Can Johns be taught not to buy sex?
February 2, 2017 1:00 PM   Subscribe

In Seattle, some men convicted of attempting to purchase sex from underage prostitutes are placed in Stopping Sexual Exploitation: A Program for Men, designed to teach men about "healthy relationships, about gender socialization and victim-blaming and toxic masculinity" (Quote from GQ, not the program). This program is different than the typical "johns' school" which seeks to scare men into no longer patronizing prostitutes.

Peter Qualliotine, the instructor, says that he tries to teach men about the harm that their patronage of prostitutes causes. Qualliotine acknowledges that some people will never agree with his view of johns as damaged individuals, has said “We’re just trying to open up some possibilities for them.”
posted by Hactar (58 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Let's start this in the obvious way...

From the KUOW article:

Qualliotine explained why it’s wrong to buy sex from a prostitute:
"...And so I think we need to look at prostitution in the larger context of women’s equality, and for me equality begins with integrity of the body."
But it apparently does not end with the right to do what they choose with their body to earn a living.

Any other men have opinions about this?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:41 PM on February 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


For the minor girls who were trafficked, I don't think it's a question of "choosing" what to with their body to earn a living.
posted by Mallenroh at 1:51 PM on February 2, 2017 [83 favorites]


For people who are faced with a lack of other economic opportunities it's also not much of a choice, but teaching men to be less creepy is cool.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:53 PM on February 2, 2017 [17 favorites]


"...what they choose ..."

The question, in the context of the class and the topic in general, is what constitutes free choice, and how many people in prostitution have chosen it, compared to others who have not.

I'm one of the facilitators for this class. I am at work today, and teaching tonight, but I will be happy to engage with this as much as any of you want, either here or in person, if you're in the Seattle area.
posted by Gorgik at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2017 [119 favorites]


Any other men have opinions about this?
I'm not sure why you're asking for men's opinions specifically?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2017 [43 favorites]


I don't know that we need to start yet another discussion on whether prostitution is morally OK or not. We've done it a ton. It's clearly a nuanced and divided topic. As a rape crisis counselor and an avowed feminist, I myself am torn at times.

But this article is about a program that tries to counter toxic masculinity and educate men on empathy, which I 100% support. We need more of these programs. I wish him all the best.
posted by greermahoney at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2017 [66 favorites]


For people who are faced with a lack of other economic opportunities it's also not much of a choice...

So could be said about just about any crap job. I'm glad at least that this guy is cool with male prostitution apparently. It's convenient that by fighting the patriarchy, he's only eliminating economic options for women.

I'm not sure why you're asking for men's opinions specifically?

That, my friend, was supposed to be biting sarcasm.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


Thank you, Gorgik, for the work you do.
posted by greermahoney at 1:59 PM on February 2, 2017 [15 favorites]


this article is a bit confusing because it does seem that mostly it's talking about

men convicted of attempting to purchase sex from underage prostitutes

(which I think to most people is a different conversation than the broader one about decriminalization) but it doesn't ever seem to say specifically that's who the program is targeting? And the guy running it does take a broad stance against decriminalization.

I'm thinking maybe this is because prostitution without a minor involved is a low priority for police in Seattle in practice - even if not explicitly decriminalized? That's just a guess.
posted by atoxyl at 2:04 PM on February 2, 2017


I don't know that we need to start yet another discussion on whether prostitution is morally OK or not. We've done it a ton. It's clearly a nuanced and divided topic.

Child prostitution is apparently also a divided topic, as seen here, but I confess I do not see the nuances to it, myself. Minors in decently prosperous countries are not actually supposed to need "economic options" that require this sort of moral choice.

The comments here make it clear that to some men, "underage" is nothing more than an informational advertising adjective like "blonde" or "tall." It's not only johns that need education but that's a fine place to start. I couldn't do this work so thanks to those who can.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:05 PM on February 2, 2017 [33 favorites]


But this article is about a program that tries to counter toxic masculinity and educate men on empathy, which I 100% support. We need more of these programs. I wish him all the best.

Yes. I hope people can hold it in their minds at the same time that how the US treats sex work is greatly stigmatizing to the workers and doesn't prioritize their rights, and that the men who seek out vulnerable (both economically and vulnerable to violence) and likely-exploited minors for sex work probably have some problems with women that need to be worked out.
posted by thetortoise at 2:05 PM on February 2, 2017 [35 favorites]


Boy, there is just no tiny little program that aims to solve one sliver of a problem that someone won't shit all over because it doesn't solve every problem everywhere ever, is there.
posted by Etrigan at 2:09 PM on February 2, 2017 [78 favorites]


[It would be great to try and keep the focus of this discussion on what's specifically discussed in the links and e.g. the relatively novel/new to MeFi discussions aspects thereof. Obviously sex work and a lot of issues tangent to it are pretty darned charged stuff but let's try and avoid getting into well-trod ground at the expense of engaging with the post itself.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:12 PM on February 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


It'd be awesome if my first name stopped being shorthand for people buying sex, that's what I think.
posted by Hutch at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2017 [14 favorites]


Child prostitution is apparently also a divided topic, as seen here, but I confess I do not see the nuances to it, myself.

