Thank you so much for having me here today. I’m here on behalf of Space International, a survivor-group, which represents survivors of prostitution from countries around the world.
As we all know, prostitution is being discussed in almost every country around the world. Some countries have already made a stand, by criminalizing the punters and the pimps. Sweden, Norway, Iceland and France are good examples.
In other countries we discuss whether to decriminalize pimping, brothel keeping and buying sex or to go for the Nordic Model. To be honest, I don’t understand why this discussion even exists in the first place, because in my opinion the discussion of prostitution is spoiled women’s privilege and oppressive men’s imaginary right.
When people argue about free choices, they are defending women, who actually have other opportunities, because if they have a free choice, they can choose something else, but millions of women and children around the world don’t have that free choice, they don’t have that privilege. They come from poor countries, and are forced to go into prostitution, just to be able to feed their families. They go abroad and are being used, abused, raped and exploited. These people are one of the biggest reasons to go for the Nordic Model.
As you may know, women around the world are beginning to organize, – women who have one thing in common: Experiences from prostitution.
I myself was a prostitute for 3 years, starting when I was 20 years old. And I want to tell you something about free choices, because no one actually forced me physically into prostitution.
I didn’t choose to grow up in a family with a drunken and violent stepfather. I didn’t choose to be sexually molested when I was 10 years old by a man in his fifties, touching my body, putting his hands under my skirt and between my legs. Neither did I choose it when I was 11, and a man followed me up an apartment stairway, where he put his hands up my skirt, touching me between my legs. I didn’t choose to be raped by a 2-year-older boyfriend when I was 12 years old. I didn’t choose to be sexual molested when I was 13 by a man in a train or in a public toilet, I didn’t choose it when I was 14, or when I was 17 years old. All those choices where made by different abusive men.
Growing up in a world where you as a girl or a young woman aren’t able to feel secure, because so many men think that they have the right to abuse children and young women, degrades you as a human being. You are being brainwashed to think that you don’t have the right to say NO, that you don’t have the right to your own sexuality, that your sexuality belong to men, whenever they feel the need for it.
My free choice of going into prostitution was not that free, because I didn’t feel like I owned my self or my own sexuality. Abusive men made that choice for me. Leading me to think, that I was just an object for their satisfaction.
Every time a man came to the brothel, paying me for satisfying him, I felt that I was worth something. Not because of him, not because of what was going on, but because of the money. The money seduced me for a long time. Feeling that I was actually worth something.
My story is not unique. In Denmark we have a lot of former prostitutes, whom have been telling stories just like mine. Most of them chose to go into prostitution, because of sexual abuse in their childhood. Other women in Denmark, where sold by there fathers or stepfathers as child prostitutes. If that makes prostitution as a grownup a free choice, then I have to tell you something about free choices.
When you are a child, you have dreams, lot’s of dreams. You want’s to be an actress, a singer, you want to work in a candy shop, you want to work in a zoo, in a toy store or maybe you want to be an astronaut and go into space, maybe you want to work in a circus, or be a writer, a dancer or a policewoman. None of those dreams includes sexual behavior. Growing up in a careful, loving and reliable family gives you healthy opportunities. It gives you self-esteem, it teaches you, that you have the right to say no, and that you can choose to be whatever you want to be. No healthy family would teach their own children to give away their sexuality, unless it was equal and pleasurable.
No one wants to be a prostitute, because of the prostitution. When people choose prostitution, it’s either because of no other opportunities to choose from, because of low self-esteem, inability to say no, poverty, abuse or because of different psychiatric disorders.
When people see prostitution as a choice, or as sexual liberation or think that women actually like being prostitutes, they see prostitution through fake illusions.
Prostitution is commercial violence against people, and mostly women. Women are being used and abused in the media, in commercials, in computer games, in music videos, movies and in porn. They are being sexually objectified and exploited in so many ways. But what the industry is doing is making 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.
And now, let me tell you how prostitution works.
But first, let me quote former prostitute and founding member of Space International Rachel Moran, 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!
The Swedish writer Kajsa Ekis Ekman, who wrote the book “Being and being bought” was interviewed for a Canadian article in January this year. And when I read how she saw prostitution, it finally became clear for me, what made prostitution so much more devastating.
This is what she said:
In prostitution, we’re talking about a kind of “sexuality” where one person doesn’t want to be in a sexual situation and so the other one has to bribe her. She’s consenting to the money, not the actual sex. If you say to any prostitute: “You have two options: either you can take the money and just leave or you can take the money and also stay for the sex,” how many do you think are going to stay for the sex?
And she also said:
If you have two people that want sex, no one pays and if only one wants it, then obviously there’s no sex at all. And that is why prostitution can never be about sexual liberation.
