The assumption that male sexual license and female emancipation will go hand-in-hand is a persistent one, despite the lack of any plausible mechanism to justify it. “If we liberate men’s sexuality, the war against women can end,” promises Margaret Corvid, writing at the New Statesman. Men, she points out, are constrained by the part that patriarchy demands of them, and they suffer deprivations on that account. Working as a professional dominatrix, Corvid writes that she is “creating a space for men to explore areas of their sexual lives that society feels are unmanly; they come to me to be penetrated, to be used, to serve, to submit, to worship, to be taken.” She surmises from this that men are not happy in their gender, and I agree with her that they should not be: patriarchy is bad for men, and male violence deprives men of life at a preposterous rate.
All this is well and sympathetically observed. We start to part company, though, when Corvid claims “radical feminism would call me a traitor to my gender for serving men’s needs” (in my radical feminism, she is no traitor, though I would question whether “needs” is the right word for elaborate sexual preferences), and then diverge entirely when she offers her political prospectus. Men are victims of masculinity, she says, and pick-up artists and men’s rights activist are offering seductive solutions for those who feel betrayed. She believes that feminism has an obligation to provide an alternative. “We must offer a real answer for men consumed by anxiety, and especially those who feel a sense of sexual frustration,” she writes. Her motive here is not purely altruistic. In fact, there’s a strong dose of pragmatism:
But we must also end the debate between moralists and libertines in our ranks for an essential strategic reason. If feminists do not abandon their moralism, men’s rights activists and their growing penumbra of supporters will continue to paint us all with the same brush. They will continue to distort our views, telling their audience that we are all moralists, and channeling the frustration of men towards their hateful ends. And, for millions of boys growing up, misogyny will continue to make more sense than feminism.
“Moralism” here means the feminism that criticises porn and seeks to abolish prostitution – although activists such as MacKinnon, Dworkin and Dines are driven not by prudishness but by an intimate understanding of the woman-hating that animates the sex industry. (“I lived inside of a world where it almost seemed like an entire gender was being denigrated […] simply for the crime, it seemed, of being a woman,” says one former pornographer of his time in the industry.) What Corvid offers is no new sexual settlement: this is still the female body being held hostage by the threat of male violence. If feminists don’t do this, then men will hate us more. If we (the “we” here presumably being women) liberate male sexuality, then men might not exert their power over women with quite such brutality. If only we were more fuckable, then men might like us and be kinder. It’s a mirror of PUA-inspired mass murderer Eliot Rodger’s complaint in his suicide note: “All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so!”
It takes more than sitting on a dildo to free a man from patriarchy. Men surely do find pleasure and release in submitting to Corvid, but they are the client buying a service from her: as she concedes, their sense of self is not radically altered by the experience, and they put their clothes on and return to their real lives. And what they undergo with Corvid is less an escape from gender than a temporary trip through its looking glass: services she provides include “forced feminisation and sissy training” (where a man experiences the eroticised degradation of being treated as though he were female), “maid training” (where a man experiences the eroticised degradation of doing housework, just like a woman normally does), “slave training” (where a man experiences the eroticised degradation of being treated as a “beautiful object”, just like a woman is should she pass an arbitrary aesthetic standard) or “medical play” involving a fully equipped gynecological bench (where a man experiences the erotic degradation of… well you’ve probably got this by now).
The hierarchy of gender (masculine above, feminine below) is alive in all these performances. I don’t doubt that these experiences are pleasurable, revelatory and cathartic for the men who seek them, but a fleeting inversion of a power structure does nothing to dismantle it. The clients’ bumholes might have been expanded, but their minds have not necessarily. The experience of intersubjectivity for which penetration is a metaphor – of feeling for others, of letting someone else inside – is encouraged in little girls and deplored in little boys, and a man who pays for his ejaculation has in no sense been forced to confront that lack in his socialisation. She works, he receives, and the money framing the scenario is a guarantee of his power. Ultimately, he doesn’t need to care about what he’s missing.
