sex trafficking, and it being OK in Thailand does not make it OK in, say, Moldava (as in the article). Furthermore, whether or not a woman is able to go back home and be accepted after she had unwillingly entered the sex trade does not mean it is OK that she's unwillingly entered the sex trade. There are many repercussions to being an unwilling participant in the sex trade and the possibility of become a social pariah is only one of them.

Frankly, a hair dresser, on average across the world, is less likely to be physically and emotionally abused by their employer. Same goes for coal miners. Yes--there are plenty of third-world places with awful working conditions where people are working in terrible conditions for very little pay. But in general, those working conditions do not consist of tens or hundreds of people coming up to you every day and effectively dehumanizing you--specifically you. They do not consist of you exiting the job with the feeling that your body has become an object, effectively a receptacle for the fluids of others. They do not consist of you not just being dehumanized, but beg to be dehumanized by the people doing the dehumanization. The potential for psychological damage to the unwilling coal miner is arguably much less than the potential for psychological damage to the unwilling prostitute. To argue against this is to argue the very different roles that coal mining, hair dressing, dishwashing, and sex between two people play in any culture, no matter how permissive said culture is.

Second--the buying of coal from unwilling coal miners, in general, is not marketed as an outlet where people with misogynistic, pedophilic, and/or borderline sociopathic tendencies are actively encouraged to exercise those tendencies and those tendencies are celebrated. I am not arguing all people buying sex have these things at all. But it is where people go when they want to have sex with whomever they want and they don't want the person to say "no".

Finally--this whole argument over the sex trade is also ignoring the role that children play in the sex trade. It is one thing for you to make gray area arguments about women participating who don't have better options. It is quite another when the women participating are 11. As I said--for all you know, the place where you buy your prostitutes has a roomful of prepubescent kids being peddled out the back. But you don't check it out, you just tell yourself it's for a good cause before you get what you want. Oh yes, there are child workers all over the place. Yet you have deep problems if you want to get into the argument that the issues with a child sex worker are equivalent to a child worker in another profession.


if i could have sex without having to pay someone, don't you think i would? (previously).

I am very sorry that you feel you are unable to enter into willing relationships. It is clear from that thread though there are underlying issues to your relationship problems that go beyond "Women are jerks who won't have sex with me so I have to pay for it."

And you know, even if that were the case I do not think that makes it OK for you to hunt down sex from women who are almost certainly wholly exploitated and abused and then tell yourself it's OK because they're making money. As I said (and confirmed in your link, where you said you can't afford it outside Asia):

I'm betting you chose sex trade in Thailand because it's cheap and widely available, and you are fooling yourself if you don't believe the reasons for that is because the women are desperate and the trade is poorly regulated. Do you know what it's called when you take advantage of someone's services because you know they don't have other choices? Yeah, that would be exploitation.

You are engaging in mental gymnastics to get around that fact.
posted by schroedinger at 12:48 AM on December 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


Well yeah, the thing is you are hanging this all on "unwillingly", and I think we are all in agreement that coercion and force are wrong. I am trying to tell you that in many cases in South East Asia, there is not the same hang up about sex, that it can be a job that sounds better than working in rice fields, and that pays much more than it as well. One or two good juicy boyfriends can set these women and their extended families up for life.

Again, I think we are largely in agreement that raping child slaves is wrong, m'kay? I am just shining the light on another facet of the issue.

for all you know, the place where you buy your prostitutes has a roomful of prepubescent kids being peddled out the back

Um, no, it doesn't work like that. Really, it doesn't in any of the venues I have witnessed firsthand. I have never seen obvious children in any public-facing brothel / bar / whatever, and I have never been offered such. I think you'd have to really make a special effort to seek such a thing out in most cases. Sure, maybe slightly underage girls/women trying to present as adults in a "legit" enterprise, but not pre-pubescent kids... it is bad business because it would drive away 99% of the "normal" traffic and bring down the heat.

I'm betting you chose sex trade in Thailand because it's cheap and widely available, and you are fooling yourself if you don't believe the reasons for that is because the women are desperate and the trade is poorly regulated.

