A network of carceral Feminists and ultra conservative groups sue Sex Worker for speaking out against conspiracy theories
Does their “rescue” means taking away free speech from sex workers?
On May 12, 2023, I gave a talk at a symposium in Berlin. I was invited as an author, social justice trainer and sex worker to talk about the German ProstituiertenSchutzGesetz (law for the protection of prostitutes, 2017), sexworkphobia and anti-feminism. In my input I examined arguments of anti sex work groups and movements and explained what anti-feminist about them is.
Then I got mail from a lawyer’s office. The magazine “EMMA”, the association “SISTERS e.V.” and the GbR (company constituted under civil law) “Netzwerk Ella” issued a joint warning against me. They all are sex work negative organisations and campaign for client criminalisation in Germany. They demanded I sign a declaration to cease and desist.
What is the issue?
The cease and desist demand is with regard to a specific point I made: I drew a line between the conspiracy narrative vocabulary of “lobbyism” (“gender lobby”, “pharma lobby”, “trans lobby”) to the anti-sexwork groups’ use of “prostitution lobby”. In the German discourse, “Lobby” is a common term which is used to mark something as part of a big, dark, malicious activity by few “elites” to the detriment of the many. (It has been described here for “pharma lobby”.)
Anti sex work and anti LGBTQIA groups use the idea of an organised lobby or conspiracy in order to create the impression of a threat. The persons and groups who are said to cooperate in the (non-existing and non-verifiable) “prostitution/pimp lobby” in pursuit of their selfish, criminal, and exploitative interests are anyone who speaks out for decriminalisation of sex work. Vocal sex workers – including me – are being called part of the “prostitution lobby” in order to delegitimize our concerns. But the interests of sex workers are not identical with those of brothel owners, for instance, and victims of exploitation and violence also benefit from better rights for sex workers. But with the term “prostitution lobby”, sex worker activists are being marked as exceptions, not in solidarity with victims of sex trafficking, or even portrayed as collaborators secretly profiting from the sex work of others.
In my talk in May 2023, I laid out that conspiracy narratives are often structurally antisemitic. This is an accepted outcome of research and is well supported:
“We call something structurally antisemitic if narratives are antisemitic without explicitly talking about “the Jews”. This can be the case when complex social relations and/or crises are simplified or personalized (…) For example, conspiracy ideologies often see “secret elites” as responsible for negative events. However, secret “elites”, “globalists” or “high finance” are century-old codes for Jews. The narrative in question can be antisemitic without actually mentioning “the Jews” – the narrative’s antisemitism is veiled by a workaround and has to be decoded first.”
Argumentative patterns relied on by the terms “prostitution, pimp, gender lobby” have a long history. Jewish people have long been declared pimps and being responsible for the “racial degeneration” (Fritsch, Theodor (1920): An der Zeitenwende. In: Hammer. Parteilose Zeitschrift für nationales Leben 19 (444), p. 463). Sex workers were among those who had to carry the black triangle of “anti-socials” under the Nazi regime. This transfusion of antisemitic stigmatisations to other victim groups was not a sole attribute of Nazism. Such stigmatisation results in persecution, marginalisation and violence.
In my talk I explained who is using conspiracy narratives in the discourse about sex work, why, and what their common talking points are. I am in the process of writing a book on this but at the moment I cannot safely deconstruct their argumentation without being threatened by yet another lawsuit against me. This is due to the SLAPP suit I am writing about here.
SLAPP: #CarceralFeministsAgainstSexWorker and victim blaming.
The cease-and-desist letter is textbook SLAPP:
“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP suit) refers to lawsuits brought by individuals and entities to dissuade their critics from continuing to produce negative publicity. By definition, SLAPP suits do not have any true legal claims against the critics. People bring SLAPP suits because they can either temporarily prevent their critics from making public statements against them or more commonly to make critics spend all of their time and resources defending the SLAPP suits.”
SLAPP exchanges the roles of victim and perpetrator (victim blaming). Somebody who calls out social injustices or conspiracy narratives gets sued for defamation. Organisations or individuals with economic power and access to the legal system deflect from engaging in the points their critic is making by SLAPPing them. The effect of this practice is the silencing of the SLAPP victim as well as the deterring others from voicing similar criticisms.
“EMMA”, “Sisters” and “Netzwerk Ella” are attacking me as a private individual because I study and speak out about the way they speak about sex work. They are suing me, a sex worker, who is criticising their “arguments”.
Why is this happening now?
