My response to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s statement on the Bedford decision and on prostitution law in Canada

The Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University  is “a college of Concordia University dedicated to studying feminisms and questions of social justice.” It is, essentially, the Women’s Studies Department at Concordia University. Following the Bedford v. Canada decision, they released a statementapplauding” the ruling. Here is the response I sent earlier today:
I am beyond appalled that a university Women’s Studies department would take a public position on this issue, never mind such an anti-feminist one. The purpose of academia is to learn, to critique, to further discourse. You are in a position to influence many young women who are perhaps only beginning their foray into feminist theory and it is your job to support them in developing the skills and foundations to come to their own conclusions about issues such as these. It is not your job to tell them what position to take. As academics I would assume you realize this. Releasing a statement such as this is beyond inappropriate and is entirely unethical.Not only that but you are perpetuating misconceptions about how these laws will actually impact women. Moving prostituted women indoors does not make prostitution any safer. This argument has been refuted over and over again.

You are right that this is not a question of morality. It is a question of equality and of human rights. Prostitution exists as a result of patriarchy not despite of it. The notion that, somehow, it is “moral norms” that are responsible for violence that happens against prostituted women is confused, to say the least. It is because of individual men and because of patriarchy that this violence happens. It is because of the objectification and dehumanization of women. It is because men think they will get away with it. How you would come to the conclusion that a solution to this is to further entrench male access to female bodies is beyond me. You have framed prostitution as though it is somehow the route to women’s liberation, just like “pants” and the freedom to have children outside of marriage. What a twisted, manipulated vision of women’s liberation you have presented.

Opposition to full decriminalization comes from feminists and from progressive men who believe in true equality, liberation, and respect for women. We are not moralists, we are not the church, we are not the religious right.

This case is not about morality. This is about women’s equality.You state that “The decision protects the Charter rights of individuals marginalized and stigmatized through their work in the sex trade.”This decision has, in effect, thrown the most marginalized women to the wolves. Nothing has been done to protect or support women working the streets. NOTHING has been done to address the violence or the perpetrators of the violence.It is not the responsibility of women to protect themselves from rape, murder, and abuse. This is victim blaming at its best.You state: “The decision means that women working in the sex trade will be able to protect themselves against violence in their work. The ruling means that women can work together to increase their safety. As such, this decision encourages women’s collective efforts and their solidarity. We celebrate legal rulings that remove juridical barriers to women’s collective organizing.”

The way that women will be protected from violence is by putting systems into place that ensure men are not able, encouraged, and protected when they commit violence against women. Where in your statement do you address the perpetrators? The idea that, perhaps, what we might do in order to address violence against women is to criminalize those who commit violence?

If you truly support “legal rulings that remove juridical barriers to women’s collective organizing,” then why have you so readily abandoned women and abandoned the founding principles and goals of the feminist movement? Feminism is about ending patriarchy. Not normalizing misogyny. Not perpetuating the idea that women exist to provide sexual fulfillment for men.

Beyond the extremely problematic statement you have made here, it is your responsibility, as academics and as a Women’s Studies department to open, not close the debate.

 

Sincerely,

Meghan Murphy
MA Candidate, Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Simon Fraser University

 

 

You can find some other responses to the Bedford decision from some Canadian women’s/feminist organizations here:

From The Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution: http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/news/equality-seeking-women%E2%80%99s-groups-will-continue-demand-change-laws-prostitution

From Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW): http://tinyurl.com/ctcrgjn

From the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC): http://www.nwac.ca/media/release/29-03-12

 

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Who is the real enemy in the prostitution debate? A response to one argument against abolition

Earlier this month, rabble.ca published a response from a sex worker named Sarah M. to, not only the abolitionist argument as a whole, but to me in particular. Having written several blog posts, cross-posted to rabble.ca (as F Word blog posts are) on the topic of prostitution which address and challenge arguments for decriminalization and/or legalization, building on or using abolitionist and radical feminist arguments as foundation, the site, with good reason, felt it fair to solicit a response from a sex worker, as many of their regular readers suggested they do.

I do question the recent efforts by some to focus this debate on individuals and on personal attacks. In essence, I am not convinced that this conversation should be specific to me / my work… While I do feel it is more productive to build an argument based on ideas, key issues, law, and of course, the broad spectrum of ways in which the sex industry impacts women, rather than to divert the argument into one focused on individuals, I also feel it necessary to respond to this piece in particular as the author has addressed my writing and arguments specifically.

