Category Archives: pornography

Important voices: Lisa Chavez and Liz Derrington tell their stories

A couple of days ago I posted about some stories we’re following on Sex In The Public Square dot Org. One of those stories was about a conflict in the English department of University of New Mexico over the investigation of Lisa Chavez, associate professor who also worked for a BDSM phone sex service where one of her graduate students and a former graduate student also worked. The investigation was apparently instigated by a colleague who felt that there was an improper relationship between Chavez and the graduate student, because they were photographed together for an advertisement for the phone sex service. The investigation did not find any impropriety, but some of Chavez’s colleagues are still pressing for sanctions.

Lisa Chavez and Liz Derrington, the graduate student who had been in the photograph, both tell their stories on Sex in the Public Square dot Org, and I am grateful to them both for their openness and their courage.

Click here to read my interview with Lisa Chavez.

Click here to read Liz Derrington’s story.

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Filed under BDSM, News and politics, pornography, public discourse, sex, Sex in the Public Square, sex work, sexuality

Some recent blogging from Sex In The Public Square (dot org)

I realize I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ve been spending all my time either at work or over at Sex In The Public Square (dot org). If you enjoy my blogging that’s a good place to look for me these days. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to over there, here are some glimpses:

A very strange story about a sexual assault case

Amber Rhea sent me a link to a news story about a very bizarre ruling in a sexual assault case. It is a strange story and I’m wondering if it has been accurately reported. It sounds too awful to be true. If it is being accurately reported, it is beyond outrageous.Here is what we can know based on the news story:

Melanie Ross alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Daniel Day at his Mercer University fraternity house in 2003. (According to the article, Day comes from a powerful Georgia family. His father is Burke Day, a State Rep and he is of the Days Inn Days.)

Melanie Ross is brought a civil suit against Day because of the assault.

A Bibb County judge ruled in the civil suit that the lacerations she had did not prove rape, and that she needed to provide a list of her sex partners because “only virgins can bring a case for sexual battery in civil court.” In addition, she was ordered to pay $150,000 of Day’s attorney fees. (READ MORE at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

When is it okay for faculty and students to be sexual in the same place?

If you ask it that way it’s kind of an odd question, isn’t it? I mean we’re basically sexual all the time. We just aren’t always acting on our sexual desires. But we are not without our sexuality. Still, any time personal sexuality makes itself visible in relationships like those between coworkers or between students and teachers things get very muddy very quickly

I ask the question because of this story. I read it about it first on the dankprofessor’s blog. (The dankprofessor is Barry Dank, and he writes frequently about the politics of sex on college campuses.)

Briefly the story is this:

A creative writing professor at University of New Mexico, posed on a BDSM web site in the company of at least one of of her graduate students. The web site was for an organization called People Exchanging Power, a national network of support groups for BDSM-oriented people, and for those curious about BDSM that Lisa Chavez*, the professor, learned about from two of her grad students. (The web site for the Albequerque branch does seem to focus heavily on phone fantasy exporation, as indicated in the news article.) It seems that after that, Chavez posed for some pictures that were shown on the web site, and at least one of those pictures included one of the grad students. An investigation was prompted, somehow, at the University, and the deputy provost found no use of college resources, no undue influence, no hostile environment, and no coercion. He said that while he thought she’d exercised poor judgement, that the incident “did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty’.” (Read more at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

We also have:

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Filed under BDSM, Carol Queen, Chris Hall, Daniel Day, Melanie Ross, pornography, public discourse, rape, sex, sex crimes, Sex in the Public Square

Sex in the Public Square Presents…

sex work forum banner

For one week, starting next Monday, on SexInThePublicSquare.org, we’ll be devoting a forum to that discussion of reducing harm to sex workers and ending human rights abuses involved in the movement of labor around the globe.

This is not a debate on the legitimacy of sex work but rather an exploration of how to protect people’s human rights. We’ve invited some of the smartest sex worker advocates we know — representing a range of connections to the sex industry — to talk about the intersection of these complicated issues (and also to talk about how to make them easier to discuss!).

Here’s how it’ll work:

On our forums page there will be a forum with the title “Sex Work, Trafficking, and Human Rights.” As participants post forum topics they’ll also appear here on the front page, and you’ll be able to go straight to the entire forum itself by clicking on the banner above (which will appear at the top of this column during the forum). The forum will be open, but comments strictly moderated for tone and for staying on topic. Debating the legitimacy of sex work as work is not on the agenda.

