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The Life without Privilege: the Inhumane Consequences of Pro-Prostitution Politics, part 1

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This blog exists to challenge white heterosexual male supremacy as an institutionalized ideology and a systematized set of practices which are misogynistic, heterosexist, racist, genocidal, and ecocidal.

photo of girls learning techniques for empowerment is from here

I sit here now in North America, typing, with a great deal of privilege. Here are a few ways that privilege exhibits itself:

  • I have clean water to drink.
  • I have enough food to eat.
  • I am not economically insecure.
  • I am not designated as dangerous due to my race.
  • I am not presumed a terrorist due to my religious and cultural ethnicity.
  • I am not assumed to be lazy due to my class.
  • I have good health care and choices about who I see for treatment.
  • I have a safe home to live and sleep in.
  • I have privacy when I want it.
  • My socially perceived gender does not target me as ‘rapable’.
  • I am not raped daily.
  • My sexual life is not a function of pimps’, brothel-keepers’, and procurers’ economic and sexual demands.
  • I have choices about when and where I am sexually available. I choose not to be sexually available to anyone and am not harassed, beaten, or murdered because of that decision.
  • My body belongs to me.
  • I am generally regarded as a human being with rights to be treated humanely.
  • When I am harmed, what happens to me is seen as harm.
  • Criminal justice systems and prison industrial complexes don’t punish and imprison me for unjust reasons.
  • I can see similarly privileged people in the media portrayed as good, honorable, and moral.
  • Men across the globe do not assume I exist for the sole purpose of meeting the demand too many men have for gross sexual exploitation of female human beings, including unlimited visual and physical access to female incest and rape survivors of all ages.

If we went down the list and removed each form of privilege, what might the conditions be that define and limit my life?

I would be poor or economically insecure. Available clean water and nutritious food would not be givens, or easy to get, or reliably available. I’d be perceived and portrayed as a threat to the health and well-being of more privileged people. I’d be seen as someone who ought to endure serial rape and slavery but it would be called something else by the rapists and their apologists: it would be called sex, or sex work, or men having fun with me with my consent. I would not be safe. Violation, denigration, and other forms of violence would be a routine part of daily and nightly life. I would not have a place to sleep that was without threat of invasion, capture, and horrific mistreatment. I would not have any assurance of living another day. In the social-political sense, I would not be human to most people; I’d be invisible, unheard, and disposable.

In some political groups, there appears to be a pressing need to define something one way for everyone, regardless of how various people name their own experiences. For example, straight white men typically define prostitution as harmless and consensual and as something that ought to be legal for all involved. I find such a viewpoint spiritually callous and politically self-serving.

In various parts of the world, different conditions intertwine to make practices with the same name quite different in experience. I accept that each nation and state has its own historic, geographical, cultural, and social dynamics. Challenging and ending various forms of subjugation and terrorism by men against children and women require their own respective approaches. And of course women will define their conditions differently, in part because the conditions are different. So too are the structural locations of various groups of women.

Some identify and experience prostitution as slavery; some identify and experience it as sex work. It certainly is not for me to tell any woman how to define her experience. But engaged conversation can happen and I have asked several women, all young, how their respective plans to be a stripper, or a performer for a pornographer, gets them closer to achieving their longer-term goals. I ask them to consider the consequences of being repeatedly viewed or engaged with as an object of sexist men’s desires. I ask them if they’d support their best friends making the same choices.

Promoting international human rights policy is a different matter than engaging with various populations about oppression. I’d argue that any human rights organization created to address globally oppressive conditions ought to be sure the most invisible and most silenced among us are brought into the center of our conversations, considerations, recommendations, and policies. If the organization is male-dominated, it ought to center the experiences of women. If it is majority-white, it ought to centralize the experiences of people of color. As I live in a society that is both, I see no reason not to center the experiences of women of color within and outside this country, especially groups of women generally invisible to the majority of U.S. citizens.

There are on-going efforts in various parts of the world to respond to the reality of prostitution as different populations experience it. There is often confusion among many about the difference between legalization and decriminalization as approaches; there are wide differences about who it is that is needing protection. 

For procuring and pimping men, the protection needed is a condom and appropriate laws making what they do legal. But those men want it also to be legal everywhere they prey. See this link for details on how 100 countries understand and legally deal with prostitution:

Legalization of prostitution sometimes means legalizing pimping and brothel-keeping, sometimes not. It sometimes means working to protect only traffickers and procurers from negative consequences, but not always. 

If pimps and procurers in ‘First World’ countries embrace their nations’ efforts to legalize prostitution, or if it is already legal, the lack of accountability to committing rape ‘at home’ may serve to embolden their predation abroad. If it is not legal, they may travel to countries where it is, in order to commit those rapes with impunity. I support laws that render actions, such as the following, illegal and criminal: purchasing, renting, and physically and sexually abusing children and women–as those children and women define and describe it, not as it is defined for them by men or other more privileged people.

To frame prostitution primarily as a health crisis for predatory men in need of condoms and (even more) liberties is to abandon the human rights abuses endemic in places where trafficking, pimping, procuring, and brothel-keeping are done. Decentering or completely ignoring the perspectives and experiences of female and/or transgender human beings is wrong generally. But to do so from a position of structural or institutional power, even relative power, within human rights organizations, can too easily be utterly callous to the realities done to people who have identified their conditions as deplorable and atrocious.

I believe more privileged people ought to listen carefully to what less privileged people have to say about what is going on in the world. Not only that, but design their laws and policies to support the human rights of the least privileged. This blog exists to challenge and support the uprooting of core wrongs such as male and white supremacy, globalized exploitive capitalism, and ‘First World’ and anti-Indigenous colonialism, occupation, and genocide.

Newer approaches introduced in the last several years, such as one in Norway, identify a core problem when naming the problem of prostitution:

“A new law has come into force in Norway making the purchase of sex illegal.
Norwegian citizens caught paying for prostitutes at home or abroad could face a hefty fine or a six-month prison sentence, authorities say.
The prison sentence could be extended to three years in cases of child prostitution.
The Norwegian authorities say they want to stamp out sex tourism and street prostitution by targeting clients rather than prostitutes…
The tough new measures go further than similar ones introduced by other Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland.
There has already been a visible decrease in women working on the streets of central Oslo, local media report…
Prostitutes will be offered access to free education and health treatment for those with alcohol or drugs problems.”
BBC News, “New Norway Law Bans Buying of Sex,”, Jan. 1, 2009

This approach rises out of the work of activists such as Ruchira Gupta and the girls and women who are part of it. In part 2, I shall place her voice, and her experiences with those other women and girls, at the center of this discussion.

“An activist and writer at the blog, A Radical Profeminist”.


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