Prostitution, the abolition of the victim and post-modernism's defence of the status-quo

I’ve just finished reading a book by the Swedish socialist, anarchist and feminist Kajsa Ekis Ekman which she primarily devotes to debunking the arguments used to justify prostitution and the surrogate-mothering industry. Her book was written as a response to the media’s misrepresentation of prostitution as some sort of smart and glamorous career choice for young women to make and at the increasing number of post-modernist academics and ‘queer-theorists’ who have been questioning Sweden’s prostitution laws by, among other things, ludicrously trying to frame prostitution as something ‘transgressive’ and which ‘challenges gender norms’.

The abolition of the victim

Ekis Ekman highlights at length the tactics which the supporters of prostitution have adopted in recent years and exposes how false, absurd and damaging their arguments really are. Particularly interesting I think is when she writes about the attempts that have been made to abolish the term ‘victim’ from the debate around prostitution. To be a victim has come to be seen as something shameful and to refer to someone as a victim is, according to the post-modernists, to deny them their ‘agency’. Ekman exposes why this lie has come about and what wider political consequences it has. Her point here is summed up in a review of the book in Dagens Nyheter:

“To be able to defend that women sell their bodies (and that men buy them) one must first abolish the victim and instead redefine the prostitute as a sex worker, a strong woman who knows what she wants, a businesswoman. The sex worker becomes a sort of new version of the ‘happy hooker’.

“Ekis Ekman shows in a convincing way how this happens through a rhetoric which portrays the victim position as a trait of character instead of using the correct definition of a victim: someone who is affected by something. In such a way the terrible reality in which women in prostitution find themselves is concealed. The fear of the ‘victim’ in the prostitution debate … is something which mirrors neo-liberalism’s general victim hate – since all talk of the vulnerable person immediately reveals an unjust society. Through making the victim taboo can one legitimise class inequalities and gender discrimination, for if there is no victim there is no perpetrator.”

Those who defend prostitution, as Ekis Ekman points out in an interview in the socialist newspaper Flamman, “have a contempt for weakness, a cold and cynical view of humanity, which has the consequence that you only have yourself to blame”.

To see evidence of this we need look no further than the works of ‘academics’ such as Laura Agustin, someone who has gone as far as to deny the existence of human trafficking. Victims of pimps and human traffickers are referred to, in her language, as “migrant sex workers” who actively choose their situation. Discussing women brought into western countries by criminal gangs and locked into flats and prostituted for months at a time, Agustin writes:

“These circumstances where women live in sex establishments and seldom leave them before, without being asked, moved elsewhere receive great attention in the media and it’s taken as a given that this involves a complete denial of freedom. But in many cases migrant workers prefer this arrangement for a number of reasons. If they don’t leave the area they don’t waste any money and, if they have no work permit, they feel safer in a controlled environment. If someone else finds the meeting places for them and books their appointments it means they don’t have to do it themselves. If they have come on a 3 month tourist visa they want to devote as much time as possible to making money”.

Another sickening example from Ekman’s book is that in Australia, a country which has long championed legalised prostitution, victims of child abuse have came to be referred to as “child sex workers”. An official report there talks about a 9 year old abuse victim having been “offered a warm bed and a nice meal” by his abusers and of “thinking it was fantastic” when the men who raped him gave him $50. Any details of the crime he was subjected to are on the other hand almost completely absent, apart from the words: “sex took place”.

What these examples all have in common is that they remove the focus from the perpetrator. They make it sound like the abused, prostitutes, children, the victims of poverty, drug abuse and economic exploitation, have themselves chosen the situation in which they find themselves. By changing the definition of the victim so as to turn it into a personal trait, by turning ‘victim’ and ‘subject’ into the opposite of each other, the post-modernists lift away all talk of the deeper structures and power differences which affect people’s lives, something which of course suits perfectly the interests of the rich and powerful by masking the oppressive and unjust nature of the society in which we live.

Transgression of divisions as opposed to their abolition

In another section of the book she talks about what she describes as ‘the cult of the whore’, about the district of Raval in Barcelona, the people there who wear T-shirts with the slogan ‘Yo també soc puta’ (‘I am also a whore’). The cultural admiration of the prostitute is, in Ekman’s view, just contempt from another perspective: “It is still not a recognition of women’s humanity, rather a love of all that is nasty and low which the prostitute is associated with.” Those who wear the T-shirts in Barcelona think they’re being radical, that they’re transgressing norms. But “what they don’t understand is that the whore is not a whore, she is a person”. As Ekman writes:

“White ‘wiggers’ absorb hip-hop, backpackers and travellers absorb third-world cultures, male transvestites and drag-queens absorb the female and the femme absorbs the prostitute. The ‘transgressing’ of divisions anticipates that the divisions remain. When the white play black or when academics declare themselves whores and drug addicts, they are mocking those people who are black, who are prostitutes and who are drug addicts”.

They are, she points out, acting from a position of power and have a complete lack of understanding for what life is actually like for those whom they imitate and shower with false admiration. The difference couldn’t be starker between, on the one hand, the post-modernist’s ‘transgression’ of norms and divisions between people and, on the other, the revolutionary’s desire to abolish them. As Ekman concludes:

“In the absolute meaning there are no whores. There are people in prostitution for a longer or shorter period of time. There are no ‘types’ of people, no characters. They are people who have ended up in a certain situation. The fetishised ‘transgressing’ of divisions separates itself from the the revolutionary ‘abolition’ of them. The abolition of divisions arises from seeing the human being, the humanity in everyone, everyone’s equal needs … It is an objective solidarity which is built on a subjective understanding. One puts themselves in another’s place and imagines themselves under different circumstances. It is to look into someone else’s eyes and see yourself. And with this insight comes also an insight into the cruelty of the system which has made her into a ‘type’.”

Fiction of unions for ‘sex workers’

I also liked the section where Ekis Ekman highlighted the fiction of so-called ‘sex worker’ unions. The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), for example, which is affiliated to the GMB and has spoken at conferences of the Labour Party and the Green Party, is run by a man called Douglas Fox. Fox claims to be a ‘sex worker’ and accuses radical feminists of being big meanies out to silence him. Yet on closer inspection it becomes clear that Mr Fox is a liar. Sex worker he most certainly is not, rather he is a pimp who runs one of the UK’s largest escort firms. The IUSW’s membership, you see, is open to anyone, to pimps, to men who buy sex, to sympathetic academics. Of its minute membership of 150 (which compares to the 100,000 plus women and men who work in the UK’s sex industry) only a tiny minority are actual prostitutes. It’s the same all over Europe where similar organisations exist (such as ‘de Rode Draad’ in the Netherlands) – their membership is tiny, most aren’t even prostitutes, and they have never succeeded in pushing any independent union demands.

Those who support prostitution though have of course never been ones for the facts. We see this idea of ‘unions’ coming from both the left and the right because it’s convenient, it gives prostitution a certain false legitimacy. It doesn’t work and it never will work, but it successfully diverts attention away from the deeper questions around prostitution and why it exists in our society.

Related to this is the growth of the so-called ‘harm reduction’ lobby who have gained influence in recent years within a number of governments and international institutions. Ekman shows how this influence grew particularly around the time of the HIV/Aids epidemic of the 80s and 90s when the lobby was asked in by a number of organisations to determine policy on the issue. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) have, for example, both come out in favour of legalising prostitution on the grounds that it will increase state revenues and make it easier to fight the spread of Aids. Both organisations, Ekman writes, have started using phrases such as “she is not a victim, but a subject” and have called prostitution “a women’s job which should be recognised”.

