Update: This post originally appeared on the Radical Feminist HUB, which as of 21-02-2013 has disappeared. I am reposting it here, so it is still accessible.
Whenever the issue of prostitution is broached, people often refer to it as a “job like any other”. “Most” or “all people hate their jobs”, is the phrase that rolls off the tongue without much consideration and they ask the person who frames prostitution as institutionalized rape “would you be doing the kind of work you do if people didn’t pay you for it?” To which I can answer without hesitation “I would and I have, and I still do when a friend or relative asks me to.” This is both because I like my job and I happily do the people I care about a favor.
This is not so with sex acts. I am only willing to have sex when I feel like it, with a person of my own choosing. You can’t pay to do it and you can’t ask it of me as a favor. This issue is non-negotiable for me. Do you know why? Because I am a privileged, childless, woman who lives by herself; I have no one who depends upon me for survival, I answer to no one in my personal life and the situation in my country is such that, though I am a student incurring more debts each month, there are systems in place that provide me with enough money to live off. I am by no means starving or in a deep financial trouble.
My situation gives me the choice the refuse work, to apply for jobs that I find interesting and to leave the jobs I hate, all of which I have done in the past many times before. I am also in the privileged position that none of the work I have done is even remotely illegal or stigmatized and I can put it all on my resume. How does my situation compare to that of the average prostitute, porn-actress or escort? Well for one thing, if any of them of them wishes to switch “industries”, and an average of 80% to 90% of them currently want to, they will end up with a nice big gap on their resumes which any prospective employer would ask about. Many of those who work as prostitutes don’t even come clean to their family or friends for fear of being judged or even being reported to the police.
When think about rape, what is it you think about? Forced sex? Sex without consent? Sexual assault? Strange men jumping out of the bushes and attacking a woman? In either case you don’t think of the woman as having said “yes” and you may even get the mental image of a woman screaming “NO”. If a woman would not have sex with you if the choice was completely free, but will “consent” to it if you paid her to, then are we still talking about consent? Can you pay someone not to say “no” to you or even to say “yes”.
The situation of women the sex-“industry” is such that the vast majority of them do it either because they are unable to pay for their own survival, because of (threat of) violence or to support a drug addiction. There doesn’t seem to be much “choice” involved for many of them when deciding to do this kind of “work”. This is of course not true for all forms of prostitution. There are women who do have other, very viable options when it comes to generating an income. Those are the prostitutes you’ll most often hear from in the media; the ones who do have a voice and often advocate the “work” as “choice” and some of which refuse to keep the “low end of the business” into mind. In all honesty I have yet to hear of a current “low-end” prostitute with her own platform. All those whose words I read and hear from about the horror of prostitution are those who have managed to exist it.
When you pay for the “services” of a prostituted woman, you are not merely removing her choices, but you are also exploiting a person in a particularly vulnerable situation. If it were easy for her to get her money elsewhere and she wasn’t living with the constant threat of violence over her head, do you think she would even feel flattered if you offered her money to be allowed to use the holes in her body? I don’t know many women who don’t, at some level, feel revulsion, when such a proposition is made. They, like I, want to matter and be respected for who they are and what they have accomplished, not for their anatomy.
When we are talking about sexual freedom, why is it that so many people merely mean the sexual freedom of men to stick their dicks into women with impunity? What about our sexual freedom to say “NO” or not even having to say “no”? What about our freedom to choose the life and work that we really care about? Why is it that people feel that it is men’s prerogative to fuck where they like regardless of whom they hurt? Regardless of what dangers they put the person they fuck in? Regardless of the fact that women may not enjoy the sexual encounter and merely fake their enjoyment. It is so often that John’s say “well she seemed to enjoy it, so I wasn’t hurting her”, without even considering the fact that if she didn’t fake that enjoyment she would most likely not get anymore clients.
It doesn’t matter which way you spin it, when money is involved in arranging for sex acts the issue of consent becomes dodgy at best and rape at worst.