QotD: “Once upon a time there was the naive belief that legalized prostitution would improve life for prostitutes, eliminate prostitution in areas where it remained illegal and remove organized crime from the business”
“Once upon a time,” wrote Carolyn Maloney (2007:xiii) founder and Co-Chair of the U.S. Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus, “there was the naive belief that legalized prostitution would improve life for prostitutes, eliminate prostitution in areas where it remained illegal and remove organized crime from the business. … Like all fairy tales, this turns out to be sheer fantasy.”
There is now a large body of evidence regarding the effects of legal and decriminalized prostitution. Some of that has been described in the foregoing paragraphs. Nonetheless several of the authors of these four articles quote inaccurate theories about legal prostitution’s relation to trafficking. Segrave for example, expresses the belief that legalization of prostitution will “combat trafficking” (p 5⁎) and Limoncelli (p 3⁎) suggests that the linkage between legal prostitution and trafficking might not in actuality exist.
Evidence supports the theory that legal prostitution is associated with increased trafficking. Traffickers and pimps can easily operate with impunity when prostitution is legal. A Nevada legal pimp told me in 2005 that a Russian trafficker offered to purchase his brothel. Wherever prostitution is legalized, trafficking to sex industry marketplaces in that region increases (for example to strip clubs, massage brothels, escort agencies, pornography stores, and bars). After prostitution was legalized in Germany and the Netherlands, the numbers of trafficked women increased dramatically. Today, 80% of all women in German and Dutch prostitution are trafficked.
Segrave cites Australia as a trafficking destination country. This is probably a consequence of the country’s legal prostitution which in effect functions as a legal welcome to pimps and traffickers (Sullivan, 2007). Supporting evidence also comes from Sweden. When men who buy sex are criminalized (this might be the opposite of legalization) then trafficking significantly decreases (Ekberg, 2004:1199).
Limoncelli suggests that forming prostitute collectives would make it possible to oversee conditions in sex industries and help to identify trafficked women. While this theory sounds reasonable, that is not the way prostitutes’ unions operate in the real world. Many such unions function as advertising agencies for sex industry pimps rather than as watchdogs.
Even though they represent only a tiny minority of all women in prostitution, the unions strongly influence public opinion, projecting what men who buy sex want to hear. When journalists, feminist theorists, or politicians want to learn about prostitution, women in prostitutes’ unions are approached because they are easier to locate than women who have exited prostitution. Yet there is extremely low membership in prostitutes’ unions in the Netherlands, Germany, and in New Zealand. Most women in prostitution avoid prostitutes’ unions because the social stigma of prostitution remains the same regardless of legal status. Furthermore, the unions don’t offer what most women want: alternatives to prostitution.
COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) in USA, the DMSC (Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee) in India and the NZPC (New Zealand Prostitutes Collective) provide examples of the damaging effects of prostitutes’ unions. All three of these unions have promoted prostitution as work, disappearing the harmful consequences of prostitution and failing to hold men who buy sex accountable for the damages they cause.
Task Force on Prostitution included pro-decriminalization advocates and members of COYOTE. Written with the purpose of decriminalizing prostitution, the Task Force’s Report (1996) flatly denied the overwhelming violence in prostitution, refusing to include the testimony of those who had escaped prostitution because of its harms. In 1994, Norma Hotaling attempted to provide testimony to the San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution, reporting brutal violence that she experienced while in prostitution. She was removed from the Task Force and went on to found SAGE, an organization run by survivors of prostitution. Six other San Francisco organizations who were Task Force members later resigned in protest against the findings of the Report. In response to the Task Force’s denial of violence, the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women authored a 1998 report,“Violence against Women in Prostitution in San Francisco.” (San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, 1998).
The DMSC in Kolkata, a prostitutes’ and pimps’ union that controls tens of thousands of women and children in prostitution, is similar in purpose to the San Francisco prostitutes’ union. Former DMSC Director Dr. Samarjit Jana stated that since sex workers fulfill men’s needs, prostitution must be seen as a profession (Dhar, 1999). Behind the prostituting women of Kolkata’s brothel zone and out of public view are organized criminals who traffic women in prostitution, dominate the DMSC and control the money. Despite its description as a cooperative, the DMSC’s women pimps and their male handlers extort 50% of the earnings of the women and children who are trafficked for prostitution in Sonagachi (Farley, 2006). At the time of this writing, the DMSC is lobbying in favor of laws in India that recognize prostitution as work.
Like the San Francisco and Kolkata unions, the influence of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) came about as a result of public health concerns about HIV in the 1980s when researchers learned about the devastatingly high rates of HIV among prostituted women. Seizing the opportunity to promote a political agenda whilethey also did HIV prevention, the NZPC and other prostitutes’ unions have used public health monies (that became available because of the HIV epidemic) to fund the promotion of decriminalized prostitution.
One of the most persuasive myths about prostitution is that it is “the oldest profession”. Feminist abolitionists, who wish to see an end to the sex trade, call it “the oldest oppression” and resist the notion that prostitution is merely “a job like any other”.
Now it would appear that the New Zealand immigration service has added “sex work” (as prostitution is increasingly described) to the list of “employment skills” for those wishing to migrate. According to information on Immigration NZ’s (INZ) website, prostitution appears on the “skilled employment” list, but not the “skill shortage” list. My research on the sex trade has taken me to a number of countries around the world, including New Zealand. Its sex trade was decriminalised in 2003, and has since been hailed by pro-prostitution campaigners as the gold standard model in regulating prostitution.