The effect of this lobby gaining strength has of course been to further legitimise prostitution and make it harder to fight. When Ekman visited the offices of the organisation TAMPEP in Amsterdam, a group for HIV prevention among ‘migrant sex workers’, and asked if they couldn’t do anything to help women leave prostitution the reply she got was “But why would we do that? Our goal is to teach women to be better prostitutes” (ie. using condoms so as to protect the men who abuse them from infection). This aim (of teaching women to be better prostitutes) is supported with millions of euros of EU Commission money each year. Similarly an official pamphlet produced with the backing of the Australian government instructs prostituted women to “look like you’re enjoying it all the time” and tells the women how to turn down a violent man’s demands without “making him lose his lust”. In addition the pamphlet points out that it might be a good idea to try to avoid bruises because it “can force you to take time off work and as a result lose more money”.

Reality of prostitution

As Ekis Ekman makes clear the whole point of the so-called ‘harm reduction’ approach is to protect and uphold the system of prostitution. Those who champion it never ask any deeper questions about the nature of prostitution, its causes and effects. To waste millions on “teaching women to be better prostitutes” is a cruel joke in a world where tens of millions of women and girls are enslaved and systematically raped in the service of men’s sexual desires.

Why, she asks, despite the enormous harm caused by prostitution, does it continue to be allowed in so many countries? The statistics are hardly difficult to find and apply both where prostitution is legal and illegal:

* 71% of women in prostitution have been subjected to physical violence

* 63% have been raped while in prostitution

* 89% want to leave and would do so if they could

* 68% show signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

* Women in prostitution have a death rate 40 times higher than the average

* Women in prostitution are 16 times more likely to be murdered

Something which Ekman argues strongly characterises prostitution is the splitting of body and mind/soul (I’m not sure how best to translate the Swedish ‘jag’), often a survival strategy for those involved in the industry. Almost all the accounts of prostitution clearly show the existence of this splitting: often those in prostitution create two completely different personalities, many stop feeling certain body parts, they disassociate themselves from their bodies.

The supporters of prostitution want us to believe that the body is something separate, that selling it has no wider consequences for those involved. They promote the idea of the body as something which people own and exercise rational control over, a product which, if they’re smart, they can make a bit of money out of. Being able to close off parts of yourself, separate mind and body and, all the time, keep a distance from what’s happening to you is something which has been hailed as an ideal by the friends of prostitution, a sign of strength. The consequence is that those who aren’t strong enough, the majority who for example develop PTSD, are shown little sympathy for it’s seen as their own fault for being weak and having gone into the wrong job.

Post-modernism’s defence of the status-quo

Perhaps particularly important for the left and for those who want to change society is when Ekman talks about how our language has been stolen and used in a way which does nothing other than to support the status-quo. She writes that since 1968 the powerful have had to reformulate themselves and the arguments they use in order to justify their existence:

“Institutions which hold power – capital, the media, academia, the political classes, men’s sexual power and ruling class privilege – have had to reformulate themselves to justify their existence. They can no longer assert that they have power because it is given by nature, rather all power relations have to be justified morally. This is done by hiding them … The nobility, corporations, the media, intellectuals – all suddenly claim themselves to be defiant, marginalised or deviant.

“The story of the sex worker fits into this. It unites an old, gender-role preserving practice with a new rebellious language. It becomes a symbiosis between the neo-liberal right and the post-modernist left. The neo-liberal right get a language which declares prostitution a form of free entrepreneurship and as something which relates to individual freedom. The post-modernist left get an excuse to not fight the prevailing power structure by referring to the voice of the marginalised.

“The post-modernist left is, as Terry Eagleton writes, a reaction to the neo-liberal hegemony. After communism’s collapse parts of the left reacted by masking their defeat as a victory … Instead of pointing out injustices some sections of the left have gone over to defining the status-quo as subversive.

“When it feels difficult to question injustices it becomes tempting instead to redefine them – perhaps injustices are not injustices if we look at them more closely but, on the contrary, rebellious actions? All at once pornography, prostitution, veils, maids and drug use begin to be explained as marginalised phenomena, as a woman’s right, or as an individual choice with subversive potential.”

I think Ekman is absolutely right here and the worst thing the left can do is give up its desire to fundamentally change society, to analyse and expose the power structures and norms which exist and to fight for their abolition. All around us we can see previously radical movements selling out and instead seeking an accommodation with the status-quo. The choice agenda being pushed by some feminists is just one of many examples of this.

Swedish prostitution debate

Finally another thing I found interesting in the book was her discussion of the development of the prostitution debate in Sweden in recent decades. Her opponents such as Petra Östergren and Laura Agustin have long accused Sweden’s sexköpslagen (law against buying sex) as being a result of a complete absence of Sweden listening to the views and interests of those in prostitution. Yet as Ekman shows the government’s prostitutionsutredningen (prostitution investigation) of 1977, which shaped the Swedish prostitution debate for decades to come, was revolutionary in its focus on the views and experiences of prostituted women themselves and the questions it asked about the men who used them.

The centre-right politician Inger Nilsson who had been put in charge of the investigation had initially tried to suppress the women’s accounts after having met with several sex club owners, publishing instead a vastly trimmed-down version of the report with the personal testimonies excluded. When this emerged though there was a storm of outrage from feminists and the government was forced to release the 800 page investigation in full, which came out in book form. According to Ekman:

“It went down like a bomb. It was a landmark which changed society’s view of prostitution. It came to alter the direction of prostitution research in the whole of Scandinavia. Prostitution, just like rape, had become political … For prostitution research it meant going back to the beginning. Of the 19th century research – where the causes of prostitution were looked for in a woman’s personality and in disease – much was repudiated. Instead there began the building of new knowledge where the reasons were looked for in the relations between the genders and in society. And where would the researchers find the basis for this new knowledge? Yes, in the prostituted people’s own accounts.”


While I obviously can’t go into all of her book here I found Ekman’s Varat och varan highly interesting and informative and I think it provides extremely useful ammunition in the fight against the post-modernist turn which appears to characterise much of today’s academia as well as sections of the left. Let us reject the post-modernist victim hate. Being a victim is not shameful or an insult, neither is it a trait of character. For in an unjust world there will always be victims, there will always be people who have less power and wealth than others, who have less control over the direction in which their lives take. That you are a victim doesn’t mean you won’t find ways of adjusting to the situation you find yourself in, it doesn’t mean that you lack the capacity to think and act rationally. What it does mean is that we live in a world sorely in need of change. By abolishing the victim and by framing all of our actions as an individual choice the post-modernists are mounting nothing other than a reactionary defence of the status-quo.


  1. TheWorstWitch says:

    Oh my Goodness, Stuart – this is fantastic, thank you so much for writing this.

  2. Squeak says:

    Just a quick note before I reply more fully to say that I don’t think there’s any reason to put queer theory in scare quotes; there’s nothing inherent in it that means proponents or just people who are interested necessarily advocate prostitution. A lot of queer theory articles and texts I’ve read have been really interesting feminist pieces that look beyond a gender binary and offer a very incisive analysis of the gender roles people are expected to perform.

  3. Stuart says:

    You’re welcome TWW.

    @ Squeak – I put it in inverted commas as it’s a potentially contested term. I’m not saying that everyone who advances queer-theory is necessary a supporter of prostitution or that nothing good has ever come of it. But it’s important that we show the absurdity of those arguments which try to frame prostitution as something potentially ‘transgressive’ or ‘revolutionary’.

  4. Auld Yin says:

    Great piece Stuart

  5. Mhairi McAlpine says:

    Excellent article.

    Its one of the most depresssing things about the left that there is still a section of it that doesnt see prostitution as exploitation but as “work”, prostitution is the act of paying to sexually abuse someone.

  6. LydiaTee says:

    Fucking top class article, Stuart! This kind of reaction from men within SSY gives me a lot of hope.

    I couldn’t believe the pamphlet on “Being a good prostitute” What a load of awful shit! And unionising ‘sex workers’? All of this bile just reinforces the normalisation of women being forced to allow men to abuse their bodies. It drives me truly insane when I hear people waffle about the ‘glamour’ of the sex industry. I want to scream “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! You become nothing more than a receptacle of semen and a slave to abusive lust!”

