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Published: Sun, 30 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

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New College Crime Bill Deputizes Professors as Campus Security, Further Federalizes Campus Rape Investigations, and Adds Huge Fines for Schools That Don't Comply

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:45:00 -0400

Under a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate, a vast new array of higher-education employees—including all staff and faculty at some schools—would be designated as campus security authorities. The bill would also impose new penalties on colleges and universities for failure to comply with a range of staffing, surveying, training, and outreach demands, which could cost schools millions upon an initial violation. The bill—sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Mark Warner (D-Virginia)—aims to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, specifically the section colloquially known as the Clery Act. In a press release announcing their "Campus Accountability and Safety Act" (CASA), the senators invoke the Title IX, the federal rule prohibiting sex-discrimination in education, and a need to place "higher incentives on all universities ... to empower student survivors and hold perpetrators accountable." If CASA passes, expect to see campus crime numbers—of all sorts—skyrocket. One of the more bizarre provisions of the bill stipulates that "each individual at an institution of higher education who is designated as a higher education responsible employee… shall be considered a campus security authority." Under federal code, higher education responsible employees are those required to report sexual misconduct to campus Title IX staff, even if the victim/confessor doesn't want to report the incident. But federal law is vague about who exactly falls into this category, leaving schools to develop their own more specific—and expansive—definitions. At some schools, all faculty and staff have been given responsible-employee status; many have expanded it to include all professors, or all people working with student athletics and extracurriculars. What does it mean if each of these folks is designated as a "campus security authority?" It's unclear how much effect it would have on day-to-day campus policy. But for purposes of an institution's annual security report, this change would be a big deal. Under federal law, colleges and universities receiving any federal funding must report annually on the numbers of sexual violence and misconduct incidents reported to campus security authorities or local police each year, along with numbers on a range of other incidents, from murder to burglary to hate crimes. CASA would expand sex-offense reporting requirements to include non-identifying details about each incident (such as whether the victim reported the incident to a Title IX coordinator, whether they sought disciplinary action against the accused, the number of accused found guilty, and whether force or weapons were involved). But more importantly, campus incidents are currently only included on annual security reports if they were reported to local police or campus security authorities—a category which has traditionally meant the campus police department. By drastically expanding the number of people defined as campus security authorities, we drastically expand the category of incidents included in annual security reports. Now we aren't just talking about incidents in which victims wanted to get authorities involved, or in which the offense was serious enough to warrant police attention regardless; any time a student confides in a professor, coach, drama director, resident adviser, etc., about something that could potentially be an offense—a verbally abusive romantic partner, a dorm-mate who shared an offensive web video, a classmate who made a disparaging remark about trans people, a sexual encounter fuzzily remembered—the listener would be obligated to report it to campus administrators for inclusion on the annual crime report. It's a surefire way to discourage students from talking to faculty and staff about their personal lives at all and/or artificially ramp up federal stats on campus crime data. The 2017 CASA is a redux of a stalle[...]

Drupal Developer Larry Garfield Ostracized Over Involvement in Sci-Fi Based Kink Community

