Artist and abolitionist speaks of her experiences researching the sex industry.
In a moment of global conversation about women’s rights, and the need to confront harassment and violence against women at all levels of society, artist Jimini Hignett is fighting her own battle through art, and bringing to the table the complex topic of sexual exploitation. In the exhibition “Handle with care,” open at K2.0’s new space until December 4, Hignett puts the experiences of women survivors of human trafficking and prostitution at the center of the conversation.
“Handle with care” is an uncomfortable space of shared violence. To enter the room one has to step onto a carpet made by partnering artist Patricia Kaersenhout together with women survivors of trafficking. It’s made out of reddish clothes collected by them. Just entering the space and stepping over this carpet is a discomforting experience. “This is what we do everyday, stepping over these women’s rights,” said the artist at the opening held on Nov. 20.
Around the room, paper bags look down over visitors from close the ceiling. These paper bags, with faces painted over them, are self-portraits made by the women survivors interviewed by Hignett over the course of her long term research on the issue of prostitution and human trafficking. Via four videos installed across the room, the visitor can listen to different actors transmit the stories of violence and sexual exploitation they have confronted, many of the interviews done by Hignett herself.
The opening of “Handle with care” was marked by the performance of “The Prostitution Monologues,” with three actors sharing three testimonies extracted from the interviews conducted by Hignett with survivors of trafficking, during her research over the past five years.
Strongly influenced by years living in Amsterdam, famous for its highly touristic Red Light District, where women offer sexual services and expose themselves behind a glass window day and night, Hignett will make any arguments necessary to stop the talk around “sex work.”
During her travelling exhibition, the artists’ perspective on prostitution and human trafficking has often brought up, a larger discussion around the issue of abolition vs. legalization of prostitution.
Amid the fight on women’s rights, advocates are also claiming for the need to protect ‘sex workers’ rights,’ through different forms of regulation, as in any other job. It is a terminology that Hignett does not accept. She identifies as an abolitionist in the large conversation about the regulation or legalisation of prostitution, and sees the terms ‘sex work’ or ‘sex worker’ as a euphemism for what she considers a result of violence and abuse of power in different forms and shapes.
‘Handle with care’ is brought to Kosovo with support of the Embassy of the Netherlands and in partnership with Alter Habitus. Within the program, on Dec. 4, a closing poetry night has been scheduled.
Ahead of the opening, K2.0 sat down with Hignett to speak about sexual exploitation and the sex industry in our contemporary times.
Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.
K2.0: What drove you to work on prostitution and human trafficking?
Jimini Hignett: I live in the Netherlands; and the Netherlands, and specifically Amsterdam, has this kind of image worldwide of being this flag bearer for legalised prostitution, and liberal laws, and everything is free sex, free drugs, etc.
I felt it was doing a lot of damage to the rest of the world by promoting this as a successful policy — because I don’t think it is a successful policy — and there were very few artists making artworks about prostitution in a critical way. There was a lot of art in the past which showed prostitution as something bohemian, and nice, and kind of risqué, and so I wanted to counterbalance that.
[Considering] my position in terms of locality, Amsterdam, and my position in terms of gender, being a woman, this was the obvious thing to tackle.
I volunteered in a refuge in Amsterdam for women who have been trafficked, or who were found by the Police, or who escaped and were found by the Police. I was a ‘crisis buddy,’ which is for women who have been there for a very short time and are still afraid to go out. They don’t speak the language, they just sit, traumatized in their rooms… We would just go out for a short walk, or to the market, or to the children’s farm, sometimes to a museum…
You got a very close up view of the reality this way, which brings me to the theory on gender and power relations. In the present, perhaps some voices that before we rarely talked about – Judith Butler, or Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir – today have become part of a more mainstream discussion and more people are discussing ‘gender,’ ‘feminism’ etc.. But has the position of feminists toward prostitution changed much, from your perspective?
