Thursday, 25 March 2010

Paying the price

No apologies for returning to the rather depressing subject of prostitution. I'd like to pretend it doesn't exist, but it does. And I've just stumbled on a shocking statistic that makes me think this whole seedy business simply has to stop.

For a while I've believed that the real problem is not prostitution itself but what goes with it - the violent pimps, the violent customers, the health risks, the public hostility. If the trade was covered by the same regulations and laws as other occupations, all that would disappear.

But now I discover the appalling fact that 68% of prostitutes have symptoms* of post traumatic stress disorder. In other words, psychological damage so severe it could utterly ruin the rest of their lives (that is, if they aren't murdered by a customer first).

An activity that causes that level of mental destruction while not contributing anything vital to people's daily lives can't be justified, however you look at it. It is simply systematic cruelty and brutality.

In which case, to maintain, as many people still do, that prostitution is the free choice of the women concerned, is merely a job of work like any other, and is only condemned by prudes and bigots, seems entirely mistaken.

If that level of PTSD existed in any mainstream occupation like teaching or health care, it would be wholly unacceptable and urgent action would be taken. So why does it not matter at all when it's prostitutes who're affected? Why is their well-being so studiously ignored?

* Research by Melissa Farley and others, San Francisco 1998. Quoted in The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard.

PS: Iceland is well on the way to shutting down its entire sex industry. Having already banned the purchase of sex, they have now banned businesses from profiting out of their employees' nudity. The ban on paid sex is supported by 82% of women and 57% of men. It must have helped that almost half the country's MPs are female, as opposed to under a fifth in the UK.

(Next up: something soft, pink and fluffy....)


Leah said...

I have a question about PTSD causality--many prostitutes coming as they do from backgrounds of abuse and violence, before their entrance into prostitution, where are the origins of the stress disorder located? Probably in things that happened long before they ever worked the streets. It's such a sticky wicket, and so hard to separate out--why I'm such a firm believer in prevention even over and above intervention--

I read an interesting book for an ethnography class, a very flawed book, but interesting--called "Sexed Work," a field study of female prostitutes and drug addicts in Brooklyn--it really opened my eyes to the deeply rooted problems, and the difficulty of helping once certain way of life is so entrenched.

As always, an interesting post!

Leah said...

Sorry for going on--just warming to a topic that endlessly fascinates me--

Macy said...

Given that a large proportion of the UK's sex workers are illegally trafficked from Eastern Europe and forced into prositution the PTSD is no great surprise.
What does continue to surprise me is the denial of this by punters and many commentators alike.

Nick said...

Leah - Good question, where did the PTSD start? As you say, as there is often a history of abuse and violence, it may have developed pre-prostitution. In which case, of course, it's even worse that with a PTSD history they go into a job that is going to worsen the PTSD rather than reduce it.

Yes, it's very hard for a woman to exit prostitution once she's seriously involved in it. Kat Banyard discusses this problem in her book.

Do go on about it, you always have interesting points of view I haven't thought of....

Nick said...

Macy - True, many prostitutes are illegally trafficked Eastern Europeans, often trapped in slave-like conditions, which must make PTSD much more likely.

It's not surprising that the punters (men) and commentators (many men also) deny what is happening. If prostitution is basically about proving men's power over women, naturally they're going to pretend it's all just an innocent, pleasure-giving activity.

Rummuser said...

Nick, sorry to rain on your parade, but even where it is regulated, or there are provisions to protect prostitutes, these problems will not disappear. There are a number of things that happen at the two extremes of the economic pole, the very rich and the very poor that appall us middle class folk. There is little that can be done for these aberrations in civil societies. There are no exceptions even in rigidly controlled countries. Just have a look at this:

Nick said...