(again, I have not personally chosen, but based on what I have seen first hand) The reason South East Asia is cheap is because the cost of living is lower there. Everything is cheap there - hotels, food, public transit, booze, and prostitutes too. The prostitutes in Vancouver (and I guess much of North America) are much more desperate, have more glaring drug and abuse issues, and are more marginalized. Thai prostitutes provide better service, tend to be better looking, and they are friendly because they would in many cases genuinely like to pursue an ongoing long term (cash) relationship with you.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:03 AM on December 12, 2011


I once got a cut and highlights from a trafficked hairdresser in a basement in London once. Poor girl had no skin left on her hands from constant exposure to cheap tinting fluid and she had to do five dye jobs an hour or she got beaten. But I smiled and gave her a big tip so I'm sure it was all OK.
posted by Summer at 3:58 AM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


shroedinger: I think bringing up the "Sex work can be fun and positive! YAY :D" argument in an article about sex trafficking and the clear exploitation and sexual slavery of women does a great disservice to the victims of the practice.

I was just bringing up the point that TFA included a factually wrong statement, which does not help whatever point it was trying to make.
posted by localroger at 6:00 AM on December 12, 2011


Um, no, it doesn't work like that. Really, it doesn't in any of the venues I have witnessed firsthand. I have never seen obvious children in any public-facing brothel / bar / whatever, and I have never been offered such. I think you'd have to really make a special effort to seek such a thing out in most cases. Sure, maybe slightly underage girls/women trying to present as adults in a "legit" enterprise, but not pre-pubescent kids... it is bad business because it would drive away 99% of the "normal" traffic and bring down the heat.

This. I've never been a client (or for that matter a seller of sex), but I have spent many, many hours in places where sex work was openly practiced. Whatever child prostitution was going on was incredibly deeply hidden. Not just in the back room, but more like you would have to know someone who knows someone who can hook you up. I can only speak to the countries I have lived in, so I'm not talking about the Philippines or anywhere in Asia or the former USSR, and maybe there are places where pre-pubescent prostitution is open, I don't know.

What I do know is that descriptions like in the beginning of the first link, or in some of the comments here, don't have any relationship to the sex work I have seen with my own eyes, and with the lives of the sex workers I have been friends and neighbors with, or the sex worker advocates I have met. This is the kind of discussion where I trust most the perspectives of people such as Scarlett Alliance and Davida because they are coming from a position of experience inside the industry and with the goal of protecting real-world sex workers from abuses by pimps, clients, police, etc.

I do think that some of the people talking about how uniquely bad sex work is should look at how also uniquely bad some of the other options can be in poor countries. Are you really doing better to leave your kid with your aunt and travel hours away to work twelve hours a day in a dangerous factory, seven days a week, for less money, and where your boss demands "favors" on a routine basis? Anyone who makes this issue black and white is lying, and anyone who says that it is a simple issue of coercion is hiding all of the complications and inequalities that people live with.
posted by Forktine at 6:19 AM on December 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


look why don't we just start doin it with robots

i mean we should probably be doing that anyway
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:30 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This. I've never been a client (or for that matter a seller of sex), but I have spent many, many hours in places where sex work was openly practiced. Whatever child prostitution was going on was incredibly deeply hidden.

Prepubescent child prostitution, sure, but 14- and 15-year-olds are still children (in the U.S.) and are openly trafficked and prostituted in Oakland, CA, and certainly in other cities here.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I do know is that descriptions like in the beginning of the first link, or in some of the comments here, don't have any relationship to the sex work I have seen with my own eyes, and with the lives of the sex workers I have been friends and neighbors with, or the sex worker advocates I have met.

Sex-worker advocates in the "first" world are exceptionally privileged; and what they are doing, and how they run their businesses, only has the most remote and superficial connection with what the articles were describing. There's sex work as a legitimate career choice, and there's sex work that involves genuine slavery (and a range of situations in between). It's pretty clear that the well-paid escort in business for her or himself-- and who can choose to quit, or take down time at any point-- doesn't have a great deal in common with the majority. The huge majority of sex workers are not autonomous individuals working in conditions which they can control. The lines aren't blurry, really.

(Though I still wonder, whenever I hear about the sex trade and legalisation of prostitution [which I support on practical grounds to do with women's safety] about the one-way direction of the whole apparatus. Women don't tend to patronize prostitutes, and few men care to offer their services for a fee (yes, I know, women can get laid any time they want, etc., which is not true). Where are the sex workers catering to women and offering fake companionship despite age, weight, social skills, or income? It's a rhetorical question, I know, but it's too easy to slip into just accepting things as they are without asking just why they are so. And why, considering that there is surely a demand, isn't there a supply? [Any answer that contains the idea that "women are just different from men/have lower sex drives/only want relationships and not sex doesn't count.])
posted by jokeefe at 9:43 AM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Where are the sex workers catering to women and offering fake companionship despite age, weight, social skills, or income?

Right here. They're exploited too.
As are many young boys.
Which is why I emphasize the human exploitation element, not the "men's desires destroy women's lives" sort of thing.