The promises from the government – that decriminalisation would result in less violence, regular inspections of brothels and no increase of the sex trade – have not materialised. The opposite has happened. Trafficking of women into New Zealand into legal and illegal brothels is a serious problem, and for every licensed brothel there are, on average, four times the number that operate illegally. Violent attacks on women in the brothels are as common as ever. “The men feel even more entitled when the law tells them it is OK to buy us,” says Sabrinna Valisce, who was prostituted in New Zealand brothels both before and after decriminalisation. Under legalisation, women are still murdered by pimps and punters.
When prostituted women become “employees”, and part of the “labour market”, pimps become “managers” and “business entrepreneurs”, and the punters are merely clients. Services helping people to exit are irrelevant because who needs support to get out of a regular job? Effectively, governments wash their hands of women under legalisation because, according to the mantra, “It is better than working at McDonald’s.” As one sex-trade survivor told me, “At least when you work at McDonald’s you’re not the meat.”
The decision to include prostitution as an “employment skill” is a green light for pimps to populate brothels to meet the increased male demand for the prostitution of the most vulnerable women.
The practice of using human bodies as a marketplace has been normalised under the neoliberal economic system. Supporting the notion that prostitution is “labour” is not a progressive or female-friendly point of view. I have investigated the breast milk trade in Cambodia, where wealthy American businessmen recruit pregnant women and pay them a pittance for their milk. I have seen desperately hungry men outside hospital blood banks in India, offering to sell their blood in exchange for food. Girls in the Ukraine sell “virgin” blonde hair for use as extensions in western salons. It is increasingly common to “rent a womb” from women in the global south to carry a baby on behalf of privileged westerners.
In the Netherlands, which legalised its sex trade in 2000, it is perfectly legal for driving instructors to offer lessons in return for sex, as long as the learner drivers are over the age of 18.
Under legalisation in Germany, one government-funded NGO, described on its website as a “counselling centre for sex workers”, offers training for women to become “sexual assistant surrogate partnerships” when they decide to leave prostitution. The training focuses on how “sex workers” can help disabled people to explore their sexuality. Providing prostitution services, which is what it is, to men who are ill or disabled is a bit like the “meals on wheels” service, and clearly considered to be a public service. In other legalised regimes, such as Denmark and Australia, prostitution is available for men on the public health system. Perhaps an inevitable conclusion is that carers working with physically disabled couples, where there is a medium to severe level of mobility impairment, are asked to facilitate sex between them – for example, the carer may be expected to insert the penis of one into an orifice of the other.
Any government that allows the decriminalisation of pimping and sex-buying sends a message to its citizens that women are vessels for male sexual consumption. If prostitution is “work”, will states create training programmes for girls to perform the “best oral sex” for sex buyers? Instead of including prostitution as a so-called option in its immigration policies, New Zealand should investigate the harms, including sexual violence, that women in prostitution endure.
If prostitution is “sex work”, then by its own logic, rape is merely theft. The inside of a woman’s body should never be viewed as a workplace.
Open letter to Left Youth Solid, an official youth organization of the German party The Left, regarding the position paper “Solidarity with Sex Workers – No to the new prostitute protection act – No to paternalism and other-directedness in the sexual service industry” (“Solidarität mit Sexarbeiter*innen – Nein zum neuen Prostituiertenschutzgesetz – Nein zu Bevormundung und Fremdbestimmung im sexuellen Dienstleistungsgewerbe”).
By Huschke Mau and eight other women exited from prostitution
Originally published in German under the title “Die Linke Freude an der Prostitution – Huschke Mau an die Bremer Linksjugend” at sisters-ev.de, 21 April 2016
Dear People of Left Youth Solid,
I want to make it clear that I am addressing those of you who voted for the proposal “Solidarity with Sex Workers – No to the new prostitute protection act – No to paternalism and other-directedness in the sexual service industry” at Left Youth Solid’s federal meeting on April 8/9, 2016. I am assuming that this doesn’t mean all of you, so there is hope yet.
I am a former—as you call it—“sex worker”, I have read your proposal, and I would like to tell you just what I think of the “solidarity” you offer in this document.
First of all, it’s great that you signed it as the Left Youth. Because when I read the phrase “sexual service industry”, I was sure for a second that the [German economic liberalist party] FDP had risen from the dead.
But I did truly appreciate that you’re against “other-directedness.” Unfortunately, while reading the proposal, I had to discover that you haven’t understood that the “other” that is “directing” those in prostitution is the john, meaning that this quality is INHERENT TO THE SYSTEM—he wants sex, I don’t actually want it, I just need the money, and thus I consent to this other-directedness under coercion. Simple as that.
“Even though sex work has long been established as a commercial service in our society and has been considered legal in the Federal Republic of Germany since 2002, sex workers are still severely stigmatized in their private and professional lives.”
I’m simply baffled that you describe the act of prostitution as a “profession” and a “service.” Sexuality is the most intimate sphere of human life. Do we get to keep that at least, pretty please, or do we have to let every single part of ourselves be completely commodified and capitalized upon? Since when has the Left been the champion of the sale of all human desire? You call sex a service, as if it were possible to separate it from the Self, the Body, the Person; as if you could simply peel it away, place it in a nice little box on the shop counter, and then some fellow shows up, hands me 50 euros and walks out with the sex. Is that how you picture it, yeah? You even speak of “poor working conditions”—do you actually believe that the abuse we have suffered and so many of us still suffer is somehow ameliorated if we’re given a nice “workplace”, as you call it? “Working conditions”? What are you even talking about? Under which conditions is the abuse that johns inflict on us acceptable to you, pray tell? Or do you simply not see it as abuse, ignoring what exited persons and trauma researchers are telling you? Sixty-eight percent of all prostituted people have post-traumatic stress disorder, and that’s not counting depression, addiction, borderline disorders and psychoses. Do you think these things are a result of “poor working conditions”? Every exited woman I know describes what she experienced in prostitution as sexual abuse. Our having tolerated sexual abuse or having been forced to do so does not turn it into a profession!