Christ almighty of course it's not a divided topic. No one is in favor of rape.

Look. I guess I'm coming into here thinking that everyone has been paying attention to this debate, following the Amnesty International decision, etc. In this context, Qualliotine's comments, particularly in the KUOW story, seem painfully naive. He's not making an argument against child sex trafficking, which of course is evil. He's making an argument against sex work based on the idea that it's fundamentally patriarchal. I say that's bullshit. So long as consent is involved, there can be feminist sex work. Can there be feminist sex work clients? How would this program address them?

If this program were about child sex trafficking, it would focus on consent. Because that's what is morally wrong with forcing sex on children: they cannot consent. But it's not about consent. It's about patriarchy. Which implies that sex work cannot be feminist, even if it is performed by a consenting woman. That is problematic.

Boy, there is just no tiny little program that aims to solve one sliver of a problem that someone won't shit all over because it doesn't solve every problem everywhere ever, is there.

From the Seattle Weekly article:

And little evidence exists to show that the class is changing anyone’s behavior, Qualliotine admits. He himself feels it’s likely having a limited effect.

OK. OK then.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:19 PM on February 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


can we not use the word "prostitutes"
posted by avocet at 2:29 PM on February 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Child prostitution is apparently also a divided topic, as seen here, but I confess I do not see the nuances to it, myself.

What's happening here is the framing of the MeFi post foregrounds "underage" while the actual article frames it up front as an attempt to "end prostitution" (but most of the men it profiles were in fact caught soliciting minors).

(You can probably chill a little though mr. roboto)
posted by atoxyl at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


> It'd be awesome if my first name stopped being shorthand for people buying sex, that's what I think.

First name problems.
posted by ericost at 2:45 PM on February 2, 2017 [29 favorites]


The instructor's view of male johns as "damaged" doesn't sit well with me -- it reminds me way too much of "real men don't [hit women|rape|whatever]" or when a rapist or domestic abuser is referred to as a monster. We live in a society that encourages the commodification of female bodies, regardless of whether or not they are children's bodies, and sex trafficking is the logical terminus of that line of thinking.

He's making an argument against sex work based on the idea that it's fundamentally patriarchal. I say that's bullshit. So long as consent is involved, there can be feminist sex work. Can there be feminist sex work clients? [...] It's about patriarchy. Which implies that sex work cannot be feminist, even if it is performed by a consenting woman. That is problematic.

It's always seemed odd to me that so many men don't have a single word to say when it comes to standing up for "consent" and women's bodily autonomy and independence from male judgment... unless the women under discussion are sex workers. Then anything short of unequivocal freedom (to provide men with sex in exchange for money) is suddenly bullshit and problematic. Eh, I'm sure it's just a coincidence.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 2:46 PM on February 2, 2017 [69 favorites]


For some weird reason Peter popped up in my mind the other day. I met and had coffee with him to discuss forming a male allyship social justice group a couple years back. We emailed back and forth a bit but life got busy for me. I recall him being pretty tuned in with self awareness enough to understand what he was saying and knowing the problematic aspects of it. he forwarded me a number of articles that were great. I hope he is getting some traction with this program.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


There is a stroll right in the middle of town in Victoria, BC, in Canada. It's near a bottle depot on an artery on the north edge of downtown, near the industrial district (cement plant, brewery, fabrication shops) so it's not a well-traveled area. I used to walk home from work on that street, and would see the "girls" there, pretty much as low as you can go in this world, under the ribs of death, really, right at the edge. I tried to nod hello if there were no pimps around, but it was also awkward, a middle-aged guy, walking along the stroll.

I wondered how they got there. I also wondered exactly who would pay for sex off the street. What would motivate such men? A sense of power? A need for sex but unable to pay for a more up-scale escort service? A need to connect with someone.

It makes me sad and mad. At least we have an organization like this in Victoria.
posted by My Dad at 3:39 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Child prostitution is apparently also a divided topic, as seen here, but I confess I do not see the nuances to it, myself.


Yeah, I was in no way trying to imply that I was divided on child prostitution. Children cant consent. End of discussion.

Yes, I do believe with adults, it's greyer.


And little evidence exists to show that the class is changing anyone’s behavior, Qualliotine admits. He himself feels it’s likely having a limited effect.

OK. OK then.


