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Do journalists have an ethical duty to present accurate information when expressing opinions?

Recently the anti sex work lobbyists have been making absurd claims that the average sex worker starts working (they rarely if ever mention or mean “him” in the context of sex work but then oops forgot male sex workers don’t count) as a child of around 14 which of course justifies their demands that those evil men (remember in their absurd world women don’t buy sex but are just sad victims) whom we know as our clients are pursued as criminals while we the poor, poor abused sex workers are decriminalised. Of course the anti sex work brigades view decriminalisation very differently from how sex workers view decriminalisation. Sex workers view decriminalisation as in New Zealand where we can get on with our lives and our business in peace protected by the law rather than persecuted by the law. When anti sex workers talk of decriminalisation they really mean that that they want to force sex workers out of business. In the Swedish model that they advocate sex workers cannot advertise in the press and in order for them (the authorities) to convict our clients sex workers have to be coerced into giving evidence. Sex workers cannot work together (like any other worker) for companionship or most importantly safety because of the mad and dangerous laws on pimping and brothel keeping. The average sex worker in this situation would prefer to stay a criminal than accept the poisoned chalice offered by the Swedish absurdness that institutionalises sex workers as victims.

This article in the VANCOUVER SUN Wednesday, October 13, 2010 by John Lowman who teaches criminology at Simon Fraser University is important because it asks some very important questions about the research methology given by such as Malissa Farley as evidence and which is quoted so often by anti sex work campaigners as though it were the absolute truth handed down from God. Governments in particular should read this article.

John Lowman [Editorial]
(John Lowman teaches criminology at Simon Fraser University.)

p. A15

Prostitution and the radical feminist agenda

In a couple of columns over the past few years, and most recently on Oct. 6, Vancouver Sun writer Daphne Bramham has claimed that the average age of entry into prostitution in Canada is 14 years.

Bramham’s claim about the average age of entry is an important theme in the radical-feminist version of prohibition, which would decriminalize sex selling and criminalize sex buying.

If prostitution nearly always begins with the sexual exploitation of a child, it is easier to argue that when they become adults, sex workers have no free will and do not choose to sell sex, in which case the government needs to save them by criminalizing sex buyers.

But is the claim about age of entry accurate? Why did the Ontario Superior Court fail to find evidence to substantiate claims like it? Does Bramham have evidence that the court did not?

To defend the three prostitution laws that were ultimately struck down, the Crown called various expert witnesses — including Janice Raymond and Melissa Farley from the United States, and Ottawa professor Richard Poulin — to support its contention that prostitution is inherently harmful.

Like Bramham, most of them view prostitution as “violence against women.”

After examining more than 2,500 pages of evidence, the court concluded that these three witnesses lapsed into advocacy, and could not substantiate certain claims. One such claim concerned age of entry. The court concluded that “some of Dr. Poulin’s citations for his claim that the average age of recruitment into prostitution is 14 years old were misleading or incorrect.”

Even the Crown acknowledged that only “one study in Canada indicated that an average age of entry may be as low as 14 years of age.”

But that study deliberately excluded persons who entered prostitution as adults. Needless to say, the average age of entry in this sample is under 17.

When challenged to substantiate her claim that 14 is the average age of entry into prostitution in Canada, Bramham offered just one Canadian and two U.S. studies as evidence.

One of her U.S. sources is a Department of Justice website that relies mostly for its information on the second study she cites, Estes and Weiner’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

But this study does not offer an estimate of the average age of entry into prostitution in Canada. Their U.S. and Mexico samples again exclude adults, thus making it impossible to use their data to estimate the average age of entry into prostitution as a whole in either country.

In contrast, the Canadian study does allow one to compute the average age of entry for its sample of Prince George sex workers — but the average is apparently 18, not 14. Why does she not mention other studies of prostitution in Canada, including a second B.C. sample where the average age of entry was 18, and a third where it was 22?

Either Bramham does not understand basic statistics, or her political agenda determines which information she cherry-picks to substantiate her rhetoric.

Obviously children should not be involved in prostitution. But we need accurate information on which to base policy and law reform, not propaganda.

Do journalists have an ethical duty to present accurate information when expressing opinions?

Yes they do. The B.C. Press Council’s Code of Practice says, “A newspaper’s first duty is to provide the public with accurate information … journalists shall strive to avoid expressing comment and conjecture as established fact.”


About Douglas Fox

3 comments on “Do journalists have an ethical duty to present accurate information when expressing opinions?

  1. David Sebastian
    16 October, 2010

    In a strange way it’s a good thing that they always try to give us the paedophile tag. Remember homosexuals had to deal with these slurs for years and years. The weakness of their argument is expressed in the desperation of their claims. Somehow for some reason people who like sex with same gender or men who like sex with prostitutes are for some reason more inclined to fancy children? It is so ridiculous.

  2. Douglas Fox
    17 October, 2010

    In an ideal world journalists would investigate claims before making comment or judgements. They rarely do sadly. The media is a world where the salacious headline rules and the anti sex work lobby know this and exploit it. Pro sex work groups have yet to learn to do this.

    Everyone knows that you can justify even the most ridiculous claims by emotionalising your argument. Invoke children and claim that you are doing what your doing to protect children and you will have a gullible audience listening to you every word. Politicians especially are eager to pander to the often illogical fears of parents for votes. The result is anti porn laws and laws that stereotype and endanger sex workers. Sex becomes an easy scapegoat for nearly everything.

    In our society battered by centuries of monotheistic paranoia about sex it still seems to be the case that sex without the guilt is just not quite as good. We seem to need to feel ashamed, guilty, and in need of a judge who will condemn us, save us, admonish us just for doing the most natural thing in the world.

    It really is time we grew up as a society.

  3. Susan
    17 October, 2010

    Well, after the Julissa Brisman murder here in the US, a so-called journalist solicited masseuses on Craigslist, and then secretly filmed them without their permission. This person did not care if he potentially ruined their lives. This is the same lack of concern for sex worker’s lives that caused Julissa Brisman’s death.

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This entry was posted on 16 October, 2010 by in Uncategorized.
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