It’s that time of year again! With the Christmas season upon us, retailers are taking it up a notch competing for your business.
Now is the time to remember the companies who objectified women and sexualized girls to sell products and services. They do not respect women and have refused to change their ways. They should not be allowed to profit on the backs of women and girls.
You can make a difference by making an ethical purchasing choice, sending a clear message about the importance of corporate social responsibility.
Here’s our list of stand out corporate offenders for 2014.
While major department stores Target and Kmart opted to withdraw Grand Theft Auto V after a campaign lead by women survivors of violence, Big W chose profits over ethics, continuing to sell a game where players can brutally murder women for fun. Big W was also the target of a petition calling for removal of sexualised Christmas t-shirts. Read more here.
General Pants Co
General Pants attracted complaints for their ‘Wet Dreams’ ad campaign in shopping centres nationwide. Their history of porn-themed advertising here.
City Beach has a long history of selling products with sexist, violent and porn inspired imagery to its youth market. Read more here.
Fresh One/Fresh Boost
Fresh Boost used pornographic images, including simulated sex acts to advertise their coffee bean grand, Fresh One. Read more here.
Online marketplace CafePress has a long history of selling clothing and merchandise with sexualised, porn-inspired and pro-rape slogans and imagery, including on clothing for babies and toddlers. Read more here.
Ultra Tune came under fire for their sexist ad using rubber clad dominatrix women to promote car accessories. Read more here.
Schick For Men’s ‘Get Closer’ campaign is a classic example of objectification, using women’s bodies and breasts to promote men’s hygiene products. We hijacked their campaign. Read more here.
Bonds reignited their BOOBS outdoor advertising campaign, objectifying women and defining them by their ‘perky’, ‘saggy’ or ‘bouncy’ breasts. Several years ago we successfully lobbied Bonds to withdraw bras for six year old girls. Read more here.
Honey Birdette is a sex shop masquerading as a high-end lingerie store in shopping malls around the country. Honey Birdette persists with violating advertising standards with its porn-themed shop front advertising. At Christmas Honey Birdette goes out of its way to link “Santa Claus” with sex using slogans such as “Santa baby…” and “Santa’s toy shop.” Read more here.
Myer failed to respond to a petition calling on them to withdraw sexually objectifying in store advertising for Viktor and Rolf perfume. Myer also defended using sexualised images to advertise lingerie throughout Westfield, including in the food court beside Mcdonalds. Read more.
American Apparel continually depicts women and girls in pornified ways. This year the UK Ad Watchdog upheld complaints regarding an American Apparel ad ruled they sexualized schoolgirls. Read more here.
Retailers funding Playboy branded sexual exploitation
Collective Shout has continued to highlight companies which profit from the mainstreaming, normalising and embedding of a major brand of the sex industry into mainstream culture.
Hooters restaurant promotes the sexual objectification of female staff, sexism and sexual harassment. This doesn’t stop the venue from openly marketing to children, hosting children’s parties and ‘kids eat free’ style promotions. (Thanks to a successful protest led by Collective Shouts Townsville coordinator, construction of a ‘Hooters’ restaurant in the area has been abandoned). Read more.
Despite a protest including a 29,000 strong petition calling on Eatons Hill Hotel to refuse to host rapper Tyler the Creator whose lyrics glorify violence against women, the hotel failed to act in the best interests of the community. (Due to our campaign,Tyler the Creator was refused entry to New Zealand).
Please let these companies know why you won’t be supporting them this Christmas.
Are you crossing off other companies this Christmas? Let us know!
‘At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women’
By Laura McNally
Emma Watson’s speech at the UN has made headlines worldwide. It wasn’t a bad speech. Like all women, Watson is doing the best she can with the information she has available to her.
Several feminists have already addressed some of the problematic aspects of her speech. Like many, I am critical of the strategies employed by transnational organizations like the UN. I am also critical of liberal feminism.
But as a woman who is most concerned with women’s liberation, I acknowledge that Emma Watson has created more awareness in ten minutes than I could in my lifetime.
So you know what is more problematic, male-centric, and piecemeal than Emma Watson’s speech?
Liberal feminist analysis. Let me give just a few examples:
2) Liberal feminism frames sexual violence in porn as an empowered choice for women.