And then you keep going on about the stigma, saying we mustn’t be stigmatized. I agree with you on this, but I have to stress that it’s not the stigma that’s raping, abusing, and killing us. It’s the johns. Sadly you draw the wrong conclusions from the demand that prostituted persons mustn’t be stigmatized.
“This [stigma] is expressed in a lack of recognition of their profession.”
To be clear, what you demand is basically for the abuse of prostituted women to become normal. You want it to become a job. You want the abuse to become ACCEPTABLE. In short, you’re fighting for women’s right to call the suffering of sexual abuse a job. Or better: You’re fighting for men’s right to abuse women and minimize that abuse by calling it “work.”
Another thing I don’t get is all your talk about “self-determined sex work.” All prostituted women I know “chose” prostitution because they didn’t see any other option. How do you interpret that as self-determination? Is it because I can choose WITHIN PROSTITUTION, between only doing blowjobs with a condom and losing my income because of all the “self-determined” women from Southern Europe, and just putting every dick into my mouth without any barrier whatsoever, ‘cause that’s the standard? Some self-determination!
Our problem isn’t “lack of recognition of the profession”, our problem IS the “profession”! Nine out of ten prostitutes would exit immediately if they could. Why on earth are you blathering about recognition of the profession?!
Your whole pamphlet sounds as if it were written by the pro-prostitution lobby, and this actually appears to be the case. You refer to BesD [Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen e.V.; “Professional association for erotic and sexual services”] as “organized sex workers”—you do realize that they only represent 0.01% of the prostituted in Germany? What kind of organization for the prostituted is this if it includes brothel owners? The exploiters start a “union” to represent the workers? That’s the strangest union I’ve ever heard of. Who did you in fact consult? Apart from brothel owners like Fricke and escort agency owners like Klee? Based on whose information do you actually take your decisions? If you do something on racism next, will you consult neo-Nazis?
The next paragraph makes me doubt that you possess any ability to reflect on this or any other issue. You write:
“In addition to these legal setbacks, there is a great deal of victimization and paternalism towards sex workers even within the social left.”
I wonder who’s victimizing prostituted women—the johns abusing us or those who name it as abuse? If you want to prevent us from becoming victims, abolish john-dom! Or do you perhaps merely want people to stop SAYING that harm is being done to us within and through prostitution? If this is the case, please just say that and stop pretending that people who recognize prostitution as inhumane are somehow victimizing us—THEY are not the ones doing that.
Then you write:
“Thus parts of the left have repeatedly pushed for a ‘full ban on prostitution’ or the supposedly progressive ‘Swedish Model’, claiming that sex work/prostitution is the ultimate expression of patriarchy.”
Let me get this straight: This sounds like you don’t think prostitution is an expression of patriarchy. If it’s not that, what is it, then? Why are 98% of all individuals in prostitution female and johns almost 100% male? Now don’t say it’s because we live in patriarchy.
“Yes, sex work currently takes place under the circumstances of patriarchy, meaning that the question of voluntariness is unfortunately always difficult to answer.”
So prostitution takes place outside of patriarchy too? Seriously? And which conclusions do you draw from it being difficult to answer the “question of voluntariness”?
“It is predominantly women who work in this profession, while it is mainly men who buy the services of sex workers.”
It’s just great how you take the perpetrators’ side and trivialize sexual violence.
“However, the feminist response cannot be to take a paternalistic approach and try to tell sex workers what a decent life should look like.”
I’m dying to find out where you get this from. People who see prostitution as destructive and inhumane aren’t being paternalistic, they’re expressing solidarity with us. And that’s exactly where you could do with a little practice. You need to stop flogging that stupid notion that every person who recognizes prostitution as harmful is some kind of conservative moralist trying to lecture “fallen women”. Acknowledging the suffering and misery of prostitution and stating that it is violent doesn’t constitute lecturing; it means SEEING the real conditions that prostituted people live in and thus showing respect and care to those who suffer within and because of prostitution.
“Both the Swedish Model and a full ban would endanger the agency and protection of sex workers even more dramatically than existing laws. These stricter laws would change nothing about the existence of patriarchy with its specific roles and its social power differential between women and men.”
Why would this not change anything? Prostitution is one of patriarchy’s main pillars, just like all sexual violence is. Why wouldn’t it change anything to ban it? Why is prostitution the only sphere of life where laws suddenly have no impact whatsoever? Does prostitution take place in outer space or something? You could just as well say that rape should not be prohibited by law because it doesn’t do anything to change patriarchal roles and the social power differential! Are you saying you just want to leave everything as is? Sexual violence, patriarchal structures—this is what you’re going with? Does the Left not have a vision anymore? Or is it only out of visions when it comes to prostituted women?
Yes, I accuse you of meaning well. But if you advocate for decriminalization of prostitution on the john’s side (I believe we all agree that it should not be criminalized on the prostituted person’s side), then this is equivalent to saying: “Women affected by partner violence are stigmatized. In order to get rid of this stigma, we will decriminalize domestic violence on the perpetrator’s side. This way, the woman will no longer have anything to be ashamed of.” Is any of this getting through to you?
What your pamphlet doesn’t mention at all is the john—as usual.
Just do me a favor and read a few random posts on johns’ message boards, and then tell me how on earth you can support the legalization of something like that. How you can support men doing such things to women. I cannot wait to hear your arguments.
