Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Column

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Anonymous posted on my blog and what she writes is so well-written that I decided to post it here:
(...)

I was interested to see you say the ‘notorious human traffickers are starting to disappear.’ It certainly seems to be the direction of opinion at the moment.

Where once the press would trumpet the arrest of brothel owners and individual men and women denounced by prostitutes as the “tip of the iceberg” of a horrific and widespread problem, now they are dismissed as lover’s squabbles which got out of hand, a practical step to keep the immigration service at bay or as a way out of feeling ashamed for women who have worked as prostitutes and been discovered.

We live in a world led by marketing, a process which seeks to put a price on everything and to deliver any service to a customer who can pay. No thought is given to individual consequences: there is no money in that. Individuals can take charge of their own lives, and this freedom can be a heartless process.

Truth too, is a consumer product. Once it was fashionable to label all prostitutes as slaves, particularly if they were foreign, with no thought for the poverty the women endeavoured to escape, or why their often recently impoverished home countries were so poor.
This was a big story - a truly horrifying scandal, and reputations were made on it, both by academics and journalists. Newspapers are sold and academic papers are read when the victims number in the many tens of thousands.
And now we are to believe there are none, and that trafficking does not exist: another scandal is born, another line of academic enquiry begins, now investigating trafficking’s exaggeration. Another set of reputations are made when this exaggeration is exposed.

The existence, nature and prevalence of trafficking is so politicised now, partly because it is so emotive, and also because it is a central issue in the battle over whether or not prostitution should be legalised, how it should be controlled, and whether it should be controlled at all. This has caused so much distortion it seems to me impossible now to determine the truth.

Both sides of this debate have their facts and figures, all disputed of course, and all seem subject to significant subjectivity and shortcomings of technique. Just as when you ask your MP, “have you ever fiddled your expenses?” he will reply “no,” whether he has or not.
Large numbers of studies have been made; often they contradict each other. Great credence is placed on individual reports which are often in reality only a doctoral thesis written by a student whose parameters have been conceived in order to demonstrate a particular point of view and reach a pre determined outcome, often a controversial one which will be noticed (trafficking does not exist, or it s almost everywhere – even on your own high street.)
Such reports must be treated with caution, since their methodology is often flawed, seem to serve predetermined ends and are written in non neutral language which is at times deliberately obscure and laced with academic jargon.

I believe that there probably are women working as prostitutes in the Netherlands, or Great Britain or wherever, who do so against their will. Some of these will also have been “traditionally trafficked”. How many they number and even their identity will be virtually impossible to discover.
I also believe that the number of these truly forced women has probably been exaggerated - that many more are simply working in prostitution as a job, entirely willingly or at least compelled by circumstance rather than violence, though that is not to say they find it in any way enjoyable.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's crazy to consider that only trafficked prostitution is wrong. You ignore the process itself, and the makeup of the prostitutes themselves. It's a physically and psychologically damaging process. Our bodies are not designed to have sex in the way prostitutes do. As for their makeup : Why are the majority of prostitutes women who have been sexually abused as children? This is obviously not a "normal" occupation to choose. Is that choice real or acceptable? If I chose to let people gouge wounds in me for money, is it ok because I haven't been trafficked?
You ignore an important part of the equation: the responsibility of people who visit prostitutes. Why aren't they depicted as disgusting people?
What makes the choice to pay for sex a normal activity- to want to stick their genitals in a stranger's body?
Donkey your parents really let you down with their opinion over prostitution. It's as if they have little respect for you or belief in you. I feel sorry that they didn't give you better guidance, made you develop confidence in yourself, and encouraged you to do things where you could meet other women. It seems to me that what they did was very, very wrong. Maybe they have their reasons, but you can take your life into your own hands and change. People can change. And I believe that you can too.
Don't stop trying.

Anonymous said...

I think you might find this report interesting:
http://www.londonwired.co.uk/news.php/70172-Baby-deaths-link-to-Roman-brothel-in-Buckinghamshire

Donkey said...

Yes, that last thing is interesting. I read some books about prostitution in the Netherlands in the earlier centuries, and you read that historians struggle with the same question: how did prostitutes protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy? Condoms existed since ancient times. I read about one nineteenth century butcher who also ran a brothel who used the bowels of the slaughtered animals as condoms. But, I can guess that many prostitutes in general didn't use condoms because they weren't widely available. Another explanation given is that prostitutes contracted so many venereal diseases that they simply became infertile. And indeed, child murder is another option. I read the book "Nell Kimball: her life as an American madam" about an American prostitute and madam in the late nineteenth, and she tells that she used some kind of pill that she bought on the black market, not telling what the exact ingredients were. She says that she never became pregnant of clients. I never found what this magic pill could have been, perhaps ergot of rye? Perhaps this is the answer to the big secret. But for the rest, the literature is very silent about this issue.

