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Friday, April 12, 2013

Is prostitution always wrong?


This entry really isn't so much absolute commentary as it is a thought exercise and an invitation to discuss said topic.

My knee-jerk reaction has always been that prostitution is wrong. I certainly believe that whatever consensual adults decide to do is between them, but sex workers are often the victims of trafficking or are exploited by those who take advantage of their lot in life and manipulate them into an indentured servitude of sorts.

Of course, this isn't all sex workers. Many women (and men, of course, but mostly women) simply choose this line of work because it works for them. They're content with what they do.

One significant problem arising from our prevalent anti-prostitution sentiment in this country is that we tend to demonize sex workers. We "slut-shame" them. We call them "whores". We blame them if they're the victims of rape or sexual assault.

This doesn't strike me as fair in the least. Ideally, neither party (customer or sex worker) should be blamed or shamed for engaging in a consensual, safe activity. Of course, this only pertains to those who aren't married or otherwise committed.

The legal penalties should only be placed on those who manipulate and abuse sex workers.

But honestly, how would this be regulated? I don't think it's impossible, but I honestly have no idea how that system would look.

A few counties in Nevada have legalized prostitution at licensed brothels. Sex workers are paid handsomely and receive constant medical monitoring. Contraceptives are required. But how is it certain they're not being forced into it?

I'm honestly not asking this question as an attack. I'm genuinely curious if it's possible to have a system of impartial oversight that ensures sex workers aren't victims. Would that include mandatory psychologists and social workers on staff at brothels?

I also realize this may come off as condescending to sex workers who have had a good experience in their line of work, and I do admit that I'm ignorant of the culture.

But these questions need to be asked. Sex trafficking is a troubling issue. It's generally assumed to be a "third-world" problem, but it's prevalent in the United States and other developed countries, as well.

Overall, I'm torn. I believe that feminism is about individual choice and freedom, provided the individual is educated on the options available to them. This should mean that women who choose to go into prostitution shouldn't be hassled or looked down upon.

But let me know you think. I'm interested in hearing different opinions.

7 comments:

  1. Overall I agree with your views.
    I think that conversations about trafficking, health care, finances, education or consent with sex workers are not possible while they are being criminalized. The conversation can only be about them or directed at them. And that seems unfair to me, however well intentioned.


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  2. When one is situated in a unequal socio-economic system, it raises the question of just how free a free choice is. So I question the rights-based defences of sex work. And right now my position on it is that I support the nordic model of gradually phasing out sex work by criminalising the buying of sex (but not the selling) while simultaneously offering good exit options for sex workers.

    But let's consider something else. What if the world was equal? In such a climate, where one could make a truly free choice, would it be morally acceptable? I still say no. Because the common good is not being served by marketising sex. In Michael Sandel's book "Justice", he argues that the rights-based approaches to freedom and justice ("the right is prior to the good" i.e. justice systems must remain neutral about what constitutes a good life) have let us down, and that instead we should be reasoning about the common good first. So, consider this question - do we want to be a society where you can rent another person's body for your sexual gratification? I find the thought of doing that repugnant; I would not respect someone who bought sex and I do not want to live in such a society. If you ask me why, it's hard to explain other than to say that attaching a market price to something like sex demeans it and demeans human dignity.

    Michael Sandel has written a more recent book called "The Moral Limits of Markets" where he talks about these issues. I haven't read it yet, but in this talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZafL7_CaMbg) he gives his core argument that market mechanisms taint and devalue certain moral "goods" when applied to certain areas in life. During the talk he raises several other questions which are worth contemplating; they don't have the baggage that the prostitution issue has and so one can think about them with a fresh mind. For example:
    - Should we offer cash incentives to people to improve their health? Or to children to read books?
    - Should there be a free market for blood donation? Organ donation?
    - Should prisoners be allowed to buy "cell upgrades"?
    - You're asked to give a toast at your best friend's wedding; is it right to purchase a (terrific) speech online?
    - Should a government offer cash incentives to a village to have a nuclear waste site near the village? (happened in Switzerland; the number of villagers agreeing actually _dropped_ when the govt offered money.)
    - A day care centre in Israel instituted fines for parents who picked up their kids late. But what happened was, more (not less) parents started to arrive late.

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    Replies
    1. "When one is situated in a unequal socio-economic system, it raises the question of just how free a free choice is. So I question the rights-based defences of sex work."

      By that logic you would have to question the rights-based defence of all work.

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    2. "So, consider this question - do we want to be a society where you can rent another person's body for your sexual gratification?"

      Sex has been bought and sold since the dawn of recorded history and it always will be whether you criminalise it or not. Everybody want's it and if people cannot get it for free they will pay for it.

      The best way to protect sex-workers, no, the only way to protect sex workers is to legalise and regulate the industry because it's not going away either way. I personally don't understand moral crusaders who want to ban everything they "find Repugnant". I don't even want to ban stuff that I find repugnant and I don't want to live in a society where laws are dictated by people like you. People who see everything through the narrow prism of their own prudish "morals" and who base their argument on baseless ideological doctrine like references to the "Nordic Model".

      The Nordic Model achieved three things.

      1. It resulted in the shaming and demonising of a lot of sad, lonely but mostly harmless men.

      2. It drove sex-worker underground and out of sight and off the radar.

      3. It resulted in an explosion of sexual assaults across Sweden.

      Take off your blinkers of dogma and so a bit of basic research. Better still, spend some time actually listening to the views of the people you so patronisingly claim to care about.

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  3. I have just read Super-freakonomics, and the first chapter is about the economic impact and decisions in prostitution. That the pay is much higher for prostitutes than when they don't work the streets, that the "Pimpact" (the positive effect of the pimp on the women)is overall high, and he even went a tad into the history of prostitution.
    The main problem with prostitution is trafficking, pedophiliacs, and violent customers. Not to mention the wrong idea of making it a crime for the worker instead of the customer.

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  4. Prostitution is no different than ANY OTHER profession. You rent yourself out for an exchange of money. Do you go to work? then youre a whore. I'm not saying this to sound mean or like an internet troll. I am genuinely saying, what a shame that we have such a terrible and derogatory term for a person (often a woman) who is in control of their own sexuality.

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  5. "This doesn't strike me as fair in the least. Ideally, neither party (customer or sex worker) should be blamed or shamed for engaging in a consensual, safe activity. Of course, this only pertains to those who aren't married or otherwise committed."

    OK so now you are the morality police?

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