PODCAST: ‘Prostitution: Not a job, not a choice’ – A talk by Janice Raymond

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In this episode we hear a talk by Prof. Janice Raymond called: “Prostitution: Not a Job, Not a Choice.” This talk was recorded on November 30, 2013 as part of the annual Montreal Massacre Memorial event organized by Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter.

Janice Raymond is professor emerita of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her most recent book is called “Not a Choice, Not a Job: Exposing the Myths about Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.”

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Eliza

    Thank you so much for posting this podcast, I’m so grateful this is available for those of us that were unable to attend! The bill for this was loaded with interesting round tables and guest speakers, would you happen to know if there are any other recording or transcripts available?

  • Henke

    I thought for a while regarding this pro-prostitution claim that having it illegal forces women in prostitution indoors and into an more unsafe environment.
    That argument by itself should be reason enough to stop supporting prostitution not advocate for it.

    • sporenda

      Thanks Meghan for this very interesting talk.
      Janice Raymond debunks lots of prostitution myths with solid facts and arguments, and I am definitely going to quote them when I have to debate prostitution.

  • amberb

    As a sex worker, (one of the class she mentions who are outspoken regarding our opinions and rights within our industry), I found the talk quite interesting.

    One issue she doesn’t really cover is that of financials. In regard to the models where the government is paying for what amounts to ‘exit strategies’, how high are the taxes in order to provide for these services? How long will the programs be funded, and are they funded enough for the large influx in clients to all receive appropriate care and training? What if the working persons involved are found to be beyond help regarding job education, and are so racked by drug abuse they can’t function in a more-structured job position? Obviously I’m assuming the government is providing rehab programs, but what happens after rehab when the women still can’t function as workers?

    Furthermore, I wonder about the long-term efficacy of such a solution. I’ve seen many women choose to exit the profession and enter the day-job world, only to intentionally return to sex work a matter of months or years later. The bottom line is that though women may feel empowered knowing they have more skills or training than just sex work, no career will provide even close to the level of income that sex work provides. When women are used to making hundreds to thousands of dollars for a few hours’ work, that entry level $20/hr full-time position (or worse, the $7 fast-food job they may have been trained for) isn’t quite appealing. It seems like a great way for people to enter the cycle of the welfare system and stay there- or become frustrated with the lack of results and simply go back to the career they know will make them money.

    Yes, I do realize that those trapped and coerced into the sex work system may not have high rates for their time and services, and that they often are forced to give part or all of their earnings to their drivers or pimps. However, I do think (from experience knowing them) that these women are attached to the first number (“I made $1500 today”) rather than the second (“my take-home pay was $600”). A comparatively small check with taxes removed would prove to be quite a shock for those women, and they might simply go back to sex work or related work after being frustrated for long enough.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “One issue she doesn’t really cover is that of financials. In regard to the models where the government is paying for what amounts to ‘exit strategies’, how high are the taxes in order to provide for these services? How long will the programs be funded, and are they funded enough for the large influx in clients to all receive appropriate care and training? What if the working persons involved are found to be beyond help regarding job education, and are so racked by drug abuse they can’t function in a more-structured job position? Obviously I’m assuming the government is providing rehab programs, but what happens after rehab when the women still can’t function as workers?”

      Sweden has a very strong welfare state. As a result, poverty isn’t really an issue there — not in the same way it is in the US and Canada. If you want a socialist state, you will need to pay taxes, I’m afraid. Actually, if you want any kind of society wherein everything isn’t completely privatized (which, if you look to the US as an example, is a nightmare, especially for the lower classes), you need to pay taxes. If you have concerns about paying taxes, vote for Rob Ford, he hates them too.

      Regarding the programs — they are funded forever. It’s part of the system. Free therapy for prostituted women isn’t going anywhere in Sweden. People who are ‘racked by drug abuse’ would be supported by the state, just like everyone else who can’t get by or work is supported by the state. This is how we make egalitarian societies.

      Canada could easily adopt the same model and firm up their social safety nets if they chose to. It just a matter of priorities.

      • amberb

        That’s great for Sweden- good on ’em! I’m fully supportive of paying high taxes for good social services; however, my concern was more founded on my countrypersons not being willing to shell out more of their income to help others, particularly sex workers, I’m sure. I just don’t think it would fly, or maybe it would, but temporarily and not strongly enough. I can’t vote for a Canadian candidate as I am not Canadian.

        Regardless, though I’m glad the women will be/are supported, I’m still not sure how many of them will want to live on welfare or working entry-level full-time jobs for very long vs. going back to making lots of money and working less hours for it. Plus the ones who are drug addicts would then have police/social services alerted to the drug issues, and if they go back to using would then be much more likely to be arrested because of monitoring. It seems easier to keep their habits secret. Obviously I’m not advocating any drug use- just wondering about the longevity of a system that may still have some kinks like that to work out and possibly not as many long-term perks for the ex-workers as they would like. There very well could be a period after which reality sets in for these women and they realize they preferred their old lives (those who weren’t coerced into it, of course).

