Choices rarely happen in a vacuum. The post-modern way of thinking that all things are relative and valid depending on one’s point of view troubles me greatly. Like anyone I live with contradiction and paradox in what I think and feel. But I would not leave legislation to ambivalence, more importantly I would not leave legislation to those who are impacted by it least. My experiences in fully decriminalised, legal and illegal prostitution are held up constantly as anecdotal and dismissed as nothing more. If my experiences were that of a minority, that would be fair enough, but they aren’t. My experiences are reflected in varying degrees of cruelty, torture and coercive circumstances, in the majority of currently and formerly prostituted women
Due to the preponderance of ‘sex worker rights are human rights’ chants being reflected in the media it is understandable that many people outside of the sex trade are caught up in the promulgation of prostitution as viable work like any other. Terms like “sex work” are flung around in a highly effective campaign by the pimps and johns (buyers), and out of a vague ‘solidarity’ by an unknowing general public, to lend some non-existent dignity to an inherently exploitative trade in human beings. For every cry from a ‘sex worker’ claiming it is ‘stigma” that is endangering her or him, are a minimum of 89 crying out to escape the trade.
The ‘sex worker’s’ cry is given credibility; she is brave, defiant, bold, empowered and brimming with ‘agency’- paradoxically she is also a labour worker who needs union support to protect her from religious zealots, prudes, and tellingly, dangerous johns. She’s a working class hero or a $600 an hour ‘escort’. She is a shattered or proud victim of feminists, or anti-feminists, or a labour right’s worker fighting ignorance of a basic right to earn a living, or so far above any she is part of the entrepreneurial elite.
In another flip around, state sponsored Occupational Health and Safety are oppressive to her- mandatory testing for STI’s are ‘stigmatising’ as ‘sex workers’ are well-educated about STI’s, better than the general populace in fact. Yet health guidelines set out by the sex-trade itself, tell us to inspect a penis for STI’s, as though HIV is visible, as though demanding this of a john isn’t potentially dangerous. The preferred health guidelines for ‘sex workers’ also include such useful tips as ‘if a client is drunk or dangerous try and escape out the window”. Burn-out (aka PTSD) can be treated by eating some chocolate cake, having a bath and a break. If an assault happens in a vehicle try and leave some evidence in it, like vomit perhaps. But we are told to believe it is stigma harming women in the sex-trade, not men. Women in the sex-trade are admonished that those of us out here trying to have exiting strategies, financial resources and counselling implemented while lobbying for the Nordic/Swedish Model are such drags,( you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life baby.) Rape victims are told to buck up, (unless they serve a political purpose) and women who contract HIV in the sex-trade are shunned without compensation. Terrific union eh?
This ‘stigmatised sex worker’ boasts banners of “whore” and “slut” and carries a red umbrella and scowls at those of us who do not embrace these colonising terms. We’re called “whorephobic”. Victims and survivors of prostitution are hateful women. PTSD sufferers with physical injuries and almost zero employment opportunities due to disability are “selfish, uptight, despicable and non-feminist.”. Victims are the definition of monsters who want to spoil the fun for the rest. At best we are informed we are just doing it wrong, not ’empowered’ enough. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been subjected to the somewhat narcissistic accusation “You’re trying to rescue me! I don’t need to be saved!”- as though somehow I care more about one particular person’s personal life, as though s/he fascinates me- over the millions who don’t want to be subjected to abject horror.
My message to such individuals is, I don’t think about you so much, I think very much about the impact of full decriminalisation of prostitution on the majority who do not want to be there. Sure if you needed food and shelter I’d help you out, but demand legislation which is proven (not guessed at, not false, not biased, just factual) to expand the sexual slavery of the majority- no, I won’t help you with that.
Why am I banging on about this minority of “sex workers” anyway? It is men that do this to us, and men who buy women for sex hate women. Don’t be fooled, that iota of entitlement contains the unstated reality – men believe they deserve to use our bodies. The contempt is implicit in the belief and in the act. They do not have to physically beat us to prove this, though they often do. The men who make sneering jokes about us with other men are not ‘decent guys’- they boast or they complain. They also lie and say things like “I don’t need to go to whores. I can pull a woman, I don’t need to pay!” (charming.) They evaluate us on social media sites and rate us from 1-10. Whine about our breasts or celebrate our behinds. Grow infuriated if they feel conned -“She wasn’t as young as she claimed! I f**ked her anyway but not worth the money. Buyer beware.” “She didn’t look like she was into it and I forked over too much money.”- feeling respected yet?
To this extent stigma is indeed a reality, and look who is doing the stigmatising.
