Here’s What Amnesty International’s Sex Work Proposal Really Means.

The basic idea is to decriminalize prostitution everywhere.

Amnesty International will vote this month on whether to advocate worldwide decriminalization of sex work. If the policy is adopted, the human rights group will call for governments to eliminate most laws that prohibit selling or buying sex.

Advocates for sex workers strongly back the idea. A petition in support of such a policy has garnered more than 6,000 signatures, including dozens from sex worker support and advocacy groups in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America. The proposal has also received harsh criticism from anti-trafficking activists as well as from celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Lena Dunham and Kate Winslet.

Amnesty International will consider the policy during its international council meeting, to be held in Dublin on Aug. 7-11. The group has said that “it is not possible to speculate” on the vote’s outcome.

Here are the basics on what the draft proposal says and the most prominent arguments for and against its adoption.

What does the draft propose?
The draft calls for countries not to criminally penalize any person — adult or minor — for selling his or her own sexual services. Additionally, countries should not criminally penalize those who purchase sexual services from adults. The draft specifically notes that a “child involved in a commercial sex act” should automatically be considered a victim of sexual exploitation and therefore not penalized.

The policy says that some “operational” aspects of sex work, such as brothel-keeping, should also be decriminalized. But it explicitly states that human trafficking and coercion should remain violations of criminal law.

It also specifies that governments have an “obligation” to offer support services to any person who wants to leave the sex industry.

Read the full draft proposal here.

The concept of “decriminalization” is not interchangeable with “legalization.” In this context, decriminalization means that laws prohibiting sex work are removed, while legalization typically implies the imposition of state regulation on sex work. The Amnesty draft notes that the group is not necessarily opposed to state regulation.

What are the reasons for the proposal?
The authors of the draft argue that criminalization is one of the major factors contributing to the abuse, oppression and stigmatization of both voluntary sex workers and trafficking victims.

In countries where selling sex is outlawed, a criminal record can follow a sex worker for life, making it extremely difficult to find employment if the individual wishes to exit the industry. In the U.S., people can be hit with criminal charges even when law enforcement determines that they are victims of sex trafficking.

Sex workers and public health officials in India have argued that keeping the industry in the shadows also makes it more difficult to enforce rules that seek to limit the spread of diseases like HIV.

The Amnesty proposal notes that sex workers who are victims of abuse, assault or rape are often afraid to go to the police out of fear they will face prostitution charges. An abuser can also exert power over a sex worker by threatening to “out” the person to police.

“Criminalizing sex work is what makes trafficking survivors unable to seek support,” Caty Simon, an escort and co-editor of the sex worker-run blog Tits and Sass, told HuffPost in July.

Sex workers have said that the worst abuse of all is abuse by police. A woman told The New York Times in 2012 that “more than once,” police insisted she “provide services” to them in exchange for not being arrested. “The cops are the ones abusing you, taking your money, beating you up,” she said.

Similar abuse at the hands of police has been reported around the world, including in South Africa, Cambodia, Eastern and Central Europe, and Central Asia.

Why do some oppose the policy?
Some activist groups take issue with Amnesty’s proposals to decriminalize the buying of sex and operational activities like brothel-keeping. In July, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women wrote a letter voicing its opposition.

Read CATW’s letter here.

CATW fears that full decriminalization of both buying and selling sex would increase the market for human trafficking and result in more victims of abuse (more on that later).

The group also believes that prostitution, in and of itself, is a “cause and consequence of gender inequality” and that full decriminalization would endorse this inequality. The letter refers to those who sell sex as “prostituted individuals,” reflecting its position that all prostitution is a form of exploitation.

Sex workers and their advocates, however, say the idea that sex work is inherently exploitative or degrading is untrue and insulting. Additionally, the Sex Workers Outreach Project argues that assuming all sex workers are victims “warps the discussion” of trafficking and makes it nearly impossible to come up with policies that benefit both voluntary sex workers and trafficking victims. UN Women has issued similar statements.

Those who signed CATW’s letter included anti-trafficking activists, academics and high-profile Hollywood celebrities. An online petition, also written by the group, now has more than 5,000 signatures.

CATW’s letter does not call for criminal penalties for sex workers themselves, only for buyers of sex and third parties who facilitate commercial sex. This policy, sometimes called the “Swedish model,” is already in place in Sweden and Norway.

Why don’t sex worker advocates support the Swedish model?
Penalizing the acts of buyers and third parties — known as indirect criminalization — still leads to hardship for sex workers and abuse by law enforcement, according to Amnesty International.

Sex workers in Norway told Amnesty that police are known to target sex workers in an effort to arrest their clients. As a result, sex workers hesitate to report incidents like assault or robbery, since this will out them to police, who may then repeatedly arrest their clients and effectively destroy their livelihood.

Penalizing buyers also motivates them to be as secretive as possible. As a consequence, they resist sex workers’ efforts to improve their own safety by asking for IDs, according to a report on sex work in Sweden by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. Additionally, many people believe that if sex is a consensual commercial transaction between adults, it should not be a criminal act.