Recently, anti sex work organisations were featured in two tv formats: their clerical, conservativist and Christian fundamentalist connections and the way these overlap have been exposed in an impressive way. This is unwanted critique for these organisations in favour of end-of-demand-model. They prefer to be seen as rescue or saviours. Undoubtedly the SLAPP against me shows their hostility towards Sex Workers. They fight fiercely against voices, which demand rights, not rescue.
The SLAPP against me is part of their counterattack. Tellingly, they have the economical and personal means to start such a wearing down process. Clearly they want to benefit from the right-wing backlash wide parts of Europa suffer from recently. There is no organisation, association or sponsor directly attached to me. I am an individual whose livelihood and reputation is being disrupted at a minimum..
It is equally telling that they are celebrating “winning” against me when I am a member of the very stigmatised social group that they claim to want to “rescue”.
Criticism lays bare what they want to leave unsaid: The “saviour” and “rescue” organisations have no answers to the questions posed by precarious and discriminated life and work situations of sex workers in modern societies. Demands like the Nordic Model (client criminalisation) only have adverse effects on sex workers as the reality in Sweden or Canada shows. Therefore, they work with emotions and fuzziness and don’t want to engage with fundamental criticism as I have formulated it.
First verdict in a fast trial
On July 13 I was convicted in the first instance. I am subject to an order to desist from certain statements about the association “Sisters e.V.”. These statements, as well as the judge’s reasoning, are interesting.
1) The statements
I am no longer allowed to analyse the argumentative patterns behind the use of “pimp lobby”, “prostitution lobby”, “trans lobby” and “gender lobby” in connection to the plaintiff.
The use of “pimp and prostitution lobby” has been ascribed to a wide variety of actors differing with their own views: Sex workers, social workers, counselling services, politicians, actors from academia and journalism, the German Institute for Human Rights, and Amnesty International. In order to be included in the “pimp and prostitution lobby” it is sufficient to speak in favour of the decriminalisation of sex work. Any evidence for the intertwining of sex work, counselling, science, and politics in the form of a “prostitution lobby” is absent.
Additionally, it is not only sex workers and sex work counsellors that are being directly attacked by lobby-narratives. The LGBTQIA* community is being defamed as well. This SLAPP suit is anti sex work, anti queer and affects civil society at the same time. If prejudiced and hostile statements cannot be analysed and called out for what they are anymore then this is an attack on anyone who speaks out against racism, discrimination, and hatred.
2) Judges reasoning
In her decision, the judge prohibits me from publicly analysing the lobby narratives in connection with the petitioner. She considered “personal rights” of an organisation as more worthy of protection than a scientific debate. In the reasoning she writes that I am campaigning “in favour of prostitution”. Experts, sex workers and myself are demanding workers’ rights, migration rights and reduction of discrimination. This is not “pro prostitution”. This decision comes at the same time as the EU is negotiating how to prevent the abuse of civil lawsuits (SLAPPs).
She argues that the average audience cannot make the distinction between antisemitism and structural antisemitism, and uses the dictionary definition of “antisemitism”. She also quotes two authors in their rejection of “structural antisemitism” (Armin Pfahl-Traughber and Michael Wolffsohn) who have been criticised as right-leaning and downplaying of extreme right violence. She follows an antimodern understanding of science but “science” is rarely in unison and exists in a state of constant debate.
This reaction of the judge points at a particularity of German public discourse: A discussion about contemporary antisemitism in its various shapes and forms is being avoided. That “Sisters e.V.” is going to court over that is interesting in itself.
Anti sex work and anti queer
This SLAPP is anti sex work and anti queer. Therefore, I have decided to defend my right to criticism and free speech by working with a lawyer.
I want to be outspoken against conspiracy narratives and FLICC.
I need to defend myself against intimidation through the use of a SLAPP. And it is important to do so, as this will happen to other sex workers if these carceral feminists get away with it.
And I want to inform about the strategies anti sexwork groups use. Such groups want to “rescue” sex workers so much that they take legal measures against them. That’s how much they care about the rights of sex workers. (Not at all).
This decision doesn’t only hit me personally but also the things I stand for:
• Sex workers who are resisting “rescue” by reactionary, prejudiced and hostile actors
• Sex workers who are demanding constructive solutions
• A civil society that defends democratic principles from the Right and wants to not be associated with group-based misanthropy
• Feminism that acts intersectionally instead of producing exclusions
• Solidarity among people harmed by discrimination.
• Resistance against the forgiving and forgetting of violence.
Sex Workers and the LGBTQIA community need to stand together against this legal threat.
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