A Ruling Class vs.
Response to Prostitution
May 22, 2015
[Read what prostitutes say here]
A New York Times article today reports on how the economic misery inflicted on Greeks has forced many into prostitution in order to survive. Here is an excerpt:
"With the country heading into the fifth year of economic depression, and unemployment near 60 percent for young people, greater numbers of women and men are offering their bodies for next to nothing to get any scrap of money. According to the National Center for Social Research, the number of people selling sex has surged 150 percent in the last two years.
Many prostitutes have been selling their services for as little as 10 to 15 euros, a price that has shrunk along with the income of clients afflicted by the crisis. Many more prostitutes are taking greater health risks by having unprotected sex, which sells for a premium. Still more are subject to violence and rape."
There are two ways to respond to what is happening in Greece and reported in the above article. One way, the way I respond, is to cite the fact that people are being driven into prostitution by economic hardship as evidence that we need to abolish the economic inequality that leads to this economic hardship, because being forced into prostitution is a terrible social injustice akin to slavery.
Abolishing this economic hardship does not entail making prostitution illegal or supporting the terrible working conditions of prostitutes. Nor does it entail stigmatizing people who are driven into prostitution. In fact, I propose that we refer to prostitutes as "People Unjustly Driven by Economic Hardship into Prostitution" or, for short, "PUDEPs" in a manner analogous to the way academics refer to categories of people such as Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM) or People With AIDS (PWA). Keep this in mind in what follows.
The other way to respond to prostitution is the way that Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey and George Soros (who founded the "Open Society Foundations" mentioned in the article cited below) respond. It is the way that the liberal ideologues of the ruling class respond. It is the way that the people who are causing the economic hardship in Greece and elsewhere and who are imposing savage austerity that drives people into prostitution, respond. This response is discussed here in "Sex Workers, Oprah, and Hillary: Women Who Deliver." The ruling class response to women being forced into prostitution is to say essentially this:
"There is nothing wrong with being a prostitute. We should stop stigmatizing prostitutes by calling them prostitutes. We should call them 'sex workers' in the 'sex worker industry' and we should view occupation in this industry as no less legitimate and respectable than occupation in any other industry and we should view sex workers the same way we view teachers and electricians and hairdressers and autoworkers etc.
The only problem in society in this regard is that sex workers don't have good enough working conditions and they are wrongly oppressed by police who arrest them for prostitution when prostitution should not be a crime in the first place.
Aside from these problems, there is, with respect to the rise of prostitution in Greece, nothing bad happening at all. In fact, it is fortunate for the Greeks that the new and growing sex worker industry is thriving and offering employment to so many people who need jobs. This shows that the economic system we have is wonderful because it creates new industries to provide employment when necessary."
The liberal ruling class response is designed to deflect attention away from the wrongness of the economic inequality that causes the economic hardship that drives people into prostitution. Consider the following facts:
In a NYT opinion piece September 22, 2012, Noy Thrupkaew reports that, "Nearly 90 percent of the minors profiled in a John Jay College study indicated they wanted to leave 'the life' [prostitution]— but cited access to stable housing as one of the biggest obstacles."
A 2003 study first published in the scientific Journal of Trauma Practice found that 89 percent of women in prostitution (in nine countries) want to escape. [Farley, Melissa et al. 2003. “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74; and Farley, Melissa. ed. 2003. Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress. Haworth Press, New York]
At the 2012 International AIDS conference, which I attended and at which I presented a poster, I heard a presentation by a researcher of their study based on scientifically conducted interviews of women prostitutes in which many women said they felt humiliated by having to prostitute themselves, and they feared their children finding out.
The liberal elite hope that their support for better working conditions for prostitutes and their opposition to making prostitutes criminals under the law and their concern for not stigmatizing prostitutes will make people forget about the wrongness of the economic hardship that drives people into prostitution. They hope it will make people forget that the vast majority of prostitutes in the world do it only to survive, that they would otherwise never offer their bodies to be used for sex by strangers, and that they feel humiliated and degraded by having been forced into prostitution and don't want their children to ever know what they do for a living. For evidence that this is precisely how most prostitutes feel about it please read what some former prostitutes wrote as an opinion piece for the Boston Globe here.