Will decriminalizing prostitution lead to more trafficking?
Groups that advocate for the total abolition of prostitution, like CATW and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, fear that decriminalization will cause an increase in sex trafficking to feed a larger and more legitimized sex trade. Reliable data showing such a connection, however, is hard to come by.

A widely cited 2013 research paper found a correlation between legal prostitution and an increase in sex trafficking. Critics of that study, however, have said that it relies on unreliable data and pointed out that it’s based on smaller studies that use varying definitions of the term “trafficking.” Some sources define “trafficking” to cover those who are forced into the sex trade; others define it to apply to anyone who moves to a new country to work in the sex trade. In Malaysia, for example, individuals have been charged with “self-trafficking.”

The researchers themselves noted that “the clandestine nature” of both trafficking and prostitution made obtaining reliable data difficult.

Dutch law enforcement said in a 2010 report that the “likely explanation” for an apparent rise in sex trafficking in the Netherlands was the ability of investigators to track down and prosecute more traffickers. Advocates of full decriminalization point to New Zealand — where buying and selling sex have both been legal since 2003 — as an example of a nation with healthy sex work laws and no increase in sex trafficking.

The U.S. government has, in fact, criticized New Zealand for the level of human trafficking (not restricted solely to the sex trade) in the country. But a 2012 United Nations report praised the country’s sex work policies. And in 2008, the New Zealand government said that it had found no evidence of international trafficking connected with the country’s sex industry.

By Hilary Hanson News editor, The Huffington Post

Bunny Ranch Pimp Dennis Hof Wants To Run For Senate To End Sex Trafficking.

World Famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch proprietor Dennis Hof gained his notoriety by claiming to own the majority of Nevada’s legal brothels and starring on the cult classic HBO show Cathouse—but this year, the author of The Art of the Pimp has announced a more ambitious goal: He has started an exploratory committee to pursue a run for US Senate in Nevada, and created a plan to end sex trafficking. If he can gather the money to fund a campaign, he plans to run on the libertarian ticket and try to take the seat of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is retiring in 2016.

“Where do you get the $5 to $10 billion it’s gonna take to run this campaign without selling yourself out?” he asks. “There’s more whores in Washington and in politics than the Bunny Ranch has ever had in its 50 years of existence.”

Sex trafficking is an American epidemic far more dangerous than Ebola or the missing planes that have absorbed American media for the last year. Between 14,500 and 16,500 people are trafficked in the United States each year, and human trafficking remains the third biggest black market industry after drugs and arms trafficking, according to the non-profit DoSomething.

Hof may seem like an odd person to defend sex trafficking victims, but he believes his experience with legal prostitution proves that decriminalizing the oldest profession would end one of the world’s biggest human rights issues. Hof has spoken at Oxford and the Sorbonne about his plans to end sex trafficking (name another pimp who has spoken at Oxford), and on his press tour for his new memoir, The Art of the Pimp, he has called ending sex trafficking his last goal in life.

As a businessman, he obviously has an ulterior motive in advocating for legalization: If legal brothels can operate in other states, then Hof would be able to expand his empire. Having a charitable cause associated with legalizing prostitution also makes the Bunny Ranch and Hof’s other brothels seem like humanitarian efforts. But some of the data—and some feminists—support his ideas. While the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has cited 364 sex trafficking cases since 2007 in Nevada, most these calls from from Las Vegas and Reno—cities where prostitution remains illegal. (In Nevada, brothels can only operate in towns with small populations.)

While living at the Bunny Ranch for a series of stories for Broadly, I sat down with Hof to discuss his possible run for office and his strategy for ending sex trafficking.

Broadly: Why are you considering a run for Senate?
Dennis Hof: The Nevada governor wanted to put in a bill that taxes all the business people. It’s a $1.1 billion bill. It’s bad for business. It’s the biggest tax hike in the history of Nevada, a 150-year history. So at that point, I said if the Republicans who are pro-business and low taxes are going to do something like this to us, it’s time that we start having businessmen in politics.
Why have you chosen sex trafficking as a major platform?
[Sex trafficking] is disgusting, it’s out of hand, and it’s in epidemic proportions. [Las Vegas] can’t fight it, and they don’t have the resources to fight it.

Throughout your 25-plus career in the sex business, how have you seen sex trafficking explode?
Sex trafficking is in epidemic proportions. If it was anything else that had that much crime involved in it, you’d see the federal government involved in it in a big way to close it down. The old way was the pimp would pick up a little hot girl in the Midwest; bring her to Vegas, San Francisco, Hollywood, or Dallas; and throw her on the track—that’s how he’d make his money. The new way is they pick the same girl up, take her to these cities, put them up in a Quality Inn or something by the week, take a few pictures, throw ’em up on Backpage—which is doing most of the sex trafficking in America now; they’re enabling it—and then he takes off. That way the cops aren’t there to arrest him when he picks her up on the street and all that. The internet has such good things and bad things—one of the bad things is it’s really put sex trafficking at its all time highest.

