HANNAH HARRISON wins the OBJECT Essay Prize of £500
We are delighted to announce that our 2018 Essay Prize has been awarded to Hannah Harrison. Below is her excellent prize-winning essay on The Environmental Impact of Prostitution.
The Essay Prize
The OBJECT Essay prize was founded to get young environmentalists looking at prostitution, and young anti-prostitution campaigners looking at prostitution from a new angle. We naively thought that with prize money of £500 many organisations would be willing to publicize it to their memberships. But prostitution proved to be still as political, controversial and taboo in public debate as it has always been, and we struggled to get publicity for our prize, even from environmental organisations and women's organisations. However some university departments showed and interest and our best friend proved to be Twitter - which is where our eventual winner first heard about it.
To ensure that we did not just get a rant of opinions, we specified some essential and desirable reading - published authors like Raymond, Jeffreys, Bindel, Moran, Banyard, Hagstrom etc, as well as websites representing campaigners and sex trade survivors.
When Hannah went to uni to study Physics, her first contact with feminism was a not-very-inspiring campus liberal Feminist Group. She switched subjects to gain her degree in Wildlife Conservation, which gave her an insight into environmental campaigning.
Hannah's interest in feminism was re-triggered by learning about the proposed changes to the GRA and wanting to help work against the rise of 'gender' ideology. OBJECT shares her concern. Hannah realised that she'd be complicit if she remained silent on this issue. She came across Venice Allen's 'We Need to Talk About the Gender Reform Act (GRA)' group on Facebook and began to follow them, attending the House of Commons discussion about it and witnessing the appalling backlash against a group of women meeting to discuss proposed legislative changes which affect them. At this point Hannah joined Twitter to participate in the debate, and that was where she found out about the OBJECT Essay Prize. She realised that with such a large and complex topic she might have a chance of winning, and she also wanted to gain contact with people who, like OBJECT, are challenging the harms of 'gender' ideology. She read and learned a lot about prostitution in the process.
Hannah's essay highlights the strong links between prostitution and wildlife habitat destruction. The most heart-rending story was about a 'novelty item' in a Borneo brothel, a chained orang-utan called Pony who was shaved and lipsticked daily to aid her appeal to men. It took 35 policemen with AK-47s to rescue Pony. Women similarly enslaved are not even mentioned.
Here is Hannah's prize-winning essay.
An Evaluation of the Environmental Impact of Prostitution by Hannah Harrison 01/05/2018
Prostitution is the commodification of women as objects to be purchased and used sexually by men. There are cases where men are prostituted, but prostitution is primarily a gendered practice and this must be taken into account in its understanding.
Prostitution is based on the “sexual contract” between men and women (Pateman, 1988). Under patriarchy, men have a 'right' to the sexual access of women's bodies. This may be attained through either marriage or prostitution.
The existence of prostitution does not only affect the individual women used in the sex industry, but it also has an impact on women's status in society. Women cannot truly be equal while they are available for purchase by men. The Nordic Model, which criminalises sex buyers, was adopted in Sweden; as the journalist Kajsa Ekis Ekman said, “if the goal of Sweden is to have equality between men and women, then prostitution is an obstacle to that goal” (quoted in Bindel, 2017, p. 11). Campaigners for the Nordic Model focused not on individuals but on the overall effect of prostitution on society, asking “Do we want this in the whole of society?” (ibid., p. 13)
The 'sexuality of prostitution,' which propels the sex industry, can be said to exist within the institution of marriage and all other heterosexual relationships that rely on power imbalance. This is “the eroticized subordination of women and dominance of men,” which “underpins male sexual violence in all its forms, and creates men’s sexual prerogative of using women...in the prostitution and pornography industries” (Jeffreys, 2003, p. 28). During the sexual revolution, “the sexual liberals promoted the sex of prostitution as simply what sex was” (Jeffreys, 1997, p. 63).
All women are influenced into adopting this sexuality under patriarchy and must make a conscious effort to be relinquished of it. Even women who are lesbian and woman-centred may enact elements of this sexuality by eroticising power difference in their relationships (Jeffreys, 1993). All women are also expected to perform the “sexual corvée” in their everyday lives, regardless of their relationship status (Jeffreys, 2005). This is the performance of 'femininity' and beauty practises in order to “give pleasure to men” and “enable their sexual excitement” (ibid., p. 23).
There are supporters for the legalisation or decriminalisation of prostitution, who claim to be upholding the interests of women. For example, Amnesty International has officially supported full decriminalisation since August 2016 (Bindel, 2017). This stance rests on the basis that prostitution either can't or shouldn't be eliminated. It therefore focuses on harm minimisation, such as providing clean needles for women to use while self medicating with drugs (ibid.). Decriminalisation supposedly aims to make prostituted women safer (despite not aiming to abolish their abuse altogether), but has been shown to actually maximise the harms (Banyard, 2016).
Those who support the sex industry also refer to the 'agency' of the women involved, purporting that women 'choose' to be prostituted. This is generally not true, but it is also somewhat irrelevant; 'consent' does not imply that abuse is not taking place.
Many women feel that prostitution is something they can ignore, that it is unrelated to them and affects a different type of woman. This is the stigma attached to prostituted women. While the pro-prostitution lobby argues that 'stigma' causes violence towards prostitutes, the violence they refer to is that of the male abusers, plus the act of prostitution is violence itself. The actual impact of stigma is that 'non-prostituted' women ignore and overlook the abuse occurring to other women who they view as 'different.' They are willing to accept that some women 'choose' this life, even though they would not wish it upon themselves.
Prostitution is regarded by some as an inevitable fact of life. It is considered 'natural'. The actor Nicolas Bedos said, “To want to abolish prostitution is like wanting to abolish rain” (quoted in Banyard, 2016, p. 13). Other forms of abuse such as domestic violence are generally not defended in this manner.
This essay will highlight how prostitution, a supposedly 'natural' occurrence, actually has a profound impact on nature itself. Prostitution has developed alongside human activities that harm the environment, such as mining, logging and military activity. The recent industrialisation of prostitution has resulted in a large-scale global market of women's bodies; the effects of this are having an increasingly large impact on the environment.
