Map of Scandinavian Countries. Detail from the World Atlas (Rand Mc. Nally).

Sex and Prostitution: Chalk and Cheese

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Lecture date: Sun, 19th Jun, 2016
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Estimated 8 min read

‘Evil begins when YOU begin treating other people as things’. Terry Pratchett

What is sex? What does it mean to enter a sexual encounter with another person? I say it is it an intimate, comfortable, reciprocal, safe, pleasurable meeting of bodies with the goal of enjoyment, and not premised on a major differential in any kind of power, physical, mental or economic. In other words, if you are paid because you are only doing it for the money, it isn’t sex, it is exploitation based on a power difference. If you wanted to do it, you wouldn’t need to be paid. It is often said that the best things in life are free, and sex is definitely one of those. Sex is NOT paying to shove your penis at or inside another person – while the other person pretends not to mind or even to like it (or you) when you really don’t know each other. Money is no substitute for the skills to form a relationship, however fleeting. So what happens to a woman in prostitution is not sex, it is violence and exploitation.

Would it be ok to pay to sexually penetrate animals? Denmark changed the law on this in 2015, and in most countries it is now illegal and seen as animal abuse. Would it be OK to have sex with a member of an ethnic minority on a paid basis, as in a system where your caste determines your job? No, because that would be racist. People with disabilities, maybe? No! Yet we deem it OK to designate a ‘caste’ of women (generally poor, vulnerable, under-parented, homeless and often sexually abused as children) exploitable so that a man who is not that poor, vulnerable, homeless, or abused can have this ‘fun’ – in addition to all the other kinds of fun he can have, if he has money to pay. The icing on one of his many, many cakes is more important than the basic safety of a vulnerable woman? 95% of prostituted people are women. If they were animals or a minority there would be an outcry, but because they are ‘just women’ it is seen as OK.

I am not going to repeat the statistics I gave in my talk; if you are interested, look them up on Pay special attention to the Survivor Stories and the Punters (or perpetrators) who normally escape unnoticed. If the recent Home Affairs Committee of MPs who looked at prostitution are anything to go by, you as a mere member of CHES are likely to be stuck in denial and suffering from thought paralysis, so I can only offer you some blinkers and suggest you head to the nearest beach and bury your head in the sand. Sing la-la-la to yourself if that doesn’t work.

But you want to know more? Let’s try a decision tree. If for you the answer is no, stop there and recognise that this is not OK. If you think a level is OK, go further:

  1. Would Activity X be OK if the mortality rate was at least 12 times that of any other Activity?
  2. Would Activity X be OK if it involved working with body fluids of people who have unprotected sex, without having any protection yourself? (NB most jobs that involve contact with body fluids require full body cover like the people who dealt with Ebola or Zika.)
  3. Would Activity X be OK if everyone who did it needed to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in order to get through the shift and mostly became addicted to the harmful substances involved?
  4. Would it still be OK if all the above were true and then most of the money you earned went to other people and not to you?
  5. Would it still be OK if there was, say, a 90% risk of getting mental health problems as a result of the Activity if you didn’t already have them when you started?
  6. Would it still be OK if racism was completely acceptable in the Activity?
  7. Would it still be OK if you were, say, 70% likely to get raped or beaten up by a stronger person while doing this Activity?
  8. What if that stronger person could have a knife or a gun with them and you wouldn’t know until they used it on you?
  9. What if there were no-one to come and help you when you screamed, or if the police did get called, they shrugged and looked the other way, or worse.
  10. What if so-called ‘safe areas’ (like the one in Leeds) were designated for this activity but women still got murdered in them?

