The revolution for women’s rights is the longest of all revolutions.
In fact, the fight for women’s liberation is probably one of those that faces the most obstacles and has the most enemies whom constantly attempt to attack and undermine any progress achieved through this fight. Here is a contemporary example of such an attack.
The human rights organisation Amnesty International just adopted a new controversial policy on the decriminalisation of prostitution. The initiative of the well known international NGO’s legal experts in defence of human rights was answered by a wave of disagreements within the organisation itself and became a cause for harsh critics from human rights activists, feminists and even Hollywood stars such as Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet who wrote a public letter opposing Amnesty International’s new policy.
I grew up in Ukraine a country with a 3rd world level of poverty, patriarchal rules and for these reasons, a huge sex industry. Prostitution and sex-tourism are amongst the most known characteristics of my country, and constitute true disasters for the Ukrainian society. Working on this issue for six years leading the women’s movement FEMEN and watching myself how destinies of women are destroyed by this blood thirsty machine known as the sex industry, I surely know that prostitution is an aspect of male domination in its pure form, and therefore I stand against the decriminalisation of prostitution because there can be no amnesty for those who buy a human being, even if it is just for an hour.
Many of you may not see any issue with decriminalising prostitution, right? Indeed, many think that it is better to legalise sex-work since as it is often said, “it is the world’s oldest profession”, and it would be easier to regulate. But prostitution is not the world’s oldest profession, it’s the world’s oldest form of oppression. Legalisation or decriminalisation doesn’t dignify prostitutes, women, but simply dignifies the sex-industry and enriches pimps and criminals.
The decriminalisation, proposed by Amnesty International, means decriminalisation of the entire sex industry, not just prostitutes. Legalisation of prostitution is not supporting prostitutes but pimps and clients. Yes, legalisation means that prostitutes will be protected and not be considered as criminals, but the same would apply to traffickers, pimps, brothel holders, and moreover, the decriminalisation of prostitution also guarantees impunity for the clients.
Amnesty International explains its new policy, which is undoubtedly shameful for a human rights organisation, through the argument that prostitution, or as they call it “sex work”, is a “contractual arrangement where sexual services are negotiated between consenting adults, with the terms of engagement agreed between the seller and the buyer of sexual services”. This pastiche of a human rights policy is supported by other classical arguments about women’s choice to be involved in prostitution, about reducing and controlling sex-business through legalisation and about fighting trafficking and violence in this way.
Such a statement outrageously hides the reality of prostitution by replacing it by an amateurish romanticised vision of the sex industry and a way to control it. Legalisation of prostitution is a betrayal of the fundamental idea of human rights and moreover it is an unsuccessful policy to deal with the sex-industry while believing to control it. Here is why:
Legalisation will NOT give more opportunities to prostitutes
Legalisation/decriminalisation of prostitution is a gift to pimps, traffickers and the sex industry.
What does legalisation of prostitution or decriminalisation of the sex industry means? It means to legalise the business and the pimps who, under the regime of legalisation, are transformed into third party businessmen and legitimate sexual entrepreneurs.
Legalisation of prostitution is undeniably making fundamental changes, but only for pimps and clients, not for prostitutes.
Legalisation of prostitution does NOT erase or reduce trafficking
Traffickers are instead taking advantage of this legislation to bring foreign women coming from unstable and poor countries into the prostitution industry by masking the fact that women have been trafficked, and by coaching the women on how to prove that they are self-employed “migrant sex workers”.
Anyone with an ounce of a business spirit would easily understand that to do trafficking for an industry that is criminal is much harder than for a legalised industry, that is just giving the traffickers much more opportunities to cover or even justify their crimes.
Legalisation does NOT regulate the expansion of prostitution.
The examples of Germany, Netherlands or the State of Victoria in Australia, show that legalisation has led to a massive expansion of the sex industry.
Legalization of prostitution increases the demand for prostitution. It boosts the motivation of men to buy women for sex in a much wider and more permissible range of socially acceptable settings.
With the advent of legalization in countries that have decriminalized the sex industry, many men who would not risk buying women for sex now see prostitution as acceptable. When the legal barriers disappear, so do the social and ethical barriers to treating women as sexual commodities.
