A blog for those walking away from a life of sex work and for
the families of those not fortunate enough to walk away.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The polemics of prostitution

There are many schools of thought about prostitution. Programs like Veronica’s Voice (see links) in Kansas City helps to enable women to leave the life of prostitution. There are also many first-world and lesser-developed world organizations that struggle for prostitution rights. Organizations like International Sex Worker Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education (ISWFACE), COYOTE (Call off Your Old Tired Ethics) in San Francisco (www.bayswan.org/COYOTE.html) and the International Union of Sex Workers work to decriminalize prostitution and improve sex workers’ lives worldwide.

Feminists, no matter their personal political bents, differ widely in their beliefs regarding the correct approach to prostitution. Generally, there is a clear distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution, according to author Jo Doezema, in her article "Global Sex Workers." She asserts that the current focus on eliminating trafficking, with a “woman as victim mentality,” works against the interests of all women. There are many women, she points out, who choose prostitution as a livelihood, or are forced into prostitution by poverty. International efforts to end prostitution make no effort to protect women who must by poverty or who voluntarily choose to remain in prostitution, she maintains. She refers to the “whore/Madonna,” “good/bad” dichotomy that characterizes much of Western civilization.

Laurie Shrage in her keynote address to the “Prostitution in a Global Context — Intertwined Histories, Present Realities,” Conference held at Aalborg University in Denmark in 1999, said this about the current feminist “victim” view of prostitution most widely disseminated. “These oppositions [whore/Madonna] configure the voluntary prostitute (the active, experienced, guilty Western whore) as someone responsible for her own fate and who deserves what she gets.” This, some feminists believe, leaves women who choose to or must prostitute due to poverty sadly at risk for battery, harassment by police and murders that are not only little investigated, but little noted by society at large.

Most feminist sex worker advocates are in agreement that involuntary prostitution and sexual slavery should be abolished; however, Shrage goes further, calling for abandoning the “forced / voluntary prostitution distinction” to allow a more focused view that encompasses the legal, health and financial needs of all peoples. “Those of us not part of these organizations [grassroots organizations of sex workers] would do better to stop wondering why the sex industry exists and to focus instead on the social forces that shape it . . . .”

There are few studies that analyze people’s attitudes toward prostitution, probably because the typical attitude is so negative. One need only view popular culture’s attitudes toward prostitutes, where each week Jay Leno’s Tonight Show used its bully pulpit to refer to these disenfranchised women as “whores” and “hookers” to realize that prostitutes are a target of derision and hence have translated into a safe dumping ground for violence which is perpetrated against them at staggering rates.

The sex industry takes a terrible toll on those engaged in it. However, to ignore the often tense controversies surrounding the current climate focused on sexual slavery and its very meaty funding appears to leave unexamined the real causes of sex work ― poverty and women’s worldwide oppression.

This blog will try to avoid the polemics surrounding the prostitution debate and offer solutions. We hope that we can rationally discuss varying theories as events arise; however, we take no position on the correct way to limit the systemic abuses found in the sex industry. We only know what has worked for us to exit the industry and recover.

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