Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Frames of reference,stigma and victimisation

I noticed over the weekend that I had a lot of visitors from Margaret's site. I had a look, and lo and behold, my name had been mentioned. Thanks to my friend James B, no need to apologise James, you did not drag me in. I am clear about your intentions so do not worry.

This is Margaret's profile, she is a Humanist.

"I'm a grumpy old woman. I'd grow old disgracefully, but it’s tiring. That whooshing sound is my life, flying by while I procrastinate. I write, paint, draw, and let the ironing pile up until there's nothing left to wear. Where’s the pause button."

The post that I was directed to, was a response to this one.

This is the post that caught my eye,

"I’ll probably regret this…

In response to my post, "The Oldest Profession", someone calling himself James B Logwriter tried to post a comment that I rejected, but I've been thinking about it. He wrote,

I don’t really agree, because I don't think you know anything about prostitution, and you can't imagine working as a prostitute.
There are many different levels of prostitution, and it has a different significance in different cultures. Since I have written many thousands of words about prostitution on my own blog, I am not going to repeat here, but you might also be interested to read the blog of my friend Nia, who is a prostitute, and also a damn good writer.

I’d dispute the description of Nia as a “damn good writer”, but Mr Logwriter’s taste in writers (and other matters) is clearly very different from mine.

He said, “… you can’t imagine working as a prostitute,” but I can; I’d just rather not. Judging from Nia’s blog, her approach to prostitution might be safer than the street-walkers who’ve been murdered in Ipswich, but it’s still a dangerous game.

Anyway, I investigated Mr Logwriter’s blog, and his friend Nia’s, and several others that link to theirs. They make depressing reading.

In the BHA forum I referred to prostitute’s clients as “… generally emotionally inadequate, for a variety of reasons. They are also highly irresponsible, because most are unwilling to be tested or treated for sexually transmitted diseases - most HIV is spread by heterosexual activity, where men infect their innocent partners and, in turn, their children.”

One of the men who’ve contributed to the thread wrote,

What does “emotionally inadequate” mean? Inadequate for what? I’m not aware that there’s much known about men who frequent prostitutes - they are even harder to study than the prostitutes themselves. What are you basing this assertion on?
I meant that men who regularly pay for sex appear to lack the emotional wherewithal to deal with life as mature individuals, by failing to control their impulses and by treating women’s bodies as commodities. Do they regard prostitutes as different from other women, by deluding themselves that they’re more sexual? Or do they think that all reasonably attractive women are potential prostitutes? However they feel about women in general, their attitude towards prostitutes must involve emotional distance while engaged in sexual intimacy. If they can do this while using a prostitute, is it something they turn on and off at will? How do they relate to the other women in their lives?

Most of the humanists I know try to live ethically – they’re environmentally aware, they avoid doing anything that exploits other people or animals, and they buy fair trade goods. Prostitution isn’t a fair trade. It involves some of the poorest, most vulnerable women, who are manipulated, abused and trafficked in huge numbers. The call girls who are simply expensive prostitutes may say that they do what they do freely, but read what they say and tell me, honestly, that they’re well-balanced, happy individuals."

Margaret's response to some comments.

"Nia, I didn't imagine that you worked for anyone but yourself. However, your post "Trust, betrayal, vulnerability and security" describes a world where you have to be constantly on your guard. As for being "well-balanced"; I don't regard sex work as being psychologically healthy for anyone, however strong a case some "feminist" sex-workers may make. Feminism means the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of sexual equality, and the relationship between a prostitute and a client is essentially unequal.

It's a waste of time trying to achieve any sort of agreement with buyers of sex - I have no respect for them, and never will. Nathan mentioned "brick walls" when we last discussed the subject, very briefly.

The only prostitutes I've known were at the bottom of the heap (as most are). They sold sex for a variety of reasons, mainly poverty, and were definitely not happy hookers.

I've ordered the book by Julia O'Connell Davidson that Nia recommends, as well as The Idea of Prostitution by Sheila Jeffreys, which "explores the idea of men's entitlement to abuse and profit from the abuse of women in prostitution".

The women who've been murdered in my area were young street-walkers, so especially vulnerable. I've considered the argument about legalising prostitution, but the evidence so far suggests that it doesn't reduce the risks to women like them, or reduce all the associated problems with drug use, crime and sex trafficking

However many examples the contributors might offer of supposedly harmless transactions as sellers or buyers, the overwhelming evidence is that prostitution is an internationally destructive activity that exploits and degrades women.