    There’s just so much good stuff in this article, I hope to read more from you on feminism in the future, Stuart!!

  7. raphie says:

    I’ll probably get shot down and nobody will speak to me but comrades should read this article by a doctor who is a revolutionary marxist and has worked with sex workers for twenty years:

  8. Puffling says:

    Raphie, I can’t even begin to list everything that’s wrong with that article.

    Firstly, Stuart dealt with most of it’s points above – maybe you should reread his article?

    I am so bored of the tired old bullshit argument that feminists are against prostitution because it’s “immoral” or a “sin” – that is absolute nonsense and you know it, and the author of that article knows it.

    I cannot BELIEVE that a so called Marxist is claiming prostitution as an escape from patriarchal relations between men and women.

    I don’t know where this academic lives and what life is like for prostituted women there – but just because she says ‘women don’t turn to prostitution because of prior abuse or drug habits’ doesn’t make it so – it is estimated that around 98% of prostitutes in Glasgow are addicted to heroin or crack cocaine, and more than 80% are survivors of childhood sex abuse. These women are not choosing a career in prostitution to escape bourgeois morality.

    I think men in the SSP find it really difficult to connect women in poverty who become prostitutes and women in poverty who join the socialist movement – we are the same women. Becoming socialist activists does not change our lives, experiences or backgrounds. The reality of live for women in poverty, ie many women in the SSP, is a reality of having to consider and sometimes resort to prostitution, stripping or other sexual favours in exchange for survival. We know what we’re talking about, because we’re talking about this from a position of experience.

  9. Stuart says:

    Thanks everyone. I agree with what Puffling says about Raphie’s article and I think a lot of the nonsense around unionisation is completely disproved in Ekman’s book. It’s odd that a “revolutionary marxist” would write so enthusiastically about the IUSW – an organisation run by pimps which has a minute membership and makes no distinction between ‘workers’ and bosses.

    The difference between Raphie’s article and Ekman’s book is that while Ekman bases her arguments on the experiences and realities of life for women in prostitution this so-called “revolutionary marxist” simply tries to twist certain theories in a way which fits in with her own agenda – and that it is to legitimise prostitution and make it sound like any other form of work. In the process she takes all focus away from the wider structures of patriarchal oppression in society and from the men who, from a position of power, pay to abuse the women in prostitution.

  10. Squeak says:

    I just think it’s unnecessary to stick it in commas since queer theory is out there and has an influence in everything from politics to literature, but it’s not that important a point in the grand scheme of things – there are certainly big debates among people who are interested in queer theory about this stuff. I enjoyed the article anyway!

  11. Yer granny says:

    Stuart this is one of the best articles I have read in socialist circles about prostitution. I am so proud that the SSP has been able to develop a position that prostitution is not work and is super exploitation of so many victims.

    I think the article Raphie refer’s too is a bog standard “marxist analysis” but I dispute strongly that it is a Marxist analysis. If only prostitution was the exchange of sex for money but it isn’t it is buying a woman’s consent and sometimes the consent is not even present. It involves violence, abuse, rapes, torture and even murder. It cannot be tolerated.

    Just like socialists and Marxists come out against violence in relationships, we don’t take the position that women sell themselves to their husbands therefore they need to take what is coming and call for an National Union of Housewives. We campaign against the violence and abuse, call for resources for both the perpetrator, the victims and their family but most importantly we do not blame the victim, we hold the perpetrator accountable and responsible for their behaviour. In the past some Marxists and socialists would have wanted to discuss this matter generally and not want to discuss about individual responsibility but we must. We must challenge sexist, patriarchal and even misogynist attitudes in our society and that includes the right to assault or coercively control your partner or the entitlement to demand sex in exchange for payment.

    Humanity can never be free whilst this behaviour, attitudes and even values exist. It creates false conciousness.

  12. raphie says:

    As I said the article is written by a woman medical doctor who has worked with sex workers for twenty years in the east end of London. I will ask her to address the issues raised in the book. But Helen Ward the author of the article is uniquely positioned to write such an analysis. I don’t think anyone in the party or the author of the book that Stuart has reviewed have that level of experience or is a woman or a doctor. Morever, Helen applies the materiialist approach to the issue and I think that moves us away from the generalist moralism we see from some in the party. The SSP’s is an approach that takes some elements that affect some areas of prostitution and apply it to the whole of prostiution and the men who use prostitutes. It is like going to France and see a the first peson who happens to have blonde hair and say all French people have blonde hair. I doubt if many will actually read Helen’s artcile because it threatens and provides a real challenge to your beliefs on the issue.

    I have not read the book that Stuart reviews but there does seem something unplausible about a “pimp” being behind a sex workers union. It’s like saying a call center manager is helping organise call centre workers into a union.

    It would be good to have Helen up to have her up for a debate with some of the comrades who hold Stuart and the party’s position. Many people in the party do not support the party position including many women. They feel unable to talk up on it because of the vitroil that will be thrown at them. I for one havenever stepped back from supporting positions no matter how perilous the situation. Helen is not a comrade of mine and many comrades in the Fourth Internationalhold positiosn similar to the SSP’s.

    I urge comrades to at least read the whole of Helen’s article and be challenged.

  13. raphie says:

    On the sex workers union just because it is founded on the wrong basis in the UK – allowing escort bosses and punters into it – does not mean that a union for sex workers is a bad idea if formed to defend the actual workers rights. I would like to see the evidence that the Ducth union suffers from the same defects. Stuart has just extrapolated with out providing any facts. But that is not to say there are not any but lets see them.

  14. Stuart says:

    Ekman writes about ‘de Rode Draad’ in her book too, Raphie. This is from page 57-58:

    “The official version is that de Rode Draad emerged out of “the prostitute’s liberation movement” but, as is apparent from their website, it was started by the de Graaf Stichtung in 1985 and was at the beginning 100% state financed. De Rode Draad was one of Graafs many projects which aimed to give prostitution the status of work. The founder was sociologist Jan Visser who then worked for de Graaf and became Rode Draad’s chairperson … After the entire sex industry was legalised in 2002 de Rode Draad was turned into an official trade union under the name Truss. They became part of the Netherland’s biggest union federation FNV and gained access to resources for printing brochures and organising training. State support was withdrawn in 2004 and de Rode Draad today has a fragile existence. They claim to have around a hundred members in their union but have never got involved in advancing any union demands.”

  15. raphie says:

    Hi Stuart

    It still does not mean that because the union has been hijacked that a union for sex workers is a bad idea. I have asked Helen to addrees the issuesd with the UK union. On your facts on prostitution where did they come from and where do they apply. The facts on Galsgow I think apply to street workers – who would ironically suffer most under our policy by driving them underground – but not to all prostitution in Glasgow. The studies I have seen are that there area variety of reasons (at least nine) for women coming into prostiution and that drugs are a minority reason.

    If comardes took the time to read Helen’s article they would find she is a medical doctor who works with sex workers and not an academic. Her psoition is as I say a minority one on the revolutionary marxist left but one which I find the most credible.

  16. Puffling says:

    Raphie, well done for standing up for what you believe in, but there’s no need to make out like feminists are bullying you and people with your views just because we hold different ones.

    I read the article in its entirety before my first comment – including the weird little bit at the end about the SSP. I feel like you’ve either not bothered to properly read Stuart’s article and my comments, or just dismissed what we’re saying entirely because – I don’t know – you just think we’re stupid?

    As I said, I read the article you have posted in its entirety, and have read many pieces with a similar analysis before – I just don’t accept it.

    Reread my first comment please – why on earth should I, and other working class women in the SSP, value the experiences and analysis of an middle class English academic doctor over our own?

    No offense to the author, but we are living in very different worlds.