Maggie O’Neill has written a really good book on prostitution and feminism and these bifurcations — where some feminists see prostitution as always abuse, and other feminists see prostitution as: “as a woman I have my right to sell my body and it’s the most feminist thing I can do.”
When I started on this topic I was not as abolitionist as I am now. That happened in the course of working in the refuge — and not only through working with women who escaped situations which were clearly forced prostitution and trafficking.
I was also working with women who are in situations of prostitution because they “chose” to, but they wouldn’t say “I decided to.” For me there is a big difference between a choice and a decision. I think the whole issue of prostitution semantics is really important, which words we use.
Looking at the idea of feminist attitudes towards prostitution, I think that in the period of emancipation in the ’60s, obviously it was no longer possible to have this attitude of male ownership over women, and women being oppressed.
"What can you do as a male power structure in order to make prostitution OK? You can label it a feminist act. That way you keep getting away with it."
It could have been that therefore the whole institution of prostitution got into trouble. So what can you do as a male power structure? What can you do in order to make prostitution OK? You can label it a feminist act. That way, you keep getting away with it.
I think it’s a very clever manipulation by the sex industry — the people whose advantage it is to have the institution of prostitution in existence — to manipulate this idea of feminism so that to be prostituted became a feminist act. And I completely don’t think it is.
There is a number of fairly vocal advocates for the sex industry who are in situations of prostitution, but normally they are not in the average situation of prostitution. The women who are not finding it great, the women who are not choosing to be there, who are still not known by their friends and family are not vocal — therefore we’re not hearing those voices.
They don’t want to speak out, because of stigma and many other reasons… Or perhaps because they literally may not able to speak out — they are forcibly kept locked up and they are unable to speak up.
So there are two sets of voices in this discussion. One is the pro sex industry, pro sex work, and the other side, who tended to be moralists, saying “bad women, bad thing”… and that’s unfortunate because I’m not a moralist. But if 10 years ago I had said: ‘I’m against prostitution.’ people would have been like: ‘What? You don’t like sex?’
Or maybe they may ask: ‘You don’t believe that women can make that choice consciously?’
I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. And the reason I don’t believe it is because of all the years of working with this topic, with women who have been in situations of prostitution by so-called choice, by decision. And I have not met a single one.
I recently met 26 women in Senegal who made two different prostitute’s rights groups to fight against the stigma, to fight against police prosecution, etc. — and from all of them not one said she would rather be doing this work than other work. And none of them were coerced, in the sense that none of them had a pimp earning money out of them.
There is a lot of propaganda that portrays prostitution as something fun, and risqué. When we say the word “sex work” the image of it is quite far from the actual reality. I’m not talking about the reality of a woman who is chained to a radiator and raped, cause that’s the other extreme.
I’m talking about the reality of how many men do you have to let cum inside you in order to be able just to pay the rent of the cabin where you do your work. I’m talking about the Amsterdam situation right now… and that’s a lot of men.
Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.
In a book you published in 2013, “Mulier Sacer,” which had a number of essays from different authors, and stories from victims of human trafficking, Richie McMullen is quoted regarding the routes or reasons to enter prostitution, especially among young people. One is the lack of economic power, which is perhaps what society immediately thinks of when talking about the reasons to enter this world, but another less talked about one is the lack of emotional empowerment, an emotional fragility in one way…
A lack of affection. It’s interesting [to bring up] Argentina because there is a tradition of self-education there; for example, peasants form groups and educate themselves, and teach each other to read or to write.
I talked to one woman who self-educated herself and other women from situations of prostitution. She talked about how in the villages there are no prospects and life is very poor, and about the everyday violence — not just violence in the physical way but the violence of poverty, coupled with the violence that goes with that poverty, of drunken husbands, and drunken brothers… drug use… Just a situation which is really hard to get out of.
By the time we reach 14 years old, she said, we’ve already learned that our bodies have no value. It’s a really easy step to go to the brothel. You don’t believe that your own body has any value for a start, and you see no other option. And so it is particularly easy in those situations for the man [sic] to take advantage of that. And that’s what we see happening all over the place.