3) Liberal feminism responds “Not All Porn” (#NAP) in the same way sexists respond “not all men” when we talk about male violence and misogyny. Feminists ought to be aware that criticism is aimed at cultures, classes, and industries — not individual people.
5) Liberal feminism applies criticism to every industry except the sex trade despite the fact that the sex industry hinges upon classism, sexism, racism and a global trade which commodifies violence against girls and women.
6) Liberal feminism prioritises first-world women’s accounts of feeling empowered, shunning women who don’t have the language, resources, Twitter/Tumblr accounts to articulate the extent of their oppression.
7) While liberal feminism claims to be “intersectional” it concomitantly evades structural analysis and conceals multiple oppressions with a rhetoric of agency. This is an issue that Kimberlé Crenshaw has spoken on recently. As if feeling agentic is going to keep the most vulnerable women alive.
8) Liberal feminism claims to want to end sexist stereotypes, but freely labels women “thin-lipped,” prudish, and anti-sex if they dare say any of the things that I have just written here.
9) Liberal feminism has been so concerned about “including men” and being “pro-sex” that they have repeatedly published “feminist” works on behalf of male sex predators and attempted killers.
Liberal feminism is not only male-centric in rhetoric, but it positions male entitlement as feminist.
I say: At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women.
Yes, Emma is another white woman adding her voice to a movement that continues to prioritize the perspectives of white people. But does that mean professional white feminists are going to renounce their careers? I wouldn’t expect so. But I would expect that they might consider whether their political analysis serves to amplify or obscure the reality of women already marginalized by the current white-male-centric world order.
Perhaps Emma’s critics can also question whether liberal feminism is really working to challenge male hegemony continuing to serve up diatribes about “finding agency” in oppressive circumstances. They might question whether this liberal, postmodern, anti-structural, acontextual approach to feminism even means anything for women outside of first-world capital cities… Marketing something as “intersectional” doesn’t make it so.
It would seem that we can either fight to end patriarchy and the institutions that prop up its existence, or we can work to make patriarchy more acceptable and equitable by selling it as “choice.” One of these options sounds like feminism and the other sounds like corporate strategy.
As it turns out nobody is liberated by these industries and participation is rarely a “free choice.” In fact research shows quite the opposite with very few South East Asian women ever personally seeking out the industry. To defend an industry that hinges upon impoverished girls and women’s lack of choice, and instead frame it as being primarily about “women’s choices” shows that liberal feminism is reserved for women with class privilege.
Yes, some women can choose. Some women have the social mobility required to move in and out of different fields of work and that is great. Of course no woman should be stigmatised for her choices, whatever they may be. But feminist analysis is not just about women who have options. Feminism that only reflects women with choice serves to further silence women who have few or none.
As bell hooks has said:
[Feminism] has never emerged from the women who are most victimized by sexist oppression; women who are daily beaten down, mentally, physically, and spiritually — women who are powerless to change their condition in life. They are a silent majority.
Girls are increasingly surrounded by sex trade influences, with much of the visual culture saturated with pornography. Male entitlement is a dangerous, global epidemic. Thai reports show 40 per cent of the sex industry is made up of underage girls. Male sexual entitlement is colonizing the third world faster than transnational corporations ever could. This local-global industrializing of sexual exploitation is constraining the rights and choices of girls globally. Working to legitimize this exploitation only solidifies the lack of choice for these girls and women.
How can liberal feminists bolster these industries and simultaneously claim to fight for choice? Whose choice? Male sex tourists perhaps? From my experience living throughout South East Asia, a deep sense of collectivist culture, filial piety where children are strongly obligated to support their aging parents, combined with poverty, all make the idea of individual choice and empowerment laughable. Poor women living in South East Asia don’t simply log on to seek.com and peruse potential career “choices.” Life is not as simply as victims vs. agents.
An all too common story across Asia is parents who cannot afford to feed their children. They may find themselves forced to send their daughters or sons to the city with the promise of “school and work” — this is increasingly impacting strained rural populations. Are these girls going to be helped by “feeling agency” while they are exploited? Perhaps they could benefit from state sanctioned and local development programs, rather than sex predator tourists?