I should, at this point, make it it very clear that all of my arguments and writing are inspired by the work of other women – radical feminists, exited women, Aboriginal women, and those who work on the front line day after day. The ideas I relay here are not solely my own, but rather they build on the breath of knowledge and theory and activism done, for decades, by my sisters in the struggle. With regard to my response to the piece published by rabble, which I was initially unsure would be useful or necessary, I believe there are enough points made which are either debatable, fallacious, or deserve to be expanded upon, to warrant a response. As such, I am unable to avoid addressing the author specifically, though I will do my best to avoid individualizing the debate to the extent to which the argument becomes lost in personal attacks, assumptions, or critiques.

I do not believe that, for the purposes of discussing this particular issue, it is useful or ethical to attack a progressive news site for publishing writing that some readers do not agree with. I support dissenting views and thoughtful critique, but not efforts to remove certain people or certain ideas from the debate. This is both a complex and difficult issue which has grown to dominate much of feminist discourse and, of course, has a very direct and dangerous impact on the actual, individual lives of women everywhere. Again, I believe this conversation can be had without personalizing the debate and without making assumptions about the interests and backgrounds of those involved in the debate. I am not particularly interested in engaging in arguments about who is more or less oppressed and which women do or do not have the right to speak.

Prostitution is a feminist issue. Prostitution is a women’s issue. Period.

I have never argued that, as the author claims, “anyone who disagrees with [me] must just need to experience more abuse ” nor have I depicted ” survivors as damaged goods, draw[n] caricatures of [their] modes of resistance, or refuse[d] [them] the dignity of defining [their] own experiences of sexual assault.” To argue such things is an abhorrent misrepresentation and is absolutely unproductive, as well as verging on slanderous.

While this particular response was, many ways, much more thoughtful and intelligible than many other attacks or criticisms that have been made on me, my writing, my arguments, and on abolitionists as a whole, the author nonetheless appears to, in places, misrepresent my position and the position of many abolitionists and radical feminists. Very often, within this debate, there are concerted attempts to remove feminists from the left and to paint abolitionists as somehow engaged in oppressive or right-wing tactics in order to further our cause as well as to accuse feminists of actually being the perpetrators of violence themselves. This could not be further from the truth.

Assuming that there have been points made in my writing which require clarification around my and many other feminists’ positions on prostitution, I am happy to clarify and to address some points made by this particular author.

While yes, this is a divide that has existed for decades (though not “always,” as the author claims – rather I would argue that this debate stemmed from the “sex wars” of the 1980s), it has been reinvigorated by Bedford v. Canada, a case which could lead to the decriminalization of not only prostituted* women (which abolitionists advocate for), but also of pimps and johns (to which abolitionists are opposed).

What is new, from my perspective, is a growing desire and solidarity among feminists and among progressive men to end a practice that reinforces, perpetuates, and normalizes female subordination.

Who is the “Sex Work Lobby”?

The first point made by the author addresses my use of the term “sex work lobby,” which the author argues “doesn’t exist” as “sex workers don’t have the government’s ear,” nor, according to her, do they have any collective power. The “sex work lobby,” it should be stated, is not limited to sex workers. The “sex work lobby” includes many people who hold considerable power in our society; such as pimps, johns, and pornographers. These groups also include many women who are not engaged in sex work. Many of those who aim to legitimize and legalize sex work are clients of sex workers as well as those who profit financially from the industry (i.e. pimps). The “sex work lobby” does not refer to specifically to marginalized women, though it does, obviously, include some women who engage in sex work,* and therefore does include the voices of some women who have been marginalized in our society in one way or another (in that some of those who are involved in these lobby groups are members of marginalized groups, such as women, racialized women, and poor women).

Though there are some women and sex workers who are involved in the sex work lobby, it isn’t accurate to describe this work as the work of a marginalized or silenced population. The sex work lobby does not include the voices of exited women nor does it tend to include the voices of survival sex workers and it’s leaders are women and men who have relatively loud and prominent voices in the media. A reference to the “sex work lobby” does not equal a reference to prostituted women as, again, many of these lobbyists are not prostituted women. This isn’t to say that these people do not have a right to engage in debate around this issue, but that to frame these advocacy groups as somehow more deserving of voice than other women’s or feminist groups is erroneous.

