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NOMAS Position on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking

 

Moshe Rozdzial and The National Council of NOMAS

The National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) has, since its inception, advocated an “abolitionist” position, strongly opposing the life-destroying use of women and children – by men – in sex trafficking and prostitution. NOMAS views prostitution and sex trafficking (they are essentially the same) as a global tool of patriarchal oppression, very often based on deception, abuse, intimidation, and terror.  (Details and research references are contained in NOMAS Positions on Issues of Prostitution[NPIP], NOMAS: National Task Group on Sex Trafficking, Pornography & The Commercial Sex Industry; indicated with “@” below.)

Most of us were socialized by misleading media portrayals that show a prostituted woman as strong, independent, self-determining. She is the “pretty woman,” the “happy hooker” of so many Hollywood films (see A-2 @ NPIP).  In these scenarios she is a tough, worldly, sexy woman, who knows what she’s doing and is in control of her life. She’s making great money, enjoying her work, and can quit whenever she’s ready. A coercive, brutal, controlling pimp is almost never pictured.

A very different picture emerges from scientific research.  Based on studies done across the U.S. and in eleven other countries, the world’s leading researcher on prostitution, Dr. Melissa Farley (www.prostitutionresearch.com), calculated that only about 2% of women in prostitution are not controlled by pimps, have other life options, and can quit when they wish (B-8-b @NPIP).  About 48%, she found, are driven into prostitution out of economic desperation. The remaining 50% are those who are true sex slaves: imprisoned by force, or by deception, and totally unable to quit if they wish.  And most do wish to: These world-wide studies found that an average of 89% of all the women being used in prostitution would like to leave it, immediately, if they could (B-8-b @NPIP).

In addition, many independent studies have reported that between 60% and 70% of women and girls now trapped in prostitution had been sexually abused as children (B-3 @NPIP).  Childhood sexual abuse is, in fact, the single major predictor of becoming a runaway, and being forced into prostitution. Thus, the all too typical picture emerges of a scared, traumatized and damaged child, running away from sexual abuse at home, then quickly dragged into a nightmare life of prostitution.

 

The misleading, word-smithed term “sex worker” disguises and sanitizes all the deceptions and abuses of prostitution, by calling it “work,” a term with positive connotations. “Work,” however, implies having a choice, being paid, and being able to leave at will.  Calling a young girl who is a captive in prostitution a “sex worker” puts the onus of accountability on her, and distracts us from her cruel victimization. It empowers and legitimizes the men who are exploiting her. Boys, too, are often today entrapped in prostitution, especially run-away and throw-away children (B-4-b @NPIP).

 

Such a deceptive term as “sex worker” also suggest an autonomous adult person, making a rational, intentional career choice. In fact, girls are usually first dragged, pulled, or deceived into prostitution in adolescence, often around 14, 15, or 16.  Five separate studies, conducted in different cities in different years, all reached the same conclusion: an average entry-age of 14.  Many other studies report similar findings (B-2 @NPIP).  No fact more clearly refutes the “happy hooker” stereotype than this tragic fact of a very early age of entering prostitution.

NOMAS recognizes that the commercial sex industry operates within the context of a gendered male supremacist system, and that prostitution and sex trafficking are global tools of oppression and domination by men, enforced by terrorizing tactics and sexual violence directed at women and children. We acknowledge the intersectionality of oppression in the sex trade, in that prostitution and sex trafficking exist, function, and thrive within systems of gender, class, and racial privilege and entitlement, and that the most vulnerable are poor girls and boys, and women of color.

Many kinds and forms of violence are perpetrated against the women and children used in prostitution, including psychological, emotional, physical, sexual and economic abuse, which are condoned by the scripts of male ownership and power, especially over women’s bodies. Vulnerable children and young women may be kidnaped or coerced, sold, and shipped, unknowingly (B-4 @NPIP), away from all sources of support, to become virtual sex-slaves. Sex trafficking thrives in male dominated systems that disadvantage all women economically, educationally, and in all forms of gender and racial marginalization.

The prostituted woman is usually the object of a financial exchange between two men: a man (pimp) who controls her and sells (or rents) her, and the buyer (john) who is purchasing or renting the use of her body. Researchers report that the great majority – 80% to 90% – of women and girls used in prostitution are controlled by pimps (B-4@NPIP).  Yet it is only the woman – the commodity being traded – who is visible, who is scorned, who becomes society’s main image of “prostitution.” The many men who profit from her sale and use go almost unseen, although they are major financial players in the shadow economies of the world.

These systems of male domination and power have been incorporated into social customs and enacted in laws. Law enforcement and public policies pathologize and criminalize the prostituted girls and women. They largely ignore all the multitude of men who buy and sell women, thus protecting the larger social and economic systems that sustain this system of exploitation (D-4 @NPIP).

