I was recently directed to an article on Jezebel.com written by prostitute Robin Hustle coming out to her parents. In the article, she explains the reasons she loves being a prostitute and by admitting to her parents that she is a prostitute she professes her view of the validity to the profession. This reminded me of a series of laws recently passed in Canada which have allowed prostitutes to open brothels and hire staff such as bodyguards and secretaries. Prostitution has long been legal in Canada, but this move allows prostitutes a level of security that they previously did not have. I am aware, however, that the great majority of prostitutes are not willing participants. They are tricked, kidnapped, coerced and trafficked all over the world. And as number of women trafficked every year increases exponentially, the waters of a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body, sexual rights and protecting those who cannot protect themselves, becomes exceedingly muddy.
Sweden and Holland act as representatives of the two extreme sides of the debate. Prostitution has been legal in Holland since 2000. Legal prostitutes are taxed, regulated and controlled. Legalization has led to a much safer work environment for those that are under the eyes of the law. Legal prostitutes are protected by police and bodyguards patrolling the streets, are subject to regular health tests, and are strongly advised to use condoms. The men and women (mostly women) rent out windows and small rooms, they charge by the quarter hour and can service as many as 24 people in a day. They have made this their life, for better or for worse. These people, however, only account for about 30% of the prostitutes in the Netherlands. Most sex workers in Holland are without passports, implying they have been trafficked. The Dutch government regularly refuses to renew licenses to brothels that are suspected to be connected with criminal activities, but this has been mostly ineffective in reducing human trafficking. The government is aware of the situation of the trafficked and considers it a major problem, but they maintain that the protection they do offer is better than no protection at all.
Sweden has decided to take the opposite approach to prostitution. Their belief is that gender equality is unobtainable so long as men are able to buy, sell and exploit women through prostitution, and so, they have decided to eradicate prostitution altogether. Sweden acknowledges that, more often than not, it is the women who are being prostituted that are the victims. They acknowledge the inefficiency of arresting and re-arresting these women, and have opted to take a different approach: they go after after the ‘johns’, the men who frequent these prostitutes. Men who are caught soliciting prostitutes face jail time, fines, and possibly the greatest deterrent: public shaming. The names and faces of these men are printed in newspapers for the general public to see. Along with prosecuting and shaming the johns, Sweden also offers an opportunity for prostitutes to escape the lifestyle through social welfare and education programs. Approximately 60% of the women have taken advantage of the well funded programs since they began in 1999, and have found their way off the streets and out of the brothels. These laws have made Sweden an entirely undesirable place for human traffickers, and have led to only a few hundred women being trafficked in 2009, compared to the 15000 – 17000 in neighbouring Finland.
Both of these countries have taken a stand, on one side or the other, of the prostitution debate. In many countries, however, it is so ingrained in their culture that it is barely acknowledged. While prostitution has existed in Korea as long as in any other country, it has been an issue in Korea since the early 1960’s. After the Korean War the American government set up several bases to help protect Korea. The Americans eventually negotiated for Korean women to be allowed to offer their sexual services to the American soldiers in camps around the army bases. At first these women were required to carry special licenses are catered only to the American soldiers, but the practice eventually changed into its modern day ways.
Now prostitution is an integral part of the Korean culture, especially the business culture, and accounts for 1.6% of the countries’ GDP. Korea’s economy is primarily based around the salaryman system (an inherently sexist term, but that’s another issue). Almost every night after work these salarymen will go out with their co-workers. They will eat and drink, discuss work, flatter the boss, end up at a singing room, and then make their way to a hostess club.
Prostitution was made illegal in Korea in 2004. The government made a show of closing down many brothels, but these quickly reopened as hostess clubs. Korean men no longer pay for sex, but instead pay to have a simple conversation with women. They do so in a private room, locked, with no cameras. If more than conversation happens, oh well. The salarymen visit these hostess clubs, and for the sake of their careers, are expected to participate. If they don’t they are considered outcasts, and are find their ability to advance within the company severely stunted. This, along with normal sexual desire, has caused a great demand for ‘hostesses’ in Korea. It is estimated that 1 young Korean woman in 25 is somehow involved in the sex industry. The work is simple, if sometimes dangerous and many women enjoy the lifestyle that prostitution affords them. Just as many of them want to leave, however, but find themselves incapable of finding any other work that will provide them with adequate money and a place to live.
