If you had told radical feminist and political activist Natasha Chart five years ago that she would be fired from her advocacy job for objecting to the prostitution of minors, she wouldn't have believed that anyone could be fired for that reason.
Yet Chart, 43, who hails from New York and is the board chair of the radical feminist group Women's Liberation Front, was terminated in August 2015 from her political advocacy job for doing exactly that.
She opted to speak with The Christian Post, she said, "because I have been hoping that someone could be bothered to care that there is a significant and influential portion of the left-aligned and mainstream human rights activist community that both believes that 'youth sex work' should be made legal, and that they have the clout to get people fired from political and media jobs for making concerns about that public."
"The progressive press won't touch it, the regular press doesn't seem to follow these issues, and self-publishing a story like this would likely have been pointless," Chart said. "And I know most of the audience of a publication like The Christian Post might not sympathize with my political views, but I would rather hope that everyone reading would look beyond me, and to the institutional rot of a political edifice that was so easily taken over by a sex industry advocacy that's alien to its founding principles."
Chart is a former Jehovah's Witness who doesn't presently identify with any religious tradition and whose politics are decidedly left of center. She is supportive of abortion rights, for example.
But no one is served when trusted civil society institutions utilize their clout, on what is most likely an unsuspecting membership, to quietly further a "pimping agenda," she went on to say, an agenda its promoters know better than to broadcast publicly.
"My friends and colleagues over several years know this happened. Hundreds of feminist journalists and academics in the United States know this happened. They didn't all agree, but none of them said one public word in my defense. None of the women associated with mainstream feminist media or scholarship spoke up."
"If they could be intimidated into overlooking this, what's next? How long will it be the case that an anti-trafficking bill can be supported in the Senate on a 97–2 vote, where the dissent came in from the tech industry, on technicalities?" she asked, referencing the recently signed Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.
If this goes unaddressed it is only a matter of time before the sex industry is considered "respectable" enough to emerge from the shadows and begin openly sponsoring a political caucus, as is the case in the Netherlands and Australia, she maintained, describing the gravity of the situation in hopes that such things never happen.
Allowing 'Youth Sex Workers' for 'Public Health' Reasons
As a staffer at what was once known as RH Reality Check, which is now called Rewire.News — a left-leaning news outlet that describes its mission as "providing news and investigative research on reproductive and sexual health, rights and justice" — Chart said she started noticing cult-like behavior among her fellow colleagues in 2013.
Such antics were all too familiar to her given her Jehovah's Witness background and their excommunication practice known as "disfellowshipping" people who left the church. People are not allowed to communicate and interact with excommunicants unless it's absolutely necessary, according to Jehovah's Witness teaching.
She began watching the various feminist Twitter networks closely and frequently observed individuals being singled out, chastised, and demonized for things as simple as a misplaced word, for holding an unpopular opinion, or dissenting from the prevailing views on the left. She had not seen this in her previous political work in the labor movement.
"There was this really intense policing about who you are allowed to talk to, who you are allowed to know," she said, "whose arguments you are allowed to respond to, who is allowed to quote whom. It was a disturbing sort of social environment."
Soon, the embrace of legalizing prostitution and general acceptance of the sex trade, something with which Chart strongly disagreed, became more apparent. She began reading radical feminist analyses of prostitution such as Swedish journalist Kajsa Ekis Ekman's book, Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy, and the Split Self, and Canadian writer Meghan Murphy, who is editor of the website Feminist Current. Despite being on the left, feminists like Murphy and Ekman were supposedly so reviled among Chart's circles that even retweeting them or saying their names was verboten.
But Chart found Ekman's, Murphy's and other similar radical feminists' writings in fierce opposition to the sex trade persuasive. It especially resonated with her given how a "wannabe boyfriend pimp" once attempted to steer her into prostitution when she was a teenager. She had a bad feeling about it and ultimately resisted his manipulations.
As the days went by it would become ever clearer that the promotion of the sex trade was a cause being backed by prominent people, and she could stay quiet no longer.
"I sort of assumed people did not know that was going on, but I wasn't sure what to say or do about it," Chart told CP.
"I wasn't sure what I was seeing. I kind of couldn't believe people were making these arguments."
When she dared to criticize a few things on political staffer mailing lists, particularly Amnesty International's embrace of legalizing the sex trade in 2015 and its outlining of a "sex workers bill of rights" — which employed human rights and labor rights language to frame "sex work" as a profession like any other job — she ran into opposition. The esteemed human rights organization has long been influenced by Douglas Fox, the owner of England's largest escort agency and an activist with the International Union of Sex Workers.