Prostitution does not exist in a vacuum. It affects the women involved, 'non-prostituted' women, human society as a whole and the natural environment. This essay aims to demonstrate the interconnectivity between these elements. This reflects the fact that Earth is an ecosystem; the global ecosystem consists of all living organisms (including humans, plants, and animals) on the planet, the physical environment and the interactions between them. One component cannot be fully understood without examining the system as a whole.
The Development of Prostitution alongside Environmental Destruction
The sexual exploitation of women often occurs alongside the exploitation of the environment. For example, when mining and logging companies establish themselves within developing countries, they set up prostitution industries for the male workers (Jeffreys, 2009).
The use of prostitutes in the mining industry played a key role in Australia's economic development: Trafficked Japanese women “were taken in debt bondage to outback mining towns like Kalgoorlie in West Australia for the sexual use of the isolated male workforces of those areas in the late 19th century” (ibid., p. 33). Sheila Jeffreys notes that “unfortunately economic development in many countries and in many forms is increasingly dependent on the prostitution of women today” (ibid., p. 34).
The establishment of prostitution industries alongside mining and logging camps can have a severe impact on the local community, particularly in damaging the health and prospects of women and girls (ibid.).
Petra Mahy (2011) documents some of these effects on the communities surrounding Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), a large-scale coal mine in Indonesia. She mentions that the mining industry is male-dominated and provides a lack of economic benefit to women. 95% of KPC employees are male, and this percentage is even higher in KPC's contractor companies (Mahy, 2011). This results in women being economically dependent on their husbands or male relatives.
The husbands of local women spend money on prostitutes, straining relationships and increasing the risk of STI transmission (ibid.). One woman interviewed said, “here a husband might say he’s going out to a coffee shop and come back a father” (ibid., p. 60). Mahy “was told that it is not uncommon for a wife to seek her husband in the brothel complexes,” a potentially dangerous and humiliating experience (ibid., p. 61).
The women used in the sex industry surrounding KPC were interviewed by Petra Mahy. She found that the majority were “from poor rural or urban backgrounds and [had] low levels of education” (ibid., p. 55). Most were divorced or separated with children. This combination of poverty, poor education, dependent children, lack of employment opportunities for women (such as in the mining industry) and the lack of a male 'provider', rendered these women as particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the sex industry. Mahy found that some of the women prostituted at KPC “were tricked into coming and expected some other form of employment” (ibid., p. 58). Most remained due to a “lack of better choices” (ibid.). A “choiceless choice” is the phrase used by Hsiao-Hung Pai to describe the similar predicament faced by many Chinese women who had “become the sole breadwinners of their families and had 'chosen' to migrate abroad in search of a livelihood to sustain their families” (Pai, 2013, p. 32).
The mining of coal, such as at KPC, has a devastating impact on the environment. An article called The Rape of Appalachia describes the environmental damage caused by coal mining in the Appalachia mountains. It proclaims that, “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, even while sanctioning the practice, concluded in 2003 that 400,000 acres—all rich and diverse temperate forest—had been destroyed between 1985 and 2001 as a result of mountaintop mining in Appalachia” (Shnayerson, 2006). In the same time frame, “the E.P.A. estimated, more than 1,200 miles of valley streams had been impacted by mountaintop-mining waste—of those, more than 700 miles had been buried entirely” (ibid.). While this article, published in Vanity Fair, describes mining as “rape,” a different article in Vanity Fair refers to prostitution as “just another job” (Sales, 2016). The hypocrisy of this is analysed by Renee Gerlich, who has a blog focussing on women's rights.
Renee Gerlich composed a blog post entitled When you compare prostitution to mining – and protest “the rape of the earth” (Gerlich, 2017). This piece underlines how those who work to save the environment from 'rape', do not always recognise the harm in the literal rape of women and children in the prostitution industry. She describes how “prostitution is often normalised as “work” by the very same people who, to drive home the damage done by colonisation, land appropriation and commercial resource extraction, will use prostitution as an analogy” (ibid.).
This contradictory belief that “prostitution is work, mining is rape” (ibid.) demonstrates the cognitive dissonance of those who work to protect the environment, while simultaneously ignoring the harms done to women. This is a fundamental hindrance in the understanding of environmental issues. Climate change, for example, “impacts women more than men” (Halton, 2018). According to UN statistics, “80% of people displaced by climate change are women” (ibid.). The UN are now advocating for gender sensitive responses to the effects of climate change (ibid.).
Climate change, and other forms of damage to the planet, can be partially attributed to male violence, as pointed out by Renee Gerlich in her blog (Gerlich, 2018). The enactment of 'masculinity' contributes to the destruction of the environment. Gerlich describes how the phrase “climate change” has been replaced by terms such as “ecocide” and “ecological holocaust,” in an attempt to embody the killing of life on Earth (ibid.). However, she asks if these new terms “really address what is happening in Grasberg, which is not only mined but militarised?” (ibid.) She states that “ecocide says little about militarism or its masculinity” (ibid.).
The 'masculinity' that enables men to kill in war is also required in the rape of women. The sexual use of purchased women is identifiable as rape due to the lack of mutual desire – “the money isn't coincidence; it's coercion” (Banyard, 2016, p. 9). In The Industrial Vagina, a chapter is dedicated to the phenomenon of military prostitution. Sheila Jeffreys states that “the massive industrialized militaries of the 20th century understood that prostitution was necessary to their military preparedness” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 107). The use of women as sexual objects teaches men to dehumanise them, developing an “aggressive masculinity which will enable them to kill others” (ibid., p. 109). It is a method of military training. Feminists propose that the military “requires masculinity in order to function” (ibid.).
Military destruction is inflicted upon both women and the environment. The forms of environmental degradation caused by warfare are explored by Palmer (2012). He stipulates that the devastation wreaked by a nuclear war would be difficult to estimate. Sticking to non-nuclear warfare, he references the many indirect ways in which the environment can be degraded: the targeted bombing of chemical factories, the destruction of man-made dams, resulting in flooding; even the subtle but cumulative effect of soil erosion caused by the movements of large numbers of soldiers (Palmer, 2012). He mentions that environmental terrorism is sometimes used as a military tactic: Saddam Hussein “set fire to hundreds of oil wells on his way out of Kuwait in the first Persian Gulf War. He also dumped 11 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, the largest oil spill in history at the time. Oil lakes and thick deposits of tarcrete covered the area, and scientists found traces of oil in ants and sand lizards more than a decade later” (ibid.).
