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Published: Mon, 16 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

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Vanessa Grigoriadis on the 'Blurred Lines' of Consensual Sex and Assault on Campus

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 17:00:00 -0400

"Young women are really putting their foot down and saying, 'These are our bodies,'" says Vanessa Grigoriadis, author of the new book, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus. "'We don't care what you, 55-year-old college president, think is consent.'" From the conviction of Vanderbilt University football players for raping an unconscious student to the he-said-she-said story behind Columbia University's "mattress girl" to the discredited Rolling Stone account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia, few topics generate more emotion and outrage than sexual assault on college campuses. Grigoriadis's book is a deeply researched and nuanced take on campus relationships and the often-fuzzy boundary separating consensual sex from assault. Over the past three years, she interviewed over 100 students and 80 administrators on 20 different campuses, and her findings further complicate an already complicated story. Millennial college students are actually having less sex than their baby boomer and Gen X counterparts did, writes Grigoriadis, but today's encounters take place in a hyper-sexualized and "pornified" social media context that has rewritten the rules of consent and privacy. The result is confusion and recriminations from all sides when it comes to sex and assault on campuses. Are assault rates and rape culture out of control, or have we entered what left-wing Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis has called a new era of "sexual McCarthyism?" In a wide-ranging interview, Reason's Nick Gillespie and Grigoriadis, a National Magazine Award-winning journalist who writes for Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine, grapple with this question, the proper role of campus tribunals in administering justice, what constitutes due process for alleged offenders as well as victims, and whether a "yes means yes" affirmative-consent standard should be the norm. Edited by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Andrew Heaton. Music by Silent Partner. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Gillespie: Your book is not only richly reported, it's filled with interviews with dozens, if not hundreds of students, administrators, researchers ... It's a deeply nuanced look as a subject that typically evokes really sharply polarized positions. But you write, 'It's tempting to chant "believe woman" and simply leave it at that, but there's a mushy middle here or a blurry middle.' Describe what you mean by that mushy middle or blurry middle. Grigoriadis: I went to 20 campuses. I talked to students themselves, tried to interact as a peer, not as an adult coming, asking weird intrusive questions, right? I'm kind of a gonzo journalist out of the Rolling Stone mold. I put on a backpack, I look relatively young, not like a gen X mother of two, which is what I actually am. And went to campus food courts, went to frat parties ... I took my babysitter's ID, she's 24-years-old. So I would take that with me to campuses so I could show that to bouncers at college bars, and at frat parties to get in, so that the person wouldn't think that I was using the worst fake ID in the world of my actual age in the 1970s. So, I spoke with these students and what I learned is, yes, of course, there is rape on campus. And I'm talking about physically violent rape, where a woman's will is overridden, and also, rape of women and men who are passed out from drinking, right? Almost like a necrophilia kind of thing. It's really repulsive. But much more often, what I was finding is people, kids, talking to me about cases that were blurry. And they weren't blurry in terms of the way we might have once thought about sexual assault, where a woman just kind of protests and says, 'No, no, no,' but the guy knows that this is just a faux thing. Gillespie: Right. I mean, it's not the Hollywood fantasy of the '40s or even the '60s of where, 'No, no, no,' and then the kiss and it dissolves into a marriage scene [...]

D.C. Could Become Only U.S. City to Decriminalize Prostitution

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:17:00 -0400

(image) Will Washington, D.C. buck national trends and actually take a stand for sex-worker rights and safety? It will if politician David Grosso gets his way. The at-large councilmember has just introduced a bill to decriminalize prostitution in the District.

"I do not think the criminalization of sex workers has worked for the District of Columbia," Grosso told DCist. "Arresting our way out of the problem is not the solution. The approach should be a harm reduction and human rights approach."

The "Reducing Criminalization to Promote Public Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2017" would amend D.C.'s criminal code to make both the selling and the buying of sex legal. It's co-sponsored by At-large Councilmember Robert White.

Unlike moves by Canada and many Western European countries, the D.C. plan would not attempt to regulate sex work by setting up red-light districts, providing for brothel permits, or similar schemes. In countries where prostitution is highly regulated (including parts of Nevada), those engaging in sex work outside these parameters are still sought out and punished by police, thereby recreating all the worst harms of criminalization. This is especially true in countries that have adopted the "Nordic model" of sex-work regulation, wherein people who pay for sex are still criminalized but those offering sexual services are not.

Grosso's bill would do several specific things:

  • Repeal the 1935 bill requiring "for the suppression of prostitution in the District of Columbia," thereby removing criminal penalties for engaging in or soliciting prostitution.
  • Abolish the city's Anti-Prostitution Vehicle Impoundment Proceeds program and fund
  • Repeal prohibitions on procuring someone for prostitution, operating a house of prostitution, or operating a "place used for the purpose of lewdness, assignation, or prostitution"

It would also repeal D.C.'s prohibition on "pandering" (i.e., placing, causing, inducing, enticing, procuring, or compelling someone somewhere "with the intent that such individual shall engage in prostitution"), because any elements of "pandering" involving force or juveniles are covered by the city's law against compelling prostitution, and would amend the compelling prostitution statute to include bans on detaining or compelling someone "to marry the abductor or to marry any other person."

