On Thursday, French MPs passed a law which criminalizes paying for sex. This follows the “Nordic” model where the criminal action is on the buyer not the seller (passed in Sweden, Norway and Iceland in 1999, 2008 & 2009 respectively), and awakens the ever ending debate on prostitution. Everyone has an opinion, from sex workers unions, to Amnesty International about the impact of changes in legislation.
Considering how we widely go on about giving those with the actual experience the space to lead their debate, it seems an astounding number of feminist circles (and Amnesty) are positive towards prostitution and think it entirely reasonable to let the most privileged set the agenda. Upholding the myth about the “happy sex worker” – when we know as a fact that 85% of sex workers are victims of trafficking. Let’s get something very straight here, this is not about the person who made a free choice to work in a specific industry, this is about the right that (some) men feel they have to women’s bodies. The feeling that make some men think they can touch you at the pub. Cause what is actually bought is not sex at all, it’s the right to control and to use another persons body.
So at some point we started lumping together all sex related work under one umbrella term. This seems really twisted to me. Can you hear what it sounds like? Sex work. The way this rhetoric works (the same way the nationalist parties across Europe have made racist rhetoric somehow acceptable) is that it’s reducing what’s actually happening and it’s making the real victims more invisible. How can you compare getting a tenner for blowing someone to sitting at the till in the local Tesco?
Ok, sex work. You work with sex. What about if you’re on crack, walking around the streets at night and selling favours for cheap? Or locked in a flat in some dodgy suburb and see multiple men every day? If your work for a luxury escort firm, or in a high end strip club where you can keep your pants on (yes, I know that even here the lines are blurred), you might feel perfectly safe. You might be there of free will. Maybe you can choose your customers and you make enough that you only do it occasionally, for some extra pocket money.
The thing is that it doesn’t work to listen to the porn stars, the strippers and the high end escorts who speak warmly about their industry (yes they exist, but represent a minority, and shouldn’t represent the whole group), about how well they’re doing because they’re selling an illusion. They’re supposed to like it. That way the customer don’t need to feel bad and they can make more money. The number of “high end sex workers” who’ve left the business and then changed their tune are many, and the stories are easy to find. Because unfortunately, when you’re in a situation where you have to close off your emotions, in a situation where you are vulnerable, exposed, and used, our basic self defense mechanism is to play down what we’re being subjected to. Reduce and defend, and convince ourselves that it’s not so bad, maybe we even like it. This is basic psychology that’s seen over and over in victims of multiple different crimes, defending the perpetrator, reducing their own emotional trauma and experiences.
I want to point out that I’m not trying to disempower anyone here, that’s not why I’m reasoning this way. It’s such neoliberal BS to be accused of disempowering women as soon as you point toward any female victimisation. I can be against prostitution AND still care about and respect women who prostitute themselves or are part of the “sex work” industry. The fault is never theirs.
Article (in Swedish): To be against buying sex is not to hate prostitutes