How could legalization end, or at least decrease, sex trafficking?
Look at prohibition! The Al Capones made money, the politicians that looked the other way made money, and the criminal organizations grew and grew and grew. When you legalize it, now you’ve got health tests, distribution, and age restrictions. You’re seeing the same thing with marijuana: Look what’s happened to the drug cartel. You don’t even hear about the drug cartel that much anymore.

You can’t control the supply side with legalization. We don’t have illegal prostitutes in this county [of Nevada]. When you legalize it, you take away the need for [sex trafficking] and the vice squad, or cut it way, way down. In Vegas now, they’ve had a thousand girls that have been arrested and forced to take an STD test and working with HIV. Working with it! So that stuff about what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, that’s all nonsense.

Some people may argue that legal prostitution isn’t perfect. There’s still pimps. After all, you’re a pimp. What do you say to that?
Everybody has a pimp. Air Force Amy [the most successful prostitute at the Bunny Ranch]will say, “My pimp is Bank of America credit cards, Wells Fargo home loan, and Mercedes Benz auto credit. That’s my pimp—that’s why I work.” Other girls will say, “I’ve got two kids and a deadbeat guy who doesn’t pay any bills. I want a job where I can make the most money I can in the shortest period of time so I can be with my kids—and I don’t have to have substandard babysitting and work three jobs. I come to the Bunny Ranch so I can do that.” [Politicians] paint it with the same brush.

How do you implement legalization? Do you go state by state like with weed?
Unless you get the politics behind you, the politicians behind you, it’s never gonna happen. Never gonna change state law even though it’s out of hand. It’s so out of hand; you get people like Eliot Spitzer, who’s running the state, and one of his big issues was prostitution and being hard on it and the pimps. Then they catch him using a prostitute—that’s the world’s greatest hypocrite. If you’re a politician and you’re going to pick a cause, pick something you’re not into.

The Bunny Ranch’s self-described “working girls” support Hof’s plan to end sex trafficking.

Why won’t politicians legalize prostitution?
If they’re going to say, “Yes, I’m pro prostitution,” [and you’re from] the right wing, [during the] next election, [Democrats are] going to tear you apart. No morals, blah, blah, blah. And if you’re on the left, you say you’re for it, or you say you’re not for it, then it’s the same way [but coming from Republicans]. They just can’t win.

Do you think some people don’t understand the difference between legal prostitution, illegal prostitution, and sex trafficking?
Absolutely. Here’s what happens: The right wing, especially, they want to paint all prostitution with the same brush, whether it’s legal or illegal. They want to take a drug cartel guy selling heroin and compare him with Pfizer, but that’s never going to happen. In the sex trade for some reason, it does happen. So it’s always the issue with me and this exploitation.

How do you change political opinions. With lobbyists?
The right way to do it is to use the Bunny Ranch model to open up all over America and turn it into a profit center [through taxes]. Money would be the only thing that might entice them to [legalize it].

Don’t you have an ulterior motive to advocate for legalization and sex trafficking in politics?
I’m speaking for numerous reasons: One of them is advertising, and, to be perfectly honest, another one is my ego. Now the serious side of it is, besides my ego and money, sex trafficking is a worldwide problem. The United States is growing faster—they’ve had a lot of it in Europe for a long time—and I know how to fix it. You’re never going to get rid of [sex trafficking]. Let’s slow it down to a trickle. And that I can do.

What makes you, and other people in Nevada, different? Why are you accepting of prostitution?
It’s our culture. First came the miners, that guy that walked through here in 1850 or something, put his pick down and shovel, started digging a little bit, and all of a sudden found gold and silver. The mining companies suggested to girls to come out here where this gold rush was—where money was—to open up shop. You’ve got the miners and the prostitutes, and the end result was the children of Nevada. We grew up with that. So we don’t have any problems with anybody.

I remember once Geraldo [Rivera] out of the blue hit me with, “Dennis Hof, World Famous Bunny Ranch, how do you get along with the church?” And I just kind of hesitated, and I thought for just a second, and I said, “We get along real good. The limo makes its rounds and drops the girls off at the different churches.” I said, “Geraldo, what people don’t understand is this: Nevada, as crazy as we sound, drink 24 hours a day, gamble twenty-four hours a day till you lose your house, you can buy sex in most counties in Nevada—we’re very conservative.”

“Oh, that’s not true” [Geraldo said.] It is true. We’re a very, very conservative state—extremely conservative—but they’re also smart and they come from that culture of being raised around it, generation after generation, that’s just the old cathouse. [The brothels] buy turkeys for the people that are hungry at Thanksgiving. They donate money to the food bank. That brothel, they’re the ones that came up with all that money to get life jackets so we didn’t have any drownings last year in the lake. It’s been around so long.

