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Thread: The Morality of Prostitution

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  1. #4335
    Quote Originally Posted by ChochaMonger  [View Original Post]
    Women buy sex but less frequently than men do, because in the developed world even lower class unattractive women have access to free sex from young men. Take for example, the recent case of a 31-year-old single mother in the UK who met her 16-year-old toyboy lover on Facebook. She asked him to come over and help sort out the Bush in her garden. He parted her whiskers and planted his seed. Nine months later, he was taking delivery of the harvest.

    Even a 39-year-old mother of three in the UK can be impregnated by a 24-year-old toyboy, becoming a "4 x 4" (4 children from 4 different men). Therefore, purchasing sex is not a necessity for women unless they are particularly frowsy hags or have cravings for exotic cock.
    It may be true what you say that women don't need to buy sex like male sex mongers do. However, sex tourism is more than just fucking the neighbor or inviting someone over on Facebook. It's about new experiences and excitement, and getting away from home. A white middle-aged woman on a Gambian beach might find herself surrounded by black guys, all eager to make her happy for a cheap buck, or free drinks and dinners. It's a fantasy many women can't resist. We all have sexual fantasies.

  2. #4334

    My work as a prostitute led me to oppose decriminalisation

    For most of her life in prostitution in New Zealand, Sabrinna Valisce campaigned for decriminalisation of the sex trade. But when it actually happened she changed her mind and now argues that men who use prostitutes should be prosecuted. Julie Bindel tells her story.

    When Sabrinna Valisce was 12 years old her father killed himself. It changed her life completely. Within two years, her mother had remarried and the family had moved from Australia to Wellington, New Zealand, where her life was miserable.

    "I was very unhappy," says Valisce. "My stepfather was violent, and there was no-one to talk to. ".

    She dreamed of becoming a professional dancer and set up a lunchtime ballet class at her school, which proved so popular that a well-known dance group, Limbs, came to run lessons.

    But within months she found herself on the streets, selling sex to survive.

    Walking through the park on her way home from school, a man offered her $100 for sex.

    "I was in school uniform so there was no mistaking my age," she says.

    Valisce used the money to run away to Auckland, where she checked into the YMCA.

    "I tried ringing someone to ask for help in the phone booth which was outside the hostel, but it was engaged, so I waited," she says.

    "The police stopped and asked what I was doing. I said, 'Waiting to use the phone'. ".

    The officers pointed out that no-one was using the phone, so there was no need to wait. They thought they were being "terribly clever" Valisce says. But didn't seem to understand when she explained that it was the telephone she was calling that was engaged.

    "They searched me for condoms thinking I was a prostitute because the YMCA was behind Karangahape Road, the infamous prostitution area.

    "Ironically, that was what gave me the idea to go get some money. The police scared me but I knew I was going to be on the streets if I didn't get cash, and the act of leaning against a wall was all it took to be searched and threatened anyway, so I figured it made no difference if I was or wasn't. ".

    Valisce walked over to Karangahape Road and asked one of the women working there for advice.

    It felt like there was a revolution coming. I was so excited about how decriminalisation would make things better.

    She pointed out two alleyways where Valisce could work. "She also gave me a condom, told me basic charges and advised me to make them fight for services I was prepared to do, to avoid fighting against services I wasn't prepared to do. She was very nice. Samoan, too young to be there, and clearly been there for too long already. ".

    In 1989, after two years working on the streets, Valisce visited the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) in Christchurch.

    "I was looking for some support, perhaps to exit prostitution, but all I was offered was condoms," she says.

    She was also invited to the collective's regular wine and cheese social on Friday nights.

    "They started talking about how stigma against 'sex workers' was the worst thing about it, and that prostitution is just a job like any other," Valisce remembers.

    It somehow made what she was doing seem more palatable.

    She became the collective's massage parlour co-ordinator and an enthusiastic supporter of its campaign for the full decriminalisation of all aspects of the sex trade, including pimps.

    "It felt like there was a revolution coming. I was so excited about how decriminalisation would make things better for the women," she says.

    Decriminalisation arrived in 2003, and Valisce attended the celebration party held by the prostitutes' collective.

    But she soon became disillusioned.

    The Prostitution Reform Act allowed brothels to operate as legitimate businesses, a model often hailed as the safest option for women in the sex trade.

    In the UK, the Home Affairs Select Committee has been considering a number of different approaches towards the sex trade, including full decriminalisation. But Valisce says that in New Zealand it was a disaster, and only benefited the pimps and punters.

    "I thought it would give more power and rights to the women," she says. "But I soon realised the opposite was true. ".

    One problem was that it allowed brothel owners to offer punters an "all-inclusive" deal, whereby they would pay a set amount to do anything they wanted with a woman.

    "One thing we were promised would not happen was the 'all-inclusive' says Valisce. "Because that would mean the women wouldn't be able to set the price or determine which sexual services they offered or refused. Which was the mainstay of decriminalisation and its supposed benefits. ".

    Aged 40, Valisce approached a brothel in Wellington for a job, and was shocked by what she saw.

    "During my first shift, I saw a girl come back from an escort job who was having a panic attack, shaking and crying, and unable to speak. The receptionist was yelling at her, telling her to get back to work. I grabbed my belongings and left," she says.

    Shortly afterwards, she told the prostitutes' collective in Wellington what she had witnessed. "What are we doing about this?" she asked. "Are we working on any services to help get out?

    She was "absolutely ignored", she says, and finally left the prostitutes' collective.

    Until then, the organisation had been her only source of support, a place to go where no-one judged her for working in the sex trade.

    It was while volunteering there, though, that she had begun her journey towards becoming an "abolitionist".

    "One of my jobs at NZPC was to find all of the media clippings. There was one thing I read: it was somebody talking about being in tears and not knowing why, and it wasn't until they were out (of the sex trade) that they understood what those feelings were.

    "I had been through that for years (thinking), 'I don't know what's going on, why am I feeling like this?' and realised when I read that: 'Oh God, that's me. '.

    For Valisce, there was no turning back.

    She left prostitution in early 2011 and moved to the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, seeking a new direction in life, but was confused and depressed. When her neighbour tried to recruit her into webcam prostitution, she politely declined. "I felt like I had 'working girl' stamped on my forehead. How did she know to ask me? I now know being female was the only reason", says Valisce.

    Afterwards the neighbour hurled insults at Valisce whenever she saw her.

    Valisce began to meet women online, feminists who were against decriminalisation and described themselves as abolitionists. The abolitionist model, also currently being considered by the UK's Home Affairs Select Committee, criminalises the pimps and punters while decriminalising the prostituted person.

    Valisce set up a group called Australian Radical Feminists and was soon invited to a conference. Held at the University of Melbourne last year, it was the first abolitionist event ever to be held in Australia, where many states have legalised the brothel trade.

    Melbourne itself has had legal brothels since the mid-1980's, and although there is a lot of vocal support for the system, there is also a growing movement against it.

    She describes this period, when she became a feminist activist against the sex trade and began to feel free of her past, as "the start of my new life".

    "I exited first emotionally, then physically and lastly intellectually," she says.

    After the conference Valisce went to a doctor and was diagnosed with PTSD.

    "It was as a result of my time in prostitution. It had affected me badly, but I was good at covering up the effects," she says.

    "It takes a long while to feel whole again. ".

    For Valisce, the best therapy is working with women who understand what it's like to go through the sex trade, and those who also campaign to expose the harm prostitution brings.

    She is also determined to ensure that the women who are usually silenced by their abusers have a voice.

    "It's not my goal to trap people in the industry or tell anyone to go get out," she says. "But I do want to make a difference, and that means speaking out as much as I can, in order to help other women. ".

    Julie Bindel is the author of The pimping of prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth.

  3. #4333

    Heading South

    Quote Originally Posted by George90  [View Original Post]
    I have read about German and British women going to the Caribbean to pay men to have sex with them. The destinations I read about were Jamaica and Dominican Republic. I first read about this 15-18 years ago!

    I found this in the Daily Mail from England:

    They are called 'bumsters' in Gambia, 'Rastitutes' or 'beach boys' in the Caribbean and 'sanky pankies' in the Dominican Republic.

    These are the men who, in increasing numbers, are providing sex in return for money or goods to women who want a holiday 'romance'..
    On this subject watch the film "Heading South" starring Charlotte Rampling- released in 2005. It is about middle aged American and European women holidaying in Haiti in the 1970's. Haiti was a popular tourist destination during the regimes of Papa Doc Duvalier and later his son, Baby Doc. It is a superb film which handles the topic with care. These women are seeking adventure and fun in exotic Haiti with young Haitian men. There is a book of the same title by Haitian writer, Dany Laferriere

  4. #4332
    Quote Originally Posted by Milfotronic  [View Original Post]
    The idea of the stereotypical buyer is a guy buying sex, oftentimes in some developing or underdeveloped country, from some poorer woman. It has become more common though that white women travel, particularly to Africa, to buy sex from poor guys, in the African case from black guys. I don't see this as a problem. The problem as I see it is that our culture is blind to this fact. We have a hard time admitting that this is occurring. We still want to believe that women somehow have a different and more "pure" sexuality and wouldn't engage in this kind of activity. In other words, we don't believe female "johns" exist. We have seen rich female celebrities finding themselves toyboys, like Madonna, but the thought of women engaging in sex tourism is still a blind spot in our culture.
    Women buy sex but less frequently than men do, because in the developed world even lower class unattractive women have access to free sex from young men. Take for example, the recent case of a 31-year-old single mother in the UK who met her 16-year-old toyboy lover on Facebook. She asked him to come over and help sort out the Bush in her garden. He parted her whiskers and planted his seed. Nine months later, he was taking delivery of the harvest.

    Even a 39-year-old mother of three in the UK can be impregnated by a 24-year-old toyboy, becoming a "4 x 4" (4 children from 4 different men). Therefore, purchasing sex is not a necessity for women unless they are particularly frowsy hags or have cravings for exotic cock.

  5. #4331
    I did not monger when I was married. But, my wife would do anyfuckingthing in bed, and I mean anything. If I could think of it, she would try it, and the shit she came up with on her own was way weirder than my shit. So that helped. I never mongered when I had a steady girlfriend, either. At least for me, if I started thinking about needing hookers, it was usually a sign that the relationship was on the way out anyhow. Personally, I would not be very comfortable with having to hide shit from a serious GF.

    The European model of stay married and have a mistress has always intrigued me, but seems awfully expensive.