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 09:15:00 -0400

Here's another good example of the limits of liberal "tolerance": in the name of equality and diversity, tech leaders have turned against a long-respected member of their community over his private and consensual sex practices. Sure, the scandal has revealed that Drupal developer and spokesman Larry Garfield has a penchant for BDSM broadly and also for a specific sub-genre of the kink centered on the fictional land of Gor, in which a subset of women serve as men's sex slaves. But more importantly, the situation has exposed strange taboos in the liberal-leaning Drupal community and how hypocritical their talk of tolerance can be. Taking the brunt of the hypocrisy criticism is Drupal trademark owner Dries Buytaert. Buytaert's main gig now is chief technology officer for Acquia, a company he co-founded in 2007. But he's better known as the the creator and original project lead for the open-source content management software Drupal, which has attracted a huge and devoted community since its 2001 launch. Drupal is "supported and maintained" by the nonprofit Drupal Association, which also organizes Drupal conferences. According to Executive Director Megan Sanicki, the association began looking into Garfield last October at the behest of another member of the Drupal community. That person had discovered Garfield's profiles on membership kink and dating websites and shared some screenshots with Drupal leadership. But a Drupal Community Working Group investigation into Garfield found that he had not violated anything in the Drupal community's Code of Conduct, which probably should have been the end of things. No one has offered any evidence that Garfield discriminated against women in his professional life—in fact, many women whom Garfield has worked or associated with have rushed to his defense—let alone committed any more severe offenses or violence against them. Garfield himself says he believes women are every bit as intelligent as men and that his desire for female submission extends only to his own personal romantic/sexual partnerships. "The [dominant/submissive, or] D/s and Gorean community in general places a heavy emphasis on explicit, active, informed consent and constant communication," he notes, adding that he personally has "never, ever advocated for treating women, as a class, with anything other than dignity and respect." But even if Garfield did hold sincerely sexist views in private, it hardly seems grounds for community expulsion in the absence of publcly articulated views or actions. The idea that women should be submissive to their husbands is a prominent feature of many religious faiths, and a value that plenty of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others still hold dear—typically with way less add-on feminism than you'll find in BDSM relationships. Would the Drupal Association feel as comfortable ousting a devout supporter of Islam or evangelical Christianity if it came out that their wives practiced voluntary submission? If—as Buytaert says—the association is commited to treating people equally regardless of "their heritage or culture, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, and more," they seem to doing a pretty terrible job. People's preferences toward certain types of sex or particular fantasies can be no less innate than a sexual orientation toward same- or opposite-sex partners (and no more reason for alarm). And it's hard to imagine a woman receiving the same treatment and derision if it came out that she once worked as a dominatrix or wrote 50 Shades of Grey fanfic. Meanwhile, Garfield was disinvited from the upcoming DrupalCon Baltimore, had his status as a conference track coordinator revoked, and (in a February phone call that both agree on at least the basics of) was asked by Buytaert to stop contributing to the Drupal community. (The request might not seem like a big deal to those outside the tech world, but "open-source communities/projects are crucially important to many people's careers and professional lives," explains John Evans at TechCrunch, "so [...]

Why Is Planned Parenthood So Popular? Because Government Thwarts Alternatives

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:30:00 -0400

A provision in the Republican health care bill would bar Medicaid patients from choosing Planned Parenthood clinics for covered care. The idea, ostensibly, is to curtail abortion by driving Planned Parenthood out of business. Some folks also argue that the move is fiscally responsible. But contrary to conservative talking points, terminating Medicaid's relationship with Planned Parenthood would neither drive down costs for the publicly-funded health insurance program nor reduce dependence on abortion, as I note in today's Los Angeles Times. If, as Republicans insist, patients can seek all the same services elsewhere, Medicaid costs will remain unchanged. The move won't necessarily affect Planned Parenthood's ability to provide abortions, since it doesn't rely on Medicaid reimbursements for this service. At the same time, less access to contraception and family-planning services could lead to greater demand to terminate pregnancies. Presently, the U.S. health care scene is totally ill-equipped to handle the influx of low-income, reproductive- and sexual-health care patients we would see if we simply strip Planned Parenthood from patient options. America is already experiencing a shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists, many private providers won't see Medicaid patients, and community health centers are stretched thin as it is. Meanwhile, more than half of the approximately 2.8 million patients Planned Parenthood sees annually cover their visits via Medicaid. Like it or not, Planned Parenthood—which provides everything from cervical cancer screenings and urinary tract infection treatment to emergency contraception, prenatal care, and vasectomies—is currently a crucial part of the medical care and family-planning ecosystem. Want to reduce dependence on Planned Parenthood? Look at why it's so popular among Medicaid patients in the first place, what alternatives currently exist (not a lot), and how we can remedy this dearth of alternatives. In many cases, government rules are to blame. But simple changes—allowing birth control pills to be sold over-the-counter; clearing the regulatory way for telemedicine; rethinking scope-of-practice rules that prevent nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and midwives from performing tasks they're perfectly capable of; and repealing regulations that prevent non-traditional providers (like mobile or retail health care clinics) from setting up shop in medically underserved areas, for starters—could go a long way toward making it so Planned Parenthood isn't the only OB-GYN option for many. And as I argue in the Times, Helping bring more medical options to marginalized populations is a worthy goal for even the most ardent Planned Parenthood supporter. Whether one's underlying goal is ensuring access to vital reproductive and sexual healthcare, reducing women's need for abortions, or reducing publicly funded healthcare expenditures, focusing on breaking down barriers to innovative, independent and cost-effective care in underserved areas will make a world more difference than micromanaging where poor women can get birth control pills. Read the whole thing here.[...]

Brickbat: Harboring a Fugitive

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) When Iryna Nohai had stomach cramps, she went to a doctor who discovered she was pregnant. And since she was living in the United Arab Emirates, the doctor also reported to police she'd been having sex outside of marriage, which is illegal in the country. Both Nohai and her fiancee were detained and have been held since January.

