Back in March I made two complaints to the BBC over the way commercial sexual exploitation was reported on the BBC’s news website; in April, the BBC replied to my concerns, and altered the web pages.
I am absolutely certain that, in relation to the BBC’s reporting of Fiona Broadfoot’s victory in the High Court, I am far from the only person to have complained to the BBC, so cannot claim this as my own, sole, work.
The BBC originally used the headline “Former sex worker ‘vindicated’ after High Court win”, it now reads “Sex abuse victim ‘vindicated’ after High Court win”
This is my original complaint:
The use of the term ‘sex work’ in a piece relating to the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. Fiona Broadfoot was 15 when she was first commercially sexually exploited, 15 is below the age of consent so this was statutory rape, rape is not ‘work’. Broadfoot has said clearly on twitter that she was never a ‘sex worker’. ‘Sex work’ is a partisan term and should be used with caution, and should never be used to describe the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
To which I received this reply:
Thanks for contacting us regarding use of the phrase “former sex worker” in the headline to the following BBC News article:
The use of this phrase in the headline reflects the fact that the “three women, who say they were groomed into prostitution as teenagers, have won a High Court battle” and “successfully argued that the disclosure of convictions for working in the sex trade many years ago was disproportionate and a breach of their Article 8 Human Rights – the right to a private life.”
Thanks again for your feedback. Complaints are sent to senior management and news teams every morning via our overnight reports.
So I complained again:
I contacted the BBC two weeks ago to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in an article about the commercial sexual exploitation of a fifteen-year-old girl, the reply I received was an insultingly lazy, circular, cut-and-paste (effectively: we used the term ‘sex work’ because it was an article about ‘sex work’). ‘Sex work’ is a partisan term, the debate over whether the sex industry is a form of exploitation, or freely chosen work is far from over. The term ‘sex work’ itself is begging the question (‘sex work is work’, ‘this bad thing is bad’). Under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but when money is exchanged, coerced sex gets called ‘work’. Fifteen is below the statutory age of consent, therefore any sexual activity below the age of consent is rape. Fiona Broadfoot has contacted the BBC via twitter to say that she was never a ‘sex worker’, and that she objects to the use of the term in the article about her. I would like someone at the BBC to explain to me why it was considered appropriate to call a commercially raped child a ‘sex worker’
And received this reply:
Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that three women have won a High Court battle which means they will not have to tell future employers about their soliciting (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43261021) and we’re sorry that you were dissatisfied with the initial response from our central complaints team.
Having reviewed your complaint I think you raise a fair point.
While we wouldn’t refer to statutory rape in the absence of actual charges or convictions for that offence in connection with the story, we have since amended the headline to now refer to how:
Sex abuse victim ‘vindicated’ after High Court win
We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and we’re sorry once again that you’ve had to write to us twice to make this point.
I also complained about the reporting of trafficking into the sex industry in Spain. This is the complaint I sent:
I am writing to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in an article about sex trafficking, sex slavery, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children (‘Spanish police break up Nigerian sex trafficking gang’ published online 23 March 2018).
‘Sex work’ is a partisan term, it is not a neutral descriptor; under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but when the rapist hands money over to a third party controlling the rape victim, some people try to call this ‘work’. The term ‘sex work’ takes a sexual abuse and sexual exploitation issue, and reduces it to a mere labour issue.
The article in question clearly says that one of the victims of sex trafficking was an under-age girl, which means she was incapable of consenting to sex, and it is therefore entirely inappropriate to describe her rape as ‘work’.
Language matters, the meaning of words matters, the BBC is supposed to be impartial and trust-worthy; by using a contested term like ‘sex work’ in this context (the Europol report uses the terms ‘prostitution’ and ‘sexual exploitation’ only), the BBC is failing to be either of these things.