About the first comment: my present opinion (it changes all the time) is that prostitution is not so damaging as is often thought. You can find some links to studies here which tell us that prostitutes are not more damaged than other people:
http://prostitution.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000106.

But that doesn't mean that it is a nice thing to have sex with a person who detests having sex with you. On the other hand, many women in general don't like sex so I discovered, and for many it is even painful.

Perhaps we should conclude that having sex in general with women is disrespectful, it is not only visiting a prostitute what is disrespectful. Sex is not a necessary part of life, not even for procreation nowadays.

Anonymous said...

The original poster and yourself share a particular detachment to the subject, Donkey. He says that it's emotive. Too right it is! Just as the holocaust is emotive, just as slavery is emotive. To approach it without emotion is to do the people involved an injustice. Emotion is part of the truth. This is not a purely academic or political discussion.
I once asked my husband if he would have a circumcision. He said no. His principle concern was that sex might be less enjoyable and he didn't want to take the risk.
Do you think prostitutes enjoy sex? Not after they've become prostitutes. It's a part of their life that's dying and every punter that has sex with them brings that part of their being closer to death. It's not a question of not 'liking' sex, or not 'liking' their work. Are you for real?
Prostitutes are people, people just as you and I. They can be happy, they can be sad, they have humour, they have feelings. They are human. Many people with psychiatric difficulties make a 'normal' impression. Have you ever seen the BBC documentary where they asked top psychiatrists to guess which people had a psychiatric background. They got it horribly wrong. Prostitutes are people and that's precisely why you shouldn't treat them as pieces of living meat you can buy. A butcher with a brothel?
Did he become desensitized to all living things?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the samples were of those surveys you quoted, and the wording of the conclusions makes me suspicious too.

What about this survey: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/154140.stm

Would you be okay with it if your mum or your sister or your wife chose prostitution as a career? What do you think would make someone have the right disposition for the job? I ask this because one of the people (in the one of the surveys in your link) said that people who didn't have the right disposition for prostitution experienced stress.
I don't know a single person who would have the right disposition or physical ability to have sex with unknown men, over and over again in a few hours.
Didn't you talk about lubrication, and drugs to make it physically comfortable/possible?
You start this blog with the pretense of caring, but in reality you don't want to see how bad it is to visit prostitutes.

Anonymous said...

This is the documentary about mental health that I referred to earlier:
http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/how-mad-are-you/

Donkey said...

That report from Farley you mentioned has a serious flaw, it mainly involves street prostitutes. Street prostitutes are usually in a bad shape, often addicted to hard drugs, often homeless. On the other hand, Jo Doezema an ex-prostitute who worked in the Netherlands lamented once that also many prostitutes in clubs are addicted to coke. But on the other hand again, researchers have asked prostitutes in the Netherlands if they use hard drugs and only a few percentages of the prostitutes say they do. So it's hard to find out the truth, is Doezema right or are the interviewed prostitutes right? And often, when psychological tests are performed on indoor prostitutes, they don't seem to differ much from people in general. This is a very difficult issue.

But you might be right. Working in prostitution might be very degrading. If I try to imagine I'm a female prostitute myself, I get sexually aroused, in my opinion that must be the most exciting thing to do! But I think this is a sadomasochistic fantasy, like the rape fantasies that many women have. It is not something you might want to experience for real.

All in all, I think visiting a prostitute means too big of a risk to hurt someones feelings. If I try to recall the visits I had to prostitutes, they seemed very uninterested, even slightly agitated. At the beginning they are very friendly, but that slowly deteriorates when the sex continuous. When I had an orgasm once, one prostitute shouted like: "yippee, you had an orgasm", and immediately ran to the washbasin to clean herself. That looked really silly, while at the beginning she was really friendly.

But, the same problems exists also in romantic relationships where the man often has a far bigger sex drive than the woman. It's difficult to answer the question if the woman should adapt to the sexual demand of the man or the other way around.

What you say about mental illness is interesting. A possible solution might be to assume mental illnesses don't exist like Thomas Szasz believes. So, nobody is really crazy, it is society that labels them as crazy. Perhaps that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

I would call myself anon, but there isn't the option. There are just too many called “anonymous!” :)
I have split my reply between two posts since it is so long Blogger won't accept it! :D

Anyone with half a gramme of human understanding can see that prostitution, indeed the whole sex industry, is a nasty, exploitative, violent and manipulative thing which seeks out and preys on the vulnerable, consuming them. There is no industry in which the relationship between exploiter and victim is closer and none where it is more stark.

