Category Archives: sexual assault

The Commodity of Sex

I’ve wanted to do a piece on sex workers for a long time (the first draft of this was in November of 2011 to give you an idea).  Sex work (prostitution) is a tricky topic in feminism with no clear conclusion either way and good arguments on both sides.  I think my problem is I’m not entirely sure where I fall, there’s just too many issues with both sides.  I’m breaking this piece into bullet points of pros and cons.  Ultimately I favor decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution…but it’s really a lesser of two evils, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with my own position even.

1. First, let’s stop pretending it’s an merely an issue of choice.  “If a woman wants to sell her body for sex, it’s her body and she should not face legal penalty for doing so.”  Well, yes, if it were that simple, then there wouldn’t even be a question.  But it’s not that simple.  Most women working as sex workers were sexually abused as children and/or raped before the age of 15 with a very large number having been raped as a child by at least 3 perpetrators.  Sex workers are disproportionately impoverished with 75% being homeless or previously homeless.  89% of prostitutes want to leave sex work but have no other means of survival.  Certainly there are some women who are not financially desperate, victims of childhood sex abuse, and work in sex 100% by choice, but they are exceedingly rare.  These numbers do NOT back up the claim that women are entering this profession by choice.  To quote Catharine MacKinnon, “If prostitution is a free choice, why are the women with the fewest choices most often found doing it?”  The choice between starvation and homelessness or selling your body isn’t really a choice.  Desperation, abuse, force, and coercion are not choosing to be a sex worker.  In fact, in some cases it’s rape.  Legalization does absolutely nothing to solve these issues, but it doesn’t exacerbate them either.

2. …but let’s also recognize that in areas where prostitution is legal (even if Johning isn’t), the women in the industry have comparably better lives.  Nevada’s 12 county legal prostitution isn’t without problems, but the sex workers in that area are regulated and legally protected.  Pimping is still illegal, prostituting is not.  Women who are raped by their Johns can go to police (for those not in the know, prostitution in legal brothels is typically done in a pay-by-service model wherein a sex worker can deny clients and/or specific services at any time for any reason and acts and prices are negotiated beforehand).  Johns are required to wear condoms for all sex services.  Sex workers are regularly tested for STDs.  Brothels are strictly forbidden from recruitment or encouraging women (or men) to become sex workers.  But despite these laws there are still abuses and women are still exploited.  It’s not a good industry, it’s just comparably better than street work.  Perhaps a better example is the Swedish system that makes the purchaser the criminal, not the woman.  Since the change in prostitution laws and crackdown on Johns took place, Sweden’s sexual assault rate dropped to the lowest in Europe.  By 2008 the prostitution rate dropped by half.  Women could now go to police when they were being exploited and abused.

3. Keeping prostitution illegal hasn’t stopped prostitution from occurring.  Legalizing prostitution doesn’t remove danger but it sure as hell doesn’t help abused sex workers seek justice either.  Women performing sex work illegally are often told “what did you expect?” when trying to report rape or abuse.  However, legalizing prostitution has the burden of further solidifying the patriarchal norm of considering a woman’s body not her own property.  Ultimately as long as there is poor job opportunity, sexual abuse of minors, poor education, and cyclical poverty, exploitative prostitution will exist.  By making prostitution legal (but not necessarily Johns) and keeping pimping illegal it is a step towards helping sex workers have personal autonomy and more control over the industry they work in.  In Spain, which has very lax laws regarding sex work, sex trafficking is rampant, so legalization doesn’t even necessarily decrease the exploitation factor.

4. The prevalence of violent pornography has made prostitution more dangerous, not less, and legalization can possibly make it worse.  Nearly all porn contains anal sex and a huge amount has verbal and/or physical abuse of the actress.  This wasn’t the case even as recently as the 1990s.  Because prostitutes are often treated by Johns as outlets for sexual gratification they fantasize about or cannot get at home, sex work has taken a darker turn as well.  It is in most cases not only not really a “chosen” career, but also a violent and dangerous career.  Moves to make condom usage mandatory in pornography was met with serious outcries from industry big-wigs and from porn viewers who complained that it ruins “the fantasy,” completely ignoring the fact that it’s real people with real health concerns performing.  Sex entertainment, sex work, and sex trafficking are very closely intertwined.  The problem with legalization is that prostitution will become more like porn in that since services are more openly shown, women will more or less be forced to perform acts they might not even want to do (such as anal sex or violent BDSM) or risk losing business.  We’ve already established that most women in sex work do not want to be prostitutes in the first place, adding the element of violent sex acts just to stay “employed” is another layer of horror.