Then there are the disabled men- oh the magnanimity of those who are paid to give these men sex – even their parents seem desperate to make sure their boys don’t miss out on the opportunity to sexually exploit women just like able-bodied men do. No thought to the disability created in women who are bought for sex by men, able-bodied or not. Guess what, disabled men can be misogynist, self-obsessed aresholes just like able-bodied men. Stop the discrimination for f**ks sake ! We only need one piece of filmed propaganda, such as Rachel Wotton in Scarlet Road ( “sex worker” to the disabled, bless) to believe her choice is worthy and forget for a moment what full decriminalisation does for the rest of us. Are men more important than women? You bet they are. Is Rachel Wotton’s choice more important than the majority who want to leave the sex industry? You bet it is. You can find the documentary online yourself and see if you’re not moved. If she doesn’t come across as one of the kindest and cleverest people you’ve ever seen I’ll eat my hat. So what?! Who cares! Once you’ve put your hanky bathed in bittersweet, heart-warmed tears away, take a moment to consider that full decriminalisation still doesn’t serve the majority of the prostituted. You can also have a look at articles written by disabled women who object to being treated and spoken of as sexually untouchable, and who have been subjected to sexual abuse by predatory disabled and able-bodied men.
How about the soldiers who buy women in the countries they are occupying, women in war-torn countries, grimly hanging on for dear life to support their children while guns and missiles shudder and explode around them. The soldiers who come back with or without PTSD and feel entitled to a little relief from the horrors they have witnessed or inflicted themselves. That the prostituted suffer PTSD on par with combat veterans and torture survivors isn’t thinkable- but true.
As with all men who buy women – Well, she’s there isn’t she? She smiled! She encouraged me! Newsflash- that is the job description!
In response to objections to Amnesty International’s Policy on ‘Sex Work’ which decriminalises pimping and buying, Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch tweeted “Why deny poor women their right to earn a living?” It is hard to put into words how noxious that statement is. He may as well have said “Why deny men the right to buy impoverished women for sex?”.
The facts are in on who is buying and who is being sold. The men are overwhelmingly in their 40’s, married with children and enjoying secure incomes. The prostituted are overwhelmingly young, often entered into the sex-trade before the legal age of sexual consent, overwhelmingly indigenous, and impoverished. Yes older women are trotted out to tell us their empowering anecdotes- always remember that minimum of 89 behind her being silenced. There is no safety in fully decriminalised prostitution, but there is damning evidence that it expands the sex-trade up to 4-fold where ever it is implemented.
Decriminalising the prostituted rightly removes the burden of criminality on those most marginalised. Criminalising the buyers and pimps places the stigma and burden exactly where it should be. On those who seek to sexually exploit and profit from the subjugation of women,children and some men,throughout the world. This is the key facet of the Nordic/Swedish Model.
The red umbrella lobby who shout for ‘sex worker’ rights are often in positions of management so have a vested interest in maintaining and expanding the sex-trade. The minority who do sell sex and are against the Nordic Model are a minority indeed, yet they are heard above almost all others. There are women currently in fully decriminalised prostitution (in New Zealand as just one example) who want the Nordic Model and their voices go unheard.
I used to be one of those “personal choice” advocates, desperate to place the blame for the psychic scars I endure on some external stigma, desperate to blame anyone but the men who demand human beings for sex. Unconscious that every time I employed the “It’s my choice” mantra I was propping up a system of tolerance for sexual torture. That not questioning the right of men to buy me and pimps to act as agents, was selling millions of women down the river. If I had known I would have fought then for the Nordic Model. I would have taken the support to get out- but I didn’t know there was an alternative, and there wasn’t at the time. What choice did I have when there was no choice? I wasn’t waving any red umbrellas or obnoxiously insisting that my rights were more important than the majority, but I accepted the status quo- that prostitution was the oldest profession and inevitable. I excuse myself for this as I was the victim, but how can I excuse the head of Human Rights Watch, or Amnesty International, or the countless organisations and media who trumpet the cause of the johns and pimps? I can’t. I was lucky I escaped, had a look at this slippery word “choice” and found it wanting. When I escaped, I literally escaped, with no support from the red umbrella lobby (only hisses and hatred, oh dear, where did my ‘rights’ go?) and no support from the government. Why would a government offer support services to leave a legitimate legal ‘job’ ? Ask the sex-trade propagandists -they’re the ones who insist this is a ‘job like any other’.
It’s very simple, if full decriminalisation made prostitution safer I’d be all for it. But it doesn’t. It perpetuates, unapologetically, an ever expanding cycle of abuse and more abuse. I demand better than this for all women. I am not alone.