The Industrialisation of Prostitution
Military prostitution “was a most important vector in the globalization and industrialization of prostitution in the late 20th century” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 107). It has contributed to the creation of the 'sex tourism' industry, the establishment of red-light districts and mega-brothels, the growth of pornography, and the formation of legalised regimes in which the state acts as a 'pimp' (Banyard, 2016; Bindel, 2017).
Militaries lead to the modern phenomenon of 'sex tourism', through the creation of “huge sex industries and trafﬁcking of women that developed in Korea, Thailand and the Philippines” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 107.). 'Sex tourism' refers to the “sexual exploitation of a sexual proletariat of women and children from poor countries by members of rich westernized nations” (ibid.). It allows men to act out both misogyny and racism simultaneously.
Racism is a key component of the sex industry – men use prostitution not only to affirm their status as 'superior' to women, but also as 'superior' to other races. A legal brothel in Sydney, Australia, offered a 'special service' called “the ‘United Nations Duo’ [which] comprised time with ‘two girls of different ethnicities’ ” (Ahmed, 2007; cited in Jeffreys, 2009, p. 143). Hsiao-Hung Pai wrote, in 2013, that 80% of London prostitutes were foreign (Pai, 2013). Pai tells the story of Xiao Mei, who was murdered by a sex buyer – Xioa Mei knew that the local men “viewed her as an exotic sex object on display” and “many seemed to have a fetish for East Asian females” (ibid., p. 28).
The mass transport of women as 'products' to supply the sex industry has been aided by technological advancement. The invention of the steamship increased ease of transport, fuelling the trafficking of women, who are usually held in debt bondage. More recently, the invention of aircraft has made travel and transport even easier.
In 1851, a census of the UK population “revealed that there were 405,000 more women than men in the population” (Jeffreys, 1985, p. 86). Sheila Jeffreys explains how the media reported this as an alarming problem; these women were not “servicing men,” neither sexually nor through domestic slavery, and were therefore considered a “surplus” (ibid.). Emigration was proposed as a possible solution to this issue. However, W.R. Gregg noted at the time that “it is not easy to convey a multitude of women across the Atlantic, or to the Antipodes by any ordinary means or transit. To transport the half million from where they are redundant to where they are wanted, at an average of fifty passengers to each ship, would require 10,000 vessels, or at least 10,000 voyages” (quoted in Jeffreys, 1985, p. 87). Perhaps nowadays, advanced technology would aid in the implementation of this plan; the 'surplus' women would be transported to an area where they could serve men.
With the rise of modern technology, a greater scale of damage can be inflicted on both women and the environment. Technological advancements are aiding the expansion of the sex industry, a severe danger to women as individuals and collectively. These developments are also harming the environment. For example, the aviation industry burns fossil fuels, contributing “around 2.5% to total carbon emissions, a proportion which could rise to 22% by 2050” (Tyers, 2017). Aircraft also cause air pollution via emissions of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter; the Aviation Environment Federation report that: “Each year, around 29,000 deaths in the UK are attributable to pollution from particulate matter. NO2 meanwhile has an effect on mortality equivalent to 23,500 deaths annually in the UK” (AEF, n.d.). In addition, aircraft create noise and heat pollution.
Increasing numbers of 'sex tourists' are travelling by air primarily to exploit women at their 'holiday' destinations. Julie Bindel informs in The Pimping of Prostitution that “sex tourism has grown faster in Amsterdam than the regular type of tourism,” since prostitution was legalised in the city (Bindel, 2017, p. 89). 'Sex tourism' is also becoming more accessible due to the rise of cheap airfares (ECPAT, 2016). The increase in availability of cheap, fast travel options has resulted in “the number of international tourist arrivals soaring from 527 million in 1995 to 1,135 million in 2014” (ibid., p. 15).
Another modern invention that serves the proliferation of the sex industry is the internet. This acts as a medium for the distribution of pornography, which can now be accessed almost globally, anonymously and often for free. Pornography is “filmed prostitution” (Banyard, p. 40). Pornography is defended as a mere 'fantasy', but “live women are used and abused in the production of pornography” (Jeffreys, 1990, p. 183). Furthermore, the effects of pornography on societal attitudes create a world that is toxic to women: “Women live in the world pornography creates” (MacKinnon, 1984, p. 335; quoted in Jeffreys, 1990, p. 184).
Pornography has severely negative influences on the social environment. It instils harmful attitudes and encourages violence against women. In Pimp State, Kat Banyard cites a meta-analysis summarising the findings of 156 separate studies on the effects of viewing pornography: “the review concluded that the effects of men's porn use include 'psychological desensitization' leading to, for example, a lack of empathy with victims of rape and the belief that women actually enjoy rape; changes in attitudes, like buying into rape myths; and effects on behaviour, including being more likely to perpetrate aggressive acts” (Banyard, 2016, p. 119).
Pornography reinforces the 'sexuality of prostitution', otherwise called the “sexuality of male supremacy”, which sustains women's oppression under male dominance. Catherine MacKinnon states that “pornography institutionalizes the sexuality of male supremacy, which fuses the eroticization of dominance and submission with the social construction of male and female [sex roles]” (MacKinnon, 1984, p. 326; quoted in Jeffreys, 1990, p. 184).
Through the internet, children can now readily access pornography. A BBC survey published in 2014 found that one in four young people first viewed pornography at age 12 or under (cited in Banyard, 2016, p. 3). In Pimp State, Kat Banyard interviewed a group of teenage boys regarding the influence pornography has on them (Banyard, 2016). One boy said, in reference to how women are portrayed in pornography: “They're animals that just have sex. They don't talk, they don't say no” (ibid., p. 123).
Despite the harmful effects of pornography, there is no effective legislation surrounding it. Dr Ann Olivarius is the senior partner at an international law firm that “specialises in representing victims of so-called 'revenge porn'” (ibid., p. 225). She asserts that, “No country in the world has yet adopted effective laws to deal with the porn industry and the increasing harm it is causing” (ibid., p. 225-226).
