On the 14th of march I spoke to the opening of the exhibition “Unmasked” in Glasgow. This is my speech.
Thank you so much for having me here today. I appreciate that you put those who buy sex in the spotlight, instead of doing what is mostly done, discussing, whether prostitution is a free choice or not.
I’m here on behalf of Space International, a survivor-group, which represents survivors of prostitution from countries around the world. Prostitution is being discussed in almost every country. In each country we have the same discussion, whether we should legalize selling sex, buying sex, pimping and brothel keeping or if we should follow the example from Norway, Sweden and Iceland, and copy the Nordic model, and criminalize those who buy sex.
As you may know, a lot of women around the world have been trying to tell the truth about prostitution and what is going on in prostitution. But when you do, you take a high risk. A risk of being threatened, hated, getting told, that you were weak, weren’t strong enough, that prostitution isn’t for everyone, that you chose it yourself, why your not allowed, to tell what you experienced in prostitution, that you got a lot of money from prostitution, and therefor are a whore. – Even though you’re not a prostitute anymore. But then they say; Once a prostitute, always a prostitute, or, now she’s not just a whore, now she’s a media-whore. What the sex-lobby does is frighten women into not telling about their experiences in prostitution, so that you won’t be able to hear the truth.
The fact that you don’t hear about them very often is not because they are not there. It is because they are just not ready to confront society’s neglect of their experiences. And besides that, it takes a really long time, to figure out, how the system of prostitution has been manipulating women into thinking, that they actually enjoy letting other people masturbate in them, for money in advance. But they are there. And as you will see, more and more women will stand together, all over the World, fighting for equality. And why is equality important, when we discuss prostitution?
Let me tell you why, because the supply mainly consists of women, and because the demand is made up of men.
In Denmark Prostitution is considered as a social problem. We actually have exit-programs for prostitutes, to help them back into a normal life. With normal, I mean helping them with psychological treatment, different kinds of addictions, helping them with education programs and financial problems. Do we have exit-programs for any other jobs in Denmark? No, we don’t. And why is that? That is because we know, deep inside, that people are being harmed in prostitution. And as long as we ignore the fact, that prostitution is violent, and criminalize those, who harm these people, we won’t be able to protect the ones being abused, violated and exploited in prostitution. And I do understand why people can get confused in the discussion of prostitution, because the Government doesn’t take the responsibility on their shoulders. They alternate between talking about prostitution as Sexwork, and talking about rights for the prostitutes, despite the fact that you need exit-programs, to get them back into a normal life, after prostitution.
Let me quote Rachel Moran, the founding member and European coordinator of Space International from her speech in Norway on the 8th of March this year. She said:
“There is no such thing as Sexwork. What is going on in these brothels has very little to do with sex, and nothing to do with work. It is oppression!
Prostitution is commercial violence against people, and mostly women. Women are being used and abused in the media, in commercials, in music videos, movies and in porn. They are being sexually objectified and exploited in so many ways. But what the industry does is to make women think, that it is normal to be used, that it is normal to be objectified, that women’s sexuality is to be bought and sold. Actually, what these companies are doing is being a part of the system of prostitution.
When I was 11 years old, a man in his fifties violated me sexually. He touched my body, put his hands up my shirt and between my legs. He bribed me with money. When I was 12, a boyfriend raped me. I was seeing him for 10 months, because I wasn’t aware of what he was doing to me was wrong, and in that period, he forced me to give him oral sex. When I was 12, a man followed me up an apartment stairway, where he put his hands up my skirt, touching me between my legs. When I was 12, an old man came up to me in the street, and touched my breasts. When I was 13, a man violated me in a train, putting his hands up my skirt, touching me between my legs. When I was 13 on my way to a public toilet, a young man followed me, pushed me into the toilet stall, trying to rape me, licking me all over my face. He was interrupted, when my friend came in a few minutes after. When I was 16, I was put in the psychiatric hospital for trying to kill myself. While sleeping in the afternoon I was awoken by someone’s, fingers inside of me. When I was 17, I hungered for attention. I went into the woods with a photographer, who violated me sexually in the woods. When I started crying, he got mad at me. When I was 17, I was sitting in the bus when a man came and sat down next to me. He pushed his hand under my leg, touching me with his fingertips. Tears ran down my cheek, but no one in the bus reacted. When I was 18, a man told me, that I could become a model, a model for a magazine that advertised for summerhouses. He told me, that all I had to do was to sit with my legs in the pool or at a dining table, drinking a cup of tea. When I arrived there, he asked me to take off my clothes. 30 minutes later, he had me lying in a bed with a vibrator, while he was taking pictures. When I was 18, I called a brothel. I was kind of lucky because they asked me to call them back when I turned 21. I waited until I was 20, and then called them back, telling them, that I was 21. I was a prostitute for 3 years at the age of 20 to 23. I’m 36 years old today, and I went public 3 years ago, when I finally saw, what had happened to me in prostitution.