QotD: “When, and only when, we see gender as a problem rather than an indicator of the sexes, will female liberation completely be able to occur”
When, and only when, we see gender as a problem rather than an indicator of the sexes, will female liberation completely be able to occur.
A children’s home owner, a local radio DJ and a professional wrestler were among members of a paedophile ring that preyed on vulnerable boys in north Wales in the 1980s, a court has heard.
The boys, who were often isolated, were manipulated by members of the ring and groomed with treats ranging from alcohol to car trips and meals, it was claimed.
Victims as young as 10 would be plied with amyl nitrate, or “poppers”, and passed around the group, the jury was told. Sometimes they were given money by the abusers.
Seven men, all in their 50s, 60s and 70s, deny a total of 47 offences of sexual abuse against five alleged victims. The prosecution alleges the charges are only a sample of the abuse suffered. The men deny all offences.
Opening the case at Mold crown court in north Wales on Tuesday, Eleanor Laws QC told the jury: “This case is concerned with the activities of a predatory pedophiliac ring operating in the Wrexham area.”
She said the home of former wrestler Gary Cooke, also known as Mark Granger, was at the centre of the ring. Boys were allegedly abused at his house in a village just outside Wrexham, at a nearby bar called Snowy’s owned by another defendant, David Lightfoot, and at other addresses in the area.
Laws said: “Young boys were sexually abused and passed around the group. It would appear that troubled boys and young teenagers would congregate at Cooke’s home, where they would watch pornographic movies, would be plied with drink, given amyl nitrate, which would relax muscles, and sexually abused. Afterwards, on occasions, they were given money.
“The boys were young, vulnerable sometimes isolated by family circumstances and manipulated by Cooke and others. No doubt chosen for the fact that the defendants could exploit their youth, any difficulties they were in at the time and groom them using treats, alcohol, cinema trips, car trips, pornography and above all; attention, leading to grave sexual offences.”
Laws said the main witness in the case alleged he had been abused in the early to mid-80s by all seven defendants – along with three other men including a driving instructor and teacher, who are both dead. He said he was introduced to Cooke, now 64, by a friend.
On his first visit, when he was 12 or 13, he was shown a pornographic film and sexually assaulted, it was alleged. Later he was “pimped out” to other men, the prosecution claims. Cooke would pull up in his car outside the boy’s family home and whistle for him.
Sometimes they would go to Snowy’s bar out of hours. He and another boy would help themselves to beer and play on the gaming machines. “To me it was great and exciting,” the alleged victim told police.
Another witness due to give evidence has said he went “seriously off the rails” after the abuse began and only escaped Cooke by being taken into care.
An Irish architect obsessed with stabbing women during sex acts has been handed a mandatory life sentence at Dublin high court over a murder that has both repelled and fascinated Ireland.
The trial of Graham Dwyer for the killing his “sex slave”, Elaine O’Hara, has shone a light on the dark underworld of the Republic’s violent sadomasochistic scene.
Dwyer was convicted last month of luring O’Hara to the Dublin mountains on 22 August 2012, stabbing her to death and then concealing her body. The evidence was among the most graphic and disturbing heard by a jury in Ireland.
During a two-month trial, jurors were shown a series of disturbing videos of the 42-year-old architect stabbing O’Hara while she was tied up. In some videos, she was heard begging him to “please stop.”
O’Hara was not the only woman filmed by Dwyer, who sometimes simulated stabbing those he tied up. The Garda Siochana is now attempting to track down the other women, depicted by Dwyer as his “slaves”. Some did not know they were being filmed because they were blindfolded.
O’Hara emerged during the trial as a deeply troubled, lonely woman who yearned for a baby but also had severe mental health issues – vulnerable quarry for a dangerous predator on S&M websites such as Dwyer.