The legislation would create a temporary task force "to study and make recommendations regarding the removal of criminal penalties and providing supports for individuals engaging in commercial sex" and issue a report on what it finds. The task force would include members of D.C. government, public health professionals, sex workers ("and people profiled as sex workers"), and nonprofits that provide services to people in the commercial sex industry.

Grosso pointed out in DCist that his approach is supported by health and human-rights groups like Amnesty International and the World Health Organization, and said he hopes his colleagues keep an open mind. "It's about treating people with dignity, respect, and love, over whatever they were taught in church or whatever hangups they have about sex."

California May Add Gender Category 'X' to State IDs. Good—Your Gender Isn't the Government's Business.

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 10:37:00 -0400

California is poised to become the second American state to allow for a gender category "X" on state-issued documents such as driver's licenses. (Oregon became the first this past June.) The California change—which would go further than Oregon's by allowing "X" instead of "M" or "F" on birth certificates and other forms of official ID, not just licenses—was approved by the state legislature and now awaits the governor's approval. The new non-binary category is being heralded—and slammed—as part of the growing U.S. movement for transgender rights and the recognition that many people don't fit comfortably into the gender roles and traits typically assigned to their sex. The latter has given rise to the growth of gender-neutral pronouns (they, ze) and self-descriptions (genderfluid, genderqueer, non-binary) among Americans, especially younger ones. Libertarians—even those just fine with the gender binary and their place in it—should celebrate the change. It allows people more choice about how to define themselves in a way that is noncoercive and decreases government control. Should D.C. ever give residents the option to essentially delist their sex/gender from their driver's license, I would do it. (At least, you know, the next time my license is up for renewal or if there was some sort of online option; I'm not crazy enough to subject myself to the Department of Motor Vehicles any more than necessary.) And I would hope anarchist, libertarian, and limited-government-supporting types of any sex or gender might do the same. There is no good reason the state, its representatives, and the countless people tasked with checking IDs for one reason or another need to know every individual's gender or sex. In Beyond Trans (which I reviewed in Reason's August/September issue), Heath Fogg Davis details the many objections people raise to this, then obliterates each one. For each purpose in which a need for sex/gender identification is assumed, Davis reveals a surveillance-state mindset, a status-quo prejudice, or social conservatism at the root—not a legitimate government purpose. The bottom line for driver's licenses and the kinds of IDs we deal with on a daily basis is the old adage: A picture is worth 1,000 words. Whether someone identifies as male, female, or X doesn't matter so long as the photo on their ID looks like they do in person. Bouncers don't look to see if you're male or female; they check your age and photo. Airport agents check your photo and name. And so on. Adding an X designation to state-issued IDs doesn't threaten to destroy gender as we know it, but it does say that it's none of the state's business—a rare decollectivizing move from politicians. Davis doesn't think that this goes far enough: it "neither dismantles nor significantly challenges the bureaucratic use of the traditional sex binary," argues Beyond Trans. "These policies create exceptional categories." Rather than give people the option to choose "X" or some other non-binary designation, Davis encourages the removal of sex- or gender-identification markers from government-issued IDs and documents more broadly—a step fitting of the fact that "a person's sex classification is irrelevant to most public transactions." There's a lot of interesting material for libertarians in Davis' arguments, or "for anyone interested in privacy, individualism, and striking a blow against needless bureaucracy," as I wrote in my review: Davis situates the struggle for transgender dignity and rights squarely within a larger framework of personal freedom and privacy concerns, and shows how removing institutional barriers to living beyond the gender binary can help everyone live fuller, freer lives. California and Oregon's "X" designation might not live up to this lofty goal, but they are a big move in the right direction.[...]

What Hugh Hefner's Daughter Told Reason About Feminism and Pornography

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 10:20:00 -0400

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner passed away yesterday at age 91. Reason interviewed Hefner's daughter, Christie Hefner, back in 1986, a time when the magazine was facing intense criticism from elements of both the left and the right. (At the time, the younger Hefner was Playboy's chief operating officer.) Here's an excerpt:

(image) Reason: What do you think of feminist efforts to ban or restrict the display and dissemination of pornography?

Hefner: Well, I think it's an enormous error of judgment, both in misunderstanding what impact pornography has on society and in misunderstanding what laws like that would be used to do. On the latter, the reason why a lot of feminists have now become so outspoken against that effort is because censorious laws are interpreted by the people with power in society, not the people without power. It was only the '70s when Bill Baird was arrested for talking about contraception in front of an audience that included a woman with a baby—and he was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. So if you think that laws that have to do with sexuality are going to be interpreted by feminists, that's very naive. If you think that the first things that are gone after are not things related to abortion and lesbianism, that's a very naive understanding of the process. So that's one perspective that I have that I think a lot of feminists share.

On the impact of pornography on society, the rhetoric has so overwhelmed the reality that there is no reasonableness applied to the subject at all anymore. If, for example, the president of the United States really wanted to have a useful commission on pornography, one would have thought that what the commission would be doing is updating the research that the 1970 Commission on Pornography and Obscenity did. That would mean original research, reviewing research that has been done in the interim, looking at what's happened in Denmark and other countries that have liberalized pornography laws, and coming out with a thoughtful report. Instead, the commission has no budget for research and has been traipsing around the country listening to individuals give their life stories, which is anecdotal evidence that has no validity. It would be like deciding whether or not to go back to Prohibition by having people come forward, and some people would tell terrible stories about being beaten up by a husband who was drunk or having their child killed by a drunk driver. I don't want to take away from the seriousness of those problems, but they don't have anything to do with the cause and effect of pornographic images in society.