It's unlikely that I'll allow any more comments on this post, unless they can refer me to reliable sources of information about the psychology of the buyers and/or projects that have successfully helped women escape the so-called "industry". (I know about the Poppy project)."

Why Whoremongering is wrong, Margaret's post

Reading Margaret's post raised a number of issues for me.

I feel strongly about what happened in Ipswich, as you all know, and have posts about it.I can understand some of what Margaret is saying, and her concern about what happened.I share Margaret's concerns about women who are coerced or trafficked into prostitution.

However there are a number of things I feel I need and want to make clear to my readers.

The majority of readers of my blog are lurkers, and rarely comment. I have no control over how you interpret what I write. However there are some things that I feel I need and I want to make clear to you.

I work independently, have no pimp, manager or boyfriend who shares my earnings.

2.Why I started escorting.

3. Do I find what I do degrading?

4. Writing my blog is a form of self expression for me. I know that there is a school of thought that believes if you are not an anonymous escort blogger, you need to portray your clients in a positive light at all times; or else you are doomed.

I do not fall into this category, and write about the difficult issues that I face with my clients. So, I guess I am doomed, right?

I am not suggesting that there are not escorts out there who have perfect,lovely, clients at all times. I have just not been that lucky.

Here is an interesting perspective from Mercurial girl. She is a paid companion, who I respect.

5. I need to be on my guard at all times, as any professional or service provider does who works one to one with clients eg doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, masseuse, reflexologist. Yes, the risks are greater with escorts, but other professions carry risks too.

6.Margaret has read some escort blogs that are linked to my blog, and James B's, and she thinks that we(the escorts) are not happy or well balanced.

I am interested in what form of assessment she used to define a healthy well balanced individual.

How does that fit in with Margaret's understanding of Humanistic Psychology?

I am happy for anyone to give me references, from any Humanistic Psychology texts, with regard to the Fully Functioning Person,that state that sex workers, escorts, courtesans, streetworkers, are dsyfunctional. Or that their behaviour is pathological.

I think if anyone were to make a diagnosis regarding an individual's psychological health ; they would need to have a full life history about that individual, gathered from their assessment.

I suppose I wonder how Margaret believes that I, and other escorts who are linked to my blog are unhappy and unbalanced, based on the limited information provided on our blogs.

I share some aspects of my life with my readers, and I do not blog about every aspect of my life here, for obvious reasons. That is my choice.

It reminds me of something that I read about learning to deal with grief cross culturally.

"Another source of understanding is the person or people we are trying to help. Whether they are American men who strive to control their tears or immigrants from the many cultures where people fear that the act of naming the deceased calls up a dangerous ghost, we must be constantly sensitive to their taboos and leanings. Our active curiousity and genuine interest are of the utmost importance. Asking someone to help us understand things in the way that people in their culture understand and experience them is a powerful way to learn what we need to learn.Learning their terms and working at using them properly can be helpful. We should not presume to teach them to feel "grief". It is not merely a matter of working among subtly different translations of the same terms. It is a matter of coming to grips with what may be vastly different concepts and vastly different explanatory systems and interpretative approaches. Those who live in the dominant US culture will never experience, for example, dealing with witchcraft as a cause of death, seeing the next baby born in the community as the reincarnation of the deceased, dealing with the deceased as a god, fearing being haunted by the ghost of the deceased because the proper death ceremonies cannot be performed in the United States, fearing the wind because it brings dangerous spirits-and on and on. We must be skeptical of what people tell us, but we must also be ready to leave our own culture to share in a world that is surprisingly different from our expectations."

Ethnic variations in dying death and grief, diversity in universality by Donald Irish,Kathleen Lundquist and Vivian Jenkins Nelsen

Something else, I read years ago, by two Psychiatrists about Black men who had been misdiagnosed by the mental health system in the UK. The chapter was on insanity and meaning.

"If we can show that the beliefs of someone who is possibly mentally ill are in fact shared by many other people does that explain them?

To accept that different communities have quite different expectations of normality carries certain implications. If we say, for instance, that a particular religous experience is abnormal, we are saying that societies in which it is a common experience contain a large number of unbalanced people or even that these societies are unbalanced altogether.

Every society has its own characteristic pattern of normative behaviour and beliefs. It has therefore to solve the threat not only of antagonists external to the group but also of those inside who may be deviant. If accepted patterns are to be seen as normal, we need a theory of abnormality. The solution is to include both normal and abnormal inside the dominant beliefs."