  6. #4330

    Interesting Discussion on P4P and Marriage. No Old Testament Prohibition on P4 P

    "Did you notice there is not one prohibition on sex with a prostitute back in the Law? That's almost a trick question because it doesn't appear on the list, but idolatry is forbidden and part of many of the idolatrous practices was having sex with cult prostitutes for money or with ordinary individuals for free. Deuteronomy 23:17-18 condemns and prohibits both male and female cult prostitutes. But not ordinary money-for-sex prostitution. So actually, what would be perfectly legitimate sex, if done in the context of idolatry is now a sin. Because of the idolatry. But the Easter Bunny needs the idolatry separated from the sex to claim that sex is sinful. The Easter Bunny hates sex. Notice there is not a single reference, anywhere in the Law, that prohibits a man from having sex with any woman he is eligible to marry, whether he is married or not. It is not a sin. ".


    Interesting discussion. The Old Testament law did not prohibit hiring prostitutes, with the exception of temple prostitutes of heathen gods. Therefore it is not a sin. Adultery (Men sleeping with other men's wives) or relations with relatives was prohibited.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seamaster811  [View Original Post]
    As the title states, what is everyone's opinion on continuing to seek paid company after marriage?

    I've been a frequent customer since I was introduced to P4 P in my college days. That was about 15 years ago. And during this time, I have frequently paid for sex while being in a relationship with different girlfriends and never really thought much of it. I figured it wasn't cheating since there were no emotions involved and that all interactions ended as soon as the time was up. Just some innocent fun with no strings attached. A business transaction, even. I never gave it a second thought in 15 years. But now I'm recently married and for some reason it's holding me up. On the one hand, I know that I should ideally not be paying for such services out of a higher respect for a wife compared to just a girlfriend; but on the other hand, the habit is proving to be very difficult to give up because as we all know, there's certain things these ladies do that we just can't reasonably ask of our significant others. Not to mention the endless variety, excitement of being with someone new, the girls making you feel like a man, etc. And from my previous experience of mongering while having an established girlfriend, in many ways it actually helps to make our relationship better.

    So for the married men out there who still continue to seek paid company (or not), what is your take on the situation and how do you justify the action? No trolling. Looking for some serious discussion here. Opinions from those other than married men are welcome as well. Thank you in advance.

  7. #4329

    This Model Is Speaking Out Against Prostitution In Her Industry

    It's possible that you've previously read rumors of models essentially doubling as escorts for wealthy clientele. But without specific details, it's hard to delineate what gossip has some basis in reality, and which is merely the stuff of urban legend.

    Jazz Egger, a 20-year-old London-based model who has previously railed against her industry for its alleged practices, recently came forward with her claims that prostitution is widespread in the fashion game.

    According to The Daily Mail, Egger says that "established models" from "big agencies" have partook in these shady operations for as much as $2 million per night. She further goes on to claim that a pair of young supermodels who are "household names" have dabbled in prostitution in order to get a jump in their career.

    As for her personal experiences with these propositions, Egger says that the first offer somebody made to her came last summer at an exclusive club in London, where she was told that the "image modeling job" she was being presented with would involve a trip on a yacht in Greece with a trio of millionaires. Though she declined that getaway, she says that soon afterward a second person came up to her to invite her to have dinner with a "famous" Iranian actor, adding that she'the need to be comfortable with the "natural intimacy" that came afterward. After answering that request by saying she's a "model, not an escort," the man offering to facilitate the transaction said, "It's the most normal thing in the industry. Everyone does it. ".

    Some of the text messages from this person, only known as "George," told Egger that "models realize the value of money and how much of a difference it can make. And everyone enjoys having sex, especially with good-looking guys. What is the shame? Society creates double standards that make women feel guilty. ".

    While that just sounds like a grooming tactic, he also said "all of these modeling agencies are owned by hedge fund managers wanting to meet girls. ".

    "This is how the fashion industry works," he added.

    While it's not quite clear who "George," is, and what exactly his specific role within the industry is, Egger did add that some of her colleagues seemed to verify his take on the business.

    "I know some models that have done escort work and experienced unwanted sexual advances," she said. "When I shared the article, many of my model colleagues messaged me, telling me about their experiences. It was sad to see that it's such a common and usual thing. ".

    Previously, Chrissy Teigen has talked about this grimier side of the profession, saying that models have turned to having sex for lots of money.

    "Did you know there are hookers in Cannes who charge $30,000 a night? She said to Du Jour Magazine in 2014. "A lot of models go there to make their side money. I'm definitely not worth $30,000. I don't really have much to offer. ".

    As for Egger, who has previously been a finalist for Elite Model Look, in addition to participating in Germany's Next Top Model, she says, "There's so much wrong with this industry and I am going to do whatever it takes in order to change it. It might take centuries, but you have to start somewhere.

  8. #4328

    Prostitution After Marriage

    As the title states, what is everyone's opinion on continuing to seek paid company after marriage?

    I've been a frequent customer since I was introduced to P4 P in my college days. That was about 15 years ago. And during this time, I have frequently paid for sex while being in a relationship with different girlfriends and never really thought much of it. I figured it wasn't cheating since there were no emotions involved and that all interactions ended as soon as the time was up. Just some innocent fun with no strings attached. A business transaction, even. I never gave it a second thought in 15 years. But now I'm recently married and for some reason it's holding me up. On the one hand, I know that I should ideally not be paying for such services out of a higher respect for a wife compared to just a girlfriend; but on the other hand, the habit is proving to be very difficult to give up because as we all know, there's certain things these ladies do that we just can't reasonably ask of our significant others. Not to mention the endless variety, excitement of being with someone new, the girls making you feel like a man, etc. And from my previous experience of mongering while having an established girlfriend, in many ways it actually helps to make our relationship better.

    So for the married men out there who still continue to seek paid company (or not), what is your take on the situation and how do you justify the action? No trolling. Looking for some serious discussion here. Opinions from those other than married men are welcome as well. Thank you in advance.

  9. #4327
    Quote Originally Posted by TheCane  [View Original Post]
    I've read about German women traveling abroad to Africa for sex. I'm sure they aren't the only ones to do it.
    I have read about German and British women going to the Caribbean to pay men to have sex with them. The destinations I read about were Jamaica and Dominican Republic. I first read about this 15-18 years ago!

    I found this in the Daily Mail from England:

    They are called 'bumsters' in Gambia, 'Rastitutes' or 'beach boys' in the Caribbean and 'sanky pankies' in the Dominican Republic.

    These are the men who, in increasing numbers, are providing sex in return for money or goods to women who want a holiday 'romance'.

    The men are invariably from impoverished families, have little or no education and are sometimes illiterate.

    Most of the women are white, middle-aged or older and come from Europe and North America.

    They travel alone or with female friends and often have a history of unhappy relationships with men at home.

    They are looking for attention and excitement but end up, often without realising it, being one half of a prostitution deal.

    Barbara is one such woman. In her late 50's and divorced, she travelled to Jamaica for her first holiday alone last winter. She had fantasies about sunbathing on white sand and swimming in a clear blue sea, but no plans for a holiday romance.

    Her destination was an all-inclusive resort in Negril, on the western tip of Jamaica, one of the biggest destinations for female sex tourism.

  10. #4326
    Quote Originally Posted by Shark5  [View Original Post]
    My last two trips to the Philippines I've seen Women Mongers at the bars in AC. I spoke to several of the working girls and they told me it happens quite often. They are usually European women.
    I've seen it many times in the DR too. But it's ignored and not given any attention by SJWs.

  11. #4325
    Quote Originally Posted by Milfotronic  [View Original Post]
    The idea of the stereotypical buyer is a guy buying sex, oftentimes in some developing or underdeveloped country, from some poorer woman. It has become more common though that white women travel, particularly to Africa, to buy sex from poor guys, in the African case from black guys. I don't see this as a problem. The problem as I see it is that our culture is blind to this fact. We have a hard time admitting that this is occurring. We still want to believe that women somehow have a different and more "pure" sexuality and wouldn't engage in this kind of activity. In other words, we don't believe female "johns" exist. We have seen rich female celebrities finding themselves toyboys, like Madonna, but the thought of women engaging in sex tourism is still a blind spot in our culture.
    My last two trips to the Philippines I've seen Women Mongers at the bars in AC. I spoke to several of the working girls and they told me it happens quite often. They are usually European women.

  12. #4324
    Quote Originally Posted by Milfotronic  [View Original Post]
    The idea of the stereotypical buyer is a guy buying sex, oftentimes in some developing or underdeveloped country, from some poorer woman. It has become more common though that white women travel, particularly to Africa, to buy sex from poor guys, in the African case from black guys. I don't see this as a problem. The problem as I see it is that our culture is blind to this fact. We have a hard time admitting that this is occurring. We still want to believe that women somehow have a different and more "pure" sexuality and wouldn't engage in this kind of activity. In other words, we don't believe female "johns" exist. We have seen rich female celebrities finding themselves toyboys, like Madonna, but the thought of women engaging in sex tourism is still a blind spot in our culture.
    I've read about German women traveling abroad to Africa for sex. I'm sure they aren't the only ones to do it.

  13. #4323

    Women buying sex

    The idea of the stereotypical buyer is a guy buying sex, oftentimes in some developing or underdeveloped country, from some poorer woman. It has become more common though that white women travel, particularly to Africa, to buy sex from poor guys, in the African case from black guys. I don't see this as a problem. The problem as I see it is that our culture is blind to this fact. We have a hard time admitting that this is occurring. We still want to believe that women somehow have a different and more "pure" sexuality and wouldn't engage in this kind of activity. In other words, we don't believe female "johns" exist. We have seen rich female celebrities finding themselves toyboys, like Madonna, but the thought of women engaging in sex tourism is still a blind spot in our culture.

  14. #4322

    Is Prostitution Just Another Job?

    Is Prostitution Just Another Job?


    Chelsea Lane was a freshman at Reed, the esteemed liberal-arts college in Portland, Oregon, when she first became *interested in sex work. Someone in her humanities class had a Tumblr about being a prostitute, prompting a lively debate among fellow students over whether they could ever sell their bodies. "I started reading sex workers' blogs," Lane explains. The women behind the blogs sounded confident, financially secure. "And within Reed, it was like, 'That's cool. That's edgy. '8197;.

