Prostitution and human misery.

Taslima Nasreen has a couple of posts up about prostitution & sex slavery. She considers the two to be the same thing, which I disagree with on the thinking that a prostitute gets paid and, at least in theory, has some degree of choice in her life. Someone might be considered a sex slave and have one of those two conditions, but not both. I realize that’s a blurry line at the border, but at the extremes there are clear differences and “slave” is not a word to be used lightly. I also realize that for many that “choice” offers begging on a street corner as the only real alternative, but as bad as that is, it’s still more choice than a true slave has.

I’m going to take a moment to whine about the format of those two posts before I get to my real subject here, you can safely skip the next two paragraphs if you want to just get to the point.

The first is mostly organized in a “Lie#: {allegedly false statement} Truth#: {allegedly true statement}”, with no sources given. I’ve usually seen these presented as “Myth/Fact”, but is no less irritating for the different words. They almost never provide sources and even the most accurate are still simplistic sound bites that fail to really address the issues raised. Most of these lists, if you take the time to research the subject, are filled with false dichotomies, distortions and outright falsehoods to the point where you can’t really consider them arguments made in good faith. Furthermore, I just find them really snotty, asserting this list without really discussing things.

The second post is mostly a string of arguments from authority. They may well be good authorities, I recognize some names, but I still expect better than “X says Y”. She reiterates the position that there’s no meaningful difference between prostitution and sex slavery by talking about children in brothels, which to me illustrates that there is a difference, because people don’t think about children when you talk about prostitution, but they do when you talk about sex slavery. Finally she seems surprised at the amount of discussion and arguing she got on the subject, which surprised me because I assumed she was deliberately stirring the pot to get people talking. After all, you can’t bring about change without arguing.

Okay, whining over. I want to stress that even though I felt her arguments were fallacious, flawed and unconvincing, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s wrong. All it says is that she made bad arguments, she could still be right about her basic premise. I haven’t researched this much and I’m not going to be discussing her claims or arguing with her, with the exception of making a distinction between sex slaves and prostitutes. What I want to talk about is what she doesn’t say.

See, almost every point Taslima raises is academic. From a practical standpoint, I think outlawing prostitution, at least in places where it’s already an established industry, is likely to increase human misery. If you take an area that has both legal and illegal prostitution and declare that you’re getting rid of it all, criminalize all forms and step up enforcement, what I’m hearing is that you’re throwing those formerly legal prostitutes right over into illegal territory. 

Seriously, what happens to them? It’s the apex of naiveté to think that banning something will just make it go away, and I can’t believe that illegal prostitution isn’t worse than the legal variety, even in the worst shithole countries. It feels like you’re taking people who have it bad, but it could be worse, and forcing them into the worse. If they’re already doing this because they can’t support themselves any other way, what the hell do you expect them to do?

This especially bothers me because Taslima is adamant that women do not choose these jobs, these lives, which implies that they’re already in desperate situations. At least in legal brothels they have some protection of law. It may not be good protection, it may in fact be protection in name only, but it’s undeniable that illegal prostitutes have no legal protections at all, and only the practical protection that their brothel, pimp or madam sees fit to provide.

When you want to help someone in an abusive relationship, you don’t kick in the door and drag them out kicking and screaming, you help them make a plan. Part of that plan has to include support, both emotional and financial. It’s unrealistic to take away their only income and expect them to land on their feet.

I don’t think eliminating it entirely is a realistic goal, but I think there’s a lot we can do to reduce human suffering.

For example, don’t eliminate legal places, that just makes things worse for those who work there. Focus on the worst of it, the shit that really is sex slavery. For the illegal prostitutes who still have some control over their lives, make resources available to help them get out. Hell, even if they only wind up working in one of the legal brothels, at least it’s a step up.

It’s also worth considering economic strategies. In the end, it’s a business to somebody. If you can make it unprofitable they’ll find another business. Come to think of it that’s another place where well-regulated legal brothels can help eliminate the worst of the illegal ones, by direct competition. They’d likely be more expensive, but they’d be much safer in many ways for everyone involved.

Speaking of safety, why not form unions to guarantee legal, medical, financial and physical protections so that even if people are in a bad place, it’s as safe as possible?  Sure, you may not approve of what they’re doing, you may even think that they’re caught in an abuse cycle that includes the illusion that they chose it, but that’s no reason to deny them basic protections until they can break out of it.

See this feels to me like one of those ideological things, treating the entire concept of sex-for-money as identical to child sex slavery, and therefore it can not be tolerated under any circumstances ever. In my experience zero-tolerance policies have a tendency to hurt the innocent an awful lot, and I’m just not okay with collateral damage like that. If you’re so hellbent on eliminating something completely that you’re making things worse for the very people you claim to be trying to protect I think you need to double check your priorities.

Frankly I think if you treat it all as identical to child sex slavery, you’re going to be wasting resources on people who don’t want your help that could be better used to rescue child sex slaves.

If you’re thinking that I completely avoided saying anything about prostitution itself, whether it, from an ethical standpoint rather than the practical one I used here, should be legal, you’re right. Maybe I will address that in another post, maybe not. In this post I was more interested in the idea that universally outlawing it might be doing more harm than good.

This got surprisingly long. I was hoping to get two posts today but that seems unlikely now.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on April 11, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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