Aliens and Alienists by Roland Littlewood and Maurice Lipsedge

My point is that as we live we accumulate a continous set of experiences. Out of our experiences we develop a set of beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. These beliefs influence the way we construe our reality, and constitute our frame of reference. Our frame of reference shapes our behaviour which will probably elicit experiences consistent with our original experiences, and thereby help to reconfirm our original beliefs.

7. I now have a recommended reading list on my sidebar, that includes books from a cross section of women and men in the sex industry.

Julia O'Connell Davidson in her book Prostitution Power and Freedom, which is on the sidebar explores the issues that Margaret is raising.

Her research covers women at all levels in the industry. She talks about Desiree who is an Independent.

"Desiree did not enter prostitution from a base of absolute poverty. She owned her own home, she had no economic dependents and she had a job.To be sure this job held out little prospect of ever making her wealthy, but it still made her situation very different from that of , say, a lone mother living in a council propery run away from an abusive parent and who lives on the streets without any source of income.

A factor which I believe contributes to Desiree's power within her transactions is her own character and "career history". Desiree had a great deal more emotional and life experience when she started to prostitute than those individuals who, for various reasons, find themselves involved in prostitution in their early teens. It is also the case that Desiree is an extremely intelligent, well read, perceptive,assertive,charming and socially skilled individual, and these qualities contribute enormously to her ability to deploy her subjective powers to positive effect within prosititution-that is, to negotiate and enforce contracts on terms which suit her, and yet still maintain a stream of repeat custom.

When people have been brutally and unequivocally sexualized in the ways implied by sexual abuse and rape, they are likely to have a strong sense of themselves as nothing more than sexual beings for others, and so to view prostitution as one of the "options," or the only "option" available to them. But it is important to recognise three things about this. First, not all prostitutes have been sexualized in these ways. Several of the women we interviewed who who were involved in informal tourist-related prostitution in economically underdeveloped countries, for example had no prior history of sexual victimization. Economic desperation is enough, on its own, to drive people into prostitution. Second the experience of sexual victimization clearly does not and could not on its own cause people to enter into prostitution or to continue prostituting once involved in it. There are people who have suffered such violence and yet do not work as prostitutes, as well as people who have been raped and/ or abused who have worked as prostitutes and then exited from prostitution. Third it is far fetched(and dangerous) to attribute the complex set of choices that people make within the constraints that operate on them to a single, determining event or psychological factor. Barry bravely acknowledges the fact that she herself was raped(1995,p.252),for example, but I doubt that she would take kindly to someone interpreting the fact that she spent two decades researching and writing on prostitution as a form of sexual violence as a reflection of nothing more than her own personal attempt to come to terms with that event. It would be as easy to interpret Barry's work in this way as it would be to interpret Desiree's decision to remain in prostitution as a direct result of certain events in her life, but I think that in both cases such an interpretation is wrong."

My concern with Margaret, is that her beliefs, experience and knowledge seems to be based around streetworkers. She believes we are all the same,ie,victims, abused,exploited, unhappy, and psychologically unbalanced.

She has ordered Julia's book on my recommendation, and I hope it widens her perspective. I can only try !

There is diversity within the industry as I have pointed out in numerous posts. Before interpretations are made you need to look at a cross section of women in the industry. Differences exist amongst women who work at the same level.

This is definitely my longest post ever, have a good week!

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Nia, one of the pointers that is most diagnostic of psychological health is keeping up with the ironing. I note that both you and Margaret come up short on this, o maybe this is a woman thing. The Whoremonger, by contrast, always has his ironing caught up.

By contrast I do note that you and I have one thing in common, as you list Howard's End as a favorite movie. Actually I favor the book, but Tony Hopkins is terrific as Mr. Wilcox in the film, and this is a story aboutr hypocrisy that all whoremongers should have in their library.

Yes, I took on Margaret a bit on her blog just because she seemed representative of a number of bloggers whom the Ipswich tragedy has brought out of the woodwork, all spouting the conventional line on prostitution, and what particularly interested me was her claim that she could imagine being a prostiture, because I did not think it was so.

Your comments on cross cultural aspects of beliefs about health are very true and apply equally to prostitution.

I have to laugh when I am referred to Web pages that explain how the Dominican Republic is a signatory to various international conventions on the Rights of Women, because there is no real law enforcement in that country. The police are so poorly paid and so underequipped that if you want to report a robbery, you have to pay for a taxi to bring the police to you!

A while back there was a break-in at the Hotel Europa where I stay. The guy was shot in the leg by the hotel security guard, and then the police arrived on the scene and beat the guy up again, and only took him to hospital as an afterthought when this was suggested by a hotel guest.

There is no unemployment benefit, no child allowance, no social security, no council housing, no free health care. You either eat or you starve, and if you starve no one much cares other than your friends and family.

