Is Prostitution Ever a Choice? Is Persecution Ever a Choice?

I don’t have much time to watch TV, but I watched “The View” this morning and the women interviewed Diane Sawyer about the piece she did regarding prostitution, which will air on “20/20” tomorrow night (March 21).  Sawyer brought up the issue of whether prostitution is ever a choice.  However, in these debates about whether sex for payment can ever under any circumstances be a choice, one issue is often overlooked: Is persecution a choice? Are sex workers in prostitution choosing to be persecuted?  If people are so interested in the issue of choice, then shouldn’t they also be asking this question?  Regardless of one’s stance on whether sex for payment can ever be a choice, I don’t see how anybody can argue that sex workers in prostitution are choosing to be persecuted. 

19 Responses

  1. This is a stellar post!

    My thoughts. Is prostitution ever a choice. Of course. Probably more often than not. Are there those that it is not a choice and are forced into it. Yes. But that isn’t the whole picture and anyone making a sweeping generalization that no prostitution is a choice is making broad and unrealistic statement.

    Is persecution a choice? No.

    What are we fighting as a movement? We are fighting to end persecution.

    Many of those that claim they are fighting persecution by attempting to conflate all prostitution as without choice are often only adding to persecution of sex workers regardless of their intent. If only it were as easy to stop persecution by one swift revolutionary event such as what they propose by overthrowing patrariarchy and in their minds ending prostitution thus ending persecution. But that doesn’t work. It never will.

    The fight against persecution is answered by giving to and getting rights for those persecuted.

    People claiming sex workers are choosing to be persecuted are distorting facts to support their attempt at change through some Quixotic revolutionary event. Won’t happen. Many of these so called revolutionaries are in bed with some of the most corrupt hypocrites on the planet. Do they really feel that an alliance with Bush, Cheney, Tobias, Halliburton among others is going to liberate anyone from persecution? Or are they just making excuses for getting their chair at the big table? Any alliance with the Bush Administration to liberate anyone is a bunch of shit. And they know it.

    SWA, thank you for your insightful post! You so are my hero!

    Brenneman

  2. Is it not possible to imagine that some might willingly do for money what others willingly do for free?

    Many people have the attitude that sex workers get what they deserve because they’re working beyond the law. Which means changing the laws changes the issue of persecution. It would allow the issue of choice to be seen more clearly.

    Not that mainstream media is asking the same questions you are, SWA.

    XX

  3. Great post! Great question!

    I also saw Diane Sawyer on The View this morning. What she said did not make me feel good about the piece they will be showing tomorrow. She stated stats that did not match the research I have read – i.e. how many providers had been sexually abused as children (60-90%), how many women work on the low end (only a very small minority work at the high end she said – how she defined this I have no idea).

    Did they contact anyone from the USA based sex workers rights groups?

  4. I echo your sentiments, Seska Lee. Sawyer didn’t mention that there are also non sex workers who have experienced childhood abuse and she also didn’t mention that some people who have experienced childhood abuse are very strong, resilient people who are very capable of making decisions and have good heads on their shoulders.
    I think she tried to present a balanced approach. She interviewed people from various segments of the sex industry, such as street workers, indoor workers, and legal Nevada brothel workers. She also said that they explored different legal models of prostitution. However, I agree that she still seemed biased toward the prohibitionist side. She addressed violence against street workers without saying anything about how the criminalization of prostitution encourages violence. Not that decriminalizing it would make it perfectly safe, but decriminalization wouldn’t encourage abuses in the way that criminalization does. We’re never guaranteed to be perfectly safe in this world anywhere or in any job. the best we can do is focus on degrees of safety, and criminalizing prostitution doesn’t make it safer.
    Another thing she said that put question marks in my mind was when she said it was mainly the upper class workers who wanted legal prostitution, but the street workers didn’t. I really question this and I’m very interested in what street workers or people who have conducted research or discussed this issue with street workers think about this. Do you agree? Street workers are the most likely to be arrested under the criminalization of prostitution and they also often work in isolated areas to avoid the police, and this wouldn’t be the case if prostitution were legal. Thus, it would really surprise me if most street workers supported these prohibitionist policies that further endanger them. The only reason why they may support such policies is because sometimes, the oppressed internalize the rhetoric of the oppressors, so they may feel like they’re bad people who should be punished because they’ve been made to feel this way by the dominant society.
    Futhermore, some advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution have been street workers and some sex worker advocates have said that street workers approached them on the streets and expressed gratitude toward them for their advocacy.
    I’m very interested in seeing the report on “20/20” and I’m interested in people’s perceptions after this piece airs on March 21.