The court heard a series of text messages from the start of their relationship in 2007 between O’Hara, 36, and Dwyer in which he was referred to as “Master” or “Sir” and her as “Slave”. Overall there were 2,600 text messages filled with rape and murder fantasies.
When O’Hara was hospitalised after a suicide attempt in August 2012, one of Dwyer’s text messages read: “You must be punished for trying to kill yourself without me.”
And when she pleaded with Dwyer to make her pregnant, he replied in another text trying to persuade her to help him kill another woman. “Ok, a life for a life. Help me take one and I will give you one,” he texted her.
Dwyer visited an alternative sexual underground website to fulfil his deep-seated fantasies to spill women’s blood during sex acts. He came across O’Hara, who had a history of self harm. Early on in their master-slave relationship, Dwyer told O’Hara via another mobile phone text: “My urge to rape, stab, kill is huge. You have to help me control or satisfy it.”
Sobbing mourners released a cloud of tiny white butterflies as a coffin holding the remains of 14-year-old Diane Angelica Castañeda Fuentes was lowered into the ground, 18 months after she disappeared on her way to a friend’s house in Ecatepec, a dusty suburb on the northern fringes of Mexico City.
Diana’s skull and feet had been found in a plastic bag dredged from a foul-smelling waterway known as the Great Canal, which runs through the State of Mexico – the country’s most densely populated state.
The schoolgirl, a devoted fan of One Direction and Justin Bieber, was the first to be positively identified after the remains of dozens of people were recovered last year from the black waters of the canal.
Her funeral on 26 March was attended by members of several other families whose own missing daughters are among the thousands of young women to have disappeared in the past decade from the state, known in Spanish as Edomex.
The mourners’ sorrow was shot through with anger as they called on the country’s authorities to stop the violence which has made Edomex the most dangerous place in Mexico to be female.
“Enough!” they cried. “Not one more girl!”
A staggering 1,258 girls and women were reported disappeared in Edomex in 2011 and 2012 – of whom 53% were aged between 10 and 17, according to figures obtained by the National Citizens Observatory on Femicides. Over the same period, 448 women were murdered in the state. Many of their mutilated bodies were left displayed in public places like roads, parks and shopping centres – an act which criminologists and feminist scholars say is associated with gender hate crimes.
The violence in Edomex is disconcertingly reminiscent of a previous epidemic of femicides: between 1993 and 2005, 379 women were murdered in Ciudad Juárez, a city in the border state of Chihuahua. Many were sexually assaulted and dismembered before their bodies were left in the desert.
Protests in Juárez prompted media coverage north of the border, which in turn helped galvanise international outrage, multiple inquiries, new legislation and at least two Hollywood movies.
But in the same period, 10 times as many women were murdered in Edomex than in Ciudad Juárez. Most of these killings have gone unreported and unnoticed by the outside world, the victims mourned only by their loved ones.
“Edomex is a poor state, people are anonymous, and there are no campaign groups, so it has remained invisible,” said Galicia.
Activists say there is no single explanation for the wave of violence against women in Edomex. As in Ciudad Juárez, evidence suggests that some girls and women have been trafficked into prostitution, while others have fallen victim to gender hate murders, said Lucia Melgar, a leading culture and gender academic.
“We can also hypothesize the violence is linked to big business owners, corrupt politicians and organised crime just like in Juárez, but we really don’t know as there are no investigations. The impunity in Edomex is brutal,” she said.
But fewer than 5% of murders – and only a handful of trafficking cases – are successfully prosecuted in Mexico, and activists worry that a full reckoning of the Edomex killings may never be possible.
Since 2010, the Observatory – a coalition of 43 groups that documents serious crimes against women – has been petitioning for a gender-based violence alert to be activated in Edomex. The emergency mechanism, introduced into law in 2007 as part of the post-Juárez reforms, would oblige the state government to launch an in-depth investigation into violence against women, and take concrete steps to tackle the problem.