Well, it's a new program, as stated in the article. How's about we give it some time and check back on effectiveness? I don't necessarily care if the exit interviews show these guys say it changed their lives. I care that in the future, fewer incidents of this type are happening, and that takes time and data. And even limited effect is better than none.
posted by greermahoney at 3:55 PM on February 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


It's always seemed odd to me that so many men don't have a single word to say when it comes to standing up for "consent" and women's bodily autonomy and independence from male judgment... unless the women under discussion are sex workers. Then anything short of unequivocal freedom (to provide men with sex in exchange for money) is suddenly bullshit and problematic. Eh, I'm sure it's just a coincidence.
It's not very helpful to construct a strawman, since no one in this thread has presented such a view. For that matter, I've never met any men who fit that description. Perhaps I travel in extraordinary enlightened circles.
posted by simen at 4:02 PM on February 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: "I'm not sure why you're asking for men's opinions specifically?"
Maybe for the same reason everybody here seems to be assuming that prostitutes are always female?
posted by brokkr at 4:11 PM on February 2, 2017


What exactly is a "sex trade worker" in this conversation? Where do they work? And how much autonomy and control does a woman have over her body if she is standing on a street corner?

I don't know where the stroll is for male sex trade workers in Victoria, BC.

Anyway, I assumed the Seattle program was aimed at johns cruising the streets to pay for sex, and not at men purchasing outcall services over the internet or the phone.
posted by My Dad at 4:40 PM on February 2, 2017


The headline "Can We "Cure" the Men Who Pay for Sex?" sets the wrong tone for what I think is a very good idea. The implication that men who see out sex workers are inherently sick or broken or misogynistic is pretty offensive.

I think that an enlightened sex trade--decriminalized, destigmatized, and with a focus on the worker's rights to consent, safety, and fair pay--would solve a lot of problems for a lot of people.

But, the point of the class isn't to teach a nuanced opinion about the sex trade. The point of the class is to introduce feminist principles to the people who most need to learn them. It's 101 level stuff, like "catcalling makes women feel unsafe" and "it's OK for men to have feelings other than anger." It's really important to spread those ideas, and this class seems to be helping.
posted by JDHarper at 4:46 PM on February 2, 2017 [16 favorites]


Anyway, I assumed the Seattle program was aimed at johns cruising the streets to pay for sex, and not at men purchasing outcall services over the internet or the phone.

Why did you assume this? The article mentions police stings based on "a fetish site", Craigslist, and "online ads". It does not describe anyone arrested for "cruising".
posted by mr_roboto at 5:01 PM on February 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't know where the stroll is for male sex trade workers in Victoria, BC.

A friend tells me that Grindr has closed down all the old cottages. It wouldn't surprise me to learn it had done the same thing for the male stroll.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:18 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Obviously the issue here is not that these men paid for sex, but that they paid for sex with minors. They are johns, sure, but what they primarily are is child molesters. Teaching men who buy sex from adults how to have positive relationships is one thing; I'm not convinced men who buy sex from adults aren't already capable of that, but whatever. Men who buy sex from minors are another story entirely. I'm not saying they shouldn't be helped, but considering them first johns and then child molesters doesn't sit right with me at all. It seems to conflate two very, very different issues.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:19 PM on February 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


Counselors I've known who deal with adult women who were sexually abused as children tell me that adult sex workers were sexually abused as children at much higher rates than comparable adults who aren't sex workers, and that sex work itself tends to be an aspect of PTSD for people who were sexually abused as children.

Even in this fallen world, that makes for pretty thin 'consent.'
posted by jamjam at 5:42 PM on February 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


It seems to conflate two very, very different issues.

This is the optimistic position, to think that because the crimes are different, there are two very separate populations of customers, but I don't know if it follows. like take this, from the article:

one guy arranged for a $70 blow job from a girl (she made a point of telling him she was a minor, though he swears he didn't go looking for that)

(this is the guilty Mormon in his early 20s)

how far you should believe sex offenders about their own motivations is a good question. but the sheer sickening naivete makes me almost inclined to. Because this guy, he doesn't know, he doesn't understand that it makes him sound worse in a way to say that he didn't want a minor, he wasn't seeking that out as a special treat, he just didn't care, it was all the same to him. That's so awful it's plausible. I am enough of an optimist myself to think he's not broadly representative but he's not unique.

so - I don't say they can or can't be taught better because I don't know, but targeting a class towards customers who only ever sleep with sex workers they know for a fact are of legal age would be a pretty specialized thing. Who asks for ID, and who would expect a reasonably cautious woman to comply? Men are widely encouraged to worry about this outside of a sex work context simply because erring on the wrong side of the age line can get them arrested (hence "jailbait.") Imagining the effect on the minor isn't so much part of the cultural what-you-call-it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:47 PM on February 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


While I agree that these men might not need this training more than the population at large, I think there's a benefit to taking any male captive audience and reminding them that women are people and not objects.
posted by politikitty at 5:51 PM on February 2, 2017 [18 favorites]


They are johns, sure, but what they primarily are is child molesters. Teaching men who buy sex from adults how to have positive relationships is one thing; I'm not convinced men who buy sex from adults aren't already capable of that, but whatever. Men who buy sex from minors are another story entirely.