"But, overwhelmingly, paid sex is something men do to women. I don't think there's much room for argument there.

Except in terms of practical application.

We can address the economic disparity that drives women into prostitution and more importantly the economic disparity that feeds trafficking in adults and children.

Men's desires is a different story. We supposed to have a cop in the bedroom for that or what? Morality is no way to run a law enforcement or policy program. And in most cases one is preaching to the choir. And people who are exploiters aren't going to change.

"Do you know what it's called when you take advantage of someone's services because you know they don't have other choices? Yeah, that would be exploitation."

Exactly. This we can fight. What someone chooses to do with their body or someone else's in a consensual situation - different story.
Best ways to fight it are to empower people and give them the maximum degree of choice such that they aren't exploited.
Second best is to go after the exploiters with law enforcement.
The worst ways are to attack the end users and victims. It's like trying to sweep the tide away with a broom.

Advertisers turn people's desires into money. The guy at the lawnmower shop turns my desire for a nice lawn into money. Legitimate sex workers turn men's desires into money too.

So - attacking the economics, enforcing human rights laws, addresses the full spectrum of human exploitation from sexual to sweatshop work. Once there's regulation and protection, then we can debate the morality of anything from sex work to washing dishes.

Without those protections attempting to control the desire in oneself or others isn't going to accomplish anything.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:56 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


For some insight into the mind of an older man who has moved to Thailand primarily in pursuit of sex, see this long comment on Stickman, We are the wrecked, not the wreckers.
posted by jokeefe at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2011


Where are the sex workers catering to women and offering fake companionship despite age, weight, social skills, or income?
(also here and here and here, and here (Confessions of a thirty-something career girl who pays for a male escort), etc.)
And I believe there are places to get sperm from men by artificial insemination or by mail. Perfectly legal I understand, but does that mean women are using those men in their desire to have kids?

I dunno. Really. But there are many examples of trading on desire throughout a moral spectrum that aren't the kind of predatory exploitation we're talking about when we talk about human trafficking.

And again, very common to exploit boys as well.

For some insight into the mind of an older man who has moved to Thailand primarily in pursuit of sex, see this long comment on Stickman, We are the wrecked, not the wreckers.
You want I should shoot him?

Poverty is the most commonly cited factor that makes this possible. Not desire.

Right next door in Mexico - Acapulco, Tijuana, it's not just the tourist areas, the economic situation has people without options. La Condesa beach is for young boys. The police typically beat the hell out of them and take their money if they catch them. They don't squeeze the pimps.
Sometimes the children are kidnapped. Sometimes parents sell their children. The tourists who get caught pay off the cops and leave (which again, is a law enforcement problem, corruption, yes, but mostly because the victims have no support structure to safely prosecute the people who exploit them)
They do it to earn a living (you can earn more in the cantina than you can in in the maquila), and/or because they're addicts (often by design of the pimps who exploit them).

And yes, prostitution is big business. But again, it's not whore's greed or the desires of the men that drive it.
All kinds of exploitation occurs wherever the social order breaks down and the options of the very poor are decreased. The greater availability of access to impoverished areas means an abundance of victims which means they become disposable and easy to replace which drives the economy of it and the economic mindset and environment.

Control is principally not by violence the way old style slaver was maintained by by debt servitude. So total control over a person can be done without legal responsibility falling on the exploiter especially since it's not based on sex or race but on weakness and privation.

The people trapped in prostitution or any other form of debt servitude (the Russian mafia is big on housekeepers out here) sometimes have explicit, even legal, contracts that specify their obligations. But they're slaves and they have been taken against their will with the purpose of exploiting them whether a given John exists or not.

It exists because economic alternatives are few and educational opportunities are minimal.

I hate Tijuana more than I hate Las Vegas. That's saying something. I hate the place with an unrivaled passion and if I had the time, enough materiel and could evacuate people, I'd burn the place to the ground and stomp it flat like Godzilla.

Not because it's hopeless, I've been in hopeless 3rd world hell holes. But because it doesn't have to be, and it is. Because it's known for what it's known for and so it resists change.
There are services there that exist for children who are commercially sexually exploited there unlike most places (overwhelmed services, sure). But they don't feel safe there because in the places that exist there are children with other issues and they're made to feel like they don't fit in. Like it's their fault.
F'ing bullshit that is.

So it needs to be addressed by many sectors that integrate society to shift the mindset. Most of the time authorities wind up figuring they can't control it, so why try?

The rights of those exploited (particularly children) have been systematically ignored.
The labor market and inequity in economic freedom turns children into merchandise that can be consumed and disposed of because the mindset of the economic model is that they're replaceable consumer objects.