By Mitchell Sunderland for Vice

Broadly is a women’s interest channel coming soon from VICE. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Australian States Are Slowly Reforming Laws Around Legal Gender Transitions.

In most Australian states and territories, transgender people must have surgery before they can change the sex on their birth certificate.

For transgender people in Australia, changing documentation to properly reflect your identity is still an uphill battle.
In all but one state, surgical or medical intervention is required before the sex on birth certificates can be altered. Advocates have long argued this medical focus places undue financial and emotional pressure on transgender and gender diverse people.

“It’s a basic right to have documents that reflect who you are, not who someone else thinks you are,” says Sally Goldner, executive director of advocacy group Transgender Victoria. “At the moment, many transgender and gender diverse people can’t get that.”

Earlier this year, a report from the Australian Human Rights Commission called for all states and territories to make it easier for people to change their gender on government records. A statutory declaration should be “sufficient proof” for a documented gender transition, the report said.

The HRC recommendation comes just as some Australian states are beginning to move, albeit slowly, on this issue. The Australian Capital Territory led the way, passing legislation in March last year to remove the surgery requirement, and also the law forcing married transgender people to divorce before they can legally change their gender. A parliamentary inquiry is underway in South Australia, and the Victorian Labor government committed to reform at the last election.

However, advocates want change now. According to Goldner, there are myriad reasons why demanding surgery is inappropriate, including medical complications, financial pressure, people with non-binary gender identities, and those who just don’t want to undergo a potentially risky procedure.

“Some people just feel they don’t need to have surgery to be who they are,” she said. “Someone who needs to identify as other than male or female, where are they left when it comes to surgery? It’s just not a workable system.”

After a transgender friend of Goldner’s had a stroke a few years ago, medical complications ruled out gender reassignment surgery, meaning her gender identity was left in a state of limbo. “She was told ‘You definitely need this surgery, but we can’t put you on the operating table’,” Goldner said.

The cost of gender transition surgeries, which are only partially covered by Medicare and private health care, are insurmountable for many transgender people who already face significant disadvantage. In Australia, transgender and non-binary people face a high risk of unemployment, and a 2013 study found over half earn under $40,000 – $18,000 lower than the Australian median wage at the time.

Despite the dire situation in other states, the ACT’s 2014 legislation sets overall principles that are “very good” for transgender people, Goldner says. “It’s based on self-affirmed identity and not surgical requirements, they’ve got provisions for minors to change their marker which is also good, and there’s more than two options.” In South Australia, Greens politician Tammy Franks has proposed a bill to repeal the entire Sexual Reassignment Act. A parliamentary inquiry into her proposal has been running for six months, and she is hopeful of reform this year.

The 30-year-old act is “outdated” and “completely unworkable”, Franks told BuzzFeed News. “People move to other states quite often if they want to actually be recognised without having to jump through ridiculous hoops they often can’t jump through.”
Currently in South Australia, surgery is required, but the relevant procedures aren’t available in the state. Transgender people can only get the surgery interstate or overseas, but then they are not authorised by the health minister, as required under the act. In a situation that belongs more in Heller’s Catch-22 than a modern bureaucracy, trans people are thwarted at every turn.
“People were just giving up and going interstate,” said Franks. “Or getting a passport change is much easier, so they do it that way as well.”

Passports are dealt with by the Australian federal government, which has a set of guidelines for gender and sex recognition that are much less stringent than most states. Transgender people must provide a statement from a doctor or psychologist, but the Australian guidelines explicitly say neither surgery nor hormone therapy is needed.

In Victoria, the Labor government is sticking to an election commitment to “remove barriers to new birth certificates for trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians”, attorney-general Martin Pakula told BuzzFeed News. Morgan Carpenter, president of Organisation Intersex International Australia, told BuzzFeed News that a “small minority” of intersex people wish to change their birth classification. However, the involuntary “normalising” surgery that many intersex people endure as infants puts them in a unique situation.

“We may have had medical treatment to remove sex characteristics we prefer, or to create secondary or even primary sex characteristics we don’t identify with,” Carpenter said.

In NSW and Victoria, intersex people can change the sex on their birth certificate via an ‘administrative correction’, where the state admits an error was made.

“[Administrative corrections] recognise the fact that we endure medical treatments and we should not have to endure more medical treatments,” Carpenter said. “The fact there is an administrative correction process is helpful, but it’s unhelpful that people have already endured medical procedures that don’t fit their needs.” Along with ending involuntary coercive surgery, another goal of the global intersex movement is to remove sex and gender from birth classification documents entirely, treating it like religion, or race.

While progress in the ACT, SA and Victoria is tangible, other states have committed to at least reviewing the HRC report.
NSW attorney-general Gabrielle Upton recently told the parliament she would “review the report” and go forward from there. A spokesperson from the Queensland attorney-general’s department told BuzzFeed News they were aware of the report, and the recommendations would be considered in an all-encompassing, ongoing review of the relevant act. The Northern Territory government has not yet formed a view on the recommendations, a spokeperson said.

