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The Price of Sex: Women Speak
November 4, 2009 8:56 AM   Subscribe

The Price of Sex: Women Speak Since the collapse of communism in 1989, millions of former Soviet bloc residents have migrated abroad, looking for opportunities. These waves of migration breathed life into one of the oldest yet darkest criminal enterprises--the trafficking of human beings into sexual slavery. Hundreds of thousands of Eastern European women have been sold into prostitution. Photojournalist Mimi Chakarova, a Bulgarian who immigrated to the United States in 1990, has documented their journeys from villages in Moldova to the streets of Turkey and nightclubs in Dubai--where prostitution is an equation of supply, demand and desperation.
posted by autoclavicle (70 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember when I went to Dubai in 2006, I was riding with a friend down Sheikh Zayed Road at around 2am. I saw a line of women, cars picking them up, and police directing the traffic. When I asked my friend about it, he said that the government allowed it because they didn't want crazy foreigners ravishing the Emirati women.

I'd say the majority of the ladies were from former Eastern Bloc countries. I felt a bit sad that this is what their lives had become.
posted by reenum at 9:11 AM on November 4, 2009


Related (UK): Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution

Which is either a catastrophic failure of detective work or an unexpected relief, or somewhere in between, I suppose.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:42 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a huge issue. Thanks for this excellent post.
posted by bearwife at 9:45 AM on November 4, 2009


This was hard to watch, but I felt I had to.

What I really don't understand is where the customers come from. I understand wanting to have sex -- but who would want to have sex with someone who had just had sex that day with 10, 12 other people? Who would want to have sex with someone who soiled themselves from the damage to their muscles? Even if you were fine with prostitution and the idea of paying someone to have sex with you, how is a woman lying there is pain, even unresponsive, sexy? If all you want is a hole, why not get a fleshlight?

The institution of courtesans makes sense; even streetwalker prostitution makes sense -- the women sell response (even faked) with the sensation. But the mindset of the customers for sex slaves is incomprehensible.
posted by jb at 9:51 AM on November 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Related: Emma [Thompson] And Elena, Exposing The Sex Trade. Thompson's produced a large installation piece about sex-trafficking that follows the experience of a specific woman. It's in Washington Square Park in NYC for a few days next week.
posted by lodurr at 10:01 AM on November 4, 2009


reminds me (again) of a canadian sociologist i met once on a train. she had recently returned from israel, where she'd originally planned to study women in the sex trades (and particularly "russians"*). when she got there, though, she was informed by israeli law enforcement that she would not in fact be doing that, because they didn't intend to fish her body out of a gully.

so yeh, it doesn't surprise me that no one would cop to being involved.

--
*according to her, "russian" at that time (c. 1996 or so) was basically israeli slang for 'prostitute' when applied to a woman, and 'gangster' when applied to a man.
posted by lodurr at 10:05 AM on November 4, 2009


DO ignore the cloying music..because if people don't at least hear the testimonies - and these are excruciating and very informative - the suffering of the women means nothing.

What I really don't understand is where the customers come from. I understand wanting to have sex -- but who would want to have sex with someone who had just had sex that day with 10, 12 other people? Who would want to have sex with someone who soiled themselves from the damage to their muscles?

I can't even guess the second answer, jb, but the first is probably because each man wouldn't necessarily know the daily tally? And the girls wouldn't exactly volunteer that at the time either.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:10 AM on November 4, 2009


But the mindset of the customers for sex slaves is incomprehensible.

This. What kind of man do you have to be to use another human being in such a way? I can't understand it. Are there really enough sociopaths in the world? It's one thing when a man blindly believes that a prostitute's smiles and faked expressions of pleasure are real out of loneliness (or other kinds of rationalizations). But to go into a locked room and fuck a brutalized girl, and derive pleasure from it? What the hell is wrong with these men that they can do such a thing?
posted by jokeefe at 10:11 AM on November 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Related (UK): Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution

Which is either a catastrophic failure of detective work or an unexpected relief, or somewhere in between, I suppose.


I'm going to go with catastrophic failure here. And in any case, maybe the real question isn't whether these women agreed to sex work initially. It's whether they are able to later move out of that line of work later on, or if they are permanently trapped into it. It's pretty clear that we are facing sexual slavery here, whether or not the women initially agreed to that arrangement.

What the hell is wrong with these men that they can do such a thing?

They probably don't really think of these women as human beings. They're tools to fulfill a need. It helps to explain why some countries are thought of as sexual tourism destinations. If you're a foreigner in certain locations, there's the assumption that the only reason you are there is to purchase sex. Anyway, I'm sure there are plenty of sex workers in the US who do what they do not out of choice. They may not be "brutalized" but that doesn't change the fact that they have to regularly give up their bodies when they don't want to (and many of them probably have 10-12 clients in a day also). Some people who go to sex workers value them as human beings, some don't. For those who don't, it probably doesn't matter if the worker has been with two people or 20, or if they enjoy it or not.

Obviously masturbation is different than sex, but I do wonder whether people who specifically go to sex workers as if they were tools might not have a good handle on masturbation. Certainly Dubai and Turkey are locations where masturbation probably isn't widely discussed.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:31 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whether or not any UK traffickers "forced anyone into prostitution" (and here's an interesting followup on that with a former sex worker), there is ample evidence that thousands and thousands of people have been forced into prostitution by traffickers worldwide.