Illegal trafficking is, or at least was last I checked, about $7 billion-odd a year.
Want to give those all the kids in the world primary education? Cost you about 1% of profit from the top 200 wealthiest people in the world. About $7 billion a year.

Address that and the rest falls into place.
You extend the range of opportunity available to people, they exercise those options in a safe, free way and can be reasonably confident of predicting the future, that's 1/2 the way there.
The other 1/2, closer to my end, is giving them a safe environment from which they are not only protected from predators but can have a voice in accusing them and so have authorities prosecute them.

Practically speaking, those are the only methods that will accomplish long and lasting change. And it is feasible.

Funny, I could say pretty much the same things about terrorism. Engage the source, change the mindset, provide security for the threatened, and I get the same kind of pushback on it from people who want to blame someone and hit something instead of trusting methodology.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


i really wish there was a better way to put this than "first/second/third world" that didn't have anything to do with communism or soviet russia
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2011


Sex-worker advocates in the "first" world are exceptionally privileged; and what they are doing, and how they run their businesses, only has the most remote and superficial connection with what the articles were describing.

Davida, which I linked above, is in Brazil. The must exciting sex worker advocacy is in the developing world, for that matter.
posted by Forktine at 11:53 AM on December 12, 2011


The reason there is a huge sex industry there is because it is something that is a deep and lasting part of Thai culture.

Being part of someone's culture does not make it immune to critique. Telling men to suck it up if they get assaulted by a woman, in this culture, is fairly widespread and that's not right. Female genital mutilation is popular in some parts of the world as an essential rite of passage, and it's still shit. I'm not against sex work- I know a couple of full contact sex workers over here (in Canada), and I believe what they deserve is legal protection and regular access to health care.

You, personally, are not a bad person. You don't deserve to be attacked for visiting a sex worker. Of course you don't deserve a cookie for being a sane customer ('cuz hey, I don't get back pats for not being surly with the teller at my bank), but we're not worried about -you- as whether or not you're a moral human, we're worried that the person you were visiting was pushed into the role by economic pressures or even real danger to life and limb. We want these women to be protected, so that should you go to a prostitute we don't have to worry about her anymore than we worry about the lady who I pay to pull my eyebrows out with hot wax or the grocer.

tend to be better looking

Ouch. That came out way worse than I think you wanted it to. I think you were trying say something about healthier, I hope?
posted by Phalene at 12:27 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Davida, which I linked above, is in Brazil. The must exciting sex worker advocacy is in the developing world, for that matter

I think perhaps the test for sex workers would be this: can they choose to stop when they want to? Can they take a break, come back to it when they like? Are they independent? For the women in the articles as described, the answer is no; the statistics cited in the third part indicate that over 90% of Thai prostitutes would prefer to do other work.

And yes, prostitution is big business. But again, it's not whore's greed or the desires of the men that drive it.

Smedleyman, I know I'm talking abstractly, and I know how complicated economic exploitation is. But surely this is plain: without customers, without johns, without men willing to pay for sex, prostitution becomes untenable. It exists because it's profitable; it's profitable because men will hand over money for sexual attention (at best; to freely deal out sexual abuse, at worst). This fact can be realized or expressed in different contexts and through different social systems, but the simple exchange involved is pretty stark.

I'm not bashing men as a whole, and there are, though relatively minor, examples of women taking advantage of economic disparity too. But prostitution is a service overwhelming performed by women (and men) for men. What it all means, let alone how to make it all equitable, I don't know.
posted by jokeefe at 12:30 PM on December 12, 2011


For some insight into the mind of an older man who has moved to Thailand primarily in pursuit of sex, see this long comment on Stickman, We are the wrecked, not the wreckers.

You want I should shoot him?

*shrug* I read it to try and understand how an individual man might see the situation. After the article about trafficking in Bangkok, it was enlightening to the mechanics of need and emotion and loneliness and frustration and selective blindness that keeps the whole horrific circus going.
posted by jokeefe at 12:34 PM on December 12, 2011


The "we are the wrecked" article linked by jokeefe is actually very good, and is frankly a great deal more convincing of its truthfulness than uncomfortably large chunks of TFA. For those too pre-pissed-off to click through it's worth noting that by "we" that writer is talking of the punters and bargirls together, and he goes in great detail as to how for two people what might look like a doomed and exploitive relationship ended up as something like salvation for both.
posted by localroger at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2011


But surely this is plain: without customers, without johns, without men willing to pay for sex, prostitution becomes untenable.

