Pornography, Prostitution and “Liberals”

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In August of 2000 the New York Observer published an interview with Larry Flynt that also included some quotes by Dennis Hof, owner of the “Moonlite Bunny Ranch” brothel in Nevada (I’m not going to link to this establishment’s web page but you can easily find it via Google), including this one:

“Here’s what’s happened,” said Mr. Hof, who met his girlfriend, Ms. Farr, when she came to work for him at the Moonlite Bunnyranch at age 19. “We’ve had eight years of lack of prosecution of a sex industry. Who’s Bill Clinton going to prosecute with all his stuff going on? Janet Reno doesn’t want any part of that. So the film industry has gone from 1,000 films eight years ago to 10,000 last year. Ten thousand pornographic movies. You’ve got Larry and [Penthouse publisher Bob] Guccione doing things that 10 years ago you’d go to prison for. Then you’ve got all the Internet stuff–dogs, horses, 12-year-old girls, all this crazed third-world shit going on. Larry comes out lookin’ like a choirboy coming next to this stuff.”

That quote helps frame why I think this column, published just a few months later, in early 2001, is the most idiotic Op-Ed about pornography that ever appeared in The Nation. The pornographer author, Mark Cromer, first asserts:

Porn is a $10 billion industry–$4 billion of that in explicit video sales–that even has links to corporate parents like General Motors and AT&T. (Whatever collective pain and persecution the industry suffered during the Reagan and Bush the Elder years, when Bill Clinton rolled into the White House with a social agenda that did not call for the outright destruction of smut, pornographers in the San Fernando Valley–Wicked Pictures, Vivid Video, VCA and Hustler Video are the biggies–saw eight years of relative green lights and blue skies.)

But then he claims that the election of George W. Bush would lead to “kindler and gentler smut,” writing that porn companies like Hustler had adopted guidelines forbidding material depicting women who appeared to be suffering unhappiness, pain or degradation, and imposing “a prohibition of the until-now obligatory facial “money shot,” in which a male performer ejaculates on the face of the female performer.” Of course none of this has come to pass, and I seriously doubt the author ever believed that it would. I see a lot of degrading pornographic images daily, simply as a consequence of administering this blog. Yesterday, as I looked for images of water pistols to use in the teaching of a patent law case (Larami v. Amron, 27 U.S.P.Q.2d 1280 (E.D. Pa. 1993)), I got dragged to a really scary porn site which would completely and unequivocally disprove the accuracy of the pornographer’s purported predictions, to put it mildly.

A close runner up for stupidity via The Nation is this Op-Ed by Debbie Nathan, the premise of which is that by devoting resources to ending sex trafficking, human trafficking for other purposes gets less attention. Entirely evidence and data free, the author strings together an assortment of quotations to support the proposition that most “trafficked” women working as prostitutes “knew what line of work they’d be getting into and are doing it voluntarily.” She asserts that “immigrants working voluntarily as prostitutes probably far outnumber those who are coerced,” and not making distinctions based on this voluntariness “inflates the severity of the “sex slave” problem in the public mind.”

Nathan’s piece brought an emphatic response by Melissa Farley, who wrote in pertinent part:

This article was written in response to Debbie Nathan’s ‘Oversexed’ (Nation, August 29, 2005). Nathan sympathizes with those on the Left who consider prostitution to be a form of labor rather than violence against women. Nathan criticizes abolitionist feminists who think that women in prostitution deserve more in life than a condom and a cup of coffee. In fact, we feminists think that women in prostitution deserve the right NOT to prostitute. That’s what almost all women in prostitution tell us they want: to get out. …

… Over the years, Debbie Nathan has hung out with the sexual-violence-denying faction of the Left who are apologists for pornographers, pedophiles, incest perps who claim their kids have false memories, and nice johns who only use prostitutes indoors. Protesting too-stringent prosecution of child pornographers and pedophiles along with her nudist lawyer friend Lawrence Stanley (publisher of Uncommon Desires,”the voice of the politically conscious girl-love underground”who in 2002 was arrested and charged with violating Brazil’s child exploitation laws), Nathan rails against those of us who state unequivocally that children are profoundly damaged by sexual relations with adults. Nathan questions – no, not the existence, just the scientific prevalence – of sexual violence against women and children in this man’s world.