I first came across the concept of trafficking through my long interest in a small south eastern European country whose economy collapsed in the early 1990s for manifold reasons, exposing its people to terrible hardship. What I read about trafficking horrified me, and still horrifies me.

I describe trafficking as an emotive subject because it is. It is appalling and deeply repellent: I am not detached. I agree, there are major similarities with non trafficked prostitution. A non trafficked woman does the same job and suffers the same gradual erosion of herself by a thousand humiliations, exhaustion and fear. The chief difference is how they started, though I can see that conditions of work for the trafficked woman could be far worse because of the situation she is in, and her absence of choices and volition. I find it difficult to imagine the horror of entering this world for the woman who believes she will be doing something else. It is of no consequence if that belief was naïve. Few will recover. With their “inhibitions” broken, many will remain in prostitution, perhaps in the hope of making some money for themselves, but maybe because their dream of a better life is dead. Normal prostitutes (there must be a better word for this, how can it ever be normal?) will probably have a more gradual introduction.

I find the suggestion that prostitution does not damage the women working in it absurd: it seems to me compelling that some degree of trauma is intrinsic to this life.
All prostitutes will develop coping strategies, and some women are more capable at this and thus more durable than others. I do not believe even the strongest woman can survive “becoming the job” psychologically in the long term.

This is not the point of my post. Prostitution and trafficking particularly, has become deeply politicised in a process which has been entirely toxic for the truth. A whole “industry” has grown up around it, each member pedaling its wares in order to serve their narrow self interest. Each knows that with right arbitrary parameters, their report can demonstrate anything, thus distortion after distortion is manufactured in the cloister, whilst in the real world little is achieved. I find this situation outrageous, because with every inflated claim and counter claim the issue is devaluated and confused, and its impact drains away.

Anonymous said...

...

Some seek to discount suffering: nobody is hurt by prostitution they say, and if a woman is found to be damaged, then it is just coincidence. They will suggest such women were already damaged, having endured a chaotic early life.
This seems to overlook that prostitution is part of the cycle of these women’s lives and not remote from it. The claims that working in prostitution does not lead to post traumatic stress, flow from this belief. It seems to me a crazy assumption and conclusion, yet the suggestion that every prostitute is debilitated by PTSD seems equally absurd. I do not doubt that it is a serious problem for many though.
Others seem to overlooked that women will choose to enter prostitution, and choose to stay in it. Prostitution can be a way of making a large sum of money quickly, provided the woman keeps what she had earned. Some countries in Europe are very poor now; their economies wrecked. Incomes are so low that frequently they are not enough even simply to live. I do not blame a woman who sells sex if she believes it will allow her to escape this. If she is a mother it may be the only way she can feed her child. This is a terrible choice for her. Society too can be the prime mover, as it fragments leaving winners and losers.
I guess I am tired of evidence being manipulated by groups and individuals who place more emphasis on furthering their own ends, rather than to try to uncover truth.



Donkey, I know for my own experience that PTSD is real and can be very debilitating. Fear and anxiety are exhausting and will break the resolve of almost anyone.
Fear and confusion are powerful weapons. If frightened enough, the vast majority of people become compliant and will even conspire in their situation.
For me, your parallel between sex within a normal relationship and commercial sex is a flawed one. I am not convinced the situations are comparable. I also believe most couples are probably more conservative in the bedroom than you think.

Donkey said...

I guess you're wrong, prostiution is not traumatizing. It is perhaps very degrading and filthy, but not traumatizing. According to one woman (see this report about migrant prostitutes in the UK, by Nick Mai) working in prostitution is even terribly boring, she says "To be honest the thing that bothers me most is that I feel bored. I mean it is always the same, I feel that I should do more with my life. After a while it gets very repetitive and you just get along."

So, I think you are mistaken, but having sex with a person who really doesn't want to still feels bad.

As a present, I like to provide a link about female sexuality:
What Do Women Want?
(New York Times, Daniel Bergner, January 22 2009)

This article shows that women get sexually excited by bonobo sex!!! Without being conscious of it!

Anonymous said...

This is a message to the Anonymous who wished it possible to be called anon: I misunderstood your intentions with the 'Original post.' I agree with everything you write and I recognise the underlying integrity in how you express it. Please forgive my comment about detachment.
Donkey, if you want to delude yourself and clutch at any straws that make you believe that visiting prostitutes is "not so bad" then I can't stop you. You are responsible for your own actions. I am seriously considering not visiting this blog anymore, because I don't really believe that you have heart for the situation of the prostitutes (which I believed was the main theme in writing the blog.)

Anonymous said...