  5. Based on what I’ve seen teased about the show (both on TV and in print), I don’t look for anything positive to be portrayed on the show. I’ll be surprised if they put anyone on who says she chose to go into sex work.

  6. They use Farley based research as the generalizations to propel their arguments. They aren’t realistic.

    The average age of entry into prostitution 13? With their sweeping generalization of prostitution including everyone from prostitutes to Hooters Girls. It is arithmetic that is totally flawed and with any significant thought of the equation of the huge numbers of people involved in the sex industry, to reach an average age of entry of 13 there would have to be a huge number of below 13 year olds to balance all those older than 13 to achieve the average.

    The idea that street based prostitutes want it to be illegal. Perhaps if interviewed after exiting some kind of program such as SAGE or Breaking Free. But working street based sex workers want it illegal? It’s nonsense. It would be akin to making the job of fight attendant illegal and then asking f/a’s if they are glad the way they pay their bills is illegal because somehow making it illegal for them to work as flight attendants will punish difficult passengers and greedy airlines. I think they would rather unionize or at least have labor and human rights rather than face arrest as the method to achieve social justice.

    It amazes me these bizarre arguments about street based prostitutes wanting it to be illegal or average age of entry being 13 can even garner the remotest level of attention or credibility. They are truly unrealistic claims akin to asking the average driver if they are happier paying 3.80 a gallon for gas rather than 1.19 and having 90 to 93 percent say yes they are. Perhaps Exxon has a study that reveals that result but there would immediately be huge questions about the authenticity of the result. Such claims made about prostitution and somehow the mainstream media picks it up and people believe it.

    I hate to ruin a good statistic but when I worked on the street as a prostitute, my fear was of getting arrested, among other things. Having it decriminalized would at least have taken away one fear.

  7. I got the SF Green Party to endorse the petition last night.
    The ‘choice’ discourse didn’t even come up because it’s totally an antiquated idea.
    It was so refreshing.
    And when we make statements like this:
    “Though there are people in prostitution who have experienced childhood abuse,”
    It confirms the idea that people who were abused can’t make informed affirmative decisions, that any decision they make is suspect and they lack credibility. To be effective in our advocacy, don’t start sentences that confirms these unqualified beliefs! They don’t help us. They confirm negative stigma about people who are abused and/or people who work as prostitutes.

  8. On the abuse issue, I try to reframe it around either:

    1) 1 in 6 women in their lifetimes are survivors of sexual abuse or assault, and clearly not all of them become sex workers.

    2) We never ask how often women in other helping/service professions do that work as part of their being survivors. The number of rape crisis counselors and educators I have worked with who are survivors is HUGE, for example. In a way, that makes sense. In another, it can be very damaging.

    As a culture right now everyone’s so quick to pin adult sexual behavior (and sex work as part of that) on some childhood trauma. “What MADE you that way?” is one of the only questions people who don’t understand human sexual variation and the sex industry ask. It’s part of the discourse of sex right now, and it’s infuriating as a sex worker *and* a survivor . It’s about context, though. When it comes to something like The View, I don’t know how I’d talk about sex work and sexual abuse and not have everything I said manipulated. There can be solid reasons to be strategic about discussing abuse, but I hate feeling like we “can’t” because we’d somehow damage the movement.

  9. The average age of entry into prostitution 13?

    Well first of all they’re using “average” wrong (as you pointed out, Jill). I think they must mean “modal” – even though that’s inaccurate too. There’s no way the modal age of entry into prostitution is 13, but I’m just saying, from a linguistic nerd standpoint, they can’t even get their words right, much less their data.

  10. […] say the stuff I struggle to put into words, but can’t get quite right. So, here we go… Melissa nails it again: On the abuse issue, I try to reframe it around […]

  11. It’s infuriating to be talked about in such an unintelligent fashion. I keep asking myself, ‘When does this get better for us? When do people start searching for the truth instead of what the mainstream media feeds them?’

    There are a number of things that I simply do not discuss openly because of my activism for sex workers rights.

    If I say I was never sexually abused or never worked the streets or never had a drug problem, then I automatically become some exception.

    If I am an abuse survivor or did street-work or ever used drugs, then I instantly prove their theories.

    It’s too often a no-win situation, where my truth is not welcome.