Yes, Porn Is Kinkier Than It Used to Be. It’s Also More Feminist, Varied, and Inclusive

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 16:15:00 -0400

In Pornocracy: The New Sex Multinationals, a new documentary playing at SXSW, French filmmaker Ovidie argues that the rise of free porn online has ruined the industry, forcing performers into rough and degrading acts in order to stand out and corrupting the sexual expectations of our youth. She blames this development mostly on the folks behind clip sites like XVideos, XHamster, YouPorn, RedTube, and Pornhub—the last three all properties of Luxembroug-based Mindgeek. "Up until 10 years ago, the industry consisted of a constellation of smaller producers who produced and sold their own content directly on DVD or via VOD," Ovidie told Marlow Stern at The Daily Beast. "Within the past 10 years, the entire industry has been taken over by big tech companies, multinationals managed by businessmen based in tax havens who don't have any real connection to the porn industry. These people are not there on-set during shooting; they have no contact with the workers or the actual production process. What is happening in porn is exactly what's happening in many other sectors: an 'Uberisation' of the workforce, with huge platforms who have no consideration for performers." But Ovidie—a self-professed "proud femporn director for 17 years, now mainly documentarist"—seems confused about porn's past and way too pessimistic about its future. Yes, the industry has changed, but it was way less rosy to start with than Ovidie portrays it and things are way less dire than she says they are now. For one thing, porn's yesteryear was hardly filled with non-exploitative, mom-and-pop producers. A core group of directors and producers may have reigned for a while in porn's "golden era," but this was the same time period in which the mafia controlled adult movie theaters and distribution (or later the bootleg videotaping), and female performers were seldom permitted much self-determination. There was little diversity in porn performers' looks, race, or sexuality, and when there was it was often highly stereotypical and exploitative. Whatever degree of mainstreaming or art-washing of porn happened in the 1970s, it didn't much change the inner dynamics of the industry. And by the '80s, the home video industry had seriously hampered production quality and artistic pretenses. There were certainly non-mainstream adult filmmakers who did diverse, interesting, and non-exploitative work in these earlier eras, but they were just one part of the industry. And yes, later female performers like Jenna Jameson who managed to rise to the top would could command high rates and multi-picture contracts, but there were very few Jenna Jamesons, and still a lot of "extreme" sex acts depicted in porn. There's no doubt that the rise of the clip-sites, the emergence of the web-camming industry, and the democratization of porn-production tools have changed porn-industry economics over the past decade, and in ways that have not always been good for porn studios and stars. But there are upsides to some of this, too, and the YouPorns of the world aren't quite the pure villains Ovidie makes them out to be. They make money off of traffic, and "the traffic the tubes can direct towards pay [porn] sites means that their relationship has evolved from hostility to close, if grudging, co-operation," the Economist noted in 2015. What's more, the clip sites have nothing to do with the type of content that gets produced, the atmosphere on porn production sets, or performer pay rates and structures. Ovidie only pins the rise of rough porn on them through the circuitous route of depressed mainstream porn-studio profits leading the launch of new companies (like that cater to more niche markets (such as the BDSM community), or leading to lower performer pay rates that thus lead to women willing to do more "rough" or "extreme" acts to differentiate themselves/make more money. Beyond that, the rise of "rough porn" is certainly less one-dimensional than Ovidie makes it out t[...]