The legalisation of prostitution has been implemented in several countries including Germany and Holland. This results in a situation where the state acts as 'pimp', therefore offering no social or legal deterrents to the use of prostituted women (Bindel, 2017). Julie Bindel found that, for this reason, “many men pay for sex for the first time in legalised or decriminalised regimes” (ibid., p. 125). It also results in reduced assistance in enabling women to exit prostitution, since it is considered 'legal work' (Banyard, 2016). A study of prostituted women spanning over 9 counties found that 89% wanted to leave the sex industry but felt unable to do so (Farley, 2003; cited in Banyard, 2016, p. 142).
The establishment of 'pimp states' has an impact on the urban environment. Legalisation leads to the expansion of the sex industry (Banyard, 2016; Raymond, 2003). In Pimp State , Kat Banyard spoke to Helmut Sporer, “of the Crime Squad in the German city of Augsberg,” where he has worked “for around twenty years, witnessing firsthand the consequences of legalisation” (Banyard, 2016, p. 168). He reports that there are “increasing numbers of brothels.” Under legalisation, huge 'mega-brothels' can be constructed, since there is no need to be discrete. For example, “Stuttgart is now home to Paradise, one in a chain of so-called mega brothels, and which cost over €6 million to build” (ibid., p. 58). This is “dwarfed by Pascha, a twelve-storey brothel in Cologne” (ibid.).
Other impacts on the urban environment include: problems with waste management; litter; anti-social behaviour; exposure to health risks due to discarded condoms and needles; potential sexual harassment of local women from sex buyers; decline in property prices in areas adjacent to brothels; increased foot traffic due to 'sex tourists,' and 'no-go areas' for women and children in the form of red-light districts (Banyard, 2016; Bindel, 2017; Jeffreys, 2009).
Legalisation of prostitution is now widely recognised as ineffective; it neither reduces harm to women in prostitution, nor does it reduce the trafficking of women as 'products' from abroad (Raymond, 2003). Van der Zee, a journalist in the Netherlands, says, “There is a consensus now between policymakers and people from the shelters and even people who are pro-legalisation that legalisation hasn't worked out” (quoted in Bindel, 2017, p. 24). She continues, “It hasn't made the situation better for prostitutes and it hasn't done anything in the field of stopping trafficking. Everybody agrees with that” (ibid., p. 24-25). She describes legalisation as “a flawed system” (ibid., p. 25).
Due to the irrefutable failure of legalised regimes to either minimise harm to prostituted women or reduce trafficking, the supporters of the sex trade now campaign in favour of decriminalisation (Bindel, 2017). As Julie Bindel notes, decriminalisation and legalisation are “cut from the same cloth” and have similar ramifications (ibid., p. 90). Decriminalisation has been implemented in New Zealand, which is now “held up as the finest example of how to deal with the sex trade” (ibid.). However, Sarah O'Brien, a lawyer in New Zealand, says, “If the New Zealand model is being used as a template for making women safer, it doesn't work” (Banyard, 2016, p. 179). She says she believes the “real agenda” was to “push through the agenda of the sex industry owners,” making life easier for both sex buyers and those who profit from the sex trade (ibid., p. 180).
Both legalisation and decriminalisation fail to address the demand fuelling the prostitution industry. Kat Banyard points out that “it's as if this trade uniquely, and impossibly, begins and ends with supply” (ibid., p. 17).
In Sexual Politics, Kate Millet refers to Friedrich Engels' observation that the male demand driving prostitution is not examined, yet the women abused by the practice are disparaged; he states that prostitution “is denounced only nominally...this denunciation strikes by no means the men who indulge in it, but only the women. These are ostracised and cast out of society, in order to proclaim once more the fundamental law of unconditional male supremacy over the female sex” (Engels, 1884, p. 81; cited in Millet, 1970, p. 123). Similarly, during the sexual revolution, the sociologists who studied sexual deviancy considered prostituted women as 'sexual deviants', but made no attempt to analyse the motivations behind the men who used them (Jeffreys, 1997). Sheila Jeffreys iterates that “the sociological fascination with deviance obscured the men and stigmatised prostituted women again as constituting the problem of prostitution” (ibid., p. 62).
The demand for the sex trade stems from the belief that men are entitled to sex. Carole Pateman (1988) refers to this as the “sexual contract” between the sexes: men are entitled to the sexual access of women's bodies. This is demonstrated by support for the 'right' of disabled men to use prostitutes, since they are supposedly unable to access their 'right' to sex via the usual means of dating or marriage. (Bindel, 2017). Even Amnesty International endorses this view in leaked draft policy documents (ibid.).
The attitude that men are entitled to sex affects all women – not only those abused in the prostitution industry. The 'sexual contract', whereby men use women for their own sexual gratification, in exchange for money or sustenance, can be fulfilled either through prostitution or through the institution of marriage.
Marriage as Prostitution
Feminists have recognised the similarities between marriage and prostitution since the late 18th century (Jeffreys, 2009). The link is most obvious in cases where a direct financial exchange takes place, or where the marriage is clearly non-consensual.
For example, the mail order bride industry generally involves a western man purchasing a woman from an impoverished background, often from Russia or Asia; the woman becomes financially dependent on the man (and is further isolated due to not knowing the local language or geography) and is expected to provide him with sexual access. This situation is recognised by the UN Trafﬁcking Rapporteur as ‘incompatible with the equal enjoyment of rights by women and with respect for their rights and dignity. There is an unequal balance of power that puts women at special risk of violence and abuse, particularly when it is the man who is paying money to marry the woman concerned’ (UNHRC, 2007; cited in Jeffreys, 2009, p. 47).
Forced marriage is also widely recognised as a harm to women and girls. It has been illegal in the UK since 2014 (Home Office et al., 2014). The European Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014) identifies forced marriage as a form of violence against women. However, forced marriage is not a specific criminal offence in most EU Member States; a key criticism of criminalising forced marriage is that it is difficult to prove that the marriage isn't consensual (FRA, 2014). The FRA note that, “courts have been willing to accept that physical threats and emotional pressure constitute coercion.” However, “if an individual acts out of deference to cultural, gendered notions such as respect, it would be hard for any court to see this as coercion or duress” (ibid., p. 19) This suggests that women may 'consent' to an unequal or abusive marriage (or to being prostituted in other ways) simply due to their socialisation as a woman in a patriarchal culture.