  17. Jack says:

    I dislike it when the SSP position is framed as something that a bunch of prudes got together and invented out their head. It’s actually based on solid research which took the women’s network quite a while to do. And it’s a position that is based off working with real important groups that know what their talking about. Are the Women’s Support Project also moralists? They are the source for the following statistics:

    As for the the position promoted in Raphie’s article being the minority on the Marxist left, that’s certainly not been my experience of interaction with other Marxist groups, who are by and large all over the place on this issue.

    i really think there’s a lack of the empirical research that backs up the SSP’s position from its opponents. This is evidenced by the fact that in the comments above, when the real nature of the IUSW was pointed out to Raphie, he started off by saying he found what people were telling him “implausible.” The next comment, clearly post-Googling, conceded that in the UK there’s a problem, but saying that Stuart must be wrong about the Netherlands, what was his source etc. When Stuart came in to back up what he was saying, the goalposts shift again, to it being a good idea in principle. There’s a lot of steps that could have been cut out there by just looking into the issue more fully.

    I’d also just like to say that I think the debate in the comments has been conducted in a comradely way, and there’s no need for people to be afraid of having their heads bitten off etc. on here. I’m not angry with Raphie for holding the position he does, but I do think it’s wrong and proceeds from some incorrect premises. I do have sympathy however with women comrades when you see some of the vitriol that they have had to contend with on this issue, both in the SSP and within the left/feminist movement in general. Characterising the position as “moralism” when it’s actually something carefully worked out on the basis of empirical research is turning things on their head.

  18. Jack says:

    Btw, you can probably get the gist from the article, but if you’re reading this debate and you’re wondering what the SSP’s position on prostitution is, check out this stuff:

    We agreed it democratically after literally years of debate.

  19. weeonion says:

    Stuart – really great article and picks up on some of the key debates and frames them in an easily read form. i would like to link to this for the Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation. Whilst there are many women and men in Scotland involved in prostitution and each of them will have become involved for different reasons, there are common tropes in their background. For women , a lack of realistic options is a key being driven by poverty , unemployment and as we know – where there is poverty there will be higher levels of drug use / misuse. With addictions there will be debt and this is what is exploited. i find it hard to reconcile some peoples ideas of being liberal – therefore anything goes with what the reality is for many many of the people involved. I have worked with women and men involved in prostitution. Very very few of them ever felt they had a real choice. It was either do that or suffer – from withdrawal, debt collectors, a pimp / boyfriend. Many of the women i worked with felt it was a better option than ‘hurting / affecting’ others through theft, fraud etc. Many also did not want their kids to be affected – needing the money for school shoes, christmas presents etc. That may not seem like such a huge driver to some people but to many of those involved in prostitution, they needed that money. Their punters wanted sex. To me – that is where the imbalance lies. A want is not a need.
    When the supporters of the sex industry defend this as trangressive, revoluntary, progressive and a consensual arrangements between adults – they are allowing the biggest exploitation of many who do not write blogs, speak to the press nor attend media training as provided by the likes of IUSW.

  20. Stuart says:

    Sure weeonion. I think the SCASE do excellent work and would like to see the SSP and SSY becoming more active in supporting what you do. It’s really important that the voices of those women in prostitution who do not have powerful lobby groups like the IUSW behind them finally get heard.

  21. Stuart says:

    To answer some more of Raphie’s points I think it is interesting, as Puffling alludes to, that many of those who either advocate a ‘harm reduction’ approach or who talk about recognising prostitution as a form of work are well-off academics or doctors. Those women who are in prostitution themselves tend to feel rather differently about it – as is evidenced by the study which found that 89% want out immediately.

    As for the union idea as Jack points out you have constantly tried to shift the boundaries. But I don’t agree that unions are a good idea on principle either. All of the attempts that have been made to ‘unionise sex workers’ in a number of countries have failed precisely because it is not, and never will be, just another type of work. Most of those women who are in prostitution do not think of it as work either and clearly see no benefit in being part of any organisation which resembles a union.

  22. My views on the sex industry and prostitution in Sweden are quite different from what is reported here. I have been doing research and publishing on migration, trafficking and commercial sex for 15 years and publish frequently on a range of issues. My book Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (Zed Books 2007) investigates the role of those who want to help and save women who sell sex without asking them what they want themselves. I blog several times a week, and in recent writings on Sweden have critiqued the official government evaluation of the law banning buying sex as weak and lacking evidence. My interests are not ideological and question everyone’s use of empty rhetoric, including that reviewed in this article. To see my writings in English and Swedish, go to the website and click on Sweden in the tag cloud.

    Laura Agustín, Border Thinking,

  23. Stuart says:

    @ Laura Agustín

    Interesting to hear what you have to say. But I’m not sure exactly what you mean when you say that your views are different from how I have represented them here. Was the quote I posted wrong? Admittedly I translated it from the Swedish version in Ekman’s book but I’m pretty sure the meaning didn’t change as a result. I haven’t read the book you mention although I have heard about it and have seen some of the stuff on your blog. What I object to primarily is the euphemistic language that you appear to use when talking about sex trafficking and sexual slavery, language which serves to divert attention away both from the perpetrators of violence and abuse and from the deeper structures in society from which it is clearly a symptom.

    As for the question of trying to “save women who sell sex without asking them what they want themselves” as I pointed out earlier it is, if anything, organisations like the IUSW who are unrepresentative of the voices of most women in prostitution. Nothing can get away from the fact that the vast majority of women in prostitution want out – I’ve seen a number of studies and most suggest, just like the one cited in Ekman’s book, that around 90% would leave the industry immediately if the option was available to them. It is also, as Varat och varan makes clear, not the case that the voices of prostituted women have been left out or ignored within the context of the Swedish prostitution debate and from those discussions which led up to the adoption of the sexköpslagen. And let us not forget that the main target of the sexköpslagen is those men who themselves choose to abuse women through the act of paying for sex. No debate on prostitution should leave out the role of the buyer and what wider consequences their acts have upon our society and upon the relationship between women and men.

  24. There are many misrepresentations in Ekman’s book, you reproduced a few of them. I refer to ‘and Laura Agustin have long accused Sweden’s sexköpslagen (law against buying sex) as being a result of a complete absence of Sweden listening to the views and interests of those in prostitution.’ Too simplistic, not me.

    Douglas Fox is not even a member of IUSW at the moment and was never its leader.

    and so on. Just really correcting the record on my own published work.

  25. Stuart says:

    @ Laura Agustín

    On the IUSW’s website there are a number of articles by Douglas Fox who is referred to there as a “Sex Worker Activist”. There is nothing to indicate he is not currently a member but even if you are right then he has certainly had a significant role in the organisation in the past, an organisation whose membership is open to pimps and sex industry profiteers and which makes little or no distinction between workers and bosses.

    And it has been a tactic of critics of the sexköpslagen, including you and Petra Östergren, to accuse Sweden of disregarding the views of the women in prostitution, as in what you say here about wanting to “save women who sell sex without asking them what they want themselves”. As for Östergren her book Porr, horor och feminister selectively uses quotes from a small number of women in the sex industry in an attempt to undermine and disregard the vast amount of evidence and personal testimonies relating to the harm which prostitution causes. I do accept though that I maybe shouldn’t have accused you of saying that the Swedish debate has involved a “complete absence” of listening to the women in prostitution without finding a quote to prove it first.

    But the main issue for me is still the way in which your use of language often serves to cover up the terrible reality of sex trafficking and sexual slavery. As you haven’t disputed the quote I referred to in the article I assume it is true.

  26. Mhairi McAlpine says:

    International surveys have found that an overwhelming majority of women currently in the industry want to leave immediately. Their biggest barrier to this is a lack of a safe place to go.