And then she said, and this is was really got to me:
I call prostitution a lie. I was interviewing a woman who was in prostitution and she said: “Ok. You can say it’s a job but in that case you know what it would be like? It would be like you jerking off a guy while he’s watching porn. You wouldn’t have to fake it, you wouldn’t have to moan, and you wouldn’t have to say anything to him. You would just do it mechanically.” Prostitution is nothing like that. In prostitution, the person who is selling has to pretend that she’s there because she likes it, when she’s paid, she’s going to do her best to pretend that she’s there because she loves it. She’s going to tell him “Oh I’m coming, you’re the best, you’re so sexy, you’re turning me on” and things like that. She’s doing her best to make him forget that he’s paying her. So sure, make it a job like any other but then we get to just lie there. Let all the women lie there and do nothing and just look at their watches and see how much the men like it. Prostitution is a lie. It’s overly simplistic to say it’s just a job.
And this is what the illusion is all about.
How can we talk about legalizing an industry with such high rates of abuse, murder, rape and sexual harassment? In Germany 39 prostitutes have been killed since they legalized pimping and brothel keeping. 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? Does it sound like legalizing pimping gives prostitutes any security?
The Nordic Model is not the reason why prostitutes are feeling unsafe. It’s because of those who buy them. It’s the buyers who are rapists, are violent, abusive and aggressive. And that is why we have to protect these women.
What the Nordic Model does is to tell prostitutes that the government knows that what is happening in prostitution, is violent, and that the law is there to protect them. Not to persecute them. And it tells the buyers, that their actions are destructive, abusive and disruptive, and therefore prohibited.
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 were 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. As long as you are profit that entices buyers to the brothel, they won’t let go of you, because in that system, no one cares about you as a human being. You are a sex-machine, making their brothel a profitable business for the brothel owners.
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. And men’s demands are fuelling trafficking. 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 a report from Denmark last year showed that 15.5 percent of Danish men aged 18-65 years had bought sex. A high number of these didn’t care if the woman they had bought, had been forced into prostitution.
Germany has around 400.000 prostitutes, serving 1,2 million men every day. 3 out of 5 these prostitutes come from Eastern Europe. Most of the brothels are owned by men who earn millions and millions on other people’s desperation, now calling them selves managers, traders, top directors and businessmen.
And not only do the brothel owners exploits the prostitutes. But so does the government in Germany. They do it by hunting the prostitutes in the brothels and on the street, forcing them to pay an extra fee, for satisfying the buyers, and this is after they’ve already paid there taxes.
When it became a huge industry in Germany, the demand grew, and so did the supply. Poor girls where picked up from foreign countries, to serve the buyers. The prices fell drastically and now the prostitute only gets around 150 euros for a shift, no matter how many men she serves. A former prostitute from Eastern Europe said in a documentary about prostitution in Germany from 2013, that she was forced to serve up to 40 men every day, and wasn’t aloud to say no. Who was the legalization good for then? It was only for good for the buyers, the pimps and the government. Not for the prostitutes.
In Denmark Prostitution is considered as a social problem. We actually have exit-programs for prostitutes, to help them get 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. Actually the Danish government has set aside 46 million DKR. for these exit programs. 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.
The only way to help prostitutes is for the state or the government to take action. To criminalize those who keep women captive in prostitution. And that is why there is no other opportunity than to criminalize those who buy sex.
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 on 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.
Prostitutes may be serving the male society, but they definitely don’t belong to it as prostitutes, because men don’t want to be associated with buying sex. They would like to know women in their public and social life, but men who buy sex, have no interest in building up relationships with the prostitutes, because they know that what they are doing is ethically and morally unacceptable.
Otherwise, wouldn’t they tell people about their actions? Wouldn’t all of them just shout it out proudly, that they where the ones, buying prostitutes? Wouldn’t they tell it to their wife’s, their children and their families? – Or maybe to their colleagues or their friends?
They know, that what they are doing is wrong. And that is the reason why the buyers often get aggressive. Because the shame, and all the things which the prostitute represents, reminds him of his own actions. And that feeling can lead him to frustration, anger and violence.
When you understand the complexity of violence, then you will understand that prostitution can never be recognized as a profession, 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 the buying of sex is.
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, Finland, 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.
Like I said, 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 speak out against prostitution, you take a high risk.
A risk of being threatened, hated, being told, that you were weak, weren’t strong enough, that prostitution isn’t for everyone, that you chose it for yourself, why you’re not allowed, to tell what you experienced in prostitution, that you got a lot of money from prostitution, and therefor are a whore. What the pro-lobby tries to do is to frighten women into not telling the truth 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 aren’t 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 you into thinking, that you actually enjoyed letting other people masturbate in you, 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 for the right not to be seen as a sexual object who can be bought and sold.
I went out public 3 1/2 year ago. I was 33 years old at that time, and had been away from prostitution for 11 years. For 11 years I had been trying to get a hold of my self. I fought my way through nine years of therapy, just to make sure, that when I went out public, I would be healed, so that no one could threaten me to silence. It was so important for me, that I was able to go out public, with no tears, no regrets, no hatred and with the strength to stand against all the resistance, as I knew I would meet primarily by men. And I know, that other women spend years and years, fighting to live a normal life. Some of them never will. Some of them are alcoholics and drug abusers, some of them are fighting with posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and some of them are already dead.