But officials have repeatedly said they need more proof that women in Edomex are being systematically targeted because of their gender, rather than falling victim to the violence of Mexico’s drug wars. Last year, the state governor’s spokesman said there were “more serious issues to deal with” than gender-based violence.
Maria de la Luz Estrada, director of the Observatory, told the Guardian: “The situation in Edomex is grave and desperate. This is an emergency, authorities must start investigating and sanctioning perpetrators. Access to justice for women must be a reality, not just something which exists on paper.”
Children who are taught about preventing sexual abuse at school are more likely than others to tell an adult if they had, or were actually experiencing sexual abuse. This is according to the results of a new Cochrane Review published in the Cochrane Library 16 April 2015. However, the review’s authors say that more research is needed to establish whether school-based programmes intended to prevent sexual abuse actually reduce the incidence of abuse.
It is estimated that, worldwide, at least 1 in 10 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience some form of sexual abuse in childhood. Those who are sexually abused as children are more susceptible to depression, eating disorders, suicidal behaviour, and drug and alcohol problems later in life, and are more likely to become victims of sexual assault as adults. In many countries, children are taught how to recognize, react to, and report abuse situations through school-based programmes designed to help prevent sexual abuse.
The Cochrane researchers reviewed data from 24 trials in which a total of 5,802 children took part in school-based prevention programmes in the US, Canada, China, Germany, Spain, Taiwan, and Turkey. Schools involved in the trials used a variety of methods to teach children about sexual abuse, including teaching of safety rules, body ownership, and who to tell through films, plays, songs, puppets, books, and games. In children who did not receive the intervention, around 4 in 1,000 children disclosed some form of sexual abuse. This contrasts with 14 in 1,000 children in the intervention groups, who disclosed some form of sexual abuse.
Studies also suggested that programmes were effective in increasing children’s knowledge about sexual abuse. Four trials assessed children’s knowledge again up to six months after, and showed that they remembered much of what they were taught. Children who participated in programmes were also more likely than other children to try to protect themselves in a simulated abuse scenario in which they were asked to leave the school and go with someone they did not know.
The researchers suggest that there are many reasons why it is difficult to prove that children have learned the skills considered necessary for recognizing and reporting sexual abuse. “Even if a child demonstrates that they know how to behave in a certain scenario, it doesn’t mean they will behave the same in a real situation where there is potential for abuse,” said lead author Kerryann Walsh of the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. “Tests cannot mimic real abuse situations very well. For example, we know that most sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the child whereas in the test situations, unfamiliar actors or research assistants were used.”
There was little evidence to show that children experienced unnecessary worry as a result of sexual abuse prevention education, nor were there any other reported adverse effects.
“This review supports the need to inform and protect children against sexual abuse,” said Walsh. “But ongoing research is needed to evaluate school-based prevention programmes, and to investigate the links between participation and the actual prevention of child sexual abuse. To really know whether these programmes are working, we need to see larger studies with follow-up all the way to adulthood.”
Without doubt, acceptance and belonging are critical to mental health, and supporting sexual diversity has a key role to play. But is the focus on gender really helping children? While ending discrimination is an important factor for their health, there is no consensus when it comes to children and gender nonconformity from the mental health profession.
In decades gone by, there was less worry over the concept of gender. Even basic products like toys were less gendered in the past. In fact, the very term “gender” was largely absent from public debate until recent decades – and when it did rear its head, it was largely confined to discussions within the social sciences.
So why does this intense focus on gender now belong in primary schools?
Those who subscribe to queer theory would argue that this simply represents progress. From this perspective, gender is inherently fluid and exists in multiple permutations. Queer theory has now gone mainstream, ushered in from the fringes of the academic world to the core of the childhood education system.
For example, Safe Schools utilises definitions like this: “sex is your physical aspects (i.e. your wibbly wobbly bits) and gender is how you feel in your mind in terms of masculine and feminine.” Quite apart from the incorrect description of genitals – one that is advised against by health professionals – the idea that gender is a feeling is highly questionable. In fact, the idea of feminine or masculine thinking has long been disputed in the research.
