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Martine Aurdal and the voice of the unworthy


In the latest issue of Samtiden, the escort "Phillip" – in an interview with the undersigned – promotes a view of prostitution that conflicts with Martine Aurdals. This makes God angry, Aurdal claims in a contradictory and prejudiced post in this newspaper 8.09.05.

Aurdal's first accusation is that we as researchers and interviewers have our own agenda, that the questions are angled and the substance selected to create a narrative that we ourselves wish to present. It is not Phillips story readers get to hear. To the newspaper's readers, we can tell that one of us (Pedersen) has written a number of articles in professional journals where care failure, intoxication, pain related to prostitution have been revealed. Together, the two of us have written a comprehensive report on the sale of sex among Norwegian young people (see, where much of the same picture is drawn. But during this project we also came in contact with Phillip. His story differed in many ways from others we had heard before, and we believed that this also carried insights that should have a place in the public discourse. That it is unusual and contradicts what we have otherwise found, we also clearly say in Samtiden (see, for example, p. 17 and p. 25).

Aurdal claims that Phillip really has another story to tell, which she herself knows, but which we consciously choose to ignore. We were three scientists who talked to Phillip for almost six hours straight. Much of the time we revolve around what is the core question for Aurdal: To what extent is prostitution for him linked to pain? In what way can he be harmed? On page 24 he tells something about this: When he lacks money, when he has no control, when he is in a desperate situation – then this is difficult. In other situations, he finds prostitution rewarding. We do not hide the pain, but a one-sided emphasis on this – yes, the would involve a distortion of Phillips' own narrative. Precisely to avoid that our own prejudices would prevail, we carried out a thorough methodological quality assurance: After the interview was transcribed, he had it reviewed. Then we wrote it out in the form it now has in the Contemporary. He got it again for review, had some views. Thus, we let him review it a third time. Then he expressed that this long interview covered much of his life and captured his experiences in a very good way. Then we published it, just as an interview.

And here we come to Aurdal's point two, which in a funny way is contradictory in relation to her first accusation: She claims that Phillip has been active in ROSEA, an organization for sex workers, and that this "should be mentioned". We cannot take a stand on Aurdal's ideas about who Phillip is. Her critique, however, reveals gross prejudices about who should be allowed to speak and how. Phillip has a degree in economics. He is used to speaking, used to formulating himself in writing. All three of us were struck by how precisely, sharply and self-reflexively he was able to give us insight into his complex life situation. Aurdal seems to think that this deprives Phillip of the right to speak. He has a political stance, she claims. If this is the case – so what? Is it only prostitutes without their own opinions who should have a voice? Because such voices are easier for journalists and researchers to (for) turn at will? Aurdal's contradictory critique involves both unification and paternalism. Which Phillip by the way has long experience with.

Camilla Jordheim Larsen and Willy Pedersen are sociologists affiliated with the Department of Sociology and Social Geography, University of Oslo

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