The argument that women 'consent' to being prostituted is often used by those who support the prostitution industry. The occurrence of 'consent', however, does not confirm that abuse isn't being committed. This is recognised by the United Nations 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This Convention penalises those who prostitute women, regardless of whether or not the women consent (Jeffreys, 1997; Jeffreys, 2009).
As there is a false dichotomy between forced and 'consensual' prostitution, it can also be argued that the same line exists between forced and consensual marriage. In both cases, a man gains sexual access to a woman in exchange for financial resources, subsistence and/or (in the case of marriage) a gain in social status. This occurs within a patriarchal society in which the woman's alternative options are lacking.
In the early 20th century, Christabel Pankhurst said, “ People are led to reason thus: a woman who is a wife is one who has made a permanent sex bargain for her maintenance; the woman who is not married must therefore make a temporary bargain of the same kind” (quoted in Jeffreys, 2009, p. 41). Similarly, Evelina Giobbe (founder of Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt / WHISPER), said, in relation to Right and Left Wing politics, that “They both want control over and access to women's bodies. The Right Wing does it through marriage and the Left Wing does it through prostitution and pornography. You can marry it, you can buy it – and we're it” (quoted in Bindel, 2017, p. 4).
The connection between marriage and commercial prostitution is also acknowledged by men who buy sex. Julie Bindel conducted a study of men who pay for sexual access to prostituted women, and one interviewee stated that “Every woman is a prostitute. Before you sleep with a woman you wine/dine, buy gifts for her before she sleeps with you So you are spending money on her for sex” (Bindel, 2017, p. 135).
At the 1888 International Council of Women in Washington, America, Mrs Lucinda B. Chandler said, “when prostitution ceases inside of marriage it will disappear outside” (quoted in Jeffreys, 1985, p. 23). A contrasting view appears in The Joy of Sex, in which the author “claimed that prostitution would disappear as women in general imitated prostitutes and were prepared to perform free all the functions of a prostitute” (Jeffreys, 1990, p. 95) This demonstrates how wives and prostitutes are used in the same manner, to sexually service a man – according to The Joy of Sex, if a wife becomes a sufficiently 'good' prostitute, then men will theoretically no longer require prostitutes external to the marriage.
The institution of marriage separates households into small family units each consisting of a heterosexual couple and their offspring. This arrangement serves to enable men in maintaining dominance over individual women; this also isolates women from each other and ties them to domestic labour and childcare in separate houses. Sheila Jeffreys identifies the notion of a 'natural' family as a “political construction” (Jeffreys, 2012, p. 67). Feminists suggest that man's possession of a woman in marriage acts as compensation to the fact that he is a 'servant' of the state. Kate Millet writes that, “Heads of families may be subjects, perhaps even something like vassals, to the state, while members of such families are subject or vassal to their head” (Millet, 1970, p. 158).
Rather than marriage and the division of society into 'nuclear' families, alternative and more efficient living arrangements could be considered, which would benefit the environment.
An article in The Guardian summarises the findings of a study concerning the rise of one-person households in the UK (Moore, 2006). The study found that “people living on their own consume more energy and create more waste than individuals sharing a home” (ibid.). They “are the biggest consumers of energy, land and household goods. They consume 38% more products, 42% more packaging, 55% more electricity and 61% more gas per person than an individual in a four-person household” (ibid.). Although this study concentrates on single-occupancy households, it stands to reason that 'nuclear' families also have a greater environmental impact than people living in larger groups.
Furthermore, the construction of single family homes “disturb[s] and erode[s] soil, disrupt[s] habitats, deplete[s] natural resources, pollute[s] air and water and use[s] up land” (Janjic, 2014). According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “of the significant sectors in the U.S economy, new single-family home construction was one of the most environmentally burdensome” (ibid.).
An alternative to the 'nuclear' family could involve living in communal groups. A blog post by Mim Davies, who works for The Centre for Alternative Technology, details some of the benefits of co-housing and communal living (Davies, 2017). Residents of co-housing schemes often share tools, domestic appliances and cars, which saves both energy and expense (ibid.). Some communities, such as Machynlleth Housing Co-op, order food in bulk, which they cook and eat together. This saves money, reduces waste and cuts down on packaging (ibid.). Elsewhere, another community grows it's own fruit and vegetables, dividing labour amongst the residents (ibid.). It would also be possible for communal groups to share household chores and childcare duties.
The harms to women within 'companionate' marriages in Western society may not seem immediately apparent. However, it is important to analyse the dynamics of these relationships, as they mirror the dynamics within prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse. Kate Millet describes how prostitution is “an exaggeration of patriarchal economic conditions where the majority of females are driven to live through some exchange of sexuality for support” (Millet, 1970, p. 123).
The social environment is artificially divided into public and private realms. However, women are still subject to the same social system in both areas. In Man's Dominion, Sheila Jeffreys argues that “the public/private split must be overcome if women are to enjoy substantive as opposed to formal equality” (Jeffreys, 2012, p. 49). She points out how Muslim women in the Middle East are forced to wear a veil in public, but are expected to wear 'sexually enticing' clothes at home in order to gratify their husbands (ibid.). The law requiring women to wear a veil was implemented to signify that married women are the property of individual men; prostituted women, in contrast, are considered the common property of all men and “should remain bareheaded to show their lowly status” (ibid., p. 28). The notion that prostituted women belong to all men is also reflected in the British legal system, which uses the phrase “common prostitutes” (Jeffreys, 2003, p. 69).
As Sheila Jeffreys states, “women's subordination in the 'private sphere' founds cultures” and clearly cannot be ignored in the understanding of patriarchy (Jeffreys, 2012, p. 88). Failure to analyse human behaviour within the 'private sphere' is failure to recognise an important component of people's lives, and therefore hinders the understanding of the social system as a whole.
Women as part of the Environment: Harmful Practices of Prostitution
In The Industrial Vagina (2009), Sheila Jeffreys describes the connection between prostitution and the mining and logging industries, both of which cause environmental destruction. She argues that “the harms of prostitution can perhaps become visible if the bodies of girls are seen as part of the environment too” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 36).
