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Published: Sat, 24 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2017 19:54:26 -0400


Fifty Shades of Comey

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 10:50:00 -0400

Last week Washington, DC shut down as everyone and their dog fled to sports bars to watch James Comey's congressional testimony. The uncomfortable spectacle raised more questions than merely Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. The former FBI Director's retelling of his private dinner with the then-president elect had the timbre of an overbearing boss sexually harassing a subordinate. In fact, it had enough parallels with "Fifty Shades of Grey" that it's time to ask: if the government is screwing us, should we get to use safe words? What about affirmative consent for creeping regulation? Find out on the latest Mostly Weekly!

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Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 15:30:00 -0400

So far this year, federal lawmakers have introduced more than 30 bills related to "sex trafficking," which many in government now define to mean all prostitution. This week alone brought three new efforts. And following the familiar pattern of the drug war, these measures mostly focus on giving federal law enforcement more "tools" to find, prosecute, and punish people for actions only tangentially, if at all, connected to causing harm. One such measure would expand state and local government authority "to seek wiretap warrants in sexual exploitation and prostitution cases" (emphasis mine) and mandate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Justice conduct a "study on the long-term physical and psychological effects of the commercial sex trade." It would also give the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to develop protocols "for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement" on how to screen people "suspected of engaging in commercial sex acts" for the possibility that they have been trafficked. The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules. Homeland Security would also train crimefighters nationwide on how to investigate prostitution customers for their alleged "roles in severe trafficking in persons." And Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to instruct law enforcement across the land that their efforts to fight human trafficking must "include a demand reduction component"—i.e., must target prostitution customers. Sessions would also have to declare "that commercial sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence," opening the way for possible hate-crime enhancements for anyone who tries to pay for sex. This bill, known as the Abolish Human Trafficking Act (S. 1311), was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas) on June 7 and already has 12 co-sponsors, including such prominent politicians as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). In a statement, Rep. Klobuchar invoked a rise in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline—a government-funded telephone service that fields everything from unfounded anonymous tips about suspected streetwalking to general requests for information, with a vast number of calls coming from government officials—as evidence that the supposed sex trafficking epidemic is growing. A companion bill (H.R. 2803), sponsored by Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri, was introduced in the House on Wednesday. A statement from Rep. Poe said his bill would stop "modern slavery" by giving law enforcement the tools to stop "dastardly criminals from exploiting others, whether they be the buyer or seller." The official soundbites from almost all of these bills' co-sponsors mention the benefits for cops and prosecutors, showcasing our government's lopsided approach to sexual exploitation. While lip service is paid to the "victims," it's law enforcement agencies that get all the consideration and tools—tools that help them conduct ever more intrusive investigations in the service of less and less deserving targets, wring whatever money and assets they can from defendants, and collect laurels as they ship convicts off to fill federal-prison beds. Here are a few more key things that S. 1311 and H.R. 2803 would do: Add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and "transportation for prostitution or any illegal sexual activity" to the crimes which could establish someone as part of a "criminal street gang." Enhance maximum penalties—not for folks who actually force others into sex or other work, mind you, but for those who transport people for "immoral purposes," anyone who interferes with or impedes a sex trafficking investigation in some way, and anyone who entices, persuades, or induces someone into a situation where traffickers victimize them. The bill would raise the maximum penalty for the[...]

'Operation Big Bad John' Used 75 Cops, Six Federal Agencies to Catch 13 Sex Buyers

Wed, 31 May 2017 15:45:00 -0400

(image) Every day I could bring you another example of how "human trafficking operation" and "sex trafficking sting" are simply police code for "prostitution bust." The story never changes: Police arrest sex workers or their clients, slap a catchy title on their efforts, call it a win against "modern slavery," and blast it out to local reporters, who faithfully frame the whole thing exactly how cops want. To the casual reader, it must seem like law enforcement is doing a seriously good job at stopping sexual exploitation. But all they're really doing is wasting tons of time and taxpayers' money to stop consenting adults from having sex.

Here's a stellar new example out of San Diego. "13 Arrested in Human Trafficking Operation," the local NBC headline declares. What the headline fails to make at all clear is that not a single one of the arrests were on human trafficking charges, nor was a single trafficking victim recovered. Police simply posed as adult women selling sex and then arrested men who wanted to pay them.

Just how many police officers did it take to take down these 13 nonviolent offenders? According to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, more than 75 law enforcement agents participated. The agencies involved included the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Immigration Enforcement and Removal Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the U.S. Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Internal Revenue Service. (There's no word on how many immigrants may have been rounded up in the course of the sting.)

The initiative, dubbed "Operation Big Bad John," also netted some arrests for drug possession. Police seized "more than 17 grams" of crystal meth and a few Ecstasy pills in this "human trafficking operation" as well.

"Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery" and "the biggest human rights violation of our time," the sheriff's department stated in a press release about Operation Big Bad John—a standard non sequitur for such faux-social-justice stings. Because really, who wants to quibble over particulars when modern slavery is involved? Cops know they can count on lazy reporters and a public that's been spoonfed human-trafficking hysteria for years to simply nod along with whatever new (or age-old) bullshit they're up to under an "anti-slavery" guise.

Should the Government Limit What Women Can Learn from Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing?