Unquestionably. But there's no practical long term method of addressing that end of it. There will always be customers for illicit, illegal, immoral actions, substances, whatever.

So sure, target the people taking advantage of the environment for human trafficking, put pedophiles in jail, etc. yes. But the bulk of effort should be squarely on eliminating the environment that allows people to take advantage.

Again, I ask if I should shoot the guy because there's no way to eliminate someone's self-delusion, selective blindness, loneliness, etc. through coercion (to the point of execution). Indeed, the reciprocal nature of the exploitative relationship between the johns and the bar girls in your link indicates how invisible the auspices are that make that possible.
And while we can go after the guy where he might violate the law, its much more efficient and practical to eliminate the auspices, the roof under which it occurs, the opportunities he has to attend the 'horrific circus.'
Take out the ringmasters not the clowns. Change the zoning on big tents. All that. No circus, no clowns.

Or rather, the clowns find some other outlet for those emotions. Perhaps some legally regulated thing where they're not dehumanized along with the girls and getting the blood sucked out of them too. I don't know.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:31 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Again, I ask if I should shoot the guy because there's no way to eliminate someone's self-delusion, selective blindness, loneliness, etc.

Maybe you should read the fucking article before you draw such conclusions. Because I found the wrecked article to be refreshingly clear of things like self-delusion and selective blindness. The writer was quite brutal about his own shortcomings. But he had also gone to some effort to learn where the girls come from, and the forces that shaped them, and why they were in the bar in the first place.

It's very simple; get rid of the bar, and all other things being equal, bar girl turned kept girl Noi would probably have ended up dead. Instead she found a comfortable, reasonably safe life with luxuries she could only dream of in her village and all for letting the foreigner do something she found pleasant anyway.

Don't kid yourself that you are trying to protect her. You are trying to save her from a fate you consider worse than death. But that is not your decision to make for her, and she appears to have made her own decision in the matter.
posted by localroger at 4:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


localroger, remember that "Noi" in the article is a fiction created by the author of the piece, who is a middle-aged Englishman. He thinks that he knows and understands everything about her, which I think is another example of his selective blindness. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, but if ever there was a case of appropriated voice, it would be "We are the wrecked". I'd be interested to hear what Noi would have to say-- what she would really, honestly, have to say about the same situation, which might be closer to the posted article.
posted by jokeefe at 6:11 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because I found the wrecked article to be refreshingly clear of things like self-delusion and selective blindness.

I did RTFA. I'm addressing the kind of elements that lead her to the choice of be a prostitute or end up dead.
Anyway, the OP begs to differ.

But that is not your decision to make for her, and she appears to have made her own decision in the matter.
I'm arguing the broader issue, not the details in that particular article.
Generally speaking can we say children are under the age of consent and it's wrong to exploit impoverished kids sexually or otherwise?

It's very simple; get rid of the bar, and all other things being equal...
All other things aren't be equal. That's the point. You don't get rid of the bar, you get rid of the conditions that give rise to exploitation in the first place. Then the bar can exist as a different kind of entity. Safer, regulated, people can do whatever they like in a consensual non-exploitative manner. And they most likely will.
On the other side of the equation, if she's over the age of consent, doesn't have all other options arbitrarily closed to her, chooses to work in the sex industry, then I don't consider her being exploited from my position.
The guys in the background making the money, the conditions that make that possible I want to stop.

Don't kid yourself that you are trying to protect her
I'm not Andrew Vachss, but I do accomplish more than writing fan fic on a sex tourism site. It seems pretty clear to you where I'm at viscerally. So why am I espousing the opposite view? I speak from experience when I say bullets don't work. Force doesn't work.


Here's another reader submission on stickmanbangkok:
Generally speaking, poor rural dwellers in developing, and under-developed, countries tend to be poorly educated, unsophisticated, short-sighted, opportunistic and unethical (rain forests destroyed for farming, widespread cultivation of poppies, use of dangerous chemicals in animal & agricultural farming, depletion of fish-stocks due to over fishing, endangered species hunted to the brink of extinction, etc).

Prostitution is, realistically albeit not theoretically, the only practical option for many Thai rural dwellers to break-out of their poverty.


It's all so totally different than what I'm saying yeah?. No exploitation going on there. Everything is perfectly fine.

Not that that particular piece is well researched or not grinding an axe, but even those guys understand that poverty is the major cause of exploitation.
Is it wrong to look for practical solutions to give people more options to break out of poverty than prostitution?
Whether it is or isn't, moot point. I'm talking about the child sex tourism and human trafficking elements.
Want to visit a prostitute of consensual age, have at it. It's legal in Nevada in some places.
I don't know how many times I have to say I have no interest in trying to prosecute morality instead of using more practical and efficient methods.