As for having “the government’s ear,” in Vancouver at least, many of these lobbyists do indeed have the ears of our local politicians which has and does have an impact on discourse and decisions made at the municipal level.

All that said, a lobby group refers to a group who advocates for or works to influence legislation or government decisions. Seeing as decriminalization/legalization advocates are working to change the law and that the groups who are engaging in this type of advocacy generally describe themselves as either sex work/worker advocacy groups and/or decriminalization advocacy groups, I think that the descriptor of “sex work lobby” is applicable.

The Sex Worker as “Transgressive”

An argument commonly made by women who discovered feminism within the third wave or through post-modernism is that sex work is somehow “transgressive” – that somehow, sex work defies norms and challenges dominant ideology or cultural expectations of women. To frame sex work as “transgressive” presents the act of commodifying one’s sexuality as a radical act. But what is radical about the selling of sex? Isn’t “sex sells” one of the most commonly used defenses for sexist imagery and depictions of women of our time? Isn’t the objectification of the female body the easiest way for men, for advertisers, for corporations, and of course, for mainstream media to profit? Isn’t the simplest way to gain male approval to sexualize our bodies and to appear as though our very being exists for their pleasure and consumption? Haven’t men long used female bodies to profit or to sell products? Capitalist patriarchy is not radical.

Sex work may well be necessary for many, many women. Many women must resort to prostitution in order to survive. There should be no judgement in this circumstance. We live in a world that doesn’t always leave us with many options. Survival is a priority.

Sex work may even be a choice of sorts for some women. If you have a certain level of privilege, there is a great deal of money to be made in the industry. There may even be aspects of this work that some women enjoy on a certain level. But money does not equal freedom and an individual’s ability to profit from a misogynist industry does not equal collective empowerment. In truth, prostitution is a “choice” largely determined by class / poverty.

As such, sex work is not transgressive. It is something that exists because we live within a system that thrives on inequity. Put women in a world where many cannot survive comfortably, where men, at large, hold more social, political, and economic power, where they are taught from day one that the most important thing about them is their sexuality and their ability to attract male attention, and where male pleasure is prioritized over female pleasure and well-being and see what happens.

The Location of the Debate

I agree that the location of this debate should not necessarily be between feminists, meaning that I don’t see how pitting feminists against one another could possibly be productive for the movement.

What has always been clear to abolitionists and to radical feminists is that this is a fight between feminists and the patriarchy.

Prostitution is not something that exists because of women’s power. It exists as the result of a lack of power and a lack of choice. I am as disappointed as the next woman that this debate has caused many of those who identify as feminists to call abolitionists their “enemies” (as well as a host of other, much less pleasant names). I am disappointed that this debate continues not be to centered around the perpetrators of violence – that is, the men. I am disappointed that we continue to blame feminists rather than an exploitative, violent, misogynist system that allows women suffer and die without a second thought.

Yet those who advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of prostitution often claim that it is not men who are their enemies, but rather it is feminists.

I am in complete agreement that we need to re-focus. Abolitionists have done just that; turning the lens onto those who are doing the exploiting and onto those who are profiting from women’s lack of power and lack of real choice. In the end, we are primarily concerned with stopping those who are doing the violence, that is, the men, as well as changing the system within which this kind of exploitation is allowed and encouraged.

Neoliberalism as the Enemy of Feminism

The author points out that which we are all (sadly) aware: “[if] the enemy is neoliberalism, then feminists are losing spectacularly.”

As Rahila Gupta wrote, back in January: “neoliberal values created a space for a bright, brassy and ultimately fake feminism,” going on to say that “if the culture of neoliberalism had something to offer women, it was the idea of agency, of choice freely exercised, free even of patriarchal restraints.”

What neoliberal ideology (that is, the work to privatize everything under the guise of providing more choice and freedom for individuals) has done for feminism is to provide a basis for a kind of individual empowerment which rests on a supposed “freedom” to choose. What the individual woman chooses is, of course, not relevant. That she is making a choice to get breast implants, to get onto a stripper pole, or to, yes, sell sex, is enough to frame this choice as potentially empowering. Gupta elaborates on this idea by referencing a concept discussed by Clare Chambers, called: “the fetishism of choice,” arguing that “if women choose things that disadvantage them and entrench differences, it legitimates inequality because the inequality arises from the choices they make.” Making a choice does not, in and of itself, empower anyone. Particularly when it is made within the constructs of an oppressive framework.

