It would be easy to assume that the government's inability to refrain from extensive meddling in the European Court's review of France's sex purchase law is the most absurd event in recent weeks. But that would be as far from reality as you could possibly get without access to a lunar rocket or large amounts of hallucinatory drugs.
Not that we normally have a shortage of bizarre incidents in our small corner of the world, in particular involving our politicians, and especially when sex work is discussed. Although we should point out that its not actually talked about as “sex work” in Sweden, instead its “sex purchase” or the genital/gender trade and sex worker activists are dismissed as "sex purchase promotors" (and ”people who claim to sell sex voluntarily").
In Sweden, the imaginary enemy of the radical feminists is not called the "prostitution lobby" or the "pimp lobby", but instead it is called the "sex purchase-lobby". The narrative is focused on two things only: to prove that we are wrong and they are right and to strip us of every shred of agency and bodily autonomy - which is effectively dealt with through consistent mentioning of us in the same breath as children.
Keeping the prevailing narrative alive is generally taken care of by the women's movement in Sweden, who seems to fetishize the idea of women (and children of course) being chained up, abused, and forced to have sex with heartless men who enjoy watching them cry. "That’s not funny" hisses the "feminists" from nooks and crannies. ‘No, it really isn’t ...yet it is somewhat more uplifting than the fact that the national women's organizations don’t give a damn about what reality really looks like, as long as the result is ka-ching in the treasure chest and some spare time for their favourite pastime: To fight pornography, especially American commercial porn.
That said, idiocy knows no bounds. Something that was clearly illustrated last year by our Minister of Justice, (who has exactly zero legal education) when he basically promised that fines would be removed from the penalty scale for sex purchase in a debate article that was co-signed with our minister for gender equality. The debate article was quickly followed up by a special request by the government to the the ongoing inquiry on sex crime legislation - rather than looking at how the law is working (or not working) and/or potential changes and their hypothesized consequences- when it comes to the sex purchase law the question is about how the minimum penalty can be increased . In their subsequent report, the inquiry discusses (amongst other things) whether there could be a rise in costs (for society) and a burden on the court system if the minimum penalty was changed from an option of a fine to a new minimum penalty of 2 week imprisonment. Currently, more often than not, charges for the crime of sex purchase are met with an on the spot fine issued by the police, and in such cases there is no imposition on the courts.
The inquiry concludes that an increased burden on the courts can be expected initially, but that this burden will likely be limited to the short term- only as long as it takes the courts to set new precedents.
After this point, the police can return to being the ones responsible for handing out sentences. Suddenly the police are supposed to have mandate to hand out prison sentences on the admission of guilt of a crime seen as so despicable that you risk losing both family, friends as well as employment. Most people would do anything to make sure no one finds out. And with court records being publically accessible in Sweden, (and name suppression virtually impossible), for many people, avoiding trial will most likely feel like the only option available.
It feels like extremely volatile use of the judicial system and very far from equality in the eyes of the law, especially considering that the criminal inspector responsible for training the country’s police force in the art of catching sex purchasers, personally has contributed to the shaming of sex workers’ clients more than anyone else in Sweden. But that does not seem to worry the Minister of Justice in the slightest.
We are so used to the madness that very little surprises us. The absurd, ill-considered, and idiotic is the normal state. However, a couple of days after Sweden was told that they will be allowed to defend their law in the European Court (much needed as France's politicians clearly have lost their grip) something happened that raised the level of stupidity another notch.
On a Friday night in September 2021 several of our members were contacted by "Research Team" via text message and on the anonymous messaging app, Kik. "Research team" asked if we wanted to be interviewed and attached a flyer. We asked a few questions regarding method, purpose, and ethical approval. "Research Team" explained that everything was in order as the researcher in charge of the project had more than 30 years of experience in similar research. There were two logos on the attached flyer. One logo belongs to Talita, a little bunch who, with God as their guide, spend their time “rehabilitating” trafficking victims back to a “functioning life”. More on them later. The second logo belongs to Prostitution Research & Education, i.e. Melissa Farley.