Some court testimonies of people who were forced into prostitution. Either there's some special circumstances in the UK that make it less appealing for traffickers to force people into prostitution there than in other countries, or the investigation missed something important.

I think this is a bit of a side issue as well. Many trafficked adults were already sex workers, and agreed to illegal migration in order to continue sex work, but were then subject to debt slavery, where they worked incredible hours in order to repay ridiculous "debts" to which they had never agreed. The fact that they had worked in the sex industry before doesn't entitle other people to treat them like chattel.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:55 AM on November 4, 2009


I have often wondered where the customers come from. It says something really dark and scary about men that there are enough of them out there to support this industry, especially the aspect of the industry that allows sexual slavery to thrive.

It takes a community of 35,000 to support a Wal-Mart, I wonder how many johns it takes to support a sex slave. Judging by the numbers, a huge proportion of the male population is supporting the sex trade and sexual slavery by association.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:03 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Deathalicious: "They probably don't really think of these women as human beings."

America was built by such people and remains ruled by them today.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:05 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those stories were so sad. Thanks for the post.
posted by amil at 11:06 AM on November 4, 2009


So what's the solution? Clearly there is (and has been) a substantial demand but no legal supply. I didn't even know that it was mostly legal in Rhode Island until reading that yesterday's election effectively banned it. Are bans the solution or is legalizing it the solution? Many people seem gung ho about legalizing drugs so they can get high but when someone says they support legalizing prostitution in hopes of preventing illegal trafficking, they're viewed as some deviant pervert.
posted by drstein at 11:11 AM on November 4, 2009


These waves of migration breathed life into one of the oldest yet darkest criminal enterprises--the trafficking of human beings into sexual slavery.

Certainly these women increased the number being trafficked, but sexual slavery was never dead; it is only that we have recently begun to pay more attention to it.

As someone asked earlier, "why" would any man use a woman in this way, I would respond that a) some men do in fact like the idea of a woman who literally can't say no, and b) most customers probably tell themselves "she likes it, she's making money, this is better than what she has at home" or "she doesn't care" or "she's not human enough to feel one way or the other about it, like a real woman," or, more sadly, "she's already ruined, what difference does it make?"

It's really not hard to imagine the process of justification, especially if you add in a culture where women as a whole are not really considered people anyway, peer pressure from other men, and cultural repression that prevents much in the way of healthy sexual relationships.

See: evil, banality of.
posted by emjaybee at 11:15 AM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's hard to tell the difference between someone who won't have a place to sleep if she doesn't have sex with you, and a slave.
posted by kathrineg at 11:24 AM on November 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


It says something really dark and scary about men that there are enough of them out there to support this industry

Oh, come on.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:51 AM on November 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's hard to tell the difference between someone who won't have a place to sleep if s/he doesn't [insert dirty job here], and a slave.

I.e.: the male:female relation is not the sole or even the economically dominant subservience relationship in the modern world.
posted by lodurr at 12:05 PM on November 4, 2009


It says something really dark and scary about men that there are enough of them out there to support this industry
Oh, come on.

Y'know, I had the same immediate reaction on reading that.

But the fact is that there is a burgeoning market for female sex workers and is not a parallel market for male sex workers. That isn't because of sexism: there is something fundamentally different about the way men and women have and use sex and power.

As regards sex, it is evident that many men are "wired wrongly" for modern day society.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:19 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


As regards sex, it is evident that many men are "wired wrongly" for modern day society.

I don't agree; I think it is the society, not the people, that is "wired." Societies are self-replicating to a certain extent, and that includes their oppressive or destructive aspects, which is why change can be so difficult. Many current human societies have oppression of women built into them, so deeply that it seems both normal and morally right. But we also have lots of evidence that it's possible, if painful, to change that attitude.

Not to take away individual responsibility, at all, of these men. Any one of them could say no; plenty of men do refuse to use prostitutes. Men are not wired to be inhuman to women, any more than women are wired to accept oppression. Change enough factors for both of them, and what is accepted as normal and moral changes as well.
posted by emjaybee at 12:47 PM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


So exchanging money for sex is inhuman?
posted by stinkycheese at 12:55 PM on November 4, 2009


My anecdotal take on this is that most of the customers worldwide are foreign workers either without or separated from families. My sense is that these women in general do not serve the sexually frustrated white male but have a whole different clientele.

I was truly saddened watching this and found it impossible to conceive of the psychological and physical damage that comes from having sex with 50 men a day.
posted by Xurando at 1:16 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


So exchanging money for sex is inhuman?

"Exchanging money for sex" is kind of not what we're talking about. What we're talking about is essentially exchanging money for the privilege of torturing someone. Whether the customers see it that way or not can be seen as immaterial; torture is in fact the effect that it has on the person being abused.
posted by lodurr at 1:27 PM on November 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


But the fact is that there is a burgeoning market for female sex workers and is not a parallel market for male sex workers

There's a huge market for male sex workers. To have sex with male clients.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:27 PM on November 4, 2009


emjaybee has an excellent point. Even animal societies that heavily emphasize violent dominance of subordinates by superiors can be re-made to substantially reduce the role of force in social hierarchies. Viz. observations of a baboon troop which, having had most of its aggressive males killed by food poisoning, shifts to a less aggression-based hierarchy.
posted by lodurr at 1:31 PM on November 4, 2009


lodurr: I was specifically referring to emjaybee's comment that, "plenty of men do refuse to use prostitutes. Men are not wired to be inhuman to women, any more than women are wired to accept oppression."