Other questions from the Q&A include "Would Playboy survive in the marketplace without pictures?" and "Is Playboy a victim of hardercore pornography?" To read the whole thing, go here.

Feud With Amber Tamblyn Shows James Woods' Confusion About Age-of-Consent Laws

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 13:35:00 -0400

Last week's Twitter feud between actors James Woods and Amber Tamblyn, which gave birth to an op-ed piece by Tamblyn in yesterday's New York Times, revealed some telling misconceptions about age-of-consent laws. Woods, despite his history of dating very young women, does not seem to understand that such laws vary from one jurisdiction to another. The feud started when Woods suggested that the film Call Me by Your Name, about a gay relationship between a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old, is helping to "quietly chip away the last barriers of decency." His tweet used the hashtag #NAMBLA, referring to the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which opposes age-of-consent laws. "Didn't you date a 19 year old when you were 60.......?" replied Armie Hammer, costar of the movie. Woods was 59 when he began dating Ashley Madison, who was 19 at the time. At 66 he began dating 20-year-old Kristen Bauguess. Here is where Tamblyn chimed in. "James Woods tried to pick me and my friend up at a restaurant once," she tweeted. "He wanted to take us to Vegas. 'I'm 16' I said. 'Even better' he said." Picking up on that anecdote, a Twitter user named Amanda Kendall asked Woods, "What makes a 24yo/17yo gay relationship inherently indecent but skeevy old guys trying to pick up a pair of 16 year old girls is okay?" Woods replied, "The first is illegal. The second is a lie." I don't know whether the incident Tamblyn describes actually happened. In her op-ed piece, which cites Woods' response to her claim as an example of the disbelief faced by victims of sexual harassment, she argues that she has no plausible motivation to make such a thing up. But Woods is clearly wrong when he definitively states that a sexual relationship between a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old "is illegal." To begin with, the age of consent in Italy, the setting of Call Me by Your Name, is 14. In this country, the age of consent is 16 or 17 in 39 states, so the relationship that Woods deemed indecent would be legal in all of those places as well. By contrast, the age of consent in California is 18, and there is no close-in-age exemption. In other words, any sex involving someone younger than 18 is a crime, even if the other person is also younger than 18. The only exception is for married couples. In California, which has no minimum age for marriage, minors can marry with parental consent and judicial approval. That policy is pretty puzzling, given that extricating oneself from a marriage is considerably more difficult than ending a sexual relationship. California law assumes that a 17-year-old is not ready for sex but allows that a 13-year-old might be ready for marriage (including sex). Woods not only assumes every jurisdiction has an age-of-consent law like California's; he erroneously equates legality with decency, a much more subjective concept. Many people probably would find the seven-year age gap between the characters in Call Me by Your Name (41 percent of the younger character's age) less objectionable than the 40-year gap between Woods and Madison (200 percent of her age) or the 46-year gap between him and Bauguess (230 percent of her age). If the concern is an imbalance of power, it is not at all clear why the fictional relationship is more disturbing than the real-life ones. Suppose California raised its age of consent for sex from 18 to 21. Would that retroactively render Woods' romantic relationships indecent or unethical? Or would he concede that such laws are inherently arbitrary, that reasonable people can and do disagree about what the cutoff should be, and that the goal should be ensuring genuine consent, as opposed to preventing outrage among those who think a particular pairing is icky?[...]

Bikini Barista Lawsuit Defends Freedom to Espresso Oneself

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Earlier this week, a group of eight women who work in the coffee industry sued the city of Everett, Wash. in federal court. The plaintiffs allege a pair of new Everett laws are unconstitutionally vague and infringe on the plaintiffs' freedom of expression; right to privacy, personal autonomy, and liberty; and substantive due-process rights. The laws, adopted last month and implemented this month, are intended to crack down on the so-called "bikini barista" phenomenon that's popular in Western Washington State. The lawsuit defines the business model as centering on baristas who "wear bikinis while serving coffee to customers in their cars through a drive-through window." The Stranger, a free Seattle weekly, defines it similarly as "the Pacific Northwest custom of wearing a bikini while working at a commercial coffee business." The first law "prohibits women from exposing 'more than one-half of the part of the female breast located below the top of the areola'" or anyone from showing the "bottom one-half of the anal cleft.'" Under the law, women in particular could be subject to intrusive and demeaning bodily inspections. Those who are found to be in violation of the law face stiff fines and up to one year in jail. The second law specifically targets bikini barista stands. It requires drive-thru espresso baristas—all of Everett's bikini baristas are women—"to cover completely their upper and lower body, including the pectorals, stomach, back below the shoulder blades, and the 'top three inches of legs below the buttocks.'" These laws are patently dumb, moralistic, and theocratic in nature. As the lawsuit also alleges, they're also unconstitutional. In order to learn more, I drove up from my home in Seattle earlier this week and visited one of the city's bikini espresso joints (with my friend's 70-year-old mom, to boot). It would be my first trip to one of the establishments. My first stop, though, was at a fully clad espresso stand on the city's south side. The barista there, a woman, said she had no opinion on the lawsuit, but told me nevertheless that she thought baristas should be free to wear whatever they want at work. I then drove across the street to Hillbilly Hotties, one of the city's bikini espresso stands. The barista there, wearing a Santa Claus themed bikini—complete with matching Santa hat—told me she didn't want to comment on the suit. But she gave me the phone number of Jovanna Edge, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and owner of Hillbilly Hotties and other bikini espresso stands. I spoke with Edge on Wednesday. Edge, who describes herself as "very conservative," tells me she and her co-plaintiffs filed suit because the city "enacted this dress code that was obviously against our First and Fourteen Amendment rights, and we shouldn't have to abide by their morals and values. They shouldn't be able to infringe upon everybody else's beliefs." She told me she was shocked by the city law. "I can't believe this actually passed," Edge said. "I never thought it would." Shocking, too, is some of the language in the law. For example, I'd never heard the term "anal cleft" until reading about the lawsuit. "I still don't know what that is" Edge tells me. "Our attorneys didn't know what that is. I think it's the part right above your butt crack. But I really don't know." In a somewhat surreal conversation—my columns tend to focus on food law and policy issues like farm subsidies and menu labeling, rather than butt cracks—I came to understand the term is largely synonymous with the colloquial "plumber's butt." I searched but could find no moralistic plans in Everett to crack down on the butt cracks of plumbers in the city. The same goes for Everett's own workers. A city-owned pool's website currently boasts several photos of women in bathing suits. The Facebook page for the city's Parks & Recreation Department, too, features many such photos. You can judge for yourself the mo[...]