A 2011 High Court case found Western Australian gender reassignment legislation did not require surgery, ruling in favour of two transgender men who had undergone mastectomies and hormone therapy, but not hysterectomies. The court found that “social recognition of a person’s gender does not require knowledge of a person’s remnant sexual organs”.

In an ideal world, says Goldner, just a signature from the transgender person in question should be enough to affirm their identity. Medical requirements, surgical or otherwise, throw up barriers for many, and the presence of a statutory declaration “sort of implies there’s some degree of fraud in gender identity,” she said. As a transgender woman who has chosen not to undergo surgery, Goldner is still marked as male on her birth certificate. She told BuzzFeed News it can affect transgender people applying for jobs, dealing with banks, undergoing background checks, and numerous other things.

“I’ve got to hand over a document that has ‘Sally Lisa Goldner’ on it, but also has male on it, to a total stranger,” she says. “Why do they need to know?” “It’s the day-to-day situations that cisgender people take for granted that become stressful and anxiety-provoking for transgender and gender diverse people.”

The WA Gender Reassignment Board did not respond to a request for comment.

By Lane Sainty BuzzFeed News Reporter, Australia

Sexual Politics And The Mideast: Does The Arab Spring Need A Summer of Love?

Cairo, Egypt (CNN)In a packed Cairo theater a couple of months ago, Ali Qandil brought down the house.

“Why do Egyptian fathers cry at their daughters’ weddings?” the comedian asked the crowd. “Because they know their little girls will be having sex for the first time.” In Egypt’s current conservative climate, Qandil’s well-aimed thrust at sexual taboos was enough to send the audience into stitches, even as the theater management reached for its smelling salts.

The show was courtesy of Al-Hubb Thaqafa (“Love is Culture”), a groundbreaking social media platform offering straight talk on love, sex and relationships in Arabic. Launched just over a year ago, its website, YouTube channel and social feeds have attracted more than nine million visitors, mainly from Egypt and Morocco.

Al-Hubb Thaqafa’s no-nonsense approach to sex, offering accurate information on everything from the basic facts of life to the finer points of fellatio, is a welcome development in a region where teachers are often too embarrassed to communicate even the barebones sexual and reproductive curriculum on offer, and parents generally draw a veil of silence over such topics with their kids.

For Ali Qandil, sex is an endless source of humor — just as it is anywhere else in the world. But on the face of it, sex is no laughing matter across the Arab region.

In recent weeks, accounts of the arrest and abuse of dozens of gay men and transsexual women in Egypt, or mass sexual exploitation under ISIS’ reign of terror, or Morocco’s recent ban on a new film which lays bare the country’s thriving sex trade, do little to dispel the image of societies mired in sexual repression.

But by emphasizing sex as a pleasure to be enjoyed, rather than a problem to be solved, Al-Hubb Thaqafa hearkens to a long tradition of free and frank exchange on sexual matters in Arabic. Short of cybersex and internet porn, there isn’t much its platforms tackle that our forefathers from weren’t writing about more than a millennium ago.

There is nothing un-Islamic about talking about sex; indeed, many of the great works of Arabic erotica were written by religious scholars. But over the centuries, and in particular in recent decades with rise of Islamic fundamentalism, societies across the Arab region have become far less comfortable in their sexual skin.

Al-Hubb Thaqafa offers a chance (in part by reclaiming Arabic as a language of sexuality and offering a “respectable” alternative to street slang) for men and women to talk each other about sex — asking questions, sharing personal experiences and contesting each other’s opinions without the usual embarrassment or censure.

Such opportunities are all too rare offline. It’s been two years since I published “Sex and the Citadel” — a five-year investigation into sexual attitudes and behaviors across the Arab region, and their intersection with politics and economics, religion and tradition, gender and generations. Since then, the grand political aspirations which fed the Arab Spring have either frosted over, as in Egypt, or burnt up in the conflagration now consuming Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Sex might seem an odd focus these days, given all the other pressing issues in the region. But it is never far from politics, as authoritarian powers — be they military-backed presidents or religious extremists — know only too well, using matters of flesh, wrapped in selective interpretations of Islam, to clamp down on their communities.

This is sadly true beyond the borders of the Middle East as well. But the converse also holds. Realizing the rallying cries of the recent uprisings — “freedom”, “justice” and “dignity” — in private life will, in the long run, have profound implications for public life as well.

When it comes to sex, it is never black and white, as conservatives would have us believe. In this, as with so many other aspects of life, there are at least 50 shades of gray.

On my travels, I’ve met men and women across the Arab region who are exploring that spectrum. Doctors like Chafik Chraibi, a Moroccan obstetrician whose efforts to open up his country’s restrictive abortion laws have helped to catalyze a recent small step in legal reform. Educators like Safa Tamish, a Palestinian living in Israel, who is working to get sex education into schools and families across the West Bank. Or activists like the founders of Chouf and Damj, two new Tunisian NGOS, which are among the dozens of groups across the region trying to find a place for men and women whose sexualities or gender identities break the mold.