Ramana - Well, certainly prostitution will continue if it is wholly or partly legal. It will also thrive if anti-prostitution laws are not properly enforced, if the general public supports the trade, and if there are limited job opportunities for women who want to leave it. In any country where prostitution is well established, it will be an uphill struggle to end it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick - Just came here via Baino. Like your blog.
Don,t have any smart answers to prostitution myself, though I notice that the solutions offered seem to come in cycles - to fall in and out of fashion amongst the concerned liberal set (and I do not mean that in any pejorative way - I,m one of them).
The question of freedom of choice does seem to come into this - by that I mean the freedom of women or men to sell themselves in this way, however unwise it may be. And given that, perhaps harm reduction is the way to go if eradication is not possible. (excuse the lack of apostrophes, I,m typing on an odd keyboard)

Scarlet Blue said...

I am devoid of smart comments on prostitution. I was in the camp for making it legal and regulated.
PTSD - So many things can bring this on. And I suppose people are traumatised differently by similar situations. It's very difficult to measure.

Nick said...

Blackwatertown - Hi! Yes, my own viewpoint has shifted back and forth over the years. But the astonishing prevalence of PTSD does seem to damn the whole business. The trouble with supporting women's freedom to sell their bodies is that most of the time the so-called "choice" is pretty dubious. They're motivated by previous physical and sexual abuse, by drug addiction, by people traffickers and other distorting influences. There's a lot about this in Kat Banyard's book.

Nick said...

Scarlet - Sure, many things can trigger PTSD. But for me the point is that if so many prostitutes are affected by it, then whatever it's origins, the whole trade is a serious health hazard and shouldn't continue.

Wisewebwoman said...

You know my opinion on all of this, Nick, but as you have this open forum again, I will state it again:
Why on earth don't we call it for what it is: Paid for Rape.
Of course there is PTSD. The trafficking in these women (and yes, children too) is horrific. And they are not the ones making the money. Think pimps and brothels and organized crime.
I cannot imagine how it must be to be driven by financial need and enslavement to have to sell my body to be raped, fifty times a day or more.
Of course it has to be outlawed. it is beyond depraved.

tattytiara said...

68%? I'm very surprised that figure isn't higher. Those women are entirely vulnerable and have absolutely no protection in this world.

Nick said...

www - Paid-for rape, absolutely. Beyond depraved, indeed. But so many people (mainly men of course) find any number of bogus reasons why prostitution is "not really that bad".

Tattytiara - You're right, given the horrific circumstances they have to work under, why only 68%?

Baino said...

I actually agree with Leah, to be in that position in the first place means that a lot of shit has happened in their past. Women don't just put their hand up and make prostitution their career of choice. Actually, here Doctors also suffer, particularly those working untenable long hours in emergency wards. It's a rising problem.
I applaud Iceland actually, then they have the highest parliamentary representation of women in the world.

Nick you will never stop the trade, it's the oldest profession in the world. The best we can do is legalilse it, make it taxable, ensure regular health checks and monitor the punters as well as the sex workers. Outlawing prostitution has never worked and drives the seedy underbelly of organised crime and trafficking even further underground.

Even then, we'll still have the desperates such as the young boys who face the Wall in Kings Cross and the streetwalkers on the Great Western Highway, just a stone's throw from where I work. The risks they take are enormous.

Nick said...

Baino - Oldest profession is an unfortunate term, nothing very professional about it. Oldest form of slavery, perhaps? I know that's the common sense viewpoint, that it can never be stopped, but it's also a very defeatist one. If enough people were opposed to it, then it could be stopped. Like apartheid or slavery or women not having the vote or people dying of diarrhoea.

The trouble is that there are so many desperate, ill-educated, self-loathing women who see prostitution as their only option. Only when women in general are better treated and think better of themselves will they refuse to do anything so demeaning.

Le Loup said...

Well as I see it that is the main problem. It gets swept under the carpet, or made illegal, so there is no way it can be controlled and made safe. I can see where there is a place for prostitution, but it needs to be made legal, cut out the pimps and bring in health care. I daresay there are places where this would not work, but if you are going to take this line of work away from these women, then we need to give them something worth while in return.

Nick said...

Le Loup - Given the serious psychological damage done to so many prostitutes, and given that men could survive without it, I think there is no place at all for prostitution. Health care and worker protection would not stop the psychic harm caused by continuously selling your vagina.

But you're right that they need alternative jobs that are worthwhile and well-paid to enable them to escape prostitution.