“Those who want to illegalize self-determined sex workers criminalize the entire industry and force it underground, where no protection whatsoever may be provided. In order to be better protected, sex workers require more self-determination and the social and legal recognition of their profession. Only in this way and recognized as workers can they publicly organize as part of the working class and advocate for their own interests, better working conditions and social security. A ban on sex work or the criminalization of johns (as in Sweden) would only cause sex work to become invisible and less safe.”
And then there’s the fairy tale of the underground. Please read some texts explaining the Swedish Model, which criminalizes the john and decriminalizes the prostituted. And read evaluations of this law where it has been applied, e.g. Norway. No, prostitution is not a clearly defined entity. Yes, it can be reduced. No, the Swedish Model does not shift it underground. Yes, it changes a society’s views on women when one sex can no longer buy the other. No, we do not need “recognition as a profession”, we need for prostitution to be recognized as ABUSE. And NO, we are not part of the working class, we are first and foremost people harmed by sexual abuse through prostitution! We do NOT organize as part of the working class, but in victims’ associations (e.g. sisters e.V., SPACE International—which you refuse to listen to, though. We don’t need you to organize us or talk about us; we organize ourselves, thank you very much.
“Those who truly advocate for an emancipated society must also advocate for physical and sexual self-determination.”
Prostitution is the exact opposite of sexual self-determination. One party wants sex, the other doesn’t. Money is supposed to bridge that gap. Prostitution has NOTHING to do with physical and sexual self-determination because everything I do, the john decides—thus it is other-directed. I am so incredibly fed up of all your talk of sexual liberation when you mention prostitution as a path to that liberation in the same breath. Don’t drag us into it; we will not be instrumentalized in this way! Do your own sexual liberation, but you will not be permitted to use and gloss over our abuse to get there.
Furthermore I would like you to do a little bit of research; you will quickly discover that forced prostitution and prostitution cannot be seen separately, as you prefer. For one, the lines between the two are blurred, and secondly there will never be enough women who do this “voluntarily”; a large percentage will always have to be forced to meet the demand. This means that you cannot want prostitution without agreeing with forced prostitution; one does not exist without the other. And by the way, if you support the full decriminalization and legalization of prostitution, you support the market being the sole regulating force, which means: the demand grows, the supply grows, the demand grows more because men see it as perfectly normal to be a john, the supply keeps growing, and so on. It’s an upward spiral. Have you ever actually read anything about the basic mechanisms of capitalism, seeing as you’re so eager to see capitalist value extracted from women as goods?
“Asylum law must also be reformed so that migrant forced prostitutes no longer face the threat of deportation but instead receive residence and work permits. However, our intention behind this decision is to place the focus on those sex workers who are currently restricted in their physical self-determination, their health and their rights in their professional life as sex workers—on those who made the conscious and self-determined choice to provide sexual and erotic services.”
Oh, and how many is that? One in ten at the very most. And that’s who you want to go by when determining things that affect the situation of ALL prostituted women in Germany? Do you not care about the rest or what? Who at BesD, that organization of brothel owners, did you listen to? You certainly didn’t listen to the 90 percent in this country who are migrant women, because they’re not part of that organization. And you’re actually happy to collude with this racist bullshit! The majority out there are NOT the brothel owners, high-class escorts, dominatrixes—the majority doesn’t even speak German! How ignorant can you get? Prostitution is classist and racist, or why do you think there are so many indigenous women in prostitution in other countries, and so many Romani women in Germany? How do you explain that?
And then you go and post stuff about anti-racist demonstrations on Facebook? You really make me laugh.
“Thus it is our view that feminism that is serious about its concern for women’s self-determination and sexual self-determination must also fight for the rights and demands of sex workers’ associations. The Bremen regional association of Left Youth Solid stands for such a feminism and will advocate for the legal empowerment of sex workers and show solidarity in their struggles.”
You are most certainly not showing solidarity to us in our struggles by labeling sexual violence a profession, ignoring the majority of us, and calling prostitution sexual and physical self-determination!
What the hell are you even talking about? You need to find your way back to reality. And if you can’t show us solidarity because you’re too busy listening to brothel owners, at least leave us in peace and don’t presume to speak for us! You have never had to bend over; you aren’t in prostitution—a privilege, as I’d like to remind you—and then you sit there in your Bremen regional association and at the federal meeting and blather about recognition as a profession? Get a grip.
At least once a week here at Sisters e.V., we are visited by a woman who is already exited (not to mention those who contact us because they still want out!) and who tells us she’s taken this long to break her silence because society only ever tells her it’s a PROFESSION and it’s WORK and it’s a JOB; it’s all happy, joyful sex work—and so all the injuries she suffered in prostitution indicate that there must be something wrong with HER. And this is precisely the political climate people like YOU create. All your talk is causing exited women to remain silent. I too was speechless for years because of texts like yours—because as a prostitute reading something like that, you don’t even know where to START.
Prostitution is sexist, racist and classist, and then you come along, having listened to owners of brothels and escort agencies, and want to tell us about sexual liberation? And you call that leftist? You can’t be serious. Never, ever can it be about getting as comfortable as possible within a sexist, classist and racist system such as prostitution. Who is it you expect to put up with this? Such a system must be ABOLISHED. You need to understand that supporting women in prostitution is NOT the same as supporting the system of prostitution! This system must be overcome and not further established and “recognized as a profession!” The only praiseworthy thing about your document is how exceedingly well you’ve copied and pasted from the pimp lobby—well done, indeed.
Seriously, is this what your solidarity looks like? Shame on you, and no thanks!
Huschke Mau (@huschkemau)
Signed also on behalf of the exited women of Sisters e.V.