There are many, many more such initiatives — combating sexual violence, or securing the rights of unwed mothers or providing sexual health services to unmarried youth, for example — springing up across the Middle East, often on very rocky ground. The most successful work slowly, along the grain of religion and culture.

Confrontation — be it political protests in Tahrir Square or Femen-style baring of breasts — is not the way to achieve tangible, durable change in the Arab region, as recent events have clearly demonstrated.

For too many — particularly women — sex is still bound up in shame, which makes it a powerful tool of political and social control. Sexual freedoms are hard to exercise when family interests trump individual choice, or when appearance counts for more than reality — when virginity is defined by a piece of anatomy — an intact hymen — rather than a state of chastity, or when prostitution masquerades as marriage between wealthy visitors and desperate refugees.

Shifting the political, economic and social conditions which underpin these realities is the work of a generation at least. But at least in a few places, positive change is slowly taking root. As my Egyptian grandmother used to say, “If there were seeds for patience, I would have planted fields.” In other words, what we need is a sexual evolution, not revolution.

By Shereen El Feki for

Shereen El Feki is the author of “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World,” a study of changing sexual attitudes and behaviors across the Arab region. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. Got a question for Shereen? Let us know in the comments — we’ll answer some of the best ones Thursday on Connect the World at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Mixing Sex And Politics At The Brothel.

Republican customers were not thrilled with the “Hookers for Hillary” campaign at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the legal Nevada brothel in which prostitutes have endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof says politics has been a hot topic with the brothel’s clientele since the endorsement last month with lots of feedback – “some good, some bad.”

“But the girls are good at relaxing them and say, ‘Let’s take our clothes off and put politics aside,’” Hof said in an email.

At, the sex workers say they like Clinton’s foreign policy experience as secretary of state and they believe her approach to the economy will be good for Bunny Ranch customers. Hof says his workforce takes full advantage of Obamacare and that Clinton is likely to preserve it while Republicans want to repeal it. In addition, Hof says the women like the idea of Bill Clinton as first gentleman.

The Bunny Ranch prostitutes, seen on the HBO reality series “Cathouse,” endorsed Ron Paul in the past two presidential elections.

By Bill Trott for

How Sex And Gender Will Affect The 2016 Presidential Election.

Sex sells: You’ve heard it a hundred times before. But, in 2016, sex might just decide the presidential election.

Even with only a handful of candidates officially in the race for the White House, sex has already taken on a primary role in the political arena. From endorsements to gay marriage and gender to Bruce Jenner, here are the multiple ways sex is impacting America’s political culture ahead of 2016:

Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina

There are now female candidates from both parties in the race for president: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R). Though Clinton has run for president before — unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination against Barack Obama in 2008 — the sex of candidates is, once again, a focus for 2016, as the prospect of electing the first female president of the United States is a factor in either primary fight.

Clinton, the Democratic favorite, is poised to capture her party’s nomination in 2016, meaning there will likely be at least one female candidate fighting for the White House in the general election. As such, gender will, undoubtedly, be a major point of focus throughout a potentially historic election.

Of course, the struggle will be for Americans to balance their desire to make history with their needs in a candidate. Though individuals may want to elect a Clinton or a Fiorina to the White House, it’s important for voters to back these candidates not because they are women but for the policies and stances they represent.

Female Candidates and “Sexist” Commentary

As two female candidates running for president, there is increased sensitivity to sexist commentary, which was illustrated by the actions of a pro-Clinton group earlier this year.

The self-proclaimed “HRC Super Volunteers,” a group of Hillary fans united on Facebook, circulated an email to roughly 150 editors in newsrooms across the United States, warning reporters against spreading “sexist news coverage of any woman who chooses to break through glass ceilings.”

The memo listed a dozen “sexist” words and phrases it cautioned journalists against using, including polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over confident, secretive, “will do anything to win,” “represents the past” and “out of touch.”

The debate surrounding sexist coverage should only intensify as the 2016 election nears, as the media will strive to walk the thin line between slamming Clinton and Fiorina with terminology that could be deemed sexist and offering them preferential treatment because of their gender.

Marco Rubio and the Debate Surrounding Sexual Preference

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has made a name for himself among the rest of the GOP field in several ways, from his stance on immigration to his young age. However, the lawmaker particularly made headlines since his campaign announcement on Apr. 13 for his views on gay marriage, bringing the question of whether sexual preference is a choice to the forefront.

Rubio told CBS News host Bob Schieffer days after his campaign launch that sexual preference is not a “choice,” but rather, “something that people are born with.”

This alone demonstrates how Rubio moved away from some of his anticipated GOP foes, like Dr. Ben Carson, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, all of who have intimated being gay is a choice. As the candidates continue to pave their way to 2016, same-sex relationships in America will be a primary focus.