Within the context of neoliberalism, “choice” can work against us. We have convinced ourselves that by choosing to emulate that which has been sketched out for us by oppressive systems of power such as capitalism and patriarchy, we are actually empowered. Inequality, within this context, is overcome by choosing to frame said inequality as empowerment.

While it could be argued, as the originally referenced article does, that “the abstractions of neoliberalism” are less important than it’s practices, I would argue that the two go hand in hand. Attempts at privatization, the destruction of social safety nets, the work to dismantle unions and to defund essential women’s organizations happens because of people. People who believe that the world must function in a certain way and cannot or will not imagine another way. The poor will not rise above the rich by simply making do within the system designed to destroy them and women will not become empowered by pretending their oppression is liberating. “The abstractions” lead to policy, to legislation, and to decisions that affect the real lives of individuals and society as a whole.

What many abolitionists and the left have in common is the desire to change the system so that people have real choices and can live with dignity. This entails affordable housing, health care, education, social safety nets and, of course, a state that does not perpetuate and condone violence against women. To argue that feminists do not believe in and fight for these things is, to put it quite simply, dishonest.

I won’t be erased from the left by those who wish to vilify and make enemies of the feminist movement. The feminist movement nothing if not a progressive movement for collective empowerment.

Ending Prostitution is a Progressive Goal

While many of those who advocate for a model of decriminalization which decriminalizes not only the prostituted, but also the pimps and the johns, appear to enjoy arguing that abolitionists simply want to magically end prostitution in an instant, leaving those who engage in sex work without a means of survival, the argument is much more complex than this.

The argument is for more options and for something better. The desire is for women to be able to survive without having to resort to sex work. The desire is for real choice. That is, as Sarah suggests, “housing, income, physical safety, access to education,” as well as for exiting programs. Prostitution will not instantly disappear with the implementation of the Nordic Model. It will hold men accountable for their actions and will enable us to work towards a more equitable society in the long term.

From the perspective of feminists, pimps and johns do not desire freedom for women. They don’t want women to have alternatives to prostitution because then their orgasms would be a lot harder to come by. It would be pretty inconvenient for men who buy sex from women if those women could actually choose not to give a man a blow job so that she could buy groceries. I have a really hard time believing those men are pro-equality and I have a really hard time believing those men have women’s and society’s best interests in mind. Actually I’m pretty sure it’s their own immediate pleasure they have in mind.

Those men are never going to freely give up their power and donate liberty to women. It isn’t in their best interest. We’re just going to have to take it from them. Which is what the abolitionist argument really boils down to.

No, men don’t have the right to access women’s bodies simply because they have the means; no, they don’t have the right to abuse or rape or murder women. No. Those men must be held accountable. Presenting prostitution as something that men have the right to expect and benefit from will not make men responsible for their sexist behaviour. Instead it legitimizes it.

The Real Enemy

I don’t care how many times radical feminists are accused of being the enemy, are accused of being “in bed with the right” or are accused of imposing on individual freedom. We are women who have witnessed and experienced violence and abuse first-hand and continue to. We are women who believe in a better world and who don’t wish to settle. We are progressive women. We won’t be pushed out of the left so that men can buy sex more easily.

Feminists do not consider themselves to be enemies to anyone but the patriarchy. They want women to be safe and not to be criminalized for having to engage in less-than-ideal work in order to survive. That is to say we also advocate for the decriminalization of prostituted women. But that does not mean we must compromise our goals. That does not mean we shift our focus.

Sarah argues that “if ‘real’ feminists recognized sex worker advocates as feminists, even if we still disagreed about decriminalization, we would be a stronger movement.” And I would add that, to paint feminists as the enemies of women is to provide men with a huge gift. Because they agree. Men who buy sex hate feminists too.

So I’m not going to side with them and I’m not going to do them any favours. We aren’t going to forget who our real enemies are. Women are not our enemies and sex workers are not our enemies. There is no doubt in that. What remains uncertain is why so many continue to avert their eyes when we point to that truth and why the focus is continually shifted back to paint feminists as oppressors. All feminists want to end violence against women. We will not achieve this without forcing the state and forcing men to be accountable to women.