Annalena, exited woman
Sonja, exited woman
Sandra, exited woman
Sunna, exited woman
NaDia, exited woman
Andra, exited woman
Esther Martina, exited woman
Eva, exited woman
Survivor Megaphone (links/references in original)
Yet again the males on the left have let women down, while kidding themselves that they are being progressive. Jeremy Corbyn has said, during a talk at Goldsmiths University, that he is in favour of decriminalising the sex trade. “Let’s do things a bit differently and in a more civilised way,” he said.
But there is nothing civilised about legitimising one of the most exploitative industries on the planet.
It is apt that Corbyn made his admission at Goldsmiths. Any feminist in support of criminalising sex-buyers is instantly accused by members of Goldsmiths’ feminist society of hating prostituted women, or “whorephobia”, as it is known. This twist of logic is quite something considering the law that criminalises demand also decriminalises those selling sex.
I cannot believe that Corbyn is so misinformed as to see the blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade as necessary to uphold the human rights and safety of those selling sex. In Sweden, the first country to introduce the sex-buyer law in 1999, not one prostituted woman has been murdered by a pimp or sex-buyer since then. In New Zealand, where the sex trade was decriminalised in 2003, there have been five murders.
What decriminalisation actually means is that control is taken away from the criminal justice agencies and given to local authorities. Under this model, pimps become managers, and brothel owners are business entrepreneurs.
The only difference between decriminalisation and legalisation is that under legalisation the state becomes the official pimp by making certain aspects of the trade legal. This way it can collect taxes and impose compulsory health checks on prostituted women – something the great feminist abolitionist Josephine Butler campaigned against in the 19th century.
Many on the left believe any criminalisation of the industry stigmatises those who sell sex, and that the selling of sex should be regarded as a job like any other. But there is a growing body of research showing that in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Nevada and the Netherlands, where prostitution has been legalised or decriminalised, there is an increase in demand, which in turn has led to an increase in people coerced into prostitution. Such regimes lead to an increase in the legal as well as the illegal sex trade.
In researching my forthcoming book on the international sex trade, I have spoken to a number of women currently and formerly involved in the sex trade in New Zealand, the country hailed as nirvana since the disaster of legalisation in Holland became public.
One interviewee began working in a New Zealand brothel just after she turned 18, prior to decriminalisation. I asked her what decriminalisation had changed. “I don’t think it made any difference,” she said, “because the boss still does everything really dodgy, and I think that’s how he did it when it was illegal.”
The idea that pimps and other exploiters would suddenly turn into considerate employers who pay taxes and abide by the law simply because they are no longer technically criminals is ridiculous.
The sex workers’ rights lobby that has targeted Labour with its propaganda on the benefits of decriminalisation minimises and denies harm. The only harm it is prepared to acknowledge is caused, according to this logic, by feminists and police officers.
One sex workers’ rights activist recently claimed in her blog: “No sex worker I know reports clients as being the biggest problem … It’s always the rescuers, the police and the state that do them the most harm.”
What utter rubbish. While police brutality is prevalent towards women in prostitution in a number of countries, the rapes, homicides and violence from pimps and punters is well documented. In the UK alone, there have been 153 murders of prostituted women since 1990 – none committed by feminist abolitionists or police.
Why the left supports the rights of pimps and brothel owners is a mystery. It is akin to supporting tobacco industry profiteers in order to destigmatise smokers.
Corbyn and his colleagues would do well to listen to survivors of the sex trade before taking such an uninformed line on the best way to regulate prostitution.
As Rachel Moran, sex trade survivor and author of Paid For, remarked: “Males of the left defy every principle they purport to stand for when they contort their own political values to view women’s bodies as commercial products subject to purchase in free market economics. No other social group is treated this way by the men of the left.
“It is only women who are deemed so worthless as to be denigrated with this indignity, and it is only women whose equal human status is so unthinkable as to motivate them to turn their backs on their own politics.”
Any young British woman considering a career in prostitution should give careful thought to location. The same applies, our prostitution law being the mess it is, to any pimp or trafficker aiming to maximise profits without fines, arrests and other loss-making interruptions.
In Leeds, for instance, the Holbeck area is now a pimp’s paradise, the police and council having decided not to apply the laws on soliciting and kerb crawling between the hours of 7pm and 7am. Councillor Mark Dobson has explained that, since prostitution will never stop being an “industry as old as time”, “it’s incumbent on us to make it as safe as possible”. In December, one of the women benefiting from this scheme, a 21-year-old Pole, Daria Pionko, was murdered, her body discovered on an industrial estate.
In Suffolk, however, police prefer to believe, like the Swedish government, that prostitution is not part of the natural order. After five young women were murdered by a regular sex buyer in 2006, Suffolk Constabulary’s then Det Supt Alan Caton responded with a Nordic-style plan. Although the legality of off-street prostitution ruled out a full “end demand” strategy, as pioneered in Sweden, Suffolk’s zero tolerance of kerb crawling, with multi-agency support for women, rather than criminalisation, virtually eliminated street prostitution.
Nottingham, too, differs from Leeds, with its own project to end street prostitution by targeting sex buyers and by helping, instead of persecuting, women who want to exit. Since 2004, almost 900 sex buyers have attended a deterrent one-day course, of whom only 27 are known to have reoffended. Sgt Neil Radford, of Nottinghamshire police, says the number of women in street prostitution has fallen over 10 years, from 300 to around 50. If Britain followed Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada – and potentially, France – in adopting a sex-buyer law, the trade could also be reduced off-street, where prostitution remains dangerous and exploitative or, as an all-party parliamentary group on prostitution put it in 2014, a “form of violence against women and girls”.
