Thursday, April 8, 2010

What's Iceland Got to Do with Sex Trafficking and Prostitution in America? by Serena Curry

One of CAASE’s strongest platforms for advocating against sexual exploitation is addressing the demand for sex. With a multi-billion dollar sex industry flourishing in the United States, this is no simple challenge. Strip clubs, massage parlors, and brothels are all examples of places where sexual exploitation is prevalent and often unregulated. Although it seems impossible to imagine a day when strip clubs and other similar locations can be closed, one country has recently taken initiative to address the problem. Within the last few weeks, Iceland has passed a law that will result in the closing of all strip clubs. Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir’s decision reflects the fact that Iceland is considered one of the most feminist nations in the world (See “Iceland: The World’s Most Feminist Country” at Public support for the law was strong, which further proves the strength of the women’s movement in Iceland, and the realization that selling sex is often exploitative and dangerous for women.

The feminist movement in the United States is divided between those who support sex work, and those who strongly oppose it. As an undergraduate Women and Gender Studies student at Loyola University Chicago, I am still trying to determine where I stand on that spectrum. My experience at CAASE has taught me a lot about the exploitative nature of the sex industry, and it didn’t take long for me to jump on the anti-sex work feminist bandwagon. I appreciate the argument that women have a right to express themselves sexually, and how sex work can offer them an easy and sometimes safe way to do that. In fact, sexual freedom and expression are important and relevant issues in today’s feminist movement because sex is still a very male-centered issue when it comes to pleasure. My question then, for feminists who are pro-sex work is this: whose rights are you fighting for? Women and girls in the sex trade in Chicago are overwhelmingly poor, drug-addicted, abused, young, and non-white. More often than not, they do not have the privilege of finding safe and liberating sex work. CAASE understands this reality, and appreciates the individual and their rights. The motive behind ending the demand for sex involves giving everyone in the sex trade an opportunity to claim their rights and find their agency.

I think Iceland had it right. Closing their strip clubs makes a strong statement about gender equality and women’s rights. It will likely prevent trafficking and prostitution that cause women tremendous harm. An employee of an organization in Iceland that campaigns against sexual violence put it simply: "I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale." With the help of CAASE and other anti-trafficking organizations around the country, hopefully the United States can soon get used to that idea as well.

1 comment:

  1. I don’t understand how ending the demand would give “everyone in the sex trade an opportunity to claim their rights and find their agency.” If there was no demand, then sex workers would be forced to find another means of supporting themselves, but there would be no special opportunities presented to them that they didn’t already have. Basically, what “ending the demand” amounts to is starving them out of their current means of survival and hoping that they will somehow magically turn their lives around for the better.

    I was an independent escort for nearly six years and it during that time it was my sole source of income. I was not working the streets, nor was I a high class prostitute; I was strictly middle class, making enough to pay my living expenses with just a little left over to indulge on things like take out food or a new outfit. I’ve known plenty of other women in the same boat that I was in, and one thing we all had in common was that when business was slow (i.e. demand was low) and bills needed to be paid, we made compromises- either on who we would see, what we would do, or how much (how little) we would do it for.

    You speak of the “demand” as if it were a single, consistent thing and not made up of people who are vastly different from one another. But as anyone who has worked with clients or customers knows, that’s not how it is. I have had sex for pay with men who were total dicks, who made me feel degraded and used. I have also had some of the kindest, most considerate men you could ever hope to meet pay me for sex; men who put my happiness and pleasure above their own Most of my clients fell somewhere in between- they treated me with respect, didn’t push my boundaries; and left me feeling appreciated & well compensated. That’s more than I can say about most of the bosses I’ve had outside of sex work.

    I am neither pro-sex work nor against it; but I am pro-sex worker’s rights, and against forcing them to quit, either directly or indirectly (i.e. by getting rid of the demand). I am all in favor of going after the bad johns (the rapists, the abusers, and the thieves) as well as the pimps. But the approach you are taking is counterintuitive to that. I also favor setting up opportunities to help women transition out of prostitution when they want to do so. But you need to provide viable options for those seeking to change their lives for the better; and it should never be forced on those who consider sex work their best (or only) option.