The Truth about Sex Work–Ashton Kutcher

“Sex workers” are people who choose to offer sex for payment. Yes there are some women and children who are being trafficked and forced into prostitution and they should be protected. However, like so much in the headlines, there is less there than meets the eye.  The International Labor Organization estimates worldwide that there are 246 million exploited children aged between 5 and 17 involved in debt bondage, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography, the illegal drug trade, the illegal arms trade, and other illicit activities around the world. But that figure, an estimate–but from a recognized and reliable source–includes a wide range of activities, far beyond sex trafficking. Other figures bandied about inflate the statistics by including women who are adult, independent choosers. In doing this the intention is suspect. Just because a number comes from a “non-profit”, non-government organization, does not make it less suspect. NGOs routinely inflate numbers in order to gain support and to improve their position to gain financial support.

We should, of course, be assiduously protecting children from exploitation of any kind–including corporal punishment by their own parents. Child soldiers need protection as much as under-age factory workers in Indonesia or sweatshops in San Francisco.

On the other hand, there is no justification for including those adults who freely make a decision to sell a commodity they own, their sexual favors. How is that different from a business person who trades her stress-weakened health for the pressure of money management, or the laborer who trades his physical safety for payment for working in dangerous conditions for minimum wage. In fact, it is a denigration of their humanity.

Of course the difference is the three-letter word “Sex.” All one must do to feed the morality frenzy is to use that word. (Ignoring the use of sex images to sell beer, cars, lingerie, furniture and Coca-Cola.)

This article is from Alternet.

What’s Wrong with Ashton Kutcher’s Campaign Against Sex Work? Plenty.

By Melissa Gira Grant, Comment Is Free
Posted on September 25, 2011, Printed on September 26, 2011


 According to the documentaries running on near-constant repeat on CNN and MSNBC, men all around America are just waiting to buy women for sex, fuelling what is referred to as a “multibillion dollar industry”. In CNN’s latest sex trade special, Selling the Girl Next Door, we’re told that girls are “routinely bought and sold for the pleasure of grown men”. Attorneys general, mayors and sheriffs across the United States are using the same tabloid statistics and rationale to set public policy. They claim that the way to end exploitation in the sex trade is to “end demand” for the sex trade – that is, end men’s desire for sex they can pay for.

The notion that men’s desire to buy actual people fuels the sex trade has gone so mainstream that when aspiring celebrity philanthropist Ashton Kutcher launched a public service campaign against prostitution this year, he called it “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls”.

The problem is, real people buy sex, and real people sell sex. The numbers on how many people are involved in the sex trade are notoriously hard to gather, or trust, but there is one constant: buyers are not buying people. When politicians, social service providers and celebrity philanthropists insist that sex workers are selling ourselves, they engage in the same kind of dehumanisation that they claim johns do to us. When they claim that men can buy us, they rob us of our power and our choices.

If you’re someone whose understanding of the sex trade is patched together from cable specials like these, with their endless reels of women in miniskirts and fishnets and boots leaning into cars, it’s probably impossible to imagine that sex workers have power or choices. From reading prostitution advertisements online, or from recalling the kind of carnival sideshow pitch you might hear at a strip club, it’s tempting to imagine that sex workers will do whatever men pay them to do, and that sex workers exist to cater to male desire. What sex workers are actually selling is our ability to make our customers think they are getting what they want, and we try to sell that with as little strain on our time and our bodies as possible. You wouldn’t be able to tell this from sex trade ads because it would be incredibly bad marketing, but it’s the illusion around which sex work turns.

Combined with the myth that all prostitution involves men buying women, the “end men’s demand” rhetoric in the media and anti-prostitution campaigns plays into some of the most damaging attitudes toward sex workers. There’s nothing feminist or new in the current wave of anti-prostitution reformers, who claim, as does the Demand Abolition Coalition, which is led by former US Ambassador Swanee Hunt and actress Ashley Judd among others, that all sex work is “sexual enslavement”. Sex workers know that what creates demand for the sex trade is not men “enslaving” us for sex, but the exigencies of survival. The demand for the sex trade lies in the demands of childcare, loan officers, debt collectors, landlords and dependent family members – in short, the demands most working people struggle to meet.

Given the gravity of these real, systemic demands that sex workers face, to focus only on ending men’s demand for sex is a cheap way out. In this way, sex workers’ needs are reduced only to what happens during the sex transaction; it ignores the rest of our lives outside the sex trade. By advancing this myth of male demand and sex workers being powerlessly enslaved in catering to it, the media and politicians fixate on the power of male desire more than sex workers ever do.

This is the problem with outsiders to the sex trade attempting to control it. People who have such limited experience of the sex trade are left governing with their fears. Worse, we know from the example of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer that elected officials may have another source of sex trade expertise to draw on: their own patronage. When they base their campaigning not on the reality of the sex trade, but on their fantasies, it is sex workers who most suffer.



© 2011 Comment Is Free All rights reserved.
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  1. Posted October 28, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink | Reply

    Sex Trafficking/Slavery is used by many groups as a attempt to outlaw all prostitution around the world by saying that all women are victims even if they do it willing. This hurts any real victims because it labels all sex workers as victims.

    This is done by the media, aid groups, NGO’s, feminists, politicians, and religious organizations that receive funds from the government. There are very strong groups who promote that all adult women who have sex are victims even if they are willing, enjoy it and go out of there way to get it. These groups try to get the public to believe that no adult women in their right mind would ever go into the sex business unless she was forced to do so, weather she knew it or not. They say that 100% of all sex workers are trafficking victims.

    They do this in order to label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution. Which is what their real goal is. There is almost no one who challenges or questions them about their false beliefs. Therefore, the only voices you hear are of these extreme groups. These groups want to label all men as terrible sex offenders for seeing a willing adult sex worker. No one stands up to say this is foolish, the passive public says nothing.
    These groups even say that all men who marry foreign women are terrible sex predators who take advantage of these “helpless foreign women wives”.
    These groups believe that two adults having consensual sex in private should be outlawed. Since they believe that it is impossible for a man to have sex with a woman without abusing the woman in the process.

    Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:

    • Posted November 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Absolutely. Not to deny that there is SOME sex trafficking, but it has become a way of garnering money, a cause to oppose legal prostitution and a support for the over-reaching efforts to censor behavior–and expression.
      It is parallel with the over-the-top response to child pornography. Not that child pornography is acceptable, but many groups have jumped on this bandwagon in order to participate in the funding or to provide a sense of do-gooding.

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