jeudi, avril 13, 2006

Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and Respect for Women

I have long been telling whoever would listen that I am against men visiting prostitutes (and not the prostitutes). And I refuse to accept the fatalistic explanation that as the World's Oldest Profession, prostitution is here to stay. Prostitution is a human problem that needs a human solution. It stays as long as there is a demand. Lesser demand = fewer prostitutes.

Sex is a need. And while I am prepared to accept the necessity of men who are handicapped, working alone in foreign cities and those who are in prison, to receive assistance in fulfilling this need, I feel that ''normal'' men should not be pardoned for buying women for sex and helping to perpetuate the systematic subordination of women and girls through sexual exploitation.

Because bought sex is not confined to a few exclusive boudoirs where a few bored peers seek sexual entertainment from a few trained ladies. Where if you read Tracy Quan's interview with Camille Paglia, you get to believe that Prostitution is female power over men (always good to believe in it, I'm all for positive thinking). Unfortunately bought sex is more a BIG business that knows NO borders today. And I strongly believe that it is linked to the way men perceive women and how they (do not) respect them that prostitution is allowed to flourish and endure (though some will tell you that men visit prostitutes because of the need to dis-associate sex with emotions and paying for it helps, but peu importe, whatever Freudian excuses there could be, the result is still the same - meaning it creates demand that fuels means to keep the supply going).

Perception and Respect :

As long as the notion that men need sex and have the right to fulfill it as they wish persists, rapes and sexual exploitation of women will continue. Sex is always a flourishing business near Army bases, armies recruited women en masse during wars to service their men and make them ''better fighters'' (think of the thousands of Comfort Women in Asia used by the Japanese forcefully during WWII), villages were sacked and their women raped by invading armies, in certain parts of the world, when men have a debt of Honour to claim, they rape their enemies' women to do so. This is not normal.

And the other way round, some people believe that the existence of prostitution helps to reduce/limit rapes and other sexual crimes. I beg to differ. We are not animals, we have brains and we know how to control our impulses. I remind all that it is because that women (as usual, our fault) are expected to cover up etc in order NOT to TEMPT men that many Muslim women have to hide behind layers even in 40ºC weather. While men are free to walk around half naked and nobody worries about them being raped. Pathetic excuse. And in any case, prostitution is not free of charge, and rapists, I believe, prefer not to pay a cent for their actions.

Yet others believe that prostitution is an outlet for sexually-frustrated people. Like prostitutes treat their work like an Art. But I believe the more usual way to describe it is ''turning tricks''. Meaning for the usual prostitute and her client, it usually lasts just a few minutes and is basically just sex plain and simple. If you're looking for sexual pleasure and adventure, sex workers are not the people you should go to. Have a mistress or more, go visit a Couple-Exchange Club, organise a few orgies at home with like-minded friends. Another pathetic excuse.

I recently read an excellent article in the IHT written by Jessica Neuwirth, President of Equality Now*, an international women's rights organisation. It was titled : 'The World Cup and the johns.''

The World Cup begins in June in Germany. As prostitution is legal in the country, an estimated 40000 women from all over the world are expected to turn up to offer their sexual services, and construction of temporary brothels in all forms (including ''performance boxes'' and ''drive-ins'') is underway. They say that sex is a sport, but honestly, this is too much.

I am not going into a debate as to whether prostitution should be legalised/decriminalised or not. That's another thing altogether, more concerned with what we do with these women once they are in the trade. What concerns me is the fact that many women are lured as well as forced into prostitution. Like Ms Neuwirth wrote, they submit to or even seek out their traffickers for promises of a life free of poverty or abuse - false promises that pave the way to a life that is anything but free.

And these women, often young girls, quickly find themselves in a life of exploitation and violence they are unable to escape. She provided statistics which revealed that 71% of women surveyed were physically assaulted while engaged in prostitution. One should always question survey statistics and I would say even if the surveys only covered the abused women while the powerful prostitutes who could control their clients melted away into society and the really bad cases were inaccessible to questioning - there is no smoke without fire.

And 89% wanted to get out of prostitution but did not have any other options for survival; most were substance users and over half met criteria for post traumatic stress disorder - as many as combat veterans. And it concurs with research made by the French organisations, and documentaries on the subject often arrived at similar conclusions.

And I agree with her that like any consumer industry, the commercial sex industry is driven by demand, and in economic terms the link between prostitution and sex trafficking is clear. Sex is for sale because there are buyers creating a commercial market for it, and sex trafficking ensures a line of supply.

Hence, it is unfair that ''men who buy women for sex have thus far largely escaped the reach of the law and have been virtually invisible in the ideological battles over prostitution. For it is these countless anonymous ''johns'' who fuel the market forces that make sex trafficking such a lucrative industry, perpetrating systematic exploitation with impunity.''

I remember reading about the African community in France and how it has become such a lucrative business that even housewives are selling their daughters and nieces from their homes, and recruiting the girls from their families in Africa with promises of education and a better life, only to confiscate their passports upon arrival and prostitute them for gain. Virginity being a prized commodity in many primitive circles (among African, Arab and Chinese men, for example), virgins fetch a very good price, so a good reason to get the girls young and while they haven't lost their virginity on their own accord.

It is no longer safe nowadays to meet and fall in love with a foreign man or even some guy from your own race back from abroad for a visit. You never know if you're going into a conventional marriage or if you'll be ''married'' to a life of prostitution. I always think that this is such an unnecessary additional risk to one's life. Why should the actions of a few groups of johns who couldn't keep their penises to themselves or to the women who love them, result in the shattering of the loves and dreams of these girls?