    Lane describes herself as "fat and hairy" and is so pale she almost glows. She grew up poor but "had a zero-trauma childhood" in a conservative Northern California town. "My parents were the most supportive," she says. "They've been married for 35 years and still love each other. They did tell me I'm beautiful and awesome. '8197;" But she still felt insecure about her body and about sex. "They're your parents, so they don't say, 'You're a beautiful sexual creature. ' Because that's creepy and weird. There's a disconnect between thinking I can do anything in life versus thinking I'm beautiful physically. " Lane, who had lost her virginity to another virgin at Reed in what she describes as "really disappointing and bad" sex, started contacting the sex-work bloggers, asking if curvy girls could be strippers. "I didn't feel attractive or wanted, but these ladies told me that everybody has beauty and that there is someone out there who will appreciate it — who'll even pay for it. ".

    The more she learned, the more appealing sex work became. She had visions of going to grad school and liked the idea of having wealthy men fund her education. Later in her freshman year, she posted a personal ad on a sugar-daddy website. She met her first client at a hotel. "The sex was really bad," she says, "but he was a decent guy. He was in his mid-40's. He told me that I was the second person he'the ever slept with, other than his wife. He put the money in my purse. As soon as I got in my car, I counted and was like, 'Holy shit, that's $300!' At this point, I'm 18 and working at Sears. I was excited. ".

    From there, sex quickly became a side job. She'the meet about ten clients a week, making $1,000 to $1,500. "The first several months of me escorting was like, 'I relish their worshipping my body. ' It's amazing. There have been two clients throughout my entire time that made me feel dirty, and that's because it was obvious they didn't see me as a person. But that was two out of hundreds. " And anyway, she says, "I can think of personal partners who treated me like that. ".

    She has her own Tumblr now. On her first anniversary of escorting, in February 2015, she wrote that, at 20 years old, she is less isolated, better paid, in contact with "wonderful" people, and "getting laid on the regular. " Her story has been added to the body of personal accounts that changed her own perception of sex workers years before. "They're people," she says she realized then. "Not sad drug addicts walking on the street. ".

    The stereotype of prostitutes as streetwalkers is indeed somewhat dated in the United States, where for decades an estimated 80 percent have done business indoors. More recently, the internet has fostered unprecedented acceptance of sex work among the public, as it did for Lane, with sex-workers-rights hashtags and grassroots social-media campaigns that make visible women who are working by choice. Sites like, which connect sugar "babies" with sugar daddies, technically forbid prostitution, but have also helped normalize sex work; currently around a million USA College students have accounts with the service, according to the company. In 2012,38 percent of Americans thought sex work should be legalized; last year, amid growing support for legalized marijuana and increased personal freedom, that number went up to 44 percent.

    The issue made news last summer, when Amnesty International, one of the world's most prominent human-rights organizations, voted to campaign for the decriminalization of all aspects of sex work, from buying to selling. After two years of research and deliberation, it said, it had concluded that full decriminalization would better empower and protect sex workers. In response, more than 300 human-rights-organization representatives, writers, activists, and actresses including Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep signed a heavily footnoted letter arguing that full decriminalization would lead to an increase of involuntary sex slaves, "who are mostly women," and "support a system of gender apartheid" in which resourceless females become objects of consumption. These opponents to decriminalization support the "Nordic model," which punishes buyers, brothels, and pimps but not the sex workers themselves, a system pioneered by Sweden that has since been adopted in some form in Iceland, Norway, Northern Ireland, and Canada. The idea is to ultimately end the trade without harming the women, who are seen as its victims, by targeting the more powerful economic agents, namely men.

    Of course, "it's not just women" in the industry, points out Barb Brents, a professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "But so much of the anti-decriminalization argument is about the symbolism of protecting women. " In the open letter, men were mentioned only as consumers and peddlers. Brents chalks up the relative disinterest in male sex workers — with the notable exception of last year's federal raid on — to the "gendered norms of sex: Men are active and have a tireless sexual drive. Women are passive and don't. " Savannah Sly, the president of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA, a national grassroots advocacy network, calls the "hysteria" around "women and girls, women and girls, women and girls" a strategy for justifying "the war on working girls. ".

    The debate has highlighted a rift among feminists, pitting two deeply held beliefs against each other. One side argues that women should be free economic agents, capable of making choices in their own self-interest, empowered to own their sexuality and use their bodies however they choose. If Chelsea Lane wants to become a sex worker, why shouldn't she be allowed to do it legally? Those on the other side believe that the Chelsea Lanes of the world are a tiny fraction of sex workers and that many who "choose" this life are not choosing freely or choosing at all. And, even for someone like Lane, how can that choice ever be untangled from society's persistent cultural misogyny and inequality?

    But for both sides, the issue boils down to whether decriminalization makes women safer. The little research that exists doesn't definitively settle the dispute. Some studies show that legalization, as enacted by Germany and the Netherlands, is associated with higher rates of trafficking — people being coerced or conscripted into sex work against their will. Decriminalization advocates, along with some researchers, argue that this is due to onerous regulations that can unintentionally push sex work to underground markets. (In Nevada, where prostitution is "legal," but only in strictly regulated brothels, there were nearly 4,000 arrests for prostitution in 2014.) Some studies have found that the decriminalization of selling, but not buying, sex has led to less street prostitution; other studies have not. There's research that finds that criminalization leads to more abuse of sex workers and research that finds an overwhelming number of sex workers want out, are traumatized, and suffer from addiction. And other research that doesn't.

    One area where there seems to be a lot of consensus is in sex workers' desire to be able to seek the protection of the law without fear of prosecution. A 2012 report by the you. And. Cited research that found an "overwhelming majority of (female sex workers) interviewed wanted sex work to be legalized or decriminalized. " Many other current sex workers, from the Caribbean Sex Worker Coalition to swop to the 50,000 members of Calcutta's Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, agree.

    Chelsea Lane does, too. Lane was adamant that she didn't want to contribute to the "white happy hooker" narrative: "So many people think sex work is only acceptable if you do it because it's fun and empowering," she says. "And I've seen this other set of dialogues, on Tumblr mostly, where sex workers are saying, 'No, it's a job like any other, and we don't necessarily enjoy our jobs, but we still deserve safe working conditions. ' Personally, my self-esteem is soaring. Sex work really allowed me to grasp hold of my sexuality and to embrace myself. " But even if she weren't so white and happy, she maintains, it would still be her right to do it. "I used to love Anne Hathaway. She's still classy, but maybe I have like ten less respect points for her. ".

    This was, by and large, the response of sex workers all over the internet after the open letter to Amnesty International was published: We don't need anyone else to speak for us—much less privileged actresses who are far removed from our experience. But advocates on the other side say there are plenty of sex workers who do need someone to speak up on their behalf, because they are marginalized and essentially voiceless. The argument is whether it's condescending and paternalistic to let others decide what's best for sex workers, or irresponsible not to.

    Reagan is not a white happy hooker — she is not white, for one, and her feelings about sex work are complicated. "When I first started doing this, I was raped," she says. "That's what I mean when I say working in this industry is bad for your personal life. Because I was in the industry, I knew this could happen. I didn't like it by any means, but it didn't traumatize me the way that it probably should have. ".

    Reagan — who is not really named Reagan (her name has been changed, as have the names of almost everyone in this story) and who has "been 29 for like five years" — tells me this as she drives west across the state of North Carolina one Friday night after dark, toward the more rural areas where she prefers to work. In cities, "if you have an over*abundance (of workers), you have to fight for a price and market yourself in a different way or cheaper, and I'm not about cheap," she says, barreling further away from her home in Charlotte. "Like with any other business, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you look for a need. There's not a lot of black girls out here. " Most of the time, Reagan's job is surprisingly mundane — identifying the markets, assessing rates, doing cost-benefit travel analyses. Her wardrobe is low-key: "I probably look like a schoolteacher," she says.

    The night she was raped, Reagan had gone by herself to meet a client. "It seemed like a nice area, and it was my first time there, and it was close to downtown. " She'the used Priceline to find the hotel. "I get there, and it's a dump. I thought, I'll just do this one appointment, and I'll go to a better area. When the guy came, he robbed me at gunpoint, and then he decided he wanted a little action. ".

    Reagan was not aware of the decriminalization debate until I mentioned it to her, but despite her mixed feelings about sex work she believes it should be legal. Her opinion is influenced by what happened that night. "When I called the cops, they were just like, 'Ah, okay. ' They didn't do anything. I don't dislike cops — they're just doing their job — but if the law allowed them to be more accepting, maybe they could help more people. If I were ever to get raped again, I wouldn't call the police. At all. For what? Because of the profession that I chose to work in, you are considered less than. It's almost, 'You asked for it because you work in this industry anyway. You're already having sex with people — what's the big deal?8197;.

    Raised a Southern Baptist, Reagan "didn't come up in the lifestyle," and says she freely chose this line of work. "I probably have better degrees than a lot of people," she says. "I do this part time, and I double my salary as a paralegal. " That's why she does it. "I'm not saying there's not a lot of drug addicts who do it and people who've been victimized. I know for a fact that lots of people who work in the sex industry were molested. I was not. For the most part, the girls on the internet have probably never walked the streets. That type of hustle I wouldn't even understand. Either you really devalue who you are or you've really been beat up in life to hustle for $20. " That's what the street workers, who local police say are almost exclusively substance-addicted trauma survivors, charge in the Blue Ridge Mountain town where she's headed. Reagan charges ten times that, per hour. "When I first started, I charged $400. There's no way in hell I'the screw somebody for $200. I don't actually offer sex anymore, but I used to. Because I don't offer sex" — she does erotic massage, domination, "touching" — "I'm okay with these rates now. ".

    Reagan stopped offering sex to clients to appease her boyfriend. They recently broke up, "but I think we're working on it, so I chose to give up the sex part of it. " But she didn't want to give up escorting entirely, even though it gets to her sometimes. "Some things don't matter if it's illegal or not; it's about the ethics. I'm probably the most ethical prostitute who ever was. I didn't want to know if (clients) were married. I made them take off their ring — I don't want to know because I feel bad. There are days when I think, Jesus, is all I can offer in life sex? I wasn't raised that way. So what the hell brought that across my mind? It's very degrading. " Reagan's clients don't make her feel that way; it's the message she gets from everyone else. "It's taught from a very young age in America that this is not acceptable behavior. ".