What is on the agenda? Items including but not limited to:

Defining our terms: Is the way that we define “porn” clear? “Prostitution”? “Sex work” in general? What happens when we say “porn” and mean all sexually explicit imagery made for the purpose of generating arousal and others hear “porn” as indicating just the “bad stuff” while reserving “erotica” for everything they find acceptable? When we say sex work is it clear what kinds of jobs we’re including?

Understanding our differences: How do inequalities of race, class and gender affect the sex worker rights movement? Are we effective in organizing across those differences?

Identifying common ground: What are the areas of agreement between the abolitionist/prohibitionist perspective and the human rights/harm reduction perspective? For example, we all agree that forced labor is wrong. We all agree that nonconsensual sex is wrong. Is it a helpful strategic move to by highlighting our areas of agreement and then demonstrating why a harm reduction/human rights perspective is better suited to addressing those shared concerns, or are we better served by distancing ourselves from the abolition/prohibition-oriented thinkers?

Evaluating research: What do we think of the actual research generated by prominent abolitionist/prohibitionist scholars like Melissa Farley, Gail Dines, and Robert Jensen? Can we comment on the methods they use to generate the data on which they base their analysis, and then can we comment on the logic of their conclusions based on the data they have?

Framing the issues: What are our biggest frustrations with the way that the human rights/harm reduction perspective is characterized by the abolitionist/prohibitionist folks? How can we effectively respond to or reframe this misrepresentations? What happens when “I oppose human trafficking” becomes a political shield that deflects focus away from issues of migration, labor and human rights?

Exploring broader economic questions: How does the demand for cheap labor undermine human rights-based solutions to exploitation in all industries, including the sex industry?

Participants will include:

Melissa Gira is a co-founder of the sex worker blog Bound, Not Gagged, the editor of Sexerati.com, and reports on sex for Gawker Media’s Valleywag.

Chris Hall is co-founder of Sex In The Public Square and also writes the blog Literate Perversions.

Kerwin Kay has written about the history and present of male street prostitution, and about the politics of sex trafficking. He has been active in the sex workers rights movement for some 10 years. He also edited the anthology Male Lust: Pleasure, Power and Transformation (Haworth Press, 2000) and is finishing a Ph.D. in American Studies at NYU.

Anthony Kennerson blogs on race, class, gender, politics and culture at SmackDog Chronicles, and is a regular contributor to the Blog for Pro-Porn Activism.

Antonia Levy co-chaired the international “Sex Work Matters: Beyond Divides” conference in 2006 and the 2nd Annual Feminist Pedagogy Conference in 2007. She teaches at Brooklyn College, Queens College, and is finishing her Ph.D. at the Graduate Center at CUNY.

Audacia Ray is the author of Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing In On Internet Sexploration (Seal Press, 2007), and the writer/producer/director of The Bi Apple. She blogs at WakingVixen.com hosts and edits Live Girl Review and was longtime executive editor of $pread Magazine.

Amber Rhea is a sex worker advocate, blogger, and organizer of the Sex 2.0 conference on feminism, sexuality and social media and co-founder of the Georgia Podcast Network. Her blog is Being Amber Rhea.

Ren is a sex worker advocate, a stripper, Internet porn performer, swinger, gonzo fan, BDSM tourist, blogger, history buff, feminist expatriate who blogs at Renegade Evolution. She is a founder of the Blog for Pro-porn Activism and a contributor to Bound, Not Gagged and Sex Worker Outreach Project – East.

Stacey Swimme has worked in the sex industry for 10 years. She is a vocal sex worker advocate and is a founding member of Desiree Alliance and Sex Workers Outreach Project USA.

Elizabeth Wood is co-founder of Sex In The Public Square, and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nassau Community College. She has written about gender, power and interaction in strip clubs, about labor organization at the Lusty Lady Theater, and she blogs regularly about sex and society.

To view the press release for this event, click here. Please feel free to distribute it or post it!

And for more information you can contact me via the contact form on my profile page , or at elizabeth (at) sexinthepublicsquare (dot) org.

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Filed under human rights, pornography, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex work

Note to Bob Herbert: Misogyny is much more complicated!

Herbert’s column in the NY Times this morning reprises his claims about the misogyny of prostitution and pornography but in a different context this time and with some unwittingly apt parallels.