The women who are exploited in the prostitution industry are subjected to a great deal of physical violence. Prostitution Research and Education reports that 70 – 95% of women in prostitution experience physical assault (Farley & Butler, 2012; cited in Bindel, 2017, p. 72). The act of prostitution itself can be considered an act of violence against women; it could be argued that all prostituted women are 'physically assaulted' by the men who use them. Furthermore, research in the US found that prostitutes are eighteen times more likely to be murdered than other women (Potterat, 2004; cited in Banyard, 2016, p. 85). It is noted that “the clients perpetrate a large proportion of the lethal and nonlethal violence” (ibid.). The other main perpetrators are pimps; according to one study, 75% of prostitutes were victims of violence from their pimp (Raphael et al., 2010; cited in Banyard, 2016, p. 167).
Proponents of the decriminalisation of prostitution argue that this would supposedly decrease violence against the women involved. However, research rejects this assertion. New Zealand's government carried out a law review, published five years after the country adopted full decriminalisation of prostitution (Barnyard, 2016). A survey of 772 women in prostitution found that “the majority felt that the [Prostitution Reform Act] could do little about the violence that occurred” (ibid., p. 173). In contrast, evidence suggests that the Nordic Model helps to reduce harm to women in prostitution. For example, in The Pimping of Prostitution (2017), Julie Bindel points out that “in the 18 years the Nordic model has been operational in Sweden, not one prostituted person has been killed by a sex buyer” (Bindel, 2017, p. 60).
In addition to enduring physical violence, women in prostitution are also exposed to sexually transmitted infections and other contagious diseases from the men who use them. In Hsiao-Hung Pai's Invisible (2013), where the author worked undercover as a housekeeper in a brothel, one of the prostituted women she met described how she was forced to 'work' despite being unwell. The woman, Zhen Zhen, said that she “caught something from a dirty old punter,” which she thought could be syphilis (Pai, 2013, p. 76). She was unable to easily access medical treatment due to “virtual imprisonment” in the brothel. Pai asked if she was still able to 'work' whilst infected, and Zhen Zhen replied that, “Everything is possible when the boss wants to make money. But I'm in agony when I go to the toilet. And it's very painful during sex” (ibid., p. 77). Zhen Zhen explained that she always tried to get the men to use condoms, but some of them “play tricks” to try to remove them. (ibid.) She said, “more and more punters are demanding unprotected sex” (ibid.).
As Julie Bindel states, “No legislation on earth could make the sex buyer use a condom if he did not wish to” (Bindel, 2017, p. 202). Women agree to sex without a condom due to fear of male violence, or out of desperation when more money is offered for unprotected sex. Trisha Baptie, a prostitution survivor interviewed by Bindel, points out that, “We have to be discussing the social climate that allows AIDs to ferment in the prostitution community because there has to be an acknowledgement that the men are responsible. They're the ones who are saying I'll give you $50 more if I don't use a condom, and women are saying “yes” to that because of the dire situation they're in” (ibid., p. 204).
The prostitution industry contributes to the proliferation of STIs, due to sex buyers not wishing to engage in protected sex A study of prostitutes in Korea found that almost half didn't consistently use condoms, and the main reason given was “the client's reluctance” (Shin et al., 2004). The overuse of antibiotics prescribed to treat STIs is leading to antibiotic resistance, which has been reported in syphilis, gonorrhoea and HIV (Gulland, 2018). Nick Thomson, professor of microbiology at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, says that “human behaviour [is] the biggest factor in the rise of sexually transmitted diseases” (ibid.). Increased antibiotic resistance leads to infections becoming difficult or impossible to treat, such as the case of 'super-gonorrhoea' announced by Public Health England in March 2018 (ibid.)
The increase in antibiotic use not only has implications for public health, but also for the natural environment. When antibiotics are released into the environment, through sewage systems for example, they “can affect natural microbial communities,” which “play a key role in fundamental ecological processes, most importantly the maintenance of soil and water quality” (Grenni et al., 2018). The antibiotics “cause a reduction in microbial diversity” and influence “ecological functions such as biomass production and nutrient transformation” (ibid.). They may also change “the relative abundance of microbial species and interfere in interactions between different species” (ibid.). Detrimental effects on microbe communities affect the entire ecosystem – microbes are considered the “biogeochemical engines” that support all life on Earth (Falkowski et al., 2008).
The prostitution industry also inflicts severe psychological damage on its victims. Many survivors describe how they learnt to dissociate in order to cope. Julie Bindel found that, out of 50 prostitution survivors, all of them agreed that “the ability to distance themselves to the point of dissociation during any sexual encounter with punters was crucial” (Bindel, 2017, p. 270). An investigation into the experiences of prostituted women, found that “trauma reactions also keep young women involved in prostitution by leading them to ignore or suppress their own emotional distress” (Nixon et al, 2002; cited in Banyard, 2016, p. 80). This indicates how dissociation, which is used as an effective coping mechanism to endure the acts of prostitution, may also prevent women from realising that they are being abused.
Women who are unable to dissociate “become psychotic”, or use drugs and alcohol to numb themselves instead (Banyard, 2016, p. 77). A study into the life-time costs of prostitution found that most women did not take drugs before being prostituted, but “once in prostitution, 95% of the women developed a serious addiction,” suggesting that the women were “self-medicating” (DeRiviere, n.d.; cited in Banyard, 2016, p. 79). This dispels the notion that women enter prostitution primarily to fund a drug addiction, which is a popular myth amongst pro-prostitution campaigners (Bindel, 2017). A Romanian lap dancer, who Hsiao-Hung Pai met while undercover, described how she “[fell] into the habit of anaesthetising her feelings with alcohol” (Pai, 2013, p. 62). In some cases, anaesthetics may actually be used to dull physical sensation. An online 'safety guide' aimed at the legal escort industry in Victoria (Australia) “includes an instruction that ‘escort workers’ should be careful when using local anaesthetic in the vagina since that can make it more difﬁcult to ascertain when serious injury has occurred” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 188).
