What Happy Hooker?

It may be an old profession, but that certainly does not make it right. Prostitution has had it proponents and defenders for centuries, but the truth is, it is bad news for everyone, and certainly bad news for the women involved. But like so many other activities where people are exploited for financial gain, we seldom hear the real truth about the ugliness of prostitution.

Instead we keep getting Hollywood and other outlets trying to paint the picture of the happy hooker. We have films like Pretty Woman making the work seem glamourous and appealing. And we have newspapers and other media outlets regularly giving us sob stories about how college kids and mothers and others are enjoying the work and the pay.

It is just another job, just another lifestyle choice, we are led to believe. Indeed, instead of talking about prostitutes and hookers, we now have euphemisms like “sex workers” and we speak about the “sex industry” and so on. Hey, sleaze is still sleaze, and it is time we started getting honest about what a sordid world it really is.

Three recent articles all help to make this case, so it is worth drawing your attention to each. The first has to do with a new book written by Irish woman Rachel Moran. An article about her story tells about the degradation and misery she experienced.

It begins, “The first man to take Rachel Moran into his car for £10 hand relief in 1987 didn’t care that the 15-year- old was homeless after being thrown out by her mother, who had schizophrenia and was addicted to prescription medication. He didn’t care that her mentally ill, gambling-addicted father had taken his own life. He didn’t care that the social care system had failed her.

“He didn’t ask why a child was selling sex on Benburb Street in Dublin 7, or why she had been so utterly abandoned that the homeless 21-year-old pimping her was all she had to hang on to, her only friend in the world, even though she’d known him only a few days. ‘Take it easy on her, it’s her first time,’ the pimp said – rather hypocritically, considering he knew her age was an asset.

“All that first punter cared about, and the thousands after him wearing wedding rings and with baby seats in the backs of their cars, was that Moran was 15. Underage sex was, and is, a turn-on for many of the thousands of men – one in 15 – who prostitute 1,000 women and girls every day in Ireland. ‘I know of girls of 13 being prostituted today,’ says Moran, who is now 37 and whose book, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, will be published next week.”

There is nothing pleasant about it. Says Moran, “How glamorous is it, I wonder, to think of a huge heaving fat sweaty man shoving his penis into the most intimate part of your body? The truth is that prostitution is always an affront to human dignity. It is psychosexual bullying. Women in prostitution are not seen as equal humans”.

What can be done about this is something a nation like Sweden has looked at closely. Their approach has led to a real reduction in prostitution, as a new article states. “Sweden’s decision to reverse centuries of assumptions about prostitution and criminalise buyers of sex caused astonishment when the law came into force in 1999. As arguments raged elsewhere about whether prostitution should be legalised, the Swedish government’s simple idea – that the wrong people were being arrested – was new and controversial.

“Detective Superintendent Kajsa Wahlberg is Sweden’s national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings. When I meet her at her office in Stockholm, she recalls that one police officer from another country actually accused the Swedes of ‘Nazi methods’. Wahlberg acknowledges that many Swedish officers were sceptical as well. ‘There was frustration and anger within the police. People were chewing on lemons,’ she says with a wry laugh. All of that’s changed dramatically since the law came into effect.”

The facts speak for themselves. Since this approach came into effect, there has been a 70 per cent drop in business. “The law has brought about other changes as well. Before 1999, most women in street prostitution in Stockholm were Swedish. Now they’re from the Baltic states or Africa, and have sold sex in other countries as well. They tell Haggstrom’s officers they’re much more likely to be subjected to violence in countries where prostitution has been legalised.”

The law change has even resulted in an attitude change: “In the police car, something happens which reveals the full extent of the philosophical shift that has affected men and women in Sweden. In a brightly lit street, Haggstrom points out a couple of Romanian women who work as prostitutes. As I think about them making the journey over the bridge with a total stranger to the desolate car park on Skeppsholmen, Haggstrom turns to me. ‘Having sex is not a human right,’ he says quietly.”

And legalised prostitution must be seen in the light of the global problem of sex slavery, or sexual trafficking. A recent study has demonstrated the real connection between the two: “Countries where prostitution is legal experience larger reported inflows of human trafficking, according to new research that investigates the impact of legalised prostitution on what is thought to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.

“Every year, thousands of men, women and children are trafficked across international borders. The vast majority of countries in the world are affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. The United Nations estimated in 2008 that nearly 2.5 million people from 127 different countries had been trafficked into 137 countries around the world.

“Research on human trafficking is still in its early stages, but is growing as the seriousness of the problem becomes more apparent. It is thought to be second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable illegal industry. . . . The article, Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?, by Professor Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Dr Seo-Young Cho of the German Institute for Economic Research, and Professor Axel Dreher of Heidelberg University, is due to be published in the January 2013 edition of the journal World Development.

“Describing international human trafficking as ‘one of the dark sides of globalisation’, it explains that most victims of international human trafficking are women and girls, the vast majority of whom end up being sexually exploited through prostitution. Domestic policy on prostitution in countries of destination, it says, has a marked effect.”

Here are some specifics: “The article’s authors also looked in more detail at Sweden, Germany and Denmark, which changed their prostitution laws during the past 13 years. Sweden prohibited it in 1999, while Germany further legalised it by allowing third-party involvement in 2002. Denmark decriminalised it in 1999 so that self-employed prostitution is legal, but brothel operation is still forbidden.

“Germany showed a sharp increase in reports of human trafficking upon fully legalising prostitution in 2002. The number of human trafficking victims in 2004 in Denmark, where it is decriminalised, was more than four times that of Sweden, where it is illegal, although the population size of Sweden is about 40 per cent larger.”

Women and children are the main victims of all this. But of course men, marriages, families and societies suffer as well. There is nothing good about this business, and we need to look at ways of radically curbing things, such as the Swedish model.

To help us think and act on all this, two recent videos on sexual slavery have come out and are well worth watching. I refer to Trade of Innocents and Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. I hope to soon do a review of each of these, so stay tuned.

www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/the-myth-of-the-happy-hooker-1.1358702#.UYCGEun9OhA.twitter
www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/why-the-games-up-for-swedens-sex-trade-8548854.html
www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2012/12/Legalised-prostitution-increases-human-trafficking.aspx
tradeofinnocents.com/
nefariousdocumentary.com/

[1319 words]


About this entry