I think because this story involves both prostitution and slavery, it becomes kind of radioactive. No one is going to defend drugged-out women being forced to have sex 50x a day. But being critical of women being sold into sexual slavery is very different from laying the same judgment on prostitution in general.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:35 PM on November 4, 2009


My anecdotal take on this is that most of the customers worldwide are foreign workers either without or separated from families. My sense is that these women in general do not serve the sexually frustrated white male but have a whole different clientele.

Bingo. Watch Born Into Brothels. It ain't exactly frat boys, biz executives and trust funders walking into these places. The men who patronize these places are generally the poor immigrants brought in to do shit jobs and get exploited in their own right or the native impoverished. Not an excuse, but sheds a little light.
posted by spicynuts at 1:42 PM on November 4, 2009


I'd also agree with that observation. Like so many things, it breaks down along class lines.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:47 PM on November 4, 2009


So exchanging money for sex is inhuman?
posted by stinkycheese at 3:55 PM on November 4 [+] [!]


No - that's why we're not talking about straight-forward prostitution which, as much as it has serious issues, is for me understandable from both the side of the prostitute and the customer.

But lodurr captures what this is very well -- these customers are paying not to have sex, but to abuse, to torture someone. I just don't understand how they can even maintain an erection in the face of that situation. I can't think of anything less sexy than an unresponsive, even hurt partner.
posted by jb at 1:47 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was truly saddened watching this and found it impossible to conceive of the psychological and physical damage that comes from having sex being raped by 50 men a day.

These women do not choose the sexual encounters they have. They are forced into submitting to rape. Their rapists pay to rape them and thus provide a profit for their pimps. It is a very lucrative business.

I think describing the women as being "sold into prostitution" softens the reality for Westerners. We overlay our images and judgments of prostitution and prostitutes onto these pictures and stories. But the reality is these women, regardless of whether there was a tacit knowledge or agreement at first about agreeing to be a sex worker, are being raped daily and someone is profiting from those rapes.

For more on this, William Finnegan had a very good piece in the New Yorker about human trafficking last year:
The Countertraffickers

And though I have volunteered for years for my local rape crisis center and have heard many, many sexual assault stories and met many victims, I found the Jenea's story to fill me with an overwhelming sense of despair, such that I don't think I will be capable of revisiting this thread.
posted by hecho de la basura at 1:51 PM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


As I see it: prostitution is not one monolithic thing which looks the same, or functions the same way, in all social circumstances. The well-paid and autonomous sex worker in Manhattan is not doing the same thing as the drug addict standing by the side of the road, who is also not doing the same thing as the imprisoned girl in a back street in Bangkok. Circumstances are different, the individual woman's experience and motivations are different. The only thing that is the same is men paying for their bodies and time. Sometimes it's tacitly tolerated, even celebrated: the businessman who hires an escort for the weekend and compensates her very well, Hefner and his cult of multiple and interchangeable girls. Other times it's a brutal violation of the human rights of the woman involved.

I still wonder at the 'why' of it-- why are men's sex drives and needs so privileged that there are enormous and enormously profitable social and economic structures set in place all disparate cultures and countries to cater to them? To allow, even encourage, men to have sex (or at least relieve themselves) with an entire class of non-persons?

I'm not accusing or blaming. It's just that the common denominator in all situations above is the willingness of men, and only men-- the numbers of women who pay for sex are trivial in comparison-- to use the bodies of women and pay for such usage (and usually not to the women themselves but to some intermediary who is exploiting them).
posted by jokeefe at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


The men who patronize these places are generally the poor immigrants brought in to do shit jobs and get exploited in their own right or the native impoverished. Not an excuse, but sheds a little light.

It's not like everyone should get to have a turn to exploit someone, but that's what a lot of situations seem to reinforce. "Look! Your life sucks, but at least you can exploit these sex workers!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


these customers are paying not to have sex, but to abuse, to torture someone.

I wish I could put headphones on to enjoy more than the captions of the link but I imagine that In most cases they are probably not deliberately paying for this. I imagine they're just paying for sex with women and would be quite comfortable paying for someone who was willing to do whatever it is they want without being in slavery (for the same price presumably) or even better with someone willing. Lacking those options they take it as they can get it. Without any regard to victims.

It's pretty simple to understand why these things occur. When a person has no money, many will remain honorable, but still some become thieves who would possibly otherwise not (hopefully there's no one disagreeing with this). Some of those thieves will go so far as to even deprive someone of their life to get away with the money they desire. You can think of them as monsters all day, but in the end reduce the poverty and you reduce the number of these types of crimes. Take hunger: starve a human and few will remain with their wits and not be willing to do anything in order to feed themselves including any number of atrocities. Sexual satisfaction falls, my guess is, somewhere between that of money and food...a certain percentage of people when deprived of it, will commit atrocities in order to get it.
posted by kigpig at 2:29 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


or even better with someone willing.

