The dangers of rebranding prostitution as ‘sex work’

The Guardian 6 June 2016
Family First Comment: The whole point of the sex industry is that it offers men the chance to buy sexual access to women who do not want to have sex with them – otherwise they wouldn’t have to pay. Masking its fundamental purpose thus becomes the primary PR challenge for the prostitution, pornography and strip club trades if they are to survive – maybe even thrive – in a society that has decided, at least in principle, that women are not subordinate sex objects and rape is a bad thing. Perhaps the single most effective strategy hit upon so far is to pump out the myth contained in the term “sex work”: the myth that it is possible to commodify consent…..
A society that acts in law and language as if men who pay to sexually access women are simply consumers, legitimately availing workers of their services, is a society in deep denial about sexual abuse – and the inequality underpinning it.

The steady creep of “sex work” into 21st-century vernacular is neither incidental nor accidental. The term didn’t just pop up and go viral. The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), an organisation that openly campaigns for brothel-keeping and pimping to be recognised as legitimate jobs, credits itself as largely responsible for “sex work” replacing “prostitution” as the go-to terminology for institutions such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“More than mere political correctness,” the NSWP proudly states, “this shift in language had the important effect of moving global understandings of sex work toward a labour framework.” The fact that prostitution involves sexual acts and some kind of payment is a given. However, engaging with it first and foremost as a labour issue, using the term “sex work” as if it was an adequate and appropriate shorthand for what takes place in strip clubs, on porn sets and in brothels, serves a deeply political goal. Not only does this framework shrink the field of analysis to the seller (to the exclusion of men’s demand and its social impact), it hides what should be front and centre of our response to the transaction: the inherent sexual abuse.

The notion that being paid to perform sex acts should be recognised as a kind of service work is the rationale underpinning legalised prostitution regimes. It’s an idea that has managed to unite an eclectic mix of left and rightwing voices. Peter Frase – a member of the editorial board of Jacobin, a magazine billed as a leading voice of the American left – is in favour of “legalising all forms of sex work for adults”. He claims: “Not only does sex work destabilise the work ideology, it also conflicts with a bourgeois ideal of private, monogamous sexuality.” Tim Worstall, writing for British rightwing thinktank the Adam Smith Institute, shares Frase’s policy conclusion, though his reasoning contrasts somewhat. As a type of commercial activity, Worstall insists the prostitution trade is “obviously free market” and that “renting out body parts is and should be no different from lending them out for fun or for free”.

The whole point of the sex industry is that it offers men the chance to buy sexual access to women who do not want to have sex with them – otherwise they wouldn’t have to pay. Masking its fundamental purpose thus becomes the primary PR challenge for the prostitution, pornography and strip club trades if they are to survive – maybe even thrive – in a society that has decided, at least in principle, that women are not subordinate sex objects and rape is a bad thing.

Perhaps the single most effective strategy hit upon so far is to pump out the myth contained in the term “sex work”: the myth that it is possible to commodify consent.

How can sexual consent be a thing that can be bought and sold, yet we can still talk with a straight face about there being such concepts as healthy sexual relationships and meaningful consent? If, while having sex with someone, you feel repulsed by them touching you, afraid of what they might do, degraded and humiliated by the sexual acts, hurt by the hateful words they’re whispering in your ear, sore because he’s the fifth man you’ve had sex with today, exhausted from it all, traumatised, abused – the fact that you’ll get a bit of cash at the end does not change anything. There is no invisible hand in the prostitution market that magically disappears the lived experience of sexual abuse.

Research by the British Medical Journal found that, in three UK cities, half of women in outdoor prostitution, and a quarter of women in indoor prostitution, reported having been subject to violence by a sex buyer in the previous six months. Of the violence they had ever experienced at the hands of sex buyers, women on the streets most frequently reported being kicked, slapped or punched, while women in saunas or flats most frequently reported attempted rape (17% of women based indoors had experienced this, as had 28% of women on the streets). A separate study, in Sociology of Health and Illness, involving more than 100 women engaged in flat-based prostitution in London, highlighted how an indoor setting can have its own particular coercive influence. Each day women had to pay up to £250 in rent, as well as up to £60 a day for a maid (who, in practice, often operated like a pimp, sometimes controlling which sex buyers the women saw), plus a range of other expenses. On average, a woman was paid for sex by 76 men each week.
READ MORE: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jun/06/prostitution-sex-work-pimp-state-kat-banyard-decriminalisation
twitter follow us