I’ve been to court cases in the Netherlands involving traffickers from Hungary and the traffickers had been detained for several months. The women who they have trafficked, who were hearing these testimonies about forced breast implants — we’re talking about incredible violence — are sitting in the public balcony [during the court session], and he is blowing them kisses. Not just one woman who is in love with this guy, but two or three women. They are still in love with him, despite the fact that this is somebody prosecuted for all those violent acts.
So what you’re saying is that in trafficking situations there is a strong dependency on the persons who are also the pimps, even an emotional one…
Absolutely, this is the trafficker, the pimp, and this is something that happens all over the place. It is a syndrome in the Netherlands. They are also called ‘loverboys,’ but I don’t like the term because, again, it sounds much sweeter than it is.
This happens in Eastern Europe, in Western Europe… It is very easy to manipulate the woman to get her started. You’re persuaded softly at first, and the minute softly is no longer necessary, then very harshly. In fact, the minute you’re abroad.
Abroad you have no passport, you don’t speak the language… you may be barely literate, you have no family, or the family you have definitely shouldn’t know that you’re working in prostitution… They’ve paid your fare to get you there, so you are in debt, and you have no papers.
"Many of the African women that I encountered had a good education. They had been to university, or had at least finished secondary school."
There is also a strong image of who can be a victim of human trafficking, a stereotype, and perhaps that is someone illiterate, someone in a difficult economic situation… but from your experience, is it like that?
No. In the refuge in the Netherlands, there were often more women from sub-saharan Africa: Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Somalia… Often those women were well educated, and they had got into trouble with their surroundings, with their family network ― and family network is really important there ― simply because they were smart. So they had a good education.
There was one woman who was about to start studying journalism in her city, but there was no money for her that year, so she had gone back to her village. She was 23 years-old, and her mother said: “You have to be cut.” She meant female genital mutilation. This is forbidden by law in her country, but in the villages, they still believe that if they don’t do it something terrible will happen.
She fought against it, and they punished her. They dug a hole and put her in a hole for three days without food. Finally, she said OK. Two girls ahead of her went first and one of them started bleeding, almost to death. There was a big panic and this 23 year old girl got really afraid, and she ran away.
She was passed onto a man who said she could get her a job in Dubai. So she thought she could go to Dubai, get enough money and be safe. The minute she got there she was put in a room, and men came and raped her. Everyday was the same, with more and more men.
Finally the woman who was running the place sold her to a man who wanted her for himself. He was very cruel, and she didn’t want to go at first but she thought she may be able to escape. She got to the point where she thought: ‘If I can kill him, I will do it.’ One day, while travelling by car, he stopped at a market, and said: ‘Don’t try anything, if you go out I’ll catch you.’ The minute she could, she escaped, and started running.
She stopped one person, but they turned away. The second person also turned away, but finally she saw a black woman and started talking to her. She told her the story, and the woman answered in English: ‘Where do you think you are?’ She said: ‘In Dubai.’ The woman answered ‘No… This is the Netherlands, you’re in Amsterdam.’ She had been told about Dubai because it’s a place where many girls go to work as maids.
[This girl] is someone who has been really tricked, and tricked because she was smart, because she knew of the dangers of female genital mutilation. Many of the African women that I encountered had a good education. They could read and write English. They had been to university, or they had certainly finished secondary school.
Testimonies of sex workers’ experiences heard by Jimini Hignett and retold by actors are part of K2.0’s ongoing “Handle with Care” exhibition. Photo: Ferdi Limani / K2.0.
This set of stereotypes and situations brings us to what’s happening with the recent migration crisis — very often the profile of refugees is well educated people, people who have the resources to be aware of the dangers of where they are and can leave. There is also migrants who have disappeared in the midst of refugee camps, with fingers being pointed at trafficking mafias. Have you encountered migrants from the recent refugee crisis among victims of trafficking in the recent past?