Ted Cruz Defends Dildos on CNN, Calls Himself 'One of the Most Libertarian Members of the Senate'

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 18:01:00 -0400

(image) Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is walking back earlier support for sex-toy sales bans after a "staffer" liked a porn tweet on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Cruz's account liking the porn-clip, from the account @SexuallPosts, was quickly picked up by folks on Twitter. On Wednesday, Cruz went on CNN to talk about the faux-pas, which he attributed to an unnamed communications staffer who made a mistake.

When Bash asked about his earlier support for a Texas law banning the sale of sex toys, Cruz called the law "stupid" and said he was just doing his duty.

"I worked for the attorney general," said Cruz. "The attorney general's job is to defend the laws passed by the Texas legislature. One of those laws was a law restricting the sale of sex toys, which is a stupid law."

"Consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms," Cruz continued, going so far as to suggest he is "one of the most libertarian members of the Senate."

This is—just in case anyone needs a reminder—patently false; Cruz's "libertarianism" is opportunistic, and he turns it on and off as it suits him. But for now, at least, we can all enjoy watching Cruz squirm.

HBO, David Simon Chart the Rise of the Modern Sex Economy in The Deuce

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The Deuce. HBO. Sunday, September 10, 9 p.m. In 1971, the theaters in the New York City 'burbs were showing a film called Summer of '42, a wartime coming-of-age story in which sex is wondrous, terrifying, and inextricably linked to romance. Meanwhile, down in the dank little grindhouse joints of the combat zone around Times Square, you could see Terror in Orgy Castle, The Runaway Virgin, (spoiler alert: ... Oh, hell, never mind) and countless little 8mm loops of burned-out hookers performing the filthiest acts of which the unwired 20th-century mind could conceive. In them, sex was tawdry, tired, and toneless. Yet all that was to be stood on its head; gauzy romance was about to take a back seat to commercial coitus that was glamorous, exciting and very, very profitable. HBO's The Deuce is the spellbinding story of how flesh became flash, how the sex trade went from back alleys to boardrooms. Created by veteran chronicler of urban grit David Simon and his teammate from The Wire and Treme, crime novelist George Pelecanos, The Deuce is named after the local slang for its setting, Manhattan's 42nd Street, the sordid Ground Zero of the forthcoming sexual eruption. It's a squalid, venal landscape of phone-booth sex and by-the-hour hotels, of weary workaday whores and their sweet-talking-until-they-aren't pimps. Bored cops routinely round the women up for what both sides recognize as a sort of kabuki tax collection without rancor or missionary zeal. The occasional attempt at redemptive outreach is met by women with sneering contempt. When a policeman suggests to one hooker that she go home and seek legal employment, her eyes widen in surprise. "Jeez," she exclaims in faux wonderment, "I completely forgot to get an education!" If spiritual salvation isn't possible, market potential is. Here and there along The Deuce, a handful of the sexual foot soldiers are starting to think like generals. Bar manager Vincent Martino (James Franco of 11.22.63, who also plays Vincent's hustling gambler twin brother Frankie), in a desperate attempt to save his floundering joint, dresses the waitresses in leotards, and is astonished at the tidal wave of customers who wash in. "There's a topless bar out by the airport," he notes to one of them, who replies that context is everything: "Those are whores. These are waitresses bringing me drinks. It's, I don't know, different." Then there's Maggie Gyllenhaal (an Oscar nominee for Crazy Heart) as the independent hooker Candy, one of the few around Times Square working without a pimp. ("Nobody makes money off my pussy but me.") Doing a quick porno gig as a favor to a friend, she wonders how hard it would be to come up with something more arousing than the idiotic Viking rape plot—and how much money there might be in in it. And Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva), an NYU English major who heads downtown to buy some speed for classmates cramming for an exam and winds up in Vincent's bar, is at first repelled. "You ever wonder what it's like for them to be objectified?" she demands, waving at the legion of leotard-clad waitresses, only to be brought up short by his snorted reply: "Objecto-who?" Watching the growing wads of cash the coquettish women extract from their male customers in tips, Abby starts rethinking which hand really holds the whip. Candy and Abby are not the only ones wondering whether the twin emerging 1970s cultural wave of feminism and raw sexuality may intersect. The world of The Deuce is strictly transactional, and not just in the obvious commercial relationships between the prostitutes and their customers. The hookers coo in their pimps' ears, but among themselves, chatter about the men's managerial merits like salesman rating prospects at a convention. ("Me, I need a pimp, or I tend to get lazy," admits one prostitute.) And the pimps brood about the lack of honor among thieves. "It's 'brother this, b[...]