Roberto, a 15-year-old boy with epilepsy I blogged about, was cleaning shoes every day to make money to pay for medication to control his epilepsy.

If you are in prison you are not fed--your friends and family must bring food for you!

The fact that quite a few Dominican women choose to work as prostitutes in countries like the Netherlands has to be seen in this context.

Of course this would not be so if poverty was abolished, but when exactly is the abolition of world poverty scheduled? Are we going to do that? Before or after we defeat 'terror', drugs, and pollution?
Thank you N ia for such a long, thoughtful and well argued post. What can one add?

Well the clients perspective I suppose!

I had intended to write a comment on Margaret's blog. She has closed the discussion now ( - because nobody was agreeing with her?) so I will try to write something here.

I found it hard to decide the tone. Should I angrily refute her description of clients? Should I try to understand that maybe underneath her rants there was a genuine concern for women working as prostitutes and she had been upset by local terrible events? Should I try to take on board the fact that many sex-workers hate the work they do and the clients who pay them and ask why and what the implications of this are?

But in the end I can't answer for all clients. I always try to treat the escorts I visit with respect and kindness and friendliness. I try to ensure the women I visit are independent and not coerced. I try not to stray over "the boundaries" and have never put any pressure on escorts to do so.

That is not to say I have not developed friendships.

Many of the escorts I have met are themselves kind and friendly. They are often strong, intelligent and capable people.

What got to me most about Magaret's posts was the fact that it was totally based on her own prejudices. She has so little knowledge of this area yet was happy to dive in with her views insulting the many people involved in the sex business. This is a legal business in the UK. Margaret may not like it but it is the case.

Margaret writes that she has no respect for those who buy sex an never will. Different studies in the UK have come up with figures of between one in ten and one in eight men in the UK pay for sex. When I met Teela Sanders she told me she thought it was an underestimate. In Italy a study suggested one in five men pay for sex. Thailand is a centre for the sex trade not just because of poverty - that would apply to so many countries - but because there was already a large number of massage parlours/brothels because most men in Thai cities paid for sex. It was already part of the culture.

As so many men pay for sex Margaret almost certainly knows some. She may even know an escort. It's not the kind of thing we talk about with our friends. But Margaret may have friends who she knows and respects and would not imagine "emotionally inadequate" who pay women for sex. She may scoff but I'm sure it is likely to be true.

A middle aged escort who I know also knows Teela. Teela has no idea that she is an escort!

There is little research about clients of escorts. When Teela's research is published at least then we will have something by a respected researcher to discuss. Until then I think Margaret shoud withdraw her words.

I was so surprised to see such a diatribe from a self styled "humanist". I might have expected it from the religious right. Is there now such a thing as a "fundamentalist humanism"????

I cannot resist a parting remark related to writing style. Margaret doesn't think much of Nia's and suggests that her own taste in writing is different from a commenter's. Have you seen her taste in writing? Just look at her profile!

Favourite books include Little Women, the Wind in the Willows - I ask you !!! - but also Bad Thoughts!

Mmmm - "Bad Thoughts". Sounds interesting! I must look it up ...

I'll pass on the endless discussion of whether it's all good or all bad.

But I'm sure Margaret will not be elected as a legislator. It's not about making a stand because it's good or bad, moral or otherwise. It's about effectiveness and the number of winners and losers.

Thank you for your comments.

I agree, I suppose what I found uncomfortable with Margaret's arguments, was the one rule for all attitude.

Paying the police to come to you, is true for a number of developing countries,lol.

Please, please let me know when the abolition of world poverty is scheduled.


Thank you for your comments. It is good to hear the client perspectives, as they have been demonised, too.

I think Margaret is genuinely concerned, I found her way of delivering the limited information that she possesses, challenging .

Yes, that got me too. Her prejudices, came out loud and clear.

I agree Beau, I wonder what Margaret would do, if she discovered one of her friends was part of the industry.

I look forward to Teela's book on clients, which should be out this year.

Thanks for your comments LAP.
I don't think we should be too hard on Margaret, even though the post in question was I think the fourth successive post on which she had vented about prostitution. (Perhaps I feel a little protective of her because my own mother's name was Margaret and she lived in Ipswich during World War II).

She is a woman of a little over 60, possibly a retired teacher who is single (widowed, divorced?)and has survived breast cancer. I don't think she is wealthy or privileged, as she says she does not own her own home.

She seems to have succeeded in raising a son who seems to be an admirable young man.

