From the July-August 2017 issue of News & Letters
Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality by Kat Banyard (Faber & Faber, 2016).
This is one of a new wave of feminist books challenging the notion that the sex industry, including prostitution, stripping and pornographic films, should be either legalized or decriminalized. Some proponents of the sex workers rights movement state these should be treated as any other service jobs, others that decriminalization would make them more humane and easier to leave. Many feminists have supported the sex workers rights movement because it is promoted by organizations purporting to be run by women working in the sex trades.
DEBUNKING IDEAS ABOUT SEX WORK
Kat Banyard states these organizations are actually run by pimps, brothel owners and traffickers. She quotes a spokeswoman for the International Union of Sex Workers admitting this about her organization at a formal hearing with Northern Ireland’s Justice Committee. Also, in 2015, Alejandro Gil, the vice president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), was convicted of sex trafficking. NSWP influenced Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund and the Joint UN Programme on AIDS to adopt policies advocating the decriminalization of “sex work.”
She explains that the sex industry is institutionalized sexual abuse in which women are required to perform sex acts many times a day, an unnatural situation causing physical damage, while pretending to like it. Most also need to pay for drug addictions they develop to deal with physical pain and emotional trauma. With decriminalization, they are now required to rent space as independent contractors in brothels and strip clubs and make rent before earning money for themselves.
In every facet of the industry, they are pushed to perform for longer hours, more extreme acts and have sexual contact with customers in strip clubs in order to be competitive. Directors create abusive pornography to grab consumers’ attention, which affects the sex lives of women whose partners watch it. Customers rate prostituted women online, complaining the women don’t like to be touched or have trouble pretending to like it.
Banyard interviews women in the sex industry and activists trying to help them. Many are groomed by pimps pretending to be loving boyfriends who gradually pressure them into the sex trades. She makes the point that pimping is one and the same with domestic violence. Others enter the industry because of its legality and social acceptability, only to be trapped and traumatized. Her interviewees explain how, “I would say that it hadn’t affected me at all, and that I liked my job, as it gave me the freedom to complete my university studies and be independent. You don’t have the luxury of introspection. You would go mad and then lose your source of income.”
BENEFITS OF ‘THE NORDIC MODEL’
The Nordic Model, in which selling sex is decriminalized but buying and pimping is illegal, has been adopted by Iceland, Norway, Northern Ireland and Canada. It has been successful in greatly decreasing prostitution and trafficking.
Banyard explains how the sex industry is dependent upon mainstream institutions such as governments, banks, credit card companies and retailers that can be pressured to stop supporting it. Activist groups including UK Feminista, Object, End Demand, Embrace Dignity, and White Ribbon are doing this while also educating the public and governments about the harm of the sex industry.
This book is valuable in explaining how, when governments are finally recognizing the equality of women, the sex industry is threatening to demolish it. The book also shows how the sex industry can be completely defeated by exposing its propaganda as myths and lies.
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