Australian writers have told me that girls in Asia have to “choose” between the garment industry and the sex industry, otherwise beg. Why is this first-world “choice” narrative homogenizing feminist discourse? It is an entirely reductionist, ethnocentric and distorted idea of women’s reality overseas. What ever happened to intersectionality?
Liberal feminist rhetoric is dominated by first-world accounts of “I think this is empowering so it is.” This apolitical approach evades the statistics and realities of millions of girls and women whose stories we will likely never read about in a feminist bestseller. Feminism has come to mean whatever wealthy consumers want it to mean — “feeling good,” rather than actual change or justice. We seem to forget that the world is not full of women who are privileged enough to try out oppressive systems like pole-dancing for “fun.” We’ve ended up in a situation where Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus call their actions feminist — while that’s ludicrous, I can see exactly how they came to that conclusion.
I understand that liberal feminism does seek to change sexist norms and attitudes, but it does so by supporting the industries that ensure sexist behaviour is normative, institutionalized, and profitable. Not only does this garner political legitimacy for sexist industries, but it bolsters male consumers who can argue their sex tourism and excessive porn use is acceptable or even “feminist.” Empirical evidence shows that first-world male consumers of pornography have higher sexist and rape-accepting attitudes — attitudes that they can more easily enact in locations with fewer law enforcement resources.
I am struck by recent liberal feminist texts criticizing “neoliberal feminism” (which isn’t actually a thing) while the crux of liberal feminism could not be more closely aligned with neoliberal exploitation of women.
So is #heforshe going to actually achieve anything with men? At an individual level, I hope so — we certainly need it. What I do know is that, for my friends living in poverty, having men hear about this will likely do more for them than talking about feminist agency or feminist porn.
I understand entirely why Watson’s speech was somewhat piecemeal, problematic and feminist-lite… But that is because she is working with liberal feminist theory, and it’s the best she (or anyone) could do with that body of work.
Watson is simply advocating for girls and women the only way she knows. So all I have to say to her is: “Thank you. You did what you could, we have a lot of work to do and we welcome you.”
Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD candidate. Her current work draws upon critical theory to examine the limitations of corporate social responsibility and liberal feminism. She blogs at lauramcnally.com. Reprinted with permission Laura McNally/ Feminist Current
Brothel legalisation: a Top End race to the bottom
…Tollner’s proposal to brothels is particularly cynical, given the population demographics of the Territory. As LNG development proceeds in Darwin, the city will host increasingly large numbers of white, cashed-up men who are a well-worn target consumer group of the sex industry.
Only a small proportion of these men (roughly 15 per cent) are likely to seek out a woman for prostitution, but a greater proportion are vulnerable to “opportunistic” patronage facilitated through semi-prostitution venues like strip clubs, advertising and touting, and all-male group activities like visiting a brothel after a night out drinking.
The sex industry stands to commercially benefit from Tollner’s proposal to legalise brothels through capturing this segment of the market that isn’t inclined to ring one of the NT’s legal outcall agencies.
The sex industry is keen for Tollner’s amendment to be made to the NT’s Prostitution Regulation Act because it would acquire a legitimate shop-front in the Territory. According to research, legalised brothels hamper efforts to detect illegal venues, normalise and encourage public acceptance of the pimping of women for prostitution, and foster an environment that is welcoming of sex tourists for economic gain.
Legal brothels act as “hidden-in-plain-sight” housing for trafficked women, and the Queensland Government has been forced to issue guidelines for “sleeping accommodation for sex workers” to stop the practice.
The Territory is a prime destination for women trafficked from South-East Asia, and also for homeless women, particularly from Aboriginal communities. Sex industry entrepreneurs in the Territory currently run into legal trouble setting up groups of women in apartments to be housed and pimped, but legal brothels would solve this problem….Read full story
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and member of Amnesty Australia.
Mainstreaming and normalising the abuse and exploitation of women
The Sex Factor is a new reality TV program where contestants compete for the chance to become a porn star. It will be shown exclusively online. The Sex Factor is setting to profit from the mainstreaming of pornography and legitimising it as an attractive career choice for young women. It is also normalising violence against women, given what we know porn ‘performers’ suffer in the industry.
While discussions of the harms of pornography often focus on the damage to children, to the healthy sexuality of porn consumers and the damage to women as a whole, it is important to also acknowledge the harms to those (particularly women) in the industry. While the porn industry works hard to portray pornography as a glamorous and liberating career choice, many of the female performers speak of violence, exploitation and abuse.