  12. Maxine, I see your point about not starting the sentence in the way I did and I reworded the sentence. However, I also said that there are non sex workers who have also experienced abuse and I said that some people who have experienced abuse are very strong, resilient people who are capable of making decisions for themselves. So, I feel that my post really challenged the people who use experiences of abuse as a way to discredit people.
    I also agree that ideally, the issue of childhood abuse shouldn’t come up when we’re talking about the legal status of prostitution. It shouldn’t have anything to do with labor rights or the persecution of sex workers. However, realistically speaking, the issue does come up in debates, discussions, and rhetoric about prostitution and we need to address this issue. Trying to avoid this issue won’t make it go away. Addressing this issue in our own words makes it harder for people to use the issue of childhood abuse to discredit sex workers and our movement.
    Also, congratulation on getting the SF Greens to sign your petition and I’m a strong supporter of the Greens. Though the issue of choice didn’t come up with the Greens, the whole world doesn’t think like the Greens. If they did, then the Greens would have more political clout than they do. Hopefully, someday they will have more political clout. The issue of choice is an issue that the prohibitionists are using against us to promote the criminalization of prostitution, so this is an issue we need to address in our own words. The myth that prostitution can never under any circumstances be consensual one of the myths used to justify existing laws that criminalize prostitution. The point I was trying to make in titling this thread the way I did was that regardless of whether people think that prosititution can ever under any circumstance be a choice, people aren’t choosing to be persecuted for working in prostitution. So, if people really are that interested in prostitutes having choices, criminalizing prostitution isn’t the way to achieve this. Persecuting prostitutes isn’t expanding choices. What choices do people really have when they’re being persecuted just for providing sexual services in exchange for payment? Sometimes, asking questions can be the most powerful way to make a point.
    Also, the court systems can be a very effective method. The Supreme Court ruled the Texas anti-sodomy laws to be unconstitutional on the grounds that laws prohibiting private consensual adult sexual behavior were unconstitutional. Though this case wasn’t about commercial sex acts, there is no reasons why the same principles can’t be applied. If the criminalization of prostitution is ruled unconstitutional by a court, then that would decriminalize prostitution in the whole country so we could move onto other sex workers’ rights issues and we wouldn’t need to circulate petitions to support the decriminalization of prostitution anymore. In order for this to happen, somebody who is convicted of prostitution would need to appeal under Lawrence vs. Texas.

  13. In response to the quote above about the average age of entry into prostitution being 13, it is important to question who reported this statistic and how they got this number. There are some major overgeneralizations going on in research about prostitution and different studies have found different ages of entry into prostitution. However, regardless of the age of entry into prostitution, if people are now adults, they deserve to be respected as adults and to not treat them like adults is condescending.

  14. […] Commenter “Could Be Your Sister” on Bound, Not Gagged: There are a number of things that I simply do not discuss openly because of my activism for sex workers rights. […]

  15. In effective messaging, Only focusing on the abuse of those in power over us.
    I attended a vigil for trans latina women last night who’ve been killed in our city and their murders go unsolved. As one mother of the murder victim said, ‘it’s not a priority for the police to find who did this to my daughter and bring us justice.’
    It’s never going to be a priority for the police to look for murders when they’re getting paid time and a half arresting prostitutes and our customers because they get to split the fines coerced out of us amoungst themselves.
    I’m off to collect signatures!

  16. Oh an messila farley’s abuse of her profession should be a number one target for sex worker rights advocates. Anyone of her statue who stood by and watched a sex worker being spit on and verbally abused can’t ever been seen as credible in anyway shape or form.

  17. “Another thing she said that put question marks in my mind was when she said it was mainly the upper class workers who wanted legal prostitution, but the street workers didn’t. ”

    Yeah, I worked the streets. I never and I mean never worked with another street based worked who supported their own criminalization. Maybe she is referring to former street based prostitute, Norma Hotaling, who is against decrimalization because without our criminalization, she would be out of funding and out of a job.

  18. To follow-up on Melissa’s point-

    Nobody ever points out that of those 1 in 6 women (and i believe 1 in 10 men) more that half of the assaults are committed by a family member, spouse or other acquaintance.

    So much money goes into targeting ‘clients’ the strange men who are willing to compensate a woman for her time.

    But how much money, publicity and education is used to prevent incest, date rape, marital rape and other forms of sexual assault that are far more prominent in the US than forced commercial sex?

  19. Melissa Farley and Donna Hughes and the likes have to be called out on their abuse of us by usurping our voices to promoting their plantation owner mentality by using the legitimacy of the research profession to do it.
    Then we need to be talking about the abuse of police who ignore crimes against us while they enforce the abatement of prostitution laws while they get paid time and half plus benefits to do it.
    And then we need to be focusing on the abuse of the media who promotes their shamed based sex negative agenda to maintain the plantation owners status quo.
    And that in my mind is the only abuse we should ever be talking about.

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