I'm not into candy-ass causes like "Real men don't buy girls"

But y'all seriously don't think people have sex with kids in Costa Rica? Mexico? Etc.?
That there isn't modern slavery?
That the social environmental causes can't be changed easier than trying to address the desire end?
Those causes are the same thing that leads to kids working in mines or dangerous factories and not going to school. So addressing that too would be nice. Like a side dish of rainbow sherbet.

So more trauma-recovery services, maybe? No?

And again, I cede all arguments regarding hostility to women. I'm just not putting that in the frame.
If we do....

Look, even in the U.S. we've spent all kinds of money to fight the trafficking end criminally (which, again I'm for with the following caveat) but we haven't spent a dime for shelters or counselors to help underage prostitutes recover.

Canada on the other hand is all enlightened. Prostitution is legal.
...of course, prostitutes can't have brothels or bodyguards for safety.
AFAIK the law was overturned but it's on appeal so still in force (IANACL, eh?).

Ranjan Agarwal (the lawyer for not allowing them security) said the risk of death and pain is essentially a side element of the business.

So those mores have to change as well. Which I would assume as a given if we address the underlying causes I'm talking about. But that's speculation.

I mean, look localroger, it's a charged issue emotionally and it's easy to over/under read, etc. I do it myself.
As clear as I can make it - from the OPs:
Moldova has been decimated by sex trafficking; it is a place of desperately poor women made easy prey for a black market with a voracious demand for Eastern (read: white) Europeans.

&
But read the signs again: “under 18” is in bold for a reason, one that is more demurely referred to as having sex with underage prostitutes, the estimated 5,000 to 10,000 teenagers in San José alone who’ve yet to reach the legal age of consent. Considering that the UNICEF study of young prostitutes found they turned their first trick at the average age of 14, it’s a huge problem.

is the sort of thing I'm talking about. Tacit approval. And it can be fixed.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:18 PM on December 12, 2011


I have no dog in this hunt. I just smell bullshit.
posted by localroger at 7:56 PM on December 12, 2011


He thinks that he knows and understands everything about her, which I think is another example of his selective blindness.

He didn't have to go to the trouble to learn ANYTHING about her, her people , her world, or anything. Yet he did go to that trouble. I didn't get the sense that "he knows everything about her," quite the opposite. The whole article is about how their relationship is on a knife edge and could implode at any moment. So what was your point again?
posted by localroger at 8:03 PM on December 12, 2011


The girl is fictional. He made up a just-so story about her, where, in the end, she's of course totally good in this salvation relationship. I think it is great he tries to understand her, but in the end she's still the fantasy--still the hooker who falls for him and they have a relationship with a deep understanding of her. Shit, in the story they don't even speak the same language, so I where is this deep understanding coming from?
posted by schroedinger at 9:56 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, if the reader hadn't figured it out already, this paragraph might have been a clue that it's a fable, an invention, events seen through a very particular prism:

As they walked toward Justin’s hotel they were both smiling and happy. Swinging their arms, and holding hands. Noi could swear that Justin even skipped in his stride a couple of times. [...] In bed that night their coupling consumed them both with ecstasy. Noi, long since no stranger to a romp with a farang, was surprised at just how gratifying it had been. Justin was satisfied to an extent that he’d not experienced since he was a young man. And that was a long time ago indeed. Noi drifted off to sleep aware of what was to be.
posted by jokeefe at 10:32 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are some really fantastic ethnographies about sex work and sex workers, especially over the past ten or fifteen years. Based on spending time and living with actual sex workers, they are a really nice change from many of the more sensationalistic accounts (and a million times less creepy than some of the articles on those prostitution review sites). I think the question of agency is key (that is, is a given sex worker making an informed and independent choice to do that work?); I can't think of a better way to think about that question than starting with the accounts and stories of the actual sex workers themselves.

A few that I've read and would recommend are Lydia's Open Door: Inside Mexico's Most Modern Brothel; Mema's House, Mexico City: On Transvestites, Queens, and Machos; Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes; and Economies of Desire: Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The photographs and essays in Night Chicas (even the cover is NSFW) are also worth a look. I'm sure a similar list could be put together for Asia, India, or Europe, but I haven't read deeply enough to be able to make recommendations.
posted by Forktine at 5:03 AM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have no dog in this hunt. I just smell bullshit.