Other topics to which children will be inducted through Safe Schools materials include the use of plastic surgery and hormone treatments to change gendered appearance, as well as how girls should bind their breasts if they aren’t comfortable about them. Not only does this promote dangerous practices, but it also has the potential to normalise body dissatisfaction within an already vulnerable demographic – all in the guise of “progress.”
Far from being progressive, such campaigns seem somewhat counter-productive. If gender neutrality really is progress, why the focus on classifying gender? How can such programs neutralise gender and yet simultaneously name, categorise and even medicalise it?
Gender itself is a sociological category, a concept designed to examine broad trends between the sexes. Yet it is now erroneously applied to children who are expected to understand and embody a theory usually only the purview of researchers. Suddenly we must scrutinise, analyse and even pathologise natural child behaviour as “gendered.”
While this focus on gender appears to be celebrating diversity, it may actually be doing the opposite.
“Anti-sex puritanism” is a criticism that comes up time and time again. Self-proclaimed “sex positive” feminists and progressives alike criticize “prudish” conservatives. But it doesn’t take conservative politics to be labeled a prude today. Don’t like porn? Prude. Don’t support commercialized sex trade? Prude. Don’t think children being sexually exploited constitutes “sex work?” Prude. Like porn but not the really “kinky” stuff? Prude. Right-wing political views? Prude. Don’t like street harassment? Prude. Part of the anti-trafficking movement? Prude. Don’t believe strip clubs are sites of female liberation? Prude. Don’t have sex everyday? Prude. Do have much sex but don’t practice BDSM? Vanilla. Which on the continuum of prudery is definitely on the very prudish end.
Luckily, the “sex-positive movement” is hitting back against all this prudery. From Herself.com to Free the Nipple to Slutwalk to FEMEN, there is no shortage of women getting their kits off in the name of reclaiming women’s rights. In what could be dubbed the decade of the anti-prude, it would seem that sexualized images are no longer sexist but are, instead, the very foundations of feminist revolution.
On face value, overt sexuality seems a transgression from conservative notions of femininity. Women can reclaim their sexuality without being shamed, or so the story goes. But in order to understand how a sexualized femininity is actually neither dissident nor transgressive, one must look beyond the rhetoric.
Consider Brazil, the home of the sex-positive fiesta. It’s the country where Sunday afternoon family TV classics include wet t-shirt competitions, women stripping and the ever popular “prova da banheira” bikini bath wrestling. Where children’s TV shows taught tiny tots the “garrafa” (bottle) dance – to “get low” and twerk over a bottle. The bottle represents a penis, in case that wasn’t clear. Though, it’s not all that shocking when just about all entertainment shows include a background of young female dancers in underwear, with camera’s panning and zooming in on women’s body parts.
It’s also a country where Viagra is just as widely available as the New Testament. Brazilian hotels, frequently used for sexy times, still come with bibles. In fact around 85 per cent of Brazilian’s count themselves as Christian or Protestant. Perhaps these facts seem somewhat contradictory to the outsider. To better understand all this, Carnaval is a good place to start.
Carnaval marks the beginning of lent — a Christian tradition with roots in both religious organizing as well as Portuguese “entrado” parties and more recently samba schools. It is increasingly also a celebration of everything pornographic. Female dancers and the famous “Globeleza” are commonly adorned in no more than paint, feathers and silicone enhancements. Songs rejoice in God and, more recently, God’s hand in plastic surgery too, “Giving men value with his chisel … The image and likeness of the Lord …The light of heaven conducts his scalpel.” Carnaval promotes Christianity alongside group sex parties and pornographic films.