        • Meghan Murphy

          “my concern was more founded on my countrypersons not being willing to shell out more of their income to help others, particularly sex workers, I’m sure. I just don’t think it would fly, or maybe it would, but temporarily and not strongly enough.”

          Hmm… Well then we won’t ever have a socialist system and we will never resolve poverty/economic inequality, I suppose. Is that what you’re saying?

          “Plus the ones who are drug addicts would then have police/social services alerted to the drug issues, and if they go back to using would then be much more likely to be arrested because of monitoring. It seems easier to keep their habits secret.”

          What?? That doesn’t even happen here. There are support systems (though not nearly enough) for people dealing with addiction and mental health issues in Vancouver. What makes you think that doesn’t exist in Sweden?

          • amberb

            I’m not sure where you’d get some sort of defeatist mentality from anything I’ve said. I particularly mention that what they’re doing is great for the workers. I wish my country could head that direction and I hope it does, and my votes all say it should (and I vote in every national and local election). Why would I even bother to write anything if my position was “well, it will always be like this, things will always be terrible for someone, so who cares”? What you’re implying doesn’t even make sense.

            I’m simply asking questions- pointing out things that may need to be developed in the system, which I think would make it more successful for the countries who choose to go this direction. Don’t you think we should all work toward these solutions (by raising additional concerns, for one) in your socialist dream world?

  • Me

    The reality is that people in countries where they “don’t pay taxes” are getting seriously ripped off. Though it’s always presented as if it’s the other way around.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Exactly. Not paying taxes is not a good thing. Then there would be no social safety net, no public services, no public education, no health care, etc etc

      • Oh yes, and in Sweden, that is one of the countries that uses the nordic model regarding prositution. Lowering taxes and privatize as much as you possibly can is what happens right now. the American capitalist model that “everyone” has bought with hook, line and sink throughout the western world is on the rise and poverty and what have you is on the rise, though if you listen to political leaders from Sweden they say we have no poverty, we have no classes of poor and rich. Its such bullcrap that I don’t know where to begin.
        Sweden ain’t what it used to be that’s for sure.

  • julia

    I became against prostitution after reading activist Samantha Berg. Before I just had a liberal attitude and didn’t think about it too deeply.
    While I have been quiet privelaged, here in the U.S., never to have had to think about doing it, the women I know who are for it (‘sex worker’ camp) have had to. One even complained about the city taking a foruteen year old boy out of prostitution, because he was doing ‘so well’.

    It’s hard to be honest about where I stand when I talk to other women , as I’m sure I offended one new friend who then told me she did it many years ago. I think she feels a mix of guilt and justification. I admire the Swedish model, although the US will never adopt anything like it.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog and for standing firm.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’ve learned a lot from Sam Berg’s excellent work, too 🙂

    • Well that made my week, thank you julia, mostly for your honesty in those toughest of times staying true to what you believe when speaking with women you know.

  • I’m afraid I have to burst Janice Raymond’s bubble.

    The cited “government study” is the November 2007 report that was published by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) of South Korea, but produced by KWDI, the Korean Women’s Development Institute, and its research methodology seems questionable, to put it mildly.

    The report, that’s only available in Korean, is titled: “National Survey on the current conditions of the Sex Trade in Korea”. KWDI chose altogether 8 business types from government registries of businesses they suspected as most likely to facilitate transactional sex. Those were: serviced pubs, clubs, smaller pubs, tea and coffee houses, noraebangs (karaoke places), barber shops, massage parlours, and beauty shops/wellness places.

    People living or working in the red light districts were interviewed and the findings were based on their impressions. That’s entirely random and unscientific.

    The cited 56% decrease only refers to the number of red light districts they managed to locate. Not even the number of businesses – just the number of red light districts, some of which disappear because of gentrification. Adding to that is of course the influence the internet has had on the sex industry.

    The numbers in the KWDI report don’t always add up either.

    The report states: 39 red light districts, 1443 brothels, 3644 sex workers, 2,510,000 clients per year, 5.8 clients per brothel/per day on average. But if you multiply 5.8 x 1443 x 365 (days = 1 year), you get over 3,054,831 client visits, a discrepancy of over 500,000.

    It probably explains why MOGEF stated they don’t take any responsibility for the figures in the report.

    With regards to the assistance package: according to the government, the bare minimum to live on in South Korea are 600,000 won for a 1 person household. If it’s 3 person household (e.g. single parent + 2 kids), it’s 1,300,000 won. However, people who are on those 600,000 government benefit deals also receive medical and educational support as well as TV license fees.

    This 400,000 won subsidy is a joke. If people were willing to exit prostitution/sex work, they still wouldn’t be able to with that kind of “assistance”. As a comparison: 1,080,000 Won is what a person would earn (before taxes) on minimum wage.