There are some who approve of and condone prostitution, think it sexy and fun, and argue that it is a matter of choice, autonomy, and women’s empowerment. NOMAS believes that no one has the right to own or purchase another human being. NOMAS believes that most of the voices that condone prostitution or profess that it is a matter of choice or autonomy do not represent most survivors;  they often indeed represent those who, by racial and economic privilege, have advantaged themselves within the system. These voices are often those of the individual entrepreneurs and members of groups, gangs, or cartels that benefit from maintaining this system of oppression. NOMAS believes strongly that these are not the voices of survivors of prostitution, but of those who benefit from maintaining this ancient system of patriarchal oppression.

NOMAS sees sex trafficking and prostitution today as part of the larger system of women’s oppression – sexism and patriarchy – that includes the denial of reproductive rights, economic justice, and equal valuation. We do not target, blame, or fault women and children in sexual bondage for their victimization; we recognize and honor their survival.

In response to this clear position, NOMAS has been targeted by some groups and individuals that seemingly wish to justify and promote  the exploitation of girls, women, and boys in prostitution and trafficking. They deny and distort scientific findings, and attack all the strategies of the feminist movement to end prostitution. Instead they offer convoluted justifications and excuses for perpetuating these abuses of human rights. We believe that they do not represent the women being used in prostitution, especially those held in decades-long sexual bondage.

NOMAS holds itself accountable to the collective wisdom of the women’s movement and survivors on these issues.1 When co-sponsoring any event with another organization, we have always required that nothing be on the Program that violates our principles and politics. This was the context in which NOMAS responded at the “Forging Justice” conference held in Detroit in 2013.  We have apologized for the miscommunication in our process to the individuals personally affected, while holding steadfast to our fundamental principled analysis and positions on the commercial sex industry.

NOMAS does not hold ourselves accountable, even to those who may call themselves feminists, who argue that prostitution is “empowering” for women, and should be de-stigmatized and accepted as a woman’s career-choice. To apologize for our position would be to deny the clear and inextricable links between prostitution and the exploitation and commoditization of women and children, and the violence endemic to patriarchy. It would accept the perpetuation of a form of ruthless male exploitation of thousands of women and children.

Our feminist response to this global tragedy is not to advocate “moderating” prostitution, aiming just to make it a little better, a little safer for its victims. It is not to whitewash and glamorize their being used and abused, or to blithely label them “sex-workers” and turn away. We reject any position statement, or any movement, that obscures the plight of the women and children used in prostitution, under the guise of choice, free will, and self-determination. These are but justifications for sexual exploitation and enslavement.

Our clear goal is ending prostitution and sex-trafficking (F-2 @NPIP). For the women and children being used in prostitution we advocate decriminalization and social services aimed toward healing (B-7, E-7 @NPIP), while targeting the men and the larger systems that exploit them.  This commitment is reflected in NOMAS’s participation in the work to enact the historic 2007 Anti-Trafficking legislation in New York (E-6 @NPIP).

The answer to this enduring shame is to end, once and for all, the systematic devastation of young women, girls, and boys. It can be done. Sweden and several other Scandinavian countries are moving decisively and effectively toward ending it (B-7, E-2 @NPIP); Sweden now has the lowest rate of sex trafficking of any country in Europe.

As the Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden simply explained: “Women are not objects, to be bought and sold...”

1 NOMAS takes leadership on this issue from acknowledged international feminist experts and researchers, including: Gloria Steinem, Catharine MacKinnon, Ellie Smeal, Melissa Farley, Diana Russell, Kathleen Barry, Dorchen Leidholdt, Donna Hughes, Janice Raymond, Evelina Giobbe, Margaret Baldwin, Norma Ramos, Phyllis Chesler, Gail Dines, Vednita Carter, Jessica Neuwirth, Samantha Berg, Pat Barrera, Jane Manning, Ann Simonton, Ariel Levy, Susan Brownmiller, Twiss Butler, Sheila Jeffereys, Wendy Stock, Phyllis Frank, Shirley Ranz, Rose Garrity, Sonia Ossario, Carolyn Malloney, Taina Bien-Aime, Jill Goodman, Christine Stark, Jean Fong, Cathy Douglass, Jane Caputi, Susan Hunter, Merle Hoffman, Lois Reckitt, Chung Sun, Linnea Smith, Lisa Thompson, Charlotte Watson, Suzanne Koepplinger, Rebecca Whisnant.  Also from survivors and survivor organizations, and the international, national, and local grass-roots groups that provide advocacy, shelter, refuge, and care for prostituted children and women escaping prostitution.



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