I received this reply:
Thank you for getting in touch with your comments on a recent article headed, ‘Spanish police break up Nigerian sex trafficking gang.’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-43514125)
On review we agree that use of the term ‘sex work’ may be ambiguous in relation to the 39 women and girls trafficked into forced sex by a notorious Nigerian gang.
We have updated the article to clarify that while they were paid for sex, they were not employed in ‘sex work’ in the traditional sense of a person legitimately employed in the sex industry.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention and we hope this addresses your concerns.
The line in the article “Gang members forced the women into sex work in order to pay off a 30,000 euro ($37,000; £26,000) debt.” Has been changed to “Gang members forced the women into paid sex in order to pay off a 30,000 euro ($37,000; £26,000) debt.”
It’s not ideal, since ‘paid sex’ doesn’t really communicate fully the reality of being held captive and raped so someone else can receive money, but it’s better than ‘sex work’. I also don’t agree that the sex industry is ever ‘legitimate’ even when it’s legal, but that is a political stance, and I can only ask the BBC to be impartial!
The moral of this story is, it’s always worth complaining to the BBC, they are a publicly funded body, and they are therefore answerable to the British public.
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.
This is who Colm O’Gorman is:
The High Court today handed down judgment in a ground breaking judicial review brought by three women formerly involved in prostitution, challenging the Government’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Regulations. They argued successfully that the disclosure of their convictions for soliciting is disproportionate and a breach of the right to respect for private life.
The women, who had all been groomed into prostitution as teenagers presented evidence of the far-reaching impact of prostitution-specific records on all aspects of their lives. The DBS scheme requires mandatory disclosure of ‘spent’ criminal records when applying for jobs or volunteer activity in prescribed areas, primarily involving contact with the vulnerable. Following previous legal challenges, there is a filtering mechanism but it only applies to single convictions. As the women had shown in evidence, soliciting by its nature almost invariably results in multiple convictions. Their evidence showed that the disclosure of such records was deeply stigmatising, impacted on the ability of women to exit from prostitution and adversely impacted on employment opportunities, volunteering, education and training opportunities.
The Judges provided a strong judgement recognising the disproportionate nature of disclosure and the significant violation of their right to private life. It should result in the women being able to have their DBS records filtered to remove the soliciting offences – though the mechanism for this is not yet clear.
Fiona Broadfoot, one of the claimants, who waived her anonymity in this case and has been fighting this battle for over 20 years said, “Finally, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders – it’s a vindication. I have carried these convictions around – 8 pages of them – all my life and it’s a disgrace. Not one of those men who bought and used and abused me – even the ones who knew fine well I was a child when first put on the streets – has ever had to face the consequences of his actions. It has been a long fight but worth it.”
Harriet Wistrich the Lawyer for the women said, “This is an important judgment – although there were only three claimants in this case, the judgment will benefit all women in these circumstances and has the potential to bring about real change for a sex trade survivors who should never have been criminalised in the first place. Unfortunately, the court were not persuaded by our argument that the practice discriminates against women or is in breach of duties with regard to trafficked women. We will be seeking permission to appeal in relation to those broader points. It is not easy for women with a history of prostitution to come forward and advocate for themselves and others – so much stigma attends them – so the courage and determination of these women is to be applauded.”
Karen Ingala Smith (CEO for nia a women’s charity supporting the women) said, “We feel strongly that these women should never have been convicted in the first place prostitution is symptomatic of women’s continued inequality and discrimination and a form of violence against women. These women were exploited and coerced and yet it is their lives, not those of their buyers and pimps, that were blighted with convictions. They should not have had to take up this fight, but they did and it is to the benefit of all those exploited in prostitution”.