I do not think this is something that can be discussed in black and white. Somebody who opportunistically seeks out fifteen-year-olds for sex work may not fall into either of the categories of child molester who repeatedly preys on children or psychologically healthy adult. What I do know is that this is harmful and that classes about consent and understanding women as human beings (read some of the quotes from offenders in the article) can only help.

On the other hand,

We live in a society that encourages the commodification of female bodies, regardless of whether or not they are children's bodies, and sex trafficking is the logical terminus of that line of thinking.

While I think patriarchy fundamentally underlies how rape and abuse happen and are addressed (or, usually, not addressed at all) and how women and children are treated everywhere, I find this parenthetical so disturbing in its conflation. It is not normal for men even in this very patriarchal world that we live in to be attracted to and have sexual contact with children. This is why people try to raise awareness of the profound dangers of early marriage (child marriage, in blunter terms). Marrying a prepubescent child is not the same as marrying someone in their late teens. You are right that patriarchy is the foundation of all of this but I think this level of imprecision is dangerous.
posted by thetortoise at 5:54 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


@jamjam wait these counselors tell the people in the population of sex workers they see who have suffered sexual abuse that their consent is inherently less meaningful or valid? That's messed up.

I think trauma, including sexual trauma affects people in all sorts of ways, and the best way to help those who are suffering from PTSD or sexual abuse are to listen to them and work to give them more agency over their own lives. You don't do that by deciding what's best to do with their body for them.
posted by gryftir at 7:01 PM on February 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


Maybe for the same reason everybody here seems to be assuming that prostitutes are always female?

I would be absolutely shocked if there were even one person on mefi who was unfamiliar with the concept of male sex workers.

We're not talking about them currently because the article is about a program in which men are picked up for soliciting sex from underage girls. There's little in the article to discuss in regards to people of any gender soliciting men for sex. Considering the goals of these classes, that would need to be an entirely different class.
posted by greermahoney at 7:29 PM on February 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


We're not talking about them currently because the article is about a program in which men are picked up for soliciting sex from underage girls.

No it isn't. The text in the Metafilter post describes it as such, but upon reading the articles, that seems inaccurate. There's nothing to indicate that this program is focused on child rapists. And, frankly, if it were....

Those people should be in jail. People who want to force sex upon children and act upon that desire should be in jail. Not in some discussion group program.

But really. Read the articles. That's not what this is about.

Gorgik, can you clarify? Is this a program that involves alternative sentencing for men who want to rape children? Everything the articles say seems to indicate that it addresses sex work ("prostitution" [sic] in the articles) in general.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:49 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


As far as the age of the women, I leave it to Gorgik to answer, but the ages of most, if not all of the sex workers solicited in the group the journalist went to were young enough to be considered minors. It may have very well just been the demographics of that particular group. My main point was that this did not look to be a program for people who solicited men.
posted by greermahoney at 8:23 PM on February 2, 2017


In class, throughout those first weeks, a number of the men showed with their body language that they thought the whole exercise was bullshit, a waste of their time. Several maintained that their arrests had been misunderstandings, and several, including Steve, made it clear that they thought it was nonsense that prostitution was a crime at all. He was already turned off by the class's official title, Stopping Sexual Exploitation: A Program for Men, because of the word exploitation: “It kind of gives you an indication of what their position is.”

I just led an anti-oppression training for an audience this weekend where literally half of the audience raised their hands when I asked 'have you ever read a thinkpiece on intersectionality before.'

now this, this is a training atmosphere that I don't envy whatsoever. handling the burnout from running and facilitating trainings like this must be a separate program on its own
posted by runt at 8:27 PM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


It sounds like a nice scam for whoever is getting paid to run the program, whoever is getting paid to fund the program, and whoever is getting a break on severity of sentence or criminal record by getting their sign-ins for attending the program. Not getting any benefit: underage prostitutes, past or present.
posted by MattD at 10:28 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


I know a lonely 26-year-old male virgin. A fantastic guy, but one who has a few characteristics that are seen as drawbacks on the dating market. The subject once came around to sex work, and he said, with vehemence that kind of startled everybody, "I would never pay for sex." Why not? "I'm not going to roll the dice that I'm not raping somebody."
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:51 PM on February 2, 2017 [42 favorites]


The narrative of the empowered, informed self-employed sex worker is that of a very small minority of sex workers -- white, educated, middle class raised, autonomous, healthy, attractive, young, emotionally secure, high earning with discretion allowed as to what clients they will accept-- while the reality is that the majority of people involved in sex work are marginalized people with limited options for employment and no protections of their interests. And, because their bodies are commodities, anything that reduces their bodies 'worth' on the market brings down their incomes -- pregnancy, drug use, aging, weight gain, injury, sickness, etc . The majority of sex-trade workers are exploited people who conduct their business in constant danger. If prostitution were legal and regulated, we could in all conscience not have a problem with the purchase of sexual services but it's not, it's clandestine, outside of the law and it's pretty difficult to be sure you're not contributing to human misery in the service of your libido.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 2:29 AM on February 3, 2017 [17 favorites]


What really frustrates me about these discussions is how defenses of the men involved are so often framed as though their actions are taking place in a thought experiment where there is no sexual exploitation occurring.

