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Erotic Service Providers Union Seeks To Legalize Hooking In San Francisco

Illustration for article titled Erotic Service Providers Union Seeks To Legalize Hooking In San Francisco

There is a bill that will be on the ballot this fall in San Francisco, backed by the Erotic Service Providers Union [ESPU], which seeks to end the criminalization of prostitution and solicitation. Newsweek quotes a statement released by the ESPU's Maxine Doogan earlier this month: "Criminalizing sex workers has been putting workers at risk of violence and discrimination for far too long," Doogan said, and added that criminalizing prostitution is "a futile effort to police consensual sex between adults." Mayor Gavin Newsom and the SF DA Kamala D. Harris don't really buy what Doogan's selling. Harris said, "To suggest that this is somehow an issue that only involves consensual adults, that's just not true. No matter how these girls and women are packaged for sale, the reality is that for many of them, their life experience is often wrought with abuse and exploitation."And much of the research backs Harris's opinion. Newsweek noted a comprehensive study of prostitution in the places where it's legal (including Nevada) and found that "illegal prostitution, as well as the number of rapes and assaults against prostitutes, has increased. Farley also found that more than 80 percent of the women working as prostitutes in Nevada's legal brothels 'urgently want to escape.'" A compromise seems to be scaling back the penalties on the prostitutes and increasing the sentences for johns, which is something San Francisco is already doing with its First Offender Prostitution Program, which Newsweek describes as "like traffic school for drivers with too many speeding tickets." People who are arrested for soliciting sex can opt to pay $1,000 and attend the FOPP workshops which are a "a series of 'scared straight' talks about the ills of prostitution mixed with some seriously graphic sexual-health education." Schools like this have a pretty decent track record, according to Newsweek, "recidivism rates of those who completed "Johns school" were 30 percent less likely to be rearrested for soliciting sex than were men who did not opt for the program." On the one hand, I have no moral opposition to the idea of people selling and buying consensual sex, but knowing the statistics, how could you vote in favor of a law that could increase human trafficking? A School For Johns [Newsweek]


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I'm actually writing a paper right now in favour of decriminalising prostitution. This is an issue that's really close to me, and some of the views expressed on this thread shock me.

'Working... isn't always fun and it isn't always safe, but this danger is not inherent in sex work; it is the product of a problematic set of beliefs about sex work and sex workers. The ideology of sexual repression, in its manifestations as Christian guilt, psychological sublimation, or the deferred gratification of the capitalist work ethic, underlies the pervasive threat of violence against sex workers. (...) This measure of morality is based on a view of sex as uniquely intimate and of sex work as "fundamental sale of self." ('Live Sex Acts', Chapkis, 71) Wendy Chapkis rejects this assumption, reviewing the work of Karl Marx on the alienation of all labour under capitalism, as well as that of Arlie Hochschild on the emotional labour of flight attendants. Chapkis proposes that the hysterical perception of sex work as a form of abuse stems from an artificial connection between sexual practise and the deep essence of one's identity:

The respect given to emotional labour in the theater, a psychotherapist's office, or a day-care center rarely extends to the brothel. Just as day-care workers or psychotherapists who sell nurturing and empathy may still be able to summon similar feelings for a loved one outside of the workplace. Hochschild suggests that flight attendant who put on a smile along with the uniform are still able to express genuine delight off the job. In the same way, sex workers who sell sexual services may be fully capable of accessing these feelings for noninstrumental ends. The common assumption that this is otherwise is partly due to the special status assigned sexual feeling, especially in women's lives. ('Live Sex Acts', Chapkis, 79 &80)

Deeming sexuality "special" may connote romance, fantasy, and fairy tale, but it operates in real womens lives to limit how we may deploy our sexual bodies, inscribing our sexual bodies as the locus of potential loss, something to defend and disguise. (Johnson, Merri Lisa. "Stripper Bashing: An Autovideography of Violence Against Strippers." In Flesh For Fantasy, ed R. Danielle Egan, Katherine Frank, and Merri Lisa Johnson, 160-161, NY, NY, Thunders Mouth Press, 2006)