    A month before this conversation, Reagan was arrested. This, she says, is the worst thing that's happened to her as a sex worker. "It traumatizes me more to walk into a man's hotel room and think he's a cop than that he's going to [CodeWord123] me. I'm more concerned about a criminal record. I almost have a panic attack every time I walk into someone's hotel room. " She worries that if she ever left her job as a paralegal — or if her employer found out about the arrest and fired her — she wouldn't be able to get another straight job. "It'll never go away. I definitely hurt myself, in a sense. I sacrificed some of the other things I wanted to do later in life. I'll never be able to work for a company. I'll have to build my own. ".

    Tonight, in western North Carolina, Reagan has "some things" scheduled. After a two-hour drive, she pulls up to a hotel, where she has a reservation. "I don't intend on working in this industry much longer," she says, walking through the hotel parking lot. "I'm working on a group home for children, and also a car lot. ".

    For Anna, a 22-year-old who recently moved to New York, decriminalization is a practical matter. She started a limited-liability company pretending to be a graphic designer, "because I needed a way to pay taxes. I feel really guilty evading taxes; I make a really good living. Paying taxes is also good for your future. " This way, she says, "I have an income history," which will be important "if I want to buy property down the road or apply for credit cards. ".

    Anna is petite, with fine hair and delicate features and a high, whispery voice. She started working in the industry three years ago. "I listened to Dan Savage's podcast in high school, and I remember him talking about sex work and sugar babies. So that's how I got the idea. " Her parents were wealthy but square. "If I hadn't been listening to those podcasts" — Sex Nerd Sandra was another favorite — "I wouldn't have started. They exposed me to a lot of stuff and kind of made me more comfortable with sex in general. " When she moved out of her parents' home for college, she put an ad on Backpage. "I started for fun, to make money on the side. ".

    Her parents found out, though, cut her off, and stopped speaking to her. "That's when I transitioned to doing it as a source of income. I couldn't pay tuition. " She ended up dropping out of school anyway, working full time, and she still doesn't have any contact with her parents. "We had a pretty close relationship," she says, sounding resigned. "It was a big deal. It was hard then, but I've definitely gotten over it. ".

    It was one of Anna's clients who helped her professionalize her operation, suggesting she meet with another woman he patronized who could help her make a website, improve her pictures, and start making way more money. "he knew I was really young and didn't know what I was doing," she says. "I wasn't charging very much at all, and this girl helped me raise my rates—more than doubled them. " Now she charges a $500-an-hour minimum.

    For the most part, Anna likes her job. "I've gotten really used to it, so it almost seems much less scary than doing other things. " The biggest frustration she cites is one shared by many online businesses: "I'm frustrated with the review system," she says. Websites like the Erotic Review let clients write their version of an encounter — like a sex workers' version of Yelp. "I feel like one bad review could ruin your business, so that's been stressful. ".

    Other than the family difficulties, Anna's stresses seem not too different from any young person freelancing or starting a small business. She doesn't talk about legal troubles or violent clients, abuse or addiction, nor does she have any existential issues with the work she does. "Ninety-nine percent of everyone is really sweet. I've only had to ask someone to leave once, because the guy was really drunk. I didn't feel threatened. I was just a little bit scared. " Eventually, she tells me, she'll quit escorting and use her saved up earnings to go to beauty school. "If I had unlimited money, I might work toward getting my bachelor's degree. I wouldn't say (being a beautician) is my dream job. It's just feasible for me to do when I get out of escorting. " She's not desperate to get out, though. "Overall it's not been bad, or I wouldn't have been doing it. ".

    Cherie Jimenez says that she used to say that, too. That she was fine. The 65-year-old spent some 20 years on and off in the sex trade, and to sex workers who say they're fine, she says, "maybe for now you're fine. " If many active sex workers support full decriminalization, this former sex worker, like plenty of others, has much more negative feelings about the industry. "It almost destroyed me," she says. And that was then. She thinks the sex trade's problems are only getting worse.

    Jimenez, who now runs the Eva Center, a sex-work exit program in Boston, is not talking about Anna's small-business concerns. The internet may have made it easier for sex workers to operate like independent entrepreneurs, but it also seems to have increased clients' demands. "Men want more," Jimenez says. "Men's and young boys' introduction to intimacy is gonzo porn, where you play out the fantasy of brutalizing women. " The women who come through her program tell her that the industry "is more violent because pornography is more violent. (Johns) want extra shit, or they don't want to do it safely. ".

    In addition to her work at the Eva Center, Jimenez is a member of SPACE (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) International, which advocates for the Nordic model, with the ultimate goal of the total abolition of the sex trade. "We have to get to where men are not buying people to get off," she says. "It's just a harmful practice. " She concedes that the perspective she has from running an exit *program is "skewed. " The women who come to her are in absolute crisis to get out of the business, but she maintains that in general, "to use your body, to sell your body — it does something to you. Not very many people come out of it whole and in a very healthy way. Even under the best circumstances. How many young women do I talk to who have trouble having relationships?" She says the women in her program will ask her if she's married. She says they want to know if they can experience love.

    "The further you get away from mainstream life — catch a few (arrest) cases, you have no employment skills, you don't know how to be in the world — the harder it is to get away and feel like you can do something else. " Though she was 20 and sober when she started, she eventually became a daily heroin user. "Horrific things do happen," she says. The homicide rate for prostitution vastly outpaces any other profession's in the USA The industry is especially dangerous for transgender women. Many of the staggering number of trans women who were murdered in the USA Last year were sex workers.

    Plus, there's the struggle of "after a while just being a commodity and being a body and trying to hold onto yourself," Jimenez says. In the case of her clients, their efforts to get out are often complicated by addiction and isolation. "They have no viable skills, they have no one to support them," no home, no education, no areésumé; about half of them have been through the system, aged out of group homes. Even with the support of the Eva Center, many of her clients take years to get a straight job.

    Sex workers with, say, "master's degrees — they know that they can do something else. Most of us don't have that. " (But even for them, Jimenez doesn't buy the notion of harmlessness: "Those women, do they want their children in this? According to the International Labor Organization, 4. 5 million people worldwide work in forced sexual labor. But Jimenez says the line between being a consenting sex worker and being trafficked is not always clear. Those with boyfriends who pimp them out or beat them, or who have pimps who give them quotas, are they really consenting?

    "You can't end the trafficking piece without addressing it as a whole thing, as a sex trade. Decriminalization, which is what Amnesty is calling for, would make this an open market," Jimenez says. "So these women that I meet, it would be legal for them to become completely exploited. The sex-workers people" — by which she means decriminalization advocates within the industry — "say, 'You reduce us all to victims. ' And I get that. But what is it to have a good life? And be healthy and productive and contribute and have access to things? We don't have equal access" to opportunity and education, she says. "That's what Amnesty should be fighting for. ".

    Abolitionists, says Jill Brenneman, "equate everything to sex trafficking. ".

    That is something that Brenneman, now 49, knows about firsthand. Kidnapped and sold as a sex slave when she was just 15, she was held in a basement and raped by a revolving clientele of sadists for three years until her captor was arrested. One gang [CodeWord123] during that period damaged her vocal cords so severely that her voice still comes out hoarse. She later became a spokesperson for anti-trafficking organizations, ones that happened to be vehemently anti-decriminalization.

    Then, in her 40's, she found herself unemployed, laid off from her career as a flight attendant, and she decided to become an escort. "What happened to me as a teenager and what happened as an adult is completely different," she says.

    It was "not really" a hard decision, she says. "I needed the money, and if anything, I went from having very little money to having more than enough immediately. I could go to the grocery store and get whatever I wanted. I could go to Starbucks every day if I wanted to. I didn't really mind it. It is a performance. You have a set playlist, and I would literally breathe with the song. For the crescendo I would fake an orgasm. ".

    Some of her acquaintances couldn't believe that she chose to become an escort, and there were moments when she couldn't believe she was doing it either. "It sometimes triggered back to the experience as a teenager, but for the most part I really compartmentalized it pretty well. ".

    Brenneman describes herself as "a very strong proponent of decriminalization," as long as the paid sex is "between consenting adults. " For one, she thinks the resources that go into arresting sex workers would be better spent pursuing traffickers like her enslaver, who was arrested on unrelated charges — she was discovered and freed by chance. And like Reagan, she thinks that if sex work weren't illegal, she could have gone to the police when a client got violent. Once, when Brenneman was working for an escorting agency, "they sent me on a bad outcall to a federal air marshal. Soon as I got there, I saw his graduation stuff on the wall, and I was like, 'Oh, no; they sent me to a cop. '8197;" She says he asked for anal sex. "That wasn't part of the deal. After 15 minutes, he said he was going to get a drink and came back with handcuffs and a trash bag and forced it. " She had to go to the hospital because he gave her a concussion. The need for protection from law enforcement is a frequent argument of decriminalization proponents. In one survey of New York City sex workers, 27 percent reported police had used violence against them.

    Aside from Jimenez, Brenneman was the oldest woman I talked to. She had the distance of having been out of the game for a few years and had had some truly terrible experiences while escorting. I also learned during the course of our conversation that she's dying. She has a rare blood disease; in May 2014, she was given a year to live. I asked her if she had any regrets.

    "I do, I do," she said. "The first two years, I didn't charge enough. ".

    Can we, should we, let sex workers speak for themselves? No matter how young? Or how disadvantaged? Or what they've been through?

    "Who's to say a sex worker's life isn't fine?" says Jimenez. "I was there once. I can say that. " But more than a dozen current and former sex workers I interviewed, some of them selected randomly off the internet, were in favor of decriminalization. I contacted Jimenez specifically because I knew she was against it and no one else had made the argument.

    Skylar, a 20-year-old New Yorker, technically fits Jimenez's description of women who do not exactly choose sex work. She was orphaned at a young age by drug-addicted parents and became a sex worker because she couldn't figure out another way to get money for food. She had a boss, whom most people would consider a pimp, and she had no control over clients — or services, if she wanted to get paid. Also, she was a child, with children of her own.

    "I was about 15," she says. "My foster mother was giving me $5 a day, just enough to get to and from school, not to get lunch. " The decision to do sex work "came from not being able to do things with my kids, wanting to buy things but not being able to. " Skylar had had her first child at 13. When she was 14, a friend of a friend asked her if she wanted to work at dancing parties thrown by a guy she knew. "She introduced me to the guy, who is now incarcerated because he was trying to solicit 12-year-olds online, and when I got there, he was like, 'Yeah, well, we do dancing parties, but if you want to make extra money, you'll do x, why, and z. ' So he took my body measurements and took pictures and they ultimately decided that I was a good candidate for full-service escorting. ".