The ruling elite are making an alliance with "sex worker activists" with an implicit deal: The elite will support making prostitution legal and improving working conditions for a minority of prostitutes, and in exchange the "sex worker activists" will never talk about the wrongness of the economic inequality of our society that drives most prostitutes involuntarily into prostitution.
What the ruling elite is doing is as if slave owners in the time of slavery in the United States had insisted that people call slaves "agricultural workers" in order not to stigmatize them, and insisted that there was nothing wrong with slavery, now called "agricultural work," insisted that it should not be made illegal, and asserted that the only thing that needed to be done was to ensure that working conditions of "agricultural workers" be improved. How would the abolitionist movement have responded to THAT? The same way we should respond to the ruling elite's "just call them 'sex workers'" ploy.
Like the abolitionists during slavery, we should focus on abolishing the fundamental wrongness, which today is class inequality including its economic inequality. We should respond, in other words, as revolutionaries. This is precisely what the likes of Hillary Clinton want to prevent. They want us to think that the only choice in this context is between a) making prostitution illegal and keeping economic inequality or b) making prostitution a legal "respectable" occupation and keeping economic inequality. The revolutionary approach is to reject both of these ruling-class endorsed terrible alternatives.
CONSIDER WHAT THE "LOGIC" OF HILLARY CLINTON'S VIEW LEADS TO
One example of the logical consequences of normalizing prostitution as work in no way different from any other kind of work is this: a society that provides unemployment benefits for people who are unemployed as long as they agree to interview for and accept any legal job offer for which they are qualified, would have no reason not to require that a woman interview in a brothel for a job as a prostitute and accept the job if offered, or else lose her unemployment benefits. Whether this has actually happened or not is not the point; if it has not happened it is only because governments know that the logic of "prostitution is just like any other job" leads to policies that most people think are morally wrong, and governments want to avoid being associated with such policies. Click here to read a newspaper article that reports this has in fact already happened in Germany. I can't say for sure the article is accurate, but it is certainly plausible in a nation that declares prostitution to be just a job like any other job.
WHAT WOULD "SEX WITH STRANGERS" BE LIKE IN A GOOD, EGALITARIAN, SOCIETY?
What would "sex with strangers" be like in a genuine egalitarian society as described in Thinking about Revolution and in the articles at PDRBoston.org? Here's what I think. People, first of all, would enjoy equally, according to need, and for free, all of the fruits of the economy--a "sharing economy" not based on money--if they contributed to it according to reasonable ability. What is a "reasonable" contribution is determined by their local assembly at which all who support no-rich-and-no-poor equality and mutual aid are encouraged to attend and, as equals, make policy decisions such as what is a reasonable contribution.
Some local assemblies might (who knows?) decide that offering sex to strangers, so many times a day, is a "reasonable contribution to the economy" and approve a certain number of people doing that. In such a community people who wanted to contribute this way could do so, and thereby share in the economy equally to all others.*
In a community that did not consider "sex for strangers on demand" to be a reasonable contribution to the economy but did not make it illegal, people could offer sex to strangers if they wished, but it wouldn't be for money (there is no money in a sharing economy) but only because they wanted to do it, for free, as a "hobby" or whatever; their membership in the sharing economy (and right to take what they need or reasonably desire from it or have scarce things that are equitably rationed according to need) would be based on making some other reasonable contribution to it.
In communities where people made sex with strangers on demand illegal it would be illegal.
We may disagree about which kind of community we'd like to live in, but I hope we agree we wouldn't want to live in one in which, like today, the powers-that-be tell certain people, "You must provide sex for strangers on demand or else you will starve."
Personally, I would argue strongly against allowing the provision of "sex with strangers" to be counted as a person's "reasonable contribution to the economy" and I would try to persuade people not to engage in that promiscuity because of the harm it does to both themselves and others. I am not sure, however, if making promiscuous sex illegal would be a good idea or not and I would want to hear what others said about this question.