A lot of clients prefer having sex with sex workers, rather than finding partners who are looking for sexual enjoyment themselves, because they (clients) get off on humiliating the sex workers. This has shown up in quite a few studies as well as sex workers' anecdata.

The myth that most sex workers' clients are just looking for sex and would prefer to have sex with partners who were also looking for sex (rather than money) is not supported by the data that are out there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:45 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm seconding the William Finnegan piece in the New Yorker, mentioned above:The Countertraffickers. Really, one of the best things I've ever read in the magazine.

We've had threads on this subject before, and I'll ask the same question I had before. I don't have money, but I have skills and time. What organizations do I contact to help do something?

Thanks for any suggestions, and feel free to send me a MeMail.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:45 PM on November 4, 2009


Legalize, regulate.
posted by HTuttle at 2:52 PM on November 4, 2009


A lot of clients prefer having sex with sex workers, rather than finding partners who are looking for sexual enjoyment themselves, because they (clients) get off on humiliating the sex workers. This has shown up in quite a few studies as well as sex workers' anecdata.

Some or a lot? I have no doubts that there are those out there that are sexual sadists. After all that falls under the same realm: if people are being denied consensual sexual satisfaction from willing partners, it is not unreasonable that they would form resentment towards the demographic (in this case all women) who are denying them this and would take it out on those lower on the totem pole than themselves having no power to take it out on those who actually deny them. Also, I took this remark at face value without actually calculating myself:

"Judging by the numbers, a huge proportion of the male population is supporting the sex trade and sexual slavery by association."

Which if true I have doubts that a lot are into the humiliation. If it is actually a small portion of the male population supporting it then I could buy that a lot are in it for humiliation.

I've known quite a few sex workers in the states (which is off the topic of the thread but it seems your remark implies any sex workers and not just sex slave workers) and their anecdotes are quite the opposite.
posted by kigpig at 3:05 PM on November 4, 2009




The well-paid and autonomous sex worker in Manhattan is not doing the same thing as the drug addict standing by the side of the road, who is also not doing the same thing as the imprisoned girl in a back street in Bangkok. Circumstances are different, the individual woman's experience and motivations are different.

Yes, exactly. People have no difficulty wrapping their minds around this concept with other forms of work; An upper exec at Goldman Sachs is not the same as a junior partner at a small law firm is not the same as a fry cook at McDonalds is not the same as a sweat shop worker at a warehouse in the barrio is not the same as a slave forced to work the fields under the lash.

It's external circumstance and motivation that makes any of the above illegal and immoral, not the type of job. A person being forced to work is illegal and immoral whether that work is prostitution or plowing a field or crunching numbers. A person willingly working in order to make money for themselves and their family should be legal whether that work is prostitution or plowing a field or crunching numbers.

The essential problem here isn't that these women are prostitutes because they aren't. They are slaves. Do you think that female slaves in 1850's Mississippi weren't abused sexually? They were no more prostitutes than a lot of these women. And these women are no less slaves.

The sex angle makes it more salacious and eyeball-grabbing, but it obscures the real issue.
posted by Justinian at 3:51 PM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


I find it mind boggling that more isn't done about this in countries with the power to do so; as said above it is nothing less than enslaving women for the express purpose of slowly, continuously torturing them to death. I suspect that most victims are immigrants is a major factor.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:34 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't agree; I think it is the society, not the people, that is "wired." Societies are self-replicating to a certain extent, and that includes their oppressive or destructive aspects, which is why change can be so difficult. Many current human societies have oppression of women built into them, so deeply that it seems both normal and morally right. But we also have lots of evidence that it's possible, if painful, to change that attitude.

A valuable point, that. At the same time, what has caused almost all societies to be male-dominated, choc-a-bloc with male violence, etceteras? I think the cause must surely be ancient hard-wiring that was evolutionarily beneficial back in the old caveman days, and has yet to evolve out of us.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:09 PM on November 4, 2009


One of the women talked briefly about having to serve far fewer men during Ramadam which was - I thought - a chilling display of client scruples.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:14 PM on November 4, 2009


Trafficking can start with a kidnapping. More commonly, it starts with a broken agreement about a job promised, conditions of work, or one’s true destination. Most victims suffer some combination of threats, violence, forced labor, and effective imprisonment. The commercial sex industry, according to the International Labor Organization, absorbs slightly less than half of all trafficked labor worldwide. Construction, agriculture, domestic service, hazardous industries, armed conflict, and begging are some of the other frequent sites of extreme, illegal exploitation.

The above is a quote from the excellent Finnegan Countertraffickers article. I agree with other commenters that we are talking essentially about forced servitude. I'm not much on oneupmanship when we are discussing victims, but I'd add that there is something additional and terrible happening when the servitude includes repeated rapes.
posted by bearwife at 5:27 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would expect sex visits decline when Lent is on, too.

Now I'm kinda curious about Christmas, Easter, and other "event" days or weeks.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:01 PM on November 4, 2009


In such a world where the above happens, is anyone shocked over the sex slavery issue?