Farley is an extremely problematic American psychologist and researcher whose "research" has been discredited on several occasions as a result of unethical research methods and a relaxed attitude to methodology. Despite this, she is allowed to continue without any real consequences and is frequently quoted by both the Swedish government and national women's organizations as well as by various supporters of the sex purchase law around the world. One of our members asked a series of questions and was told that someone would call her after the weekend. On the following Monday, she received a call from Melissa Farley. The call was recorded. For your information, we can tell you that in Sweden it is perfectly legal to record conversations, as long as the person recording is participating in the conversation themself. You do not need to inform the person you are talking to that the call is being recorded. Which is lucky for us, since an interview that Melissa did with one of our members also got recorded.
We expected the questions to be quite biased, and that Farley would try to influence the answers through leading follow-up questions. We were both right and wrong. Quite a few questions were biased, and she did pose leading follow-up questions, so to some extent we were right. However, we had not at all anticipated that biased and leading questions would seem quite innocent compared to the everything else.
For many people reading this, Dr Melissa Farley hardly needs an introduction.
Few individuals have managed to contribute to the stigmatisation and pathologization of sex workers to the extent that Dr Farley has managed to achieve over the course of her career.
Even if you don’t recognise her name, anyone who has spent more than a few minutes observing debates about sex work inevitably ends up exposed to ideas that can be traced back to Farley’s work. If you have ever heard someone talking about a study of ”854 people in nine countries” - along with a bunch of statistics about PTSD and how 90% (or 95%) of those ”in prostitution” “want out”- that’s Farley.
If you have heard people talking about clients of sex workers being more prone to crime, especially “crimes associated with violence against women”- that’s (probably) Farley.
Unfortunately Farley doesn’t like to tell people much about her actual methodology in detail or how her data is being collected and analysed - yet, from the little she has revealed over the years there are still endless examples that demonstrate the absurdity of her claims- for example in the research on “clients” (or - people who see her ad on Craigslist who are interested in identifying as clients and want $45) her desperation to find evidence for her own beliefs is evident as the only examples of crimes that she could classify as ”associated with” violence against women were public urination and impersonation of a police officer - and the criminal charges more broadly consisted of charges for selling balloons without a licence and fare evasion on public transport amongst others ...
We could go on for hours, and still not even reach anywhere near half of the problems with Farley’s research… which inevitably raises the question- how has someone who has produced a never-ending stream of problematic, flawed research managed to retain so much influence for so long? And how has she evaded accountability for all these years?
Part of Farley’s success can be understood by seeing how she has met the demand for research that gives a veneer of scientific credibility to the ideological beliefs held by Swedish Model lobbyists.
But Farley’s career has been built upon more than just an eager audience looking for “evidence” to support their ideological beliefs.
The full story of how Farley has gained so much power requires us to look at the context in which her career has been built, and the tools at her disposal. What is critical to note about Farley’s research success is that she was gifted with the advantage of scientific norms and statistical formulas which were specifically created by the forefathers of modern statistics with the aim of making eugenics appear to be an irrefutable scientific truth. (See the article below for more about this.)
Even as eugenics became discredited as a science, the formulas which had given it that status remained unchallenged, leaving space for the next generation of psychologists and scientists to continue measuring differences between groups of people supporting exactly the types of arguments that Melissa has used to build her career as an expert on sex work. Sex workers are different from other people because Melissa has statistics which prove so.
Avoiding scrutiny, or at least avoiding scrutiny that results in tangible consequences- has also been vital for Farley’s career. By avoiding submitting her papers to peer reviewed publications, and by using certain approaches to find research subjects Farley has managed to avoid many situations (at least up until now) where she might have to respond to criticism. And despite a formal complaint being lodged to the relevant professional body, the American Psychological Association(APA), APA has chosen to side with Farley and ignore the complaint.
If you listen to Farley, she is always the underdog in a Samson vs Goliath style battle- good vs evil, just one little nice white girl armed with only her supreme sense of morality and a psychology qualification battling against an ever expanding “monster” with “tentacles” reaching into everywhere - the pimp lobby, the porn industry, “porn pimps“ netting billions every year. According to Farley, it’s important to be vigilant against the “mind control tactics of pimps” (the topic of one of her first academic papers after graduating).
This obsession with pimp mind control appears to extend to Farley’s whole way of seeing the world - and provides a convenient framework through which Farley can convince herself and others that she is not being mean and certainly not censoring anyone, but rather- simply trying to care for the best interests of all women at all times.