How the Google Memo Hysteria Punishes Openness and Innovation

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 08:30:00 -0400

The tech press has been on fire with the recent publication of an internal memo on Google's diversity and labor policies by former engineer James Damore. Damore, who was quickly fired for "perpetuating gender stereotypes" in light of the ensuing media conflagration, penned the 10-page memo during a long flight to China after attending a Google diversity training seminar that he found to be ineffective, hostile to his cohorts, and factually incorrect. More fundamentally, in "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," Damore argues that Google's corporate culture discourages criticism of company policies and leads employees to feel that they can't speak openly. The article, which cited research and concepts from scientific disciplines in a well-reasoned and compassionate manner, was wildly misrepresented in the media and has served to further fan the anxious flames of social tensions in Silicon Valley. Such incidents are unfortunately encouraged by unproductive labor norms which divert companies' drives to create value and innovate towards futile social engineering endeavors that waste money and time while unnecessarily pitting groups against each other. The bulk of the discussion on the so-called "Google Memo" so far has unfortunately been driven by the left-leaning media's sensationalist and downright incorrect characterizations of the document. Gizmodo, which originally published the memo, called it an "anti-diversity screed." NBC News' headline implied that the author blamed "women's 'neuroticism'" for the relative lack of female engineers. Engadget said the memo is evidence of tech's "toxic culture." Other outlets piled on, simply referring to the memo as "sexist" or "misogynist" without delving into the article's contents. Given such alarming headlines, you might expect to find some kind of hateful, invective-filled rant about the innate inferiority of women and perhaps a sandwich joke or two thrown in for good measure. What you will instead find is a thoughtful, helpfully-categorized criticism of Google's alleged "ideological echo chamber" replete with citations and figures. (Curiously, Gizmodo decided to remove the academic citations and graphs from their version of the memo.) It's a thought-provoking and fascinating read, I highly recommend that you check out the unedited document if you haven't already. Damore notes sources of both left- and right-wing bias before exploring potential "non-bias" contributors to gaps in representation among engineers. Like Larry Summers before him, Damore notes that slight differences in the average distribution of men's and women's talents, risk profiles, and preferences result in outcomes that are not exactly 50-50. This is not to say to that any one sex is "better" or "worse" than the other, but that a slight preference on women's part to, say, take time off to raise their young children will have an effect on women's aggregate final career trajectory. Given this, Damore points out that any diversity initiative to "lower the bar" or provide special treatment to favored groups will be not only ineffective, but discriminatory and inefficient to boot. What is most important to note is that Damore's memo was not "anti-diversity" at all. In fact, he directly states that he "value[s] diversity and inclusion, [does not deny] that sexism exists, and [does not] endorse using stereotypes." Rather, he maintains that if we can't have "an honest discussion" about diversity, then "we can never truly solve the problem" and provides several alternative suggestions to close the gaps that he believes would not cause issues like discrimination and lowered expectations. We've got a real monster on our hands here, folks! The disjoint between the quality of Damore's attempted conversation and the downright hysterics of the media reaction is greatly disturbing. Anyone with a passing familiarit[...]

Missouri Attorney General Hawley Files Desperate and Deceptive Motion to Dismiss Backpage Lawsuit