But each man is actually arrested in a specific circumstance, many of which are exploitative.

The existence of non-exploitative sex work doesn't change that man's decision. The fact that we could be doing better as a society to reduce the prevalence of exploitative sex work doesn't change that man's decision.

The decision to buy sex in clearly exploitative or murky circumstances speaks to some fucked up attitudes--at the very least, ignorance and a lack of care for who is being harmed. When it comes to men buying sex from women, it is really hard to separate those from patriarchal entitlement.

he said, with vehemence that kind of startled everybody, "I would never pay for sex." Why not? "I'm not going to roll the dice that I'm not raping somebody."

This hits it on the nose. If you want to buy sex, but can't be sure that it wouldn't be exploitative, the correct decision is to not buy sex.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:09 AM on February 3, 2017 [24 favorites]


My ex-wife was one of the first people I'd ever discussed this subject with who took a pro-sex worker view when we were younger. I don't know how her views may have evolved, but I've also known other self-identified feminists who took the view sex work could be a legitimate source of economic and personal empowerment for adult women who chose to engage in that sort of work independently on their own terms. It's definitely the case that it's such a shadowy and murky world that it can harm economically vulnerable women and become a trap. And like with my own mom, addiction and self destructive behaviors and lifestyles often factor into it. There are new markets springing up to try to meet the popular demands for addressing the problems of sexual frustration, loneliness, and touch starvation. Cuddle services, for example, are becoming almost respectable in some markets and seem like a healthier alternative to sex work that could fulfill similar needs. There needs to be better regulation and protection for sex workers regardless. We've never known a large scale society that didn't have sex trade. Is that because Johns exist and is that necessarily connected to underage sex trafficking? I don't know. My mom wasn't trafficked or underage when she got involved in sex work at one point to fund her heroin addiction. I'm sure hers wouldn't be the only story that didn't quite fit the sex work as human trafficking narrative. Would a program like this have helped her? Probably not, even if it achieved all its goals. But that also doesn't mean it's not a valuable program if it helps spare any actual victims of human trafficking. I guess I wish it didn't seem like the program wanted to imply sex work is always morally connected to child trafficking or human exploitation, because that's not necessarily uniquely true of sex work more than any other form of physically demanding labor or other work that requires sexualizing oneself for commercial advantage and seems more about political marketing than about getting at the roots and realities of the problem. But these are important issues to bring awareness to and grapple with anyway. No definitive point to make here of my own, just thinking aloud. My own views aren't fully formed on the subject. I've known both men and women who took money for sex acts at some point--even one frat dude who let a rich gay guy use him to play out a kinky fantasy. It's a weird time for sexual culture, with Silicone Valley and the mobsters all hoping to industrialize hook up culture through platforms like Tinder. There are a lot of mixed and extremely confusing messages about economic, personal empowerment, and human sexuality out there in American society right now. The Poptimism crowd see economic exploitation of sexuality as a legitimate path to power, and you know, can't get enough porn culture and leaked revenge porn. On the other hand, this stuff obviously can damage real people and even destroy lives because sexuality isn't always personally empowering and can become pathological. We don't have an ideal world where sex work as a whole could be ethical and healthy, but we also don't have the kind of ideal world where it won't ever exist. So is this program more helpful or harmful from that point of view? At least it's not putting the blame on the sex workers themselves. That seems like a step in the right direction at least.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:36 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't pay for sex, never have, never will, but other than under age girls or boys, I see nothing wrong with paying for sex. Sex workers are(should be) free to do as they please with their bodies.

I just wish the religious etal would just mind their own bloody business. No one is forcing them to frequent sex workers, so just shut up!
posted by james33 at 7:05 AM on February 3, 2017


Sex workers are(should be) free

I think it takes some serious blinders to say that the only thing wrong with sex work is when the workers are underaged. Sex workers can be trafficked, coerced, or unable to consent for other reasons.

A lot of this is because we, as a society, haven't prioritized the protection of vulnerable people like we should. We create a lot of of this misery, and then we make it harder to tell whether someone is being exploited or not, because businesses can't be transparent.

But that doesn't change the fact that if you buy sex, those are the circumstances. And a hell of a lot of men don't care.

And I personally find it creepy how eager men are to defend the idea of freely consenting, non-exploitative sex work as if it excuses men who buy sex when they aren't sure everyone is freely consenting.

It reminds me a lot of an acquaintance, actually. This man is a vehement feminist and usually quite astute when it comes to understanding nuance--but when it comes to his ability to bone at will, he becomes suddenly much less astute, and boils it down into simplistic "did she say yes or not."
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:31 AM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


I just wish the religious etal would just mind their own bloody business. No one is forcing them to frequent sex workers, so just shut up!