It's not an either/or, you know. We can fight torture AND human trafficking and the coercion of sex workers into debt slavery at the same time.

One of the women talked briefly about having to serve far fewer men during Ramadam which was - I thought - a chilling display of client scruples.

I'm not sure why that's "chilling." Ramadan is a busy time, because you have to fit all your eating and drinking into the evening prayers-to-sunup space. Sex during that time is also OK, but my guess is that eating and drinking are a much higher priority for the clientele, given that most of them do physical labor.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


A valuable point, that. At the same time, what has caused almost all societies to be male-dominated, choc-a-bloc with male violence, etceteras? I think the cause must surely be ancient hard-wiring that was evolutionarily beneficial back in the old caveman days, and has yet to evolve out of us.

That's a standard evo-pysch trope, but not one I agree with. Without derailing too much, I think the most telling thing about patriarchy is how many rules and harsh punishments are required to keep it going, which seems to argue against it being "natural". And in this case, what you're seeing is not some people getting up one morning and randomly deciding to enslave and rape women, but the end result of many complex processes and attitudes dating back centuries. You have to teach boys that girls are not people; you have to teach girls that they don't have any rights. You have to glorify war and conquest and violence as manly virtues. You have to keep women financially dependent and come up with endless arguments as to why they shouldn't have rights or protections, or show their ankles, or go to school.

If it was truly natural, I don't think it'd require all that effort.
posted by emjaybee at 6:42 PM on November 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure why that's "chilling." Ramadan is a busy time, because you have to fit all your eating and drinking into the evening prayers-to-sunup space. Sex during that time is also OK, but my guess is that eating and drinking are a much higher priority for the clientele, given that most of them do physical labor.

Yes, I know a little about Ramadan, Sidhedevil and the importance of an outward show of piety. I'd have made the same point about being chilled if the women were commenting about clients giving them a rest over Christmas.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:18 PM on November 4, 2009


I have a lot of Eastern European friends and they all comment that Europeans (and some North Americans) hold a stereotype of Bloc women as all being prostitutes - even married women are assumed to have sold their bodies to just one man in marriage because there would be no other reason to marry an Eastern European.

Victor Malek wrote The Natashas a few years ago. His recent follow-up The Johns explores the men who pay for sex - one of his thesis' is that it is men with anger management issues and a need for control that seek out the "sex slaves" as opposed to self-managed escorts. There are issues with his book however, I found too little investigative research and a little too much reliance on bragging posts on the internet.
posted by saucysault at 8:30 PM on November 4, 2009


Legalize, regulate.

Yes, along with all the other vices that get the puritan USians panties in a bunch (like heroin). I've "used" prostitutes. They were nice people. They didn't appear to suffer from my presence. There are all kinds of slavery in Dubai, not just sexual and that goes for a lot of places. But the words "sold into sexual slavery" really gets the old salacious gland going doesn't it?

Here is one prostitutes point of view on the subject:

Pink Nipples: Meet a Hooker Who Enjoys Her Job
posted by telstar at 8:36 PM on November 4, 2009


telstar, I'm not sure I see your point, to be honest. I did note above that prostitution is not just a single thing, but a whole spectrum of activity. So of course there are some prostitutes who feel that 'this is their calling in life' and who celebrate their work. There are also a huge number of others-- the overwhelming majority, I'd say-- who are driven to it by necessity, desperation, or force.

It's nice that the comic you linked to includes the line 'everybody deserves intimacy'. True enough. But the gender disparity is a bit of an elephant in the room, isn't it? I don't see any young men who, for payment, consider it their calling to provide sex and intimacy for lonely, old, bored or 'unattractive' women. And yet prostitution remains something that men pay for and women (or other men) provide. What's with that, anyway? Do you think it would be a better world if we could all buy sex and feel good about it?
posted by jokeefe at 9:20 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sex during that time is also OK, but my guess is that eating and drinking are a much higher priority for the clientele, given that most of them do physical labor
Being six-degrees-associated with people[*] who frequent red-light districts, let me tell you something about the trade. It is not just deeply exploitative, it is also _extremely_ racist. Like everything else, the "market" in DXB has a certain pecking order for all races; for all the East European girls' travails, they would get top billing. That is to say, your average blue-collar worker probably wouldn't be able to afford their services; they most likely would service rich local or ex-pat businessmen (The experience has been that it's usually South/East Asian or Arab businessmen who have an East European fetish, although, as these things go, there are no real pigeon-holes.)
--
[*] - Professional acquaintances. Most of the region's many shipping deals happen in seedy joints. A certain European banker I met once actually said that moving to Asia made him lose his "respect" for women. Needless to say, felt very uncomfortable pursuing that conversation with him after that.
posted by the cydonian at 10:35 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


If it was truly natural, I don't think it'd require all that effort.

OTOH, other social animals put effort into social hierarchies etcetera.

I certainly haven't the education to say one way or the other.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:37 PM on November 4, 2009


I don't see any young men who, for payment, consider it their calling to provide sex and intimacy for lonely, old, bored or 'unattractive' women. And yet prostitution remains something that men pay for and women (or other men) provide. What's with that, anyway?