    While I appreciate the views of the guilds of sex workers here, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, as others have said, I dont believe that they are respresentative of the majority of women involved, and certainly not of the most exploited. Personally I think that prostitution harms all of the women involved in the industry, some far far more than others – but even if there was no harm being done to women in the industry:no systematic murders; no rapes, no drugging; no imprisonment; no torture; no child abuse; no beatings; no knife attacks; no threats of violence; no stigma; no gang rapes; no branding; no state imprisonment; no intrusive medicals; no removal of children; no forced abortions; no health risks, prostitution is still undesirable. It turns women into commodies to be bought – for a ring, for gifts or for cold hard cash, and enourages men to commodify and sexually abuse women through the experiences and encouragement of those who already do.

  27. Douglas Fox says:

    I would like to correct a few factual inaccuracies. I was a member of the iusw but never had any position of authority within the organisation. I left because I edit and write for a sex workers blog called and I wanted to be free to write freely about sex work and to criticise whomever I wish including the Iusw. If the writer of this article had done his research he would also realise that I have worked as an independent gay male escort for 11 years and advertise on various gay escorting web sites under my working name of Chris. My civil partner owns and runs and an escort agency. My partner is not a front line sex worker but a manager. As in many industries the roles of management and worker are often interchangeable.. Many sex worker managements were once or still are sex workers or are involved in a relationship with a sex worker.
    This article is written from a flawed ideological position that ignores the experiences of real sex workers. Quoting very dubious statistics as absolute facts does not actually make them factual unfortunately, no matter how much those who quote them may wish it.

    The only people really qualified to talk about sex work are sex workers. Patronising sex workers, dismissing the voices of sex workers, perpetuating the societal
    abuse of sex workers, encourage governments to legislate against our human rights, ignoring male sex workers and trans men and women, ignoring the huge diversity of sex work and our experiences is insulting.
    This article is simply changing the old language of abuse that ignores our voices and patronises sex workers as “others”. Prejudice, ignorance and abuse remains the same regardless if it is the right or the left who are talking to us rather than listening to us.

  28. Stuart says:

    A lot has been written about the IUSW and how it is based on a lie. I’d advise people to read this too:

    @ Douglas Fox

    The fact is that you keep completely silent about you and your partner’s role in profiting from sexual exploitation and abuse through the escort business which you run. The reason for that is I would think rather obvious because it’s not good either for your reputation or for that of the IUSW who still use many of your articles. Again in your post here we see a euphemistic use of language which serves to cover up the true reality of prostitution – rebranding ‘pimp’ as ‘manager’ for example. As a socialist I do not accept your claim that “in many industries the roles of management and worker are often interchangeable”. The business owners, those who rake in the profits, are of course in a completely different situation from those made to sell themselves or their labour in order to survive.

    You say here that the “article is written from a flawed ideological position that ignores the experiences of real sex workers”. But as I and many others have made clear neither you, the IUSW, Petra Östergren or Laura Agustin can claim to have a monopoly when it comes to understanding or listening to the experiences of women in prostitution. You can call the studies I mention ‘dubious’ but that the vast majority of women in prostitution want out is a fact. By ignoring and disregarding that fact it is, if anyone, you who is ‘patronising’ those women, ‘dismissing’ their voices and ‘perpetuating’ their ‘societal abuse’.

    As for ‘ignoring male sex workers’ it is a fact that 95% or so of those whose bodies are sold in prostitution are women. Out of the small number of men in prostitution most sell themselves to other men. However that doesn’t mean that feminists want to ignore these men. Any law on prostitution, just like Sweden’s sexköpslagen, should be gender neutral and equally fight the sexual exploitation of men where this takes place.

    I don’t know what you mean by “patronising sex workers as ‘others’”. It is certainly not me or Kajsa Ekis Ekman who can be accused of doing that. Radical feminists stand in solidarity with those who suffer from patriarchal and capitalist exploitation and abuse and are determined to ensure that the voices and experiences of the vast majority of women in prostitution can be heard.

  29. Douglas Fox says:

    I have never been silent about any aspect of my work least of all my partner’s business interests. I am not a socialist and I have made that quite clear in all of my writing. In my opinion your ideological understanding of exploitation is in my opinion flawed. Sex workers like any worker demands the right to protection from the law not persecution, the right to work in a manner that is suitable for them ie through a third party, alone, in a co operative or with a colleague. They also demand the right, if they wish, to unionise. Presently sex workers are forced by law to be self employed. Unionisation and representation of any kind is difficult while they suffer the effects of state sponsored persecution that puts them in danger. Clients are not dangerous to sex workers but rather the law that encourages abusive attitudes which people like yourself validate by ignoring sex workers unless we play your game.
    I suggest that you speak to sex workers and learn a little more about the relationship they have with those they choose who represent them before making naive, simplistic, tokenistic and nonsensical pronouncements on work you clearly fail to understand.
    I have also never claimed any monopoly as a voice for sex workers. I can only speak from my own experience and from my 11 years in this industry during which I have worked with and met many hundreds of sex workers, male, female and trans men and women. As a sex worker I speak from experience and use research that is based on evidence and not ideological propaganda.
    No one even knows how many sex workers work in the UK or in the manner that they work ie indoors, street, alone, in brothels, sharing flats …No one knows how many men work or how many women work etc so your absolute pronouncement that 95% of sex workers are female is as nonsensical as your other stats.
    Men and women buy and sell sexual services. Sexual autonomy is a vital and fundamental human right. You and your radical (so called feminists) are anything but radical. You are simply redefining patriarchy and perpetuating the damaging notions of good and bad women. There is little difference between your claims that male clients abuse women through buying their bodies (which is rubbish) than the age old patriarchal notions of shame and sin and guilt that controlled and maintained heterosexual monogamy through societal pressure and the use of bad legislation. Radical feminism is not feminism but rather a weird abstraction that negates women and men equally through an ideological bigotry that is as damaging and as dangerous to society as the orthodox patriarchy that they claim to be against but with whom they very oddly collude with, (in their determination) to maintain the status quo that sex work is wrong and sex workers deserve to be persecuted and deserve what they get.

  30. TheWorstWitch says:

    I think the fact that so many people have come here to argue/misrepresent/vilify our politics really speaks to the strength of Stuart’s article.

    Stuart, as always, argues his points beautifully, but I think it’s worth bearing in mind that this debate has been had umpteen times across umpteen feminists blogs, and we shouldn’t put too much stock into what Mr Fox thinks of us. I have no interest in debating with anti-feminists living in a dream world and calling it politics.

  31. Stuart says:

    I think you’re right TWW. Fox’s claims here have become so absurd that they no longer deserve a reply. To try to turn everything on its head and make out that it’s in fact radical feminists who want to uphold patriarchy and maintain the status-quo just highlights why we shouldn’t ever take a word of what Douglas Fox says seriously.

  32. Sarah says:

    Yes, I have little interest in hearing what a pimp’s attitude towards feminism and human rights are. People who perpetuate abuse are not the sort of people who are going to be able to talk reasonably about prostitution.

  33. Mhairi McAlpine says:

    Douglas – I have no issues with anyone selling sex. I agree with you that the law criminalising the sale of sex is harmful to people in prostitution and while I think selling sex is harmful and leads to much damage, many people do things which are harmful, usually through constrained life choices and the law should not make that harm worse.

    I do have fucking massive issues with people paying others to make use of them sexually and those who make a profit and have “business interests” in that exploitation. There are no “good and bad women”, there are people who are sexually exploited and there are those who exploit them.

    Which is why the party seeks a repeal of all legislation aimed at the sellers of sexual services while criminalising the purchasers.

  34. Douglas Fox says:

    September 30, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    “I do have fucking massive issues with people paying others to make use of them sexually and those who make a profit and have “business interests” in that exploitation. There are no “good and bad women”, there are people who are sexually exploited and there are those who exploit them.

    Which is why the party seeks a repeal of all legislation aimed at the sellers of sexual services while criminalising the purchasers.”