Dunno what to tell you. I think going after johns is a short term fix. I think providing social services is a long term fix. I think I don't push my morality on anyone regarding prostitution between consenting adults. About it really. Otherwise I think it's a nifty thread.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:49 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


For some insight into the mind of an older man who has moved to Thailand primarily in pursuit of sex, see this long comment on Stickman, We are the wrecked, not the wreckers.
...
Yeah, if the reader hadn't figured it out already, this paragraph might have been a clue that it's a fable, an invention, events seen through a very particular prism:


It's pretty difficult to draw "insight into the mind" of a story-teller from their stories with any sort of conclusiveness. I wish you had told it was just a fable before you asked me to read it.
posted by Dano St at 8:34 AM on December 13, 2011


I think perhaps the test for sex workers would be this: can they choose to stop when they want to? Can they take a break, come back to it when they like? Are they independent?

I think another question we too rarely ask is: Will their history in sex work serve them well or badly on their resume? Will it make it harder or easier for them to find other jobs in the future? Will they have to tell stories to explain that gap in their resume? Will it affect their future relationship prospects/who they're considered good/pure enough for? Basically, will it open doors for them, or shut them?

That's a difference between washing dishes and sex work. People often feel pride in 'rising' from that kind of labor, but ashamed of sex work in their past. Not because of their personal idiosyncrasies but because sex work (and too often, sex) are considered shameful and expected to be hidden.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:44 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's pretty difficult to draw "insight into the mind" of a story-teller from their stories with any sort of conclusiveness. I wish you had told it was just a fable before you asked me to read it.

Erm, my comments on the story aren't contradictory. It can be a fable and a fiction and say a great deal about the mindset of the person writing it; in his mind, this is the truth of his experience, and I have no doubt that he's referencing a relationship that he's actually engaged in or was engaged in. "Noi" might exist, or she might be a composite, or he might have invented a past for her based on his knowledge of Thai society; the piece still says a great deal about his longings and feelings and motivations.
posted by jokeefe at 10:14 AM on December 13, 2011


FWIW, a friend of mine who is a thai woman in her 30s, living in bangkok and works in an office doesn't think stigma r.e. marriage is not very big now. at least, it was more so in the past, and less so now. also, some women already have husbands before going into sex work.


I think perhaps the test for sex workers would be this: can they choose to stop when they want to? Can they take a break, come back to it when they like? Are they independent?


i don't know if that's a great test because, what does it mean to "take a break"? i would think most low level "unskilled" jobs would fail to pass that test.

i would think, yea, some sex workers could hypothetically take jobs that were much lower paying, with more hours, etc. but when the next best job opportunity for them is much worse does that pass the bar for exploitation?
posted by cupcake1337 at 2:24 PM on December 13, 2011


er, that should read "doesn't think stigma r.e. marriage is very big now."
posted by cupcake1337 at 2:25 PM on December 13, 2011


There is some serious cognitive dissonance going on in this wackass thread.

OF COURSE men justify paying for sex. OF COURSE some women engage in sex work positively. The latter is not the norm, the former is. Is there a boutique group of women who Annie Sprinkle it up in the media making sex work look positive? Sure. Do you want to be f###ed in the butt for money? Probably not.

The simple fact is that in the West/North (whatever we're calling it now), a marginalized female can always fall back on f###ing for money when all else fails, but that's hardly what they would CHOOSE to do otherwise. Likewise in the developing world, women tend to still be at the not-so-tender mercies of men who think women's bodies are a commodity of one kind or another.

How is there a debate here?
posted by syncope at 2:45 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


How is there a debate here?

A debate about what? I don't think anyone has argued that most prostitutes are in it for their love of prostitution. I would, however, argue that most burger flippers aren't in that for their love of burger flipping. Nor are most toilet scrubbers in it for their love of toilet scrubbing. Lots of people do lots of jobs just for the money.

So like I said, I'm not sure which debate you're talking about. Certainly there isn't exactly a lot of defense of sex tourism going on.
posted by Justinian at 7:13 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the debate here is between the people claiming selling your body is like washing dishes, and the people saying "Uh, no, no it's not."

I think it is telling the people making the first argument are sex tourists.
posted by schroedinger at 7:30 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the debate here is between the people claiming selling your body is like washing dishes, and the people saying "Uh, no, no it's not."

I think it is telling the people making the first argument are sex tourists.


I'm not a sex tourist (though I've known people who made their living selling sex to tourists; it's a weird and highly-specialized branch of sex work, and maybe not very representative of the industry as a whole) and I'd very much say that sex work is definitely work, harder and more dangerous than many jobs but still better than some of the other options.