The Same-Sex Wedding Question

Another question that has been circulated to various Republican presidential contenders is whether or not they would attend a wedding of a same-sex couple, regardless of their views on gay marriage.

It’s a question official GOP candidates — many of whom are personally not for the legalization of gay marriage and believe it to be a states’ issue — will have to face at one point or another, and it is one several candidates have already nipped in the bud.

Rubio answered he would attend a gay wedding between two individuals he cares about. Perry also confronted the inquiry, saying he “probably would” attend such a ceremony. While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) dodged the question, insisting he hasn’t “faced that circumstance,” former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) said, outright, attending a same-sex ceremony would “be a violation of [his] faith.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also was asked the question, and he responded in Spanish “claro que sí” — yes, of course — he would attend a same-sex wedding, though he hasn’t yet been faced with the circumstance.

Like the question of sexual preference, the gay wedding query will present candidates with an opportunity to provide context to their personal views about same-sex relationships and will offer voters a more concrete understanding about the contenders they could cast their ballots for.

Sex Workers For Hillary Clinton

While Clinton isn’t receiving as much scrutiny for her stance on gay marriage as her GOP counterparts, she certainly is getting attention for the rather unusual endorsements she has received from individuals in the sex industry. The prostitutes at Dennis Hof’s famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City, NV, launched a campaign called “Hookers for Hillary,” backing the former Secretary of State for the Oval Office in 2016.

The sex workers cite Clinton’s positions on healthcare, foreign policy and the economy as their reasons for supporting the Democratic candidate in her White House bid. And, weeks after the “Hookers” launch, Hillary received another endorsement from “Hustler” mogul Larry Flynt, who focused his attention on Clinton’s potential impact on the Supreme Court.

“We’ve had a right-leaning court for half a century,” Flynt explained his support in an interview with Bloomberg. “But, if Hillary gets in, chances are she’s going to have an opportunity to appoint two, maybe three justices … and we could shift the balance there.” Alas, no matter how traditionally grandmother-esque Clinton attempts to cast herself, her campaign will uniquely be impacted by the sex industry support behind her.

Bruce Jenner

On April 24, reality television star and former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner spoke about his gender transition during a highly-anticipated interview with Diane Sawyer. And, in a surprising twist, Jenner also came out as a Republican:

“I’ve just never been a big fan [of President Obama],” Jenner explained. “I’m kind of more on the conservative side.”

Jenner “believe[s] in the Constitution,” he told Sawyer, confirming his Republican identity. No, Jenner isn’t running for office, but his story represents a clear intersection of sex, gender and politics. It also demonstrates the incredibly diverse fabric of the American people.

Jenner showed that, yes, you can be transgender and a Republican. You can support whichever political party best serves your needs, and you shouldn’t be swayed to one or the other because of what individuals say your gender, race and sexual orientation should drive you toward. The media and politicians, of course, took note of Jenner’s comments. It didn’t take long for GOP contender Rick Santorum to support and “respect” Jenner in his announcement.

“If he says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman,” Santorum told reporters. “My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody. Not to criticize people for who they are.”

Expectedly, there will be more statements on Jenner as 2016 nears. His announcement presents the opportunity for candidates to, again, weigh in on America’s diverse fabric of gender and sexual identity.

By Morgan Chalfant for Elite

‘Surge’ In Egypt Forces’ Sex Attacks.

© Getty Images There has been in surge in sex attacks against detainees since 2013 (file photo

Egyptian security forces are using sexual violence against detainees on a massive scale, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

A report by the organisation suggests men, women and children are being abused “to eliminate public protest”. Many are subjected to virginity tests, rape and gang rape after arrest. Egypt’s Interior Ministry said it would not comment until it had studied the report.

© AFP Human rights groups have accused the authorities of failing to address the issue (file photo)

The study notes a surge in sexual violence after the Egyptian military takeover in July 2013. The perpetrators are rarely held to account and the impunity points to a “cynical political strategy aimed at silencing all opposition”. Police, intelligence officers and members of the military are guilty of targeting male and female detainees, according to the report.

Among the victims are student demonstrators, human rights activists, gay people and children.

The authors said they did not have evidence that commanders were giving the orders, but the scale of the violence – and the impunity – suggested there was a political strategy. They claim that victims who file complaints are systematically obstructed by the justice system, and face threats and reprisals by police officers and prison guards.

Sexual violence has long been a problem within the general population in Egypt, with assaults dramatically increasing in the years since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power. Last year, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi ordered police to launch a crackdown amid growing public anger.

He said sexual assaults, were “an unacceptable form of conduct” and called for citizens to “reinstate moral values in society”.

Originally Published in

Republicans Hate Executive Orders, Except When They Don’t.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has spent a fair amount of time looking for a signature issue that would help him stand out in the Republican presidential race. After the recent Indiana debacle, the far-right governor found the cause he was looking for: above all others, Jindal would champion right-to-discriminate measures.