    Firstly sexual exploitation exists in society; but confusing consensual sex work with sexual exploitation simply perpetuates the injustices that sex workers face. It does this because it panders to unrepresentative stereotypes that perpetuates your myths rather than the truth. Like the statistics in this article repeating them will not make them true, but it will emotionalise the debate rather than lead to a proper discussion about sex work that involves sex workers and which refers to research that is independently verified and based upon evidence.
    I sell a service. My client buys a service. It is a very simple notion that I agree is upsetting if you have bought into the victim culture that, as I have illustrated, simply perpetuates your ideology that abuses sex workers by stigmatising them as different and our clients also as different, rapist, abusers. Just think how absurd this is.
    Basically your party will decide for sex worker what is right and wrong, it will deny my/our autonomy, it will deny sex workers the most basic human right which is the ownership of our bodies and of our sexual identity. Human rights were created not to impose the prejudiced will of the majority but to protect the minorities within society from those prejudices. Your party, will I presume allow me to work (forced to work in isolation and alone I presume) but deny me the right to (presumably you are sort of recognising my choice to work as a sex worker) to earn my living by my chosen form of labour. It is an absurd and abusive piece of legislation that has failed in Sweden and led to misery in countries like Cambodia.
    I am not a socialist and reading this article I understand why.
    It is a piece of legislation that is regressive rather than progressive.

  35. Sarah says:

    There are plenty of ‘socialists’ who agree with your point of view Douglas, but they are sadly buying into the idea that consent is just another service to be bought and sold and aren’t (as you aren’t) willing to acknowledge the real reasons why the overwhemling majority of people enter prostitution. Like you keep repeating in our direction, just because you say something doesn’t make it true. Except, what we’re saying about 90% of prostituted people wanting to get out immediately is actually true and backed up by statistical fact, and what you’re saying is just you regurgitating your ideological view that it is ok to abuse someone and allow someone to be abused so long as money is exchanged, cause you know, that’s autonomy for you isn’t it, it really must be as simple as that. YOUR ideological viewpoint is clearly that prostitution isn’t a form of abuse, and sadly on that there’s nothing more to be said than that you are deeply deeply wrong.

    Oh, and I agree with what Mhairi said.

  36. Douglas Fox says:

    90% want out of prostitution? Provide your evidence please and I mean evidence independently verified.

    When you arrogantly tell a sex worker that they are a victim (which is what you are doing) you are abusing them.

    You are ignoring their voices and denying their autonomy. You are refusing to accept the diversity of experiences within sex work. You are perpetuating abuse by denying sex workers the same rights that you expect, probably take for granted. You justify your abuse of sex workers by claiming that you are a feminist and that you want to protect women, that you want to engineer through legislation gender equality. You then tell me and other sex workers that this is different from the patriarchy that has abused me for centuries and I am supposed to believe you?

    As a sex worker all I see is more denial of my rights, using different excuses perhaps, but as I have said, changing the language of abuse never negates that abuse. You simply make sex workers more determined and more angry.

    Encouraging your party to use tax payers money to abuse sex workers by denying them rights and by ignoring their voices is not justice and it has nothing to do with human rights. Human rights, accepting human diversity and celebrating that diversity is never easy. It takes courage to recognise prejudice and act against it.
    Feminism once was part of a movement that fought for the liberalisation of society, that questioned societal prejudices and recognised the rights of individuals, even those with whom you may disagree profoundly . Your parties policy do nothing new. Nothing progressive. It does nothing but perpetuates the same old prejudices, the same old cycle of abuse.

  37. Squeak says:

    “90% want out of prostitution? Provide your evidence please and I mean evidence independently verified.

    When you arrogantly tell a sex worker that they are a victim (which is what you are doing) you are abusing them.”

    1) Get a fucking proper definition of abuse, dick.

    2) How about looking at the evidence PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY SHOWN YOU which involved, you know, talking to actual women in prostitution in Scotland.

  38. Mhairi McAlpine says:

    Prostitution in 5 countries: Violence and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
    by Melissa Farley, Isin Baral, Merab Kiremire and Ufuk Sezgin
    Feminism & Psychology, 1998, Volume 8 (4): 405-426.


    We initiated this research in order to address some of the issues that have arisen in discussions about the nature of prostitution. In particular: is prostitution just a job or is it a violation of human rights? From the authors’ perspective, prostitution is an act of violence against women; it is an act which is intrinsically traumatizing to the person being prostituted. We interviewed 475 people (including women, men and the transgendered) currently and recently prostituted in five countries (South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, USA, Zambia). In response to questionnaires which inquired about current and lifetime history of physical and sexual violence, what was needed in order to leave prostitution and current symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) we found that violence marked the lives of these prostituted people. Across countries, 73 percent reported physical assault in prostitution, 62 percent reported having been raped since entering prostitution, 67 percent met criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. On average, 92 percent stated that they wanted to leave prostitution. We investigated effects of race, and whether the person was prostituted on the street or in a brothel. Despite limitations of sample selection, these findings suggest that the harm of prostitution is not culture-bound. Prostitution is discussed as violence and human rights violation.

    No one has rights “as a sex worker”, no more than anyone has rights, “as a cleaner”, “as a miner” or “as a doctor” or “as a high court judge”.

    People have human rights and one of those rights is the right not to be sexually exploited. To have a genuinely autonomous sexuality, free to sleep with and not sleep with whomever they choose – to be aroused through genuine sexual desire not artificially titillated through packaged, manufactured commercial sex.
    The prostitution industry is harmful – it is harmful for those who are in it, those who use it, and those who it ripples through – the families, the communities, and the areas it operates in.

    Through prostitution, people see other people as commodities that they can rent by the hour and sometimes even buy and sell.

  39. Douglas Fox says:

    Ah; the Farley research. A researcher who has been publicly criticised by fellow academics and even her own university for her rearch methology. An academic with a very obvious agenda and who has been accused of accepting funding for that biased research from equally dubious and biased sources. I am sorry but I asked for independently verified support for your assertions not a reference to the controversal Marlissa Farley who conducts research not with an open mind but with a very clear and obvious dislike of sex work which is very apparent, hardly surprisingly, in her conclusions. I reference these for your reading:

    There are lots, lots more criticism out there but my time is toooo short to link to all of them. You may however be interested in this academic response to Farley in Scotland's%20demand%20for%20prostitution%20in%20Scotland.pdf

    “No one has rights “as a sex worker”, no more than anyone has rights, “as a cleaner”, “as a miner” or “as a doctor” or “as a high court judge”.

    Quite right. Sex workers however are denied the same human rights as those you have quoted and that is why we demand our human rights to be respected the same as any other citizen/worker. I don’t think I have seen any of you other examples stigmatised and criminalised because of prejudice and ignorance but sex workers are and you want to continue that abuse.

    “People have human rights and one of those rights is the right not to be sexually exploited. To have a genuinely autonomous sexuality, free to sleep with and not sleep with whomever they choose – to be aroused through genuine sexual desire not artificially titillated through packaged, manufactured commercial sex.”
    Agree with you about sexual exploitation but sex work is the free transferral of a service between two consenting adults. If it is not then it is not sex work.
    The rest of what you say sounds very like patriarchal notions of good and bad sexual behaviour decided upon by those who are better than whom? It perpetuates myths of sexual idealism that ignores the reality of human sexuality that is complex and extraordinary varied. Commercial sex is simply one tiny but never the less important aspect of our human sexual diversity that I celebrate and cherish.
    “The prostitution industry is harmful – it is harmful for those who are in it, those who use it, and those who it ripples through – the families, the communities, and the areas it operates in.
    Through prostitution, people see other people as commodities that they can rent by the hour and sometimes even buy and sell.”

    This is ideological rant that ignores and dismisses the voices of sex workers. It is abuse. It is not based on evidence and has historically damaged society.
    Sex workers are no more a commodity than any other worker and we demand the same rights as any other workers, respect under the law and the protection of the law. It is very simple. It’s called justice.