Please don't make the mistake of thinking everyone who has concerns with this issue is doing so for religious reasons. I'm a lifelong athiest. Most of my feminist friends are athiest. You don't have to believe in god to look at a human in a troubling situation and want to make it better.

Also, please read many of the comments here. The situation is not so black and white as "adults should be able to do as they want." Yes, in theory, they should. The reality is very different.
posted by greermahoney at 7:55 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


Apologies if this isn't formatted great.

MattD:
It sounds like a nice scam for whoever is getting paid to run the program, whoever is getting paid to fund the program, and whoever is getting a break on severity of sentence or criminal record by getting their sign-ins for attending the program. Not getting any benefit: underage prostitutes, past or present.

mr_roboto:
Gorgik, can you clarify? Is this a program that involves alternative sentencing for men who want to rape children? Everything the articles say seems to indicate that it addresses sex work ("prostitution" [sic] in the articles) in general.


SSE is one program from the Men's Accountability Group at the Organization for Prostitution Survivors. I think the context is important: OPS was founded by two people (Peter is one of them) who were working with homeless youth. And while they were working with youth in prostitution, some of their clients would turn 18 and lose eligibility for services. But those people still needed help, so OPS was founded to address this lack of services for adults, and still works with youth as well.

SSE specifically was started as part of a multi-jurisdictional enforcement program with the (in my opinion) unfortunate name “Buyer Beware” (http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/buyer-beware-early-success-for-initiative-targeting-johns-instead-of-prostitutes/), which is based on the Nordic Model of decriminalization of people in prostitution, a focus on providing services, and demand reduction efforts. It is not specifically targeting child prostitution, although a number of the enforcement efforts use reverse stings as part of the strategy.

Attendance at SSE is not diversionary or a mitigation; it is a condition of sentencing. The money that SSE makes goes to the survivor services arm of OPS, which provides assistance for youth and adults trying to leave the life.

At this time, participants are primarily court-ordered. However, we do have some men who come through voluntarily, either a referral from a counselor, or in a few cases from an attorney. Or in some cases, men who have come through once as court-ordered, and then come back again as a voluntary attendee.

A lot of the guys are charged with CSAM (commercial sexual exploitation of a minor) and have done jail or prison time. But not all. Some are arrested for street prostitution; some are arrested for online prostitution. We don’t segregate or distinguish the exact situation.

Based on comments made, some of the men who come through the program have clearly been rapists, and we have a number of guys who have self-disclosed to be DV abusers. But that’s not the charge that brought them to us.


JDHarper:
The headline "Can We "Cure" the Men Who Pay for Sex?" sets the wrong tone for what I think is a very good idea


I hate “Cure” as well, this isn’t pathology, and that was an editorial choice on GQ’s part for reasons I can only speculate.


JDHarper:
But, the point of the class isn't to teach a nuanced opinion about the sex trade. The point of the class is to introduce feminist principles to the people who most need to learn them. It's 101 level stuff, like "catcalling makes women feel unsafe" and "it's OK for men to have feelings other than anger." It's really important to spread those ideas, and this class seems to be helping.

runt:
I just led an anti-oppression training for an audience this weekend where literally half of the audience raised their hands when I asked 'have you ever read a thinkpiece on intersectionality before.' now this, this is a training atmosphere that I don't envy whatsoever.


We spend a lot of time discussing toxic masculinity, power, consent, mutuality and oppression. There is usually a ton of defensiveness at first, but the material lands at some point with a least a few of the guys. The conversations are much more difficult than, say, the anti-oppression training I just attended for the DV volunteer group I’m with.

You might be interested to know that we sometimes assign supplemental reading, and we’ve given a few Metafilter threads out as homework, including:
Hi-Whatcha-reading
aspiring-to-a-world-in-which-personality-is-unchained-from-gender
Sweetheart-please-stop-perpetuating-the-patriarchal-dividend-Its-SO-over


amnesia and magnets:
The instructor's view of male johns as "damaged" doesn't sit well with me -- it reminds me way too much of "real men don't [hit women|rape|whatever]" or when a rapist or domestic abuser is referred to as a monster. We live in a society that encourages the commodification of female bodies, regardless of whether or not they are children's bodies, and sex trafficking is the logical terminus of that line of thinking.


It is not accurate to say that our view is that men in class are damaged, at least not in the sense of being irredeemable monsters (which I think is what some articles imply). It is more that society, toxic masculinity and a culture of objectification warps us, and that is the “damage”. We do have individuals that have some pretty deep suffering because of specific harms that have been done to them, but even that isn’t damage, it’s pain. And pain that men don’t generally get to discuss.


Quote:
And little evidence exists to show that the class is changing anyone’s behavior, Qualliotine admits. He himself feels it’s likely having a limited effect.

greermahoney:
Well, it's a new program, as stated in the article. How's about we give it some time and check back on effectiveness? I don't necessarily care if the exit interviews show these guys say it changed their lives. I care that in the future, fewer incidents of this type are happening, and that takes time and data. And even limited effect is better than none.