I think you've got the causation backwards. It's not that there aren't a lot of young men willing to provide sex for women, it's that there aren't nearly as many women who want to pay for sex as there are men. If a lot of women were willing and able to pay for sex, there would be a lot of men willing to provide it for pay.
posted by Justinian at 12:37 AM on November 5, 2009


Actually, upon consideration, there already are a lot of young men willing to provide it. Most of the guys advertising as escorts for gay men wouldn't, I'm sure, turn down a woman. A lot of them probably aren't even gay, they just need money and that's where the money is for a male escort. Which should tell you something about the marketplace.
posted by Justinian at 12:40 AM on November 5, 2009


kigpig: I wish I could put headphones on to enjoy more than the captions of the link but I imagine that In most cases they are probably not deliberately paying for [the opportunity to torture someone].

I'm sure you're right about that, which is why I attached my qualifier about effect. Nevertheless, that's how the victims experience it. (Even if they go numb after a while -- that's what happens when you're tortured for years on end.)

I'm also sure there are some guys who are into it on that level. And others who are into it on that level but won't admit it to themselves, so they're either a little "nicer" about it or at the opposite end find a reason to rationalize the abuse.

The point is that what this system does is torture people who are on the lower end of the power hierarchy. In this case (and in most sex-slavery instances) it happens to be women; it also happens to young boys, and I think that has tended to suck up a lot of the indignation capital here in the U.S. (That and what goes on in those dirty "other" places like Thailand or Dubai.)

Whether the patrons are "into" it as torture or abuse or not ends up being irrelevant. They are helping to perpetuate a system that results in that.
posted by lodurr at 3:19 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish: OTOH, other social animals put effort into social hierarchies etcetera.

Yes, for sure, and sometimes it's something that can be re-shaped, and sometimes not, and sometimes you can reshape parts and not other parts. Viz the recently common reference to in-the-wild baboon studies showing that a rapid depletion of the upper hierarchy has in one case resulted in a "kinder, gentler" society. But I'm sure that there's still typical baboon behavior in that troop, it's just not as stress-inducing as it used to be.

Humans have (as far as we know) a unique capacity to reshape their behaviors and society. We could think of ourselves as the "flexible animal" -- it's part of our evolutionary heritage and it's very powerful. The question we haven't resolved -- and which we can't resolve by arguing about, can only resolve by trying to do it and seeing if it works or not -- is whether we can effectively implement and perpetuate systems of social organization that don't in turn perpetuate hierarchies of violence. You'd be right to point out that we've arguably done that many times already; maybe all that means is we've got to keep trying.

Of course we're rapidly approaching the point where we can modify ourselves (and our species) at a more profound level. Then we have to decide whether we should. Discussion of which question is probably best reserved for another time.
posted by lodurr at 3:26 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


telstar: Here is one prostitutes point of view on the subject:...

Except that's quite a different subject, isn't it?

I mean, I applaud jokeefe for trying to make the point about economic coercion, but the subject under discussion is physical coercion and really egregious abuse of a particular kind. Sure, there are other kinds of slaves and they are abused as well and in different ways. But that is also not what we're talking about. And neither is willing prostitution (however you want to define "willing").
posted by lodurr at 3:32 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, I know a little about Ramadan, Sidhedevil and the importance of an outward show of piety. I'd have made the same point about being chilled if the women were commenting about clients giving them a rest over Christmas.

You know what? If Christmas lasted a month, and you couldn't eat or drink during all the daylight hours, and you worked physical labor and were already pretty exhausted at other time of the year anyway, then it might be possible that the reason you didn't go out for sex was because you really genuinely were exhausted and wanted to do nothing more than drink something, eat your one meal of the day and then collapse in bed. I know if I was doing hard labor without food or water for 10+ hours, six days a week, I wouldn't be in the mood for sex.

So, that was Sidhedevil's point, which you seemed to have completely ignored. Perhaps if you'd said, "I'd have made the same point about being chilled if the women were commenting about clients giving them a rest over Yom Kippur." then that would be slightly more appropriate, but pretending that you understood Sidhedevil's point but then acted like Christmas is some moral and physical equivalent to Ramadan (which it isn't, and in fact if we're going to talk about outward shows of piety then Lent is a way better example, both for spiritual purpose and duration).

That being said, yeah, outward show of piety probably plays a (small) part, but keep in mind these people aren't exactly "empowered" (just more empowered than the women they exploit). They are probably avoiding the women out of fear (either of Allah or of the judgement of other people in their community). This is a culture in which dating is basically not done, let alone consensual sex outside of marriage (marriage which, occasionally, is coerced on one or more sides). As I said above, masturbation is probably also not okay (and hard to hide when few people are able to have privacy the way we do in the West; most bathrooms will be shared, and almost no one has their own bedroom).

I just think it needs to be reiterated that I imagine it would be pretty grueling to be a hard laborer during Ramadan. Also, once the fasting is over it's sort of like Thanksgiving every night, with huge meals and very often celebrations in the entire neighborhood. If loneliness or a feeling of emptiness (as strange of a motivation that might seem) is one of the things driving these men to seek out sex workers, then it's possible that's a factor too.

So of course there are some prostitutes who feel that 'this is their calling in life' and who celebrate their work. There are also a huge number of others-- the overwhelming majority, I'd say-- who are driven to it by necessity, desperation, or force.