The group deplored a “near pandemic” of violence that goes unreported because women are criminalised. Under current law, women and girls who are already damaged by prostitution, whether by actual physical violence or psychological trauma, are further punished with fines for having put themselves in harm’s way. In 2013-14, there were more charges for loitering and soliciting than for the crimes of pimping, brothel keeping, kerb crawling and advertising prostitution combined. Buyers, as Sgt Radford has often observed, just walk away.
In its report, Shifting the Burden , the all-party group recommended the introduction, instead, of a sex-buyer offence, of following the Nordic model. It then asked End Demand , a campaign to end commercial sexual exploitation, to find out how this could be implemented. The resulting report, produced by a commission on the sex buyer law, is to be launched in parliament this week. This concludes – on the basis of evidence from Nottingham and Suffolk, as well as countries such as Sweden, which criminalise buyers – that a similar law is overdue here, to reduce both the human and economic cost of prostitution.
Having participated in that commission, along with, among others, Alan Caton and Diane Martin, a survivor of the sex trade who has helped others to exit, I find it harder than ever to understand how any politician, local or otherwise, would want to perpetuate, by legalising it, a trade so staggeringly unequal and so dependent on the trafficked and marginalised. In Germany, which did precisely that in 2002, the resulting brothels are warehouses of migrant women, pimped for bargain basement prices. Legalisation has failed, it turns out, both to inspire more gallantry in clients and to convince many German women that supplying oral and anal sex on demand could make a nice change from waitressing.
“I find it awful, this is not work, you don’t set out to be in prostitution”, says a Swedish psychologist Lisen Lindström, whom the commission met in Stockholm. She treats women in and exiting prostitution for the city’s social services. Post-traumatic stress is common. What of the women who protest they’re happy in prostitution? “So let them,” she says. “We don’t bother them. We let them be. The majority have had very bad experiences, so let the focus be on them.” And if it’s the career prostitutes’ right to work, unhindered by a sex buyer law? “What kind of union would fight for the right to be raped? If being a psychologist meant that I should be beaten up or raped sometimes, what would my union say about that?”
To legalise prostitution, as Sweden’s chancellor of justice, Anna Skarhed, also pointed out, is to normalise sexual discrimination and violence against women. The reaction to a young woman’s murder in England’s legalised “managed zone” in Leeds was certainly muted, for a country that gets exercised about domestic violence, forced marriages, child rape. Many women in prostitution were underage, visibly so, when they were first exploited. For them, the rules are different. One UK campaigner argued recently for the legalisation of co-working for women in prostitution, “as this is the main way in which they believe their safety will be enhanced”. That the inessential business of prostitution should be as synonymous with serious physical danger as it is with organised crime barely registers as anomalous. If there were consistency in health and safety alone, Leeds police would be insisting on hi-vis jackets and lanyards in their night-time “managed zone”.
The converse, says Skarhed, has been a steady normalising, in Sweden, of the principles underlying the sex buyer law. As enforcement, with exit services, has depleted the number of prostitutes in Sweden, so attitudes have shifted : 70% want to keep the law.
But as in Britain, a forceful lobby maintains that the sex buyer law represents a “whorephobic” attack on women’s self-determination, moreover one infinitely more threatening to their wellbeing, you gather, than the kindly traffickers – who make an annual £130m in the UK. On the contrary, says Patrik Cederlöf, Sweden’s national co-ordinator against prostitution and human trafficking; when they are not criminalised, women are more willing to report attacks. Incidentally, with decreased supply, prices for sex have risen: witness a neat ledger shown to the commission by a Swedish state prosecutor, Lars Ågren, documenting the massive profits enjoyed, prior to discovery, by a Polish outfit running 23 prostitutes. “They could charge double in Sweden than in Poland.” He adds: “The girls aren’t making money.”
It’s quite true, though, that sex buyer laws are lousy for pimps. That’s another reason why one should, I think, be introduced in Britain, in the way now backed by the all-party group and proposed to the new home affairs select committee prostitution inquiry. As with any big, ethically blighted industry, PRs for prostitution will respond with renewed attacks on its opponents, to add to despairing assurances, as in Leeds, of futility: the trade is “as old as time”. So, of course, was slavery.
[German women] were pushed out of the market by sex workers from Eastern Europe: young, seemingly childlike women from Romania and Bulgaria who have come from the poorest environments and feed their families at home by having sex at dumping prices. [Social worker] Gabi Kubik calls it “survival prostitution”. Every month a prostitute from Eastern Europe earns 400 euros on average – pimps, often family members, take in about 10.000 euros.
Most women do not have a chance to espace this dependency. They work isolated and under degrading conditions, are abused and intimidated, have either no or little knowledge of German or are illiterate. […] Migrants are not only heard to reach with language programs. “They have culturally pre-formed, most often patriarchal role conceptions. It’s difficult to make them aware of the emergency situation they’re in”, says Gabi Kubik. […]
The massive pressure to earn as much money as possible and high competition in the prostitution milieu have as their consequence that the women continue to work even if they can hardly stand the strain. “The majority of the migrants we meet is in disastrous health”, Gabi Kubi reports. The women suffer from infectious diseases, have been feeling abdominal pain for weeks, are accidentally pregnant from johns who almost always demand sex without a condom. “Three to four abortions per year are not unusual for these women”, the social worker tells us.
Healthcare for Eastern European prostitutes is a big problem in Kassel. The majority of these women does not have insurance and no access to free ambulant and inpatient care. Voluntary check-up offerings by the health office are limited to infection protection, that is to say examination and diagnosis under suspicion of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, syphilis or hepatitis. Gabi Kubik criticizes this as insufficient. “We are far more often approached by women without health insurance because of acute diseases, pain and unwanted pregnancies. We then say to them that they have to go to the doctor’s – but we know that they cannot afford it”.
