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June 07, 2016

Op-Ed: Jimmy Carter Op-Ed Pretends to Help Sex Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Remember Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer who managed to become president of the United States even though he admitted to Playboy interviewers in 1976 that he had "looked on a lot of women with lust" and had "committed adultery in my heart many times"? Well, apparently he's gotten over that—and now feels empowered, as one of the few living ex-presidents, to bash sex workers by deeming them, in an op-ed he wrote for the Washington Post, as "commodities to be bought and sold." And of course, in the process, he defames the very providers he claims to support. "It is disturbing that some human rights and public health organizations are advocating the full legalization of the sex trade, including its most abusive aspects," reads the op-ed's first sentence, making clear Carter's ignorance of what sex worker rights advocates are actually advocating, which is women's power to engage in paid sexual relations without being beholden to human traffickers, cops who'll "look the other way for a blowjob" or coercive pimps.  And it's also clear from his use of quote marks in the second paragraph that Carter has no respect for sex workers, when he states, "Some assert that this 'profession' can be empowering and that legalizing and regulating all aspects of prostitution will mitigate the harm that accompanies it. But I cannot accept a policy prescription that codifies such a pernicious form of violence against women." So ... being paid for sex is a "form of violence against women"? That'll be news to most of the sex workers we know—and we know quite a few. But it's not only all women who are harmed when sex work is made legal; it's all men too! "Normalizing the act of buying sex also debases men by assuming that they are entitled to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification," Carter claims, ignoring the fact that prostitution is a paid transaction, much like any other job, and if the men can't afford what the worker charges, they don't get her services—and if they try to take them by force, that's called "rape." And of course, Carter ignores the fact that a fair portion of sex workers are men! But no, Carter doesn't want to get rid of prostitution; nosiree! He just wants to put all of the sex workers' clients in prison. See, he's a fan of the "Nordic model," which decriminalizes prostitution but makes being a john a crime—an idea he calls "consistent with advancing human rights and healthy societies." "Pioneered in Sweden and adopted most recently in Canada and France, this strategy involves decriminalizing prostituted women and offering them housing, job training and other services," Carter writes. "Instead of penalizing the victims, however, the approach treats purchasing and profiting from sex acts as serious crimes. Another key component is public education about the inherent harms of prostitution for those whose bodies are sold." First of all, let's deal with this "sold" horseshit. When a sex worker accepts money from a client to have sex with her (or him), at best that client has rented the sex worker's body for a specific period of time, and when he leaves, she's free to go about her business with no further obligation to the client. Where's the "inherent harms" in that? And Carter doesn't make his case of allegedly caring for sex workers by describing all of them as "victims"; the vast majority of them know exactly what they're doing, why they're doing it—and how much they're going to charge for their services. And since when has wanting to get laid and having enough cash to pay for the experience become a "serious crime"? If he's interested in "serious crimes," how about the investment bankers who fucked their clients out of their life savings during the Great Recession, none of whom have spent a single day in prison? "Critics of the Nordic model assert that mature adults should be free to exchange money for sex," Carter rightly notes—then proceeds to demonstrate his complete ignorance of how sex work actually works: "This argument ignores the power imbalance that defines the vast majority of sex-for-cash transactions, and it demeans the beauty of sexual relations when both parties are respected. ... But when one party has power over another to demand sexual access, mutuality is extinguished, and the act becomes an expression of domination." "Power imbalance"? What the fuck? When a person goes into a department store to purchase a blouse, is there a "power imbalance" between that customer and the clerk behind the register who accepts her payment? Of course not; it's called "capitalism" and most of us engage in it every day. And guess what? Paying for sex has nothing to do with "the beauty of sexual relations"—or is that what Carter calls it when some businessman who works 16 hours a day comes home and fucks his wife for five minutes (without, of course, caring whether she's getting any pleasure out of it), rolls over and goes to sleep? That's "one party [having] power over another to demand sexual