Children are welcome at Carnaval too; if they miss the parade there is always the “Globeleza” who dances naked on TV every half hour for the entire month of Carnaval. The Globeleza is always a woman of colour, whether this is symbolism, an attempt at diversity, or merely the ongoing commodification of Afro-Brazilian women is unclear. There is rarely any outcry about children being fed these supposed “sex positive” ideals early on. In fact, the most significant uproar about Carnaval’s imagery occurred when a mascot had likeness to the Devil. Images of the Devil were deemed too offensive and the public was relieved when later the Devil caught on fire — God’s work.
By progressive standards, the overt sexuality of events like Carnaval presents a call for celebration. What could be more liberating than turning a previously repressed “prudish” sexuality into a public festivity? What better way to neutralize the anti-sex puritans than a good “sex positive” shindig?
In Brazil, these “sex positive” shenanigans manifest in a variety of ways: employment discrimination with many service level jobs mandating “good physique” for women, some of the highest rates of body shame in the world, the highest uptake of diet pills and plastic surgery in the world, a spike in violence against women during Carnaval along with an increase in child sex exploitation, especially at the hands of tourists who flock to the sex positivity. The Brazilian Health Ministry reports that between 2009 and 2012 the rate of rape has skyrocketed by 157 percent, explained largely by the culture of machismo.
Unfortunately, public health campaigns that hand out condoms, anti-violence and anti-trafficking pamphlets are not enough to mitigate the 24/7 frenzy of cameras panning across women’s breasts and buttocks as if they were gleaming pieces of meat up for purchase. The picture is perfectly clear: this is not female sexuality being expressed, its commodification.
Could it be that all this revolutionary “sex positivity” is not liberating women but actually reinforcing the same conservative male supremacist dynamic? Yes. It could.
Not to be misconstrued as criticism of Brazilians or Carnaval participants, this is a societal level issue rather than a critique of individual women. The Brazilian context offers a case in point that sexualization does not counteract conservative norms. The case of Brazil uncovers what “sex positivity” means for women. “People might think this is liberty for women to have sex, but really the liberty is for men to have women’s bodies” as one of my Brazilian friends put it. Of course none of these issues are exclusive to Brazil, with the same effects of sexual objectification occurring across the globe.
In most countries women are free to be pornified as they wish, ironically, women are often not free to be anything other than pornographic. This is illustrated by Facebook’s ban on breastfeeding images whilst pornographic advertising runs rampant. Or the fact that “leaking” women’s naked images has become a go-to solution for disgruntled and rejected men. Women remain represented as objects for possession, whether it’s in the puritan yesteryear or today’s porn culture, neither offer true freedom.
An interesting programme on women in the (British) police force has just aired this evening on BBC Radio 4; it focuses on those women who started out in the ’80’s and ’90’s, and it’s worth a listen (regardless of where you may stand on ‘law and order’/’criminal justice’ issues).
What I want to talk about here is how male officers used pornography to harass and intimidate female officers. One woman had ‘dominatrix porn’ magazines pushed through her letter box in the middle of the night, and another woman was told to go and lock herself in the ladies toilet, because the men had been watching pornography and she was the only woman in the building.
In the latter account it’s easy to understand what was going on, but the former needs a bit of analysis, as it’s obvious that she was not being complimented by the comparison to a dominatrix.
The pornography was meant to humiliate her, the use of ‘dominatrix porn’ was to let her know what they (the male officers) thought of her, that she was a ‘ball breaker’, a ‘bad woman’ who didn’t know her place – that is the most superficial analysis, and (I’m willing to bet) what was going through those men’s heads when they chose that particular pornography.
So then, does this ‘prove’ in some way that BDSM is empowering for women blah blah blah? No, it was sexually explicit material, which was meant to offend because it was never supposed to be consumed by a woman. Also, on the less obvious, surface level, they were telling her that she has no place in the real world, that ‘powerful’ women only belong in men’s sexual fantasies – in other words, fully under male control.