Safe Sex, Dangerous State

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 06:00:00 -0400

The kids these days are incredibly lame. They barely do drugs. They hardly have sex. When they do finally get around to doing the deed, it's at much later ages than previous generations. They're responsible about birth control and disease prevention. They probably even make it home in time for curfew. Skeptical? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the average age of self-reported virginity loss is now nearly 18 years old. The percentage of high school students who say they have had intercourse has been falling for two decades. Two-thirds of the students who are having sex say it's with a steady romantic partner. Eighty percent say they used contraception their first time, up from less than 50 percent in the '80s. They're also using more effective fertility-fighting methods than previous generations: IUDs, implants, and other forms of long-acting reversible birth control with lower failure rates have become much more popular, with use rising from 0.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent by 2013. The rate of teen births fell 8 percent in 2015, capping off a 46 percent decrease since 2007. The rate of teenage abortion has also fallen sharply from its peak around 1990. It seems like the combined efforts of America's adults to scare the bejesus out of kids about the dangers of the horizontal mambo while subsidizing the wazoo out of birth control have, in fact, paid off in fewer teens knocking boots. But all of this responsible behavior has created a generation gap. The Boomer version of the birds and bees is on the verge of becoming worthless, and the GenX sex talk isn't far behind. Coaching preschoolers as they carefully roll condoms onto bananas simply doesn't make sense as the exclusive focus of sex ed anymore. Jimmy hats are still a good idea, of course. But even as the physical act of sex becomes safer—at least as practiced by today's older, wiser, romantically involved, pharmacologically reinforced, temporarily sterile teens—the legal risk of many common sexual choices is skyrocketing. Leaving aside the fact that Generation Alpha will probably be conceived in the back seats (or the front seats!) of autonomous vehicles as they speed untended down the highway, there's really nothing new under the sun, and that includes sexting. Teenagers have managed to communicate intemperately about their desire to get it on—often right underneath the noses of their guardians—since at least imperial Japan; court ladies anxiously awaited morning-after haikus in one of the world's first novels, Murasaki Shikibu's 11th century Tale of the Genji. The new danger doesn't spring from the fact that digital Romeos and Juliets are communicating about sex in a way that might generate a permanent record. In fact, by the time today's 15-year-olds run for office, youthful nudie pics will be a prerequisite for reassuring the American people that you're a normal human being, not a disqualification. Instead, the serious threat is from meddling cops, bureaucrats, school officials, and other avatars of officialdom. The state has always had an unhealthy interest in sex—think Comstock laws, Loving v. Virginia, Bowers v. Hardwick—but as we increasingly infantilize teens and young adults while disregarding privacy protections that once shielded intimate communications, more "kids" are being caught in a legal dragnet that is purportedly designed to protect them. Consider a case in Cañon City, Colorado. After following up on a call to a state bullying tipline in December, a public high school official uncovered widespread sexting. Rather than taking a moment to consider whether the common nature of the behavior suggested an appropriately proportionate remedy, the administrator decided to follow the letter of the law in Colorado (and many other states), in which the sender of a sexually suggestive selfie is both victim and perpetrator of the heinous crime of possessing and distributing child pornog[...]

High Heels a Workplace Hazard? U.K. Parliament Debates Legality of Shoe Sexism

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 12:30:00 -0500

(image) The U.K. Parliament today debated whether workplace rules requiring women to wear heeled shoes counts as illegal gender discrimination. The issue comes before British Members of Parliament (MPs) after more than 152,000 signed a petition requesting lawmakers "make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work."

The petition was started by London temp worker Nicola Thorp after she was sent home for wearing flat shoes. Her employment agency, Portico, had a policy saying women must wear shoes with heels between two- and four-inches high. "It's still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will," states Thorp's petition. "Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. Current formal work dress codes are out-dated and sexist."

In a preliminary response, the U.K. Government Equality Office reaffirmed that employers could set dress codes but "these dress codes must be reasonable," which "includes any differences between the nature of rules for male and female employees, otherwise the company may be breaking the law."

Last June, the House of Commons Petitions Committee began looking into the shoe situation, issuing a report on the findings in January 2017. "It has become clear in the course of our inquiry that this was not an isolated incident—and nor is the problem confined to high heels," the cross-party group of MPs determined. "We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply make-up."

But it's hard to know how to take these allegations with the little detail provided. There are clearly many contexts in which asking female professionals to dress more provocatively or style their hair and makeup a certain way would be highly inappropriate, but there are also plenty of particular sectors where this is not so. As long as any such demands are divulged clearly up front and applied evenly among relevant employees, it hardly seems like a matter for much collective concern.

This is not to say that employee dress-code policies are never worth challenging. But these isolated cases could surely be better resolved—and with much less collateral damage—through targeted action like employee organizing or public shaming campaigns than deputizing British bureucrats to play eye-shadow police and stilletto patrol. The Petitions Committee, however, sees things differently. In its report, it recommends more monitoring of private business dress-codes by the national government, higher penalties for companies that commit dress-code discrimination, and more public-awareness campaigns about the issue "targeted at employers, workers and students."

Does Gorsuch Stand with Scalia on Sodomy Laws?

