Friday, 11 April 2014

Prostituto - (some of) my views on prostitution, part 1

For my friends - don't worry, I haven't started prostituting myself. But I've been rambling about prostitution and the rights of sex workers on my Facebook profile and planning to write a post about it for a really long time... Anyway. Apparently the word prostitution comes from Latin and means something like "to put out, put forward". So I'd like to put forward some of my thoughts on prostitution. 

In my line of work (the anti-trafficking field) prostitution is an important topic - is it the root of all trafficking, is it work like any other, is it violence against women.. Our organisation and I (and all my friends,it seems) subscribe to the "work like any other" philosophy but in general it's a very polarised debate, which has been getting on my nerves unusually strongly lately. And then I realised why - the anti-sex-work rhetoric currently in Western Europe reminds me so much of the anti-LGBT rhetoric in my native Bulgaria, as well as in Russia, Uganda and many other backward countries and ... well let's admit it, in the more "progressive" countries until 10-20 years ago (and nowadays too). What I find  a bit confusing is that anti-sex-work "activists" are largely feminist organisations who also support LGBT rights but don't see their own hypocrisy in denying sex workers rights. As a gay man and an anti-trafficking activist, born and raised in Eastern Europe and living in Western, I'm exposed to both debates and I find them personally and professionally offensive. 

And since I've read so many good blogs, articles and arguments in favour of (the decriminalisation of) sex work and I feel I can't add anything new, I will here prostituto my thoughts only on the similarities (in my opinion) between anti-LGBT and anti-sex work rhetoric. And since this is largely just my ramblings, I won't cite sources everywhere, I'm sure the claims I look at here can be easily found on the internet. 

To be or not to be - this is a question... 
In the anti-LGBT discourse, the question of choice, of nature vs. nurture, seems to be very important. The anti's claim that we chose/decided to be gay, because it's "fashionable" (???), because of "the benefits" (???), because we wanted to be fabulous or I don't know what. The more "compassionate", "tolerant" and "progressive" anti's will say that maybe we didn't choose per se to be gay, but we were forced into it by the circumstances of our lives - controlling mother, absent father, bitch older sister, an unresolved Oedipus/Electra complex... So the hardcore anti's view us as perverts and untermenschen that should not exist, while the more progressive, compassionate and tolerant anti's view us as sick people, victims of our upbringing, sort of addicts, that need to be helped, cured, rescued from our own demons, whether by Jesus or specific treatment (preferably not at the expense of the state). Whichever the case, the implication is that since we chose our disgusting lifestyle and are choosing not to "turn" straight, we shouldn't complain that our rights are denied or not respected, it's our own fault and we should find a way to deal with it. 

As a response, the LGBT movement is desperately trying to prove that "baby, we were born this way". While both sides throw academic and medical research at each other to prove their points, I don't understand why if someone just decided to be gay (even if, let's say for the sake of the argument, for the "benefits" and the "fashion") he/she is any less deserving of equal treatment and non-discrimination. Even if I'm convinced that baby we were born this way, I'm also convinced that the question of choice shouldn't matter. People should simply be treated equally and have equal rights and that's it. 

In the anti-sex work debate, the question of choice is also very important, albeit in a different way. The hardcore anti's claim that all sex workers are forced into prostitution by violent pimps and traffickers, manipulative madams or even their own families. The more compassionate, progressive and tolerant anti's say that maybe some did choose to be sex workers, but they were just forced into it by the circumstances of their lives - poverty, unemployment, oppression, gender inequality, lack of other opportunities... The first mostly view sex workers as immoral, indecent, whores, untermenschen, and the latter - as victims who need to be rescued, reformed, whether by Jesus or well-meaning, all-knowing and all-powerful feminists. While I agree that for many sex workers poverty, oppression and inequality were among the reasons to enter the industry and these are certainly the root causes of human trafficking, I fail to understand why this makes the decision to undertake sex work any less valid. How is cleaning toilets, washing dishes or picking strawberries for 10 Euros an hour for 10 hours a day any better than selling sex for, let's say, between 50 and 200 Euros an hour (or more?), being your own boss, defining your own working hours, place of work or type of work and clients? If sex work is degrading (and again, I don't deny that it can be), at least it pays way better than other degrading jobs, like the ones mentioned above or even working at a f*cking call centre. The most blatant denial of the idea of freely chosen sex work came just last week from Mr. José Mendes Bota from the Council of Europe, in his report "Prostitution, trafficking and modern slavery in Europe": "...I had the opportunity to meet with Ms Pye Jakobsen, co-ordinator of the Rose Alliance, an advocacy organisation of sex workers from the major Swedish cities. [...] She told me ... that only a small minority of sex workers, perhaps 5%, were forced into it. [...] I believed her when she told me that most of the people she knows in the sex industry work voluntarily and out of free choice. However, I remain convinced that voluntary prostitution is only a myth." (my emphasis). Apparently sex workers don't know how things are, but anti-prostitution activists and CoE Rapporteurs know better. Yes.

