Lined up on street corners, red windows, and parlours there are vulnerable women searching, survivors. We see these people, and turn a blind eye, saying silent prayers or judging the unknown. Why did they do this, choose this, want this? Most of them didn't, that's the problem, you see. The majority of sex workers had no other choice, were struggling to live or were coerced by fur coated men. If this was so fun, so liberating, empowering, where are all the Dutch women in windows in 'Dam? Most women who stand there do not use the term 'sex worker', it's not who they are, just something they must do. This means they are not placed in statistics, not heard and are voiceless amongst the crowds of those who did have a choice, which are few and far between. These groups who fight for the rights of the workers, fight for the right of the purchasers to buy - to buy the flesh and blood of another soul, a soul who simply is trying to keep her home. It is a very sad day when they refuse to listen, to the women and children and others forced into this position. How can we lobby for change without facts? Without the statics? Without hearing the voices that crack?
“Frequent reports of incidents of widespread violence against sex workers continue to emerge globally, including media reports of abuse, human rights violations, and murder. Despite increasing recognition of violence in the general population as a public health and human rights priority by policymakers, researchers, and international bodies, violence against sex workers that occurs within and outside the context of sex work is frequently overlooked in international agendas to prevent violence.” - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987574/
A long term study published in 2004 estimated the homicide rate for active female sex workers who had worked in Colorado Springs from 1967 to 1999 to be 204 per 100,000 persons per year. The next riskiest occupations in the USA during that time were female liquor store worker, seeing homicide rates of 4 per 100,000, and for male taxicab drivers with 29 per 100,000 . A study of female prostitutes over the age of FOURTEEN, in Vancouver, Canada (over an 18 month period), who used illicit drugs (other than marijuana) found that 57% of these females experienced some form of gender-based violence.
Another study of 1,000 women (both biological and transgender) sex-workers in Cambodia's capitol city, found 93% of those surveyed had been the victim of rape over and 18 month period, that's 930 women in a year, in one city alone. Why are we okay with this? Why are we fighting to make it legal to purchase? In Northern Ireland, they have implemented a form of the Nordic Model - decriminalising the workers, but the buyers and profiteers remain illegal. This has seen a decrease in demand in Northern Ireland, provides the women and other workers with legal protection, while making it more difficult and less favourable to purchase an orgasm from another human. However, this decrease in demand in the North, actually increased the purchasing of sex South of the border, and increased the violent crimes against the people who are not protected by law. The Nordic Model allows for more workers to speak up about their attacks and abuse, because now they are not seen as criminals themselves.
We need to distinguish between those who genuinely chose this path, and those who had no other options. While there is the minority of people who go into this willingly, the majority did not, and they are the ones that experience the most violence, those are the people we need to fight for because their voices have now been drowned out by those who say this is sex positivity, freedom, liberation. Given that the Irish Sex Trade is worth over €180 million, and pro sex work lobby groups are funded by the 29th richest person in the world, we really need to consider who we are willing to stand by in this debate.
Do we want to leave the voiceless croaking in the corner, begging to be heard, or do we choose to listen only to the lobbyists and profiteers? Are we really comfortable knowing that advertisers posting these people 650+ times a day in Ireland, are gaining weight in their wallets from women and people who can barely afford to survive? What about the landlords, lapping up funds from the tears shed from the women unheard? If you are willing to listen, you might just find, that like most things in life, this coin has another, rougher side. Are we okay with women herded like cattle, to far reaching corners of Ireland, facing this battle, by men in fur coats to keep them nameless, faceless new bodies for white collar clients.
Emily Eveland wrote in an article published on Narratively. Emily began sex work after being somewhat homeless for several months and being in an emotionally damaging relationship with a fellow sex worker and a man she felt she needed - “I was a child in need of a daddy.” She began prostituting in Chicago a few weeks later under the pretence of monetary desperation. Since leaving home, she says had given my body to anyone who expressed interest in it, desperate for safety and validation – for something to prove that she was alive and worth being with. Sex work felt like a natural next step to her, so she 'chose' this path.
She writes - “I didn’t always hate prostitution. It started as an exercise in reclaiming power over my body, giving me the role of puppet master and casting johns as my paying audience”
“My freedom was a façade. I hated myself. I hated the warm PBRs and the cheap tequila shots and the grape-flavoured blunts. I hated the fat men who grunted when they fucked. I hated Professor Mike and the man in the white truck. I hated blowjobs and anal beads and high heels and my bruised body. I hated the motels. I hated the anarchists and their glorification of hooliganism, shoplifting and prostitution. I hated Aaron and his stolen flank steaks and his complacency and ignorance and immaturity. He was nothing but another john. I gave him sex in exchange for safety. I was trudging through life with Newports dangling from my lips and thousands of secrets swirling through my head, half-dead.” Even though Emily chose this, she still suffered abuse, pain and grief during her time in the occupation and if she chose, imagine the atrocities committed against those who did not.
"The stigma around prostitution isn’t because people don’t think sex work is work. But it’s because people think, men in particular that they are entitled to do anything to women they have to pay for. Men buy sexual access to women so they can do things they won’t normally do to other women. They do it so they can degree, debase and violate boundaries. It isn’t because they don’t think sex work isn’t work. In their minds, they think “ I paid for it. I own you. So you will have to do whatever the hell I want.” and the one who is bought will have to disregard her boundaries in order to fulfil the service that was purchased. The power imbalance is clear and the violence that goes with bodies being sold as commodities for sex shouldn’t be ignored.” - R.
And of course, this is not all men, not even all purchasers, that we understand, because there are a handful of lonely souls who pay for the time to sit and talk, companionship. But these people are the minority, and due to the violence from the "bad guys", we need to protect the women and people involved. It's not all men, we just don't know which men and we don't know which purchasers, but we do know the majority of the men who do purchase bodies for sex, are aware the person may be exploited/coerced/forced/abused, and have absolutely no regard. Why are we okay to let this continue in unsafe ways, without protection for the workers, without repercussions for abusers of power and those who profit most? Do we think the profiteers or buyers would do this work themselves?
These are just some of the questions we must ask ourselves when we take a look at both arguments. Will you?