The U.K. branch of Amnesty International has in recent years denied Fox was involved with crafting its policy. Fox, however, has publicly taken credit for his long advocacy with the organization. During one of Amnesty International's internal debates in the months leading up to the change in stance toward embracing the sex trade under the banner of human rights, a policy document outlining the shift was leaked to journalist Julie Bindel, author of the book, The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth, who exposed the draft proposal-in-process. Amnesty International then distanced itself from Fox amid public outcry.
Chart's boss told her on Aug. 11, 2015 — in emails The Christian Post obtained — that her criticisms on mailing lists of Amnesty International's policy had "crossed a line" and she was forbidden from doing that, even though Chart never presented it as her employer's official position.
Her opinions on the issue were further bolstered upon reading even more articles in support of legalizing prostitution and more human rights advocates lending their voices in support of it, including articles speaking of "youth" in the trade.
When the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, tweeted an Aug. 6, 2015, article in The Nation by Melissa Gira Grant — author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work — in praise of Amnesty's policy decriminalizing prostitution, Chart voiced her disgust on Twitter, and replied with a link to Grant's essay on "Youth in sex work and the sex trade." Roth tweeted comments of his own along with Grant's article, asking: "All want to end poverty, but in meantime why deny poor women the option of voluntary sex work?"
Chart assumed that for the head of a human rights advocacy group to associate with people backing the prostitution of young people would horrify most people. She told CP she must have deleted that tweet but nevertheless took her complaints to a private mailing list and confronted Grant about the previous article directly, and "that's when the real pushback started."
"Nobody could really support this, right?" a flabbergasted Chart recalled thinking at the time. She then brought up the issue with her boss during a regular weekly phone call just days after seeing it.
"I told her about some of my experiences as a teenager that were sketchy, that I'd been one of those kids with a chip on her shoulder; a kid that every adult could come along and see and exploit," she explained, expressing that she couldn't understand why anyone thought minors being exploited in the sex trade was a good idea.
Her boss then reportedly drew in her breath and said: "Well, it's more of a public health approach."
Upon hearing her say that, Chart's jaw hit the floor and she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach, relieved that they were speaking by phone and not a video chat so her boss couldn't see her shock and revulsion. She started taking notes to remember what she was hearing.
"I could not believe that the words 'public health' were being used in this context," Chart recalled, aghast.
Her boss did say that she also used to be concerned about this when she first learned of it but had seen so much research that allayed her doubts. She told her that in India, when sex worker unions are empowered and organize together, they keep minors out of the sex trade on their own.
"But it's pretty easy to verify from public reporting that minors in the sex trade is a problem in India," Chart explained to CP. She soon realized her employer's claim could not possibly be true since "children grow up in brothels to mothers who have been prostituted, and they grow up in the trade being sold themselves with never a chance to escape that life."
Barely able to think and not knowing what to say next, she changed the subject and the two then discussed a lengthy essay she had written and intended to publish. Chart told her she wanted to take it elsewhere if the editorial team did not want it. She obtained permission from her editor to publish it on another radical feminist blog the following day.
Silencing, Blacklisting Feminists Opposed to the Sex Trade
Days later, Chart's boss accidentally forwarded an email from a soon-to-be departing colleague who was irked about that essay Chart had published, in which she highlighted the problem with conflating male transgender persons with women.
Her colleague accused Chart of "bigotry" against transgender persons and causing them "harm" since she wrote that trans males could not be lesbians. Emails show Chart's boss replying in the exchange that she agreed and was distressed over what to do about it, mentioning Chart's experiences with abuse in her personal life and how it was affecting her work.
"[I]t's just out of control," she wrote of Chart's actions. "She appears to have decided that this is going to be the hill she battles on," saying she cared about Chart as a person but could "not tolerate the hatred."
Chart got a phone call from her moments later to explain that she did not mean to send that email to her and told her that she had been receiving many complaints, including "a substantial share of your colleagues on staff." She expressed further concern that Chart's views might interfere with doing a sex worker rights campaign, even though the organization had never even discussed such a campaign before, much less spearheaded one. It was then that Chart began to realize she was about to be fired.
The next day during another phone call Chart was told that her stance and persistent speaking out threatened the "ability of the organization to continue," and that her position "enforces a stigma" that puts people's lives at risk, and she was being let go. She was summarily sent a separation agreement and general release form describing the terms of her termination, which she shared with CP, and was asked to sign it within 21 days.
Chart asked her boss if there was anything else she had done that was a problem, any way she had failed in her work, and was told, "No." At the end of the call, every one of her work accounts was locked or deleted.
