by Captain Danielle Strickland
I’ve been immersed recently in prostitution legislation. A year and a half ago I was neck high in a raging debate around the legalising of prostitution in Canada. Some very vocal proponents were upholding the ‘rights of women’ to prostitute themselves. After all – it is their body. This neo-liberal feminism (far from the classic feminism that spear-headed abolition, women voting and the rights of children around the world) suggests that prostitution isn’t oppression but a profession and should be dignified with proper acceptance, education and wages – with protection of workers rights. There is a classic case of a ‘co-operative brothel’ operating right now (albeit illegally) in Victoria, BC on the west coast of Canada.
The problem is that the rhetoric around legalising prostitution sounds pretty good (in promised form anyway)… a society that no longer judges women or uses morality as a grid to punish those who don’t adopt a pure lifestyle… billed as a liberation and a right – it makes opposing it sound like a puritanical rant against the freedom of women. You’d think the only people left opposing legalizing prostitution were a bunch of old fashioned, purist holy rollers trying to save poor lasses from the den of iniquity and the fires of hell.
The truth is that classic feminism rages on and presents from a women’s right perspective, an impressive argument against legalising prostitution. Not simply theoretical in recent years they have presented a new model many governments around the world are adopting to combat violence and oppression against women through sexual slavery and prostitution. It all started in Sweden.
Gunilla Ekberg was at the helm of the new legislation that suggested (with a proper understanding of prostitution) any society that seeks to uphold the rights of women and children must stop it. On it’s website at the height of the experiment Sweden had written, ‘we want the world to know that in Sweden, women and children are NOT FOR SALE.’ Bring it. (Swedish Model of Sex Industry Reform) This women’s right perspective suggests abolition as the only proper feminist response to prostitution. But why? Well, it’s all about understanding oppression. Let’s break it down:
Who are they?
Prostituted women are almost always oppressed women. Studies the world over suggest that women who end up working by selling their bodies are desperate. 84% of prostituted women in Australia (where prostitution has been legalised for 14 years in the State of Victoria – but more on that later!) said they would do anything else if they could. They are most likely to be uneducated, from low economic backgrounds, minorities, addicted and abused. It’s not exactly a poster child for women’s rights. Unlike the popular media suggests prostituted persons do not consists of young sexually liberated women choosing to exercise their ‘right’ to sell themselves - they are overwhelmingly poor, uneducated and neglected – suffering from abuse.
Read: Harms of Prostitution
What do they do?
Ekberg spells it out much clearer than I can given the readership of this article - suffice to say it’s a list of things that include rape, gang rape, oral sex, vaginal tearing, beatings, bondage and death.
What are the costs?
The costs to the women themselves are astronomical. Damage to their body and their emotions, fear, addiction (70% of women develop an addiction while involved in prostitution), 80% suffer physical harm, 60% suffer sexual assault, 80% emotional abuse, 70% verbal threats, not to mention post traumatic stress disorder, death (suicide is a common death for prostituted persons), and murder.
Read: Making the Harm Visible
The costs to society are also shocking. Violence toward all women increases with societies assumption that it’s completely normal to purchase women’s bodies. Marriage breakdowns, infectious diseases, police intervention, and trauma costs just to name a few. Not only that, but the problems of illegal trafficking only increase with legalisation according to several studies.
Gunilla Ekberg, the Swedish social reformer who introduced brand new legislation into the country that has upheld the rights of women and virtually eliminated the need for prostitution, suggests that two things are necessary to change nations. Nation changers pay attention:
1. Imagine a better world. You can’t do what you can’t imagine. Wilberforce did it with slavery… not just change the law but changed civilization’s acceptance of the practise.
2. Understand oppression. That was the idea of the first blog on prostitution. If we really understand prostitution – who they are, what they do and the consequences of it – it’s not that hard to fight against. In fact, it would be ludicrous not too. The down side of this point (and perhaps why it’s not often practised) is it takes work and it gets you dirty. In order to understand oppression you have to get close. You have to get filthy. There is no way to understand oppression from the safety of a boardroom (even in a uniform)– you’ve got to smell the stuff. You remember the scene in Amazing Grace (the movie on Wilberforce) where the rich folk are taking a nice cruise and start to smell a nasty odor? Turns out it’s Wilberforce on a slave ship and he tells them to stop covering their noises… breath in the smell of death he says… if you are going to support it you really ought to understand what it is. How much of the enemy’s work is done in secret? How much of prostitution is media slick covering the truth of the realities of violence and oppression against women? How many closed brothel doors have we even bothered to knock on in the desperate hopes perhaps of believing the lie so as not to have to uncover the truth and deal with the dirty consequences?
Turns out changing a nation isn’t so easy after all. Wanted: crazy fanatics who dream of a better world, willing to get dirty and broken, with friends in low places.