This is not only unsatisfying for the street workers. The lack of free healthcare services leads to the women continuing to work under pain until they cannot take it anymore and end up as an emergency case in an ambulance. And even here prostitutes are often sent away because of unclear cost transfers. “Even if they aren’t able to stand anymore”, says Gabi Kubik.
(I have changed the description of Gabi Kubik to ‘social worker’, she was misleadingly described as a ‘street worker’.)
When Channel 4 got permission to film inside the brothel, they set out to produce an even-handed exploration of what Britain could learn from Germany’s relaxed approach to prostitution. But in December, shortly after the film crew had packed up and left, 900 police officers descended upon the Paradise, and three others in the same chain. Michael Beretin, the Paradise’s “head of marketing”, was among those arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, forced prostitution and fraud. At the time of going to press he was still being held in a remand prison.
All of which, you might think, would make it pretty tough to present the case for the Paradise as a paradigm for a more enlightened approach to the sex trade. Documentary director Ed Watts gamely tries to set out the arguments in favour of such a liberal approach, but says that, “It wasn’t an attempt to make a piece that argues one way or the other, but the material speaks for itself. I think what the experience really brought home to me was that however you cut it, the business is always extremely dark and has a profound effect on those involved with it.”
Germany legalised prostitution in 2002, aiming to bring the industry out of the shadows – an argument advanced by many in Britain, where selling sex is legal, but keeping a brothel, soliciting and pimping are banned. Germany has become the sex capital of Europe, and the number of prostitutes has doubled to 400,000, with some estimates suggesting 90 per cent are coerced into the trade.
The unremitting grimness of the industry seeps through the brothel’s velour façade in almost every scene. Josie, who’s 23 and has spent four years in the sex trade, reckons she has slept with 15,000 men. The key item in her make-up bag is a tube of Xylocaine, a local anaesthetic gel that numbs the inevitable physical pain that results from sleeping with up to 20 men a day.
The mental anguish is not so easily dulled. “It’s very exhausting,” says Felicia, another prostitute. “I don’t think sex is fun. I don’t like having sex with lots of men. I don’t have the nerves to do it any more.” There is little sympathy from Beretin. “These people are a totally f*****-up, dysfunctional bunch,” he tells the camera. “Very few have any soul left.”
It is in this callous disregard for the women that the show plunges into the pits of darkness. One punter, Wolfgang, says he stopped calculating his encounters at the club after he passed 500. Asked how the experience affects the women, he is stumped. “I never thought about it.”
The women pay £20 a night for their own brothel accommodation – a room they share with up to six others. That, combined with the fee they pay to work there, and a daily government tax, means they are £100 down before the day begins. Only after sleeping with three men do they begin to turn a profit.
Is there a right place for prostitution? In 2006, Steve Wright murdered five women in Ipswich. All five of them had drug dependencies, and all were engaged in prostitution to fund their addiction. Wright was a punter – a regular, not obviously more violent than any of the men who picked up women on Ipswich’s streets. Even when the women were scared for their lives, they weren’t scared of Wright. “He was always a late person to come out, he would drive round a couple of times, then choose the girl he wanted,” Tracey Russell told the Guardian (her friend Annette Nicholls was Wright’s fourth victim). “We used to call them ‘window-lickers’ if they went around a lot. He was one of them. We didn’t suspect him.”
At the time, one popular opinion on the murders was that the five women had died because they were in the wrong place – and that criminalisation had put them there. In a piece published here in the New Statesman, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) blamed the law around prostitution, claiming that “women are being driven onto the streets by raids on premises where it is many times safer to work.” At the time, I was convinced that the five would still have been alive under different legislation. Looking back over the case, though, the facts don’t quite fit the ECP’s argument. Although one of Wright’s victims, Tania Nicol, had been forced out of massage parlours and on to the streets, she hadn’t been driven by raids: according to the manager of one of the parlours, she was asked to leave because of her drug use.
The women Wright killed weren’t “sex workers” pushed into harm’s way by illiberal limits on their “profession”; they were women with chaotic, fragile lives, pushed on to the frontier of male violence by their addictions. This was not a choice. (Russell described prostitution to the Guardian as “horrible”: “You learn to blank it out over the years, and because you are on drugs, [you] just think of something else. I know that sounds odd, but you do. ’Cos you get used to it, and it’s over within seconds. Hopefully.”) Even if there had been a legal brothel in Ipswich, it seems unlikely that these five women would have been inside it.
And yet the argument that decriminalisation will make prostitution safe persists – in the UK, it’s policy for both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. What this “safety” for women would look like in practice is less discussed, but there is an example we can learn from just a few hundred miles away. Germany legalised prostitution in 2002, with the reasoning (as Nisha Lilia Diu reported for the Telegraph) that this would make prostitution “a job like any other”. Sex work as work, with contracts, benefits, workplace protections and none of the stigma that supporters of legalisation often claim is the ultimate source of harm to women in prostitution.
The German experiment didn’t go as planned: women (often migrants looking to score fast profits and get out of the country again) didn’t register for benefits, and the brothels that sprang up didn’t want to offer any contracts or risk any liability. Instead, brothel owners function more like landlords, charging the same cover fee for men to enter their premises and for women to work there, meaning a woman in prostitution won’t even start to make money till her second or third punter of the night. And what does she have to do to make that money? This week, Channel 4 documentary The Mega Brothel went inside the Stuttgart branch of the Paradise chain (yes, brothels in Germany have chains, like fast food joints or high street clothes shops) and interviewed the women, the punters and the brothel owner.