Mere hours later, she learned of rumors being spread on another political mailing list she was on, saying that she had been fired because she had published an essay in violation of her contractual obligations. But according to Chart, she was not contractually obligated in any such way and had always cleared writing proposals with her editors, giving them right of first refusal.
Chart never signed the separation agreement.
Who Is Behind the Push to Legalize Minors in the Sex Trade?
To understand the strategy of those advocating that young people should be allowed to be "sex workers," one must cut through the confusion and observe the justifications for this, especially how language is twisted to obfuscate the issue. A "sex worker" might mean a prostituted person but can just as easily mean a pimp, brothel owner, pornographer, or escort agency operator.
Those who advocate that prostitution be legalized often assert they are against "trafficking" but radical feminists and others who campaign to abolish prostitution altogether point out that trafficking is merely a process within the global sex trade, an inherently misogynist, exploitative industry. To say trafficking is bad but legal prostitution is good is nonsense, they argue.
Prostitution abolitionists actively lobby for what is known as the Nordic model, which criminalizes sex buying, not the selling, of sex. Proponents of this approach, like Chart, do not believe the prostituted persons should be jailed or penalized, but rather seek to target the demand for commercial sex at its source: the pimps and johns.
Grant's article and other studies exploring the subject of youth in the sex trade uses phrases like young people "impacted by the sex trade" as though they are adjacent to it, perhaps living in a home where prostitution is going on, and it leaves considerable wiggle room, Chart explains.
In Grant's article she refers to "people who are considered victims regardless of circumstance," those considered automatically trafficked under the law. With regard to the sex trade, under the relevant federal law on the books — which was passed by a Republican-led Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton — the only category of person that applies to is sex-trafficked minors.
"So it's a very roundabout and subtle way of saying trafficked minors," Chart emphasized, "because who else does that mean?"
When adults are involved in prostitution questions are supposed to be asked to determine whether they were trafficked for sexual exploitation purposes or if they are themselves criminally liable.
"So when they say that laws against [prostitution] are as harmful to the minor as anything else," in reality they're deceptively advocating for the allowance of minors in the sex trade, she explained.
Grant's article was originally published on Third Wave Fund. It was shortly thereafter republished (Sept. 22, 2010,) on Rewire.News, which was then RH Reality Check, with a preface noting that it was published in response to congressional hearings about the sex trafficking of minors on Craigslist. The article implies that it actually harms minors to make laws against sexually exploiting youth for money. The Craigslist Foundation is listed today as one of TWF's First 100 Club members.
On Sept. 11, 2015, Chart's now former employer published another article by Melissa Gira Grant which argued that supporting "sex worker rights" is a risky stance to take within feminist circles and can cost women employment opportunities and get them blacklisted. But according to Chart, her own experience reveals that the exact opposite can be true.
That same article links back to the Third Wave Fund piece about youth in the sex trade, doubling down in its claims. On Twitter the next day, The Sex Worker Outreach Project tweeted in praise of TWF, thanking them "for being one of the first organizations to stand up for young people involved in the sex trade."
A week after, Grant tweeted that she was searching for a "feminist donor" who could contribute a dollar to Third Wave Fund every time the group received "bullying tweets" over their "support for youth in the sex trades."
On Oct. 10, 2015, the International Association of Allies of Sex Worker Activists also hailed TWF's move, praising them for supporting the rights of sex workers and believing in "giving voice to marginalized people," and urged people donate time and money.
Days later, Third Wave Fund posted a defiant tweet telling "TERFS," which stands for "trans-exclusionary radical feminists," that they would be blocked.
"Funding the advocacy & organizing efforts of youth in the sex trade is in no way pedophilia, please stop," TWF insisted.
In recent years such language and thinking — that making "sex work" illegal harms minors — has appeared in the documents of international organizations.
A 2014 technical brief from World Health Organization's Interagency Working Group on Key Populations began addressing "young people who sell sex" couched in anti-trafficking language. Yet on page 19 the working group asserts that laws criminalizing sex work "reduce[s] the control of young people who sell sex over their working conditions and deter them from seeking services for fear of arrest and prosecution."
"In countries where sex workers are not criminalized but those who purchase sex are, there is anecdotal evidence that sex workers are forced to go 'underground' — contacting and meeting clients in less public places and reducing the time spent assessing clients for risk," the document argues.
The document claims that laws against sex work reportedly makes it harder for youth to maintain their physical safety and to access social and health programs, including HIV prevention and treatment.