No, I haven’t encountered a large number, but it may be that they don’t get as far as the refuge. I’ve been in the Netherlands researching on women who have been very clearly trafficked, but it’s interesting to think about what trafficking is too.
Most people think of trafficking in the extreme, somebody being kidnapped, taken from one country to another and sold from one man to the next. In fact, certainly in the Netherlands it has a lot more to do with abuse of power. For example, a situation where the man holds something over you, in the sense that they have your passport or you have a debt with them.
Being in a power disadvantage, in a situation of not speaking the language, not having a place to stay, sleeping where you’re working, being dependent on one person for all those things and having a debt with him — that all constitutes trafficking. Even if you haven’t crossed a border. Even if you are still in your country or in your city. The definition of trafficking has been changed to include those things. It has to do with that power imbalance.
In the Netherlands, and maybe in other countries as well, we have a problem of young girls or young women disappearing from asylum centers. They go out, and they never come back.
One of the problems with Nigerian women, and women from other countries too, was that they have promised to pay their traffickers back. Even if they are picked up and go to the asylum center, they still feel they have to pay them back, because there is some “magic” done to them, and their traffickers hold their amulets. They really believe that the trafficker can kill them, or kill their families, so they have to pay all the money back. Of course, the money is never paid back because there is always more debt.
In your book, in one of the texts by Maggie O’Neill, she says that: “North American and European males desire racialized sexual others as morally impure, and thus sexually available and sensual.” Is human trafficking intrinsically racist?
I don’t think it’s intrinsically racist, but I think the two of them are very intertwined.
It’s about power?
Race is also a power thing, obviously. I think what’s also clear from the research that has been done is that men that go to a prostitute are not doing it necessarily just because they want sex. Most of them are married and have access to sex and to intimacy. It’s because they like the power imbalance. It’s not without reason that Asian women often advertise as docile… all those clichés have to do with power, having power over a docile subject.
In the book, a woman in the U.K. who exited prostitution talks about the damage that has been done to her very explicitly. She talks about how she would have always said that she has ‘chosen it,’ explaining that she didn’t have access to the language to say otherwise. She says the only language accessible to her was the language of the sex industry.
She writes: ‘I would have screamed to you that I was fine. I would have yelled out how great it was to use men. I would have put on the custom of the happy hooker. I would say I was fine, but that was the only language I knew. I spoke directly into the language of punters and sex trade profiteers.’
"What about focusing on the bloody perpetrators for a change?"
If men were the ones selling sexual services as a majority, what do you think the situation would look like, in terms of fighting trafficking, forced prostitution — if it didn’t overwhelmingly affect just those in the margins of the heteropatriarchal system?
But it’s like saying: ‘what if white people were victims of racism?’ No. It doesn’t work like that. It has to do with the system that has been in place for so many years.
When you think about it, in the U.K. at least, women ended up in prostitution because working class girls ended up going [to work] in the rich men’s houses; and the rich man, the owner of the house, decided that he has access to their body. You become pregnant. You’re thrown out. You’re blamed for seducing him. He gets no blame. It’s always been the rich man with power. Unless we have a society in which the women had the power, you [generally] never had men in situations of prostitution…
The other thing is that difference: if a man fucks 12 women — he is a man. You can’t say as a woman: ‘I fucked 12 men.’ We have to turn around the whole history of patriarchy, basically, in order to see how that would be.
Many people try to talk about trying to prevent, to have access to potential victims, and identifying potential victims… This is still focusing on the women. We do need to do it, because until we can get rid of the perpetrators we need to help those women who are in bad situations and may end up being victims of trafficking.
But what about focusing on the bloody perpetrators for a change? Really, I had so many people, politicians, talking about prevention, but focus on the perpetrators please. I am a strong believer in the Nordic law.
Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.