Donkey, you are so so so wrong about comparing sex in relationships to sex with prostitutes.
Most people don't talk about their sex life. I don't. You know more about me than I would tell other people I know. That's why I didn't know about the pubic hair thing. But what you wrote about women seeming friendly and then eagerly rushing off to wash traces of you from their body, should give you some indication of how prostitutes feel about their clients (that is, that they want to wash off traces of their clients as quickly as possible.) I'll confide in something else about my private relationship: I purposely don't wash for at least a day after sex with my husband because I find it romantic. We have different sex drives but my husband doesn't mind waiting till I'm ready because it's a question of mutual respect. He knows I love him, and I don't have to prove it.
Prostitutes like the punters who provide them with the most money. They don't desire their punters, or fall in love with their punters, or care for their punters. It's part of their job to try to make money and fake friendliness.

Donkey said...

I have to stress again that the view you have about prostitution is far too pessimistic. I can show you another report about prostitutes in New Zealand:

here's the abstract
here's the pdf
Health, well-being and sexual violence among female sex workers : a comparative study (Charlotte Seib, 2007)

Quotes:
"Methods: Cross-sectional, convenience sampling was used to collect data from female sex workers in 2003. This data was compared with data collected earlier (in 1991) and explored differences in the two samples using bivariate analysis. Similar recruitment strategies on both occasions were used to recruit women from all known sectors of the Queensland sex industry. The 1991 comparison sample (Boyle et al. 1997) included 200 women (aged between 16 and 46 years), and in 2003, 247 women (aged 18 to 57) participated. The 2003 sample included workers from legal brothels (n=102), private sole-operators (n=103) and illegal street-based sex workers (n=42)."

"Overall, the sex workers reported roughly equivalent job satisfaction to Australian women."

"Similarly, the mental and physical health of this sample was comparable to age-matched women from the general population."

But that still doesn't mean that it's okay to have sex with a person who detests having sex with you. That's my opinion. Really, I think that people are really strong and cope with a lot of nasty things. I believe trying to find a relationship between prostitution and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is ridiculous. What if one found there is no correlation between Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and child abuse, does that make child abuse okay?

There is no relationship between working in prostitution and becoming traumatized, but that doesn't make visiting prostitutes in itself okay yet. I think radical feminists have to try to find other ways of attacking prostitution.

(okay, that last visit to a prostitute was a mistake, actually they all were mistakes)

Anon said...

A central issue which I did only briefly acknowledge in my comments above is that the sex industry is wide and diverse, just like any other area of life. I do not believe that women working in it suffer damage by definition.

Certainly damage can be intrinsic, but the negative aspects of the job will not be felt by all women in the same way. Some will be more damaged by it and some less, and damage will not be universal. I do believe however that some degree of trauma is intrinsic to this life, but to define trauma as needing to manifest permanent psychiatric illness sets a very high test, indeed an unrealistic one. It is possible to feel traumatised by events without developing a long term mental illness. Emotional disorders are difficult and unreliable to define in any event, even within the intensive environment of a hospital or clinic, and especially so from a simple test printed on a couple of sheets of A4 paper and briefly completed in the field. You make an excellent point below:

“I believe trying to find a relationship between prostitution and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is ridiculous. What if one found there is no correlation between Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and child abuse, does that make child abuse okay?”

I say I believe the sex industry to be nasty, exploitative, manipulative and sometimes violent. I believe it is, and I would try to discourage anyone I know from working in it.

However, I find Laura Agustín’s assertion that some women will chose to sell sex, and choose to remain in prostitution as the best option available to them, persuasive.
I believe many women will make the decision that sex work, whilst disagreeable and occasionally even repellent, is a better solution to their problem and thus preferable to the other options open to them.
Sadly, wages as a cleaner or in care for the elderly are often so low and exploitative that women doing such work earn so little they are kept from their families for many years at a time. Some women have the choice of balancing a year (they may believe less at the outset) of sex work, against five years working as a nanny, and thus five years away from their own child. “Parenting by telephone” is a tragic reality in countries like Moldova.
Equally, some women travel for work in west to finance study or to start a small business back in their home country, and have no other way of raising finance.
(How poor the EU’s neighbours have become is often overlooked. It makes me laugh out loud in disbelief when commentators in Europe and the USA describe the current financial crisis facing their countries as the world’s worst. The economic bloodbath that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union saw some country’s economies shrink by 70%, yet we squeal about a 5% reduction).
How else are they to raise this money, if not by sex work? Such women would do such a job if it existed, and was open to them: I do not believe the sex industry is many people’s first choice of career.

This is the practical, messy reality. But Agustín too, is wrong. She turns a blind eye to abuse and exploitation since acknowledging them does not fit her thesis, and her work is poorer for it.
Trafficking exists. Pimping exists. That it is not universal does not lessen the terrible impact on the individual experiencing it. Recognition of the horrors that exist in the worst of the sex industry is not incompatible with seeking to further individual worker’s rights.