Nigeria is an example of the horrors human trafficking. At the Alaba Rago Market there are over 2000 sex workers, who charge anywhere from N500 to N2000 (3.20USD to 12.80USD) for their services. Age limits are ignored, and the johns will often use narcotics, Burantashi being the most popular, to enhance the experience. It is estimated that as many as 50 000 women have been trafficked within Nigeria. Many more women, almost exclusively young, are seduced with promises of heading overseas to find work. They are told that they will be taken to Italy and Libya, but when they arrive they discover that work is not so readily available, and they must find some way to pay off the exorbitant prices that the traffickers are demanding. So, because they lack any other means of paying off this debt, they are forced to become prostitutes. Many others are simply stolen from their homes and shipped away without thought, or consideration. They beaten until they are willing and docile and they sold to the highest bidder.
Prostitutes exist to satisfy sexual desire. All people are plagued with sexual desire. And as we progress to sexual liberty, the choice of who we want to have sex with and the right to have sex if all parties are willing, is becoming regarded as a basic human right. When the prostitution debate comes up, we try our best to consider the women who want to be there, and the women don't. We either ignore the existence of the johns, or in the case of Sweden, go after them with all of the fury of the law. But we often forget to consider certain sub-groups of people because it is awkward for us to think about their sexuality. The disabled fall into this category, as do the elderly, and those with mentally disabilities such as down's syndrome. For a long time people have simply decided that sex is off limits for these people. But these people are subject to the same desires as anyone else. Those that do consider the issue often offer up the idea of masturbation, but this is a poor substitute. Social scientists and sexologists have long recognized that the pleasure achieved through intimate relations with another person far surpasses that achieved through masturbation. When people are incapable of receiving this kind of sexual satisfaction, it affects them, mentally and physically. It causes depression, inappropriate behaviour and sickness. Old men in nursing homes harass their orderlies, autistics became further forlorn and those with down syndrome often don't know what to do with themselves. Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland have given certain rights to people who are incapable of finding sexual gratification, through physical or mental disabilities, on their own. There are specialized prostitutes that enjoy bringing pleasure into the lives of these people.
Many women are forced into sex slavery. Many become prostitutes out of desperation, or naivety. But some have chosen to become prostitutes, and enjoy the work they do. The Jezebel writer I mentioned before, Robin Hustle, is one of these people. Australia’s Rachel Wotton is world renowned prostitute who specializes in servicing the disabled. Canada’s Nikki Thomas, Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott, who spearheaded the efforts to make prostitution safer in Canada, are others.
So is Canada making the right move in decriminalizing certain laws concerning prostitution, allowing prostitutes to protect themselves and giving the money to legal taxpayers? Or is Sweden’s route the one to take, abolishing prostitution altogether and openly ridiculing those who solicit women for sex? I am hesitant to make an argument for either case. Sex slavery is unquestionably unacceptable, and should be eradicated. If prostitution is to exist the Johns should be educated and taught to look for the signs of unwilling participants. And if they choose to have sex with sex slaves, they should be eviscerated. They should be shamed, and arrested, and taught about the horror surrounding their terrible deed, along with the pimps and the slavers. But if the prostitute is a willing participant, if they enjoy their work and the joy it brings, is it just to stop them?Shouldn't they have the right to choose what to do with their body. Choose. That, I think, is the key word. People should have the means to choose not to participate, they should have the means of escaping that life through education and training, or, more importantly, avoiding it altogether. They should be given options, so that if they do end up as prostitutes it is because they want to be there. But it is hard to tell who is willing and who is a victim of horrible circumstance. I leave you here with no answer, no definitive solution to a troubling problem.
But hopefully I have left you with a few questions.
Sources and Such
By Matthew Ariss