 *Within this article I use the terms “prostituted women” and “sex work/er” interchangeably. The term “prostitution” or “prostituted woman” is used out of respect for the exited women, Aboriginal women, and my feminist allies who use this language in order to draw attention to the exploitation, violence, and unequal power relations that are intrinsic to prostitution. I use the term “sex work” or “sex worker” at times with respect to this debate and in order to advance rather than halt the conversation. Some women, including the author of the article I respond to in this piece, who advocate for decriminalization or legalization prefer the term “sex worker” as it removes the implication that all prostituted women are victims.

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Who does decriminalization leave out?

This article was originally written for and published in Sister Outsiders, issue #4: What you won’t hear inside the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

 

Decriminalization is touted, by many, as the most progressive way to address prostitution. From our local left-wing politicians to feminist academics to the media, this option is often presented as though it is the only one. Arguments in favour of decriminalizing prostitution tell us that this model will help women, that it will provide agency and options, and that it will empower women and improve lives.

These arguments don’t tell the whole story.

Decriminalization, is, in fact, a misleading label. Placed in opposition to abolitionists – who advocate for the decriminalization of prostituted women, while criminalizing only the pimps and johns – those who advocate for decriminalization are essentially arguing for legalization. Decriminalization is commonly used as a way to describe efforts to decriminalize pimps and johns and is commonly presented as the only model that supports the decriminalization of prostituted women. This is not nearly the case.

Decriminalizing the women has always been the starting point for abolitionists and radical feminists. Women have always been the foundation for radical feminist action. Abolitionists have been the only ones to turn the lens onto male demand in terms of addressing prostitution and violence against women while maintaining unwavering support for women who have, because of various injustices, had to turn to prostitution. The legitimatization and normalization of the idea that men should have the legal right to access women’s bodies 24/7 is what decriminalization advocates are fighting for. If not for that, they would surely be aligned with the abolitionist movement.

As a result of the Missing Women Inquiry it has becoming glaringly obvious that women went missing because they were living at the margins. That these were women who were made invisible by an inequitable society. Poverty and racism ensured that these women could disappear and that the state wouldn’t bat an eye. We allowed this to happen, as a society. It isn‟t only the RCMP who is to blame, though they must be held accountable.

By refusing to support social programs and social safety nets which support women, we allow women to remain at the margins and we force them into desperate situations. Decriminalization won’t change that.

Decriminalization will help women in positions of privilege, women who have a certain level of “choice”, and women who hold power in our society. It will help the johns who want to buy sex freely and without shame. It will help the pimps who want to consider themselves to be “legitimate businessmen”.

But who won’t it help? Who is missing from the rhetoric of decriminalization? Who, once again, is placed at the margins of this debate?

Many argue that women in prostitution choose to be there. And perhaps some do. Perhaps, within the limited options we have, as women living in a capitalist patriarchy, some women choose prostitution. And so what? Are we willing to sacrifice all women in order to please a few?

Under the decriminalization model, those women who are engaged in survival sex work are left to fend for themselves. These aren‟t the women who will be in your supposedly “safe” brothels and these women are not the high-class escorts beloved by Hollywood movies. These women are not the women you talk about when you talk about women making an “empowered choice” to do sex work.

Women have long been treated as commodities, but between colonialism and capitalism, it is Indigenous women who have suffered the most under this model. Over ten years ago, Jackie Lynne wrote: “The sexual domination of First Nations women has remained unabated to present-day due to patriarchy’s stronghold,” and it would seem that nothing has changed. Within the discourse of empowerment and of “choosing” sex work, we leave out the context of both an intensely racist and sexist society as well as the context of poverty. The “empowered    women” who speak about decriminalization as though it is the key to women‟s freedom may well be looking for liberty, but in doing so they leave behind all of their sisters.

There are other options. We don’t have to settle for harm-reduction. If we can’t demand more for women and if we can‟t demand an end to abuse then what are we fighting for?

As progressives, we must demand change with all of society in mind, but most of all we must demand change which privileges the most disempowered. Decriminalization is the dream of those who have given up.