In the real world, no man is really afraid of or intimidated by a dominatrix, if they are not a source of arousal, they are a dirty joke that leaves the real (male) power, in the real (male dominated) world, completely unaffected.
On the eve of a speech Ruchira Gupta was to give on International Women’s Day in New York as the recipient of a Woman of Distinction award, she got a strange email. Gupta, who has collected numerous awards for her work against sex slavery in India — including an Emmy for her 1996 documentary, “The Selling of Innocents” — was asked in the message not to speak on prostitution “or put UN Women on the spot.”
The email came from the organization that had chosen Gupta for its highest award, the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY (NGO CSW/NY), which supports the work of UN Women and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, whose annual session was about to begin on March 9. The NGO Committee had itself used the word prostitution in its announcement of the award in January.
“I was surprised that the UN was trying to censor an NGO, and that they should tell me not to speak on prostitution, when my work was with victims of prostitution,” Gupta said in an email interview to PassBlue. She is the founder of Apne Aap (meaning “self empowerment” in Hindi), a multifaceted support group for women trafficked into sex slavery in Mumbai and other South Asian cities. Apne Aap now has international reach.
In her speech at New York’s iconic Apollo Theater, where UN Women’s executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa, was also on the program, Gupta ignored the request and chose to speak forcefully “to represent the voices of victims and survivors of prostitution” in her own organization and others around the world. In late 2013, UN Women, in a note on the issue of terminology, had said it would use the terms “sex work” and “sex workers” and “recognize the right of all sex workers to choose their work or leave it and to have access to other employment opportunities.”
UN Women’s decision and recommendation not to “conflate sex work, sexual exploitation and trafficking” sounds outrageous if not ludicrous to people like Gupta, who work in the squalid brothel quarters of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and other cities, to which young girls from around South Asia are lured by traffickers — or sold by poor families — into a life of miserable bondage, with no chance to make choices. In her speech on International Women’s Day on March 8, Gupta said the youngest girl trafficked into bonded labor she has met was just 7 years old.
“The pimps would hand over these little girls to the brothel keepers . . . and these girls were locked up for the next five years,” she said. “Raped repeatedly by eight or ten customers every night.” By their 20s, Gupta said, their youth is gone and bodies are broken, and they are “thrown out on the sidewalk to die a very difficult death because they were no longer commercially viable.”
In January 2014, 61 South Asian victims and survivors of prostitution as well as women’s groups representing communities marginalized by caste, class and ethnicity and antitrafficking organizations helping girls and women “trapped in bonded labour and other forms of servitude” wrote to Mlambo-Ngcuka to protest the new UN Women policy of avoiding the word prostitution.
“We do not want to be called ‘sex workers’ but prostituted women and children, as we can never accept our exploitation as ‘work,’ ” the letter signers wrote. “We think that the attempts in UN documents to call us ‘sex workers’ legitimizes violence against women, especially women of discriminated caste, poor men and women and women and men from minority groups, who are the majority of the prostituted.”
They are still awaiting an answer from UN Women, Gupta said.
Groups working with victims of sexual slavery in developing countries often see a widening gap between Western women — particularly “academic feminists,” in Gupta’s view — and the women working to help the most exploited girls at street level in some of the world’s most dangerous slums, where pimps and brothel owners may be not only slave masters but also killers. Gupta had a knife held to her neck on one occasion when she was filming her award-winning documentary. Women rushed to surround her, separating her from her would-be attacker, and saved her life.
The women working with victims and survivors of sex trafficking and bonded prostitution who signed the letter to UN Women fear that campaigns in richer nations, almost all of them in North America and northern Europe, will lead to more moves to decriminalize pimps and brothel keepers — making not only sex workers but all aspects of the sex industry legal.
This is not the only issue that has opened fissures between the richer, progressive nations or societies where women construct views of social change based on their own advanced social and legal environment or well-intentioned views of developing nations’ cultures. They do not always reflect what most poor women — the majority of women in the world — who lack power over their lives really need and want.