Posted in Social Butterfly » by Rebecca Winson
Last month the feminist organisation Eaves and the US organisation Prostitution Research and Education published a report stating the reasons for the use of prostitutes and recommending what measures should be taken to improve the situation. Upon taking a casual glance at the news this week, it is shocking that the report needed to be published at all, that actions are not already be taken to curb the shocking growth of the criminal sex industry.
In Ireland, two people have been sentenced for the multi million-euro prostitution ring which trafficked women from Portugal, Brazil, Venezuela and Nigeria. The Nigerian women suffered “terrifying and humiliating rituals” involving menstrual blood and being pushed into a coffin “to put the fear of death into them. In Reading and Northampton, three people were charged with human trafficking after raids on several brothels.
Yet there seems to be a staggering reluctance within the general populace to condemn the men who seek the sexual services of women and hence prop up these networks of exploitation and abuse. Comments on the usually liberal Guardian website, on which the report was published, reeked of misogyny and ignorance. One user commented that “Most of these men don’t really have a choice, many of the prostitutes do.” The general consensus seemed to be that the reasons the studied men gave for seeking sexual services were all valid ones.
On first glance, the reasons do seem to be justifiable. One of the most common given, in this report and others, seems to be “I can’t get sex anywhere else.” This image conjures up a lost and bewildered soul, perhaps a nervous young man shy around the opposite sex or an elderly widower simply seeking affection. The statistics, however, reveal a different profile. About 55% of the men studied were with a steady partner at the time of the study. The real reasoning behind “I can’t get sex anywhere” seems to be “I can’t get this type of sex anywhere.” Most men interviewed sought a “submissive” response from the prostitute they used, and 27% of those interviewed felt a punter should be entitled to perform “any act he chooses” with the woman he has “bought”. The simple seeking of affection and pleasure, therefore, is almost completely without basis. Most men seem to seek a different type of sexual experience all together, one in which they are completely in control.
Another frequently parroted reason, and one which logically perhaps has some basis, is that “men have to have sex.” One man interviewed for the Eaves study told the researcher that stopping prostitution would require “all men to be locked up.”
There is a common perception, particularly amongst men, that prostitution prevents rape. In actual fact, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that this is the case. The regular portrayal of all XY chromosome bearers as hot-blooded, uncontrollable shagging machines pales against the huge number of monks currently failing to snap and rape, or indeed against the average man, just as likely to “have a headache tonight” as the next woman. Some men may indeed have uncontrollable urges, but this is surely a case for counselling, not acting upon impulses.
The most repeated reason in almost all studies is that “I just want to have a bloody good time.” The right of everyone to “have a bloody good time” is surely a reasonable one which even the most Greer-orientated feminist would understand. Yet the expansions on this reason perhaps reveal the most disturbing thoughts of men about prostitution, and how they are entitled to treat woman. “I don’t come here for the conversation, that’s for sure…I don’t care what she looks like as long as she’s not fat and horrible and doesn’t stink,” said one man. Another complained that “Now it’s getting like the women here think they can order me around, saying they won’t do it without a condom. That was the final thing for me. Well they’re not my rules. In the end I found one who will take a little bit more money instead of using a condom. They’ve all got their price.” One man interviewed by Eaves was furious at the thought that his prostitute might get pleasure from her job. “I don’t want them to get any pleasure,” he said. “I am paying for it, and if she enjoys it I would feel cheated.”
The biggest thrill for the majority of the men seemed to be the escape from having to form a relationship with a female partner. “It’s a waste of time trying to be with women,” was the general consensus. “Another relationship would just complicate my life.” Overt misogyny is a common occurrence in interviews with those who pay. They describe the process as “renting” or “picking from a catalogue”, and the girls as “slabs of flesh” “instant food” or “like getting a beer.” It is their rampant misogyny which leads them to seek out prostitutes which they can dominate and control, and it is undoubtedly their rampant misogyny which allows them to come back time and time again.
Many of the men interviewed, at least by Eaves, were not stupid. About a third were from families where university education was common. Even those who were not were able to see the reality of the business they were supporting. Nearly twenty per cent of those questioned believed there were underage girls in strip clubs and massage parlours they had visited. Nearly two thirds believed that all prostitutes had suffered sexual abuse as a child. Most were aware that many prostitutes are homeless. And many knew that the women they paid were suffering negative psychological effects. “There’s an intimacy in all sex,” one man said “and if you give it away to loads of men, there’s not much [in yourself] left.”
Most worryingly, 55% of the men interviewed believed that “a majority of women in prostitution, were lured, trafficked or tricked”. One said that he had seen women with “bruises, cuts and Eastern European accents”. Another told how he had been asked for help by an African woman who told him she had been tricked – and then went ahead and slept with her regardless. Nearly 50% of the study’s subjects believed that they had used prostitutes who were under the control of a pimp. “The pimps treat them very harshly,” said one. Another man said “the pimp does the psychological raping.” Some of the men described seeing beatings and forced addictions, and seeing the women “treated like dogs”. Only five of the 103 interviewees ever reported any of their suspicions to the police.
It is this side of the industry which makes seeking prostitution a virtually unjustifiable act, most especially for those clients who are well aware of the nature of the sex industry. There is an argument that prostitution is part of the sexual revolution, that men’s sexual urges should not be restrained and that buyers should feel ashamed of acting upon them. This is hippyish, nonsensical naivety, and belies a disgusting lack of knowledge. Anyone who has cursorily examined the sex industry soon finds out that it is anything but a liberating operatus. The majority of the prostitutes – some figures are as high as 90% – have suffered sexual abuse as children. A 2003 report showed a 75% homelessness rate amongst sex workers. An unknown number are effectively sex slaves, trafficked into countries by criminal organisations. There are extensive and numerous studies documenting the negative psychological effects of prostitution upon women, and it is quite clear that no little girl grows up dreaming of being a hooker.
Belle du Jour and an army of Nu-Feminist student strippers have done a huge amount of damage to the cause of prostitutes in this country. Whilst we should celebrate that some women have found empowerment within an overtly misogynist and exploitative industry, we should always remember that they are in the tiny minority – hence why their stories make the news. Belle’s 15,000 daily readers each have the stupid impression that every street walker is like their glamorous and successful heroine, an empowered and educated women who chooses to sleep with men and relishes the rewards their money brings her. The majority of prostitutes are drug addicted, uneducated, down on their luck women, forced into the sex trade by manipulative men or horrific circumstance. It is for this reason that buying sex is unjustifiable. Men – and women – may have urges. They may be unable to form relationships, they may feel pressurised into doing it, and by all means they should never be ashamed of their sexuality or needs. But acting upon them in this way – with a most likely abused woman, trafficked or coerced, drug addicted or diseased – displays either an unforgivable lack of self control or a cruel, uncaring and abusive nature.
The study recommends that men buying sex should be more severely punished: fined, named and shamed or imprisoned. But this would be just as cruel as their own behaviour. Misogyny and lack of empathy are not an innately male characteristic, but learnt or developed psychological programmes. Arrest pimps and traffickers, by all means, but society needs to stop being so squeamish about the sex trade and implement education programmes. Men need to be shown why it is unreasonable to view a woman as a slab of meat with a hole. And women need to be shown how they can support themselves without thinking in the same way.