In Sweden and other countries, their approach is to prosecute the buyers of sex, and not those individuals selling sex…
Sweden, Canada, France, Ireland… Their approach is to prosecute [buyers]. Of course, this is not going to wipe out prostitution overnight, but think about a law that says it’s illegal to beat your wife. I guess 50 or 60 years ago they said: ‘You will never stop men from beating their wife…’
By making it illegal [to buy sex], and by saying as a society ‘We do not condone this, we’re not OK with this as a society,’ you make a huge difference. Because a lot of men will then start to think about that law.
You also make a big difference for the women who can then have resources to think that something wrong is happening to them, instead of being forced to think that something right is happening to them because society was not giving them access to the belief that it was wrong.
If as a society we say that it’s right for a man to beat his wife, then how do we deal with this? There is a huge betrayal of these women in situations of prostitution because the majority of women in situations of prostitution are not there by choice. One of the public prosecutors of the Netherlands, an expert in human trafficking, estimates that 98 percent of the women visible in the Red Light district are there through some form of coercion.
Another reason why I took up the subject was that I really felt that there was a very fine line, or that I had been also very close to a situation of prostitution. So those women are not so other to me.
I used to go to trafficking court cases. I went to one of the [defence team] once, and said I supported the Swedish law. She said ‘I’m glad these women are there, because if they weren’t, then those men would pull someone normal like me off her bicycle and rape her.’
So what she is saying is that we’re sacrificing these women to protect other women, and there is this divide between ‘proper women’ and those other women. For me, this divide was never there. In fact, I felt I was very close to ending up in a situation of prostitution myself, so I never felt those women were different to me.
Continuing the conversation around regulation… It is a big debate everywhere, but when we talk about women who are in situations of prostitution, can regulation not be a tool for them to protect themselves? Not only understanding regulation as something that simply legalizes prostitution and – possibly – contributes to perpetuating exploitation from some over others, but as something that truly helps protect them and give them an advantage and a way to emancipation? This is one of the arguments of certain groups advocating for regulation of ‘sex work’, behind some of which it is true that sometimes there are pimps too, as happened in Ireland…
When the Irish regulators were looking into a change towards the Nordic law, they were consulting a lot of people from all over the world, and one of the groups they asked, which claimed to represent sex workers from Europe, it transpired were mainly brothel keepers.
Now, I believe that women in situations of prostitution should absolutely be respected, and absolutely not be criminalized, and absolutely [we have to] give them all the help and support they need. I’m talking against the institution of prostitution.
Argentina is interesting again in this respect. Women are not prosecuted for selling sex, and there are brothels everywhere. There is a huge sex industry there, there is a huge amount of corruption; there are government officials involved, making money from it.
There are two major groups in Argentina who are involved in prostitutes’ rights. One is called AMAHD, and the other one is AMMAR; AMAHD is abolitionist, and AMMAR is pro sex work. Both are made up of women in situations of prostitution, and one of them is saying: ‘even though we are in situations of prostitution we absolutely believe it’s the worst possible thing, and we should be supported in ways other than legalizing it.’ The other group, which is supported by the sex industry, is claiming that it should be legalized and it should be decriminalized.
"I’m not sure what ‘decriminalization’ means. Does it just mean absolutely no interference with it whatsoever? But every single profession has some sort of regulation."
And I was thinking: ‘What is decriminalization?’ It’s not even ‘legalization’ they want, it’s ‘decriminalization.’ I’m not sure what ‘decriminalization’ means. Does it just mean absolutely no interference with it whatsoever? But every single profession has some sort of regulation. You’re not allowed to sell poisonous food. Everywhere there is regulation.
So if we talk about it as a normal job, which is what the Dutch government has been talking about, then we do need to have some kind of regulation. In my book there is a proposal for a change in Dutch legislation. What the writer of the proposal does is to say: ‘OK, if this is a normal job, what do we need to create by law in order to make it a normal job?’