A common misconception about pornography is that it is just people having sex on camera. However, in mainstream pornography violence is now the norm, with men inflicting violence and abuse against women who are forced to submit to body-punishing and humiliating sex acts. A 2010 study of the fifty most popular pornographic DVD titles found that 88% of scenes included violence. Of these, 95% depicted violence against women by men.
One need look no further than the industry’s own Adult Video News website to see the best-selling pornographic films to see sexualized violence against women, misogyny, incest and pseudo-child pornography in titles like the following: (Warning, graphic)
Deep Ass f*cking with young girls Gape Me 2 Daughter Does Daddy I wanna buttf*ck your daughter 16
The plot synopsis for each of these films lists the body punishing, humiliating sex acts inflicted on women including anal sex, cumshots (men ejaculating on women’s faces), multiple penetrations and ATM (Ass To Mouth, anal sex immediately followed by fellatio). These acts are designed do maximum physical damage to the woman. The damage to the female performers is often the drawcard, with descriptive phrases such as “red, glistening anal prolapse”, “gaping buttholes”, “prolapsing rectum”, “with her ass impaled on his boner”.
One of the judges on The Sex Factor is Miriam Weeks (aka Belle Knox, the Duke Porn Star.) Despite claims of empowerment, behind-the-scenes footage shows Weeks being choked, slapped and abused during filming. You can view a slightly censored version here- Warning, distressing content.
Activist Shelley Lubben, who exited the porn industry, exposed the abuse of women in the porn industry in this secret footage taken on a porn set. You can view a slightly censored video here- Warning, distressing content.
Many women who have exited the pornography industry have opened up and shared their experiences of body punishing sex acts, brutal physical abuse and injuries so severe they required surgery.
Female Performers recount incidents of physical violence against them in pornography.
”My first movie I was treated very rough by 3 guys. They pounded on me, gagged me with their penises, and tossed me around like I was a ball! I was sore, hurting and could barely walk. My insides burned and hurt so badly. I could barely pee and to try to have a bowel movement was out of the question. I was hurting so bad from the physical abuse from these 3 male porn stars.” -Alexa Milano Read more here.
”Guys punching you in the face. You have semen from many guys all over your face, in your eyes. You get ripped. Your insides can come out of you. It’s never ending.” -Jersey Jaxin Read more here.
(After being whipped and caned for 35 minutes) “I’ve never received a beating like that before in my life. I have permanent scars up and down the backs of my thighs. It was all things that I had consented to, but I didn’t know quite the brutality of what was about to happen to me until I was in it.”- Alexander Read more here.
“I was crying and crying, which was not against their shooting rules. There was a male dominant and a male videographer and a female photographer. I kept looking to her to save me.”-Princess Donna Read more here.
“I got the shit kicked out of me. I was told before the video – and they said this very proudly, mind you – that in this line most of the girls start crying because they’re hurting so bad . . . I couldn’t breathe. I was being hit and choked. I was really upset, and they didn’t stop. They kept filming. You can hear me say, ‘Turn the f*cking camera off’, and they kept going.”-Regan Starr Read more here.
If you are still not convinced, you can read more stories of physical abuse to female porn performers here.
Many more performers also report rampant drug use, depression, trauma and suicide attempts.
“It was torture for seven years. I was miserable, I was lonely. I eventually turned to drugs and alcohol…to numb my pain and get me through…and attempted suicide. I knew I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out.” -Jenna Presley Read more here.
“I’m not happy… I don’t like myself at all… My whole entire body feels it when I’m doing it and… I feel so — so gross. I hung out with a lot of people in the Adult industry, everybody from contract girls to gonzo actresses. Everybody has the same problems. Everybody is on drugs. It’s an empty lifestyle trying to fill up a void.” – Belladonna Read more here.
“I became horribly addicted to heroin and crack. I overdosed at least 3 times, had tricks pull knives on me, have been beaten half to death.” -Becca Brat Read more here.
”I honestly felt that if I had to have another strange man in my face, his hands (God knows where they’ve been all over me) him calling me his baby and having to exude some sort of forged passion for the world to see, I probably would have exploded. And what would have been stuck to the walls would have probably been nothing, just pieces of skin, bone, the brain of a robot, and what would have been left of what would have existed once as a huge and warm heart.”-Ashlyn Brooke Read more here.