Readers of this blog know that I have a very different analysis of sex work, one that doesn’t assume that prostitution or pornography are inherently and essentially misogynistic, so I won’t reprise that here. (You can get a glimpse of some of that here and here) Instead, I’d like to point out some of the things I think make Herbert’s analysis here especially weak, including some false assumptions about causality, and unfortunate parallels to sports and the military.

Let me start with the false assumptions about causality. Herbert seems to be asserting that the existence of pornography and prostitution, as evidenced by legal brothels in Nevada, serve as evidence of the misogyny in American culture that then leads to the epidemic of violence against women. Wrong. Are more wives and girlfriends murdered by their partners in Germany or the Netherlands where prostitution is legal? No. I would say it is our culture of violence that leads to violence of all sorts. (Note: I am not asserting a direct connection between watching violent movies or playing violent video games and committing violent acts. I am suggesting that in a culture where violence and aggression are rewarded, as they are here, that you get more violence and aggression.)

The other problem with Herbert’s argument is his assertion that sex work is somehow uniquely problematic. The fact that he uses sex work and pornography as the sine qua non of misogyny tells us that he sees those things as uniquely and irredeemably degrading and dehumanizing to women. One of the bits of evidence Herbert shows us — again — from his Nevada trip to support his claim that the brothels there degrade women (and I have no doubt that some are run in degrading ways) is that the women must answer to a bell. Now others have previously pointed out that school kids answer to bells, workers in factories and other locations often answer to devices like bells or buzzers. I bet even Mr. Herbert has a Blackberry or some other device that vibrates or rings in his pocket, and causes a Pavlovlian response where he hastens to comply with some instruction from his employer. Oppressive? Yes. Unique to sex work? Not a chance.

In fact, Herbert mentions the men at the Jets games, which made me think about the way that professional athletes, while much better compensated than sex workers, are also selling the use of their bodies in dangerous circumstances, governed by whistles and commands, for the entertainment of others and the profit of a few immensely wealthy owners and media corporations.

Herbert also raises the very real — and too little examined — problem of sexual violence in the military, but again he misses an important connection. He completed passes over the degradation rituals common to military life. Think drill instructors shouting insults at new recruits as they train. Think chants about blood and killing. Think hazing-type rituals as groups are formed and as their members shuffle in and out.

Think leasing your body to a male-dominated institution for a period of years to be used as the leaders of that institution wish. They can send you to another country. They can separate you from your family. They can command you to kill and send you on missions where your chances of being killed yourself are incredibly high. And you can’t refuse without breaking the rules.

Think your only option for escape, if they don’t want to let you go, is to commit the crime of desertion.

It is all the more clear now that Herbert opposes prostitution and pornography specifically because they are centered on sexual transactions. But degradation and dehumanization in work are problems that are not unique to the sex industry, and the sex industry ought not be uniquely condemned for them.

The Times ran an article on Sunday about the violent crimes committed by returning vets and noted that about a third were committed against spouses, girlfriends, kids or other family members. If Herbert wants to understand the causes of violence against women he needs to look beyond pornography and begin examining the toxic aspects of conventional masculinity — including the valorization of violence and aggression — and he also needs to remind himself of the economic exploitation and oppression and hardship facing so many families, including those of returning vets, that cause so much stress and anxiety in people’s lives. If he understood the intersection of those problems he’d be much closer to understanding how the misogyny that does still percolate through American culture puts women at great risk.

Note: This piece is also published on my blog at the community site Sex in the Public Square dot Org. If you haven’t visited, check it out!

Sex in the Public Square | activism + community + information

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Filed under Bob Herbert, culture, feminism, pornography, public discourse, sex, sex work

See no evil, see it everywhere: The cloak of invisibility renders child porn more terrifying and harder to do anything about

Debbie Nathan raises a taboo but important point yesterday morning: We must be allowed to see the child pornography that exists. Why? Because we can’t accurately report on that which we can’t see. It’s a simple and obvious observation, really, and profound in its implications. She is writing specifically about her investigation of the Kurt Eichenwald/Justin Berry story (PDF from Counterpunch), but the point applies broadly and it deserves to be amplified.

When we fight against sweatshops and child labor we demand to be allowed access to the factories where the abuses are occurring. We photograph and document what we see. Accurately documenting the problem, we provide evidence and ammunition to those who are fighting it. With the problem of child pornography, we are not allowed to do that. Even when the pornography in question has been entered into evidence in a trial, meaning that it has become part of the public record, the Federal government has ruled that the public can be prevented from seeing it.