When people mention free choice, I just want to ask them one question. How do you think, that a 20 year old girl is able to make any free choice, when all she has experienced is that she is only worth something, because of her gender and her sexuality. I didn’t believe, that I had any other choices. Men manipulated me into thinking, that all I was good for was being an object, a sexual object. And that is also the system of prostitution. If all women believed in themselves, if all women believed, that they had alternative choices to prostitution, then no one in the whole World would choose prostitution. No one.
Regardless of how supporters of prostitution look at it, there are so many aspects of violence in this industry. And that is what you have to understand, that the violence in prostitution is complex. It’s not just to be hit, kicked or raped. The violence is so much more.
Violence is psychological and verbal violence:
It can be expressed through name-calling, insults, humiliation, intimidation, threatening behavior, threatening body language, and an unpleasant alternation between being sweet and caring to being rude and threatening. It can also be in threatening to reveal your identity.
Violence is also physical violence:
It can be by pushing or pulling, spitting on you, throwing things at you, striking or kicking you, pulling your hair or putting a stranglehold on you.
Violence is also sexual violence:
It can be by biting your ear, your lip, your cheek or your nipple. It can be by kissing you, licking your face, trying to pull of the condom, putting fingers inside of you, doing more than what was agreed in advance, it can be by thrusting himself so hard into you, that it hurts physically, that you’re not able to walk, dry yourself after using the toilet, or even to wear pants.
Violence is also material violence:
Maybe he rips your underwear in pieces, rips of your stockings, or breaks your necklace with that purpose.
And violence is also financial violence:
Maybe he doesn’t want to pay the price, and systematically manipulates you to do tings, you don’t want to, or manipulates you into giving him a discount. You know, for him, this is not a human being. This is an object. And as you know, if you can get a discount, you will of course try and get it. But the worst thing is. When he is drunk or high, and isn’t able to come, he blames you. Calling you a nasty whore, and that he want’s his money back. When you are lying there, naked, feeling threatened, it’s easier to give him back his money, than taking the risk, of being beaten up.
When you understand the complexity of violence, then you will understand that prostitution can never be recognized as a work, but that the only thing to do is to criminalize those who organize, maintain and exploit people in prostitution. This obviously includes those who pay for the sexual violence, which buying sex is.
The Editor Nisha Lilia Diu wrote an article in the English newspaper The Telegraph this month. She wrote how the legalization of prostitution, buying sex, pimping and brothel keeping had influenced Germany.
And what the article described was something like this:
People think Amsterdam is the prostitution capital of Europe but Germany has more prostitutes per capita than any other country in the continent, even more than Thailand: 400.000 at the last count, serving 1,2 million men every day.
The idea of the law was to recognize prostitution as a job like any other. Sex workers could now enter into employment contracts, sue for payment and register for health insurance, pension plans and other benefits.
But as a brothel keeper in the article says:
It didn’t work. “Nobody employs prostitutes in Germany”. None of the authorities I spoke to had ever heard of a prostitute suing for payment, either. And only 44 prostitutes have registered for benefits. “People don’t employ prostitutes in Germany because it’s complicated”.
And there is more:
A recent report estimated the number of victims in Europe at 270,000. Germany and the Netherlands have repeatedly ranked among the five worst blackspots.
When the brothel keeper was asked if he would be happy for either of his two daughters to work at his own brothel he answered; “Unthinkable, unthinkable. The question alone is brutal. I don’t mean to offend the prostitutes but I try to raise my children so that they have professional opportunities. Most prostitutes don’t have those options. That’s why they’re doing that job.”
And the fact is, 21 prostitutes have been killed in Germany, 127 prostitutes have been killed in the Netherlands, and 6 prostitutes have been killed in New Zealand, whom also legalized prostitution, buying sex, pimping and brothel keeping.
Does that sound like a safe environment?
Sweden was the first country in the world to criminalize those, who were buying sex. Sweden is an admirable example. What they did with this law was to fight for women’s rights, not about free choices, but about choices, that gave you the right not to be seen as a sexual object. Sweden wanted to fight prostitution, because they saw, what only a few want to see, that prostitution is violence against mostly women. With this law, they made sure that it was absolutely unacceptable for men to buy other people for sexual satisfaction. With this law, they wanted to discourage people from buying sex, and reduce the number of exploited people in prostitution. They also wanted to make it less tempting to set up brothels and human trafficking.
And let me tell you what the effect of this law has been:
Trafficking in Sweden has significantly lower levels than in other comparable countries
Prostitutes in Sweden find that the law has given them more power over their situation because they know, that the police are on their side, and that they can notify the police, if a person, buying sex, threatens them.
The law has made it easier for prostitutes to get help in leaving and getting out of prostitution and to get all the help they need.