Others still reported catching incurable STIs.
”After only 30 movies I caught two sexually transmitted diseases. Herpes, a non-curable disease and HPV, which led to cervical cancer where I had to have half of my cervix removed. Porn destroyed my life.”- Roxy Read more here.
”As for myself, I ended up paying the price from working in the porn industry. In 2006, not even 9 months in, I caught a moderate form of dysplasia of the cervix (which is a form of HPV, a sexually transmitted disease) and later that day, I also found out I was pregnant. I had only 1 choice which was to abort the baby during my first month. It was extremely painful emotionally and physically. When it was all over, I cried my eyes out.”-Tamra Toryn Read more here.
Given the horrific, abusive and even criminal treatment of female performers, why would entry into the pornography industry be a prize? Who is really winning here?
This year I’ve had the privilege of addressing a few thousand medical professionals at one-day seminars run by Health Ed around the country, most recently in Brisbane. My subject: ‘Is pornography becoming a public health issue?’ I’m finding it interesting that where it seemed only a few of us were once saying this, now there are eminent bodies coming to the same conclusion. This is encouraging – if significant medical bodies are recognising the problem, perhaps it will be taken seriously and more resources provided to address it. The British Medical Journal has just reported on a UK conference on the issue. And there’s also a piece in the Edmonton Journal by a Canadian psychologist of the harms of online pornography and the destructive impact of the sex industry.
Internet Pornography is an urgent public health issue, conference hears
…[Pamela Luna, a governing councillor of the American Public Health Association] who co-chairs the American Public Health Association’s film festival, said that girls who were being systematically recruited by the hard core pornography industry all over the world were discarded and left “mentally and emotionally wrecked,” as highlighted in one of the films, Hot Girls Wanted. She said that public health professionals should do more to prevent this happening, by using the media to exert a positive influence on young people’s behaviour, strengthen resilience, and deter young people from risky behaviours.
“We have to look at the media, we have to understand it, we have to use it in a way that’s powerful, we have to have our voices heard, we need to be advising on films, we need to be there—we can’t sit back,” she said.
Peter Donnelly, professor of public health medicine at St Andrew’s University, Scotland, said that the “very violent and denigrating” nature of much internet pornography was a deep concern. He said, “All males need to think very carefully about their use of pornography, because if there’s no market, you begin to change this. What you hear in the films and from other young men you speak to is they’re not sure what it is to be a young man these days, and they need help in expressing their masculinity in a way that feels constructive and comfortable.” Read full article.
‘Pornification of Culture a Threat’
…The commercialization of human sexuality is pervasive, and I believe the primary force driving this is online pornography, which shapes child and adolescent sexual identity and attitudes toward female and male sexual roles.
In a recent longitudinal study of American youth aged 10 to 15, 19 to 27 per cent reported exposure to X-rated material in the past 12 months. A recent review of the research observed that “consistent findings have emerged linking adolescent use of pornography that depicts violence with increased degrees of sexually aggressive behaviour” and that “research suggests that adolescents who use pornography, especially that found on the Internet, have lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, higher levels of delinquent behaviour, higher incidence of depressive symptoms and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers.”
This “pornification of culture” — the seepage of pornographic images, language, behaviours and attitudes into popular cultural forms such as advertising, music and films — is rolling through our society like a tsunami. Unless we openly acknowledge, understand and resist this disturbing trend, the issue of where, how and when men pay for sex will simply be an afterthought.
As a psychotherapist, I specialize in supporting women and men as they recover from working on the streets, in body rub parlours, brothels and as escorts. In the 12 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve found the vast majority grow up in desperation and deprivation, and become ensnared as adolescents within an exploitative machine that deepens their degradation and stigmatization. I have yet to meet anyone who truly and freely chose selling sex services as a preferred way of life.” Read full article.
The human rights organisation has forgotten the importance of procedural human rights
Prostitution is not just an intellectual concept to many participants in the debate; it comes with real memories, trauma, smells, sights and feelings. It is a ‘debate’ felt in the body, and survivors of all kinds of sexual violence can come away from the discussion shell shocked
The ‘controversy’ and ‘battle’ over prostitution and pornography that prevails in public debate and academia might be fun for some. For those who haven’t been prostituted, whether or not one stands in solidarity with survivors or ‘sex workers’, the debate might be an engaging intellectual challenge that gives life meaning and purpose.
