On both a personal and political level, I am deeply horrified by Amnesty International’s recent call for the decriminalization of prostitution. When I say prostitution, I’m not just referring to the act of selling sex, for I do actually believe that should be decriminalized, but the act of buying sex. Even pimping should, apparently, be allowed. For an organization that claims to fight against oppression, torture and injustice, this is shocking.
Yet some claim that this is a liberal act, that Amnesty are defending womens (and it is, still, overwhelmingly women) right to choose their method of work. That when we deny them the right to do so, we take away their ‘agency.’ In the UK and US, a minority of said prostitutes have come forward to proclaim their independence and empowerment; the real-life ‘Belle du Jours’ of the sex industry.
The problem is that they are a minority, and that this minority is rapidly becoming, in the Western mainstream media, the socially acceptable public face of prostitution. For the majority of women – and men – who work in the sex trade, the reality is different. Prostitutes are one of the groups most likely – coming second only to war veterans – to show symptoms of severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Farley, 2004). A sickening majority of women involved in prostitution are or were trafficked. For prostitutes who made a ‘choice’ all too often the choice was provoked by addiction, poverty, abuse or any combination thereof, issues I explore in my latest novel, Eyes Wide Open. Many prostitutes are sexual abuse survivors, and a number of studies show that voluntary prostitution is often a reaction to abuse, as a form of trauma re-enactment. Over and over again, where women in the sex industry have been given an authentic voice, they describe the act of prostitution as traumatic and inherently abusive.