  40. Stuart says:

    Melissa Farley’s study is only one of many which prove the harmful nature of prostitution. That she from the beginning took prostitution to be a human rights violation (which is exactly what it is) does not invalidate the findings that most women in prostitution want out and that most suffer from PTSD – findings which have been replicated in a number of other studies anyway.

    I see no point in debating further with pro sex industry ideologues like Douglas Fox and, as Squeak points out, his definition of ‘abuse’ is unbelievably warped and laughable. He thinks that it is abusing someone to suggest that they are a victim. Well this point is I think addressed very well in Ekman’s book and in the bit I write above about what she says about post-modernism’s hatred of the victim and the purpose this serves.

    As for his attempt to associate exploitative, commercialised sex with sexual freedom all I can say is that he’s wrong. In a capitalist society money is inevitably linked to power. Money in prostitution gives the buyer the power to use and abuse other people’s bodies, to get what they want regardless of the other person’s true wants and needs. Sex for money by its very definition can not have anything to do with meaningful sexual freedom or autonomy or with a relationship which is based on mutual understanding and respect.

  41. Jack says:

    I think Stuart’s pretty well covered it in the comment above, but I’m confused about some of the stuff Douglas has written.

    He’s already stated he’s not a socialist, so in other words he supports the continuation of a society where people HAVE to work and find an income or they starve. I obviously don’t, I think the way we organise our economy now is barbaric, and that instead everyone should be socially provided with what they need to survive. I would like to see a future where work is a freely chosen activity rather than the wage slavery it is today. But he disagrees.

    But surely you can understand that many people don’t “choose” their jobs, and they wouldn’t do them if the alternative was poverty, homelessness or starving. Pretty much every job I’ve ever had I did because I HAD TO, and it was against my will. What I’m confused about is how being a prostitute is a free expression of people’s sexuality. If it is a freely chosen activity, then why is there money changing hands? Surely what that means is that the sex is taking place because one of the people involved needs the money for an income, and if there was no money changing hands they wouldn’t freely choose to take part?

    Also, I think it’s deliberately muddying the waters to say “I don’t think I have seen any of you other examples stigmatised and criminalised because of prejudice and ignorance but sex workers are and you want to continue that abuse.” It’s been stated several times in the comments above that we would remove any legal sanction from people who have been paid for sex. The whole point is to realise they are the victims of abuse, and to make the sanctions be on the ones responsible for that abuse – those who pay for sex. It’s also worth pointing out that we would see this as part of a wider transformation of society where people wouldn’t be forced into doing awful things they would never freely choose to do in order to survive and make a living, as well as transforming society’s approach to drug addiction etc.

  42. Mhairi McAlpine says:

    OK. So I offer you a peer reviewed article in an academic journal based on an international study and you offer me criticism of it based on primarily blog journals criticising it. Give me alternative peer reviewed paper which states what the percentage of people in prostitution want to leave the industry based on original research.

    Which of these human rights am I denying
    * the right not to be sexually exploited? (when you are paid to perform sexual acts?)
    * To have a genuinely autonomous sexuality (rather than what the market will pay for?)
    * free to sleep with and not sleep with whomever they choose (rather sleep with those who pay?)
    * to be aroused through genuine sexual desire (rather than artificially titillated through packaged, manufactured commercial sex?)

    “sex work is the free transferral of a service between two consenting adults.”

    But its not free tho, is it – thats the whole point. Yes, yes, I understand you meant “free” in the liberty sense, but people dont usually enter prostitution as a declaration of freedom, they enter it as an expression of economic enslavement.

    Look at this article.

    Now I’m sure that both you and I can agree that the crackdown was utterly inappropriate and very harmful to the women involved (although I am glad that they at least attempted to target users). But look more closely – the women are uphappy about the clampdown because they havent eaten all day, the user interviewed is unhappy about the clampdown because it is raining. Dont you see the imbalance?

    Suppose, just suppose they made another service profession illegal, say hairdressing, not that different really except (perhaps) that the clients are mainly women. Do you think you would get people working underground as hairdressers would be victims of violent assault, rape, murder at such a rate? That you would start to find under-age hairdressers working? That international gangs would start trafficking hairdressers into the country and imprisioning them through debt bondage? Why then is the sex industry so very different.

    My “ideological rant” is based on exactly that – the voices of people who work or have worked in prostitution. All except one, did it through needing the money and having no other ways of getting it available. The only one that didnt was a young gay man, and interestingly he had much fewer regrets than the others. He worked in saunas for a while before he came out – his attitude to it was that it was unfortunately that he didnt come out sooner and have proper relationships, but that it gave him an outlet for his sexuality and the money (a relatively substantial amount that he had saved while in the industry) came in handy. In one respect you can consider him to have “chosen”, but surely that was simply a constrained choice given his fear of being “discovered” as gay.

    “Sex workers are no more a commodity than any other worker”

    Do you see modern day slave auctions being held in any other industry?
    Do you think you would get hairdresser auctions in airports?

    “we demand the same rights as any other workers, respect under the law and the protection of the law.”

    Self-employed workers have no employment rights, so presumably we are talking about employees here. Lets see,
    there’s the right not to be discriminated on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation – so no more specific requests for male/female, straight/gay.
    the right not to be sexually harassed at work – so no more requests for sex.

    I do agree with you that the systematic legal harassment of people in prostitution is wrong and damaging as is the manner in which crimes against people in prostitution are handled but that is because the law targets the sellers of sex, not the buyers.

  43. Paul v2 says:

    I wonder who many people see the drug dealer as being socially ecploiated by a patriachally system or any other criminal. What I most hate about the lets just allow prostitution because we can’t be arsed appearing to be taking a stand. Is that it shows a certain amount of no backbone also it says that the women is a victim but the man is a sexual predators. Prostitution ranges from many aspects from escorts to more accepted forms to the classic prostitutes cited by their feminist sisters. I am working class and I know a number of people that have turned to crime I would not class them as victims as I have been throught he same and many others have done so. Turning to crime in any form shows a turning a way from your society and abusing the poor even further. Only criminals that are ethical and only attack the rich are to be considered worthy people. Your problem as middle class socialiosts is that you view everyone as a victim take away the victim line and start tackling the real issues.

  44. Jack says:

    So are prostitutes criminals to be jailed in your view? Your point is pretty confused and confusing. Our position is that we do want to take a stand, and stop the crime of men who abuse others by paying for sex. Prostitutes are not criminals, they are victims of abuse and deserve support, not to be treated as criminals.

  45. Paul v2 says:

    Prostitution in law is illegal my point is that a criminal is a criminal you can talk about a drug dealer coming from a poor area and having no live choices until he starts selling drugs which then he has to keep selling or someone might kill him. Is he a criminal yes. The problem is that prostitutes are criminals I don’t bnelieve in victimising everybody because you can run on and opn because on the history tthe planet nearly every single group has been attacked on different level so yes they are criminals but like every other criminal efforts shoulds be made to get them out a live of crime.

  46. Jack says:

    They are criminals in the eyes of our fucked up patriarchal legal system, and that should be changed. I don’t agree with your analysis of drug dealing, but leaving that to one side, prostitution is completely different to being a drug dealer. Being a drug dealer does not involve your regular rape for money. Drug dealers are often victims of poverty, but I think it’s really muddying the waters to keep talking about drug dealers when the issue here is prostitution.

  47. Paul v2 says:

    Rape implies you have no choice some woman of course are raped and forced into the job and I mean also forced not forced by financial conditions. But these women aRE NOT IDIOTS THEY HAVE REALISED THAT MEN DeSIRE NTHEM AND THEY CAN MAKE MORE MONEY LAYING WITH A MAN than doing a solid days work. I do not see them as victims precisley because I donb’t believe that they are idiots. Victems are the ones that are truly forced not junkies or certainly not escorts in fact escorts are worse because they glamourise it and show woman that you can be more succesfull selling your body than doing a normal job. Prostitution is wrong thats what I believe and woman doing this are knowlingly doing something wrong if they want to leave give them help sure but I will not believe that there a victim any less than any other criminal.