On page 28 the WHO brief, under the banner of "Considerations for Policy, Research and Funding," the first bullet point reads: "Work for the decriminalization of sex work, same-sex behaviours and drug use, and for the implementation and enforcement of antidiscrimination and protective laws, derived from human-rights standards, to eliminate stigma, discrimination and violence against young people who sell sex based on actual or presumed behaviours and HIV status."
Rewire.News' Views on Legalizing Prostitution and 'Sex Workers' Rights
To verify Chart's claims about her former employer legitimizing prostitution under a "public health" approach, CP reached out to Rewire.News and interviewed its editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson. CP did not disclose anything about the interview with Chart regarding her termination. (The full transcript of the interview with Jacobson can be read here.)
Jacobson explained in an April 12 phone interview that she does indeed support the legalization of prostitution from both a "public health" and "human rights" perspective. When asked if she saw any potential downsides to decriminalizing prostitution and what age limits there should be, she declined to offer specifics.
"Well, you know, there are always downsides to everything," Jacobson said.
"And I can't speak to an age limit because I'm not up on what the advocacy community in that regard would advocate right now, so I don't want to speak to that."
Jacobson repeatedly stressed that "trafficking" and "sex work" are two separate things entirely and that it's an error to conflate them. Jacobson also said she was not talking about "child" prostitution.
"And let's look at, for example, in India where groups that have mobilized around protecting and fighting for the human rights of sex workers are also the very same groups that are most prominent in working to eliminate child trafficking because they know who these people are bringing in," she asserted.
Jacobson went on to say that the first people who will tell you how to reduce "reliance" on sex work are the sex workers "and they know what they need."
Allowing individuals to sell sex as an alternative is a viable option in certain contexts around the world where the only source of employment is the one mine or factory in town, an enterprise whose bosses exploit them, she argued, adding that problems are compounded when these factories or mines close down.
"And so, women go into sex work," she explained.
"And not only women. We talk about this as though there's like a uni-directional pattern here. There are married women in sex work. There are LGBTQ persons in sex work. Some men are in sex work. And so you have people who literally have no other option. Either they have no other option and they are working in a factory and being exploited. And often times they decide they would rather engage in sex work because they can decide when they get to go to the bathroom. They can decide who they take on as a client. They can decide what their rates are."
When asked about the objections of feminists who spurn the notion that "sex work" can be a positive choice for women and regard such an idea as a male-dominated narrative, particularly since men drive the trade, Jacobson reiterated that sex workers consider the practice of selling sex an empowering option they choose for themselves, particularly because they are motivated by other things.
"[Sex workers] need their kids to get education and not be discriminated against," she continued. "They need not to have intergenerational poverty. They need the kinds of things we all need, right? They need fair wages, they need protections. And they will tell you these things. If the narrative is 'just wipe out my only chance of surviving right now' or 'put me into a place where I might die in a fire because I can't get out of the factory because all of the doors are locked,' I choose this [sex work].'"
Jacobson said she rejects the "savior-type narrative," the idea that sex workers need to be rescued from the sex trade. She believes that too often people are not listening to their experiences.
"I've never met a group of people facing a challenge who did not themselves often times know what they needed most, and first."
"And it also begs another question," she said. "You know, sex is a natural, biological and human function in the whole universe, not just human [sexual activity]. And so people meet their sexual needs in different ways. And I think part of the narrative, just to sidestep, is that 'women are the only victims and therefore we have to save them from themselves' as opposed to 'women knowing or sex workers per se knowing what they are doing'."
"Because, hey, look, I'm not saying everybody [who] is in sex work wants to be in sex work. But I am saying that they will tell you what they need to get out of it, or what they want for the next generation. And barely anyone listens to them. They are the least powerless people. They are the most regulated, criminalized people apart from the traffickers and the pimps. It doesn't make any sense to me."
CP asked Jacobson to clarify and elaborate more on what she meant by how "people meet their sexual needs in different ways" since it seemed to suggest that men have a license or right to sex with a woman however they want, whenever they want, legitimizing a kind of "boys will be boys" ethic.
She replied in an April 13 email: "The narrative of 'men's license' is, for me, both shallow and misrepresents the issues."
"As I noted yesterday, this whole frame assumes only women are sex workers, which is far from the truth. There are male, female, transgender, LGBT sex workers. Also, 'the sexual needs of men' assumes women and other persons have no sexual needs and basically makes sex a bad thing. Sex per se is not a bad thing," she asserted. "Coerced activity of any kind is a bad thing, whether you are coercing someone into sex or you are coercing someone into sewing garments for 16 hours a day in a factory with no bathroom breaks, no food breaks, paid pennies an hour, and sexually harassed or raped by your bosses.