    Skylar knows this reads like a cautionary tale, yet she doesn't consider herself a victim, and she didn't consider herself a child at the time. "Young women who have survived trafficking, that doesn't fit my experiences," she says. "At 15, I wasn't a 15-year-old. More like a 21-year-old. My circumstances after having a child were totally different from average 15-year-olds'. It's a certain level of responsibility that you have to have. Although being a sex worker probably wasn't my No. 1 pick at 15 years old, that's what was open to me. That was the only option I had because, what, Payless is going to hire a 15-year-old who's going through school and has a kid?

    Skylar didn't think of the man who was running the business as a pimp, either. They had their disagreements — "he didn't like the fact that I didn't want to engage with him when I was in school" — but he wasn't abusive, she says, and he never took money from her. "The guys went through a website to select girls. So he got paid from them visiting the website, and then once I was sent to the clients, the client was responsible for paying me. ".

    That's where problems would arise sometimes. Clients would refuse to pay the agreed-on amount, or they'the leave because she would try to place limits on what they could do. Two out of five clients would leave, she says, because she didn't seem young enough. "I was only 15 at that time, but I looked a lot older. I had babies by then, so I had stretch marks. ".

    Skylar quit escorting for a while, after she found a high school that had a jobs program. But by the time she graduated, she had three kids to take care of, so she went into business on her own. Now, she sets the boundaries when she enters a client's room. "Be aggressive with them," she says. "Because if you're not aggressive with clients, they'll just think they can take advantage of you. The moment you let them step up on even the littlest boundary, then it's like they think that they can overpower you. The power should always be in yourself. ".

    She takes as many precautions as she can. At first contact on the phone, she listens to clients' voices to see "if they're saying things that are weird" or give her "that feeling" in the pit of her stomach. Before agreeing to meet them, she Googles their addresses and looks at their houses. (Anna also requires the info on clients' driver's licenses, or two references from other "reputable providers. ") She makes sure a friend knows where she is. For the first meeting, "I have a driver, so when I say, 'Okay, your session is 45 minutes,' then I will open the window and show them that the car is parked right outside their house. That's the way of putting them into the mind-set that people care about me. ".

    She considers herself very lucky. "I've never really walked into a situation that was super, super terrible," she says. "I don't want to make it seem like I know for sure that this person is safe, because safety is, like, not real. ".

    After high school, Skylar enrolled in college, but she got arrested right before orientation. She was jailed overnight and assigned to a program for sexually exploited children — she was 17 at the time. Attendance was required for getting the arrest off her record, and it conflicted with her class schedule. "I had to drop out of school to finish the program," she says. "Being arrested and being put into this particular program that was designed to help me actually damaged the life course I had set for myself. ".

    Escorting is still not Skylar's No. 1 pick for a job. "I'the much rather make great money helping my community and changing laws and changing people's lives than dealing with my clients," she says. "I hate clients. They suck. I don't care about their life, I don't care about their daughters, I don't care about their wives — I don't care," and she hates having to pretend to. "It's a lot of emotional labor. ".

    For now, she works in community organizing but continues escorting to pay the bills. "When I get into the apartment that I want, when I have cars, when I can do anything and everything for my children that I want on my own," she says, "that will be my end date. ".

    In the meantime, she keeps her client list small. "I do not feel like it's safe to advertise on Craigslist or Backpage anymore. That's pretty much all cops, and legit I can't get arrested again. " Besides, her current clients already know her and want her. "No matter how young I am, some clients are like, 'Oh, you're not foreign, you're not from Japan, you're not European — you're black. You're regular,8197;" says Skylar, who is half African-American and half Puerto Rican. She says her rates are "average" — she's charged as low as $80 for a service, though her highest and preferred fee is $200 per hour. "Prices," she says, "are about privilege. ".

    These days, Chelsea Lane works in the Bay Area and charges $400 an hour and $2,000 a night. She has a slick website with professional photos. She's attending a nearby college and works at a corporate firm in addition to seeing clients. Doing both makes her "busy, busy, busy all the time. " She'the drop the day job, but, she says, "I don't want to have a gap on my areésumé. " Financially, she doesn't need both incomes. "My salary more than pays for living expenses. Escorting income is to reach my savings goals: tuition, law-school tuition, and travel. " Plus, she enjoys it.

    She does notice a difference in her private life. "When I have sex with personal partners, it's robotic at first. When I'm with a client, I am super enthusiastic and loving it most of the time. But with a personal partner, I realize I don't have to do those steps, or if I don't like something, I can say that. ".

    It's been most disruptive to her relationship with her parents, whom she came out to in January 2015. "They were devastated. They consider themselves hippies, but they're weirdly conservative in so many ways. They think sex is something super special, and that's not how I see it at all. " At one point, she stopped speaking with them for a month or two. "But my mom was like, 'I'm your mother, damn it; we're going to have a relationship. '8197;" Now, she doesn't talk to them about her work. "They've convinced themselves I've stopped. They don't want to talk about it at all. I wish I could continue to educate them. ".

    Lane hopes to become a lawyer and represent other sex workers. "I despise the stigma attached with my work, though the upside to that is that I've found I'm really passionate about sex-work-rights activism," she says. She thinks she'll probably have to stop before law school. "If I'm a lawyer, there's some ethical questions," given the current laws. But if she could, if the laws were to change, she would like to keep escorting, if for no other reason than to push herself to meet people. "I see myself doing it for the rest of my life. ".

    *This article appears in the March 21,2016 issue of New York Magazine.

  15. #4321

    Should Prostitution Be a Crime?

    Should Prostitution Be a Crime?

    A growing movement of sex workers and activists is making the decriminalization of sex work a feminist issue.


    MAY 5, 2016.

    Last November, Meg Muñoz went to LOS Angeles to speak at the annual West Coast conference of Amnesty International. She was nervous. Three months earlier, at a meeting attended by about 500 delegates from 80 countries, Amnesty voted to adopt a proposal in favor of the "full decriminalization of consensual sex work," sparking a storm of controversy. Members of the human rights group in Norway and Sweden resigned en masse, saying the organization's goal should be to end demand for prostitution, not condone it. Around the world, on social media and in the press, opponents blasted Amnesty. In LOS Angeles, protesters ringed the lobby of the Sheraton where the conference was being held, and as Muñoz tried to enter, a woman confronted her and became upset as Muñoz explained that, as a former sex worker, she supported Amnesty's position. "She agreed to respect my time at the microphone," Muñoz told me. "That didn't exactly happen" — the woman and other critics yelled out during her panel — "but I understand why it was so hard for her. ".

    Muñoz was in the middle of a pitched battle over the terms, and even the meaning, of sex work. In the United States and around the globe, many sex workers (the term activists prefer to "prostitute") are trying to change how they are perceived and policed. They are fighting the legal status quo, social mores and also mainstream feminism, which has typically focused on saving women from the sex trade rather than supporting sex workers who demand greater rights. But in the last decade, sex-worker activists have gained new allies. If Amnesty's international board approves a final policy in favor of decriminalization in the next month, it will join forces with public-health organizations that have successfully worked for years with groups of sex workers to halt the spread of H. I. V. And AIDS, especially in developing countries. "The urgency of the H. I. V. Epidemic really exploded a lot of taboos," says Catherine Murphy, an Amnesty policy adviser.

    Onstage, wearing a white blouse with lace, her face framed by glasses and straight brown hair, Muñoz, who is 43, looked calm and determined as she leaned into the microphone to tell her story. She started escorting at 18, after she graduated from high school in LOS Angeles County, picking up men at a dance club a couple of times a week and striking deals to have sex for $100 or so, at a hotel or their apartments. She had a part-time job as a restaurant hostess, but she liked feeling desired and making money on the side to spend on clothes and entertainment. "I really, really did love the work," she told her Amnesty audience of more than 100. "I was a little reckless. " The same recklessness led her to methamphetamine. When her parents found out she was using, they sent her to rehab. She stopped escorting and using drugs and found a serious boyfriend. When she was 24, the relationship ended, and around that time her parents sold their house. Muñoz started living on her own for the first time. With rent and car insurance to pay, and a plan to save for college, escorting became her livelihood. "I was moving toward a goal, and sex work helped me do that," Muñoz told the crowd.

    A few years later, however, another ex-boyfriend, with whom she was still close, started to take advantage of the underground nature of Muñoz's work. At first, she told me, he asked her to pay to get his car back after it was towed. Then he started demanding more money and dictating when she worked and which clients she saw. Muñoz didn't exactly seem like a trafficking victim; she was driving her own car, going to school and paying her expenses. But looking back, she says that's the way she sees herself. "Because the work I was doing was illegal, he started to hold it over my head. He blackmailed me by threatening to tell everyone, including my family. ".

    The man was violent, and Muñoz extricated herself with the help of a friend, whom she later married. Haunted by the control her ex-boyfriend had exerted over her, she founded in 2009 a small faith-based group called Abeni near her home in Orange County, to help other women escape from prostitution, as she had. A couple of years later, Muñoz, who now has four children, started letting herself remember the period earlier in her life when escorting served her well, as a source of income and even stability. Struggling internally, she had a "crisis of conscience," she says, and came to regret her assumptions about what was necessarily best for Abeni's clients. She stopped taking on new ones, and then turned Abeni into one of the few groups in the country that helps people either leave sex work or continue doing it safely.

    At the Amnesty conference, Muñoz told the crowd that she thinks decriminalization would have benefits for many people by bringing the sex trade out from underground. "I believe in the empowered sex worker," she said. "I was one. But the empowered sex worker isn't representative of the majority of sex workers. It's okay For us to be honest about this. " She was referring to the social and economic divide in the profession. Activists in the sex-workers' movement tend to be educated and make hundreds of dollars an hour. The words they often use to describe themselves — dominatrix, fetishist, sensual masseuse, courtesan, sugar baby, working girl, witch, pervert — can be self-consciously half-wicked.

    Some of their concerns can seem far removed from those of women who feel they must sell sex to survive — a mother trying to scrape together the rent, say, or a runaway teenager. People in those situations generally don't call themselves "sex workers" or see themselves as part of a movement. "It's not something people we work with would ever talk about," says Deon Haywood, the director of Women With a Vision in New Orleans, an African-American health collective that works with low-income women and trans clients. Some of them sell sex, Haywood says, because it's more flexible and pays better than low-wage work at businesses like McDonald's.