The BBC has reported on this with the headline “Former sex worker ‘vindicated’ after High Court win”:
But the front page of the BBC UK news page yesterday said “Ex-prostitute ‘vindicated’ in court win”:
Fiona Broadfoot, and others, have protested this on twitter:
It is very easy to complain to the BBC, you can do so online here (and they are a publically funded company, so they have to reply):
This is the complaint I left, feel free to copy or use as a template:
“The use of the term ‘sex work’ in a piece relating to the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. Fiona Broadfoot was 15 when she was first commercially sexually exploited, 15 is below the age of consent so this was statutory rape, rape in not ‘work’. Broadfoot has said clearly on twitter that she was never a ‘sex worker’. ‘Sex work’ is a partisan term and should be used with caution, and should never be used to describe the commercial sexual exploitation of children.”
Buzzfeed has also reported on this, and managed to do so without calling a commercially raped child a ‘worker’, so a website I associate primarily with listicles has done better than the British Broadcasting Corporation:
“I met a pimp aged 15, and two weeks later I was thrown into the violent and abusive world of prostitution,” Broadfoot, 48, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, told BuzzFeed News. “Rape became an occupational hazard but I was arrested, charged, and criminalised for loitering for the purposes of being a common prostitute.
“After more than 20 years out of prostitution, I am still having to explain my criminal record to any prospective employer. It feels like explaining my history of abuse.”
She told BuzzFeed News that she sobbed when she heard that her legal challenge had been successful after the judge’s decision was handed down today.
“Finally, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders – it’s a vindication,” she said. “I have carried these convictions around – eight pages of them – all my life and it’s a disgrace. Not one of those men who bought and used and abused me – even the ones who knew fine well I was a child when first put on the streets – has ever had to face the consequences of his actions. It has been a long fight but worth it.”
She added: “I’m absolutely delighted about the decision. A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I can now live my life with dignity and not in the shadow and stigma of abuse.”
Broadfoot said she was also pleased to have won the case “for the hundreds of other women who have been convicted” under similar circumstances.
“It’s about time that the powers that be take a look at the legislation surrounding the sex trade,” she said, “and put the criminal focus right where it belongs: on the sex buyers and pimps and traffickers.”
The evidence presented by the women showed that the disclosure of their records was deeply stigmatising, impacted their ability to exit prostitution, and had adversely affected employment, volunteering, education and training opportunities.
In August, Broadfoot told BuzzFeed News: “I couldn’t get on a university degree, a social work degree, I couldn’t get into child development at college. They said I could get on to the course but I wouldn’t be able to find a placement because of my criminal record.
“I’ve been discriminated against in my workplace – I wouldn’t even apply for some jobs. I wanted to be on the PTA at my son’s school and I had to tell the headteacher. It was really embarrassing.”
Each time she has to disclose her criminal record it’s “humiliating”, she said. “I feel so exposed. They say it’s about safeguarding – safeguarding who? After all the hell I’ve been through.
“When I was pregnant with my beautiful son I was watching over my shoulder. I was petrified they’d take him off me. I’ve had ‘prostitute’ daubed on my house. It’s horrible being treated like that.
“What that does to me is make me feel like I deserved that abuse – it messes with your head in terms of your recovery.”
Legislation which criminalises the purchaser of sexual services rather than the seller has been passed in the Dáil by 94 votes to six.
There were three abstentions.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill also strengthens laws to combat child pornography and prevent the sexual grooming of children. And it amends provisions on incest and indecent exposure.
[…] Provisions in the Bill also include prohibition of the wearing of wigs and gowns in proceedings involving children and the prohibition on the cross-examination of victims of sexual offences by an accused, which will apply once the Bill is commenced.
Today a historic precedent was set when the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which includes laws to criminalise the purchase of sex and ensure vulnerable women, children and men in prostitution can access support, passed its final hurdle in Seanad Éireann and will now be part of the Irish Statute Book.
The 70+ partners of Turn Off the Red Light, which have been tirelessly campaigning in support of this crucial legislation are united in their welcome for
the new legislation, which will better protect vulnerable women, children and men who are being sexually exploited.