Nothing suggests, that the violence against prostitutes in Sweden has increased. This may be due to the fact that almost 80 per cent of the population now supports this law.
There is no indication what so ever, that prostitution and brothels are going underground.
Street prostitution in Sweden has been cut in half.
And the law discourages organized crime
And let me quote what Robin Morgan, a feminist and a radio host at CNN says in an article the 8th Of March this year;
The numbers of prostituted women who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder are in the same range as combat veterans and refugees from state sponsored torture. They are also disproportionately survivors of child sexual and physical abuse, rape and kidnapping, and addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.
In Denmark, we are about 12 former prostitutes, fighting in public for the Nordic model. Some of these women have been brutally abused my fathers, stepfathers and grandfathers. Some of them were sold as child-prostitutes. They were abused and violated. Even though most of them have been away from prostitution for 10 or 20 years, they are still damaged by the harm of prostitution. Some of them have post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of them are having their children in foster care, because they suffer from the damage of prostitution. Some of them have drugs and alcohol addictions. One of them is now in a wheelchair.
But prostitution and the damage caused by prostitution, is the same all over the world. The men, who buy sex, are also the same. When people travelled to Denmark, from Norway, Sweden, Germany, England, Scotland, The United States, or from China, Japan or any other country, and bought sex, I had exactly the same experiences with them, as with Danish men, who bought sex. There is no difference between one country and another. Buying sex means, that you buy access to masturbate in another person, who is only there, because she needs the money. And that action is violent.
In Denmark a report shows, that 1 out of 7 men, don’t even care, if the woman they buy, is forced to be in prostitution. If they pay, they don’t care, whom the money goes to. That is disgusting and heartbreaking.
Can we accept, that we in 2014, still have slavery, and at the same time, ignore the fact, that slavery is still happening? – Slavery, in different kinds of forms and shapes.
After one year in prostitution, I had been violated in so many ways, that I had anxiety and depression. I wanted out. But what the system of prostitution did was, to neglect my feelings. No one said to me “Let me help you out of prostitution”. What they did instead was to convince me, that no one ever got out”. After two years in prostitution, I almost couldn’t go into that room where the men where waiting. They told me, that everything would be so much easier, if I just had some cocaine. So I did. After three years in prostitution, I wanted to kill myself. No one in the system of prostitution wants to let go of you, if you can make money. The only way to help prostitutes is for the state or the government to take action. To criminalize those who keep you captive in prostitution. And let me tell you.
The men, who came and bought sex didn’t give a flying fuck how I was doing. Even though I looked like shit, no one ever asked me, if I was there, because I wanted to be there.
If we don’t criminalize this industry, women will be even more objectified. If we don’t send the signal, that prostitution harms people, the public will believe, that anyone could be a prostitute, and then they will treat all women like that.
The funny thing is, that it’s mostly men, who want to decriminalize this industry. And why is that? Is it because men see sex as a privilege, they don’t want to let go of? Is it because their respect for women is so low, that they want to keep them as whores, so that they can talk about them as whores? Is it because it is easier not to act, than to defend, why this industry prevents mainstreaming equal opportunities? Or is it because they are frightened that a decriminalization will make prostitution go underground? Well. Nothing in Sweden suggests that prostitution has gone underground…
But of course – the criminalization of buying sex can’t stand-alone. But before you see the problem as it really is, no one can take the harm caused by prostitution seriously. With criminalization, you will need exit-programs for prostitutes. They will need free therapy, debt relief and all the support and encouragement they need. – Even if they haven’t paid their taxes. The men who are no longer able to buy sex, will need access to anonymous counseling where they can get help to find suitable alternatives. You will have to focus on preventive campaigns to educate young people about the harm and consequences of prostitution. There should be much more focus on vulnerable young people who are at risk of choosing the path into prostitution, so that they can live a less risky life. And then you have to teach the police how to protect the prostitutes. They have to learn how to create good and positive relations with prostitutes, so that those, who still want to prostitute themselves won’t feel persecuted, but protected by the police.
It’s actually not that difficult.
For decades the discussion about prostitution, has been about the prostitutes. But the only reason why prostitution exists is because men are buying them. Men are the ones, who are sneaking around brothels. Men are the ones harming and violating the prostitutes. But it is never about these men. When prostitution is being discussed in the social media, lots of men are being rude, abusive, condescending, contemptuous, threatening and obscene. And only rarely does a man admit that he is one of those who buy sex. But when 400.000 prostitutes in Germany serve 1.2 million men every single day, it proves that to many men don’t care about their abusive actions. A report from Denmark last year showed that 15.5 percent of Danish men aged 18-65 years had bought sex. When I went to teach a group of students a few weeks ago, a third of the male students had been buying sex. I am relieved and touched that there is finally focus on those who buy sex, and I hope that this exhibition will give rise to new reflections and a change of attitude, which will hopefully mean that more people would take action, and ask for a criminalization of those who buy sex.