If you have any hopes that Paradise might be an Edenic scene of liberated sexuality, you should surrender them now. Early on, one of the punters explains his philosophy to the programme makers. “Sex is a service,” he says. “If you want to have good sex, you must pay good money for this service.” (The idea that “good sex” might involve respect, intimacy or mutuality has apparently not occurred to him: it is just a service, a thing performed by women for men, like doing the laundry or cleaning the house.) The interviewer asks a question: “What effect does that have on the girls themselves?” And the punter seems genuinely stumped. After a moment’s silence, he volunteers: “I don’t know, I never thought about it.”
It seems that a lot of the men don’t think about what they’re doing to the women they pay to have sex with. When Josie, who works as a prostitute at Paradise, shares the contents of her bag with the camera, she’s offering a dreary inventory of pain – experienced, anticipated and avoided. “I have a vibrator… a small one because sometimes men can be a little bit too aggressive, a little rough,” she explains. A medicinal-looking tube turns out to contain genital anaesthetic: “It’s like a small insurance if the pain is getting too big,” she says.
What kind of “work” can this be, where women have to numb their vaginas to tolerate penetration by men who don’t even think of the person penetrated as capable of feelings? Certainly not the kind of work that women are respected for doing. Michael Beretin, Paradise’s head of marketing, describes the women he lives off with maximal contempt: “These people are a totally fucked up, dysfunctional bunch of people. Very few of them have any soul left … It’s very sad but it’s what they are.” (This strange accountancy of the human essence echoes something said by the madam of a licensed Nevada brothel to Louis Theroux in the 2003 documentary Louis and the Brothel: “Every girl who’s really good at what she does gives away a little piece of her soul every time.”) The theory that stigma would evaporate on contact with legitimacy turns out to be nothing but fantasy, itself simmering into nothing once exposed to the real world.
In Germany, there are still pimps (the “loverboys” who pressure the women into the brothel and then skim their earnings). There are still traffickers, trying to get their human product into Paradise. There is still hate for the women. And fundamentally, there is still the raw brute fact of women being fucked for money, fucked sore, fucked as though they were not at home in their own bodies. Prostitution is violence against women, inflicted by men. The violence of being roughed up with a vibrator is less than the violence of being suffocated, but even having to draw that comparison is sickening. There is no “safe” here – when women’s bodies are made open for men’s use, we are simply disputing the boundary between “terrorised” and “dead”. Prostitution isn’t merely an occupation with some unfortunate but inevitable (male, violent) hazards to be ameliorated: it’s an institution that insists on the dehumanisation of women, the grinding away of our souls so we become easier to fuck, easier to use, easier to kill. Under sky or under ceiling, it’s the same. No one suspected Steve Wright. He was just another regular. The regulars are the problem.
Please note, this is the article I complained about yesterday, but I think the information is too important not to re-blog.
At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe, according to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.
In the first attempt by law enforcement agencies to quantify one of the most worrying aspects of the migrant crisis, Europol’s chief of staff told the Observer that thousands of vulnerable minors had vanished after registering with state authorities.
Brian Donald said 5,000 children had disappeared in Italy alone, while another 1,000 were unaccounted for in Sweden. He warned that a sophisticated pan-European “criminal infrastructure” was now targeting refugees. “It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children. Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with.”
The plight of unaccompanied child refugees has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in the migrant crisis. Last week it was announced that Britain would accept more unaccompanied minors from Syria and other conflict zones. According to Save the Children, an estimated 26,000 unaccompanied children entered Europe last year. Europol, which has a 900-strong force of intelligence analysts and police liaison officers, believes 27% of the million arrivals in Europe last year were minors.
“Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children. Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be,” said Donald, indicating that the 10,000 figure is likely to be a conservative estimate of the actual number of unaccompanied minors who have disappeared since entering Europe.
In October, officials in Trelleborg, southern Sweden, revealed that some 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children who had arrived in the port town over the previous month had gone missing. On Tuesday a separate report, again from Sweden, warned that many unaccompanied refugees vanished and that there was “very little information about what happens after the disappearance”.
In the UK the number of children who disappear soon after arriving as asylum seekers has doubled over the past year, raising fears that they are also being targeted by criminal gangs.
Mariyana Berket, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said: “Unaccompanied minors from regions of conflict are by far the most vulnerable population; those without parental care that have either been sent by their families to get into Europe first and then get the family over, or have fled with other family members.”
Donald confirmed Europol had received evidence some unaccompanied child refugees in Europe had been sexually exploited. In Germany and Hungary, the former a popular destination country for refugees and migrants, with the latter an important transit state, large numbers of criminals had been caught exploiting migrants, he said. “An entire [criminal] infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow. There are prisons in Germany and Hungary where the vast majority of people arrested and placed there are in relation to criminal activity surrounding the migrant crisis,” said Donald.
The police agency has also documented a disturbing crossover between organised gangs helping to smuggle refugees into the EU and human-trafficking gangs exploiting them for sex work and slavery. He said that longstanding criminal gangs known to be involved in human trafficking, whose identity had been logged in the agency’s Phoenix database, were now being caught exploiting refugees.
I mean, look at this last paragraph “sex work and slavery”, for fucks sake, he can write ‘slavery’, but he’s too afraid of the sex industry lobby to write ‘sex slavery’?
How fucked up is it that the commercial sexual exploitation of children is separated out from slavery?
As I said yesterday, the author is on twitter: @townsendmark
Why not let him know that his terminology is on the side of the child rapists?