"It also assumes that 'sexual needs' are a bad thing, which they are not."
Conservative-Leaning Christians and Radical Feminists Together?
"It's funny how when a pillar of what you thought was universal social consensus drops out from under you how much common ground you find with other people," Chart told CP.
She is a member of the Hands Across The Aisle coalition, an ideologically diverse group of women that includes radical feminists, liberals, lesbian activists, Catholics, and conservative Christian women resisting transgender ideology, particularly political efforts to replace "sex" with "gender identity" in the law.
Chart explains that if women want to work in left-wing politics these days, no matter the issue, women have to be "neutral, quiet or supportive" of the sex trade and gender identity, mainly because it's men who are funding the projects. When feminists dare to build coalitions with people whom they usually disagree, like social conservatives, they will be infantilized and derided, she said, pointing to a September 2016 Daily Beast column that dismissed the overlap some radical feminists share with Christian conservatives on issues like transgender ideology, surrogacy, pornography, and prostitution.
"And if you'd asked me a few years ago if anyone would be arguing that women don't really exist and can't be defined [as a category of people], I would not have understood what you were talking about," Chart added. "If you'd asked me a few years ago if I thought that the minor sex trade was a good idea, I would have said, 'Of course not, nobody supports that, right?'"
"At the very least, on these two fundamental issues, women exist and children should not be sold for sex. I can't even fathom that there are people who have decided that these things are up for discussion. It's bizarre to me and unsettling."
The gender identity movement and the sex industry want everyone to agree with them, she continued, and they will talk to anyone who will listen in order to get there, because that means they win.
"And if this movement proves successful it means that males will win the absolute right to be naked in front of women in public accommodations or to watch us undress, for male sex offenders to be incarcerated with women, for the sex industry and its clients to degrade and exploit women in every way without any fear of accountability," she said.
"This stands in contradiction of principles of women's human rights that were widely supported less than 20 years ago and portends the erasure of very old rights everyone has come to take for granted. I think this is an emergency. And yes, I am interested in talking with people of different ideologies and faiths who also think it is an emergency."
In years past when feminists have had their arguments dismissed they have been derisively called "Christian moralists" even though they are not particularly religious themselves or speaking from a distinctly Christian viewpoint.
The way Chart sees it, many on the left perceive that if one is socially or religiously conservative, generally speaking, nothing sexual outside of a heterosexual marriage is acceptable.
"Yet the left has kind of come at this from a very male perspective, in my opinion. 'So that must mean that everything outside of a heterosexual marriage is fine because we disagree with them,'" she described the line of thinking and the influence of authors like Marquis de Sade, whose writing celebrated unrestrained sexuality of every kind.
"The idea is that whatever God and the Church abhor is great," she said. "And I think that that's more of the moral paradigm that too many people on the left have come around to accept."
Radical feminists have never completely bought into this "anything goes" approach, she maintains. Moreover, even when speaking of the institution of heterosexual marriage that conservatives value so much, an "anything goes" ethic can be practiced from within it. Spousal rape was not outlawed until relatively recently, she points out.
"But just because some man has an interest in doing it, it doesn't mean it's good for women. Just because some man wants the right to walk down the street and buy sex with a stranger, it doesn't mean that's good for women."
Left-wing proponents of legitimizing the sex trade are not coming at this from a feminist tack, but an "oppositional, rebellious son perspective," she asserts, and "women have been bullied into accepting this anything goes mentality as feminism because you get criticized as a prude if you don't."
"Our position is that women should be able to say 'No.' No, don't touch me. And that is something that a lot of men on the left who think they are so feminist are utterly allergic to hearing from women."
Though many conflate the two, and the politics of most feminists tilt to the left, she stressed that liberalism is not synonymous with feminism even though many liberals like to pretend that it is.
"Feminism isn't about women being other people's property ... and for liberals to say, 'Oh, you have this overlap with Christian conservatives so that must mean you're conservative,' it's because we don't buy into the liberal, libertine notion that everything that any church has ever disapproved of is therefore good."
"There is no form of 'what is forbidden is therefore compulsory' that I endorse as a feminist."
She concluded: "And it's highly offensive to me that a lot of women who are carrying forward the #MeToo movement are being politically harassed out of being able to speak about a full range of feminist concerns. They've brought up the larger idea of workplace harassment where women are punished for speaking out, where they are coerced and pressured because they said 'no' to a man who wanted to put his hands all over them. But women are not allowed to speak out against the men who have decided that they are going to use feminism as a vehicle to finally get respectability for the sex industry."
"I think that's just gross."