access" and "an expression of domination"! Apparently, about a year ago, Carter's Carter Center held a "global summit to end sexual exploitation," and surprise, surprise, they heard from a number of ex-prostitutes ("sex-trade survivors") who didn't fare well in that trade, in part because they didn't have the freedom, for whatever reason, to walk away from a transaction where, according to ex-pro Rachel Moran, "once money has exchanged hands, a woman must deliver whatever service the customer demands." That's certainly true for enslaved sex workers, but the vast majority of sex workers in the U.S. don't fall into that category—and have walked away from plenty of johns who, the workers felt in their guts, weren't there for the right reasons. Oh, sorry; even non-trafficked, non-pimped-out sex workers are enslaved as well, because as Carter claims, "Those survivors told us that they once believed that selling sex was their choice but that this attitude was a requirement for survival—that only once they were fully free from the fetters of the trade were they able to fully understand their lack of choice." See, all you sex workers who think you're selling sex because you want to, and are making a good living at it? You just aren't bright enough to figure out that "free choice" is the same as slavery! But workers had better watch out: If sex work is legalized, according to Carter, your competition will be "the millions of women and girls needed to fill the supply of bodies that an unlimited market of consumers will demand." Anyway, that's the basics of this fraudulent "concern" for sex workers. You can read the full op-ed here. Not everyone took Carter's words as gospel. Jezebel.com's Anna Merlan noted that, "Amnesty [International] stopped supporting the Nordic model after doing something we're not sure President Carter has ever tried: they talked to sex workers about it," after which she recounts some of the "facts on the ground" that Amnesty learned by doing so. "It's fine to believe, in your private and presidential heart, that sex work 'demeans' sex, or to have strong preferences and opinions about when and how other people should have sex," Merlan concludes. "But in a world where men and women engage in sex work either by choice, for survival—or, most often, in a complicated mixture—Carter’s pet solution continues to be a dead end." Kylie Cheung of The Frisky, on the other hand, delves into the classism of Carter's piece, which she describes as "an unsettling pool of paternalism and well-meaning misogyny," by noting, "you don’t get to define 'empowerment' to women who lack your economic privilege, who didn’t have access to education, and whose only means of survival are a trade you’re trying to cut off." "We live in a country where mass shootings have become commonplace and lobbyists like the NRA can essentially buy politicians, where 45 million Americans live in poverty, about 30 million Americans still don’t have access to health insurance, where one in five women and one in 16 men will be a victim of sexual assault, and your big takeaway is that we need to 'rescue' women from their only source of income? ..." she adds. "Lastly, if you view women who sell sex as objects to be 'bought and sold,' has it ever occurred to you that you're the problem? In this sense, you're binding the whole of a woman's identity to the mere act of sex, and view sex work not as a woman merely selling a service, but selling her entire self." Finally, we get to some sex workers who actually have it all together—Maxine Doogan and her group, the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education Research Project (ESPLERP)—who recently put out a press release lauding Amnesty International's recommendation that sex work be decriminalized worldwide. "Both the Policy and the reports are detailed, meticulous, carefully researched and data-driven, and incorporate input from a wide range of stakeholders, such as sex workers themselves, social workers, government agencies including police and prosecutors, and state ombuds for equality and anti-discrimination," ESPLERP reports. "And the conclusions are incontrovertible: • "Decriminalization is the only approach that protects sex workers’ human rights. • "All other approaches, such as criminalizing sex workers, or criminalizing clients, or criminalizing those associated with sex workers (like other sex workers, friends, family, landlords) make sex workers less safe, abridge their human rights, and provide impunity for abusers." The press release also references the group's lawsuit against California's anti-prostitution statute, and notes that on May 24, the group filed its appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, hoping to overturn the summary judgment dismissal the suit received at the hands of a district court judge earlier this year. So as the presidential election approaches, it'll probably be good to remember that just because one is president doesn't mean he (or she) knows shit about sex work. Pictured: Jimmy Carter (Library of Congress photo) and prostitute (photo by Julia da Costa Juhu)

 
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