The terms of argument and rebuttal on the issue are certainly rigorous and potentially invigorating for some involved as bystanders. Some of these bystanders might even be stimulated at the sight of prostitution survivors vs. ‘sex workers’ battling it out in public, like a mud-wrestling match.
Discussion on ideas and policy approaches to prostitution and pornography touches on issues of life and death for millions of people around the world. Sexual violence, mental illness, drug addiction, disease and suicide are primary factors of consideration, no matter what policy approach is favoured.
Even those of us not prostituted may understand we are participating in a discussion that has serious human consequences. We might be in awe of survivors who speak out in their own names and mobilise and educate the public on their own behalf. We might want to support and facilitate their work at every opportunity.
And so we should. In fact, the lives of millions of women and girls around the world depend on us doing so. But I think our commitment to public debate on prostitution and pornography needs to be backed by an equal commitment to safeguarding the human rights of the population at issue in the conduct of this debate, whether they call themselves survivors or ‘sex workers’.
We might begin to protect these procedural human rights through encouraging forms of public engagement that do not pit prostitution survivors against ‘sex workers’. The unedifying sight of bystanders taking sides and cheering on survivors and ‘sex workers’ as they battle it out in public is surely something to be avoided on human rights grounds.
Prostitution is not just an intellectual concept to many participants in the debate; it comes with real memories, trauma, smells, sights and feelings. It is a ‘debate’ felt in the body, and survivors of all kinds of sexual violence can come away from the discussion shell shocked.
Regardless of whether these participants take a survivor or ‘sex worker’ view, the harms are the same, and can be serious. They are particularly serious when deniers of the harms of prostitution publicly attack survivors as ‘weak’ or ‘ill-suited’, and blame them for their trauma.
Amnesty International recently set up its own mud-wrestling match on prostitution when it sought feedback from members worldwide on a series of ‘policy background’ documents that canvassed the possibility of organisational support for decriminalising the sex industry and its customers.
Rhetorically, the consultation process was framed as a discussion about support for decriminalising people in prostitution, but there is almost no-one in the organisation who disagrees with this suggestion, and this was the existing policy of the organisation anyway, so this framing was just a red herring.
Rather, the consultation process sought to gauge membership resistance to the idea of supporting the ‘human rights’ of prostitution buyers. The mud-wrestling match that ensued was predictable, and should have been anticipated by Amnesty International. It caused prostitution survivors a great deal of time, money, energy and heartache in trying to convince the world that buying prostitution is not a human right.
Amnesty International paid no mind to this cost that would be worn by survivors when it lobbed its volley on prostitution into the international arena. The organisation did no advance groundwork to strengthen or support prostitution survivor organisations so they might be less burdened by the consultation process, nor did the organisation put in any structural safeguards or checks to make sure the consultation process wouldn’t unreasonably impose harm on survivors. There was no training or education of AI members in human rights approaches to engaging with survivors or ‘sex workers’, nor was the organisation even apparently aware of the existence of international prostitution survivor organisations before embarking on the consultation.
Amnesty members worldwide have no doubt benefited from the consultation process and all the knowledge and awareness of the ‘debate’ on prostitution it has brought them. But these benefits to members have come at the cost of prostitution survivors and ‘sex workers’. Amnesty International is a human rights organisation, but it forgot about the importance of procedural human rights.
A human rights approach to engagement with oppressed, tortured, violated and vulnerable populations does not further disadvantage these populations in the process, nor does it use these populations as tools of education and awareness about human rights issues. Amnesty did not uphold this important principle in its recent ‘consultation’ on prostitution, and for this the organisation needs act. The current consultation needs to be dismantled, and a new process respecting procedural human rights put in place.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and member of Amnesty Australia.
There is no excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings
People have been asking me my thoughts on the recent and sad reports that Somaly Mam’s story of being trafficked into prostitution as a child are not true.