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Neil Gorsuch may be grilled on such legal topics as due process, enumerated powers and stare decisis. I'm hoping the discussion will also get around to a less arid subject: sodomy. Not that I care what the Supreme Court nominee does under the sheets, and the dialogue I envision would probably qualify as PG-13. But his view of two major rulings on state laws banning certain types of sexual conduct is worth investigating. A candid discussion might make Americans wonder whether the judicial philosophy he upholds is quite as appealing as it sounds. In nominating Gorsuch, President Donald Trump wanted to duplicate the late Justice Antonin Scalia's "image and genius." Gorsuch described Scalia, whose death created the vacancy he was chosen to fill, as a "lion of the law." In a speech last year, he embraced him as a model. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the two are as different as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. That brings us to the matter of sodomy. In 1986, shortly before Scalia joined the Supreme Court, the justices upheld a Georgia law making it a crime to seek gratification in oral or anal sex, gay or straight. The case arose after police arrested two men caught lustily violating that law in a private home. "The Constitution does not confer a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy," said the court. Had he been a justice at the time, Scalia would have voted with the majority. We know because he bitterly objected in 2003 when the court changed its mind. Striking down a Texas ban on homosexual sodomy, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the two men challenging the law "were free as adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Conservatives denounced the decision as a case of judicial activism. Then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said it opened the way to legalizing incest. Evangelist Jerry Falwell called it "a tragedy for America." What they were defending was a criminal statute telling grown-ups what they could do to gratify each other in bed. The very idea may sound preposterous now, but it wasn't then; 14 states had similar laws. Such medieval prohibitions would still be allowed if a certain sainted justice had gotten his way. In a blistering dissent, Scalia insisted the state of Texas was perfectly entitled to outlaw "certain forms of sexual behavior" because it regards them as "immoral and unacceptable." In overturning the ban, he charged, the court had "signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda" and invited "a massive disruption of the current social order." By the logic of his judicial philosophy of originalism—relying on what the words of the Constitution were understood to mean when it was ratified—his view was understandable. After all, the words "oral sex" are flagrantly absent from the Constitution. He could also point to the long history of laws against oral and anal pleasuring and to the obligation of the court to follow precedents, notably the 1986 ruling. So the question for a nominee who fervently champions Scalia's approach to judging is: What about sodomy? The 2003 decision no longer gets much attention from conservatives. Scalia's caustic fulminations on the topic were left out of the eulogies. No Republican has endorsed Gorsuch on the grounds that he would uphold laws against gay sex. But given the chance, why wouldn't he? If he reveres Scalia and his approach, it would be logical for him to agree that oral and anal sex can be banned. But to admit as much would alarm most Americans—who think that adult partners should be free to do whatever floats their boats. To repudiate Scalia, however, would suggest there is something fundamentally defective in Gorsuch's entire approach to judging. It would imply that the late justice was not all-wise. It would suggest that the[...]

Soliciting Sex Could Lead to 10 Years Prison in Connecticut

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 11:45:00 -0500

(image) Attempting to pay for sex could become a felony offense in Connecticut. Last week, newly sworn-in Democratic state Rep. Liz Linehan introduced a bill that would take the crime of "patronizing a prostitute" from a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum one year in prison, to a Class C felony, which comes with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of one year and a possible 10 years in prison, plus a fine of up to $10,000. Linehan's measure would also require anyone convicted of the offense more than once to register as a sex offender.

"That we continue to punish sex workers—many of whom have been coerced into this work or do it out of economic desperation—without looking at the other side of the equation just doesn't make sense," Linehan said.

But Linehan's bill wouldn't do anything to change the fact that sex workers are arrested for prostitution (also currently a class A misdemeanor in Connecticut), it would just drastically enhance penalties for their clients. And this can further punish sex workers and put them at risk, by limiting the pool of customers to only those willing to risk severe punishment or making clients less willing to submit to screening processes and other measures that protect sex-worker safety and health. If Linehan actually cares about helping those who sell sex out of economic desperation, she wouldn't seek to stymie their earning potential while driving their activities further underground.

Connecticut is currently in the midst of rolling out another prostitution-related measure, passed in 2016. Under the new law, all hotel and motel employees are required to undergo training on how to spot human trafficking and "activities related to human trafficking." But like so many "human trafficking awareness" shams, the hotel-employee training really only encourages people to report any and all suspected prostitution—a move that not only harms sex workers but also those in groups most likely to be stereotyped as sex workers. (Already, we've seen flight-attendant "trafficking" training result in the detention of random Asian women.)

The new law also requires all hotels, motels, and inns to keep records and receipts for all guests for at least six months.

Updated! Hey, Here's That Obviously Fake 'Dossier' Claiming Trump Is Into Golden Showers!