Yeah, but this true of most jobs for those in the poor or working classes, honestly. It's true that one of them requires a level of intimacy, lack of privacy, and invasion of person that's more severe than just working at some location. It also happens to be illegal in nearly all meaningful contexts [even in Nevada, where brothels are legal, individual prostitutes aren't, and of course no prostitution exists whatsoever in Las Vegas, the largest and most visited city in Nevada (or surrounding states, most likely)]. In a situation where prostitution were legal and regulated like any other 9 to 5, it's likely that sex work would change remarkably. For one, legalization and regulation would mean as a non-illegal activity it wouldn't automatically get associated with its illegal sibling, drug trade. There would be rules about hours, how clients could treat the workers, etc. If you look at similar lines of work where illegal employment is the rule rather than the exception, you'll see similar abuses of people (read the section in Fast Food Nation on the treatment of slaughterhouse workers, who are made to work at dangerous speeds for long hours, encouraged to abuse amphetamines, and are generally crap out of luck if an injury occurs in the workplace -- and keep in mind, this is an entirely legal and regulated industry -- it just happens to employ a lot of illegal immigrants!).

I'm not saying that sex slavery is defensible. I'm just saying that there is a reason that most women in the industry aren't there by choice, and that is because of two important reasons: first, that for women without skills or education, there are increasingly few jobs out there (because most jobs for the unskilled involve hard labor where female participation is discouraged, unlikely, or extremely difficult); second, because it is an illegal industry where the behavior of employers (and the trade as a whole) is not at all controlled because those who might control it refuse to acknowledge that such an industry exists.

I mean, I applaud jokeefe for trying to make the point about economic coercion, but the subject under discussion is physical coercion and really egregious abuse of a particular kind. Sure, there are other kinds of slaves and they are abused as well and in different ways. But that is also not what we're talking about. And neither is willing prostitution (however you want to define "willing").

My feeling is that these aren't really separate issues. Sexual slavery exists because slavery exists. The physical coercion that occurs is a direct result of economic coercion. And the abuse occurs because it can in a context where it is the sex worker who is considered to be breaking the law.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:22 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whether the patrons are "into" it as torture or abuse or not ends up being irrelevant. They are helping to perpetuate a system that results in that.

Irrelevant to the current victims perhaps, but far from irrelevant in developing a solution to such problems. Most of civilized society tends to be against torturing others. However, many of those still complicity contribute to systems that torture either turning a blind eye or rationalizing because what they want/believe in morally conflicts with the result. Remove the conflict, remove the torture.

The reason this type of torture occurs is there's a huge market for sex with these women. Reduce the demand or increase the supply, it becomes much less profitable and the problem dwindles.
posted by kigpig at 8:03 AM on November 5, 2009


You know what? If Christmas lasted a month, and you couldn't eat or drink during all the daylight hours, and you worked physical labor and were already pretty exhausted at other time of the year anyway, then it might be possible that the reason you didn't go out for sex was because you really genuinely were exhausted and wanted to do nothing more than drink something, eat your one meal of the day and then collapse in bed. I know if I was doing hard labor without food or water for 10+ hours, six days a week, I wouldn't be in the mood for sex...If loneliness or a feeling of emptiness (as strange of a motivation that might seem) is one of the things driving these men to seek out sex workers, then it's possible that's a factor too.

Deathalicious
Yes, I did sidestep the main point ostensibly made by Sidhedevil.

You know why?

Because the post, for me, is about the women.

It is about their experience and their voices and their survival.

It's not, for me, about tenderly imagining the misery and isolation of the wretched sods we speculate must use be using them, and explaining how we might be able to relate to the practical choices the men make over Ramadan.

It's about how the women in these circumstances are utterly removed from everything of value that civilization has given us.

The women did not have the luxury of displaying any scruples whatsoever - whether practical or otherwise - over Lent, Ramadam, Yom Kippur or any other period of piety.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


jody tresidder: making it all about the women sounds great, but that means you never get closer than halfway to a solution.
posted by lodurr at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2009


kigpig: not sure where you're going with the relevance issue. It's irrelevant to whether it's "torture" or "abuse"; if you're saying that it's relevant in how we convince people to do something about it then I agree with you (and in fact that's the reason for using inflammatory words like "torture").
posted by lodurr at 9:31 AM on November 5, 2009


jody tresidder: making it all about the women sounds great, but that means you never get closer than halfway to a solution.

That's a valid point, lodurr.

But in the context of this post, we don't have the authentic voices of the men who use these women.

What I was reading in the detailed comment by Deathalicious was an attempt to give his version of how such men probably feel, to connect us to their motivation.

I admit I am curious about the accurate demographics of the clients. But not curious enough, it seems, to speculate defensively about what might be going through their heads during Ramadam.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:51 AM on November 5, 2009


Because the post, for me, is about the women.

It is about their experience and their voices and their survival.

It's not, for me, about tenderly imagining the misery and isolation of the wretched sods we speculate must use be using them, and explaining how we might be able to relate to the practical choices the men make over Ramadan.


Well, obviously my problem is that I'm not feminist enough, then.