    Human rights advocates tend to focus on people in grim circumstances. "Like many feminists, I'm conflicted about sex work," says Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch, which took a stand in favor of decriminalization four years ago. "You're often talking about women who have extremely limited choices. Would I like to live in a world where no one has to do sex work? Absolutely. But that's not the case. So I want to live in a world where women do it largely voluntarily, in a way that is safe. If they're raped by a police officer or a client, they can lay a charge and know it will be investigated. Their kid won't be expelled from school, and their landlord won't kick them out. ".

    Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, along with other groups that support decriminalization — you. And. AIDS, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on H. I. V. And the Law and the Open Society Foundations — acknowledge that there can be grave harms associated with the sex industry, but say that they see changes in the law as a precondition to reducing them. Last year, an analysis in The Lancet predicted that "decriminalization of sex work could have the largest effect on the course of the H. I. V. Epidemic," by increasing access to condoms and medical treatment. Governments can free themselves to crack down on trafficking and under-age prostitution, human rights advocates argue, if they stop arresting consenting adults.

    It's a pragmatic argument. But the sex-workers' movement also hinges on an ideological conviction — the belief that the criminal law should not be used here as an instrument of punishment or shame, because sex work isn't inherently immoral or demeaning. It can even be authentically feminist. "Once you've done it, you always know: When it comes down to it, I have everything I need to survive," says Anna Saini, a former sex worker who is now a sex-worker activist and law student living in Brooklyn. "That's powerful. " This view poses a deep challenge to traditional Western feminism, which treats the commercial sex industry as an ugly source of sexual inequality.

    The activists themselves are a fractious bunch. They belong to a variety of small and sometimes competing groups and question one another's bona fides on social media and a blog called Tits and Sass. Women who publicly argue the case for decriminalization tend to be white. Women of color say that it's harder for them to get an audience; they also don't want white women to speak for them. Trans women raise similar objections. "Don't tell my story in support of a CIS woman's story," Monica Jones, who is black and transgender, cautioned me. She did sex work without qualms to help pay the tuition for her social-work degree at Arizona State University. "If you want to be with me, you're going to pay me or buy me a ring," she says frankly of her partners. Two years ago, she accepted a ride to a bar with a man and was found guilty of prostitution; her case became a cause seeélèbre when she challenged her conviction, saying she was just going out for a beer that night, and won her appeal.

    Some opponents of decriminalization call themselves abolitionists, consciously invoking the battle to end slavery as well as the one for equality. "If prostitution is legal, and men can buy women's bodies with impunity, it's the extreme sexualization of women," says Yasmeen Hassan, the global executive director of Equality Now, a women's rights group that campaigns against trafficking. "They're sexual objects. What does that mean for how professional women are seen? And if women are sex toys you can buy, think about the impact on relationships between men and women, in marriage or otherwise. ".

    The United States has some of the world's most sweeping laws against prostitution, with more than 55,000 arrests annually, more than two-thirds of which involve women. Women of color are at higher risk of arrest. (In New York City, they make up 85 percent of people who are arrested.) So are trans women, who are more likely to do sex work because of employment discrimination. The mark left by a criminal record can make it even harder to find other employment. In Louisiana five years ago, 700 people, many of them women of color and trans women, were listed on the sex-offender registry for the equivalent of a prostitution misdemeanor. Women With a Vision, Deon Haywood's group, won a lawsuit to remove them in 2013.

    Because abolitionists see these women as victims, they generally oppose arresting them. But they want to continue using the criminal law as a weapon of moral disapproval by prosecuting male customers, alongside pimps and traffickers — though this approach still tends to entangle sex workers in a legal net.

    Last July, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, an abolitionist group, accused Amnesty of supporting "a system of gender apartheid," in which some women are "set apart for consumption by men," in a letter with 400 signatories, including Gloria Steinem, Lena Dunham, Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep. Anna Saini, the Brooklyn sex-worker activist, went from feeling betrayed by the celebrities to feeling victorious. "They threw all this fame and name recognition at us, and Amnesty is still doing what's right," she said. "That was super exciting. " The fight has become, Liesl Gerntholtz of Human Rights Watch says, "the most contentious and divisive issue in today's women's movement. ".

    The battle lines among American feminists over selling sex were drawn in the 1970's. On one side were radical feminists like the writer Andrea Dworkin and the lawyer and legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon. They were the early abolitionists, condemning prostitution, along with pornography and sexual violence, as the most virulent and powerful sources of women's oppression. "I've tried to voice the protest against a power that is dead weight on you, fist and penis organized to keep you quiet," wrote Dworkin, who sold sex briefly around the age of 19, when she ran out of money on a visit to Europe.

    Other feminists, who called themselves "sex positive," saw sex workers as subverters of patriarchy, not as victims. On Mother's Day 1973, a 35-year-old former call girl named Margo St. James founded a group in San Francisco called Coyote, for "Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics. " Its goal was to decriminalize prostitution, as a feminist act. In its heyday, Coyote threw annual Hooker's Balls, where drag queens and celebrities mixed with politicians and police. It was a party: In 1978, a crowd of 20,000 filled the city's Cow Palace, and St. James entered riding an elephant.

    By the 1980's, Dworkin's argument condemning prostitution moved into the feminist mainstream, with the support of Gloria Steinem, who began rejecting the term "sex work. " St. James and the sex-positivists were relegated to the fringes.

    The abolitionists moved into the fight against global labor trafficking in the 1990's, focusing on sex trafficking, though most estimates suggest that the majority of trafficking victims are forced into domestic, agricultural or construction work. The abolitionists wanted to erase the traditional legal distinction between forced and consensual prostitution by cracking down on all of it as trafficking. In 1998, they tried to persuade President Bill Clinton — and Hillary Clinton, who was the honorary chairwoman of the Clinton administration's council on women — to adopt their broad definition in an international crime treaty and a federal trafficking bill. It was a striking effort to expand and stiffen criminal punishment, a strategy Elizabeth Bernstein, a Barnard sociologist who studies sex work and trafficking, termed "carceral feminism. " Abolitionists "have relied upon strategies of incarceration as their chief tool of 'justice,8201;" she wrote in 2007. They lost the fight to define all prostitution as trafficking during the Clinton administration. "Those were depressing years," Donna Hughes, an abolitionist researcher and women's studies professor at the University of Rhode Island, said in an interview in National Review in 2006.

    When George W. Bush was elected in 2000, Hughes and other abolitionists formed a coalition with faith-based groups, including evangelical Republicans, to lobby the new president. The Bush administration funded Christian groups, like the International Justice Mission, to rescue girls and women abroad. I. J. M. Helped to raid brothels in Cambodia, Thailand and India, working with local police officers who broke down doors while American TV cameras rolled. Donations poured in to I. J. M. From the United States.

    But local human rights and women's groups complained about the tactic. After some raids by police forces in India and Indonesia, girls and women were deported, detained in abusive institutions and coerced into sex with the police, according to a 2005 bulletin by the World Health Organization and the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. Two years earlier, when I. J. M. Reported that there were minors in a brothel in Thailand, the police raided it and locked the women who were working there in an orphanage. The women strung together bedsheets to escape from a second-story window.

    Françoise Girard was director of the public-health program at the Open Society Foundations when she met with Gary Haugen, the leader of I. J. M. , and Holly Burkhalter, a senior adviser, in 2007. "I. J. M. Said, 'If we can save one girl, it's worth it,8201;" says Girard, who is now president of the International Women's Health Coalition. "I said, 'What happens to the girls?' And they couldn't answer. " Burkhalter says she doesn't remember Girard's question, but the police did not permit I. J. M. To go on the raid in Thailand. "If we had, it would have gone much better," she says, adding that now, when I. J. M. Helps with raids, "each victim has a case worker. ".

    The Bush administration also funded abolitionist research on the harmful effects of prostitution, prominently featuring references to that work on the State Department's website. Hughes, the abolitionist women's-studies professor, denounced strip clubs and lap-dancing in a 2005 report on trafficking that was funded with more than $100,000 from the State Department. Melissa Farley, a psychologist who received Bush funds, wrote in 2000 in the journal Women and Criminal Justice that any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically — "enjoyment of domination and [CodeWord123] are in her nature. " Non-abolitionist researchers criticized her for presenting the brutal harm of some experiences of prostitution as the near-universal reality without solid evidence.

    In part as a response to lobbying by feminist abolitionists and evangelicals, in 2003 Congress barred groups that aided trafficking victims from receiving federal funds if they supported the "legalization or practice of prostitution. " The same year, President Bush committed $15 billion to the international fight against AIDS, but required all recipients of the funding to sign an anti-prostitution pledge. The result was a head-on collision between AIDS prevention and abolitionist ideas. Brazil turned down $40 million in American funds. Sangram, a public-health and human rights organization that was distributing condoms in Sangli, a red-light district in rural southern India, refused to sign the pledge and returned American funds in 2005, at a time when you. And. AIDS cited it as a trusted source on H. I. V. And human rights. "We were distributing 350,000 condoms a month," says Meena Seshu, the director of Sangram, who has a master's degree in social work and has published in The Lancet and won an award from Human Rights Watch. "Do you actually work with people, or do you give them morals? That was the choice. ".

    The Obama administration continues to fund organizations involved in rescue missions. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the anti-prostitution pledge for groups in the United States, ruling that it violated their free-speech rights. But the decision didn't apply to foreign groups, which still cannot receive federal funding to fight AIDS if they support the sex-workers' rights movement.

    The current debate over sex work in the United States is often framed as a choice between international legal systems. Abolitionists embrace what they call the Swedish (or Nordic) model. In 1999, at the urging of feminists, Sweden's Parliament passed the Sex Purchase Act, making it a crime to buy sex. Prostitution itself had not been a crime, but the new law deemed it "a serious harm both to individuals and to society," giving the legislation a moral underpinning and aiming to "flush the johns out of the Baltic," as a media campaign declared. A decade later, Sweden announced a reduction in street prostitution by as much as 50 percent and proclaimed the law a success. Though no one had recorded data on street prostitution before the law passed, the claimed drop became the chief selling point for a system that punished men. Yet online advertising for sex increased in Sweden, leading researchers to conclude that the small market was shifting indoors. Norway and Iceland adopted the Swedish model in 2009, and in the last two years, Canada and Northern Ireland enacted modified versions.