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Partying and playing at Piggy’s Palace: Men’s silence about men’s violence

By Jacqueline Gullion

Jacqueline Guillion is a collective member at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.

This article was originally written for and published in Sister Outsiders, issue #4: What you won’t hear inside the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

 

Mainstream media like CBC, The Tyee, Vancouver Sun, and Seattle’s weekly, The Stranger, easily uncovered the fact that former Port Coquitlam Mayor, Scott Young, and hundreds of other people had attended events at Piggy’s Palace, the party venue operating for several years at Pickton’s pig farm. I asked some of those Vancouver rock/punk bands playing in the 1990s what they’d heard about Piggy’s Palace. I was relieved to hear my friends say they had refused to play there because, as one said “even though we’d played some shitty places, we’d heard Piggy’s was totally sketchy bikers, blow, you name it.”

Others describe Piggy’s Palace as “rough,” “very very badass.” One man interviewed in 2003 by The Stranger said: “There were lots of women, who looked like hookers…. The party spilled all over the grounds and there were people in the house and in the trailer doing the wild thing. I recall walking by a shack with a 40-watt light bulb hanging over the door and machinery was running inside. Here, I got a death chill. The hairs raised on the back of my neck and my feet froze to the ground. I didn’t want to be there anymore, so I left and walked home.”
This is what is most chilling to me: literally hundreds of people, from East Van rockers to off duty cops to the Mayor of Port Coquitlam, knew that Piggy’s Palace and its proprietors were trouble – specifically trouble for prostituted women. Yet the venue remained in operation for years without intervention by neighbours, police, or concerned members of the public.

Former Mayor Scott Young’s disregard for women is already public, evident in his guilty plea for an assault on his ex common-law partner and for breaching a no-contact order intended to protect her. But what about the bands who decided that, despite the “rough crowd” and the rule to “check your knives and other weapons at the door,” playing repeated gigs at Piggy’s Palace was worth it because the money was good? A few Lower Mainland bands’ websites still list their Piggy’s Palace gigs in their band bio. One even has the gall to highlight the notoriety of the Pickton case.

The media was able to find people willing to paint the grisly picture of what they witnessed before vowing never to visit Piggy’s Palace again. But where were those who saw what was happening and then vowed to help put the heat on local authorities to shut Pickton down? As a frontline rape crisis worker, I rejoice when I receive a call from someone wanting to help a woman who’s in danger. I am ready to rally my team and encourage the neighbour or friend to respond, to help the woman escape, and to fight back.

So yet another facet of the story is missing from the Missing Women’s Inquiry – the everyday men who partied and played at Piggy’s Palace and how their refusal to come forward early makes them complicit in this gruesome tragedy.

While the Missing Women’s Inquiry draws some public attention to the role of police procedures (and their failures) in the investigation, as a community we should be obliged by our humanity to really consider how Pickton was able to murder so many women over such a long time, and how the case ought to press us all toward progressive change.

Instead, the Pickton case has been used to promote the full decriminalization of prostitution. Prostituted women should never have been criminalized or put in the position of selling sex for money – but to call for the decriminalization of johns and pimps based on the Pickton case is completely illogical. Full decriminalization will not protect the women that johns like Pickton might pick up on the streets as is often argued. Pickton was a wealthy man and could very easily have ‘hired’ women openly operating as ‘adult entertainers’ or ‘escorts’ from the back pages of the Georgia Straight. Indeed, as Piggy’s Palace venue was operating as a registered non-profit agency, buying women’s bodies purchased through licensed escort agencies could have been written off as costs of doing business. But Pickton and those who co-hosted the parties purposely sought out the “unlicensed” and desperate women on the streets of the Downtown Eastside who would risk the sketchy trip to the PoCo pig farm. How will these women benefit from the decriminalization of johns and pimps? Surely we want no woman pressed into this?

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Why reproductive rights and prostitution are not the same thing: A response to one decriminalization argument

I received a link to this blog post just hours ago via a feminist listserv; a listserv that has, just like much of the feminist community elsewhere has, experienced A LOT of heated debate around prostitution, sex work, abolition, and decriminalization.