Fri, 26 May 2017 13:15:00 -0400

(image) As they develop, fetuses shed their DNA into the bloodstreams of pregnant women. Several companies now offer a blood test that can provide genetic information about a fetus nine weeks into a pregnancy, when it is the size of a grape. The process is called non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) because—unlike earlier tests, such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis—cells are not taken directly from the placenta or the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus.

NIPT is used to identify genetic abnormalities, such as those involved with Downs Syndrome and Klinefelter Syndrome. The test can also identify the sex of a fetus. Researchers are now working on ways to sequence entire fetal genomes, so in the future NIPT will be able to identify genetic variations, such as those that confer a greater risk for cancers and neurological diseases.

Whenever a new fetal test technology comes along, bioethicists always feel compelled to call for restrictions on women's access to information about their fetuses. Take the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which in March issued a report called Non-invasive prenatal testing: ethical issues.

To its credit, the report states that women should be able to access testing for "significant" medical conditions or impairments in the fetus. But it also concludes that NIPT "should not be used to reveal information about a fetus relating to less significant medical conditions or impairments, adult onset conditions, carrier status, sex or other non-medical traits, and [that] whole genome or exome sequencing normally should not be offered. Any restrictions on access to information about the fetus would also need to apply to whole genome or exome sequencing, otherwise these restrictions could be by-passed."

Consequently, the council urged the British government to put a moratorium on whole genome NIPT. It also recommended that the government prohibit NIPT providers from telling women the sex of their fetuses. Why? Because it worried that women might then be tempted to have sex-selective abortions.

Unfortunately, attempts to limit what women are allowed to learn from advanced prenatal testing are not confined to Britain. In January, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) introduced the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which aims to outlaw "discrimination against the unborn on the basis of race or sex." During a congressional hearing last year on an earlier version of the bill, Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum called that "duplicitous," because it frames itself as an "attempt to address racial and gender discrimination while actually intending to chip away at abortion rights."

For now the U.S. has no legal restrictions on what women can learn about their fetuses from genetic testing. Let's keep it that way.

Sexploitative Feminism: Hot Girls Wanted and How Not to Apologize for Mistreating Porn Stars

Wed, 03 May 2017 18:03:00 -0400

Two weeks ago, the new Hot Girls Wanted documentary series from actress Rashida Jones was released on Netflix. Last week, a host of porn performers came out with complaints about the Hot Girls Wanted producers, whom they accused of lying about the nature of the project in order to obtain their consent and "outing" women as sex workers without their permission. The producers' response: If those women were really so worried about being outed, why were they speaking out in public about producers' exploiting them? "They saw themselves, and then on Twitter, as themselves, using their own handles, tweeted out, 'Oh my God, we're on Netflix. Oh my God nobody told us. Oh my God, we're sex workers and they've just shown us on Netflix,'" Hot Girls Wanted director and producer Ronna Gradus told Variety this week. "So the great irony here is that they identified themselves as sex workers." It was, at best, a totally tone-deaf statement. Hot Girls Wanted isn't just any documentary but one that purports to have feminist ambitions and concern for sex workers' well being. Casually dismissing the privacy concerns of sex workers who appear in the series totally betrays both alleged principles. It's also a horseshit justification. As the women concerned with Hot Girls Wanted outing them have pointed out, the problem isn't that no one knew they were sex workers before the documentary and now they might. It's the fact that these women had chosen to limit their public sex-worker personas to certain audiences of their choosing and Hot Girls Wanted went ahead and, without so much as alerting them, used their images in a production with a much, much wider reach. In other words: yes, these women are already "out" as sex workers on Twitter and Periscope. No, that doesn't make it OK for people to profit off of outing them to the whole world. Legally, the producers are probably fine, of course. But the ethics of the move are another story. And for a production that's explicitly marketing itself as a nuanced, feminist look at the porn industry, how producers treated their sex-worker subjects should be a key part of the equation. Yet only a handful of professional publications have even addressed sex worker complaints about the production, while major media outlets from Rolling Stone magazine to The Daily Show have covered the series glowingly, content to let Jones and the other producers speak for sex workers. No one involved with the film has returned my requests for comment or requests from others asking difficult questions, though they do seem plenty happy to do softball interviews with entertainment media still. Throughout these interviews, Jones, Gradus, and other Hot Girls Wanted spokespeople have refused to even address allegations that they directly lied to documentary subjects in order to secure their participation. At this point, multiple performers claim that producers directly told them this was not a Hot Girls Wanted or Rashida Jones production (a crucial point, as the 2015 Hot Girls Wanted series was considered so biased that performers say they would've refused to work on the project had they known). In explaining to Variety why she thinks sex workers are criticizing the film, Gradus, who also directed and produced the original documentary, accused them of doing so under coercion from nefarious behind-the-scenes porn industry folk. "The industry is very defensive about people coming in and shining a light on the industry and doing stories about it," she said. "The allegations that have come out are probably the result of pressure they are feeling to stand in solidarity with the industry." And it all comes full circle! Step 1: decide women are exploited by the porn industry. Step 2: make documentary with this foregone conclusion in mind. Step 3: trick sex workers into participating. Step 4: accuse any sex workers who object to your exploitation of being sad representations of the very problem you were trying to highlight; rest as[...]

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 sta[...]

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-sourc[...]

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 diff[...]

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 t[...]

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 fundament[...]

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 wa[...]