This is again a difference between what is reported, and the full nuanced version of the truth. We do not think that this program will stop prostitution. That is an aspirational goal. We aren’t even sure it will stop an individual from buying sex. In fact, we don’t really ever say “don’t buy sex”. More, this is about inviting men to think about a variety of ways that their behavior is harmful to others and themselves, and consider alternate ways of being.

Addressing the root causes of prostitution, objectification and toxic masculinity is a Very Large Project. This is one of the ways we think that project can start.

And while anecdotes do not a full data set make, the number of men that give us positive feedback at the end, and especially the number of men who attend again as volunteers makes me hopeful that the message is getting out there.



I want to make sure I focus on questions/comments about this program, but I do want to address a quote from the article, and something that was said:

For people who are faced with a lack of other economic opportunities it's also not much of a choice...

…could be said about just about any crap job.


Lots of people are forced into crap jobs for a variety of reasons. But those crap jobs don’t involve the physical violation of bodily integrity in the same way as prostitution. That’s part of that what "...And so I think we need to look at prostitution in the larger context of women’s equality, and for me equality begins with integrity of the body." is about.


I'm travelling today, and not sure how my internet access will be, but I'll be happy to address more later.
posted by Gorgik at 7:56 AM on February 3, 2017 [36 favorites]


I'd be alright with sex work as a profession if it was licensed and well regulated. If it isn't, and there's no way to know for sure that the person isn't held in thrall to a pimp or a drug, then it's not ethical. End of story. Go to Nevada where it is legal and buy from a licensed prostitute. It's more expensive because there are worker protections.

Or, since it's just a "crappy job", how about cocoa farming? It's the difference between buying fair trade chocolate and slave-labor produced chocolate. Once you know that child slaves produce much of the world's chocolate, you start to look for the label. To do otherwise is unconscionable.
posted by domo at 7:57 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


Those are fair points, Kutsuwamushi. Especially about the Johns not really caring. This extends into other areas, like fetish culture maybe. Sexual identity isn't strictly gendered. When lesbian women hire sex workers (which happens), they're functioning as Johns, too, and it's not necessarily clear that's solely internalized misogyny playing out or that solving toxic masculinity alone would change those behaviors. They might.

I used to know a severely mentally handicapped guy who's grandparents hired a sex worker to deflower him because otherwise he might never have known the experience of any form of sexuality. I feel ambivalent about whether that was immoral. On one hand, no man, disabled or otherwise is ever entitled to have sex, on the other hand, the scientific consensus remains that some amount of sexual activity is necessary for most people's overall long term health and emotional well being. The lack of legitimate medical research, therapy, and public health policy in those areas is appalling. Elders merely tried to suggest masturbation might be a healthy outlet for sexual tension and social aggression and got politically crushed for it. That's the background for these issues in the U.S.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:59 AM on February 3, 2017


It's not very helpful to construct a strawman, since no one in this thread has presented such a view. For that matter, I've never met any men who fit that description. Perhaps I travel in extraordinary enlightened circles.

So what you're saying isn't just that #notallmen are like this, but that NO men are, because you personally don't know any? Feel free to keep patting yourself on the back, of course, but "enlightened" isn't really the word I'd use to describe a good old-fashioned NAMALT.

And I personally find it creepy how eager men are to defend the idea of freely consenting, non-exploitative sex work as if it excuses men who buy sex when they aren't sure everyone is freely consenting.

It reminds me a lot of an acquaintance, actually. This man is a vehement feminist and usually quite astute when it comes to understanding nuance--but when it comes to his ability to bone at will, he becomes suddenly much less astute, and boils it down into simplistic "did she say yes or not."


SO much this. Just... ugh, so much this. The laserlike focus on the technicalities of "consent" is one of the things I mistrust most about men who feel it's important to let everyone know how strongly they feel about sex workers being left alone by [feminists|religious figures|literally anyone interested in anything except full decriminalization].

There's zero awareness that a very narrow definition of "consent" is exactly what johns are purchasing, even though the johns obviously know it -- it's not like they honestly believe that the person they're paying to perform sex acts for them would still be there if there wasn't money on the table. But as far as their brave and tireless defenders are concerned, dangling money/food/shelter above a sex worker's head in exchange for access to their body is just another utterly neutral acquisition of "consent," because hey, it's not like they said no. (This is usually where all the Class Is The Real Issue bros rush forward with a rallying cry of, "Patriarchy isn't the problem, capitalism is the problem! All workers are exploited!")