When prostitution is not a choice
We hear some stories of people who do involve themselves into prostitution by choice and do not face violence. I expect we will hear such stories from opposition today as well. I will not doubt the existence of such stories. But this romantic point of view about prostitution spread by the obvious minority is just irresponsible in front of millions who are living another reality. Why would we drop the interests of many who suffer exploitation and violence for of the interests of a few who do it by choice and enjoy it?
It is official that women from eastern Europe, Africa and Asia that are most often forced into prostitution as they come from poor and unstable countries, only a very small number of women coming from developed countries working in the sex-industry.
The sex industry itself is also assiduously trying to make a distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution as if these distinctions become socially accepted, they would give the industry more security and legal stability.
And at the end, what is the choice? The one paying for sex is paying for a yes. He’s buying a woman who makes sex with him only if he wants her to, when he wants her to, and in the way he wants and has paid and ordered her to.
Prostitution is NOT a profession
To legalise prostitution would mean to recognise it as an official profession like being a doctor or a teacher, which brings us to the responsibility of society. It is the society’s responsibility to identify what is harmful and what is not. There are many women who keep suffering from domestic violence and do not report it to the police by choice, however our society does not legalise it since it is made of violence and crime. To recognise prostitution as a profession will mean to grow up new generations of boys with the idea that they can buy a woman as a commodity and new generations of girls will grow up thinking that they have the option of becoming prostitutes in the future. This also possibly applies to your future children. Ask yourself if you want it.
Moreover, the sex-workers do not want prostitution to be recognised as their profession.
In Germany, an evaluation of the law after five years showed that only 1% of the surveyed prostituted women had an employment contract as “sex workers”. (A few additional percents had health insurance as free-lancing “sex workers”). Most did not want an employment contract. When asked why, the majority of them answered that they saw prostitution as a temporary solution to an impossible financial situation, and as something they wanted to get away from.
Many were also worried that an employment contract would mean that they would no longer be able to make decisions of their own – like refusing some clients, or some of the clients’ demands.
Legalisation does NOT reduce violence
Women who bring charges against pimps and clients will bear the burden of proving that they were “forced.” How possibly can a prostitute prove that she was forced to become a victim of sexual violence if this has happened in her recruitment or is part of her “working conditions”. Violence is the nature of sex industry.
It is a cruel lie to suggest that decriminalisation or legalisation of the whole industry will protect prostitutes. It is not possible to protect someone whose source of income exposes them to the likelihood of being raped on average once a week.
By accepting the existence of prostitution on a legal level, society is jumping deeper into an ice hole of patriarchy and losing a chance to fight it.
The act of prostitution by definition joins 2 forms of social power, sex and money. In both realms, men hold substantial and systematic power over women.
To me, legalisation of prostitution is the result of a desperate search for an easy solution by people who are ruled either by patriarchal ideas or by laziness, or simply suffer lack of ambitions to fight it.
Ladies and gentlemen, legalisation of prostitution is simply the illusion of a solution, not a true solution.
And yet, there are ways to tackle the issue of prostitution that don’t involve either decriminalisation of pimps or criminalisation of the women that work in the sex trade. Renowned women’s rights campaigner Gloria Steiner said: “Legalisation keeps pimps, brothel keepers, and sex-slavers in freedom and riches. Criminalisation puts the prostitute in prison,” and “What works is the Nordic model, which offers services and alternatives to prostituted people, and fines buyers and educates them to the realities of the global sex trade.”
By criminalising clients and pimps without any legal charges for prostitutes themselves we will hit the business and its owners and repel potential clients while at the same time protecting women. An argument that this will just bring prostitution underground is reasonless. As with anything else, there will be less and less clients for a product that is not on display.
Decriminalisation of prostitutes, protecting them and providing services but criminalisation of pimps and clients, persecuting them for human exploitation will be not the final solution but a first step towards erasing the sex-industry so thirsty for destroying women’s destinies. We propose to stand with abused and exploited instead of standing with those who abuse and exploit, as Amnesty International proposes.
The argument I am making is not a new one, in fact the discussion for the abolition of prostitution takes its roots in the anti-slavery campaigns of the 19th century. Humanists such as Victor Hugo, Jean Jaurès and Victor Schœlcher promoted the idea of fighting prostitution as a form of slavery.
Indeed, prostitution is a modern form of slavery. I call not to try to control it but to fight it.