Denise Charlton, Chair of Turn Off the Red Light,said: “From the very beginning this Bill has been about protecting and supporting those most vulnerable to sexual exploitation, violence and abuse. It focuses on the perpetrators of sexual crime
– the pimps and traffickers who enable abuse and exploitation to continue, and who benefit from it financially.
“We commend the Tánaiste, Minister Frances Fitzgerald, for championing this Bill as it progressed through the Oireachtas. By supporting it, the Irish Government is making a clear statement that it will stand up for the most vulnerable in our society.
“The inclusion of a review period in this legislation affirms the Government’s commitment to making sure the legislation has a real impact for those it seeks to support. We look forward to working with the Government in the coming months to ensure this happens.”
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD this evening welcomed the passage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 through both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Speaking this evening the Tánaiste said –
‘This is one of the most comprehensive and wide ranging piece of sexual offences legislation ever to be introduced and has been a priority for me as Minister for Justice and Equality. It is an essential piece of legislation that brings additional protections to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. It contains the right laws for these times, laws that will protect victims of the most vicious and depraved crimes.
The provisions of this Bill enhance and update laws to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children. It widens the range of offences associated with child pornography to ensure that no one who participates in any way in the creation, distribution, viewing or sharing of such abhorrent material can escape the law.
Also, the Bill provides greater clarity in relation to the definition of sexual consent for the first time.’
The Bill contains:
· New criminal offences to protect children against grooming;
· New measures to protect children from online predators;
· New and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography;
· New provisions to be introduced regarding evidence by victims, particularly children;
· New offences addressing public indecency;
· A provision in relation to harassment Orders to protect victims of convicted sex offenders;
· Provisions maintaining the age of consent to sexual activity at 17 years of age and for a new “proximity of age” defence;
· A provision to criminalise the purchase of sexual services.
· A statutory statement of the law as regards consent to sexual acts
Concluding, the Tánaiste said, ‘I would like to acknowledge the support and invaluable contributions from my parliamentary colleagues and from civic society, in particular from those people and organisations who made submissions and representations to me and my Department.’
This Bill brings Irish law into line with a number of international legal instruments and implements the recommendations of a number of Oireachtas committees.
SPACE International is delighted to join its voice with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Ruhama, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Children’s Rights Alliance, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Men’s Development Network, Irish Nurses and Midwives Association and all of the other organisations that make up the seventy-two members of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, in welcoming the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill in the Republic of Ireland.
SPACE International’s Irish members, both publicly known and anonymous, have worked extraordinarily hard alongside many others to campaign for the passing of this Bill since 2011, and it is with great joy that we can finally welcome the criminalisation of the demand for paid sexual access to human beings.
We are relieved and gladdened that the Irish government has finally fully recognised the abusive reality of prostitution and committed to criminalise those who exploit others for their own sexual gratification. This is an important and historical moment for Ireland. We have, for the first time since the foundation of the state, recognised the legal rights of prostituted persons to live free of sexual exploitation.
SPACE recognises the highly gendered nature of the sex trade and welcomes the societal change that this legislation will bring about, in particular its positive effect on the goal of gender equality, and is committed to continuing the conversation with regard to social supports for prostituted persons so that they may exit prostitution if they so wish with the full support of the State.
The EVA Center is a survivor led, social justice oriented program whose mission is to empower women who have experienced sexual exploitation, (prostitution, sex trafficking), to find solutions to the issues they face and exit the commercial sex industry. We also work to challenge public perceptions and strongly advocate for specialized, survivor led, strength based programming that increases awareness of the many socio-economic and situational factors contributing to women’s and girls entry into the sex trade.
The EVA Center’s mission is to provide comprehensive exit services for women who are experiencing commercial sexual exploitation, (prostitution/trafficking).
We are committed to ending commercial sexual exploitation by changing women’s lives, addressing the social and economic conditions that enable the sex trade to thrive. We advocate for what is called the Nordic Model, calling for the complete decriminalization of those exploited in prostitution and criminalizing the buying which fuels the demand.