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 14:40:00 -0400

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley claimed he has "new evidence" showing that the classifieds site "Backpage has directly and actively promoted illegal sex trafficking." But the only thing new is Hawley's level of desperation and deceit. Hawley, who was elected attorney general last November and has U.S. Senate ambitions, is the latest in a long line of state law-enforcement authorities to seek attention by scapegoating an online ad platform and subjecting it to unconstitutional demands. Craigslist was the test case, but Backpage has become the enduring target of state prosecutors because it hasn't been hesitant to fight back—and in almost all cases, win. Despite the hysterical antics from elected officials, there has never been any evidence that Backpage leaders knowingly promoted forced or underage prostitution, nor that they've behaved in ways that would exclude them from the immunity provided to open publishing platforms under federal law. Among the "new" evidence that Hawley submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri is a January report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Despite the senators having access to all of the internal Backpage data and hosting a theatrical in-person inquiry, they found nothing sufficient to spur a criminal investigation or any charges. Hawley also submitted the transcript of an audio recording seized from Philippines company Avion, in which an Avion employee contacts a London sex worker. Hawley also played the call reporters at a press conference. What does not get so much as a mention in Hawley's motion is that this call and all of the adult-ad generation done for Backpage involved only non-U.S. employees of Avion advertising on non-U.S. platforms. None of it has any bearing on his current case. A state attorney general cannot attempt to prosecute foreign contractors for ads created and posted in foreign countries. And it is legal for Backpage contractors to generate adult ads abroad, where the rules governing web-publishing platforms and legal liability for content vary (and prostitution in certain forms may be legal). Hawley's actions here should be seen for what they are: a sneaky attempt to build credibility in his illegal crusade. Not long after he took office in January 2017, Hawley attempted to compel Backpage to surrender a trove of internal files and information. His order was not part of any criminal investigation but rather a civil investigative demand—a kind of subpoena attorneys general use to investigate potential consumer fraud. In a letter to Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Hawley wrote "the Attorney General of the State of Missouri believes it to be in the public interest that an investigation be made to ascertain whether [agents of] have engaged in or are engaging in any merchandising practices declared to be unlawful" under the state's merchandising practices law. Backpage lawyers responded with a motion to block Hawley from enforcing the order and "from further pursuing or threatening other action against Backpage. It was "based on Backpage's statutory immunity from state law claims based on its activities as an online publisher and distributor of third-party content, and on Backpage's constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments." Hawley fired back this week with a motion to dismiss Backpage's suit and a public relations offensive. "I have filed a motion against containing explosive new revelations," the attorney general tweeted from his official account on Tuesday. "My message to Backpage is this: The truth is coming for you," stated Hawley in a press release. "We have evidence including audio recordings, photos and various documents. You cannot hide from the truth. And I will not stop until the full truth about Backpage'[...]

Federal Judge Notes Good Done by Gay Escort Site, Sentences Founder to Six Months in Prison

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 12:50:00 -0400

A federal judge Wednesday sentenced Jeffrey Hurant, founder of, to six months in federal prison for promoting prostitution. In a turn both remarkable and infuriating, the judge, Margo Brodie, acknowledged that both Hurant and have done good things for the gay community before sending him off to prison. From The New York Times: In court papers filed in Brooklyn, Mr. Hurant has pointed out that aside from making money — lots of money — Rentboy permitted prostitutes to move their trade from the streets to the safety of the internet and to work independently of pimps. The company ran Rentboy U, he said, which offered escorts classes in financial management and safe-sex practices. And, he added, it made large donations to the fight against AIDS and H.I.V., working at times with government agencies like the New York City Department of Health. On Wednesday, a judge in Federal District Court in Brooklyn gave credence to his arguments, saying that while Mr. Hurant had broken the law, he had also done enormous good for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Even amid the overwrought panic over human trafficking in the culture of American sex work, the federal bust of in 2015 stood out. The site had existed for nearly 20 years and was well-known as a resource for men to connect with male sex workers. It was operating in the open, not via some dark web resource. When they were busted by the Department of Homeland Security, nobody in the government even tried to claim that anybody had been victimized. The shutdown of the site and the arrest of workers and founder Jeffrey Hurant was based solely because prostitution was illegal and that Rentboy was making millions of dollars facilitating it—which the government then immediately moved to seize. It wasn't until after the site was shut down that the feds began investigating the possibility that any human trafficking or involvement with underage participants might have happened. Following the bust, Reason interviewed a client who had been relying on to find partners for sexual fulfillment. He said he would not be having sex at all if it weren't for the men he had been connecting with through the site. Read the interview here. On Wednesday Brodie affirmed, "The very thing that was illegal, it also did a lot of good," before sentencing Hurant to less than half the time prosecutors asked for. Apparently she feels bad about it! To be clear, it is still very possible to find gay escorts online. The sites are a little less obviously named (and given what happened to Rentboy, I'm obviously not going to link to them), and Rentboy's shutdown has probably fragmented the sex work marketplace. The end result is online male sex work operates in a more shadowy, secretive area with fewer safety protections and less of a community. After all, they wouldn't want the government to take note. Sex work has actually become more dangerous for prostitutes and clients and everybody involved with this case knows it. Enforcing the law as written actually causes American citizens greater harm with the potential to lead to actual human trafficking. (Small update to respond to the comments: Brodie did have the option to not sentence Hurant to any prison time, and in fact, she gave him the opportunity to essentially beg for his freedom. There was not a mandatory minimum sentence binding her decision here. Apologies for not making that more clear.)[...]

Sex Dolls Are Getting Smarter. Don't Be Alarmed.