It’s not that she wants to silence sex workers or deny us opportunities to expose state violence - it’s just that she feels that multiple choice questionnaires administered by a qualified psychologist (such as herself) are a far better method than open ended questions to assess human rights violations against sex workers. She just wants the truth to come out- and that’s why sex workers should only be interviewed alone and why police should also be seen as equal stakeholders in an assessment on sex workers health and well-being. It’s because she cares about making sure the pimps don’t control us all… okay?
It’s not only the pimps that Farley worries about, but also ”the cash transaction” involved in sex work – according to Farley’s paper with Rachel Moran, - “the cash is the coercive force” in ”prostituted sex” (sic). The problem, according to these two geniuses, is that ”the capitalist structure of our world” means that ”we are surrounded with the reality of money in everything we see, do and experience” which means that ”we have a great deal more trouble identifying cash as a coercive force” (as compared to a ”scenario of a loaded gun pointed at somebody”)
But before you jump to any conclusions and start thinking that Farley is actually critical of capitalism- it’s important to note that Farley and Moran emphasize that capitalism isn’t actually the problem after all- and that this whole situation with cash being a coercive force is ”… not an indictment of capitalism necessarily: there is a great deal of difference between coercing someone to make a sandwich and coercing them to bend over and tolerate unwanted sex.”
Apparently you have to be equal in every way to every one you have sex with, and apparently if you are paid you become an objectified version of the service you offer - it may be hard to follow that logic but never mind. The important point is that you should only have sex for the sake of true sexual desire (with someone who feels the same sexual desire at the exact same time) and in a form that Melissa finds understandable, and as long as it’s not something you gain anything else from.
The same should be possible to apply to every type of service really- if you are hiring a cleaner you should only be able to pay via offering the same labour back. And only if both individuals are genuinely in the mood for cleaning. But for some reason she doesn’t want “equality” for the rest of society in that way.
Of course, there is one exception to this rule about giving prostitutes [sic] money - it’s okay to pay us to take part in her research. Somehow, we are suddenly temporarily shifted into an alternate reality and become able to consent to things and capable of making decisions. But then by the time the research comes out she is always back to the same old position about us lacking “real alternatives” and thus our decision to do sex work is a “choice that’s not a choice”.
Despite Melissa’s fixation on how money is the coercive force in sex work, it’s important to recognise that at the end of the day, Melissa identifies as someone who is not influenced at all by those who pay her for her work- even when it’s the FBI funding her research or various other departments from the US and Swedish governments that are “sponsoring” her work.
So, considering that she has spent so much of her career promoting herself as a researcher who creates research that satisfies the demands of the rich and powerful, it’s hard not to wonder:
Is it really us who are coerced by cash, Melissa?
… So, a radical feminist researcher becomes BFF with a religious anti-prostitution organization… Nothing new under the sun, we know…But it gets better, so keep reading...
First, a bit of background on Melissa Farley's new best friend - Meghan Donevan who works at Talita. Talita is an organization that has been best known for its work to "rehabilitate" trafficking victims in particular and women with a background in the sex industry in general. They received a lot of attention in the national media during spring 2020 when Swedish celebrity-chef and fitness guru Paolo Roberto got caught for buying which he, for incomprehensible reasons, chose to confess to the general public in the following day’s morning news show. Predictably, all the self-righteous women’s group seized the opportunity to get some attention in the middle of the pandemic and loudly criticised the tv-channel for airing the interview. ~Why did they give space and time to the perpetrator?~ ~It’s the victim who should be heard.~ The poor victim- described as “coming from one of the poorest countries in Europe.” In a debate article three organisations whose work is mainly focused on sexual abuse against children wrote that they didn’t know who the woman was, but, “based on existing knowledge it is likely that…” after which followed half a page of pure fiction: “She may have been exploited all her life and feels that a few more abuses make no difference. She may not dare to leave the apartment where she is raped every hour… She may have infections, injuries and viruses that are never allowed to come into contact with healthcare... She may have learned early in life that her no is not worth anything. She may have been forced into so many oral assaults that she has bruises inside her mouth. She may be fourteen years old, but it says twenty-one in the passport.” Meanwhile, the “victim” herself, a 20-something Polish sex worker, clearly with no intention or interest in participating in the media circus, quietly extracted herself from the scene.