The drugs that are used in prostitution also have environmental ramifications. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction analysed wastewater in 60 European cities in order to detect the amount of recreational drugs that were entering the sewer system, and to draw conclusions on drug use within the cities (EMCDDA, 2018). They found that in 2017 “the highest mass loads of MDMA were found in the wastewater in cities in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands” (ibid.). It is noteworthy that legalised prostitution occurs in all three of these countries. MDMA, also known as ecstasy, is one of the drugs prostitutes use in order to cope with their abuse (Reid, 2011). It enters freshwater rivers and streams, where it could harm fish and other aquatic organisms. MDMA also has indirect environmental effects: in Cambodia, illicit factories producing sassafras oil (an ingredient of ecstasy) were destroyed by authorities over concerns that the industry was pushing a rare tree species, the Mreah Prew Phnom tree , towards extinction (MacKinnen, 2009).
In Beauty and Misogyny (2005), Sheila Jeffreys describes how women must perform the “sexual corvée.” This is defined as, “the unpaid labour that women are required to perform to make themselves sexually exciting to men” (Jeffreys, 2012, p. 126).
Historically, women were mainly expected to perform this duty in their homes, as they were not permitted entry into public life. As women moved from the 'private' to the 'public' sphere, they were expected to adopt the same beauty practices as prostitutes (ibid.) One example of a particularly harmful beauty practice is foot-binding. This custom originated in China “among dancers at the Emperor's court in the eleventh century” who were used in prostitution (Jeffreys, 2005, p. 132). It then spread to other women, and “flourished for 1,000 years in China, crippling women in their millions” (ibid., p. 130).
Cosmetic surgery is a modern harmful beauty practice, which is engaged in by increasing numbers of women. Within the prostitution industry, women are sometimes forced to undergo surgical procedures to make themselves more appealing to the male 'customers'. In The Industrial Vagina, Sheila Jeffreys refers to research by Kelly Holsopple that mentions that strippers are pressured by club owners to acquire breast implants (Jeffreys, 2009). Similarly, a CBS news report on the trafficking of hundreds of women from Thailand to the US, stated that the women were “encouraged to get breast implants, and the surgery costs were added to their debt” (CBS, 2017).
Nowadays, it is common for women in Western society to engage in beauty practices in order to appear sexually pleasing to men. Sheila Jeffreys states that “in the nineteenth century public women were understood to be prostituted women and they did paint their faces” (Jeffreys, 2005, p. 111). The entrance of ordinary women into the 'public' sphere sparked the rise of the beauty industry. The wearing of face makeup is now a common practice for Western women.
Many of the ingredients within makeup are toxic, injuring both women and the environment. Sheila Jeffreys lists the key environmental harms: ”The petrochemicals used in makeup pollute waterways and destroy marine life. The by-products of the chemicals as they degrade interfere with the functioning of hormones and thus sexual development. These hormone disrupters devastate wildlife. The cosmetics industry generates huge amounts of waste from product packaging, from which toxins can leach into soil and groundwater. As a form of collateral damage 10-15 million animals are tortured and killed every year in US laboratories that test the safety of cosmetic and household products” (Jeffreys, 2005, p. 125).
Lipstick is commonly used by women today in their everyday lives, but it is claimed that it was originally worn by prostitutes to indicate that they would perform oral sex on men: “lipstick was supposed to make the mouth resemble the vulva, and it was first worn by those females who specialized in oral stimulation of the penis'' (Benjamin & Masters, 1964, p. 58; cited in Jeffreys, 2005, p. 110).
Lipstick is one of a number of cosmetic products that contains palm oil (WWF, n.d.). The production of palm oil involves the destruction of tropical rainforests, one of the most biodiverse biomes on the planet. This habitat destruction affects many iconic and endangered species, “including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos” (ibid.).
Palm oil production not only harms the environment, but it also has a profound impact on the local community. Friends of the Earth produced a report on the palm oil industry in Indonesia, which is summarised by Juliette Jowit in an article in the Guardian newspaper. The report found that “nearly half of Indonesia's 216 million people are thought to depend on the forest. Clearing forests deprives communities of their livelihood, and sometimes forces them off the land” (Jowit, 2004).
This situation may mean that local women need to migrate in search of work, making them vulnerable to exploitation and increasing the risk that they may be steered into the sex trade. The palm oil plantations provide jobs for some locals; however, an investigation into the working conditions on three Indonesian palm oil plantations found that the women are generally employed only as casual workers (Rainforest Action Network, 2017). The report states that: “Casual women workers perform some of the most dangerous work on the plantation, often dealing with hazardous pesticides and fertilizers on a daily basis. Due to their casual work status, they are denied job security, proper health care and accident insurance, and a pension plan to retire comfortably after their years of service. Women kernet workers who work to help their harvester husbands are not recognized at all for their contribution, as they do not have a direct working relationship with the company and work without pay”(ibid., p. 28). The women employed on palm oil plantations have “a significantly higher rate of precarious employment” (ibid., p. 28) than the male workers, meaning they may have to seek work elsewhere. The women who work as kernet workers - unpaid, “unofficial workers” who help their husbands or male children reach “unrealistically high quotas” (ibid., p. 11) - are perhaps particularly vulnerable – the death of their husband could result in a complete loss of income.
The Trafficking in Persons Report 2017, produced by the US Department of State, reports that sex trafficking is a significant problem in Indonesia: “Many women and girls are exploited in domestic servitude and sex trafficking. Victims are often recruited with offers of jobs in restaurants, factories, or domestic service, but are subjected to sex trafficking” (US Department of State, 2017, p. 211).
Some of the women who end up being exploited in this manner may have originally been displaced due to the destruction of rainforests in order to produce palm oil plantations, compounded by the lack of stable employment available on those plantations. This scenario demonstrates the connection between environmental destruction and the sexual exploitation of women via prostitution.
Orangutans are one of the flagship species associated with rainforests; they are listed as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN Red List (2018). The production of palm oil, through destroying their habitat, is contributing to the species' decline.
Women, displaced from the rainforests from which they made a living, are forced into prostitution. This fate is also inflicted upon some orangutans who made the rainforest their home.
An orangutan, now called Pony, was found in a brothel in Borneo, Indonesia (Adams, 2007). She was found “chained to a wall, lying on a mattress” and was “being used as a sex slave” (ibid.). She was “shaved every other day”, presumably to make her more appealing to the male sex buyers (ibid.). The men viewed her as a “novelty” – perhaps in a similar way to how some male sex buyers view a woman of a different race (ibid.). It could be considered ironic that the orangutan “even had her lips painted” (Perez, 2014).
