“Powerful … constructively controversial.” - Telegraph
“As entertaining as it is erudite.” - Observer
“Ambitious, meticulously researched and passionate.” - Independent
"Impeccably well-researched" - Huffington Post
"I disagree with just about everything she has to say" - Julie Bindel

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Wag the Dog

To absolutely no one's surprise - no one, that is, who followed the hype and to-do surrounding the sexualisation "debate" these last few years - it is announced that Prime Minister David Cameron will be meeting with four big internet providers to discuss schemes for limiting access to porn.

At this point it's unclear if the approach will be opt-in (objectionable content turned off until you declare you want it) or opt-out (all content available unless you say no). Since the latter option is more-or-less what's already available with various kinds of blocking software, my guess is we'll see the ground shift from opt-out to opt-in. Early news reports are saying the same.

In other words, if you're a customer with BT, Sky, Talk Talk, or Virgin, expect to be sending them a copy of your passport in the not so distant future.

The impetus for this meeting is the Bailey Report on sexualisation from this summer. A document that was light on facts, heavy on misinterpretation, and ripe for ridicule among those who can, ya know, actually evaluate evidence. And yet any critical discussion was at best muted, apart from some bloggers. We all think we know what sexualisation is, how it happens, and what it does. What many of us don't realise is who's really pulling the government's strings here.

Executive summary: the evidence for connecting sexualised materials to younger sexual activity is questionable, the evidence for connecting sexualised materials to violence against women is nonexistent, and conceptual problems start from sentence 1 because no one even bothers to define the word "sexualised". Given this lack of proof, many are understandably concerned about the government's involvement.

Parents have a right to be concerned about and involved in deciding which media their families consider appropriate. But I can guarantee the things you are worried about with regards to your children are not in line with what the government proposes. Never mind that the idea of it being plausible, much less possible, to censor all offensive websites - and only those websites - is an article of faith bordering on superstition. And that if you knew just who the current government take their policy cues from, you'd be afraid... you'd be very afraid.

And interestingly, there are suggestions that the ISPs are not as on-board with Cameron and the Mothers' Union as early reports suggested. "We all want to make the internet as safe as possible, but we can't completely eliminate all risk - at least not without seriously affecting the vibrant and beneficial nature of the internet. The primary responsibility lies with the parents, who have a responsibility to supervise how their children use the internet."

I use the word 'interesting' because you would have had to be a blind child in a deep cave with a blindfold on and your hands cut off not to detect this one coming. No one at Sky, BT, et al. thought maybe this cooperation could be construed as colluding in censorship? Really? Cry. Me. A. River.

But after such an inevitable lock-step to this point, and with so little in the way of vocal criticism from the entire country's mainstream media, it's hard for me to get more than mildly exercised by what's happening to internet providers. This has been coming for a long time. I'm surprised at the people who are surprised. And with the state of the economy, it's equally unsurprising that the current government are trying to make porn and immigration stay above the fold. Bread and circuses, kids. Bread and circuses. Only wasn't there a time when these circuses used to be more entertaining?

And the options on offer really solve nothing. Me, I'll be dusting off my command line skills, as I fully expect trading dirty pics via Usenet to make a comeback any day now.

(I've also written about this issue over at the Grauniad)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Something hoist something petard.

It is with some interest that I have been following media reports of the alleged conduct of Ashton Kutcher, a well-known campaigner against sex trafficking. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the "problem" his advocacy claims to address is certainly hugely overstated and possibly being manipulated by people who are at least as interested in money and credibility as they are in philanthropy.

Interestingly, on Quora, which Kutcher has called "the smartest place on the internet" (you know, because academic journals and research forums are where the dumb kids hang out), there was a question not long ago which asked, "Why is it so common to include voluntary prostitution in the category of sex trafficking?"

Kutcher stepped in, as did others, in defence of the idea that foreign-born women voluntarily choosing to enter sex work - such as, say, myself (and yes, one of them did mention me specifically) are trafficked. Also people being transported over state and international borders, or something.

When you hear the word "trafficking", maybe you imagine a foreign child being kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. Not only is that not accurate, it's also not what the lobbyists against sex work even seem to believe themselves. But it is an assumption they appear happy to exploit. As the Quora discussion shows, Kutcher and people like him claim that "trafficking" includes people going into sex work willingly and migrating willingly. In other words, equating consensual sex work with involuntary slavery. Actually a lot of other "rescue industry" types buy that as well. It's a stand with a lot of errors of logic, but it's their platform, they defend it, they own it.

Right. Now, let's check out an article from the Daily Mail dated 03 October 2011 (no link since Istyosty has gone now, HuffPo covers it and so does The Frisky, also it's screensnapped below). It includes quotes from someone who not only claims to know the person Kutcher allegedly cheated with, but who also appears to indicate that the presence of girls like her at celeb parties is, shall we say, not entirely without reimbursement.

Here's the bit in the Mail that caught my eye:

Naumoff, who arranges for good looking girls to be shipped to certain hotspots,  also told the newspaper: 'Sara’s a great girl. My job is to round up hot girls and bus them into clubs in San Diego or Vegas.

The girls get free booze, food, whatever, and they attract rich and famous guys to the clubs. It’s a two-way street. The girls get to meet rich men and the guys get what they want.’

Which is? ‘Sex, obviously.’

Is Naumoff paid to do this? If so, by whom? The Mail doesn't say.

You could be charitable and interpret this as kind of an introduction service. But then again, some of the men in question are already married. You could alternatively think this setup sounds an awful lot like people being reimbursed for travel and sex. Which might not only count as prostitution to some people, but trafficking as well. If you were the sort of person who was inclined to see things that way.

Me? I don't believe anyone who enters any kind of quid-pro-quo relationship, be it sex for money or naked hot tubbing for a drinks tab, and does so willingly, is trafficked. So far so sugar daddy. But read the Quora opinions, and consider what's being quoted in the Mail, and ask yourself whether you think this alleged situation would tick the rescue industry's boxes for "prostitution: trafficking" or not. Whatever would the missus think?