Tue, 01 Aug 2017 13:51:00 -0400

When it comes to lifelike sex dolls (which currently exist) and sexbots (which do not yet), people are prone to two contradictory and misguided beliefs: that only rapey perverts would use them, and that they pose a major threat to our social and sexual order. Matt McMullen, the man behind the most popular "love doll" on the market, isn't buying either. In a recent interview with Mel magazine, the CEO of Abyss Creations and creator of RealDoll, said his creations are not simply about sex and doubts they will ever capture a huge share of the sexual market. In my Reason sexbot feature a few years ago, I noted that not even the most starry-eyed roboticists, futurists, and philosophers expect sex with robots to become a majority pastime. If the technology gets good enough and the products cheap enough, they might play the same role sex toys and strip clubs do now, without their customers automatically being considered creepy perverts. But for a much smaller group, be they current love-doll keepers or future robot lovers, these silcone companions will be something more—and that's OK too. Far from turning men into monsters who start to see living women as objects, love dolls and sexbots can provide something vital (and healthy) to people whose anxiety, disability, or other issues have made romantic relationships difficult, I suggested. It seems McMullen agrees: Our customers can be shy or socially intimidated by real social situations. A lot of times the doll does something magical for them. It gives them a feeling of not being alone, not being a loner. It's that companionship, more than anything else, that appeals to people and gives them confidence to interact socially. [...] A lot of people develop hobbies they never had, like studying fashion to dress their doll differently, taking up photography to capture their doll on film or painting her on canvas, or even learning how to sculpt while using their doll as a model or a muse. She inspires creativity in people who never had it previously. Sex lasts 5 or 10 minutes, maybe half an hour on a good day. But what about the other 23.5 hours of the day? Abyss Creations is launching its first artificially intelligent add-ons to the love doll line. In April, it released the Harmony AI app, a sort of sexy and customizable version of Siri. The idea is to help work out any programming kinks before releasing the same "Realbotix" software as part of a robotic RealDoll head, Harmony AI, which customers can attach to any existing RealDoll. "Creating a full-body robot as a first step would be foolish," McMullen explained to Endgadget in April. "I don't think that you would necessarily have a realistic idea of how many people would even buy it, and why would they buy it? And what would it do? Would it walk? Would it be able to lift heavy things for you? When you start working your way down from the head, you're treading into some very expensive territory. So, before we step into that, we think doing the head first makes sense." Besides, the technology just isn't there yet. As Guile Lindroth, the engineer behind Harmony AI, told Endgadget, "even the most simple functions that a 2-year-old human can do still elude the most fantastically advanced robot." No matter how clunky, the AI technology additions have spurred accusations that McMullen is objectifying real women. "I've been making these dolls for 20 years and haven't heard a lot of people yelling and screaming that I'm objectifying women," he noted in Mel. "Then I make the dolls that talk, and now, they're upset. Which is funny because I'm stepping away from it being purely an object and giving it some personality." McMullen dismissed the idea that his creations are feminism's enemies. "People have asked me this question a lot over the year[...]

Sexual Consent in Seattle Must Involve Element of 'Leisure,' Claims Top Cop

Mon, 31 Jul 2017 12:42:00 -0400

In Seattle, sex must be a "leisure activity" for both parties or it's nonconsensual, according to one area prosecutor. In a splashy Seattle Times feature in which local law enforcement play hero protagonists, Val Richey—a senior deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, Washington, and one of the driving forces behind the area's anti-prostitution efforts—lays out his tortuous framework for treating all sex workers as victims of rape and, in this case, human trafficking. "What you have is someone paying this person essentially to turn a 'no' into a 'yes,'" Richey told the paper. "Because as several of the buyers...observed, these women, as a leisure activity, are not looking to have sex with 10 guys in a day. They're doing it for the money." By that logic, anyone who wouldn't perform their job without remuneration is a victim of labor trafficking! But Richey is "adamant," as the Times tells it, that what Korean sex workers in the area "were doing could not be called consensual because they were being paid." Alas, this is one of the folks who decide what offenses the county decides to prosecute and how those cases proceed. Richey was integral to the 2016 shutdown of a Seattle sex work forum called The Review Board, and along with it several "brothels" that primarily employed Korean women. The Review Board case started out as an investigation into human trafficking. Finding no evidence of such, it then turned into a witchhunt against people who posted online prostitution reviews. At this point, more than two dozen men have been charged with promoting prostitution—a felony offense generally reserved for pimps, madams, and others intimately involved with the trade—for writing about alleged sexual escapades on a members-only website. I've been following this story for over a year now, I've combed through copious court documents related to the case, and I've talked to many of the principal people involved. (See my feature from last fall for an expansive look at the case.) I can say confidently that the Seattle Times' telling of the story gets at least as much wrong as it gets right. To her credit, writer Lynn Thompson does include perspectives from local sex workers, and she doesn't overdramatize the basic facts of the case. She accurately describes The Review Board as a place where sex workers advertised and their customers—or "hobbyists," as they called themselves—posted reviews and interacted with each other. Much of the initial coverage of the case erroneously identified it as a forum where men knowingly shopped for and evaluated "sex trafficking victims." But numerous independent Seattle sex workers considered it a valuable resource both for marketing and for personal safety. The article also accurately portrays the Korean sex workers involved as women who flew into town independently, worked out of upscale apartments where they were not confined, and were well-paid. Most would stay in town for a few weeks, working as a sort of temp contractor for one of the area's "K Girl" agencies or renting a room from fellow Korean sex workers who had put down roots in the area, before heading to similar setups in other cities or back to where they regularly resided. These women had mostly come to the U.S. on tourist or student visas, police say; they were not smuggled in illegally or brought here against their will. Officers from the King County Sheriff's Office and the Bellevue Police Department made months' worth of undercover visits to them before raiding the K-Girl "brothels" in January. If these were really "true victims of human trafficking" (as King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg described them at a press conference) who were being raped multiple times per day (as Richey asserts), how do p[...]