I too noted her taste in reading, especially since the first book in her list of favorites was Little Women, and in general her tastes seemed to run towards nostalgia for an earlier, more innocent time.

The thread (now closed) was interesting and useful, because it shows how all of us tend to engage in preaching to the converted, but that it is much harder to engage in discussion with people whose experience of life is totally different from one's own. Certainly, having read a number of posts on Margaret's blog, it is the only one that has attracted any interesting discussion. Clearly the fact that she felt she had to close the discussion, even though it was interesting and extremely civilized in tone shows how the subject matter was generating strong emotions that were hard to handle.

It just makes me glad to know that in a couple of weeks I will be relaxing with a Dominican woman or two in my arms and listening to their usual bullshit.
Nia, I apologise for implying that your literary style is not up to scratch - maybe I'd read a post you'd written on an off day (we all have them). This post was especially eloquent.

To answer Beau - I closed my thread because I'm bored with the subject and didn't think anything new was being contributed.

My primary interest throughout has been the street-walking issue - the women's rights, health, safety, state of mind, exploitation, addiction and so on. I still feel that, so far, the approach that shows the most promise is the Swedish one.

I think it's interesting how the clients who've posted comments on my blog and yours have been so anxious to justify their behaviour, possibly because they haven't been challenged about it very often. Beau wrote, "Should I try to take on board the fact that many sex-workers hate the work they do and the clients who pay them and ask why and what the implications of this are?" Yes, maybe he should.

And if one of my friends turned out to be a user or provider of paid sex? Real friends (like family) are people we love unconditionally, even if we don't like everything about them. The same applies to steady partnerships, I suppose, though I think I'd find it as hard to cope with this sort of infidelity as any other, especially when so many people take risks with HIV and other infections. One women who discovered her husband was using prostitutes spoke about it on Woman's Hour. I'm aware that, statistically, some of the men I know must pay for sex - I believe I mentioned this in my blog.

Don't assume that describing yourself as a humanist is incompatible with feeling strongly about prostitution. Morality is about considering the consequences of one's actions, not the puritanical ignorance of religious fundamentalists.

Oh - and I recommend Bad Thoughts for anyone's reading list.

Anyway, that's all - best wishes and goodbye - stay safe.

Thank you for your comments, apology and stopping by.

I had no problem with your view on my literary style . I am not a writer, or journalist.

As I pointed out in my post today,there were other issues that I had difficulty with.

I have to confess I do not know a lot about Humanism, but have read some stuff about Humanistic Psychology. I assume there are parallels in the philosophy.

Can you expand on what the Humanists stance is on morality?

There’s no direct connection between humanism and humanistic psychology.

Humanism is an approach to life, or a philosophy, for those who live without religion. Its roots can be traced back over 2500 years, to the ancient Greeks and others. Where religionists explain our existence with stories such as the biblical creation myth, we prefer the scientific explanation of evolution. Humanists are atheists or agnostics, but there’s more to it than that. Jim Herrick’s “Humanism – an introduction” is a good place to start.

We don’t have the atheist equivalent of the Bible or the Qur’an to provide a set of rules for human behaviour. It’s up to every one of us to decide on the right course of action according to the circumstances we find ourselves in, considering the possible consequences, so human dignity and welfare and the effect of our behaviour on the environment are all important. Religious critics will say that because we don’t accept any external authority, we can do as we please, and it’s “easy” to be a humanist. Former British Humanist Association president Claire Rayner said it’s just the opposite, because we have to think about the right thing to do, rather than blindly following a set of rules or instructions.

Paul Kurtz, an American humanist, has defended humanist morality, and the British Humanist Philosophers’ Group, associated with the BHA, has produced a brief introduction – you can read some of it online.

Thank you for the clarification and all the references.

I will definitely have a look at them.
Most people think of us as the lowest form of life. It suits their criteria for a tidy existence. We are something that should be ignored/brushed aside. They have no room for the "not quite normal" whatever "normal" might be, but they certainly don't think of us as equals.

It never occurs to some people that we are all human with feelings and emotions. They assume we are devoid of such fragile attributes.

Myself? I started out because I needed an adventure. I had led a very sheltered life,and now I don't. I am coming to the end of my time as a happy hooker, preferring now to think of it as a means to an end.

When I finally reire and fade back into obscurity, I will not regret what I have done, but perhaps I will reflect upon the effect my actions had upon others. We are not common en masse, at least we do have a respect for our bodies and charge for the priveledge. Some women actually give it away, can you believe that :)

Thank you for your comments.You raise some very important points. Yes some people find it hard to believe that we do have respect for our bodies.
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