There is a list of things proposed. One of the main problems in prostitution is that money is taken by cash. The author proposes to have all the transactions done by credit card. The women also have to learn different languages. Also, if you have this job you need to be able to do your own accounts, because if you don’t know how to deal with your accounts you enter into a dependency relationship with somebody else who is dealing with your money, and we don’t want that, because they are a big problem. If you have children you cannot work weekends, holidays, etc.
That’s taking regulation to the extreme in a way that would make it work. That would really support the women, because by saying that the women have to be able to do their own accounting, know something about medical matters, have to have time for their children… It means that you would really have strong, independent women making the conscious choice to do the work.
Would that proposal be acceptable in some way for someone who identifies as an abolitionist?
Not for me, no. I don’t think you would get any women to do it. For me, prostitution is acceptable when history has been non-patriarchal, in the sense that it is just as normal that I would pay some nice looking — or not so nice looking — bloke to fuck me.
When that would be just as normal as him paying me, and when I’m not stigmatized for it and he is not stigmatized for it. In other words, when that has changed, not just yesterday, but such a long time before, that we no longer remember. Ultimately, when there is real equality between men and women. I mean that in general terms, when poverty is not a feminine issue. Then we could talk about if it’s OK to pay for sex.
Now I don’t think it is OK to pay for sex. If you want to have sex, if they want to have sex with you, you don’t have to pay them. If they don’t want to have sex with you, and you have sex with them, it’s rape. Paying for it doesn’t make it not rape. It just means it’s paid rape. That’s how I feel about it. If sex becomes no longer a gift but it becomes a transaction, there is a violence to that for me. By making it a transaction, there is an inherent violence in it.
Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.
If we talk about exploitation, and if we bear in mind that the capitalist system is also a heteropatriarchy, what makes sexual exploitation of bodies different from other types of exploitations in this capitalist system? Is it the sexual element? What is it about?
It is an argument that exists. Why is it a different crime if somebody sticks his dick into me than if somebody gets his dick and hits me with it? It’s a different crime because it has something to do with bodily integrity. It is a different crime when he touches me and when he touches my ass with his dick.
Going back to the exhibition and bringing this exhibition to different countries, what was the reaction in countries in western Europe?
The masks have never been shown in western Europe. Two of the videos were shown with the carpet, in Amsterdam, in the context of a larger exhibition which had to do with the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Netherlands.
I was in Amsterdam and people there believe the propaganda, because it’s easier. They believe that all those women in the window… it is all really well organized, because everything in the Netherlands is well organized. They don’t think about it.
There is a huge amount of propaganda to say that they are earning a lot of money, they are happy to do it, and maybe there are one or two who are trafficked and of course that’s not OK. But in general they tend to believe that it is OK.
It’s really hypocritical. It’s really hard to know how much money it generates because so much of it is underground, but the most commonly quoted figure of the GNP is 5 percent. It’s more than drugs, and it’s only superseded by arms.
One can make the argument that it’s hard to believe that the abolitionist position is realistic — ‘prostitution will always exist.’ Even in the Nordic model, where it’s illegal to buy sex and not illegal to sell it, women may also experience risks as they still need to hide, potentially to protect their clients, and therefore expose themselves to being alone with a client who can be violent, expose where they work or live, or find protection and create a dependency again. What is the solution to that?
I want to give a quote from a woman from the U.K. where it is not illegal to buy sex. She says: ‘Violence is my norm, I cannot understand why everyone is surprised that violence is my norm. I just wonder what the heck do you think punters are making the choice to buy a prostitute for? Do you really think they are just lonely, sad, unable to get normal sex men? ….Do you give a damn that the prostitute is underage, beaten up, lying in the floor, laying as if she is dead? […] I was strangled often, I was raped while being drawn, I had oral sex so deep I remember to breathe was impossible…’
This is not something that happens because buying sex is illegal. She is doing this in the U.K., where buying sex was legal. Basically it comes down to a man and a woman in a room.