The overwhelming majority of public conversations about sex work are and have always been focused on men who insist that the "right" of male johns to purchase sex from female sex workers must be held sacrosanct. They're the loudest, the most powerful, the most numerous, and the most passionate -- the world would probably be a better place if they could manage even half as much interest in battling the most egregiously exploitative aspects of sex work, but alas, that is not to be. So the progressives among them just spin this aspect of entitlement to female bodies as freedom for sex workers, because focusing the conversation on how important it is to make sure men aren't penalized for using money to gain access to women's bodies -- possibly and maybe even probably exploited as they may be, who can really know for sure? guess we'll never know -- is considered kind of gauche.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 9:20 AM on February 3, 2017 [14 favorites]


On one hand, no man, disabled or otherwise is ever entitled to have sex, on the other hand, the scientific consensus remains that some amount of sexual activity is necessary for most people's overall long term health and emotional well being.

I don't see this as an "on one hand... on the other hand" situation. They're not contradictory statements. Sex can be mentally and physically beneficial for you, without that being an excuse for victimizing someone.

There is a pervasive background assumption that men "need" sex. It's not just in discussions of sex work, either - right now, I'm recalling a discussion on MetaFilter about advisors harassing their graduate students, where there were several comments along the lines of how isolating academic life is and how it makes it hard to meet women outside of the lab. The same thing happens in discussion of street harassment: How can I meet women if I can't approach them in public...

I'm just tremendously unsympathetic to men's so-called "need" to meet women, to have sex, and so on. Because its just used as an excuse for exploiting women. I mean, if we were having a separate discussion about improving men's social lives, it would be one thing (depending on framing of course) - but this always comes up in the context of sexual exploitation and harassment. Like men don't have any other choice.

The laserlike focus on the technicalities of "consent"

Yeah. And it's not just sex work, either - it's in pretty much in every discussion where you might critique a man's decision to have sex with who he wants however he wants.

* I'm leaving aside women, because I think that attitudes are more complicated.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:45 AM on February 3, 2017 [18 favorites]


Well, specifically, this guy is mentally incompetent and has severe social and emotional disorders. If his therapist, say, recommended he needed healthy sexual activity, would you agree he should be able to access legitimate sex therapy or similar treatments, or would that be ethically problematic? I'm not trying to stretch to that conclusion here, I promise--I'm curious what the bounds should be. That dad here on MeFi a while back who described his daughter having to wear a sexually suggestive t-shirt or be fired from the crappy restaurant gig she depended on also touched on those questions for me. I'm an old school liberal on this topic. Destigmatize the industry and regulate it. Then there'll be better public health stats on the reality of the industry and it won't be as badly tangled up in other forms of criminal activity and self destructive behavior.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:25 AM on February 3, 2017


The main issue I have with a prostitution ban is that it raises the amount of danger that the workers are in. If you're being coerced into prostitution, the person/system coercing you does not care whether or not you're breaking the law. Just now you can go to jail for doing something you didn't want to do in the first place.

I like that these classes in the original post are focusing on the demand side of the equation rather than the supply side.
posted by JDHarper at 11:16 AM on February 3, 2017


so what do sex workers think about this program? i know sex workers are often not super thrilled about "trafficking" programs and other legislation ostensibly meant to help them so i'm kinda curious how this one is going over on their side of the fence
posted by beefetish at 7:12 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Some of the staff at OPS and the women they serve have contributed materials for use in the class, so that population supports the program.
posted by Gorgik at 9:07 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


My daughter was an opioid addict after suffering from sexual abuse as a young girl. She started prostituting herself when she was 14. She's been beaten by pimps more times than we can count, three of those beatings landing her in the ER, one of which almost killed her. I can promise you that the day of her 18th birthday she did not cross some sort of bright line into a consenting adult who chose to do what she was doing.

Yes, there are sex workers who aren't exploited and abused. Good on them. But fuck you if you want to make less protections available for prostitutes, a huge percentage of whom are women like my daughter.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 4:08 PM on February 4, 2017 [7 favorites]


If his therapist, say, recommended he needed healthy sexual activity, would you agree he should be able to access legitimate sex therapy or similar treatments, or would that be ethically problematic?

You're missing the point and in a way that is rather tone deaf given the previous comments in the thread.

I'm not having a discussion with you about whether prostitution should be legal, or whether your buddy's "need" for sex is even relevant to that question. (Hint: I don't think that is, at all, which I think is evident from my previous comment.)

Seriously, this is a textbook example of the kind of behavior that we were complaining about in this thread. It is so weird. No one has said "prostitution should be illegal" or anything like it, and people defending this program--or at least not outright condemning it--are pretty explicit about their concern being exploitative sex work. But here you are, defending men's right to buy sex...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:06 PM on February 4, 2017 [12 favorites]


People also "need" friendship, but you can't force someone to be friends with you. Why should you be able to force someone to have sex with you? If you want to buy sex ethically, go to Nevada or campaign for worker protections(1) and legalization(2) where you live. But fuck, this is not the place for it. We're literally talking about a program that raises awareness of the abuses of the illegal market. That should be something we can all agree with.
posted by domo at 9:35 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


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