Pedophilia and ritual abuse (highly organized groups of pedophiles who make a religion out of sexually torturing children yes they really exist) are described by Nathan as a”sex abuse panic.”Public outcry against adults having sex with kids and taking pictures of that is penned by Nathan as”kiddy porn panic.”Now she writes about a”sex-slave panic.”She uses our own discomfort against us. If we’re uncomfortable at witnessing sexual violence, at the renting or buying of people for sex, our discomfort is sneered at, labeled”panic.”It’s fiendishly effective strategy that colludes with peoples’ stubborn refusal to know about the cruelty of sexual violence. Most people are relieved to avoid the painful awareness of one more instance of suffering in this world. Violence against women and children is left in place, hidden in plain sight. …

… Nathan even suggests that some women consent to being trafficked:”I’ve never met a Thai woman smuggled in for sex work who didn’t know that’s what she’d be coming here to do.” That’s pimp-speak. As in”hey girl this is a dog-eat-dog world and you got gold between your legs. You already been fucked so why not get paid for it?”Is Nathan saying that she knows what’s going to happen to her so that means she deserves what she gets? Is Nathan suggesting that we stand by and watch as she gives up her human rights?

It’s a cold, mean world for some girls but Nathan isn’t objecting. It’s not sex trafficking, it’s ‘migration for sex work.’ Nathan dismisses the overwhelming damage that comes from sucking 10 strangers’ dicks a day, from getting raped weekly, and from getting the shit beaten out of you if you don’t do whatever pimps or johns want. Nathan considers”imprisonment in a sweatshop”just as severe as trafficking for prostitution. Sweatshops are vicious but they don’t involve invasion of all your body’s orifices on a daily basis for years into the future – or having to smile and say you like it when some foul-smelling man your grandfather’s age comes on your face. Ironically, in her dogmatic refusal to notice sexual abuse anywhere, Nathan also fails to point out the fact that women and girls imprisoned in gender-stratified sweatshops are usually sexually exploited as well as having their labor exploited.

Nathan declares that feminists are tainted with guilt by association. Evangelicals and feminists. Feminists and evangelicals. If any cause is endorsed by the Right – if we agree with them on anything – then we are”in bed with them.”Object to child pornography? Oops so does the Christian Right, gotcha. Favor strong laws against prostitution and trafficking? Oops, so does George Bush, gotcha. This adolescent logic trumps carefully articulated politics based on years of evidence-gathering and analysis. …

Read the entire article here. The text of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is here. The AG’s May 2007 report on human trafficking for fiscal year 2006 is accessible here. A short report on human trafficking by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project is available here.

–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to Pornography, Prostitution and “Liberals”

  1. Joseph Slater says:

    I’m no expert on this topic, but I wonder about the top two quotes that seem to attribute ebbs and flows of pornography in general and the apparent rise of exceptionally kinky/weird/abusive forms of pornography to differing federal enforcement schemes under different presidents.

    Call me a technological determinist, but my guess is that what was happening in the Clinton years was not his unwillingness to enforce laws becaue of Lewinksy (look at various closted Republicans and anti-gay stuff). Rather, it the rise of the internet as a major source of pornography — we are talking 1992 to 2000 here, after all.

    The internet not only made pornography easier to distribute and access, it made it easier to market to niche groups (those who have unusual kinks/perversions/fetishes). Suddenly, quasi-”mainstream” porn (Penthouse, Playboy) had competition from often free sources that “went further.” And considering that for some, the trangressive appeal of some porn is seeing “how far it goes,” it’s not surprising that some has gone alarmingly far.

    And while I personally might be more in the “worker’s rights” camp in terms of some parts of this industry, the trend toward the more shocking, extreme, and violent is not good news for workers in this industry.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    I didn’t do a great job of being clear. I posted the first two quotes not for the truth of the matter asserted, but just to illustrate what two pornographers (Hof is a pornographer as well as a pimp) believed, or claimed to believe. To re-purpose the “panic” framework, in 2001 Cromer was claiming that “anti-porn panic” was driving the industry to “kinder and gentler” (his words) porn. I have doubts that he believed those words even when he wrote them; the intervening six years of porn have certainly proven him wrong.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “woker’s rights” in this context. Goodness knows the “performers” don’t have many.

    Also, Playboy and Penthouse are often held up as “mainstream” or “acceptable” porn but both companies also produce hard core disgusting porn under different trademarks. Playboy in particular derives the majority of its revenue from this kind of porn (it owns Vivid Video, for example), but gets some kind of undeserved halo effect from the magazine it publishes – see this post: http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?p=2173

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