5. …but legalization and regulation allows women to openly network, form support systems, and even unionize.  Prostitution is not going away.  It’s not.  It’s idealist to say “prostitution should be illegal because it’s exploitative and makes women property.”  Yes it’s exploitative, yes it makes women’s body into property, and both of those things are bad but keeping it illegal only serves to make former sex workers transitions into the non-sex job force more difficult because it adds a criminal record to their history.  Slut shaming related sex discrimination already occurs in the workplace, having a sex-work offense on a permanent record only serves to keep women out of regular employment.  There is an international sex workers union, it would be nice for sex workers in the US and around the world to have access to this group and the legal protections it advocates.

In the end, we should work to abolish prostitution…but we should legalize sex work first.  The end goal should be to stop sex trade because it’s rooted in the sexual abuse of minors and taking advantage of impoverished women.  We need to work towards ending what causes prostitution in the first place, but we can give sex workers tools to keep themselves safer until that is achieved.

The Problem With Football is the Fans

From high school through college and up to the professional level there has been an abundance of controversy surrounding arguably the most popular sport in the US, football.  From post concussion syndrome to domestic violence to creepily objectifying behavior and a seemingly endless number of rape accusations that are almost always swept away, there seems to be an endemic problem with violence (especially against women) in the game.  Some have even called for a ban on the game at younger levels.  I would argue banning football is totally unnecessary, but banning fans might solve all of football’s problems.

Naturally I don’t expect fans to actually be banned from football, that’s ridiculous, but all of the major problems with football are from fan obsession.  How so?  It’s not team members that create the entitlement culture around football players, it’s the fans who hold up the players to godlike levels.  AJ McCarron isn’t out there saying to ESPN, “hey, look at how hot my girlfriend is because I’m a football player,” presumably because AJ and Katherine have a relationship that has to do with more than her attractiveness and his athletic ability.  But the announcers certainly did.  The millions of dollars generated from bowl games that might encourage schools to keep accused rapists on their active game day rosters isn’t from student ticket sales, it’s from commercials, media, and fans.  Even at the high school level, where huge sums of money aren’t involved, players accused of rape with video evidence are often times not faced with punishment for their crimes because their value as a football player is greater than that of some girl.  Parents in the school district openly discussed the girl as somehow deserving of the assault and argued the “boys will be boys” defense.

Rape culture isn’t a unique problem to football, indeed when Jordan Johnson was acquitted last week the assistant attorney general used the “why didn’t you fight back/scream,” argument against his accuser, which we hear in cases not involving football players as well.  What football uniquely has is this weirdly patronizing assumption that either:
A. The woman actually wanted to sleep with the football player (because he’s an “alpha” and “who wouldn’t?”) and is just having regrets after being found out.
B. That his position as a football player makes it okay to take sex from women he wants because football is just that important.

Neither of these conclusions should be considered acceptable.  If you replace “football player” with “bus driver” or “line cook” none of these accused men would have literal legions of fans supporting them and debasing their accusers.

Fan obsession doesn’t just hurt women.  In the 2012 NFL season quarterback Mat Cassel suffered a serious head injury during a game and as he was being removed from the field fans cheered his injury.  Let me say that again: a man received an injury that could likely lead to irreversible and lifetime agony and people cheered about it.  That’s not just crass, it’s sick, it’s the kind of behavior you’d expect from a sociopath not from thousands of “adoring” fans.  The very existence of “injury reports” undermines the health of players and takes the ownership of their bodies away.  Players cheat on their preseason cognitive tests so the when they are concussed and actually failing the test, they can continue to play.  Retired players dealing with the horror that is CTE have to sue just to get their employers to even acknowledge that the environment they worked in was unsafe (and that they knew it was unsafe) and scramble to try and get some (what should be considered worker’s comp) medical care for their injuries.  Men are killing themselves, in both the literal suicide sense and the longer term metaphorical sense.  What has the fan response been?  “They knew the risks.”  “Football is a dangerous game.”  And to cheer head injuries.

Merle Kessler said, “Football players, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of strangers,” and I’d have to agree.  Football players have always played hard, even back in the days of small crowds and modest contracts, it’s the love of the game.  The ever-increasing size of players  (which likely has some unnatural causes), the harder hits, the playing injured, that all comes back to the fans and the money that comes from the fans.

You want to get rid of the entitlement and rape culture rampant in football?  You want to stop the horrifying brain injuries of players?  Tell the fans to shut up.  Tell the fans to stop making gods out of men.  And for God’s sake, stop pretending that a game is more important than a life.

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