I know many good people who have selflessly supported Mam’s work in Cambodia for many years. I commend them and know their fund raising efforts have done much good. My view is that while the founder of any movement or organisation can be flawed, the movement itself, when it is good and necessary, should not rise or fall because of the faults of its founder. This article by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women’s Taina Bien-Aime in the Huffington Post captures my broader thoughts on the matter.
The Somaly Mam Story: What We Still Know About Sex Trafficking
…What the Somaly Mam story highlights is a state of affairs that many of us in the social change movement bemoan, namely that simple stories of exploitation rarely grab the public’s imagination, the donors, or the press. Unless the overdone images of runny noses, torn clothing, or worse, naked children in a cage waiting to be sold, are splashed on glossy pages, the actual suffering of human beings too often fails to trigger widespread empathy or outrage.
In addition to this heightened need for sensationalism, our society craves numbers. Suffering in small quantities is rarely enough. Given the undercover and “hidden in plain sight” crimes of human trafficking, no entity has been definitively able to pin down the actual number of victims. From the United Nations to national statistics, the numbers range widely from 2.5 million to 20.9 million. Irrespective of the range, all agree that the majority of those estimated individuals are women and children with a majority of that group ending up in the sex trade. In a recent report, the International Labor Organization estimated that profits from human trafficking generated $150 billion, two-thirds of which, or $90 billion, stem from commercial sexual exploitation.
Cambodia is designated as a source, transit and destination country for labor and sex trafficking. The U.S. State Department also found that the sale of virgin women and girls continues to be a problem and that Cambodian men form the “largest source of demand for child prostitution.” Regardless of its founder’s personal failings, the Somaly Mam Foundation has plenty of urgent work ahead.
In collaboration with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, Dr. Melissa Farley, of Prostitution Research and Education, interviewed 133 Cambodian men who purchased commercial sex. The study shows that almost all of these male buyers interviewed in Phnom Penh stated that they witnessed extreme violence inflicted on the prostituted women, more often than not controlled by pimps. The men surveyed also saw children available for paid sexual abuse in brothels, bars and massage parlors. One of the “johns” astutely said that “prostitution is the man’s heaven but it is also those girls’ hell.”
The Somaly Mam episode cannot be used as an excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings in the sex trade. Nor should it be a vehicle to call, as some mainstream human rights organizations are doing, for the full decriminalization of the sex industry, the equivalent of legalization of prostitution. A vision to end human rights abuses must be applicable to every person whose rights are trampled, including women sold and exploited in the sex trade. The right not to be prostituted cannot be trumped by the purported right of men to purchase women’s bodies. The history of the women’s movement to end violence shows time and again the difficulty for a violated woman, whether in domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape or discrimination, to be heard, to be believed, to receive justice…
These undeniable facts certainly do not condone fabrication, but the revelations about Somaly Mam cannot erase the horrors of the sex trade and the growing movement of genuine, courageous survivors exposing these truths. The misguided excuses to ignore this reality by promoting legitimization of exploitation, including identifying sex trafficked children as “sex workers”, must continue to be met with vigilance and concerted action.
Indigenous women and girls will be more vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking if Amnesty’s draft policy is endorsed
Petitioning International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty
Recognise that Amnesty International’s draft Policy on Prostitution endorses condone and promote the violation of human rights if passed at the Australian National AGM.
Abolish Prostitution Now
A PLEA FROM AN AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS WOMAN ON BEHALF OF ALL WOMEN
Dear Sisters, survivors and allies,
I am speaking as an exited prostituted woman and the grand-daughter of a Latje-Latje Indigenous woman in Australia. As many of you are aware Amnesty International have drafted a policy in favour of full decriminalisation of prostitution. They are actively opposing the Nordic Model which protects the prostituted from prosecution and decreases demand in favour of a policy which has been informed by the sex trade and one notable pimp.
Indigenous peoples are the most exploited peoples on Earth.
AI’s policy on prostitution seeks to ensure that the buying and selling of (mostly) women be seen as inevitable and just any other job. ‘Sex Worker ‘unions claiming to be helping prostituted women are actively promoting AI’s policy ensuring they too profit from our enslavement.
Many of you have written/co-signed letters from survivor groups and written as individuals
These have been an invaluable resource.
At this time here in Australia, a small and dedicated team have taken on our local Amnesty International branches. We have had some success, with two AI branches endorsing the Nordic Model and one calling for a halt on the policy until survivor’s voices have been heard.