But that's the way it is. And men couldn't understand why their visiting a prostitute could ''harm'' anybody :-). I personally know of a few guys who used to ''visit the windows'' in Holland. In this day where we manage to reorganise zoos making them more humane by not locking up most of the animals in cages during visiting times, it is amazing how it never occurred to these men that having women display themselves behind windows is humiliating and inhumane.

I also know men who travelled in Asia and availed themselves of the cheap and charming girls there. And managed to convince themselves at the same time that they were doing these girls a favour, ''treating them nicely'' and helping them get out of poverty.

We know now that humanitarian organisations only provide temporary relief when they arrived at a disaster or impoverished area and provided food, water etc. And oftentimes they create a long-term disaster by making the population dependent on foreign aid, abandoning what little food crops and other means of subsistence they had because it is easier holding out your hand for help instead of asking for help to help yourself.

In the same vein, prostitution is a quick and easy way out of poverty. In Thailand, it has become such a big earner for girls from impoverished villages that for usually traditional Buddhist families, it is no longer that much of a shame accepting money from your daughter selling her body in town and building a few nice houses with it. I've exchanged a few words once on the blog of an American guy living in Bangkok that narrow-minded do-gooders like myself shouldn't deny these girls from earning big money and not suffering like the rest of the poor people in the country, that often they could retire in comfort etc after a few years in the business. What he omited to say was that only a small percentage of these girls would be able to retire in comfort, for usually sexually-transmitted diseases and other vices would have claimed them before long. Yes, there is often a heavy price to pay. And I've often told men who would listen that the worst part of men visiting prostitutes is that they could catch diseases and pass them on to their wives or partners, so bloody unfair for the ladies, suffering doubly for something they have not done.

And many governments are leaving their girls to earn much-needed cash and leaving them at the same time to fend for themselves in case of abuse or diseases. And there is no need to find alternative means of creating employment if just sex alone could generate so much income (3% of the Thai economy) and pull so many out, albeit temporarily (can't do it forever), out of poverty. In Cambodia, for example, humanitarian organisations sur place looking after the interests of these sex workers were often harassed by the Military and the Police because it was not in the country's interest to dismantle their sex industry.

Another problem with the sex industry and sex trafficking is that very often underaged girls are involved. One UN estimate put it that in Asia and the Pacific alone, more than 30 million children have been traded over the last three decades. They are easier to get hold of, easier to control and much more in demand. The border between Germany and the Czeck Republic apparently is full of parents selling their daughters to German pedophiles and other people smuggling young girls to work in the brothels in Germany. Because if you have to pay for sex, why would you want to pay for some middle-aged prostitute with flabby thighs and drooping breasts and a vagina that has serviced many clients?

Ms Neuwirth was also right to point out that opposition to prostitution is sometimes misconstrued as opposition to sexual rights and freedoms, that those who consider prostitution to be an expression of sexual rights fail to recognise the distinction between sex and commercial sexual exploitation, positioning the discourse as if one cannot be for sex and at the same time be against exploitation.

I like to think of myself as being reasonably liberal sexually. I do not have any problems with pre-marital sex (though I would discourage teenagers from having sex simply because there are more important things to do at this stage of one's life than risking pregnancies and emotional relationship problems), I am interested in ongoing sexual trends like Pornography, S&M, Couple Exchanges etc but within limits, I have sex more than regularly with my hubby, and one of my unfulfilled dreams was to have a United Nations of Sexual Partners.

But prostitution is not sexual rights or freedom. Prostitution robs the right of women and girls not to be prostituted and denied them the right to education, employment and real choices that they currently do not have. And the invisibility of the john is matched only by the invisibility of the harm done to the trafficked and prostituted women he buys. So I agree that it is more than time to shift the focus from those who are prostituted to the traffickers, pimps and johns who comprise the chain of exploitation in the commercial sex industry.

It is therefore heartening to discover through Ms Neuwirth's article that Sweden is one of the few countries in this world that has developed legislation, subjecting johns to prosecution for commercial sexual exploitation and therefore acknowledging the link between prostitution and sex trafficking. I hope that more countries would soon follow its lead.

And I hope that every woman would play a part by sensibilising men whenever they could on the subject and teaching our own sons the importance of respecting women and not contribute towards their abuse, traffic and exploitation.

PS : I have quoted liberally from Ms Neuwirth.

*Equality Now focuses on trafficking of women and girls, rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and reproductive rights, denial of equal access to economic opportunity and political participation—issues that first attracted Ms. Neuwirth’s interest while working for Amnesty International.

4 commentaires:

last frontier a dit…

That is a very, very, very long post. I've read it almost all and basically I agree completely with your point of view.
What do you mean when you say:"one of my unfulfilled dreams was to have a United Nations of Sexual Partners." ?

Beau Lotus a dit…

Hear the faithful reader speak!

Sergio, you are pretty long-winded yourself when you want to. Thank God I can't read Portuguese :-)

United Nations of Sexual Partners? Hmm...well, sexual partners from all over the world, of all colours and textures, of different races and cultures!

But alas, I got married before I could carry it out and must content myself with at least having dreamt.

last frontier a dit…

It's a pitty you can't read portuguese yet. You miss a lot of my poetry, my sarcastic critics and my strange story tales...
For whom is trying to learn german it is a very easy job to learn and understand portuguese...

Beau Lotus a dit…

It's OK, when I finally read Portuguese, I'll return to your blog and dig out everything to read. I've no doubt that you're poetic, sarcastic and strange at the same time, after all I've known you since we were teenagers :-).