    Since Raymond seems to take an interest in public opinion, why not look at the survey conducted by the Hyundai Research Institute in April 2011. It examined “the changes in public opinions on sex trade after the enactment of the Anti-Trade Sex Law” in South Korea based on interviews with 1,000 adults from different age groups and all walks of life in a nationwide telephone survey.

    The survey revealed that 23.2% of respondents believed sex trade* had increased since the enactment of Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 8.9% thought it had declined. The highest percentage (49.9%) thought the law had made “no difference”.

    While 29.3% of the respondents thought, the abolition of red-light districts had a positive impact on efforts to eradicate sex trade, in most respondent groups, the percentage of those who felt it had neither a positive nor a negative impact was higher. In addition, 58.8% believed that covert sex trade had increased since the enactment of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 7.4% said it had decreased (No difference: 24.9%).

    46.1% of respondents answered that the number of sex workers travelling to work abroad had increased since the enactment of law, while 3.3% said the number had decreased. (No difference: 21.3%, Do not know/Unanswered: 29.3%)

    These answers clearly indicate that the majority of respondents did not view the implementation of the Anti-Sex Trade Law as effective in reducing sex trade. It comes as no surprise then that 39.6% of the respondents did not agree that the law had been implemented in accordance with its original purpose and that 73.3% said the law should be reformed, mirroring what sex workers in South Korea have been campaigning for ever since the law was introduced.

    If you wish to continue reading and learn more about South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law, you can start here http://wp.me/p294H2-Tc

  • sporenda

    “These answers clearly indicate that the majority of respondents did not view the implementation of the Anti-Sex Trade Law as effective in reducing sex trade”.

    It’s downright idiotic to pretend that a public opinion poll can provide reliable figures on prostitution: the (wo)man in the street is in no way the ultimate authority on prostitution.

    In this poll, basically regular people are asked questions about things they don’t know anything about.
    So they resort to vague impressions, rumors and popular myths to answer.
    And what you get is BS.

    if you want reliable answers to these questions, these are not the people to go to, nor the right people to do the job, and the methodology should be drastically different.

    Finding these figures is a job for sociologists, asking questions to prostitutes, policemen, juges, social workers etc. And the result is called a study.

    • “It’s downright idiotic to pretend that a public opinion poll can provide reliable figures on prostitution”

      What the report by the Hyundai Research Institute showed – and nothing else I had suggested – was how the majority of respondents who participated in the survey viewed the implementation of the Anti-Sex Trade Law. The key word is “viewed”. Nobody claimed this was a “reliable figure on prostitution”.

      Janice Raymond, however, cites a government study where firstly, she doesn’t even know who actually conducted it – not the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) but the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI), and MOGEF did not take responsibility for the figures provided in the report – and where she secondly claims there to be “a 56% decrease in women in prostitution” and a decrease “by about 40%” of “the number of sex districts”, when actually, these figures were based on counting businesses “suspected” as most likely to facilitate transactional sex and asking people living or working in red light districts about the “impressions” they had. (And let’s not forget that the numbers didn’t even add up.)

      You wrote: “the (wo)man in the street is in no way the ultimate authority on prostitution”

      I would agree. But how is it then that you wrote earlier that “Janice Raymond debunks lots of prostitution myths with solid facts and arguments”and that you were “definitely going to quote them when [you] have to debate prostitution”?

      What KWDI did was to ask the very same “wo(man) in the street” and what you get there you described quite correctly as “vague impressions, rumors and popular myths”.

      It is interesting then, that if a sex worker organisation commissions a research institute to do a survey you denounce their results as “idiotic”, but when a government body commissions a research institute to do a survey, you call their results “solid facts”.

      Could it perhaps be that you are just a little bit biased because the “facts” that Janice Raymond quoted suit your opinion? Thank you very much for proving a point.

      If you like to learn what sex workers in South Korea think about the law, you could start by taking a quick look here: http://tinyurl.com/9f2fpxn

  • E.S.

    Can I just point out: prostitution does not equal sex trafficking.
    All I’m hearing from this speech are stories of those forced into the trade. That’s what’s the problem. That’s what should be illegal. To “abolish” prostitution all together would not make sense. It can almost be compared to factory workers vs those forced to work in sweatshops. Sweatshops are the problem in that scenario. Should we abolish any kind of factory work all together?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Trafficking and prostitution are inextricably linked. Kajsa Ekis Ekman explains how in this interview: http://feministcurrent.com/8514/being-and-being-bought-an-interview-with-kajsa-ekis-ekman/

      • Ok. I can understand that argument. But it still wouldn’t make sense to abolish prostitution altogether. They just need to target the traffickers. Of course, that’s much easier said than done. But what isn’t? It’d at least be a start.

        • Meghan Murphy

          So it’s ok to prostitute some women but not others? It’s ok for some men to exploit and abuse some women but not others? How do you decide?

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