It's for the children (tilt your head to the side)
A few years ago, a stand-up comedian (Kathy Griffin or so) said in her show that "it's for the children" and similar phrases (with a tilt of the head to the side) are used to justify just about anything anyone wants to push for. While I don't necessarily support the second amendment, this photo of Dr. Evil is a good illustration of the idea and there's even a Wikipedia article about how such phrases can often be used as a logical fallacy to pursue an agenda. When it comes to anything related to sex, like sex work or homosexuality, "it's for a children" becomes a hysterical shrill and if anyone dares speak out against it - well they must be either paedophiles or monsters! 

The anti-gay discourse often equates homosexuality with paedophilia. Russia's anti-gay (propaganda) law is supposedly meant to protect children from the decadent homosexual lifestyle and even from seeing any non-heterosexual people. Mr. Putin stresses that it's not illegal to be gay in Russia, gays have their bars and whatever, and the law is there simply ... "for the children" (tilt your head to the side). After all, it's okay to see tits and violence everywhere around but mind you, hearing a good word or seeing a gay role model is too much for their little heads. In Bulgaria I've often heard or read "How do I explain this to my children???" ("this" being two men/women holding hands or just a pride parade or, maybe in 500 years - that the child's classmate has two mommies or two daddies). Duh - how do you explain anything to your children - that the grass is green and the sky is blue, that some people are of a different colour and others speak a different language... The implication is, of course, that if children see gay people or hear that it's normal to be gay, they will automatically become gay themselves... 
And there's your logical fallacy - gay people are born in straight families and look at straight people holding hands and kissing and making out everywhere, every day, all day long, and still don't become straight, why would then any kid who sees a gay couple become automatically gay? NON SEQUITUR (does not follow)! 
Yes, Mr. Spock, when you say "it's for the children" (and tilt your head to the side) - logic is not necessary. 

While the anti-sex work discourse is usually in the name of women ("prostitution is a form of violence against women and an obstacle to gender equality"), I've noticed the use of the children "card" more and more often to push the anti-prostitution agenda. The anti-prostitution agenda in Western Europe at the moment is the promotion of  "end demand" initiatives and the "Swedish model" (for those who don't know - it suggests that the buying of sex, i.e. clients of sex workers, is criminalised, while selling sex, i.e. sex workers themselves, is not). I won't ask what Mr. Spock would say about the logic of selling something being legal and buying it - illegal, but will return to the use of the "it's for the children" (yes, tilt your head to the side again) rhetoric. It goes along the lines of "women and girls make up the overwhelming majority of all trafficking victims" or "prostitution is a system in which men pay to use women's and girls' bodies". Looking at the Eurostat trafficking statistics from last year, we can see that minors were around 10% of all identified victims. I didn't see (maybe I didn't look hard enough) a division of under-age girls trafficked for sexual exploitation, so I assume this 10% includes both girls and boys and I know that a lot minors are trafficked for begging, perhaps more than for sexual exploitation. Of course women ARE the overwhelming majority of identified trafficking victims (although I wrote in my first post about the difficulty in identifying victims of labour exploitation and that there may be actually more male than female victims) and even one girl trafficked for sexual exploitation is one too many. But it's clear that statements like the above only use the child card to generate more sympathy for their cause. What's even worse, though, is the way the child card is used to promote the Swedish model and other end-demand initiatives, suggesting that the criminalisation of clients of sex workers will reduce child abuse and child pornography. o_O NON SEQUITUR!

What did you say Mr. Spock? Yes it is, but say it to Commissioner Malmström, who in this recent video message says: "For a little ten-year-old girl to be exploited in the prostitution market, or for producing pornography, there has to be a client and there has to be a user". I'm sure the Commissioner knows that child abuse and child pornography are already criminal offences in the EU and have absolutely no connection to consensual adult sex work. But this example is apparently favourite for the European Commission. It was also given by Commissioner Georgieva during discussions on the Swedish model in the European Parliament in February. But when you say "it's for the children" - well, it must be the right thing to do... despite Spock's objections... 

To conclude this point: I'm not a psychiatrist but I'm quite certain that children simply cannot satisfy the sexual needs and desires of normal adults, whether they are gay or straight. From what I know, child abusers are attracted to the innocence of children and their young bodies. LGBT people and people who pay for sex have very different needs, including certain kinks, that they cannot get from children. So in both anti-LGBT and anti-sex work discourses, the child card is used, like I already said, to imply that children are in danger and to appeal to the "humane" part in us. Anyone who attempts to deconstruct this logical fallacy would be labelled a monster or child abuser. 


Part 2

I want to stress again that these are just my thoughts on the subject. I realise that sex workers, victims of trafficking, lesbians and trans* people have different experiences and may have a very different opinion from mine.