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 20:21:00 -0500

Updated (9:12 P.M. ET), and more: Scroll down for updates on possible source for the material. If you've ever wondered why the news media is treated with derision and distrust, today is your lucky day. Buzzfeed has published a "dossier" of unclear provenance that says President-elect Donald Trump is a pervert who is being blackmailed by Russian agents who have compromising material about his sexual kinks. Sensational, provocative, insane, scatological (urological?), incredible—the dossier is all that and more. Read about how Trump supposedly insisted on staying in a hotel room used by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed. Yes, it's that level of report. And it's all horseshit, if you believe Buzzfeed's own intro to the material, which stresses that we're talking about "explosive — but unverified — allegations." Worse still from a journalistic perspective is this sort of phony-baloney gesture that insulates the publisher evens as it distances any truth claims: Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government. I like Wikileaks and other forms of forced transparency, but we shouldn't confuse what Buzzfeed is up to here with that, or with journalism. There's no reason to believe that the material is in any way accurate or meaningful, other than as opposition research that circulated among various government agencies and media outlets, all of whom passed on it because it reeks not of urine but of falsity. Here's what Buzzfeed honcho Ben Smith tweeted about this all: Here's the note I sent to @buzzfeednews staff this evening — Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) January 11, 2017 There is serious reason to doubt the allegations. You got that? But let's publish them anyway because, WTF, who doesn't want to read them? The press works better when it verifies information and brings it to the public's attention, and lets us plebes make of it what we will. In this case, all we have is a document that may or may not be "real" or a fake. Remember all the serioso discussions of fake news and how Trump and his deplorables were ruining everything good and clean-smelling in America? Well, the one thing you can say this time around is: Don't blame the billionaire. Yes, he can and should be more voluntarily transparent. But media and journalism, like politics, have become tribal and ritualistic, arenas of something far worse than epistemic closure. Yesterday, I noted that serious liberals sick of ever-expanding presidential overreach need to join with libertarians and conservatives to create a world in which the executive branch isn't all-powerful. We need to do something similar in media discourse, too, and not simply go back and forth from right to left with hysterical and fabulistic attacks on real and imagined enemies. At least, we need to do better if we want to be a semi-serious people. More here. Update: Some folks on Twitter are claiming that the dossier is actually a prank pulled by 4Chan and /pol/ posters at the expense of GOP operative Rick Wilson and other folks in the media. Wilson tweets: You're wrong if you believe 1. What we had came from /pol. 2. That I was Buzzfeed's source. Try again, boys. — Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) January 11, 2017 And here's a link to CNN's report on the dossier story. "At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations." More Update (Jan. 11, 3:45PM): Read Jesse Walker's take on why the Buzzfeed bombshell was both flimsy and newsworthy.[...]

Backpage Shutters 'Adult' Ads Section Following Years of Government Bullying

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:05:00 -0500

Like Craigslist before it, has shut down the "Adult" section of its classified-ad website, amid a seemingly endless stream of government pressure. In both cases, state and federal authorities have maintained that the mere presence of open forums for user-generated adult advertising creates a market for child sex-trafficking. Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and his associates have been subject to lawsuits, criminal charges, economic bullying, and Congressional hearings—the latest of which will take place today, January 10, before the U.S. Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations—in an attempt to thwart this supposed sex trade. But after proclaiming innocence and pushing back and for several years, Backpage will now—"as the direct result of unconstitutional government censorship," its lawyers said in a statement—comply with demands to end its adult-ad section. Last fall, former California Attorney General Kamala Harris tried to convict Ferrer and former heads Michael Lacey and James Larkin (founders of Village Voice media) of pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. A judge threw out the charges, saying they were unconstitutional and violated federal law, which specifies—under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—that third-party publishers can't be held criminally liable for the content of user-generated posts. Section 230 doesn't just stop sites like Craigslist and Backpage from getting in trouble if someone posts a prostitution ad there but allows Reddit to exist without its CEO getting charged for every credible user threat, keeps Facebook from being shut down after some 20-year-old picks up a 17-year-old girl there, prevents Craigslist from being found guilty every time someone rips someone off over a used washer, and stops the feds from coming after when the comments section contains unsavory content. But despite Section 230's alleged protections, government officials have again and again gone after Backpage for allowing adult ads, even though these ads do not directly reference illegal activity and any illegal activity that results from folks finding each other via Backpage takes place far outside of its owners or operators' purview. How should Backpage operators know whether a woman offering dominatrix services or a "full-body sensual massage" on the site is really offering dominatrix services or a full-body sensual massage, and not simply having sex for money? How can they know if the poster who says she's 18 is actually a few months shy of it? There's no way they can, and yet this lack of omnipotence and pre-cognition apparently won't do. As Backpage, and Craigslist before it, have shown, websites are more than welcome to offer open forums for user posts without government interference so long as none of the posts have anything to do with sexuality. Yet the moment "adult" work comes into play, all free-speech protections and anti-censorship agendas dissipate. Lawmakers, prosecutors, and the media who fellate them start saying things like, "If it saves only one child..." Shutting down Backpage won't save even one child, though, or one adult, or anybody. is a neutral publishing platform, albeit one that's become popular among sex workers ranging from strippers and erotic masseuses to people who offer sex for a fee. Without its adult section, sex workers of all ages will have to find some other way to advertise—perhaps simply by moving to a more discreet section of the site, as was done on Craigslist (anyone who thinks ridding Craigslist of its adult-services section actually thwarted commercial-sex advertising there should check out the site's "Casual Encounters" section now); perhaps by advertising elsewhere online (the internet is a vast place); or perhaps by returning [...]