    Sex-worker activists reject this model. "People think the Swedish state criminalized clients, and not us, because they cared about us, but that was not the case," says Pye Jakobsson, a Swedish sex worker who is the president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. "The law is about protecting society, and we're seen as a threat. " Some sex workers say that criminalizing male behavior pushes them to take greater risks. "Women who worked on the street used to have safe spots where they would tell the client to drive," Jakobsson explains. "Now clients say no, because of the police. They want to go someplace else remote. How can the woman be safe there?" In December, a Bulgarian sex worker was found brutally murdered in a deserted parking lot at the harbor in Oslo. Her friends — also migrants from the Balkan States, like many women selling sex in Sweden and Norway — looked for her when she went missing. But they did not go to the police until they found her body.

    When the police investigate whether a man has bought sex, "they use it as a reason to check women's documents," says May-Len Skilbrei, a criminology and sociology professor at the University of Oslo. She says that these inspections can lead to deportations. Sex workers also face the possibility of losing custody of their children and being evicted. "If the police tell the landlord they think you're escorting out of your apartment, he has to evict you, or he could be prosecuted," Skilbrei says. The Norwegian police called a long-running Oslo crackdown on prostitution Operation Homeless.

    The Swedish government has been clear that it considers the problems the law causes for sex workers an acceptable form of deterrence, reporting in 2010 that the negative effects "must be viewed as positive from the perspective that the purpose of the law is indeed to combat prostitution. " When France adopted the Swedish model in April, the bill's sponsor in Parliament said one goal was to "change mentalities. " On social media, American sex workers poured out their sympathy for their French sisters, who were marching in protest.

    Sweden may not be a relevant model for the United States, where the kind of hardship that often pushes people into street-level sex work is more widespread and the safety net much weaker. The difference is relevant, says Rachel Lloyd, the founder and see. E. O. Of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), based in Central Harlem, which helps about 400 girls and young women in New York annually who have been involved in prostitution. She opposes legalization, because she thinks it will increase trafficking. She visited Stockholm two years ago and found it significant that there are so many family services, that few teenagers are in foster care and that most have access to state-funded universities. "I came away thinking: In the USA, we're not there," she says about adopting the Swedish model. "We don't have the social services. " Lloyd says that not enough of the tens of millions of dollars in government funds and donations in the United States that go to fight trafficking are used for services, like housing for teenagers leaving foster care; 70 percent of GEMS members have been in that system. "When you're trying to move forward, you need an apartment," Lloyd says. "You need to go to school. " (In Sweden, she was also surprised to learn that men who are caught buying sex are fined rather than arrested, paying an amount that depends on their income and generally ranges from $300 to $4500, according to a news report.).

    Australia has adopted a very different legal model from Sweden's. In 1999, the Australian state of New South Wales repealed its criminal laws against prostitution, freeing consenting adults to buy and sell sex and allowing brothels to operate much like other businesses. (Other Australian states have a variety of laws.) Four years later, New Zealand implemented full decriminalization. Abolitionists predicted explosive growth of prostitution. But the number of sex workers stayed flat, at about 6,000 in New Zealand and somewhat more in New South Wales. Condom use among sex workers rose above 99 percent, according to government surveys. Sex workers in brothels in New South Wales report the same level of depression and stress as women in the general population; rates are far higher for women who work on the street, who are also often intravenous drug users. While the New Zealand government has found no evidence that sex workers are being trafficked across the country's border, last November, the Parliament of New South Wales gave the police more power to monitor brothels, after reports that some were linked to organized crime and prosecutions for "sexual servitude" and exploitation. One involved a Thai woman who was recruited in Bangkok and told she would learn to be a hairdresser.

    A couple of years ago, a Seattle dominatrix and outspoken activist who goes by the name Mistress Matisse flew to Australia for three weeks and spent a week working. "I just had to see what it was like," she says. At home, she writes for The Stranger, Seattle's alternative weekly, and frequently tweets about the practice and politics of sex work to her 27,000 Twitter followers.

    In Australia, Matisse worked at a small brothel called the Golden Apple (small bar, six bedrooms) in Sydney, which is in New South Wales, and a larger one called Gotham City. "I thought: I won't be Mistress Matisse. I'll just be a girl doing full service" — intercourse — "which I hadn't done for years," she says. She saw three or four clients a night and then went to the beach.

    Matisse contrasted working in Australia with working in a brothel in Nevada several years ago. She much preferred Australia. Nevada limits legal prostitution to a small number of brothels in rural areas, and they are subject to strict licensing requirements. "In Australia, you go home every night, and you can have a cigarette, go on a date, stay in a normal head space," Matisse said. "In Nevada, you had to be in the brothel 24/7. It was like a cross between summer camp and a women's prison. " Most prostitution in the state takes place illegally outside the brothels, in Las Vegas and Reno, with more freedom but also more risk.

    Germany has a similar two-tiered market. The country became a growing destination for sex tourism after introducing in 2002 new regulations for the legal sex trade, with an estimated 400,000 sex workers. Migrant women working underground, some of whom are lured into crossing the border, face the same threat of deportation as in Sweden. Meanwhile, licensing requirements raised the cost of setting up brothels, favoring chains and big businesses, including a 12-story, neon-lit brothel in Cologne. "What's strange is how industrial the brothels are," says Skilbrei, the professor at the University of Oslo. "They control the women, for example with health checks. " That's not the model sex workers are fighting for, because it diminishes their autonomy.

    Amnesty distinguishes the laws in Germany (and the Netherlands, where sex work is legal but regulated by local authorities) from those in New Zealand and Australia, which place "greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organize in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments," the human rights group states. Melissa Farley, the psychologist and abolitionist researcher, rejects all of these models. "The state functions as a pimp, collecting taxes, which I consider blood money," she wrote in an email last December. In the most recent government research, a 2008 survey of 770 sex workers by the New Zealand government, most reported that they were not likely to report violence to the police, which the government attributed to their sense of stigma. Farley sees this as proof that "wherever prostitution exists, the harm goes with it, regardless of legal status. ".

    To Amnesty, the lesson is that decriminalization isn't like flipping a switch — it takes time for attitudes to shift. There are signs that this has begun: In the 2008 New Zealand survey, 40 percent of sex workers also said they felt a sense of camaraderie and belonging, suggesting that their relationships with one another may provide an antidote to stigma. Annah Pickering, who does street outreach for the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective, describes a more recent dynamic with the police that would be unthinkable almost anywhere else. "We used to wave the police down for help, and they'the keep driving, but now they take sex workers' complaints seriously," she said. She told me about an incident in South Auckland last year. "One client negotiated with a street worker; she did the act, and he refused to pay. She waved a cop down, and he told the client he had to pay and took him to the A. T. M. To get the money. ".

    Sixty years ago, after Gloria Steinem graduated from Smith College, she spent two years in India on a fellowship observing village-based land reform. Returning to the country in 2014, she called prostitution "commercial [CodeWord123]," making headlines. Until recently, Indian feminists shared Steinem's views of prostitution, but many have gradually shifted their thinking. In 2014, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, the chairwoman of India's National Commission on Women, came out in favor of decriminalization, saying it would help protect sex workers from violence and improve their health care. Reaction within India was mixed. But the refusal of Americans like Steinem to rethink their broad-brush condemnation of sex work, or the wisdom of rescue tactics, angers some feminists there. "Why have you locked yourself into saving sex workers in India and not engaged with the larger women's movement?" asked Geeta Misra, who runs the human rights group see. Are. E. A. In New Delhi, which tries to build feminist leadership and expand sexual and reproductive freedom.

    The debate shifted in India largely because of the role of the country's sex-worker collectives, which are among the largest in the world, and which exert a social and political force that has no parallel in the United States. Founded in the early 1990's, the collectives first proved adept at helping to slow the spread of H. I. V. Melinda Gates went to Sonagachi, the red-light district in the city of Kolkata, in 2004 and wrote in The Seattle Times about a sex worker named Gita and her peers, who "have helped to increase condom use from zero to 70 percent in their district, and to reduce H. I. V. Infection rates to 7 percent — compared with rates as high as 66 percent among sex workers elsewhere. " Gates concluded by announcing that the foundation she created with her husband, Bill Gates, would spend $200 million to fight H. I. V. In India, an amount later raised to $338 million.

    The sex-worker collective in Sonagachi, the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (D. M. S. See. , the "Unstoppable Women Committee" now has 65,000 members and runs schools for the children of sex workers, who often face discrimination, and has established banks where sex workers can open accounts. In rural Sangli, 6,000 people belong to Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (or VAMP, "Sex Workers Fight Injustice" an offshoot of Sangram, the public-health group.

    While it's illegal to own a brothel or sell sex on the street in India, indoor prostitution is not against the law. Enforcement is uneven, and the police sometimes demand sex or bribes. Nevertheless, the relationship between the police and sex workers can approach a tenuous theétente that allows the collectives to assert themselves. A project of the Gates Foundation, from 2005 until 2011, used the collective model to organize 60,000 sex workers in Karnataka. They brought in peer educators to talk to the police and lawyers to teach sex workers about their rights not to be harassed and, often, not to be arrested. As arrests dropped, so did violence by the police, pimps and clients, along with the H. I. V. Rate, according to a study last year in The Journal of the International AIDS Society.

    Human rights advocates, including Amnesty, think the sex-worker collectives are a far better means of preventing trafficking and under-age prostitution than brothel raids. The. M. S. See. And VAMP run screening boards in Sonagachi and Sangli, which interview women who are new to the district, asking if they've entered the sex trade willingly and sometimes checking birth certificates for proof that the women are at least 18 (partly out of self-interest, because older women often don't want to compete with younger ones). It's not a perfect system by any means. Among other shortcomings, high-end brothels in Sonagachi, run by people called agrawalis, don't participate in the collective's condom distribution, say researchers, including Prabha Kotiswaran, a faculty member at King's College, London, who conducted months of field work in Sonagachi for her book "Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor. " "The agrawalis are a source of under-age trafficking," Kotiswaran says. At other brothels, however, she saw the. M. S. See. 's staff trying to help girls leave and find better options than state-run protective custody, where they often wind up after raids. "That's a nightmare, like prison," Kotiswaran says.

    Indian feminists want poor women to have alternatives for making a decent living, but they are hard to come by. Kotiswaran found that women could make roughly six times as much doing sex work in Sonagachi as they could at a garment factory. In one study in 2011 of more than 5,000 women across India, only 3 percent said they were "forced" into the sex trade, and only 10 percent said they freely chose it. The rest fell into the gray area in between, giving reasons related to poverty or issues like domestic violence or desertion.