WAIT, WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?

Did you read all my other posts in this thread? Have you read any of the posts I've ever made here about any issue relating to feminism?

Demonizing johns and being ignorant about Islam ("Ramadam"? Really? At first I thought it was a typo, but you've done it a couple of times) isn't, in my opinion, the best way to fight the sexual exploitation of women.

That is to say, your average blue-collar worker probably wouldn't be able to afford their services; they most likely would service rich local or ex-pat businessmen

That sounds absolutely plausible on the whole, but that wasn't the impression I got about the particular sex workers who were speaking in that particular piece on this particular site.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:19 AM on November 5, 2009


But not curious enough, it seems, to speculate defensively about what might be going through their heads during Ramadam.

No, you were speculating offensively about what was going through their heads. You were speculating that they were hypocrites. Awesome, dude.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:20 AM on November 5, 2009


That sounds absolutely plausible on the whole, but that wasn't the impression I got...

I had the same thought but then decided he was probably talking about Dubai in particular. I've read other things that lead me to believe that in England, there's not that same hierarchy of exoticism (and was told by someone who knew a good deal about the sex trade that this is true in Israel as well).
posted by lodurr at 10:56 AM on November 5, 2009


Well, obviously my problem is that I'm not feminist enough, then.

No, I didn't say that at all.

I am seeing this post personally - as I said before - about the women who have given voice to their experience. In other thread, on a different angle, I would have paid close attention to the authentic voices of the men.

(And sorry about the stupid extra "m" in Ramadan. I see I did repeat the mistake.)

I didn't mean to offend you with my admitted tunnel vision on this.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:29 AM on November 5, 2009


It's irrelevant to whether it's "torture" or "abuse"; if you're saying that it's relevant in how we convince people to do something about it then I agree with you (and in fact that's the reason for using inflammatory words like "torture").

Yes to the latter. I'm indifferent to the wording of torture or abuse as it's just a matter of degree. It seemed that once again people were confused as to how some people could do such horrible things to someone, and really it seems obvious why these types of events occur. Moreover the solution is obvious.
posted by kigpig at 12:04 PM on November 5, 2009


The women did not have the luxury of displaying any scruples whatsoever - whether practical or otherwise - over Lent, Ramadam, Yom Kippur or any other period of piety.

Look, it seemed to me the main point was your first argument seemed to be that it was significant that sex workers had fewer clientele during Ramadan. Sidhedevil responded that there were specific features of Ramadan that suggested there might be other reasons that an outward show of piety. You sidestepped this, which is why I responded. Now it seems your argument is that the fact that these women are exploited means that any kind of explanation as to why the men might be less likely to visit them is irrelevant. Somehow, your initial explanation of the outward show of piety gets to stand.

No one disagrees that what is happening to these women is horribly wrong, and that these men are direct agents of the pain and torture that the women are experiencing. And if you do focus exclusively on the behavior of these men and its effects, it can seem unfair to feel anything but contempt for them.

Here's the thing: you're dealing with environments in which dating is impossible, casual (consensual and free) sex is impossible, masturbation is impossible, and marriage is incredibly difficult (because a) many of these workers are not going to encounter women that would make suitable wives according to custom, shared language, or culture and b) even if they did, wedding and marriage costs are prohibitive). As a dude, trust me when I say this creates a bad situation. It does not excuse the exploitation of women. But the solution is not to demonize these men.

In my opinion, it's as important to understand the context of why sex work exists in this form and where its demand comes from. In the case of the societies here, it's probably structural. Which is to say, this is not a aberrant grouping of evil men who get off on the abuse of women. It's that this is the only way that sexuality is accessible in this society, and it comes packaged in a culture that demeans women in general and foreign women in particular. Solutions come in the empowerment of women; and an eradication of sex slavery and indeed slavery in general.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:13 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now it seems your argument is that the fact that these women are exploited means that any kind of explanation as to why the men might be less likely to visit them is irrelevant. Somehow, your initial explanation of the outward show of piety gets to stand.

I think you have that right, Deathalicious

I've thought about this since pissing off a couple of people here (and having a hard swipe at your earlier comment talking about the wretched lives of the men).

I started by stating my horror that for one of the women, her only connection to the world outside her grinding sexual degradation is noting she got fucked less when it was Ramadan.

That observation seemed to contain the utter disconnection of the women from everything profound any human has ever considered about the meaning of existence, and how society has evolved its rules, and why we don't consider ourselves brutes, and how outward forms of piety practiced through millennia can comfort us - even at our lowest - by making us feel at the very least that we belong to our tribe.

(I put that in bold, because that's where I was coming from with the Ramadan crack).

And I was left with such disgusted sorrow that even for the most marginalized men on the planet (like the ones we assume use these procured women), there remain people on a lower rung, with no comfort at all - these women.

I think two of the women said that, on balance, it would have been better had they never been born in the first place. For me - and I stress that - my feeling is that one thing the latter do have left by surviving is their voices about their experience.

None of this changes the fact I did deliberately sidestep what I didn't want to acknowledge. But to be a tiny bit fair to me, I said way upthread that I thought it unlikely individual clients were aware of the daily lives of the women.

And I totally agree my thoughts are not a way forward.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:30 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


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