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. Norway came after. Copied the Nordic Model. This month, the evaluation of the Norwegian law came.
And let me tell you what the effect of this law has been in Sweden and Norway:
Trafficking has significantly lower levels than in other comparable countries
Prostitutes 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 has increased. Norwegian and Swedish policemen and streetworkers confirm this.
There is no indication what so ever, that prostitution and brothels are going underground.
Street prostitution in Sweden has been cut in half, and in Norway prostitution has been reduced by 45 percent.
The law discourages organized crime.
Another report estimates the number of trafficked victims in Europe at 270,000 people and Germany and the Netherlands have repeatedly ranked among the five worst blackspots.
And this is what a male brothel keeper in the documentary about prostitution in Germany said when he was asked if he would be happy if his two daughters were to work at his own brothel
He said: “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 this job.”
I know what he means. When I walked into prostitution, I didn’t believe, that I had any other options. I thought that all I could do was to serve men sexually. I was worth nothing. And I should be happy that I had an opportunity to earn so much money, by doing something that I had been manipulated into thinking was totally normal. In fact, I defended my choice about going into prostitution by saying, that everyone else were the fools by working all week, not having a salary half as big as mine. What I didn’t know at that time was that what I sold should never have been for sale in the first place.
I sold my dignity, my self-respect and my pride. I sold my trust in men, and the hope, that there were men out there, who could be trusted, and whom were capable of seeing me as a human being.
What I learned from prostitution was that I couldn’t trust men. They were unfaithful liars, they had hidden personalities, and the worst of them, were showed to me as a prostitute, all their violent fantasies, their anger, their disrespect, their condescending view of me being a prostitute. The way that they didn’t even try to hide what they thought of me. A lot of them actually told me. Their constant attempts to exceed my limits, just because they could. Just to show me, how little respect they had.
I have been raped in a hotel, there have been so many times, where I was afraid to ask the men to stop, because I knew, that it would make them even harder and more violent, once a man took a stranglehold on me, while we where in the act, another man tried to burn down a brothel, while I was inside, another man was following me in the streets, so I was afraid to go home, lest he find out where I lived. A taxi driver molested me in the taxi, when he found out, that the address I gave him was a brothel. At no point after these incidents did the brothel owner show any empathy.
In a guide for beginners from the Sexworkers Organization in Denmark the following advice is written, when a sex buyer comes, whom you don’t want to be with:
Tell him that you don’t offer the services he wants. Tell him a higher price, which you know he won’t pay. Tell him that you have just been booked by another customer (blaming your phone lady for having forgotten to notify you).
And why is it that you have to lie to him? Why not just tell him, that there is no chemistry? I think you all know, but I will say it anyway. – Because there is a high risk for him getting angry for being rejected by a “fucking” prostitute.
It also says: “Give the man a chance”, so that was what you did. Giving to many sexbuyers a chance, even though you really didn’t want to. But you were too afraid to reject them.
That was what I experienced for 3 years in prostitution. It took me 9 years to learn to trust men again, but still with the knowledge in my mind, that their worst sides are saved for the prostitutes.
When I was a prostitute, I was working at some of the finest brothels in Denmark. Sauna-clubs, where businessmen came, and brothels where there was a waiting list, just to come and work there. I was also a high-class escort, and we used to tell our selves, that what we were doing was so much better than what prostitutes in the streets and in seedy brothels did. But the fact is, we did exactly the same thing, having fake-sex for money. It didn’t make a difference, if the sheets were clean. It was the men and their actions, which made it seedy and uncomfortable. The men and their actions were all the same. Actually I’m quit sure, that the more money the men had, the more offensive and manipulating they became, the more money they had, the more they tried to cross your boundaries, being ice cold and arrogant about it.
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. Women are already being violated and raped. The more objectified women get, the more violence and rape we will see against women.
But of course – a 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 can get, 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.
Sweden has succeeded, Norway has succeeded. Iceland and France will succeed. Let’s take the next step and stand together in the fight against exploitation and violence against women.
I often get this question: “Would it have made a difference for you, if buying sex had been a violation of the law? My answer is yes! Then I would have known, that what these men where doing, was wrong. For a long time, I was blaming myself. Thinking, that it was my entire fault. I chose to be a prostitute. I gave the men the opportunity to buy me. I took their money.
How could I blame them? Well.. I didn’t ask for the violence or the sexual abuse. But I went to that brothel twice a week. How could I blame anyone else but myself?
But I can. The government should have protected me with a law against the abusers. The law should have made sure, that I could have gotten help to get out, when I wanted and needed it after one year in prostitution. By legalizing or ignoring what happens in prostitution is the same as saying, that prostitution isn’t harmful. But I have been there, I know. It is harmful.
I hope that this day will give rise to new reflections and a change of attitude, which will hopefully mean that more people will take action, and ask for a criminalization of those who buy sex.
Thank you so much.