However, we are soon going to take this to a National AGM and ask that you lend your support.
The pro-prostitution lobby is fierce, well-funded and we need your help.
I want to deliver a letter signed by Indigenous women worldwide.
Prostitution is not inevitable. Women are not commodities.
I ask that add your name, whether survivor or ally, after mine to our letter written below. This National AGM is taking place July 5-6 so we have very little time to collect signatures.
With sincere respect I ask that you support us in this significant time of change for women.
In solidarity and Sisterhood,
Simone Andrea (Watson) of Abolish Prostitution Now Amnesty Action
“To the International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty
We the undersigned demand recognition for the violation of human rights Amnesty International’s current draft Policy on Prostitution will endorse condone and promote if passed at the Australian National AGM.
As Indigenous survivors and allies of our Indigenous sisters worldwide we fully and without reservation demand that AI acknowledge on our behalf
* That Prostitution is not inevitable – but the result of demand
*That prostitution IS violence against women
*That trafficking and prostitution are NOT two different industries but each feed the other
* That AI’s current draft policy focuses on “harm minimization” and profit for pimps rather than prevention of our abuse and this is NOT acceptable.
* That full decriminalisation and legalisation of prostitution increases trafficking and further violence against Indigenous women and children.
*That in passing this current draft policy Amnesty International will go down in history as one of the worst offenders in human rights history along with colonialists, slave owners and human rights criminals.
*That Amnesty International concedes and thereby endorses the Nordic Model as the best way forward to end ongoing human rights violations against women as a caste globally.
Indigenous women of Australia and globally reject AI’s policy in its current form and demand that our voices be heard.
International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty, President
Simone Watson, Petition promoter
Recognise that Amnesty International’s current draft Policy on Prostitution will endorse condone and promote the violation of human rights if passed at the Australian National AGM.
Rodger was very clear about the reasoning behind his violence. In a video posted online before the shooting, he says:
For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires. All because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, but never to me. I’m 22-years-old and still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college, for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous.
College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime because I don’t know what you don’t see in me.
This is male entitlement. You’re looking at it.
Rodger was so enraged that he had not been given that which he deserves, as a man — sexual access to women — that he killed.
In a world wherein men learn they not only deserve, but have the right to women’s bodies, Rodger’s behaviour isn’t really all that surprising. From the time they are young, boys are offered women’s bodies. They are provided with pornography, told that this is what women are for: your eyes, your pleasure, your dick. Read more.
The male orgasm is unimaginably trivial in comparison to the human rights devastation that prostitution inflicts on whole swathes of the globe’s female population, writes Caroline Norma.
Amnesty International ran a Stop Violence Against Women campaign between 2004 and 2010 to hold governments to account “for their failure to protect women” and urge them “to live up to their duty to stop this violence”.
The organisation during this time lobbied hard for governments around the world to take a strong stand on issues like domestic violence, child marriage, reproductive rights, sexual violence in war, and the history of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’.
During the same period, though, Amnesty’s international secretariat was lobbied internally by some of its own branches to take a stand on issues of ‘men’s rights’. In particular, some of its UK members wanted the organisation to stand up for men’s right to buy women for prostitution.
News of this lobbying reached members only last year when the international secretariat released a series of ‘policy background’ documents intended to, it retrospectively explained, invite discussion among members globally on the issue of ‘prostitution and human rights’. Exactly whose human right to prostitution was at issue for the organisation was, however, made clear by the secretariat in its Decriminalization of Sex Work: Policy Background Document (2013):
Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfil that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health.
The push by some Amnesty branches to recommend the organisation stand up for prostitution buyers came at a time when the ‘right’ to buy a human being for sex was being challenged worldwide. From 1999, a number of countries legislated against the buying of people for prostitution. Sweden, South Korea, Norway, and Iceland criminalised the activities of prostitution buyers, and it was looking likely that France and Ireland would similarly penalise sex industry customers. This criminalisation of sex industry customers was an historically unprecedented way of making policy on prostitution, known as the ‘Nordic’ approach. This withdrawal from men of their longstanding legal right to buy women unsurprisingly attracted resistance and criticism worldwide, including from Amnesty branches. Read more
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