commodification of human bodies: where does society draw the line?
While I began writing this simply as a response to this article, after doing some research about sex work in general I have decided to write about it as a whole in the second half.
Firstly I want to say that this article outraged me in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. And while I am horrified that an escort agency is selling a girl’s virginity, this article is what really offended me. Articles like this one are what are taking the cause of women’s liberation back centuries, not just the escort agencies who are profiteering off the victims in our society.
The issue here seemed to only revolve around a woman selling her virginity, rather than sex work in general. What I gleaned from this article was that if the woman in question had previously had a lover, then it would have been perfectly acceptable for her to be sold; though the issues of debt and isolation would still be in play and would still have been just as forceful.
Quotes such as “who are these people who are willing to put a price on a young woman’s virginity”, while good questions, are alienating those women in the same vulnerable situations who are not virgins. What about “who are these people willing to put a price on a young woman’s body”? Why was that not asked once in this article?
Another quote I found particularly offensive was this: “The damage it does to society and human dignity can’t be overstated”. Again, this seemed only in reference to women who still have their virginity. It seems that those who are sexually active need not worry about their dignity as it must have already disappeared as soon as they opened their legs.
The last straw was the part that read: “It’s illegal to trade in body parts,” he said. “Selling your virginity starts to get into that territory.”
He is right, it is illegal to trade in body parts, but selling sexual services does not seem to enter into that territory for society today. Selling your virginity is apparently a whole different matter.
I should stop here and make a confession; I used to be in the camp of ‘prostitution is a necessary aspect of society’. And judging from the amount of articles (including the ones in feminist magazines I respect), as well as media interviews and television shows, my former view tends to be shared. Over the last few years, the focus has been around prostitution fighting to be seen as an acceptable career choice, just like any other occupation. Girls were interviewed left, right, and centre who loved their job. And this is a good thing in a way; if they love their job well then, who is anybody to judge?
But as I mentioned, my views did change after I did a little research. Ninety percent of women in prostitution would leave it if they could1. They have a 40% higher risk of homicide than anyone else in society 2. They have a higher risk of rape than anyone else in society (73% in a US study reported having been raped) 3 . Over 50% of prostitutes were sexually abused as children 4 . And the average age of a woman (or should I say girl) in prostitution is fourteen years of age 1 .
While people argue for the legalisation of prostitution to ‘keep it safe’, research proves that this is not the case. When Victoria legalised prostitution, the illegal sector doubled 5 . When Amsterdam legalised prostitution, child prostitution went up by 300% 6.
Prostitution, when it really comes down to it, is the commodification of body parts, just as selling organs is, no matter how much the media tries to put an ‘empowering’ spin on it (though because of this, it almost feels ‘anti-feminist’ to say so). Allowing people to purchase someone’s body is simply preying on the victims in our society. Selling organs is illegal for that exact reason.
When did society become so backwards that paying money to use another’s body is acceptable, but a women selling her virginity is a moral outrage. Both are often victims (I understand that this is not always the case), and both deserve the respect and help that society has sadly withheld from them.
Yes, I do understand that this is a controversial subject. I understand that there are some people out there who choose prostitution. But for every person that likes it, there are nine others who would leave it if they could. And those people (whether they are virgins or not is completely irrelevant, and I’m ashamed that anyone would think otherwise) deserve the protection and care that is sadly lacking in the current system.
But enough from me, I think that Victor Hugo in the 19th century said it better than anyone:
“They say that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. That is incorrect. It still exists, but now it weighs only on women, and it is called prostitution.” –Victor Hugo (Les Miserables)
1. Farley M et al, ‘Prostitution in Five Countries: Violence & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’, (1998), Feminism & Psychology 8
2. Chris Grussendorf, “No Humans Involved, Part One”, http://www.catwinternational.org/factbook/usa2_prost.php
3. Prostitution, Violence Against Women,and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by Melissa Farley, PhD and Howard Barkan, DrPH (*)Women & Health, 27 (3): 37-49. © 1998 by The Haworth Press, Inc.
4. Debra Boyer, U. Washington, Susan Breault of the Paul & Lisa Program, “Danger for prostitutes increasing, most starting younger,” Beacon Journal, 21 September 1997
5. Sullivan & Jeffreys, ‘Legalising Prostitution Is Not The Answer: The example of Victoria, Australia’, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), www.catwinternational.org
6. Tiggeloven, C. (2001,). Child Prostitution in the Netherlands. Available at www.nw.nl/hotspots/html/netherlands011218.html.
(Image credit: 1.)