Are you still in? Do you really think ‘Activity X’ is OK? Wow, you are brave or … something. Sadistic sounds about right to me. Let’s continue. What if, added to all the above …

  1. Ageism is also completely normal, so Johns only want very young people; pay and opportunities decline steeply the older you get.
  2. You got into this activity because you couldn’t pay your rent/feed your child/get a roof over your head and a ‘friend’ said you could stay with him and then raped you and told you that you had to earn money this way if there was no other, or he would throw you out?
  3. What if your users enjoy hurting you, the more you hurt the more they seem to enjoy it?
  4. What if when you were sore, injured, exhausted and feeling ill you still had to go on working, with no sick leave and no paid holidays?
  5. What if you had to keep changing your hair and clothes to keep the users interested so they didn’t use elsewhere?
  6. What if you were doing this to support a child you often couldn’t see because of the hours and type of Activity you do?
  7. What if your ‘boyfriend’ who says he loves you, rapes you regularly and then sends you out to perform your Activity and give him the money so he can ‘look after’ you?
  8. What if you knew that Members of Parliament, judges, aristocrats and business leaders thought it was fine to hurt you with this Activity, or turn a blind eye to others doing so?
  9. And have you remembered always to smile, never to argue and always to pretend that you are happy and love every minute of it?
  10. By the way, you can’t combine this Activity with an ordinary job.Is it still OK with you? Is it? Gonna sign up? Looking forward to your start date? If so you have just OK’d the worst set of conditions known to humankind. Congratulations. I could go on, there are plenty more. But instead of looking at abolishing this wonderful Activity (as has been successfully and cost-effectively done elsewhere) – no! Better that women should suffer and get infected, addicted, beaten and murdered! I know, instead of making it illegal to buy it, let’s see how we can tweak Activity X (OK for women but definitely not for animals or minorities) to make it more acceptable. You know, like they did to Aztec child sacrifice, Chinese foot-binding, Female Genital Mutilation, British child chimney-sweeps and world-wide slavery. Wait a minute, they didn’t tweak child sacrifice, foot-binding, child chimney-sweeps, or slavery, they just passed a law to abolish them outright! Simple! Except for FGM of course.

    Suggested tweaks have included:

    1. Slavery: ‘Let’s call slaves Assistant Planters and then it will be all right’.

    Activity X: ‘Let’s call the women Sex Workers and then it will be all right’.

    Reality: Changing a name changes nothing.

    1. Slavery: Let’s deal separately with the actual trading of slaves, that is the real problem’.

    Activity X: Trafficking is the real problem, let’s separate if off and deal with that.’

    Reality: trading and trafficking are just the supply chain bringing ‘goods’ to the market.

    1. Slavery: ‘A slave in America lives better than a free man in Africa’ – Cotton Mather

    Activity X – ‘They do it for the money, you know, it gives them employment.’

    Reality: It is not OK to pay to abuse. We should not have to be abused in order to live.

    1. Slavery: ‘Let’s mount vicious personal attacks on abolitionists’

    Activity X: ‘Let’s call them moralists, pearl-waving Mary Whitehouses, Feminists!’

    Reality: We are just calling a spade a spade: truth-telling, not moralising. Anyway what’s wrong with pearls? What’s wrong with equality and human rights?

    I could go on … but what we really need is the Nordic Model, and we need it now. The watchword for the abolition of slavery was, ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ For Activity X it is ‘Am I not a woman and a sister?’ Because if prostitution is so OK (revisit the decision tree above if you are unsure), then it is OK for you and for your sister, mum, friend, auntie, gran, girlfriend. Would you really wish that on them? Like the slave-owners justified slavery? If you are tempted to laugh superciliously or think about looking tolerant and cool, again, get back in your (sorry, the) tree or put your head into the sand. Schopenhauer said: ‘All truth passes through three stages: first, it is ridiculed (go ahead and laugh), then it is violently opposed (there is plenty of that about), and then it is accepted as being self-evident.’ Like in Sweden. Like in Norway. Like in Canada. Like in Northern Ireland. Like in France. Maybe, as Sterne said, they do order these things better in France. 



Thinking on Sunday

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Janice Williams has degrees in Classics and Psychology, and after a religious episode lasting into her 30s had a reverse ‘road to Damascus’ experience with Clare Short’s No More Page 3 campaign and became an active feminist. Jan has done many jobs including a consultancy manager for a charity and…