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Harm Re(pro)duction*

So. earlier, i wrote in a post that car-sharing is a lot like harm reduction, and therefore not so good after all.

What’s ‘not so good’ about harm reduction? How could it not be good? who wants to exacerbate harm?

well. no one, probably. But no one wants to give up the good stuff they’ve got, either. But if we are serious about reducing harm, we have to be serious about redistributing the wealth and power, too. And ‘harm reduction’ (or car sharing) doesn’t do that–not in a structural way, anyhow.

I’m gonna try to explain, then i’ll get to the analogy–

so. Harm reduction is a “pragmatic approach” to social problems, chiefly, proponents say, drug addiction. Harm reduction in practice includes needle exchanges, safe fix sites, free condoms to women in prostitution, ‘condom negotiation workshops” (i kid you not), ‘wet’ shelters, ‘barrier-free’ drop ins (people who are loaded can come in/stay; people can use at the shelter–sometimes it’s set up so that people addicted to alcohol can have a drink on the house every hour), methadone maintenance, and so forth.

In relation to women in prostitution–Harm reduction targets are women who are prostituted(ing) on the street, typically, not women in escort services, brothels, sweatshops, high school girls at parties, strippers, those advertising(ed) on craigslist, or women otherwise bought and sold through means not “in public”. That was a hell of a long sentence. sorry about that. Anyhow, the aim of harm reduction appears to be to get women inside. That’s the overall goal, ’cause ‘inside’ is safer than ‘outside’. apparently.

Tactics for these women include late night visits from outreach workers to offer them coffee, condoms, stale pastries from Starbuck’s (good corporate citizens that they are), lists of particularly nasty men (bad date sheets–formerly known as ‘bad trick’ sheets–more on them later) to watch out for, referrals (more on that later, too); “beauty night”; legal challenges to repeal solicitation laws (there are two such court actions going on in Canada at present); ‘low barrier’ shelters or housing (places that are staffed usually by earnest young women working overnights to pay for school–who will let women bring ‘guests’ in, then call the cops or bounce them outta there, when they refuse to leave after they got their blowjob); and other stuff.

None of which actually reduce the harms that women face, ’cause they don’t address the source of the harm. and, of course, they place the onus for change and self-protection on THE VICTIM. It’s okay to say victim in this context,too, no matter what the pro-pimp side will say about prostitution being a choice for women, and potentially empowering and so on and so forth–There’s this whole debate going on over at the Economist:

it’s flawed from the beginning, because the question posed is “Should prostitution be legal?” so, it just assumes that there are only two possible answers “yes” or “no” and does not take into account the complicated tensions between those who would abolish prostitution because women are morally corrupting men via prostitution and those who would abolish prostitution because it is a form of male violence against women and represents the deep inequalities between men and women–there is also nothing in there about how women’s ‘choice’ is used as a weapon against them, as in, “some women choose this and enjoy it” without questioning why men choose to buy women, and why it is overwhelmingly men who do the buying, set the terms, make the demands, not women “setting the terms of their employment”. fah.

ah. I digressed. Anyhow, so, what effect does “harm reduction” policy and practice have on the women who are providing these services to women in prostitution? what do the outreach workers, advocates, activists think of this? We started out,(some of us, and mostly those of us in it for a decade or more, anyhow), in the front-line work because we thought it was a way to get beside women with less than us–or as a way to ‘give back’–help other women outta the pit that women had helped US out of–or because we saw it as an organizing tactic. Some of us thought that if we take care of some of the immediate physical needs, we could figure out a way to fight the patriarchy together, gain some ground, at least SEE freedom from here. I don’t actually know (yet) what other workers/activists think about harm reduction, though i have some informed suspicions–and I aim to find out. I will keep you posted.

i don’t think we figured on the patriarchy and capitalism being so fucking resilient, actually. They got around us by throwing medicine at us. We saw how sick and crazy mens violence and harassment made women. Some of us, I think, we either invited medical interventions or we went into medicine or psychology to try to help. The Man saw, too, that women were driven mad by Him, so he gave us drugs, treated the symptom rather than looking at the cause. ‘Cause, you know, an anesthetized woman is even better than a dead one, ’cause she can still cook and clean if you don’t go too heavy on the dosage…so…

And then there came harm reduction, which emerged from medicine and epidemiology (study of epidemics), Turns out it is a good way to keep some people on the bottom of the social pyramid so they can be the raw resource for the human services industry–social workers and the like…the very women who do the work I used to do before i went back to school, (’cause my heart kept breaking, and I wanted to figure out what was wrong with this picture, and how to change it). I didn’t very much like that my job, my living wage, depended upon there being so many people that had jack-shit. I loved them, and they annoyed the hell out of me, and we gave each other some joy and strife–but we are completely dependent on each other, and not in a good way. My living depended on their degradation. gross.

