This is an article written by Valentina Pazé, a professor in political philosophy at the University of Turin, and translated by Ruby Till for Associazione Iroko. It was originally published on 26-05-2020 in Volere La Luna. You can find the original Italian version here.
Prostitution: a job like any other?
The sex industry is among the sectors of the economy that have been hit hardest by the recent lockdown. Shendi Veli reminded us of this in her article on 12th March in Il Manifesto, talking about the fact that so-called sex workers had been abandoned during this pandemic. She presented the classic demands made by proponents of “decriminalisation”: from the recognition of prostitution as a legitimate form of work, to the legalisation of practices linked to prostitution, its aiding and abetting (favoreggiamento), currently illegal in Italy, and even at times cited in cases against those who rent houses to women in prostitution or live with them (according to an incorrect interpretation of the Merlin Law, criticised by Silvia Niccolai in Né sesso né lavoro. Politiche sulla prostituzione, Milano 2019, pp. 70-117).
In her contribution to 27esima ora on 22nd May, Luciana Tavernini showed us the other side of the coin: “Calling prostitution work is a way to convince people that everything, even going as far as access to internal parts of the body, can and should be sold, and at best we can fight to increase the price. This is an old trick that aims to hide exploitation by disguising it as work.” And so, rather than supporting the legalisation of those who profit from the prostitution of others, we should look to the section of the Merlin Law that provides for training and work placements for women who wish to change their lives. Who wish to get out of a ‘business’ that the overwhelming majority of them have ended up in out of necessity, and in some cases even force and duress (victims of trafficking), certainly not out of choice.
Those of us who work or have worked in the third sector, among victims of violence and their oppressors, will understand the highs and lows that come with the experience. When we come into daily contact with the injustices our society continues to permit – all too often disproportionately against women – the lows are inevitable.That is why we have to embrace the highs! For our colleague, Ruby, the opportunity to attend the Brussels’ Call Conference on 16th October was one such occasion. There is something extremely moving and powerful about being in a room full of feminists and abolitionists, about being surrounded by successful, determined and compassionate women, of all ages and from all walks of life.
The conference, part of the Brussels’ Call campaign for a Europe free from prostitution, was held at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the EP’s ‘Resolution on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality’ (also known as the Honeyball resolution), which represented a turning point in the fight against the sex industry and its inherent violence. This resolution was the recognition that prostitution is a form of violence against women and called for measures to end the demand for sexual exploitation. The conference explored the reality of prostitution across Europe and included contributions from some of those most directly affected and those still fighting for change.
“We all want to find ways for the women to be safe. But we know that the women and the men, the boys and the girls can never be safe in prostitution. We can only reduce the harm. That’s not good enough. We don’t talk about reducing the harm for sexually abused children or women who are raped. We talk about ending it. And yet, when you talk about ending the sex trade, many people laugh at you and say ‘we can’t stop prostitution’. I say ‘really? Do you not think that we can end poverty?’ and they’ll say yes. ‘Do you think that we can end child sexual abuse?’ ‘Well, yes.’ ‘Do you think we can end racism?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well why can’t you imagine ending prostitution? Men are not born with this innate desire to have sex with a woman who isn’t consenting. We call that socialisation and patriarchy. Of course there is no innate need for men to have one-sided consensual sex with a woman who doesn’t want to be there. The propagandists that spin the mythology that leads people to say legalisation is the only way, know very well that, if they say prostitution is inevitable, it’s always been here and it always will be here, people somehow absorb this and believe it. If I hear the phrase ‘the oldest profession’ one more time, I might have to do some damage. Of course it’s not a profession. Of course that isn’t the case. Children have been sexually abused forever. Does that make it natural and inevitable? Of course it doesn’t.”
Julie Bindel, Convention on the Sex Industry and Human Trafficking, Rome, May 2018.
To read Julie Bindel’s speech in full, as well as others from the convention, click here.
We at Associazione Iroko were thrilled to welcome guests including Rachel Moran, Ingeborg Kraus, Blessing Okoedion and Julie Bindel to Rome on 27th and 28th May for the International Conference on the sex industry and human trafficking, which we organised alongside Resistenza Femminista, UDI Napoli, Salute Donna and Differenza Donna.
We are not newcomers to this conversation, but the ability of these speakers to ignite passion and inspire us to action never fails to amaze us. We cannot underestimate the power of a knowledgeable, empathetic and eloquent speaker. We were lucky to have various different perspectives represented among our guests – from survivors of prostitution and human trafficking, to professional trauma counsellors and international authors – which offer a rounded picture of this damaging industry.