The EVA Center, formerly Kims Project, has almost ten years of direct service experience. Founded in 2006 by Cherie Jimenez, a survivor of the sex trade, this project was created in response to the overwhelming need to assist women in the often complex process of exiting out of commercial sexual exploitation. It started as Kims Project, a project created and implemented by and for women that had direct experience in the sex trade, understanding the importance of peer support. It was created through Finex House, a domestic violence shelter. Since 2006 we have provided comrehensive services and long term support for hundreds of women while simultanously working to create needed emergency and long term housing options, providing awareness-raising campaigns to educate the public about the violence associated with the sex trafficking and the role of the demand in driving this trade. In 2012, we incorporated as The Josephine Butler EVA Center to fullfill the need to create a more sustainable emergency and long term housing program for the number of women wanting out of this harmful industry. The EVA Center, standing for Education, Vision and Advocacy, better represented what we do, acknowledging this program as a center, a compassionate and caring space for women.
After almost ten years we are currently in the process of collaborating with new partners to create a sustainable and needed emergency housing program and increase our staff.
We assist women in creating their own exit plans, providing information and resources to the appropriate services, acknowledging that each woman has her own experiences, needs and cultural beliefs that can vary tremendously. This might include immediate access to safety since many prostituted and trafficked women find themselves caught in relational violence. For many women the Center represents the beginniing of a new kind of connection and sense of community.
We offer financial assistance as well as long term consistent support in accessing health services, safe permanent housing, educational and employment opportunities; recognizing that education is a key component to economic security. The lack of meaningful employment that provides a living wage is a huge obstacle facing young women struggling to support themselves.
We partner with a number of community organizations to help women develop their own educational plans, getting reconnected back into school and work, GED, ESOL, life, job skills, and/or work readiness programs.
The Center is a caring space for women, all services are free and all women are welcome. The door to resources is always open; there is no cut off of support.
We provide court advocacy, support for women arrested on prostitution related charges, working with Boston area district courts. Our goal is to offer women who have been arrested on prostitution related offenses an opportunity to access services in lieu of jail time. We also offer pre-court diversion which enables law enforcement to intervene, breaking the cycle of court involvement, diverting them to community based programs.
The EVA Center provides a free legal clinic to assist women in navigating the court system. This clinic is a unique partnership with the Boston University School of Law and the EVA Center. Clinic students provide a variety of legal services – including direct representation of non citizens eligible for T Visas, as well as a variety of other legal services.
Rhode Island chapter of Amnesty International has broken with Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA, on the issue of sex trafficking
Group 49 of Amnesty International paused in its petitioning on behalf of political prisoners to talk about sex trafficking Sunday.
Group 49, the Rhode Island chapter, has broken with its parent organizations, Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA, on the issue of sex trafficking. The parent organizations in 2015 adopted a policy, in the words of Rhode Island coordinator Marcia Lieberman, “to decriminalize all aspects of prostitution.”
As guest speaker Cherie Jimenez put it at a Group 49 gathering Sunday, “If we want equality between men and women, we have to end this” organized prostitution. Although legalization is a fashionable “neo-liberal” approach, prostitution is “not an empowering experience” for girls and women, she said.
“It’s made me a little crazy and a little angry,” she confided to her audience. “Because it’s been around forever is not a basis for its continuance.” Jimenez said she has never met a sex-trade practitioner who wanted to stick with it.
Jimenez, who is in her 50s and used to be a prostitute herself, is founder and director of the EVA Center in Boston – as in Education, Vision and Advocacy – which offers peer counseling, housing and other support for women seeking to leave the commercial sex industry.
She said women who go into prostitution believe they do not have options because, in the United States, they usually are products of a public social-services system that does not do enough for them.
“We have so many flawed … systems,” she said, such as indifferent group homes that take in children from dysfunctional domestic situations but cannot overcome their behavioral problems.