The author claims to desire a ‘genuine’ answer to some specific questions she puts to abolitionists and, implies, by the title of the post: Choosing Our Battles: Why the feminist movement needs to stop arguing and support the decriminalisation of sex work, that what she truly desires is to end the infighting and to do what’s best for women, which of course, is really what we all want….That said, the post, and even the title of the post hints at something different than a desire for genuine discourse. Not only does it suggest that decriminalization is the only possible avenue for the feminist movement to take in terms of finding a solution to prostitution and male exploitation of women, but the questions she asks seem to, once again (I say once again because this is, unfortunately, such a common thing coming from arguments against abolition and for decriminalization), display a complete lack of research, an unwillingness to listen to and understand what abolitionists argue and fight for, and the imposition of a word, ‘prohibitionist,’ that shows, again, a complete lack of understanding in terms of the arguments that are being made. When we begin a conversation which pretends to desire authenticity and immediately misrepresent and misunderstand the other side of the argument, is it difficult to take seriously that intent.

This means that two out of three of the questions the author claims to pose genuinely, are actually unanswerable by abolitionists:

2) How, in practical terms, does prohibition work towards the goal of abolition

3) Where has prohibition been an effective tool for changing social conditions or altering social practices?

Prohibition is the practice of prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, import, export, sale, and consumption of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. Women are not alcoholic beverages. They are not products to be bought, sold, manufactured, or traded, though I suppose this perspective is telling in terms of those who might like to use this term; perhaps they do indeed believe women to be consumable ‘products’ that should be bought and sold freely?

Abolition refers to a desire to put a stop to something, a practice. It first was used in terms of the movement to end slavery and the slave trade. It is now used by feminists to refer to a movement to end prostitution and the trafficking of women. Feminists who fight for abolition believe that prostitution is a form of exploitation and is an example of male privilege and power. Can you see the similarities here? I feel like if we were asking ‘genuine’ questions we would get the terminology right.

The author goes on to ask: Who should be criminalised? Sex workers, johns, madames, members of the kink community, bachelor parties, bar/club owners? Again, to me, this question shows something sincere, that is a sincere lack of research, a genuine intention to not hear what women are saying. Abolitionists do not argue for the criminalization of sex workers. They argue for the complete decriminalization of prostituted women and the criminalization of the pimps and johns. Simple as that. For those who are sincerely interested in hearing the actual arguments from actual feminists and abolitionists, I’ve linked to some references here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. There is a lot more information out there, including here on our website and on EVE’s website, as well as many, many more resources I haven’t included here

The abolitionist argument has never been about ‘cracking down’ on women who work in the sex work industry but rather has been about ending male privilege, male violence, and the exploitation and abuse of women and women’s bodies. It is about pointing out that, in a truly egalitarian society there is no ‘deal’ in which men are allowed access to women’s bodies simply because they have the cash and women need the cash. In a truly egalitarian society we would not believe that men have this right or that men somehow need to use women’s bodies lest they become violent or rape (which is an argument commonly used to support prostitution).

For decades, feminists have repeated over and over that criminalising abortion will not stop abortions.’  How can the continuing criminalization by sexist, right wing men of access to abortion for women – whose lives are on the line, either in botched procedures or birthing – be compared to attempts by feminist women to impede sexist men’s entitlement to the bodies of women whose lives are also on the line?  Reproductive rights provide women with control over their lives and bodies.  As the author points out, ‘Women die when abortion is not accessible.’  Women should get to choose whether or not they have to give birth.  Whether or not they want to raise children. They ought to get to make those decisions; not men.  But women also die at the hands of pimps, johns, brothel owners and traffickers.  Abolitionists have no desire to criminalize the prostituted: they desire a world where sexist men can no longer buy sexual violence against women, where male privilege doesn’t mean that women are put in the position of having to sell their bodies to men.  The only valid comparison is that the criminalization of abortions by men hurts women and the tolerance of men’s demand for prostitution hurts women.  Abolition and abortion rights both demand freedom for women from a patriarchal society which locks women into the roles of tools for sexual use of men.

In response to this post, and this author’s supposedly genuine desire for a sincere conversation, I suggest we begin with a) research, b) the correct use of terms with which we describe the abolitionist movement, and c) actually listening to people when they talk. When right off the bat your argument begins with an assumption that abolitionists argue for the criminalization of prostitutes and continuously calls the movement ‘prohibitionist’, all it shows is a lack of interest in conversation, in sincerity, in women’s voices, and in the truth.

Try again.

 

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