Maryland Police Association Director Resigns Over Prostitution Charges

Tue, 13 Dec 2016 11:38:00 -0500

(image) Larry Harmel, executive director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, is the latest criminal-justice official to get caught up in his colleagues' own undercover prostitution stings. On December 9, the 71-year-old was charged with soliciting prostitution in connection with a Baltimore sting that took place in October.

The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association is a nonprofit group that lobbies on behalf of law-enforcement agents. Harmel became head following a 30-plus year career as a Maryland state trooper, seven years as head of the Maryland Transit Authority, and a failed bid to represent Baltimore County as a Democrat in the state legislature. At the top of his erstwhile campaign site, it still reads: "You can't buy trust, but you can earn it ... let me earn your trust!"

Harmel reportedly denied the solicitation allegation to The Baltimore Sun last Friday. A reporter from the paper called back Monday and spoke with association attorney Bruce Marcus, who said he was unaware of the charges. But Harmel is "a long, storied, exemplary law enforcement officer and public servant who's got an unblemished career," Marcus told the Sun. "We will do everything humanly possible to clear his name and reputation."

Later that day, Harmel resigned.

According to the Sun, Harmel was arrested after approaching an undercover vice officer in an outdoor area of southeast Baltimore known for prostitution.

The officer asked Harmel what he was looking for, and said he responded: "You know."

"You're making me nervous. Are you a cop?" they asked each other, according to court records.

The officer said she would perform a sex act "not for a lot," saying, "I haven't had my medicine today. I just need to get my medicine." He agreed and she got into Harmel's truck, where he said he would take her to a graveyard.

The undercover officer cited Harmel and said he would receive a summons for arraignment at a later date.

Also in the news this week for following a do-as-we-say, not-as-we-do policy with regard to soliciting sex: Raymond Edward Bernasconi, until recently a deputy sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Bernasconi was scheduled to be arraigned yesterday for soliciting prostitution, after being arrested on November 21 in a sting conducted by the Sheriff's Human Trafficking Bureau, though his hearing has now been postponed until January for unspecified reasons. Bernasconi, 55, allegedly made arrangements online to meet someone he thought was selling sex at a local motel. When he showed up, "she" turned out to be undercover cops, who arrested the deputy and took him into custody.

White Slavery: The Movie

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:25:00 -0500

(image) In my post about PizzaGate earlier today, I mentioned the "white slavery" scare of the Progressive Era, when wild stories circulated of vast conspiracies coercing young women into prostitution. Forced prostitution did exist, of course, but these tales greatly exaggerated both how common and how organized it was. As is often the case, the moral panic manifested itself at the movies.

The white-slavery film cycle began with George Loane Tucker's 1913 hit Traffic in Souls; the second major entry was Frank Beal's The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, released the same year. The latter is embedded below. Unfortunately, some scenes from the movie are lost, so additional intertitles have been inserted to describe what happens in the missing sections.

In brief, the picture tells the story of a girl who is tricked into a fake marriage with a procurer for a sex-trafficking ring, who then ships her off to be a whore in New Orleans. She tries to break free, fleeing to Denver and Houston, but everywhere she goes she is tracked by the enormous sex syndicate. Unable to find any other job, she finally submits.

One of the odder twists comes when she then falls into a conversation with a potential john. A policeman interrupts them, lets the man walk away, and hauls our heroine off to jail. The film disapproves: A placard says, "One law for man—Another for woman." But it just disapproves of the man walking free: The arrest appears to be a good thing, since it leads to the woman's rehabilitation. After her imprisonment, she finally gets a respectable job. (Then she slides back into prostitution and dies. Not a cheery movie!)