Lawmakers Demand Sessions Investigate Backpage's 'Criminal Role in Sex Trafficking' in Wake of Misleading Washington Post Article

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 10:00:00 -0400

The Washington Post has been playing right into politicians' hands when it comes to the narrative about Backpage. A series of recent Post articles suggest a sinister plot by Backpage executives to promote human trafficking, when all the paper's "trove of newly discovered documents" seems to show is that the company hired a firm to promote on foreign competitors' sites. "A contractor for the controversial classifieds website has been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads, despite Backpage's repeated insistence that it had no role in the content of ads posted on its site," the Post opens one article—thereby kicking things off in a misleading manner. While it will take the Post writers 21 more paragraphs to mention it, the contractors solicited all sorts of user-generated advertising for, not just sex-related or adult-oriented advertising. The ads the contractors created, meanwhile, were either 1) posted to competitors' sites—not Backpage—in a ploy to lure perusers of those sites to Backpage, or 2) draft ads made from existing copy on competitors' sites. The contracting company, Philippines-based Avion BPO, would offer users of these other sites a free first listing on, along with a link to the draft ad that they could easily activate. Based on this evidence, Post writers suggest that Backpage's years of denials that the site "facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking" could be a lie. But for all their breathless insinuations, the writers don't actually tie a single Avion-brokered ad to illegal conduct, let alone harm against children. From what the Post reveals, it's also unclear whether Backpage even knew about the tactics Avion workers were using to generate new listings. It's possible the contracting company came up with the bait-and-switch strategy on its own. Regardless, Backpage's claims to Congress and U.S. courts about its ad policies have always referenced U.S. content. Avion's activity was relegated to overseas endeavors (and, since laws vary greatly from country to country when it comes to both internet content and prostitution, was not necessarily illegal at all). To use Avion as a bouncing-off point to open yet another U.S. federal inquiry into Backpage—as Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) are now doing—is purely opportunistic, as Avion's creation or not of foreign ads is irrelevant for U.S. legal purposes. Here in the United States, Senators recently spent more than a year pouring through internal Backpage documents related to adult-ad content. Yet nothing in their resulting report negates Backpage's claims that the company does not create the content that appears on its site, nor does it show a company carelessly indifferent to its site's content. Backpage repeatedly tweaked its automated filter and manual-review policies in an attempt to strike a balance between banning all "adult" content and giving free reign to ad posters. This is above and beyond what's required by law in order to benefit from Section 230 protection. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act says that third-party web publishers and platforms are immune from liability if a user-posted ad results in criminal activity (with a few exceptions). It seriously limits the ability of opportunists in government and the general populace to take down any website or app they don't like. Without Section 230 protection, most of the Internet would be vulnerable to frivolous civil lawsuits and severe prosecutorial overreach (such as charging Facebook as an accessory any time someone livestreams himself doing something illegal). And people like this letter writer could get their wish for lo[...]

Brazilian Waxing Hypothetical on Law Exam Leads to Harassment Charge

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Howard University law professor Reginald Robinson is in a sticky situation after the university found him responsible for sexual harassment over an exam question involving a Brazilian wax. Robinson is just the latest professor to find himself accused of harassment on the basis of his germane classroom expression—a disturbing trend that has profound implications for academic freedom and the quality of education at our nation's institutions of higher education. Robinson's exam question centered around an individual who fell asleep during a Brazilian wax and awoke with the sense that he or she had been touched improperly during the procedure. Two students filed a sexual harassment complaint against Robinson based on the hypothetical, and the university's Deputy Title IX investigator found him responsible, for reasons including the question's use of the word genital and also, inexplicably, the fact that "the complainants felt that the hypothetical scenario was crafted in order to prompt them to reveal personal details about themselves." For his word crimes, Robinson was ordered to undergo sensitivity training, to submit to classroom monitoring, to have his academic materials reviewed by a dean "for sexually suggestive and/or offensive material," and to have an official reprimand placed in his file. FIRE, where I work, wrote to Howard in June to demand that the university reverse the sanctions against Robinson, but so far, there has been no response. To the uninitiated, Robinson's exam question may seem unusual. But wacky hypotheticals—which involve convoluted fact patterns designed to tease out students' understanding of a variety of complex, intersecting legal issues—are in fact a fixture of law school exams. One professor's sample torts exam, for example, features a car accident that takes place after "Jimmy missed his ride home, so he walked across the street to HOOTERS to get a drink." Another professor poses a hypothetical based on a scenario in which a bar patron dislocates another customer's shoulder because he is "infuriated that P has spilled a tequila sunrise (a sissy drink that stains) on his best stonewashed authentic cowboy jeans." Yet another professor's criminal law exam asks students to assess the culpability of someone who drunkenly writes "Call Zonker for good oral sex. $10 for ages 15 and up. Half price for under 15" on a mall bathroom wall, and includes his own phone number—but claims to have no memory of the event when he sobers up. And fact patterns like the one Robinson presents—where something happens while someone is asleep, or unconscious, or under anesthesia—are a useful and popular type of hypothetical because of the thorny legal issues they raise. The reality is that if you are an attorney, you are going to encounter uncomfortable, disturbing, and even sexually explicit content in the course of your work. I will never forget having to read a detailed autopsy report in my first job doing pharmaceutical litigation, and as someone who now does a lot of work on issues of campus sexual assault, I routinely read detailed descriptions of sexual encounters that would make even the most seasoned veteran blush. If a law student can't handle an exam hypothetical that includes the word genitals, that person should think seriously about whether or not law is the right profession for them—because as a young associate at a law firm, you don't get to tell a partner that you won't work on a case for a big client because the facts squick you out. If law professors have to worry that every hypothetical scenario they lay out for students could result in formal discipline, legal education will suffer greatly as a result. We alr[...]