Lacking an actual victim, the media settled for someone who would talk on behalf of the victims, a role Talita was more than happy to take on. As a result, Talita was described as migrant sex workers only chance to escape a life filled with endless suffering. The general public’s newfound awareness of their honourable deeds resulted in a serious upswing in donations. (Including one particularly notable individual/private donation of nearly a million kronor (just over 100,000USD) As always, the Police detective inspector/author /poster boy for the Swedish model/rescuer for women in need, pastor's son Simon Häggström, contributed to paying tribute to Talita's work. Simon being the son of a Free Church pastor is not as irrelevant as one might think. Most people probably do not know that one of Talita's founders is a pastor in Fridhemskyrkan, part of EFK (the Evangelical free church) och New Life church who thinks that homosexuals should live in celibacy and has some serious issues with abortion.
On Talita's website, they present themselves with “Talita. Picks up where the road ends. We help women out of prostitution, pornography and human trafficking for sexual purposes and into a functioning life.” The women "who want long-term help commit to a one-year rehabilitation program" - the Talita model. The staff at Talita are constantly talking about how extremely successful their rehabilitation model is, but without really explaining what it is. Despite intense googling we are yet to find out what the Talita model means in practice, but in any case, it takes a year. Something which is quite astonishing in itself since most of the foreign women who the police stumble into while investigating suspected cases of procuring and trafficking are sent home in the wink of an eye, unless they agree to testify in an eventual upcoming trial and even then- only if they are seen as cooperative and useful. Under those specific circumstances, they are allowed to stay in Sweden for up to 6 months, after which they are sent home without fail. Yet somehow the 6-month rule seems to magically no longer apply when it comes the women who end up at Talita, via the Police or Social services, and who “commit” to their treatment. Is it an act of God? Or an act of Simon Häggström? Maybe it is as simple as Simon doing God's work, sort of as God’s extended arm? The questions are many.
Talita has always been fairly open regarding its connections to Christianity, and on their website, it says that their work is based on a "Christian foundation", although they often downplay the subject in contact with the media and seem to want to tone down the role of religion as attention and donations are increasing. However, if you dig a little deeper more dubious things emerge. For example, when one of the founders of Talita, during a sermon in Fridhemskyrkan last year, tells of a "miracle" that "cured" one of the women Talita had contact with. Not only did she stop her self-harming behaviour, but she was also saved and baptized. This was, according to the sermon, a result of the entire staff of Talita fasting and praying for a whole week. Could this be the "Talita model”?
Lately Talita has spent some time doing damage control and updated their core values on their website to avoid potential criticism. At least that seems to be the main reason:
They mostly refer to religion as “spiritual/existential needs” at the same time as they state that: ”our method does not contain any religious aspects. However, in addition to the rehabilitation program, we also offer voluntary meetings with discussions and Bible studies.”
They even manage to turn their own religious beliefs into a useful tool, despite their method containing no religious aspects: “Many of the women from abroad who seek support from us express the importance of having their spiritual/existential needs met. The vast majority of them come from societies and cultures where belief in the existence of God is central.“
Before we go on-it is important to mention that we have collaborated with a number of fantastic people, and solid allies over the years who are either employed by the church or who are open with the fact that religion has a central place in their outlook on life. However, their work has been done in collaboration with sex workers own organisations. Religious values being fundamental in their own lives has not been transferred as a desirable goal for the people they work with or led to a conviction that their faith automatically qualifies them to speak on behalf of sex workers or describe sex workers’ experiences. Just the simple fact that Talita believes that what best describes their work is that they "help" people to a "functioning life", by itself, clearly shows how little knowledge they actually have.
Lately, Talita has tinkered around with research, and published a study about the porn industry in Sweden which is, according to them, the first of its kind. Obviously they can pretend that is the case all they want, but the report contains absolutely nothing new, just the same old, tired stereotypes. Our only question is why are they so hugely fixated on describing “ATM” - (“ass to mouth”?) … It is getting a little repetitive. One who often brings up “ATM” is Talita's head of research Meghan Donevan, usually together with descriptions of how women in porn videos get their heads pushed down toilets which are then flushed by their male co-actors while they say something like "you dirty whore.” Those of us with experience of doing porn, without getting our heads stuffed into a toilet even once, are a little concerned regarding Meghan’s choice of porn sites since they have such boring and repetitive content.