The governor, who wraps up his second term this year, recently began pushing a “Marriage and Conscience Act,” which was intended to prevent “adverse action” against anyone who opposes same-sex marriage for religious reasons. The more Louisiana business leaders urged Jindal to change course, the more the GOP governor thumbed his nose at “job creators,” as if their opposition made him appear more populist.

He had it all figured out: his state’s civil rights laws would be a mess, but Jindal would have a trump card he could use to impress right-wing primary and caucus voters. Members of the Republican-led state legislature, however, aren’t running for president, and they recently decided not to pass the “Marriage and Conscience Act.”

Yesterday, as msnbc’s Rachel Kleinman reported, Jindal decided to bypass the legislature and issue an executive order.

One day after launching an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to seek the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order enforcing so-called “religious freedom” protections in the Bayou State. Hours earlier, state lawmakers killed a law that would have mandated similar provisions.

“In Louisiana, the state should not be able to take adverse action against a person for their belief in traditional marriage,” Jindal said in a written statement Tuesday. “That’s why I’m issuing an Executive Order to prevent the state from discriminating against people, charities and family-owned businesses with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

The Times Picayune quoted a joint statement from Equality Louisiana, an LGBT rights group, and Louisiana Progress Action. Referencing the governor’s ambitions, it read, “In the end, his extreme ideology is only making the state a worse place for those of us who actually plan to live here past his last day in office.”

A political and legal fight is likely to ensue, but I’m curious about the larger context: does the right now see Jindal as some kind of lawless dictator?

In recent years, it seems every time President Obama tires of Congress’ ineptitude and takes executive action, Republicans use it as clear evidence of Obama’s tyrannical tendencies. It’s up to elected legislators to approve new policies, we’re told, and it’s up to chief executives to implement those policies.

Executive orders, the argument goes, undermine the American system and show contempt for institutional norms. “Executive overreach” is a threat to us all.

Whether or not the president’s critics ever actually believed these talking points, it’s interesting how much conservatives are outraged by executive actions, except when they’re not.

Jindal isn’t alone, of course. Jeb Bush recently boasted that, as president, he’d use executive orders to undo a variety of Obama’s policies. Three years ago, Mitt Romney repeatedly argued that, if elected, he’d take all kinds of executive actions to advance his priorities, rather than waiting for Congress to approve legislation.

The point isn’t to play some gratuitous game of “gotcha.” Rather, the important takeaway from this is understanding that when Republicans argue that their anti-Obama condemnations are borne of deeply held principles, they’re kidding themselves. If any one of them publicly blast Jindal for bypassing state lawmakers and approving his legislative goal unilaterally, I’ll gladly update this piece, but I suspect it’s not going to happen.

By Steve Benen for

The Rise Of Violent Homophobia in Uganda. This Week’s ‘VICE’ on HBO Episode.

Then, we go to Uganda to investigate the rise of homophobia in the country. Host Isobel Yeung heads down to meet some of the anti-gay leaders teaching intolerance to Uganda’s youth and uncover disturbing ties between their message and the lessons that American fundamentalists have been pushing for years.

Watch VICE Fridays on HBO at 11 PM, 10 PM central, or stream it via HBO Now.

By Vice Staff for Vice


FDA Schedules Meetings On Twice-Rejected Female Libido Drug.

The Food and Drug Administration will ask a group of outside medical experts next month to evaluate a much-debated experimental drug designed to boost sexual desire in women.

The meeting is the latest twist in the ongoing saga of flibanserin, a proposed female libido pill which the FDA has already twice declined to approve. But the drug’s backer, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, has enlisted women’s groups and other advocates to lobby the agency to approve the pill, saying women’s sexual problems have been too long overlooked by the federal government.

The FDA said Thursday in a posting it will convene a meeting of its reproductive drugs and drug safety panels on June 4. The agency is not required to follow the advice of such panels, though it often does.

For decades, drugmakers have tried unsuccessfully to develop a female equivalent to Viagra, the blockbuster drug that treats men’s erectile dysfunction. But disorders of women’s sexual desire have proven resistant to drugs that act on blood flow, hormones and other simple biological functions.

Sprout’s drug flibanserin is the first attempt to increase libido by acting on brain chemicals linked to appetite and mood. But the FDA has already twice rejected the drug because of lackluster effectiveness and side effects including fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

In February Sprout refiled its application for the drug with FDA, adding information requested by agency scientists about how the pill affects driving ability. The FDA asked for that data after rejecting the drug in 2013, in part, due to results showing nearly 10 percent of women in company trials reported sleepiness as a side effect.

The FDA first rejected flibanserin in 2010 after a panel of expert advisers unanimously voted against the drug, saying its benefits did not outweigh its risks.

If approved, flibanserin would be intended for premenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, described as a lack of sexual appetite that causes emotional distress. Because so many factors affect female sexual appetite, there are a number of other possible causes doctors must rule out before diagnosing the condition, including relationship problems, hormone disorders, depression and mood issues caused by other drugs like sleeping aids and pain medications.

Published By Associated Press and Posted in Fox