The orangutan was rescued by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation – a feat that required “35 policemen armed with AK-47s and other weaponry” (Adams, 2007). It is noteworthy that the articles describing the rescue of Pony from this brothel make no mention of the prostituted women who are enslaved under the same conditions.
The use of Pony the orangutan as a prostitute is not an isolated incident. Karmele Llano, who works for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, “asserts that orangutans prostitution has become a common practice in Asian countries, especially among workers of logging companies and palm oil plantations” (Perez, 2014). The use of animals in prostitution also occurs in European brothels (ibid.). There are “small clandestine brothels in countries like Germany and Denmark, which are especially devoted to these practices, known as “Bestiality Brothels” or “Erotic Zoos”, and there are even associations that support bestiality, [such] as ZETA” (ibid.).
The story of Pony serves to demonstrate the interconnectivity between 'non-prostituted' women, prostituted women, human society as a whole and the natural environment. The lipstick used by ordinary women, having taken up what was once a beauty practice used solely by prostitutes, is linked to the destruction of rainforests. The 'masculinity' of men, which is required for the use of prostituted women, also contributes to the drive to destroy the rainforests. This environmental damage leads impoverished local women into sexual exploitation. Orangutans are expelled from the forests in the same manner, and in some cases end up alongside the women held captive and abused in brothels The orangutans are decorated in the same way as the women in order to be sexually enticing to the men – shaved and wearing lipstick.
In order to fully understand prostitution, it is necessary to examine all aspects of the social system of patriarchy. Taking a wider view and analysing prostitution within the global ecosystem, reveals complex connections between this human practice and the natural environment.
This essay has demonstrated that the prostitution industry causes great harm to both women and the environment. The 'masculinity' that is required by men to abuse women is also enacted in environmental destruction. The environment is exploited, alongside the bodies of local women, to extract resources in the mining and logging industries. Military activity, the ultimate display of 'masculinity', also wreaks havoc on the planet.
Legalisation and decriminalisation both fail to condemn the demand of men who use women in prostitution – an act of violence that can be regarded as rape, due to the coercion involved and the lack of mutual desire.
The Nordic Model is an approach that addresses male demand. It criminalises the sex buyers, recognising them as the perpetrators of abuse; it decriminalises prostituted women, identifying them as the victims of exploitation. Furthermore, the system provides non-judgemental exit and support services to help women leave the sex industry. It “has now been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, and most recently, [the Republic of] Ireland” (NMN!, n.d.).
The Nordic Model, also called Sex Buyer Law, has been proven effective in tackling the prostitution industry. The adoption of this law in Sweden resulted in shrinking of the sex trade, a reduction in the numbers of men purchasing sex and a change in attitudes (Banyard, 2016). In Germany, where prostitution is legalised, prostituted women account for 0.38% of the population; whereas in Sweden, where the Nordic Model originated in 1999, only 0.03% of the population are prostituted (Ward & Day, 2004; cited in Jeffreys, 2009, p. 170). The European Parliament recognises the Nordic model as “the most effective way to tackle trafficking into the sex trade” (Bindel, 2017, p. 263).
On their website, Nordic Model Now! point out that “criminal legislation has the primary purpose of making it clear what we as a society consider unacceptable” (NMN!, n.d.). This is the founding principle of the criminalisation of sex buyers. It aims to send the message that purchasing women for sex is not to be tolerated – and certainly not to be sanctioned, as is the case in legalised regimes. Simon Häggström, head of the Stockholm Police's Prostitution Unit, reveals the shift in attitude towards prostitution that has occurred in Sweden; he states that under the Nordic Model, “it is not socially acceptable to buy sex at all. This is something very shameful to be arrested for” (Banyard, 2016, p. 195).
Supporters of prostitution insist that some women choose to be prostituted. The fact that women 'consent' to sexual abuse, in a society which encourages them to do so or leaves them without other options, does not imply that the abuse doesn't cause harm or that it shouldn't be prevented. At a debate in the London Women's Centre in 1988, Linda Bellos said, in reference to the 'consent' of women to abusive sex: “You cannot ignore the fact that one of the things that was said to justify the continuation of slavery...is that the majority of blacks like it that way” (Bellos, 1988). This is the same justification given to the maintenance of the sexual slave trade today.
The language used by pro-prostitution campaigners, who refer to women's sexual slavery as “sex work”, serves to obscure the real harms of the industry. This is similar to how those who supported black slavery suggested, “Instead of SLAVES, let the Negroes be called ASSISTANT PLANTERS and we shall not then hear such violent outcries against the slave-trade” (Raymond, 2014; cited in Bindel, 2017, p. 69). The 'sanitisation' of language also occurs in reference to environmental issues. For example, terms such as “ecocide” have not gained the same popularity as the more innocuous phrase “climate change.”
The use of sanitising language to conceal harm, enables people to feel less responsible about an issue, or to overlook it entirely. Rachel Moran comments on how “men who use prostitutes superimpose upon prostitution an image of it which to them is satisfactory, agreeable and pleasing” (Moran, 2013, p. 2). Similarly, the women within prostitution often deceive themselves in order to cope with the ordeal.
There are many women who ignore, or even attempt to justify, the existence of prostitution – a system in which members of their own sex and species are sold to men as sex slaves. Confronting the truth of this industry involves becoming painfully aware of the realities of patriarchy, and of the woman-hatred which upholds this society. As Andrea Dworkin deduced, “Many women, I think, resist feminism because it is an agony to be fully conscious of the brutal misogyny which permeates culture, society, and all personal relationships” (Dworkin, 1976, p. 78).
The “sexuality of male supremacy” underlies the use of women in prostitution. This is also the foundation of many other women's personal sexual relationships. Sheila Jeffreys explains that, “The right of men to women's bodies for sexual use has not gone but remains an assumption at the basis of heterosexual relationships” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 43). Many women are reluctant to analyse the politics of their 'private' lives, feeling that it is not relevant to women's oppression as a class– this is the idea of a “public/private split” (Jeffreys, 2012).
The prostitution industry is an abhorrent human rights violation which must be abolished in order for women to gain real equality. However, for women's liberation to be attained, prostitution cannot only be eliminated from the 'public sphere'; it must also be recognised and addressed within 'private' personal relationships. As second-wave feminists proclaimed, “The personal is political.”
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