“Why isn’t this a human rights violation?” she demanded to know.
After digressing to discuss sex trafficking, the 29th annual Write-a-thon resumed in the parish house of the First Unitarian Church on College Hill, with about 35 volunteers sitting at long tables hand-writing letters on behalf of at least 10 selected prisoners of conscience around the world. The letters were deposited in a glass container, to display the writers’ progress.
As usual, participants lit a large candle draped in barbed wire – the symbolic “candle of hope.”
Regarding sex trafficking, Group 49 officer Merritt Meyer, of Bristol, said decriminalization increases trafficking because it increases the market.
“It’s not just a job,” Lieberman protested.
She said various members of the group have communicated their disagreement to the parent organizations.
A second speaker, Providence police Capt. Michael E. Correia, commanding officer of the detective bureau, summarized how his department underwent a pronounced change and now goes after prostitution by treating prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators of crime.
“The victim isn’t just someone who signs a witness statement,” Correia said, but is someone deserving of help. The police do not handcuff suspected prostitutes and they introduce them to advocates like Jimenez, hoping the suspects will cooperate later in prosecutions of their pimps.
As part of the change, the police dropped the use of the word “john” as a euphemism for a prostitute’s customer.
“They’re not johns,” he declared. “That’s an antiseptic name. They’re sex buyers.”
Correia acknowledged that the revised approach is difficult to justify to higher-ups in the department because resources are often used in cases with no accompanying arrests to “clear” the cases statistically.
Translated from Danish
Original published at Politiken.dk on March 9, 2013
Tanja Rahm, sexologist and author
Alice Viola, mentor and therapist
Christina Christensen, educator
Lita Malmberg, social education worker
Pia Christensen, cand.mag. (BA in Denmark)
Odile Poulsen, author and psychotherapist
All authors are formerly prostituted women.
We are six women who have been in prostitution. In many ways we are similar to the women Politiken described in the series of articles ‘The Brothel – A Workplace in Denmark’. Their words were our words when we were in prostitution.
Five of us told ourselves and the world around us that we were choosing to do it. That we enjoyed sex, earned good money and received lots of recognition. That we were completely in control of what we did.
The media often describes women in prostitution as strong and free and as having a healthy appetite for sex, most recently so in ‘The Brothel’. The story of the sex-loving woman who liberates her sexuality in prostitution is also the story most people want to hear. Especially men who buy sex.
Women like us are the complete opposite. When we take part in the public debate about prostitution and point out the destructive forces and consequences of prostitution, we are told that something else must be wrong with us.
For it cannot be the years in prostitution that have given us insomnia, depression, memory loss, suicidal thoughts, self-hate, pain, arthritis, anxiety, problems with intimacy and so on.
Even though hundreds of women in our situation speak of the same painful consequences of prostitution, this knowledge does not count in the current debate. ‘The Brothel’ conveys the dominant narrative: prostitution is liberating and harmless.
But what is not made clear at the same time is that it can look very different when one has exited the trade. This can contribute to the normalization of prostitution and lure young women into thinking that it is a danger-free way of earning money. It is not.
Many are those of us who have had to realize that prostitution is not a free or liberating choice, but boundary-crossing, violent, unfree. We lost touch with ourselves. So that we would be able to take it.
‘Satisfied sex workers’ are treated with a rare, uncritical political correctness by the media.
The journalist in ‘The Brothel’ accepted all the contradictions unquestioningly. But women in prostitution aren’t made of glass. So why shouldn’t they answer critical questions? How, for instance, are they going to avoid being exploited by pimps with the help of a telephone operator and a security guard? How are they going to get men to stop buying the foreign women who have no access to the famous ‘rights’—they are cheaper, after all? How does being a member of a union protect you from being assaulted by the buyers? How can you be an unemployed prostitute?
