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2011 BrotherPeace Award: Dr. Margaret Baldwin
For Outstanding Lifetime Achievement and Leadership on behalf of Women and Girls used in Prostitution
The Ending Men’s Violence Network of NOMAS addresses all forms of violence by men, particularly in the context of patriarchal privilege and sexism. The EMV-Net has been especially active in working against domestic abuse, but also addresses sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault, and the abuse of women in prostitution, and pornography.
Some years ago, when I was first struggling to understand the feminist analysis of prostitution, I approached my mentor on such topics, Andrea Dworkin, and asked what I needed to read. She replied: “You MUST read the work of Meg Baldwin!”
As on so many other issues, Andrea was accurate and far-sighted. Meg Baldwin’s work has informed and inspired a whole generation of feminist lawyers, scholars, and activists.
Margaret Baldwin was for almost two decades an Associate Professor of Law at Florida State University College of Law. Today she is the Executive Director of Refuge House, an Agency providing direct services to victims of domestic abuse, assault, and use in prostitution, serving a multi-County area equal to the entire state of Connecticut.
Margaret Baldwin’s legal scholarship and advocacy have long centered on obtaining justice for women and girls being used in Prostitution. She has also written some of the most powerful, and insightful, feminist analyses of the realities of prostitution.
In "Strategies of Connection: Prostitution and Feminist Politics", Baldwin implored feminists to see the connections between this, and the other manifestations of woman-abuse of the commercial sex industry, and, other kinds of violence against women.
Margaret Baldwin has written extensively on feminist legal strategies. And, in a rare and historic break-through - a feminist legal and legislative victory - Baldwin was central in writing, and steering to passage, a 1992 Florida state law which gave women coerced in prostitution the right to sue, and recover financial damages from their pimps, under a number of circumstances.
In one of many insightful innovations in her law, ‘Coercion' was defined... far more realistically, as including not only force or threats, but also, exploitation of human needs for safety, food, and shelter; substance dependence; and, especially crucial in this instance, exploitation of prior sexual victimization.
This was the first feminist-inspired legislative victory in American history against the abuses of prostitution.
The work of Margaret Baldwin perfectly exemplifies the principles of NOMAS, of the Ending Men’s Violence Network, and of the National BrotherPeace Award, made to an individual who has made significant lifetime achievements in combating Men's Violence. We are delighted this year to present the 2011 National BrotherPeace Award to Margaret Baldwin.
Comments by Margaret Baldwin:
Thank you, Bob, for that lovely introduction, and thank you to the NOMAS National Council, for the honor of this BrotherPeace Award. I do very much appreciate the encouragement of this recognition, especially looking ahead to the challenges and joys that are yet to come in our shared work.
I want to so much thank and recognize my wonderful Refuge House staff. I am so touched that those of you who could make are here. Our hotline and shelter advocates on the schedule today are at their posts, of course, serving those who are in crisis, right now, due to domestic violence and sexual assault. Our whole team, working across the eight counties that Refuge House serves, is committed heart and soul to the mission of our agency and the thousands of survivors we serve every year. In the last three months in our community, there have been 6 domestic violence killings, 2 suicides by abusers, as well as many near lethal assaults, including the brutal attack on a young woman earlier this week. I want to thank our beautiful staff for the skill and compassion they bring to every survivor, family member, and concerned neighbor and friend who reach out to us for healing. Thanks to my friends. I don't know why you still call me on the phone but I am so glad that you do. I can't live without you. You all remind me every day that the world is a place we love to live in, as well as labor to change.
None of us achieves anything on our own. Certainly not me. I have very few virtues; the only clear one is that I have a very large vocabulary. Whatever contributions I have been able to make to our shared work have only been possible by the work of other people who made that contribution useful.
For me, those other people first and foremost are the many survivors of prostitution who, over the years, have had the courage and endurance to tell me what they believed needed to be said about what prostitution is really like: the humiliation, constant fear, routine rapes, and, often, the spiritual death of coming to loathe other human beings for what they do, and allow to be done, to you.
I have had the great good fortune to work with WHISPER, The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, and Breaking Free—all survivor directed agencies—and now, to lead Refuge House, where we are also committed to a healing and advocacy mission for prostituted women.
I point out these examples of particular activist campaigns because these are the ones that prostituted women themselves have endorsed by their willingness to join, participate in, or lead. In my experience, prostituted women and girls do not risk the ridicule and shaming that comes from speaking the truth about prostitution unless they see something worthwhile and trustworthy coming from it. Nor should they. When the survivors do see something worthwhile to put their faith in, everyone needs to notice what that is, and offer more of it.
There is another campaign building across the world now, promoting the simple proposition that women and children should have a right not to be prostituted. On the policy level, putting that principle into practice means, at a minimum, that every woman and child is entitled to a way out of prostitution at any time, regardless of the conditions that brought her into prostitution in the first place. Again, this approach does not focus on how she got in. Like our feminist analysis of sexual violence or domestic violence, we don't ask why she was there, why she was drinking, or why she stayed. If we did ask, the answer would be simple enough anyway: women and children are in prostitution through a combination of grooming, stalking, outright force, and blame-shifting, designed so that when she is asked, "Did you consent to this?" her answer will be, "I did." Assuring of her of a way out also entails clear accountability for both pimps and johns for inflicting these harms.
This approach to supporting victims of prostitution was endorsed by the 95 countries that have ratified a United Nations standard called the Palermo Protocol, after a United Nations meeting convened in Palermo, Italy in 2000. The United States is one of the signatories to the Palermo Protocol. Despite this, the right not to be prostituted is not yet the clear policy of the United States, either under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act or in the practice of the Department of Justice. We do have some state and local options available to us, though. On the county level, for example, Cook County in Illinois now has a county ordinance that carries these principles into practice: imposing fines on johns, not prostituted women, for soliciting prostitution, and dedicating those fines to healing resources for victims.
If prostituted women and girls in our community would find this kind of program useful, I think we might want to try it. You can count on me to try to find out.
Thank you for this beautiful award. I will try to live up to it.