In fact, when defending against charges of child pornography, defendants and their lawyers have been refused adequate access to evidence. For example, in David Westerfield’s 2002 murder trial in California the state argued that it was was prohibited from providing Westerfield’s defense team copies of child porn images taken from his computer because the law allowed for duplication of child pornography only for prosecutorial purposes. An appeals court upheld that interpretation but was ordered by the state’s supreme court to vacate its ruling and ultimately the state had to provide copies of the material (PDF).

Who gains by preventing reporters and researchers (along with everybody else) from witnessing the fact of child pornography? Those who benefit from our “culture of fear.” It is much easier to keep people outraged and afraid if you can make assertions without providing evidence. There is no limit then to how awful you can make something seem. And the thing that is too terrible to be seen is terrifying indeed. And how easily we can be convinced that it is every bit as terrible as “they say it is.” After all, what basis do we have to question the claim? And there may be reasons why law enforcement especially doesn’t want their claims questioned.

Recall Judith Levine‘s Harmful to Minors (one of the most important books for those who really care about the health and well-being of kids and teenagers). It is a brilliant and courageous piece of investigative journalism and in the chapter on child pornography and pedophilia panic she highlights another reason why, perhaps, law enforcement does not want journalists to see their evidence:

“Aficionados and vice cops concede that practically all the sexually explicit images of children circulating cybernetically are the same stack of yellowing pages found at the back of those X-rated shops, only digitized. These pictures tend to be twenty to fifty years old, made overseas, badly re-reproduced, and for the most part pretty chaste.” (p. 36)

She continues, asking who is putting these old pictures online in the first place, and finds evidence, including a statement by an LAPD officer, that most of the actual transactions where child porn is bought and sold online are managed by law enforcement:

“Virtually all advertising, distribution, and sales to people considered potential lawbreakers were done by the federal government, in sting operations against people who have demonstrated (through, for instance, membership in NAMBLA) what agents regard as a predisposition to commit a crime.” (p. 37)

Journalists need access to what is being called child pornography so that we, the public in whose names anti child porn laws are being enforced, can know exactly what that means. Because I certainly have been of the impression that there are tons of new images of kids being abused or exploited sexually uploaded every day. It seems this is probably not the case, and yet I have no independent way to confirm or reject that assertion without breaking the law.

Defining the scope of child pornography is is especially important given that what constitutes child pornography is not as clear as we might be led to think. For example, just a few weeks ago a photograph by Nan Goldin was seized from the English art gallery where it was to be displayed because there were questions about whether or not it constituted child pornography. Patrick Califia, Judith Levine and Debbie Nathan have all documented cases where parents and artists have seen their lives turned upside down because photos of their own naked children have been misconstrued as pornography. With child pornography we can’t even apply Potter Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it” criterion because we aren’t allowed to see it in the first place. We’re left with, “You’ll know it because I’ll tell you so, and I’ll just assure you that it’s every bit as horrible as you can possibly imagine.”

The opposite is also possible of course. That is, it is easier to render a problem invisible when that becomes useful to do, because troubling images aren’t burned into people’s minds. Photographs and visual representations are powerful. Think about how people responded to the photos from the Abu Ghraib prison. Stories about those abuses had been reported months earlier, but there was not a general sense of outrage until the photographs were released in the press. Because we don’t have such images burned into our minds, when we want to shift people’s attention from child porn as a threat all we need to do is stop talking about it for a while.

Children do not gain when journalists who are reporting on child porn are prohibited from seeing the evidence of the problem on which they are reporting. In fact, they are worse off. Children who have been made subjects of child pornography need to have their identities protected, certainly, so that they are not harmed in the reporting process. But that does not require complete denial of access to the images. But children on the whole are worse off when we are unable to understand the threats they face. If child pornography is a significant problem, we need to research it, document it, and work to stop it. But we can’t do that in the face of fear-mongering and the panic that ensues. We cannot do that if we can’t talk calmly and rationally about evidence. Ultimately, if we are going to protect children from being victimized by child porn, we need to see what it is, know the scope of the problem, and then address it strategically.

I am not arguing that child pornography should be legal. Nor am I arguing that pornographic images of children should be treated cavalierly. Quite the contrary: I think that they need to be treated very seriously, which may include viewing them in order to accurately report on the problem.

Because to be honest, when my government says “trust us, we’ll tell you what major threats you face” I can’t say that its track record gives me any confidence that they’ll be right.

This piece is also published on our community site, Sex in the Public Square dot Org. Haven’t been over to see us? Drop by soon!

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