After all, you could just stand out on the street. ‘The Brothel’ gives the impression that the stigma lies in the fact that some people disagree that prostitution is an okay profession. The degrading view of women that sex buyers have is described by the interviewed women as them being sweet men who long for a little closeness and intimacy.
There is much discussion about freedom of choice. But this seems meaningless to us, for prostitution eats your dignity, free choice or not. When society does not want to give up on the notion that some women should be for sale, the stigma remains. And our pain is brushed aside by saying we chose it ourselves.
Below we have each listed our experiences and our views on being in prostitution:
Tanja: “I was superior, strong. But the facade was crumbling. I became addicted to cocaine so that I could go on. Was I too weak, a spineless victim? No. I survived and built a worthy life for myself. But I see how women in my situation constantly have to fight psychological problems, go to the hospital, get operations.” (…) “Women who exit prostitution tell a different story than that of orgasms and sweet men. Our experiences are the most stigmatizing. Because other women don’t want to realize that their men might be sex buyers and cheaters. Men don’t want to lose their illusions of constantly horny women who love to have sex for money. And society fears being seen as judgmental and frigid if we don’t embrace all sexual excesses with wide open arms. The cost of saying what no one wants to hear is condemnation.”
Alice: “As a mentor in ‘Swan Groups’ I meet many who find the media’s generally one-sided idealization of prostitution hard to deal with. In a Swan Group, you gain a better perspective of the issue. For who among us wasn’t happy, right up until we discovered something different? Very many of the Swan Women only discovered the painful reality afterward. Almost all of them have problems with closeness, intimacy, trust and sex. This has serious consequences for relationships with partners, children and others. Freedom in prostitution is an illusion, a quick fix of power and a lie that keeps both the sex buyer and the woman going around the ring.”
Christina: “I went talking to the media, praising the joys of prostitution when I was in prostitution. It was a huge self-deception that I used in order to survive. Many times I have since wondered about the question of rights. Would I have avoided PTSD, memory loss, depression, sleep disorders and general anxiety if I had had the right to be seen by a health professional every other week or been a member in the union and had the right to sick pay? No. Sex buyers differ from other men in only one respect: they can justify to themselves that it is okay to buy sex. They were pitiful when they thought they were entitled to use me because they paid for it. They justified their actions by saying, “Wow, it’s so cool that you are so strong; I could never have sex with one of the weak ones.” I could not possibly be one of those who were being hurt. How wrong they were. Pretending that you’re strong is just the way you sell the goods. “
Lita: “The rights should be the right to get out of prostitution. Help for the treatment of the problems that women in prostitution typically get, help with education or work. People should have the right not to have to sell themselves. And make no mistake: It is selling yourself. It’s not just a performance. You are alone and naked with a stranger who lies on top of you and groans and sweats, who sucks on your breasts and finally empties himself into you. That’s what it is to be a prostitute. Yes, there was always one who said, ‘I’ll be quick so it’s not so bad for you’. But if he thought it was so bad for me, why did he do it? That lack of self-control repelled me. The only thing they were really interested in was the size of our body parts–and what it cost. We were described and sold as if we were sandwiches.”
Pia: “I was violently forced to prostitute myself. That Danish women can also be forced into prostitution is never spoken about, but I am far from alone. My situation resembles that of foreign prostitutes, who also often have pimps—yes, even the ‘willing’ Danish prostitutes sometimes have those. Many women are ashamed, even if they’ve chosen to prostitute themselves, and would very much like to quit. So why are some politicians so busy trying to make the sex industry so that as many as possible can remain in prostitution for as long as possible? A lot more should be done to get women out of prostitution.”
Odile: “It’s not acceptable to talk about the damage we take away from prostitution—that destroys the common notion of prostitution as mutual, free-spirited sex. Women who haven’t been in prostitution and who don’t think that prostitution is good for society, for the prostitutes or the sex buyers, are called frigid, sexually repressed, moralizing spinsters. So how is it possible to discuss?”
Survivor Megaphone (links/references in original)
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)