IV – Navigating Risk and Violence
Joanne Bowring (@jojobo77) (Liverpool John Moores University): “An exploration of the experiences of those working in the UK adult film industry.”
Jo’s paper centred on her PhD research into the experiences of those working in the UK adult film industry. She began by outlining that, despite the debate around the supposed harms of pornography, for viewers, society and performers being very intense, little research has been conducted regarding the experiences of the UK adult film workforce. Jo outlined that Pornhub has around 1.68 million visits every hour, and that in 2007, there were 13,000 adult films made in the US alone – with the International Adult Film Database including over 100,000 performers. The British Girls Adult Film database has over 2000 female performers registered.
Jo then discussed the UK context – it was outlined that while most production is legal, recent legislation (e.g. Audio-Visual Media Services Regulation, 2014) prevents certain acts from being produced. Examples include female ejaculation and spanking if more than just titillation; legislation which Jo argued is sexist, due to the policing of female pleasure in such production. Most porn research, Jo outlined, is also based on the “potential for harm – for viewers, women and society” and does not centre the performer voice. Jo ‘s research, she stated, is pro-performer voice, and comes from the position that it should not be censored on moral objections/nuclear family ideals. She also outlined how porn is not a homogeneous lump of material; it is hugely varied in content and in production, ranging from sole traders to massive organisations.
Jo discussed some of the difficulties she has faced so far in the research process – including being “labelled pro-porn and part of the pimp lobby just by speaking to sex workers for the project”. She also outlined that previous research has highlighted that when the general public think about the porn industry, the damaged goods hypothesis (Griffiths et al 2013) is a prominent theme – the assumption that everyone has been abused as a child, with some other features on HIV cases in the US. As a result, she argued that research requires much more of a comprehensive focus on the risks and opportunities presented by the industry with a more open lens (rather than assuming victimhood, harm, and assumptions about characteristics/experiences of workers) She also outlined that it is timely to explore the implications of the audio-visual media regulations on performers, and to try and navigate ways to challenge stigma and include more of a diverse performer voice in debate and policy decisions.
Although in the early stages, Jo mentioned that the level of interest has been good and I look forward to seeing what her findings are.
Jill McCracken, PhD (University of South Florida St. Petersburg): “To Name is to Resist: Bridging Reactionism to Decrease Violence in the Sex Industry” **I didn’t take many notes during this presentation, as it was largely very interactive**
Abstract: “This presentation explores relationships between the discursive and material violence that occurs against individuals in the sex industry. The discourse surrounding sex work and trafficking in the sex industry–the terminology, images, descriptions, and definitions–are fraught with difficulty and complexity. Because they center on topics about which many hold strong beliefs, the language, labeling and perspectives lend themselves easily to reactivity, which both creates and inhibits resistance. Rhetorical, semantic, and ideological warfare then ensues and often the underlying issues–violence in this case–are moved to the sidelines. My findings document 1) how violence occurs within categories and definitions when words and images are used to achieve specific goals, based on contradictory moral frameworks and values often labeled as conservative, progressive, sex positive, and radical, among others; 2) the bridges that exist between these polarized stances that can provide a foundation for shared goals and outcomes, and 3) how these articulations can contribute to decreasing the material violence that is used against so many individuals within the sex industry. Using rhetorical and ideological analysis of the themes that emerge from legal, media, and academic discourses about sex work and trafficking in the sex industry, I present the central ideas as well as the underlying values and ideologies that inform these themes and perspectives. Examining the language and belief systems that inform these arguments reveal overlapping values and connections that can be the foundation for building and achieving common goals”.
Jill showed the audience some videos about trafficking which we discussed as an audience. Questions raised included: “what is the goal of such videos, what did we see, who gets to speak, and what are the main messages?”
Some offerings from the audience were: the key message from the imagery is to “put your clothes back on” (prostitution), “give us (those making the video) money/donate”, “jazzy infomercial style”, “having a goal of salvation”, “do the messages curb or create violence”?
Jennifer McGibbon (@jennyMcG) (University of Georgia): “Anti-Trafficking and the Hyper-Criminalization of Sex Workers”
Jennifer’s paper focused on the anti-trafficking movement and its ‘hyper-criminalisation’ of sex workers. She began by outlining the issues with recent legislation, including (as examples) the ‘anyone who benefits from sex work-related income’ that features in many policies, resulting in spouses, roommates, consenting escorts and drivers etc to be implicated. The ‘criminalisation of human contact’, as dubbed by Jennifer, means that in writing strip clubs are therefore illegal and this sort of problematic system results in the ‘burden of demonstrating coercion involved in the transactions being removed’.
Jennifer outlined how, in 2014, the Oakland nuisance eviction ordinance was put in place which required landlords to evict suspected prostitutes (and they can be fined by the city if they fail to evict). This garnered media coverage and opposition from tenant’s rights/sex worker groups. Similary, the 2013 formation of New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTIC’s) also contributed to the hyper-criminalisation of sex workers, with as the Red Umbrella describe as the ‘feminised version of stop and frisk” and Jennifer outlined that such strategies ‘disproportionately target women of colour/trans/poor women as ‘prostitutes’ – “because they look like one” and leave them in legal limbo.’ Jennifer outlined that sex workers can also be rearrested for returning to the area they were arrested in and this therefore creates ‘de facto prostitution free zones’.
Jennifer argues that such anti-trafficking movements and their subsequent regulations act as tools of gentrification, strengthen the illegal sex trade and increase trafficking – while also giving policing power to citizens. She outlined how sex worker populations are often already living in situations of precarity and the identification of ‘the trafficker’ in new legal situations where the trafficker doesn’t even need to be a 3rd party (consenting adult sex workers can be charged for trafficking themselves) is now very muddy – creating further uncertainty. She argued that violence is not an inherent part of the sex industry but inherent to capitalism, whereby sex workers are forced to choose between a job that doesn’t provide a living wage, or a job that sells sex which they may not want to do – and that ‘we have to tackle capitalism more broadly to tackle the real issues’. She also argued how important it is that society “re-imagines sex workers as complex, multi-faceted human beings, capable of consent and making logical decisions” – the anti-trafficking discourse, she states, makes it impossible for sex workers to be seen as able to say no or yes to sex, “which is very disabling”. She argued that the moral panic that anti-trafficking law engenders needs to be addressed – and that “it is important for survival sex workers to be central to legislation which disproportionately impacts them” and to resist the hyper-criminalisation of the sex industry.
A final note from Jennifer’s abstract: “My work constitutes a meaningful intervention into the anti-trafficking narrative by questioning and re-evaluating the goals and methods of racialized, gendered “rescue” and the efforts by the anti-trafficking movement to eradicate the sex industry entirely. The objective of my research is to understand how the anti-trafficking movement has shaped this atmosphere of hyper-criminalization and what forms of resistance are most effective in fighting criminalization”.