Like many other "educational" films over the years, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic opens with an earnest-sounding declaration of serious intent before proceeding to the salacious story. The reaction was similarly bifurcated: Anti-vice activists promoted it, but police shut down some screenings on the grounds that the picture was obscene. Judge for yourself:

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The opening includes a list of people who have endorsed the film, ending with a dubious invocation of "every Sociologist of note from Atlantic to Pacific." If you know your Progressive Era history, some of those names may be familiar to you. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a prominent feminist, was the author of Herland, a utopian science fiction novel in which an all-female society reproduces parthenogenetically. And Frederic Howe had a long career as a reformer, at various stages becoming everything from a Henry Georgist to a New Dealer; his 1906 book Confessions of a Monopolist has a small libertarian fan base. For the purposes of this picture, though, his most relevant credential may be that he was director of the National Board of Censorship.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

4 Incredibly Dumb Ways the Government Is Spending Your Money to Punish People for Having Sex

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 10:28:00 -0500

In our government's ever-escalating war on prostitution, U.S. cops continue sinking to new lows in executing sting-ops and other ploys designed to punish people willing to pay or be paid for sex. With too many recent examples to cover individually, I've decided to round up a few that have stuck out over the past month. So behold: here are a few of the foolish, counterproductive, and outright cruel ways in which U.S. authorities are spending public-safety resources to further a futile crusade against consensual commercial sex between adults. Making Women Agree to Fetish Requests Before Arresting Them One disturbing new trend I've noticed of late is undercover cops posing not just as vanilla sex-buyers or women looking to get cash for sex but as prostitution clients with unusual kinks or women demanding payment in things like cheeseburgers. Then, after a sex worker or would-be client is arrested by undercover officers, the police—and the media segments that parrot them—are sure to highlight the more "weird" (read: mockable and attention-grabbing) elements of the bust. For instance, in one November prostitution sting in Ohio, a woman asked an undercover cop she thought was a potential customer to bring some nachos to the appointment. She also requested a cash payment along with the snack. Guess what the police, and headlines above her photo (which is now plastered all over the internet), emphasized? Woman has sex for nachos, of course. What makes this latest example especially egregious is that police didn't just publicize a true, albeit inconsequential and potentially embarrassing, detail that did at least originate in the real request. In this case, they set up a sting wherein sex workers advertising online were asked to oblige an undercover cop's fetish request, which involved gummy worms in some way. But the gummy-worm fetish part has no bearing on whether the elements of the crime of prostitution are satisfied, so it's hard to see why officers would include it but for their own amusement or to ensure that the sting would be irresistible to the press afterward (or both). After one woman, whom the police-report classifies as "a known prostitute in the area," agreed to indulge the request and told the "client" to bring the gummy worms with him, she was arrested for prostitution as well as "possessing criminal tools"—her cellphone, since she used it to arrange her date with the undercover officer. The woman spent the night in the Mahoning County (Ohio) jail and has a court date set for January. Local news headlines about the bust made it seem as if she had requested the gummy worms as payment for sex. Arresting Teens for Interfering With Pre-Crime Three Michigan teenagers have filed a lawsuit against Detroit police officers, after they were arrested in August for distracting a relative who was meeting a woman—an undercover police officer he thought was a sex worker—in a CVS parking lot to pay for sexual activity. Police said the teens, who had been parked outside a fast-food restaurant across the street where one of them worked, interfered in an official investigation when they flagged down the older man with shouts and arm gestures, prompting him to head over their way. The cops contended that the teens had been yelling "don't do it," and "appeared to be discouraging the older Arabic male from talking with the decoy," according to the police report. The young men, 17-year-olds Hassan Abdallah and Ibrahim Bazzi and 18-year-old Ali Chami, claim they had simply seen Abdallah's relative and reacted like anyone might to get his attention. But even if the teens had somehow known that by pulling into a CVS parking-lot, the older man was intending to meet a sex worker, "s[...]

Ask Elizabeth Nolan Brown Your Burning Questions About Sex Policy

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500

From her award-winning Reason cover story "The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs" to her hardboiled quantitative reporting on modern vice squads, Elizabeth Nolan Brown is your gal for smart, readable journalism about sex policy and politics. Her work was cited throughout an amicus brief in the First Amendment case that later got called out favorably by Judge Richard Posner in his decision siding with Backpage. Also, sex columnist Dan Savage quotes her.

Basically, she knows her sex policy stuff. And a beat like Brown's is pretty much only possible at Reason, where we understand and love sex and commerce in equal measure.

So ask her anything over at her Twitter account using the #askalibertarian hastag. And then donate!

Read the whole exchange below.

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