Meghan's interest in pornography, she explains herself in an interview, is a result of having boyfriend during her teens, who admitted that he "was struggling with porn.”
How this in the end led to her now working at Talita, she commented with "I give all the credit to God".
If God somehow also gets credit for Talita's study, we will leave unsaid. They interviewed a total of nine women (which does not feel very heavenly and divine) and appointed themselves national champions at describing the porn industry. Meghan clearly enjoyed her newly established role as porn-expert and did what any self-serving wannabe researcher would do: She quickly produced yet another report on the very same topic. In fact, the second report is based on the very same, nine interviews, but this time she published under her own name. We cannot help but wondering if the nine sex workers who she interviewed gave informed consent to being used to further Meghan’s career in addition to providing Talita with the credentials they so desperately needed in order to be able to compete for state funding. When it comes to getting funding to declare porn problematic, the competition is fierce in Sweden. We also noted that in Talita’s report it says that all the women were interviewed face to face or over the phone, while in Meghan’s report it is explained how two women answered the questions in writing as per their own request. The devil is in the details. More on that later, let’s get back to Talita’s report “Out of sight, out of mind.”
The report is largely as expected. To say that the informants were selected in a skewed way would be quite an understatement. They only contacted women who were tied to a few specific platforms for user generated content (all based in Sweden). But not just any platform in Sweden with this kind of content- but rather, a selection of a few of the more problematic platforms that exist- the kind of companies that you learn to avoid if you stay in the industry for a while. To claim that such specific experience is representative for the whole porn industry is ridiculous and next to fraudulent. The "analysis" of the collected material has basically been decided on in advance and the women's interviews are twisted and turned until they almost fit the result if you do not look too closely. Like when the report first describes how previous research has shown that most people start selling sex early, citing a "study of 854 people in prostitution in nine countries where 47% entered the sex industry before the age of 18" and points out that other studies have shown similar results. Talita's informants, on the other hand, were on average 22.6 years old when they started, and only one of the nine had started selling films and pictures online as a minor. But instead of discussing why their informants started somewhat later (compared to the used sources) the result was not commented on at all. Instead, the focus shifted straight to hearsay information: “Interestingly, all interviewees agreed that young women are overrepresented in the porn industry.”
The report has a total of fifty-five source references to academic reports. Thirty of them refers to seven reports written by three academics: 1 ) Hanna Olsson, former secretary of the 1977 prostitution investigation where she (without any stated method) turned sex workers’ life stories into objects of analysis by a person they had never met and without their consent, after which they were used as political ammunition. 2 ) Max Waltman, the women's shelters' own little lap dog who repeated lies about the sex worker rights movement in his doctoral dissertation and claims that next to all porn includes acts of violence. Many of these lies can be traced back to their original source in the work of the third academic, (3) American psychologist Melissa Farley. What they have in common is an unpleasant view of human beings, a somewhat relaxed attitude to ethics and method and a tendency to fib a little when reality does not adapt sufficiently to their research. If the intended result of Talita's study were to align with previous "research" by Waltman, Olsson and Farley, it is easy to understand why the report's analysis feels somewhat constructed.
On the other hand, age seems somewhat unimportant to Meghan Donevan, as she clearly feels that an adult who does porn should be stripped of the right to bodily autonomy and be treated as a minor. She often questions how something happening to a seventeen-year-old is seen as abuse and the day they turn eighteen it is considered totally acceptable. Apparently, she thinks this is a good argument for seeing it as abuse even when an adult person voluntarily participates in porn.
Well, Meghan, if you have the same attitude regarding the right to vote, buying booze, driving a car, working night shifts and everything else that has an age limit regulated by laws you are likely to be busy for a while. But Meghan has bigger problems than such theoretical discussions, and we suspect that she is relatively aware of that but most likely cannot do anything about it at present without significant consequences. Unfortunately, it is worse than she can ever imagine.