Although two or three people above admitted having been clients in the past, I think it is dishonest to caricature as sex tourists all of those saying that sex work is in fact work. Personally, for what it's worth, I'm not a client or a sex worker, and I'm only indirectly involved in advocacy for and outreach work with high risk sex workers locally.

(One of the ways that it is work is that many, perhaps most, sex workers do it as a part time supplement to other casual and informal jobs; it's one of a panoply of strategies people use to buffer precarious financial situations. For that matter, one of the things that makes outreach and advocacy so difficult, over and above the legality and safety concerns, is that so few of the people doing sex work actually self-identify as sex workers. Someone who relies on "presents" from a generous "friend" isn't likely to want to call themselves a whore, you know? The boundaries of sex work are super blurry, and don't map well onto the neat categories we are describing here.)
posted by Forktine at 8:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forktine, I am not implying at all that sex work is not hard or dangerous. I agree with you that it is much more so, the psychological effects run much deeper than they do with other jobs, and there is often a greater degree of coercion involved in sex work than in other types of work.
posted by schroedinger at 10:06 PM on December 13, 2011


I think it is telling the people making the first argument are sex tourists.

You mean "essentially rapists"?

I am not a sex tourist, but the point that sex work isn't always at the extremely shitty end on the continuum of shitty jobs is plainly obvious to me. I appreciate the comments of people who have first-hand experience of the topic, and would like it if you and others weren't so insistent on shutting down their contributions to the discussion.

Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.

posted by Dano St at 7:00 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The OP is a very thinly veiled bit of propaganda. It wears its biases on its sleeve and has to be judged in that context. It makes many statements which are simply, easily demonstrated to be flatly wrong (mostly because they are broad oversimplifications). If it is trying to make a point, whatever that point is, it makes that point badly.

The comment jokeefe linked has, by contrast, to my ears the ring of truth. Even if the story of "Noi" is fictionalized, it is very obviously fictionalized from bits of actual nonfictional history that the author has collected. And there is no reason and no need for a simple punter who wants to justify his wankery to elaborate on things to that level.

It's odd that jokeefe's link seemed the opposite of sexy to me, while the third part of the OP almost read like a how-to despite its hypermoralizing windup.

It certainly has been an interesting discussion. It's not a simple problem and it's not going away any time soon. Although, as with the population problem, I've done my part -- I haven't either reproduced or ever hired a prostitute. And neither of those things is ever likely to change.
posted by localroger at 7:24 PM on December 14, 2011


I think the debate here is between the people claiming selling your body is like washing dishes, and the people saying "Uh, no, no it's not."

i don't think i ever said it was just like washing dishes, i said they were on the same spectrum.

let's see if i can make myself clearer, here we go:

i used washing dishes as an example, someone else mentioned coal mining, i think that's a better example, but i'll stick with washing dishes.

i think there are some similarities. both jobs don't pay much, have low prestige, and are unpleasant (for coal miner, add in dangerous). obviously, prostitution has lower prestige, much more unpleasant, and much more dangerous. the pay could go either way. that's why i originally said "spectrum" and not "like". i think we can all agree that prostitution is much, much worse.

i thought it might be enough to just say "spectrum", with all the obvious qualifications implied, since it takes some time to write them all down. i was wrong.

what we can gain from the comparison is that it can be easier to see the social position a sex worker is in by imagining ourselves in a role that is less sever, but one we could more realistically take.

even though it's a generally bad job, some people take it because, to them, it's their best choice. they get the most money for the work conditions they're willing to handle. you may have different preferences and may choose a job that is less unpleasant and pays less, but they chose that job. these people don't have much education or skills, so even though they would prefer some better jobs, the can't get them.

of course, all that is out the door if a person is a slave, but not all slaves are sex workers and not all sex workers are slaves. some/many/most/? sex workers are slaves, so it would be a good idea to try to avoid patronizing them, if you're going to pay someone to have sex at all. you can never know for sure, you just have to use your best judgement.

there is a risk you could support slavery with anything you buy. look at the tags on your cloths: can you say with 100% certainty that they were not made by slaves, or in sweatshops with slavery like conditions? and there are many other products we consume, or benefit from indirectly.

i once went to a presentation by an advocate for sweat shop workers. when someone asked what the workers want the consumers to do he said they said this: don't stop buying the stuff we make, because we won't get paid if you don't buy it. but, still do what you can to help us get better working conditions.

similarly, the solution isn't to boycott all sex workers, or to advocate that no one pay for sex. rather, it would be better to advocate for better conditions for them. that's one idea, anyway. ok, i'm done for now.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:33 PM on December 14, 2011


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