This is too simplistic, but I have been fiddling with this for too long, i have to get to the point…

Anyhow. So here we are, we have not ended male violence against women, there’s a whole bunch of people who think that there is such a thing as “sex work” which is separate from “survival sex work” which is also separate from “trafficking”–so they want to legalize prostitution and if they do that, then all the “sex workers” will go inside, out of the rain, and out of public view, and all the “survival sex workers” will…um, well, hard to say what they will do if ‘sex work’ becomes legal…but they’ll for sure still go to the drop-in centres and stay in the shelters and take the free condoms and try to take care of each other and themselves and probably use drugs to get along so they’ll be ‘clients’ at the safe fix sites and clinics and so on (except for when the men who buy them and/or beat them are also clients there, so then they’ll have to wait).

What does this have to do with car-sharing co-ops, you may ask? Well. It’s harm reduction, see? We don’t have to pay insurance or buy gas or maintain our own cars, we just put down a $500 refundable deposit and pay a bit per usage ($3.00/hr in our case + mileage–not so much, i don’t know what) and then we  can drive pretty much any time we want to. The more members, the more cars there are, so it’s not inconvenient. And I don’t know about others, but for me, it just keeps the craving for a car of my own ALIVE. I think if I didn’t have a car, or access to one, I wouldn’t want one. I don’t ever need one, or hardly ever–this is a big city with a pretty good transit system and I have a bike and strong legs, there’s never a need for a car. There is just the desire. Just the craving. The obsession. And the obsession is stoked every time I get to drive the little Mini Cooper at Main and 13th, or the Nissan Cube at Cambie and 10th, or the Versa, or the Echo, or the Mazda truck, or…sometimes i just book a car BECAUSE I CAN. and i get all these fucking karmic points for not owning my own car, for having a “small carbon footprint”–and it’s a sham, really it is. I might pay less for a car, but I’m a member of the fucking car co-op, I own HUNDREDS of cars, all over the city! And the addiction stays alive, the monkey’s on my back (oooh. I want...) . It’s like the so-called safe-injection site–as long as there’s a place to go where you can take your drugs and be “safe”, why would you want to take the risk and experience a clean and sober life? Why would I want to take the risk and go without a car, especially on rainy gross days?

I dunno. At a certain point the metaphor breaks down, but I will stop writing just before I reach it–the main thing is, car-sharing is like a gateway drug. If you’re like me, you could get to a place where you are just jonesing all the time for a carbon fix and you want to get into one of those beautiful new, nimble fast cars and drive. And crave your very own car. someday again, i will…

it’s kind of torture. it is kind of like still being addicted, but not having access to the drug as often. The craving, the obsession, never goes away. The hole is still there, never filled. See? Harm reduction just keeps the addiction alive, it doesn’t change anything. not. one. fucking. thing.


*That parenthetical syllable inserted into “harm reduction” extends from a verbal description of ‘harm reduction’ by a radical feminist ally–it more aptly describes the effect of harm reduction (not the intent).

About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, working in a field for which I am not yet trained, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. Radical feminism will be the roots of our shared liberation. Rejection of sex-stereotypes (gender) and male domination will give us wings.

5 responses »

  1. argh. I meant to get back to ‘bad date sheets’ and also to ‘referrals’. ‘nother post for that. sorry. i got distracted.

  2. “it is kind of like still being addicted, but not having access to the drug as often. The craving, the obsession, never goes away. The hole is still there, never filled. See? Harm reduction just keeps the addiction alive, it doesn’t change anything. not. one. fucking. thing.”

    Thank you!

  3. Pingback: SEVAS TRA – T.R.I.C | anti social butterfly

  4. Pingback: Safer strolls: A new, progressive way to blame the victim? | Feminist Current

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