I;ve had an article put up on Liberal Conspiracy here:
You can also read it below:
We live in a society that has very successfully sold the sex industry to us as an empowering ‘lifestyle’ choice where women exploit men’s ‘need’ for sex in order to extract money from them.
We are told that it’s a free choice and feminists who criticise that choice are prudes, anti sex and anti women.
This cultural narrative is a chimera that disguises the real story of the sex industry, a story that involves PTSD, sexual assault, drug abuse and sex trafficking.
A recent article on Libcon accused Bristol Feminist Network and Object of being motivated by nimby-ism in members’ objections to the sex industry.
It suggested that feminists who oppose the sex industry do so out of ‘distaste’ and deny women who work in prostitution a voice. I would like to show why these accusations are false.
The rhetoric of free choice is also a chimera that hides how, in a world with decreased social mobility, where the pay gap still stands, and where women’s worth is still too often calculated on their physical appearance, women’s choices can become very limited. The sex industry is very much a class issue.
A recent application in Durham to open a lap-dancing club is a good example. During the planning process, the applicant was asked how they would deal with ‘inappropriate touching’ in the club.
The applicant replied that the offender would be ejected. However, this response completely ignored the fact that ‘inappropriate touching’ is, in fact, a criminal incident. It is either selling sexual contact or its sexual harassment. The appropriate response would be to report the customer’s crime. The magistrates turned the application down.
We all know that ‘inappropriate touching’ occurs in lap dancing clubs. In fact, one report in Vancouver found 100% of dancers surveyed had been inappropriately touched by customers. The report ‘Challenging men’s demand for prostitution in Scotland’ found that prostitution was routinely offered in lap dancing clubs – a claim supported by Channel 4′s Dispatches programme interview with Philip Kolvin.
It is a fact worth repeating that most women in prostitution do not enjoy the lifestyle depicted by Belle de Jour, and most don’t get their stories published in glossy magazines selling the ideal that prostitution brings with it Prada handbags and Jimmy Choos (Marie Claire, March 2010).
Behind the façade lies the knowledge that women in the sex industry are 60-100 times more likely to be murdered than women who aren’t in the sex industry (Salfati, James, Ferguson), and that trans women who work in prostitution are at an even higher risk. We know that 2/3 of women who work in prostitution routinely suffer client violence (Church, Henderson, Barnard and Settings).
We know that 1.2 million people are trafficked as sex slaves and that 500,000 – 600,000 people every year are trafficked into the sex industry over national borders (International Organisation of Migration). We know that 68% of women who work in prostitution suffer from PTSD (M Farley) and that between 50-75% enter prostitution before they are 18 years old (Paying the Price).
So when feminists campaign against the sex industry it is because they want to end the very real and horrific dangers that these women and men face every day – violence, coercion, rape, trauma. It has nothing to do with nimby-ism or distaste. It has everything to do with ending the idea that it is ok to put someone’s safety, and mental and physical health at risk so that someone can pay to masturbate in or over her/him.
Offering a voice
The accusation that feminists deny women who work in prostitution a voice is an accusation that is borne out of ignorance and an unwillingness to engage in the evidence. For example, in The Equality Illusion and Living Dolls, two books on feminism published this year, women who work in the sex industry speak out.
There are many blogs where women who have exited prostitution talk about the horrors they faced. On Object’s website you’ll find voices crying out to be heard and taken seriously, voices ignored by our dominant cultural narrative that tells us prostitution is empowering.
In Bristol, women from charity One25 go out on the streets and talk to women who work in prostitution who have been sexually assaulted, listen to them, and let them speak about what has happened to them. And there are many more examples.
I believe that it is, in fact, those who promote the sex industry who more often deny women their voices. Because they are so invested in supporting and propping up an industry that too often makes its money from violence and exploitation, they refuse to give space to the voices that contradict their narrative.
Whilst I recognise that some people enter prostitution and find it empowering, many more do not. In refusing to hear the stories of the men and women who are damaged by the sex industry, and only giving space to the voices that support their agenda, the pro sex industry lobby are doing a grave disservice to the men and women who feel trapped and silenced, as their bodies are sold to be used for the sexual pleasure of others.
This closing quote is taken from an interview with a lap dancer in The Equality Illusion.
Lap dancing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ve found it tough, soul destroying… you are forced to behave in a way which is completely demeaning and submissive…The last thing they want is a clever lap dancer. You have to play dumb, that’s the way to make the most money…and perhaps most importantly pretend to find them attractive when you do not find them attractive. (pg 136-37)Please don’t silence her voice.