  48. Jack says:

    The problem is you’re talking out of your arse. It’s not calling people idiots to recognise that most women in prostitution are there after a history of sexual abuse, usually going back to childhood, (the average of entry to prostitution is 14.) Is a girl under the age of consent who is forced into prostitution a criminal? 90% of women in prostitution want to leave but aren’t able to. You’re completely ignoring the role of pimps and other abusive men in these people’s lives. They’re the ones that get most of the profit, not the imaginary picture you’re painting of people to lazy to do “a solid day’s work.”

    Go back and read over this article and the comments. There’s loads of actual research to back this position up. You just saying that’s the way it is doesn’t make it true, but what I’m saying is based on facts that are actually demonstrable.

    The reason I used the word rape is because if someone is coerced into sex they wouldn’t choose to have by money, then how is that any different? Rape means non consensual sex, it doesn’t have to specifically mean physical force is used, money is just another means of coercion. Besides which, most women in prostitution also experience a narrower definition of rape, i.e. they’ve been unable to refuse a “client”.

  49. Liam says:

    If you don’t think that prostituted women are victims then why is prostitution wrong? It seems like your opposition to prostitution is based from some weird misogynistic hatred of women in prostitution, rather than the valid reasons of recognising it as extremely harmful to the women involved. I think Stuart’s article does a really good job of showing why we shouldn’t be afraid to call people victims when they are – it’s not an insult, it’s a statement of fact, and a recognition that they have been wrongfully harmed.

  50. The basic problem with Stuart’s review, as with those in the Swedish dailies is that they basically uncritically accept Ekman’s book as objective research, which it is not. as at least this reviewer points out:
    stating “Det är inte någon objektiv avhandling utan en bok skriven i polemik, med en tydlig agenda” (This is not an objective treatise but a polemic with a clear agenda). While passion may be an admirable attribute it does not entitle people like Ekman to do superficial research, distort other people’s work, and present it as a reality. She appears to have very little knowledge of her subject, which she compensates with hatred. This book would never pass peer review. As the Swedish historian, Dick Wase wrote this is “en riktigt dålig bok” (a really bad book). Ekman is intellectually dishonest like Melissa Farley (recently discredited in a Canadian court case along with a series of exposes of her work and methods), cited above, there simply is no research to support her claims and she conveniently ignores all research that is of a different opinion to her convictions. The book should be read as a form of self-glorification which will be welcomed by those of her persuasion but is actually an essay in Schadenfreude and as such should be profoundly disturbing to socialists and feminists. Such uncritical acclaim is the fuel for populist ideological movements that crush intellectualism and truth. That Ekman is prepared to rest so much of her case on other discredited writers to make her arguments is appalling, but not surprising. This is how ideologues function, building untruth on untruth untill it starts to emulate reality.

  51. IGN says:

    I belive it is not difficult to see what is involved in this “prostitution tolerance/support” …why doesn´t anyone is questtioning why men are not given this “right”? I have never seen someone fighting for men right to be prostitute,this “tight” seemes to be just for women.Too much energy being wasted in something so explicity: prostitution is violence against women and the one who defend it are cruel and sexist.If prostitution was so empowering as they say,men were there defending prostitution for themselves.

  52. IGN says:

    sorry,i meant “right” there…..

  53. Scandinavian feminist says:

    @Michael Goodyear

    I am surprised a professor will take to such low arguments such as “Another guy says the book is really bad”. Sounds like children to me. Isn’t this typical of pro-prostitution debaters, they hit blindly in the air, like speak of “hatred” instead of discussing the massive evidence of harm done to women in prostituion. Instead of seriously discussing the findings by many reseachers that show how women are being battered, raped and fare ill in prostitution, these people use bullying tactics against Farley and Ekman. Like what Goodyear says about “hatred” without giving examples. If Ekman or any one else for that matter has feelings of hate, sorrow or whatever has nothing to do with the point which is Prostitution is harmful. That is what people like Goodyear try desperately to avoid speaking of.

    Also, if you speak Swedish you will know the book isn’t an academic dissertation but a debate book and a journalist work so to speak of peer review is not adequate.

  54. Stuart says:

    Thanks for your comment Scandinavian Feminist. Translating a couple of critical comments, as Mr Goodyear has, hardly amounts to a persuasive argument against Ekman’s book. As you say the book is not intended as an academic work but it certainly does refer to research others have done which conclusively proves that prostitution harms women in our society. I quite frankly don’t care for your “intellectualism and truth” Mr Goodyear. I don’t need people like you to tell me whether or not prostitution is harmful or abusive or reinforces patriarchy and male domination. Any true socialist or feminist can see clearly that it does. Your attempts to discredit Ekman and Farley are nothing other than an excuse to blind yourself to the realities of a hateful, misogynistic society.

    By the way does anyone know what’s happened to all the other comments? I’m only seeing the last 4. Maybe it can’t handle any more than 50 for some reason. EDIT: I see now you can click on ‘older comments’ to see the others.

  55. Liam says:

    Stuart, if you click “Older Comments” just above “Leave a Reply” you can see all the rest of the comments.

  56. Boner Killer says:

    fantastic work. this piece really examines all the components of the argument, which is so often left out. i shall link this through my blog!

  57. Leftist says:

    I would recommend everyone to read this thought provoking interview with a socialist, feminist and social progressive woman from Finland:

  58. martin dufresne says:

    Could I have permission to put up a French version of your excellent review on my FB page and on a feminist website?
    Thank you for the care you put into this.
    P.S.: How would you translate the book’s title (in English)?

  59. Stuart says:

    Yes, sure Martin. Nice you want to translate it and get it out to a wider audience. The title perhaps makes more sense in Swedish but ‘ett vara’ is a being or self whereas ‘en vara’ means a good (as in product). So ‘Varat och varan’ basically means “The being/self and the good/product).

  60. martin dufresne says:

    Thank you! The French version is now up on my Facebook page – – and will soon be up on – a Canadian feminist portal that offers a humongous amount of radical feminist analyses, most of them in French but a few in English –

  61. martin dufresne says:

    Done. For non-FBers, the French version is now up at
    This piece is already generating much interest from French and English Canadians, as the postmo assault on women’s rights is quite virulent here from the sexploitation industry and their (running dog lackey) apologists…
    Thanks again, Stuart. Let’s hope that the Swedish publisher gets a nibble for international translations.

  62. Carol Hainey says:

    It’s a lesser tragedy I suppose, that some Marxists can get into a contorted ideological alliance with the likes of Douglas Fox, compared to the greater tragedy of slavery that is prostitution. But it makes me despair. Thanks Stuart.

  63. dealing with anxiety, dealing with panic, dealing with phobias, dealing with fear…

    [...]Scottish Socialist Youth » Prostitution, the abolition of the victim and post-modernism’s defence of the status-quo[...]…

  64. Donny Dividends…

    [...]Scottish Socialist Youth » Prostitution, the abolition of the victim and post-modernism’s defence of the status-quo[...]…

  65. Gorbachev says:

    If sex for money is slavery because there’s a wage involved, and no “real consent”, then the precisely identical argument applies to all waged work, regardless of the type of work, because otherwise we starve and die.

    The only way sex is different is if you approach it from the perspective of “sex is some magical activity absolutely unlike any other human activity.”

    The philosophical implications of adopting this “reasoning” undermine the human experience generally. It becomes possible to say that being obliged to work for, say, room and board or to make money or to contribute to society at all is slavery.

    Does the universe owe humans a living regardless of what they do? Are we born entitled to support and life for the rest of our lives, even if we choose never to work at all?

    Ahem. Interesting notion.

    Let’s see someone build a society around that philosophy and have it last more than three days.

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