The women in Senegal who are not pimped, still talk about the violence that they undergo; it’s not illegal in Senegal either. It’s interesting because it’s a predominantly Muslim country and it is the only country in Africa and in the so-called Third world, where prostitution is legal and regulated by the government. The women have to have a health book with their health record, and the men are not regulated at all.
"LGBTIQ groups should rethink their alignment with sex workers’ rights, because sex workers’ rights tend not to be about sex workers’ rights but about brothel keepers’ rights."
So, the question is whether regulation can help. Maybe if it were the way that is talked about in [the legal proposal in “Mulier Sacer”], maybe you could say: ‘OK, the proposal is a normal job.’ But I still believe that rape is a different kind of crime than just rubbing your dick against somebody. I think we need to deal with the power structures between men and women, before we can do that.
But again we’re looking at the women, and it’s like: ‘No! Regulate the fucking men.’ It’s about time. Yes, we have to identify possible victims of trafficking, but we also should be identifying perpetrators of trafficking, and not just perpetrators as in traffickers, but those who are making use of the trafficked women.
There is this video I’ve got where a woman talks about being raped 40, 50, 60 times a day, and the men, of course they knew she was trafficked. Those are the people who should be prosecuted. Swedish legislators talk about how demand has decreased hugely, because it is no longer considered normal or OK.
I was in Macedonia, and I interviewed women who were in the street working and I offered to pay the money they charge. I asked: ‘Do you ever get harassed by the police?,’ and, although it’s illegal there they said: ‘No, we don’t, but men do.’ So the police, or corrupt police, are getting bribes from the men not to take them in, because it’s such a scandal if they would be taken to the police [for buying sex]…
In the several years that you’ve been researching this topic, have you seen any progress?
I have seen a number of countries that changed to the Nordic law, and in that I find progress. The sex industry has also been smart in bringing up gender. The sex industry has been very clever. They’ve also aligned ‘sex worker’s rights’ with LGBTIQ rights. It’s very clever, because who of us will say: ‘I’m against the rights of LGBTIQ individuals’?
There are some comparisons and links. The comparison is that both kinds of sex have been seen as deviant in the past: by the moralists, by the religions, by the patriarchy. I see one kind of sex that is deviant because it is based on power relations that I don’t find conducive to intimate relations. The other kind, I don’t see as deviant. It is just what people choose to do.
But the problem is that both have been found deviant by the same patriarchy, as feminism has been seen as deviant. It is a very clever link to make to say we’re in this together.
The other link is the predominance of HIV. You get a lot of AIDS conferences, where you will get people from sex workers rights and people from the LGBTIQ community together. So there’s been this attitude that if you’re against the sex industry, you’re also against the LGBTIQ community. Therefore, I’m what is called a ‘rad fem,’ and I should be despised because I’m ‘against rights for LGBTIQ etc.’ — which of course I’m not.
It’s a very clever alignment that the sex industry has done, whether consciously or unconsciously, which needs to be looked at carefully. LGBTIQ groups should rethink their alignment with sex workers’ rights, because sex workers’ rights tend not to be about sex workers’ rights but about brothel keepers’ rights.
Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 1811, and in the year 2000 pimping was made legal. Why? Why would you decide to make pimping legal? When the government made the discussion on it, they asked groups made up of pimps. The women who are doing this work involuntarily or with shame are not gonna form a group and be vocal.
In general, it has actually become much more difficult to control. When it was illegal, the police could enter the brothel, and ask to see the girls, and ask them whether they are OK, see if they have any bruises, etc. The police cannot enter a brothel now. They have to stay outside unless they get a warrant, for which they need to have sufficient evidence to enter. It’s a lot more difficult. The idea that making everything legal makes it easier to keep tabs… not at all. It’s made it much harder.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.
This article was produced by Kosovo 2.0 as part of the Equal Rights for Allwhich is an EU funded project managed by the European Union Office in Kosovo.
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