    In any other context, American feminists would celebrate tens of thousands of women organizing to improve their lives. But Steinem expresses deep suspicion of the Indian sex-worker collectives. The. M. S. See. Has enabled "the sex industry to attract millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation," creating "a big new source of income for brothel owners, pimps and traffickers," she wrote in the newspaper The Hindu in 2012. Last fall, in an interview with Esquire, she called the foundation's work in India a "disaster" and said there was "no evidence that women have the power to make men use condoms. " (Through a spokesman, the Gates Foundation declined to comment.) Yet studies have shown large jumps in condom use when sex workers organize, and the annual rate of new H. I. V. Infections in India has fallen by half.

    Steinem's guide in Sonagachi, and during part of her 2014 trip, was Ruchira Gupta, an Indian former journalist who founded a group called Apne Aap, which tries to help women leave sex work and has helped the police raid brothels. Gupta has strong ties with American abolitionists. She received funding from the State Department during the Bush administration, won a Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2009 and is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from Smith College this month. Steinem is on Apne Aap's advisory board. Nicholas Kristof, an opinion columnist for The New York Times who has gone on brothel raids (including one in Cambodia that he live-tweeted), has called Gupta a "brilliant social entrepreneur. " When I asked Gupta about the Gates Foundation's work preventing AIDS, she said: "They're thinking about the 45-year-old man who is the client. Instead of protecting women and girls from [CodeWord127], they protect the men from AIDS. " Gupta similarly denounced Amnesty and Human Rights Watch: "They see a little girl in a brothel and think it's fine, if we give her a condom. " Rachel Moran, author of the recent memoir "Paid For," who calls herself a survivor of prostitution in Ireland, also says that "Amnesty International has taken their views directly from pimps and traffickers. " Amnesty categorically denies these accusations, explaining that it consulted sex workers along with doing extensive research. "We recognize that harm can occur in sex work, but to characterize the sex-workers' rights movement as a front for pimps is really shocking," Catherine Murphy of Amnesty says.

    Steinem declined to talk to me. Her assistant said she would defer to Gupta as "her source on this subject. " Human rights advocates question Gupta's approach because of the complexity of sex work in India. Many women who sell sex do so alone or in small groups, out of homes or in side streets, truck stops, parks or railway stops. Some rent rooms from women who have done or continue to do sex work. Those women are often the ones arrested on charges of brothel-keeping or trafficking, says Siddharth Dube, a public-health expert and former senior adviser at you. And. AIDS who writes extensively about sex work in India in a memoir, "No One Else. " he adds, "And this is a disaster, because this is a helpless impoverished woman in her 40's or 50's trying to survive. ".

    There is another side to prostitution in India, which Dube says is far less prevalent: Small rural communities in which, for some families, prostitution is intergenerational, and women or girls are expected to enter the trade. These are some of the most difficult places in which to fight trafficking. "You must try," Dube says. "But you're walking into a very complex and explosive situation where you can make huge errors of judgment in identifying who is a trafficker. " Like everyone I spoke to, he opposes under-age prostitution. But to address it, "you can't just have raids in a slipshod way or seek publicity. You have to really painstakingly try to solve these problems with the community. ".

    Apne Aap concentrates much of its work in these kinds of communities and has brought in the media to cover raids and intergenerational prostitution. But one TV segment, "The 'Fallen' Women of Perna," which was broadcast on the TV show "India Today," provoked beatings by some family members of some of the girls and women who appeared on the show, according to former American and European interns and Indian staff members of Apne Aap who wrote letters criticizing the organization in 2014. They sent the letters to Apne Aap's main funder, the NoVo Foundation in New York, founded by Warren Buffett's son Peter.

    Gupta questioned whether the beatings occurred and said that if they did, "it wasn't because of Apne Aap. " She told me she hated the show's title, but the group promoted the segment, which included an interview with her. "Through the use of occasional media," Gupta says, "we frighten the local authorities not to collude with the traffickers, and we frighten the traffickers to think what they're doing will go public. ".

    The former Apne Aap employees also wrote that "there is a disconnect" between the organization's head office and the "needs and voices" of the field offices and the girls and women they aim to serve. After the letters, Apne Aap ended the international intern program. It also stopped renting an expensive office and house in Delhi, far from its field work, and hired Dalberg Development Associates to assess its impact over the previous five years. Dalberg praised Apne Aap's work bringing women together, providing legal training and, in particular, helping to place children at risk of prostitution in residential schools, but recommended that the group "reduce or delink direct involvement" in brothel rescues.

    Apne Aap is halfway through receiving a two-year $700,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation. In an email, NoVo said it continued to support the organization out of concern for the "marginalized girls and women who rely on Apne Aap for essential services. " The American support, in particular by Steinem, for Apne Aap's model saddens and frustrates Indian feminists who promote the sex-worker collectives. "Gloria Steinem was one of our icons," says Meena Seshu of Sangram. "We really looked up to her. Why doesn't she come and listen to the people here, with respect and dignity?

    A few years ago, VAMP, the Sangli collective, made a short film, "Save Us From Saviors. " On camera, a leader in the collective named Shabana says: "I started doing sex work when I was 12 years old. One of my sisters was burnt to death. I might also have been killed, so I ran away. " In the next shot, dressed in a bright yellow sari, she sits with her two children, and one of them kisses her on the head. "It is only recently that I've started thinking it's good that I'm in sex work," Shabana says. "I don't have to depend on anyone for anything. ".

    What would decriminalization in the United States look like, if the sex-workers' rights movement got its way? It's hard to apply lessons from other countries. Some activists think the best way to find out would be to start with a local experiment. "You need one place to try it," Meg Muñoz said to me, mentioning the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. "You need the right testing environment. " It's not clear where that would be, though; San Francisco voters rejected a decriminalization referendum by a wide margin in 2008.

    The way decriminalization might play out probably lies in the unsexy details of implementation. Cities could use zoning ordinances to address concerns about the effects on residential neighborhoods by confining brothels, like strip clubs, to industrial areas and limiting their size. Trafficking and promoting under-age prostitution would remain crimes. People could work discreetly in their own homes or hotels without fear of reprisal. The sex industry could become safer, as activists hope. It's also possible that the sex trade would grow, as abolitionists warn, especially if one area turned into a sex-tourism hot spot.

    Until now, abolitionist ideas about punishing men and treating women as victims have dominated legal reform in the United States. Seattle, for example, has announced a shift toward arresting male clients and connecting sex workers with services. But sex workers I spoke to around the country, in a variety of life circumstances, raised questions about how punishing buyers would make their lives better; they would still be participating in illegal transactions and have something to hide. An older escort told me that if she didn't dread exposure and losing her business, she would report under-age prostitution and trafficking to the police if she witnessed it.

    Three years ago in New York, abolitionists encouraged the establishment of [CodeWord908] Intervention Courts for people arrested on prostitution charges. Judges mandate services like counseling to address trauma and can dismiss charges against those who attend and aren't rearrested. It's better than having a criminal record, sex workers and their advocates say, but women who don't comply can still end up in jail, and some of those who attend say they resent being forced into the mandated counseling. The courts also authorize pretrial detention, sending women to jail to protect them from men in their lives, if a judge deems it necessary, or simply to prevent their immediate return to prostitution. These courts are an experiment in "penal welfare" because they repackage criminal intervention as social services, argues Kate Mogulescu, the founder and supervising attorney of the Exploitation Intervention Project at the Legal Aid Society. A few months before the trafficking courts opened, New York State passed a "bawdy house" law, making it easier for prosecutors to institute eviction proceedings for prostitution if landlords do not.

    Last spring, with support from abolitionists and conservatives (the same coalition from the days of the Bush administration), Congress passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which makes the crime of buying sex from a trafficking victim equivalent to sex trafficking itself. The maximum sentence is 99 years in prison. Rachel Lloyd of GEMS thinks the emphasis of reform should be on helping girls and women, not increasing penalties for men who pay for sex. In 2008, she helped pass a safe-harbor law, which treats juveniles in prostitution as victims, rather than criminals, in New York. (More than half the states have such laws.).

    Talking to sex workers across the country, in a variety of life circumstances, I heard a range of feelings about what they do. A self-described East Indian courtesan in New York said she loved "playing a role, developing a fantasy we can both walk into out of our mundane lives. " A dominatrix who lives on the Upper East Side told me she sometimes felt good about making an emotional connection. Then her tone changed. "But God, I hate putting on the strap-on. " A woman in Brooklyn said her clients meant nothing to her. "I only care about my kids," she said. "This is about providing for them. " Mistress Matisse, the Seattle dominatrix, treats some clients as friends; one does her taxes, and another, an exterminator, checks her house for bugs. She raised thousands of dollars from clients and online donors to help a woman named Heather in West Virginia, who told me she hated sex work but was doing it to buy heroin, pay for living expenses and go into drug treatment. "If you don't want to do this work, you shouldn't have to," Mistress Matisse told me. "I can see how it would bruise your heart. " Other women, sounding numb or even traumatized, said that they had to dissociate to get through their time with clients. Ceyenne, an activist who was arrested a few years ago while doing "fetish work" in New Jersey, said, "Mentally and physically, it's a lot to carry. " She wrote a memoir, and she speaks regularly to L. G. be. T. Youth groups. "When I talk to these girls coming up now, I tell them to reach for more. ".

    The traditional feminist argument against decriminalization is that legitimizing prostitution will harm women by leading to more sexual inequality. The human rights argument for it is that it will make people's lives better, and safer. In this fight over whose voices to listen to, who speaks for whom and when to use the power of criminal law, the sex-workers' rights movement is a rebellion against punishment and shame. It demands respect for a group that has rarely received it, insisting that you can only really help people if you respect them.

    Correction: May 22,2016.

    An article on May 8 about prostitution misstated the legal status of prostitution in the Netherlands. It is legal throughout the country — not just in Amsterdam — though subject to local regulations. The article also misidentified the academic field of Elizabeth Bernstein, a Barnard professor who studies sex work. She is a sociologist, not an anthropologist. And the article described Bulgaria incorrectly. It is a Balkan State, not a Baltic State.

    Emily Bazelon is a staff writer for the magazine and the Truman Capote fellow at Yale Law School.

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