Sunday, December 19, 2010

When Is Prostitution Not Prostitution?

This interview from the BBC with a woman who works as an "escort" - selling sex - makes for very uncomfortable viewing. But it also serves to highlight one of the big problems with finding solutions to the abuses and horrors of the industry.

First of all the woman being interviewed insists that she is not a prostitute (or prostituted woman as many survivors prefer to be known) but an escort. When asked what the difference is she explains that (1) she worked indoors on the streets and that (2) she didn't wear high boots. Later she describes being physically forced to have unprotected sex against her will. The interviewer (less than tactfully) suggests "that's rape" and she responds saying she didn't see it that way because she was paid.

Now evidently what is happening is that she is in deep deep denial of what she goes through. But this is totally unsurprising - people in unbearable situations develop multiple personalities issues to allow them to "be someone else" during the awful bits. We know that many rape victims convince themselves that what they have experienced isn't rape as a coping mechanism. Should we be surprised that victims of repeated systematic rape and other abuses use euphemistic language to help them survive their experiences?

And bear in mind the stigma attached to words like "prostitute" and "rape victim". While men who pay for sex and rapists are often hailed as hyper-masculine. My boxing gym still has Mike Tyson's face on the wall and Wayne Rooney still plays top flight football and appears with his glamourous "WAG" wife in magazines like "Hello".

We have to distinguish however between being respectful to those who have had traumatic experiences and wish to chose their own language to describe them and those who are in fact defending the "right" of abusers to carry on abusing.

1 comment:


Agree we do have to be careful not to pathologise women who are or were involved in prostitution but at the same time it is essential we focus on why prostitution is now perceived as 'just work.'

Certainly many female survivors of male violence find it very difficult to face the reality that they were victimised and it is because the word 'victim' has been so stigmatised by our male supremacist system that many women do not want to recognise the fact they did not have the power to prevent a male(s) from raping/committing other forms of violence against them.

However neo-liberals do not want to focus on how power continues to be held by men as a group, instead they insist that women and men have equal rights and equal opportunities.

This is why it is vital we focus on how and why our male supremacist system maintains male domination over women and how it operates by stigmatising women involved in prostitution but simultaneously ignoring the real issue - which is male demand.

Indeed there is a danger of accepting whatever any woman says about her experiences of male violence and thereby not providing her with a way of recognising what little if any 'choice' or 'agency' she had to prevent herself from being subjected to male sexual violence.

We do not routinely inform anyone who has burgled that they 'chose' to allow the burglar to rob them but we must supposedly accept uncritcally, women's coping strategies when they deny they were subjected to male sexual violence.

Who benefits if we uncritically accept women 'choose' to enter prostitution? Why men of course because such uncritical acceptance does not challenge male pseudo sex right to women. Slavery is now seen as a violation of women's and men's human rights but that does not prevent many enslaved women and men from believing they 'chose' to become slaves because they prefer to believe they had a 'choice' even when none existed.

This is what coping strategies mean - they are used by women who are victimised by men and the male supremacist system to maintain their belief in having autonomy and agency - even when none exists. To be totally powerless is something no one wants to experience - hence a victim has to deny they were powerless and reduced to being controlled by a more powerful person.

That is why feminism is seen as so dangerous to the male supremacist system because it does not focus on individual women's experiences per se but looks at the bigger picture - how male domination and male power over women is justified and excused. It also means not accepting uncritically everything a female survivor of male violence says but rather seeks to enable the female survivor to understand what happened to her, rather than perpetuating the lie that she has 'agency and choice' when in fact none exists. But it does not mean bluntly telling a woman survivor of men's violence she was a 'victim' because this only reinforces her belief she was responsible not the male perpetrator. It takes time for female survivors of men's violence to recognise who is responsible and not all female survivors will accept this - our system is designed to ensure male perpetrators' actions are always invisibilised and it is always the female victim who is supposedly responsible.