Monday, 25 October 2010

On Invisible Harms

I just had an article published by the European Women's Lobby. They sent me, along with a couple of copies of the magazine, a dvd called 'Not For Sale' , which they produced jointly with the Coalition Against Trafficking Women. They also sent me 'The Links Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: A Briefing Handbook', full of facts about prostitution and pornography. It makes for pretty grim reading.

What really interests me is this question: where are these facts and statistics when prostitution and pornography are debated in everyday life?

This information is not hidden away: it is not stored in some secret cache in a darkened room. Yet it is completely absent from most discussions. Why is that? If one were to debate the pros and cons of genetic engineering, one would never attempt to do so without recourse to information, to facts and figures. If one were to debate anything of import, from capital punishment to the welfare state, in any meaningful way, one would expect to use data and evidence.

The sex industry has made a good job of ensuring these facts are kept out of debates about prostitution and pornography by instead using a language which is extremely attractive to the modern western mind. Choice, liberalism, empowerment - who doesn't support those? I have argued elsewhere that this language has no place in the context of the sex industry. Their arguments are largely attractively packaged hot air.

The point that the dvd I watched made, and which I believe to be one hundred percent true is this: that when we adopt this language, in particular where a state legalises prostitution, it serves to make the harm done to the women involved invisible.

Legalising prostitution makes the harm done to the women it uses invisible.

There are fewer exiting services in countries where it prostitution is legal. Why? because where it is legalised, it becomes viewed as just another job, and why would you need help to exit a normal job? Just think about it. Where prostitution is legal, the pimp becomes a businessman, an entrepreneur, whose interests are protected by law. The language of abuse vanishes. The women who are prostituted become 'sex workers', the johns become 'clients'. A veneer of respectability is given to a system that is no respecter of human rights. An atmosphere where daily acts of violence and degradation are perpetrated on women becomes legitimate because it takes place in a 'safe' setting. What is safe about being penetrated, hurt, being used? Is it okay because it takes place in rooms with nice bedspreads (for the benefit of the johns of course) and indoors? If I am raped in a legalised brothel not on a street corner, how does that make it better?

Violence is inherent in the action of every john. They demand the right to take their pleasure in the manner they feel fit, and because they pay for it, it is deemed acceptable. Why is it more okay to rape a prostitute, to abuse a prostitute, than any other woman? Does an exchange of money, much or all of which the woman will have to pay to the house or to her pimp, make the unacceptable acceptable?

Legalising prostitution is not about improving the safety of the prostitute: there is no safety as a prostitute. Being an 'escort' may sound more salubrious, but the act is the same, the risks are the same. What legalising prostitution is all about is the safety and wellbeing of the johns, of the pimps. It gives them an air of legitimacy, enables them to hold their heads up high and chat about their 'business' in public (a very abstract, sanitised version of it, anyway). Legalising prostitution effectively removes any possibility of the prostituted woman asking for help, speaking about her abuse, which is hard enough as it is.

Legalising prostitution would be the equivalent hearking back to the times before marital rape was recognised: change the language and you silence the problem. How do you speak out without language?

I have struggled to access help, to be heard, since I have exited. I have experienced mental health practitioners (so-called) who fail to see anything wrong with prostitution. I have been told that I was wrong to have a problem with it, to be upset by porn (even as someone who was used in porn and was made to 'learn' how to be from porn) - told to get over it and that I chose it.


You don't choose to be treated that way. You're fucked up and you end up in it. That's what happened to me and I saw the same story time and time over with the women I met. They had been abused. They were caught in addiction. They had no money. They had no self esteem. They had no options.

You get to the point where you are so shattered by it, so exhausted by it, that the things that you're told - by the johns, by your partner who beats you, by the whole clamour of a society that has bought into the lies of the industry, that you cease to care what happens to you. They told you you like it, you chose it. You get confused. Maybe you did. Who cares. So tired. Just survive. Just survive.

I am lucky to have got out - just. I nearly didn't make it. I know a lot of women who weren't so lucky. We need to fight to keep the harms done them visible.

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