WHAT ABOUT THE PROBLEM OF PEOPLE BECOMING PROSTITUTES CONTROLLED BY PIMPS BECAUSE OF A PSYCHOLOGICAL WEAKNESS, NOT ECONOMIC COERCION?
Some people, due to their psychological vulnerability rather than economic hardship, become prostitutes in the control of a dominating pimp. The pimp exploits the prostitute financially, making her (typically a woman with a male pimp) essentially a slave. The pimp may even have many such "slaves."
The pimp typically enjoys great wealth--luxury cars, etc.--without doing any useful work for society, all at the expense of less fortunate people. In this regard, the pimp fits right in with all the other rich people who, in today's class inequality society, similarly do no useful work for society but possess enormous wealth. Rich people in our current society of class inequality, in which it is considered normal and proper for there to be some rich and some poor, are not considered wrong-doers just because they enjoy enormous wealth; they're not even required to do any useful work in order to enjoy perfect social and legal respectability. All that is required of very rich people is that they avoid being caught breaking a law. Our society of class inequality, with some rich and some poor, thus provides a welcome mat, a veritable green light, for pimps and such people to operate, to exploit vulnerable people in order to amass great wealth at their expense.
An egalitarian society, in contrast, would make it illegal to be a rich person, i.e., to possess more wealth than an ordinary person needs or reasonably desires at the expense of others having to make do with less than that. It would be illegal regardless of whether one had been caught breaking some other law. In fact, in an egalitarian society nothing would be for sale, there would be no money. A person obtains wealth (products and services) from the economy in only two ways. One way is by being a member in good standing of the sharing economy and thereby having the right to take, for free, things from the economy according to need or reasonable desire or in the case of scarce things to have equal status with everybody else when such things are equitably rationed according to need. The other way is to barter with products or services that one produces oneself without any hired (or slave!) labor.
If a person were trying to be a pimp in an egalitarian society he/she would have no way to obtain goods or services from the economy. He/she couldn't be a member in good standing of the sharing economy because that would require that he/she contribute reasonably according to ability to the economy (for details on this go here.) The would-be pimp would also not have very much wealth to barter with because it would have to be wealth he/she produced with only his/her own labor.
"ELIMINATE THE DEMAND"? YEAH, RIGHT
Pundits often say that the only solution to the problem of sex trafficking is to "eliminate the demand for it," i.e., to somehow prevent the "johns" from existing. That's of course not a realistic solution and the pundits know it. What these pundits studiously avoid talking about is that the actual solution--the solution that is possible even if not easy--is to eliminate the social conditions that force people to become prostitutes and that provide a green light for, and great financial motivation to, would-be pimps to become pimps.
* Just so there is no misunderstanding, this scenario of "sex for strangers" as one's contribution to the sharing economy would entail a person saying (completely of their own voluntary accord, of course) to their local assembly, "I want to do such and such as my contribution to the sharing economy [they spell out whatever they have in mind] and the local assembly decides if they agree to have that count as one's "reasonable contribution" to the sharing economy--everything is mutually voluntary, no coercion at all. If nobody wants to contribute by providing "sex for strangers" then nobody does, period.
The only reason I discuss this scenario is to address the claims made by "sex worker activists" that they (and some other people) actually want to have sex with strangers for a living and would prefer making their living this way to any other way. They argue that it is a wrongful infringement on their freedom to prohibit them from making their living by providing sex for strangers. In response, I say "Fine, if a person truly wants to earn their living by providing sex for strangers, then it should only be as I discuss above, in an egalitarian society in which there are no rich and no poor and nobody is under any compulsion whatsoever to provide sex for strangers, because everybody is able to belong to the sharing economy and have everything they need from it simply by offering to help, in some reasonable way, to do economically useful work (which has nothing to do with making a profit for anybody) of their choosing that is mutually agreed to be useful by the others in the community. Obviously, this will take a revolution."